Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Affordable Fountains

I was surprised to read that Twilight flick heartthrob Robert Pattison generously gave his waffling leading-lady love Kristen Stewart this 18k white gold Tibaldi Bentley Crewe fountain pen (personally inscribed, no less.) Dropping $46K on a single writing instrument as a birthday gift is probably the definition of extravagance, I guess. I keep thinking how hard she'll kick herself if anything happens to it. How many times have you lent someone a pen only to realize an hour later they never gave it back? I learned my lesson when a kid at a football game borrowed my favorite purse fountain, a Pilot Plumix, from me to jot down someone's phone number -- swearing he'd return it in a minute -- and never did.

I'm also not sure how you'd dare write with a pen that costs as much as a Cadillac. I'm guessing you don't; you lock it up in a cabinet with a glass front so everyone can look at it and envy you (although I'm not sure why; all that does is turn it into a pretty pricey knick-knack.) The minute you ding or scratch the clip or barrel the pen loses value, so you'd probably have to wear gloves and use it only to sign your next zillion dollar contract. Maybe that's all it's supposed to be use for?

As some of you know I'm also a fountain pen fanatic, but I admit, I don't own anything even remotely in the Tibaldi price ballpark. Nor do I think you have to invest thousands to own a lovely writing instrument that will serve you faithfully. Fountains are initially more expensive that the cheapie disposable variety of pen, but in the long term they work out to be a good investment because you can keep using them for years; all you need to buy are replacement ink cartridges or a converter to fill them with bottled ink. If you happen to lose one you won't feel like half your retirement fund just vanished, either.

Here are three of my current favorite fountains, beneath samples of how they write:

Starting at the top, The Ultra Violet True Writer by Levenger is my most recent acquisition, and I'm still kicking myself for waiting twenty years to buy one. This is a smooth, beautiful pen with nice, balanced weight (not too flimsy, not too heavy) and a nib that seems to fly across any kind of paper. The barrel colors are gorgeous, and when you hold it in the sunlight you'll notice they have a subtle sparkle, too. I got mine on sale from Levenger for $44.95, and the only complaint I'd make about it is that the cartridges are on the small side. It comes with a converter, though, so if you write a lot you can knock down the price of replacement ink by using bottled.

My favorite and most frequently used fountain is the red and white fountain in the middle; my Platinum Koi. This pen retails for about $450.00 but you can find it in the $300.00 range if you shop around; I got mine on sale at a Levenger store for $110.00. That still sounds like a lot to spend on a pen, and it is the most expensive fountain I own, but I've also been using it almost daily for ten years and it has yet to quit. Most Japanese fountains are exception, excellent pens and my Koi has proven to be practically indestructible; I've done everything to it except throw it against a brick wall and it still writes as beautifully as it did the day I brought it home. One thing to note about most Japanese fountains: their nibs tend to be one size finer than they're graded, so if you buy one with a medium nib it will write like a fine nib, fine writes like extra-fine, etc.

Platinum also makes the Preppy, which is the third pen there at the bottom of the pic, and an excellent all-use everyday fountain. Made from recycled materials and sporting a steel nib, the Preppy is very lightweight and has decent flow. I like the transparent barrel because I can see how much ink I have left in my cartridge, too. I think if you want to go cheap you can still be stylish, and the Preppy is a fun option. Extremely affordable at $3.00, too.

As for what Rob might get Kristen for her next birthday, it's anyone's guess. Maybe he'll bid on the circa-1640 Hymnal about to hit the auction block. Touted as the first book ever printed in the United States, the expected price tag: $30,000,000.00


  1. Ohhh, these are very nice!
    I used to love writing with a nib. But, ever the klutz, I always seemed to break them or lose them or wind up with a leak.

    I have two lovely ones though, given years ago as gifts. Maybe I'll actually try using them.

  2. Squeeing over the mention of the Pilot Plumix. A writer friend gave me one for Christmas, and it was love the first time I put pen to paper...and a bittersweet agony as I am having a hard time finding replacement cartridges. I grieve with thee for the loss of your Plumix, though perhaps there could be a bright side. Maybe another young person will discover the joy of fountain pens.

  3. Seriously. $46K for a fountain pen.

    I actually love the motion of filling a pen from the ink bottle. At one time I even learned how to make my own quill pens, but the constant dip-write two words-dip-write two words was too annoying. How our forefathers ever managed to write this way is just amazing...

  4. Anonymous1:01 PM

    The most pricy pen I own runs about 9.99...


  5. I LOVE True-Writers! Levenger makes some of the nicest fountains and the price is usually in the $30-$60 range for a lovely pen. Alas, I've lost the last three I had, but I will replace it once again, eventually. Never tried a Plumix or the Preppy, but I think now, I need to.

  6. I have a number of fountain pens, but my favorite is my Namiki Falcon from Richard Binder. My hands tend to shake a little these days and I'm allergic to a lot of the nickel the cheaper pens use. But the Namiki writes like a dream despite my shakes and never gives me a moment's trouble. I was fond of my Lamy Safari, but I've had two fall apart on me now from normal wear and tear, so I don't recommend them the way I used to (I didn't even keep it in my purse!). My favorite entry level pen is the Pilot Petite1 from Jetpens. So adorable, and writes great. I have very small hands, so some of my pen favorites won't work for others, but I thought the Falcon's smooth writing and lovely slight flex worth mentioning. I often use the pens to sketch, and the two I use most often for that are the Falcon and an old Waterman flex-nib I bought (used, obvs) from Richard Binder's on sale.

    Have you tried the Namiki inks? I love them.

  7. Fran K10:54 AM

    I had a special "shorthand" fountain pen when I was did my secretarial course back in the late 70s. I loved that pen but lost it a couple of years after I started work. I like fountain pens but my personal preference is for a bog standard bic ballpoint pen. I'm a bit weird though (according to my workmates) as I don't like to use it without the lid on the end of the pen. Its a matter of balance for me and the lid ensures the balance is perfect. I like how neat my handwriting looks using the bic and I don't have smudges everywhere which I get with fountain pens or those roller ball pens. As a general rule though, I'm typing not writing and even if I was writing every minute of every day I wouldn't spend $1K on a pen never mind $45! In a world where poverty is still an issue that is just an obsenity, much like the shocking amount of money football players get for 90 minutes a couple of times a week - oh boy my soap box is out again ... sorry ...

  8. Ooo, I so want these. I love fountain pens <3 It's been a while since I wrote with one. I especially love the first two you shared. :)

    - Esther


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