Allow me to introduce you to my special guest today, Frank Catania, based in Fairfield, Connecticut.
In this post, Frank shares how his love for fountain pens all started, which pens have remained in his collection throughout the years and the many pleasures of using a fountain pen vs a ballpoint or gel pen.
Let's take a look, shall we!
Why a Fountain Pen?I was taught cursive writing in primary school using a dip pen. At that time in the 1950s, steel nibs and wooden nib holders were provided to each student. There was also an inkwell in every desk. These writing tools were inexpensive and our teachers were patient as they worked with their students demonstrating how to hold a pen and form the letters. Like any other subject, penmanship was graded as it was considered a life skill no less important than reading and math.
When the Bic pen came along in 1953, within a decade students as well as office workers quickly adopted it because it was a portable and permanent writer nearly as cheap as a pencil. While fountain pens were still easy to find fountain pens were priced in dollars rather than pennies. Then there was the question of keeping a supply of ink available for your fountain pens. As cheap ballpoint pens could do the job, fountain pens fell out of favor. But there was also an unintended impact as people shifted from using fountain pens to inexpensive ballpoints—the quality of handwriting began to decline. For the fact of the matter is that it is harder to control a stick pen than either a fountain pen or even a pencil. In part this has to do with the ergonomics of cheap ballpoint pens and in part it is a result of the oil-based inks used in ballpoints. While fountain pens come in a variety of sizes, most are cigar shaped rather than pencil thin. This makes them easier to hold comfortably. Water-based fountain pen ink also flows readily from a nib unlike a ballpoint which requires a bit of pressure on the page as you write.
As my handwriting grew worse over the years, I did what many college students did—I typed (do you remember typewriters?). By college my handwriting was quick but barely legible. Sometimes, even I couldn’t read what I wrote. As a result, I got into the habit of transcribing my notes after class using a typewriter so I could study them later. It wasn’t until after I graduated and began my first job that I began to think about fountain pens thanks to my boss. He always had a Parker fountain pen in his shirt pocket. He had a good hand that made his signature and handwriting impressive. In time, I decided that I would get a fountain pen for myself.
My first fountain pen was a Parker 75 Ciselle that I bought at an airport shop for about $100 in 1973.
One of the great things about fountain pens is that like journals, when you have one you often find a reason to buy another. In more than 40 years of using fountain pens, I have had nearly 30 pens, both modern and vintage. Each has its own charm because of different materials used, the various colors, as well as nib sizes, shapes and flexibility. I've now reduced my collection down to 16 pens of which only two are vintage. Most of these pens are from Japanese companies as I believe they have some of today’s best nibs and also offer excellent value for money. The cost of the pens in my collection range in price from about $20 for an Aurora Idea (a student pen) to $700 for a custom-made Nakaya pen from Japan.
While it is not difficult to spend hundreds if not thousands for a pen, quality fountain pens are easily available in $20-$50 range. You can even find disposable fountain pens (e.g., the Varsity Disposable Fountain Pen by Pilot) that cost less than $3.00—a great way to try out a fountain pen to see if you enjoy writing with one. Other choices for inexpensive but good fountain pens are the brands Lamy and Kaweco. Both brands are from Germany and have models that can be purchased for under $50.00.
Here are the pens that I now own:
Image 1 (left to right):
1) Pilot Falcon (extra fine flexible nib)
2) Sailor Professional Gear (Naginata Togi medium fine nib)
3) Sailor Professional Gear (zoom nib)
4) OMAS Goya (stub nib)
5) OMAS Galileo (fine flexible nib)
6) Nakaya Portable Cigar in unpolished red lacquer (fine elastic nib)
7) Platinum 3776 Series (music nib)
8) Platinum Maki-e (medium nib)
Image 2 (left to right):
1) Parker 75 Ciselle (fine nib)
2) Sheaffer Targa in red lacquer (broad nib)
3) Sheaffer Balance (stub nib)
4) Aurora Talentum (fine nib)
5) Pelikan 405 (fine nib)
6) Aurora Idea (medium nib)
7) Vintage Parker Duofold (medium nib)
8) Vintage Parker Challenger (fine flexible nib)
Of course, what good is a fountain pen without a variety of ink? While cartridge ink is generally limited to a few basic colors, bottled ink comes in all the colors of the rainbow with so many shades of each color that it can be difficult to decide on buying just one or two. Bottled ink is not expensive, ranging from $10 - $30 per 50ml bottle. One bottle is likely to last for several months unless you spend your days doing little else but writing. One advantage that fountain pens have over ballpoints or gel pens is that many of the inks available have special properties such as saturation (the depth of color), shading (changing from opaque to translucent in places as you form your letters), sheening (a reflective property, often in a different shade than the ink’s base color, and scent (yes your purple prose can smell of violets). Bottled ink, as long as it remains capped is perfectly useable for years. So even if you only take out that bottle of orange ink when Halloween approaches, you will likely be able to use it for the rest of your life.
Here is a sample of the inks I keep on hand:
From left to right:
1) Aurora Black (often considered a standard for black ink)
2) Noodlers Gruene Cactus Eel (bright green)
3) Pelican 4001 Royal Blue (light blue)
4) Pilot Iroshizuku Kiri-Same (Autumn Shower: light gray)
5) Pilot Iroshizuku Fuyu-Gaki (Persimmon: reddish orange)
6) Waterman Havana (brown)
7) Sailor Epinard (dark green)
All in all, for writing there is nothing like a fountain pen. It allows your hand to glide over the page as you write. A fountain pen encourages you to slow down as you shape your letters and think over what you want to say. Most of us are happy when we find what we write to be legible but if you really want to perfect your handwriting, a fountain pen will be your best friend.
**********More about Frank:
Now retired, Frank and his wife, Jee who is from Penang, Malaysia live in Fairfield, CT. When they are not traveling, they enjoy preparing various dishes from around the world and taking daily walks. Frank is also an avid kayaker. As a fountain pen aficionado, Frank has a small collection of mostly modern pens with a variety of nibs. He regulary uses his fountain pens both for his journals and for general writing.