My First Fountain Pen(s)

Review by Laura Cameron

I’m new around here, but I have a confession to make: I might be addicted to pens.

From left to right: Retro 51 Tornado Rollerball in Pink, Twinkle and Fountain Pen, Pilot Metropolitan Pops in Turquoise and Lime and TWSBI Eco in Lime.

I’ve been around pen enthusiasts for years. My father can always be found with a pen in his shirt pocket and, more often than not, it’s a fountain pen with a fine nib and peacock blue ink.  When I moved to Kansas City almost a decade ago, Ana and I met through other shared interests (knitting and tea), but it wasn’t long before I was a regular reader of the Well-Appointed Desk.

Almost two years ago now, I had a taste of my first gateway drug: a Retro 51 Tornado Rollerball. It was pink and I was in love. It wrote so smoothly, and I loved the weight of the metal pen in my hand. It wasn’t long before another Retro came to live in my house. This time it was the Retro Tornado Limited Edition Twinkle.  I saw it and I had to have one.

It took a little longer for me to move onto the “hard stuff.” I’m a left-hander and all I remembered from trying fountain pens as a kid was that I smeared the ink all over my hands and I thought fountain pens were fussy.  

But in late 2016, while listening to the Pen Addict and idly browsing Pen Chalet, I found a deal that was too good to pass up. I ordered a Lamy Safari in Dark Lilac and a box of the Dark Lilac Ink to match. 

And I hated it. I feel bad even saying that, but it just wasn’t a good match for me. I really disliked the angled (molded) grip the most, but I also didn’t how lightweight it felt. I used it halfheartedly for a few weeks and then sold it to what I hope was its forever home.

I mulled my options over. And then I went back to my favorite dealer and ordered something I hoped I would truly love: a Retro Tornado Medium Nib in Black Cherry. It arrived and I took a few weeks to load it with ink, afraid that I’d be let down once again. I don’t even think I told Ana I was experimenting with pens and inks. Eventually, I loaded it with a black cartridge and played a little bit. The feel was SO much better. I really wanted the weight of a metal pen in my hand, and a smooth grip really pleased me. The medium nib let the ink flow beautifully.

Then I saw several reviews of Robert Oster’s Fire & Ice and I wanted that particular ink so badly. I had to wait until it was back in stock, but finally it was mine. And it was a perfect match. I’ve been trying other pens lately, contemplating additional purchases, but I still go back to the Tornado most of the time. I just can’t beat the “high” of the right pen and ink.

A few weeks ago Ana generously lent me a few other pens to try out. One was a Pilot Metropolitan Retro Pop Turquoise with a fine nib. I immediately gravitated towards this one because it was more of what I liked: a metal body that had some weight to it, a round smooth grip, and a nib that let ink flow smoothly. Another confession: within a few days of testing Ana’s out, I had ordered a green one for myself.

The second pen I had been jonesing for was a TWSBI Eco. This one was obviously a little different in terms of materials and style than what I knew I liked, but I was fascinated by the clear model where you could just twist it to load the ink. I dithered about purchasing one until Ana offered me hers to try.  At first I wasn’t sure about it. The TWSBI is a bigger pen than either the Retro or the Pilot, and of course it’s a plastic body.  But I used it for a few days and it grew on me so I expect one to come live with me soon. Ana’s TWSBI Eco has a fine nib and that was probably the least pleasant nib I tested. I found it to feel kind of scratchy on paper, so I’m looking forward to trying one with a medium nib to see if that feels better.

The final pen that I wanted to play with was a freebie that I received from Goldspot with my first order. It was a Jinhao 599A Orange Demonstrator pen. It didn’t have any of my preferred options (it’s plastic, it has an angled [molded] grip, etc.) but I eagerly inked it up with a sample ink and wanted to test it.  However, I was really disappointed because it leaked everywhere. I think the seal between the feed and the barrel was defective because I kept ending up with ink blobs on my page every time I pulled it out. Since it was a freebie I have to admit I chucked it.

I’ve enjoyed a lot of things about this new addiction of mine. First of all, there are some really lovely pen people who have a lot of knowledge and are generous about sharing that knowledge. I have added quite a few blogs and Instagram feeds to my daily routine, and I’ve also found some great stores to work with. All of the pens that I’ve spoken about above are available for less than $50, which I consider to be a reasonable starting fee. The Pilot Metropolitan is a steal at under $15 (via Jetpens) and looks and feels fun to boot. I’ve really enjoyed learning about what features I like the most and I’ve also enjoyed spending the time with analog tools. I spend so much of my day typing, that it’s nice to get back to writing with nice pens and ink. I’ve also noticed my writing style change. In the last several years I’ve developed a very heavy hand. I grip my pen fairly hard, and I tend to press down hard on paper when writing. I don’t know that I was aware I was doing it, except now I’m lighter and easier with a fountain pen, I am happier with the results.

So, I guess the only question is what’s my next pen?

(Editors Note: Today is Laura’s birthday and her first post here on The Well-Appointed Desk so please leave her lots of nice comments and a birthday wish or two, okay?)

Laura Cameron is a tech editor, podcaster, knitter, spinner and recent pen addict. You can learn more about her knitting and tea adventures on her website, The Corner of Knit & Tea and can find her on Instagram as Fluffykira.

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18 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Happy Birthday! And also: what a fun post! I really enjoyed reading about pens I have and love (the Retro Tornado) as well as finding new pens that I now covet (Pilot Metropolitan Retro Pop. Every color.). I’m excited to find this site and a new fellow pen enthusiast!!

  2. Happy Birthday! I feel the same way about the plastic Lamy Safaris. I bought the copper-colored Al Star and like it much better. It does still have the same grip, though.

  3. Happy Birthday, Laura!
    I bet when you are ready to break the bank on a pen, you’d like to look at a Karas Kustoms Ink. They are round and metal and heavy. It kind of feels like they do all the work of putting nib to paper.

  4. Happy birthday, Laura, and thanks for the great post. I have that same Metropolitan Lime and I love it. I may have to give some of your other favorites a try …

  5. Happy birthday!
    I love your first entr, If you like pens with a heft, I would recommend Faber-Castell e-Motion ,although they pricer.

  6. Happy Birthday Laura. I enjoy posts that mention family members being pen enthusiasts too. My father always has a pen in his pocket, but it’s a ballpoint.

    When you had the Safari, did you have one of their left-handed nibs? Being right-handed, I’ve never used one, but I’ve wondered if those nibs help lefties.

    I’ll check out your blog because though I don’t knit, I do love tea.

    Have a very happy day!

  7. Happy Birthday and thanks for the post. I enjoyed it. I have a number of fountain pens put have not added a Retro 51 to my list and you have me thinking. You comment about our pen community being full of very nice folks is spot on.

    All the best,

  8. Happy Birthday! I enjoyed reading about your initial experiences with fountain pens. It’s nice that you can borrow some to try. It’s hard to order pens off the Internet without being able to try them. I need to hold them to know if they’re right for me or not. You’ll have to get a pen show. Then you can see all kinds of things in person.

  9. Happy Birthday! Great post. And, last but certainly not least, welcome to the pen family.

  10. Happy birthday! I have the Retro 51 and that is an exceptionally smooth writer. Other good metal options are the Karas Kustoms options. Also good metal pen are the various options from Nemosine and the Lamy Studio.

  11. What a fabulous first blog! The Retro 51 is a great pen I have a Lincoln that is a EDC with my notebook, very under-rated and a hardly ever mentioned brand.

  12. Belated Happy Birthday. How far back can you remember your life? Always interesting to learn how people got into this fountain pen world. From what you say I think you would enjoy the heft and smoothness of a Pilot Knight with M nib. I got mine from Pen Chalet where they are currently on sale for $24. What about tatting?

  13. Happy birthday! I can’t think of anything better than a fountain pen, ink that you love, that perfect tea, & a pair of socks on the needles…
    Wishing you many years of joy.

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