Best bets under $50

16 05 2008

So here’s where these lists start to get a whole lot tougher to put together. The $50 mark. They’re tough because if you’re investing (and it is an investment…spending $50 on a pen isn’t for the faint of heart) that kind of scratch in a pen, you’ll find that you have more options than you ever thought you would, and it starts to become more about the expression of your personal style as opposed to “does it write well?”

At any rate, here’s what’s on my list.

  1. Pilot Prera: When Pilot brought this one to market last year, they hit on a real winner. The Prera is a simply outstanding pen, and writes exceptionally well. Another thing that it does really well is in the aesthetics department. This pen looks terrific. It’s very modern, with clean lines, and a lot of great colors that you might not expect to find. They’re not widely available here in the States yet, but you can find them at a handful of internet retailers including JetPens, JStationery, and a couple of reputable eBay sellers. For about $40, you’ll find that this is a very worthwhile option, especially if you have smaller hands.
  2. Sheaffer Prelude: Sheaffer has a rich legacy of producing great writers over the past 100 years (actually, 101; they celebrated an anniversary in ’07), and this one follows in that tradition. The Prelude is a well-balanced pen with some heft to it, and it writes really well. I’ve given one of these as a gift to a very good friend of mine, and he absolutely loves it. Sheaffer prices these all over the place, so some of the models that you’ll find with gold trim or other interesting features may cost more than $50, but you shouldn’t have to look too hard to find one in your budget. They’re well-worth the money.
  3. Lamy Al-Star: The big brother to the Safari, this Lamy is an aluminum-barreled version. They nearly always write well, and you should be able to get one for well-under the $50 mark. I’ve had several of these, and they never failed to be really great pens. The one I have now is a silver one with a Greg Minuskin stub that’s lots of fun for writing letters.
  4. Waterman Phileas/Kultur: It seems like nearly everyone who’s into fountain pens has had at least one of these, and for good reason. They’re great writers! They’re also very easy to find, especially around the winter holidays. Waterman packages the Phileas up with a handful of cartridges, a converter, and a bottle of ink and sells them in a gift set for somewhere in the $50 range. Check the after-Christmas sales, though, and you can score a terrific deal on these. I bought one for $8 once! If you’re looking for one during the rest of the year, they’re available at a variety of different places, including many of the big-box office supply stores. The Kultur is the same pen, but done in more subdued styling, and with chrome trim. They’re not widely available in the States, but you can find them by the dozen on eBay. Happy hunting!
  5. Parker “51”/”51 Special”: As far as I’m concerned, this is the class-leader. If I could only have one pen for the rest of my life, it’d probably be the Parker “51”. It’s simple, elegant, and above-all, reliable. Of the 12 or 13 of them that I’ve owned, half of them needed no restoration – just a good thorough cleaning. They’re plentiful, too. Experts say that Parker produced somewhere north of 20 million of these pens during their 35-ish year run in production, and there’s probably been more history written about these pens than any other fountain pen in history. Look for an aerometric model (the one with the squeeze converter built in if you unscrew the barrel) on eBay or at your local antique store/flea market, etc. They’ll range in price from anywhere between $5 or less to well into the thousands, depending on the rarity of the color, the cap, etc, but you can probably expect to pay between $40-50 with a little bit of looking around. For a terrific expose on the Parker “51”, check Richard Binder’s excellent profile or visit Ernesto at Parker51.com. Happy hunting, folks. Here’s a couple of pictures of various models of the “51” from my collection. Note: If you get one and it doesn’t write properly, or you can tell that it needs some work, drop me a note in the comments and I’ll help you find someone who can fix it for you.

  6. Pelikan M150: Want to get into Pelikan piston-filled pens on the cheap? Here’s where to start. They’re not the most widely-available Pelikan on the market, but for around $50, you’ll have a hard time finding a better deal on the entry-level Pelikan Tradition line. They’re a little smaller than the M200/400/600/800, but they’ve still got all the great features that Pelikan is so famous for. To boot, they’ve got the biggest (comparatively speaking) ink capacity of all of the M-line! I’ve seen these at Franklin Covey retail stores here and there, and they’re available through a number of very reputable resellers. They’re great writers, and they come with Pelikan’s excellent warranty service, should you ever need it.
  7. Pilot Knight: Along with the Waterman Phileas, the Pilot Knight is one of the easiest pens to find in a brick and mortar store, as several of the big-box stores carry them in blister packaging for about $40. It’s worth every penny. The Knight is a little heavier than the Prera, but uses the same style nib (in the States, you’ll only find them in medium nibs). Note: I think I’ve stated this before, but generally speaking, Japanese nibs run about a half-size or a full size smaller than their Western counterparts. The Knight, although stated as a medium nib, typically writes more like a Western fine point. It’s a really great writer, and for the price, it probably deserves a place in your collection.

  8. Parker 45 (14K): The second of the vintage entries on the sub-$50 list, this pen has a noteworthy place in Parker’s history. This pen was manufactured for longer than any other model in Parker’s history, so there are zillions of them out there. The earlier models (up until sometime in the early 70s, I think) typically came with a very nice 14K gold nib, and they were made in every color in the rainbow. While they’re not manufactured now (the last one was made in December of 2006), they show up all over the place. There’s a good chance that you might be able to find one of these in a relative’s desk drawer. There’s also a good chance that if you clean it up a little bit (use warm water to clean out the old crusty ink, etc.), they’ll be great writers! The best place to find these, if the desk drawer option fails, is eBay. Note: Don’t be fooled by seller’s descriptions and outrageous prices. These are NOT as rare as some sellers think they are! You should be able to get one with a gold nib for well under the $50 mark. The last one I picked up as a gift is pictured below, and I got it as a set for $8 shipped! All it took was a little cleaning and it turned out to be a terrific pen!
  9. Conklin Victory: Conklin’s entry-level pen is a fantastic value for the money. They’re nicely-styled, available in a handful of colors, and write really nicely right out of the box. I had the opportunity to beta-test this pen a few months before it was released to the general public, and believe me, this is a great pen. Nice and light, writes a generous medium line, and looks good, too! Mine is army green, but there’s a variety of different colors available. It’s also a semi-hooded nib, which is an interesting design touch. The medium nib is generously sized, which makes it a great candidate for a custom grind to a stub, an italic, or something finer, too! You’ll find these for about $40 in a set with a nice ballpoint/capless rollerball.
  10. Pelikan M75/GO!: This one is the rare one that I wish that Pelikan would bring back into production. The M75 was an all-plastic piston-filled pen that came with a very nice gold-plated steel nib, and wrote just beautifully. Sadly, they discontinued it a long time ago, and haven’t brought it back. As such, they’re tough to find, and frankly, the prices are all over the place. Every now and again, one will pop up on eBay, but I doubt you’ll find them anywhere else. Deb Kinney, a great nib craftswoman from the East Coast, had a handful of these at one point, and was selling them custom-ground for a fairly reasonable price (I think it was around $60-ish), but she’s the last one I’ve seen who had any substantial stock in these. I include them on this list basically as a “watch for these” item. Every once in a while, you might find these on eBay, and if they have a reasonable buy it now price, JUMP ON IT. If you don’t, someone else will. If you click the picture, it’ll take you to Rick Conner’s excellent short take on the M75/GO!.

So, there you have it. My picks for $50! The next stop? The $80 mark! There’s some truly outstanding pens on this list, so stay tuned!

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13 responses

17 05 2008
Speedmaster

Great post! The Pelikan M75/GO! is one of the best pens ever imho. I’ve never owned a P51 but I had a Hero knock-off that was pretty impressive.

17 05 2008
rroossinck

Chris, surely you jest. Never had a P51? You’re missin’ out, buddy!

18 05 2008
stompy

+1 for “If I only had one pen to use for the rest of my life it would be a Parker 51”

19 05 2008
Thomas

I absolutely love my Pilot Knight. It’s fast become my go to pen and for under $40 SHIPPED, you can’t beat it!

23 05 2008
Speedmaster

>> “Chris, surely you jest. Never had a P51? You’re missin’ out, buddy!”

I hear ya’, Ireally need to grab a decent used one someday if the price is right. 😉

5 06 2008
Ondina

Fantastic article about the $50 range fountain pens. Your blog rocks, Ryan. Is curious, for as much praise I’ve heard about the Parker 51, I still resist getting one. I have a Parker 21 that I keep only for pure sentimental reasons, was given to me by my father. Is the looks, or, I don’t know what. And vintage pens attract me lots, but for whatever reason, the 51……Nobody gives me pens anymore, so I can’t even expect one as a present. Maybe one day I’ll change my mind.
Congratulations on the blog again.

13 06 2008
Bart

Great list, excellent picks. This is my favorite pen category (being a cheapskate) and I have most of these, and all of them are great. But your photo of the Kultur reminded me of one I’ve wanted that I’m still missing. Off to ebay to get one.

15 06 2008
Maverick Woo

(Wow, Google Reader recommneds your blog to me and am I happy!)

I currently write with a Lamy Safari Vista (the demonstrator model) and I have a trick that I would like to share: buy an EF and then write without ink on sandpaper for a minute for the first couple days. This will turn the steel nib into an “almost-F”, and I find that this procedure customizes the nib to my writing angle better than a factory F nib. At such an affordable price, I think it’s worth a try.

BTW, while I am at it, may I suggest that you turn the feed into a full rss feed? Currently it’s partial and I would really appreciate a full feed.

27 12 2009
Richard

Love the article, and its inspired me to go rummage through my stash of pens as to be honest, I’m not altogether sure what I have got in the pot!!

8 01 2010
Simon

What an excellent blog. I like pens and you have given me some ideas for new ones I wold like to try.

7 04 2010
The Waterman Phileas Fountain Pen is the Best Starter Fountain Pen | Parker Pens

[…] Best bets under $50 « Brassing Adds Character […]

26 08 2011
ReginaPhalange

It’s now August, 2011 and it seems like the price of the Phileas has shot up quite a bit. I’m seeing somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 as the low and $95 as the high. I remember looking at the Phileas several years back and not getting it because the nib ran wide, but at the time the price was about $40 at one of the large office supply stores.

The Kulture, however, seems to be in the range of $25-$35.

26 08 2011
ReginaPhalange

Seems like the Pelikan M150’s also gone above the $50 mark. $67 or so, depending on where you look, so not as bad as the Phileas.
Conklin Victory seems to have been discontinued??? It’s on the Conklin website, but no MSRP listed there and I can’t find any sites (not with a quick search anyway) that are selling it.

Still an excellent article. I had seen a comment on a youtube video asking for recommendations for inexpensive fountain pens. This would make a good starting point for that kind of request.

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