My student Laura Naysmith pointed my attention to yesterday’s feature in the Independent, the one that purports to identify the ‘ten best fountain pens’. It’s not clear from the website what criteria they apply, but the result is a very peculiar selection. Granted that they seem to draw only from contemporary pens (thus ruling out, for instance, Parker 51s, and Sheaffer Targas), the list includes both basic starter pens and ornamental bling pens.
For instance, I admire the Lamy Safari as a rugged, simple, inexpensive daily pen — but that doesn’t mean I think it’s one of the ten best. I have little use for hypertrophic ornamentation (and expense), but some elegant pens are quite excellent, and some bespoke pens are well worth their price simply as objets d’arts or jewelry. But for a ten-best pen, I’d want a pen that was functional as a writer, with a smooth, sweet nib, attractive in design, with a predictably long useful life. And, to be fair to the Independent’s ratings, I confess I’d want to exercise some latitude for pens I just love, or don’t.
So as of today, if I had to name Ten Best, I’d probably nominate Sheaffer’s Targas or Connaisseurs (or both) among my ten. Parker 51s, also, and P21s and P45s for the economically cautious (Parker 17s have turned up often recently too, another good cheap variation on this theme). The Independent didn’t name Pelikan pens at all; I haven’t held a 1000, but the 800 is pretty sweet. At a lower price point, Pellikan 400s and 200s are estimable pens, too. Sheaffer’s Triumph nibs are a joy to write with; I haven’t held a PFM (‘Pen for Men’, guess what era that comes from), but they have a reputation attested by the high prices they command on the used market. Since I can’t testify to their quality first-hand (ho ho ho), I’ll nominate my Sheaffer Triumph as a stand-in — not at all the same pen, but as a placeholder for that particular nib (also on the Targas, but I like Sheaffer pens, so there). The Mont Blanc 149 — the pen my mom gave me when I graduated from doctoral work, and that I inherited from my dad, is a classic — it has become a stereotype for pen-as-status-symbol, and they’re very often counterfeited, but it’s a wonderful pen.
I’ll give special consideration to Esterbrooks J, LJ, and SJ lines for their simple good looks, interchangeable nibs, easy maintenance, and durability. I happen to love my Sheaffer Flat-Tops, with their gold nibs about an acre wide. And since my repertoire is relatively limited, I’ll leave two slots open and just name a top eight. You may have good cases for alternatives: (Parker fans will laud their Duofolds and Vacumatics, Waterman fans will extol the flexy nibs that Waterman was known for, and I’m curious about Pilot Vanishing Point models, but these eight are wonderful. It feels great to write with them; I find typing increasingly unsatisfactory, and I look forward to finishing off the project that more-or-less requires keyboard input in favour of beginning more free-from compositions next.
- Targa by Sheaffer
- Sheaffer Connaisseur
- Parker 51 (supported by Parker 45, 21, and 17)
- Pelikan 800 (supported by Pelikan 400 and 200)
- Sheaffer PFM (award accepted by the Sheaffer Triumph)
- Mont Blanc 149
- Esterbrook J series
- Sheaffer Flat-Top
Now, enough typing for tonight. I have to write something! (after I cook dinner)