Expensive Fountain Pen Buying Strategies

Sailor Professional Gear Regency Stripe

My most recent expensive pen purchase

OK, I admit that the title is a bit ambiguous, so to clarify, this is about how I go about buying expensive fountain pens. I got to thinking about this after a comment was left on my Platinum 3776 review. Prachi had bought a Platinum 3776 which had a scratchy nib, unlike the pen I reviewed. My rather rushed response wasn’t very good, because once a pen is inked up there’s usually little that can be done.

Everybody has their own definition of what an expensive pen is, but some strategies are only options for pens that are of a certain price, so there are some constraints imposed by reality. Overall, nib quality seems to be pretty good these days but there’s always a chance you’ll get a bad nib.

Pens and brands have their own reputation on quality. I’ll assume everyone does some research before buying a pens, especially one that falls into the expensive category. For example, searching Pennequod and reading reviews.

Assuming I have high level of confidence in the quality of the fountain pen I’ll use one of the following buying strategies:

  1. Caution to the Wind – I don’t generally buy my pens by looking for the lowest possible price from any seller and I like to spread out my business across sellers I know and trust. If a pen has a good reputation for a quality nib I’ll often just buy the pen from one of these retailers. I’m most likely to do this for fountain pens $200 or less, which I would easily consider a expensive pen. Even more expensive pens are likely to get purchased using the second or third option. An example of this was the purchase of my Pilot Maplewood Vanishing Point. While over $200 it was a limited edition that I didn’t pre-order so my options were limited. I’ve had excellent experience with Pilot nibs and since this was a special edition I expected it to be even more intensely inspected by Pilot than usual. In this case everything worked out and the nib was very nice. I have to admit, I already had numerous VP nibs so ordered this one with the medium nib which I knew I wouldn’t use very often. So this isn’t complete caution to the wind, but as close as I get.
  2. Plan for a Bad Nib – Sometimes a specific pen has a less than perfect reputation but I still want the pen. In this case I assume I’ll have to pay for some nib work and look for the pen at a price that takes this extra expense and hassle into account. An example is my Lamy 2000. The pen has a bit of a reputation of having rough nibs from the factory. In this case I kept holding off on a purchase until I saw the pen on Amazon for just under $100, a significant discount from the typical price. While the price would typically scare me off as too good to be true, Amazon’s return policy alleviated that fear (Amazon itself was the seller). If it was a scratchy nib I could get it adjusted and still not pay more than the typical price of the pen in the end. If the nib was fine then I’d have saved a bunch of money. In the end the nib needed to be tuned so it was a wash financially. Although I suspect the Mike Masuyama nib is better than any factory nib would have been, so I consider it a good deal. I don’t do this very often since it is still a hassle even if the price is right.
  3. Get it Tuned During the Purchase – Lately this is how I’ve been buying my pens. I order someplace that will check and adjust the nib before sending it to me. Most of my pen purchases this year have been from Classic Fountain Pens where the nibs are checked and tuned before sending. The pens I ordered all have a good out-of-the-box reputation for their nibs. I imagine John Mottishaw would rather sell pens that don’t need much tuning to reduce his costs, so I can’t say this has provided better nibs than if I purchased the pen someplace else. But there’s no monetary cost for this service since the price is typically the same as other authorized sellers for the brand. There is a potential indirect cost. Only pens with a enough margin to make this service profitable can be sold. So don’t expect to find Lamy Safaris or many options under $150. In addition, there’s also the potential for delays while the pens are checked, although I can’t remember ever not having an pen shipped more than a day after I finalized the order. My one pre-order took some time to ship but that could have been because my extra-fine nib (like all extra fines) was delayed by Pelikan and not the volume of pre-orders.

Pelikan Souverän M805 Stresemann Anthracite capped on mirror

I generally don’t return things, pens or anything else, unless it’s clearly broken or not what I ordered. But another option would be to find a retailer with a generous return policy. If there’s obvious problems with the pen you may be able to contact the seller before inking it up. But most nib problems will go unnoticed until the pen is inked which will usually limit return options.

Then there’s always self-service. If it’s a steel nib I’m usually willing to try smoothing it myself. Generally speaking, expensive pens usually have gold nibs. While I’m not afraid of trying to smooth gold nibs because they’re gold, they are usually attached to expensive pens and could be expensive to fix or replace if I screw up. So I’d much rather have them arrive smooth, or have someone experienced work on them.

None of these guarantee a perfect nib although the third option probably has the greatest chance of success. (Well, I guess option two might have the best guarantee since the nibmeister of your choosing will tune the nib.)

What’s your expensive pen buying strategy?

Fountain Pen Reality Distortion Field

Pilot Vanishing Point Cherry Bamboo extended nib

Fountain pen that is still emitting a strong reality distortion field

All fountain pens have a reality distortion field. Apple is rumored to have one, or at least Steve Jobs was. Maybe, I can’t confirm that. But I am 100% convinced all fountain pens have one. Not all transmit on a frequency my brain receives, but they all have one. How else can you explain my impulse to buy so many fountain pens as soon as I see them, yet once some time passes the undistorted reality is that they provided no more enjoyment than pens I’ve already accumulated?

I’ve been spending the this year trying to break through this field and I think I’m finally breaking through it.

This has allowed me to gravitate to using what I like. I’m also coming to grips with the fact that what legitimately excites the fountain pen community often isn’t what I will like or use. That community excitement certainly stregthens the reality distortion field. For example, J. Herbin Emeraude de Chivor ink has the fountain pen community in a tizzy. Legitimate excitement or not, it’s not an ink that will benefit from the nibs I use or my (lack of) writing style. Yet I want it. Luckily, I’m now able to resist the urge to buy a bottle. It’s the same with soon to be released Twsbi Eco pen. Many are excited about it but I know I won’t enjoy the latest Twsbi enough for it to get any use among my accumulated pens.

Some manufacturers think the reality distortion field is based on marketing and try a little to hard. The Delta Fusion nib is an example. It sounds like such complete BS that it more than negates the reality distortion field that these nice pens generate on their own. The new Esterbrook tried to fuel their reality distortion field with nostalgia but this was such a disconnect from the actual pens that this generated a reality of hate. Note to manufacturers: A nice fountain pen generates a reality distortion field on its own, trying to create one with pure marketing can only lead to disaster.

The reality distortion field gets worse when a fountain pen joins my accumulation. Obviously if I buy a pen it’s reality distortion field is already on my wavelength and it only gets stronger once the pen is added to my accumulation. I’ve noticed this as I reviewed my pens while trying to thin out my accumulation. I look at a pen and my first reaction is along the lines of “I really like this pen, it’s a keeper.” Well duh, I did like it enough to buy it. The reality distortion field has me thinking that this is the only pen in my accumulation. Yet when I look at reality, it’s been over a year (often more) since I’ve inked it up. During that time I haven’t missed it. The reality tells me more about the pen than my distorted emotional reaction.

For example, I recently sold my Kaweco AC Sport Carbon Red pen. I love the way this pen looks, plus it’s a nice writer, I looked at it and decided I wasn’t going to sell it. Yet once I considered the reality, which is that for me Kaweco Sports are pocket pens (and therefore share space with keys, coins, cellphones, pocket lint, etc…) I realized it wasn’t a pen for me. The bright red was far too nice to take this abuse, unlike my raw aluminum version which looks better with abuse. So I always carried it in a sleeve. This sleeve added just enough hassle to using the pen so I never actually used it. The ink eventually evaporated and yet I’d only used it to write a few words. So the reality is, yes it’s a beautiful pen, but not a pen for me.

Kaweco AC Sport Carbon Red with sleeve

A strong reality distortion field but I was able to resist.

On the other hand, I inked up the Black Stonewashed Kaweco Sport to test before selling. I thought this would be an easy choice to sell. I liked it but it no longer grabbed me and I wanted to make space for a new Brass Sport. The reality distortion field kicked in as I used it and I changed my mind, at least for now. I may not get the Brass version. The Stonewashed Sport has been a carry since then and it does get used. The weight of the brass (I assume it’s heavier) and patina would make it a different pen so I still might get it. I just need to decide if three Sports makes sense in my reality. I don’t think they do so to get the Brass I’d have to be willing to part with the Black Stonewashed.

Kaweco AL Sport Black Stonewashed photo

The reality distortion field from this pen trapped me as I was testing it for sale.

One of the things that has helps me focus on, and enjoy, my current accumulation is that I’m burned out of fountain pen reviews. Both reading and writing them. Reviews no longer stregthen the reality distortion field for me. Well OK, some do, but I’ve developed more resistance.

Speaking for myself, I find that for the first one or two months that I really like all new pens, unless there’s something obviously annoying or frustrating about the pen. I tend to focus on and enjoy what I like and it overwhelms any negatives. I don’t break through the reality distortion field until about the third month and understand the true personality of the pen, good and bad. By this time I’ve also begun to understand how the fountain pen fits (or doesn’t fit) into my own usage patterns. So while I can review a pen with every intent to be objective, it will take about three months to be truly objective about what is and isn’t reality with the pen.

I never realized just how many reviews are now done using products provided free for review by a vendor until I started filtering them from my Sunday links post. I’m not religiously against review units (I include them in my Fountain Pen Links tumblr), and this is a whole different rathole, but I wanted fewer links and a way to highlight bloggers spending their own money so I started filtering out review units.

This has caused me to read fewer and fewer reviews. If it’s a pen I’ve never seen I may read it, otherwise I’ll just scan it or maybe even ignore it completely. The reality distortion field does makes it tough for me to completely ignore them. For disclosure – I have received two pens free for review and found I didn’t really like it for the reasons mentioned. While those two reviews still seem valid to me after time has passed I didn’t particularly enjoy doing them as I felt there was an artificial time deadline. So I won’t do them anymore. I think a good reviewer needs time to get beyond the surface of a pen and see if it stands the test of time. So if the review, sponsored or not, is for a relatively new pen, I now consider the reviewer to still be under the influence of the reality distortion field. Maybe they are, maybe they’re not, but thinking they are helps me be objective about the fountain pen and suppress the urge to have every fountain pen.

Pelikan Souverän M805 Stresemann Anthracite capped on mirror

The reality distortion field is finally weakening as we near 4 months together.

All these sponsored reviews being done on newly arrived fountain pens only seems to stregthen the field the pens already generate. This is good because the business and hobby grows as more people are engulfed by the field. But it did make it harder to me to step back and just enjoy the hobby and not be racked by gear lust. This doesn’t mean any of these pens are bad or that the reviews are wrong, but they can’t be read in a vacuum or by ignoring the reality of how I (or you) would use the pen.

So how will I continue to fight the reality distortion field?

Starting with last Friday’s post about how I use the Fodderstack XL I’ll be writing about the things I’ve used long enough to know they’ve earned a reason to use them. Plus they’ll have worked themselves into their unique place in my stationery life.

As I mentioned, much of what causes excitement in the fountain pen community just doesn’t work for me. So I’ll spend more time writing about my more mundane uses. It’ll be therapeutic and maybe I’ll find I’m not alone in enjoying the more boring side of fountain pens.

How do you resist the reality distortion field? Or do you not even try?

For the original written draft of this article I used a Pelikan M805 Stresemann with an extra fine nib and MB Toffee Brown ink. It was written in a Field Notes Workshop Edition. While not bad, it was a considerably less than perfect match-up for me.

Happy Fourth of July

July Fourth Retro 51s - Betsy Ross and Lift-OffHappy Independence Day to my fellow American readers. It seems these two pens are a more appropriate carry for today than my usual fountain pen. I can probably go a whole day without using a fountain pen, especially since it’s BBQ and picnics. Although I suspect I’ll pull out a fountain pen to write a few notes to avoid withdrawal.

Mid-year Giveaway Winner

Updated: The winner has claimed the prize and the Taccia Staccato is in the mail!

There were 92 entries in the giveaway and the winning entry was lucky 13.

Winning number

The winning comment was by pharaonis. You’ve got 7 days to reply to my email or contact me though this form to confirm your pen selection and give me your shipping address.

Winning comment

Mid-year Fountain Pen Giveaway

I’m really working to thin out the accumulation. I started with selling 10 fountain pens and now it’s time to give away a fountain pen. The winner will be picked at the half-way point of the year and chose one of three available fountain pens.

The Rules:
1. Leave a comment on this post and to prove you read it, indicate the pen you want. If you win you’ll be able to change your pick, put your comment must include one of the three pens offered as a selection. I’m not looking for exact names so duplicating what I wrote as the name isn’t required and having a typo won’t disqualify you. Picking a Visioneer would disqualify you since there’s no universe where that’s a typo or a good choice.
2. One entry per person.
3. This is open internationally as long as USPS will ship there. Prizes will be declared as a gift but I am required to indicate a value. While this value will be relatively small you will be responsible for any customs fees or taxes.
4. I can’t (won’t) replace any prizes that may be lost or delayed in transit. I use the lowest cost method with no insurance and often no tracking outside the US. After many years of problem free shipping my recent history has some international deliveries taking over 30 days while touring the customs house in multiple countries only to be sent back. This applies to U.S winners too, but it’s mainly been an issue internationally.
5. Please leave your email address in the appropriate comment field. It will not be made public and I won’t add it to any mailing list or share it with others. This will allow me to contact you directly if you win. I will also post the winning comment here on the fountain pen quest but the email will prevent someone from impersonating you to claim the prize.
6. You have until noon eastern U.S. time on July 1st, 2015 to post your entry. This is mid-year in my part of the world.
7. Comments will be numbered in the order received and a winning number will be picked at random.org.
8. The winner has 7 days to contact me after I post the winner. If the prize hasn’t been claimed by then I’ll pick another winner.

The Pens:

Pens for the giveaway - capped Pens for the giveaway - uncappedThese pens are the ones I can’t (or shouldn’t) sell because I didn’t pay for them. None of them include boxes or paperwork but they all include the appropriate converter.

Sheaffer 300 Metallic Gray This pen was provided by Goulet Pens for review purposes. You can read the review here. Of the three pens this is the hardest for me to part with. As I said in the review, I love this pen. Yet, among all my Sheaffers this gets lost so it needs a better home with someone who will use it. My one caveat is that if you must post your pens you may find this top heavy. The pen has a fine nib.

Taccia Staccato Black I won this pen in the Pen Addict’s 100th episode giveaway. I reviewed it here. The pen is nice but the broad nib and gold trim aren’t for me. I find it comfortable and considered having the nib ground more to my liking. But the gold trim is also a turn off for me.

Monteverde Impressa Pearl Silver This pen was provided by Pen Chalet for review purposes. You can read the review here. Others have liked this pen but reviews have been mixed. This one had issues so if you pick this one expect to fiddle with it. This has a fine nib, but it’s very wet.

So pick your pen: Sheaffer 300, Monteverde Imressa, or the Taccia Staccato. Leave your choice in a comment by noon eastern US time on July 1, 2015. The winner will be posted as soon as I can after that.

Fountain Pens For Sale

It’s time to thin the accumulation again. All the pens are in excellent shape, they just aren’t for me. Shipping is $6 in the U.S. unless otherwise noted.

Additional details and fine print:

  • I will ship internationally. International shipping is at cost which can be significant, at least $25 for a reasonable delivery time, about $16 for a delivery time that could be measured in weeks. I’ve had some recent problems with the USPS with recent international shipping (geographically challenged, sometimes sitting in customs for the wrong country, resulting in delivery times exceeding a month) so I reserve the right to not sell the pen when tracking and insurance are not available. The price of the pen is declared for customs.
  • Multiple pens in the same order pay only one shipping charge.
  • Boxes are not included unless specifically mentioned in the pen description.
  • The prices are firm. No trades, I’m trying to reduce the number of pens.
  • All the pens were recently tested and thoroughly cleaned as recently as last night. There may be moisture condensation in the pen when you receive it.

If your interested in the pen you can contact me using the form at the For Sale page or email me at ray <@> fpquest.com. A firm “I want it” and I’ll send a PayPal invoice. Square Cash is also accepted if you’d prefer. I’ll hold the pen for 24 hours after invoicing for payment and then make the pen available for sale again. I’ll ship no later than the business day (M-F) after payment is received.

The pens are listed in the same order as in the group photos (L -> R). Click any of the pictures for larger photo.

Pens for sale - cappedPens for sale - uncapped

Pilot Vanishing Point 2012 Limited Edition – $190

Excellent condition. This is #1659 and is the last of my metal VPs as I make room for the new wooden models. Includes your choice of a 18K gold rhodium plated fine nib or a 18k gold gold colored medium nib. The con–50 converter and the cartridge cover are included. The presentation box is optionally available. If you want it there will be an additional $5 shipping charge or see the bonus offer below.

Bonus offer – add $60 for the following:
* The second nib unit, with a second con–50 converter and a second cartridge cover.
* The presentation box.
* Free US shipping or $11 off international shipping
So the total of everything would be $250 with free US shipping or $11 off international shipping. This offer is only available with the Pilot VP pen.

Kaweco AC Sport Carbon Red – $90

Fine steel nib. Excellent condition. Includes a Kaweco Eco single pen leather pen sleeve (reviewed here).

Edison Herald Amber Tortoise – SOLD
Edison Herald Amber Tortoise nibFine steel nib, excellent nib tuned by Richard Binder when purchased. Excellent condition. Includes a Schmidt converter. No box or paperwork.

Sailor 1911 Dark Blue w/gold trim – SOLD

Sailor 1911 music nib21K gold music nib. This is a dark blue, nearly black pen. The nib and pen are in excellent condition. The converter is included. The zoom nib isn’t for me so the pen got little use and it’s time to give it a better home. This is the full size 1911.

Sailor 1911 Black w/gold trim – SOLD
Sailor 1911 Zoom Nib21K gold Zoom Nib. The nib and pen are in excellent condition. The converter is included. The zoom nib isn’t for me so the pen got little use and it’s time to give it a better home. This is the full size 1911.

Sailor 1911 Burgundy w/gold trim – SOLD
Sailor 1911 medium nib21K gold medium nib. The nib and pen are in excellent condition. The converter is included. This is the full size 1911.

Sailor 1911M Yellow w/gold trim – SOLD
Sailor 1911M broad nib14K gold broad nib. I reviewed the pen here and as I mentioned I already sold the pen once and it came back to me with flow issues. I pulled the nib and cleaned it thoroughly and this seems to have resolved the issue. I’ve priced the pen with the assumption you may need to adjust/clean it so I won’t take the pen back for flow issues (the pen retails new for about $150). The pen is in better cosmetic shape than before since as part of the cleaning I was able to get some ink stains out. Excellent cosmetic condition and an excellent writer the last time I used it, but as I mentioned it has a history of flow issues. The converter is included.

Pelikan 200 Green Demonstrator w/gold trim – SOLD
Pelikan M200 nibFine steel nib. The nib is gold colored. The pen and nib are in good condition but the pen show minor signs of use such as fine scratches. There is some moisture condensation above the piston.

Pelikan M605 Dark Blue w/rhodium trim – SOLD
Pelikan M605 nib14K gold medium nib. The pen and nib are in excellent condition.

Kaweco Classic Sport clear demonstrator – SOLD
Kaweco Classic Sport nibExtra fine steel nib. The nib is gold colored. There is some ink staining between the feed section and the barrel.

Favorite 5: Inks

It’s been over a year and a half since I last listed my Favorite 5 inks, so it’s time for an update. This was much harder than picking favorite pens, which is one reason I kept putting it off. Three of the inks from October 2013 remain on the list.

I also ended up with four Montblanc inks on this list. I would have said it’s my favorite brand overall, if I was forced to pick just one, but going into this I wouldn’t have expected it to dominate the list and I looked for inks to replace one or two of them. But I kept the list as-is since I do think these inks give me a nice spread across the spectrum of ink colors I like to use the most.

1. Montblanc Bordeaux

Photo of a bottle of Montblanc Bordeaux ink

Montblanc Bordeaux Ink

Easily my number 1 ink. This is always in one of my inked pens, at least since I decided to stop hoarding it and actually use it. I did pick up another bottle from eBay to replace one I recently finished. So now I’m back up to four bottles (minus one pen fill). Montblanc Bordeaux ink notes.

2. Rohrer and Klingner Blau-Schwarz

Photo of a Rohrer & Klingner Blau-Schwarz bottle

I’m not a fan of blue or even blue-black inks, yet this blue-black is a favorite and even moved up the list a couple of slots. Unfortunately it’s a limited edition ink. This ink is a regular in at least one of my pens. Ink Notes

3. Montblanc Permanent Grey

Sheaffer Balance Aspen LE medium nib with Montblanc Permanent Grey ink bottle

A new addition to my list but I’ve grown to really like this ink despite its potential for boredom. It’s a regular in my favorite modern fountain pen which has a nib that brings out the best in this ink. Despite its relatively high cost I bought a second bottle to have on hand. No review yet.

4. Montblanc Toffee Brown

Bottle of Montblanc Toffee Brown Fountain Pen InkI like brown inks and this is my current favorite. I don’t have much to add other than my Edison Menlo is my favorite choice for this ink, although mainly because it’s color coordinated. Montblanc Toffee Brown Ink Notes

5. Montblanc Irish Green

Photo of an open Montblanc Irish Green bottle

Whenever I want a true green ink I keep reaching for this bright green. Ink Notes

Wrapping Up

I obviously have a preference for Montblanc inks, despite not having any of their pens. It just turned out this way. It helps that I trust their ink for my vintage or hard to clean pens since Montblanc intends them for use it their own expensive pens.

The last two inks, Toffee Brown and Irish Green are the most likely to vanish from this list since they aren’t inks I always have inked up. But the first three inks on the list are always in a pen and were easy choices as favorites.

What are your favorite inks?