I get asked a lot: "I want to get into pens, and fountain pens in particular, but it all seems so overwhelming. Where do I start?" This resource is intended to provide a jumping-off point for those who are completely new to fountain pens, and also to give experienced users some new places to enhance their existing knowledge.
What's This All About, Anyway?
If you really have no idea what the difference is between a nib, a feed, and a converter, then start with the basics. You have a lot of reading to do.
- Ed Jelly: 8 Reasons Why You Should Write With a Fountain Pen. If you’re just beginning your fountain pen journey, and are wondering what all the fuss is about, this is as good a place as any to start. Ed boils it down to the basics, making this one of the most heavily shared fountain-pen related posts of 2015.
- The Goulet Pens Blog: Fountain Pen 101. The “Fountain Pen 101” series contains explanations of terms, instructional videos, and more. A great resource for figuring out which way is up when it comes to fountain pens.
- Richardspens.com. This website from nibmeister Richard Binder, though not updated as frequently as it once was, has a lot of valuable information about fountain pen use and collecting. His “Reference Pages” lean heavy towards vintage pens, but the general information is still relevant and valuable no matter what your interest.
- Glenn Marcus’s Pen Page. Another nice page, periodically updated, by a veteran pen collector whose tastes run heavily in favor of German and Italian pens. Glenn also writes a lot about the joys of using pens, and has an archive of ink reviews tackling pretty much every brand out there.
- The Fountain Pen Network. By far the largest pen forum on the internet. You can learn a lot, though the forums are huge, and it’s very easy to get lost. I wouldn’t recommend that you start here, but once you have a basic understanding of terms, etc., FPN is a valuable resource.
- FPGeeks Forum. A sad story. FPGeeks was once an active website that served as a source for reviews, commentary, and pen-industry news. I spent a lot of time there. The main sight has been down for some time, but the forums are still online. Not quite as expansive as FPN, but still a very good resource.
- The Art of Manliness Primer on Fountain Pens. Not a true fountain pen website, but AoM has a pretty good article on the basics of writing with a fountain pen. They get it. Plus it’s a pretty great site in that has a lot of interesting resources of topics of general interest.
- Pen Chalet. Retailer Pen Chalet has a nice “How To” section on filling and cleaning fountain pens. Fountain pen maintenance is very important if you want your pen to write well and last a long time, so it’s good to know what you’re getting yourself into before you buy.
OK, Here's My Wallet, What do I Buy?
So you've stayed up 'til 3 a.m. reading Fountain Pen Network threads about how it's impossible to find a perfect match to Montblanc's discontinued, Limited Edition "Gandhi" ink, and your eyeballs haven't started to bleed. This is a hobby/black hole you know you want to get into. What do you buy? (TLDR: you could just buy a Pilot Metropolitan—probably the consensus “best first pen”—use it for a while, and skip directly to Ink.)
- The Pen Addict: Brad Dowdy's website is a treasure trove of information, but his Top 5 Pens Lists are where you need to start. Brad’s into more than just fountain pens, too.
- The Gentleman Stationer. Hey, I’m writing this list--and you're already here--so I don’t feel bad plugging my own stuff. Check out my lists of Top Five Fountain Pens for Beginners, and Top Five Fountain Pens Under $75.
- Goulet Pens Top Five Fountain Pens for Newbies. Also check out their Nib Nook and Pen Plaza, which provide photos and writing samples from the fountain pens they stock. If you see something you like, you can buy directly from them.
- JetPens: Retailer JetPens has curated a page of beginner-friendly fountain pens, and many of the pens on this list have multiple customer reviews. I’ve always found JetPens’ customer base informed and pretty reliable for purposes of product recommendations, etc.
Stock Up On Ink and Paper
Now that you have a fountain pen, it’s time to load up on ink and paper. When it comes to choosing the color you are going to write with, the sheer number of colors available can be overwhelming. Here are a few of my favorite resources for narrowing your choices.
- Goulet Pens. Again, I'm sending you back to Goulet Pens. They may sell pens now, but they started out as ink and paper specialists. Their Swab Shop allows you to compare color swatches and writing samples from essentially every ink that is readily available on the market. They also sell most major brands of fountain-pen friendly paper. If you can’t find something that you like here, then it may just not exist.
- FPN Ink Review Forum. The Fountain Pen Network has numerous highly prolific ink reviewers and, therefore, an extensive archive of ink that has been reviewed. In my early days I regularly spent hours here.
- Gourmet Pens. Azizah’s site has excellent, extensively photographed ink reviews that really showcase what each ink will look like wet, as well as when it’s dry on paper. She'll also tell you what it tastes like.
- A note on choosing inks: While I’m far from alarmist about the ink I use in my pens, in the interest of full disclose I should warn you that there has been much discussion about whether or not super-saturated (i.e., dye-heavy) inks such as Noodler's and Private Reserve are “safe” to use in all pens. I don’t pretend to understand the science behind it all, but just remember that fountain pen inks are chemical solutions, and if you have an expensive or irreplaceable pen that you care about preserving, exercise caution. This article from Richard Binder more or less summarizes the various arguments people have made for or against these inks.
Join the Community (AKA Full-Blown Addiction)
You have you're pens, ink, paper, and have chosen your FPN handle. What else is there to do other than actually write with your pen(s)? Lots.
- The Pen Addict Podcast. You’re listening to a podcast about pens. I have nothing else to say. You’re addicted. It’s like being in a bar at 10:30 am on a Wednesday.
- The Pen Habit. An excellent website and Youtube Channel. Matt Armstrong creates both video and written reviews of pens in every price range, from entry-level writers to custom pens costing hundreds of dollars. Your credit card will be angry at you.
- SBRE Brown. A massive Youtube channel with dozens upon dozens of video reviews. I’m fairly certain that SBRE Brown has reviewed every readily-accessible pen out there (and more). Some people don’t like his review style, but I’ve always found his videos entertaining and informing.
- Pen O'Clock News. A revival of Fountain Pen Radio, formerly associated with FPGeeks, featuring SBRE Brown, Azizah from Gourmetpens, and Eric (from FPGeeks). It's a podcast? Or a YouTube show? Who cares, it's fun.
- Fountain Pen Economics. If you’re still reading, you’ve progressed from listening to a podcast about pens, watching pen videos on YouTube, to reading a blog about the economics of the fountain pen industry. (Which, by the way, is incredibly well written, well informed, and interesting. If you subscribe to the Pen Addict website, you will receive access to a mini-podcast featuring Dr. Jonathon Deans, the author of Pen Economics.)
- The Well-Appointed Desk. Obviously, you will want to progress from your pen obsession to accessorizing, beautifying and optimizing your office space in its entirety. Ana Reinert reviews plenty of pens and ink, but there’s also a lot more.
If there aren’t enough modern pens to keep your hands and pocketbook occupied, then you can always dive into the fountain pen “back catalog.” Vintage pens are their own thing: they have their own terminology, their own set of specialist dealers, and (mostly) their own subset of collectors and enthusiasts within the overall pen community. If you're interested in learning more:
- My Vintage Pen Primer Series. I've tried to cobble together basic knowledge on a few of the major brands and models of vintage pens. Not intended to be comprehensive, but merely a jumping off point. Part II, Part III, and Part IV here.
- Anderson Pens. A retailer that specializes in both vintage and modern fountain pens, and carries a broad range of ink. Brian and Lisa Anderson are Esterbrook specialists, and Esterbrook is a great jumping off point into the vintage pen world.
- GoPens.com. A drool-worthy site where you can purchase excellent quality vintage pens for very fair prices. I personally use the site’s back catalogues as a reference when I’m trying to figure out whether something is a good deal, or when I'm trying to price a vintage pen for resale.
Whew! Thanks for reading. Hopefully this was helpful, and I'd appreciate it if you'd share with anyone who you think might be on the brink of diving into the pen hobby. For more similar content, you can subscribe to my site using the link on the right, or follow me on Twitter and Instagram, where I'm slightly more active.
Disclaimer: I was not paid or compensated for including any of the links on this list. These are all resources that I personally use, and have brought me much enjoyment over the years. I hope you all enjoy them as well!