Back in April I did a piece on fountain pens for a fiver. The idea being to look at what you could find on the British high street at that time with a price point so low that for many people the fountain pen could be bought on a whim. Once that article went live I came up with a new plan for the collection.
Of course plans never fully last and this article has taken longer than expected to complete, but here are the results of a barely scientific piece of research. You see I made sure all the pens were pleasant writers then sought out friends and family who do not use fountain pens to find out their views and also to rate the pens. With one exception just a few seconds with micromesh and one or two tine bends was all that was needed to make them decent writers. The exception, the Sainsbury supermarket pen was so bad I could not make it work and so binned it, however at just £2 I splashed out and bought another. This again needed a little work but after that was fine.
I needed a control, the plant in the test, and so I looked at my collection for a number of fountain pens that could pass for being cheap if you did not recognise them. The first was a TWSBO ECO. Sure I love these pens (though I do find the nibs to be a little dry and firm for my tastes) and have previously said they could be the flagship of the brand, but they are also ‘shiny plastic’. The second pen was harder to pick as I wanted one that cost a lot more than £30 but did not look ‘expensive’. I did consider one of my cheap Parkers, but the brand is too well known and recognised in the UK and there would be too much chance of being recognised for what they are, however on this side of ‘The Pond’ there is one brand many will not know. Cross. With that in mind my ATX was brought out.
Scoring was based on order preference. Thus a lower over all score the better the pen was seen to be. I had two measures, first the look and feel, second the writing experience. Here is where I did make a mistake, but one I only spotted when the third tester asked why I did not score looks and feel separately. By this time it was already too late, and the first two reviewers were not going to be seen again for a fair while.
The idea was to first see how attractive a pen was, how much the person was drawn to it, and then how they enjoyed the writing experience, and thus would they be likely to go back to it. I should have gone for ‘will the eye candy at a cheap price interest the passing shopper’ followed by ‘now opened have they made a mistake and will stop now or will they continue’.
The number of testers are also too low to be scientific. I screwed up at one stage as I knew I was going to have access to three or four members of distant family, but on the day realised I had left the TWSBI ECO at home (outside of the tests it was being used in the kitchen for notes and shopping lists). So after just 8 people in over 4-5 months, I’ve decided to bring things to a conclusion. Even with this small number patterns in the scoring can be seen.
With nibs I noticed those with smaller writing much preferred the finer dryer nibs, and conversely those with larger writing, the medium ones. There were also obvious preferences for the width of the pen with some testers also commenting that in the hand a pen felt nicer than it looked (would have been interesting to see how different separate ‘looks’ and ‘feel’ scores would have been).
Remembering a perfect top score would be 8 for one category, and 16 for both, and worst scores would be 96/192, in reality the look/feel range was 20-77 and writing, 29-73, with the total scores being between 51 and 148.
Scores will be Ranked order, Pen, (score total), (score range)
Look and Feel rating:
1. Cross ATX (20) (1-6)
2. Helix Oxford (22) (1-6)
3. TWSBI ECO (33) (1-12)
4. Schneider Xpect Vivaz (44) (3-12)
5. Monami Olika (50) (2-10)
6. WH Smith with the Soft Grip (55) (2-9)
7. Platinum Preppy (57) (3-11)
8. Sainsbury (60) (3-12)
9. Manuscript Classic (64) (3-12)
10. WH Smith with Chrome (69) (2-12)
11. Pilot VPen (76) (6-11)
12. Paper Mate Ninja (77) (5-12)
1. Helix Oxford (29) (1-10)
2. Paper Mate Ninja (32) (2-11)
3. TWSBI ECO (42) (1-12)
4. Manuscript Classic (45) (1-9)
5. Schneider Xpect Vivaz (48)
6. Platinum Preppy (51) (2-12)
7. WH Smith with Chrome (52) (2-8)
8. WH Smith with Soft Grip (53) (2-11)
9. Cross ATX (55) (4-11)
10.= Monami Olika (72) (3-12)
10.= Pilot VPen (72) (7-12)
12. Sainsbury (73) (2-12)
And so to the final scores and rankings once the totals have been added together.
1. Helix Oxford (51)
2.= Cross ATX (75)
2.= TWSBI ECO (75)
4. Schneider Xpect Vivaz (92)
5.= Platinum Preppy (108)
5.= WH Smith with Soft Grip (108)
7.= Manuscript Classic (109)
7.= Paper Mate Ninja (109)
9. WH Smith with Chrome (121)
10. Monami Olika (122)
11. Sainsbury (133)
12. Pilot VPen (148)
Straight off it is noticeable that the two ringers are near the top, but is it actually the Helix Oxford that is the winner. Next it is noticeable that looks did not influence the writing experience as the Paper Mate pen was scored second highest when used yet most testers did not like the looks and felt it was just too small. The Monami is almost an opposite to this with many people commenting that the Asian fine nib feeling scratchy.
It is interesting that when you compare to my own rating of these pens, even taking in to account the majority of them needing nib work, some of my preferences differ from those of the testers, with the Monami Olika being an obvious one. I liked this pen but I think I knew what to expect with an Asian fine nib and so wrote accordingly, which would make a difference.
So what did I learn from this? Well we all have different tastes? Actually the latter I think we all already knew which is why I’m sure readers are part fed up with me mentioning my mantra in most reviews, to try a pen before you buy if you can. While I wanted them to score mid-range it was good to see that the two ringers were ranked towards the top, indicating that cost can provide a better experience, though it should be noted the Cross did not do well for writing. I like the fact the humble Helix Oxford came top. The more I use it and pass it round the more convinced I am that this is now the perfect starter fountain pen, replacing the Lamy Safari, Pilot Metropolitan/MR, Kaweco Perkeo, and TWSBI ECO in that role, all of which cost a lot more comparatively.
What am I now going to do with these pens? Not sure. I’m probably going to keep the Helix Oxford. The Sainsbury pen will be for the bin as it is just plain awful. The rest I may pass round for others to try in the short term and then use some of the better ones for handing out as PIF fountain pens at a later stage.