5.21.2010

5 Excuses for Not Owning a Fountain Pen

People who buy pens certainly have their preference or bias toward a certain type of pen. Ballpoint people will only love the twist-action/click-top convenience that only a ballpoint can offer. The rollerball acolytes love the smooth flow of only a capped rollerball. And the fountain pen fanatics, forget about them. You try and put a Bic in front of a fountain pen connoisseur and see the look of repugnance on their face. But for those who have been a ballpoint or rollerball writer for years, a fountain pen can be no man's land.

There's several stock excuses that I usually hear from those who haven't sipped the ink from the feed. In no particular order,
  • "They're Messy." True, fountain pens require a bit more diligence than simply inserting a new cartridge. With most modern fountain pens offering a cartridge or converter filling system, today's writers have the option of simply plugging in a disposable ink cartridge instead of filling with a bottle of ink. In that case, the only contact you would have with the ink is if you foolishly grab the pen by the nib or feed. And cleaning the pen isn't as bad as you may think - most fountain pen inks are water-soluble and wash out of the nib by running cool tap water on it.
  • "Too Complicated." People born after the invention of the ballpoint take a look at a fountain pen nib with its ribbed feed and converter (which often gets confused as an empty cartridge) and throw up their hands in mental anguish. Trust me, we've gotten calls. Take a deep breath. It will all be OK. Despite the fancy-looking writing mechanism, the fountain pen works exactly like any other pen in the respect that you write with the tip. Filling the pen can be as easy as inserting a cartridge. Cleaning and care of the nib takes no more than water and a cloth.
  • "They're Fragile." If you drop a ballpoint or rollerball pen on the writing end, you may damage the front section where the point comes out and may break the refill tip, but that can be replaced for the cost of another refill. If you drop a fountain pen on its nib, you're most likely going to end up with a pen that doesn't write the same as it did before, and the only way to resolve the problem is to get it fixed by the manufacturer or a nib specialist. I can't argue against this comparison, but what I can say is that our culture's contemporary inventory of gadgets, PDAs, DVD's, cellphones, laptops, etc., offer much less durability than any typical fountain pen. Most consumers expect to be replacing their technological trinkets every five years due to outdated tech, breakage or lack of support for spare parts. Pen companies like Parker, Waterman and Montegrappa have been around for decades. You can purchase a fountain pen with a stainless steel nib and iridium tip and expect to write with it for decades.
  • "Too Expensive." Two Words : Lamy Safari. Under $30 for a solid, workhorse fountain pen that you can write with long after you've replaced your current computer. You can even opt for the starter Pelikan Pelikano for $16.95. Sure, you're not going to find fountain pens in the dollar store, but the point is that you want to use and re-use your pen for the long-term.
  • "Not Convenient." With a simple, one-handed twist, a ballpoint retracts and protracts, ready to write. Can't get any easier than that. Well, there is the Pilot Vanishing point and the Lamy Dialog 3, which are retractable fountain pens. True, fountain pens are not as on-command as ballpoints, but when it comes to writing over long periods of time, the fountain pen is much easier to write with, requiring little or no pressure to contact the ink to paper. I can remember, back before my first FP, writing in the blue exam booklets with a ballpoint pen. After a good hour of writing, my hand felt like it needed a soak in an Epsom salt bath.
We want to hear from the hold-outs. What has kept you from trying a fountain pen?

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