Sudhir Kalyanikar, rides his hobby horse, shares vignettes about fountain pen collecting
As I have spent some time in this hobby, I’ve realised a few things. For better or worse, sharing these here in the hope that others may identify with these and they may serve as a (kind of) pointer to people just getting into this hobby.
Please bear in mind that these are my opinions and others may disagree. I welcome all your thoughts on this so long as you disagree without being disagreeable.
1. Keep it Fun. It’s just a hobby. Don’t get too bogged down and serious about stuff. It isn’t worth getting stressed out over.
2. Have a List. This is a list of pens you want to buy. You could even have a different list for different price brackets – in fact, I recommend this. The aim should be to buy pens only on the list(s). Anything not on the list should be purchased only if the answer to ‘Should I buy this pen?’ is a resounding YES.
3. Understand that there’s no such thing as ‘The Best’. What may be the best pen for someone, or even a lot of people, may just not work for you. And something that everyone roundly criticises might turn out to be your dream pen. Also, as they say, in many cases, the best pen is the one you might have on hand – and this could very well be a Jinhao!
4. Learn to separate opinion from fact. A few years ago, I was so consumed by what everyone said about a particular pen that I stopped evaluating them as per my need. This led to a lot of grief till I realised not to take something as gospel just because someone on the Internet said so. Just because one has a lot of pens in their collection or can afford expensive pens does not mean they know a lot about pens. Doesn’t work like that.
5. Be part of the community. This complements the above point and has its own advantages. The amount of information floating in the fountain pen community is tremendous and talking to people with the same interest will really help. Try and be part of local pen meets. Every major city has some sort of an active pen community that usually meets every so often. One of the interesting thing about pen meets is that you might get to see and check out pens you have never considered earlier. If you are a beginner to the community, start with exploring the Fountain Pen Network Forum online and try and attend the Pelikan Hub that happens in September in most major cities across the world.
6. Remember that more expensive is not necessarily better. This is a tough thing for many to digest, but just because you spent more money does not always mean you are getting a better pen.
7. Be wary of hype. Sometimes, the Fountain Pen community goes into a frenzy and generates a lot of hype about a particular model of pen/ink/paper/something else. Be wary of this. Think on your own and wait for the frenzy to die down. Believe me, it will die down.
8. Stick to your budget. Even if you are just starting out, consider the pens on your list, make a budget, and start saving ruthlessly. Never, ever get into debt because of this or any other hobby. The trick is to buy pens with your ‘fun money’, which is the money left over after you’ve paid all your bills and taken care of all your commitments. If you don’t have any fun money, walk away and come back when you do.
9. Go out and try the pens. Nothing beats actually going out and trying the pen if you can. Good sources to try the pens you are thinking of buying are brick and mortar pen shops, pen shows, or local pen meets. Barring specialist pen shops run by passionate pen lovers, sometimes the sales people at pen shops may not be the best guides, but many sellers at pen shows are extremely knowledgeable.
10. Be prepared to spend time and energy. While it is mostly easy to go online or to a pen shop and buy pens, many of the offbeat pens, custom pens, or out of production pens are not available so easily. Be prepared to work hard, do a lot of research, be an active part of the community, spread the word among like-minded enthusiasts about the pens you are looking to acquire and above all, be patient.
11. Don’t look at pens as an investment. They are not an investment. Period. Even the rarest of pens do not appreciate in value with any sort of consistency and the market is subject to its own whims and fancies. If you want an investment that appreciates, talk to a financial planner.
12. Don’t get into fixed way of thinking. When you start getting beyond the beginner stages of the hobby, you may get into a boxed way of thinking with fixed ideas about which pens you like or what nibs suit you or whatever. Get out of the box and explore a bit. You’ll be surprised.
13. Don’t be a snob. People who have spent a lot of years in this hobby start to behave like snobs at one point. Very few people can escape this stage and I myself have been guilty of this. Like I said in the beginning, this should be about fun and acting like a snob is not fun. Conversely, if you are just starting in the hobby, ignore the snobs.
14. Pens need maintenance. Lots of it. All pens need to be cleaned and maintained regularly, so be prepared to spend a lot of time on this. There’s no escaping this.
15. Learn some basic pen and nib tuning. Or find someone who is accessible and ready to do this for you. Pens should work out of the box, and most do. But Fountain pens are a cranky proposition, so a lot of pens will need to be worked on before they write well. Especially new pens.
Pro Tip: 9 out of 10 issues with new pens are resolved by one or all of the following
a. Thoroughly cleaning the pen
b. Disassembling the nib and feed and putting them back after a thorough cleaning
c. Thoroughly flossing the nib tines
d. Using an ink and paper with known characteristics
Hope you find this useful. Cheers!
I started collecting pens in the early 1990’s and have been an avid and passionate fountain pen enthusiast ever since.
I started repairing my own pens first when they started to misbehave, then just to test the limits of what I could do, and then, because I got good at it.
I started with repairing pens for friends at local meets, which grew to a clientele based across India and before I knew it, I was offering these services to a much wider audience.
In my non-pen life I consider myself a bibliophile, an aspiring audiophile, and a wet shaving enthusiast. I love dogs (and cats too, sort of), all sorts of analog stuff, coffee, beer, and single malt.
For all outward appearances, I masquerade as an IT Professional by day, but I’m really a confused soul in pursuit of inner peace; an anachronism.
I offer Nib Customization services, which range from basic tuning and smoothing to custom grinds to custom services like complex repairs of bent nibs, adding flex to nibs, etc.
My aim is to give you the nib tailored to your specifications and requirements and one that provides a pleasurable writing experience.
My pen-related work is carried out in association with, and as part of, the Fountain Pen Association of India, of which I am a founder member and part of the current board of managers.
The primary objective of FPAI is to promote the use of fountain pens and spread awareness about it, and at the same time, to provide a proper, structured network for making available, information and help, in enjoying this fascinating hobby of fountain pens, inks, and associated accessories in India. FPAI aims to conduct meets, pen exhibitions and events to promote fountain pens across India.