There is nothing quite like getting your hands or eyes on something before you buy it. With few pen stores in any community, online retailers are the only option for most aficionados and reviews the only substitute for that hands-on examination. Before the holiday-rush-to-buy strikes, it’s time for a few tips before adding to your collection.
How often have you been disappointed by fountain pen performance on your newest pad of paper? Your favorite reviewer loved it so what’s the deal? Not foolproof but do check the date of any paper review. The current batch may be vastly different from what was used for an older review. This is particularly true of planners since they are printed new each year. Look for recent reviews for the best skinny on your product of choice.
Ink varies less over time. Formulas may get slight modifications but this is rare for most ink makers. With few exceptions, older reviews should be just as valid today as when written.
Though dye batches can vary, colors remain remarkably similar from bottle to bottle. Ink makers just don’t tamper with their offerings. Nathan Tardif of Noodler’s Ink is the most prominent exception. Recently his #41 Brown had a reformulation that by all accounts is an improvement. The same is true for Baystate Blue as evidenced by samples I received in February.
Noodler’s isn’t the only company to modify a formula on occasion. A few years ago I noticed a subtle change in the color of J. Herbin Cacao du Brésil though the properties remained the same. The difference is hardly noticeable in the more saturated line a fountain pen produces.
That makes three inks that have changed in three years out of over two hundred samples in my collection. “Infrequent” really does apply.
None of this should deter reordering these inks or any others that have been updated if you liked the original formulations. There is little difference in color and performance is often improved.
J. Herbin Cacao du Brésil
Pens are another matter. Few manufacturers change a design once established. When they do, it is often with fanfare. Search the web to determine whether the pen you covet has been “improved.” If so, check reviews to see whether the new model will fit your requirements.
Quality control seems to be the bigger failing with pens. Getting a stinker stinks but it does happen. Reviews will help you find the worst offenders. Most retailers and manufacturers will back up their products so be persistent and get what you deserve, a delightful fountain pen that will give you years of fine writing.
- Paper – Check review dates for the most recent evaluations. Some manufacturers are very consistent. Others – not so much.
- Ink – Look for reformulations that improve color or performance. Make sure your retailer ships the version you want.
- Pens – Consider design modifications or quality issues before you purchase. What is an improvement for someone else, may be a deal-breaker for you.