I have seen and read several reviews, of inexpensive “student” pens that perform extremely well for their price point, even compared with much more expensive “proper” fountain pens. My own personal experiences with cheap Chinese pens in the £5-£25 range have mostly been excellent. Perfectly usable, robust pens that do the job, even if their nibs are not much to write home about, and some of their plastics are not designed to decorate your mantlepiece.
So when I spotted this £2 fountain pen in my local Sainsbury’s, I had to try it out and see how usable it was. It’s part of the Sainsbury’s “HOME” range, which includes a range of basic stationery consumables such as notebooks, printer paper, pens, glue, etc.
The pen design is clearly based on the later Sheaffer No Nonsense pens, with the clip-on cap and the rubberized grip section, which have been very successful budget school and calligraphy fountain pens. Unfortunately, the overall pen shape is pretty much where the similarity ends.
The nib itself looks quite attractive, and the feed looks solid.
Although the shape is different, looking at the nib reminded me very much of the way Lamy nibs are set, so I tried to see if it is removable. Sure enough, it did slide off quite easily from the feed (I’m not sure if that is necessarily a positive feature for school pens, but let’s ignore that for the moment), to reveal a very unorthodox feed mechanism. Normal fountain pen nibs are base on capillary action to raw ink from the ink repository to the nib. This pen uses a wick!
I am assuming that the idea is that the wick will draw ink from the cartridge (in pretty much the same way that a methylated spirit burner draws liquid), and being in contact with the nib close to the tip, the nib’s capillary action will take care of transferring ink from the wick to the paper. I don’t know if this is cheaper to manufacture than a standard plastic feed, but it is an interesting idea nonetheless.
Time to try the pen. The blister pack comes with four black small international standard cartridges, so I picked one and tried to fit in the pen. It sits securely in the section, but however hard I tried, it proved impossible to pierce! I tried a different one, same result. I tried putting a second cartridge in the barrel to first the first one in, but the barrel is so large that the second one just floats in it. Measuring the cartridge it appears that whilst the external dimensions of the cartridge are correct (4.5mm) the internal diameter of the hole is slightly smaller (2.4mm, consistent with international cartridge converters) than most standard small cartridges (3.0-3.5mm). Also the plastic is quite hard and does not have any “stretch”. The net result is that the cartridges supplied with the pen, do not fit the pen!
I expect that, at this point, most of these pens will find the way to the rubbish bin, with an exclamation of “oh well, that was a waste of 2 quid…”. However, I was determined to see if it works. I replaced the cartridge with a standard J.Herbin cartridge I happened to have around and, sure enough, it fitted well and pierced straight away. I then had to wait patiently for the wick to do its magic, and get ink to the nib. Actually, I gave up waiting. I let the pen be and only came back to it a few hours later, by which point I could see that the tip of the wick had gone dark, so I assume it was saturated with ink.
It took a bit of effort to get the ink to flow through the nib and, when it did, it only produced a very thin, skipping, scratchy line. Thiner than a typical EF, and very very dry.
I tried pushing the tines hard to force some ink flow increase, and also tried smoothing the nib a bit with some micro-mesh (you know, as you would expect the average school kid, would do to improve their new pen flow…). I got it to the point that it would write adequately, but it was still a laboured experience.
I have to admit that I did not do a whole lot of writing. I wasn’t exactly inspired… I left the pen and returned to it a few days later to give it another try. Nada! Zip! Nothing! No matter how hard I tried, I could not get the ink flow to start.
I suspected that the ink had dried on the wick (why wouldn’t it? that’s what we expect it to do on paper when exposed to air…), so I ran the nib and feed under the tap for a few seconds, waited about half a minute, and sure enough the pen started writing again.
This pen is just terrible. It’s everything you don’t want a fountain pen to be: difficult to use, unreliable, scratchy, bothersome. But it only costs £2, so who cares? Actually, I do! And I would implore #Sainsburys to remove it from their stock, until the issues have been fixed. If I was a kid and I was given this pen to use, the experience would scar me for life. If this is what my first experience with a fountain pen is like, I would not want to go near a fountain pen again. Give me a Bic ballpoint anytime!
Fountain pens are some of the finest writing instruments ever produced. Kudos for trying to bring them to the masses with an affordable entry point budget pen. But this is NOT the way to do it!