Tale of a Vandal Pen User: Fountain Pen as Muse

Each of the pens in my collection is enjoyable to write with. What would be the point of having them around otherwise? Three pens, however, stand out as pens that I love holding as much as I enjoy writing with them. This is a visceral experience hard to explain. Maybe you will even scoff at the notion. Writers, I believe, will understand.

There is something unique about the material, the warmth and richness, and the feel in the hand that elevates the writing experience. In your hands the same pens will no doubt feel different and less magical than they do in mine. What is fascinating about these three pens is that none of them are made of celluloid nitrate, the Holy Grail material for many fountain pen lovers.  Two of these pens are acrylic: an Edison Huron and a Bexley Submariner. The third is an ebonite Japanese urushi lacquer pen, a Danitrio Short Octagon.

Submariner, Short Octagon, Huron

The Short Octagon feels like a piece of fine porcelain in my hand. The sound of the cap unscrewing from the barrel evokes a feeling that “high tea” is about to begin. The pen calls for me to be a writer better than myself. The pen itself is hard, sturdy and not fragile at all.

I have long admired the simple, clean look of many Danitrio fountain pens. Generally Danitrios are much larger sized pens that I like to write with. The Short Octagon, a shape originally designed for the FPN Danitrio Fellowship pen, provided an entry for me into the Danitrio line and provided me another ink tank for long writing sessions. Had I found the Danitrio Short Octagon three years ago, I may never have tried so many other pens.

An ebonite pen, the Short Octagon has a Tame-murasaki urushi finish. The rich coloration of this pen invokes brown, eggplant purple and sometimes a hint of red colors. An inexperienced photographer, I have found the pen’s sumptuousness impossible to capture.

The Short Octagon measures 5- 2/8ths capped, 4 – 7/8ths uncapped (barrel to nib). Uninked it weighs 24 grams capped and 16 grams unposted. (BTW: This pen cannot be posted.) With a barrel full of ink, the Short Octagon weighs 20 grams unposted.

The pen’s EEF nib has been somewhat fussy about inks. J. Herbin and Montblanc inks tend to run quite dry. Diamine and Private Reserve inks flow wet and without issue. The nib also prefers high quality paper à la Clairefontaine and Rhodia. Other papers tend to catch the nib. The nib is an EEF flex which gives my signature a lovely flair.

Cumlaude and Short Octagon

Once upon a time I tried a Danitrio Cumlaude fountain pen. These are very large pens made from Italian celluloid (cellulose acetate) and made to use cartridge/converters. Although the steel nib was lovely, I didn’t keep the pen because it was too big, felt unwieldy in my hand and held far too little ink to justify IMO its size. Recently I acquired a Cumlaude as a gift for a friend. I was amused to discover that when inked and unposted, the Short Octagon is heavier than the c/c Cumlaude! The S.O. reminds me the obsession with size and weight is always about writing comfort. The Short Octagon is as comfortable as it gets for me. I can write for hours without the hand fatiguing.

My favorite way to ink a pen is a simple one:  fill the ink directly into the barrel with an eyedropper. The two pens inked in this manner are the Short Octagon and Edison Huron. Both pens were designed as cartridge/converter pens. Since neither pen has any internal metal parts or threads that could be corroded by ink both pens make ideal candidates for eyedropper use. Other than the pure silicon grease that occasionally gets applied to the barrel threads, there is no real “conversion” into an eyedropper pen. Both pens can be used as a c/c pen anytime I desire to do so.

As eyedroppers, the Huron and Danitrio hold more ink than any other pen in my possession.  Using the converter, each pen holds maybe a gram of ink. The barrels filled with ink easily hold 4-5 grams of ink. Some day I’ll count how many pages these pens write without refilling.


I have been tempted to use the Bexley Submariner as an eyedropper. There are no corrodible parts in the barrel or section.

The Submariner has had its trials. The original nib was a very wet, thick medium point. I had someone regrind the nib to an extra fine. That regrind didn’t turn out so well. The nib was narrowed, looked like a bayonet and lost its smoothness. During the downsizing, I sold this pen and then regretted doing so because there is that visceral experience I enjoyed with the Submariner. To my great relief, it didn’t suit the buyer and the pen came back home. Another nib worker look at the nib and managed to restore it to a fine, smooth writer. More relief, two times over!

Submariner, Short Octagon, Huron

I don’t name my pens, endow them with human characteristics, or believe the pens themselves create magic. Okay, maybe, just maybe, they practice a bit of magic when I’m not looking. Their job, however, is to serve as writer’s tools. Sometimes the mere pleasure in holding one of these three pens keeps me writing. Any tool that inspires me onward is one I’m going to keep using. Especially tools that are also tiny works of art themselves. Do you have pens that do that for you?

2 thoughts on “Tale of a Vandal Pen User: Fountain Pen as Muse

  1. Nice essay, PW!. My rig’s much more modest, but the pens in it are stimulating for their looks, and they’re a pleasure to use (almost always).

    Years ago, Herb Keppler, longtime editor of Modern Photography and later Popular Photography magazines, pretty much blew the lid off many photographers’ secret passion. They “dry fire” their cameras, they admire their looks, they examine closely features they’ve hardly used, etc, even when they aren’t taking photos.

    Pleasure in connoisseurship, or “complexity” (wish there were a better term), I guess. Maybe non-writer FP collectors have a similar vibe at work.

    I have a buddy who bought a house in the ‘burbs some years ago. Drywall ‘n’ stick construction, lotsa plastics. He’s spent at least half the purchase price adding stuff to lend permanence, dignity of residence (?), “psychological vesting” to the place.

    I’ll guess FP writers have already made the decision their own writing deserves “vesting”.

    Nice pens . . . . plus you got me going a bit, PW! Jack/Y-town


  2. Pingback: Tale of a Vandal Pen User: Continuing to Evolve « Peaceable Writer

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