By Michael W. Harris
Getting up to speed on any new hobby or interest is both a daunting and exciting task. The internet has endless message boards, comment threads, and FAQs, but sometimes it is hard to tell good from bad information, and you might be scared to ask a question lest you risk the wrath of internet commenters proclaiming you a n00b and yelling at you to go comb through pages upon pages of archives to hunt for your answer rather than wasting their time.
Luckily, the stationery world is [usually] much more civil, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t easy resources to help you cut through the endless pages of Google search results! In the previous post here, I listed some great blogs and YouTube channels to get you started in your pens, ink, and paper exploration, and this time I am pulling together many of the resources that helped me out as I was getting started, along with some other posts that might help you avoid some common pitfalls when diving deep into the world of stationery.
Fountain Pen 101
Like many people, there are certain…preconceived notions surrounding fountain pens that must be dispelled or overcome when entering into the world. Things like different types of nibs, filling with ink, that they are expensive or finicky (both of which are true, sometimes). However, it is really not so difficult over these barriers and Brian Goulet (of Goulet Pens) has done a wonderful series of videos called “Fountain Pen 101” that are a great beginners guides to all things Fountain Pens. Really, if you are looking for answers to any questions, the Goulet videos are a great starting point.
But what if you are looking to buy that first fountain pen, but might be a little put off by taking advice from someone who also sells fountain pens, ink, and paper? (Though, honestly, you can trust Brian and his team. Yes they want to sell you stuff, but only to the extent that you are comfortable spending the money.) Well, luckily most pen bloggers have compiled lists of what they consider the best “starter” pens, along with pens in high price ranges. These are a great shortcut to finding out what is available and what is good. However, these are NOT shopping lists, more recommendations of things to try out and explore when you can. I recommended the lists compiled by The Pen Addict and The Gentleman Stationer, along with Ed Jelley’s post on best starter pens. Also check out Ed’s post on “Everything You Need To Start Writing With Fountain Pens” for a quick list of some essentials, and also some not-so-essentials.
And you lefties do not worry! There is a Fountain Pen 101 video specifically for you, plus they made an entire series called “Left Out” going more in depth with questions most lefties will ask when getting into fountain pens.
So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and have picked out what you want to buy, hopefully. The best way to actually do that is to go to a physical store and talk with knowledgeable staff who might be able to give you better insight, let you hold a pen and test it out, and see if it fits your hand, grip, and writing style. Unfortunately, many of us live in places where it is not feasible to go to a store, and pen shows come but once a year to very specific locales (yes, there are indeed pen shows…it is like ComicCon but for even nerdier people). If you do not know if there is a brick-and-mortar store near you, you can check out this handy map and see. If there isn’t, though, there are many on-line retailers (some of whom have a physical store) that you can order from. Below is an incomplete list of US based retailers I have had good experience with (sorry foreign readers!):
- Goulet Pens
- Pen Chalet
- Goldspot Pens
- Vanness Pens (physical store in Little Rock, AR)
- Anderson Pens (physical stores in Appleton, WI, and Chicago, IL)
The Hard Question
Okay, so you’ve taken the plunge and are loving writing with your new pens and inks. Now comes the hard part: cost. Ostensibly, one of the advantages of using a fountain pen is that, over the course of your lifetime, you can save money by reusing the pen and filling it with ink…but the truth is that for many of us, once that pen bug bites, it bites hard and many people end up buying way more ink, pens, and paper than we can use in multiple lifetimes. To say nothing of buying pens in the multiple hundred dollar price range! For some, that is okay and is the accepted cost of the hobby and they have the means to explore. For others, it can be the road to overextending yourself financially and can cause some very real problems. There is no one good way to solve this issue, and it is up to the individual to control their own expenditures. However, many bloggers, have mused upon this and other issues surrounding the hobby, and I’ll point you to a few here.
- Anthony at UK Fountain Pens has written a lot about this, and has been very open about his own process and how he tries to manage his collection. I recommend the posts “Boiling a Frog” and “13 hard-learned lessons from a veteran fountain pen addict.”
- SBRE Brown’s video on “The Difference Between Collecting, Using, and Accumulating Fountain Pens” is a great piece on the subject deciding what and how you want to use/not use your pens. It is helpful in that once you have decided what type of fountain pen/stationery person you are, it can help you manage your buying habits. I, myself, am both a user and accumulator, but I only want to buy and keep what I can reasonably use.
Another great way to get to use and experience pens before making a costly purchase (and perhaps a mistake) is to find or form a local pen club (plug: if you are in the Memphis, TN, area consider joining us at our next meeting!). Check out this map and also sites like Fountain Pen Network, FPGeeks, and the Reddit fountain pens thread for information and (virtual) community. There is also the Pen Addict Slack channel available. Simply email Brad Dowdy via hello -at- penaddict dot com to get an email invite to the channel.
There is a lot to explore and enjoy in the world of pens, paper, and ink, but you should always do so to the degree that you want and are comfortable with. Many people buy a few “starter” pens and quite happily go about their day using only them. Others amass huge collections of pens from all over the globe. Some will collect every model of a vintage maker, and others will buy only a few high dollar and collectible pens. There is no one way to be a pen addict, and that’s okay. All are welcome at the ink testing table!