Form Versus Function

Allegory The Bard nib

Reviewing the Allegory The Bard fountain pen last week and the Retro-Essential pen this week really brought it home to me that some pens are made to be admired from afar, some are made to be admired in use and not so many pens manage both.

The Bard and the Retro-Essential both look absolutely amazing but not quite so much thought has been put into how they are to actually use. The Bard is good enough to have become a pen I very much enjoy but the Retro-Essential doesn’t quite make it over the hump. An even more severe example of this is the A. G. Spalding Maple Wood pen. I really liked this pen when I reviewed it but that was partly through lack of experience. I now rarely ink it up because it’s not comfortable to use.

A G Spalding Maple Wood Orange cap 2

What these pens, and many others, have in common is that they don’t seem to have been designed with an outstanding writing experience as the top priority. Sometimes they get away with it, sometimes they don’t.

TWSBI Diamond 580 fountain pen ink reservoir

Conversely, many other pens are great to write with but don’t look that special. I’d put most TWSBIs into that category. They don’t look particularly special but they are lovely to use. More controversially perhaps, the Pilot Custom 74, whilst absolutely stunning to use, isn’t the prettiest of pens.

It’s a rare pen that manages to be beautiful in both use and in looks but some manufacturers are more successful than others: Kaweco with their metal pens (and the Dia 2); the Platinum #3776 range; Franklin-Christoph across pretty much their entire line; Faber-Castell (although the e-Motion perhaps tips into the looks over function category). The Karas Kustoms Ink also falls into this category.

Platinum President next to 3776 Sai

It’s no surprise my favourite pens tend to be made by these companies. The fact that the Custom 74 is one of my favourite pens despite it’s fairly average looks tells you all you need to know about how great it is to write with.

There must be plenty of other pens that are great writers and great lookers – what would you suggest?


  1. Ian – Let me begin by expressing my gratitude for your frequent posts and for sharing your vast knowledge and talents. It is always a good day when I see one of your posts in my inbox. I truly enjoy them.

    I agree with you that some pens are great lookers but not great writers, and vice versa, but few reach the pinnacle of both. In my opinion, the LAMY 2000 is one such pen. People tend to hate it or love it, and I fall into the latter camp. I frequently use my 2000 because it is such a wonderful writer and I just love the stylish design and overall look of the pen.

    Harking back to vintage pens, I would also declare the Esterbrook J as another pen that achieves greatness in both form and function. With the wide variety of beautiful colors and nib choices, the affordability and durability, the Esterbrook J is a frequent denizen in my pocket.

    Keep up your great work. Your many fans appreciate it.

  2. Great post, Ian.

    It is rare that companies really nail down both beauty and function; often a hard compromise. How can I create something new and exciting, but also make it a wonderful and practical writer?

    You mentioned Franklin Christoph which I agree with for the most of their line. Some of their pens are fairly “blunt” and almost odd in shape, but their materials enhance things in the looks department tremendously. Writing with them is a wonderful pleasure.

    A pen that I feel has an understated appeal (but high function) is the full sized Sailor Pro Gear. Not as pretty as many traditional, classic styles, but has a bit more of an edgy (almost masculine?) sort of aesthetic and is a great writer. It isn’t too large or too small either and is a likely fit for most hands.

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