What makes a good pen? Well, it isn’t necessarily the price tag. Some of my favourite pens cost me less than £5. My Yongsheng 016, for example, is a lovely little pen – slim, pretty, metal-bodied, with a surprisingly good fine hooded nib and is a very good writer for the £2 and some pence that it cost. Of course, at that price, I have no qualms at all about filling it with shimmer or sheen inks, though just because it was cheap, does not make me value it less or treat it carelessly.
I also have a whole case full of Wing Sung 6359s (Lamy Al Star clones) which I use for drawing. None of them cost more than £5, most were rather less, but again, I can use any ink I like and have a whole range of colours readily to hand. I do have a few genuine Lamy Al Stars as well, but I think that all the clones together cost less than one of these and there is no discernible difference in quality (in terms of drawing), plus the clones all came with converters, unlike the Lamys.
In addition, I have a set of Wing Sung 3008s, which was just over £5 for the set of four and also use the Lamy style nibs. Again, I bought these for drawing, before discovering the 6359s. I’m not overly impressed with the 3008s though, as they are not particularly easy to clean. I suppose if you only ever intend to use one specific ink in them they are fine, but I like to use ALL the inks, and I have many! They are also transparent (i.e., plastic) demonstrators – handy to see the ink colour, but not in the least bit aesthetically pleasing. I will be retiring those.
A recent acquisition and my new favourite drawing pen, such that I just bought two more, is a Platinum Preppy 02, which cost me the relatively princely sum of £4.99. (The two additional pens had 10% off, so were a mere £4.49). The 02 indicates that the nib draws a 2mm line, which is finer than any other fountain pen I own and rather more pleasing to use than a fine liner.
My cheap pen habit actually began with Jinhao and I have a number of x750s and x450s. These are in a different class, being rather heavier and more solid than most of the light pens above. They are all pretty good writers with the supplied nibs, but the low cost makes them ideal pens for tinkering. One I have upgraded to a Bock nib, another has a Brause Rose calligraphy nib and I have plans to do some nib tinkering on some of the others. All came in at under £5 each bought direct from China, but every one feels like a much more expensive pen.
Not all of my pens are that cheap. Indeed, the upper limit of what I consider a reasonable price for a fine writing instrument does seem to be increasing over time, but I do try to quell the urge to just buy pretty things in favour of those that have a specific purpose and will be used. Neither do I equate price with value.
Sure, if I had that kind of money just lying about, I might be tempted to spend $48,000 on a Pilot 100th Anniversary pen set but, to be perfectly honest, I probably wouldn’t use them, so what would be the point? Yes, it would be a beautiful set to own as part of an art collection, but pens should really be used – that is rather the point of them – and I’d probably be too afraid of damage, loss, theft etc. to pop one of those in my pocket for everyday use.
So there you have it – my favourite cheap pens. What is your favourite cheapie?