What Makes a Good Pen?

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!


9 thoughts on “What Makes a Good Pen?

  1. A good, smooth-writing nib is all important to my. An even, and ample ink flow is next on my list.

    My preferred filling system has always been lever fillers. That said, I like the convenience cartridges offer when traveling.

    As for materials, I’m not sure that I have a real preference. However, I prefer vintage pens as opposed to the current ones.

    1. I would agree with almost all of that – the “almost” referring to the fact that lever fillers did not head my list of sac fillers. I do like them, though, and I have several.

  2. // … 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 like those ones, too. And I have seen more ef or even eef #3 nibs with moderate flex here than in Swan’s with #2 or #4 nibs.

    Best wishes

  3. Deb…at the risk of probably repeating myself…for me, a pen is for writing.
    Yes they can be beautiful, light or heavy, and fill in a variety of ways, but without a nib that puts script onto a page the way that suits you…. it is essentially a stick.
    I don’t think this is oversimplifying…
    For me again, it really is about the nib.
    But I’m as attached to the holder of the nib as anyone.

    I have an ‘ebon’ Waterman #7 with pink insert and ……one of the most awesome nibs ever made…. the Pink nib.

    However if I had to grab one pen and get on a space ship to eternity …I’d probably take my Swan SF 230. with its soft , almost superflex nib .
    And that would be because I haven’t yet found a Swan SF 530.
    And I’d feel bad that I couldn’t bring the red ripple 52 s with their semiflex nibs……

    Soft flexible nibs in 20’s. BHR pens really do it for me, and in red ripple / wood grain if possible, black is very nice too…..

    Eyedroppers are great for the sheer simplicity…and once you ‘understand’ them they are so easy to use. But I’m used to lever fillers as they are easy to fix .

    Actually , I could bang on ad nauseum about most of the pens I have….but mostly it’s the way they write that does it for me .

    1. I don’t disagree with anything you say here. The SF230 is one of my favourites. I have several.
      An SF530 will take a lot of searching. Mabie Todd didn’t make a lot of No 5 nibs at any time. Actually, I like the No 3. Above that the nibs are too big to be comfortable for me.

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