Guest post: fountain pen truths, part one

Welcome to the first of two guest posts from the inestimable Claire. I follow her sharp-tongued posts religiously on Instagram, and while I don’t always agree with her, I think her voice is well worth sharing… with minimal editing. Speak truth, Claire!

Hello! And welcome to my random, candid (read: snarky), stream-of-consciousness style musings on our fountain pen hobby. Some of you will know me from my Instagram, @Claire.scribbleswithpens, which is where Anthony found me. I’ve recently been sharing a series of TRUTHS I have observed: “Problems with FP Obsession”. The responses I’ve received from the community at large indicates it’s not just me being salty… these are real ‘issues’ we all face as hobbyists. So, here I am, to share them in a slighty wordier format with you lovely folk!

But first, obligatory self-immolation declaration: all opinions shared here are my own, not Anthony’s (even if he may agree and chortle along with them – does he chortle you reckon?)

#1 – IT NEVER ENDS

It really doesn’t. I started with four in April 2020. Then in June 2020 it was 10. Then it was 20. At which point I bought a case to house my new pride-and-joys. The case held 48, so of course I had to fill the slots. During those mad few months (yes, yes MONTHS, I know, it’s obscene) I developed “collectionism” and decided I NEEDED to finish the Cross Wanderlust collection. So, I did. Then it was finishing the Cross Botanica collection – something that took me so long I was well into 70+ pens. Don’t get me wrong, I have sold a few along the way. 32 in fact, with another six currently listed for sale.

Now, I have two cases. I have a spreadsheet to keep track of where they are (loaned out, in the mail from makers, in the mail to the nib doctor), and my buying habits are satisfyingly cyclical: the descent into spending madness followed by a period of reflection (read: guilt) and enjoyment of what I have (read: fund replenishment).

As I write I’m at 81 pens, with three customs in the pipe and have sincerely promised myself I won’t breach 100. But ….I have yet to:

  • own an Aurora (the Caleidoscopio Luce Rosa is my current grail),
  • complete my “one of every Benu model” mission
  • buy a pen from a Valley Girl blank (it’s so pink my eyes want to bleed which is #goals)
  • get a unique artisan pen from Brian Ironfeather and/or Troy Breeding

So, maybe 100 is limiting myself ….

Ant: you wait until you’ve been through 300+ pens like me… but the binge and purge cycle is totally true!

#2 – INK IS EVERYWHERE

No really. You start out with the best of intentions, we all do, so don’t feel bad. Soon enough the sample jars mount up as you start exchanging the next best ink with friends. You may have a cat that likes to desk invade right at the critical moment of bottle uncapping (mine is called Alan). Or you may just be a messy sod (also me).

But quickly you will find inky fingerprints on doorframes (thanks Sheen Machine), random spots of ink on the dog (watch out for Baystate Blue!). You will be shuffling things around the house to create another five inches of desk space for bottles, or you may just give in and buy a new set up completely – or relegate the husband to the garage. Whatever works!

Ant: protip: you can sell inks just like you sell pens. I am down to fewer than 100 bottles but I have at least 300 swatch cards. Second protip: 90% of inks you try bring you absolutely nothing new. How many turquoises do you need?

#3 – THE ETERNAL FOX vs DOG

We all know it so I’m not gonna write it out here, but is anyone else bored to death of this pangram? Surely the fox is ready for retirement and it’s high time the dog joined a union to represent his rights….

I spent a frustrating few hours earlier this year creating my own, and what I came up with was very NSFW. Which was fun, but I haven’t shared on Instagram for fear of getting put in the time-out box. Yes, I know there are ones about wizards and what not already. But they just don’t feel right. Surely with the combined creativity and desire to be scribbling we can come up with something better?

Ant: I have a different view on this one — I keep using ‘quick brown fox’ because I can write it 100% consistently and my brain doesn’t have to think about it at all. Which means I can focus my reviewer’s attention entirely on how the pen feels on the page.

#4 – YOU STROKE PAPER

*disclaimer* don’t be touching anything unless allowed by your local pandemic guidelines.

Is there anything better than the feeling of a pen and ink gliding across a pristine sheet of smooth paper? Pure. Blissful. And we all know that the Holy Trinity of pen/ink/paper is what we strive for every time we click ‘buy’. That moment of soul silence when we find it… that is what spurs us on.

So yes, you will wander the aisles of stationery stores (or your local The Range — they stock Oxford Campus!), gleefully dive into hidden backstreet gift shops displaying journals, and rummage in TK MAXX all in the quest to get fingers on the pages and chase your Nirvana.

Ant: I have a shortcut for you here. Head straight to Tomoe River, don’t pass go, certainly don’t collect £200.

#5 – INTERNET RELATIONSHIPS

On any given day I have scrolled for 10 minutes through Instagram, replied to messages from up to six different people across two continents, and mentally (or worse, actually) spent a couple hundred pounds on a pen. All before I have opened both my eyes, brushed my teeth or made a coffee… perhaps that’s the trick: coffee first, people and pens second?

I have a daily group chat with four friends. The worst it has been, I was phone-down for three hours (work… that thing I forget I need to support this hobby) and I came back to more than 200 messages. Of these people, I have only physically met two (damn pandemic!).

The same for my Instagram friends… I now have two penpals from it (anything to justify the pen use!), I’ve discovered the American me in Denver (only with much much better legs), I know exactly who to tag when I see any purple pen, or any newly turned PM blank, and I’ve traded mad-ass ideas with pen makers all over.

I (occasionally) think about a life without pens, and without the black hole my bank account has become, but I can’t imagine a life without this mad-fam I have grown.

Ant: y’all are bad influences. Whenever I think I’ve reached my pen nirvana, there’s always someone out there with a bargain to sell, a new brand discovered, or deeper pockets than I have. I sometimes feel I’d be better off throwing my iPhone in a river, but you guys are the only ones who understand…

#6 – GUILT: BRAND vs CUSTOM

When you get to design a custom pen you chat to the maker… a lot. Which means by the time the pen arrives you know their kids’ names, their favourite colour and what they do for an actual living (rarely do they make beautiful pens for a living, sadly like so many artistic endeavours it’s a side hustle).

Every time you see a pen they post you have to decide: do you want it because your fingers itch to hold it, or because you want to support their business? And instead, when you see a new release from a big brand, you have a brief moment of guilt when you realise your money is going into a corporate machine.

Ant: this is one where I feel very differently. As a reviewer I know the people behind the “big” brands, and they’re just as passionate and invested as the solo penturners, and can be real forces driving innovation, protecting heritage, and spreading the word. My view: buy the pens you love, whoever made them.

#7 – SPECIALITY NIBS

This one is a lesson I still haven’t learned, which considering I am clearly cognizant of it makes it even more ridiculous. I am a Broad nib girl. Give me that girthy, juicy line, oh yes! I’m also heavy-handed, like the proverbial chonky kid with crayons (I am still that kid).

Yet Scribo releases a new Feel and I am drawn to its 14kt flex nibs like a moth to a flame. My logical brain screams “BUY BROAD” at me, but like I ignore lettuce in favour of Haagen Dazs, I buy the Flex. Looking back at these decisions I know it’s because Scribo are renowned for the Sexy Flexy nibs they do so well, and when spending that amount of money you want to get the best. Which is flex. But, for me, it’s a false economy. £600 for the best nib… that you never write with. Listen to your logical brain, it’s got your back.

Ant: totally true. I enjoy a stub and flex nib as much as the next guy, but now 90% of the pens in my tray could be described as “F”. It’s what makes my handwriting look best and fits the way I use my pens. But boy did it take me a lot of heartache to learn that lesson…

Until next time…

If you’ve enjoyed these musings… there’s more to follow.

2 thoughts on “Guest post: fountain pen truths, part one

  1. Very true and very humorous often need to go together, and they often do with Claire’s musings. I can personally relate to more than one of her topics, and yes, they are all forms of insanity committed by otherwise sane and healthy people – us.

    Collecting appears to be hard-wired into the brains of Homo sapiens, and perhaps even more so for Homo sapiens sapiens (the present living members of the species). Addiction – sorry, collecting, can be observed frequently as multiple addiction – sorry again…collecting! I know I am or have been a collector of wristwatches, knives, classical music CDs, bluray movies, etc.

    We all need to step back occasionally and realize We Are Not Alone. Humor helps to restore our common humanity and the foibles that flesh is heir to. And it needs to be done periodically, because, well, we forget and jump back on the treadmill.

    Thanks to Claire!

    Like

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