Last week TonyB published an article about why he doesn’t use a fountain pen. He makes some credible points, but some need a little clarification. Overall, I think Tony over-generalizes the characteristics of fountain pens. I’m guessing this comes mostly from his experiences with them, which is unfortunate, because using a fountain pen should feel like riding a unicorn through a field of cupcakes during a rainstorm of scotch while eating bacon.

Tony’s first point is that fountain pens are distracting:

When you use a fountain pen, it’s all about the pen. You have to always be conscious of how you’re holding the pen, how it’s moving, how the ink is flowing. If you let the fountain pen get out of the correct position, it won’t work. You’re forced to focus on the act of writing itself, rather than on the writing.

In all my years of using fountain pens I’ve never had to put more thought into using one than I did with a ballpoint, roller ball, or pencil. A properly working fountain pen should not be as touchy as what Tony describes above. Maybe the pen needs tuned or maybe an exchange is order, but either way, it should work at various angles and even during a slight amount of rotation without interrupting flow.

Tony’s next point is that fountain pens are too much work:

Fountain pens have to be cleaned carefully after use, stored just so to prevent damage or leaking, filled before use.

If fountain pens were that high maintenance even I wouldn’t use them. I suppose if you know you’re not going to use a pen for months then, yes, it would be best to clean it and store it empty. In general, most fountain pens can sit for weeks, even months, without use and still work when you need it. I’ve stored fountain pens nib up, nib down, laying horizontal, in pen cups, desk drawers, and in pen wraps that get thrown (literally) into my backpack without damage.

Tony’s final point is that fountain pens are too expensive.

I know that there are good fountain pens to be had for under US$50. But, let’s be honest, most of you are spending hundreds of dollars on fountain pens. Maybe I’m just cheap because the idea of parting with that kind of cash for a pen makes me cringe.

I actually agree wholeheartedly with Tony here. I don’t know a single person who’s managed to buy only one Lamy Safari, or TWSBI, or any other fountain pen and leave it at that. Honestly, I can’t imagine owning just one fountain pen. Fountain pen manufacturers seems to be trending more and more towards the luxury/jewelry market, producing more special/limited editions and charging disproportionate amounts for them.

Hopefully, Tony won’t write off fountain pens completely and will actually buy that Vanishing Point he’s after. If there’s only one fountain pen I could recommend, the VP would be on the short list.

Now, lets talk about why I use fountain pens.

1. Fountain pens are a reflection of their owner.

I’ve always liked my possessions to be personal and unique. Fountain pens offer so much more personalization than any other writing instrument. The number of materials, colors, and sizes fountain pens come in is staggering. Then there’s the theme pens that honor people, events, or locations around the world.

Add to that custom made pens, the possibility of nib grinds, flexible nibs, and bottled inks in every color you can imagine, and the fountain pen starts to become more like a fingerprint that uniquely identifies you.

2. Fountain pens bring people together.

I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m not very personable. But, I can’t count the number of times someone has started a conversation with me because they saw me using a fountain pen. Mostly, these were acquaintances who noticed the fountain pen and were surprised they were still being made. It’s a perfect opportunity to introduce people to the madness hobby. Fountain pens will get you attention whether you were looking for it or not.

Then there’s the community around fountain pens. I don’t think I’ve met a friendlier group of people than fountain pen users. There are multiple message boards devoted to fountain pens and there’s at least one pen show every month around the country. The first time I went to one was for the pens. Now, I go for the people.

3. Fountain pens offer the ultimate writing experience.

Sure, a fountain pen can be used in daily tasks to make memos and take notes on the worst of papers (a Vanishing Point for convenience, filled with Noodler’s X-Feather for versatility would make a great workhorse), its time to shine is when it’s properly set up.

Like a Ferrari or McLaren, vehicles that are able to get you from point A to B, you can’t fully appreciate them until you get them on a track, filled with race fuel, and taught how to drive them. There’s not much to learn about using a fountain pen, just make sure the nib’s touching the paper and feed is face down. For the best experience, I prefer to fill my pens with Waterman Florida Blue, then I’ll grab a sheet of Tomoe River paper or a pad of Rhodia. With this setup you’ll be in for a writing experience unmatched by any liquid or gel roller found on this planet.

I want to thank Tony for sharing his reasons why he doesn’t use fountain pens. Hopefully, with my opposing view point, it’ll cause you to think about why you use fountain pens or even get you to try one for the first time. Whatever your experience with them is, please share your reasons for using (or not using) fountain pens. Ultimately, use whatever you need to use to keep writing.

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  • Stephen Brown

    Clearly, I’m biased towards fountain pens, and I respect Tony’s opinion. Having said that, I think Dan posed some good (counter)arguments here. In the end, everyone should use the type of pen s/he is comfortable with, but I fear many people never give fountain pens a chance due to common misconceptions. For example, I cannot even count the amount of times I’ve had people tell me, “You use a fountain pen? Don’t they always leak?” :-).

    • tsz shun wong

      Talking about misconception,my family always blame me on the time wasted to clean a pen.They think fountain pens isnt practical as ball points.

    • togotooner

      …..and then you replied,”no silly,..not every pen is made by Noodler’s.”

    • Tim Self

      When I’m selling the pens I make, I receive the same question plus “Do people still use them”? I love educating people to the joy of writing with one and have sold MANY to FP “virgins”.

  • Oliver Taylor

    If I had £1 for every time I’ve heard
    ”I had a fountain pen once, but it leaked everywhere”.
    I could buy a L2K.

  • Joel Berger

    Very well said, Dan. One point of contention — Scotch rainstorms tend to sting the eyes. :-)

    • Dan Smith

      You’ve got me there!

    • ethernautrix

      If you’re riding a unicorn, you can throw your head back, eyes closed, and let the Scotch rain fall onto your face (open your mouth!). Or… just lean back, head against mane, as if you’re in a hammock. Trust the unicorn’s sense of direction; trust that the unicorn cares about you and will see you home safely.

      Ooorrrrrrr… get an umbrella with built-in straws. Hey?

    • Colin R

      Not if your wearing beer goggles at the time :-)

  • Lisa Miyako on Facebook

    “…[R]iding a unicorn through a field of cupcakes during a rainstorm of scotch while eating bacon” – love this!

  • puru

    Regarding Tony’s point 1 of being “touchy”, i think he is feeling that because he is a new or occasional user. I also felt that initially due to my past experience with soul less ballpoints, but after couple of months, it becomes so natural that , i don’t have to focus on pen but on the content i am writing on paper.

    • Will Platt

      yup. that’s how i feel. But I really try not to push it on anyone…except my sister (because I can)

  • ethernautrix

    Yep. I’m not a proselytizer. If people want to use whatever to write with, why would I care? I don’t! I’d rather someone use a chomped-up golf pencil and write one glorious sentence than use a Montblanc Skeleton to pen the usual banalities. I mean, if I were to care. Which I don’t.

    • Mark

      Do you have a MB skeleton? Just asking

  • snedwos

    I find that focusing on the act of writing doesn’t act as “an impediment” between my brain and the paper, in fact it conducts my ideas in a way that typing never has done. And when I use a ballpoint, well, my hand hurts. Very soon. Point 3 is bang on the money. But if I have the spare cash to spend, I’d rather spend it on pens and ink than, say, more beer. Or a new phone every 6 months.

  • Kai

    Agree with everything Dan said above, and would like to add this: Expensive is not a con, sometimes it’s well worth it. Overpriced on the other hand is just tacky.
    I remember once buying a $200 ballpoint for a special occasion years ago and thinking: “The blue refill in this pen is exactly the same as the one sitting inside that $10 one next to it. Am I kidding myself?” I won’t say that about my fountain pens’ nibs.

  • Julian Chan on Facebook

    That is an extremely deep metaphor.

  • David

    The young today are taught to dislike anything “old”. Fountain pens (and therefore those that use them) are considered old.

    • Will Platt

      I wouldn’t say that is true. I am “young” I guess, and I’ve never had a fellow classmate dislike a fountain pen…if anything they are intrigued by them.

      • David

        @Will Platt, You are right, I apologize if I offended you. It is wrong of me to lump all young people into one lump. But I maintain you are by far the exception. Not long ago when I uncapped a fountain pen to write something for a precocious teen I know, the youngster’s nose-high comment was, “figures you would use one of those”. Hmmm…

        • RagingDragon

          I think that this dismissal of the old is less prevalent in today’s youth than it was in the past. Generation Y, and especially the hipster subculture, seem to be embracing old technologies far more enthusiastically than the last few generations.

          • Tadeusz

            Sorry to post upon an old topic, but whenever I take out my fountain pen, whether it be a Jinhao X450 (looks very expensive, looks are deceiving!) or even my Pelikan 140, people gape and stare and ask many questions.

            Included in these questions are always the usual “Does it leak everywhere?” , “Aren’t those things really expensive”, and my favorite: “Only old people use fountain pens, get with the times ‘bruh'” (<– at which point I flick the pen in their direction :-))

            It is the same reaction I get when I lug my 1949 Smith Corona Sterling typewriter in on the B.Y.O.T. day……know the teachers have been forced to specify that BYOT means Bring Your Own TECHNOLOGY…….silly me thinking it stood for typewriter….XD

    • Yamborghini

      Never hear of a “hipster”?

    • Tina Hagin Newton

      My teen daughter told me I was “old and British” for using one. (no offence, Stephen Brown) So I started talking like the Queen Mother. And I feel royal, now, when I use mine.

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  • togotooner

    There are many examples of over-hyped and over-priced fountain pens that make me cringe. I mean honestly,..outside of design,….the body of the average fountain pen is basically now just “plastic”. I mean come on guys,….it really comes down to a plastic body and a nib. Now,….OK,….unless we are talking a nib made from Gold, Palladium or Platinum,… makes me cringe and wonder how manufacturers can try to sensationalize their plastic offerings with fancy descriptions and equally fancy prices to match. To be fair,…Fountain Pens are not alone in this. You can see price markups in just about every industry.

    If people continue to buy these over-priced products,…then there will always be a place for them.

    Now,..the other factor comes into play when you factor in a really different and unique body or barrel shape design. Now….what kind of price/value do you place on design? I’m sure that varies as much as the individual’s tastes.

    I have seen Fountain Pens that are made of “fancy plastic” and are equipped with a basic steel nib and selling for over $300. Seriously?

    OK,..maybe the answer is just buying the cheapos.

    Well,….not so fast.

    I have also purchased several Fountain Pens for under $30…(I won’t mention Noodler’s name) and the pens are garbage. They leaked, misbehaved, burped, skipped and many of the caps didn’t post securely.

    I’ve been in the hobby awhile, but I have really scaled back on my expenditures due to the inconsistencies of many of these pens and the prices that just seem to be ridiculously high and not in direct proportion with their performance.

    I can understand how someone from the outside looking in would frown upon the Fountain pen world,…but also I can understand how those that have had the good fortune of owning a Fountain Pen that performs well would also love the very same world.

    I own 3 Fountain Pens that fall into the reliable category and when I use them,….they wonderful to write and draw with. But I can also tell you that,….it’s all due to the nibs and not so much for the pen bodies. Only one of them has a pen body (made from buffalo horn) that is unique enough that warranted a higher price. The other two are “plastic fantastic” but with exceptional nibs.

    The bigger problem here is this new generation of people that have never learned to write at all. THAT is a sad commentary about the future.

    • RobbS

      As an engineer, trust me, it’s quality materials that really count. The cheapest of pens can be used gingerly and successfully for years. But a good quality pen will have engineering materials and assembly and finishes that will hold up better. My last, and only, Jinhao, scatched in my pocket on the first day, and the nib splayed on the first admittedly firm test. In the garbage it went. A lower end FP like a TWSBI, is money well spent. I start my enjoyment with a good nib, then go to the pen body, then to design.

  • RagingDragon

    Would that be a Highland, Speyside, Lowland or Islay rain?

  • Brian Starkey

    And let us not forget about the stress incurred when writing with a ball point or other writing instrument. Fountain pens require little to no pressure when writing. Making for a much longer, much more enjoyable experience!

  • Janet Faught

    May I quote you on the unicorn, cupcake, scotch, bacon statement? I love it.

    • Dan Smith

      Please do.

    • Tina Hagin Newton

      I know I did.

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  • Guy

    Using a ball point pen is a like eating at a fast food
    restaurant, you don’t have the time, just need to get the job done, no more, no
    less, it’s not something you do all the time.

    Writing with a fountain pen, is like going to the market,
    picking out the food, going home, putting some music on, opening the wine,
    prepping the food, chatting, eating the meal, feeling contented.

    It’s a different experience, not everyone understands it,
    they are too busy doing other things. But to us niche folks, we get it and
    enjoy it.

    • RobbS

      I use a ball pen, but use an FP much more often for more things. They offer many nice ball pen refills, like the Schmidt easyFLOW 9000. Which makes writing smooth with a rich deep toned line. And I carry a ball pen as a throw down, for someone looking to borrow a pen. They are welcome to use the FP in my pocket if they’d rather.