A kingdom of pens

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Giving a new meaning to penultimate. hammad ali

Once you start with fountain pens, you’ll never go back

For many of us, pens are just a tool. Some of us do not even bring our own pens everywhere, confident that we will be able to borrow one if needed. Even for those who make a point of not leaving home without one, usually any pen will do. Nor do most people worry about where to get their next pen, usually just picking up a bulk pack at the cheapest store nearby.

I have always been an anomaly in this sense. For as far back as I can remember, I have been obsessed with pens. Several years ago, I read how the Uni-ball Jetstream was named the smoothest ballpoint pen in the world, and got a friend in the UK to send me a couple of packets. On that occasion, I was actually disappointed and did not find the Jetstream to be a worthy purchase.

A lot has changed since then, and around three years ago, my fascination with pens and stationery reached what now feels like the logical conclusion – I now exclusively use fountain pens. I guess I will use a ballpoint pen to scribble a few lines in an emergency, but I am not going to be happy about it!

Like many other fountain pen aficionados, I started with one relatively cheap fountain pen. I say relatively because even a cheap fountain pen often costs in the neighborhood of $30. For someone familiar with dollar-a-dozen single-use ballpoints, this comes across as shocking. In all honesty though, the fact that you can re-use fountain pens, the writing experience, and the quality of writing make it worth the price tag.

There is a joke in the fountain pen community about how no one owns one fountain pen; they either do not own any fountain pens at all, or they own an embarrassingly high number of them. In the three years since my first one, I now have a collection of eight fountain pens, and that’s after some downsizing! Most of my collection was bought used, and I do not see myself adding to it in the next little while. I say this because I had a reasoning for buying each pen I currently own.

For instance, fountain pens come in various nib sizes. Broad nibs put out thick lines, use a ton of ink, and do not do well with thin or low-quality paper. So I have just one of those, for beautiful signatures. Most of my other pens are fine or extra fine, great for thin lines and tiny notes in a margin. I do not own any with a post nib, which is supposed to be finer than extra fine; or a music nib, meant exclusively for writing musical notes. Given my day-to-day use, I am unlikely to get either of those.

Another factor I keep in mind is the size of the ink tank. Some pens have barely one ml, like the first one I ever got. The problem with that is that for someone like me who essentially thinks by writing, this means refilling almost every day. Refilling fountain pens is fun, but it does have the potential for getting ink everywhere! My current collection has pens with capacity anywhere up to two ml, with the two ml ones easily writing around a hundred pages from a single fill.

The last factor I use in deciding what pen to get is what filling mechanism it uses. There are the squeeze converters, which I hate and find messy. There are those that just take cartridges, and are ideal for carrying around because, instead of drawing up bottled ink, I can just switch out cartridges. My favourites are those with vacuum fillers. Tricky to work, but very satisfying. I find refilling all my pens with bottled ink to be a very comforting ritual; one where I am left with ink-stained hands, which is fine. Modern life is all about fast pace and ease-of-use. There is something rewarding in not joining that race.

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