Discovering My First Fountain Pen (Not Where I Expected It)

I had been under the impression that my first fountain pen was a black plastic Manuscript pen that I bought at Hobby Lobby around the holidays last year. (I purchased it in the hopes that it would somehow stave off my coveting of the Levenger Waterlilies True Writer. It didn’t work.) Then, a few weeks ago, I was rummaging in my little drawer-unit of office supplies (a wretched mess of old ballpoints, metallic gel pens that don’t not-work enough to allow myself to toss them, 3.5” disks, and shop bags from special stores). And I found a pen I’d forgotten I’d had: a blue-plastic-barreled fountain pen with silver accents. I remembered: one of my uncles (the same one who loaned me The Lord of the Rings trilogy for my first read through the series) had gotten me a fountain pen—one that used cartridges—for a birthday. It might have been my sixteenth, even, or it was a gift for high school graduation—I’m ashamed to say I don’t remember what the real occasion was.
Pen photographed on a bit of Japanese cloth given to me by a coworker

And I don’t really remember using the pen. Even without having the accurate memory, though, I can tell you  why I don’t remember using the pen: the cartridge. It likely only came with one or two cartridges, and I grew up in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania (an honest hour to anything  like a Staples). This was before I could have ordered anything on the internet, too. And so I would have saved those cartridges, hoarded them until the perfect moment. Then, when I used the first one, I would have thought that the line was too bold, too dark, too certain or too arrogant or too permanent. Too wide. Too something. At sixteen, or eighteen, or whatever, I remember using pencil nearly exclusively, and if I forayed into pen-usage, it was with black Bic stick pens, the kind that left gossamer strands of that viscous ink between letters that smudged, faintly iridescent and sticky. (Those metallic gel pens? I really only used them for drawing on myself and for the occasional whimsical note—on black paper—to friends or my boyfriend, now husband.)
Ink was too permanent. I wrote—poetry, fiction, papers—in pencil. (Still, I didn’t erase much. I’d strike through something in graphite instead of erasing it, oddly enough.) My preference was for the disposable mechanical pencils, though if I could have gotten my hands on a gross of the fat, dark blue Ticonderoga pencils we used in kindergarten, I’d have used only those forever. (In a drawer, in my parents’ house, there’s a two-inch pencil stub with my name—on a tiny slip of paper—still taped to its barrel.) I don’t know if they still make those pencils, but the leads were so smooth, so yielding. I don’t think I’d call them soft, not exactly, because I don’t have much memory of that lead smudging, but they wrote so easily.
And so I wrote in pencil. Either out of ease (little pressure required), out of uncertainty (so much less assertive-looking on the page), or out of habit (very little work was done in pen during my pre-college days—just the final copies of papers). In college, I lost track of my blue fountain pen. It was probably always with me, in that messy drawer of writing utensils, but it certainly wasn’t on my radar.
Fast-forward through three degrees. I still wrote a lot of things in pencil (particularly while grading), though I’d switched to writing my fiction exclusively with the black Bic stick pens. (I learned that pencil-on-looseleaf, carried around on a clipboard shoved in a backpack, leaves one with smudged and often difficult-to-read results.) I wish I’d noticed during my Ph.D. years that the Bics were probably contributing to my massive wrist/hand pain because they require a good bit of pressure to work well, but I didn’t. It wasn’t until my move to Wyoming that fountain pens really hit my radar, completely due to the aesthetics of the pen itself. (I’ve never much cared for a bold line while writing. Growing up, I envied those wispy sketch-lines that come out of taking certain art classes.)
I thought I could stave off the (expensive) urge for a Levenger pen by getting any pen with the “fountain” quality. It didn’t work. My black plastic Manuscript served its purpose, though it also was prone to covering my hands in black ink at any given moment, of getting me used to a bold line. I discovered I liked that. I don’t know if it had to do with having my first “real” job—a full-time position as an instructor; if it had to do with accepting my writing as a legitimate, worthy thing; or if it was simply time. (Having that “real” job also made it possible to even consider a pen that cost more than all of my office supply budget for a four-year graduate degree. And now I know that the Levenger brand pens are on the gentler end of the fountain pen expense scale, for the most part—but that’s another thought for another day.)
The rest, of course, is the current history: fountain pens have become one of my enthusiasms, though the symptoms are relatively minor by comparison to others’. But let me bring this all back to that blue-plastic-barreled pen.
It is, as I have discovered, the most basic model of the Parker Vector, probably from about 1997. The nib is petite, and the point is quite rounded.
Nib very shiny. It says Parker across the base of the nib.
I’m sure there are terms for these features, but I don’t know them. It is extraordinarily light in the hand because the blue plastic is quite thin. It uses cartridges (which I can now get at the local OfficeMax, though they only have black in stock). My current evil plan is to use up at least one cartridge and then refill it with more interesting ink until I have a good reason to order a converter for it. (I much prefer converters to cartridges. I can’t even tell you how much more.) I may even consider making it an eye-dropper pen, though I’ve not done that before.

Have an ink-haiku!

The line it makes is fairly smooth, somewhere around the Western fine that my Levenger True Writer produces. It is a little bit dry-writing, though it cooperates more easily the longer I write with it. It also seems to like the Levenger annotation pad (with a slight bit more tooth to it than the Rhodia) more than other paper options.

Paper is Bloc Rhodia, no. 16

At current, I will likely not use it very often—just to have something inked in black when I need it, as my other three everyday writers are always done up with something a bit more colorful—but I am glad to have it. This pen came to me because my uncle recognized, more than a decade ago, that I was someone who took writing seriously. My uncle Dennis has always done this; from him and his wife, I received writing and reading tools (bookmarks, particularly, and the refillable planner I used from freshman year of college until I graduated with my Ph.D., the year that finally killed it) that were both beautiful and functional. Things that were serious business. More importantly, these gifts said that he took what I did seriously, and that interest goes a long way in bolstering the confidence of a young writer and academically-minded person.

5 thoughts on “Discovering My First Fountain Pen (Not Where I Expected It)

  1. Wow! Thanks so much for sharing. Made me tear up. We're thankful for your gifts and whatever small part we had in helping you realize them. Love ya. D.


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