Tumbling down the rabbit hole of the fountain pen hobby should be a magical experience - one that opens our passion for writing and self-expression. In this wonderful world of fine writing, there are hazards and pitfalls that could break your passion for pens.
Using my 15+ years of experience working in the pen industry, talking to fellow collectors, and managing my personal collection of fountain pens, I flag these “hobby hazards” and put little orange cones around them, so you don’t accidentally fall out of love with writing.
In Part 1, you’ll shop smarter by becoming aware of counterfeits, scams, and shady secondary market items.
In Part 2, you’ll see how to deal with or avoid problems with defective pens.
In Part 3, which you’ll find below, we discuss hobby fatigue and what you can do to rejuvenate your love of pens.
Death by a Thousand Nibs - What is Pen Hobby Fatigue?
Let’s face it - buying pens and inks can be addicting. Most pen enthusiasts don’t stop at just one pen. A typical collection might contain dozens, if not 100+ more pens. At a certain point, sometimes driven by economics, fatigue sets in.
When we look at our boxes of unopened pens, drawers full of partially full ink bottles, and a stack of unused notebooks, we come to the sobering realization that we won’t exhaust our supply of writing tools in our lifetime.
For collectors who want to collect, that’s OK. Most pen enthusiasts feel that pens are meant to be used and appreciated for the tools they are. When you notice that not all your pens and inks are getting enough love, that’s when hobby fatigue sets in.
Establish a Code for Collecting
To keep from excessive pen purchases, I suggest imposing a limitation on being able to acquire new pens. Here are a few ideas: You can set aside a portion of your monthly disposable “fun & entertainment” budget toward pens - lovingly known as a “pen kitty.” You can reserve a portion of a windfall, bonus, overtime hours, or other unexpected cash to put toward a new pen. Or, you can set a maximum limit of pens in your collection so that, if you want a new pen, you need to sell one you already own.
Expanding your ink collection can get quite costly as well. Some bottles can cost upwards of $30+ a color for 30ml to 50ml. With thousands of colors available from makers around the world, it’s easy to see how a pen enthusiast might have an entire drawer or bookshelf dedicated to bottles of ink. The most cost-effective way to try as many inks without breaking the bank is to shop for ink samples.
Several retailers (including yours truly) offer vial-sized samples of ink, usually in 2ml sizes. It’s just enough ink to fill a cartridge converter pen 2-3 times or a piston filler once or twice. You can swatch the ink, compare it against your other inks, and see whether the color would be a worthwhile investment in a full bottle. Samples can usually be purchased individually for $1 to $3 for a 2ml sample.
Just like the multitude of ink colors available, a pen enthusiast may have a selection of nibs to suit their handwriting style. If you like to switch things up, instead of buying a pen in each nib size, find a pen model that offers replacement nibs - like a Lamy Safari or Pilot Vanishing Point. You may purchase alternate nib sizes at a fraction of the pen cost and keep them for when you want to switch from an EF nib to a stub or B to an F.
Also, many fountain pen manufacturers use nibs manufactured by Jowo in Germany. These nib units have the same specs for the housing to screw into the grip section of the pen. Therefore, you could purchase replacement Jowo nib units for all your fountain pens that are compatible. Before you go nib shopping, make sure your fountain pen is compatible with the particular nib unit.
Addition by Subtraction: Destashing
If, after evaluating your pen and ink collection, you feel the fatigue of having too much and not being able to enjoy it all, I suggest a Marie Kondo-like cleanse.
Hold your pens. Do they spark joy anymore? Or, are they getting in the way of your enjoyment of writing? Log all your ink colors - it helps to catalog them in something like an InkJournal.
Which colors inspire you to write more and get you excited to put pen to paper?
Make a list of the pens and inks that no longer spark joy. Then, you can offer them up for sale or give them away to aspiring writers.
This Just isn’t “Write” For Me: Mismatches in nib, ink, and paper
(NIB) SIZE MATTERS
Buying a luxury pen, no matter how expensive doesn’t guarantee an amazing, life-changing experience, nor are you assured to write a New York Times bestselling book with it, either. When looking for a supremely pleasurable writing experience, one needs to consider three key factors: nib, ink, and paper.
Have you ever bought a pair of shoes one size too large? Your feet slide around as you walk, making painful blisters the more you wear them. While writing with the wrong nib size might not give you blisters, it could still be a painful mismatch that would lead you to despise picking up your fountain pen.
As we venture in our journey down the fountain pen rabbit hole, we have to decide which nib size(s) are best suited for our writing style. Just like with shoe and clothing sizes, not all manufacturers produce the same “M” nib size. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of an opportunity to “try on” nibs outside of a pen show.
Using internet research and asking for opinions on pen discussion forums, it’s possible to get an idea of how a particular nib size would perform for our needs. But, we never know for sure until the rubber meets the road, or the nib meets paper.
So, if you are just starting your journey and have purchased a few fountain pens that “just don’t feel right,” or “don’t write as nicely as other people make it seem,” it might mean that the nib is not a good fit for you. To explore other options, see if replacement nibs for your current fountain pens are available. Get the next size finer or broader and try it out. It may make a world of difference and turn a hated pen into a loved one.
Ink is the lifeblood of the fountain pen. There’s more to ink than just the color (or hue). Most fountain pen inks contain water, dye, and a combination of surfactants, biocides, humectants, pH modifiers, and anti-foaming agents. Unfortunately, there’s no “nutritional facts” label on ink bottles to determine which colors will give your pen a wetter flow. So, just like with nib sizes, we have to experiment to find the best inks.
A poor ink match with your pen could cause skipping and hard starting. If that’s the case, try a different ink in the same pen and see if those issues still remain. Shimmer and super sheeny inks tend to be the most troublesome in general and should be used with fountain pen nibs that are broader with a wetter flow.
PERSNICKETY ABOUT PAPER
It might seem like an afterthought, yet, paper is one of the most important aspects of writing with a fountain pen. And, no, it’s not because a bougie pen deserves bougie paper. It’s because the baseline “office supply” standard for notebook paper is just like the same standard for pens. The lightweight paper in most notebooks is made with either ballpoint pens or pencils in mind. Fountain pen-friendly paper needs to be able to handle ink in large volumes without bleeding, feathering, or showing through to the other side.
Writing on recycled paper can take what would be a pleasurable experience and turn it into a mess. Your handwriting becomes illegible due to the feathering. You might only be able to write on one side of the page since the ink seeped through to the other side.
For the most ideal canvas for your writing, look for paper that has a weight of 70gsm or more. With the exception of the superlight Tomoe River (at 52gsm), most fountain pen-friendly papers generally will have a thicker weight that can handle the ink saturation.
There are several brands that focus on premium quality paper made for ink. Those are Clairefontaine, Rhodia, Maruman, Tomoe River, Kokuyo, Midori, Life Stationery, and Graphilo. If you select a notepad or notebook from any of these brands, your writing experience is assured to be excellent. For inkjet copy paper, use HP 32lb color laser paper.
Sometimes, a pen enthusiast can’t control the paper quality they’re writing on. Perhaps their place of work requires them to use a certain type of paper. In that case, considerations need to be made in selecting the nib size and ink. Subpar papers might still be able to handle finer nib sizes without feathering or bleeding through. Also, some inks, like Noodler’s X-feather, are formulated to write on lighter papers.
With these tips, we hope you can see the signs of pen hobby fatigue and make the adjustments needed to better enjoy your fountain pens.