my pen collection - ink between the teeth

Dec 18, 2017

my pen collection

I like fountain pens. I mean, you probably already know this: you're on this blog.

I might have too many new pens at this point to really talk about all of them, but I did want to talk a little about my collection as an end of year retrospective, because my two handfuls have shifted and changed over the course of my short fountain pen life.

Several years ago you wouldn't find a single broad nib with me; now, the overwhelming majority of my pens skew towards the wetter, thicker line. I hope this read, although it contains some pens that are no longer available, is pleasant and informative!

TWSBI Diamond 540 (B), "Ol' Faithful"
Of course, I have to start with one of the first pens I ever got, and the only one that's still in my collection from my early fountain pen-collecting years. I can't remember when I got the Diamond 540, but I know it was for my birthday some years ago. It was my very first "high-end" pen—you know, one that I didn't buy off eBay. I was so excited when it arrived in the mail; I can't remember the first ink I filled it with (Noodler's Black, probably?) but it was my first experience with a piston filler, and I was impressed by its ink capacity, its aesthetics, and its Taiwanese heritage (okay, that's a little bit of my bias showing there).

It's been a couple of years, and through issues of cracking barrels, dislodged pistons, moldy nib units, and melted feeds, I can't seem to let go of my Diamond 540. To be fair, the latter two was a problem with the ink (moldy J. Herbin Vert Empire, ew; extremely powerful Noodler's Kiowa Pecan, note to self, put this in a different pen). Call me sentimental, but it's definitely a pen that I keep going back to. TWSBI's top notch customer service is also a huge bonus: for the price of shipping, Philip will send you whatever pieces you need with a quick e-mail. If you struggle with your TWSBIs, don't give up: they're a company that stands by their products. For me, they're absolutely worth the purchase.

TWSBI Eco (B), "New Faithful"
Of course, I can't mention my Diamond 540 without mentioning my Eco. I was saving to buy one when the black and white versions came out: when I was ready to make my purchase, the clear was available, and I preferred it to the other two. I quite like the chunky appearance, though I've seen that it is certainly not a pleasant look for other people! Regardless, it's a reliable pen with a piston filler, and I've loved it plenty: I've written a post about it on this blog. It's hard not to really consider it when you're looking for the right pen under $50.

TWSBI Diamond 540 (Pendleton Butter Line Stub Italic), "Newest Faithful"
There's nothing I can say about this particular pen that I won't be writing in just a little while. I love to reach for it, particularly with the ink that it almost seemed to be made for: Diamine Sepia. There's something about this combination that makes it perfect for letter writing (maybe because I like to believe my handwriting looks fairly decent with this particular nib?). Even though TWSBI has long moved on to the 580, I seem to always welcome these older pens into the fold. What can I say? I am a bit sentimental.

Kaweco Skyline Sport (B), "Ghost"
Kaweco Sports have always been on my radar. I purchased one for a friend way back when I was still in high school: they're cute, easy to use, and great for travel. Despite my interest in them I didn't purchase one for myself, although I thought they came in a variety of attractive colors. Then the Skylines came out. The only real difference is that the Skylines have silver detailing as opposed to gold. Like the rest of the Sport line, the shape is the same, though the materials differ. However, this particular pen's color struck me: it's a minty blue-green, a color I hadn't seen in other pens. It's gorgeous. There have been a number of special editions Sports released, including some beauties exclusive to Eslite, a bookstore/home goods chain in East Asia: 2016 Pantone Colors of the Year Rose Quartz and Serenity, as well as a rose gold Al Sport. I can't believe I didn't buy the Cognac color when it was still available: it was golden brown, and oh so delicious. D'oh.

Stipula Splash (F/M "flex")
Back in the day, I gave the Stipula Splash a positive review, and I still stand—a little waveringly—by that position. The Splash was a Monday Matchup giveaway prize from the Goulet Pen Company, and came with a bottle of J. Herbin 1670 Stormy Grey ink. I think that for my personal needs, the Splash fit just fine for me: I use dip pens in specific circumstances, so I don't need "wet noodle" flex in my writing. I have always been of the opinion that modern flex, especially steel modern flex, can never get to the level of vintage nibs (I'm also of the opinion that vintage flex nibs probably were not built for the extreme flexing we put them through now), so I wasn't getting ready for this pen to blow all other pens out of the water. For me, the Stipula Splash is just another pen. It's a piston filler with a nib that writes well—a smooth, if a touch dry, line—and although it can't be taken apart it can still be cleaned relatively easily. With a lot of pressure it has a bit of line variation, but not enough that I would consciously call it a flex nib. It fills a niche in my collection: it's probably one of the only pens with a fine nib that I own. The Stipula logo on the end of the cap fell off long ago, but considering the backlash, maybe the company would prefer that?

Pilot Custom Heritage 92 (B), "Shiny Boy"
Boasting a not at all impressive ink capacity but a 14K gold nib, this is the only pen in my collection over $100 that I personally purchased. Everything I've wanted to say about this pen I've detailed in a previous post: in general, I do like the pen, although I need to be careful with what kind of ink I put in it, as it tends to the drier side. At first, the nib had feedback I wasn't quite used to, but I'm enjoying the feel of it now. I like this pen a lot and I'm glad I purchased it. My gut feeling is that you can get essentially the same product with a TWSBI and a gold JOWO nib. With the help of FP Nibs you can also get a nib grind you wouldn't be able to get otherwise. I've never tried this, so please don't yell at me if it's not perfectly the same, but. You know, options.

Lamy Safari Charcoal & Lamy Safari Petrol (M)
I thought I would group the Charcoal and the Petrol together, largely because they're the same pen in two different colorways. The Charcoal was a gift from a friend some years back, originally fitted with a broad nib; the Petrol came with the medium. There isn't much to say about the Lamy Safaris that haven't been said a million times before. The look is divisive, the triangular grip is divisive, the lack of converter inclusion is also divisive. I do believe that a pen scraping against $30 should come with a converter and not just a single blue cartridge, even if you can refill the cartridge. In the end, Safaris are ubiquitous, inexpensive, and workhorses. They tend to write fairly well and have quite the variety of nib choices (including slightly more now). I don't agree with the idea that Safaris are the perfect daily carry pen; if I lost one I wouldn't be upset, but I would certainly be annoyed. Regardless, they do what I need them to do—which is good enough for me.

Lamy Al-Star Bluegreen (B)
I purchased this pen in a tiny store not too far from the apartment my family owns in Taipei. It was a tad overpriced, and was fitted with a fine nib—as most pens in Taiwan are—but I didn't mind at all. The owner is passionate and knowledgeable about every item he carries, and was very patient as I stammered through my elementary Mandarin (sorry, mom, for not paying attention in Chinese class). When I came back to the U.S., I purchased a black medium nib, and did a little bit of juggling with the other Lamys in my collection. The Al-Star is heavier than its Safari brothers simply because its made out of metal. Aesthetically, they're essentially the same (although the Bluegreen does have a smoky transparent grip section). All Lamys have a triangular grip, which I largely ignore. It works for me.

Stationery is niche but popular in Taiwan, with many shops having cult followings and carrying Japanese-imported items for very reasonable prices. I've visited far too many tiny stores tucked away into alleys and apartment buildings with a single fan blowing Taiwan's humid, tropical air out the door—every moment is worth it, to see what each store considers meaningful and worthwhile to stock. If you're in Taipei, I cannot recommend Molly Lifestyle enough. They've got items for the camera enthusiast, the stationery lover, the fountain pen collector. Oh, and if you're in the neighborhood, Plain Stationery & Cafe is about a block away, near the MRT station. You can browse the store for Traveler's Notebook items, their collection of exclusive stamps, and some other cute homegoods (their main store is a little ways away but carries more products). Bring a notebook, as they have a collectible rubber stamp—you can also order coffee, and bask in some mild air conditioning while you're there.

Parker 51 (M), "Something Old"
This was a gift from my dad, who found it somewhere or the other while he was on a business trip in China. It came in a clamshell container, like a glasses case, with a pencil. This Parker has an interesting metal decal on the cap, commemorating the 50th anniversary of a business. As far as I know, this pen had never been used until I got my grubby hands on it. However, the aerometric filler worked perfectly; perhaps it had been restored? The pen's history is foggy to me, but I don't mind that. The Parker 51 is armed with a wet, smooth-writing medium nib. I've been careful to put "safer" inks in it (I'm a fan of Noodler's, dont get me wrong, but this isn't a pen for melted feeds), and it's treated me well. It's really interesting to hold what is, essentially, a piece of history.

Taccia Staccato (B), "Something Borrowed"
I won this pen from Ray Newbery, who held a giveaway on their blog The Fountain Pen Quest. I had no idea about the brand Taccia, but it looked like a nice pen: a bit on the bigger side, but once it got in my hand I was very pleased with the weight of it. However, I can't say that I was enthused about the nib. For some reason (maybe it's because I'm left-handed and hold my pens like a goblin?) this pen just would not stop being scratchy. The nib would dig into the paper, cutting actual dents. I was sure it wasn't me, since I definitely don't write heavily. I eventually got tired of struggling with the nib (even I have my limits), and left it to "retire."

Later, I had a Jinhao X750 that would constantly lose ink. I was never sure how it happened: evaporation, maybe? This was a pen that I'd had for at least two years, fitted with a Nemosine nib and a fresh international converter. But after losing far too much ink I finally emptied it out and left it out to pasture. One day, I was tinkering around and cleaning my pens when I wondered if the nib on the Taccia could be removed. Certainly enough, the collar screwed out, and the nib and feed were friction-fit. I pulled both, and fit the Nemosine nib instead. Now, this pen is a part of my regular load-out. It's probably some kind of sin that I popped a $10 nib into a pen at this price point. It writes smoothly, fits my hand well, and is really quite attractive. I'm glad I could re-incorporate this pen into my regular collection. It seemed too much of a shame to just let it collect dust.

Nemosine Singularity (B)
To be honest, I was really more curious about Nemosine nibs than I was about the pens themselves. Don't get me wrong, the pens look fine (I'm especially a fan of that coral Singularity that has been sold out at every turn; I assume it's been discontinued), but they didn't really stand out to me. Nemosine pens are middling at best—they may be prone to cracking and they don't have a particularly interesting feel in the hand. Nemosine nibs are a different monster altogether. They're inexpensive, come in a variety of nib widths, and fit quite a few pens. And they write great, smooth and a bit wet. Dang, are they good.

Pilot Metropolitan (M)
There's little to say about the Pilot Metropolitan that hasn't been said before. It's an inexpensive pen that writes very well. I really wish I could say more! I gave my first Metropolitan to my mom as she seemed quite interested in it (although, like the Lamy Joy, it's currently lying on the wayside as I don't actually own ink at home for her to fill her pens from), and received a second as a Christmas present. They're easy to keep around, and a great value. Perfect for beginners, or for anyone who just wants to flesh out their collection. You only get two nibs to choose from, but they're both smooth from the get-go, so it's not a problem for me.

Pilot 78G (B), "Something Blue"
The Pilot 78Gs are long discontinued now, and I'm really happy I managed to pick one up before they all disappeared. Mine was already hard to find when I did so back in 2015 or so, long before Wonder Pens wrote about them being discontinued (perhaps they were phased out of the U.S. before Canada?). I searched so long for the pen because I loved the color, and I was intrigued by the nib. I think this was one of the first lower-end pens to be in this lovely teal color, which was strangely charming. And, perhaps most importantly, the broad nibs for the Pilot 78G line are actually italics: and quite crisp italics they are! It's a great pen, smooth right from the get-go and surprisingly forgiving. I've certainly never had trouble writing with it. If you can still find NOS on eBay I would highly recommend snatching them up. On the other hand, the 78G has the same kind of nib you'd find in a Prera, Metropolitan and—most appealingly—the Plumix. Switching the nibs out is an easy feat, but you could also just use the Plumix. This pen carries the scars of a nasty bottle of nail polish remover, spilled over my desk. Acetone kills, folks. Regardless, I think it gives my pen a bit of charm: and it makes it easier to pick out of a pile.

For the love of pens

A post shared by conrad (@pharaonis) on
You may notice that there is a mild line through my pen collection, which is perhaps purposefulness. I don't mind ugly pens, or cheap pens, or pens that others would write off. My pens tend toward the affordable (largely sub-$50). What I care about is if the pen writes to my satisfaction. I do my absolute best to rotate out my pens so each gets a fair shot: I write regularly in my journal (at least three times a week), a Nanami Paper Seven Seas Standard, and I switch out my pen for every entry. I have favorites, of course, but I wouldn't say that there's a pen in my collection that I hate.

I don't purchase pens off eBay anymore, mostly because Chinese-made pens just don't have the kind of nib width that I prefer (my handwriting looks great with medium and broad nibs—fine and extra-fine? Yeah, not great). I still try to look for pens that have great value and also write well. I don't mind pens that take a little bit of fiddling and tinkering to get writing smoothly; I also don't feel the pressure of ruining a pricey, one-of-a-kind pen because, well, I can't afford it in the first place. I splurge from time to time, but mostly once in a full moon. Money is tight, as money has always been tight, but I'm also not the kind of person to overspend. I think long (weeks!) and hard (agonizing!) over the mildest purchase. I'm less KonMari and more What If I Need This Crisp Hamilton For When I'm Dying From A Gunshot Wound And Need It?

I'm lucky enough to have won generous gifts from other fountain pen users in the community, which I am deeply grateful for. I want to thank them again—Ray Newbery and Rachel Goulet—for their kindness. I think of pens, most importantly, as writing instruments, which may be pretty obvious, but is completely truthful. Sealing a pen that doubles as a work of art behind glass panels is certainly not for me. I buy pens that I find aesthetically pleasing and take care of them, yes, but I also make sure they get used. That's half the fun, isn't it?

I purchase my pens from a number of sources.

Fontoplumo tends to have the best prices for European-made pens (Lamy, Kaweco). Shipping is affordable and products arrive lightning fast (once, in about three business days). I have nothing but praise for Frank and his company.

Birmingham Pen Company (formerly xFountainPens) was where I purchased my Nemosine. They offer free USPS First class shipping on orders over $35.

If I remember correctly, I purchased the TWSBI Diamond 540 and the Eco straight from TWSBI. Shipping is very inexpensive, but if you're looking to pick up inks with your purchase they only offer Noodler's.

JetPens tends to be slightly pricier than other retailers to make the free shipping worth it on their end, but they're based in San Jose and I'm essentially guaranteed to get my purchase in two business days. I've noticed their prices have been quietly creeping up over the years. I would suggest purchasing Japan-made items here; everything else you can find elsewhere for cheaper, including shipping.

I purchased my Pilot Custom Heritage 92 directly from Japan through Amazon. If you purchase yours through an authorized retailer, be prepared to pay up to $100 more. Pilot has some frankly bizarre pricing schemes in the U.S. My thoughts on the matter has been detailed in my write-up on the pen.

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