TRIED & TESTED; THE WRITE ANGLES

Is a fountain pen a fogeyish fad or the best writing tool around? Our experts try a selection across the price range
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The Independent Culture
USING a fountain pen, it is said, will improve your handwriting, slowing you down so that you have more time to form the letters properly. A fountain pen is much more than a utilitarian item, though: it is stamped with the mark of the owner's taste, personality - and wealth.

We asked two experts to try out a selection of fountain pens. At the bottom of the range, there are throwaway fountain pens, worth a couple of pounds. At the other end of the market, our selection included some luxury pens whose looks are as important as their function. With the price tag of hundreds of pounds, these are not to be left behind on the post- office counter or lent to an absent-minded friend. Nor, though, are they at the topmost level in the pen hierarchy: a Montblanc solid gold pen encrusted with diamonds will cost you pounds 85,000.

THE EXPERTS

Graphologist Mary Nicholson, of the Graphology Business, and David Loftus, an illustrator who makes a lot of use of calligraphy in his work.

THE TEST

We asked Mary Nicholson to comment on what type of personality the pens would be suitable for, while we asked David Loftus, who uses a quill pen in his own work, to judge the pens according to how easy they were to use and what they felt like in use, if they enhanced the writer's handwriting, how good-looking they were and, lastly, their value for money.

***PARKER DUOFOLD

pounds 225 (cartridge or refillable)

This range of pens is based on a design of the Twenties, following the retro-fashion of the Eighties of reviving old styles. The one we tested has a pearl and black finish, with gold-plated trim and a solid gold nib. David Loftus liked it for its looks. He commented: "It looked great, striking and very different. It would turn heads. It writes very smoothly, too, though initially it emitted too much ink, and it feels good in the hand. It is expensive, but it looks it. It's not a great pen for small writing like mine, though - I would like to try it with smaller nibs."

Mary Nicholson said: "It has a rather feminine marbling appearance and writes with a light touch. Would suit a less aggressive man, someone who didn't need to prove his machismo too much."

***WATERMAN REFLEX

pounds 9.99 (cartridge only - you can buy a converter to fill from an ink bottle for pounds 3.70)

This pen has a simple design, apart from its slightly ostentatious gold- plated clip. It also has a gold-plated nib - not bad for an inexpensive pen. It comes in rather impenetrable plastic and card packaging. According to David Loftus, it writes smoothly and, unlike others, started writing straight away. He commented: "I liked it. It was the best value for money of all and looks good for a cheap pen. It's easy to load with the cartridge and seems like it would probably last. I would use it."

Mary Nicholson commented: "It was almost impossible to unpack, and so it needs someone practical and down-to-earth. It produces quite scratchy writing, and would suit someone who is intuitive, academic and intellectual - if they could first get it open."

**OSMIROID CARTRIDGE PEN

pounds 4.99

A very plain, simple design with no frills. David Loftus commented that it it was easy to load but took a while to get started. "It looks cheap and plasticky but when you get going it feels fine. It is certainly good value, a good pen for everyday use, good for people with small writing as the medium nib is smaller than other medium nibs and the ink doesn't spread out on to the page. Like a school pen."

Mary Nicholson thought the pen would suit someone without much creativity, someone plain and practical. "It's not very smooth; it's suitable for someone who likes a challenge or a fight." She though the colour of the ink - a dark blue - was rather dead.

*WATERMAN EDSON

pounds 475(cartridge or refillable)

At this sky-high price, the Edson is firmly aimed at the luxury market. Discreet, it isn't. It is a large, heavy, cigar-shaped instrument whose deep blue translucent barrel is in strong contrast with the gold-plated cap and solid gold nib.

David Loftus commented: "This pen assumes that it's a Rolls-Royce, but it runs like a Metro. It was the longest to get going; I had to shake it. It was not as smooth as many of the cheaper pens and I had to go over some of my letters again. My writing, which is usually so neat, looked like a mess. This is a fat-cat poser's pen, not a writer's pen."

Mary Nicholson said: "It would suit the big character who tends to have big writing, too. Someone who wants to make a statement would probably press hard, and the nib does survive this treatment."

**SHEAFFER FASHION DIAMOND CUT 271

pounds 56 (cartridge or refillable)

The exterior of this slim pen is plated in 23 carat gold - the engraved diamond pattern gives it a glittery look. It has a gold-plated nib. David Loftus wasn't keen on its looks: "The design on the barrel cheapens it - it would have been nicer in plain gold plate." He also found that it missed the odd stroke when he wrote because the ink didn't flow very well. On the other hand, he said, it was easy to load with the cartridge and had a nice weight.

Mary Nicholson felt it would suit someone who likes to look smart and doesn't like confrontation. She found it smooth to use: "It glides along the paper like on an ice-rink, so leaves a rather weedy trail. Not for those who like to stamp their personality."

*PENTEL TRADIO

pounds 4.99 (nib and cartridge unit can be replaced)

The technology of this pen is similar to the Fountain Pentel but you can buy a refill unit to replace both nib and cartridge. "The flow is fine," said David Loftus, "although it splattered ink on the page if I didn't use it at the correct angle. I wonder how long the nib would last."

Mary Nicholson thought that this pen would suit someone driven by nervous rather than physical energy as you don't have to press hard. "Their thoughts tend to run ahead of their hand movements and it would help such people to write quickly."

****MONTBLANC TRAVELLER

(cartridge or refillable) pounds 235

This was the favourite pen of our two experts; the price, though, is as high as its name. It is more restrained than the Waterman Edson, in black and gold, with a white snow-like splodge (the Montblanc trademark) on the tip of the cap. It also has an ornately decorated nib. David Loftus commented: "In a class above the rest, the whole body of the pen is beautifully designed, with no excess, unlike the Waterman Edson, which has lumps of gold on it. It feels scrumptious to use. I found myself writing the same line ('smooth as a baby's bottom') again and again. The packaging is brilliant, too. It has a lovely leather wallet, with bullet-like cartridges. This was the one pen I really wanted."

Mary Nicholson said that the nib gives a more aesthetic look to one's writing. The wide stroke gives the impression of a warm personality and also has an italic look, suitable, she said, "for someone who wants to make an instant impact". She added that the nib did sometimes make a broken trail, but that nonetheless the pen had style. "This is the one for me, because of its stylishness and because of the italic nib."

*FOUNTAIN PENTEL

pounds 1.80 (disposable)

This throwaway pen is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Montblanc or the Waterman Edson. It uses a triangular-shaped plastic nib and feels more like a fibre-tip than a fountain pen in use. The manufacturers claim that this technology does away with the problem of splattering ink or split nibs but David Loftus, who has used them frequently before, disagreed. "The nib deteriorates very quickly and I've often thrown them away within days. A waste of money."

Mary Nicholson was more positive: "A good all-rounder at a good price. Someone who has lots of affectations and likes extra squiggles wouldn't want something so utilitarian."

*PILOT FOUNTAIN PEN

(disposable) pounds 2.40

A reworking and updating of the traditional fountain-pen with an alloy nib. David Loftus didn't like either its looks or using it. "It resembles a hospital instrument. It works OK, but it's scratchy. There's no point in spending pounds 2.50 and getting rid of it each time. A waste of money."

Mary Nicholson's verdict was that the Pilot was "impossibly difficult to write with. It would suit an aggressive character who could take his anger out on it. It is very difficult to make curves with it - people who write with straight lines are usually decisive and very independent."

STOCKISTS:

Parker Duofold, Waterman Edson, Sheaffer and Montblanc from the Pen Shop, 199 Regent St, London W1 (0171-734 4088) and leading department stores; the cheaper pens from major high-street stationers.

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