When we have made a decision to buy a fountain pen, there are several things to keep in mind. First of all, why do you want to buy a fountain pen? I’m going to simplify (oversimplify?) this a little and split the decision into whether we are buying it for investment, display or for use. There are subtle differences between these when it comes to how to buy a fountain pen but for the purposes of this discussion I will focus on buying fountain pens for use.
Buying from brick and mortar shops
For those of us lucky enough to have a stationery shop which carries fountain pens or those of us even luckier to have a fountain pen specialist shop within easy traveling distance, this luxury option will be for you. Most of us would have done some homework and have performed some research online or would have spoken to someone to seek their opinion. From there most people would have some idea of what they want.
Whether you are a seasoned collector or someone looking into starting their journey with a beloved pen, buying something tangible is much easier. If you take your online research or recommendations to a shop, you may find though that unless you have your heart set on a more popular brand or model, you may face the prospect of it not being available. Rather than turn away though, I would encourage you to explore other options they do stock at the shop.
In my experience, most staff members who work there have some measure of interest in writing, fountain pens, stationary, calligraphy or a mix and match of those areas and are usually willing to spend some time to talk to you about brands, new pens, and even let you test what they have by dipping pens into a bit of ink and letting you write with them!
The barrel or the fountain pen body
When looking at a prospective fountain pen, this would probably be the first thing you notice about it. A lot of newer pens differentiate and distinguish themselves in this extremely eye-catching way. The variety you can find really is quite endless and what I do is to look for something which speaks to me and makes me excited about using it. Even some of my older pens still make me feel that way. Some designs you can find range from transparent barrels to ornately carved/lacquered pieces.
Fountain pen nibs
The second thing you would notice would be the nibs. I made a previous post regarding the different variety of nibs available and you can click on that link (which opens in a new tab) to find out more. That though, is the other exciting thing about fountain pens. A lot of the brands out there usually decorate their nibs whether they are gold or steel. Some of them such as Cross or Waterman sometime also cleverly incorporate their logo into the nib design making for some interesting pieces.
Balance and feel
When you give your pen a first run through its paces, make sure that you feel comfortable with the grip and weight of it. Although this may seem very intuitive, take into consideration that you would be writing a little slower than you ordinarily would. Whether you choose to place the cap at the other end of the pen or not while writing is up to you. Keep this in mind though as it would significantly change the balance of the pen and might even change your habits when writing with different fountain pens. 🙂
I personally don’t usually do this though as I am slightly worried that the cap might scratch the barrel or stain it with ink. Staff will generally let you dip a little into an open ink bottle or ink well and provide you with a pad to write on. Do ensure that when you write, do try different angles to find that sweet spot as you don’t usually have a lot of ink to work with and would take time to find that sweet spot. They don’t generally let you fill the pen as they then have to wash it after.
Buying fountain pens online
Buying fountain pens online can be a little trickier but no less exciting and rewarding as you will have access to a lot more brands, varieties and models. It can be a little risky since you won’t have the opportunity to test them out but there are some things you can look out for to ensure that you don’t waste your time and money.
If you are buying a fountain pen from a retailer, most likely the only thing you should pay attention to (apart from the aspects mentioned above) is nib size. Most come in the default “medium” but this is not always the case. I once made that mistake of buying a “fine” nib when I usually write with a medium but in the end I stuck with it since it seemed that the manufacturer’s fine nib seemed closer to the medium-sized script I am more comfortable with.
I plan to talk in greater detail about buying fountain pens online as I think a lot of the brick and mortar shops aren’t as accessible for many of us and when I discovered custom-made pens, that really broadened horizons. Do follow Art of Elegance on Facebook and leave a like! Also, what unique experiences have you came across buying pens? Feel free to comment here or on Facebook.