Are Modern High Quality Fountain Pens Worth the Cost?

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.


7 thoughts on “Are Modern High Quality Fountain Pens Worth the Cost?

  1. Good-quality modern pens? Hmm. I’ve lost count of the modern Conway Stewarts I’ve had on teh bench which just didn’t write. Anything slightly broad was starved by the extremely fine slit (which also lacked a stress-relief hole). It got to the point where I had a standing arrangement with the pen shop to re-engineer the nibs before they would sell what stock they had, as it was too embarrassing to take them in a few weeks later with flow issues.

    So, just what does make a “good-quality modern” pen? Parts of them can be good, but other parts not-so-good. Does everything have to be good for a pen to be good quality? I think so, but that pretty much starves most modern makers off the list.

    The modern Pelikans I’ve worked with are pretty good, but the nibs have no character whatsoever. MBs have excellent filling systems, but the nibs can be scratchy off the line, and their idea of a fix is just to sell you a new nib unit. The Omas “flessible” nibs I’ve worked on are so soft they easily bend out of shape, which is just careless manufacture. The Pilot and Namikis I’ve done don’t seem too bad, and are at least decently flexible on demand.

    I personally use a 1937 Pelikan 100, and a Swiss-market Soennecken. Nothing touches the old German pens for engineering and nib character. (To throw you a bone, I have to admit my daughter’s Swan 130CS-F is just as good.)

    My opinion, after a few thousand pen refurbishments and nib repairs, about 30% of which were modern ones: if a company makes a poor pen, it doesn’t deserve to be in business.

    You got me ranting…

  2. I was totally against the modern Conway Stewart company, partly because of their poor QC but also because they tried to claim credit for the much more interesting historical CS company. I agree that modern Pelikans are characterless. I’ve had a few of the older ones and they are an entirely different kettle of fish. Most Swans are a delight. I have yet to lay hands on a Soennecken. They appear to be wonderful pens.

    I must confess that I’m not quite as down on modern pens as you are. Perhaps that’s because you mostly see the broken ones.

  3. Asking a person’s opinion on whether something is “worth it” or not, results in very little. Allow me to elaborate:

    Fountain pens are just a consumer product. As such, capitalism and free trade results in competition which in-turn gives us the gift of choice when it comes to buying our fountain pens.

    Bob sees a $70 Platinum 3776 Century fountain pen with a solid gold 14K nib as a good value and buys it. On the other hand Alice sees the very same Platinum 3776 pen as a boring toy, and instead chooses to purchase a $10,000 limited Edition Montblanc fountain pen.

    The important thing to take away here is that BOTH Bob and Alice found true value in what they decided to buy, and that the marketplace as a whole is made up of uncountable Bobs and Alices, each of whom will uniquely identify what value means to them. That is what is important when analyzing a market.

    1. Thanks for the applied economics lesson. I did that stuff back in the eighties. What that question did was allow me to expess my opinion and give my reders something to think about and maybe even respond to if they want to.

      It’s my blog. I’ll write about what I want to write about.

  4. Any pen that cost more than a dollar is nothing but a frivolous purchase by someone with more money than sense. Having said that, its their money so they can spend it however they want to, because the person buying a thousand plus dollar pen probably thinks me spending X money on dirt bikes is dumb to, so spend it however you want, its yours to do it with. Personally, I don’t know the first thing about pens, but, I make them on my lathe then sell them on eBay all the time anywhere from 20 to 50 dollars, and in my honest opinion, as far as looks goes, the pens I turn out of burl wood are a thousand times nicer looking than anything I’ve seen in magazines or online. From the finish to the way they write, and are truly one of a kind pens that are not only absolutely gorgeous to look at but write excellent to. Js

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