Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Ready to take the next step in the fountain pen world?

 So, What's Next?

    So you've already familiarized yourself with the "intro" pens like the Lamy Safari, Twsbi Eco, Kaweco Sport and you may be asking yourself what's next. Don't worry, you are far from done with the world of fountain pens and there are hundreds of undiscovered pens that are waiting be written with. Usually when people see expensive pens the knee jerk reaction is "Why should I spend X amount on a pen?" this is a valid question because a lot of different things can affect a pen's price. Some things that change when going to higher priced pens is the nib, filling system, material, craftsmanship, uniqueness, limited availability, and unfortunately name recognition. In this blog I'm going to show you my progression of pens that I would recommend for people just looking to break into the next price point. Before we get into the actual pens I'm going to explain a little bit about all the main materials and nibs that you commonly see when going up in price so let's get to it!


    Usually you will see nibs made out of stainless steel on some lower priced pens but the two are not mutually exclusive and some brands will still use steel nibs well into the 250-1000 range although it is not very common. The most common nib on more expensive pens are solid gold and these are usually in 14kt, 18kt, and Sailor even makes a 21kt nib. The benefit of gold over steel is that it tends to be softer and can have a little more flex which allows for some line variation in semi-flex and "full flex" nibs, I put "full flex" in quotes because there really isn't a modern day equivalent to vintage full flex so we can get close with contemporary options but nothing will be a perfect mirror of vintage flex nibs. 
The other thing that comes with gold nibs and can affect price is the feed and nib sizes/grinds. The feed is what supplies the nib with ink and this is commonly made out of plastic but some brands will opt for a material called "ebonite" which is a hardened rubber that is a little more porous than plastic. This is good because it holds a little more ink and does a better job of supplying and keeping the nib inked, preventing hard starts and skipping. As far as grinds and nib types go, gold gives you more options for stuff like elastic nib mods which are basically flex nibs with a lot of line variation, you can also get smooth writing stubs and fun stuff like that. I think I covered most of the nib stuff, now let's get into the material and filling systems!


        Materials can also get a bit overwhelming when going up in price, the main ones I can think of off the top of my head are celluloid, Raden inlay, Urushi lacquer, ebonite, special acrylic, custom acrylic, wood, sterling silver/vermeil, and "precious resin". A lot of these come from Japanese pen making and I'll take about them all together very briefly. 
Raden inlay is also referred to as shell inlay and is a very time consuming and tedious process of cutting very thin pieces of shell and then carefully putting it onto the pen either as part of a subject on the pen to give it added depth or just as a collection of raden on the pen. This is usually sealed underneath coats of Urushi lacquer which is a naturally occurring substance almost like a tree sap that, when hardened, is one of the strongest naturally occurring materials. This is also a very time consuming process because there are a couple ways to apply it to pens and each layer needs to dry for anytime between a day to a week per layer. Celluloid and ebonite were common in vintage pens before high quality plastic came along, both materials have the potential for beauty but are less stable than plastic, resin or acrylic so they take some added care and attention to maintain.
 Ebonite is a hardened rubber material that can be made in a variety of beautiful colors and is also used a lot for the bases of Urushi lacquer pens. Raw ebonite is a slightly delicate material because it is susceptible to color change over time through exposure to light or even gases from old filling systems that discolor from the inside out, as long as you store your pens in a dark and humidity controlled place as well as clean them regularly you should have no problem with this discoloration for a good while. 
Celluloid is also a material common in vintage pens and comes in some dazzling finishes, Arco celluloid is commonly cited as one of the most sought after materials in pens however the production process was so dangerous that the rod stock can no longer be manufactured and brands like ASC bought all of the existing rod stock from Omas which means once they are gone that's it. This material is also susceptible to discoloration, warping and disintegration. If you take the same attention that ebonite pens need you should be good, the one thing to keep in mind when handling celluloid pens is that celluloid is more sensitive to things like lotion, soap and hand sanitizer so make sure you're hands are free of those things before you start handling a pen. Acrylics and resin go up in complexity with some custom pen makers like Jonathan Brooks making crazy rod stock with unique patterns, his most striking color combo in my opinion is what he calls "Primary Manipulation".
 Other brands like Classic Pens use other styles of acrylic like diffusion bonded acrylic on the Classic Pens LB5 which is bonded on a molecular level to make a very strong material. So that's a quick little overview of some materials, let's take a look at filling systems and then we will take a look at some pens!

Filling Systems:

    As fountain pens get more and more popular, brands have been introducing really nice pens with interesting filling mechanisms for some pretty nice prices but I'm going to go over them anyway. A couple of filling systems are: Cartridge/converter, piston filler, button filler, lever filler, vacuum filler, eyedropper. These are the main ones but some other obscure filling mechanisms can be found in vintage pens like the sheaffer snorkel but these aren't commonly produced today so I won't talk about them here. The more complex a filling system can mean the price will be higher, it also makes them more time consuming to clean as well as a little more fragile. The advantage of cartridge converter is that they are super easy to clean and most of the time the converters can be replaced if anything bad happens, making them a good choice for longevity and ease of use.
Piston filler is also a fairly simple mechanism that is being seen more and more in less expensive pens but has been the standby of more expensive pens for a while. These allow for a rather large ink capacity however they can only be filled with bottled ink like most of the other filling mechanisms which some people may see as an inconvenience. 
Eyedropper is the best option for a massive ink capacity because it is just a barrel full of ink that flows down to the nib. Vacuum fillers also use the whole barrel of the pen as the ink capacity making it a massive amount of ink as well. The others aren't as prevalent today unless you are interested in vintage pens and use an ink sack that is depressed through different methods to hold the ink. Alrighty, enough of the introduction, time to get to the actual pens.

Best Next Step Pens:

    These are the best next steps from the Lamy Safari and things like that, if you are looking to jazz it up and get something a little nicer. For this section I think I'll keep it to a budget of about $150-$350 and will be primarily gold nibs but hopefully I got something for everyone!
  • Pilot Vanishing Point- This is quite a unique looking pen because it has a retractable nib similar to a ballpoint pen. The pen also has a gold nib on it that is on the small side but is still a pleasure to write with! The click action to activate the nib really makes this a convenient pen for note taking and quick on the spot writing because you don't have to unscrew and hold a cap, Pilot also made sure that this pen had both convenience and quality as opposed to sacrificing one for the other. These pens come at a reasonable price as well, you are looking at something between $144-$156 which puts it right in that "first gold nib" price point. You can also buy different nib units to switch out if you don't want to amass a large collection but still want gold nib choices.
  • Lamy 2000- This is also often cited as the best "starting gold nib" right alongside the vanishing point but the two pens are very different. They do share a similarity in that they both have rather small nibs with the Lamy's being a hooded nib. This means the nib is partially in the section which keeps the nib very wet and supplies it with a sufficient amount of ink. The 2000 is a piston filler and has its own ink window, it also has a large ink capacity which makes the ink window helpful. The design of the 2000 is also quite unique and has barely changed in over 60 years, originally designed with the Bauhaus principles of design, this pen has been displayed in the MOMA in New York. This pen is a little more expensive than the VP at around $200 but comes with a bigger ink capacity and is a piston filler so I still feel the price is quite reasonable for someone's first gold nib but would also be an excellent choice for someone to add to their collection of gold nibs.
  • Sailor 1911L- The Sailor pen company is the oldest out of Japan and the 1911 is an homage to the brand's beginnings from their first yea. This is a classic looking cigar shaped pen with an exceptional nib on it. Sailor makes all of their nibs in house and on the larger size of their pens they use 21kt gold for their nibs which is a fairly unique gold to use for fountain pen nibs. These are cartridge converter pens which makes them very easy to clean and maintain, the cartridge also allows for easy and fast ink replacement on the go. If you want something a little more classic looking with some fun color options this would be a good choice for you. The price on these ranges from $180 for the smaller size with a 14kt nib and $312 for the larger size with the 21kt, some colors may also be different prices in-between $180-$312 so keep your eyes peeled for that. 
  • Pilot Custom 823- One of the pens in the custom line, the 823 is a beautiful amber colored demonstrator and also comes in a smoke color. The ink capacity on these pens is super big and the double reservoir cut off makes it a good option for travel because it minimizes leakage. This pen is also equipped with a vacuum filling mechanism which is very unique and cool to see in a pen of this price range. The pen has Pilot's second largest nib, #15, and is one of my smoothest writers I own, it just glides across the page and is a pleasure to write with. The pen is also a good length and I find the weight to be very nicely balanced. Speaking of price, this pen clocks in at $288 which is quite a nice price for what you get which is a professional looking cigar shaped pen with a unique filling system and wonderful gold nib!

Best Introductions to Pens Over $500:

    For those who already own a couple gold nibs and are looking to take the deep dive, here are some starting points to luxury and expensive pens over $500. 
  • Pelikan M1000- As the flagship model for Pelikan and their M line, this pen is oversize and delivers one of the best writing experiences for pens in my own personal collection. The pen itself has a very classy look especially with the green stripe finish. The nib is massive and is beautifully springy, laying down quite a nice wet line that is super satisfying to write with. The piston on this pen is very high quality and smooth which adds a very nice balance to the pen. In-between the green stripes is actually see through which acts as an ink window, I find this is quite a unique way to add an ink window that otherwise may have broken up the design too much. Another fun part of this pen is that the clip is actually designed to look like a pelican's beak and eyes which is just a nice fun touch to a luxurious looking pen. This pen is the flagship pen of the brand and commands a flagship price that tends to vary from each authorized retailer, at Pen Boutique the pen is being offered for $788 and I have absolutely no regrets about buying mine!
  • Aurora Optima- Don't let the size of this pen throw you off, Good things do come in small packages with this pen being no exception. This was the first pen I owned with an ebonite feed and the writing experience is nice and smooth, never once have I had a problem with ink flow or skipping/hard starting which is definitely worth mentioning. The nib itself is one of my favorite however it is not nearly as springy as the Pelikan and functions more as a reliable writer that is very uniform in the lines it makes. The cap band also has a sort of vintage look with the greek key pattern surrounding the brand name which I think makes the pen look very visually balanced. One of the other main draws I had to this pen was the large ink window that is very well done and doesn't break up the design or throw it off like some ink windows can, it is very elegant looking if that makes sense. This pint size powerhouse is available in a multitude of colors for a price range of $476-$1,000 as the special editions and sterling silver editions command a higher price.
  • Visconti Homo Sapiens- This is quite possibly one of the most unique pens on this list but at first glance you may think it just looks like a black pen. The Visconti HS uses a mix of resin and basaltic lava rock from Mt. Etna in Italy which is very unique. This also makes the material a little more porous so it will actually slightly absorb oils and water from your hand which will make the pen take on it's own personality. The trim varies but my favorite is the Bronze Age which has brass trim, again, this will also patina over time making each pen unique to its owner. The pen is also a vacuum filler which is fun and has a massive ink capacity which makes it a nice daily writer. The nib is 18k and writes wonderfully smooth and is overall a very pleasant experience. The price on these ranges, the lava rock models are generally around $620-$684 with limited edition resin models and lava models with ink windows around $796-$920 and for that price you are getting a very unique pen that is sure to be a reliable daily writer. 


    Overall there are a bunch of different choices for pens past the "starter" level and these are just my personal favorites and the line of progression I went down. This does not mean that these are the best pens to buy or that the best value for me is going to be the same as the best value for you. With that being said I think every pen on this list is a great writer that have good value and provide a superior writing experience. The world of pens really has something for everyone in every price range so please get some new pens or just use the ones you already have and remember, Enjoy & Keep Writing!
-Kyle Skowronski
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Friday, September 18, 2020


 Montblanc Heritage Egyptomania


What was Egyptomania?

    The dictionary defines Egyptomania as follows: Obsessive interest by westerners in ancient Egyptian culture, especially during the 19th century. The interest was sparked during this time by two things, the first being Napoleon Bonaparte's campaign in Egypt from 1798-1801, the second being the increased and exhaustive scientific study of ancient Egyptian remains and culture that was a direct result of his campaign. Egyptomania is not necessarily a good thing although some good came out of it, a lot of appropriation of the "exotic" and foreign culture came off as exploitation, especially when looked at through a lens of the present. 
The most foreign elements were taken and obsessed over in the world of wealthy Europeans, the clothing was taken, Cleopatra was fetishized for being a strong leader who happened to be female, the Egyptian gods and burial practices were unfamiliar and thus fetishized as well leading to mummies becoming a part of horror cinema, not to mention songs like "Walk like an Egyptian" that referenced hieroglyphs and made a dance out of them. Egyptomania didn't just result in a mass cultural appropriation, it also led to some important scientific discoveries and mysteries like: the pyramids, hieroglyph writing systems, papyrus sheets, black ink, ox-drawn ploughs, irrigation, calendars, surgical instruments, and mummification to name a couple. The history of Egyptomania is one of great discovery but also one of appropriation, just keep this in mind as it is important to remember what has happened in the past. That's enough of a history lesson for one day, onto the pen.

Appearance & Packaging:

    The pens come in very bright, eye catching boxes that utilize a pattern of diagonal boxes in colors that were commonly used in hieroglyphs. The red is said to symbolize life but can also symbolize evil and destruction, the blue represents birth and the heavens, and the yellow was used for the skin color of the gods. In the middle of this pattern is what I believe to be a Cartouche or name plate and was commonly thought to provide protection against evil spirits in this life as well as the after life. Other than that bit of design the box is virtually the same as the box for a 146, cream colored velvet like material to protect the pen from scratches on the inside. 
The actual pen is close in size to the Rouge Et Noir collection and like that collection, the pens don't post.  I am quite fond of the "vintage" look this pen has and is something I would imagine to be on the desk of a museum curator or Indiana Jones. 
The base model of this pen is black with an octagonal barrel, weathered looking trim and a small stamp next to the clip with the Egyptian name plate design, the snow cap is engraved on the top in lieu of the resin ones seen on other Montblanc models. The solitaire gets a little more interesting with a partially sterling silver barrel with hieroglyphs engraved on it and bares the same small stamp and engraved snow cap. Both pens have a small scarab at the end of the clip which really ties the design together. 
 My favorite design element of the pen is all to do with the nib which I feel they really did well on this pen but I'll talk more about that in the next section! Enough with design, onto the actual nib and performance!

Nib & Performance:

    The nib is definitely my favorite design element on this pen because I think they really hit it out of the park, It features a scarab with its wings out which is a symbol of rebirth and renewal. All the space on the nib seems to be distributed evenly making it feel balanced and not really cluttered despite the detailed stamp of the Beatle. 
Like the other heritage collection, the nibs have a triangular breather hole which I feel gives the nib a unique look. The nib is 14k gold and writes pretty well, very smooth and almost no feedback which is always nice. I was able to write with a medium nib which I felt was a little more on the fine side in terms of how Montblanc nibs usually write so keep in mind that in my experience these tend to run a little thinner than normal. The nib has good ink flow and did not have a problem keeping up with faster writing and initial signing. Overall the pen performs well, as it should at this price. With that out of the way let's move onto some pros and cons.


  • Very nice nib design
  • Satisfying weight and length in the hand
  • Cool threading at the end of the section
  • Piston filler


  • Skinny and slightly slippery section.  ( some people may not like it).
  • Base model may be a little toned down for some in terms of design
  • On the expensive side for what it is

Price & Conclusion:

    Being a Montblanc pen, it is not going to be inexpensive, the base model (black with no silver) clocks in at $900 while the solitaire (silver hieroglyphics) clocks in at $1,200. While this is on the high end it is to be expected with a luxury brand like Montblanc and I don't feel the price is out of the question. The tie in between Egypt and all they've done for the history of writing and recording things on paper with an iconic pen brand like Montblanc really is nice to see. After all, Egypt did have quite a unique writing system as well as making their own early form of paper called papyrus! Overall this pen and collection is very interesting and is just nice from a historical aspect as well, I just wish the pen came with Hieroglyphic writing lessons! Check these pens out on the Pen Boutique website and remember, enjoy & keep writing!



Standard Collection:

Doue Collection:

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Friday, September 4, 2020

Back to the Future with the Esterbrook J.R.

Esterbrook J.R.

Color: Capri


  • Description: A compact revival of one of Esterbrook's most important designs
  • Nib: Stainless Steel
  • Material: Turned Acrylic 
  • Filling Mechanism: Cartridge / Converter
  • Weight: 20 grams posted, 11 grams un-posted
  • Measurements: 5 inches capped, 4.62 inches uncapped, 6 inches posted


Esterbrook is truly an American original when it comes to the world of pens. Originally established in 1858, at the brand's height it was the biggest pen company in the United States, producing around 216,000,000 pens a year. Esterbrook is not only an "American" pen brand but also a brand deep rooted in American history with presidents like Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson all signing legislation with Esterbrook pens. Just recently in 2018 Kenro Industries acquired the brand allowing for a revival of classic designs as well as some new imaginative writing tools. This particular pen is actually a nod to a pen very important in the brand's history, the Esterbrook J. The J was a pocket pen that was sleek in nature and appealed to the practical values of the time, the J.R. builds upon this and offers a pen from the past for the consumers of today.

Appearance & Packaging:

The pen comes in a standard Esterbrook cloth gift box which is quite nice and sturdy, lined with a soft material to protect the pen from any scratches. The first thing to note about the look of this pen is the beautiful turned acrylics that are used for the body and cap. The capri color I was able to test had quite a bit of depth and some lovely chatoyance in the material that was very appealing at first glance. 
This color comes with gold trim which I feel complements the deep blue acrylic quite nicely, making it look very classic with a hint of understated luxury. One thing to note is that this pen is quite small, however another thing to note is that my hands are quite big so I may be a little biased in my pen size preference. The pen is a manageable length when posted however is still a bit skinny for my tastes, despite the lightweight and skinny design it does have a nice high quality feel to it. 

Nib & Performance:

In the spirit of this pen being a revival of a classic model, Esterbrook is working on an adapter to make the nibs from the original J compatible with this brand new model. A bit of a disclaimer, on my initial fill of this pen it had some issues with hard starting, skipping and a general lack of ink flow but was fixed with a complete disassembly and deep clean. The problem was most likely a fluke issue that was caused by a little piston grease blocking something because now it's actually quite a pleasant writer. The Jowo steel nib is on the stiff side which is to be expected but writes decently with a medium to light ink flow. 
The nib is not silky smooth and has a tiny bit of feedback but not enough to make it noticeably unpleasant, almost like writing with a pencil. Esterbrook also did a good job using all of the space on the inside of the barrel allowing them to use a bigger converter compared to other pens of this form factor. 


  • Beautiful turned acrylic
  • Nice to see a brand revive an important model from it's past
  • Nice build quality with a high quality feel


  • Section is pretty short
  • Lightweight for a pocket pen when compared to an Alsport which is less expensive
  • The price point is on the higher side in my opinion but is still in the realm of reasonable when you take everything about this pen into account.

Price & Conclusion:

The Suggested retail on this pen is $175 but at Pen Boutique we offer it for $140 which I feel is on the high side but not out of the realm of possibility when all things are considered. The turned acrylic is really the draw of this pen for me simply because of the beauty and depth it provides, the nib is a steel Jowo which makes replacement really easy. All you have to do to clean the section is screw out the nib unit, this makes the nibs easily replaceable as well. This is a pretty interesting pen however I don't think I'll be picking one up for my personal collection just due to there being other more durable and substantial feeling pocket pens like an Alsport or Pocket 6 from Schon DSGN but this is just my personal preference. I definitely understand the draw of this pen and its a strong new competitor in the Esterbrook line up. I especially like seeing a brand recognize and revitalize it's history. Whatever pocket pen you decide to go with, enjoy it & keep writing. 
-Kyle Skowronski
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