But in Europe we’re blessed with many wonderful makers producing innovative and beautiful (and often expensive) pens in small numbers. They don’t advertise; word spreads only at pen shows, on FPN, and on Instagram — so it’s easy to miss them.
Here are a few artisan pen makers on my radar that I think should be on yours, too. All photos courtesy of the manufacturers.
I had the pleasure of reviewing one of Jake’s huge ebonite pens last year. His designs are distinctive, with sci-fi and art deco influences, and unless he’s put his prices up recently, they’re very affordable — about £150.
Gimena is the brand run by Pablo of FPnibs. The company’s page has been out of action for a while — expect the link above to 404 — I hope that doesn’t mean bad news for the business itself. The designs are minimal, with sterling silver and beautiful woods, delicate rollstoppers and leaf-shaped clips. Like a refined Graf. I believe they ran at about 500 euros each.
This brand is new to me… today, in fact. But look at those designs. For 2,000 euros a pen you get a harmonious blend of textured metal and polished wood, and an 18k Jowo #6. I am utterly in love. Next time I am in Hamburg, I’m going to visit and drool.
What sets Romillo apart is that they make their own nibs, up to giant #9 size. I know of no other artisan maker that does so. And the pens are gorgeous, too: like this seamless slip-cap Sil. Reviews suggest that there might be some handcrafted quirks, but that’s part of the charm. No price list, but from what I read, expect to pay about 1,500 euros.
John Twiss is a feature at UK pen shows, with handmade pens in all kinds of crazy colours, and some crazy designs, too… like double-ended pens. By the standards of the rest of this list, his pens are dirt cheap, too — most are under £250, albeit with a steel nib.
Mora Stylos is a pen shop that produces its own range of pens called Oldwin, in fabulously retro curvy designs. With 18k #7 nibs and celluloid bodies they run around 650 euros; gold puts you up to 9k.
You wouldn’t necessarily expect a small maker in Switzerland (who also makes watches) to handmake a huge range of Japanese-style pens with more than 100 varieties of Urushi lacquer techniques, would you? But here you are: Manu Propria’s site is easy to get lost in, with so many different varieties and sizes of pens in all kinds of finishes. Expect to pay £1,500 or much much more.
Much like Twiss Pens, Faggionato produces a range of colourful, simple designs in acrylic and celluloid. Acrylic pens are about 150 euro.
Astoria’s main designs are the David and the Goliath. The Goliath is the standout: a piston filler with a huge #8 nib, coming in at around 1,100 euros. If you want Toledo metalwork, make that 6k plus.
Clavijo pens have real style, but diverse designs. There’s a gorgeous minimalist streamline pen (1920), a classic cigar (er, Cigar), a flat top with roller clip (Sofia) and others, each with 18k nibs. Every one looks great. And from reviews on FPN, they seem to be under 400 euros, too.
There’s never been a better time to be a pen-lover
There are other makers I could have listed here… plenty of them. And isn’t that fabulous? If you have a few hundred euros you could buy a Pelikan, back a few risky Kickstarters, buy a hundred Jinhaos… or you could fire up Google Translate and email one of these artisans and keep the craft of handmade pens alive.
Realistically, there’s no way I’m sneaking a Manu Propria or Elbwood onto my credit card any time soon. But one can dream. And until then, maybe I’ll start planning which Clavijo I like best.
Do you know of any artisan fountain pen makers I missed? Let me know in the comments.