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Archive for August 6th, 2013

Cheap Dates

Posted by Dirck on 6 August, 2013

Yesterday’s absence was the result of the long weekend in honour of “Remember When There Was No Long Weekend In August Day” (that’s the old name, which I’ve chosen to stick with).  While it didn’t given me a real chance to catch up on my sleep, having offered me yet another migraine trigger (delicious Australian-style raspberry licorice, alas), it did give me a chance to get my thoughts on a couple of similar pens in as close an approach to order as my thoughts are capable.

When I say “similar”, I really mean it:

Sheaffer VFM (jump to profile)

Pilot Metropolitan (jump to profile)

They are so similar when viewed at a distance like this that I was somewhat suspicious of the origins of the Metropolitan.  The VFM is, to some extent, an out-of-house product for Sheaffer and while speculation was pointing towards China as its origin, when Pilot introduced its new pen I was reminded of Sheaffer’s known history of collaborating with Japanese makers.  The general silhouette (moreso when capped, but dummy didn’t take enough pictures), the nearly cap-length clip, the roughly $15 price-tags… suspicion wasn’t entirely groundless.  However, as you can tell even with pictures of the pens side-by-each, they’re not quite the same size nor shape, and there are other little points of difference that wipe away that ugly notion of Pilot competing against Sheaffer with the same design.

The primary functional difference is in the ink reservoirs.  Sheaffer, contrary to every other model it’s currently offering, has gone with the readily-available international short, while Pilot is using its own proprietary cartridge, which does not have anything like the same market penetration– I’ve seen pictures, and I usually find one with any new Pilot pen I buy, but that’s it.  I’m sure you can find them in a store somewhere other than Japan.  This is something of an advantage for the VFM, but that advantage is wiped out in that the Metropolitan arrives with that lonely cartridge in the box and a converter already in place in the section.  It’s the same skeletal squeeze converter as in the 78G, and no doubt quite cheap to produce, but it opens up the world of bottled inks which the VFM can only force its way into if the owner has a small syringe to apply to empty cartridges.

Both caps cling to the pen using the popular modern clicking mechanism, about which I’ve previous raised my own slightly-founded doubts, but the mounting points are rather different.  The Sheaffer, as is the common standard these days, grabs onto the very end of the section, and there’s nothing wrong with that– today’s pen, a rather grander specimen, does the same thing, and without even the VFM’s little reinforcing ring.  The Pilot goes its own way on this, though.  The silver collar at the bottom of the section is what the cap latches onto, and that is not part of the section– it’s attached to the barrel.  For those who get worried about the multiplicity of loose parts drifting around during the filling cycle, this means that the cap and barrel can be positively united into a single element.  I’m not in that camp, but as a traditionalist, I’m a little more at ease with the notion of cap-barrel joining than cap-section– it’s where almost all screw-cap pens do their thing, and we like what we’re used to.

If I were suggesting a cheap pen to someone, I’d probably lean more towards the Pilot than the Sheaffer, as much as that pains me.  The converter, the slightly less loopy colour schemes (I know the VFM comes in other than “Maximum Orange”, but several of those other colours are pretty aggressive), and that cap business all push it over the top.  This is a very slight lean, though, because I woudn’t be surprised to hear that the Metropolitan shares the 78G’s inclination towards dryness, as it also shares a feed with that model; mine isn’t thus afflicted, but it seems a likely bet.  There’s also decoration on the side of the Pilot’s clip which make it into a little Art Deco wing that delight me unreasonably.

That hedged recommendation aside, though, I’m very happy that there’s now some big-brand competition going on in the shallow-pocket end of the pen pool.  Anything that increases the chances of fountain pens returning to some vestige of their former popularity is a positive good, and an alternative to disposables like the Varsity and dubious objects as Hero sometimes utters is definitely a step in that direction.

Today’s pen: Waterman Harmonie
Today’s ink: Herbin Poussiére de Lune

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