I have more than once questioned the value of a pen costing above a certain amount, most recently in the comments following a little excursion into near-bolshevism caused by some insisting that pens costing below a certain level are worthless. I was pondering one of my latest acquisitions when this recurrent theme of mine came back to me, and I thought I might expand upon it a little with what seems a moment of backpedalling– expensive pens are, in fact, worth what they charge.
…within certain limits. The other thing you may have noticed about me is that I have a Buddhist’s horror of extremism. I will stubbornly maintain that a pen costing in excess of $5,000 is indeed excessive. I will also insist that the notion of “expensive pen” starts around $75 and reaches a sort of plateau of reason at about $300; I don’t have any $500 or $1,000 pens myself, but there are some whose opinion I respect who do and maintain that they’re darn good as pens.
With that as the starting point, I will repeat– an expensive pen is actually worth its cost. Materials are a small part of the consideration. I will maintain my quiet derision of Mont Blanc’s claims of “precious resin” as mere marketing puff, and while the cost of gold has gone up magnificently, there’s really not that much of it involved in a pen. It is the effort of getting those materials into the shape and function of a pen that brings on the cost.
While a lot of the craftsmanship has gone from the making of pens, there is still some. It is the maintenance of trained, skilled workers that introduces a lot of the cost into things like the higher Pelikan M-series, Nakayas, and even the self-important Mont Blanc. A pen point is not simply a slab of gold cut into the right shape– the combined skills of an engineer and a jeweler come to bear on making it into a lively and willing instrument.
Even in lesser pens, and in other parts of the pen, while computers have somewhat replaced craftsmen there is still some very precise and fiddly bits of machining needed, and that is what drives the price. Consider the price difference between an anvil and a Rolls-Royce engine– they may weigh about the same, but there’s rather more effort gone into getting one to do what it does.
I am not, in fact, retracing any positions in this. A good pen is a good pen, in the end. A cheaper good pen is remarkable, and an expensive pen should be good. While I object to a “pen” that costs a mint and is not meant to be written with, I also object to anyone who cries out that a pen should never cost more than $5. “Cheap” and “good” are not equivalent terms. Not mutually exclusive, but not equivalent– no matter what certain monolithic retailers may say.
Today’s good pen: Parker 65 (just arrived Friday, and while not inexpensive in its day I will chortle a little at the price I paid)
Today’s inexpensive ink: Skrip blue-black