REVIEW: Vintage fountain pens. Are they suitable for drawing?

I’m always on a look out for new, exciting and unusual art tools to draw with. A few years back, I got interested in fountain pens. Particularly, the ones that have flexible nibs that create expressive lines. I was already using dip pen nibs like the G-nib and Hunt 101 for drawing, but those required me to dip into a bottle of ink with every few strokes. They are inexpensive, give wonderful line variation, and feel great. But they’re troublesome and a little messy if I were to draw in a cafe or a moving bus.


So I researched and discovered the Namiki Falcon- a modern Japanese fountain pen. I went to a fountain pen shop in Singapore and bought one. I had never paid so much for a pen before. But I bought it anyways because it had good reviews and it gave nice line variation. It did not feel as soft or flexible as a hunt 101 dip pen nib. But soft enough. And it performed quite well for drawing. I was happy with it.

However, I heard that vintage fountain pens with flexible nibs could give even better line variation and their nibs felt softer than modern fountain pens - almost like a dip pen’s. I wanted that.

So I did more research online which lead me to Greg Minuskin’s site. Greg Minuskin is a former supervisor at Rolex watch company and still is a watch maker today. He is also a professional vintage fountain pen restorer.

He gets unrestored vintage fountain pens from flea markets and other (secret) sources in America. They are usually non-functional when he finds them. Some are pretty old. But he says the best pen models are between 60-80 years old. Basically, they are antiques from a bygone era. He takes them back to his workshop and carefully cleans and restores them to an almost good as new condition. That can involve straightening out bent nibs, smoothening the nibs, giving the nibs new tipping, fixing dents and scratches, cleaning out all dried ink, repairing faulty parts, making sure the ink flow system flows properly, and giving everything a polish shine. A lot of times, he makes them even better than their original state by re-shaping the nibs to an even sharper point or makes them more flexible. I received a few vintage pens from him because his workmanship is good and he offers them at good deals. There are a few good vintage pen restorer/sellers online, but I’d say he is one of the best.

VINTAGE FOUNTAIN PENS

When I first looked at his site, I didn’t know which vintage pen to buy. There were so many brands and models and nib classification. Here are 3 good vintage fountain pens acquired from Greg. And these are 3 that I’d recommend looking out for.

1. Vintage Eversharp Skyline.


This one came with an extra-fine nib and Greg modified the nib so that it is more flexible. When a nib is very soft and flexible, people call it a “wet noodle”. The body is plastic.


Vintage pens don’t seem to be designed to be taken apart by the regular user. The section and sac are usually glued together with shellac. Same for the section and barrel. But I had to clean this pen out, so I carefully dismantled it. There are how-to videos and tutorials online if you want to learn to take it apart. It involves a hairdryer and section pliers. But it has to be done very carefully or the pen might crack. Most people send it to a fountain pen professional to get it taken apart and cleaned.


This is how a vintage pen looks like when taken apart. Vintage flex pens usually come with a 14K gold nib and an ebonite feed. The ebonite feed regulates the ink flow in the pen and is what allows vintage pens to have generous ink flow. An ebonite feed usually has wider channels for more ink flow. Modern pens usually use plastic feeds which work, but do not give that abundant flow like an ebonite feed.

Then there is the rubber sac which holds the ink. Using shellac, the sac is glued to the section so it does not leak.

To fill the ink sac, pump the lever on the outside of the pen. The lever presses the ink sac on the inside of the pen when you pull it down. This empties the sac. When you pull it up again, it allows the sac to inflate, pulling ink into it. I feel that the lever mechanism gives the pen it’s old-fashion charm.

And here is how it writes and draws. I used Lamy black ink on my usual sketchbook paper - Tangerine White 160 gsm paper.




Here is a video so you can see how fast I drew with all that flexing:


There were a few small incidences where the ink didn’t flow out immediately. Ink flow can be determined by how wet or dry your ink is. This ink is somewhere in between wet and dry. Or maybe I did not angle the nib so the ink touches the paper properly. The bumpy paper can also be the cause. In any case, the ink flows well for the following strokes. This happens very infrequently or none at all when I use this pen.

This pen is ideal for drawing comics because it can create very thin lines as well as thick ones easily. I used the Eversharp skyline for these comics: http://drewscape.blogspot.sg/2015/05/illustrations-for-young-parents.html

2. Vintage Waterman’s. Needlepoint.
The respected Waterman’s brand is still alive and well today. You can still find Waterman’s pens at fountain pen shops. But you won’t find them selling Waterman’s vintage models like this. I don’t know the model number for this one. Greg reshaped this pen’s nib to a needlepoint. I think it has a 0.1mm or 0.2mm tip. Needlepoints on Greg’s site can vary between a 0.1mm to 0.3mm. The nib is still smooth even though very sharp, but not as smooth as a broader nib. This is great for very crisp, precise, fine lines. More suited for slow drawings rather than fast sketches. It is a tiny pen and is also filled using a lever. It’s a good alternative to a mapping dip nib. The difference is that, unlike dip pen nibs, a fountain pen has a continuous flow of ink.


This is how it draws. I filled the pen with Lamy black ink.



Here is a video:

3. Waterman’s 52 Red Ripple. Flexible Fine
The Waterman’s 52 is considered a very good pen due to it’s material and construction. However, the red ripple pattern on this one makes it more valuable. The body is made from ebonite or hard rubber. As you can see, this one has been restored to a pretty good condition.








Here is a video of the drawing:

As you can see below, a usual fine tip has a small piece of metal at the end. This is the iridium on the tip. Most vintage pens from this era have iridium on their tips for long lasting durability. But a needlepoint nib is shaped like a needle with a sharp iridium point. It has only a little bit of iridium at the tip. Still, it will last a long time. Most vintage pens with gold nibs have their original tipping still in perfect useable condition even after 60-85 years of age. An extra fine is somewhere in between. A needlepoint gives you a more crisp, hairline result.


VINTAGE PENS VS MODERN NAMIKI FALCON

Curious to know if the Namiki Falcon can match vintage flex pens? Let’s take a look.

Modern pens come with a convertor so it’s easy to dismantle and clean. And most convertors are transparent so you can see how much ink remains. The Namiki Falcon also comes with a 14K gold nib. 14K gold nibs have the right percentage of gold content to other metals that are alloyed together for the ideal flexible response on fountain pen nibs.


Here is a video of the pen in action:


It performs pretty well actually. It flexes well and can produce about the same level of line variation as the vintage pens. However, the vintage pens were slightly softer when flexing.

INK FLOW TEST

Next I put the 4 pens through a test that will show how well the feed keeps the ink flowing. I also tested a dip pen.


Eversharp Skyline kept flowing.


Needlepoint Waterman’s kept flowing.


Waterman’s 52 Red Ripple kept flowing. Very wet.


Namiki Falcon could not keep up with the continuous flexing. Still, this is not bad. But it cannot beat a vintage fountain pen. This is because modern pens like these use plastic feeds while vintage pens use ebonite feeds.


A Hunt 101 dip pen (without a feed) can only draw this much after 1 dip.

PROS AND CONS

Vintage fountain pens
PROS
1. Good ink flow for artists. Drawing requires more ink flow than writing.
2. Nibs are more flexible (depending on the type of nib that comes with the pen)
3. Some models can give you very wide line variation and with good ink flow
4. Has history
5. Rare (not produced anymore)
6. Sometimes less expensive than a modern flex pen.
CONS
1. Most have had a previous owner
2. Have to guess how much ink is left.
3. Not too easy to dismantle
4. Requires a bit of hunting to get the model you want
5. Waterproof inks may not be recommended as it can clog the pen more quickly especially if you leave the pen unattended for long periods.

Namiki Falcon
PROS
1. Easy to dismantle and wash
2. Can see how much ink is left
3. Can be bought brand new
4. Waterproof inks are safer in this pen, especially if you know how to dismantle the nib and feed and also wash the pen regularly.
CONS
1. Because of feed, ink flow isn’t a good as vintage flex. If you flex too much too often, ink stops flowing for awhile.
2. The nib isn't as soft/flexible as some vintage flex pens.

CONCLUSION

Both vintage pens and the Namiki Falcon are good for drawing. Which is best suited for you? It depends on what your requirements are. Do you flex heavily while drawing? Do you want more line variation? Do you want a finer nib? Want hairlines? Are you prepared to take extra care of a 60-85 year old pen (you might need a pen wrap. You don’t want to toss it into your pencil case)? For me, I go for pens that give me good line variation and good flow. The feel of the pen in my hand is also a plus point. Vintage pens work for me in this regard. They make me feel like I’m holding something special - like an ancient sword. That inspires me to draw nicer things with them.

Which one to buy? Being a crazy art tool person, I’ve purchased both vintage and modern pens, therefore I have a variety of tools to play with!

Greg Minuskin puts new pens on his site almost daily and at all times of the day. They get snapped up very fast so you’ll need to know what pens you want before you stalk his site, You better act fast though because before you know it, you will see the pen you were looking at and wanting, quickly sold to someone else! If you are unsure of which brand to get, stick with the popular brands like Eversharp, Waterman’s, and Mabie Todd as they are made with better materials and often come with very flexible nibs suited for artists. Note, all his pens have an additional shipping fee (about US$28 international) on top of the price of his pens. That is to cover insurance and packing by registered mail with a tracking number. Payment is through Paypal. The pens usually arrives within 10-12 working days. If you are ordering them from within the US, it's less expensive and quicker.

Tip: Rather than sit in front of your screen until he uploads a new pen, you could use https://www.feed2mail.com/. It sends you an email alert every time his site is updated;)
Tip2: For those new to fountain pens, never fill a fountain pen with indian ink. Only use inks that say fountain pen ink on the bottle.

Greg Minuskin’s site: http://gregminuskin.com

Namiki Falcon on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Pilot-Collection-Fountain-Accents-60152/dp/B00063N...

See more fountain pen drawing samples on drewscape's blog: drewscape.blogspot.com.

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