A recurrent theme in the fountain pen discussion groups is the expensive pen that needs work before it will write properly. Often it is something as simple as a flush with soapy water that is required but other times it is more serious work that is needed to improve the behaviour of the nib or to achieve the proper level of ink flow. Why should that be? Do the manufacturers of some expensive pens (no names no pack drill) believe that they are bought only to be looked at?
It has been suggested that the producers of some of those pens that fail so annoyingly have to keep costs down and one of the areas that suffers is quality control. I can’t say whether that’s right or wrong but I would have thought that a pen that cost £300.00 or more would give at least a little profit margin.
What surprises and heartens me is how well cheap pens work – cheap pens, in my book, being pens that cost less than £30.00. Though they’re not my cup of tea, the low-priced Lamy pens have a deservedly good reputation for working out of the box or blister pack. Even many Chinese pens, so often criticised for not working well, are now much better than their reputation. I have found low-cost Indian pens to be excellent and I think that experience is shared by many.
Was it like this in the old days? Did people have to take their Parkers and Conway Stewarts back to the shop because they didn’t write well? It seems impossible to tell, but I have a theory.
When pens are an absolutely necessary tool, as in India today or in Europe and America in times gone by, quality control would have been very important indeed. Waterman or Onoto wouldn’t want word to get out that their new pens were faulty. Certainly, there wasn’t the internet around for people to complain to the whole world but word of mouth could be effective, too. It meant that manufacturers had to try harder.
Most purchasers of new and very expensive pens don’t buy them to be their sole writing instrument. To a greater degree than ever before, other aspects of these expensive pens are as important – or even more important – than their ability to write well. So many of those pens are offered for resale, months or years later, uninked. The fact that they have never been inked makes for a premium price. Perhaps it’s hardly surprising that the manufacturers don’t spend a lot of money on quality control. The relatively rare buyer who uses his limited edition pen is often disappointed.