So, What's Next?
So you've already familiarized yourself with the "intro" pens like the Lamy Safari, Twsbi Eco, Kaweco Sport and you may be asking yourself what's next. Don't worry, you are far from done with the world of fountain pens and there are hundreds of undiscovered pens that are waiting be written with. Usually when people see expensive pens the knee jerk reaction is "Why should I spend X amount on a pen?" this is a valid question because a lot of different things can affect a pen's price. Some things that change when going to higher priced pens is the nib, filling system, material, craftsmanship, uniqueness, limited availability, and unfortunately name recognition. In this blog I'm going to show you my progression of pens that I would recommend for people just looking to break into the next price point. Before we get into the actual pens I'm going to explain a little bit about all the main materials and nibs that you commonly see when going up in price so let's get to it!
Usually you will see nibs made out of stainless steel on some lower priced pens but the two are not mutually exclusive and some brands will still use steel nibs well into the 250-1000 range although it is not very common. The most common nib on more expensive pens are solid gold and these are usually in 14kt, 18kt, and Sailor even makes a 21kt nib. The benefit of gold over steel is that it tends to be softer and can have a little more flex which allows for some line variation in semi-flex and "full flex" nibs, I put "full flex" in quotes because there really isn't a modern day equivalent to vintage full flex so we can get close with contemporary options but nothing will be a perfect mirror of vintage flex nibs.
The other thing that comes with gold nibs and can affect price is the feed and nib sizes/grinds. The feed is what supplies the nib with ink and this is commonly made out of plastic but some brands will opt for a material called "ebonite" which is a hardened rubber that is a little more porous than plastic. This is good because it holds a little more ink and does a better job of supplying and keeping the nib inked, preventing hard starts and skipping. As far as grinds and nib types go, gold gives you more options for stuff like elastic nib mods which are basically flex nibs with a lot of line variation, you can also get smooth writing stubs and fun stuff like that. I think I covered most of the nib stuff, now let's get into the material and filling systems!
Materials can also get a bit overwhelming when going up in price, the main ones I can think of off the top of my head are celluloid, Raden inlay, Urushi lacquer, ebonite, special acrylic, custom acrylic, wood, sterling silver/vermeil, and "precious resin". A lot of these come from Japanese pen making and I'll take about them all together very briefly.
Raden inlay is also referred to as shell inlay and is a very time consuming and tedious process of cutting very thin pieces of shell and then carefully putting it onto the pen either as part of a subject on the pen to give it added depth or just as a collection of raden on the pen. This is usually sealed underneath coats of Urushi lacquer which is a naturally occurring substance almost like a tree sap that, when hardened, is one of the strongest naturally occurring materials. This is also a very time consuming process because there are a couple ways to apply it to pens and each layer needs to dry for anytime between a day to a week per layer. Celluloid and ebonite were common in vintage pens before high quality plastic came along, both materials have the potential for beauty but are less stable than plastic, resin or acrylic so they take some added care and attention to maintain.
Ebonite is a hardened rubber material that can be made in a variety of beautiful colors and is also used a lot for the bases of Urushi lacquer pens. Raw ebonite is a slightly delicate material because it is susceptible to color change over time through exposure to light or even gases from old filling systems that discolor from the inside out, as long as you store your pens in a dark and humidity controlled place as well as clean them regularly you should have no problem with this discoloration for a good while.
Celluloid is also a material common in vintage pens and comes in some dazzling finishes, Arco celluloid is commonly cited as one of the most sought after materials in pens however the production process was so dangerous that the rod stock can no longer be manufactured and brands like ASC bought all of the existing rod stock from Omas which means once they are gone that's it. This material is also susceptible to discoloration, warping and disintegration. If you take the same attention that ebonite pens need you should be good, the one thing to keep in mind when handling celluloid pens is that celluloid is more sensitive to things like lotion, soap and hand sanitizer so make sure you're hands are free of those things before you start handling a pen. Acrylics and resin go up in complexity with some custom pen makers like Jonathan Brooks making crazy rod stock with unique patterns, his most striking color combo in my opinion is what he calls "Primary Manipulation".
Other brands like Classic Pens use other styles of acrylic like diffusion bonded acrylic on the Classic Pens LB5 which is bonded on a molecular level to make a very strong material. So that's a quick little overview of some materials, let's take a look at filling systems and then we will take a look at some pens!
As fountain pens get more and more popular, brands have been introducing really nice pens with interesting filling mechanisms for some pretty nice prices but I'm going to go over them anyway. A couple of filling systems are: Cartridge/converter, piston filler, button filler, lever filler, vacuum filler, eyedropper. These are the main ones but some other obscure filling mechanisms can be found in vintage pens like the sheaffer snorkel but these aren't commonly produced today so I won't talk about them here. The more complex a filling system can mean the price will be higher, it also makes them more time consuming to clean as well as a little more fragile. The advantage of cartridge converter is that they are super easy to clean and most of the time the converters can be replaced if anything bad happens, making them a good choice for longevity and ease of use.
Piston filler is also a fairly simple mechanism that is being seen more and more in less expensive pens but has been the standby of more expensive pens for a while. These allow for a rather large ink capacity however they can only be filled with bottled ink like most of the other filling mechanisms which some people may see as an inconvenience.
Eyedropper is the best option for a massive ink capacity because it is just a barrel full of ink that flows down to the nib. Vacuum fillers also use the whole barrel of the pen as the ink capacity making it a massive amount of ink as well. The others aren't as prevalent today unless you are interested in vintage pens and use an ink sack that is depressed through different methods to hold the ink. Alrighty, enough of the introduction, time to get to the actual pens.
Best Next Step Pens:
These are the best next steps from the Lamy Safari and things like that, if you are looking to jazz it up and get something a little nicer. For this section I think I'll keep it to a budget of about $150-$350 and will be primarily gold nibs but hopefully I got something for everyone!
Pilot Vanishing Point- This is quite a unique looking pen because it has a retractable nib similar to a ballpoint pen. The pen also has a gold nib on it that is on the small side but is still a pleasure to write with! The click action to activate the nib really makes this a convenient pen for note taking and quick on the spot writing because you don't have to unscrew and hold a cap, Pilot also made sure that this pen had both convenience and quality as opposed to sacrificing one for the other. These pens come at a reasonable price as well, you are looking at something between $144-$156 which puts it right in that "first gold nib" price point. You can also buy different nib units to switch out if you don't want to amass a large collection but still want gold nib choices.
Lamy 2000- This is also often cited as the best "starting gold nib" right alongside the vanishing point but the two pens are very different. They do share a similarity in that they both have rather small nibs with the Lamy's being a hooded nib. This means the nib is partially in the section which keeps the nib very wet and supplies it with a sufficient amount of ink. The 2000 is a piston filler and has its own ink window, it also has a large ink capacity which makes the ink window helpful. The design of the 2000 is also quite unique and has barely changed in over 60 years, originally designed with the Bauhaus principles of design, this pen has been displayed in the MOMA in New York. This pen is a little more expensive than the VP at around $200 but comes with a bigger ink capacity and is a piston filler so I still feel the price is quite reasonable for someone's first gold nib but would also be an excellent choice for someone to add to their collection of gold nibs.
Sailor 1911L- The Sailor pen company is the oldest out of Japan and the 1911 is an homage to the brand's beginnings from their first yea. This is a classic looking cigar shaped pen with an exceptional nib on it. Sailor makes all of their nibs in house and on the larger size of their pens they use 21kt gold for their nibs which is a fairly unique gold to use for fountain pen nibs. These are cartridge converter pens which makes them very easy to clean and maintain, the cartridge also allows for easy and fast ink replacement on the go. If you want something a little more classic looking with some fun color options this would be a good choice for you. The price on these ranges from $180 for the smaller size with a 14kt nib and $312 for the larger size with the 21kt, some colors may also be different prices in-between $180-$312 so keep your eyes peeled for that.
Pilot Custom 823- One of the pens in the custom line, the 823 is a beautiful amber colored demonstrator and also comes in a smoke color. The ink capacity on these pens is super big and the double reservoir cut off makes it a good option for travel because it minimizes leakage. This pen is also equipped with a vacuum filling mechanism which is very unique and cool to see in a pen of this price range. The pen has Pilot's second largest nib, #15, and is one of my smoothest writers I own, it just glides across the page and is a pleasure to write with. The pen is also a good length and I find the weight to be very nicely balanced. Speaking of price, this pen clocks in at $288 which is quite a nice price for what you get which is a professional looking cigar shaped pen with a unique filling system and wonderful gold nib!
Best Introductions to Pens Over $500:
For those who already own a couple gold nibs and are looking to take the deep dive, here are some starting points to luxury and expensive pens over $500.
Pelikan M1000- As the flagship model for Pelikan and their M line, this pen is oversize and delivers one of the best writing experiences for pens in my own personal collection. The pen itself has a very classy look especially with the green stripe finish. The nib is massive and is beautifully springy, laying down quite a nice wet line that is super satisfying to write with. The piston on this pen is very high quality and smooth which adds a very nice balance to the pen. In-between the green stripes is actually see through which acts as an ink window, I find this is quite a unique way to add an ink window that otherwise may have broken up the design too much. Another fun part of this pen is that the clip is actually designed to look like a pelican's beak and eyes which is just a nice fun touch to a luxurious looking pen. This pen is the flagship pen of the brand and commands a flagship price that tends to vary from each authorized retailer, at Pen Boutique the pen is being offered for $788 and I have absolutely no regrets about buying mine!
Aurora Optima- Don't let the size of this pen throw you off, Good things do come in small packages with this pen being no exception. This was the first pen I owned with an ebonite feed and the writing experience is nice and smooth, never once have I had a problem with ink flow or skipping/hard starting which is definitely worth mentioning. The nib itself is one of my favorite however it is not nearly as springy as the Pelikan and functions more as a reliable writer that is very uniform in the lines it makes. The cap band also has a sort of vintage look with the greek key pattern surrounding the brand name which I think makes the pen look very visually balanced. One of the other main draws I had to this pen was the large ink window that is very well done and doesn't break up the design or throw it off like some ink windows can, it is very elegant looking if that makes sense. This pint size powerhouse is available in a multitude of colors for a price range of $476-$1,000 as the special editions and sterling silver editions command a higher price.
Visconti Homo Sapiens- This is quite possibly one of the most unique pens on this list but at first glance you may think it just looks like a black pen. The Visconti HS uses a mix of resin and basaltic lava rock from Mt. Etna in Italy which is very unique. This also makes the material a little more porous so it will actually slightly absorb oils and water from your hand which will make the pen take on it's own personality. The trim varies but my favorite is the Bronze Age which has brass trim, again, this will also patina over time making each pen unique to its owner. The pen is also a vacuum filler which is fun and has a massive ink capacity which makes it a nice daily writer. The nib is 18k and writes wonderfully smooth and is overall a very pleasant experience. The price on these ranges, the lava rock models are generally around $620-$684 with limited edition resin models and lava models with ink windows around $796-$920 and for that price you are getting a very unique pen that is sure to be a reliable daily writer.
Overall there are a bunch of different choices for pens past the "starter" level and these are just my personal favorites and the line of progression I went down. This does not mean that these are the best pens to buy or that the best value for me is going to be the same as the best value for you. With that being said I think every pen on this list is a great writer that have good value and provide a superior writing experience. The world of pens really has something for everyone in every price range so please get some new pens or just use the ones you already have and remember, Enjoy & Keep Writing!