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The Net Takeaway: Good, not great, pens.


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Good, not great, pens. · 04/24/2005 06:15 PM, Trivial

I enjoy a good fountain pen. Like my fascination with quality watches, its great fun to just have the ink flow the way it used to, no balls, no feeders, just ink and pen.

But, fountain pens in the US is a strange market. In Europe, its easy to get affordable and quality pens in any office supply shop. Every school-kid has at least one. And though Bic (a French company, dontcha know) ballpoints are becoming more and more popular, its still easy to get an affordable and fun little pen.

Not so here. The best pens are all imports. Yes, our local Cross brand (Rhode Island, USA) makes some OK stuff… but for the most part, you have to get French, German, or Japanese pens if you don’t want to spend too much.

But even these have problems. Note that these are not “collector” pens; these are nice pens that are affordable enough that you don’t mind walking around with them and possibly losing them.

For example, Lamy is a stylish German brand making modern looking pens. I particularly like the Aluminum Safari aka AlStar (I have no preference for this shop; it was first in a google search) but after only a year of use, the cap started falling off from a hard stare. Put the pen in your pocket, and walk… and the cap comes off and the big ink stain ruins yet another pair of pants. What a pain. The plastic ones, like this transparent Safari are just as good looking… and just as poorly capped.

Another famous brand is the Rotring (also german). I particularly like the Rotring Newton but same problem. After less than a year of use, the snap cap has stopped snapping. Instant useless pen. Yep, if the cap won’t make a seal, the ink dries out at the tip requiring constant cleaning.

Waterman is another high quality brand which uses these snap caps… which stop snapping within a year. And these cost more than the above, which makes it all hurt more.

Like everything else, conglomerated. Sanford owns Rotring, for example, as well as Waterman and Parker (see the whole list)... and they are owned by Newell Rubbermaid.

Anyway, what to do? One option: get over it, and just use cheap pens. Another: many fountain pens are screwtops, but few of the low end pens are available with this feature.

Another option, and my current fave, is the Namiki Vanishing Point... well, now known by its parent company name as Pilot; did you know they were Japanese? (BTW, this link goes to the Fountain Pen Hospital, a great shop and repair place). Actually, these new versions look kinda fat and I don’t really love the look, but the original version of the pen was slim and svelte… Note how the clip glides into the nib holder, not tacked on like the current version. That old one was a beautiful pen, and they had to ruin it.

Anyway, the cool thing about the VP is that it clicks like a ballpoint. Press the top, and the nib slides out. Click it again, and the nib slides back behind a door sealing it. Great compromise, and no caps to fall off in one’s pocket. Around $100 us in many places, sometimes as cheap as $92 if you hunt, or cheaper on Ebay.

BTW, nice article on the history of the pen. Always fun to compare engineering and tech history of these old things to our modern world, and to see how history repeats, even when you switch from ink to silicon (or photons). Follow the money… and hopefully, we can create an aspect of technology which creates snapping pen caps… which actually stay snapped on after use.

* * *


  1. A cool site for cheap Japanese pens is jetpens:
    gene    May 5, 04:12 AM    #

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