We love our pens and so we should: they are small objects of desire. Indeed, if we didn’t love them we wouldn’t be here, but from one person to another the pens that we love are different. My hands are small but that doesn’t mean I can only work with small pens. What I can’t manage is heavy: those Chinese pens with brass barrels and caps or, sadly, Italix Pens which have rather nice nibs.
Equating weight with quality is a modern idea. I would go so far as to say that it is entirely mistaken. Historically many of the best pens, Onotos, Swans, Duofolds and Pelikans weighed very little and did not tire the hand in extended periods of writing as some modern metal-based pens do. Metal, of course does not need to mean heavy. The wonderful overlay pens of the early years of the twentieth century weighed very little, as did Wahl Eversharp’s metal pens and even Parker’s much more recent flighters.
So what do I like specifically? First and foremost I’m a Mabie Todd person and most pens that came from their factories suit my hand very well. That’s because those were very well-made pens that would suit any hand. From the small SM1s of the late forties and fifties to some of the much larger pens from the twenties and thirties they all suit me very well and a pen that is comfortable in the hand encourages one to write and enables one to write well.
I like Conway Stewarts too, particularly the hard rubber ones from the thirties. They are among the most weightless of pens and the original nibs are very good – not necessarily flexible – but that isn’t a requirement for me. I appreciate their colourful pens from the forties and fifties too. It gives pleasure to own and use a brightly-patterned pen, though it probably doesn’t add anything to the writing quality!
I’ve had a fondness for the De La Rue Onoto from the beginning. I had one that was incapable of being repaired, long ago, when parts were unavailable. I used it as an eyedropper filler for a long time. It had a wonderful oblique stub nib which improved my handwriting immensely. When parts became available again I had the pen restored and later, in a moment of inexplicable insanity I sold it – a foolish action I have regretted ever since.
I’ve had several US or Canadian-made Duofolds, full-size and Junior. These too are splendid writers as also are their Newhaven cousins. Whether to write with or restore, the high manufacturing quality of Duofolds make them a pleasure. The same is true of Sheaffers, particularly before they became enamoured of odd filling systems.
I must limit myself because, truth be told, there are few vintage pens that I don’t enjoy. Modern pens don’t appeal to me in the same way though I don’t entirely dismiss them. In today’s output, pens from Japan have nibs that work well for me – and it’s all about the nib.
5 thoughts on “My Title Bag Is Empty”
In my (limited) experience the main differences between contemporary and vintage pens are weight, ink flow and firmness of nibs. After discovering vintage pens I had to learn to write again and part of the learning process was steering across the paper a pen that weighs next to nothing. Once you get used to that it’s difficult to go back to contemporary heavyweights. Same as to ink flow, once you discover the pleasure of watching ink glimmer on the paper then pens that write like ballpoints lose much of their attraction. And then there are those vintage nibs with a soft feel or even a flexible nib, something rare among contemporary pens. Vintage pens have made me understand that the writing experience has little to do with the size of the barrel or the nib and even less with the prestige or the price of the pen. It’s really too bad that all that manufacturing know-how has disappeared. I’m just hoping that people like Deb will be around a while longer because if the restorers decide to call it a day…
Some insightful thoughts there, Hans. I think there will be a few of us restorers around for a bit longer…
Totally with you there Deb 👍🏻. For me , it’s all about the the nib !! A beautifully restored old Swan is the equal , and usually the better , of anything ever made.
I notice too that FPR have 14 ct gold nibs for their handmade Indian jobs ….for only $158 US, I picked up a gorgeous gold overlay Swan eyedropper with a fine wet noodle nib for $130 from Greg Minuskin last week and cannot see the comparison between that and an Indian ‘cheapy’ (not that they aren’t great pens or anything ! I have a few of them with the steel flex nib that I have ….modified ! and they are superb writers )
I also have several x450 Jin hao’s , and even though they are wonderfull and reliable ( medium ball tip!! ) writers, I cannot see why they needed to be quite so heavy .
Also, as a restorer , there are easy ways to pick up bargains that a lot of people shy away from !
Thanks for great blogs Deb. Cheers.
Jinhao’s X range is probably the worst for unneccessary weight. Indians have made some good modern pens, often in a pleasantly traditional style. I’m glad you enjoy the blog, Rob.