Eight second chances to get it right

Looking over my pen tray I am often struck by how many pens I have sold, only to later repurchase.

You might well say: if you liked it enough to rebuy it, why did you sell it in the first place?!

It’s a fair question, but I have a few answers.

Sometimes (as the song goes), you don’t know what you got til it’s gone — and there are some pens I regret selling as soon as I’ve dropped the box off at the post office. That’s all on me.

In other cases, tastes change over the years, and a pen I didn’t quite click with the first time round I find myself thinking about more and more as time goes on. Issues or design elements that might once have been deal-breakers mellow for me in time.

But most often, actually, it’s that the particular pen I sold wasn’t quite right, but with another nib or finish it would have been perfect.

So when I sell and rebuy later, I don’t beat myself up: I don’t see it as a waste of money, more as an opportunity I took to learn a lesson, or make the decision again, but better. Let me give you a few examples.

Montblanc Rouge et Noir

The Rouge et Noir definitely falls into the ’regretted it immediately’ category. I had the basic black model with an EF nib, and while it was a superlative note-taker, I told myself that it was too skinny and that I didn’t need it.

And then the opportunity arose to make the decision again, but better. I picked up the Coral special edition, which has a beautiful two-tone nib, gems on the clip, and that fabulous colour. This example is also a fine nib, which has more personality than the EF did. So, second time lucky.

Karas Ink

If you’ve read my recent review of the Karas Ink v2, you’ll know the story here. I sold the original Ink because its threads were sharp and the cap came loose on its own. And that’s despite me loving the overall design and the vibrant orange anodising I had picked.

In this case it wasn’t me having a change of heart that prompted me to re-add the Ink to my collection: it was Karas improving the product design. With the new threads and cap design, the Ink is now a solid keeper for me.

Onoto Magna

I sold my first Onoto Magna because the long cap threads were annoying me. That feature made me leave the Magna in my pen tray pretty much every time, which was a crying shame given what a beautiful pen and fantastic writer it was.

As time has gone on, I have mellowed a little about long cap threads, and I’ve also learned to get the most from the Magna now it’s back in my pen tray: I know that I won’t reach for it for quick meeting notes, but I can settle in to a longer journalling session knowing that I only need to uncap once or twice.

Montblanc 149

I sold my new-model Platinum-trim 149 with medium nib, and I’m still not sure why. It was a great pen, and the 149 has always been a favourite model of mine. But perhaps the nib here was the key. Montblanc’s mediums have started to feel too wide for me nowadays.

And maybe it was also having so many ‘special‘ Montblancs in my collection — I felt that a ‘standard’ model wasn’t justifying its spot. And then I bought and sold a 149 Calligraphy, with a wicked flex nib that I just couldn’t take full advantage of in my normal grip.

But now in my tray I have a 149 that’s perhaps 40 years old, with an ebonite feed, tatty gold trim and a very special EF nib that’s rather like a Naginata Togi. It feels special to me for the life it lived before coming into my hands. And with its nib, it’s both more practical for my writing style and more fun than the M nib used to be. Same model, but a very different experience.

Scribo

My first Scribo was great. But I hadn’t made the right choice. It was Write Here’s first edition, in grey with lime green accents. The grey was rich and chattoyant, but it was so translucent that you could see ink caught in the section. And the lime green accents never sat right with me. And the nib: a juicy 18k in medium (if I remember rightly). It was a fabulous writer, but perhaps too broad, too rounded for me. I sold it for a hideous loss, before the world woke up to how great Scribo is.

Then Write Here sent me the Scribo 3 in its rich blue, with a 14k EF nib, and that was the model I was looking for. The blue is opaque, so trapped ink is no worry. And the nib is juicy, precise, expressive, all in one. It was the pen I should have bought in the first place.

Nakaya

My experience with Nakaya is a bit of an outlier in this list. I didn’t sell my first, or second, Nakaya until I already owned my third. But it was that third Nakaya that really brought things into focus for me and showed me that my first and second attempts weren’t quite right.

My first Nakaya was a Heki-Tamenuri Decapod with a two-tone cursive italic nib. It was a fabulous pen, absolutely fabulous. But the truth was that the cursive italic was a touch dry and precise for my daily usage, and the Decapod was a bit too small for me in the section. Oh, and the gold clip undermined the finish.

The second was the Long Cigar that I bought new in Tokyo, in Kuro-Tamenuri, with a rose gold medium nib. It had the longer section I needed for more comfort, and the medium nib was great — but the pen was too long to take out, and the Kuro finish was too dark to show the urushi techniques to their best.

And then I got the third Nakaya: a 17mm Cigar in Toki-Tamenuri, with a soft medium nib. This had everything: an expressive and juicy nib; a long section and comfortably chunky body that was still a normal length; and the Toki finish that ranges from beautiful cream to a glorious caramel brown.

I love everything about it and it made me realise that my first two Nakayas were only half right. So I sold them.

Sailor Pro Gear / 1911

I tried a couple of times to make Sailor’s Pro Gear and 1911 stick in my collection. In 2017 I had a standard black rhodium trim Pro Gear with medium nib, but ultimately the nib feedback and medium flow just wore me down, along with the overall plasticky finish and less than perfect cap threads, and the fact that actually these pens are pretty small by modern standards. Then I tried a 1911 Black Luster, hoping the extra length of the rounded ends and the extra weight of the metal section would improve the experience. It did, but not enough.

Then I discovered that I loved Sailor’s finer nib grades, and that with those nibs in place, suddenly the ‘mid sized’ pens like the 1911L and Pro Gear made sense.

To me a finer nib suits a smaller pen, and Sailor’s F and EF nibs are glorious. Somehow the Sailor feedback is much more my thing on a sharp point than on a medium nib or wider, and Sailor’s F/EF nibs are wet and fun, too.

So now, actually, I have three of these pens: an Imperial Black Pro Gear with F nib, an Ocean with EF nib, and a 1911L with Cross Concord. I am happy with all three and it’s because of their nibs.

Pilot 823

I had two (almost three!) failed attempts with the Pilot 823, an M and an FA nib, although I can barely remember them, the dalliances were that short.

You can hardly move in the pen community for someone gushing about how great the Pilot 823 is, and that’s what made me buy the first two, but in truth I found them a bit small, a bit fragile feeling, a bit plasticky. And the gold-only trim is not my thing. I just didn’t see what the fuss was about. So I sold them, fast.

Then I sold my Pelikan Ocean Swirl and took a job lot of three pens in part exchange. One was the Pro Gear Imperial Black I discussed above. Another was a Pilot 823 in smoke finish with the FA nib and a Flexible Nib Factory ebonite feed. It suddenly clicked with me.

I held the 823 and it felt perfectly balanced, with that hawk-like nib stretching far from the grip to precisely tickle the page. The FA was as bouncy and juicy as I remembered from my 912 FA days (as well as being beautifully clean in its design), and the feed was so wet as to be on the verge of dripping. With the big ink tank, this really felt like a writer’s pen.

The 823 is still not the most robust-feeling pen in my collection, and it doesn’t get used as often as it should — but I adore it and enjoy it every time I write with it. I have even inked it up with Lamy Dark Lilac, that’s how much I enjoy the line it lays down. Third time lucky.

Lessons learned

As a pen reviewer, it’s tempting to claim a certain superiority of judgement over the “average” pen buyer. I spend more time than most thinking about what I like and dislike, and what’s more I benefit from the opportunity of trying out hundreds of pens to test out my mental model in real cases.

But I’m not perfect. I have blindspots, I make mistakes, I change my mind, I evolve the way I use pens. I find new frustrations, I come to new realizations. I get bored. For all of these reasons, don’t make perfect purchases every time. (And nor do I always make perfect sales, for that matter.)

Realising these limitations has been important for me. It has allowed me to, without guilt, sell pens, and even revisit those that I may have sold in the past, to either approach them from a new perspective or try a different model or spec to see if it’s a better fit for me.

It doesn’t always work, but, as these examples show, sometimes you need a second — or third — chance to get it right.

12 thoughts on “Eight second chances to get it right

  1. A fascinating read, thank you. This has helped me focus on what it is that I like/dislike about the pens in my own collection. I don’t want to add more pens for the sake of having them; they have to feel *right* and it’s taken me a while to figure out what that means. Thanks again for the wonderful insight!

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  2. I enjoyed the article. I would argue that you didn’t rebuy the same pen in many cases, since there we’re differences that you knew would be better. At least that’s a good excuse. But if I were in the same place I’d see them as the same pen and that would make me very reluctant to buy it again. I only re-acquired one pen, a Sailor 1911 with a zoom nib. I bought it over 15 years ago, way to soon for me to have understand the zoom nib. My second came this years and I love it. My tastes definitely change, the pen didn’t.

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    • Exactly, in many cases there are significant differences, but the immediate question from a friend would be “didn’t you just sell your Pro Gear?” Or “I thought the Rouge et Noir didn’t make the cut?” . The reluctance you point out is an important observation. It feels dumb to willingly make the same mistake twice, even if you suspect you hadn’t given the pen a fair chance first time around.

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  3. I do something similar but for a different reason: I find a great pen, but then sell it thinking there is something better out there.

    I’ve bought, sold and repurchased a Lamy 2000 five times. It’s pretty much the perfect pen for me. But every time I start doubting myself and wonder if there’s something even better. I still can’t learn my lesson. I sold my latest one off in March and am already thinking of getting another.

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    • The 2000 is a rare beast that is an excellent pen, good value, widely available, with a choice of distinctive nibs and excellent after-sales care. This you already know 😁. Is there a more perfect pen out there? Possibly. But hang on to the 2000 too! 😂

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  4. I have just enjoyed reading this for a second time. It is a fascinating insight into the evolution or refinement of your collection! It demonstrates that the hobby is a journey in which tastes, opinions and prejudices come and go. There are no short cuts as it is necessary to try things out and make a few mistakes. It is tempting for me to look at your choices and say “I’ll have what he’s having” (to borrow a line from When Harry met Sally) but what suits one person does not necessarily work for another. So it is difficult to recommend a pen for someone else. It is hard enough even to recommend one for yourself and to always get it right.
    And then there is the whole issue of spending time with a pen, creating some history together and bonding with it and even accepting its faults.
    Thanks for sharing your thought processes on these few examples. Enjoy the rest of the journey!

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  5. This whole thing, this hobby, this small obsession: a lot of it is about the journey. I have done the same thing with vintage pens, buying Vacumatics, niggling and selling them again, then seeing another to try… But new pens less so, although I constantly dither about my 823; it is always inked but rarely in my hand and I can’t totally fathom out why. Mine has a WA nib – I thought its “ write any which way” properties would suit my lefty underwriting wobbles – but I find that very lack of a “proper” way to hold it disconcerting, and my writing becomes messier than ever. It’s the nib that’s wrong, somehow, although the pen does not inspire me enough to try another. I should sell it, right?

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  6. Great article. You put into words what’s been happening with me. I have often felt a little guilty about not using some of my pens, but the bottom line is, they weren’t fun to write with. I finally figured out that I have fairly small hands, and a #6 nib is usually too long for me. It places my hand a little too far off the paper and decreases my control over the pen. I also found I’m not comfortable with larger pens (I consider the Sailor Pro Gear Classic and 1911L to be large pens). I know they’re not large to lots of people, but to me, they are. I do lots of journaling, and it always seems like the larger pens are trying to escape my grip. I finally realized I have to stick with smaller pens with #5 nibs to write comfortably. It makes me sad, because there are some gorgeous larger pens with #6 nibs that I’d love to own. But I refuse to buy a pen I know I won’t be comfortable writing with.

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