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The other day, LJ friend [ profile] platofish asked if I had a favorite fountain pen, and if I did, why was it my favorite?

To be frank, I had never considered the question before, and my initial reaction was... something akin to a complete loss for words. I simply could not name a pen that was my favorite, which sort of put the kibosh on explaining why.

The more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that there are (at least) two types of comparisons one might make between items that may lead to the declaration of a "favorite." Assuming only two types, there are comparisons that are conducive to the idea of "best" or "favorite", while others... aren't, because "best" and "favorite," in the context of such other comparisons, depend altogether too much on one's mood or some other aspect.

In the first category might be items that can be evaluated with respect to one or more criteria. For example, (off the top of my head) seafood restaurants in one's area. One might love a particular restaurant because, say, that's where one met one's significant other back in the day, or because their fish is always perfectly cooked, or because of some house specialty.

The second category is not so clear cut. Take, for example, stamp collecting. If one were to ask me what my "favorite" stamp was, I would not be able to answer unequivocally, because I have a number of favorites, for various reasons (and let's face it, the old "what would be the one stamp you'd want to have with you if you were marooned on a desert island" ploy just doesn't do it). I enjoy my Penny Black (the first stamp printed) because it represents the start of the modern postal era, with stamped mail. I enjoy this one particular pair of stamps where one is positioned upside-down with respect its neighbor (philatelists call this a tête-bêche pair) because it looks so cool. I enjoy my 50-cent Canadian "Bluenose" stamp because of its elegant design and rich color. I could go on, but it's clear I have no one "favorite" stamp.

I think the same is true for most collectors of whatever, so that unless one possesses something awesomely unique—a book collector owning a genuine Gutenburg Bible, for example—it is quite likely that different items will have different attractions, and perhaps even associated stories that endear said items to their owners.

As far as fountain pens are concerned, if I were to classify myself as a collector, I would say my "specialty" is vintage pens, mostly because there are a lot of affordable vintage pens out there (i.e., $100 or less, as opposed to forking out multiple Ben Franklins for modern collectibles). Then, too, I am fascinated by all of the various techniques that were developed over the years to get ink into the pen (from the venerable "eyedropper," where the user would literally use an eyedropper to fill the body of the pen with ink, to a mad array of hardware involving springs, rubber sacs, levers, pistons, and what have you) and from the pen to paper (e.g., various nibs).

Which is not to say I have anything against modern pens. My first "serious" fountain pen (and a strong contender for "favorite") was a Mont Blanc Meisterstück that commemorated the publication of my first book and reminded me of my favorite professor during my college years (he owned one and marked papers with it). However, I feel it's too ostentatious for daily use, which cools my desire to use it all the time.

Another modern favorite is a gold-plated Mont Blanc that writes like a dream, which I picked up at an outdoor flea market in Switzerland, at a price that was described to me by a fountain pen expert as "the steal of the century." It, too, is a little too fancy to carry around on a day-to-day basis, but I do like to take it out, from time to time, and write in a journal.

Among vintage pens, my favorites are a Conklin "crescent filler" from the early part of the 20th century, an Eversharp (whose model name escapes me, but whose sac I repaired myself), and a Parker 51. I also own a Waterman 12, which has a very flexible nib that would be ideal for performing the kind of penmanship that was taught in school to my mother's generation.

Among modern pens, I really love my Pilot "Vanishing Point" pen, the operation of which resembles that of a ballpoint, i.e., depress the plunger to expose the nib; depress it again to hide the nib, as well my Kaweco AC Sport, which has an aluminum body and is very compact. My current "everyday carry" is a TWSBI Vac Mini, which features a stub nib (which allows easy imitation of calligraphic writing) and is solidly built with a large reservoir.

So I guess the answer to the question is no, I do not have one favorite fountain pen. I have several, for the reasons stated.

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The Lone Star Pen Club (our local Houston area club for fountain pen aficionados) met last night, and the evening's program was all about fountain pens with nibs (the part that applies ink to paper) that flex, offering the writer the opportunity to make thicker lines with the nib. Here's an example of the kind of writing possible with a Waterman Ideal No. 12 (done on graph paper where the lines were blue, which don't scan so well):

As I understand it, flexible nib pens were pretty what people used in the late 19th and early 20th century. The handwriting on all of the postal history (i.e., envelopes, or "covers" to use a term of philatelic art) that I've collected was done using pens with flexible nibs, and methods of penmanship were devised to actually take advantage of the nib's ability to flex.

But somewhere in the first half of the 20th century, nibs became stiffer (probably because they were being made of stainless steel and not 14-karat gold) and the lines made fountain pens became uniform. Today, there are some new pens being offered that claim to have flexible nibs, but their capabilities fall far short of what vintage pens (like the Waterman 12) are capable of.

I did a brief "show and tell" session before the program began, showing off a "Soyuz" fountain pen made in the USSR around 1990 (a gift from my sister-in-law). Speaking of flexible nibs, the pen—which appears to me to be loosely modeled on Parker designs—has a 14-karat gold nib with a fairly nice degree of flex. Here's an example, highlighting both the flex and my dismal penmanship:

Last night's meeting was well-attended, with probably 40 people there in all. (When I started going to these meetings, generally 20 to 25 people would show up.) The door prizes last night consisted of various bottles of ink, a restored fountain pen, and a piece of plastic that apparently is to be used as a backing sheet when writing (I'm freewheeling, here, as the product's label is pretty much entirely in Japanese). As things turned out, my "ticket" was the last selected, netting me a bottle of ink, which I traded for the backing sheet.

Ink, I have plenty of; backing sheets, not so much.

I think a good time was had by all.

alexpgp: (Visa)
My long-dormant interest in calligraphy was awakened a while back, but as with most things in life, there isn't really any one thing you can point to and call it "calligraphy." Some people have an affinity for Copperplate styles; others like to work with pens that are good for italics; still others opt for brush pens.

Back when I bought it, I outfitted my Lamy Safari fountain pen with a 1.1 mm italic nib, and I really enjoy writing with it (and people keep making comments about my penmanship—yesterday, at the bank, I was asked, "Say, are you an architect?"), although frankly, what my hand produces is "just what comes naturally."

What particularly interests me today is Copperplate—or what, in my ignorance, I call by that name—because I really like the way it looks, and the opportunities for adding flourishes that it offers. What I have been able to determine thus far is that it is the flexibility of the nib that accounts for the ability to make narrow and wide lines in this style of penmanship.

If no downward pressure is exerted on the nib while writing, the result is a fairly narrow line; pressing down on the nib, on the other hand, causes the tines of the point to spread apart, which creates a wide line. Beautiful writing is created by varying the pressure as one writes.

The only problem is, I just can't make peace with the off-the-shelf nibs I've bought, because they feel so stiff to me. So, over the course of some kind of online interaction—probably on Instagram, where I'm following a few calligraphers—I hear about "Hunt" nibs, and of a "#56" specifically. So I popped over to eBay, where I ended up nailing a "Buy It Now" deal to receive three such nibs for a very reasonable price, though the seller was based in The Netherlands.

In any event, the envelope arrived yesterday, and I don't know whether it was simply the luck of the draw or the fact that it was a very light bubble-wrap envelope that appeared to contain almost nothing that had been sent from The Netherlands (and, therefore, suspicious on its face, because <inhale, hold, and speak with minimum exhalation of breath> we all know what kind of people those Nederlanders are <exhale!>), but the package arrived with some green tape holding it together, announcing that it had been examined by the Customs folks.

BTW, I'm not complaining, simply observing.

The nibs, by the way, are way more flexible than the ones I bought locally. Even I could tell that was the case.

* * *

Speaking of flexible nibs, some time I ago I bought a flex-nib pen offered by Noodler's. And while the nib has some flexibility, it wasn't flexible enough for my beginner's hand.

The pen was also designed to be taken apart, affording its owner an opportunity to learn about the different parts and play around with, for example, nib replacement.

Which I did, by replacing the nib the pen came with with one from a Conklin crescent-fill pen that's been lying around in need of refurbishment for years.

The new nib writes like a dream, even without trying to do any kind of manipulation with it.

* * *

A bunch of stuff has come in. I should probably "turn to" and translate it. I've got follow-ups tomorrow and next week, which will keep me from the computer.



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