Last year, I posted about my plan to limit myself to ten nice pens and, since then, I’ve had plenty of people get in touch to say they’re imposing their own limits – sometimes more than ten, sometimes less – and talking about their experiences. Just as often, I have people asking how I manage my collection and the decision about which pens to keep or sell. While I wouldn’t say it’s an organised system, there is an approach that I use and I’ll share it in today’s post.
First off, I break my pens into three function groups. The first is the workhorses: the ones which virtually live in my study, get used every day, and have been selected through trial and error over the last few years. I started with Pilots, dabbled with Faber-Castell, stepped up to Pelikans, and ultimately realised that the best brand for me personally was Montblanc. They aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but they work well for me: ultra-reliable, nibs which are smooth and slightly cushioned, solid ink capacities, and designs which don’t distract me from the work.
I use a Montblanc 149 with a medium nib as my primary writer, usually with a wet blue ink (Bungbox Sapphire is the favourite). I bought the 90th Anniversary as a Christmas gift to myself and was somewhat let down at first: I was using M805s at the time and the MB nib seemed too fine and the pen itself seemed too big. After a while, I got comfortable with the size and now I’m grateful that I didn’t get a bigger nib, as this is just about perfect for most of the work I do. (Note that there are plenty more images on my Instagram feed, if you want to see more of a particular pen.)
For editing and markup, I use a burgundy Montblanc 146. This rather beautiful pen was sold to me as a medium nib but it puts down a noticeably slimmer line than the 149, so I call it a fine-medium. It’s a perfect match with Diamine Syrah and that’s been the ink of choice for years now. MB Burgundy, MB Shakespeare, and Sailor Oku-yama have all been tried but none performed quite as nicely as the Diamine. Unfortunately, this one has flow issues: every now and then and I’ll have to prime the feed to restore a consistent flow. It only happens once a month or so, but it’ll eventually take a trip to the MB Service Centre.
When I’m sketching out ideas, I like a pen with a soft, wet nib and a Rhodia dotpad. There’s a lot of scribbling, arrows, dot points, and rework, and for some reason the process is far more enjoyable with a softer nib. Usually, the Visconti Homo Sapiens is the right tool for the job and I like to play around with inks for this one. More often than not, it’s Montblanc Irish Green but the pen also suits browns like Diamine Ancient Copper, Pelikan 4001 Brilliant Brown, and Montblanc Toffee.
Most of the time, these pens live together in my Visconti three-pen case. I like to work from dawn at a table outside (sheltered, so I can keep working when the wind is blowing or the rain is falling) – there’s something about the fresh morning air which I find invigorating. Keeping the pens in the case makes it easy to move about, even though I’ll admit it’s a bit redundant when I could just carry them in my hands.
One of the things I like about these three is that they have a relatively consistent design, including the trim (well, mostly). I find the consistency aesthetically pleasing; it gives me a little feeling of happiness whenever I unzip the case and see them together. Whenever I’ve tried substituting one of the pens, I miss the feeling of consistency and that pushes me back to this trio. They’ve been my workhorses for well over a year now and it’s tough to imagine anything new coming into the picture.
Top Drawer Pens
My partner conspired with Nicholas Gold (aka Eclectidbits) and Dennis, the manager at Couronne du Comte, to buy me a small pen chest for my birthday this year. The Ferocase chest was an inspired choice; it has space for eight pens on each of the two drawers and I’ve found myself keeping my nice pens on top (hence the name). The function of these is to be beautiful pens which are pleasurable short-form writers.
First and foremost is, of course, the Hemingway. Except it’s been away in Hamburg for four or five months now while the pen is restored and the nib swapped (from a fine to a double broad). It’s an excruciatingly long time, cushioned somewhat by the knowledge that MB are custom-making the nib and have taken my personal preferences into account (wet and stubby!). It should be home next month and I’m patiently counting down the days til I can ink it up with green: MB Irish, Bungbox Emerald, and KWZ Iron Gall Green #3 are on the short-list, and I’ve ordered Bungbox Dandyism and Platinum Forest Green.
Second is the Agatha Christie that I’ve been enjoying for the last six months or so. I’m not sure if the nib is broad or double broad, but it’s a deliciously wet stub that seems to suit every ink that has been run through it. A very kind friend recently gave me a bottle of Sailor Grenade, which is a perfect match for the ruby eyes of the snake clip. This could very well become a permanent match (for as long as the ink lasts, anyway!). I still can’t believe that I got this pen for less than US$1k – easily my best-value acquisition (and balancing out the financial mess that was the Hemi acquisition).
Third is the Firenze which I gave myself for my birthday. It’s a lovely pen, though it took me a while to get on good terms with the leather: from time to time it would stick to my hand a little, which made writing annoying. I’m not sure if it was something to do with the leather, or just the insane humidity that we endured in February. It also took a little while to adjust to the nib, an oblique double broad. For a time, I worried that the oblique simply wasn’t for me. But a little time and practice took care of that. Both issues are now in the past, and I use it daily. Currently, it’s inked up with KWZ IG Blue #6 but I’m on the lookout for a rich, wet blue-black ink without any grey shading. Fortunately, I have Yagan Kiely – Mr. 550+ Bottles! – to help out.
Fourth is the 1912 which I still gush about. There’s plenty of reasons to dislike this pen – it’s short, it can be time consuming to uncap and extend the nib, the cap scratches the barrel, and some have found the ink capacity underwhelming – but all that disappears when you start writing with it. The nib is the softest modern MB that I’ve ever used and the double broad on mine is a real delight. I like to run different inks through here but it’s frequently full of Emerald of Chivor – that ink is a perfect match with the nib, flows perfectly, and is an absolutely joy to use.
Moving away from Montblancs, the fifth pen is my Omas Arte Italiana in liquid green and ruthenium trim. It’s got all the makings of a wonderful pen: beautiful design, a big honking stub nib, huge ink capacity, and it was a gift from my partner. It’s been a bit of a pain, refusing to play nicely with any inks, until I gave it a fill of KWZ Iron-Gall Green #3 a few days ago. So far, it’s been working beautifully and this might have saved me from sending the pen to Classic Fountain Pens for a new nib and feed.
My other Omas is the total opposite. It’s a purple Ogiva Alba with a fine, flexible nib which came to me via Matt Armstrong (thanks again Matt!). My partner gave it to me on Christmas Day in Manila, after a week of culture shock and homesickness, and I think it helped to steady the ship and get me comfortable with that strange and wonderful country. This pen sometimes substitutes for the Homo Sapiens, but the silver trim colour doesn’t match the other workhorses, so this never lasts long. It’s a superb pen for writing out letters: takes a bit more effort and concentration to use but I find it more enjoyable.
Seventh is my Graf von Faber-Castell Classic, with the pernambuco wood finish. It’s a slim pen – almost as slim as the MB Rouge et Noir – but it feels comfortable and I’ve always enjoyed using it. The medium nib was ground into a 0.8mm stub by John Sorowka (‘Oxonian’) and it’s got a lovely bit of bounce to it. Sailor Oku-yama is my go-to ink with the GvFC but lately, it’s been filled with J Herbin Poussiere de Lune. It’s not going to get re-inked with this pen, but it’s a lovely match for now.
The final spot is currently vacant. I did have a plan to introduce some vintage Parker Duofolds as my office pens but it turns out I’m not a good fit with vintage pens. I worry too much about dropping or breaking them, and my clumsiness being the reason why a 90-year-old pen doesn’t make it to 100 years. (The Big Red has sold but the blue Duofold is still available, if you’re interested.)
This group of pens gets used for a bit of everything: dot-pointing ideas, notes, meetings, shopping lists, etc. Basically anything that doesn’t require me to sit down and focus on one thing for hours at a time. Often when heading into the office, I’ll grab two or three pens, almost at random: whatever I choose, I know I’ll enjoy using.
Lately, I’ve noticed that I’ll have a couple of these pens with me when I’ll start doing a bit of writing and wishing for a pen with a fine nib and red ink for markup. I’ve had a good look around but nothing quite fits the bill: I’m no longer interested in acquiring pens just because I like them, they also need to fit in with the rest of the collection. It’s surprising how little this mattered in the past but how much it matters to me now.
I’ll be trying out a Montblanc Rouge et Noir shortly to see how it writes and fits in. The coral-coloured Rouge would be a nice fit with the others and the new burgundy model (available later in 2017) is a stunner. Fortunately, there’s no rush and I’m happy to wait til something really speaks to me.
Beyond these pens are an assortment of other pens that serve some specific purpose: I keep a white Vanishing Point by the bed with an A5 dotpad, a Starwalker in the car with an A6 notebook, and a Sheaffer Legacy in the bag I carry to uni. There’s also a stash of Twsbis dotted throughout the house, most of them seeing relatively little use.
My first FP, a black Parker Sonnet, also hangs around and gets inked once in a blue moon. My late grandfather taught me to write with that pen when I was young, so it’s pretty beaten up. The tines look like I once dropped the pen and bent them back into position. While it still writes decently, it really needs some professional attention. Finally, there’s the pen that my grandmother gave me for my birthday: a blue Sheaffer Imperial. It’s the same model which my grandfather carried for many years and, like him, I keep it full of black ink (though I suspect he didn’t use Iroshizuku Take-sumi). It has a medium nib and the feedback makes it write just like a pencil. Ink dries quickly so this has proven to be quite useful for making notes in my Hobonichi each day, and sometimes it gets me thinking about Pa, which is nice.
The only other pen in this selection is another Montblanc 149, this one with platinum trim and a broad nib. I’m in a real quandary about what to do with it: it doesn’t get used very much, so several times I’ve wanted to list it for sale. But the nib is just so divine that I can’t bear to part with it and the 149 is close to being the perfect pen shape for me.
Eagle-eyed readers will have noted that I’ve listed more than 10 pens here, an apparent violation of my own rule. But there’s two clauses which put me on the right side of things: first, the rule only covers nice pens (a term we never really defined). I felt that anything with a resale value of less than US$200 shouldn’t count, which the pens outside the Top Drawer (excluding the broad 149). Second, we added a clause a few months after the rule was created. As I can’t re-sell pens that have been gifts, those aren’t counted in the list. That leaves eight pens:
- MB 149 (M)
- MB 146
- MB Hemingway
- MB Agatha Christie
- MB 1912
- Visconti HS
- GvFC Classic
- MB 149 (B)
There's space here for something new, a markup pen or perhaps something else which catches my eye. While there’s a few novelties from Montblanc which have piqued my interest (like the new Writers Edition LE!), I’m not sure if I’ll end up pulling the trigger on any of them. Beyond a new markup pen, there isn’t much functional need for anything new and I don’t feel much desire to buy more purely for the sake of adding something else into the collection. It would come down to aesthetics and there’s few products which can be justified purely on aesthetics grounds, particularly since I already feel like I own too much.
The pen limit has been surprisingly effective in reducing my desire for new things and making me seriously question the value of any additions. After the first month with the limit, I stopped feeling like I was missing out by not having a Conid, more Viscontis, a Pilot 823, or the like. It made it clear that I can be happier with fewer pens. It’s also made me aware of which pens are core and which are non-core. If a Skeleton ever came into play (and there’s a reasonable chance it will!), the MB 1912, broad 149, and GvFC Classic would all be sold to make way. They are wonderful pens and I love each of them, but they wouldn't all be worth keeping them.
Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the collection and I don’t have a burning desire to make changes. It feels like I’ve covered almost all my bases and I’ve got a good variety of pens that get frequent use. After years of trial and error and years of building up the collection, it’s a really good place to be in and I’m very happy to be here.