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 pen, 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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?