There are several things to note about our hobby. First we tend to like shiny things, second we see lots of nice shiny things on blogs and YouTube. Third we play with shiny things at pen clubs. As a result there seems to be a list of pens many of us get (and then sometimes sell), almost as if by very gentle peer pressure, and then later wonder why. Here’s a list of those I’ve observed, many of which I seem to have as well. Feel free to reply with any you feel I have missed off or your views.
Pilot Vanishing Point – First on my list and a perennial favourite, the clicktastic VP or Capless (and Decimo). Practical, quick to use, easy to carry, what’s not to like. Well for some (including me) the pen tapers too much making it uncomfortable for long usage. For others, the clip gets in the way.
Platinum Century 3776 – The first gold nibbed pen many of us buy. From reputable online Japanese resellers the black, Bourgogne, and Chatres blue pens can be found for around £60, almost half the cost when compared to those in the US, UK and Europe. Light weight, comfortable to use, and with an interesting selection of nibs.
Pelikan M20x/40x – The entry in to the Pelikan Souveran range and the first/entry point for a higher end European pen manufacturer. I’m not sure the Pelikan Hubs actually make a difference , but certainly clever Pelikan marketing, established brand loyalty certainly and a comparatively low entry price (for the steel nibbed M20x) helps draw the buyer in.
Lamy Safari/Al-Star/Vista – For many the first fountain pen. Cheap, annual special editions resulting in having far more than you’ll ever use, reliable, tough. What’s not to like. Well the triangular grip is divisive and some find the nibs too hard. In many respects the Pokemon of the pen world.
Pilot Metropolitan/MR – The more recent ‘first’ fountain pen. More traditional in shape and feel, and well made. One thing to be aware of, if importing. In the UK and Europe the MR is designed to use International Short/Long cartridges and converters, where as the Metropolitan, as sold in Japan, the Far East and CONUS, uses the Pilot propriety system.
TWSBI Eco – I could add here the 580 series and the Go, but with it’s low price, limited editions, decent ink capacity, and nice nibs, this entry level piston filler pen does seem to be a favourite amongst many people.
Franklin-Christoph (any model) – This may be more of the US thing, especially at pen shows, where (if Franklin Christoph are attending) there are one time and limited ‘prototypes’ to be bought, but I’ve also found many owners in the UK, some of whom have bought on the long running fan based hype – which has been good for me as I’ve bought as number second hand in this country, so perhaps I’m part to blame.
There are also seemingly a list of higher end manufacturers that draw the unwary in. I’ve noticed these brands tend to more follow fashion, with people buying without trying because they think the pen in question will be perfect for them, with the results that there can be some very good bargains to be found on nearly new pens.
Nakaya (any) – A couple of years back this seemed to be the must have brand, but despite glorious looks, it seems new owners found them lighter and smaller than expected, and the Platinum 3776 based nib (effectively the same aside from branding and being hand tuned) neither provides the stiffness/character of high end Sailor pens, nor the softness/smoothness of Pilots/Namiki. While becoming rarer, now the hype has subsided, there are still some very good second hand bargains out there (comparatively, you must remember the original purchase costs) if you know where to look.
Conid (any) – The present king of the must have if you can afford it. Extremely well made, fully user maintainable, and guaranteed for life (I believe) with great backup all sounds great, as does the large ink capacities, however I am not alone in finding the pens some what soulless, overly expensive, and the titanium nibs (lowest option on the King size model) are an acquired taste.
Pelikan M800/805/815 – You don’t develop and maintain Pelikan’s level of brand loyalty without producing quality, reliable pens, and many feel they produce the best piston system in the pen world, however QC can be questioned with baby’s bottom being a complaint on the nibs and the short section can be uncomfortable for some (which also saves me a lot of money). Still the multiple special/limited editions per year and good online discounts seems to result in ‘unexpected’ ownership.
Visconti Oversized Homosapiens Dark/Bronze Age – OK I admit it, I was one of those who avoided this pen and brand due to the (well justified, but not as bad as made out) QC reputation, however a lot of people do seem to add Visconti pens to their collections just because, and the Mount Etna basalt based resin bodied Homosapiens does seem to be the main model to be seen with and to own. I now understand the fuss and this is one of those ‘everyone seems to have’ pens that people tend to keep rather than regret and sell on.
This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but is based upon observations of pen clubs and the for sale sections on various forums. Certainly the fountain pen world is an easy and bottomless dark hole to fall in to if unaware and lacking in control.
The scary thing is I’ve owned every pen on your list except for the Pilot Metropolitan. And of all of those, I’ve sold or given them all away except for keeping hold of one M800 (of three that I’ve owned), two Conids (of three that I’ve owned), and one Nakaya (of one!).
I’m inspired by William Gibson’s take (in the context of wristwatches) that collecting is a process of education — you learn what you do and don’t like, so every pen you buy and sell is a step along the way. But you’re absolutely right that there are fashions and fads and the latest must-haves, and we all get swept along into buying something that deep inside we know probably isn’t right for us.
Great summary of the allure and potential pitfalls with each of these pens too, Gary.
Elaine Pang said:
I sense that you are less impressed by Platinum nibs, so thought I would speak up! I have owned and tried all three major Japanese brands. (also I have a Pelikan that I love) I agree Pilot is smooth, which is especially wonderful since you get that at any price bracket. Sailor is attractive to me for the variety of bodies and collaborations, but I have resisted buying, because the nibs are stiff. (I do own a Sailor 1911 with a music nib, which is great fun.) I have decided that Platinum is actually the perfect nib for me. Slightly yielding, with a pleasant feedback (not scratchy) and my fine and extra fine nibs are both reliable performers. I had the pleasure of trying the whole range at a display in Itoya, which impressed me as well. The only thing I’m wondering about now is whether a Pilot soft nib will be as enjoyable.
Including my Nakaya I actually have four ‘3776’ nibbed pens 😉
It’s all (as is most things pen related) down to personal taste, but when passing my Nakaya around people tend to love the finish but be uncertain about the nib. If I were to get another (or should that be when) I will try to get a SM nib – I have a Kumpoo limited edition 3776 with that nib and rather like it, but it’s not as stiff as my other three F, SF, and on the Nakaya B).
Hello, thanks for your great blog.
I fully agree with your post. Many pen fans, me included, tend to follow the hype and the must-haves.
From your list, I bought a Pilot VP because I had read so much praise. I found so uncomfortable I did not even get to finish the second refill of the converter.
I bought and sold 2 Safaris and an AlSport, keeping an AlSport “because you have to have one”. Some years later, it turns out that I have now two AlSports, because I bought the Bronze limited edition with the matching ink (that does not match that well at all); and an LX because it was on sale at Endless Pens. All the nibs are dry writers – I suppose they are dry on purpose. I also imagine I will eventually resell them.
About the #3776, I agree with the comment here above. I have two and I will keep them. On the other hand, I have resold a number of Pilots.
Similarly, I really enjoy the Pelikan M200 and M400.
Out from yout list, one pen that many of us get, although it certainly isn’t for everyone, is the Kaweco Sport. Of course, it is different, cheap, robust, cheerful, widely available and you even find them second hand. But it is not for everyone.
Also, I think there is now a big hype around the Leonardo Momento Zero. I wanted one, but I refrained from it because I thought I was just following the hype. And also because I already own two Delta The Journal, which look so similar.
Same thing with the Karas Kustom Vertex this summer.
About the second hand market, I think the real bargains are on the brands that are well represented in the gift market, but do not enjoy any hype in the pen community. Waterman and Cross, for example (shhh – don”t tell anyone!). For the price of a Lamy AlStar you can find a much better writer, unused.