Guest post #2: My obsession with the Parker Vacumatic

22 12 2009

Okay, so many of you may have visited my friend Dan Smith’s blog and learned that he grinds custom nibs and that he loves to restore Parker Vacumatics, but one day over lunch not too long ago, I asked him why he loved Vacs as much as he does.  This was his answer.  It’s a great read and he’s got some great eye candy in the article, too!

Let me start off by saying this is not going to be an essay about why the Parker Vacumatic is the greatest pen in the word, because it’s not. It’s not even the greatest pen in the the world to me, but I am completely infatuated by it and it is and probably always will be the core of my collection.

I suppose the main reason I collect Vacs is because there are so many different variations. What initially attracted me to the Vacumatic was the celluloid they’re made from. There’s so much depth and character to the celluloid. You can clearly see the difference between the real thing and a cheap alternative. The bargain pens that are made to look like the Vac celluloid look like an image has been printed on the pen. There’s no depth, no character, nothing special to them. One of my favorite aspects of the Vacumatic is there’s not a color I don’t like, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be a close call between the Burgundy Pearl and the Azure Pearl. The celluloid just mesmerizes me like a deer in headlights. And when you find one with excellent barrel clarity it makes it even better.

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My favorite Vacs by far are the first generation models with the section, blind cap, and jewels all made from the same celluloid, especially the oversize Vacs. My least favorites are the third gen, single jewel, plastic fillers. I don’t care for the non-jeweled blind cap, and the plastic filler looks out of place.

If you get lucky you’ll find some with spectacular nibs. For me that means flex. I have two Vacs with super-flex nibs: a ’34 Silver Pearl Oversize and a ’47 Emerald Pearl Junior. I also have a ’38 Burgundy Pearl Shadow Wave with a semi-flex nib, which is the pen I used to write the first draft of this essay with.

The one thing Parker deserves props for is building a solid pen. They were not intended to be fancy collectors items. They were designed to write and write and write and write. There’s not a single item on the pen that feels cheap (except for the plastic filler on 3rd Gen pens). They have good weight, feel great in the hand, and are very well constructed. Their system for dating pens was an ingenious idea. On very early models they used a two digit system where the first digit indicated which quarter of the year the pen was made and the second digit indicated the year. This system was used in the mid to late ’30’s. Parker then moved to a slightly different system where they utilized a single digit to indicate the year and then up to three dots around the number to indicate the quarter. Three dots = 1st quarter, 2 dots = 2nd quarter, and so on with no dots meaning the pen was made in the fourth quarter. It was done this way so that Parker could grind one dot off the stamp and keep using it throughout the year. I wish more pen companies had implemented some type of system to accurately date their pens.

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So now that I’ve gushed about all the good, its time to bring it back to reality because there are a few things about Vacumatics that I can’t stand. The biggest being the filling system. Go figure. The filling process is so tedious and time consuming, especially if you’re trying to clean the pen out to switch colors from, say, black to orange. Thank God the lock-down filler only lasted as long as it did. Why didn’t they just start with the speed-line filler? Who knows, probably for the same reason it took Apple until 3.0 to get copy and past and MMS into the iPhone. The thing that bugs me the most about the lock-down filler is that once you have the pen completely filled you have to push the filler back down, emptying a good amount of ink in the process.

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The other minor thing I don’t care for is the Vacumatic cap band. Not the cap band with the actual word “Vacumatic” stamped into it but the one with all the stupid ///\\\\///\\\. The triple, and even the double, cap bands were so much more elegant. Oh, and I’ll take mine in silver, please.

So, should you go out and try to find your next vac, or maybe for some of you your first one, on ebay? No, you should buy one that is restored and polished by me (what a plug, eh?). Seriously though, Vacumatics are not for everyone. I collect them because there are so many variants and quirky uncatalogued pieces. Its easy to start collecting them yet some people may never have a what can be considered a comprehensive collection even after a life time of collecting, unless you’ve got some serious cash to drop. If you want my recommendation, go out and find a really good example of a first or second gen Vac and play with it for a while. You’ll either be in love or it’ll just get a “meh” from you.

If you really want to get into some cool items then look for the desk sets made entirely from the stripped celluloid. Or, the Ripley versions made from alternating Burgundy Pearl and blue celluloid. Then, there’s the Imperial (one of my grail pens) which is sort of a 51 with a traditional nib and made from celluloid, or you could think of it as just a Vacumatic with a slip cap but closer in dimensions to a 51 than any Vac.

Parker_Vacumatic_Desk_Set-9

So there. In case you ever needed a great reason (or three) to buy a Vac…I think you just read it!





First Impressions: Varuna eyedroppers

9 10 2009

Tight on time today, kids, but I wanted to whet your appetite a little bit about a couple of incredible pens that I’ve been playing with for the past couple of days.  Varuna is an Indian company that makes ebonite pens, and I frankly couldn’t believe the quality that they pack into these things…especially for the price!  These things are truly outstanding!  Great nibs, gi-normous ink capacity, and REALLY cool finishes!  For less than $50 with a steel nib that writes this well, it’s really hard to go wrong!

I’ve got a full-scale review planned for these next week, comparing the Danitrio Densho raw ebonite to each of these two big eyedroppers from India…but for now, here’s a couple of quick shots of them side by side.

The Bakul finish compared to a Lamy 2000.

The Bakul finish compared to a Lamy 2000.

If you’re headed to NYC for the pen show, you should take a look at these things.  Look for Steve Braun’s display and his big smile.  I know Steve, and he’s a top-notch fella!

The smooth matte finish clipless eyedropper compared to the Danitrio Densho.

The smooth matte finish Vishal eyedropper compared to the Danitrio Densho.





Holt’s Cigar…here’s a list to get y’all started…

5 09 2008

These prices are absolutely SICK!

Adam was kind enough to email me this afternoon with a list of a good portion of his inventory.  You want some deals?  Get your credit cards ready.  Some of these are so outrageous that it’s not even funny. 

Description MSRP Now

Aurora Optima Auroloide BP

$375.00

$187.50

Aurora Optima Auroloide FP

$625.00

$312.50

Aurora Optima Auroloide RB

$450.00

$225.00

Aurora Optima Black BP

$250.00

$125.00

Aurora Optima Black FP

$495.00

$247.50

Aurora Optima Black RB

$350.00

$175.00

Aurora Optima Mini Auroloide Burgundy BP

$295.00

$147.50

Aurora Optima Mini Auroloide Burgundy FP

$475.00

$237.50

Aurora Optima Mini Auroloide Burgundy MP

$425.00

$212.50

Visconti Van Gogh Midi RB

$145.00

$72.50

Visconti Van Gogh Midi FP

$165.00

$82.50

Visconti Van Gogh Midi BP

$135.00

$67.50

Visconti Van Gogh Maxi RB

$210.00

$105.00

Visconti Van Gogh Maxi FP

$275.00

$137.50

Visconti Van Gogh Maxi BP

$165.00

$82.50

Visconti Wall Street Limited Edition FP

$750.00

$375.00

Visconti Wall Street Regular FP

$540.00

$270.00

Visconti Wall Street Blue RB

$375.00

$187.50

Visconti Wall Street Blue BP

$320.00

$160.00

OMAS 360 Blue-Black HT FP (Old Version)

$495.00

$247.50

OMAS 360 Blue-Black HT RB (Old Version)

$295.00

$147.50

OMAS 360 Blue Royal Celluloid FP

$990.00

$495.00

Omas 360 Burkina Celluloid FP

$990.00

$495.00

Omas 360 Essential Woods Ebony RB

$690.00

$345.00

Omas 360 Lucens HT RB

$1,295.00

$647.50

Omas 360 Mezzo FP (Various Colors Available)

$425.00

$212.50

Omas 360 Mezzo RB (Various Colors Available)

$225.00

$112.50

Waterman Carene Classic Colors FP

$235.00

$117.50

Waterman Carene Classic Colors RB

$165.00

$82.50

Waterman Carene Classic Colors BP

$130.00

$65.00

Waterman Carene Deluxe BP

$185.00

$92.50

Waterman Carene Deluxe FP

$300.00

$150.00

Waterman Carene Deluxe RB

$220.00

$110.00

Pilot Vanishing Point (Various Colors)

$140.00

$70.00

Pelikan 800 Series FP

$435.00

$217.50

Pelikan 800 Series RB

$265.00

$132.50

Pelikan 800 Series BP

$225.00

$112.50

S. T. Dupont Orpheo Black& Palladium Ring (480403)

$690.00

$345.00

S. T. Dupont Orpheo Placed Black Lacquer (480642)

$615.00

$307.50

S. T. Dupont Orpheo Diamond Head & Black Lacquer (480067)

$650.00

$325.00

Parker Duofold Pinstripe BP

$250.00

$125.00

Parker Duofold Pinstripe Centennial FP

$500.00

$250.00

Parker Duofold Pinstripe International FP

$450.00

$225.00

Parker Duofold Pinstripe RB

$300.00

$150.00

 

This isn’t a joke, folks.  It’s the real deal.  Get ’em while they’re hot.

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Since when did buying high-end pens get so darn cheap???

4 09 2008

When Holt’s Cigar in Philly decided to lighten their inventory.

Yep, kids, this is a must act now situation.

Holt’s Cigar carries a nice lineup of pens from Omas, Aurora, Montblanc, S.T. Dupont, Pilot/Namiki, Pelikan, Visconti, and probably a handful of others that I’ve forgotten.  And from now until the end of September, they’ve got them ALL on sale.  40% off of MSRP on Montblanc, and 50% off of MSRP on nearly everything else. 

No, I’m not kidding.

The best part about this, aside from the fact that it’s that big of a sale?  They’ve got some of the hard-to-find limited editions and discontinued stuff!

So…here’s the deal.  If you’ve been putting together a wishlist for your birthday, anniversary, holidays, or some other reason for which you’re entitled to treat yourself to something…move the date for gratification up to NOW!  Don’t put this off.  Make the call, talk with Adam, and tell him you read about it on Brassing!

*For the record, I’m not on anyone’s payroll here; I just know that I really enjoyed talking with Adam and that there are some awesome deals to be had on some pens that some of you wouldn’t normally even consider (due to the price range).  I offered to put it on my blog so he could a) make the most of the sale, and b) see whether or not word of mouth really works. 

Contact information shown below.  Their website isn’t the place to go for this sale, because I wasn’t able to find anything referencing pens on their site.  I don’t have a complete stocklist or prices, but if you’re looking for something specific, here’s your shot at it.  If they’ve got it, they’ve got it.  If not, they’ll probably have something else that you might like!  Happy hunting!

Holt’s Cigar Company
1522 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
Toll Free: 800-523-1641
Direct: 215-732-8500, Ext. 161





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. 🙂

    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! 🙂  (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!





Guest Post: Patrick’s Picks

6 08 2008

I’ve always enjoyed hearing/reading someone else’s take on a topic that I’ve covered, and from time to time I’ll pick on someone for their opinions. This time, it was Patrick Rhone, a longtime friend, fellow blogger, and mentor of mine. Patrick was kind enough to share his thoughts on individual picks at each price point that I covered in this series. So, without further ado, here’s Patrick!

Inspired by Ryan’s recent posts here, I thought I would chime in. Ryan has done a great job of outlining the variety of good fountain pens available for any budget. Based on my own experience as a newbie/intermediate pen guy, I thought it would be fun and useful to take a stab at narrowing it down a bit. Here are my single picks culled from his list of great pens at each price point.

Ten Dollar (and Under) Level: The Hero 329 & 330 – No one knows how to make a “faithful homage” like the Chinese and these Parker knockoffs are hard to beat. Especially if you are not ready to take the dive and troll the internet for the real thing.

Thirty Dollar (and Under) Level: The Esterbrook J – Speaking of trolling the internet, this pen is worth doing it for. Not only is it an outstanding value for a vintage pen but they are really great writers as well. not to mention the variety of colors and the interchangeable nibs. I recently loaned one to a friend of mine who was here visiting and she loved it so much I could not bear to take it back – so I let her keep it. So now, I am eyeing getting a copper one like Ryan featured for myself.

Fifty Dollar (and Under) Level: The Parker “51” – This would have been a difficult choice had the Parker “51” not been included in the mix. I can’t add more than what Ryan has already said but. If I could only have one pen for the rest of my life, it would be this one.

Eighty Dollar (and Under) Level: The Lamy Studio – Interestingly enough, Ryan has also included the Parker “51” in this class. I suspect because prices can be a bit all over the board for these and one can expect to pay even more for rare models in perfect condition. That being said, for these purposes, I am going to leave this out of the consideration at this class (since I have already mentioned my fondness for it) and go with… The Lamy Studio. If you like clean modern lines, nice weight and a buttery smooth nib. Look no further. In fact, this is the pen I general pick up when I don’t pick up the “51”.

Thanks again, Patrick. Folks, don’t be terribly surprised if you see stuff like this on my blog once in a while. I appreciate a good counterpoint, so if you’d like to provide one, send me a note on the side and let’s talk.

BTW – Patrick has a new place to play…have you been there yet? If not, you need to visit; you’ll be very glad that you did.





Best in class…($80)

16 07 2008

One of the reasons that this post took so darn long to write (and admittedly, it did take a lot longer than I wanted it to) is because frankly, this is a really tough class.  There are a lot of great entries in this range and it’s awfully hard to narrow the list to just 10.  But, that being said, let’s give it a go, shall we? 

  1. Levenger TrueWriter

    I know that these pens have gotten some mixed reviews in the past, but I’ve got to say that I’ve had six or eight of ’em pass through my hands (four are still with me, not counting the rollerball that I hacked recently), and not a single one of ’em is a slouch in any respect.  I’ve used every nib that they sell (including the stub, which is now on loan to a friend in Michigan), and they’ve all been great (in fact, my favorite Broad nib is in that blue one you see pictured above).  These are terrific pens, folks.  Nicely balanced, great colors, and really great writers.  I really, really enjoy these pens. 

  2. Pelikan M200

    Come on…you knew it was going to show up on at least ONE of these lists, right?  The Pelikan M200/205/215 series are absolutely fantastic pens featuring interchangeable nibs, a piston filler (Rick Conner’s picture above shows the translucent series, which show off the piston a little better than most), and a terrific writing experience.  To boot, they’ve got the best after-sale service in the world!  I defy you to find a person who’s had a bad experience with Chartpak, their US distributor (and if you’re that one person on earth who’s not happy with the way they treated you, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with the right people to make it right).  There are a handful of great retailers who sell these, as well as custom ground nibs in nearly every shape under the sun.  I’ve had a couple of these over the past year or two, and they’ve never failed me.  They’re well-worth the money!   Here’s one in a color I haven’t seen too often, either!

  3. Aurora Style

    When I first used this pen back in November/December of last year, I’m afraid that I didn’t give it a fair shake, because over time, it’s grown on me both in looks as well as in performance.  This particular version of the Style has a steel nib, and the body is all-plastic, which actually makes for a very light-weight pen.  As with many Auroras, you’ll find that the nib on this one gives you a little feedback (not to be confused with “scratchiness” – I’ve looked at this nib under a microscope and there’s no scratch to be found).  It doesn’t necessarily make it ideal for a Moleskine, as it can lead to some feathering, but frankly, this is a really good pen that you can find for low bucks.  I’m not entirely sure what the market price is on these now, but you shouldn’t have a hard time finding the all-plastic version for less than $75.  

  4. Sheaffer’s Balance (vintage)



     

    I’ve often stated that one of the best values in fountain pens are found in vintage pens, because oftentimes they can be found for cheap.  After putting in a little time in cleaning them up and re-building the filling system, they’ll write REALLY well.  Such is the case for the three Sheaffer’s Balances from the early 30s pictured above.  The Balance was Sheaffer’s answer to the Duofold, and frankly, it was the Balance that pioneered the “torpedo” or “cigar” shape that’s so popular now with brands like Montblanc, Sailor, and others.  They were produced in tons of sizes and colors, so it shouldn’t be terribly hard to find one that’ll fit your hand well, and your taste as far as color is concerned.  Your best bet for finding these on the cheap is probably via eBay, and when you get it, it’ll probably need some work done to it, but there are a handful of really talented miracle-workers for these pens.  PenRx, Main Street Pens, Richard’s Pens, Tom Pike, and Dennis Lively are just a few of the folks who work on these pens (and I can personally vouch for the quality of their restorations). 

    There’s tons to learn about the history of these pens if you’re into it (and if you’re interested, let me know and I’ll post up a few historical pieces), but frankly, the Balance is an excellent vintage pen that can often be found for a great price without looking too hard. 

    *One thing to note about these pens when you’re searching for them on eBay: Don’t be shy in asking the seller to look the pen over pretty carefully for cracks in the cap lip, as well as in the threads on the barrel.  Some of the color variations were/are more prone to cracking than others, and if possible, you’ll want to avoid getting one with cracks.  They can be repaired by most restorers, but they will be weaker as a result of it.  Balances are typically pens that you’ll want to treat with a little extra care.  They’re tough, but they’re not indestructible.  

  5. Conklin All-American (modern)


    Conklin’s got a great product in the All-American.  It’s not a big pen (about the size of a Parker “51”, give or take), but they look great and they write even better.  This is probably one of the least expensive ways to buy a new pen with a 14K nib.  The orange one that I had was buttery-smooth!  These are sleepers; you won’t see many folks using these (though I’m not sure why).  Like the Victory, the All-American has a translucent plastic feed, and it’s neat to watch the ink come up into the nib when you first ink it! 

  6. Lamy Studio

    The pen with the propeller-shaped clip!  These are terrific pens that feature outstanding looks, a nice heft, and typically bulletproof durability.  While I’ve never owned one, I’ve written with a few of them, and they’re super-nice.  They can be found with a steel nib for somewhere in the $65-75 neighborhood, and ones with a gold nib might stretch a little further than that (but not much – maybe $90-ish?).  This picture, borrowed from a Flickr user, shows the pen in the brushed metal finish, but there’s a REALLY nice blue one (black too, I believe) that’s available with a great textured finish.  It almost feels like a rubber band!  

  7. “Short/Longs” (Japanese pocket pens)

    I borrowed this picture from my friend Woody in Sweden, because it’s an outstanding picture, and it highlights a category that doesn’t get anywhere near the love it deserves.  Japanese vintage pocket pens were designed (and I think I’ve mentioned this a time or two before) for smaller shirt pockets, and it’s a shame that there aren’t many being made anymore.  They look small when they’re capped, but when you pull the cap off and post it, it ends up being a nearly perfectly balanced full-size pen.  There’s a handful of reputable eBay sellers who regularly post these, and the bidding can be all over the place.  I’ve seen nice 14K-nibbed pens like these (or their all-plastic counterparts) go for absurdly-low prices (think $25 shipped) to well over $100, so you may want/need to watch these a little; depending on what you’re looking for, you should be in the hunt if you budget between $60-80 for one of these little beauties.  The one that I use every day is small enough that it fits in my Levenger International Pocket Briefcase, has a rigid XF steel nib, and never fails to start right up.  It’s a Pilot Volex, but that’s certainly not the only model to look for.  Sailor, Pilot, and Platinum all made these in the 60s and 70s, and there are still plenty of them to go around.  Happy hunting!

  8. Parker “51”

    I’ve probably already said enough good things about the Parker “51” and why I like it, but for $80, you’ll probably be able to find one in a little nicer shape (although I’ve bought them before for less than $10 and they looked great!).  The one you see in the picture above is a Cedar Blue Vacumatic filler from 1946, and it’s one of my all-time favorites.  You’ll find these all over eBay, but I know that PenRx often has these, as do restorers like Ron Zorn of Main Street Pens, and it’s not terribly uncommon to find them fully restored in this price range. 

  9. Sheaffer’s Snorkel 

    A pen that turned W.A. Sheaffer into Public Enemy #1 for schoolteachers across America during the 50s…who knew?

    These are one of the more interesting vintage buys out there today.  Long and slender (and ridiculously over-engineered), this pen was sold in the 50s and early 60s as the “world’s most complex pen.”  They weren’t kidding, either.  If you look at the photo above (which was borrowed from Jim Mamoulides’ terrific website, PenHero), you’ll see a pointy thing sticking out from underneath the feed and nib.  That’s the Snorkel.  To fill it, you unscrew the blind cap on the back and pull it out.  While you do this, over on the business end, the Snorkel tube comes out, too.  When it’s fully extended, you simply put the tube into your ink bottle, and push the blind cap on the back back in, and the Snork sucks in the ink.  This crazy design was built so that when you ran out of ink, you didn’t have to go and find a Kleenex or towel to go and wipe the nib off when you were done (and it also kept you from getting your hands inky).  It was (and still is) a great concept, but with so many moving parts, there’s a higher risk of failure (and there were some problems with these). 

    However, don’t let this throw you off.  Just be aware that when you’re buying one (and eBay is probably your best bet for a bargain-basement price), you’ll have to have it restored.  It’s not a big deal, just something to be aware of.  When it comes back to you from your restorer, it’ll write really well (some of Sheaffer’s best nibs, in my opinion, were produced during this era), and it’ll be a neat piece of 1950s geek chic to show off to all of your friends.  The Snorkel was made a zillion different colors and had a handful of different nibs available ranging from steel to 14K two-tone platinum/gold combos, and they always seem to look great.  They’re a fairly long and slender pen, but they aren’t what I’d categorize as heavy.  They’re quite comfortable to write with, actually.  If you’re looking for one that’s already restored, you’ll probably have good luck at any of the major vintage pen restorers that I’ve already mentioned, and if you want something that’s a little above-average in terms of color (there are some rare ones out there), look no further than David Isaacson’s typically-huge listing on his website, Vacumania

    But why did it turn schoolteachers on Sheaffer’s as a company?  Simple.  Smart mischievous kids (perhaps even some of you reading this) figured out that they made EXCELLENT squirt guns when filled with water!  There are plenty of stories of schoolteachers forbidding the Snorkel in their classrooms, and I’d imagine (hope?) that the modern Sheaffer Pen Co. still has a few angry letters in their archives. 🙂

    (For the record…don’t try the squirt gun trick on an un-suspecting spouse.  Don’t ask me how I know this, either.)

  10. Pelikan Epoch

    From time to time, Pelikan has released a few non-piston fillers to the market, and they’ve gotten mixed reviews.  The Level series, the PURA, and others like the Epoch, have had some success, but not to the same level as their piston-fillers.  This pen, though…is awesome.  It’s a terrific departure from Pel’s traditional look, and despite not having the critical acclaim, these are really head-turning.  Mine’s a blue one with black, with an XF nib courtesy of Chartpak’s nib-swap policy, and it’s an awesome writer. 

    The nib on this pen has a tubular shape and it gives it a really solid/rigid feel.  It’s very smooth as a writer, and frankly, I really like the way it looks, too!  The picture above (borrowed from WorldLux), shows the subtle taper pretty well as the barrel flows up to the nib.  It’s really comfortable for those of you with long fingers (i.e., the musicians in the room). 

    The one drawback of this pen (for some – not me) is that the pen is sold as a cartridge-filler only.  It has a sleeve attached to the blind cap (the black piece on the bottom) that holds two small cartridges or one big one.  Normally, I would consider this to be a drawback.  But…in this case, the sleeve that holds the cartridges will also hold a converter quite comfortably, and it works just fine.  You’ll need to fill your converter prior to putting it in the sleeve, but that doesn’t bother me too much, and it opens up the possibility of using bottled ink in whatever color you choose. 

    They’re available from a variety of retailers out there, so pick your favorite and give this one a try.  I’m really glad that I did. 

Well, there you have it.  This’ll put the wraps on my picks for the best bangs for the buck at the $80 mark.  I could have expanded this list quite a bit, because there are always new pens coming to market and this is a pretty competitive price-point for many manufacturers.  But…the fingers will only type for so long, and my budget isn’t endless (however, if you’ve got something you’d like to loan/donate for a review, I’m more than happy to accept!). 

Next stop…triple digits!  The “Benjamins” class of $100-ish pens is probably the most competitive class out there, but there are some really clear winners that offer outstanding looks and performance.  We’ll sort ’em out next week!

Now…last thing.  What would YOU classify as the best writer for $80, if it’s not on this list?  Post ’em up in the comments and let’s get a good discussion going about what you think should make the list!  Vintage or modern…it doesn’t matter.