I take a break from my usual posts on politics to write a long article about fountain pens.
My history with fountain pens
There is nothing that equals the experience of writing with a good fountain pen, but unfortunately fountain pens are like the girl in the nursery rhyme; when they are good they are very very good but when they are bad they are horrid.
Most people's first experience is with a really bad fountain pen, like the cheap plastic Parker I bought at CVS for $9. Yes, that pen sucked, and I think I threw it out. A long time ago I had a stainless steel fountain pen with a Mont Blanc logo on it. This pen was from the 1970s before Mont Blanc discovered they could sell ball point pens for $100 each. Anyway, this old Mont Blanc fountain pen sucked--I couldn't write with it without getting ink on my fingers.
The first fountain pen I ever had that I liked was a Parker Place Vendome, which I bought at an office supply store back when I was a 2L in law school. Unfortunately it didn't last too long, because one day I dropped it and it landed point first on the law school floor. It never wrote well after that.
When I went back to buy another one, I discovered that it was no longer sold. I bought a Waterman Laureat instead. I was also pleased with this pen. I still own it today. But not all Waterman's work so well. I bought a Waterman Hemisphere a few years ago. The Hemisphere skips--the ink flow starts and stops, causing a gap in your writing--yes fountain pens can be fussy.
Pelikan Souveran 200: best pen
I have two Pelikan 200 pens (sometimes referred to as a Souveran 200 or M200) and they blow away every other fountain pen I've ever used. The nib on the Waterman Laureat is as good as the Pelikan, I think. The Pelikan writes a little smoother, but I prefer the look of the line that the Laureat puts out, perhaps because the Waterman fine point is finer than the Pelikan fine point. (When buying your first fountain pen, you want to get a fine point, this is closest to the ball point and roller ball pens you're used to writing with.)
But besides the great nib, the rest of the features of the Pelikan put it far above the every other fountain pen I've used.
Screw cap: the Pelikan cap screws off instead of pulling off (with a click). This makes it easier to remove the cap without accidentally shaking ink off the nib. It also seems to make a tighter seal, because the Waterman dries out a lot faster. If I don't use the Waterman for a while, the ink completely evaporates.
Lighter: the Pelikan is the lightest pen I've ever used. Initially this put me off, because in a world of plastic pens the heavy metal pen feels more substantial and expensive. But after using the Pelikan for a while you learn to appreciate that the lightweight pen is easier to write with.
Piston fill: unlike most other brands which take cartridges, or an optional "converter" if you want to fill it with ink from a bottle, the Pelikan does not take cartridges. It can only be filled from a bottle. You may think that using a pre-filled plastic cartridge is more convenient, but actually you are much better off with the Pelikan system. The Pelikan holds somewhat more ink than a converter. You can fill it and change the ink color whenever you want, and the ink always immediately flows out. When you replace the cartridge on a pen where the nib is dry, it can be a real hassle getting the ink to start flowing. With care, you will eventually learn how to fill the pen without getting ink on your fingers.
Ink window: the 200 series pens have a convenient ink window which lets you see if you are running out of ink. With a converter pen, you need to screw off the bottom part of the pen to check your ink level.
The Pelikan 200 is well worth the $65 it will cost if you buy it at discount.
You can fill your fountain pen with any foutain pen ink you want, meaning there's a huge variety of colors, much more so than with boring ballpoint pens. But not all ink is equal. Some ink will skip in some pens.
Private Reserve makes the best looking inks. I especially liked the Naples Blue (a cyan blue) and the Sherwood Green (a very nice forest green). However, the Lake Placid Blue skipped on me. And it seems that all these inks smear really easily, even the conservative colors like Midnight Blues. Having ink rub off onto your fingers after touching something you wrote months ago just makes Private Reserve ink too much of a hassle to use.
I have now switched to Waterman ink. The basic color, Florida Blue, I have only used from cartridges, and it's a traditional red shade of blue. Waterman Florida Blue seems to be one of the most popular inks of pen aficionados. This is probably the ink you should buy with your fountain pen if you don't want to make a statement by using a less traditional color.
My favorite Waterman color is Havana Brown, which sounds like a strange color to use but it looks really good on paper. This is a slightly violet shade of brown. The other Waterman colors I have are South Seas Blue, which is a cyan blue that's almost as nice looking as the Private Reserve Naples Blue, and Green (no cutesy adjective, just Green) which unfortunately comes up short compared to the Private Reserve Sherwood Green.