Exploring vintage fountain pens from the first half of the 20th century is often an important part of the pen hobby, and there can be a lot of exciting things to find from the golden age of the fountain pen. I have quite a few old pens in my own collection, and have also spent a lot of time learning how to restore them, but for everyday writing I almost always prefer modern fountain pens.
There’s a lot of cool stuff to discover among vintage pens: they had a larger selection of nibs back in the old days, there were countless unique and fancy filling systems, the pens were made of beautiful materials that are no longer available today. Still, I never have my vintage pens in daily use. Rather, they are more of a curiosity, or something I pick up when I just feel like playing a little with pen and ink. Why do I think they’re not suitable for everyday use?
Don’t get me wrong: I find the vintage pens immensely fascinating. I like them, and if I come across an interesting old pen at a second-hand shop, or for a good price online, I am no stranger to buying it. But after the initial fascination wears off, they also tend to lie unused. And that applies to a wide range of different pens. I have a Waterman’s no. 52 Red Ripple from the 1920s, a Mabie Todd Swan from about the same time, a Montblanc Meisterstück 144 Green Striated from the 1950s, a Parker 51 from the 1950s, and many more. Not to mention my collection of around 50 Norwegian Pan pens. I like them all, but do I use them? No! Or at least very rarely!
It should be said that I have used the Montblanc quite a bit, but it is currently on sick leave for an indefinite period, as the piston has stopped working properly. I hope to get it fixed soon.
Could it be that I simply haven’t found vintage pens yet that suit me and my use well enough? It’s a little strange if that’s the case, because I’ve tried a lot of different pens over the years, and this seems to be a general consensus for me.
It could be something about the feeling of how they write. There’s a distinct difference between modern and vintage pen nibs. There’s of course a huge variation between different nibs, but you notice straight away whether it’s a vintage or a modern one. It’s difficult to explain the difference, though. Vintage nibs often seem sharper to me, with more of a bite against the paper, and more fickle than many modern nibs, which tend to be smoother and more stable.
Here are a few points that probably sum up why my preferences usually lie with the modern pens:
1. Vintage pens are more fragile
They are often made of materials that have become brittle over the years, and I’m just a little afraid of damaging them if I’m unlucky or not careful enough.
2. They are often more difficult to clean
Old filling systems were not necessarily designed to be easy to clean. People didn’t change ink colors as often in the past, and perhaps didn’t need to clean their pens as often as we modern pen enthusiasts tend to do. In other words, there wasn’t really the same need for pens that was easy to clean, so that wasn’t really a big factor for the pen manufacturers.
3. They often sweat a little ink here and there
Of course, this doesn’t apply to all old pens, but most of the ones I’ve had have occasionally released a little ink, which tends to remain in the cap and spill onto the grip section of the pen. I would argue that the chance of getting ink on your fingers is significantly greater with vintage pens than with modern pens.
4. They are often too small or too thin for me
I like bigger pens, and oversize pens are probably more common today than they were back in the old days. The nib can be amazing, but if the pen is too small, or the grip too thin, the pen will not see much use from me, unfortunately.
But why do I have all these vintage pens then, if I don’t use them?
Some of them I have because I think they are beautiful. I have some because they are classics, and as a pen blogger I feel that I should have some overview of how they write, and how they work. It is helpful for me to have some reference pens when I have this blog. Some, I only keep because they have an interesting story, or are an important part of the history of pens. Writing with them sometimes feels a bit like communicating with the generations that came before us, and that’s quite interesting, although I don’t do it very often.
Vintage pens are mostly fun curiosities for me, and collectors’ items. But when I just need something to write with for everyday use, it’s modern pens I go to. I kind of feel like I can trust them a little more. They also often look fresher, and feel more solid and “trimmed” in my hand.
Many of the vintage pen models are often – at least in the fountain pen community – regarded as ideals, almost semi-divine creations that modern pens could never even begin to approach. Maybe there’s some truth to that, but I personally think there are many pens released in recent years that are just as good, if not even better. How blasfemous am I? In the end, it’s probably mostly about personal taste anyway.
Am I the weird one here, or does anyone else feel the same way about vintage pens?