You already know pens are not created equal. Those of us who write about them can only comment on the brands with which we have experience and that can be a limited pool given the number of pen manufacturers. If your favorite brand never gets mentioned at Inkophile, it is because I have never used a pen from that line so it would be helpful to hear your opinions to see what my collection might be missing.
Contemporary pens get frequent posts because readers can purchase the same model easily. Vintage pens get less attention because they are more difficult to acquire and have unknown backgrounds. Some have been well maintained or fine tuned by a nibmeister. Others have been abused if not mauled. Even a NOS (new old stock) pen may have been stored in inclement conditions causing stress to plastic bits and rubber sacs. But if there is consistency amongst multiple pens, remarks are in order.
With the exceptions of some obscure manufacturers with discontinued models, this is my list of pen brands.
- Platinum – Very good build quality. Nibs are consistently excellent in the #3776 line. The music nib is tops in my book both for shape and flow.
- Pilot – Very good build quality. Nibs are good and offered in a substantial variety of sizes and shapes. I do not recommend the Custom 742FA due to significant flow issues. The resin Pilot (Namiki) Falcon is a mainstay in my rotation, but it does need use to achieve a reasonable degree of softness. Quite worth the effort in my opinion.
- Sailor – Excellent build quality. Feels very solid. Nibs are very firm and come in few choices. A bit overpriced, but I’ve never owned a bad one.
- Pelikan – Excellent build quality. Very smooth nibs. The piston filler is easy to maintain. This is my favorite European pen.
- Waterman – Good build quality. Limited nib choices but solidly built.
- Rotring – Very sturdy.
- Sheaffer – Good build quality with limited nib choices.
- Levenger True Writer – Disappointing build quality. Half my collection shows damage with only ordinary use. Some nibs are very good. Others not so much.
- Lamy – Very sturdy. Some of the nibs are outstanding.
- Kaweco – Good build quality. I can only comment on the medium nib which is smooth and flows well.
- Retro 1951 – Good build quality. Very rigid nib that flows well.
- Noodler’s – Build quality in line with price. Nibs are good to very good. The flex improves with use.
- Jinhao – Disappointing build quality. Nib is decent.
- Baoer – Good build quality especially at the price. Nib and flow are acceptable. This is the best of the Chinese pens I’ve tested.
- Hero – Decent build quality. The nibs I have are fairly good but the ink flow is erratic requiring adjustment to be useful.
- Waterman – Endures the test of time admirably. The pre-WWII flex nibs are the best available.
- Pilot – Some very attractive pens. Elite short/long pens are risky as the plastic sections even NOS can develop fractures. The fine nibs can be scratchy.
- Sheaffer – My experience is with the Touchdown model. Excellent build and nibs.
- Parker – Vacumatic and ’51′ models are outstanding. Nibs are very good.
- Pelikan – Have owned a dozen of the M200 to M400 models as well as a few others. Excellent build. Well-cared for nibs can be superb.
- Reform – Average build quality. Can’t comment on the nibs since mine have been modified.
- Montblanc – Disappointing build quality. Mine fell apart. The nib is fabulous – smooth and loaded with iridium.
- Esterbrook – Some have held up well while others have not. The 9000 series nibs are good with the finer ones being scratchy.
- Wahl-Eversharp – Good build except the levers which can become loose defying repair. The stub nibs are especially sweet.
These are general observations and individual pens may perform better or worse. I’ve used too many brands to remember them all, but these are the ones in my current collection as well as a few I have sold or given away.
Vintage pens are a chancy lot so no recommendations. However, the Parker ’51′ carries less risk due to its workhorse construction. I’ve owned a number of them and only one had a stinky nib that was in all likelihood greatly abused by a former owner. Pelikan piston-fillers can need a tune-up so look for ones have been repaired recently or are functioning well at purchase. That makes Waterman, Parker and Pelikan my top three vintage brands. If you want a truly wonderful experience, buy from someone who specializes in the pen you want. That doesn’t exclude eBay where guys like Rob Morrison sell fantastic pens at auction. Just look for a depth of knowledge and rave reviews. You’ll pay more but won’t have a pricey repair just to get enjoyment out of your new/old pen.
Contemporary pens are easier to recommend – or not. The Japanese pens are consistent winners as are the Pelikan and Waterman. I only have experience with one new Sheaffer, so am a little reluctant to give it a wholehearted recommendation though I found nothing wanting in the one Sheaffer sent for review. If you can work with the grip, the Lamy is good though the calligraphy nibs can be flow challenged. Noodler’s can be good, but the flex nibs need time to reach full potential.
So that’s my list. Consider it opinion to be tossed out if it doesn’t mirror your experiences.
Now what is your favorite brand of pen and how would you evaluate its build and nib?