December 19th, 2008

Pen Geekery

GIVE me a pen of steel!
Away with the gray goose-quill!
I will grave the thoughts I feel
With a fiery heart and will:
I will grave with the stubborn pen
On the tablets of the heart,
Words never to fade again
And thoughts that shall ne'er depart.

-- George Pratt

I dunno. I've been attracted to pens ever since I can remember. The first pen I recall coveting was a Parker T-Ball Jotter when I was in kindergarden -- is was shiny, and it had a powerful tactile feel when the pen punched out. They're still cool pens, but somewhere around fourth grade I discovered fountain pens. There's something wonderful about sticking your pen in ink to refill it. Years back when my first book came out I thought "I should celebrate by buying something frivolous but vaguely related" -- so I bought a pen, and it's been something of a ritual ever since. (I celebrated Armed America twice, once when I got my advance, and again when it came out. I had to have something to write with in the car, didn't I?)

But since I got a bunch of emails yesterday asking "but what are your three favorite pens?" Let me wax geek out for a second with my four favorite pens:

Left to right:

A 1940's or 1950's vintage Arnold. Arnold pens were made in Virginia and by most collectors standards, they weren't made very well. They don't have a sterling reputation and ... true to the mark, I've had to repair nearly everything reparable about this pen. When I got it it was NOS ("New Old Stock" which is music to the ears of collectors, it means the pen is unused but vintage -- NOS pens are usually found in the basements or garages of old pharmacies, shopkeepers had stock, it wasn't selling, they moved it, 60 years later there kids clean out the basement, boom. Here's a bunch of pens, mustache wax and unopened bottles of Sasparilla. So loathsome was the idea of owning an Arnold pen though that even in this state it was still in the $10 cigar box at a pen show years ago. The iridium blob on the nib fell off after a couple of years and a place called Pendemonium replaced the nib, then the plunger broke and they fixed that, but I love the way it looks. I found out while signing autographs this week that it's pretty scratchy compared to modern pens. It's still beautiful though. It has a sharp thin line, but like many vintage pens, every 30 pages or so i'll just lay an egg of ink on your page and you're like "hey, I'm a father!" and go searching for the blotter.

Delta Dolce Vita -- This is a new pen, I got it last year after coveting one since they came out in the 1990's. You may remember this photo of it:

I figured if you still want something eight years after the first time you saw it, you should get it. The jury may still be out on orange pens, but find it a thing of true beauty. It writes nicely but its a tad fatter than I'd like it to be. It's been my main pen lately.

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Montblanc Traveler: Say what you will about Montblanc's -- they're the fancy pen that people who don't know anything about fancy pens know about. Montblanc has been around forever and have, until recently, been a pretty conservative company releasing a bunch of pens that look like pens year after year with the distinctive white star at the top. They're over-rated and lately gimicky (they're caught up in the "limited edition" fad -- they'll make 1,200 fancy pens, name them after Agatha Christie or some Beethoven or something, charge $5,000 each for them and madness ensues.) Most of their pens are "piston fillers" -- meaning they fill from an inkwell. The "traveler" takes cartridges. Meaning that you don't need to bring an inkwell with you if you're traveling. This was one of Montblanc's gimicky pens and most people didn't buy it because, well, it's cooler to fill your pen from an inkwell. But I found that it actually is awesome to be able to use the cartridges when I'm traveling (which is a lot lately). The pen body has a reserve in it where you can hide a second cartridge (which is super cool -- when you run out, you just swap them, like the reserve gas tank on a motorcycle "Take that, you suckers in cars!") and you can either bring a couple extras with you, if you're going to be writing lots, or pick them up in most stationary stores anywhere on earth. Voila. I got it for less than 1/3 of it's retail price because nobody wanted it. Poor baby. It writes beautifully and it's the perfect size for a pen. I've always liked Montblanc's "Legrand" pens. The ergonomics are very nice. I could write with this pen forever.

Conklin "Ohio" - Mark Twain used Conklin's and endorsed them in his lifetime. Conklin's still around and the "Ohio Series" is a new version of pens they made between 1898 and 1939 when their factory was located in (guess -- guess) Toledo. I got this one when someone posted to the LJ group fountainpens that one of the New York pen shops was ditching their stock of the Ohio's very cheap. I bought it for the price of lunch (okay, diner) and it's a really wonderful writer. It has a steel nib and makes a fine, smooth, easily flowing and very sharp line. It's a little longer than I'd like but it feels marvelous.

The Philadelphia Pen Show is January 23-25 2009 if you don't live in Philadelphia, there's probably a pen show near you. Fo Shizzle.

Please now, you geek out and tell me about your favorite pens. They don't have to be expensive. They can be sentimental, they can be gell roller balls. What inspires you to want to write?