Tale of a Vandal Pen Collector: Wrestling with a Writer’s Dozen

There are more important issues than pens, but pens are fun, ay? A tiny respite from the world on fire.

Writing by hand has always been a part of my life—crayons, pencils, fountain pens, ballpoints. When I injured my writing hand as a kid playing volleyball, the typewriter joyfully entered my life. Later, there were memory typewriters (maybe one hundred words?), Apple II, the Commodore, Morrow Computers, so much computing revolution, on and on, up to the Apple devices I use today.

I’m not a Luddite, but I still love writing by hand and continue to do so.

The root of my fountain pen hoard lay in the desire to use a reusable hand-writing instrument that I could travel with.

For years I had loved rollerballs, which were not reusable once upon a time. During my corporate life, rollerballs were also horrible airplane companions, always leaking after landing. Does anyone still use a rollerball?

Life was better after I moved over to a Fisher ballpoint which famously would write under any circumstance… airplanes, underwater, upside down, or while in space. I still use a Fisher Bullet ballpoint pen out and about in the world. The ink cartridge does need to be refilled, but it lasts a super long time. While reliable, the pen is not fun to write with. A little like using a rock to carve your message in the sidewalk, when chalk is so much easier and diverse in colors.

After a long hiatus of crappy fountain pens forced on me during my childhood years, fountain pens became my answer to reusable writing instruments. They were far better traveling companions once their limitations were understood: the pen should be full or empty when flying, carry nib up, don’t put it in a pocket on a hot or freezing day. Some pens handle jostling well, and many don’t like being conveyed around in a backpack without a good pen case.

You know what, though? There is a place in the world for the Fisher Bullet pen. It’s never leaked. While I used to carry around my Pilot Decimo clipped to my shirt, nowadays I carry the Fisher. It never leaks and always writes.

So… you buy a fountain pen, and you fall in love with the writing experience in a new way. If one pen is great, what do other fountain pens feel like? Which one suits my hand perfectly? How many variations of blue inks are there? What is the history of Conklin? Wahl? Esterbrook? All fountain pens?

Instead of being a writer’s tool, the pens and paraphernalia became a collection and an obsession. Eventually, I remembered what I wanted—a reusable pen that would last me years.

It took a while to reduce my collection and find what worked for me long-term. At one point, I got as far down as three fountain pens in my possession, but I found that a “writer’s dozen” was better. Any more than that writer’s dozen leaves me feeling uncomfortable. Why? Because:

If a pen could talk, she would say, “feed me, ink me!”

Pens remain at their best when they are used. They do odd things when left alone for too long—feeds dry out, material disintegrates, they run away from home and go missing.

At the moment, I’m two pens over my writer’s dozen (thanks to my last birthday), and the number isn’t suiting me well. I’ve taken three pens and set them out of sight to see if they ask to be used.

The best decision I ever made was to stop collecting pens. That decision enabled me to focus on what worked, not popular, pretty, and shiny.

My first real writer’s pen? The Edison Huron was made for me during the early days of Edison Pens. It’s still the perfect pen for my hand, and I look forward to writing the first draft of something new with the Huron later this year.

Edison Huron in Yellowstone acrylic

If you told me there was some strange twist of fate that allowed me only one pen, it would be the Huron. If you said two pens, I’d include the Hakumin Mina and find a way to sneak in a third one—the Aurora 88.

Aurora 88 Minerali, Hakumin Edison Mina in shiro-tamenuri

Okay, a fourth pen could be hidden in a sock—the Nakaya Tortoiseshell Chinkin Karakusa. It has my most favorite nib of all, a soft-medium 18K nib. This pen originally had a super fine flexible nib, definitely the original owner’s type of nib. I’ve said several times this pen is made for writing poetry (but it’s stuck with me!). The pen itself is quite beautiful, a gift I’m unworthy of.

The Nakaya Chinkin Karakusa was produced during a period when Nakaya made celluloid fountain  pens. Sometime around 2013, Nakaya ceased using celluloid, leaving celluloid production in the hands of its Platinum family. I remember this time well, as many pen friends were scrambling to buy up the last of the Nakaya celluloid pens. There were even some nice varieties, such as ringed celluloid made for some prototypes, outside the standard tortoiseshell, jade, and koi celluloid. Rarely do these celluloid Nakaya pens come up for re-sale, or even see the light of day.

Nakaya Tortoise Chinkin Karakusa

There is no problem with the number of pens in my tiny hoard, except in my own heart and mind, in my own relationship with physical things.

Less is always more in my house.

Thanks for reading, dear friends. Stay kind, get vaccinated, please, and be curious about the world, ay?

See you anon,
—JD

Below is the current list of my Writer’s Dozen plus two. Of these pens, eight of them are used frequently. Care to guess which pens have been put aside for possible re…um… distribution?

And then, of course:

It’s not the fountain pens themselves that are the heart of the writing experience. The pen bodies are important vehicles for the nibs—these matter most of all.

—said by me ad-nauseum