(Editor's note: MJ Monaghan recently wrote on his blog about how his search for the perfect pen had led him to experiment with fountain pens. We asked him if he would like to share his story with our readers, and he was kind enough to oblige. We hope you enjoy.)
Office supplies have always drawn me close – whether it be the feel of paper in my hand, the strength of a hole punch, the trusty adhesive label, or the simple joy of a three-ring binder – because they remind me of old-fashioned hard work and accomplishment.
We all have favorite automobiles, stores, clothes, and yes – most of us probably have a preferred office supply. For me it requires no thought at all: I love pens; all kinds of pens.
I have dozens of different pens around the house. Ballpoint pens – extra fine point, fine point, medium point, and bold. Roller ball and gel pens abound in the desk drawers. And now, I’ve rediscovered my old love for fountain pens after a few decades of absence.
What’s with this strange obsession that I have? Well, I believe it started when I was a small child. My dad was one of those IBM’ers (as we called those who worked at IBM) who worked Saturdays, back when hardly anyone toiled at the workplace on a weekend. He would ask if any of the seven kids in our family wanted to join him, and I always did.
There I was, at a very early age – maybe seven or eight – sitting in an office chair, pulled up to “my” IBM Selectric typewriter. I was an office worker! I would pull out my 25# paper, locate a pen from the desk (of the unknown person to whom it actually belonged), and begin to write a “memo” to my imaginary coworkers. Something about the scarcity of pens at home, and the joy of being in an office, working, may be why I have this penchant for pens.
What makes a pen perfect? This probably differs according to the user, but here are my criteria:
How does the pen feel in the hand?
The weight should be distributed so that there isn’t too much weight to the front (by the paper), or to the back. In other words, make sure that you achieve the right center of gravity. I like a heftier pen. For me, it should have a little bit of weight to it. If it’s a capped pen, be sure to write with the cap on the pen to get a good feel for the true weight of the whole pen.
The feel also should be comfortable against your fingers when you’re writing. Test the pen out if you’re able, before making any purchase. My preference is toward a pen with a thicker diameter so that the pen fully fits the space between my fingers. Others may like a thinner pen, such as a Bic Stic. In terms of comfort, there’s a whole range of pens with ergonomic foams, gels, and “fatter” pens that have no foam or gel.
Does the ink smear in the process of writing?
A lot of you may be thinking that this is a non-issue. For the 9% of us in the population who are left-handed, this can be a serious problem. As the hand writes from left-to-right, the left hand drags across the ink, potentially smearing the ink. This is one reason why roller ball and gel ink pens have not worked well for me. Most right-handed people do not seem to have the ink-smear problem. In fact, most “righties” are pretty pleased with roller ball and gel pens in this regard.
How does the pen device move across the paper?
Really, I call this the “smoothness” of the pen. The ball in the ballpoint, the roller in the roller ball, or the nib on a fountain pen should move smoothly and effortlessly across the paper. If it doesn’t, the pen may not be right for you. For example: For some reason, the way I hold a roller ball in my left hand causes it to drag (or skip) across the page. This is why I rarely will try a new roller ball. Some ballpoint pens also have balls that don’t move well across the paper. And those of you who use fountain pens know that different nibs react differently for different users, depending on many variables such as pressure against the nib, and direction of pressure.
What is the overall rating of the pen?
Before making the decision to actually buy a pen, I will consider the criteria above and make a mental note of how I feel the pen did in those categories. Maybe it was perfect except that it had a minor drag as it wrote. In a sense, it’s kind of like having a “five star” system. If a pen is a “four out of five,” that’s probably going to be a good purchase. On the other hand, if it’s three stars or lower, there’s no point in buying it, because I’m not going to be happy.
I know many of you are hopelessly committed, in your search, as I am. Others may be saying, "This guy has lost his pen-loving mind." Let me put it in perspective: When you watch the signing of a big bill in government, or the inking of a contract with a celebrity or sports figure, what do they zoom in on, and then keep for posterity? That's right - the humble pen. See it's not so strange now, is it?
Have I found that perfect pen? No, not yet. But there have been a few that have met most of my high standards. I won't go into the brands or types - it's such a personal preference. Right now, I'm experimenting a lot with fountain pens and have set aside my ballpoints. I'm enjoying the ride with the "ink and nib," but rest assured I will continue the quest until I find the ONE - the Holy Grail of pens.