Guest post: Why use a fountain pen?

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IT lawyer Tom Hall has been a devoted fountain pen user for nearly 30 years. Here, he talks about how he got interested in them, and describes his favorite pens…

Why use a fountain pen?

It seems a reasonable question. Ballpoint pens are readily available, fairly reliable and inexpensive. Losing or breaking one is no cause for concern. But for the most part they are also dull to look at and many are difficult to use. A good fountain pen floats across the page. Many ballpoints need to be forced to their task. The necessary death grip does nothing for my carpal tunnel.

My first fountain pen was a chrome Shaeffer Targa, circa 1980. I used it to draft two senior theses in college. I liked it so much I bought a second. Nearly thirty years later they are still in service, although I sometimes have difficulty finding cartridges for them.

Next came law school and a black Lamy Safari, purchased for all of $12 at the University of Wisconsin book store. After slight modification, it became an excellent all purpose pen. The ergonomic grip is a fine idea, but I disliked the sharp edges. I rounded them off with a file. I also added a gold nib, for the princely sum of $20. It is not an impressive pen to look at, but it writes like a dream. Law school also provided one of my favorite curiosities a Pelikan student’s pen. It had a black body and a striking orange clip. A classmate absconded with it after an Evidence lecture. What could I do? She was gorgeous I was but a mere male. She tells me it is still giving loyal service.

After I began to practice, I treated myself to a sterling silver Pelikan. The barrel diameter and overall balance are just right for me, while a Pelikan nib is truly wondrous. In addition, Pelikans generally cost a little less than the better known brands.

Then there is Big Red, my Parker Duofold Centennial, a recreation of the 1920s classic. It was a gift from my wife and is almost too beautiful to use. It is fitted with a medium italic nib, which adds a touch of character to even my scrawl. (I believe it came with an ordinary medium nib, but, at that time, Parker offered new owners their choice of nibs, installed at no cost.)

The downside of fountain pens? They require occasional cleaning and filling them can result in ink-stained fingers. At the moment, though, my greatest hardship is finding ink. The days when every stationary store had at least a bottle of Skrip in the corner have evidently passed.

The next pen? I’m fascinated by the Waterman Edson, but balk at the price. Besides, I’m an aspiring writer. I’m looking for one that contains the Great American Novel.

11 thoughts on “Guest post: Why use a fountain pen?

  1. Fountain pen user since 3rd grade when we were thought to write script.

    Try out the Pelikan Souveran series. A dream to write with, glides on paper and is reasonably priced. Plus the body and nib is so beautifully decorated and designed with colors that you will think twice using it or putting it on display. My fave now is a Souveran M400 White Tortoise Shell with Italic Broad nib on Pelikan Emerald Green ink. Never looked back.

  2. I decided I wanted to get into using a fountain pen at work. Mainly because using a ball point makes my wrists ache and after a few mins i’m in agony, using a fountain pen does not cause the pain.

    So I purchased a posh looking silver fountain pen with a beautifully decorated nib, it was a W H Smith brand pen. When I took it home to show my girlfriend, she squealed in delight, “ooowie you got this for me?”. I could not really say, “No you selfish woman, give it back to me, it’s mine”, so I just smiled and told her it was a surprise present.

    This left me in the dilema of not having a posh fountain pen. So I went out the next day and bought an even nicer large silver Parker fountain pen, which I use everyday at work.

    It makes me laugh everytime when a colleague comes up to my desk and says, “can I borrow your pen for a minute”, and they pick it up, only to panick when they see it’s a fountain pen and put it back on my desk.

    One colleague last week turned down the offer to use my fountain pen, saying he knew it would never feel right to me again if I let someone else use it, like sharing a wife and then not wanting her back after another man has soiled her.

    I never thought of pens in that way, but I must admit I do have quite an attachment to my parker.

  3. AllenH – were we separated at birth?

    The best paper I’ve ever found came from a business hotel in Montreal. I swiped every page in my room, asked for more, and asked my business associate to do the same. Sadly, I never could find a source for it in the States and have lost my last piece.

    Is there an expert out there who could give us a tour of the great papers?

  4. The fountain-pen- how I love thee!! 🙂 I always was a pen/pencil nut from when I was a young boy- the search for the Fall’s back to school goodies always left me wanting a new mechanical pencil. Luckily, rather recently, I realized that old things are not necessarily worse than new things. I’ve discovered this in many ways in my life- The Wet Shave using an old double-edge razor and Badger brush, Fountain pens, and yes, the horror- handkerchiefs (and I’ll admit a Tobacco Pipe).

    I own a handful of great pens right now, but my mainstay is a Parker 51 from the 70’s- it’s fantastic. I know now why everyone raves about the 51. The Nib is covered, so there’s no drying out of ink (my Pelikans dry out horribly, as well as my True-Writer- actually he’s the worst). I can put the 51 down for a few minutes while discussing the vagaries of the many worlds theorem (I’m kidding), then pick it back up and write without a hiccup. It’s wonderful.

    I used to be afraid of ink, but after losing almost a whole ink-bottle-full onto the carpet, I worry less. 😉 Yes, that was a fun day. Let’s just say I’m much more careful with my ink while filling pens and no longer do it on the arm-rest of my favorite chair.

    Now that I’ve tried bottled ink, I can’t go back to any other… converters save the day for me with my Truewriters, and cheaper Parkers.

    A few warnings: 1) There are always many nice pens that whisper: “Buy me! Buy me!,” and they are much more expensive than Bics. 2) Luckily Ink is fairly cheap… and there’s only a few hundred, or maybe a thousand to choose from… 3) As soon as you use a fountain pen on the last piece of paper you used that old Bic on, you’ll realize two things: (i) Paper quality has gone seriously downhill in the US and (ii) you need to buy better paper (like Rhodia, or Exacompa, or Clairfontaine- oh how I love thee Clairfontaine…).

    So: fair-warning!!

  5. Erin, a variety of ways. Sometimes, a person volunteers. Other times, we ask people who have commented on this blog, or who write to us with an idea for Quo Vadis Blog, to go ahead and write about it. We are always looking for guest bloggers to write on a subject people who read this blog would find interesting, appealing or educational. Writers welcome!

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