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Thread: Collecting Pens Sight Unseen

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    Default Collecting Pens Sight Unseen

    A couple of months back I started another thread with content that was poorly expressed at the outset, resulting in the discussion going off at a tangent from what I intended. I was trying to indicate how very few of the pens in my collection would be replaced in the event of total loss, to demonstrate the number of pens that I have bought that haven't measured up to my personal preferences.

    While some in the "Out of Favour List" (OFL) have been due to fluctuations in taste (a big/small pen writing binge), most have just been down to the hit and miss process of buying from remote sources. Many FPG members will live in a similar situation to myself, located in a rural town where access to a bricks & mortar (B&M) pen shop is non-existent. Added to this, Australia (where I am) doesn't have any half decent pen shows, very few B&Ms and for those there are, the retail pricing is just ridiculous, often being more than double that of an offshore authorized reseller. The pricing creates another personal problem in that I will never go into any B&M shop (pen or otherwise) and try something that there is no chance of me purchasing from the same shop. That is not ethical in my mind but I may be in a minority on that one. Tough, I'll live with it.

    While I have used a fountain pen for all of my life - apart from the dip pens with which we were taught to write - I have never been able to take a serious interest in them until the Internet came along. Suddenly, there was an explosion of information about doing anything you wanted to do to a pen, access to pen sellers from around the globe with choices of new, used and vintage, eBay, and the special interest forums like FPG and FPN. Wow! It was hard to get the gear stick out of overdrive.

    I started my collection by concentrating on new Japanese pens, predominantly Pilot, which in retrospect was a great choice. I've bought many Pilots over the years and have never had a single pen that didn't work spot on out of the box. Some high end makers can't lay claim to that. From the first batch I worked out what I liked and what I didn't in regard to the usual stuff - nib size, pen size, ink flow, fill system, yadda, yadda.

    From then on all my purchases have been based on Internet research of facts (weight, size, ink flow, etc) and specifications, opinions from other users (trying to glean objective tit-bits from the plethora of subjective comment), design appeal to the eye, body material and color, and finally value for money. I buy pens purely to write with them - OK, that's nearly true, as I have to own up to having a near complete collection of unused Lamy Safari and Al-Star pens - not for investment (ha), or to sit in a tray. I keep about a dozen or so pens inked all of the time each with a different ink in them and rotate the roster on a weekly basis. I think there is truth in the old adage 'variety is the spice of life'.

    But after putting a lot into the selection process, many pens turn up, get inked, flushed and are relegated to the OFL in a matter of minutes. Though I suspect I am far more fussy than others, or just more sensitive to touch and feel. I took a dozen very different inked pens to a writers' group meeting one night and got all of the attendees to try each pen. A number of them asked why I had so many because they all felt the same to them. That blew me away and suggests all is not black and white and that it pays never to assume anything. I can have two supposedly identical pens yet I can feel the slightest of difference between them. Perhaps THAT'S my main problem and this thread is going to be a waste of time. I'll push on regardless ...

    So my first question to you from this thread is that if you don't have B&M facilities for a bench or dip pen test, how difficult do you find it to buy pens that click with you?

    Recently, I was fortunate to spend a couple of weeks in the Eternal City - Rome. I took the opportunity to visit Marco Parascenzo at Novelli (via di San Marcello 21-22), a short walk from the Trevi Fountain. Marco speaks excellent English and has a reputation second to none in the FP community. Marco encouraged me to dip test as many pens as I wished. I have never been to a pen show, nor been in a pen shop that offered such gracious service. Several expensive pens that I picked up didn't even make it to the dip test, being excluded on feel, weight, balance or some other reason. One beautiful Stipula was discarded due to the imbalance towards the back end caused by the weight of the internal piston filling mechanism. I was in 7th heaven, literally. I could have stayed and chatted all day, and I have no doubt Marco would have accommodated me. At no time did I feel pressured to stop and/or buy. I ended up buying an Omas 360 Turquoise demonstrator LE because of the shape and nib performance, and when I returned home, I have since bought the Delta Windows LE pen that I tried along with the 360.

    Now the 360 gets to the hub of the matter. You could not possibly guess how comfortable you would find the 360 if you bought one untried. It's a shape that either works, or it doesn't. Nothing in between. For me to buy a 360 without a test would be pure gambling at even money odds, and it's not my religion to do that given the cost of a 360.

    I'm quite convinced that if I lived near Novelli or another similar B&M then the size of my OFL would be very small and I would have saved a small fortune in outlay. So my second question is how much do you rely on your B&M where you have access to one?

    Frankly, I could argue that it's actually cheaper for me to fly to a major U.S. pen show every 2 years just to decide what I might buy in the next period. The money saved against my current buying process would more than pay for a ticket there and back.

    Apologies for the length of this diatribe. I hope you have found the content thought provoking.

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    Senior Member tandaina's Avatar
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    Default Re: Collecting Pens Sight Unseen

    I could see that. Though since I prefer antique pens it would have to be a pen show, and not one of the wonderful shops that still exist. But I've also got pens I tried, and loved, and have since fallen out of love with. So I'm not sure really. The pen that is the most perfect, the most amazing, that I reach for when I want a pen I know I will love the whole experience of... Was one I'd only seen in pictures and then customized so one like it had never even been made before. So... I think you CAN stumble upon the just right pen wihtout having tried it, but I'll admit trying them likely does reduce the mistakes.
    ---
    Current pen rotation: way too many!

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    Senior Member kaisnowbird's Avatar
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    Default Re: Collecting Pens Sight Unseen

    Hi Murfie,

    It's an interesting topic.

    Like Tandaina, I too have had pens that I fell out of love with - eg. Italic Parson's Essential, I still like it, but not nearly as much as before; TWSBI Mini, sold and won't go back.

    I also have pens that didn't impress me at first, but are now among my favourites - eg. Montblanc 114 (Mozart).

    I am sensitive too and can sometimes feel minute differences in supposedly identical pens. When I can't detect a difference, it's a testament of consistency in quality. For example, as much as I like Visconti pens, I haven't written two Viscontis that felt exactly the same. I was at a B&M store today trying 4 Van Gogh Maxi (the earlier, non-magnetic edition), each with a 14K F nib. The nibs look identical and all have the same problem -- tines pressed together a little too tightly, but I felt the differences. In comparison, the Sailor Pro Gear I bought from you felt pretty much identical to the one I tried in store.

    Purchase after test certainly makes sense and helps quite a bit. My three most recent acquisitions had been checked out in person:
    1. Lamy Vista - I never thought I'd like it until I saw it in store. Ordered one right away. Loving it.
    2. The aforementioned Sailor. I fell in love with the Medium 21K nib in store and luckily your one is just as awesome.
    3. The Van Gogh I bought today. The store would only sell me a brand new one, not the one I dipped and tried. Nonetheless, I knew what the pen looks like, its size and weight, its problem too. There was no surprise. 15 minutes of very careful amateur work, the pen is writing pretty nice now.

    When it comes to buying them sight unseen, I rely on one quality of my own -- versatility:
    - I enjoy nib sizes from EF to M, stubs and italics up to 1.3 mm;
    - I can love a tiny pen (like the MB Mozart) as much as a larger pen (Safari, Visconti) and anything in between;
    - I don't mind light pens (min. 12 grams) and can still love a heavier pen (max. 40 grams);
    - I usually don't post the caps (unless it's one of those tiny pens), so the cap weight doesn't bother me either; and
    - I'm reasonably 'flexible' with flow, feedback and flexibility too.

    For those who particularly favour one size/weight/nib grade/section material/filling mechanism, etc, I'd suppose life is even easier - just stick to pens that tick all the boxes.

    Happy hunting!
    Last edited by kaisnowbird; November 16th, 2013 at 07:28 AM.
    Kai

    "Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished." -- Lao Tzu


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    Default Re: Collecting Pens Sight Unseen

    Though I think I should probably be fair and say the best pen I've bought sight unseen was a Nakaya with a nib customized by John Mottishaw (after he talked to me and learned how I hold and use a pen and then ground a custom oblique italic to my hand...) so... I'm not sure that really COUNTS, sorta unique situation, I'd take any pen John worked on sight unseen and likely love it.

    Interesting on the Visconti Kai, cause that is the one brand I have been the most disappointed with buying sight unseen.
    ---
    Current pen rotation: way too many!

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    Default Re: Collecting Pens Sight Unseen

    I have had no problem finding pens that will click with me.
    My Sister's Website: Rose Hill Studios
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    Default Re: Collecting Pens Sight Unseen

    Quote Originally Posted by jar View Post
    I have had no problem finding pens that will click with me.
    My point exactly. We are all very, very different. Thank goodness for that. It would be such a boring world otherwise.

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    Default Re: Collecting Pens Sight Unseen

    Quote Originally Posted by kaisnowbird View Post
    In comparison, the Sailor Pro Gear I bought from you felt pretty much identical to the one I tried in store. I fell in love with the Medium 21K nib in store and luckily your one is just as awesome.
    Hi Kai,

    Thanks for the contribution to the thread, and yes, those Sailor 21kt nibs are so underrated. I've just inked my orange Pro Gear and it's a delight to write with.

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    Senior Member kaisnowbird's Avatar
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    Default Re: Collecting Pens Sight Unseen

    Quote Originally Posted by tandaina View Post
    Interesting on the Visconti Kai, cause that is the one brand I have been the most disappointed with buying sight unseen.
    I can relate to your experience there. I've had three Viscontis, each has its own problem:

    - My Opera club, limited edition made for Fahrney's. I've seen a medium resolution photo of the actual pen. What I couldn't tell was that when the cap screws shut, it doesn't align perfectly with the barrel. As you may know, the pen's shape approximate to a rectangular prism. When the cap and barrel don't align, it doesn't lay perfectly flat. The price was fair and the nib was fantastic. So I let it be.

    - My Homo Sapiens Steel Age Midi size Broad nib. I wanted a stub nib, but like the midi size better, so I went for the B nib, thinking I might have it customised to a stub/CI later. The pen is perfect for me in every aspect except the nib. The 'spring' in the 23K Pd nib was very finicky. With no pressure, the tines are closed too tightly and has hard starts, with moderate pressure, it's too wet and gushes. I tried it with all sorts of inks and tried to adjust the ink flow myself, but it just won't work. So I asked one nibmeister and was told that it's a common problem with these 23k Pd nibs. He could turn it into a stub for me, but the ink flow could still be a problem. I turned to another nibmeister that have done great work for me for a second opinion. The answer was about the same and he didn't want to take the job! In the end, I sold the pen and decided not to touch the 'Dreamtouch' nib again.

    - The Van Gogh Maxi, as I mentioned above, came with flow problems. It's a 14K nib and I feel a lot more confident with it. I've worked on the nib yesterday and today, about 30 minutes in total. It's not perfect yet, but getting there.

    So you see, I learn my lessons and manage to live with or correct small defects.

    That reminded me, I need to add an entry on the disappointing pen thread re Homo Sapiens.
    Kai

    "Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished." -- Lao Tzu


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    Senior Member kaisnowbird's Avatar
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    Default Re: Collecting Pens Sight Unseen

    Quote Originally Posted by tandaina View Post
    Interesting on the Visconti Kai, cause that is the one brand I have been the most disappointed with buying sight unseen.
    I can relate to your experience there. I've had three Viscontis, each has its own problem:

    - My Opera club, limited edition made for Fahrney's. I've seen a medium resolution photo of the actual pen. What I couldn't tell was that when the cap screws shut, it doesn't align perfectly with the barrel. As you may know, the pen's shape approximate to a rectangular prism. When the cap and barrel don't align, it doesn't lay perfectly flat. The price was fair and the nib was fantastic. So I let it be.

    - My Homo Sapiens Steel Age Midi size Broad nib. I wanted a stub nib, but like the midi size better, so I went for the B nib, thinking I might have it customised to a stub/CI later. The pen was perfect for me in every aspect except the nib. The 'spring' in the 23K Pd nib was very finicky. With no pressure, the tines were closed too tightly and had hard starts, with moderate pressure, it was too wet and gushed a river. I tried it with all sorts of inks and tried to adjust the ink flow myself, but nothing worked. So I asked one nibmeister and was told that it's a common problem with these 23k Pd nibs. He could turn it into a stub for me, but the ink flow problem might not go away. I turned to another nibmeister who did great work for me for a second opinion. The answer was about the same and he didn't want to take the job! In the end, I sold the pen (hopefully the new owner's hand pressure is more suited for the nib) and decided that I won't touch the 'Dreamtouch' nib again.

    - The Van Gogh Maxi, as I mentioned above, came with flow problems. It's a 14K nib and I feel a lot more confident with it. I've gently worked on the nib yesterday and today, about 30 minutes in total. It's not perfect yet, but getting there.

    So you see, I learn my lessons and manage to live with or correct small defects. Buying without trying certainly involves greater risks, at least with Visconti. My experiences with Pilot (except very cheap pens) have been perfect.

    That reminded me, I need to add an entry on the disappointing pen thread re Homo Sapiens.
    Kai

    "Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished." -- Lao Tzu


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    Senior Member VertOlive's Avatar
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    Default Re: Collecting Pens Sight Unseen

    As a newcomer without access to an actual store, I have been buying modest pens on the internet and studying them as I go.

    I've learned which nibs I prefer [and that an Asian fine nib is different from my Waterman fine nib!]. I've set aside 1 of the 9 I own already.

    I've learned what weight and material I prefer. That means I've set aside 3 more of the 9 I own.

    I've learned not to buy on a whim. Another 2 set aside.

    I've learned not to buy because the edition is limited. One more set aside.

    So, only 2 of the 9 pens I've acquired as a newbie are ones I would replace.

    That said, I still couldn't have learned this at the store counter. Most of what bugs me about the set-aside pens only revealed themselves as I continued to write with them and compared them to others I'd bought. I had to develop a frame of reference.

    Since I didn't spend so much at first, I'm OK with considering that as "tuition" in the Ink University. You'll probably see them up for sale here one day.

    VO

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    Default Re: Collecting Pens Sight Unseen

    Quote Originally Posted by VertOlive View Post
    I still couldn't have learned this at the store counter. Most of what bugs me about the set-aside pens only revealed themselves as I continued to write with them and compared them to others I'd bought. I had to develop a frame of reference.
    Very well put. Couldn't agree more as it describes why own journey with pen collecting. I have a couple of pens that would always be in the inked roster and at the time I could not imagine otherwise. Now they haven't had a gig for several months. It's hard enough buying pens to suit a static set of preferences, much harder to hit a moving target.

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    Senior Member jde's Avatar
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    Default Re: Collecting Pens Sight Unseen

    I've not had a convenient pen store, nor have I been able to carve out time to travel to and visit a pen show. Even having a local pen meet for a short period of time was not super helpful because there was great similarity among the pens people had, very, very few vintage pen folks, and uh... hmmm... folks who had not been taught how to write with an FP, and who thought pressing hard on a nib was a requirement. (Had to have more than one of my nibs repaired!) Anyhoo... so my second wave, if you will, of using fountain pens (the first being as a kid who hated them) has been a lot of trial and error. The biggest help—and also a bit of trial and error—was finding folks via the pen forums who seemed to have similar FP requirements as my own. Some folks out of their own generosity even sent me their own pens to try so that I could get a sense of what some pens were like. In the very beginning I thought I wanted pens that were super slim like, for example, a Sailor Chalana. Turns out super slim pens are not good for in my hand for long-term writing. I've hand fatigue issues due to a childhood hand injury, and so weight was and continues to be an important factor in my pen selection. Weight being more important than skinny... skinny was not good for my hand at all, it turned out. I've learned a lot about a few other things that are important to me as well. Over a lot of trial and error, and yes buying pens and selling and buying other pens, I've discovered what kinds of pens really work for me. Some pens are great for short notes on the go, and some pens are great for long hours of writing. My favorite nibs are Japanese; my favorite pens are Edison and Danitrio. Finally, there's the "nibmeister" I've finally accepted will be a part of any non-Japanese nib (Edison or Danitro for example) attached to my pen purchases.

    There was a period of great frustration I went through when I wanted pens with large ink capacity, yet was not happy with the JoWo or Bock nibs on those pens with the ink capacity I wanted. I spent some time adjusting and regrinding my own nibs, ruining one or three, and finally gave myself over to Michael Masuyama and Deb Kinney as nibmeisters extraordinaire. I've a baker's dozen of pens now that make me really happy. My "main" writing pens are Edison and Danitrio. My note taking and letter writing pens are Pilot, Platinum, and a gift or two I can't part with.

    While I've blathered on a bit, VertOlive does an excellent job at delineating the process quite succinctly. I rather agree with her assessment that trying a pen in a store alone, especially when you are "new" at it, isn't necessarily helpful. I need to spend some time writing with pens to figure out which worked and why. It took me quite awhile longer, though, than VertOlive to really figure out what worked for me!

    Cheers, my dears...
    Julie
    ...writing only requires focus, and something to write on. —John August
    ...and a pen that's comfortable in the hand.—moi

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    Senior Member VertOlive's Avatar
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    Default Re: Collecting Pens Sight Unseen

    Sure enough, today I had the time and put 4 of the pens I've acquired as a newbie up for sale. Even the nostalgic Waterman that made me so unhappy. That will free me up to explore other pens and to give these great pens a good home!

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