The three-pen collection for £1,000

There’s a series of posts on the watch blog Worn & Wound called the three watch collection for $5,000. Here’s one recent example. The premise is simple but I find it fascinating. Give writers and readers a fixed budget and ask them to build a capsule collection of watches.

Do they eat up the budget with one big piece, or slice it evenly? Do they go for known brands or microbrands? Do they pick a dress watch, a diver, a chrono, or some other variety? The permutations are endless.

I would struggle to pick a definitive three-watch collection (G-shock full metal, Nomos Metro handwound, Tudor Black Bay 58 perhaps?), but I might be able to have a stab at doing it for pens. Of course, the rules need a little amendment.

First, the price range. Watches are much more expensive than pens, so a budget of £1,000 should be more than generous.

I’m going to limit to pens you can go out and buy retail today, at a decent street price, so no obscure historic limited editions from 20 years ago at sumgai bargain prices. This isn’t fantasy football. Think of it as ‘your house has burned down and you’re walking into a pen shop to start again’.

Let’s get started.

Montblanc 149 Pt. £700. I’d spend the first £700 or so on a Montblanc 149. Platinum trim, F or EF nib. This is the foundation of the pen collection, the do-it-all. A narrow nib is suitable for all papers. It’s a comfortable pen with a big ink capacity, functional clip, and a cap that seals well. Oh, and an ink window so no worries about range anxiety. Montblanc is a trusted global brand with, in my experience, excellent quality control. You can rely on your 149. And (to continue the watch metaphor) this is a dressy black number that you can wear with a suit.

Alternatives? There are tons at this price or below, with gold nibs and pistons. Have your pick of stuff by Leonardo, many Viscontis and Auroras, the Pelikan M1000, and you could probably squeak some of the Japanese big guys in here too. You could do worse than an Onoto like the Sequoyah, if you didn’t mind losing the piston. But the 149 sets a very, very high bar.

Lamy 2000. £150. It’s a no-brainer for my second choice (and yes, I sound like a broken record by now). You get a lot of bang for your buck with the 2000, and it could hardly be more different from the 149 in style and approach. The 2000 is not as dressy as the Montblanc, nor as expensive, so it’s usable in more casual environments where the snowcap would draw attention. In my opinion, when you’re picking a three-pen or three-watch collection, you really want to avoid repetition and overlap. I’d be tempted to choose the wet and wide medium nib to show off inks when the 149 is too narrow.

Alternatives? The unfussy everyday pen for £150 is a crowded market, with everything from small-batch makers like Edison and Karas to mid-tier Japanese pens like the Pilot 912 or Platinum 3776 and a sea of pens from Parker, Conklin et al. I’d be tempted to call out the Pilot 823 with its workhorse reputation and interesting filler, although since it retails close to £300 in the UK it’s pushing budget.

Schon Pocket 6. £130. This is the G-shock of the pen world, a metal pocket pen with indestructible design. Again, zero overlap with the other two, a whole different use-case, and all the flexibility of different colours to choose from and custom-ground nibs you can change on a whim.

Alternatives? Well, in my last post I pointed out the Ensso titanium as a very credible rival for about the same price. The Karas Ink v2 is also a super-solid metal pen you can count on. And, if you’re looking for something a bit more mainstream or at a lower price, there is of course the Kaweco Al Sport or Brass Sport. If you’re interested in a pen to play around with nibs, and don’t want metal, perhaps Franklin-Christoph would be a good port of call.

That takes me to a hair under £1,000. Easy peasy.

Fun exercise, eh? I’m tempted to repeat it at £500 and £100 tiers.

I’d love to know which three pens you’d pick with your fantasy budget. Let me know in the comments?

16 thoughts on “The three-pen collection for £1,000

  1. Great post – this was a fun puzzle.

    My three pens would be:
    Pelikan M1000 with a broad nib. Love that nib. It’s the best version of a Sharpie in my opinion.
    Lamy 2000 with a fine nib. Love that pen for all the reasons you mention.
    Opus 88 Bela with a semi-flex titanium Bock nib (the nib would have to be bought separately). Love that nib and love the filling system of the Bela. Can’t the world just make only Japanese eyedroppers?!

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  2. I’d probably spend about half of it on an MB 146, then go for a Pelikan M805 Stresemann and a Leonardo MZ or if I had enough left an MZ Grande (and if I’m allowed to shop for the MB at Izods instead of buying new I’d add a gold elastic nib to the Leonardo 😄)

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  3. Now, I did deliberate over what I would do. Like you mentioned, do you go for one big pen? Or lots of smaller pens. I opted for 3 pens over just one, because as an artist I need a variety of line widths. Of course a zoom nib offers this, but the tipping is so big that it can make it harder to see what you’re drawing.

    My three pens would have to be a Nakaya piccolo cigar in Aka Tamenuri . I also quite like Heki also! For me this perfectly sums up Japanese pens , ebonite, precision nib, urushi, plus gives me change for 2 other pens..

    Next up would be a Santini Italia, again superb nibs and very affordable for what they offer. So far this brings me to about 900 pounds.

    Lastly I’d opt for gravitas entry. Superb construction and a really comfortable grip. That gives me 30 pounds left over!

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  4. that is a fun challenge! i think i’d go for:

    * aurora 88 unica nera (msrp: 640 EUR): italian design, piston filler, all murdered out, for expensive money that doesn’t come out of my pocket? my goth heart says yesplease.
    * lamy 2000 (msrp: 200 EUR): design, piston filler, etc yadda yadda, no-brainer.
    * some pretty colour twsbi diamond 580 alr (US msrp 65 USD, local price incl. tax ~70 EUR): no-nonsense, straightforward workhorse, incredibly well-behaved, user-maintainable… and i’d not think twice about bringing it on adventures either.

    all three of them in EF because i write small.

    that makes 910 EUR total, and 1000 GBP are something to the tune of 1150 EUR. if i get to keep leftovers, i’d go shop for another pair of climbing shoes or something. 😉

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  5. If we had to spend it all I might start with an Aurora 88 (about £600, love everything about it except the price), then perhaps a Diplomat Excellence A Plus £200 and finally a Moonman S5 (clear demo eye dropper including three nibs F, M and OB all for £27.50).
    But I could manage with the Moonman plus a Cross Bailey Light and have £950 change for other things.

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  6. Difficult to challenge that choice. For people with smaller hands a 146 might be preferable to the 149. In B which is actually a little stubbish and nicer than the M. Main challenger from my collection – a Scribo Feel or a Pilot 845.
    Instead of the 2000 I have a pen which I really prefer. The Pilot 742 with SFM nib, to be imported directly from Japan. or since it is a dead ringer visually of the 146, maybe its flat top cousin the 912 with the same soft fine medium nib. Incredible for daily note taking.
    The Schon is the unbeatable pocket pen esp since the MB Boheme is long out of production.

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  7. My 3 would be . Montblanc legrande around the world Fine nib(£760)Namisu Horizon titanium Fine nib(£105) Lamy Aion Orange medium (£55)

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  8. I make notes in work meetings – maybe writing a sentence or two, fifteen or twenty times an hour. I make notes in lectures and seminars. I make notes when I’m reading through patient records to prepare a report. That’s how we write these days, hardly anyone sits down and writes a page or more in longhand. That’s why people use ballpoints that can be left uncapped.
    So essential for me is a capless pen, to save unscrewing and rescrewing a cap forty times in a single meeting. The Pilot Decimo writes a beautiful wet line which brings out the shading in my favourite ink, while having the convenience of a clicky ballpoint. £120.
    Then I have to have a classic vintage pen. A Parker 51 in black with the simple brushed steel cap, in virtually mint condition. A little drier than the Pilot, but the cap has a clutch rather than screw threads, so almost as convenient – and there’s something very special about writing with a seventy year-old design icon. £80, but valued at £120 by a Parker service specialist.
    And then there’s the Kaweco Classic Sport. A fountain pen that sits happily in the pocket of my jeans with coins and keys and is always there when I need it. Filled with Diamine Blood Orange, so I can use it to mark up notes made in the blue-blacks that fill the other two. £16 or thereabouts.

    Hmm, I seem to have come in a little under budget. On the other hand, this means I could actually own these pens – and I do.

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  9. Trying again!

    This is a cool exercise. Thank you!

    Let’s see, £1,000 is about $1380 right now, which is outright generous. I try not to buy pens new, so this is going to be my premise. 

    My journey begins with a vintage MB 146 in F. You can get one for about $350 on the secondary market. I have not seen any reason (for myself) to buy it new. One does not actually need any other pens. But if one wants them, there is still over a thousand bucks to spend. Next pen should be Italian, so a new Santini or Scribo Piuma, or a vintage Omas in great condition (though sadly not the Arco), should set one back about $500-$600 – or go for a new Visconti HS or a Scribo Feel for about $700. This leaves at least $300 left over, perhaps as much as $450. For that money, I am getting a shiny, colorful Sailor Pro Gear for the joy in life, and I am also getting a custom grind for it, probably a CI.

    In other words, if I am thrifty and have bought my pens from virtualpenshow, pen_swap, or even Endless, I can come in under budget and have some spectacular pens.

    Or – go High/Low with just two pens. This would involve patiently waiting for one of my favorite MB WEs from the 1990s to come up on the secondary market for a good price, for example a MB Poe in F. This pen works as an everyday pen and as a dress pen. If I was lucky with my WE purchase, I can buy a used or even new Sailor Pro Gear. If I’m less lucky with the MB WE, I am buying a TWSBI 580, or a TWSBI Eco (Stub).

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  10. pilot custom 823 (m)
    bottle of blue ink
    some paper
    the 823 pen is a workhorse pen. good feel and looks, nice nib. some legal paperwork needs to be signed in a non-black ink. this should help get you back on your feet after losing all your writing supplies.

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  11. Thanks for consuming my Sunday! I can’t argue against your choices, but I’d pick others for me personally. I changed to $1000 rather than the $1350+ equivalent, although it didn’t really matter. I wanted to pick a wooden Vanishing Point (Capless) but I limited myself to pens available new at US authorized retailers and the wooden models are no longer available in the US. I could then cheat by adding nib units with custom grinds and still stay under three pens.

    But with my self-imposed US requirement I went with a Kanilea Kona Cherry, a gorgeous pen. ($400). I’d get it with a fine nib which would be ground to a left-oblique. Call the grind (with 2-way shipping) $100 for easy math. (The imported VP would have been less)
    Then a Esterbrook Oversize Estie with a Journaler nib ($240)
    The workhorse would be a Lamy Aion in Dark Green with a extra-fine nib ($75)

    That’s only $815 and I have no desire to spend up into the budget. I’d have a nice assortment of nibs and pens.

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  12. 1) Aurora Optima. Great looking colo patterns. Fun nibs with the stub, italic, or double broad options. On the smaller side but that’s what I prefer.

    2) Pilot Fermo. Well built, always writes, sleek, convenient. Easy to swap out nib units if desired. (No limit on nibs here, right?)

    3) Kaweco Sport. A fun, carefree everyday user with good nib variety.

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  13. Interesting exercise!
    I would go for a 3 pen collection covering the bases of my present experience with pen use, one for being at home and writing journals and personal letters, another for work, taking notes, signing reports and writing on clinical notes, and a third for fun, doing writing for social media maybe writing cards and envelopes..
    So my first choice would be a Pelikan M800 in EF. I have small hands and do not enjoy large pens other than for looking at them. Pelikan is a solid brand and I have never had any issues in the ones that I own, but it is not a Veblen good and does not have the status connotations of Montblanc. I would prefer a special edition in blue if available or the present Stressman Anthracite at 309£
    The second choice would be a Pilot Capless with a gold F nib. the carbonesque blue would do for me. Excellent writer, fits into the pocket of my hospital attire and has never let me down. 179£ at current prices.
    The final choice would be a Twsbi Vac 700 demonstrator with a choice of nibs including a stub 1.5 mm and an EF, total 100 £. Decent pen with a fun filling mechanism and ease of nib exchange so you can have several pens into one. Perfect for glittering inks that are only used for Christmas and Valentine cards, or envelopes or for fun posts on Facebook. Besides, it can be a good writer for any other purpose.
    So that makes an grand total of 588 £. I suppose I can also buy a collection of Rhodia A4 notebooks for work, A5 Tomoe river diaries like the ones sold by Galen leather and plenty of Tomoe river A4 100-pack sheets of paper for my correspondence. And a selection of 10 inks to cover all the bases as well.

    Thank you for the fascinating blog!

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