What's up at Ravens March.

Vintage pens-Handmade books-Silly statements

Number Crunching

Posted by Dirck on 21 March, 2013

While Mother Nature is celebrating the start of spring by closing most of the roads in the immediate area, I am having a quieter observance.  I’m swapping my desk pen, and (with some lamentation over the lack of brass instruments and old fellows in ermine robes) retiring the Official Regular Job Ink Bottle.  This is the Pelikan Royal Blue that I made such a meal of tracking down somewhat over a year ago, which is not, in fact, quite empty but which is close enough for starting a fresh ink with the fresh pen.  For those who are concerned, the new Official Bottle is Diamine Denim, which is why I went with the link to that particular bunch of ermine robes above rather than some Pope-related item.

This change-over gives me a data point I hadn’t really been thinking about, and I’m going to use it to hang myself.  Just at the moment (although, for reasons to follow, an editing is in the offing), I have this to say under the heading of why one wants to use a fountain pen:

They are also an efficient use of money, if you aren’t driven by vanity to spend a pile of money on a flashy pen.  I’m not the only one to suggest this, but a fountain pen well looked-after holds its value.  In terms of use, let us consider a $40 pen and the ink it requires– which we may call $2.50 each year for moderate amounts of writing and non-boutique ink.  In twenty years, you’ve spent $90 on writing, and still have the pen you started with.  If you decide you don’t like it any more, you can sell it (although you might not yet call it “vintage”) and get between $20 and $40 dollars for it– a pen that has been looked after resists depreciation quite well– and thus have spent perhaps as little as $50 on ten or so bottles of ink over two decades of writing stuff down.  Call it 5¢ a week if you sell that pen, 9¢ a week if you hang onto it… but that will drop over the next twenty years.  Combine that with the previously-mentioned advantages of fountain pens (feeding the spirit and keeping the joints in a state where writing continues to be possible), and it’s hard to defend not spending the money for a fountain pen.

…which was written using the famous internet technique of “making up numbers out of thin air”.  Now, however, I can make up some numbers with at least a little bit of reality for leavening, some definable bits of meat amongst the bread-crumbs and saw-dust of wishful thinking.  I’ve put a tiny hint of foreshadowing in to spoil the rhetoric of this question, but shall we see if I was anything like correct?

I will start, though, with a bit of an estimate to throw off the utility of what follows.  I have, if we include idle weekends and vactions (which have been balanced out by occasional making-away-with of some ink in other pens) 444 days of use out of the current bottle.  Given how much is left in it, for the comfort of calculation, I will estimate now that day 500 would see the bottle empty and the last drop of ink either on paper or inextricably caught in the feed of a pen.  It’s not perfect, but it’s close enough for current purposes.

500 days on an $8.99 bottle =1.7¢ per day on the ink.  That’s also .0125 ml of ink per day, or 0.000 003 gallons, which means that I’m getting pretty good mileage.  In my “makin’ it up” example, I’m looking at weeks, so doing the multiplication gives 11.9¢/week on the ink.

Pens vary, but lets use $60 as the average if I’d found one and stuck to it.  The desk pen I’ve had the longest I’ve had for 7 years, so $8.57/year so far, 16.5¢/week, 2.4¢/day (and yes, there is some rounding off happening; we’ll all have to live with it).

Oops!  Rather than the 9¢/week I’d previously estimated, I’m up to slightly under 30¢.  I’m happy enough with that, since there’s the intangible aspect of doing my work writing with a fountain pen; greater (or more protracted) than the joy I derive from a chocolate bar, which are up above $1 each, and not as likely to occlude an artery… especially since I can’t picture having only one chocolate bar in a week.

But that’s just a year.  Let’s try that 20 year cycle from my example, and see what happens.  I’m going to adjust my numbers a little; one of the reasons I chose Diamine is because the bigger bottle is also a more efficient purchase ($8.99  /62.5 ml = 14.4¢ /ml for Pelikan, versus about the almost exactly $11/80 ml of Diamine shipped direct from England = 13.75¢).  So a week of Diamine will run me roughly 11.4¢.  Twenty years of that is $118.56 and we’ll thank Mr. Inflation to keep his seat.  We know you’re here, sir, but you complicate things too much.

Ink mounts up, but pens amortize.  That $60 pen over twenty years gets all the way down to 5.8¢ per week, so I’m still high on my weekly conception– 17.2¢ a week rather than my 9¢.  Still, factor in that contentment element, the potential to sell the pen along and get back that decades long string of nickels, and I’m still of the opinion that the fountain pen is far and away the best buy in the writing game.

You mileage may vary, of course.

Today’s pen (which, if a newer example, is down to costing about 1/10¢ per day looking at the original purchase price): Esterbrook LJ with a 2284 point
Today’s ink (oh, enough numbers): Quink black

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