Considering <$50 Fountain Pens

Sheaffers Snorkel
Nib of my parent’s Sheaffer Snorkel

“How It’s Made” has created a monster and that monster is me.  Let me explain.  While watching the show “How It’s Made” on the Science Channel, I saw the making of fountain pens.  This intrigued me enough to go through my desk drawers and see if I could find a few old fountain pens I had lying around.  The only one that I had ever used was the Parker Vector from many years ago.  It is an okay pen, but I have found my writing has gotten smaller and smaller over the years and the medium nib size was not close the Pilot Precise RT v5 (0.5mm) pens that I have been using for several years.  The other pens I found had not been inked by me.  One was a Sheaffer Snorkel that belonged to my parents.  The other was a Camlin 47 that I don’t remember buying.  I think it may have been a gift from a co-worker who went home to India and brought gifts back for everyone.  For a couple of days, I used the Parker Vector before I stumbled on a clearance item just before Christmas at Office Depot.  The pen was a Yafa Icona Cartridge fountain pen made in Italy.

Borghini - V110S - Yafa Icona
V110S – AKA Yafa Icona Mfd. by Borghini – FAP s.r.l.

I thought these would be some neat gifts for my nieces and other people and hunted around until I had about six of them.  I did not feel too bad about my investment as the markdown price was from $16 to $2. These pens came with about seven color cartridges and I went through the darker colors over the next few weeks before experiencing some issues.  The blue, purple and pink cartridges worked flawlessly until they ran out of ink.  Then the black ink cartridges were tried and they continually dried in the nib.  This was frustrating and made for a great excuse to start looking for a real pen as reviews of the Yafa basically equated to it being a $2 pen performance wise. (edit: Since re-inking this pen with decent Waterman ink, it is a good pen with a broad medium nib and a little more wet than most of my other pens sans the Camlin 47.)

You know what happened next, the Internet fountain pen community sucked me into the never ending debates of the best pen, ink, paper, etc… Can I just say for the record that there should be a 12 step program for fountain pen fanatics.  Thankfully I am not ruining my health or wasting my fortunes on the hobby, but I could see things going terribly wrong without some constraints.  So, I started with the same penny pinching scheme I always do. Which is, what’s the best I can get for the least amount of money.  Call me cheap, but I call it staying married.

While looking for a potential pen candidate I looked to the Fountain Pen Network, Amazon reviews, and The Goulet Pen Company website.  I think I spent most of a Sunday afternoon watching the Fountain Pen 101 video series and at some point found the best fountain pens under $50 video.  So my first new fountain pen was the Pilot Metropolitan with a fine nib along with a converter.  I really like this pen.  The flow is not too wet and it lays down a fairly fine line.  This pen is still the smoothest on paper of any of the pens I have bought so far.  For the price, this pen is a real value.  Then I started seeing the reviews on the TWSBI Eco.  I ordered this pen and it quickly sidelined the Metro, but the ink I first used in it, Noodler’s Q-E’ternity, tended to feather in my cheap Big Lots spiral notebook.  So then a little more research into Goulet’s top five under $50 lead me to the top of the list and the Lamy Safari in an extra fine nib.  I also ordered the fine nib for this one to see what it was like.  Compared to my TWSBI Eco, the Safari was a bantam weight as it lacked the balance the TWSBI had when the cap was posted.  But the Safari EF nib was laying down the finest lines of any pen so far.  For several weeks now I have floated between all of these pens and based on my work journal where I take at least two pages of notes per day, no pen has been used more than a few days before trying some other combination of ink and pen.  That was until I found an Amazon warehouse deal on a 2015 Al-Star Special Edition Lamy Holiday Gift set.

Lamy Al-Star Special Edition Gift Set
2015 Lamy Al-Star Special Edition Gift Set

For $50, I was able to purchase the Copper Orange Al-Star pen with six cartridges, a converter, and bottle of Lamy blue ink.  It came with a medium nib that I tried, but found to be too wide for my style of writing.  A quick swap of the EF nib from the Safari and now this has been my pen of choice.  It is interesting to note that I tried the fine nib that came with the Safari and compared it to the medium nib on the Al-Star and the ink lines from both had no perceivable difference in size.  I am pretty sure the feeds on the Al-Star and Safari are identical, but I have found the flow with the Al-Star is a little better than the feed on the Safari.

Some of the inks I have played with other than the Noodler’s Q-E’ternity are some Parker Quink permanent in black, Waterman serenity blue in the Yafa, and an expensive bottle of Pilot Ajasai Iroshuzuku.  My experience with inks so far is that if the manufacturer offers an ink it seems to work best in that manufacturer’s pens.  I know this is not what I see reported in the forums and other reviews, but when I had a cartridge that came with a pen and used it up and then used an industrial syringe to refill the cartridge with another ink, it did not perform as well.  What I did figure out with inks is buying a bottle you don’t like can be an expensive mistake.  So I have subscribed to the Goulet Pens Ink Drop program and just got a bunch of blue purples that I have tried with a calligraphy dip nib.  What was interesting about trying the inks with the dip nib is that some kept the nib inked much longer than others.  For samples of the different pens and nibs and ink samples see this gallery on my photo web site.  For those interested in the Camlin 47, it is an interesting pen.  It lays down a wet line and when I tried it using the Pilot Iroshizuku on some Oxford paper that is made from stone paper pulp, it made some puffy marshmallow looking fonts as it dried.  On normal paper this ink and pen combination were fine.  None of the other pens and inks exhibited this strange behavior on the stone pulp paper.  As far as that paper goes, it is a strange beast indeed. Were it not for the perforations at the binding, I think it would bend the wire binding before ripping away.  I also felt like the nibs started picking up some sort of coating off of the paper as I wrote on it.  I will probably keep that pad for ball points.

Now to start the countdown to the Triangle Pen Show the first weekend in June.

One thought on “Considering <$50 Fountain Pens”

  1. My how things can change in such a short period of time. I have picked up a few more inexpensive pens. A Kaweco Sport, that should arrive any day, a Pelikano Junior and Platinum Preppy. The Preppy produces the smallest line of any pen, but it is a little scratchy. The Pelikano Jr. produces a fat wet line, but I have to say it is the smoothest of all pens on paper.

    Now the the great part of the time between the original post and now is the realization that I have a great fountain pen store and resource within 25 miles of my house. I paid a visit to “Crazy Alan’s Gift and Pen Emporium” yesterday with a plan to just look around and see what he had available. Well, after an hour with Alan, I walked out of the store with a new Lamy 2000 pen, Rhodia note pad and some Private Reserve Black Magic Blue for less that what I could have purchased these items online or mail order. I have been using the 2000 today and feel like I now have a “real” pen upon which to compare to my inexpensive pens. While the 2000 is EF like my other Lamy’s, the Safari and AL-Star, it is much smoother on paper compared to those pens.
    I guess my learning experience from all of this so far is, yes you can learn a great deal about the fountain pen hobby online and you can buy everything from $4 to $400 pens sight unseen, but now I know what I am missing by not making these transactions in person where I can feel the balance of the pen, sample the pen’s writing by dipping it and writing on quality paper. I think I am lucky so far in that most of my online purchases of pens have been for some mostly inexpensive pens and I think I faired well and like having them in my collection, but once I am at price point over $50 plus I will probably hold off on any purchases until I can try them out at a pen show or Crazy Alan’s. I don’t think Alan has an online store, but while I was there he was working a deal on a Pelikan Mini via SMS, so it might be worth checking with him when you want a pen especially if you are headed to a pen show where he will have tables which are most east coast (USA) shows if I understood correctly. Check out Alan on Facebook:


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