John Skoyles writes the column "Pen and Ink" and is a professor at Emerson College, a poet, and author of the memoir, Secret Frequencies: A New York Education. Find out more about John and his work at www.johnskoyles.net.
My interest in fountain pens started when a friend gave me a Lamy Safari. Then it escalated as I investigated other brands and moved onto high end Pelikans (the Souveran M1000); Mont Blanc 149; Visconti Opera Master; Omas Paragon Wild, and Omas Etruria.
The funny thing is that in my experience, most of the pens (both high and low end) write very well and pretty much the same. Today’s steel nibs can be good as gold. Exceptions are the nibs I’ve had adjusted by top-notch nibmeisters like Mike Masuyama who does business at Mike-It-Work. He refit the nib and feed on my Omas Paragon so that it has continuous flow, and he ground the tip to a 0.6mm stub. It is smoother than any pen I have and glides across the page — remember, of course, that fine paper adds to the experience. Clairefontaine, Rhodia, Exacompta, Maruman and Pelle are among my favorites. (Last month I sent a leather Pelle journal as a gift to a friend who wrote me back, calling it “a gorgeous and generous piece of craft and artistry”). Which reminds me that I tried a cheaper journal the other day, and the ink feathered and blotted...totally useless for fountain pens.
The high end pens have an allure, almost like works of art.
The Visconti Opera Master is very large (6 inches); mine is a demonstrator, meaning the barrel is transparent, almost as if a fish or sea monkey could swim there. It has a 23K palladium nib, which writes beautifully, but how much better than my Pilot Vanishing Points or my Sailors? The difference to me is negligible.
I have a love hate relationship with the Delta Dolce Vita, the oversize model. This, too, is a large pen, with a bright orange barrel, a black cap and gold furniture. When I showed it to my son he said it was the ugliest thing he ever saw. I admit it is garish, or close to it. Still, I found its over-the-top appearance irresistible. But soon I discovered I was slightly embarrassed to take it out at a meeting. I put the DV up for sale on a fountain pen website, titling the ad:
FOR SALE: MY MISTRESS: LOVE TO BE WITH HER, BUT NOT TO BE SEEN WITH HER: DELTA DOLCE VITA OVERSIZE.
A suitor soon took her off my hands. A few months later, I found I missed her and bought another one, exactly the same.
As one of my friends says, “There are love relationships, and there are hate relationships, but the strongest is a love-hate relationship.” That’s me and the Dolce Vita.
I got the Mont Blanc 149 from a friend in a trade. It feels like a corporate lawyer should own it: stately and staid. I am more attached to the smaller 146, a gift from Pat de Groot, an artist who used it for decades, but she had filled it with India Ink. This was before the availability of great black inks like those made by Sailor, Aurora, Noodler’s, and Herbin whose Perle Noir is my go-to black. It took me a week of flushing the 146 with ammonia and Fred Krinke’s Secret Sauce, but I did clear it out and now when I use it, it reminds me of my friend.
I love my Rotring collection. They are the sturdiest, heaviest pens and pencils I own, like nunchucks, and different in appearance from anything in my pen box.
And there are the pens that I never take from the house. They are treasured and not used — I ask myself what is the point if that’s the case? I’m afraid I’ll lose or drop them — these are my Stipula Eturias. I have an Amber, a Cracked Ice and an Alter Ego. The last is aptly named as it stays home when I go out. They remind me of the lines in a poem by James Tate:
O Desire! it is the beautiful dress
for which the proper occasion
Maybe one of these days, I’ll find the occasion, and I’ll take an Etruria with me. I’ll put on a shirt with French cuffs, along with the gold cuff links, never worn, my aunt gave me when I graduated from college.
Several readers asked the breed of the dog in the painting by Pamela Painter, posted two weeks ago. The dog, Zero, named for the big circle on her back, was an Olde English Bulldogge.
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