On one of the pen boards I saw a thread entitled something like, “what makes a good pen?” I wasn’t tremendously impressed by the answers but I thought the question an interesting one. Here are a few ideas of my own.
Nib. Flexibility or firmness are personal choices, not an indication of the quality of the nib. You may rave about those super-flexible nibs suitable for copperplate when all you can do is the modified printing one sees so much these days. I do a proper cursive best served, to my mind, by a firm nib with a well-sculpted tip.
Design. There are at least two sorts of design, possibly three. No, actually definitely three. There is the design for appearance which adds nothing to utility of the pen. The Sheaffer Balance is an example of that. Then there is designed complexity for its own sake. Yes, I’m looking at you, Snorkel. I know it seems like I’m picking on Sheaffer but that’s only because. Then there is designed for utility and comfort in the hand, for a pen that doesn’t tire one in the long haul of a day’s writing. I’m thinking of the Swan 1060. Not the post-war very tapered one but the slightly tapered wartime one; a pen of great elegance and utility. I like the model with the No 3 nib. I hasten to add that this is not the only pen that I would regard as well designed. It’s just an example.
Materials. I hate those horrid concealed brass pipework jobs, like many Chinese pens and the execrable Italix. (I am aware that not all Italixes are brass bodied; most are). Pens do not require weight to work well, it is rather the reverse that is true. Acrylic, celluloid or hard rubber will do very well. I especially favour hard rubber with its warmth to the touch and proven durability. I snigger at those commentators who talk about materials “feeling cheap”. We won’t get into abuse of “precious resin”.
Colour and Pattern. Most of what makes a pen useful for me has nothing to do with what colour it is. Many of my pens are black but I do appreciate good colour patterns. Examples of what I appreciate are in the vast range of patterns employed by Conway Stewart, the subtler patterns of Swan, the hard rubber ripple by Waterman and even the very bright acrylic used by Moonman in the Duofold lookalike.
Filling System. Really, nowadays, it makes little difference to me. Eyedropper fillers tend to blob and are rather a pain to fill but I’m not saying I would never consider one. I hold the cartridge/converter filler in some contempt for lack of imagination and taking the easy way out but I use them anyway. What I don’t use are the overly complex examples by Parker and Sheaffer made during that prewar period when it was all about gimmicks. Sac fillers, especially the button filler and the Swan Leverless, piston fillers, plunger fillers, the Ford Patent, bulb fillers – they’re all good.
Have I annoyed you enough with my prejudices? Tell me about yours!