Everyone has a story on how they got into the hobby of fountain pens. Some may have started as soon as grade school growing up, while others discovered it later on in life. Mine began somewhere inbetween. It was the middle of final exam season during my 3rd year University (2014 for those wondering) when I bought my very first fountain pen, an all black Lamy Safari. Before I go any further, lets rewind a little bit to see what led me to thinking spending $22 on a pen was a good idea and why I jumped down the rabbit hole.
(Warning, this post got a bit longer than I was originally intending on, but didn’t want to cut anything out. I appreciate if you make it through the entire thing, but understand if you don’t want to make the commitment. If you choose the latter and don’t have time to read it all, please check out my challenge at the bottom of the page.)
The Early Days
I’ve always had a fascination with pens, even if I didn’t know it at the time. Going back to school was an exciting time for me since it gave me the chance to go through all of my old pens sitting in my bag and desk to see which ones still worked. I used to take a sheet of paper and just scribble on it until I had two piles, the keep pile and the garbage pile. I completely forgot that I used to do that until I hooked again as an adult.
I remember finding this random nice thin aluminum pen that I took everywhere with me, even school. It was one of the worst writing pens I owned since it just had a generic ballpoint refill and was quite old, but I still used it every chance I got until one dreadful day when it ran out of ink. I never thought to put a different refill in it since pens were just disposable to me at the time. It was a cheap pen, but it was my first real experience with a higher quality body that I treasured and treated better than any of my disposable pens.
Aside from the fancy looking pen that I loved, I also took note on which pens wrote better than others. The colourful Sharpie pens were always a favourite, but whenever I did my mass pen test at the end of the summer, they all seemed to be dried out. This resulted in having to place an order with my office supplies manager (my mom) to replenish the stock. Exciting stuff!
One of my favourite discoveries was of a random rollerball with unknown origins, the Zebra 0.7 Zeb-Roller 2000 with a rubberized grip. It wrote so wet and so smooth, but I was afraid of using it up since I had no idea how get another one. They are currently discontinued, but probably weren’t at the time (about a decade ago). Unfortunately I too young to drive and I was over an hour from the nearest Staples, so I never did get another one. This pen has stuck with me throughout the years and amazingly enough it still writes just as well as I remember. There is no way for me check the ink level and still no way to replace it, so I am still afraid to use it. I have reached out on Instagram already, but if any of you can point me in the right direction where I can buy a few of these for a reasonable price, please let me know!
Once I was finished testing out all of my pens before the school year started, I would be ready to hit up Walmart, Staples, or Costco to replenish my stock of pens. Like I mentioned before, I went with Sharpie pens quite often, but they were never very durable. Along with my pen of choice, my mom would also pick up a box of Bics to be added our school supplies for the year. That is how my K-12 years in school went in a nutshell.
Once I was in university (a few years out of high school), things didn’t change drastically. I just bought a dozen cheap pens at the start of the year and maybe treated myself to a pack of Uniballs every once in awhile. My lack of thought going into my pen purchases may be partly due to me paying for my own pens for once, but also because I have not had any real reasons to write in nearly two years, so the magic was temporarily lost on me.
That One Pen
During school, I started working at a local financial institution who had a standard office supply closet, so I ended up grabbing a Papermate Flex Grip ballpoint. I wrapped a rubber band around the cap because I am a fiddler and it eventually became “my pen” and was the only pen I used at work. This was the first time since my fancy pen in my younger days that I actually put any effort into using just one pen. My co-workers knew it was my pen and if they had to write something down quick at my desk, they always made the effort to tell me that they used my pen just in case they put it back in the wrong spot. I was not worried about other people using my pen like I do now with fountain pens, but I was still worried that it would get lost. It wrote good enough, felt cool in my hand, and the rubber band wrapped around it was a nice personal touch. After a summer at the FI, I picked up a box of 12 Flex Grips for my 3rd year of university. The budding pen addict in me still had to test all 12 pens before using them of course to see which ones were better.
Let’s jump ahead a few months into the school year when things really started to get interesting in the development of my pen addiction. I would say it began when my rubber band broke due to too much fiddling (it was a call center so things got stressful at times). I tried tying it on to the cap and that seemed to work for awhile, but I found myself drifting further and further away from the Flex Grip to the point where I was digging through the pen drawer to find a replacement. This got me thinking about finding the best pen of the group and helped me rediscover the difference in writing experience between ballpoints, rollerballs, and gel pens.
This was during the school months, so I was not working as much. I not only wanted a better pen for work, but also for in school taking notes. The result was a trip to Staples to simply browse the pen isle. I looked at every single pen they stocked and wanted more than I would ever need. I hear a lot of reference to pen addicts spending hours in the pen isle and I can most definitely relate.
The Ah-Ha Moment
I can’t remember the exact pen I bought that day, but I believe it was some sort of Uniball rollerball. Man did that pen ever re-open my eyes. This was way better than having a rubber band around an average at best ballpoint. I used it everyday in school and loved it. One day I was getting a few things at Walmart and decided to check out which pens they had. Most, if not all of the pens were the same as Staple’s selection, but there was one pack of pens that I must have missed while I was in Staples. They were the BLX series of the Uniball Signo 207. I believe it was $8 at the time for 4 pens in 4 different colours and I thought it was ridiculous that I was going to spend $2/pen, but it was the best $8 I ever spent.
I am not saying this because they are the best pens to have ever been made, although they are still great pens. I am saying it because it opened my eyes to a different way of looking at pens. Not only did I get a great writing experience, but I also seen that there were different ink colour possibilities outside of blue and black (besides my bright Sharpie pens of course). These BLX colours were really interesting to me, but yet still looked professional and understated on the page.
The colours were Blue/Black, Green/Black, Red/Black, and Purple/Black. After doing my usual testing, I decided to use the Blue/Black first and all I have to say about that colour is wow! My school notes were finally interesting and I ended up taking more notes than ever. This pen is why I believe I love Private Reserve Ebony Blue so much since they are so similar in colour. Ever since finding this pen, I found myself picking up a new pen every time I was in Walmart or Staples until one fateful day in March 2014, I came across a pen with a funny looking tip (a nib as I now know) called the Bic disposable fountain pen. Before I continue to the next part of my story, aka “the rabbit hole,” I want to briefly mention a story on the Purple/Black Signo 207 and how I never got to use it.
Purple and Black 207
With the exception of the Blue/Black 207, my favourite colour of the 4 was the Purple/Black. This was strange for me at the time since I’ve never used a purple pen before, but yet I still really enjoyed the colour. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) my fiance decided that it was hers. I say unfortunately because I didn’t get to use the pen for myself. I say fortunately because it made her open her eyes to a better writing experience and want to use a better pen than the Zebra ballpoints with fun patterns on the barrel that she had been using.
I was feeling pretty good about myself until I realized how many notes she actually took and how quick she went through gel pens. The Purple/Black 207 lasted 3 days tops before she was asking for a another one. After trying out a few, she decided that the plain black Zebra Sarasa was her favourite, so it was easy enough to replace them for her without having to pick up a 4 pack with different colours every time. The problem? She burnt through those at record pace and I was the one who had to buy all of the replacements. These are very low cost compared to the pens I now have, but it took away from my own pen budget which, as selfish as it sounds, is a lot more fun!
Budding Fountain Pen Enthusiast
Now back to fountain pens. When I got home from purchasing my Bic fountain pen, I immediately opened the packaging and started using it. My first though was, “wow, this thing sucks!” That then prompted me to search how to write with a fountain pen and quickly learnt that I was writing with the nib upside down. No wonder it sucked! Once I started using it the correct way, I knew that I just found my new favourite form of writing, but had no idea what I was getting myself into.
After finally figuring out how to write with my fountain pen, I somehow found myself on Amazon looking at all of the pens they had for sale. Keep in mind that I had no idea which pens were good or bad, just how cool they looked.
I fell in love with the all black Monteverde Invincia, but $70 was a little steep for me at the time (price has gone up since), so it just remained eye candy for me. The other pen that caught my eye was the matte black Lamy Safari. It checked all of the boxes for me. Looks great, decent reviews, the grip looked cool, and best of all, it was on sale for $22. That I can live with! I ended up ordering it with a fine nib, a converter (even though I had no bottles of ink) and a pack of black Lamy cartridges. Later on I discovered that the Safari is highly recommended to beginners, so I lucked out in getting a good one for my first pen.
It arrived just in time for me to start studying for final exams, where I would write out all of my study notes, so it worked out perfectly. I got tons of use out of it and it was the first time that I actually thought about the process of writing and how much I enjoyed it. Was it distracting? A little bit, but it allowed me to keep on going and never want to stop writing.
Once I finished my finals, I had a bit of down time from using my Safari, but still took a summer class so I still got to use it. Since I was still using it, but getting bored of the class content, I began looking up different things about fountain pens online. I stumbled upon Goulet Pens and Reddit and started to do a lot of reading and watched a lot of Brian Goulet’s fountain pen 101 videos. It was then when I decided that I needed more than one fountain pen.
After browsing Goulet Pens and Amazon for many days, I finally said “screw it” and pulled the trigger on a set of 4 Jinhao 250s from Amazon for $21. My collection just grew from 1 to 5! They took forever to ship and in the mean time bought all 3 colours of Parker Quink from Staples since they were easily attainable. The pens finally showed up and immediately got inked. Yes I inked up all 4 of the same pens with similar ink and I couldn’t stop playing with them.
Things then snowballed into me buying a Pilot Metropolitan from Goulet Pens (aka my first non-Amazon online pen purchase) and then my first bottle of non-Parker ink in Noodler’s Walnut along with some good paper. Making my first non-Amazon/Staples purchase is significant because it opened the floodgates to a much larger selection of amazing pens and every colour on the planet. Dangerous, I know.
After experiencing the excitement of waiting for my new pens to come in the mail and then finally getting to use them, I conveniently remembered that I had a $200 Visa gift card unused from Christmas. That is where things really took off.
The Rabbit Hole
I got obsessed with the damn things. For a few months there was always a pen in the mail, mostly cheap cool looking Chinese pens from Ebay, but I also mixed in a few better quality pens such as the Scheaffer 100 and Rosetta Napolean. This led to me needing more bottles of ink and different kinds of paper to try them on. Lets just say I burnt through my gift card fairly quickly.
Once the gift card was at $0, I still felt the need to buy more pens and ink. I will admit that I developed a bit of a problem and bought stuff just for the sake of buying it. This is what I like to call the “experimental/addiction stage” in my fountain pen journey and resulting in me owning way too many pens for what I needed. Need is a word that I find is used quite loosely in this community, and I am fine with that. I eventually learnt what I liked and didn’t like and ever since, I have put more thought into each purchase. Being impulsive in this hobby can be very dangerous since the shiny new pens you see online can be very expensive. The last impulsive purchase was the Noodlers Neponset when they first got released in 2014, which ended up being the most expensive pen I owned at the time. Seeing the final bill after shipping and exchange rate kind of woke me up since it ended up being more than the $75 I had in mind. I am glad that I tamed that part of me before getting into the next price range of pens.
Of course I still like the pens from when I first started out (besides the odd dud), but they don’t check every box like my new purchases do. I will likely always have them since it is not worth it to sell a $5 pen when you can buy a brand new one online shipped. This is okay to me since they still find their way into the rotation when I want to try out some new inks. I have cheap pens that I know work and I can give them to family to try out if they ever show interest.
Now that was more of a story on how my initial spending went a bit unchecked and how I ended up with so many pens. The real story that I want to tell is how pens have become an important part of my life. I am talking about the awesome fountain pen community.
My first exposure to all of you awesome people was through /r/fountainpens on Reddit. There is a ton of knowledge floating around, passionate pen people, newbies like me, and most of the people are extremely nice! I got hooked and read every new post and comment over a few months span and saw my own knowledge on the subject grow to the point where I could answer questions and solve problems that others had. It is safe to say that without Reddit and all of the time I spent there along with the positive vibe of the community, this blog would not exist.
My next progression was to the world of Instagram. Dr. Jonathon Deans, aka The Pen Economist, posted his Instagram handle on Reddit and invited everyone else to do the same. I have never used Instagram before this point, but after creeping all of the accounts for hours, I decided to take the plunge so I could contribute to this awesome community further, but mostly so I could look at gorgeous pens everyday.
This is where I came up with the name “The Pen Haul.” I had no intentions of starting a blog when I did this. I just knew I wanted to keep this account strictly pen related (with the odd picture of a cute dog), so I tried to come up with a clever name. My last name is Hall (no relation to Taylor or Thomas) so I thought it had a nice ring to it, so The Pen Haul name was born.
I actually just looked back to my first Instagram post and I just missed my one year anniversary by a few weeks! Just through Instagram alone I feel like I have made many great friends who all share the same passion as I do. It is a good feeling to be able to geek out and talk about and look at fountain pens whenever I want to.
At that point I was posting a lot of pictures, talking to a lot of people, and writing about my pens almost everyday in a private journal. This is when I started to play around with the idea of starting my own blog. I was already writing about pens and taking pictures of them, so why not share it with all of you? I did my research, got everything set up, wrote a few posts, and hit live. The Pen Haul now exists in my little corner of the internet. It was a weird feeling publishing my first blog post for everyone to see. Was anyone going to read it? Would anyone like my writing style? The only other writing I did was for school papers, but I was/am so passionate about this subject that I knew that I wanted to do this regardless if anyone actually read it. I checked my WordPress statistics every few minutes and was amazed at how many people read it!
The Pen Addict
I know this next progression should be apart of the “Community” section, but rediscovering the Pen Addict Podcast has become an important chapter in my life, so I thought I would break it out. I say rediscover because I was aware of it early on in my pen obsession and listened to a random episode about Field Notes and pencils, neither of which interested me at the time, so I wrote off the podcast completely.
I did know about The Pen Addict blog (who doesn’t) and visited it frequently as a resource and for my own reading pleasure. After my blog had been live for awhile, I decided to reach out and see if The Pen Haul could be added to his pen friends list. He said absolutely, but then a few days later I saw a huge spike in my stats. What could this be from? Was my latest post really that good? (Common Issues with Fountain Pens) I scrolled down to see most of those referrals coming from Relay FM, Pen Addict Episode 170 – Mykeanical Pencils. I head on over there to see what this was all about and see in the show notes that this was pen blog of the week! How cool is that!?
Once I seen that The Pen Haul was pen blog of the week, I felt obligated to listen to the whole episode. Of course having Brad talk about my blog was cool, but it was the first time I really got to hear and understand the chemistry between Brad and Myke and hear how passionate they are about the same thing that I am, pens. To say the least, I really enjoyed listening to the show.
After that episode, I decided to listen to all of the new episodes every week and got hooked. I heard references to the Pen Addict Slack room a bunch and was very interested, but had no idea what it was. I reached out again, found out how to sign up, and was all of a sudden apart of the wonderful Pen Addict Slack room. It was about this time when I started my new job and had to drive 15-20 minutes to work everyday vs the 3 minute commute I had previously. Not too long of a drive, but long enough for me to make the decision to listen to every since episode from the beginning, all while keeping up with the current episodes. I have done quite well as I am now on episode 121, but I also don’t listen to any other podcasts so Brad and Myke are the only voices in my ears while I was in the car (besides all of the great guests). It is the perfect way to spend my car rides alone or when I have a few hours on the weekend to myself.
I have learnt and grown a lot from listening to the podcast, just as Brad and Myke have grown throughout the show. I now love Field Notes. I’ve learnt I have some self constraint since I don’t own everything they talk about on the show or in the slack room. Pen shows aren’t just about looking and buying really cool pens, but for all of the great people. Best of all, I consider everyone in the fountain pen community (especially the Pen Addict community) as friends, even if I may have never talked to you. That is how great all of you are.
Historically, I have not been the greatest at keeping hobbies. I would get 100% emotionally invested and spend some money, but would eventually lose interest. Fountain pens are different for me. Maybe it is because pens are still practical and get used everyday, even when I am super busy. I actually think it is because of all of the awesome people that share my passion that keeps me going. As I approach my 2 year mark in this hobby and 1 year with the blog, I see myself sticking with it for a life-time. One of these days I am going to find the budget and room in the schedule to go to one of these pen shows that I have been so envious of and meet my fellow pen addicts in person.
That leads me into where I am today in my pen addiction. I still enjoy using a writing instrument that makes me love writing. I still love seeing all of the new shiny pens that you enablers keep showing off, but they are a lot more expensive than the new shiny pens that caught my eye 2 years ago. This means no more impulse buying and more thinking for why I actually need the new pen. I now focus more on actually using and enjoying the pens that I already have rather than trying to own every pen and ink in the world. I will admit that I am always looking, but I know most of it will remain as eye candy.
Like I mentioned in the previous section, I want to focus more on getting to know the rest of the fountain pen community and make new friends. I already exchange snail mail with a few of you (hi!) and it is a great way to accomplish this. I get to use my pens and make friends at the same time! If you have made it this far in my monster of a post, then I consider you a friend indeed.
I am going to say right now that this has been my favourite post to write so far. It made me go into my past and discover that I was a budding pen addict all along. I may have got a tad long winded, but telling this story was such a great exercise for me, so I hope you actually enjoyed it. I was going to toss in a few pictures like all of my other posts, but I thought I would let it read more like a story.
Since I enjoyed writing it so much, I can just imagine how much I would enjoy reading all of your pen addict stories. That is why I am issuing a challenge.
I challenge each and everyone one of you to write your pen addict story on your blog, comment below, social media of choice, or email to me if you don’t want to share publicly. My hope is that I will be reading your stories for weeks and this will snow ball into a giant story time for the fountain pen community. I am looking forward to any and all responses I do get from my challenge!