Cheap Pens

Schools are conservative organisations; in the 1950s, long after everyone else had given them up, schools insisted on children learning to write with dip pens – to what practical end I know not. Later, when the ballpoint pen had become ubiquitous, fountain pens were the order of the day – a wise decision this time, as we all know that people write better with fountain pens than anything else.

As the adult market for fountain pens disappeared like water down the drain when the plug has been pulled, manufacturers took note of this profitable development, and the “school student” class of pen became decidedly important to them. From the fifties to the eighties, a huge range of these economy pens was offered, and it hasn’t entirely died away yet, though the source has changed.

As I buy pens for restoration and resale, these economy models are a little outside my field, but some of them pass over my workbench, having arrived among job lots of pens I buy. As fountain pen users and appreciators, I think these pens are well worthy of our attention. Many of them are excellent writers – though not all. Pity the poor child whose parents supplied a Platignum, a Queensway, a Universal, the last of the Conway Stewarts or any of the host of rock-bottom Italian pens that flooded the market in those years. Those were the pens that made their reluctant users fiercely loyal to the Bic in years to come. Sad to say, some of the cheapest Parkers were no better.

There were many good economy pens, though. I’ve referred to Osmiroids with a cautious thumbs-up elsewhere. Sheaffer produced some excellent economical pens, including the low-cost Skripsert range, with small gold nibs which wrote very well. I have an Australian-made example which I’m very fond of, one of the few cartridge pens I own. The pen we call “The Sheaffer School Pen” – as simple a cartridge filler as could be made, with an excellent white metal nib, was justly popular, as was the “No Nonsense” with its range of plain and calligraphic nibs. Waterman, too, turned out good, cheap cartridge and lever pens with plated nibs, perhaps a little less robust than the Sheaffers but well able to last the length of a school career if afforded a little more care and respect than I ever managed at that age.

Most of you will be more aware of the recent examples of this class of pen than I am, as I rarely handle anything newer than about 1960, but I have come across the excellent plated-nib Pilots of the eighties, near-indestructible pens of admirable quality. More recently, Rotring and Lamy turned out good pens well within the budget of school pupils. I’ve seen a few Walitys, too. The very large eyedroppers appear to have a bad habit of dropping blobs of ink, but the smaller, Parker 45-like piston fillers are really good pens – or at least the one I have is – and they are astonishingly cheap! The Chinese, of course, make more fountain pens than anyone else now. The prices are low and the quality variable, but the Hero 616 is a good pen of its kind, as is the Sheaffer-like, tubular-nibbed Hero 235. I’m sure there must be many others.

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