I had high expectations coming to the Montblanc Agatha Christie. Over the past 25 years it has gained an almost legendary status (and associated price tag) even among Montblanc Writer’s Editions, surpassed perhaps by the Hemingway only.
But for me the expectations came from something rather more personal. My daughter is named Agatha, and specifically after Agatha Christie. How often do you find a pen created to honour your namesake?
When I decided to buy the Agatha, after years of telling myself that it would be forever out of reach, I had reason to believe my high expectations would be met. I wouldn’t call myself a Montblanc collector, but I am a Montblanc fan. At current count, including the Agatha, I’ve owned nine Montblancs (the others being a vintage 149, a Platinum 149, a 146 BMW, a Rouge et Noir, a Heritage 1912, a Solitaire Geometry, a Petit Prince LeGrand, and a Writer’s Edition Shaw).
I’ve never had a bad experience with a new Montblanc’s M nib, nor with the nibs of other sizes I’ve exchanged them for. I have complete confidence in Montblanc.
The Agatha Christie is based on a 146, a pen that I could pick up for a few hundred pounds any day of the week. Like the 146, it’s a gold-nibbed, black plastic piston filler, but with the Agatha you do get a little more for your money: the nib is 18k and features a snake-head design.
The trim is aged sterling silver, and this includes the ornate coiled-serpent clip, which has tiny rubies for eyes.
The Montblanc snowcap is ivory coloured for a vintage feel.
But mostly you’re paying for the engraved signature, and the exclusivity that goes with a Writer’s Edition — such as it is.
Although Agathas don’t appear for sale all that often, there are 30,000 of the fountain pens out there, and due to the nature of Montblanc buyers, many may never have been inked.
As you look closer, you’ll find subtler differences compared to a modern 146.
Under the snake nib is an ebonite feed, not a plastic one.
The cap is larger and wider, and the pen is blunt-ended at the filler knob, which has coining to aid grip, as on the cap.
That, combined with the brass piston mechanism and silver trim, makes the Agatha feel like a larger, heavier and generally more substantial pen than the generic 146.
This is good for comfort in my view, and aided by a section that’s notably different to modern Montblancs: it’s distinctly concave, and ends abruptly without a matte ring at the nib end.
Overall, the Agatha Writer’s Edition is a classically attractive pen, with restrained vintage touches and modern practicality, in the form of a striped ink window, large capacity, and a cap that unscrews in just 1.25 turns.
Mine came boxed with papers, unused, with the “M Germany” barrel sticker still in place. I’m not sure yet if I’ll take it off.
Enough unboxing. Just because this is an old and expensive pen doesn’t mean it’ll be a shelf queen. I intend to use it.
The piston swung into action and the pen filled smoothly. It wrote immediately, just as I expected it would. The vintage nib has more flex and softness than modern Montblanc nibs, and when I wrote (clumsily) with my arm positioned under the line, with pressure on the downstrokes like a “normal” person, the feed delivered a pleasantly heavy flow. But when I switched back to my normal overhand grip with a light touch, I found the flow too stingy for me. I tried wet inks like Bungubox to no avail.
Clearly this was not a feed problem, because ink was plentiful with the right technique. Instead, I believed the nib’s tines were too tight.
I emailed my usual Montblanc boutique, who assured me that a service could adjust the flow to my expectations. I emailed John Sorowka too, who gave no guarantees but was also generally confident that he could make the nib write the way I liked it.
But you know me: I couldn’t resist having a go at the nib myself, even with such an expensive and rare set of parts at risk of ruin.
After checking for perfect tine alignment, multiple flushes and different inks, and a break-in period, I was still not happy with the ink flow. So I smoothed the tip ever so gently on a nail buffer, and more carefully than ever before, worked a brass shim between the tines, with the nib still in place on the feed.
Remarkably, I managed to get the nib close enough to perfect in a matter of minutes that a lubricating, wet ink like Kobe #51 takes the writing experience to the bullseye.
The result is a pen that writes as beautifully as a modern 146, with a little more expressiveness and certainly a lot more beauty and personality in the hand.
My Montblanc collection right now is a trio: the Agatha, another heritage-inspired pen in the 1912, and the blingy Geometry with a huge BB nib. I am still waiting to see if I can buy back my old Rouge et Noir with its fabulous EF nib, too!
Although I usually prefer larger pens, I find the Agatha ideally comfortable for longer writing (even if the line is that bit too wide to fit in a smaller dot grid).
Best of all, I have a pen that is truly, uniquely special to me. Despite its age, I was the first to write with it, and in 14 years (give or take) I can hand it down to my daughter. She can use it to document the days of her life, just as I’m using it to record my memories of her childhood.
And that, of course, is priceless.