Fountain Pens

This old thing?

I’ve been keeping this pen under wraps since I bought it back in November and I hadn’t really intended to write about it. However, the mood has gripped me and it ties into a wider discourse about the fountain pens I buy, so here we are.

That’s pretty much exactly what I think about this fountain pen. It’s a basic, entry-level, plastic pen with a decent, if uninspiring, nib and actually quite an impressive design for the price. I paid £18.00 for this from Cult Pens. I need to note that Cross do make a metal-bodied version of this pen which would currently cost you £40.00 at Cult Pens. Oh, and the prices I’m quoting are inclusive of UK VAT.

This sits rather nicely in my hand

I’ve got the ideal pen for a comparison – my Waterman Allure fits admirably into exactly the same category as the Cross Bailey Light: starter/school pen, kind of thing I’d happily leave at the office or take on my travels. They are the same price, too, which makes a comparison all the more fitting. There’s a touch of the swings-and-roundabouts to these two pens. The Waterman has a metal chassis which, at least for me, beats the plastic of the Bailey Light in the same way that the Lamy AL-star beats the Lamy Safari. Then again, the Bailey Light does have more going on in the way of decorative elements, the Allure being very plain indeed. Neither included a converter, no surprise there; both came with an ink cartridge to get you started. One definite advantage to the Bailey Light is the choice of extra-fine, fine, or medium nibs where I can only see the Allure offered with a fine nib. As my preference is fine or extra-fine, that isn’t a deal-breaker between the two. A major advantage to the Waterman is that it takes Standard International cartridges and converters whereas the Cross pens only fit Cross branded ones.

It’s the nibs, the writing experience, where I feel there’s most divergence, and on this score I come down very heavily in favour of the Waterman. It’s always hard to quantify these things, but I find the Waterman nib glides better on the paper. Comparing the two in my photo above, I think the Cross looks narrower and perhaps the Waterman leans more towards a fine-medium which would be understandable if they are just offering the one nib width. The actual size of the nibs is different, too – Cross nibs are often quite petite compared to those of their competitors.

Would I want to try out the metal version – the Cross Bailey – one day somewhere down the line? I could compare it with my Namisu Orion which also retails at bang on £40.00. I think the answer is no. The design is nice, but not outstanding; the nib is okay (I presume the same nibs are fitted to both the standard and the light versions of the design) but it doesn’t rock my world; I just wouldn’t drop £40.00 on a pen for the simple intellectual curiosity of it.

This leads me to the “discourse” part of today’s lecture. I know exactly where I sit in relation to the hobby of fountain pens. I know I’m a user, not a collector. Even in my dreams where I’ve won the lottery and settled down to enjoy my twilight years without having to worry about money, I wouldn’t want to own racks of fountain pens knowing I could only use a small proportion of them with any regularity. (In those same dreams, I want to own my own home, but it’s never anything larger than the 3-bedroom semi I grew up in.) Knowing the limitations imposed by wanting to use the fountain pens I own, it stands to reason that a pen needs some indefinable magic to provoke desire. Like I say, intellectual curiosity won’t pass muster.

The second thing I know is that I enjoy metal-bodied pens above others. This doesn’t mean that I can’t admire the acrylics and resins that many higher-end fountain pens flaunt, though surprisingly often I don’t admire them anywhere near as much as I know I should. It does, however, mean that they don’t enter the realm of “I want that”, they don’t tempt me. Often I’ll be browsing online and looking at all these glorious confections and suddenly there will be a plain blue metal pen and I’ll think “Wow!”. The Caran d’Ache Leman, for example, or the simple columnar understatement of the Graf von Faber-Castell Tamitio. If I won the lottery I might invest in one or other of those.

Then there is the price range that I feel comfortable with and that is, pretty much, under £100. A special treat (like the Leman and Tamitio, for example), a dream pen if you like, would sit above that. The pens I’d actually buy, though, are under that line and, if I’m honest, quite a long way under. Around £40 to £60 always feels to me like a nice price – it’s high enough that I feel I need to think about it and make a wise decision, but low enough to feel I can afford to make a mistake. The Waterman Hémisphères that I adore push towards the upper limit of my comfort zone. The Dipolomat Traveller which I have a bit of an urge for sits right in the sweet spot, as does the Lamy LX. Also there in the sub-£60 slot is the Sheaffer Prelude, which brings me neatly on to brands.

I’m a bit of a stick-in-the-mud when it comes to pen brands. I favour Waterman because I’ve owned four and never had a naff one. I like Cross, but in my heart I know the brand is a little lacklustre and I don’t find their nibs as good as the Waterman ones. Let’s face it: I like Cross because I love my Cross Century II fountain and ballpen set and the reason I love them is for their sentimental value. Sheaffer also plucks the sentimental string for me because I adored the Sheaffer I had in my late teens and early twenties. The reason I have the Sheaffer Prelude on my possibility list is because I really want that old one back. I did buy a cheap Sheaffer a few years ago and hated it – should that be a warning to me? Anyway, my tastes are very mainstream, even traditional – exactly what you’d expect of someone of my age and background. I run true to form.

What does stick out is that I always look at Western brands rather than Asian and the only defence I can proffer for this is that there are enough designs to keep me happy close to home. I know that the majority of the pens I own are birthed in Chinese factories, quite possibly the same Chinese factories which churn out all the incredibly cheap fountain pens you can buy on eBay etc. I don’t buy these, they hold no interest for me. It makes no difference that I could buy ten of these for one mid-price pen from my preferred brands, although it might if I my aspiration was a fountain pen collection, or if I was interested in doing serious pen reviews rather than my own, highly subjective, viewpoint rambles. However, I have realised through the past year that my online presence is not that of a frustrated journalist, but of someone with a simple desire to spread the love for the occasional pens that I enjoy buying, trying, and using.

After which I will bid you a resoundingly amateur adieu.

10 thoughts on “This old thing?

  1. I would just like to add, for balance, a word or two in defence of the Cross Bailey Light. Personally, I find it a great pen to use at work. I have one, also royal blue, in my pen cup at this very moment. I have bought six of these in total. Then again, mine have all been with medium nibs and bought at John Lewis, where I could peer through the packaging to look at the nib first. I always picked out models which had a a visible gap at between the tines at the tipping. (This is because I am a left handed overwriter and like to have a pen which writes and is well lubricated with no downward pressure). I generally paid £20.00 for these, with a converter costing an extra £7.00.
    The nibs are very firm, good for fast notes as well as for signing, with a slight degree of line width variation from down strokes to cross strokes. I am a fan!
    I would not particularly recommend the metal bodied Cross Bailey: I have had a few, including the medalist version but it can be a bit difficult to get their tops off (so to speak).
    I also have one Waterman Allure, with its fine nib. I enjoyed the nib but found the pen very slippy to hold and had to gouge some texture into the plastic grip to make it usable for me, which made it functional but less attractive.
    On the other hand, the Cross Bailey has a very comfortable grip. I can use it posted or unposted. It does post well but needs a good push and a twist to stop the cap wriggling off.
    I also like to keep a Cross Bailey Light for use with iron gall ink.
    So it goes to show that tastes differ and neither view is right or wrong! Having a pen that works for you and which you like, is the main thing.

    1. Thanks, you raise some excellent points here and I’m aware that I’ve damned the Cross Bailey Light with faint praise when it is a perfectly good pen for the price bracket it sits in. When I get through the Cross Washable Blue cartridge I’ve got in it at the moment, I’ll pop in one of my Cross converters and fill it with an ink I’m more enamoured with and see if that sparks more joy. I think, if the world ever gets back to the point where my writing group starts up again, this would be an excellent pen to take with me in my writing pack.
      I agree about the grip on the Cross Bailey Light – it is very comfortable. Then again, I don’t find the Waterman Allure grip to be slippery, so that’s less of an issue for me. Heck, I don’t even have any problems with the chrome grip section of the Lamy Studio!
      One other thing I’m bearing in mind is that it often takes me a long time to coalesce my feelings about the things I buy and I often blow hot and cold over them for a long while. Quite often something I initially thought was perfect turns out not to be to my taste long-term, and equally things which I don’t take to right away gradually find a place in my life and in my heart. It will be interesting to see whether the Cross Bailey Light worms its way in!

  2. That’s very fair. Yes, it does sometimes take a while to find out whether a pen purchase is successful, allowing for the usual honeymoon period to wear off and occasionally, buyer’s remorse. I had ups and downs with a Montegrappa once, an impulse buy at Harrods which I returned after a couple of days…and then missed. Yes, finding a good ink-pairing is a help too. Sometimes that takes me quite a few fills before settling on a pen’s forever ink.

    1. There’s a lot to be said for pairing a pen with a ‘forever’ ink as you put it. That way, wanting to use that ink would be an incentive to pick up that particular pen. I do that already in one instance – the Lamy Studio is such a perfect match with Waterman Inspired Blue ink that when I have the urge to use that ink, I’ll put it into the Studio. Great food for thought here, thank you again.

    1. Yes, I have to say Cross do design nice, sturdy, traditional-looking pens. I think that’s why they are popular corporate (and Presidential) pens in the USA. I understand they were popular for graduation gifts as well.

    2. Although ballpoints are a long way down my preference list, if I use a ballpoint it’s invariably a Cross one because I do like their refills. I was interested to see that the new Filofax pens take the Cross refills.

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