By Michael W. Harris
It is still (just barely) 2018, and I figured I would try and squeeze in one more post this year before my “state of the blog”/“year that was and is to come” post this coming Saturday. But the only reason I decided to do this post was that in thinking over the past year and the activation of my latent/dormant stationery bug gene, I began to muse on what would be my Top 5 pens that I have acquired over this first year diving into the hobby. What are the pens that I want to keep inked all the time if I could? What if I had to severely curtail my collection because of “reasons,” what would be the ones that I kept?
I will say that there were some relatively easy choices for what to include, while others I had to think about. I have bought (and sold) a number of pens this year, and I love all the ones I have kept, but I haven’t spent a lot of time with some of them so they are harder to judge. For example, my Platinum Higo Zogan is a beautiful pen, and one that I bought as my present to myself for landing the Memphis job. However, it is not on this list as, for as much as I love the design, nib, and the way it feels in my hand, I still sense that I am getting to know it. Plus, I have found that the Platinum fine nibs as not my favorite, and I would to swap it for a medium or broad at some point, or maybe a Platinum specialty nib (like their music nib). Seriously Platinum (and Sailor), start making loose nibs easily available!
What I am trying to say is that my criteria here is rather loose and instinctual. What do I actively reach for when I am inking up new pens? What do I have to force myself not to use in order to keep other pens in my rotation?
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As I said, I am going with my gut here. But I am going to start with two honorable mentions; pens that will always make this cut because they were my first fountain pens and I am/have taking/taken steps to ensure that they are always remain in my mind as writing experiences to relish.
This pen and ink combination was my first. The pen zero back in 2013 that took five years to manifest into a full-blown passion. The gold plating has come off the steel nib, and I am sure that I have wrecked the nib by both not taking proper care of the pen nor knowing how to not write with it like I was using a ballpoint. But I have since cleaned the pen thoroughly, greased the piston, and that aspect of it is in full working order. The nib, however, remains. I recently tried out an M600 gold nib in the body (Pelikan nibs are largely swappable depending on model) and loved the experience, so just as soon as I can afford it, I am buying one in a Medium or Broad and the pen might never go uninked again. Though I am still looking for my personal, perfect black.
This was my second ever fountain pen, bought in 2014…I think. Fairly early on this year, while learning about the hobby, I discovered how easily Lamy nibs could swap and decided to upgrade the nib on this Studio to my first ever gold nib and have loved it ever since. However, I do, from time to time, find myself forgetting about the Studio just because it is not as flashy or striking as others in my accumulation. It is a very understated and elegant pen, and with the 14K gold nib, it is a beautiful, soft, and smooth writer. And ever since the first time I inked it with the Bungu Box Imperial Purple, I knew I had found my first perfect pen and ink pairing.
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Okay, now to the actual list. These are going to be presented in the order in which I bought them…roughly. These are also only from my personal collection. I have tried out other pens at shows and from other collectors/hobbyists, but I am only including ones that I own.
So, without further ado, here are…
My Top 5 Pens for 2018
I first found pen maker Yoshi Nakama via his Etsy shop while looking for a cool pen roll (which I bought), and then also picked up this pen while on sale. Judging by his site (which lists previous projects down the right-hand side), it was an early pen he made while still honing his skills. For that reason, it is not nearly as flashy or artistic as his current output, but it is still a wonderful pen. It is a typical torpedo-shape, and the blue/purple/brown shimmery material is stunning and is what really sold me. But then, I wrote with it: a perfectly tuned nib that just glided across the page. It was a transformative experience and has got me wanting to send out more nibs for tuning. To say nothing of wanting to dive into the custom pen maker market. I have ideas…so many ideas.
However, I am not 100% sold on the Noodler’s ink for my default pairing with this pen. I have also used Colorverse’s Ham #65 and Einstein Ring and loved them as well. I sense more testing in my future.
The inclusion of this pen is as much about the pen as it is about the ink I use exclusively in it. The Purple Cosmos was one of those pens that as soon as I saw it I knew I wanted it, but I had to slowly convince myself to buy it because it was (as still is) the most expensive pen I have bought. But I loved the material and between wanting to try out a Sailor, and a serious case of FOMO, I finally purchased it. It was not, however, love at first write. I found the gold nib to be strangely stiff at first, but I continued to use it and began to enjoy it more. Then came the day I inked it up with Soft Snow of Ohara and fell in love.
I love purple inks of all shades (as you might be able to tell by looking through the photos on this post), but Soft Snow is such a complex purple. It contains shades of blue and grey, and once I saw it on the page I just could not imagine using another ink in my Purple Cosmos.
The tragic passing of Jim Rouse in 2018 was a blow to the pen community. I had only learned of him and his work a not long before his death via the Pen Addict podcast, but as soon as I learned about Rouse and his S.I.G. nib, I knew I wanted to try one. I love a good pocket pen and decided that my preferred pairing would be the Model XLV with a S.I.G., but was not wild about the color choices available at the time I was looking. Quite uncharacteristically of me, I decided to wait knowing that Franklin-Christoph routinely rotates various colors in and out of stock. However, I had almost decided to pull the trigger on another color when their Ghost material popped into the XLV line-up and I finally hit buy. It was only one week later that Jim Rouse passed and Franklin-Christoph pulled all their remaining S.I.G. nibs from sale and eventually raffled/auctioned them off as a benefit for his two beloved grandchildren (I tried to pick up another one from the raffle but was unsuccessful).
I consider myself fortunate to have gotten one of Jim’s nibs. While it took me some time to adjust to the unique design, I now love writing with it. It gives my handwriting some unique qualities, and I may have also finally found a good ink pairing with Colorverse’s Pale Blue Dot…a fitting tribute to a man who, by all accounts, was a kind, gentle, and giving soul to the world. I am sad that I never got to meet him.
I knew that if I were ever to buy a Visconti pen that it would probably be on the used market. Not only are their pens incredibly expensive, their nibs sometimes have “issues” out of the box. For those reasons, when the combination of a Visconti, music themed, sub $100 price, and a seller I trusted came up…well it may have taken some convincing, but I finally made a deal and I have not regretted it yet.
The nib was a wonderous thing, even in steel, and the wet Bungu Box ink, which is the only ink I have ever, and will ever, use in it, makes the experience even better. I will probably, however, never make the jump up to the really expensive Viscontis (say the Homo Sapiens or Opera Masters), but the Hall of Music made me at least Visconti-curious. Curious enough to have pulled the trigger on my final purchase of 2018, and the last entrant on this list.
This entry is a “frankenpen” in the truest sense of the word. The body is a TWSBI Diamond AL in silver, the nib is a Visconti steel fine that was set and tuned by the madman of nibs Ralph Reyes, that I then took the body and dyed it purple since I don’t really care for clear pens. Truth be told, half the reason I got the pen was to test out the TWSBI dyeing method that I had read about and the other half was all about getting another Visconti nib! It also did not hurt that the seller was a friend from undergrad who had been a subtle push along the way towards getting back in the fountain pen game. This friend also cut me a great deal that also included the TWSBI inkwell and a bottle of J. Herbin Emerald of Chivor. The inkwell and ink alone bought new are more than I paid for the entire package (the seller is not only a good friend, but just an amazing and generous human being in general).
And I could not be happier. If I were to keep one pen inked all the time to be a true workhorse, a daily driver, this would be it. The nib is fantastic, and I love just how personal and customized the pen is. It is truly a one-of-a-kind pen, and it is mine.
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So, there they are, my top 5 personal pens for 2018. Not sure if I will do another one of these lists in 2019, though it would be interesting to see how many of these stick around until next December. But until then these are my favorites. What are yours?
Also, make sure to check out my other posts detailing some of my journey into the world of fountain pens and stationery from this past year. They can all be found under the “pens” category on my blog.