Earlier this autumn, I wrote a blog post where I tried to get to the bottom of why I always prefer to write with modern fountain pens, and not vintage pens. As soon as I had published the post, an idea began to form: maybe part of the problem was that I hadn’t given the vintage pens a good enough chance? Were the points I listed in the August post actually based on empirical evidence, or just an outlet for my own prejudice against older pens?
There was only one way to find out. I had to write exclusively with vintage pens for a period of time. I decided that this could be a fun project for a month, and set aside October to do it. October is the month of plotting for NaNoWriMo, so I’ve written quite a lot with several of the pens this month.
How do you actually define a vintage pen? How old does it have to be? Is it enough that it predates the modern era of fountain pens, which started around the mid-80s? Or does it have to be older?
Here in Norway, when a car is over 30 years old, it’s defined as a vintage car. I think that this can be transferred to fountain pens as well, so I decided that all pens that were made before 1993 could be defined as vintage, and therefore included in this experiment. That said, I don’t think I have a single pen from the period 1980-1995 in my collection, so all the pens I used during October were well over the minimum age of 30 years.
Pens I have used in October:
Parker 51 Black
This pen wrote very poorly right after filling. I put it aside and decided to take a closer look at it at the same time I restored a couple of other Parker pens. When I was about to start working on it a few days later, I tested it again, and then it suddenly wrote perfectly fine. Very strange. The nib has a relatively narrow sweet spot, the angle where it writes well, so it’s possible that I just struggled finding the correct angle on the first day.
Parker 51 Burgundy
I wrote more about this a couple of weeks ago. I restored it in October and it turned out to be a great pen! It writes a little smoother than my other Parker 51 pen, and has a much bigger sweet spot, which makes it easier to use.
This one got a new pump in October, which I also wrote about in the post two weeks ago. I haven’t done anything more with the nib since then, but I think it actually writes quite well. After some use, it seems less scratchy than I first thought.
Pan 53 Brown-striped
I didn’t use this pen very much, mostly because there were other pens I ended up liking better. This one is a little small for my hand, and writes with a very fine line. The nib is relatively flexible, but I felt that I had to push the pen pretty hard against the paper to get a good line, so it wasn’t that comfortable to write with. I have several other Pan nibs that I like much better than this one.
The Diplomat is probably one of my favorites among the pens on this list. It has an absolutely fantastic nib: soft and flexible, great ink flow, glides really well over the paper. It’s also one of the largest vintage pens I have. One of my complaints about old pens is that I often find them to be too small. That doesn’t apply to this one. It’s the size of a modern oversize pen. Pan Diplomat was a grail pen for me for several years before I finally found it, and it still lives up to all my expectations.
The last couple of times I’ve filled this pen, there’s been troubles with the ink flow, but I didn’t experience that this time. I think it’s probably a little picky on what ink works well. This time I used Onoto Sapphire Blue, which is a very well-behaved ink, and it worked wonderfully throughout the whole month.
Wearever De Luxe
The clip on this pen didn’t withstand me putting it in my pen case, and just fell off as soon as I tried to clip it into the case… Other than that, the Wearever De Luxe is a great writer. It’s not as flexible as the Pan Diplomat, but it writes incredibly comfortably. I hadn’t cleaned it well enough the last time I filled it, apparently, because Diamine Autumn Oak, which is an orange ink, came out mostly brown in this pen. I think the nib has a few extra nooks and crannies where old ink might sneak away during cleaning.
Montblanc Meisterstück 144 Green Striated
I sent this pen to get repaired in August and got it back with a new piston in mid-September. Finally, it works as it should again. There’s a little ink that drips out somewhere around the nib, and this settles in the cap, and then on the grip. This has been a problem in the past with this pen as well. The guy who repaired the piston in it tried to fix this too, but I don’t know if it got that much better. Anyway, it was fun to be able to write with it pen again. It has an amazing flex nib, and I don’t really mind a little ink on my fingers, so it’s allright.
Speaking of amazing nibs. This small Dorn pen, from the pen factory that opened in Ski in Norway in 1950, surprised me greatly. I didn’t have high expectations of it. It appears to be a rather cheap and low-quality pen. The plastic material has shrunk a bit over the years, which means that the metal elements don’t fit very well anymore (the cap band is completely loose, and fell off several times throughout the month). Because the materials have shrunk, and maybe at slightly different rates, the cap also has a very tight fit on the rest of the pen, so you have to use some force to get it on and off.
However: it’s equipped with a gold nib, and it is absolutely fantastic! It has quite a lot of flex, but without it becoming like an uncontrolled brush, and it writes with an absolutely perfect amount of feedback. This is the pen that looks like it belongs in the dump, but writes like a god. It’s a diamond in the rough. The little pen that could. I’ve let a couple of other pen enthusiasts try it as well. In both cases, the reaction as soon as they put the nib to the paper was: “Oi!”
College Lux Green
The College pen is made in the same factory as the Dorn pen above here. They changed their name to College after a couple of years. The nib is as flexible as the Dorn pen, but a good deal wetter, so the pen is not as well suited for daily use. The pen itself, however, is quite a bit nicer than the Dorn pen, although this too has symptoms of the plastic shrinking throughout the past 70 years.
I had completely forgotten about this pen, but found it in a box with some other pens I’m planning to restore. I didn’t quite understand why it was there, because I restored it last year, so I filled it, ascertained that it worked as it should, left it until the next day, and then found out that it no longer wrote. Half a week later it wrote again. Definitely not a reliable pen…
Waterman’s No. 52 Red Ripple
This pen has a very thin and pointed nib, which writes nicely, but I’m always afraid that it will dig into the paper when I push it in front of me, even if I try to write with light up-strokes. As a left-handed writer, this is a little problematic. The lever on the side of the pen also seems a little loose, and I got the impression that the pen didn’t fill as well as it should have, so I think I should probably take it apart and see if there’s an issue that needs to be resolved inside the pen.
Mabie Todd Swan
This is by far the most extreme flex nib I have in my collection. It’s like a soft paintbrush. It’s the definition of a wet noodle, but it comes at a price. A nib like this will oftencase not be completely leak-free, so pretty quickly, there were a few drops of ink that got loose inside the cap, and also on the grip, and further on my fingers. The nib so wet that it’s mostly just a curiosity, and not something that’s comfortable for regular writing. I love flex, but this juicy little minx is almost too much, even for me.
All in all, I think it’s been a good month, and I’ve had a few small epiphanies along the way. At the same time, I’ve missed some of my modern pens, and I find a lot of enjoyment writing with them now, as I’m underway with this year’s NaNoWriMo.
Ultimately, I still prefer my modern pens, but I’ve also found a few new favorites among the old boys. Anyway, it’s been an interesting and fun project!
What’s my conclusion after this month? Well, if anything, I’m more confused than before. I still like modern pens best, but I’m more unsure of exactly why than I was before. I like the vintage pens too, just not as much, and some of the reasons I thought I had for this opinion have been refuted now in October. Maybe it’s simply a matter of personal taste?