2020 through 2022 was a time for eclectic hobbies. I found myself collecting stationary and art supplies. I was particularly drawn to fountain pens, as I was spending a lot of time living in a sketchbook rather than the external world.

Before I learned about fountain pens, I always assumed that they were luxury objects, and as such, cost more than I would ever spend on a pen. I never knew there were cheap fountain pens.

Still, I found my way down the rabbit hole of this new little hobby, and at my most extreme, I spent some $100 or so on a pen as a reward for completing a half-marathon. I bought a Kaweco AL-sport.

For some fountain pen collectors, $100 is just a drop in the bucket. There are pens out there that are easily ten times the price.

But do they write ten times better? No, and I would argue that for most that is not the expectation. These are objects to be admired as much as used. Take the body of a pen, while seemingly unimportant, it too can just as easily represent its own corner of potential as much as how well the thing writes. And frankly, the mind of the collector is not always optimizing for functionality and cost. The verb to use takes on subtle layers of meaning when you are a collector.

For a time I too became a collector. A new pen was a promise of potential. It is a dangerous promise. And in my brief explorations of this niche, I saw the extent that some will go in their collecting. When I returned from those inky depths I had clarified some ideas for myself. I did not need so much.

It was the Platinum Preppy, a $7 pen that pulled me out of this rabbit hole. It is a simple, plastic fountain pen that can come in a variety of nib sizes. It takes cartridges, or it takes converters. And it just works. Everything about it is delightful. At times, the 02 version of it can feel like a nicely rounded pencil as it scratches away across the right kind of paper. The ink just flows. The same company also makes Platinum Carbon Black Ink — one of the finest, waterproof pigmented ink’s I have come across, and the two are made for each other. The pen does not hesitate to start writing as soon as you begin to use it. Losing this $7 pen will lead to less heartbreak than your $70 pen (or worse).

I’m intrigued by objects that can functionally play in the big leagues [1] but remain affordable. The word executing and creating resonate with these sorts of objects, and eschew ideas of admiration, preciousness and preservation. It is easy to fear nice things. Sometimes, nice things don’t get used.

There is a labyrinth, always waiting for me. It is the labyrinth of stuff; when I enter it, I am usually looking for a tool to help me articulate an idea, to create a picture or jot down a thought. But the longer I spend wandering around, the more I see that I’m enjoying getting lost. And while there’s a certain time and place for that, the deeper I descend into the maze, the farther I am taken from executing on that original idea.

Wandering is nice, but if you’ve got things to do, skip the maze. Grab the cheapest pen at the gift-shop and bring the damn thing back to your reality and put it to use. Now you may create a different kind of maze.

  1. This idea of "big leagues" is funny, though. I’m applying the term to items that are considered luxury but also serve a purpose; because I already equated fountain pens as luxury items, I can’t help but stack the "low-end" against the "high-end". ↩︎