Great budget writers…($30)

7 05 2008

Here’s my best bets for $30 or so.  This is a very competitive category, and there’s a BUNCH of great writers here.  A lot of it depends on your style and preference; some of you already have half of the pens on this list, I’m sure!  Hopefully there’s a couple of other ones on here that grab your attention. 

Without further ado…here we go!

  1. Wality 69: High on style, low on price, and excellent writing quality.  These pens look outstanding, have a decent fit and finish, and write exceptionally well.  Every now and again you’ll get an oddball that has a scratchy nib or leaks a little, but I think these are worth the gamble.  Retrodesk is about the only place I know of that sells them in the States, but you may be able to find them on eBay.   For those of you who are new to fountain pens, stick with the piston fillers.  Eyedroppers can be finicky.


  2. Pelikan Pelikano/Pelikano Jr.: This is one of the pens that they use to teach proper handwriting to German schoolchildren.  The triangular-shaped grip section is very comfortable to hold, and these things will write circles around pens that cost three times its price!  Check them out at The Pear Tree Pen Company, as I know that James usually has a bunch of these pens in stock.  If the budget is too tight for a Lamy Safari or something else on this list, you won’t go wrong in choosing one of these. 


  3. Lamy Safari: One of the standards…you knew it would be on this list, right?  Get with James at The Pear Tree Pen Company to get one.  You certainly won’t be disappointed.  They’re tough, colorful, and great writers.

  4. Cross Solo: While this one might be the toughest to find, it’s probably my favorite amongst this group.  These pens aren’t in production anymore, but they were made in droves by A.T. Cross a few years ago (mid-90s, I think) for the promotional market as well as for regular sale.  The thing is…they overestimated the demand for the fountain pen by a pretty huge margin, so there’s still a goodly number of them left.  Retail outlets probably aren’t the place to search for these, though.  Your best bet is an eBay search (click the picture for a search of what’s currently available).  Prices range from $10+, but usually don’t go much over $25.  Be aware that they typically don’t come with a converter for using bottled ink, and they DO take a proprietary cartridge (and converter) that’s made by A.T. Cross.  Look for a converter that’s tinted green, as it’s the best fit. 

    One more note about these pens; A.T. Cross has a longstanding relationship with Pilot/Namiki, and outsourced the nib production to them for this pen.  For you Moleskine-types, look for an extra fine, and you’ll absolutely love it!  They’re one of the skinniest nibs available at this price point, and they’re absolutely outstanding writers. 

  5. Pilot Birdie: PigPog has done a better review of these pens than I could ever do, so rather than prattle on about them, click the picture to go to his review.  These are fantastic writers, and they’re tough as nails.


  6. Sailor Hi-Ace: Sailor, another Japanese manufacturer, has a competitor to the Pilot Birdie.  While I’ve never owned one, I’ve written with a pen that has the same nib and feed (I can’t remember what it’s called, though), and it’s a great writer.  Again, with the stainless steel barrel, it’s going to be a great durable writer.  Note that Sailor has a proprietary converter and cartridge design, so be mindful of that if you decide to give one a try.  The only place I’ve found these pens is an eBay shop.  While I’ve never purchased anything from Ujuku123, I have a handful of friends who have, with good results.  Click the picture to visit their store.


  7. Hero 100: I believe that barring a good deal on a vintage pen (that may need some restoration), this is the absolute cheapest way to get into a 14K gold nib.  Styled like the Parker “51” of many years ago, these are outstanding writers.  If you’re in the States, I’d check in with Todd Nussbaum at I Sell Pens.  He sells these by the dozen!


  8. Esterbrook J: Quite possibly one of the best bargain-basement entries into the world of vintage pens, the Esterbrook J was made in the zillions during the 40s and 50s in New Jersey.  They’re very colorful, they’re nearly bombproof (this is the Lamy Safari of the 50s, kids!), and one of the best things about them is that Esterbrook designed them so that you could change the nib size to whatever you wanted.  They made 30 or 40 different sizes and shapes of nibs, and many of them are still available via eBay sellers, antique stores, and more.  Be aware that these pens are lever-fillers, so they’re bottle-fill only, and that even if you find one cheap (the cheapest I’ve ever found one was about $4 after tax), you may need to have it restored.  This isn’t usually an expensive ordeal, either.  Send me an email and I’ll help you find someone that’ll do it right, and inexpensively.  If you click on the picture below, it’ll take you to one of the best places to find information on the company, and the models that they produced during their 30-ish years in business. 

    This is one of my favorite colors in this line.


  9. Pilot 78G: Another entry from Pilot, these pens look very classy, and write even better!  The best place to find them is to work with Norm at HisNibs.  He sells more of these than just about any other pen that he carries.  For an added bonus, if you decide you’d like to try a stub nib for some extra spice to your writing, look at the broad-nibbed model, as it’s got a pretty stubbish grind to it, and produces GREAT handwriting!


  10. Pilot Vortex: A relatively new pen for Pilot, this one is a bit of a heritage-inspired design.  It’s patterned (loosely) after the very popular short/long pens from the 70s.  This one is a little chunkier than the original designs, but very comfortable to hold, and writes just great!  Check ’em out if you’re looking for something to tote along in your jeans, your purse…whatever.  They’re an excellent choice!


Well, there you have it.  My picks for the best writers under $30-ish.  Don’t let anyone tell you that fountain pens are snobby, upper-crust, and expensive!



14 responses

7 05 2008
Michael Randall

Nice interesting choices, and thanks for the linkage. It’s a shame Pilot have discontinued the Birdie.

7 05 2008

I’ve got a Pelikano Jr at home that is okay, but I wish it had a clip like the regular Pelikano. The old Lamy M75 GO! is great too, a favorite. And the Safari is of course a classic.

I REALLY wish Pelikan or Lamy would come out with an affordable piston filler again, maybe in the under-$30 range? I’d probably buy two. 😉

13 10 2010

Piston filler Lamy for under $30? It can be done. Safari for $22 (from a popular online store) and converter for $5 shipped from EBAY.

27 12 2010

It’s still a C/C pen if you’re using a converter. A piston filler would have a larger capacity and the seal would be stronger.

8 05 2008
Deirdre Saoirse Moen

What? No Waterman Kultur?

8 05 2008

Keep your socks on, Deirdre…it’ll make its appearance soon enough! 🙂

8 05 2008
Michael Montgomery

This is wonderful; so many choices I didn’t know.

My usual Waterman Phileas is probably just above the $30 price point for this list.

13 05 2008

If you can find me the Orange Safari for $30m I’ll take 2! LOL

5 06 2008

So this is the place where you all hang out when the forum is off, huh? Great article, as all the others. And I can’t agree more on the information.

5 07 2008
Venu Rao

Wality pens will be available at the Pear Tree Pen Company. Contact James Partridge.

6 07 2008
James Partridge

Thanks, Venu. Yes, it’s true – The Pear Tree Pen Company will be carrying Wality pens in the near future. Our order has been placed and we are waiting for our first shipment of inexpensive piston-fillers from India! Can’t wait!

29 12 2008

Great list of pens with concise reviews. I find it really helpful! 🙂

25 10 2010

2 years later has your list changed at all?

26 05 2012
Nathan Lee

I bought the Lamy Safari with Medium and Fine nibs and absolutely hate the pen. Worst purchase ever for me.

The Cross Solos I agree with though: Best $20 pens I’ve ever owned…I loved them so much, I bought 4.

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