Sunday, September 26, 2010

Wholesale Pen Slaughter, or Pen-conomics

In spite of my love for fountain pens, I have a habit of picking up many of the more standard pens that catch my fancy. Add to this the seductive charms of, and I have a ridiculous number of gel / ballpoint / roller ball pens in cups and drawers around the house.

Recent journals
Some of my recently used composition books

Lately I've been using composition books for my journals (despite their dubious archival qualities). When I'm writing consistently (which doesn't happen consistently), I go through about one a month as a general rule. Most are either Staples bagasse paper (bagasse=sugar cane waste) or "Made in Brazil" Norcom comp books from Wal-mart, which have the additional charm of costing just a quarter apiece at some points in the year. These two types both have very fountain pen friendly paper; i.e. ink doesn't feather like crazy or soak into the paper and through the other side as a general rule. However, I have a few composition books of poorer quality paper, at least where fountain pens are concerned: a few of the last "Made in the USA" Meads, and some Staples brand comp books with nice sturdy covers but rather porous paper. I've been shuffling these aside for a few years now, but this month, I set myself a sort of experiment. I've been using one of the Staples comp books, and restricting myself to the myriad of non-fountain pen writing instruments I have around.

The damage so far: in my current not-quite-full notebook (and a small amount of writing at work) I have used up
1 Zebra Sarasa gel pen
2 Pilot G2 gel pens
Approximately 5 Pentel Wow! Gel pens and counting (they're cheap, but they literally only last me about a day and a half)
1 Uniball Jetstream and a portion of another
1 Zebra Surari "emulsion ink" pen

Dead pens
Just *some* of the carnage!

For standard ballpoints (the Jetstream and Surari are not really typical ballpoints), I've briefly used a Zebra F-701, a Bic Cristal, and a Fisher bullet pen; but I didn't stick with them for long. Ballpoints make my hand ache too much, and the the not-really-blackness of the black ink bugs me. The black Jetstreams and Surari are better in this regard: more vivid. For other ballpoints, I'd be better off with blue--any shade of blue is still blue.

I've also used a certain amount of pencil. In the grand scheme of things, pencil is probably the most cost-efficient writing instrument out there, and in many ways, I prefer it to ballpoint. It feels better. My only real quibble with it is that I can't seem to avoid a certain amount of transfer from one page to another, so everything ends up a little messy looking.

You know what else fascinates me? If I take the whole notebook and flip through the pages like a flip book, the ballpoint-written pages with their rather embossed text make a loud crackling sound, the gel and pencil pages a softer, whispery crackling sound, and a few experimental fountain pen pages make no sound at all.

I am easily entertained.

It's freeing to use these things up. I think I've also proven, however, that fountain pens, while perhaps not as cost efficient as pencil, are far more cost efficient than most of the other alternatives. Even the very cheapest gel pens are typically at least seventy-five cents or a dollar apiece, and obviously, the very cheapest gel pens don't last very long--only ten or eleven comp book pages in the case of those Pentels. On the other hand, a tiny sip of bottled ink in my Lamy 2000 will write for thirty to forty pages, and a ten dollar bottle will least a year or two? Suddenly the bargain gel pens don't seem like such a bargain, do they?

I don't know exactly how long an ink bottle will last since I have yet to really use one start to finish. I've had a bad habit of buying more colors. I'm working on simplifying and using up rather than making any more purchases of any kind, and I probably have enough ink to last me a decade or two. (And enough notebooks to last me at least two or three years...truth be told). But based on how very little the level of ink in the bottle of Aircorp Blue-Black has dropped in the year I've been using it fairly steadily (though by no means exclusively), it's obvious ink lasts a good while. For the frugal, a basic fountain pen (especially one with a fine nib) and a single bottle of something like Noodler's Black would break down to a much, much cheaper overall cost than buying the equivalent gel pens or rollers or likely even most ballpoints.

Ah, the lengths we go to to justify our addictions!

Noodler's Air-Corp Blue-Black ink
Trying to show how little ink is gone by holding the bottle of AC BB to the light. And yes, that is a freaky label, isn't it?

The current experiment will continue for a few more months until I use up the bad comp books (and most of the excess "cheap" pens), and then I'll go back to fountain pens. Hm...the next experiment could be to see how long a bottle of ink lasts.... Of course, this is all terribly unscientific. There are so many unquantified variables: the size of my handwriting, the number of pages I write a day, the width of the pen, whether or not a particular ink is absorbed by a particular paper.... It still fascinates me, though.


Anonymous said...

Let me introduce another variable. Try using a dip pen. They are cheap, easily changed to suit your mood (fine, italic, etc.)and last forever as long as you don't use them to pry up staples. Admittedly, they aren't very portable but one holder, a few nibs and a bottle of ink will give you a lot of writing.

Just a (devilish) thought.


Strikethru said...

Jet Pens has been getting me into trouble as well.

Justin said...

I have been using that type of composition notebook for my journal for a couple of months. While it's not great like a Moleskine, it is sturdy and fun, and cost me $0.99.
Also, I've been enjoying pencils a great deal. I was using a fountain pen a lot but pencils just feel so good on paper. They have the right amount of drag and it actually helps me forms neater cursive letters.

Little Flower Petals said...

Jeff, dip pens are something I do want to play with some time--I've yet to really use just a standard writing nib and never got the hang of the large italic nibs I played with briefly. I don't think I'd use one for my journal, since I tend to lug that with my in my bag and write here, there and everywhere, and never at a desk...but maybe for letters? I want to get into doing more letter writing...

Justin, do you do anything to prevent transfer from one page to another or just live with it? It's the main thing that bothers me about pencil. I agree with all of what you said! They do feel nice.

Anonymous said...


I'm no expert with dip pens but I like to play with them. A letter would be a good place to start where there's no hurry. Learning how much ink to load up, avoiding drips and drops is part of the fun. It is a slower, more deliberate pace.

And a writing instrument can help set a mood. I once wrote a piece for our newspaper about an upcoming tour of the local Civil War battlefield. This was a feature, not hard news, so I wanted to combine the basic info with a story to intrigue the reader. I settled on a soldier writing home to friends the night after the battle. I was getting nowhere with the draft until I switched to a dip pen and wrote the thing by candle light. The words just flowed. I did a similar thing about a colonial fair, writing the draft with a goose quill. I do have fun with my writing tools.


Justin said...

I haven't had a problem with the pencil transferring to another page. I write on both sides of each pape, so maybe I just don't notice. I haven't noticed any smudging or anything. I do wonder sometimes about the permanence of pencil but I think it would only get rubbed away or transferred to other pages if the notebook was thumbed through or open constantly.

watercolour said...

I enjoyed the pen survey on your blog. I also gather pens and try out anything that looks interesting.

I stuck with Bic Crystal pens for years as their quality is exceptional. They have quality features we don't even notice. The ink it lightfast, they will continue to write in extremes of temperature, and have welded ends to prevent end-chewers from accidentally swallowing the end-plug. ( But why do they dry up so quickly when left in a drawer? And can they ever be recovered? I've tried warming them, standing them in hot water, standing them in the sun, but once the ink has dried up, they never seem to write properly even if you can get them to re-start. Anyone got any tips? )

They're not always the most comfortable for Nano-endurance, but Bic have improved on that with the Bic Crystal Grip which has a nice smooth cushioned section and is very lightweight, and the Bic Atlantis -for a slightly heavier weight and wider cushioned grip.

For day to day notes/sketches I like Staedtler Sticks because they're slightly shorter than Bics.

Mitsubishi Pencil Co's Uni-ball 'eye' micro pens have a nice feel and waterproof fade-proof ink. Their line is very fine and I don't know how many pages they'll last out.

Yesterday I bought, to try out, a Pilot G2 0.7, and a Pilot V ball, both liquid ink.

I'd like to find a well designed fountain pen that takes cartridges, at a reasonable price. Bic's lightweight fountain pen has a black rubber grip section, and takes either permanent or washable-ink cartridges, but it can start to feel awkward after a few pages. ( Copied from Nano post.)