I visited Flying Tiger in Trondheim this summer, and found a pen pack for NOK 80,- (approx. $8), with 8 pens of different types in it. I noticed that it contained, among other things, a fountain pen, and decided to buy it for testing.
My hopes were not very high, especially after the fiasco with the fountain pens from Søstrene Grene last winter. Those were cheap chinese knock-offs of Kaweco Sport sold in a Norwegian design store, that dried out after just a few hours due to an atrociously stupid design flaw (the cap had a big hole in it, which was more or less the only change they’d made from the original Kaweco design).
Here we were again: another chain of cheap stores that had launched a fountain pen. But as a pen blogger, I do take my social responsibility seriously. This is one of the relatively few fountain pens you can buy in a Norwegian store chain. Of course I needed to test it here on the blog!
The pen pack had a ballpoint pen, a rollerball, a mechanical pencil, two gel pens, a stylograph, a marker, and a fountain pen: a nice selection of pens, really. All came with black ink, which sort of made the two gel pens a bit of a waste. I think it could have been better to have one of them in a different ink color, or possibly replace one of the gel pens with a felt-tip pen, which was not included in this set. Anyway, the two gel pens do have a slightly different design. They have different grips and clips, and the pens themselves are in different colors (apart from the inks). I think the pink version was a little more comfortable than the blue-grey one, and it also seemed to glide a little easier over the paper when I wrote with it, although the difference was minimal.
The marker could have benefited from a more visible colour. It has an almost faded pink colour, and it doesn’t really stand out on the paper, which is the opposite effect of what you would normally prefer in a marker pen. That said, I like that it has two tips: a broad marker at one end, and a more narrow tip at the other.
All of these pens are made of relatively brittle molded plastics, and already after a couple of weeks I managed to break the clip on the ballpoint pen, while I was just fiddling with it. The quality of these pens is not super-high, but you probably shouldn’t expect that from Flying Tiger either. After all, the most important thing is how they write.
I’m not particularly excited about the ballpoint pen. It’s a bit too smooth and contourless to grip comfortably, and the tip doesn’t move as smoothly across the paper as it could have. The other pens all exceeded my expectations on the writing side. The rollerball is a particularly good writer.
The rollerball is perhaps the nicest looking in this set as well, except that it kind of looks like something is missing from the top of the cap. The pen body of this and the fountain pen is the same burgundy-colored material, and I think it’s a nice color.
The stylograph consists of a thin metal tube where the ink comes out. It is, I believe, the same type of pen as the Rotring Rapidograph, whitch I think is traditionally used for technical drawing, among other things. I haven’t had many pens like this over the years, so it’s hard for me to compare it to others of the same type, but it’s a pretty nice writer!
All the pens with a cap can easily post it on the back of the pen when you want to use it, so that’s nice.
Finally there’s the fountain pen. It’s kind of reminiscent of the Platinum Preppy, especially the grip, feed and nib. It’s filled using a cartridge (in standard international size), and basically writes as well as a Preppy. It looks like a cheap pen in terms of material and design, but that’s pretty much what you get from a pen in this price range anyway. However, it writes perfectly, and far better than you can normally expect from a pen like this. The nib feels smooth and elegant over the paper, leaving just the right amount of ink. The pen weighs almost nothing, but writes easily even under just its own weight. You can’t really ask for much more than that from a fountain pen for less than a hundred NOK (which is about the same as $10).
Or so I thought!
I got a very good first impression of the fountain pen immediately after filling it, but a day later it already started to seem a little dry on some strokes. The day after the first filling, I was no longer as convinced. I filled the pen for the first time on July 28. Here’s a short log from the next couple of weeks after that:
Saturday, July 29: The pen seems a bit drier than it was yesterday. Hmm… I’ll let it sit for a few days before testing it again. It might be worth trying a different ink as well to see if that helps, as I have no idea what the properties of the ink in the supplied cartridge are. That could also be the problem.
Thursday, August 3: I tested the fountain pen again and it no longer writes. The cartridge is full, but there is no ink flowing down to the nib, which is completely dry…
Friday, August 4: I have cleaned the pen.
Saturday, August 5: I filled the pen with Waterman Inspired Blue. It took an extremely long time for the ink to work its way down to the nib (when I inserted the included cartridge the first time I used the pen, it took only a few seconds, but now it was almost half an hour). A few hours later, it’s already plagued with a few hard starts, but once I get the ink flowing, it writes quite nicely.
Sunday, August 6: The pen won’t write and I can’t force it to start. It seems completely dry.
Monday, August 7: I squeezed the ink cartridge quite a lot, in an effort to force more ink down the feed, to prime the nib. Got the pen to write again, and it worked very well for the rest of the evening.
Tuesday, August 8: The pen still writes as well as yesterday! Much better than it did a day after the previous filling. Could it be that you simply have to squeeze a little on the cartridge when you have inserted a new one, to get the ink to flow? I’ll leave it alone and try again in a few days.
Wednesday, August 9: I had hope, but it’s gone now. The pen has stopped writing, again… I’ve given it a lot of good will, but I think this is it. Damn it…
This was too bad, because it looked so promising after the first filling, but when it dries this quickly, it’s not a pen I can recommend, unfortunately. It’s disappointing… The Søstrene Grene pens also wrote very well right after filling. This one doesn’t dry quite as quickly as them, but it’s not far behind either. I hoped that I wouldn’t have to compare it to them, but I guess I just have to realize that this belongs to the same category: it’s just a lousy pen, not worth the cheap plastic it’s molded from! It’s such a shame that there’s so much trouble with the fountain pen, when the other pens in this set are actually surprisingly good. Then, like the fountain pens from Søstrene Grene, this is another product that will potentially just give people the wrong perception of fountain pens. That’s probably the most annoying thing about this.
At least Flying Tiger didn’t copy another pen. Yes, there are certain similarities to the Platinum Preppy, but overall, as far as I know, this is an original design. They’ve then avoided the other sin that Søstrene Grene committed, although it doesn’t help much when the pen doesn’t write anyway.
The pen set in itself is well worth the 80 NOK it costs, but if this is people’s first encounter with a fountain pen, I fear that it won’t help recruit any new fountain pen enthusiasts to the hobby. A lot can be said about the Chinese pen industry, but my experience is that they at least mostly make pens that work. Now, in the course of just over half a year, I have tested two Chinese-made pens from Norwegian stores where this has not been the case. What does it say about the quality control of these stores when they manage to find the only Chinese pens that don’t work? I wonder!