Most muggles, sorry non-fountain pen enthusiasts, would think that £20 (around $30) is an exorbitant amount to spend on something as seemingly trivial as a pen. You may remember thinking the same thing long ago before being bitten by the pen enthusiasm bug or you might be financially constrained to the point that indulging your pen habit has to be pegged at this level.
Well rejoice with me my friend because straightened finances do not mean that writing pleasure is beyond you! In fact it has been my experience many times over that a pen well under £20 delivers the writing pleasure where a much more expensive writing instrument sometimes fails.
For argument’s sake I would like to group these pens into three broad categories. First there are what I call imports. An import I define here is a pen, usually from places like China or India, where manufacturing costs are so low that a number of pen makers may pay homage (or copy) more expensive pens and produce their much cheaper version of that pen, or derivatives thereof as well as making their own.
I tend to find these pens something of a mixed bag. I have to say here that I am predominantly talking about cheaper chinese pen imports here. I have little experience of Indian pens and I have heard really good accounts of these from reputable sources. My problem with these Chinese imports as Forrest Gump would say, “You never know what you’re gonna get.” Some work well, others look nice, still others neither look nice nor work particularly well. I know I’m painting with a broad brush here but in my experience I’ve never yet had one of these pens where I think, “I would have been happy to pay more for this” more often I think, “I’m glad I didn’t spend any more…” But when they can be picked up for two or three pounds it can sometimes be worth the experiment. Some of the more reputable makers such as Jin Hao are stocked by reliable pen sellers like Goulet pens who know their stuff and can be great value workhorse pens…
Then there are what I call starters, pens that are deliberately aimed at those learning to write. These are produced by some of the major pen manufacturers to appeal to younger people and children who are learning to handwrite. Of these some stand out, for me the Pelikan Pelikano and the Pilot Kakuno would be two I would look at if needing to purchase in this category. Some would also include the Lamy Safari here as well as the Lamy ABC (their true starter pen). The advantage the Safari has as a good learning pen with lots of variety in terms of nib sizes leaving room for future development. I think these are generally a good investment if buying for a young relative but perhaps , apart from the Lamy, lack the sophistication needed for the developing fountain pen user.
Thirdly there are what I call entry-level pens. This area is a frugal pen buyer’s gold mine in my view. Many wonderful pens from major manufacturers can be had at this price that will give immeasurable pleasure and years of good service. Pens such as the Lamy Safari, Kaweco Classic Sport and the Noodler’s Ahab are three examples that deserve mention. these pens, although tending to be made from cheaper materials often exceed their price point in value, style and usefulness.
Some of my finest writing experiences have been with sub £20 pens. I have fond memories of my first Kaweco Sport, Ohto Tasche and the like, reaching back as far as my first Schaeffer no-nonsense fountain pen. All of the pens that I own in this category are regularly found as part of my daily carry to this day.
Points to remember:
- Stay within your budget, resist over reaching yourself, its hard to do (heaven knows I’ve failed at this many times.
- Remember to if possible try pens out before you buy, doesn’t matter that it’s not expensive, better safe than sorry. Better one that you are happy with than a waste of cash (pen shops should excel here with the ability to get a hold of the pen you want before purchase.
- If yore a beginner with fountain pens stick to cartridges, they’re much simpler to change and use, you can always switch to bottled inks and converters later
- If you buy a pen and it works well, use it as much as you can, get used to it and mould it to your own style.
What else is there to say? Well perhaps only that one day I would like to find out from pen manufacturers themselves the cost per unit to them of these pens and the markup they allow retailers. I know we’ve all got to make a living, but I’m all for keeping budget pen prices as low as possible and therefore encouraging more people in to the fine writing arena.
What do you think about pens at this price point? Which are your favourites and why?