I have used a non-refillable Pilot Varsity fountain pen daily. It costs $3, but someone gave it to me. I will bring two or three other brands into rotation, much like a rotisserie baseball league, only involving pens. But the Pilot Varsity pen stays with me wherever I go. I call it my Lucky Pen. It works on just about any paper, and is virtually indestructible. So yes, I have become emotionally attached to an inanimate object. The only drawback is that the non-refillable pen must be refilled, or else it won’t be the Lucky Pen.
I was expressing my love for the Pilot Varsity to a shop clerk at Flax Art & Supply in San Francisco. She was trying to sell me a $650 Visconti pen, $500 that day only, but I wasn’t buying it. Much like me, she admitted that she tends to keep the more expensive fountain pens at home, and carries the $4 Pilot Petit-1, not normally available in the United States, but was available at Mai-Do, a stationary shop in Japantown. I later learned it’s also available on-line through Jet Pens and Amazon. I set about trying to find a Petit-1 at Mai-Do.
After I began using the Petit-1 and the Varsity, I began comparing and contrasting the two Pilot entry-level fountain pens. Which one would I recommend to a friend?
The Pilot Petit-1
It’s around $4. I paid $3.95. If you break it, you toss it. If you lose it, you don’t cry or drive miles out of your way in that vain hope of finding it, unless it’s your lucky pen. It writes consistently well on just about any paper type. It makes a nice clean line without the ballpoint skips.
What I Hate About This Pen
While I appreciate the pop-off cap, I found the pen too small to write with the cap not posted on the back. To post it requires one to align the clip perfectly in line with the nib, otherwise it digs into your hand. This small ceremony just to jot a quick note takes about 3-seconds of my life that I could better spend grouting tile or reading ‘War and Peace.’
The Pilot Varsity
If you haven’t already figured it out, this is The ‘Lucky Pen.’ So I’m a bit biased. It’s made of a much more durable plastic than the Petit-1, so it’s practically indestructible. It is the perfect fit for my hand, and it writes flawlessly. I prefer the medium nib with this pen than the fine point with the Petit-1.
What I Hate About This Pen
If this pen was truly refillable, it would probably be coveted by more people. Some people get excited by certain pens, and they have to have them in every limited edition color. This is not a pen to get excited about. In fact, it’s really ugly. But it writes very well, and will handle just about any ink mixture or color you want to throw in it. I mixed Diamine Oxblood with Peach Haze. There are some people who hate taking things apart. But I’m not one of them. Sometimes I can’t get it back together, but we won’t talk about that. To really master refilling this pen, I have gone through some trial and error. This best tutorial is provided by Bill at Peninkcillin. There are other methods but this one is pretty much the easiest. I find the best way to disassemble the pen is to remove the nib first, then take a soft-sided pliers and grab the feed at the sides and pull it out. It should pop, and then slide out easily. Wash the feed and pen thoroughly. Let it dry before refilling with a needle and syringe. The problem is that if there is a slight manipulation of the nib during disassembly, the pen is pretty much cooked. Don’t try to wedge anything under the nib as you will probably damage the wick feed, as I have. I have tried multiple times to restore flow on the nib, and I consider myself pretty handy with nibs. But I often can’t restore flow to its original specification, and its time to throw the whole pen out. I can usually get a pen through about 10 refills at best before it’s time to replace it. I have contemplated filling it from the blind end, but this would require a drill press to modify the pen, which I don’t have.
Which Is My Preferred Pen?
Without a doubt my preferred pen is the Pilot Varsity. It holds more ink, and it feels better in my hand, despite the sexier looking Petit-1. In fact I prefer this $3 pen far and above pens that I have paid a 100 times that. You may prefer the ability to refill the Petit-1. However, unless you like manipulating an eyedropper or needle-and-syringe, the cost of replacement cartridges will overshadow any savings on Petit-1.
Who is Toaster Pastry?
ToasterPastry is the nom de plume of Wayne, a cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist from San Diego. He collects both vintage fountain pens and ink bottles. He has written several reviews on fountain pens and inks for FPN, as well as the Pen Club of America's "The Pennant" magazine.
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