All about the Benjamins…($100-ish)

20 08 2008

Well, here we are at the $100 mark.  This is a fun category, because there are so many different ways that you could go, as far as options.  Without further ado, let’s get started with the list, shall we?

  1. Taccia Staccato

    What a truly fantastic pen!  The fit and finish is excellent, there’s a nice variety of colors to choose from (mine, shown in the picture, is called Lunar Blue), and the way that these things write is just amazing.  As Patrick Rhone put it in one of his posts, it’s “extremely smooth to write with.”  Elsewhere, I’ve heard Patrick wax more poetic about this pen (might have been in an email to me) saying that nib simply “glides across the page.”  Click the bottom picture to go to a review he posted on The Fountain Pen Network.

    He ain’t kiddin’, folks.  Taccia’s steel nibs are among the nicest nibs available at any price point, and certainly at the top of the heap when it comes to steel nibs.

    Lots of retailers carry these pens, and they’re all right around $100-120; well worth looking at one, if you ask me.  They’re not the shortest pen in the world (actually, the Staccato is among the tallest pens I own), but they’re exceptionally well-balanced regardless of whether they’re posted or not, and they look gorgeous.  If you’re in the Twin Cities, give Barry a phone call at Ink and ask if he has any of them in stock.  Make an appointment to see the store, too (and then lock your wallet in your car). 

    The vintage purists may get after me for saying this, but I think that this design is very reminiscent of the original Parker Vacumatic designs of the 30s (see below; the Vacumatic is on the list, too).  (Ducks to avoid being hit by airborne fruit…)

  2. Pilot Vanishing Point

    This is either the most loved or most despised pen in the universe (actually it’s not; it’s a dead heat between this one and the Lamy 2000, covered below).  Why?  The answer is in the wrapup paragraph.  I don’t like starting on a “downer” note. πŸ™‚

    The Vanishing Point has been around since the mid-1960s, and has enjoyed huge success.  It’s no wonder; it’s a top-notch product in every sense of the word, as far as I’m concerned.  The design is what draws many people to it; the fact that a fountain pen can be operated like a ballpoint is a big curiosity to most folks.  But, the proof is in the pudding.  There’s a ton of people (lots of tech folks and programmer-types) who use these pens religiously.  I fall into that category, too. 

    Pilot has these available in a number of finishes and colors, and there are even a handful of limited editions out there (the orange one above is one example).  They all retail right around the $90-110 mark, depending on where you buy them (eBay is a great resource for these, and you’ll find them at pretty competitive prices, too – click the first picture to go straight to a search).  The best part about this pen, in my opinion, is the interchangeable nibs that can be purchased for them.  Pilot’s standard F/M/B nibs in 14 or 18K are really nice, but then there are folks like Richard Binder who specialize in grinding these to oodles of different shapes (I’ve got three of them – a 0.6mm stub, a 0.8mm stub for my wife’s VP, and a XXXF for when I decide I want to write on grains of rice).  Swapping out nibs takes a total of around 10 seconds, and if you’re so inclined you can change them on the fly.

    So why the love/hate relationship with the VP?  The clip is the issue.  With this pen’s clip placement, it will either work with the user’s fingers, or tragically fail.  I’ve personally witnessed three “Hey, this is great!” statements, and one “What in the @#%$ is wrong with this thing?” reaction.  Basically, it boils down to this.  Find one somewhere (if you’re in Des Moines, The Art Store has a handful of ’em), and give it a try.  The nibs on these pens are typically terrific (although it should be noted that they’re a size down from the normal Western size designations; a VP F nib is more like a Western XF), and the construction/weight/balance/fit & finish is usually fine for most.  It’s the clip that’ll make it or break it for you.    

    Oh, one other thing.  These pens are also known as the Pilot Capless in places other than North America.  So, if your eBay searching or online shopping isn’t panning out like you’d like it to, try searching for the Pilot Capless or Namiki Capless.

  3. Sheaffer Targa

    First off, special thanks to my friend Bill Sexauer in Washington for lending me this picture.  Bill is a huge Targa collector, and there aren’t many of the known/catalogued Targas that he DOESN’T own; he was kind enough to lend me this picture that you see below, since I don’t have one of my own to photograph (if you run across one and you don’t like it, please do drop me a line!).

    Sheaffer introduced the Targa sometime in the latter half of the 1970s and kept it going until sometime in the late 1990s, so there are a bunch of ’em out there – some that have never been inked, either.  The Targa continued Sheaffer’s proud tradition of the inlaid nib design that they’d introduced 20-some years earlier with the Imperial and PFM (Pen For Men) lines.  The Targa typically writes as well as any of those early designs (which are highly regarded in their own right), but features a little different take on the styling.  For those of you who are car buffs like I am, Sheaffer did run some advertising with Porsche, but I’m not sure that they ever did a Targa pen just for Porsche.  I hope they did…and I hope I’m able to get my hands on one!

    The basic models of the Targa come with the inlaid steel nib, and if you look a little (eBay is usually best for these, although www.sheaffertarga.com will have some for sale in September – no idea where they’ll price out, though), you’ll be able to find a number of models with 14K nibs; there are even a couple of limited runs that have an 18K nib (good luck finding one, though)!  The Targa is also available in two sizes – a regular size that’s about the same width as a Parker “51” and one that’s a bit skinnier called the Targa Slim.

    I’ve written with a few of these, and they’re on my list.  I don’t want a special one per se – the one pictured below would be fine with me!  I love the inlaid nibs on these things, and they’ve never failed to impress me with their smoothness.  The design is a little different, too, which I really like.  Different is good!


     

  4. Pelikan 140

    Some of the best Pelikan designs are the ones that haven’t changed much over the last 50-60 years.  In fact, most their most popular models today can trace their history back to these pens from the 40s and 50s.  They’re nice and light, normally write really well, and since the 120 and 140 were a pen marketed to German schoolteachers as classroom/student pens, there are lots of them around today.  Many of the modern nibs from Pelikan will screw right into these, too, so if you’ve got a spare Pelikan nib that’s custom-ground or something, it should fit right in.

    If you’re looking for one of these, eBay is always an option, as there are usually a handful of sellers with these available.  I’ve never been real excited about the prices on these, though; seems that all of the sellers that have them available are pretty “ambitious” (this is a very kind adjective) about their pricing, sometimes asking $180 or more for them!  Trust me on this…if you’re looking for one, you need to look for another bird…The Penguin!  Rick Propas usually has a bunch of these on hand at the $100-ish price range, and his work is very good.  I’ve written with a few of the pens that he’s restored, and his work is exceptional.  He’s probably one of the world’s foremost Pelikan historians, too; go ahead and try to stump him with a question!

  5. Sailor Sapporo/1911M

    Another of the great Japanese offerings at the $100 mark (the Japanese manufacturers compete really well at the $100-120 mark; I’ve included a couple on this list, but there’s a bevy of other ones out there that are well-worth considering), the Sailor Sapporo and 1911M (or 1911 Midsize/Medium) are absolutely outstanding pens.  These pens are lightweight, available in a raft of colors depending on where you look (there’s a handful of special editions available from Japanese eBay sellers – usually collaborations with Japanese department stores, etc.), look great, and won’t break the bank as far as prices are concerned.

    The ones with the flat ends are the Sapporo (also known as the Professional Gear Slim), and they come with a 14K nib in a huge number of sizes (remember, they’re Japanese, so order one size larger than you normally would), and many folks think that the Sailor gold nibs are the best nibs available at any price range. 

    The ones you see in the picture below with the rounded ends (in black, they look really similar to a Montblanc) are the 1911M.  Same nib as in the Sapporo, just a different design.  James Partridge once told me that these and the Sapporo were the two most popular sellers in his product catalog, and with performance like this, I wouldn’t doubt it.  I have a larger size 1911 in black with rhodium trim, and it’s one of my favorite pens.

     

  6. Parker Vacumatic Major/Striped Duofold

    The Vacumatic was Parker’s creme de la creme for the 30s and 40s, and with very good reason.  These are simply gorgeous pens.  They write really well in most cases, they’re easy to find (eBay is your best bet for a cheap one that you can have restored), and the celluloid that Parker used for these is truly stunning.  I wish I had some better pictures of some of the different colors available – black isn’t the greatest color variant for showing off the terrific colors of these pens.  The one you see below is a pen that I picked up at an antique shop for the lump sum of (get this) $5.30 after taxes…with a bottle of vintage Parker ink!  To boot, it didn’t even need restoration – just a quick cleanup and flushing!  Writes like a dream, too!

    Parker made these pens in various sizes for about 20 years or so (if you count Canadian production, which lasted until the early 50s), but their 3rd generation, dubbed by most as the Vacumatic “Major”, is the one that was made in the highest numbers.  Most of what you’ll find on eBay are Vac Majors, and it’s a great entry-level Vac.  If you buy one and really fall in love with it, there are scads of other variants and styles (see David Isaacson’s outrageous display of some of these here), but these will be harder to find on eBay as they’re a little older and made in fewer numbers (and I think that David’s already scooped up most of ’em!).

    The Vacumatic filling mechanism is really cool, and holds a lot of ink; Parker got a lot of mileage from this mechanism, using it in a bunch of different models – notably the Vacumatic, the early generation of “51”s, and the Striped Duofolds (see below for a piece on these).

    I’ve had a handful of these pens over the years, but I think my favorite one is one that I got from PenRx fairly recently.  It’s quite possibly the best-writing Vac I’ve ever owned, and even if it doesn’t look like much (Sean did a terrific job of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear), it’s my favorite.  Someday I’ll put up some pictures of it, but I didn’t have the time to pull out the camera this morning and get any.

    Check out the barrel’s clarity on the one above!  I found this one in Michigan a few months ago, and I can’t wait to see what it looks like when it comes back from being restored!

    Another option, if you’re surfing around eBay, is to look for the Striped Duofold, which was slotted just below the Vacumatic in the model lineup during the late 30s and early 40s.  These are nearly identical in construction (minor differences in the body styles), using the Vacumatic’s filling system, and the same nibs.

    The Striped Duofolds are actually a fair bit less common than the Vacumatic, as they didn’t sell as well (probably due to a smaller selection of colors – blue, greenish brown, red, and a black one).  The patterns in the celluloid used for these are just as beautiful in my opinion (the blue one is my favorite), but the pattern is vertically oriented, whereas the Vac’s pattern is horizontal in most models. 

    These pens are really great, and the colors really snap when you look at them (for instance, the blue in the cap pictured above).  They’re terrific writers, they’re really nicely balanced, and since they don’t have quite the same degree of popularity as the Vacumatic, they can often be found for a little less money on eBay.  They’re well-worth considering if you like the vertical styling.     

  7. Bexley Simplicity

    Well, since I already reviewed this pen here, I’ll keep the comments brief on this one.  Suffice it to say…this is a fantastic pen for the money.  Great vintage styling, a hassle-free steel nib, and typically awesome performance.  Bexley has a real winner on their hands with the Simplicity.

    The one pictured is a special edition that was made a year or two ago for Parkville Pen, and I’m not sure if Dennis has any more of these in stock, but it’s worth checking with him.  Click the bottom picture to go his site.  If he’s out of them, but enough of you folks pester him about it, maybe we can get him to talk with Bexley about another re-edition.  Dennis has done a number of really beautiful special editions with Bexley, and probably has Howard Levy’s number on speed dial, so anything is possible! πŸ™‚  (Dennis, if you’re reading this, sorry to put you on the spot like this!)

  8. Waterman Charleston

    The Charleston is probably my favorite modern Waterman.  I love the look of this pen, even though I don’t own one.  I’ve written with a few, but haven’t purchased one for myself yet; maybe for my birthday next year!  As is fairly typical with Waterman’s gold nibs, this one is an 18K nib, and they typically write exceptionally well.  The ones I’ve written with have all been buttery smooth!  The balance on these is great, too.  It’s hard to believe, after writing with one, that they usually retail for somewhere in the $100-120 neighborhood.  Of the handful of folks I know personally who own these, most of them wouldn’t give theirs up for all the money in the world.  They’re that good.

    What I like most about this pen, though, is that it takes a couple of subtle design cues from the Hundred Year Pen, which Waterman made for a short time in the early 1940s.  The little rings in the barrel and the metal bands in the center of the barrel are very similar to those that appear on the early Hundred Year Pens. 

    You’ll find prices on these ranging from the absurd (I saw a completed eBay auction about a month ago for $62 shipped, if you can believe it), to sellers who’ll sell them at their normal MSRP of $160 (I think…it might be $180), so be sure to do some digging around when you’re looking for one of these.  

  9. Lamy 2000

    Here’s what I would consider to be Lamy’s best offering at any price.  The Lamy 2000 is a very minimalistic pen, made from simple plastics, steel, and an awesome gold nib.  The design hasn’t changed since its introduction to the market in 1966, other than a couple of stampings on the clip and a mark or two on the barrel.  The fundamental design is centered around a pen that simply works.  Everything on the pen is designed for a function; the cap, the spring-loaded clip, and the nearly invisible piston knob.  These facts aside, though, this pen is one of the best pens you can possibly own…assuming three things are okay with you.

    A.  The style.  It’s not for everyone.  Some folks like more ornamentation.
    B.  The nib.  It’s absurdly smooth, but runs at least one size wider than normal.
    C.  The “fingers” that hold the cap on the pen.  They’ll bother some people.

    I say these things more as a caveat emptor statement.  The 2000 is a lot like the Vanishing Point, in that it’s a pen that you’ll probably want to try before you buy one – at least to judge whether or not the “fingers” are okay with you.  They’re cool with me, and a friend of mine in Minneapolis ground my 2000’s nib down to a true XF that I really love.  The style, as you’ve probably guessed, is right up my alley.  When I’m in a meeting with tech folks, I’ll often use this pen (or my Vanishing Point), as there’s a decent chance that one of the programmers I’m working with might recognize it, and it leads to a fun side conversation after the meeting is over.

    These are really easy to find, too.  Lots of sellers on eBay, and quite a few sellers in the retail environment have these, and most of them end up pricing them at about the $100-120 mark in order to stay competitive. 

    *Side note for you history buffs…if you do a little digging on eBay, you’ll find 2000s stamped W.Germany on the underside of the clip every so often.  They make for a neat piece of history!

  10. Waterman Carene

    Here’s the pen for the heavyweight crowd (no, I’m not making a fat joke).  But, for those of you who are after a heavier pen in the $100 range, you owe it to yourself to check the Carene out.  18K nib, distinctive styling, and awesome performance!  Waterman’s MSRP on these is in the $140-160 range (I think), but most of the time you’ll find them going for much less than that if you check around.  Bear in mind that there are a number of different styles (caps, finishes, etc.) out there and that some are a little spendier than others.  The standard models, though, are usually found in the $100-ish range.

    What I like most about this pen, though, is the nib.  This is one of the most unique nibs in the world.  It’s inlaid, but with a massively different style than what you’ll find on a Sheaffer model like the Targa.  This one is shaped like a fingernail! 

 

So, there you have it!  The full breakdown of the $100 list from where I’m sitting!  Sorry this one took so long to get posted, but this was a pretty tough category as well, and it took quite a bit of time to narrow down the list!

Where do we go from here?  Here’s a sneak peak. 

  • Vintage best bets (there’s more out there than what I’ve covered on these past few posts), and where to dig ’em up.
  • The “also-ran” pens from the past few posts, and why they didn’t make the list.
  • I’m still working on the big Moleskine showdown post that I’ve been hinting at for the past 8 months.
  • Closer looks at some of the vintage (and modern) stuff that you may not have heard of, and why you might want to dig around in your relatives’ desk drawers and boxes of old junk for them.
  • More photography; I’m still in love with my new digital camera (a Sony Alpha A200, for those of you scoring at home), and I’m always looking for new and interesting things to take pictures of.
  • A piece about custom nibs and why they’re lots of fun.

And I’m sure there’s more where this stuff comes from…stay tuned!

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14 responses

20 08 2008
HDoug

This is a great article. Found it through a link by ethernautrix at FPN, and have my RSS reader pointed at it now. Anyway, I didn’t realize there were so many great pens in the Benjamin range. Thanks for the words and pics.

Doug

20 08 2008
Speedmaster

Nice work!! I’ll link to it tomorrow. πŸ˜‰

20 08 2008
inkophile

Great work! Lots of pens to consider. The Taccia Staccato caught my eye again. It has come up a number of times but I’m not sure why I never bought one. Maybe it’s uncertainty about the nib. Just how fine is it?

20 08 2008
Aaron

I bought a Lamy Studio last year as my first fountain pen.. 20% off at $80 (let’s hear it for yearly inventory sales!), which I suppose would put it in the Benjamin range for me (Canadian money, don’t ya know). I know you’ve already covered this pen in a previous post, but I can’t get over what a joy it is to write with.. That said, a *much* cheaper Lamy Al-star is my everyday beater… Still, a gorgeous pen to write with, and always gets comments when I pull it out in a pub. πŸ™‚

I just came across your site via a post by Patrick Rhone a couple of weeks ago.. Great work!

21 08 2008
chkuo

Nice reviews. You gotta to stop doing this, my bank account hates you. πŸ™‚

I got a Sheaffer Snorkel after reading your last review and really enjoy it. I planned to get a Sheaffer Balance too but ended up spending the $$ on a Sheaffer Legacy II so that’ll have to wait.

The Taccia Staccato is another pen that I am interested in getting, but I am more attracted to the ebonite versions.

21 08 2008
rroossinck

Oi! Lots to respond to here! Give me a few hours to sleep on this and compile thoughts. More info/answers/thoughts forthcoming…and thanks for reading the blog!

FYI – Inkophile, think TrueWriter width (maybe a hair skinnier).

31 08 2008
Lance

The Staccato is truly a wonderful pen! It writes like a dream. Mine is Honey Bee, and it goes so well with Swisher’s Apricot Orange.

15 09 2008
Lamy Links and Others

[…] All about the Benjamins – Ryan’s top picks for pens around the $100 mark. Β The Lamy 2000 is in there, though it costs a fair bit more than that over here in the UK. […]

9 03 2009
Milan

Does anybody know of a reputable website that ships these kinds of pens to Canada? I am especially interested in the Sailor Sapporo/1911M.

Also, does anybody know of a store in Ottawa, Toronto, or Montreal where it is possible to try out the Pilot Capless?

7 08 2009
Mark

The Pelikan 140’s are good pens, but they do not take the modern Pelikan nibs. If you buy a 140 you are stuck with the nib it comes with because you can no longer buy replacements.

That said the modern Pelikans are a good choice with a range of excellent nibs and with an interchangeable nib unit you can have several available for the one pen.

11 08 2009
rroossinck

Mark, I haven’t owned a 140 in quite a while, but I was almost sure that they’d take the modern M2/4xx nibs. Can anyone else weigh in on this with some experience? Another resource you might check with on this is Rick Propas or Richard Binder – either of these two guys (especially Rick) has a wealth of experience with vintage and modern Pelikans and they’d definitely be able to set the record straight.

8 01 2010
Jin

Just wanted to say thanks for this article (and the $50 article) I’m going to have these bookmarked for when I have a bit more money.

13 02 2010
Justin

Yes thank you for this it is guiding some of my future purchases. Are they in order of 1 to 10 or are they just listed randomly?

14 02 2010
rroossinck

You’re welcome, Justin. No, they’re not in any order. Just a random grouping of pens that I felt were worth chatting about for a few minutes. I ought to update this list a little bit, as there are a few that should go (mainly due to price increases) and a few new ones that ought to get added that weren’t there before.

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