As a budding young journalist and soldier trekking through Italy during WWI, Hemingway is said to have carried his Elmo fountain pen throughout the Great War, inspiring one of his most famous novels A Farewell to Arms. Einstein’s works on the theory of relativity were written with a fountain pen—likely a Pelican 100 N, a favorite of the physicist’s. Arthur Conan Doyle brought Sherlock Holmes to life from the nib of a Parker Duofold. Churchill loved a Montblanc. Plath favored Sheaffers. Anne Frank penned her diary, they say, using the Montblanc she received for her ninth birthday. Welsh poet Dylan Thomas pleaded with us to not go gentle into that good night using the same fountain pen as Queen Elizabeth II, a Parker 5, released in 1941—only 12 years before his untimely death. Twain was the official spokesman for The Conklin Pen Company (imagine a time when authors were spokesmen for pens the way athletes peddle sneaker brands nowadays).
Like Doyle, Graham Greene favored a Parker Duofold, once citing, “My two fingers on a typewriter have never connected with my brain. My hand on a pen does. A fountain pen, of course. Ball-point pens are only good for filling out forms on a plane.”
However, fountain pens aren’t just for literary icons of yore. Stephen King drafted a portion of Dreamcatcher by candlelight with his Waterman Hemisphere. In the back of the published novel, he wrote, “One final note. This book was written with the world’s finest word processor, a Waterman cartridge fountain pen,” claiming that writing with a fountain pen put him “in touch with language” in a way no other writing tool ever could.
Nail Gaiman famously writes the first draft of each of his novels in longhand using a LAMY 2000, changing his ink color daily to track his progress.
Echoing a sentiment felt by many a pen collector, American fantasy author H.P. Lovecraft wrote in a 1962 letter to his aunt of his experience purchasing a pen: “I did not escape from the emporium till a $6.25 Waterman reposed in my pocket.” A fortune for the time. Not unlike a watch, coin, comic book, knife, or cigar aficionados, the cult of writing ink and fountain pens fervently follow pen bloggers, attend pen shows, and devour YouTube channels entirely dedicated to new materials, shapes, and filling mechanisms; a particular finish; a smooth-as-butter nib; cool limited editions; color schemes. Pens for daily use or collectibles used for ink play, for comparison, or to practice hand lettering and calligraphy.
Besides the calming, almost meditative effects of writing longhand, studies have shown that the art of writing by hand improves brain function. A study from Indiana University found that the action of handwriting taps into creativity that isn’t easily accessed any other way. Other studies have shown that handwriting can help with dyslexia and that children who write by hand learn better than kids who type on a keyboard. On the practical side, writing using a fountain pen is easier than a ballpoint. Because reservoir pens use liquid ink, they enable your hand to glide smoothly and easily as you write, allowing for extended periods of writing without tiring or hand cramping.
With all that in mind, we break down some of the best pens at various price points to start or add to your pen collection, including favorite inks and paper to play with.
Simplicity and function blended with solid design and high quality is name of the game. Now go write your great American novel.
PILOT CUSTOM 74 FOUNTAIN PEN
Pilot is one of the best pen manufacturers in the world. If you want to get a fountain pen that’s your first step up into the mid-range pens, this is a great choice. It’s a classic cigar shape with a 14 carat nib, which is a step above the steel nibs you find in the lower range starter ones. When people first get into fountain pens, they’re used to pressing harder because of ballpoints; this is a very smooth writing pen that’s geared to those heavy-handed writers.
PILOT METROPOLITAN FOUNTAIN PEN
A great first step into owning a fountain pen because it’s great quality at a really good price. You can’t do much better than this at this price. It writes really well and is a great introduction to fountain pens and all it entails; how to fill it with ink, how to care for it, and of course how to write with it.
LAMY 2000 FOUNTAIN PEN
The Lamy 2000 was introduced in 1966, and to this day is considered one of the best pens on the planet. It checks all the boxes: a classic design, lightweight, writes well, holds a lot of ink, and posts well. Amazingly, it’s still the same design since the ‘60s.
LEONARDO OFFICINA ITALIANO MOMENTO ZERO
Another luxury fountain pen. The barrel shaped design is amazing to write with because it has a fat body, which feels good in the hand. But really it’s about the looks. Aesthetically, it’s incredible, just beautiful looking and comes in a myriad of colors.
SAILOR 1911S FOUNTAIN PEN
One of the three top pen manufacturers out of Japan. 1911 marks the year the Sailor company was founded. Another classic design that runs head to head with the Custom 74 and the Platinum 3776.
MONTBLANC 149 THE DIPLOMAT
Montblanc is considered easily one of the best makers of fountain pens, with a storied history. To pick one is impossible, but the Diplomat 1941 and the Leo Tolstoy are the two that come to mind as some of their best, although the Tolstoy is much harder to find. The nib on this is nearly unmatched. It’s as good as any you’ll ever write with.
NAKAYA DORSAL FIN V2 TAMENURI AKA
With this price point, the Nakaya is a pen you’ll really need to think about before purchasing, but it’s a work of art. It’s one of the best looking pens on the planet, and writes exceptionally well, with good line variation when you flex the nib.