The Best Pen (Not Your Favourite, the *Best* Pen)

There’s a discussion going on in one of the pen boards on the subject of, “which is the best pen?”  In a way it’s a silly subject because there is no best pen.  There’s a multitude of really good pens and it depends on what you want from a pen.  In another way, though, it opens up an interesting discussion where unexpected pens are brought forward.

For myself, most of the pens I would consider as best come from the earlier decades.  Heading my list, I think, would be an Onoto, one of the slender ones from the teens or twenties.  Splended flexible nibs, the best filling mechanism and black hard rubber.  What more could one ask for?  Another possible is the Waterman 52 in red ripple with a flexible nib.  Any one of a number of 1920s Swans would be a winner as well.  Superb nibs and style in spades.  I often think that no subsequent pen has been better than those 1920s Swans.  They, too, would be a contender for the best pen.  I have to admit that there are one or two modern pens that are in with a shout as well.  My Vanishing Point is so convenient, has a great nib and has a style all of its own.  I have a Platinum 3776 in burgundy.  It’s a nice pen to look at and it has a superb soft fine nib.  It’s not at all flexible – not a requirement for me for  everyday note-taking and blog-writing – but the softness makes it very comfortable to write with.

Is that it?  Are those all my contenders for the best pen?  Well, no.  I used to have an early Sheaffer Flat Top in black hard rubber.  The nib was an absolute nail as many Sheaffers are, but it was a delight to write with.  I wish I still had it.  I also had a Conklin Crescent filler – one of the real ones – not those recent copies – and it was a superflex.  That was my pen for correspondence for a while.  It enhanced my writing enormously.

Looking back over my list there are obvious gaps, large pen manufacturers that don’t appear.  There are no Parkers, for instance.  I’ve had many Parkers that I’ve enjoyed, both English and American, but none of them have had that mixture of characteristics which would qualify them as best.  Perhaps if I got my hands on one of those open-nib Parker 17s it might qualify.  I had one some time ago, but it sold quickly and I didn’t have time to really enjoy it as much as I would have liked.  No Conway Stewarts feature, either.  They include many beautiful pens and an immense variety of styles and nibs.  I have quite a few in my “collection” but none of them inspire me in day-to-day use.  The pre-war 286 comes close, but Conway Stewart nibs don’t really compete with some of those I have chosen.

Wahl Eversharps, Mentmores, Croxleys, Summits and many others are all great pens that fall short of best for me for one reason or another but may work well for you.  I would like to hear which pens you consider best.  Surprise me.


10 thoughts on “The Best Pen (Not Your Favourite, the *Best* Pen)

  1. It might be difficult to surprise you Deb – your experience in the world of pens means that you probably already know the good from the mediocre. You’re right of course, it’s mostly those from the 1920 – 1930 period that tick the right boxes – and what makes that so you ask – well, two things really, the nib and the looks of a pen. I agree that Parkers are mostly nails, although some of their filling systems are innovative and worthwhile, but their nibs lack the ability to bring out the best in our writing, and Sheaffer are a close second in that ‘lack of character’ stakes.
    One of my favourites – although I’m not a letter writer – is a Waterman 52 from the later ’20s, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise in view of their all round quality, and I’ve a couple of Pitman’s Phonos from the ’30 that are great pieces of kit.
    Your comments about Swan/M.T. are likely to be shared by many folk, which is why, in my opinion, that Steve Hull’s book is going to be a winner.
    Your comments about CS may reflect the fact that whilst, as you say, their appearance is great, they mostly lack flexible nibs, so don’t appeal to writers who enjoy some character to their writing.

  2. It isn’t because Conway Stewart nibs are inflexible that I don’t regard them as the best. Quite a few are flexible, in fact. In any case, there are many inflexible nibs that I like. It’s more that very few Conway Stewart nibs – of any description – have the characteristics that I enjoy.

  3. there may be some argument for suggesting that possibly this topic is European being compared to States/Canadian, where nibs have been nails for a very long time. However, no doubt there are many who will disagree with that thought:-) – possibly in the main subscribers to Deb’s blog are Brits/Europeans.
    But I am convinced that mostly a pen is known by its nib, and body works come second – like many, I’m a lover of flexible nibs, so I vote for Waterman and M.T.
    Let’s hope we hear more from Deb’s readers.

  4. As you well know, it’s all about the nib! Well not always, I don’t carry or use one of them, but if asked by a non pen person to recommend a vintage fountain pen to buy for use, my answer is invariably the Parker 51. More or less bullet proof, but still, when you have handled and serviced as many, as I am sure you have, you’ll appreciate their individual build and characteristics.

  5. It is a great pen. I have one but I don’t use it often. My difficulty with hooded nib pens like the 51 is that I constantly have to check that it’s the right way up. The littlle arrow on the hood of a 61 is an improvement in this regard.

  6. Unfortunately, I have never tried an Onoto pen with flex nib (maybe Debbie can point me to a good specimen), but I have several Montblanc pens from the 1930’s and 40’s with very flexible nibs. They are far more flexible than the Waterman’s pens I bought as being flexible. At the same time, they are very smooth writers, when not flexed. Another feature of Montblanc is that one can get them as piston fillers, which in my opinion is better than button or lever fillers. My Montblancs are mostly button-fillers, but I’m looking out for those piston-fillers. So I would enter a piston-fill flex Montblanc from the 1930′ og 40′ as a contender for ‘the best pen’.

  7. I agree that it’s all about the nib – well, almost all. The pen’s barrel needs to be suited to the writer’s hand as well. My impression is that vintage pens are often rather short and sometimes also rather thin. Compare for example the Jinhao’s that Deb recently write about to a Mabie Todd Swan 1060, an Osmia Supra 73 or a Sheaffer Crest. The latter three pens all have fantastic nibs but (unless capped) are too small and sometimes also too thin for persons with a large hand. Perhaps average hand sizes have increased, and/or perhaps relatively small vintage pens are those that most frequently show up for sale. In any event, I think that the world owes a debt of eternal gratitude to persons like Deb who make it possible to actually use for daily writing a 70+ year old fountain pen. How many household items of the 1930’s/1940’s are still fit for that purpose?

    1. Yes, that’s a point of which I’m always aware. So many of those old pens – and not just the high-cost ones – were made to be almost indestructible. I’ve done some restoration of vintage motorbikes and often parts had to be fabricated to replace those that had rusted away. Old lever or button fillers? Just pop in a new sac and start writing!

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