Whenever I buy a new pen recently, I’m finding there’s a smaller and smaller chance that it will stick in my collection.
Even though I’m learning more about my tastes, and making (hopefully) better and better purchases, the new pens have a huge task scaling the heights of my current collection, which I have been honing and honing for years.
From that starting point, I thought I would attempt to list out my top ten pens. I didn’t make it down to ten before I felt like I was cutting too deep, so I’m calling this my “capsule wardrobe” — the relatively short list of (for now) 13 pens that for me cover all the bases, with no dead wood, and very little duplication.
You could perhaps consider the first three pens on the list a top-three of sorts, and the pens towards the bottom of the list do tend to tug less at my heartstrings, but this is not formally a ranked list. That way madness lies. I love and use all of these pens for journalling, meeting notes, to-do lists, letters, cards, and everything else.
1. Desiderata Soubriquet Cocobolo prototype
I’ll start here because in sentimental terms this is the pen at the heart of my collection. As far as I know, there are only a few of these cocobolo-wood prototypes rattling around, with a wooden section stained by the owner’s ink, and an ebonite cap. I connect with this pen so deeply that I’ve since ordered an amber acrylic Soubriquet and an updated version of the cocobolo, which means I technically own three of the same pen — but for now it’s this original cocobolo that I put on the list.
The Soubriquet stands out for me due to its comfort: the wooden section is grippy, the pen is light and curvaceous. I also appreciate the engineering and hand-craftsmanship that went into it. It’s a bonus that the Nemosine 0.6mm stub nib in it makes my handwriting look good. In fact, my collection is gradually getting more and more italics…
I’m frequently surprised that I haven’t published a standalone review of the Soubriquet, but I will try to write one up this weekend (don’t hold me to it).
2. Onoto Magna Dubai prototype
Another one-off pen. This, my first Onoto, won me over with its stately English design, silver trim and deco branding, but it’s the comfort and the willing, wet 18k nib that makes me keep writing with it. It’s one of those nibs that you hold your breath when you use it, in case you scare the magic away.
3. Montblanc Heritage 1912
Of course the 1912 is on my list. It still embodies most of the qualities I love in a pen, from the intangible (class and clarity of design) to the tangible (engineering quality and writing comfort). Its tiny, springy nib brings joy every time I touch it to paper, and the ritual of extending the nib never ceases to inspire me.
I’m not alone in this love for the 1912, it seems. Although it’s relatively unknown, owners are rabidly loyal.
4. Nakaya Decapod Heki Tamenuri
The Nakaya is the only Japanese pen on this list and the only one in my collection, in fact. The Decapod feels like a scalpel to me. Its fine cursive italic nib sounds scratchy on the paper but just feels right, and the pen itself sits smooth and light in my hand. The depth and colour of the urushi, highlighted by the facets, stands apart from anything else in my collection. This pen makes my writing look better than any other pen, too.
To me the Decapod is proof that you can’t always trust your biases to lead you right. It has a huge step at the back of the section and it’s a converter filler, which in days past would have turned me off. But it’s so true to itself that I don’t mind.
5. Conid Kingsize flattop Titanium
It’s testament to the quality of the Kingsize that I still use it even though I have it inked with one of my less-practical and less-loved inks, Graf Burned Orange. And with the capacity of the Kingsize, it’ll stay that way for some time.
Conid makes bulletproof and deeply thought-out pens, and whenever I pick up the Kingsize it disappears in my hand. The Ti section with its subtle waist is really the perfect size.
6. Montblanc Geometry Solitaire LeGrand
Three Montblancs made this list. The Geometry is the least practical of them by a country mile, but something in me still forced its inclusion. Despite its 60g+ weight, I find the Geometry is nicely balanced and actually comfortable to use, and the BB nib writes so nicely that I don’t just save it for addressing envelopes. I found myself on a recent flight just turning the Geometry in my hand, watching it scatter the bright high-altitude light streaming through my window against the inside of the cabin. This pen is like a gemstone, and it has become precious to me.
7. Visconti Medici Oversized rose gold
The Medici has quietly taken over my heart. A brown pen with gold trim? A mystery filler? Yep. Should be my nemesis, but it’s not.
The “acrosilk” material is like watching bubbles swirl in a pint of Guinness, only in a dream. It’s utterly beautiful, probably my most beautiful pen. Like the Geometry, I have sat by my window with the Medici just watching it catch the light, turning the material this way and that. And, although this one is faceted on barrel and cap, it is just as comfortable as any other Homo Sapiens, with the smooth and soft palladium nib.
8. Graf von Faber-Castell Classic Pernambucco
In a sea of mostly oversized pens, the Classic sits like a supermodel, all long and skinny. I’ve spoken before about its engineering, but what makes it dear to my heart is the combination of metal and wood, and the gold fine nib, which is somehow both smooth and wet, yet sharp and precise. It makes me feel in control.
9. Visconti Homo Sapiens London Fog
My first true grail pen has some serious competition nowadays, but I’m still enchanted by it. The blue and grey is a killer combination, and I am convinced that the Homo Sapiens design — complete with unnecessary cap rings, ornate bridge clip and all — will go down in history as one of the greats. To me, the London Fog is still the nicest of the many Visconi LEs.
10. Montblanc 149 Platinum
This is a boring choice. Thousands of unimaginative gift-givers and status-craving businesspeople have bought a 149 for the snow cap, not for its abilities as a pen. But I could make a strong argument for this being my best long-session writer. It’s certainly practical (ink window, etc), but it’s the comfort that really leaps out. The nib needs no pressure and flows the perfect medium line, while the relatively stubby, lightweight body and generous section minimise fatigue. I originally wanted to leave the 149 out of my “top ten”, but my conscience wouldn’t let me.
Pelikan M805 Ocean Swirl IB
I tried to remember that the short section on the Ocean Swirl sometimes irritates my fingers, and that the IB nib is so broad I have to work to maintain the right angle to the page. But hey, this is a gorgeous pen, a sublime statement nib. It’s built like a tank, with a great piston, and I love it to bits.
Sheaffer Legacy Heritage brushed gold
I sold my second Sheaffer Legacy Heritage a while back, and it’s one of the few sales that I still think about with regret. The chunky, weighty Sheaffer body and section sit so well in the hand, but it’s the 18k inlaid nib that wins the spot on the list. Both of mine were/are broad, and they write so smoothly and effortlessly that I can’t think of how to improve them. Just perfect.
I’m not sure yet whether the Scribo quite makes the cut for this list — I don’t have it here in front of me, so I’m working from memory. I know I find it comfortable, I know it’s unique in appearance, and I know it’s one of the best nibs I’ve ever used — if a bit of a gusher.
What does this leave in the rest of my collection? Well, I’ve just sold several pens, including my second Leonardo, a Montblanc 146, and a faceted Vanishing Point, as I hit a new level of ruthlessness. I’ll probably add more for sale: the Karas Starliner XL Re-Entry; the Aurora Optima Grey Flex.
But there are others, that are neither on this rarefied list or for sale: the Montegrappa Extra, Karas Ink, Conid Regular, a second and third Desiderata Soubriquet, the Kaweco Art Sport, the basic Visconti Homo Sapiens, Lamy 2000, Opus 88 Demonstrator. Right now, they take me to 22 pens total (excluding for sale). I don’t like to leave pens in limbo or purgatory, so I need to decide whether they’ll make a full entry into the “capsule wardrobe” — or be sold too. We’ll see.