For a long time I had the perfect pen for me. It was a long,slender black chased hard rubber Onoto with a flexible oblique stub nib. It weighed virtually nothing (a very good property in a pen for me) and the glorious nib allowed me to write fast and legibly and make all sorts of fancy swirls when the mood struck me. Alas, time goes by and what was perfect yesterday may no longer be today. Arthritis has made gripping a slender pen painful and I had to set the Onoto aside. After a time I sold it. A pen like that shouldn’t sit not being used.
What would my perfect pen be now? Nineteen-twenties or thirties Duofolds are about the girth I want and those excellent pens weigh very little, but it’s very rare indeed that I find a Parker nib that suits my hand. The nib would have to have some useable flexibility and I remain fond of a well-formed stub – medium, though. Broad stubs are too much. Aesthetics would matter too. I would only want BHR if it was fully black and crisp. Otherwise, some colour is essential. Something like Mabie Todd’s prewar russet/jade marble would be nice. That would imply one of the larger prewar Swans, which would do very well. An Onoto Magna in mottled hard rubber would be quite satisfactory, thank you. Red hard rubber would be even better.
While I wait for my perfect pen to come along I pick and choose among the stock, or use pens from my accumulation. At the moment I use my tiny Kaweco Sport. It meets absolutely none of my requirements and it has a hard, rounded broad nib. It’s a challenge to try to write well with such a pen.
What would your perfect pen be? Do tell!
16 thoughts on “The Perfect Pen”
My favorite, for a long time, has been a Swan 230 with a very flexible medium nib – a gorgeous writer and fits so well in my hand. My second and third favorites are a very delicate snakeskin patterned Swan (I’m not knowledgeable about the #) with a medium, flexible nib and number three is a Pelikan 100N with a very flexible broad left foot oblique nib – it has surprising flex for a steel nib.
I’m sorry about your problems with arthritis. I have it in my hands as well and make my living as an artist so sometimes feel it a lot in my drawing hand. One of the things that has helped me a lot is that I have a paraffin bath (mine is made by Homedics and can be found, I’m sure, on Amazon). After dipping my hand in it several times to get a good coat of paraffin on it I just let the heat soak deeply into my joints for a while. Then I just peel off the wax and put it back in the bath to melt down.
Some steel nibs can be surprisingly flexible. I’ve had some Japanese ones that would equal or excel any gold nib.
Thanks for the idea of the paraffin bath. I’m going to give that a try.
I love your work, especially the rabbits of Mastering the ‘Art’ of French Cooking.
Thanks for the compliment, Deb. I appreciate it. That series has been ongoing since 2001 and, fortunately, a lot of my followers find them quite collectible which has consistently made them my premier bread and butter pieces and allowed me to make a living doing something I love.
I think the paraffin bath will give you some relief. Let me know if you have trouble finding it and I will find a way to get one to you from the states.
I found one on Amazon for a good price today and I’ve ordered it along with some wax. Thanks for all your help.
Great. Let me know how it works for you after you’ve had it for a couple of weeks. I think the deep penetrating warmth is heaven when my arthritis is acting up. Not sure it has long lasting effects, but when you’re hurting, it’s so nice.
I’ll be sure to do that.
Could you fit a sleeve around a similar Onoto to widen it and cushion the grip, but without adding weight?
I suppose that would be one answer. It may come to that if I can find nothing else that suits.
I too have arthritis in my hands and these days find thinner pens uncomfortable, even pens like the P51.
My favourite at the moment is a 1928 Parker Duofold special in shiny black permanite which has a nice grip and a semi flex nib. Other pens that fit well are Sheaffer Lifetime Senior flat tops and senior balances, though they both tend to have good but stiff nibs. The Swan 4660 also has a nice chunky section and should not be difficult to get a semi flex nib for.
I think it’s quite likely that I’ll find my perfect pen among the larger Swans.
I too like bigger pens that are not heavy and remain well balanced when posted. Add a bit of flex to a pen like that and I’m a happy camper 🙂
Lately, I’ve been using a Noodler’s Mandarin Yellow Ahab and a Noodler’s ripple ebonite Konrad. Both have carefully tuned nibs and feeds to ensure flow to the nibs, which I modified (ground) to add flex.
Here’s another idea along these lines…
Go over to Andy’s Pens (Website in UK) and have a look at the Varuna line of ebonite pens hand made in India – the “Rajan” model in particular. The Rajan is a large pen with girth. (There are some Varuna pen reviews on the FPN.)
Take a Rajan (look at the yummy Brown, Red or Olive Ripple ebonite versions) and replace the nib with a large vintage flex nib. The Rajan feed is ebonite too, so it is easy to modify and heat set so you get the flow you need when flexing. Another plus is that you can probably get a replacement feed from Varuna and/or Andy’s Pens if you mess up when you hack the feed (which you may not have to do). I think this combination of a Varuna ebonite ripple Rajan plus a well tuned flex nib would make a beautiful yet affordable high mileage writer.
I would try this myself, but I don’t have a large vintage flex nib to transplant. Maybe I can use an Ahab nib or an Indian semi-flex nib from FPR. Hmmmm…
That’s a good idea. It may not be for me, because I’m more about old pens and rarely buy new ones, but I think it would work well.
Deb, that WH Smith’s Seal with the Gillott nib you sold me last year came pretty close, certainly as far as size and weight go, and it suits my handwriting well. (For some reason I’ve had good luck with promotional pens like those, a woodgrain Ty-Phoo Tea pen is another favourite). Appearance isn’t a big concern, although red mottled hard rubber is very nice, of course.
I have a long list of bugbears which really put me off the majority of modern pens: excessive weight, slipperiness, oversized “signature” pens, rock-hard nibs, having to disassemble the thing to fill it … small wonder that pre-war ebonite and celluloid lever fillers suit me best. A stubbish medium semi-flex is about right for day to day use, but I do like a more flexible extra fine for when I’m on my best behaviour.
Interesting that you should wind up with a Kaweco Sport. It’s the only pen I’ve ever bought solely on the basis of appearance, and it feels rather comfortable to me, surprisingly enough. The over-polished rigid nib is a predictable disappointment, alas.
I’m glad the Seal works well for you. I’m in complete agreement about the shortcomings of most modern pens. I rarely buy modern and when I do I usually regret it. The little Kaweco is an exception, though. Pity the nib’s so bland.
I found the Swan 4660, which I got from you as a part of a pen and pencil set,a great writer. I have been using it regularly since I acquired it. Unfortunately I lost it this new year’s day along with another Swan self filler with a gold band(also acquired from your website)). I was carrying them in a leather case to keep them safe and I misplaced the pouch in the hospital where I work. I am disappointed at present. I hope someone finds and returns it, as people have done in the past. Otherwise I will be looking for replacements for both of them. Alas, a sad start to 2014.
Oh Mehdi, I’m so sorry to hear that. That’s very bad news indeed. I fervently hope that someone will turn in your pens.