Building an interesting pen collection without breaking the bank

Yesterday I was talking to one of my work colleagues, and this hobby of mine came up. He is not a fountain pen user, and he, like most normal people, thinks it’s crazy how much I’ll merrily spend on a single pen. His favourite and most luxurious rollerballs are £4. I was waving around a £2,000 Onoto Spitfire, and had just published an interview with a designer who said (with a straight face) that a €2,500 pen is ‘democratic luxury’ and ‘not expensive’ if you only buy one. It’s truly a different world.

It got me thinking about a lot of the ‘recommend me a pen’ emails I get from readers, the stuff I see being bought and sold on Facebook, even the comments you’ve been leaving on my Fountain Pen Day giveaway survey.

The truth is this: of course ‘normal’ people won’t spend hundreds of pounds on a single pen. But even most pen addicts (the kind who read blogs about fountain pens) can’t or won’t do so either.

When Instagram is filled with jaw-dropping arco, it’s easy to forget that most people naturally hesitate about clicking ‘buy’ on a £90 pen. They’re afraid that it’s a crazy thing to do.

It is, of course.

Bloggers like me might casually describe a £100 or £150 pen as affordable, entry-level or being good value. Our sense of price has been so skewed by buying and handling pens priced ten times that. But for a lot of people — quite possibly you included — £150 is likely the absolute upper price limit, and any purchase at that level needs serious consideration. It’s birthday or Christmas territory. I was in this mindset myself just a few years ago.

That’s not to say folks in this position don’t want to build a collection or selection of pens over time. Having that variety of pens to meet different needs and moods, to carry different inks, is one of the joys of the hobby. But each pen in that collection will be under that price limit, and has to pull its weight.

So my mind naturally turned to what I’d do myself were I to be in that situation again. What pens would I carefully hand-pick?

I know there are bargains to be had in the world of vintage and used pens, or ordering from abroad. But when you’re making a big purchase, it’s a horrible feeling to have a problem with the pen and have extra cost and inconvenience to sort it out. So I’d stick to mainstream UK and EU stores and new product, at regular street price. That knocks out some of my usual recommended pens like the Lamy 2000, which now retails around £175 unless in a big sale.

I’d also be itching for something a little off the beaten path. When you’re investing in a small collection, every space counts, and to me at least I’d think twice before looking at ‘boring’ department-store brands like Cross, Parker, Waterman and Sheaffer.

Pen 1: Something bulletproof

Funnily enough I’d probably start with the ystudio Portable Copper, a pen that I originally reviewed in 2017 and recently rebought. At the time I bemoaned its lack of gold nib for the price, but now that seems unfair criticism, and actually I love the steel Schmidt nib on mine.

What you get with the ystudio is a truly unique aesthetic, timeless materials and a very premium experience: it comes with a wooden case and leather strap, beautifully packaged. When I’m making a big purchase one of my big fears is that I’ll be underwhelmed when I open the box. No worries here. It’s such a great feeling to have a truly premium experience like this one. And the pen itself is a stalwart of a collection: robust and practical.

So that’s a metal pen ticked off the list. If the ystudio is not your cup of tea, I’d point you next to the Karas Ink v2 or a Namisu. Both are solid, both are tested before shipping, and both take real care over their design.

Pen 2: Something with everyday comfort

Every collection needs a general plastic pen that is comfortable to write with day after day. So with a #6 nib and pretty design, I’d next look to the Esterbrook Estie. It is really well finished, has an excellent JoWo nib that you can later swap out for a vintage Esterbrook nib, custom grind or gold JoWo, and comes in several attractive colours. And it has a cap that seals. The pen that really charmed me from the Esterbrook range though is the diminutive JR. So you’re getting a photo of that instead!

I know there’s a lot of good competition in this category, for instance the lovely Maioras, Leonardos, Edisons, Tibaldis, Visconti Van Gogh, Franklin-Christophs… but they all push past the £150 mark that the Estie just squeaks under. One maverick alternative is Benu. If the Esterbrook is a bit dull for you, take a look at the Euphoria or Supreme.

Pen 3: Something fancy and shiny

How about something a bit fancier, the pen equivalent of the dress wristwatch? Like I said, the Lamy 2000 is now too expensive for this list. But the Studio is well within budget, and for many folks raised on Lamy Safaris it will be a familiar presence. The Studio has a premium feel and really solid construction, and some very pretty shades to choose from too. If your budget grows, it takes seconds to swap in a gold nib, and Lamy’s Z55 gold nib is definitely a noticeable upgrade over steel.

If the snap cap of the Studio isn’t for you, the Otto Hutt design06 is a great alternative. OH’s steel nibs have a lot of personality and they’re really well built, with some interesting colour options.

So that’s three solid pens on the list. But we’ve got a few categories still missing: a piston filler, a gold nib, and a pocket pen.

Pen 4: A piston filler

The obvious and affordable choice for the piston filler is the TWSBI Eco (I’d choose the Rose Gold or Cement Grey), but pushing the budget a bit you also get to TWSBI’s excellent 580 AL. I like the Prussian Blue very much.

If TWSBI’s demonstrator designs don’t float your boat, maybe the Narwhal will do the trick — priced around the £50 mark. I’d honestly skip the Pelikan M200, even at around the £100 mark.

But might I also suggest the Penlux Masterpiece? For £150 on the nose it gives you a pen as big as the Montblanc 149, with a piston filler. If you like large grips, there aren’t many pens out there at this price.

Pen 5: A gold nib

A gold nib is getting harder and harder to find in the UK under £150. The Lamy 2000 and Pilot Capless are now out, but Cult Pens still has the Platinum 3776 starting at around £120, and Sailor’s Pro Gear Slim or Shikiori too. They’ll inject a little Japanese feel into this collection, although they’re both on the small side. I no longer have any of these pens though, so my Sailor Pro Gear Ocean will have to stand in for the photos!

Pen 6: A pocket pen

For a pocket pen, many people would naturally look at the Kaweco Sport, maybe brass or aluminium. It won’t be any surprise to regular readers that I’d advise blowing the budget on a Schon Pocket Six instead. Although not all the amazing colours are available from UK retailers, it really is the best pocket pen out there. But if you don’t want another metal pen in your collection, I’d probably point you at the Gazing Far tmX, in wood for under £100.

So there you go: a six-pen collection with a lot of variety for around the price of a single Montblanc 149.

Every time I do a selection post like this, I know I’ve missed a load of good pens out. But I’m pretty happy with this one. What do you think? Are any of these pens on your radar?

25 thoughts on “Building an interesting pen collection without breaking the bank

  1. I’d swap the Studio for the Aion. On a broader point, at that sort of price range I’d want to either have all piston/converter, or all pens that took the same cartridge shape. In the same way as you might not want to blow the budget on pens, having dozens of bottles of ink or different packets of cartridges takes up space, costs money, and is extraordinarily wasteful if you end up getting bored with a colour.


  2. Having just won a Scriveiner FP on instagram, I am extremely impressed by the quality given the price point of only GBP40 on Amazon. It has a gold plated steel Schmidt nib that writes like butter, a sturdy and very well balanced metal body that feels good in the hand posted or unposted. The only drawback is a snap cap, but I think given how inexpensive it is, the quality is really commendable.


    • I’ve had two from Scriveiner for feedback. They are very solid and well-made pens. I found the design a bit generically traditional and small/slim, but yeah they’re not bad pens! Schmidt nibs were a good choice.


  3. Looking in my pen cups today, with 22 currently inked, the one performer that really stands out for me is my Diplomat Excellence A Plus, which I find superbly comfortable, with an attractive finish, metal body and a clever screw-cap and one of the best steel nibs around. These are currently £200 from Cult Pens – so a little on the high side compared to the selection in your piece, although I got mine at a pen show for around one third of this price. But ask a hundred pen addicts to recommend a pen and you will get a hundred different opinions!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Another interesting post.
    I currently have inked TWSBI 580AL, Eco, Lamy Safari x 2, Aion, Studio, 2000(recent out of scope present to myself having read your review) OHTO Dude ‘Old’ Pelikan M200.
    As someone who has described themselves on occasion to friends as per you blog header (without your out and out passion or technical expertise I have collected over quite a few years some nice writers such as 1980 Parker duofold, platinum Cross (very wet), Waterman 100 & 200, Parker 51 aerometric, Pilot VP Carbonesque, Sheaffer Triumph Imperial V (I think, writes really nicely), Conway Stewart 15 from the 1960s(still going strong but used sparingly due to age!), Kaweco Sport, Lamy Al-star.
    Have to admit they aren’t all used regularly and some of the older ones very little but I get great satisfaction from dusting them down and using them if only to put them away again for another special occasion. It’s a strange preoccupation but for some reason I have always been fascinated by writing instruments and fountain pens in particular. Even had a dabble with a calligraphy ( if remember correctly we used Osmiroids with with a battery of screw in nibs!!). All that said many of the pens you recommend give me great pleasure on a daily basis though being seen using a fountain pen at work does raise the odd eyebrow!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A pair of Helix Oxfords as workhorses, three Kaco Retros because they’re curvy and colourful, and a gunmetal Faber Castell Loom for luxury. Total expenditure under £100.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’d recommend the Kaweco DIA2 and a Lamy Studio. Both are good writers and about the same price. You get a nice contrast too: the Kaweco black retro look and the Lamy Studio modern design in a color choice other than black.


  7. Pingback: Fountain Pen Quest Trail Log – November 1, 2020 | Fountain Pen Quest

  8. I typically recommend a TWSBI or Faber Castell as great newbie pens – the recent FC Hexo is actually a splendid yet affordable writer, nicer than twsbi in my experience. I tend to recommend M unless if they write small.
    For those who travel a lot I sometimes recommend a Kaweco sport in stainles steel – super super robust pen. And the steel weight helps. If they can try the size first.
    For those ok to spend a bit more (often people who don’t believe in beginner pens, they want something very good to last them) I recommended to try an FC Ondoro, FC i-Motion, platinum 3776 and Pilot Capless (only if they can try the latter one first, and when prime use will be in the office).
    I even recommended to try a montblanc 146 in the mb boutique to someone with the budget and who wanted a n ultimate pen. Why not, but a 146 , turn your back on all the pen sites, and enjoy it for decades . It will be cheaper in the end.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Odd, while I agree the feed is fragile, I have rarely had a nib that was anything but smooth. I have two 355’s and both work very easily. I mostly find TWSBI’s to be uninteresting. Their acrylic looks good and feels good, but how many solid or clear caps can they come up with before they finally start getting some mixed acrylics in there? Right now their pens are just, boring. As a note though, I find Sailor’s pens that all look like old models boring as well, and any company that does the same sort of thing. They just aren’t for me.


    • The faux filler is maybe the worst penbbs.
      Mechanism is horrible, it has been inproved but a far cry from Conid
      Nibs are usually reasonable yet uninspiring, rather dry like most chinese nibs.
      However it is not a fude nib, rather a waverly nib which is actually nice for lefthanders like me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes fude was perhaps going too far… of course it’s not that pronounced. But the upturn meant I couldn’t precisely place the end of the nib and it drove me crazy! I ground it off in the end. Would appreciate your recommendation for a better PenBBS to try!


      • Anthony, the penbbs 456 is an okay vacuum filler at a good price. Sometimes offered with interesting resins. Best nib is probably
        RM (round medium), but yes the nibs are a little uninspiring in general. A Faber Castell convertor filler at the price writes better, to my taste at least.
        Interesting of the waverly nib style is that it can handle mode upright writing positions. I have a Pilot 743WA which is a pretty good option for lefthanders .
        While a 456 is ok, and they have some decent piston fillers too, i think it is more interesting to review 2 more bizarre offerings:
        – a penbbs with a fiddly magnetic filler. Didn’t try it myself. Can hold lots of ink.
        – a pen bbs with nib at each side and separate eye dropper ink reservoirs or space for cartridge.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. This is a great read, as I am one of those commentors on your giveaway, that doesn’t feel able to justify spending a lot (£150+) on fountain pens. I think my Benu Lucky Chameleon is the most expensive fountain pen I’ve bought, and it is my favourite. The nib is so smooth and it’s so eye-catching (bling!)
    This has definitely given me some new ideas for future pruchases. Thank you for writing it.


  10. Another great post – but I’m biased I guess as three of your selection are right there on my wish list. The other three don’t appeal but you’re spot on in thinking this price point is pushing the budget for many people and it is definitely present territory for me. I enjoy seeing reviews of pens that cost far more than this but realistically, they’re not something I can afford and I constantly amazed at (and somewhat envious of!) collections that contain multiples of a pen I would struggle to afford. That said, I probably have a couple of dozen pens at a lower price point that if not bought I could have used the savings to buy something more expensive… (sigh) – but that’s where I’ve learnt about pens and nibs and what I like. It’s only by buying and using these that I now feel comfortable looking at pens in this price point – and there are a few of these inexpensive pens I’d still keep in my collection even if I could afford everything else I’d like. Thanks again for making me think about what I’ve got and where I want my collection to go.

    Liked by 2 people

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