Concerning My Fountain Pen

The Hipster Conservative is pleased to feature this piece from Tom Ward, who blogs at Commonplace Philosophy.

We write less and have more pens than literate people of any previous age. Go see some study or other.

In big stores like Office Max and Staples it’s now difficult to buy just one pen at a time. 3, 5, 10, 20, 50 at a time is the norm. Our offices and junk drawers are teeming with them, and we use whichever is closest to hand, like squirrels gathering acorns. No one thinks waste is a good thing, but we justify our accumulation of pens in the names of bargain and convenience. It is supposed to be cheaper to buy in bulk, and it is supposed to be easier to write with a disposable pen than a traditional refillable pen.

Both suppositions are misguided, but I am somewhat sympathetic to them. Since high school I’ve been attracted to writing with fountain pens. I love ink wells and the smell of ink. I love the sound of the scratch of a nib on paper. With a fountain pen my script is more interesting and tidier. But it is inconvenient and messy to dip your pen every now and then in a pot of ink. It’s not an easily portable way to write: I have a wonderful large blue stain on the cloth lining of my briefcase from an ink bottle that opened, I suppose, as it rubbed against the contents of my briefcase and spilled its blue blue blood all over my things. And it’s annoying that, if any amount of ink is left in the nib when you finish writing, it’s liable to become viscous and make writing more difficult when you return to the page and dip your pen again.

In an attempt to fix both issues several years ago, I tried using disposable cartridges in my entry-level Waterman. These were a complete disappointment: the ink flowed unevenly and I still had to deal with a gooey nib. Eventually I lost heart and gave up, turning to highly efficient but lesser instruments.

As it turns out, however, I had given up too easily. One day, having become depressed by the ugliness and hastiness of my cursive and lamenting my advent during the Age of Hooper,* I went shopping on Amazon. I read reviews of dozens of pens and cartridges and recovered hope.

I discovered three things. First, Lamy’s Safari pen, while costing only $20.00 and made of plastic, is nevertheless legendary in the community of pen enthusiasts. Second, Lamy’s refillable cartridges were supposed to be highly efficient and long-lasting. Third, Noodler’s Ink, at twice the cost of run of the mill ink, was supposed not only to look better but to enable fluid non-gooey writing.

I spent about $40.00, and this pen/cartridge/ink trifecta is worth every penny. With the Lamy nib I can write in any position; famously one can write with a Lamy nib turned upside down, which produces an exceedingly fine script which is Intelligently Designed for writing in the margins of books. With the refillable cartridges I get about a month’s worth of ink with every refill and enjoy fluid, leak-free writing every time. And the Noodler’s ink is some sort of magic potion that does not gunk my nib.**

So, look. I didn’t have to spend a lot of money on some fancy-pants prestige pen. I didn’t have to give up on my youthful romance of refilling my pen from an actual bottle of ink. And with the exception that I have to refill my pen every month or so, I get all of the convenience of a cheap disposable pen. I’m happy. Imitate me. Let me lead you through the low door in the wall.


* ”The builders did not know the uses to which their work would descend; they made a new house with the stones of the old castle; year by year, generation after generation, they enriched and extended it; year by year the great harvest of timber in the park grew to ripeness; until, in sudden frost, came the Age of Hooper; the place was desolate and the work all brought to nothing; Quomodo sedet sola civitas. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” —Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

** Please start using this expression. You can say “Don’t gunk my nib” if someone is annoying you.
I think it’s in the urban dictionary but I haven’t checked.

1 thought on “Concerning My Fountain Pen

  1. Pingback: FEBRUARY 2013 ISSUE | The Hipster Conservative

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