Moving Up in the Fountain Pen Market


After a few budget ($25 range) fountain pens that turned out to be less satisfying than I had hoped, I’m thinking that its time I break past my previous price barrier into a higher-end fountain pen. I’ve never broken the $100 threshold on a fountain pen but I’m wondering if it would be worth it to do so. The idea of better build quality and 14K nibs certainly appeal to me.

As I’ve been researching and browsing, I’ve come up with a list of requirements: I prefer smaller fountain pens, not larger pens best weighed in pounds or kilos. I like fine nibs but some super fine Japanese nibs have not worked for me in the past so something in the range of a European fine or Japanese FM or M. I prefer classic (bordering on vintage) good looks and I’d prefer silver accents on caps and clips but that isn’t a make or break for the right pen.

There are several I’m considering but I hoped you, my fine readers, would have some recommendations. So, here’s what I’m considering:

Of these four, three are Japanese and include the potential covet-worthy gold nib. I’ve always loved the classic good looks of the M205 and it is the least expensive in this list but its a steel nib.

Does anyone have any experience with any of these or a recommendation for me?

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33 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I have a Pelikan M205 and M215 and they are both wonderful pens. My F nib has a bit of flex to it, which feels very elegant, and they are the only pens I own that I don’t find fatiguing to write with for long periods of time. They write first time, every time, and although I often like a more modern look, you can’t argue with their classical appearance. 🙂

    My only concern with the German nib is that even an EF won’t be fine enough for you.

  2. I love my Pelikans as well- 2 120’s, and a vintage tortoise 400 (which incidentally was bought on eBay for less than the Sailor, Pilot and Platinum you mentioned). The Pelikan 120’s are in EF and F. The EF is almost equivalent to a Japanese FM. The Sailor nibs are a bit different from Pilot because they are not perfectly, ultra smooth. They have some tactile feedback which many people like, and some do not. In terms of classic good looks however, the Sailor or the Pelikan will be the better choices. I have bought a number of Pilot, Sailor and a couple of Platinums (music nibs) directly from Japan (through eBay) with great success and saved a ton of money. Some were auctions and others were “buy it now”, and even with international shipping were less than buying in the US. While I am all about supporting US retailers, they usually do not have the nib or furniture color selections you can get through Japanese dealers. However, you don’t get that instant gratification effect as shipping (going through US customs) takes about a week. I also live in the Midwest and the pen goes directly from Japan to Chicago where this area’s Customs Office is located.

  3. I would choose the Pelikan. They have interchangeable nibs that range from steel to gold. You’ll be able to find a nib that suits your writing. It’s also a pleasant pen to write with, very well balanced and not too heavy.

  4. A well restored Parker 51 with a fine 14k nib might fit your needs. It’s a little on the smaller side, vintage, very smooth nib, and available in silver accents.

  5. The Pilot Custom Heritage 92 has a fabulous nib that has a bit of soft springiness to it. It isn’t flexible, but has some nice give while writing, and is incredibly smooth (I have the fine nib).

    The Sailor Pro Gear Slim’s nib is rigid and as been mentioned has a touch of feedback. My fine is still smooth, but I can feel the paper I am writing on, which I find pleasant. It is smallest in the hand than the other Japanese pens, and I find it one of the more comfortable pens in that regard.

    I have a Platinum Century #3376 and it’s nib is rigid. I have an EF so that is naturally a bit scratchy. It is not a heavy pen for its size, and is pleasant to use. It feels the most plastic of the three pens, but it feels substantial at that. Both the Pilot and Sailor feel more delicate than my Platinum.

    Hope that helps!

  6. Pelikans are great. My first “serious” pen was a Pelikan M200. Now I have a whole flock of them. I would look at the 215. It’s nice having a little extra heft. The Sailor is nice, too. I have a 1911M and it has a great nib. My other 14k gold nib pens are the Lamy 2000 and Vanishing Point, but those don’t have the styling you’re looking for. For my next pen I’m looking at the Pilot Custom 74, which is also on your list. Brian Goulet seems to really love his.

    1. I agree with Sharon, the M215 is worth a little extra (I bought it as a gift to myself – my first over-$100 pen – when Good Mail Day came out!). It feels seriously glamorous to use, whereas the 205 is lighter weight.

  7. I just bought my first “serious” pen, a “Binderized” Vanishing Point from Richards Pens. Use it with Pelikan 4001 ink, and find it amazing. Hope your step-up is equally satisfying. I have also been interested in the M205. Looking forward to hearing what you get!

  8. I would look at the Lamy 2000. It might not be “vintage” looking but it is a classic (introduced in 1966). I have an EF nib and am very happy with the performance. It is also on the lighter side due to the makrolon body.

  9. If you buy a Pelikan M205 you need to buy one from a nibmeister because Pelikan nibs are notorious for being bad writers out of the box. Richard Binder ( or John Mottishaw ( would be good places to buy as they will tune the nib for free (no affiliation to either). I know Richard Binder can even make the M205’s nib a full or semi-flex for a small fee. The Pelikan nibs unscrew which makes then very easy to swap.

    Out of the pens you selected the Pilot Custom 92 Skeleton checks the most boxes for me as it is a piston filler and has a 14k gold nib. I don’t have experience with this pen but I have used a Custom 74 and it’s a great pen. Hard to wrong with Pilot; they have an ultra high level of quality control and they make all their nibs in-house unlike Pelikan (except for the M1000).

    Sailor and Platinum also make their nibs in-house…this is not to say that the Pelikan nibs are bad they can be as good as any other nib but I just like the idea of a nib manufactured by the company that makes the rest of the pen.

  10. I haven’t graduated to a Big Boy fountain yet, but I always figured if I were to break Benjamin mark, it would be with a Pilot Vanishing Point.

    I suppose it’s not as attractive to a south-paw, eh?…with the clip where it is and all…makes sense, it not being on the list.

      1. The Pilot Capless Decimo is worth a look if you want a slimmer version of a VP and a smaller clip that doesn’t interfere as much. I agree that the location of the clips on the VP (I have several and still like them) can be problematic, but it is something one can get used to. sells the Decimo.

  11. I echo the Parker 51 recommendation. If you get it from a reputable seller that will allow you to return it if you’re not satisfied, you should get something that writes well, reliably, and looks classic. Look for an aerometric, not a vacumatic, because those hardly need servicing. Commonly found with fine nibs.

  12. If you are willing to look at stainless steel nibs, I think the TWSBI pens are worth a look. They are well built and designed modern pens available at very reasonable prices. A variety of nibs are available and easily interchangeable. If you’re looking for a smaller pen, the Diamond Mini is a good choice.

    1. Walter, I actually own two TWSBIs — a mini and a Diamond 540 and I do like them both. This search is my efforts to push up to a $100-$200 pen. I feel like I need to experience them to know if there is a difference when the price increases. But I agree that TWSBIs are very nice pens. Thanks!

      1. Continuing the discussion on vintage pens, you might also consider a Parker 75. Those are slim pens with a metal body with an interchangeable nib. Still well available (example: Because of the metal body, they are heavier than the resin barreled pens.
        To get a Pelikan with a gold nib, you have to start with an M400, unless you do a nib swap.

  13. I owned the M205 and a Sailor. Could not tell the difference in the NIB though one was 14k and the other steel. Both were too small for my tastes, so that sounds like what you’re looking for. My pick would be Pelikan.

  14. I have a Pelican M205 and a Sovereign 400 you can borrow and try out. Would get you a stainless steel and 14k nib to try.

  15. Even a Pelikan M200 as a first up would be a great move and the nibs on all the 200 series are interchangeable. I have 2 M200, 1 215 and 1 205 and consider them “standards.” They stay inked, don’t clog easily or often and are lovely to hold. I also like the Falcon SF nearly as much or as much as it also is reliable. Of course the Pelikans are piston and the Falcon is a c&c.

  16. The “best” of my budget pens are the TWSBIs and Kaweco AL Sports & Liliput. I am finding the difference is in the material the nibs are made of. I prefer the 14K gold for the semi-firmness. I have the Pelikan M205 Taupe that I want to put an M400 gold nib on. Otherwise it is not very useful. So far the only vintage pens I have had luck with are the piston fillers. I have a Kaweco Kadett and an old Kaweco Sport piston filler that are ready to write every time.

    1. Snowflakeschance, I completely agree about the TWSBIs and Kawecos. I own several of both and think they are great pens. I’m just looking forward to trying something that’s a little higher up in price, potentially with a gold nib to see if the price jump makes a difference. And I do love those vintage pens! Thanks!

  17. Pelikans are good. I also like the eccentric vintage look and feel of the Sailor Profit 1911 series – comes with 14k nib and in various colours but my favourite is the cadmium yellow. (No green as yet) These are on eBay from reputable dealers for US$100-150.

  18. The new Pelikan green demonstrator highlighter (about US$120-150) could be an option with their interchangeable nibs replacing the supplied BB with a steel F (about US$50) or 14k m400 nib.

  19. I actually haven’t used the professional slim that often (the pen seems pickier on the ink that only Sailor and Pilot inks give it optimal result while other tend to run dry). But now looking back, if I were to start over and pick my first pen, I might go with a softer gold nib (in Japanese fine). The Sailor pen was nice (well, very nice) but sometime I thought the nib just don’t feel too different that an hard-as-nail steel one.

  20. I have a Sailor Pro Gear (medium), an M205 (extra fine), and a Pilot Custom Heritage 91 (fine). The Sailor and M205 write at about the same line width, but the Pilot is narrower. I don’t recall if the Sailor Pro Gear has the same type of nib as the Pro Gear Slim; if they do, then that would be my top choice. My M205 wrote nicely out of the box, and it’s great for a steel nib. That would be my second choice. I would probably rank my Pilot higher if I had a medium nib instead of the fine nib.

  21. Just avoid sailor I have had very bad experience with them they were all direct Japan imports .I got sailor 1911 L with MF nib its a hopless nib can be used as paper cutter,next a sailor realo fine nib the realos have a nib which is bigger in size than profit large but it was also all scratchy then to dash all my hopes a sailor reglus i ordered on ebay with M nib also turned out horribly scratchy.This put an end to my Sailor dream .I had gone for sailors as I had done my research on net and found all but praises for sailor nibs,but having had a personal encounter with sailor nibs I can vouch their quality control has gone down drastically or these nibs are being outsourced from china ,whichever way I have found Pilots more consistently better out of the box than sailor.

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