Jan 27, 2013

Pen and Ink

I've loved fountain pens forever.  After a recent bout of serious pen cleaning, I am indulging in some refilling, and am trying some new inks.  For years I thought the pen was the thing.  I've never owned a really expensive pen, at least not the kind serious fountain pen collectors pursue.  But looking at the motley assortment above, I can see that a bit of pen greed has indeed sneaked in through the years.  My standard solution to "this pen isn't writing the way I want" has clearly been "oh well, I'll buy another one."

I'm pretty sure my love affair with fountain pens started when I changed piano teachers in 7th or 8th grade.  My beloved first teacher, Mrs. Claire Stewart, was retiring to full-time momdom, after producing a series of blonde babies in my first years studying with her.  Somehow my parents discovered that the 'famous' Dr. Raymond Foote, who was reputed to be a higher level teacher, lived just across town from us.   Though he was rather intimidating as a teacher (I later found out he had studied at Juilliard with Rachmaninov himself), I was fascinated by his studio and above all, by his pen!

An unspoken rule for musicians is to mark printed scores using pencil only.   But Dr. Foote used a fountain pen!   He wrote the date IN INK on the top of each new piece I studied

and then wrote out my assignment sheet with the same pen.   I almost stopped breathing when I saw the gold nib headed towards my music book for the first time.   The boldness!   The color!   The style!  Thus was pen lust born in my (flat-chested) bosom.

Somewhere I found and bought my first fountain pen, a cheap Sheaffer, and I filled it with the closest color I could find to Dr. Foote's ink:  'Peacock Blue'.   I thought it was very romantic-sounding and grownup.  I even thought the way I got ink all over my fingers whenever I changed cartridges was romantic.

Good thing, too, because 50 years later, I still get ink on my fingers most of the time when I refill a pen.   And, silly me:  I still think of it as romantic.
I use mostly bottled ink -- thus the colorful fingers.   Cartridges are expensive and eco-wasteful.   A few brands only take cartridges, or, like some of the new, super cheap 'disposable' fountain pens, cannot be refilled at all.  But there is a whole world out there of amazing inks, accessible online.   And I have begun to stumble through it, rationalizing further purchases with the line, "hey, a new bottle of ink is so much less expensive than a new pen" ......

My ink collection is small, but that can be changed:
Still in love with Robin Hood?   Try Sherwood Green.   The 'fast dry' means it's good for lefties!
There are hundreds of blues.   I haven't even scratched the surface yet.   But give me time.

Who doesn't need a little extra mojo now and then?

Dull name, pretty good ink.

and the classic
with the easy-to-fill inner glass pocket:
This is America:  instructions are on the lid.

Here's a new ink, and a new-to-me company.   J. Herbin, making ink in France since 1670.   No fooling.
The bottle is nothing to brag about.   But read the list of colors on the box, and tell me ink can't be romantic!
I don't speak French, but I see Black Pearl, Blue Night, Wild Ivy, Golden Button, Tender Rose, Anchor Rust..... be still, my heart.  I am smitten.   I feel a wee ink order coming on.

After a protracted fling with calligraphy nibs (Osmiroid! Esterbrook!) in company with my wonderful college roommate, Mara, I devolved back to regular writing nibs in the early '90's and moved beyond the basic drugstore cartridge pen.

Although I am currently having a love affair with a new Lamy Vista demonstrator pen (clear barrel so you can see the ink supply), the bottom pen in this photo,

my fave of faves is still Li'l Blue, a small Pelikan pen. 
This is not the greatest photo, but if you look closely you can see that the gold clip of the cap is in the shape of a pelican's beak, eyes and all.  I love pelicans and Pelikans.   After a tragic fall a few years ago, Li'l Blue needed a new nib, and one of the magicians at nibs.com not only replaced the ruined nib but custom-ground it to the acme of flow/width perfection, for my personal use.

As I've perused pen blogs and tracked down pen & ink stores online, I've learned that real pen snobs, er, I mean, aficionados, like to add a little notation at the end of their handwritten letters, mentioning the type of pen and the ink they have just used to write it with.   So imagine that I've handwritten this entire blog for you.  And imagine this below my signature, at the bottom of the page:


  1. So fascinating! I was given a fountain pen for my graduation by a very dear friend. I loved using it. I'll have to dig it out again and renew my love.
    Jenny Marsden

  2. Nice post. I have a similar reaction to anything I see written in fountain pen ink. I work at a University and several of the faculty use fountain pens. I'd love to get them all together and hear what they have to say about their pens and inks. I recently bought the Private Reserve Purple Mojo. It's a beautiful shade of purple. Another favorite is Noodler's BayState Blue. Such a vibrant shade of blue. I'm looking forward to reading more of your posts.

    1. Melanie, welcome to my blog. I recently bought a purple pen for my Purple Mojo ink. Tsk tsk. A Visconti Rembrandt -- splurgy, but it was an early birthday present to myself. I ordered a bunch of blue ink samples when I first discovered Goulet Pens and among them is Noodler's BayState Blue, but I haven't tried it yet. I am curious as it seems to be a bit controversial.