To the untrained eye, most fountain pens are basically the same. There’s the pointy bit, the holdy bit, the screwy on bit, the clippy bit. Ink goes in, words come out. But look a little closer and there’s so much diversity, so many innovations, so many great features to celebrate. Here are nine that I’ve enjoyed.
I doff my cap at thee!
I tend to ignore the cap – it’s just something that gets in the way of the pen, right? Well, that’s all the more reason to get it right.
The bayonet cap: Visconti Homo Sapiens
The screwthreads on most fountain pens are a highly optimised version of an imperfect solution. It’s very difficult to engineer threads that are durable, comfortable, stay closed when they’re supposed to, but open easily when you need them to. Visconti makes traditional screw-thread pens, but they also make pens with magnetic caps, and a version with what Visconti calls the ‘hook safe’, and what I call a bayonet fitting, like a lightbulb. Push, twist just a few degrees, and the cap comes off. It’s magical to use, and I’ve never had a cap with this mechanism come off accidentally, or a nib dry out.
Perfect threads: Graf von Faber-Castell
Graf is proof that engineering can overcome any problem. My Graf Classic has conventional threads that uncap in less than a turn, are imperceptible under the fingers, and close positively with a kind of detent at the end of their travel. The feeling is so tactile and, well, Germanic that I often uncap and recap the pen a few times just to experience the pure engineering of it.
The sealed cap: Platinum
Some pens dry out quickly. Some take longer. Others simply never dry out. Platinum is the leader in this regard, thanks to a simple innovation: the slip and seal cap, as fitted to the 3776. An inner cap is held firm around the nib by a spring, producing a tight seal when the cap is in place. I never had a 3776 dry out, no matter the ink and no matter how fine the nib. I no longer own a 3776, but I miss the cap nearly every day.
Having my fill
If you think a converter or piston filler is the end of your options, think again.
The bulkfiller mechanism: Conid
Nowadays, if you buy a pen that isn’t a cartridge/converter, it’s almost certainly a piston filler. That has its own charms (see the next couple of points), but there’s a reason why piston fillers have become so popular: large capacity and general robustness. There are other filling mechanisms out there, but they’re mostly fragile, low capacity, and complex, or difficult to clean (I’m looking at you, vac filler).
Until Conid perfected an old filling concept and branded it the bulkfiller. It has a huge capacity, cleans easily, and is simply fun to use. PenBBS has copied it, but the Conid is the one to have.
The invisible filler knob: Lamy
If you’re going to make a pen with the smooth lines of a killer whale, you can’t afford any lumps or bumps to break up the silhouette. Lamy’s timeless 2000 manages to go from finial to hooded nib with a single unbroken curve, and the brushed finish of the Makrolon means the piston knob joins the body completely imperceptibly. It’s a great example of attention to detail.
The dual retract/refill mechanism: Montblanc
The Montblanc 1912 has a retractable nib, and it’s a piston filler. One filler knob performs both functions, in the most elegant way. When the knob is flush to the barrel, twist to extend or reject the nib. With the nib extended, pull the knob out, and magically the knob now serves as a standard piston filler. Every fill is a joy.
The sharp end
I’ve written before about how I’m not a Pilot guy, but I still have so much admiration for the Japanese giant, and its distinctive, creative nibs.
The Falcon nib: Pilot
If you want a modern flex nib, get a 912 or an 823 with an FA nib. And I can say that with confidence, since I own a Wahl with a Superflex nib, an Aurora with a fine flex nib, and various Zebra Gs. The Pilot FA (or Falcon, not to be confused with the Elabo/Falcon pen) is a docile and usable nib that gives genuinely impressive flex, and for half the price of the Aurora. I also find it very beautiful. It’s one of the few Pilots I really regret selling.
The integral nib: Pilot
The Pilot Myu is way too small for my hands, even compared to the Kaweco Sport. But I still think its integral nib is the pinnacle of elegance. In a spark of genius I compared it to Concorde, and I think the comparison holds up. Parker did something similar with the T1, but to this day nobody else has tried an integral nib. I wish they would.
The one-handed pen: Pilot Vanishing Point
A fountain pen you can click like a 99 cent ballpoint? Retractable pens are not uncommon (I’ve reviewed the Pilot Fermo, the Montblanc 1912 and the Lamy Dialog 3) but the king of them all is the Pilot Vanishing Point, aka the Namiki Vanishing Point or Pilot Capless. Its skinny nib unit protrudes from a hinged hatch at the click of a button, and retracts just as easily. I personally find the “modern” Vanishing Point ugly, but the vintage faceted version is much more elegant.
These are just a selection of some of the unusual features and design decisions we get to choose from every day. I could have picked another nine – which says great things about the market we live in. Which cool features do you want to shout about? Tell me in the comments.