I’m not a collector. When I buy pens for myself, it’s to use them. I’m allowed to make an exception, though. Just once.
I love blue and white porcelain, and I’m quite attracted to Chinese dragons, too. Some years ago, this ridiculously cheap pen that fulfilled both of those requirements caught my eye. I paid whatever the paltry sum was, waited a few weeks for it to travel from China by mule-train and it eventually arrived. I wasn’t disappointed. Viewed purely as a porcelain blue and white object, like my dinner service or the little ornaments I have, it was beautiful. Not a work of fine art, you understand, but an eye-catching little item, worth every penny of the £1.50 or whatever it was I’d paid for it.
Viewed as a writing instrument it had rather less appeal. It was an awkward shape and it was quite heavy. That didn’t matter, though. I had no intention of writing with it. For years it adorned my desk, the top of the bookcase or my chest of drawers. It was always in sight and I was glad to see it. It didn’t fade. The blue remained blue and the white kept its purity.
I don’t know why – goodness knows I had plenty of work to be getting on with – but I picked up the dragon pen and decided I would see how well it wrote. I unscrewed the barrel and was gratified to discover that the pen was fitted with a converter. I opened the bottle of Diamine Sargasso Sea on my desk – I’m not one of those who must suit the pen with an appropriate ink from my collection of hundreds – I just have one blue ink, one green one and one red one. I never use the red one. Anyway, I plunged the nib into the ink and twisted the end of the converter. It sucked up enough ink to be going on with and I set the pen aside, closed the bottle and prepared to write. I applied nib to paper and was pleased to find that it was unexpectedly smooth and there was good ink flow. Unfortunately some of the ink flow was all over my hands! I couldn’t quite tell where the leakage was coming from but it was copious. I gathered up the whole mess and dumped it in the kitchen sink.
Ten minutes later, having scrubbed most of the peskily persistent ink off my hands and equipped myself with nitrile gloves, I disassembled the pen under the running tap. (That’s a faucet, by the way.) The converter fell apart. I gathered up its remains and threw them in the trash. I washed the ink off the pen and dried it carefully. I dug around and found one of those short international cartridges. It inserted into the pen with no problems and there were no leaks. I tried writing with the pen again and there were no disasters. The pen wrote beautifully, somewhere between a European fine and a medium. It’s not ideal, I would have to say. It’s heavy. I usually post my pens and this one will post adequately well but then it becomes very heavy indeed. The shape is peculiar. I think it was designed to show off the dragon rather than to fit the hand well. Nonetheless, it graces my desk and I’ll use it for note-taking and signing until the cartridge runs out.
These pens are still available from various Chinese pen sales sites. If you succumb to its beauty and find yourself with a dragon pen and wish to write with it, the first thing to do is to take that miserable converter out and throw it away. It might be a good idea to stamp on the converter and smash it to smithereens in memory of the mess it made of my hands which are still faintly blue.
Chinese pens have come a long way in the dozen or so years since I bought the dragon pen. Their design is generally more ergonomically satisfying, and though some of them are still ridiculously heavy, they have lost the pernicious habit of spewing ink all over your hands.