Fountain Pen Help
September 7, 2005 8:01 PM   Subscribe

I would like to buy a fountain pen. A nice one with a fine nib. Anyone here have a pen they would strongly recommend?

Also, Is there anything important I need to know about fountain pens, and using them. (I'm not interested in calligraphy, just writing letters and stuff like that.)
posted by chunking express to Shopping (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Most, if not all, fountain pens have replacable nibs. So I wouldn't place the nib as the highest priority when buying a pen. Look for one that has the style you like, a weight/balance you like, and a price you like. Whatever you like, try it out writing with both the cap on and the cap off. Some fountain pens are not meant to be used whith the cap attached to the back, some are. It can affect the balance a lot.

I'm a wood turner as a hobbyist so my daily writer is one I made myself. I replaced the nib that came with the "kit" with a good one that I picked up off an old pen that had fallen on hard times. I use it every day and I love it.

First fountain pen I bought, I went to a big store that had all kinds, new and old, and wrote with about 30 or 40 of them to find one I liked. I bought a matching feminine one for the woman who is (now) my wife. I bent the clip pretty bad at one point of accident, aside from that it's still in good condition and a prized possession of mine. This store was on the outskirts of LA.

Oh, and one that I have that I really like a lot and people always think is cool is a retractable fountain pen. It has a mechanism a bit like a ball-point pen that retracts into the body when you twist it. It does not write as well as some I've seen but it's very convenient and neat.
posted by RustyBrooks at 8:16 PM on September 7, 2005

Some will (rightly) argue that you pay for the name more than you do the pen, but no one ever got fired for buying Montblanc.
posted by Kwantsar at 8:22 PM on September 7, 2005

I'm a huge fan of the Parker 51 (self link) - no longer in production but readily available. The later models with the aerometric fill system seem quite reliable, the older vacumatic models perhaps not.
posted by exogenous at 8:46 PM on September 7, 2005

Just be careful if you go with a Montblanc that you do not drop it. The lovely, perfectly weighted pen that I bought for my clumsy husband is now in pieces.

This is the pen I use. It's lighter than a Montblanc, but I mostly got it for the look. I'm partial to Cross pens, but that could just be because half my family has worked there.
posted by Ruki at 8:47 PM on September 7, 2005

While Montblancs don't suck (avoid the Diplomat, tho, a leaky POS and it's like writing with a cucumber) but as noted they're incredibly overpriced, and when you pull one out you risk looking like some wanker displaying a status marker. Owners of a Pelikan, on the other hand, reveals themselves as persons who know pens, quality and real value. Even their $20 student pen is excellent, I use one as a daily writer. Something a little classier is their Souveran M400 which be had very reasonably. The Souveran 800's go toe-to-toe with the best Montblancs and Parkers, and win.
posted by mojohand at 8:48 PM on September 7, 2005

Good call, exogenous. Parker 51's are excellent, and a good, rebuilt 51 Specials can be had for under $100 on the 'Bay all day long.
posted by mojohand at 8:50 PM on September 7, 2005

Recommendations would really depend on your price range. World Lux (No affiliation) has a good selection in just about every price range. For $65 I picked up a Sensa Meridian with a fine nib. It survived daily use for two years and still works great. I've also picked up a few higher end fountain pens from them but they stay home on my writing desk.
posted by Tenuki at 8:58 PM on September 7, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for all your replies. I didn't specify a price in the question because I really did want to get a wide range of responses. I'm not sure how much I want to spend just yet. Perhaps I will start with some entry level sort of pen, and see where I go from there.
posted by chunking express at 9:09 PM on September 7, 2005

Response by poster: I got a response to this question via email from a helpful fellow named mike:
I am a fountain pen geek. I have a dozen of them, even though I really can't afford the habit; also, I sell them as part of one of my jobs.

The pen I sell the most of - and I have two of them myself - is the Lamy Safari / AL-star / Vista. They range from $25 (Safari) to $35 (AL-Star), have tough steel nibs, a range of colors, and a great inkflow. If you're new to fountain pens, this might be a great place to start.

A solid, popular, generally affordable pen with a strong nib (by which I read "firm nib" - i.e. more on the iridium side of things than the 18k gold side) is the Pelikan.

A great starting place is the Pelikan M600 or M800 (depending on your hand size - M800 is slightly larger than the M600, which is slightly larger than the M400, etc.). I got my M800 on eBay at probably 30% off retail, even after shipping.

I see they're selling on eBay for about $140, which sounds right. These things will last a lifetime - unlike the Lamy Safaris, say - and I'm convinced that it's worth that kind of money.

I'm not sure what your price range is, but my favorite pen, hands down, is an Aurora Optima. Frankly you can pay a lot less for one of their slightly less expensive lines - I think the Ipsilon retails around $95 - and still get an amazing nib and a fantastic ink flow system.

I could go on for days - I hope you'll contact me if you have any questions - but I want to finish up with just a couple caveats:

1. You probably want to make sure to get a fine nib. Medium nibs are generally better quality and more elegant, but most people (myself included) are used to fine-tipped ballpoint pens and just can't get used to having ink spread so far on the page. Extra fine nibs - which are technically even closer to those ballpoints - are generally scratchy and flawed.

2. 90% of fountain pens in America today are cartridge- or converter-fill. This means you can unscrew the top of the pen and stick in a plastic cartridge of ink, the same way you would refill a ballpoint pen. This is really convenient - you don't have to mess with bottles of ink, and so on - but I've found that cartridge-fill pens just don't flow as reliably as piston-fill pens. (With piston-fill, you do have to use bottled ink, which is really not very convenient.)

Anyway, I hope this jabbering helps some. Good luck! And have fun!
posted by chunking express at 9:27 PM on September 7, 2005 [2 favorites]

I like my Lamy.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:55 PM on September 7, 2005

I too love my Lamy Al-Star. Even if you gravitate to more luxurious pens, it's nice to have a fountain pen that you can take anywhere and won't take it too hard if you lose it. That it writes very well makes it a no-brainer.

Start with an inexpensive Lamy to decide if you like fountain pens and if they're compatible with what you need pens for; if you like that, keep it and start shopping around based on what you've already decided you like.

(The Al-Star and its plastic equivalent take cartridges but include one that you can fill from an ink bottle. Best of both worlds.)
posted by mendel at 10:07 PM on September 7, 2005

i'm a big fan of the Lamy Safari cheap and stylish!
posted by jodic at 10:21 PM on September 7, 2005

There are different kind of fountain pen people. Some people like wonderfully balanced, elegant, well crafted $100 pens.

Me, I buy $6 Sheaffer Classics, and if I drop one down the sewer grate, I'm annoyed, but not heartbroken. Have one that's been going for 5 years, and I haven't lost it. That's special for me.

Been looking online, but couldn't find an image. You should be able to find at a stationary or office shop - but not a box store like staples (I've tried). I used to buy mine and refills at Grand&Toy in Toronto. There is nothing wrong with a cheap fountain pen - it's a great way to get used to them. If you like bulky pens, go for one with a screw lid - they leak less. I just find them too thick to hold.
posted by jb at 11:34 PM on September 7, 2005

You don't say if you're left or right handed but your choice of pen might vary if you're a southpaw, especially if you're an overwriter or an underwriter. The only way to find out if a pen is suitable for you then is to try it out but I've found that pens/nibs sold specificallly for lefties are not necessarily better for us (and often cost more).
posted by ceri richard at 11:45 PM on September 7, 2005

I've had a cheap Parker since 2001, and it's seen me through a LOT of exams in that time, I could estimate hundreds of thousands of words, and it's still doing ok. Little bit rusted, but no problem for me. So parker is probably a good bet.
posted by Acey at 2:15 AM on September 8, 2005

I'm fond of my Lamy Safari too. It writes very smoothly as well as being cheap and stylish.
posted by singingfish at 2:34 AM on September 8, 2005

I picked up a Pelikan pen for my wife a few years back and she loves it. Bought it from Oscar Braun. If you email Pam there with what you're looking for she can make a suggestion about which pen to try.
posted by SteveInMaine at 2:57 AM on September 8, 2005

[Disclaimer: I have too many pens.]

Lamy Al-Star is a good writer and dirt-cheap, but can feel a bit chunky. The Waterman Phileas is a great starter FP: heavyish, solid, well-balanced, cheap, cartridge/convertor. A Pelikan M200 is another cheapish option, but it's an ink-bottle job. Gorgeous, gorgeous nibs for the price. The student pens are good too.

And for something cheap and cheerful, you could always try one of the many modern Chinese FPs, especially the Hero Parker 51 knock-offs.

One last thing: German nib sizes tend broader; SE Asian ones tend finer. That is, a German 'F' nib is often broader than a Chinese or Japanese 'M'.
posted by holgate at 3:08 AM on September 8, 2005

Space Pen Bullet - go to products and bullet.

Because no one can hear you scream in outer space.
posted by FidelDonson at 5:14 AM on September 8, 2005

The Waterman Phileas (as mentioned above by holgate) is my everyday fountain pen. You should be able to find one for about $25 online.

It's an excellent beginner's pen because the nib is not too delicate or persnickety. I like the weight -- not a big monster pen, but thicker than most Montblancs, and very well balanced (many expensive pens are extremely top-heavy when the cap is placed on the end). The cap snaps on very firmly when closed. The clip is also sturdy, so you don't feel like it's going to come out of your pocket all day.

Of the various fountain pens in my collection, my absolute favorite is my Waterman L'Etalon.
posted by briank at 5:44 AM on September 8, 2005

I went through a fountain pen phase before I came to the realization that they're more trouble than they're worth (of course, I don't handwrite excessively). But, I've still got my Lamy Safari after losing a couple nicer ones.
posted by mkultra at 6:38 AM on September 8, 2005

The Waterman Edson

It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.
posted by Scoo at 6:54 AM on September 8, 2005

I'm with b1tr0t; the Rotring 600 is a fabulous pen. It's discontinued, but still available from specialists. Seems a bunch of the 600 series (including 0.5mm pencils) were liquidated in bulk, so you can sometimes get decent prices on eBay.

Good ink makes a difference. My current favourite is J. Herbin Lie de Thé, poseur that I am.
posted by scruss at 7:49 AM on September 8, 2005

Third vote for the Waterman Phileas. I'm on my second over 5 years. First was fine until it got dropped and landed nib-down.

You can buy them over the counter at most Staples or Office Max stores for about $35.

I got a replacement on sale for $25 at the Fountain Pen Hospital.
posted by sol at 7:49 AM on September 8, 2005

briank - the Waterman L'Etalon was my first "quality" fountain pen. Great pen! I've also got two Montverdes - a red Cambria, and "tigereye" Jewelria.

chunking express - Getting back to your original question... Go to a place that sells pens, and try out a bunch. How the pen feels in your hand is important - weight, girth, feel and thickness of nib, etc. I like a thicker, weightier pen.

A few cautions, though. Be careful in handling the FP. Every now and then, I get an ink smudge, but nothing serious. Be careful when filling - spills/drips can occur. FP ink will smear/run if you spill something on it - even after it's dried. And if you ever lend someone your pen, here's a good trick - give him the pen, but hold on to the cap. That way he can't walk off with it "accidentally". Good luck!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:56 AM on September 8, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks again for all the replies. I'll let you all know what I decide on. I'm thinking I will buy one of the cheaper pens to start with: Lamy Al-Star or Safari; Waterman Phileas or the Parker 51 if I can find it for a reasonable price on eBay.
posted by chunking express at 11:47 AM on September 8, 2005

And if you ever lend someone your pen

True FP aficionados would scoff at this, as the nib on a good fountain pen supposedly "wears itself down" to optimum usability for whomever uses it.
posted by mkultra at 11:52 AM on September 8, 2005

I quite enjoy my Rotring Initial.
posted by Vidiot at 9:52 PM on September 8, 2005

Another vote for Lamy Al-Star - dead cheap (mine was £6 at WH Smith), incredibly comfortable to use and I like the fact that I can use bottled ink at home with the fountain pen converter (which works surprisingly well) or just take a couple of cartridges with me if I'm going away.
posted by jack_mo at 5:44 AM on September 10, 2005

Response by poster: So I bought a Waterman Phileas. It was 15 dollars when all was said and done, which sounded like a deal. As soon as I figure out how to get the ink cartridge in the pen, i'll let you know what I think. Thanks for all the feed back. This thread was really helpful.
posted by chunking express at 10:00 PM on September 14, 2005

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