A New Pen for a New Notebook

A New Pen for a New Notebook

Notebook A good friend of mine recently went to London, and on return announced she’d gotten me a present that was not very “London”, but was likely very “Dave”. I was in San Jose at the time, however, and had to wait a week until I got to see it, which gave me plenty of time to think of what it might be. Gifts are an interesting window into friendship, as they give you an idea of how you are being perceived. In the worst case they are way off the mark, but in the best case they illuminate something that’s more fundamental and perhaps unexpected.

When I finally got to see what it was, I was somewhat surprised to see it was a leather notebook. I’m super picky about notebooks and stationery, so this was a bold move (though I doubt it was realized at the time of selection). I am a fan of sturdy tightly-bound journals and durable papers; my current favorite carry-around is the Moleskine Reporter format. The new notebook was pretty much the opposite of my Moleskine. It was just a sleeve of hand-tooled leather, decorated with repeating die stamps. A sheaf of fluffy textured paper was cut to fit into the sleeve, and held in place with a long string that was punched through the spine in three places, which also wrapped around the entire notebook to keep it tidy. After the initial surprise wore off, I was struck by the idea that this notebook binding might have been the way it was done long ago, and that this could be some kind of replica or artifact. I loved it.

Notebook No, it was nothing of the sort; it was just something she saw that she thought I’d like, perhaps because I am constantly hauling out tiny notebooks and am writing in them at the coffee shop. I’ve been getting away from computers more and more these days when I’m thinking, as I find making marks by hand engages a different part of my brain. I feel more connected to the ideas, and the lack of “undo” makes me more mindful of what I put down. I use my Moleskines as daily working notebooks and have learned to treat them as “sacred scrap paper”, but this notebook was just the sort of thing I knew I would have great difficulty writing in. The kind of words I would write in such a notebook would have to carry their weight in artfulness or importance. I would hate to blemish such a notebook with anything less.

“You know, I don’t know what I would write in this,” I admitted as I examined it further. “It’s so nice.” “You’ll write ideas for stories in it!” my friend proclaimed vigorously. “Things you hear other people say, phrases like that one we keep wanting to use…uh, what was it…” “It was 30 degrees above warm?” “Yep, phrases like that! And other ones that you come up with.” And that was the end of the discussion.

It’s not very often that I get a present that so successfully combines so many personal quirks and goals into one package, so I was doubly-impressed. Of course I didn’t want to use any old crappy pen, so I started looking around for a nice fountain pen that I could carry with me along with the notebook. I found that Pilot makes a $1.89 disposable fountain pen that apparently writes fairly well and would be a good test. I tried my local Staples to see if they carried it (they do on the Website), but they only had a few mediocre-looking pens in stock for more money than I was willing to spend. A bit more Googling revealed the fascinating cult of fountain pens and moleskines that already exists. I took note of a few brands that were mentioned, and decided to just keep my eyes open for stationery stores. For some reason, we don’t seem to have them in New Hampshire, so it would have to wait until next time I headed south.

I was visiting my sister last weekend in Rhode Island for fun, and we stopped by one of her favorite stores, Figments, which is run by a RISD graduate / graphic designer named Peggy. It’s a small store that stocks an eclectic variety of stationery, furniture, one-of-a-kind gifts, and other tasteful artifacts. I’d been there once before, having gotten excited by some aluminum binder covers that I didn’t end up buying because I (again) didn’t know what I would put in them…they were so cool :-) This time, I saw that Peggy carried a handful of the German Lamy pens pens I’d read about online, though it took me a few moments to remember this. I got the Safari, which is regarded as an inexpensive and reliable fountain pen, in a color I am very fond of. My sister commented how she doesn’t ordinarily like fountain pens because they feel scratchy and catch on the paper, but the Lamy was very pleasurable and smooth. She called me up later to say that she wanted to go get one. :-)

Lamy Safari Fountain Pen I actually haven’t tried writing in the notebook yet with this, because I haven’t yet heard or thought of any interesting phrases to put into it. I also want to get some brown ink, so it looks extra-ancient when I write in it, but in the meantime I’m willing to use the blue cartridge that came with it. I am a little concerned that the paper will be too porous for the fountain pen, but I will try it out later this week and see what happens. It may be that the other pen I got at Figments, a Lamy Vista Rollerball, will work. I wasn’t planning on getting this pen, but I was sharing a story with the owner about how there was a certain green Pilot rollerball pen in the 80s that I used to love writing with. My enthusiasm must have triggered something, because she hauled out this pen and had me try it. As I doodled, I got lost in the action of the pen…it was very smooth, and ink flowed out of it effortlessly. It has been a long time since I’ve used a pen that made me want to make marks on paper…not since that green Pilot in the 80s, actually. My current everyday rollerball is the Pilot G2, but this pen has more resistance and is kind of scratchy. It reminds me of work. The Lamy Rollerball reminded me of recess on a warm spring day, drawing endless doodles on the picnic table with my friends by the soccer field.

Lamy Vista Rollerball So I have my notebook, and I have my pens. I’m looking forward to making some marks on paper next time I’m in the coffee shop.


  1. Mark 16 years ago

    Watch out – fountain pens can become addictive.  They’re kind of like a return to the more tactile, even sensual, handling of words and information that computers stole from us.

    Man, I sound like a freak :-)

    The Safari is a nice wee pen.  Enjoy.

  2. Emily Seah 16 years ago

    The line about how the Lamy Rollerball reminded you of “recess on a warm spring day, drawing endless doodles on the picnic table with friends by the soccer field” really resonated with me. I think I need to get some new pens. :)

  3. Michael Montgomery 16 years ago

    Welcome to the club! I started using fountain pens a while ago, when a case of carpal tunnel made it actually painful to use a ballpoint.

    By the way, a good fountain pen doesn’t have to feel “scratchy”; it should flow like a puck on ice.

    Personally, I love a Moleskine and a Waterman Phileas, filled with Noodler’s Ink. And the ink is the most important part.

  4. Nils Geylen 16 years ago

    I remember the Lamys very well from secondary school. I always thought they were French though. As far as the Moleskine and pens cult, I understand that well. I do prefer my Pilot G2 because the ink dries extremely fast (pic).

  5. atr 16 years ago

    Coolest pens ever (don’t have links on-hand):

    USUS: Designed a polycarb pen that used magnetism to “clasp”; also did a fully Ti version.

    Porsche Design (outsourced to Faber-Castle): designed a line of mostly Ti pens during the mid-late ‘80s—heavily desired now since its hard to find simplicity with exotic metals.

    Jorg Hysek: Split from the brand (the brand is owned by some holding company and he is doing watches). Almost everyone knows his carbon-fiber rb/bp/fp sets and they’re typically on eBay. Even Mercedes-Benz offered a customized edition of this.

    McLaren: (yes, the racing company) dabbled in the pen business years ago and I so wish they didn’t drop so quickly. Each pen was ti/cf/mixture of the two and designed around race-car parts (Renault does the same now and offers the 50k chess set that is scrapped cf/ti parts).

  6. J Lane 16 years ago

    I love my Lamy Safari.  I’ve got one of the Vistas which is a clear plastic shell.  Makes it really easy to see when I’m about to run out of ink.

  7. Dave Seah 16 years ago

    Mark: I’ve been enjoying the pen for my daily writing too…it IS a lot more fun. And heh heh, you said, “wee” :-)

    Emily: I hope you got that limited edition white one. I keep thinking I should have gotten it now.

    Michael: When I see ya at SXSW, you’ll have to show me the Phileas. Looking forward to catching up!

    Nils: I read somewhere that fountain pens were still used in school in Europe. Is it tradition, or is it for particularly classes?

    atr: Next time we hang, you’ll have to show me some of those. They sound awesome!

    J Lane: Why is it that I want so many more pens? I can only use one at a time. Hm, maybe one for each ink color.

  8. Nils Geylen 16 years ago

    Ha ha, well, Reagan and Thatcher were still around when I was in school, so I’ve no idea how things are now. I suppose the “fancier” schools still mandate their use. In any case, they’re still around in shops a lot, but I can imagine teens these days prefer their cartoon celebrity biros :)

  9. Mark 16 years ago


    I think it’s natural to want many more.

    A few years ago my wife bought me a fountain pen for my birthday.  I got hooked, now I have 20 or so of them, from a Lamy Vista to a couple of really pricey European ones.

    It’s a dangerous road to go down…

  10. Emily Seah 16 years ago

    I checked out Figments this weekend and since Peggy didn’t have any of the bright plastics left I ended up getting the LAMY AL-Star in Silverblue…it’s a great pen, and an interesting shade. The metallic finish seems to change from silver to very pale silvery blue to very pale silvery purple. I love it. :)

  11. Michael Montgomery 16 years ago

    Great post on sketching, and notebooks, and pens: http://geniantsandbox.com/2008/02/28/the-fine-art-of-wireframes

    Speaking of pens, what is that in the first photo, a Lamy Safari?

  12. Richard Hemmer 16 years ago

    I remember having an aluminum Lamy in high school. It was fantastic. I seriously don’t know why I discontinued fountain pen use.

  13. Fountain Pen Lover 16 years ago

    Hi J Lane,
    Lamy is a very good pen! German pen makers (incl. Pelikan) are really skilled craftsmen and designers when it comes to making fountain pens. Mont Blanc probably doesn’t fall into that category because of its poshy trend and insane prices.