What I look for in a…

… man? Sorry to disappoint you, but nah, today I will not be talking about dating, romance, or living happily ever after. Today, I launch a new label on my blog, called “Two Drops”. It will consist of my humble two cents’ (drops) on things in general, but of course related to stationery and writing. Not fortnightly inkings, nor a review, but just some scribblings of the things I think about. Today, in particular, I will talk about what I would look for in a fountain pen.

The design
The reason why I am collecting brands of fountain pens now instead of focusing a few favourite brands is that I want to try the lower price range of pens from different brands before moving up the ladder. I always try to buy the cheaper pens of each brand to start with.

NOTE: The following paragraph may not be suitable for all readers. Censor it yourself and move on to the next paragraph…

When I visit other people’s abodes or other countries, the most important thing I will look out for to determine my impression of them would be the toilets. I think that many people take toilets for granted, thinking that since all the waste goes there, it doesn’t matter if it is filthy or not. Hmm, not exactly. Toilets represent our very basic needs, and if our basic needs cannot be fulfilled properly and hygienically, it really says a lot about the people who are responsible for the toilet. Sorry to use toilets  as an example to make my point. But it really is important to me.

– END of potentially unsuitable section –

So, my principle is the following: if you cannot design a cheap range of products nicely, I am not sure I would be interested in your premium ones. It’s a very simple logic, and I’m pretty sure many people will agree with me. Imagine looking a lousy-looking fountain pen, the cheapest of Brand X. You might be curious and think: “Hmm, I wonder how their better ones are like.” Then maybe you see a premium grade Brand X, and you would probably think: “Wow, a beautiful pen, but it is too expensive for me!”

On the other hand, if you see a beautiful but cheap pen from Brand Y, you are already won over. Great price, great design, totally value for money. Doesn’t matter if the nib is falling apart, let’s get a replacement nib somewhere. Then you check out Brand Y’s premium collections. And you decide that you want all of them because the “Brand Y’s pens are value for money” concept is already stuck in your brain.

(Wait wait, let’s take a sip of coffee and talk about disclaimers. Brands X and Y above do not, whether implicitly or explicitly, refer to any particular brand of pens. Also, the above principle and opinions are NOT representative of any sample group that I paid to tell me the opinions I want to hear. They are simply my own analysis based on my own personal opinion.)

The shape, size and weight
The shape of the pen is important. I love fat pens that have a bit of contour in the pen’s body. Or they could be cigar-shaped. I don’t mind that too, as long as they are fat. If your pen is dead-cylindrical, better cut more faces into the barrel, or make a beautiful cap, highlights or motifs to take away the mundane straightness.

While there are people who like light pens, I prefer heavy ones. The reason is that I have a tendency to write really hard on the paper, which does not help since I am a left-handed person who pushes a pen across a page. If a pen is light, I tend to grip it tightly and push it more into the paper. A heavy pen already rests firmly on the paper surface, so I use a little less effort to write (more energy spent on controlling the pen), which might eventually improve my handwriting and my control over the pens. Yes, I am optimistic about this! But then I grew up using cheap and light ballpoint pens and rollerballs, so I can actually adapt to both heavy and light pens pretty well.

The nib
Of course, you are writing using the nib to transfer the ink onto the paper, so what can be more important than the nib! In my quest for smooth-as-silk nibs, I have found out that not everyone may like gliding, smooth nibs. Some people prefer to feel the nib on the paper. I therefore group them into two factions: the smooth voyagers and the tactile feelers. And which faction do I join? Probably somewhere in between, peeking at the smooth voyagers.

I have had a few fountain pens, none of which are silky-smooth on paper (never tried a gold nib before in my life, only steel ones). But I discovered that my quest for ultra-smooth comfort nibs is unnecessary, since I already have so many fountain pens that I love, which may not be ice-skating on paper. The quest is probably just an excuse for me to buy more fountain pens to try out, then.

Another aspect of the nib which is über-important to me is the nib design. I love unusual nibs. To me, “unusual” is anything that is not the conventional fountain pen (e.g. the type of FP you would draw when you need to do a quick illustration for someone). Also, the engravings on the nib are also a pull factor. I can live with a plain-looking nib, but most of my favourite fountain pens are those with pretty nib designs. The pen can look ugly, but if it has a beautiful nib I might even like it very much.

And so, the above are what I look for in a fountain pen. They may seem to be very obvious things, but I’m sure other people focus on different aspects as well. Such as the filling mechanism, the material of the pen, the type of cap, the functionality of the clip. To me those are less important.

What are the things you look out for in a fountain pen? Have you found your ideal one yet?

6 Responses

  1. Maybelline Tan 5 July 2012 / 9:13 AM

    I'm sure your subconscious "know 'em when I see 'em" part of your brain actually knows what you really like! Share with us when you've worked it out! 😉

  2. Rori 5 July 2012 / 8:56 AM

    Very interesting post. I'm not sure I've sat down and figured out exactly what I look for in a pen–I just know 'em when I see 'em. I'm going to work this out in my notebook…

  3. Maybelline Tan 27 June 2012 / 2:15 PM

    Hello Mike, first of all, thanks for visiting my blog! I appreciate any comments and feedback about my blog, and of course you can ask a question!

    For me, there are a couple of ways I get around this problem of "left hand-unfriendly" fountain pens. Firstly, you are right (no pun intended), there are fountain pens with nibs catered to left handers. Goldspot Pens sells Pelikans like this one http://www.goldspot.com/Pelikan_pens/Pelikano/927228.html
    and Sailors like this one http://www.goldspot.com/Sailor_pens/1911_Large/11-2023-220.html
    Jetpens also have Pelikano Juniors right here http://www.jetpens.com/Pelikan-P68L-Pelikano-Junior-Fountain-Pen-Left-Handed-Nib-Blue-Body/pd/3562
    which have left-handed nibs equipped. Just do a search on their websites and you can find other colours or even other writing instruments for left handed people. I believe brands like Lamy also sell left-handed nibs for their fountain pens so you can do a nib replacement easily.

    I haven't used any left-handed fountain pen before, so I cannot judge whether they are really super for left-handers or not. What I normally do myself is to use either a soft nail buffer or brown paper (the kind you use in packaging) and draw circles and figure "8"s on them. It smoothens out the nib according to the way you hold the pen. So this means that I can use ANY fountain pen (no restrictions to left-handed ones), smooth out the nib, and use it perfectly fine. Perhaps this might be a better option for your wife if she is willing to try smoothening the nibs. However I would advise to try this method on a cheap FP first, then when she gets the hang of it, she can do it on her more expensive ones.

    I'm guessing that your Conway Stewart Nelson with a B nib is nice to use precisely because it's a B nib. I have one and only one B nib FP from Faber-Castell and I totally love it. The ink flow is generous, and helps to lubricate the nib and provide a smooth writing feel. My Montblanc 31 which is an extra fine nib was scratchy even though I smoothened it out already. If your wife doesn't mind broader-sized nibs, she can get those too, to reduce the scratchiness.

    Thanks again for the question. I should do a blog post about this topic one day. I hope my suggestions help your wife to find a (many) nice fountain pen(s) to write with, and let me know your thoughts about it!

  4. Mike Grove 27 June 2012 / 3:33 AM

    Don't know if I can reply to your blog with a question, but, while I'm right-handed and have no trouble finding a pen that feels nice to write with (my Conway Stewart Nelson with a broad nib is by far the best yet), my wife is left-handed and so far has never found a decent pen that she feels writes nicely for her. Can you recommend any pens that write smoothly/easily in the hands of a lefty? Or even, a pen that is designed specifically for lefties? Regards, Mike.

  5. Maybelline Tan 26 June 2012 / 10:46 AM

    Ooh, thanks and noted. I have a Pelikan P57 which is a Medium and alright-smooth, and my Faber-Castell broad is very smooth too. The nib size helps! That's why I prefer broader nibs to fine nibs.

    I don't know about German toilets, but I heard that the Japanese have a very specific toilet etiquette!

  6. Shangching Huitzacua 26 June 2012 / 7:40 AM

    If you want to try a ueber smooth stainless steel nib, go for a Pelikan. The M205 Duo I have is probably the smoothest nib I ever tried (of course, being a Double Broad might help a long the way)
    I actually have not developed a set guideline for fountain pen acquisition. I usually just become asphyxiate by certain pen because of the nib design and size. At this moment, I am trying to broader the size of nibs I have.
    About the water closet comment, I agree, the design and shape do reflect a lot about cultures. Big difference between German and Japanese! 🙂

I would love to hear your thoughts!