want. oh, yes. do want.

The latest thing on my “want” list:

m400se

That’s a Pelikan fountain pen, more specifically the M400 in the Special Edition “Brown Tortoise” pattern.

That right there is a writing instrument.  (For those curious about price: it’s just north of $200 from most Pelikan dealers.)

Pelikans are typical German engineering: conservatively styled, extremely well designed, and meticulously put together.  I have one Pelikan right now, the translucent blue M205, and that brown M400 Torty would look pretty sweet in the pen wrap next to it. 

Does a $200 fountain pen write any better than a $30 one, or even a $2 gel pen? Not necessarily.  Why, then, would anyone drop two c-notes on that ink stick? To answer that question, you’d have to figure out why people buy BMWs, for example.  Does a $50,000 Beamer get you to the grocery store any better than a $20,000 Toyota?  Maybe not—but if it was only about the end result, nobody would ever purchase cars with leather seats and real wood on the dash when cloth and plastic are available as alternatives for a third of the price. 

Writing with a pen like the one in the picture above may get you the same result as if you had used a $1 throwaway gel ink pen, but you wouldn’t get the tactile experience of that fine gold nib gliding across the paper, or the preparatory act of unscrewing the cap and posting it on the back of the pen (which kind of feels like you’re cracking your knuckles for the work ahead), or the attachment you form with a tool that stays with you through quarts of ink instead of ending up in a landfill once it’s empty.

The truth is that people are willing to pay extra for a superior user experience, and using a fine fountain pen over a throwaway ballpoint is much like driving a BMW instead of a spartan econobox.  Both will get you where you need to go, but only one makes you actually want to take it for a spin just for the joy of using it.

23 thoughts on “want. oh, yes. do want.

  1. Schmidt says:

    .. what about clogging? I gave up writing with pens and took pencils after having several pens of variable quality clog up and become unreliable. Is it just a matter of choosing the right ink? Or do the expensive pens clog less?

    As to the tactile experience, I’ve a 3€ 0.3 mm mechanical pencil that just sort of flies over paper. Marvellous to write with. Only thing it’s missing is having some sort of mechanism that would automatically extend the tip, so you don’t have to…

    • Marko Kloos says:

      Fountain pens that fill from the bottle generally don’t have clogging issues. FP inks are water-based and thinner than ballpoint or gel inks, and drawing the fresh ink through the nib tends to flush out any sediment.

      • RevolverRob says:

        As Marko said, FPs tend to not clog. I use to cartridge run fountains, a Lamy Safari, which is as plain as it gets, but once the nib is broken in, is also buttery smooth. I also use a Retro 51 with a silver and gold nib that is smooth.

        When I run a cartridge dry, I try to run the nib end of the pen under warm water and wash out an excess ink and then let the pen dry. I don’t always have this opportunity, but I’ve found that doing this prevents clogs and cleans up the little spots of ink that get all over your nib.

        That’s a nice Pelikan, Marko. I didn’t know writing joy, until I bought the Retro (which was about a c-note) and some super nice 20 pound paper. I can definitely bet that M400 is super sweet. Also, interestingly enough, I don’t post my caps, I find the extra weight of the cap posted disrupts my writing. Because I don’t post, I always buy pens with good clips, because I clip my cap to the little leather pen sleeve of my portfolio.

        -Rob

        • Schmidt says:

          Since pens with built-in ink reservoir were hard to get, I used the ones with the disposable cartridge, refilling those from an inkpot.

          Yes, the pens wrote nice and smooth, but I think I tried to wash them thoroughly, but they’d still clog from time to time, or leak. Pencils are neater, and more practical for me. Perhaps I never bought pens good enough..

          Ink looks better, I’ll give you that. Myself, I can’t wait for some sort of neural input device.

        • RevolverRob says:

          I also have an older Schaeffer that is an incredible pain about clogging, despite using standard European style cartridges. It seems that some do and some don’t clog. The Lamys and Pelikans seem to suffer less as well the Parker models. Meanwhile, the older Watermann and Schaeffer designs seems more susceptible to clogging.

          Pencil is a great tool, I use both quite a bit. For lab work, and working with specimens, I use pencil, because I’m still a clutz who can accidentally mark a specimen with a writing utensil. For field work, the pencil is handy, but the pen and permanent, water resistant, ink is king. I need my field notes to last a lifetime.

          -Rob

  2. Windy Wilson says:

    I agree, that is a beautiful pen.
    Being left-handed, I have endeavored to avoid fountain pens due to having been taught penmanship poorly in grade school. I had a cartridge pen in Junior High, but it gave my handwriting a sort of “blown by a westerly wind” look in addition to the knotted-rabbity scrawl it had with a ball point.
    (sigh) I’m going to have to get out to Flax Pen-to-Paper and talk to them about left-handed nibs.

  3. Antibubba says:

    I’m right there with you, Windy. Smeared ink on paper and hand generally do not look very professional.

  4. Jake says:

    I dunno, I gain a lot of happiness out of my ’89 Escort.

  5. Tam says:

    Does a $50,000 Beamer get you to the grocery store any better than a $20,000 Toyota?

    That all depends on the Bimmer, the Toyota, and the road to the grocery store.😉

  6. wombatoverlord says:

    At some point, I really want one of the high-end Pelikans… I have an M150, but it is really kind of tiny and light. I keep seeing used M1000s for not horrible amounts of money… but $250 on my budget right now is impossible.

  7. Will says:

    I have a vague recollection of using a cartridge fountain pen as a kid. I don’t think it was left-hander friendly. Funny thing is that I could write with either hand then, but I never let any teachers know about it. It just never felt right. Has something to do with the creative process, according to researchers.

  8. Kristopher says:

    Will it help with writer’s block?

    • Marko Kloos says:

      Heh.

      I don’t believe in writer’s block, actually.

      • Kristopher says:

        It exists in those who do believe in it … as a self-fulfilling mental condition. As long as you don’t believe in it, it can’t exist.

        • MarkHB says:

          Yay for neurolinguistic programming!😉

        • Schmidt says:

          Yeah. It’s scary. I’ve heard that there are people who can convince themselves to believe what they need to believe.

          Seriously scary, having that much capability for self-decieving.

          Never worked for me, I’m knurd most of the time.

        • Kristopher says:

          Schmidt: Everyone can convince themselves to believe what they need to believe.

          A few autistics excepted.

        • Schmidt says:

          Well, I’m not autistic, and while my mental health could probably be improved by say, believing in God, etc..

          I can’t. I mean, I’ve tried to think about it, but the idea is as absurd as pigs taking to the sky..

  9. John P. says:

    Good post on pens. The union between the soul, a pen, and paper has the power to tap into another plane of existence. I’ve always loved a good pen – especially a fountain pen. The Germans and the Swiss make good ones. My problem with fountain pens is I am left-handed, and writing that way does not work well with a fountain pen. Didn’t work well with anything, to tell the truth. Even pencil writing got smeared.

    The solution was to learn to write with my right hand. It took some effort, but I did it.

    I know now why in times past they tried to change “lefties” to the right hand. It was because of the pens.

  10. Mulliga says:

    Mouthwatering pen…makes my Waterman Phileas look like a throwaway ballpoint. $200 might sound like a lot, but people spend more than that on jewelry.

  11. Ben says:

    When I saw the price on the pen I thought thats nuts who would pay that much for a Pen.Then I thought about my Chris Reeve Sebenza Pocket Knife which is basically a locking folder that cost $300+.Is it $250 better than a Buck 110 I mean sure it uses a better blade steel and is lighter and had a better fit and finish and smother operation and to me a sleeker design but $250 better for knife a simple basic tool?Well to me it is but I am sure 95% or more people would look at me like I am crazy so enjoy your pens I don’t have your passion for them but I have my own weird passions.

  12. That’s a crazy prince … but looks so worth it! The kind of pen you write with makes all the difference.

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