Up until, say, 1950, fountain pens were essential for all sorts of purposes, whether you had the expensive Onoto or top-of-the-range Swan, or the cheapest Burnham or Platignum which would do the job but didn’t confer any prestige on the owner.
I don’t know of any situation now where the fountain pen is needed. My husband was registrar of births, deaths and marriages in Helmsdale and he was provided with a cheap Parker to write the entries in the ledgers. He set the Parker aside and used a flexible stub Onoto which made a better job. In 2003 they computerized the process and, instead of a beautiful hand-written certificate you got a printed one thereafter. That was the end of about 140 years of careful handwriting.
The consequence is that the fountain pen has been reduced to a hobbyist item. Some modern pens are a huge investment from which you get nothing back. Are they worth it? The very expensive Urushi Japanese pens are all unique and can be regarded as works of art. Like any work of art the price reflects the skill and creativity. I’m sure they are really worth every penny. There are a couple of things that seem over-expensive to me. Most pens these days have steel nibs. When a gold nib is fitted the price increases hugely. Really, that isn’t justified. The small amount of gold in a nib doesn’t cost that much. I think the manufacturers are taking a big margin of profit there.
Limited editions seem to me to be pretty close to being a scam. They are produced purely to hit the pockets of enthusiasts. An edition of one thousand pens, say, is hardly limited. It’s probably the case that many production pens sell less than one thousand pens anyway.
Many manufacturers, particularly some of the Germans and many Japanese manufacturers, produce good solid pens in the £400.00 or less range. I’m thinking of Pelikan, Platinum, Pilot and a few others. That may seem like a lot of money but it’s probably the equivalent of the outlay our forebears laid out for a good Swan, Onoto, Parker or Sheaffer.
I can’t really afford to buy a pen that costs that much, but I’m writing this with a Vanishing Point. I paid around £140.00 for it which I think was a tremendous bargain for such a wonderful modern pen.
Mostly, I’m not really about modern pens. As you will know from my sales site, I’m much more about old, mid-range pens that most of my customers write with. I read some of the fountain pen boards, though, and it is impossible not to take an interest in todays pens.
I’m certainly not criticising people who spend many hundreds or even thousands on fountain pens. If you have the money and are fascinated by those extremely expensive pens, why not buy them? They will doubtless confer pleasure for years to come and that big profit margin may help to keep some of those pen manufacturers alive. So many makers of splendid pens have fallen by the wayside. We don’t want that to happen to any more.