If you have never dabbled in fountain pens, this portion of our guide may not be the place to start. You should really learn whether or not xyou like fountain pens before plunging into the world of $50+ pens.
I already wrote a fountain-pen guide here for the novice who wants to just check things out and for the frugal writer looking for a great pen at a great price. Once you get to the pens in this range, you have clearly succumbed to the allure of fountain pens.
$50 – $150 a.k.a. “You Have Turned Into A Pen Person”
For me, this is the sweet spot of pen purchasing. You can get really terrific looking (and terrific performing) pens in this range, and they will last you a lifetime — or at least the duration of your career — if you treat them with even a modicum of respect.
TWSBI Diamond 580
TWSBI came out of nowhere, seemingly, a few years ago. In truth, they had long been an OEM manufacturer for other, fancier-sounding pen lines, and they brought that expertise to a line of pens that are much better than their price tags would lead you to expect. For $55, the Diamond 580 is a ridiculously good buy. You get your choice of nibs — fine, medium, or broad — and if you want to purchase separately, you can even pick up an italic nib. You also get a gorgeous demonstrator piston filler. “Demonstrator piston filler” sounds pompous, because every hobby must have its jargon, but it actually means what it says. The pen is a demonstrator because you can see what is going on inside and it is a piston filler because it fills via a piston that pumps up and down. If you like showing off what color ink you’re using, this is for you.
A quick note: by definition, a piston-filler can not be switched back to being filled using cartridges, so with this one you are committing to bottled ink.
I hesitated a bit about recommending the Prelude. Sheaffer was once one of the great American pen makers, and they had a reliable line of fountain pens at nearly every price point. But, in a case of “how far the mighty have fallen,” Sheaffer became the company that makes those sort of ballpoints people give you in a box when you graduate from high school and they don’t know what else to buy you. Sheaffer still has some stars in its lineup though, and the Prelude is one of those. You can get a Prelude anywhere from $50 to $150, depending on the finish. A nickel-plated one will run you around $50, while you can get one with palladium and 22K gold (pictured above) for $140 list and $100 on sale. (Never pay full price for a Sheaffer pen. There are always sales. Always.) The Prelude has a classic aesthetic and looks good in the breast pocket of a suit. You can fill via Sheaffer’s (regrettably) proprietary cartridges or buy a converter so you can use bottled ink.
$150 – $500 a.k.a. “Do Not Misplace These Under Any Circumstances”
Pelikan Souveran M400, M600, M800
If I could have only one type of fountain pen ever again, it would be the Pelikan Souveran. Pelikan makes the Souveran in five different versions. The M200 is a smaller, lower-cost steel-nibbed option and the M1000 is enormous, expensive, and built, seemingly, only for the hands of ex-football players. The middle trio of the Souveran series are list priced from roughly $400 to $800, but you can usually get them around 30% off that price. The green and black stripes are the famous iconic Pelikan colors, but you can also get the Souveran series in other stripe colors and limited edition solids designs.
If you want to spend on the lower end of the scale, a Pelikan M400 will run you around $250. That price gets you a 14K gold nib, and to be frank, once you write with a gold nib, you may never go back to lesser nibs. They are impossibly smooth and reliable. You can write with almost no pressure, which allows you to write forever. I once handwrote a 15-page settlement proposal with a Pelikan M400 because there was no computer available in the mediation.
The M800 (pictured above) can usually be picked up for $400 or so and upgrades your nib to an 18K version. I would venture to say that most women will find the pen too large to handle for any length of time, but at least it is not as ridiculously outsized as the M1000.
Franklin-Christoph Model 19
Franklin-Christoph has done something very savvy with all of their fountain pens. No matter which one you buy, you can get everything from steel nibs in the standard (extra fine, fine, medium, broad) sizes, italic steel nibs in two sizes, and 18K gold nibs in extra fine, fine, medium, and broad. If you want to pay even more, you can delve into the exotic world of things like music nibs (a three-tined nib) and needlepoint nibs for the very tiniest writing. The variety in nibs means that your cost for the 1901 will range from $195 to $300 depending on how fancy you want to get. The 1901 is the flagship of the Franklin-Christoph line and runs a bit large, but they have several others in a variety of sizes. All tend towards a classic aesthetic — dark colors, clean lines — and will never look out of place in a business setting.
$500 and up a.k.a. “The Holy Grail”
The Holy Grail of pens is always going to be uniquely personal, but it typically refers to something that is close to unattainable, either because of price or because it is ridiculously difficult to find. Some people will pick one of the harder to find limited edition pens, like the John F. Kennedy 1917 Mont Blanc, which is so expensive that no one will actually tell you how expensive it is.
It might be a venerable pen re-created in incredibly expensive materials, like this $28,000 Parker Duofold. In order to get the full effect of this pen, you really need to read the breathless prose that accompanies it:
The precious black resin is sheathed in an 18-karat solid gold casing – a refined interpretation of the brand’s classic chiseled pattern. The 16 diamonds (8 on the cap and 8 on the barrel) have been carefully selected and artfully faceted to catch the eye and inspire the mind. The nib, ring and commemorative decal are delicately crafted in 18-karat solid gold, and each pen is numbered so no two are alike.
The pen is beautiful…
…but can you really imagine using it? Would you ever, in a million years, hand over your $28,000 pen to a colleague or a client so that they can sign a document? Of course you wouldn’t. That thing probably costs more than your car.
For me, if I could find an Eversharp Skyline in near-mint condition, I’d buy it in a heartbeat if money were no object. The Skyline is a shining example of 1940s modernity, resembling a railroad, a skyscraper, the future.
For my money, it’s the most gorgeous pen ever made. Early in my collecting career I picked up a near-destroyed one for $60. In order to find one in excellent condition and to get the nib customized to an italic (hey, as long as I’m dreaming, right?) it would run me about ten times that. Someday. No matter what, it will never cost as much as that Duofold.
Featured image: “fountain pen nib and flowing colorful ink” from Shutterstock.