I’ve been meaning to write a fountain pen post, but this AOC instagram screenshot (posted to the /r/fountainpens Reddit) jogged my memory. I’ll bury it because 9/10 of you won’t give a shit.
For me, fountain pens are an aesthetically pleasing way to write notes. Though I’m sitting in front of two computers with 3 screens at the moment, I still have a notepad and a fountain pen where I take notes in meetings. As AOC says, it helps my memory, and other people on my zoom calls don’t need to hear my keyboard clicking.
I started using fountain pens as a kid, but quit. The reason I quit was that the first pen I bought, a Sheaffer Targa, was too broad (it was US Medium, which is similar to a Japanese Broad) and using it on cheap paper caused it to feather and bleed. One of the issues with using a fountain pen is that most paper is cheap garbage, and fountain pens tend to bleed through, “feather” (the ink spreads out as you write) or pick up paper particles in the nib. So, if you’re a fountain pen geek, you inevitably become a paper geek.
Fountain pens come in nib sizes ranging from Extra Fine (EF) to Extra Broad. Just to make things more confusing, European and US fountain pens are all about one grade broader than Japanese or Chinese nibs. So, a Japanese Fine is like a Euro Extra fine. I like a fine nib, so I generally buy a Japanese F or a Euro EF.
The best place to get a fountain pen is at a good locally-owned stationery shop. These are becoming ever more hard to find. My “local” shop is a beautiful place called Wonder Pens in Toronto, but I also shop online at Goulet Pens or Jet Pens. A physical shop will let you try out different pens, and they usually have a big selection of paper and ink.
Fountain pens can be extremely expensive, but a good starter pen that will last a lifetime can be had relatively cheaply. In a later post, AOC identified her pen as a Kaweco Sport in EF. She’s a lefty which is why she prefers an EF, since it dries quicker, so she would get smears from dragging her hand across the paper. That pen retails for $25. You can get a set of 6 disposable ink cartridges for $3 and be writing for months. Or, you can purchase a cartridge converter for $6 and a bottle of ink for $12 and be writing for years.
My recommendation for first-time fountain pen buyers is to go to a stationery shop and try out a Pilot Metropolitan. For $19, it’s a great starter pen, or even a forever pen. I’ll be taking a long trip this year and the only pen I’m taking is a Metro and some cartridges. If you’re looking for the next step up, a gold nibbed Lamy 2000 is a really good pen, and I enjoy mine in EF. Another fun pen is the Pilot Vanishing Point – my EF in that pen is a little too dry for my taste. Both the Lamy 2000 and the Vanishing Point were designed in the 60’s and are pretty much the acme of mass-produced fountain pen design.
I’d steer away from Montblanc (I have one and it ended up leaking) — they’re sold as a luxury good but are overrated in my opinion. If you’re looking for something really cheap but often good, the Moonman and Wing Sung brands on eBay, which are often shipped directly from China, are fun purchases. For less than $10, and a long wait for the Chinese post, you can have a pen that writes as well as any other I’ve mentioned here.
For paper, I like Rhodia for Euro paper, and Maruman for Japanese. In the US, Field Notes generally uses good paper for their notebooks. Once you start using good paper, you’ll never stop. It is just so much better than the junk you get at OfficeMax or Staples. In the case of notebooks, Moleskine is like MontBlanc. It is widely known, but it is terrible for a fountain pen: it bleeds through and feathers. If you’re going to spend Moleskine money on a hardbacked notebook, my advice is to get a Rhodia instead.
One of the nicest places on the Internet is /r/fountainpens on Reddit. They’re as excited by someone posting their five-figure (or even six-figure – they exist) fp collections, as they are for someone who posts their first starter pen that was given to them by a parent or grandparent. They have a good wiki to get you started if you’re interested.