Glenn's Pens

Pen Views

February 2009

Affordability of Pens - Steel and Gold Nibs

One of the questions I get regularly asked related to the affordability of pens. It is so encouraging to hear that people are looking at ways to start owning a fountain pen. Often they have seen some prices and the range from $50 to $1,000+ for a pen become confusing.

I think that everyone has to set a price for which they are willing to pay for a pen. My advice is always to visit a good pen store, be open about what you are wanting to pay, and through the discussion as to what you are planning to use the pen for, and by holding some pens in your hand, the staff will be able to show you a couple of pens that are in your price range. Naturally, you can always pay a bit more and more and more. At one point you have to draw the line and feel comfortable with what you are going to spend.

How much to you have to spend? As much as you want knowing that as with most purchases the adage that you generally get what you pay for will hold true. Regardless of the price and the quality of the pen, at one point the price of the pen is a reflection of the market niche the company has established for the product line. The price is not the actual cost of producing the pen.

In terms of the cost to produce the pen, the nib will on its own move the cost of the pen. Steel and gold nibs have different cost of materials and significant more more work involved in making the final product. Some hold the view that the gold nib just has to be better. Not so.

Levenger True Writer MetalistA good steel nib can prove to be quite the pen in terms of its writing experience. That does not mean all steel nibs will good writing pens but I also add that not all gold nibs are of the same quality either.

Steel nibs are stiffer and will not have the degree of flexibility found in some of the 14kt and 18kt gold nibs. Gold nibs have a considerable amount of hand work. I have walked through a number of pen factories to appreciate the amount of work that goes into a hand-made gold nib.

But if you think about the construction of the nib, and the flow of ink, whether the nib is steel or gold is not the primary factor in how the pen writes. The small ball under the nib is what flows across the paper. That is what gives the pen its style. Ink flows down the channel and then under the nib. It is the pressure of the nib touching the paper that creates the air space that draws the ink out.

Some of the pens I use on a regular basis have steel nibs and they write very smoothly. I don’t consider them inferior to some of my more expensive pens but I do experience the difference in writing with a lower price pen and the high end pens that have a considerable amount of hand work to finish up the nib.

Levenger True Writer MetalistAs case in point, is the Levenger True Writer Metalist Fountain Pen. Here is a reasonably priced pen, normally selling in the $60 USD range. I added this pen to my collection a few months ago and find it to be a very smooth writing pen. Levenger has their own web site:

I have no complaints about this pen. It only comes in a medium nib, so that places some limitations for me, but for a pen with a medium nib, its good and I regularly find myself using it to make entries in my calendar where I have to write very small. In February 2009 it was actually on sale for around $30US.

Because of the metal construction this has good weight, and the body is big enough for my hand.

Faber-Castel Ambition SeriesLikewise, the Faber-Castel Ambition pen line has steel nibs. These even come with a Fine, Medium or Broad nib so they are real winners in my book!

I have ended up added four of these pens to my collection and use them on a regular basis. They are sleek in appearance, and about as narrow of a pen that I would use, but they feel good and substantial.

The Ambition, in a classic black appearance has a good smooth feel in the hand. It is in the $60 US price range so I would call that quite an affordable fountain pen.

 The Ambition in Stainless Steel is slightly higher at the $135 US price point and it also has a stainless steel nib that is also chrome-plated. Feels good in the and and is a real looker.

Finally, I also have the Ambition Coconut. It is a bit higher in price at the $165 US point. It also has a steel chrome plated nib. It costs more than the other two lines but the look of the coconut wood gives this pen a distinctive appearance and I receive compliments about the pen when I use it at meetings.

So, in summary, a good fountain pen is affordable. The question of steel or gold nibs should not be a question to rule out a pen. Try it. Write with the pen and see how you like the experience. I still enjoy writing with my upper end pens. My Omas Paragon, or Visconti Divina, wow these are pens with great looks, great workmanship, experience materials to produce the final pen. But I don't attempt to hid my proven writers, regardless of price.


Enjoy your pens! Your pen, an expression of you.