When we think of fountain pen prices, I think most of us would think of a relatively more expensive Mont Blanc or something else costing at least a couple a hundred of dollars. However, thanks in part to mass production and pen makers wishing to introduce more people to fountain pens, you can now own a fountain pen at a fraction of the amount they used to cost. The pens I am going to talk about here will all cost under $50 (that’s in USD so your mileage may vary!) and yet deliver a writing experience which will be a great introduction to the world of fountain pens and let you refine your taste for what you would like in terms of writing experience.
“Cheap” does not have to mean poor quality and these fountain pens certainly deliver great value for their price point. Although these are not the cheapest fountain pens in the market, they will certain remain a part of your collection and a good pen for carrying around for your everyday usage. The best inexpensive fountain pens below are focused on Cross in this case as I think that their nibs are really quite underrated and they consistently produce quality products for diverse price points.
As you can see from the images, the Sheaffer VFM comes in a range of colours for you to express yourself. This range of fountain pens have a refined matte finish and at $18.00 they really are a great bargain. Even though you won’t be getting a flexible solid gold nib at this price point, they still make an excellent fountain pen for everyday usage. I previously was of the opinion that Cross nibs were very stiff and did not make for a pleasant writing experience but their stainless steel nibs are actually really smooth.
The pen girth and weight make it very well-balanced whether you choose to write with the cap on the pen body (posted) or without. The body of the pen or barrel is made of plastic with nickel-plated trims. It feels a bit lighter than more expensive pens due to the barrel not being made of metal but it certainly does look like something a bit more high-end. Testament to this is the Sheaffer White Dot® which is visible just on the top of the pen clip. There’s a bit of history concerning that and if you wish to find out more you can read about it here. Today though, it is more synonymous with a mark of high-end quality for Sheaffer.
VFM stands for Vibrant, Fun & Modern which is what Cross set out to do in introducing this range and I think they have managed to offer a series which can compete with the Lamy Safari and other modern pens. I joked with a friend before about how VFM in this case should be called “value for money” instead since you are able to buy a fountain pen at such an affordable amount. I hope the Cross marketing team doesn’t get wind of that.
Usually, I much prefer fountain pens which come with converters instead of “disposable” ink cartridges to reduce plastic waste but most entry-level fountain pens usually come with cartridges. This made me wonder if I should delve into them at all but then it also gives me a chance to talk about how those cartridges can be reused. If you buy a bottle of ink, they can actually be refilled with a syringe as shown in the video below.
Clicking on the images or the pen names will let you have a better look at a few other finishes which are also equally appealing.
Yes, it really is called Excessive Red and not an adjective gifted by yours truly. I don’t think there is anything excessive about it though and if anything, the wide variety of colours are also a fashion accessory. I like that this range is not comprised of solid colours which adds both a visual and tactile differentiation.
Once again, this isn’t quite neon blue but rather a deeper blue which I’d like to imagine I would see at dusk. I am quite partial to this color personally and I think that out of the finishes in this series, the black grip or section and the trim complements the blue best of all.
Stobe Silver actually has a cousin in the VFM series with a chrome finish which is like a burnished version of what you see above. These are relatively similar though once again, I am a bit more partial towards the matte version. You can see this when clicking on the image and selecting “Chrome” under the “Finish” section.
This classic finish matches the nickel plating very well and like a black suit and tie, is a color combination to stand the test of time.
Much like the VFM series, the Sheaffer Pop is another recent addition to Sheaffer’s range of modern fountain pens. Don’t let the stainless steel, unadorned nibs put you off though as they provide a surprisingly smooth writing experience for their price point. The main difference with the Sheaffer Pop is that it does away with the traditional tapered, aerodynamic look and instead going for something a bit more modern and industrial.
At the end of the barrel though you may not be able to see it here the chrome-finished finial is extended slightly, though somewhat thinner than the width of the pen. This little detail helps to break the monotony of the body’s profile and adds a touch of character. Also different from the VFM is the pen clip. The cut-out or hollowed pen clip stops just short of the Sheaffer White Dot® and also serves to add a jaunty, creative touch.
The stainless steel nibs come in medium with the Sheaffer brand clearing etched across the width. Despite being a relatively no frills fountain pen, they are able to write immediately even after being left alone for a while and should be able to accept any Cross converter.
Star Wars tie-in
Sheaffer pays homage to pop culture maybe inspired by the name of the series to design a range of Star Wars themed pens! These are quite a delight to see and maybe present an opportunity for fans of fountain pens and Star Wars (such as myself) to mingle. These fountain pens still use the nibs from the range so the writing experience should not be compromised in the least.
Some things to note though, the grip section of the Star Wars pens are rubber so those more used to rubber or metal grips might take note. Sheaffer has added a few new designs since and you can check out the ones inspired by the Death Star and Kylo Ren. Let me know if using these pens strengthens your connection to the Force. 🙂
Last but not least, this is the last in the series (for now) which should cover a short listing of the best inexpensive fountain pens from Cross and Sheaffer. Well, Cross bought took over Sheaffer in 2014 but I believe Sheaffer pens still retain use of their nibs and therefore a slightly different writing experience. Well now, on to the Cross Calais. First of all, you will note that the Cross Calais nibs are slightly more ornamented than the Sheaffer pens which I personally prefer. There is something about taking a break from writing and letting the little details on the nib mesmerize you and lull you into a momentary contemplative reverie.
The Cross Calais or maybe because of the sometimes unpredictable interaction of nib, paper, ink and user (or rather the pressure they exert and the way which they hold the nib), produces very clean, even lines with little to no bleeding or feathering on the paper. That’s when the ink tends to have minute tendrils reaching out from the line which the pens make on the paper. This even line also means that the writing experience is very consistent and neither too “wet” or “dry”. Having the “right” amount of ink flow onto the paper for me does play a significant difference as I’d rather not have to take that into consideration and just write naturally. Pardon all the inverted commas as these are quite subjective.
This range comes with a cartridge as well (which is a little surprising considering the price point) but you can easily order any Cross converter to go with it or it also delightfully accepts any Townsend converter if you happen to have one already available. As I mentioned earlier, this price point and Cross quality nibs provide a smooth writing experience which has come to make me change my mind regarding Cross nibs and explore the brand’s offerings with more enthusiasm.
The Calais comes with a stainless steel nib which in my opinion is fine for writing if you are not explicitly looking for an experience with a gold/flexible nib. I will probably talk about some entry level flexible (not necessarily gold) nibs in another post for those who are interested. As with Sheaffer there are a few finishes available as seen below. You can click both the image and the names to view details of different parts of the pens.
With the matte black finish and the Cross lion logo, my first thought of this finish was of an elegant pirate. 🙂 If you look at it from a bit further away, doesn’t it look like a Jolly Roger? Now you won’t be able to un-see that. In any case, I think the solid black goes really well with the chrome trim.
This color and trim always bring me back to my beloved Waterman Harmony though the Satin Chrome of course is with the classic shape whereas the Harmony isn’t.
This is probably my favorite of the Calais series. Not to imply that the others are any less since after all they do share the same materials. The deep, burnished blue lacquer however really makes me think of dusk colours and coupled with the chrome trim, makes it seem like a silvery accompaniment.
I wonder if I have a few too many pens introduced in this post and it made me reflect on the criteria for choosing them. Other than all of them being under $50.00 and producing a generally above-average writing experience, I do like their names as well. Do let me know in the comments which under-$50 entry level pens you enjoy using and other pen names you like in the comments below!