The Quest For My Ultimate Fountain Pen Part 1: The All-Over-The-Place Period
by Martin Green
My personal quest for the ultimate fountain pen began unexpectedly.
I was taught to write with a fountain pen in elementary school, which is quite normal in Europe. But I switched this out for a ballpoint pen later on as the speed of my classes’ lectures increased.
Blessed with horrid handwriting, I never thought myself worthy of a nice fountain pen. Cheap ballpoints pretty much ruled my adolescent years and I was fine with them.
But then my grandparents moved into a nursing home. This was a sad occasion, and it also meant that their house had to be dismantled since not everything could move with them. And this is how I ended up with the black-barreled fountain pen with silver cap from my grandfather.
The arrow-shaped clip clearly indicated it was a Parker, but I had no further information about it bar that. I filled it easily from an ink pot by pressing a little plastic bladder five times, and off I was on the path to a journey I had never expected myself to take.
The steel nib of the Parker turned out to be a smooth writer. It was actually a stub nib, meaning a broad, flat one with rounded corners, which made my messy handwriting look more acceptable. But even more than that, I enjoyed the experience: filling the pen with ink, the smooth writing, the feeling of satisfaction that this type of writing gave me.
It was there and then that I decided that I might have a horrible-looking handwriting, but that I could certainly compensate that with a pen that looked amazing – and felt amazing as I wrote with it.
My perfect pen – yours might be different
My quest for the perfect fountain pen ended up taking almost two decades.
During that time I wandered aimlessly through the world of fountain pens because I allowed myself to wonder. This was the strategy I had worked out to find what I was looking for; in a sense I was following my yellow brick road to the wizard of Oz.
I consider all the pens I came across on my journey formidable writing instruments, yet in the end there was only one that became my ultimate pen, the one above all others. But if it wasn’t for all those other pens, I would have never found it.
On another note – and I was very fortunate to learn this very, very early in my journey of discovery – I also learned that the “perfect” fountain pen is different for everybody. It has a lot to do with the size of your hand, the way you hold a fountain pen, the pressure you put on the nib while writing, the way you move your hand, and the speed with which you write.
So one person’s grail pen can be somebody else’s writing nightmare. What I might criticize on a pen can be taken as a recommendation by somebody else.
When I ventured off in the world of fountain pens I learned that the pen I got from my grandfather was in fact a Parker 21, the less expensive sibling of the famed Parker 51 introduced in 1941.
With the clarity of hindsight, I now ask myself why I actually began looking further at all because I still consider it a formidable writing instrument.
But the answer is twofold: first of all, it turns out that I like dramatic-looking pens. And by dramatic, I mean almost over the top. For me a pen needs to be eye-catching, and with its black body and silver cap, the Parker 21 couldn’t be more understated.
Secondly, I learned that nothing compares to writing with a gold nib.
I had to try a gold nib, so I got myself a Pelikan M250, a 14-karat-gold-nibbed demonstrator. A demonstrator is a writing instrument whose barrel is partially or completely transparent so that the filling mechanisms can be viewed as they work.
I got it in a brownish-yellow color that I dubbed Havana. It was a great writer, especially for the money, but as cool as a demonstrator sounds in theory, I learned that it is not like a skeletonized wristwatch.
Yes, you can clearly see how the pen’s large piston sucks in the ink, but since it is filled with liquid, you can also see condensation and ink residue. This is perfectly normal, but pens with colored barrels don’t allow you to see that. I found that instead of adding to the experience, it took away some of the magic. And it was time to move on.
The Pelikan did have a smooth-writing 14-karat gold nib, but I was wondering if 18-karat gold would provide an even smoother writing experience.
I have learned over time that this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, and one of my teachers was the Conway Stewart Amethyst fountain pen.
About the same size as the Pelikan M250, the Conway Stewart Amethyst was based on the brand’s “58” model. Being somewhat of an anglophile in terms of clothing and cars, I was taken by the fact that Conway Stewart was an icon of the British fountain pen industry and always had an interesting approach.
The Amethyst was most certainly interesting with a stunning-looking body and cap displaying almost every hue of purple that exists.
At that time I was actually convinced that thinner pens would prove to be more comfortable for me to write with. I could not have been more wrong.
However, I don’t regret this side step because it led me to a very slender beauty with the very unsexy name of Élysée Edition No. 1.
Quite unlike the images a name like Élysée might conjure in one’s head, this was actually a German brand that made very high-quality pens. However, by the time I became aware of the brand in the early 2000s, it was already out of business.
In 1993 Élysée had the idea to pay tribute to the art of Chinese cloisonné with a series of limited edition pens based on the Parthenon, the brand’s flagship model. The first edition of this series was created by German artist Karl Diesner, who would later also design a second one. According to him, his purpose was to “activate our vision.” And he was not kidding!
Almost every geometric shape known to man decorates the barrel and the cap of this pen. Outlined in yellow-gold-plated wire, the shapes are filled in with pink, purple, black, and grey enamel in cloisonné style. This is for sure a pen that tantalizes the eye.
The level of craftsmanship is extremely high; I have heard that Élysée actually went out of business because the firm produced much too high of a quality in relation to its prices, limiting profit margins. Judging by this fountain pen that could very well be the case.
Unfortunately, I also discovered at this time that thin pens don’t really agree with my writing style.
Time to tuck my Élysée pen into the pocket of my white blazer, which I wear with matching white pants, a pastel t-shirt, and Gucci slip-ons, and take the white Testarossa for a spin on the way to part 2 of this trilogy, which will focus on my Italian period.
See The Quest For My Ultimate Fountain Pen Part 2: The Italian Period.
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[…] like unwrapping a new notebook, sitting down with your favorite pen in hand (like I do with one in My Quest For The Ultimate Fountain Pen), and beginning a new […]
[…] wanderings through the world of fountain pens had made me more knowledgeable (see My Quest For My Ultimate Fountain Pen Part 1: The All-Over-The-Place Period), and my previous pens had made me also quite a bit wiser regarding my personal preferences: the […]
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Thanks for the tale, Martin.
I’ve also been trying since my childhood (and that’s a LONG time) to find the Perfect Fountain Pen.
I’ve come close, I mean REALLY close, so I can’t wait to see what you unearth in your next segments of the story.
You are most welcome, Michael! What is the closest you ever came to the perfect fountain pen?
I truly enjoyed the article. I recall using a fountain pen also,but never consider the fact that like most tools of one trade. Some effort is required to find the right tool.
A truth if there ever was one!
Thanks for the share! Nice things meant to be used and enjoyed.
Love the Conway!
My pleasure, Ilario! I wholeheartedly concur that nice and beautiful things are meant to be used and enjoyed. The Conway is indeed something special, and that is why despite the fact that it isn’t THE one, I am still hanging on to it, and ink it from time to time.
My quest is really a journey. I thought I had arrived when I purchased a Pelican M800 Green Stripes fountain pen with an italic nib. But then I got a knockdown gorgeous Nakaya Piccolo Cigar Heki-tamenuri. This was subsequently upstaged when I purchased a Conid Bulkfiller with its incredible filling system and titanium nib. It’s my new favorite, but my journey continues.
Sounds much like my story, Jim! All I can say is enjoy the journey and the amazing pens that you write with along the way!
I’m still trying to find the right ink / color and the right paper. Ten fountain pens in and still nothing perfect. Thank you for story. Waiting to hear what is perfect for you.
Hi Gary, finding the right ink and the right paper can be a quest on its own! Over the years I have learned that ink that works great with one pen, doesn’t mean it also is a good combination with another.
It is nice to know that I am not the only person with a fountain pen passion. Being female with small hands, the size of the barrel is important to me and like the rest, I am still looking. Recently, I talked with a friend who picks up old fountain pens at estate sales and auctions, but most of them don’t work. It is an interesting journey. Oh and by the way, I am a writer and find that I am more creative if I write my first draft with a fountain pen on good paper.
Strange but so true, I have it also that my creativity often flows better when I write with a fountain pen. Have you ever tried writing with an Élysée? Their nibs are very enjoyable to write with and they have nice, slender barrels.
Great piece regarding fountain pens! I endorse the Elysee, after purchasing one in the late ’90’s during a pen shop clearance sale. Although I have a fat hand, the rigidity of its barrel and its surprisingly superbly balanced heft combined with an outstanding nib make it quite a pleasant writing instrument. This said I have blown way too much money over too many years on the perfect pen pursuit. Sadly, I remain horribly fickle, with mood and other equally intangible factors pulling me in unpredictable directions. If queried today, I would offer arguments in favor of the following: Waterman Edson ( an elegantly smooth writing, Art Deco masterpiece); Pilot Namiki Vanishing Point (a great value, easy writing gold nib pen with a slick retracting point); Parker Doufold (well balanced, rigid nib pen, holding the cachet of being the pen used to sign the final surrender documents of WWII). Aargh! I guess the ultimate determination is what brings you great pleasure as you write.
Thanks, Bill! You point out some pretty amazing pens. The Duofold is a legend, the Edson a masterpiece and Michael Clerizo already made quite a case for the practical and innovative Namiki VP. Great pleasure to write is indeed the ultimate goal, yet there are so many ways that lead to Rome, as you seem to know, just like me, all too well!
I have searched for years for the ultimate fountain pen. I knew what I wanted; a pen that sat comfortably in my hand that I could use for hours without writer’s cramp. Also, I wanted to see the ink flow onto page and not simply scratch the page like many ball point pens do. I need to feel a connection with the words something I never experienced with a ball point. Finally, I wanted a pen that looked good. Happily I found the right pen: the Pilot Vanishing Point. After more than a decade of use the pen has never disappointed.
So nice to read that you too went through a journey similar to mine. The Pilot Vanishing Point is a stunning fountain pen that also features a very clever and unique design. I can definitely see why this has been your pen for over a decade!
I truly enjoyed the article, I too was riased on ink pens even the ones that leaked!!!
Thanks, Donald, appreciate your comment! It is funny how we ultimately return to fountain pens even when our first experiences weren’t the best.
Love the Conway Amethyst! Where in the world did you find it?
Thank you! I bought it about 20 years ago at a Conway Stewart dealer in the UK. The dealer is unfortunately not there anymore, like so many great pen shops.
There are few things as unappealing as a photograph of an otherwise interesting fountain pen, healed over on its side like a beached shipwreck! I think we can all agree, particularly when discussing Parkers, that the clip is as important for distinguishing a given pen, as a hood ornament is to a Duisenberg or Rolls Royce! Therefore, henceforth, please have a care when photographing your pens, to take the bloody time to place it properly within the frame (with the clip appropriately centered), such that it can be clearly seen by the intended viewer!
Thank you very much, and carry on…
I enjoyed the article hugely I was taught copperplate by an old school teacher formerly of the army education core, but since losing my Parker many years ago I’ve not been able to find a fountain pen with a flexible nib, any suggestions? Jim Grirve