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Worth spending more than a tenner?

AimlessWanderer

Remember to forget me!
I'm a cynical consumer. I can't help it.

Some things do need extra money spending on them, but some things don't. Sometimes extra value is clearly apparent from buying a higher tier product, and sometimes not. I have a tendency to aim low to start with, and then replace with better, only if and when the cheap one fails.

So far, my cheap (under £10 GBP) fountain pens haven't failed me, but after 3.1/2 years, the day finally came when I wanted to see if aiming a little higher would give me tangible benefits. I said tangible for a reason.

I'm not somebody who can detect or imagine a soul in an inanimate object. I am largely ambivalent to whether an item is lovingly made by human hands, or whether those human hands just pushed buttons on a fancy CNC machine, that's loving built and maintained by human hands. I am however, someone who will feel woefully underwhelmed if my elevated spending left me holding something made out of plastic... irrespective how pretty that acrylic or other polymer might look.

Two metal bodied pens caught my eye... and then my PayPal account. Both of them Parkers. I didn't want to have to worry about keeping several different cartridge types in the stash (cartridge/converter is my preferred choice), but don't mine stretching to two, as I already have a Parker Vector. Now, these aren't extravagant purchases for a pen enthusiast, but coughing up £55, and only getting two pens in return, is outside of my usual comfort zone for a scribbling stick.

As such, I thought I'd share whether or not I'd feel silly for having spent that on two pens, or whether I'd feel silly for not having spent that earlier, and whether or not a rabbit hole has started yawning in my direction....
 
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AimlessWanderer

Remember to forget me!
One old, one new.

First up, a 1970's (same vintage as me) Parker 45 Flighter

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Secondly, a textured finish Parker IM Premium.

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Yes, I know, to many of you, these are entry level. For me, they were 2x and 3.5x entry level pricing, respectively. Bear with me though...

Looks wise, these two pens didn't disappoint. While one of my existing favourites, a stainless steel Baoer 388 only cost me £9 for five of the damn things, it does look a little chintzy on the trim. These new additions don't.

Ergonomics was the next go to, and both of them tick all the right boxes for me:

  • Well balanced
  • Grip section not overly fat nor thin
  • No irritating threads under my grip, nor frustratingly large steps from section to barrel
  • The edge of the cap when posted doesn't chafe annoyingly on the side of my hand either
All very important characteristics for me, but all these criteria are already met with my uber cheapies too. In terms of weight, they have that nice blend of lightness and durability that I get from me cheapies too. They're not pens I'd be frightened to use, or feel I have to be unduly careful with. Up to this point, they were feeling pretty much on a par with my existing favourites, yet despite them having cost several times more, there was no crushing feeling of buyers remorse.

I don't usually like having more than three pens inked up at the same time, but felt I needed to do some swapping and changing between using all five (my three existing favourites, and the two new additions) to see what changes in writing characteristics leapt out at me.
 
Nice pens. I think you're a lucky man if you can satisfy your needs for a smaller sum than most. If you like the way they write you're golden.

My favorite pens have been sent out to nib masters for some expert work, which I deem worth every penny and more. But relative to the price of the pen you might find that charge ridiculous.

The safest course of action is to never use a top tier pen. All our experiences are relative, and enjoyment is wherever you find it. Enjoy your pens.
 

AimlessWanderer

Remember to forget me!
I grabbed my syringe, and a bottle of Diamine ink. I didn't think it was fair testing them side by side if they were running on something else, as I wouldn't be certain what differences were ink and what were pen. I gave each pen a one-third fill of an Amaranth/Grape blend, just to be sure the feeds were fed, and I could put a good few lines down.

The 45 Flighter has undoubtedly the smoothest nib I've ever used. Barely any feedback at on otherwise quite toothy notepad paper. A very marked difference to my Baoer 388, which gives a lot of feedback, without straying to far as to be scratchy. It actually made a regular supermarket quality notepad feel like writing on Clairefontaine.

The IM Premium has more presence on the page though, although it did come with a fine nib. Less feedback than my Baoer 388, but more than my Wing Sung Demonstrator and Ohto Tasche.

The biggest difference, was that these pens both wrote well at my hand on first fill, without any nib tweaks. All my cheapies needed 10 minutes fine tuning on a multi-surfaced nail buffer pad to get them attuned to me. Of course, that's not always guaranteed though (as Keith just pointed out as I was typing this - I'll respond to that post shortly).

Ultimately though, had I just bought the gateway pens to the wider world of pens that I had previously eschewed, or did I just feel liked I'd thrown away fifty quid?
 

AimlessWanderer

Remember to forget me!
Well... neither, and to be honest I'm very happy with that.

These two pens both seem to be worth that slightly higher outlay. I don't feel like I've overpaid, although I think I would have done if I'd paid the full £70 for the IM Premium, instead of the £20 it actually cost me. Both feel like pens for life, barring loss, theft, or blistering incompetence on my part, and I'm confident that when I no longer have need of them, they won't owe me a penny.

Yet despite that, I don't feel any different about my existing favourites. They don't suddenly feel cheaper, or in any way inferior to what they did a week ago. Now instead of having three favourites to choose from, I have five. I will kind of feel obliged to get some good use out of the new ones, as soon as I've emptied the cartridges and flushed out the Baoer and Ohto.

Neither do I feel this is the mouth of the rabbit hole. I now have five pens I seem to like using. Only three of which will be inked at any time. I don't want to be going from having to choose three of five to having to choose three of ten. If there's any disappointment here, it's that there are no longer three clear favourites, and I now face decisions I didn't have to make. I don't think complicating those decisions with even more pens will make me any happier.

So, the bottom line is that I'm glad I bought them. Glad, but not highly delighted.

Are they actually worth the extra money? As regards just putting ink on a page, probably not. The nibs might last a little longer (which reminds me, maybe I should consider picking up a spare for each...?) They do kind of feel worth that little bit extra for a slightly nicer accessory though. Kind of like paying a little extra for a nice tie (something else that I wouldn't spend £100+ on). In that respect though, this is as far as I would go, as I'd be too concerned about losing anything higher priced.

I've satisfied my curiosity though, and not ended up being disappointed in anything I've just bought, or anything I already owned. That's got to be a win in my book!
 

AimlessWanderer

Remember to forget me!
Nice pens. I think you're a lucky man if you can satisfy your needs for a smaller sum than most. If you like the way they write you're golden.

My favorite pens have been sent out to nib masters for some expert work, which I deem worth every penny and more. But relative to the price of the pen you might find that charge ridiculous.

The safest course of action is to never use a top tier pen. All our experiences are relative, and enjoyment is wherever you find it. Enjoy your pens.

Thanks Keith. I've never owned a "premium" pen, but have used one. They kind of just felt like a pen...

There's a difference between using something though, and owning it, so I didn't mind trying these two out. Ultimately though, I think I just don't have the bug.

Much like with shaving, the activity is the main focus for me, not the kit I'm using. Of course, I want to use kit I enjoy comfortably getting good results from, but I lack the wiring module in my brain that lets me appreciate "luxury" without improved outcome. I shave, and I write things down occasionally. Double edge razors and fountain pens are what I enjoy using, so long as I use the right tool for the right job :001_tongu

My favourite razor is zamak. I have tried brass and aluminium, but the results from the zamak were better. Today's new pens achieve the same outcome as my others, no discernible change in comfort or handwriting. I don't really consider either a hobby - it's this forum that's the hobby!

I'm not saying there's no value in more luxurious items, I'm just too pragmatic an individual, and lack that romantic spark that appreciates the intangibles. I think that's probably the underlying conclusion from this little exercise. When shaving, I'm more interested in the bits I was born with, than the bits I bought. When writing, I'm more interested in the thoughts that are flowing, than the conduit they're flowing through.

You're right. I probably am lucky to be happy with such humble life tools. So long as I can focus on the activity, without being distracted by what I'm using, I'm happy :) I might need more expensive pliers and screwdrivers for that, but not a better pen or razor. ;)
 
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Aimless - you can get into some fantastic vintage pens for not a ton of $$$. If there is a pen show near you, you might want to go and have a look. If you find something that strikes you fancy, negotiate the best price you can. I picked up a vintage blue stripped Parker Vacuumatic that was in perfect working condition for $60 - see picture. The thing writes like a dream, is quite stylish in that art deco vintage sort of way and is a blast to write with. The writing experience with that pen for $60 is every bit as good as with a modern Parker, Montblanc, Aurora, Omas, Tablsi, Montagrappa, Pelikan, Bexley and other top tier pens. It also comes at a fraction of the cost of any of those pens. There are ways to get top shelf writing experiences at a very reasonable budget.

Understand that with vintage pens, there may be more maintenance than with modern converter/cartridge pens. Lever fillers and other mechanisms with ink sacs will, eventually, need the sac replaced. But IMHO, this is worth the experience. It is much like shaving with my 1934 Aristocrat.

ETA: I have also picked up working Parker 51 pens for as little as $10.00. They will range up from there, but if you are willing to put up with some minor visual flaws - scratches, cap dents, minor chips, etc., bargains can be found.

Parker Vacuumatic from the early 1940s. Ignore the Pelikan ink bottle, that was the only way I could get the pen to not roll onto the clip - a nice feature of the little Pelikan bottles.

IMG_6926.jpg
 
Here is a writing sample from the Blue Vacuumatic above. Please excuse my sloppy penmanship, it is not the pen's fault.

VacSampleWriting.JPG

Below is a picture of the Parker 51 that I got for $10.00. There are no dents or other obvious flaws and it writes well. While the sac worked, it was original and had not been replaced. Also, IIRC the cap and pen are from different years. I talked the guy down to $10. I have had it for 25 years and the sac finally gave out, so I have it in my to be fixed pile.

IMG_6927.jpg
 
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AimlessWanderer

Remember to forget me!
There are ways to get top shelf writing experiences at a very reasonable budget.

Agreed! And the point that I probably fail to make adequately earlier, is that I think I'm already there. :biggrin1:

The enjoyment that many seek in their grail hunts, is what I'm already getting - without the time, effort, expense, and occasional disappointments of continual acquisition. More pens isn't going to give me personally, anything I don't already have. In effect, these five are (I believe) already giving me everything I need from a fountain pen.

IMG_20210904_170455.jpg

The other thing you'll notice - only one plastic pen (the demonstrator). Everything else is metal bodied. That higher durability is a big plus for me.

If there is a pen show near you, you might want to go and have a look.

The last time I looked into this, the cost of getting to the venue, and getting in, was more than I'd normally pay for a pen. I'm also, as I tried to say earlier, not necessarily interested in accumulating more for the sake of more. I don't think swamping myself out with more pens, is going to make my grin any wider.

Understand that with vintage pens, there may be more maintenance than with modern converter/cartridge pens. Lever fillers and other mechanisms with ink sacs will, eventually, need the sac replaced. But IMHO, this is worth the experience. It is much like shaving with my 1934 Aristocrat.

That's a whole world of complexity I don't need. My enjoyment is had from writing, not the pen itself. The reason I enjoy fountain pens, aside from the ink being easy on the eye, and being able to get an empty pen back up and running quickly, is because it's less effort to write a lot than with a ball.point. Less hand cramps etc. In effect, fountain pens simplify my life, and I don't need complicated, time consuming, or worrysome pens undoing that.

I want the pen in hand to "disappear", and let me concentrate on my thoughts and words instead. If I'm enjoying the pen, my awareness is misplaced, because I'm focussing on that, and not the words coming from it.

Below is a picture of the Parker 51 that I got for $10.00. There are no dents or other obvious flaws and it writes well. While the sac worked, it was original and had not been replaced.

That's pretty much what I achieved with my 45. OK, I paid more money, but a great old writer for not too much cash.

I know many folks see the 51 as a superior pen, but I went for the 45 specifically. Longer section, giving greater freedom of grip. A less hooded nib nakes it look more like a fountain pen, and I like the curves fore and aft too. Plus, I can easily strip it down if I gunk up the feed, or replace nibs if I drop it. It also has my preferred filling system (cartridge/converter). I would lose all that simplicity and convenience on a 51.
 

AimlessWanderer

Remember to forget me!
I just refined the Baoer a little. It was only using all these five pens at the same time, which highlighted just how much feedback there was. Too much. I never noticed before, but swapping between the pens made it seem unpleasantly high, and it started to niggle me.

A few seconds on the nail buffer have sorted it now though, and while not as smooth as the Parker 45, it's back on par with the others. :thumbup1:
 
I have 3 Parker 45s Flighters. My go to rec for somebody wanting to put their toe in "vintage" water.

I concur re having a strong preference toward metal bodies.

Perhaps a bit of a stretch up for a Lamy Al-Star?

I have never spend more that 50.00 for a pen. I have been given a couple worth more than that.

With a sharp pencil (paredon the mixed metaphor), I suspect one could get a 14kt nib on a vintage pen sub 50.00 and never need, want, desire or know any better writing experience relative to spending anymore money as I think the ink/paper interface is far more important than the pen itself.
 

AimlessWanderer

Remember to forget me!
Perhaps a bit of a stretch up for a Lamy Al-Star?

I have one of the Safari clones, a Wing Sung something-or-other, I think. I do dig it out occasionally (or have done), but I find myself getting annoyed with the flat spots. I think the Al-Star is the same, isn't it? I seem to shift my grip around a bit, as sometimes the flats feel more out of position than others. I assume I'm shifting my grip depending on where I am on the page, but it might be due to something else entirely.

In fact, now I have these five that I'm really happy with, I'll likely find someone to offload that onto. I also have a couple of others which I tried, but didn't gel with. They probably ought to be rehomed too.

With a sharp pencil (paredon the mixed metaphor), I suspect one could get a 14kt nib on a vintage pen sub 50.00 and never need, want, desire or know any better writing experience relative to spending anymore money as I think the ink/paper interface is far more important than the pen itself.

I agree on the ink and paper. Aside from the Parker cartridges, I exclusively use Diamine, and a lot of the time I'm on Rhodia or Clairefontaine paper. They never seem to disagree with each other. I do however have a few other pads, which aren't as well matched, but good enough for working through thoughts of the day. It has a little more texture, and the colours show different, but no feathering or bleed through with normal writing.

As to a gold nib, I'm guessing you mean a responsive line variation type nib. I think that might be more of an impediment to me. I'm not a neat writer, recording for posterity. Whatever I'm writing might be valid for a week or two if it's a plan/prompt for something, until I've typed it up on the laptop if it's story ideas or anything else that needs retaining, or even just until I've resolved whatever my brain is currently processing.

An arsty flamboyant nib might be a little too much suspension between thought and page, slowing me down, and getting in the way of the flow.
 
As I mentioned on another thread, my go-to pen is a Kaweco that cost me less than thirty bucks. I edit books pen-on-paper, and this pen is a workhorse.

But I had a grail pen: in Italy, I tried out Montegrappa pens in a fancy stationary store, and I fell in love with Montegrappa pens, the sterling silver ones. But way too expensive for me. I hung out on various websites until I finally found the one I wanted, from a small auction site in Europe.

This listing is the exact model of pen: (I don't post this listing as any kind of advertising or approval, but just to show the pen.)


The seller swapped out the medium nib assembly for my desired fine, and she FedExed it to me as soon as she got my payment. A little nervous-making, but everything worked out fine.

I spend much less that what the pen illustrated above cost, several hundred dollars less. I' retired, and it was still a lot of simoleons. Totally worth it. Handsome greek key engraving, good, heavyweight silver, writes perfectly. I appreciate it every time I sit at my desk and unscrew the cap. So the happiness it has given me has been worth the cost.
 

tankerjohn

A little poofier than I prefer
Congrats on the new pens and I'm glad they passed muster. Its your hobby; you can do it any way you like. I think its safe to say that you can find great pens at every price point. But at the same time, it is generally true that you get what you pay for with fountain pens. Higher cost is usually accurately reflected in the build quality, writing experience, and/or artistry of the pen. I'll stand by this formulation I came up with a few months ago about what makes expensive pens "worth it": Fountain pen questions from a less experienced user. - https://www.badgerandblade.com/forum/threads/fountain-pen-questions-from-a-less-experienced-user.604060/#post-11155657

From that post:
A fountain pen is a lot like a watch - not strictly necessary in this day and age, but brings joy nonetheless. How much joy and how much you're willing to pay for it are totally variable between different individuals. If the joy you derive from your Vector comes from nostalgia and "feeling like a kid again", then I doubt you'll get that from any other pen because you have a highly personal connection to the Vector. Add to that that the weight and size of the pen feels good in your hands, and you've got a real winner. Assuming that it has a well adjusted nib, its going to write as well, or better, than four or five figure pens from luxury brands. Kind of like a $10 Casio will tell better time than a gold Rolex. In that sense, I don't think you are "missing out" relative to higher end pens. You've got a pen that fits your hand, works well, and brings you joy.

Now, assuming that you are still interested in buying a higher end pen, you are moving into the world of esthetics and nuance. You want a pen that you love to hold and look at. You want a pen that speaks to you in terms of the company or artisan that made it, the design, "the colour and the shape" (for the Foo Fighter fans). You want a nib that feels good on the page, whether that means it is stiff or flexy, smooth or feedbacky. You want it to lay down ink and write letters exactly how you want to portray them - fine or broad, even lines or line variation. It should be enjoyable to fill according to your preferred level of finickiness. Do you want to get down and dirty with syringes and eye droppers, manually operate pistons and levers, or just pop in a mess-free cartridge and go?

Having said all that, here’s how it roughly translates into the cost that goes into a given pen, from my experience:

Company: Chinese/Indian<Japanese<American<European
Manufacture: mass produced<artisan made<custom<special edition
Size: small body<large body
Nib: generic steel<name brand steel (ie Jovo, Bock)<titanium<14k gold<18k/21k gold
Material: molded acrylic<metal<turned acrylic/resin<celluloid<urushi
Filling: cartridge<eye dropper<lever<piston<vac

The overall cost of the pen will reflect the combination of above factors. For instance, a mass produced Japanese acrylic pen with a 14K gold nib (Platinum 3776, Pilot Custom 74, etc) will cost roughly the same as an American artisan-made pen with turned acrylic and a Jovo steel nib (Franklin-Christoph, Edison, etc). Get which one has the features that you value most.
 

tankerjohn

A little poofier than I prefer
Gold nibs tend to be smoother writers than steel nibs. Most gold nibs are not the flexible nibs you are thinking of. Flexible nibs are a small subset of gold nibs.
In theory, gold nibs and steel nibs that have the same tipping, should have the same smoothness. In practice, gold nibs tend to be smoother probably because they receive a higher level of QC at the factory. Some gold nibs - I'm thinking particularly of Platinum, Sailor, and Aurora - aren't smooth at all, but are famed for their subtle and pleasant feedback. I tend to think that this is less a feature of the gold and more a result of the overall nib design. Most steel nibs are quite stiff, but Pelikan steel nibs are pleasantly soft and springy. Again, nib design over material. Most flexible nibs are gold like the Pilot FA, but a steel Zebra G will flex the pants off any gold nib with the possible exception of certain vintage Waterman nibs. I don't know what all this means, except that there are no absolutes and one nib material isn't "better" than another. You just have to evaluate nibs as a whole package.
 
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