(The Monteverde Artista, a gorgeous pen at a good price.)
Okay, gang, I got nothin' tonight, so we're going to talk about pens. Those of you who find this topic to be a total snooze would be advised to come back tomorrow night for your regularly scheduled snark fest. As for the rest of you, I'm going to do my damnedest to make this into an informative and entertaining post, although I have to tell you that my New Best Friend the heating pad has been stuck to me like velcro off and on for most of the day and the constant soothing warmth has got me all drowsy and lackadaisical. *Streeeeeeeeeeetch* Yawn. *blink, blink*
(And yes, my back is feeling much, much better today. Thanks for all of the helpful advice and support last night, gang! You RAWK!!)
So! Some of you have indicated to me in previous pen threads that you're interested in getting a nice pen, but you're not sure where to start. Some of you wrote with fountain pens in middle school or even younger and you'd like to have one, or you've always wanted to try one, or you've even had some old cheap fountain pen that spat ink all over you and made a huge mess, dripped inside its cap, and generally was a monumental pain in the ass.
A problem with buying fountain pens in the US is that many stores and catalogs only carry the most expensive and luxurious pens since those are the ones with the highest profit margins. Most pen companies make student models, cheaper pens for everyday use, and they're a great place for anyone to start. And to my thinking, there is no better student pen than the Waterman Kultur:
About the only reliable stateside source of these little beauties that I have been able to find is eBay. They run from $15 to $20 and come in fine and medium nibs and in a dizzying array of colors and finishes. One thing that they all have in common, however, is the clear feed:
The feed is the part of the pen the ink travels through on its way to the nib. As you and your pen become better acquainted, you will find that the patterns that form in the feed can get downright psychedelic. I like to see how things work and before I bought some Kulturs from eBay, I had never seen exactly how ink flows through the pen to the page. Now, of course, I think it's the coolest thing since sliced bread.
The Kultur is the same model, basically, as the Waterman Phileas, which is widely available in the US, but usually at an inflated price and to me, frankly, they're just not as cool looking. In the last few years, I have begun to eschew gold-tone fittings on my pens. It's just a personal preference. Just like I wouldn't wear phony gold jewelry, I don't really want my pen to, either, and all the Phileas models and colors come with gold-tone clips and bands. Plus, whereas the Kultur will only set you back twenty bucks, the Phileas sells for about twice as much. Waterman pens can use cartridges or converters and work with a wide variety of brands of cartridge including Private Reserve, Pelikan, and of course, Waterman.
Now. Say you've got the hang of this fountain pen thing and you'd like to get hold of a nicer model, but you still don't want to shell out a hundred bucks or more for some fancy-shmancy piece of Austrian pocket jewelry. Or you want to get a gift for that certain elegant someone in your life who likes to write and could use a nice pen.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, meet my favorite new pen of 2007, the Monteverde Artista:
Monteverde is an American company that seems to be intent upon creating several lines of lovely, affordable pens. I have a Monteverde Mauna Kea (as do a few of our readers) and it's one of the best pens I've owned in the last decade or so. It's tough, reliable, and incredibly comfortable to write with. Some of your less exhorbitantly priced pens are nice to sign things with and make the occasional note in your address book, but if you write with them for more than a page or two they start to make your fingers and hand hurt. Not so the Mauna Kea. It's smooth sailing even after pages and pages of work.
This bodes well, to my thinking, for the Artista, which retails for about $60, but I've been seeing them a lot of places for about $50. A clear pen is called a "demonstrator" model, mainly because for decades, these were display pens, meant to show the inner workings of the pen to prospective customers, but generally not for sale. Over the last couple of years, demonstrator pens have become increasingly popular, but are often hamstrung by their designers' lack of foresight. Too many times, the pen itself is gorgeous, but the converter or cartridges are just plug ugly, which kind of defeats the purpose of having a see-through pen.
The Artista is stainless steel and clear resin from one end to the other. It takes the same kinds of cartridges as the Waterman and also comes with a converter for bottled ink and, in a surprisingly cool bit of design, even the back of the nib is clear:
I am guessing that turns the color of whatever ink you're using.
Now, I can hear some of you in the audience slapping your foreheads and exclaiming, "Jeez, fifty bucks for a pen?!" The thing to remember is that a good fountain pen, if properly maintained, will work for the rest of your life. This isn't a 99 cent Biro to use until it dies and then throw into the landfill. It's a personal tool that will get better and better the more you use it and maybe someday, it will be something that you pass on to your kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews, etc.
Both of these pens are steel nibs. There is a school of thought among pen geeks that anything less than a 14K gold nib is like brushing your teeth with sandpaper, but you know, I have one pen with a 21K nib and it's almost too smooth for me. Slippery. I find myself gripping the pen with a death-grip just to feel like I have control of it. Ultimately, I really like steel nibs. Maybe that makes me some kind of Philistine, but it also means I can buy a whole lot more pens for a whole lot less money.
Personally, once I get a few bills knocked out this month, I think I'm going to be ordering myself an Artista. It's just too good to pass up. It comes with a converter and a brace of ink cartridges (pictured at the top of this post). Me, I only really use blue inks, so if any of you guys want to call dibs on the other colors, let me know, okay?
Here are some quality pen retailers:
Fahrney's Pens: Located in Washington, DC, this is Christy's favorite pen shop.
Art Brown: Located in New York City, this is my personal favorite, just because their prices and selection are second to none.
Colorado Pen Direct: These guys have an incredible selection, but are sometimes on the pricier side.
Swisher Pens: Ugly website, good pens.
Fountain Pen Domain: Another unattractive website with a great selection.
Any other questions you may have, I'll be here in the comment thread to answer as best I can. Enjoy!