As a person who has had many hobbies, there’s always one adage that gets thrown around everywhere; you get what you pay for. In most cases, this means that you’ve opted to buy something cheap and it failed and someone is lecturing you on the benefits of spending money on quality. One of the best examples that I’ve found where this isn’t true is fountain pens.
If you’re new to the fountain pen scene, you’re probably enamored by the sight of the big money pens. People lust over all different brands and styles and usually these tend to be out of your financial reach. Trust me, I’ve been there before and I still find myself lusting over pens that cost a lot more than I could ever bring myself to pay. The most expensive pen I ever bought was a Visconti Van Gogh Maxi. I was so excited when I got that pen and naturally I expected it to be an amazing writer. Instead I had a beautiful pen that couldn’t get through a single page without drying up. Regardless of what I tried, I couldn’t get it to write with any consistency and it ended up going back to Italy to have the feed replaced. By the time it came back, I wasn’t in love with it anymore and I quickly parted ways with it.
That served as a wakeup call that no matter how much money you spend, you’re not guaranteed a flawless writing experience. The simple truth is, if a pen can hold ink and perform the simple capillary action required of a fountain pen, you’ll have a pen that won’t let you down. There’s a reason so many people swear by some of the cheaper pens coming out of China right now. The Hero 616 is a favorite of many due to its obvious resemblance to the Parker 51 and the fact that it just plain works without breaking the bank.
Then there’s the Platinum Preppy. For a whopping $3 at JetPens, you can own a cartridge pen that writes great and is refillable. If you’re crazy, you can spend 2x the amount of the pen and get a converter that will allow you to use bottled ink. There’s also a very popular modification that turns these pens into eyedroppers which means you’ll have a literal tank of ink at your disposal, perfect for those times when you need to write a lot.
Move even farther down the scale and you get to the disposables. Pens like the Pilot Varsity, Pilot Vpen (same as the Varsity but just look a little different), and the Sailor Ink-bar are some of the more popular options. These pens are non-refillable (although some resourceful folks do refill them) and are as reliable as can be. Just last night I was using a blue Pilot Varsity to test my new Rhodia Webnotebook and it was as smooth as silk with great color, all for less than $3.
The lesson here is to remember that you don’t need to spend a ton of money to get a great writing pen. I’m not knocking people who prefer pens that cost more, that’s simply a matter of preference. If you’d rather be using a Parker 51, then you should. But if you’re looking for a good fountain pen that isn’t going to give you trouble and doesn’t break the bank, don’t automatically assume the cheap pens are a waste of money.