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FAQ: What do I get when I spend more on a pen?

The question "What do I get when I spend more on a pen?" is one often heard in chat rooms all over cyberspace and it is one where we've sometimes seen the answers confusing and dividing the readers. The world of writing instruments begins with disposable pens and pencils sold dozens to a box for pennies a piece and ends with elaborate, bejeweled, one-of-a-kind works of art where cost is of little to no concern.

Disposable ballpoints like these can cost as little as 9 cents each:

Largely recognized as the most expensive pen in the world, this genuine one-of-a-kind Fulgor Nocturnus by Tibaldi was crafted with rare black diamonds. It sold at a Shanghai charity auction for over $8 million USD. A diamond encrusted Mont Blanc Boheme Royale can set you back almost $1.5 million.

Most of you reading this fall somewhere between these two extremes. You want to know what you're getting for your money to ensure you're spending wisely. Let's look at some of the factors that go into making one pen more expensive than another.

1. Materials.

In a majority of cases you'll find a superior quality of materials and construction the higher you go in cost. This is true across the board, whether it be a ball pen or fountain pen. Disposable ballpoints and fountain pens, as well as beginner fountain pens the likes of Lamy Safari,

or Kaweco Sport,

typically made for German students are constructed of simple plastics. They're pretty durable in order to resist dropping, crushing, and snapping apart in book bags and backpacks, but they lack in terms of "fine pen" refinement. They're form-follows-function first and foremost. The plastic surfaces may nick and mar and the pens just keep writing, which is exactly what you want for the student user. They do their jobs extremely well, and the popular designs have led to these being offered in models with aluminum bodies: Lamy AL Star

and Kaweco AL Sport.

For cost comparison, the Lamy Safari fountain pen has an MSRP of $37.00, while their AL Star lists at $47.00.

Kaweco's Classic, Frosted, and Skyline Sport fountain pen models list at $25-27.00, while their AL Sport fountain pen models list at $80.00 For the additional cost of both the Lamy and Kaweco the user benefits from bodies with more high-end aesthetic appeal. Kaweco has also definitely constructed the AL Sport to resist more abuse. It is all metal. That all metal construction also gives the AL Sport some additional weight which many users find they prefer over the extreme lightweight plastic versions in the Sport series. Kaweco has taken it even further with an even weightier Brass Sport model, listing at $100.00,

and a Steel Sport, listing at $120.00.

The Brass Sport and Steel Sport pens are heavy, rough and tumble pens capable of heavy duty use.

The heart and soul (nib and feed) of both the Lamy Safari and AL Star are identical. So are the nibs and feeds throughout all the variants of the Kaweco Sport series fountain pens. In the case of body materials, the material does not impact how the pen writes, but its weight can impact how the pen feels in the user's hand, resulting in a better experience for those whose hand prefers a weightier pen. Most people seem to prefer the weightier pens too; as the Brass Sport has been far away the best selling of the Sport series models here at Appointments.

2. Steel vs. gold nibs.

Whether this is relevant or not depends upon the user. Long-time fountain pen users are those most able to appreciate the difference a gold nib can make. Whether a gold nib is worthwhile to you depends upon a variety of factors and preferences as there is no longer a definite one-is-better-than-the-other argument to be made thanks to the improvements in manufacturing technology. The difference between steel and gold nibs was once stark - like choosing between a steel folding chair or an overstuffed recliner as to what one was most comfortable in which to sit.

Now the writing experience between steel and gold nibs can be extremely subtle. The relative softness of the gold nib material can best be appreciated by most seasoned users who have been writing with fountain pens for a good 5+ years or so. This is because after a number of years away from the habit of applying pressure to get ballpoint pens to write, a fountain pen user develops a lighter touch when writing. Once this touch and appreciation has been developed, the real joy of writing with a gold nib can be realized, but that depends on how one writes. Those who write slowly, with attention to their penmanship can most appreciate gold nibs. Quick note takers tend to find steel nibs superior as the stiffer metal is better suited for the hurried strokes and resultant increased pressure applied to the nib - a writing scenario that can sometimes damage or splay the tines of the softer gold material.

A primary instance where gold is vastly superior to steel is in the case of nibs designed to flex to create variation in line width as one writes. There are many steel "flex nib" pens on the market vying for consumer's cash, but every one of them comes up short in terms of performance compared to their gold nib competitors costing many times more. Just like a hammer and a sledgehammer are technically both hammers, you wouldn't bring a hammer to do the sledgehammer's job. For nice subtle line variation we cannot recommend highly enough the Pilot Falcon.

In short, both steel and gold nibs are great. Steel nib fountain pens can start at $3.35 for the single-use (a.k.a. disposable) Pilot Varsity