Great Start

Great Start

Great Start

Great Start

Great Start

Great Start

Great Start







PenInHand - Musings on the Hobby

A Good Place to Start

by Jim Mamoulides, April 14, 2002

Great Start
Sheaffer TM Saratoga Blue Snorkel and Parker Vacumatic Blue

Where to start? A good question posed by many people new to the hobby. There are so many choices and directions to go in this hobby, new or vintage, brand focused or type focused, country focused, period focused, even unfocused!

When I get asked about fountain pens and what should a person buy, I generally steer toward classic pens that many consider to be the "ambassador" pens for the hobby. I also try to point out pens that can be had for a reasonable amount of money, keeping in mind that this choice may strongly influence the person's interest in pens going forward. Many people don't want to or can't afford to drop a large amount of money on a pen. Many modern pens are available that are good starters, but I consider many vintage pens to be a better value as a starting point.

Considering that most of the people I interact with are in the USA, I also limited the list to pens that could be easily found here, so a list of starter pens to discuss might include:

Conklin Crescent Filler - The first really successful self-filling pen. A very simple design where one presses the crescent to compress the ink sac and releasing it fills the pen. This was a very popular pen made into the 1920s. User grade pens are fairly easy to find and can be browned or very plain. As they are made of hard rubber, they can also be fragile.

Esterbrook J - Probably the classic inexpensive pen. I've picked perfect examples in flea markets for US $10. Every collection should have at least one. The ability to swap nibs is a neat feature. An almost indestructible pen. One to choose for someone who wants to try a lever filler and has very little money to spend. These can be very charming pens.

Great Start
Eversharp Skyline Gray Moire and Parker 61 Gray Capillary

Eversharp Skyline - A classic design pen with a reputation for extremely smooth nibs. Skylines are among the less expensive of the "name brand" pens. Lots of interesting variations to choose from. The only negative is they tend to be fragile, so I would look at restored pens first.

Parker 51 - One of the quintessential vintage pens. One of the best selling and most reliable pens of all time. Aerometric fill pens with Lustraloy stainless steel caps are the least expensive to find and are fairly easy to come by. A great pen to start someone out with. Many can be found in working order.

Parker 61 - Capillary Filler - I picked the capillary version of this pen, as it is the most widely available pen of this type. There were very few manufacturers that tried to make one. The simplest pen to fill, period. Reputed to be fussy, the truth is when they are kept in rotation, they work consistently well. Flushing is annoying, and is required to change ink color. A fastidious personality may be in order if this is their first pen!

Parker 75 - Another of Parker's best designs. A sterling crosshatch, or "Cisele" version of this pen is the one to find, but user grade versions of that pen will make it among the pricier pens in this list.

Parker Duofold Senior "Big Red" - This is what many of our eldest generation will think of when they think of Parker pens. One of the most famous and popular fountain pens ever made. A very big pen, too. User grade versions are fairly plentiful and are not excessively expensive. Restoration is straightforward and most pen repair people should be able to get a decent example in good working order. Most tend to have very stiff nibs.

Parker Vacumatic - Any striped model - Vacumatics are widely available and restored single jewel user grade later models are reasonably inexpensive. I think the striped version of the pen is the one most people think of when they think of Vacumatics. Very simple to use and they hold a lot of ink. These are great starter pens.

Great Start
Sheaffer Balance Black, Sheaffer Touchdown Imperial Black, Parker 51 Vacumatic Black

Sheaffer Balance White Dot Lever Filler - 1930s - This was one of the most mass produced pens in the 1930s, so a lot of them are available. Surprisingly durable, considering their age. Lots of interesting variations. Many fully restored pens are available for not a lot of money, but beaters are easily fixed up. Some models, especially the early and oversize pens are very pricey. Tend to have stiff nibs. The two-tone Feather-Touch nibs are very nice.

Sheaffer Imperial - With Inlaid Nib - The successor to the PFM. Made from the 1960s until only recently. Cartridge versions of this pen show up for as low as US $10. Possibly the most manufactured line of pens. The inlaid nib is a classic design. There are versions with a wrapped "Triumph" style nib. Just not the same. Many versions include Touchdown fillers, which are very cool to use, and higher line sterling and gold pens, which are pricey.

Sheaffer Jade Senior - The pen that launched the plastic pen. Beater versions of this pen, with discoloration, fading, or other non-functional problems are very reasonable and generally available. First rate models are expensive. Easy to have restored and they clean up well. Many will have huge, but stiff nibs.

Sheaffer PFM - Sheaffer's last snorkel and the hallmark of company designs for years after. An extremely solid and reliable pen that was not well accepted at the time. The PFM I is an all plastic pen with chrome trim, and can often be found reasonably priced and brought into full working condition fairly easily. All snorkel pens should be serviced, unless purchased restored.

Great Start
Sheaffer Targa Blue Marble

Sheaffer Targa - A classic Sheaffer design that was recently retired. Targas can be had from liquidators for very low prices. Many different designs to choose from. Destined to be a classic collector pen. Although a bit large for some, these are good starter pens.

Sheaffer TM Snorkel - The Sheaffer pen of the 1950s. Amazingly complex, yet wonderful writers. Probably the most complicated pen ever made. Can be obtained inexpensively, but any non-restored snorkel pen should make a trip to be serviced. Every collection should have one.

Sheaffer Triumph Vacuum Filler - 1940s - Many steer away from Sheaffer Vacuum-Fill pens because of poor restorations that have been done on them. These are truly beautiful pens that write well and hold lots of ink. Definitely either buy a restored one or know where to send it when you buy one. Probably underpriced due to undeserved reputation.

Great Start
Sheaffer PFM I Green, Sheaffer Jade Senior, and Esterbrook J

Waterman 52 - The quintessential early Waterman lever fill. Many are really nice writers with flexible nibs. Can be fragile. Easy to restore.

Waterman C/F - The first successful cartridge fill pen. Generally under appreciated and can be found reasonably inexpensively. Cartridges are difficult to find, so a converter is something to look for in this pen.

Waterman 100 Year Pen - The early ribbed models are going to be pricey, but there are plainer later versions of this pen. Some may say that it's a shadow of the early pens, though.

Let's discuss "user grade" for a minute. If one is interested in the pen for its writing qualities over its collectable "investment value", one might be willing to accept a pen that has a few defects, such as weak imprints, minor scratching, a little brassing, and so on. A pen with such problems could very well yield from a good restorer a very good writing pen that is representative, but not expensive, which is the point.

As an example, there are later model aerometric Lustraloy capped Parker 51s that cost far less than early year two jewel vacumatic 51s. A good writing 51 does not need to cost a mint.

This list might also point the way to a "representative" collection, that touches on all the major USA brands, some of their more famous models, and many of the most famous types of filling systems.

So, where to start? Look over the list and see what appeals. Check pen clubs and shows. Look at pen books. Join a pen discussion. You will probably see several on this list rise to the top as the best starter pens. The others can be on the list to think about for the rest of the collection!

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