on Alternative Writing Implements

Ever considered owning a fountain pen?

In my mind (and my wife’s) fountain pens were those fancy super-expensive hard-to-use pens that rich snobs and characters from Victorian period dramas use to write elegant notes in perfect penmanship. They’re not for anyone who makes less than six figures, owns only one car, or isn’t devoting their entire income to eclectic pursuits.

Turns out that’s not quite true. You can buy a fountain pen for $3. That’s not exactly competitive with a pack of ballpoints from the supermarket, but it’s way more affordable than I thought.

We bought a $30 fountain pen and a bunch of ink that should last us for months if not a year, and it cost about $50. Not bad, and for someone who loves pen and paper as much as the wifely one, it’s a neat present. That’s from the site with the $3 fountain pens (and also some $700+ pens that I assume turn sunlight into ink and come with assurances that everything that comes out of them will read like Steinbeck wrote it).

Fountain pens come in a variety of filling styles. Some (like the $3 jobs) take pre-filled cartridges. Some take cartridges that are refillable outside the pen. Some have barrels you pour ink into with an eyedropper. Some, like our $30 pen (and the $700 unicorn horn ones) have a piston system that fills like a syringe: Push in, stick the tip into a bottle of ink, pull out to suck ink into the pen.

I’ve been to old-timey historical parks, and I’ve used a quill pen. They run out of ink real fast (because it’s all at the tip of the feather) and they scrape across the paper in a disconcerting way that makes me think of nails on a chalkboard. I’m glad to say that fountain pens don’t do that. In fact, writing with a fountain pen is a LOT like writing with a ballpoint pen, except that you can get different widths by pressing down different amounts. As a bonus, you get the option of changing inks to all kinds of crazy colors like orange, brown, or (we had to buy some) invisible. There are also some that fluoresce under blacklight.

I don’t think I have the hang of the light touch a fountain pen needs because I kept getting lines of uneven thickness (yay accidental calligraphy), depositing tons of ink on the paper and smudging it, etc. The pen ran out of ink after two days of playing with it, probably because I was pressing too hard and depositing too much ink.  But it’s a pretty nice experience, and opens up lots of options.

All in all, it’s a much nicer and cheaper experience than I expected it to be. I’m pretty sure we will be keeping this pen long enough for it to pay for itself.

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