The best fountain pens are a necessary luxury for those who love to write. In a world of throwaway thank yous and the constant deluge of emails, putting pen to paper is a joy.
The best fountain pens are a hand held luxury. There is something entrancing about writing with a fountain pen; a little bit of civilisation in the world of instant messaging, constant updates and incessant electronic interaction. Of course, these Luddite tendencies extend only so far. Few of us would raid the nearest Apple store wielding a hammer. But it is necessary to retain some elegance in everyday life, be it in the field with one of the world’s 20 best shotguns, sporting in style with the best vintage hunting and shooting clothes or the choice of best fountain pens.
BEST FOUNTAIN PENS. BEGIN IN BURLINGTON ARCADE.
Penfriend was founded in 1950 by Ivan Mason, originally a Parker employee. In 2007 it was taken over by Amaya Cerdeirina. From the small shop in Burlington Arcade and new, larger store on Fleet Street, it delivers personal service and the best fountain pens. “The best thing about coming to us is that you can have your pen fitted to you,” she says. “People can spend hours in the shop, trying different pens and nib styles. It is essential to try a pen before you buy one.” Penfriend offers a choice of modern and vintage pens, from Montblanc, “a great present”, to bolder Italian brands and older models. “There is a fountain pen for everyone,” Cerdeirina says, “and we are here to help you find it.”
Montblanc doesn’t sell pens but lifelong companions. “No one buys one of our writing instruments because they need something to write with,” says Christian Rauch, managing director of writing culture and leather.
“A Montblanc is an expression of a cultivated lifestyle. It is for signatures on important documents, thank-you notes or letters,” he says.
The classic Meisterstück 149 (£535), entirely hand-crafted on site in Hamburg, is made to bequeath. The last design changes were made in the Fifties. “I still write with the Meisterstück my parents gave me on graduation,” says Rauch, “although I test all our new products.” There are nine Montblanc nibs, but for €1,200 you can visit the factory, have your handwriting computer-analysed and a bespoke nib made to your requirements. If you covet something even more rarified, then a limited-edition Montblanc can run to €100,000. The Alfred Hitchcock limited edition 80 (£17,900) sports a special surface effect on the barrel and cap (think stairs in Vertigo) and a knife-shaped clip recalls Psycho.
“We are proud that everything is developed in our workshop in Geneva,” says Frank Barelle of Caran d’Ache. The Swiss manufacturer’s standard range incorporates noble materials, precious metals and carbon fibre in the design. Nibs come in eight widths. The iconic Varius Ivanhoe (£333) is sparingly elegant thanks to its chainmail barrel. The company was the first to introduce coloured lacquer on its pens. One of the best fountain pens is the Leman bicolour (£450) is vibrant and sure to add dash to one’s script.
“The best fountain pens shows what we call a certain ‘savoir vivre’,” says Barelle. “The art of good manners is to write with a fountain pen.” Its limited editions signal the fountain pen as a luxury. The latest, “Caelograph”, (£3,500), features a map of the sky.
A THRIVING MARKET FOR FOUNTAIN PENS IN BRITAIN
The British fountain-pen market is thriving. Tim Tufnell is the third generation in the family business Yard-O-Led, specialising in best fountain pens and pencils that are all individually hand-crafted and hallmarked.
Fountain pens come in fine, medium and broad nibs and offer a pleasing element of tradition for the writing enthusiast. “There are very few businesses left in Britain which are as reliant as we are on the skill of craftsmen. Certainly, no other fountain pen manufacturer does nearly as much as us by hand. For example, it takes eight separate processes just to make a fountain pen’s clip,” Tufnell says. The best-selling Viceroy Barley Standard (£345) is elegantly understated.
“I love using the Grand Retro (£370) with black ink,” says Tufnell, and the Viceroy Grand Victorian (£570) echoes those confident early industrialists with aplomb.
THE BEST FOUNTAIN PEN EVER MADE?
The Onoto pen company had been mothballed in 1958 until James Boddy and Alastair Adams bought it in 2005. “James had a dream of creating a set of pens to celebrate Admiral Nelson but couldn’t find a pen manufacturer interested. A chance meeting led him to track down Onoto and buy the company,” says Adams. All Onoto fountain pens are made in the UK, either in Petworth or Tewkesbury. Two or three new models are released per year. The Onoto Magna plunger filler is the company’s most famous fountain pen, “considered by many as the best fountain pen ever made,” says Adams.
The 1937 design is timeless and covetable, with the Onoto name engraved on the barrel. It has been revived, from original drawings, in black acrylic with 23ct gold fittings (£795). The Magna Classic in sterling silver (£1,085) or in blue-ice acrylic (£330) is well balanced and stylishly art deco. “Everyone has a Montblanc, so for people who want something even better, from a British maker, buy an Onoto,” says Adams.
“Our flagship model is the Churchill (£532), based upon a design used by Sir Winston Churchill in the Twenties,” says British fountain pen company Conway Stewart.
A classical-style, oversize fountain pen, it can come with a lever filling mechanism. The Belliver (£363) will fit most hand sizes and is sure to add flair to letters, and the distinctive, limited-edition Kipling (£514) has words from If and The Elephant’s Child on cap and barrel. “We pride ourselves on using the best materials. Some of our limited editions still use casein [a form of resin created from milk proteins in the late 19th century] and regular editions use more practical acrylic resins,” the company claims. Conway Stewart nibs allow anything from spider-web-thin script to an extravagant flourish, with three sizes of italic nib, too.
THE TRUSTY PARKER FOUNTAIN PEN
The Parker Duofold has been in production since 1921. The most recent incarnation, the Duofold International Pearl and Black Gold Trim (£349) is pure Parker in its simplicity and usability. The contemporary monochrome (£295) in rose gold would make a fitting tool to tackle piles of thank-you letters, while the vintage Parker 51 is one of the most covetable collector’s models.
The best fountain pens need ink. Many brands have their own, although “our formulas are such that they are suitable for most types of fountain pen,” says Phil Davies of Liverpool-based Diamine Inks. “All our ink is made in the UK. We listen to our customers and try to give them what they want. Blue is generally in demand but, at the moment, ancient copper is proving a runaway success. In autumn seasonal browns are popular, although my favourite colour at the moment is a dark green.” The company’s website is a treasure trove for the inky fingered, with 100 inks on the books and another 10 in the pipeline. Write regally in Monaco Red or channel the Ceasars with Imperial Purple or even blend your own; my current preference is a wintry teal.
The fountain pen may have fallen out of favour but the revival is well underway. If one is going to write make sure it is with distinction using the most elegant instrument for the job. And, of course, a beautifully hued ink. One can flirt, fawn or fantasise on paper, but it is always done best with a fountain pen.