Some of My Favorite Frugal Fountain Pens – Part 1

What’s a Good Starter Fountain Pen?

After trying out a variety of pens, I now know which fountain pen I wish I had started with. It’s the Lamy Safari pen. If you are unsure whether or not you want to commit to writing with a fountain pen, this is a terrific pen to test. My Safari writes smoothly, never skips, has a bold line, and is easy to hold.

Designed in Germany for adults and students, the light-weight body is made of molded ABS plastic, the grip has a triangular design to help balance and grip the pen, the nib is a strong steel alloy nib designed to last for an age or two. It can use cartridges or a converter, and the ink flow is generous. The body has 2 thin cutouts to help monitor ink levels. It comes with a distinctive, extra-large, paper-clip-style clip. The Safari is available in a variety nib sizes (I recommend a medium nib to start). Lamy also makes special strong nibs particularly for school kids, and has a line of different colored inks, too.

The Safaris come in red, yellow, blue, white, pink, black and probably other colors. There is a transparent “demonstrator” pen, too. The look is unique, nobody will ever confuse the Lamy Safari pen with an expensive Mont Blanc or a traditional Paper Mate. Some people might not like the shape of the grip, especially those with large hands. But it’s everything that a functional fountain pen should be for around $28. I got mine at

fountain pen

1905 Ad for Waterman’s “Ideal” fountain pen

Good Idea, but Suppose I Want a Good Writer that Doesn’t Look like a Crayon?

Another, even cheaper pen that’s also an excellent first choice (and I lucked on to early) is the Pilot Metropolitan pen. My Pilots are excellent writers with a medium point nib. They have a traditional, thinnish cigar shape with a ring of subtle design elements in the middle, and a good clip. The black matte finish looks classic, there’s also a gold and a silver-colored style, and it’s a conservative design. It writes exceptionally smoothly and comes with a converter, so you can use bottled ink or cartridges right out of the box. (The box looks fancy, too.) Although the price is only $14.50 (I got mine at, it looks like a much more expensive pen and would make a good gift, too. I liked mine so much that I bought two more!

It wasn’t love at first sight, though. The pen has a significant bump near the grip where the cap snaps on when closed. I found the feel annoying at first. However, the more I wrote with it, the more I appreciated its smooth glide and I acclimated to the feel of the grip.

One other point, the Metropolitans come with a small, bladder-like mechanism for loading ink. It’s easy to use, but you can’t see how much ink is in the smallish rubber bladder.

Any Other Good Fountain Pen Writers?

A third pen maker I highly recommend as a starter (or later) fountain pen is the Chinese-based Baoer. I ordered a couple from a small boutique pen dealer near home, who calls the models “Over the Top” and “Sonata” pens. The owner of HisNibs adds his own model names to the pens, and the Sonata is known elsewhere as the “388” (which is boring).

The Sonata/388 is a classically designed pen. (As a classically trained musician, I was drawn to the Sonata name.) The nib is a good writer, with just a touch of “tooth” to it. The grip is a bit longer than usual, which I like, and the pen is light and well-balanced even with the cap posted while writing. I could write for hours with this pen without fatigue.

But the “Over the Top” Baoer pen from is a real winner. It writes as smooth as any pen I have with consistently good ink flow. Whether that is because of Baoer’s nib standards, or because the owner of Hisnibs, Norman Haase, inspects and smooths each nib before selling, I’m not sure. But I’d be happy to order from him again. The reddish bronze version of the pen is one of the most beautiful pens I own, too.

The “Over the Top” name is actually quite fitting, since the pen has a generous, curved clip that extends over the top of the pen and is hinged to add more flexibility to the clip. It will clip easily on thick shirts or jacket pockets. Elsewhere on the web, it is known as Baoer’s “517” model.

Swan fountain pen ad

Ever write with a Swan? Here’s a rather odd 1902 ad for Swan pens.

To Be Continued

Our next post will feature some manly pens, a good basic business pen,
and a few pens to avoid.

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Old pen ads are part of an extensive collection of pen artwork on

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