Saturday, 6 March 2010

An extremely self-indulgent blog post about my new Lamy 2000 pens

If you're looking for our normal high brow arts and culture coverage, please avert your eyes, normal service will be resumed shortly. If, on the other hand, you find either fine pens, or finer engineering, of interest, then the following may entertain to you.

I've always had a fascination with fountain pens, I'm sure because of the name. My first encounter, aged something like seven or eight, was for the most part a disappointment: it was with a broken pen which led me to reason that I just could write with fountain pens. Later on, I owned a series of cheap or cheapish Parkers (mainly Vectors and then a thin matt black one, the name of which I cannot recall). My usage ground to a halt for a while after my GCSE maths exam. My pen leaked badly, but I didn't notice until I turned over the page and smoothed it down, leaving a black streak all the way up the column to be used by the examiners only (I still maintain, almost certainly inaccurately, that this is why I have an A as opposed to an A*).

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From then until I went to university, I used a series of Pilot V5s, which seemed in many ways to be almost a disposable fountain pen, with the virtue that they didn't leak. However, once at Bristol, I was seized by fountain pen fever once more. It was here, too, that I discovered Lamy. I was in the rather nice stationary shop that used to exist near the top of Blackboy Hill (it may well still do, but I haven't been there for about seven years - it was on the left hand side as the road forked approaching the Downs - and, some Googling later, I find it does indeed and I'm reminded it was called Harold Hockey). Here I saw the Lamy AL-star (pictured above). It is a variant on their basic Safari model with two distinguishing features: first, most of the plastic is replace by aluminium, making for a much nicer build, and, what attracted me to buy it, with transparent sections that allow you to see the workings and how much ink is left. Costing less than £20 then (and not much more now), it's a superb instrument. The feel of the steel nib on paper is actually probably the most comfortable of ANY pen I've used, including my current platinum plated, gold nib. On the downside, though, it isn't the most comfortable to hold and it does leave me with ink on my hands. I still have it, and love it very much (of which more anon). Interestingly, for those who like such things, they now do a pen called the Vista which is totally transparent (which just makes me want it, but I haven't succumbed; yet).

A year or so later, I made another purchase, this time from a shop midway down Park Street (on the right hand side as you descend). I'd gone in thinking of a Parker Sonnet (I think), but that turned out to be rather thin and not very comfortable in my hand. The lady steered me instead to a Waterman Expert (I notice they now do an AL-star like chrome model). While, in black lacquer, with a gold tipped silver nib, it was perhaps a little ostentatious for my tastes, it was comfortable to hold, with a good heavy weight, and wrote very nicely. And at around £40 it wasn't too badly priced (the trim seems to have changed and the price increased by over 50% in the intervening decade or so). Indeed, in one of my recent notebooks, with less than ideal paper which drew out too much ink and defeated some of my Lamy pens, it certainly earned its keep (until, that is, I lost it a year and a half ago).

However, my heart had been stolen by Lamy. Lamy is a German company which plays up its strength in engineering excellence in a market that is more dominated by things that look very nice; as an engineering student, this appealed to me greatly. (Contrast this with that other great German pen firm, Mont Blanc, which is so keen on making you think it isn't German they have given themselves a French name taken from a mountain that boarders on France and Italy - people tend to be surprised, even disbelieving, when you tell them they're German.) It was not just the AL-Star, but also their multi-pens: they make combination pen/pencils (at the same time I bought the AL-Star, I got a Safari combination pen/pencil, which, astonishingly, I've managed not to lose, which is just as well as it seems to have been discontinued), pens of multiple colours, pens where you can even replace one of the refills with one designed to operate the touch screen on your PDA. However, the ones that really took my fancy, and which I first noticed in their Economist adverts (which Lamy no longer place), were the 2000 range.

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Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the pen, designed by Gerd Alfred Muller, is that it was released in 1966 and remains in production nearly half a century later. Then there's the way it still looks modern. It has no evident gold (which is good, since I don't like that). Instead of lacquer, it is constructed from fibreglass resin, finished in steel, with a 14 carat gold nib, coated in platinum to maintain the colour scheme. There are many beautiful touches - the thick and sturdy clip is affixed with a spring so that it doesn't bend away from the body with time. The sole logo is a tiny etching on the side of this. Unobtrusive windows allow you to see the remaining ink. It is fillable only from a bottle, but the plus side of that is that no compromises have been made to the design to accommodate changeable cartridges giving it a wonderfully large ink capacity. It is extremely comfortable to hold for long periods and it never leaks (well, that's not quite true: if you drop it or throw it around, ink will splatter into the lid, and thence get onto the body and your hands).

I see from my records that I bought my first 2000 in June 2001 from The Pen & Paper Shop for the princely sum of £85. Now, here I made my only error. Not, I hasten to add, the shop, who offered excellent service. Rather, I opted for a medium nib as I always have. Now, you may at this point ask why I didn't try it out in the flesh. The short answer is that the 2000 is sadly not widely stocked in shops in the UK and, since medium nibs had always been fine, I assumed it would be. However, possibly due to the nib being partly encased in the body, I seemed to get a lot of flow, making my already small writing that bit more illegible. However, even with this caveat, it was a great pen I loved very much.

I shortly thereafter added the multi-pen variant (I have no experience with either the 2000 pencil or ballpoint, the latter comes in various additional finishes). The only indication of something different from the standard ballpoint is the three coloured strips round the body near to the clip. It is beauty itself: you rotate the pen such that the colour you want (or the clip if you're after black) is facing up towards you, hear the balanced rotating mechanism within click softly round, press the button, et voila, the appropriately coloured ballpoint (marked by another thin band) appears. In a previous career as a teacher I found it indispensable (the mechanism was good for delighting the kids too).

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Both pens were sufficiently indispensable that I should have been more careful with them; sadly, one day during the 2008 Edinburgh festival, they slipped from my pocket never to be seen again. On the plus side, I took the opportunity when replacing them to opt for an extra fine nib (fine probably would have been okay, and what I'd recommend for most people, but my writing really is dreadful). Now, then, I had my ideal pen (though Pen Heaven took a little time to send it, they had about the cheapest price at £98). Experience should have taught me, and I did stop carrying them around in my pocket. However, shortly before Christmas, as I opened my bag on the way into work to remove my security pass, I heard something clattering to the ground. Knowing the leather case containing my pens rested within the same pocket, I quickly looked about. Alas, on the tarmac it was not visible and my search not careful enough. I looked more carefully later but failed to find them.

Obviously this was now getting quite pricey - I couldn't really afford to replace my 2000s every eighteen months. I reverted to my trusty AL-star and strongly considered not replacing them. I might not have as well, since, as I mentioned above, in many ways I prefer the feel of the AL-star on the page. But, ultimately, a few months later I found I just missed the 2000s too much, not least the multi-pen, and I missed having a fountain pen that didn't leave ink on my fingers.

Last Saturday I finally relented and placed an order. The price had now risen to £116 (note, I've seen them cheaper elsewhere, but many of these other shops only stock the medium nib and take a while to order the others from Germany). Pen Heaven no longer even offers fine or extra-fine, I did e-mail and remind them of my previous purchase, asking if a special order could be placed, but, in an epic customer service fail, they never even replied. Their loss, I suppose. And, while the price may have been a little more, the service from Cult Pens was nothing short of exemplary: ordered Saturday, dispatched Monday morning, delivery attempted Tuesday morning (okay, I had to pop down to the sorting office, but I always do). So, on Wednesday night I finally had my third set of 2000s home. The first thing that jumped out was the redesign of the case (it had been the same in both 2001 and 2008), a shiny metal box:

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Now, however, doubtless in a desire to be environmentally friendly, it is a high grade of card, with the logo embossed on a metal block.

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Actually, in some ways this feels a higher quality than the metal did, especially the interior which previously was rather flimsy. Then:

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Now:

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The pens, themselves are unchanged:

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I mentioned the ink bottle. And here is Lamy's beautiful engineering on display once more:

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The black band round the bottom is a plastic holder for a roll of blotting paper. That, of course, reduces the space for ink and the bottle tapers down to a small bulb not hugely bigger than the pen nib. But there is a reason for this too: it means that even as the ink runs out, the pen is still easy to fill; no need with Lamy to tilt the bottle to one side, while simultaneously trying to hold the pen and wishing you had a third hand to twist the filling mechanism!

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In short, I love my 2000s and, as evidenced by the length of this post, I'm delighted to have them back. I like naming things, and the fountain pen is going to take its from my favourite German conductor, Wilhelm Furtwangler; I haven't settled on a name for the multi-pen yet, but feel it should be derived from an engineer.

Of course, you may well ask how I can possibly justify spending so much on a pen (though if you think this is expensive you could always try pricing a Waterman Edson). After all, it's not like I write out all my blog posts by hand. It's a different matter, however, for my creative writing, of which I do a fair bit, though nothing I've yet attempted to publish; it all gets done in A5 size moleskine notebooks (they no longer use the skin of actual moles, you'll be pleased to note). And that's not to mention the diary I keep, or the notes I take at work. In short, it isn't idle. If you're wondering why I type this but write other stuff by hand, for some reason I think I write that bit better if I'm using a notebook, especially for fiction, maybe I'm just that bit more focussed and free from distraction and the internet. Whatever the reason, it makes the pen worth having. Let's just hope I can hold on to them a little longer this time.

In the end, though:

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3 comments:

  1. One final note - Lamy have superb customer service. A few years back my first 2000 broke (the mechanism you twist to fill it stopped operating the piston and came away). I took it to a different shop than the one I'd bought it from, they sent it back to Germany, and Lamy fixed it for free. You can't say fairer than that.

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  2. From one Lamy lover to another - I am on my third, possibly fourth Lamy pen, all of which I have been delighted with!

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  3. Aha, love that final touch as I can admit to being not the neatest of writers too. The Lamy Safaris do help me out though - just a bit!

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