It’s easy to get fatigued by all the new pen models that hit the market every month. Most new releases by Lamy, Sailor, Aurora, Conklin and co, let’s face it, are just the same pens in different colours, and they often run to the same basic designs, the same foundational principles, the same stock nibs.
Every now and again you want to be refreshed by something genuinely new and different, to get you excited about the hobby again and prove that there is variety and innovation out there. Here are four rabbitholes to check out, all picked from my personal experience.
Tactile wonders: Desiderata Pens and Graf von Faber-Castell
Sometimes you just need to get away from shiny plastic for a bit.
Pierre at Desiderata Pens does things his own way. Whether he’s using Delrin, ebonite or wood, his handmade pens are distinctively different. I have a Soubriquet in cocobolo and ebonite, and it’s one of my most treasured possessions. I am coveting one of his BAMF pens next. You can pick up a pen from around $150.
On the European side, Graf von Faber-Castell does masterful things with all kinds of woods, from ebony and macassar to pernambucco and grenadilla. I adore my Classic, and I’m perpetually on the verge of buying a second, in macassar with ruthenium trim.
Best of British: Onoto and Yard-o-Led
There’s nothing like a bit of national pride to get the blood pumping.
I can’t believe I left it this long to get a British-made pen in my collection. In fact, many people probably think that you need to stick to vintage pens if you want one branded ‘made in England’, but actually we have a thriving cottage industry in pens here, from the BPP-owned Conway Stewart, to custom makers like John Twiss, and the two brands I’ll discuss here, Onoto and Yard-o-Led.
My first Onoto arrived this week, and I am deep in the honeymoon period — but I am blown away by how good this pen is at doing actual writing. It’s so… functional. It’s also classically beautiful and rich with details, as well as being loaded down with heritage. An Onoto will set you back from around £400 up.
If you’re looking for something genuinely different, something that’s the opposite of an injection-moulded resin lightweight, Yard-o-Led has got you covered. Handmade in silver and lovingly crafted to look like something out of a period drama, its pens have presence and grace and you can guarantee they’ll be like nothing else in your pen case (although come to mention it, some of its smaller designs, particularly in ballpoint version, do look a little like a Caran d’Ache). Fountain pen prices start at £595.
Italian stallions: Scribo and Visconti
If you want pens with personality to stand out from the crowd, few nations do it better than the Italians.
I love my Viscontis — I now have a Medici, London Fog and Homo Sapiens Steel age, and each has a distinctly Visconti palladium nib, fun vac filling mechanism, and unique bayonet-style cap mechanism. As the years go on and I spend more time with different pens, I’m appreciating what a winning design Visconti came up with here. Prices are all over the shop, but you can usually get a Homo Sapiens oversize for around £450.
But I want to draw attention to Scribo here, a small company with ex-Omas people that I’m cheering on from the sidelines, alongside John Hall from Write Here. I have the original ‘Scribo‘ pen, and it has one of the most joyful nibs I’ve ever used. It made me see what the fuss was about with Omas. By all accounts the new Feel is a winner, too, and I fell in love with the new blue Scribo 3 prototype at the London Pen Show. Like the Viscontis, prices start at £450.
Engineering precision: Conid and Karas
There’s a tendency to see writing instruments as belonging to the world of art, and from that assumption we tend to accept a lot of imperfection in finishing and frankly dodgy usability. We also expect our pens to be fragile, and look after them in padded cases.
But there are companies out there making pens from an engineering-first standpoint.
Naturally, I’m talking about Conid. I’ve waxed lyrical about the Kingsize and the Regular in my reviews of these pens, and to a certain extent in my review of the Minimalistica too, but to sum up: a genius filling mechanism, titanium parts, attention to detail in spades, and generally great ergonomics, made by a small European team that really cares. Prices start from around £500.
If your budget doesn’t stretch to a Conid, you could do worse than look at Karas Pens, a small team in the US. Karas mostly makes pens from anodized aluminium, with a distinctive aesthetic that you can make your own through colour choices, and a strong engineering bent. The machined clip on the Ink is a work of art. And I’ve watched Karas innovate over the years: for example, iterating a new capping mechanism on the deliberately low-priced Starliner and creating the amazing cylindrical packaging for the Decograph. Prices start at $55.