Since I find myself home sick, the natural consequence of looking after sickies last week, I’m going to write a more in-depth than (currently) usual entry with an eye to giving a decent showing on Tuesday… when this will be posted. Oh, time shifting, the modern vice!
I also find myself with a couple of recent purchases of pens of extremely modest cost, sops to the stylophilic monkey on my back while I await The Regular Job noticing that the local cost of living is going up a lot faster than the national average, or at least a certain gauntness overtaking the whole work force. Japan seems to have a thriving low-end fountain pen market, delving so far into territory usually occupied by ball-points, gel pens and markers that one finds disposable fountain pens there. This produces a certain amount of interesting action in the abyssal deeps just above the sea-floor of disposability, not unlike the synergistic striving on once saw between Wearever, Esterbrook, and some of the major North American makers’ less luminous offerings.
This striving is in essence an effort to offer a pen that’s cheap, but not so obviously cheap that it’s embarrassing. The two pens we’re looking at are part of this contest for the next-to-last pen dollar (or yen) a buyer has throw out. Johnny Voiceover, will you introduce the two kids for us?
Coming to us from the Tokyo-based Pilot company, here’s the little performer that’s taking the world by storm! MR, Cocoon, or Metropolitan, it’s the pen so nice they named it thrice!
Also from Tokyo, this funky little chap hails from the Platinum works, home of pens both cheap and costly; ladies and gentlemen, for your viewing pleasure, the Plaisir!
Both our plucky hopefuls are metal-bodied pens designed to fill from cartridges. They’re of much the same size, but the Platinum is substantially lighter– its cladding is aluminum rather than brass– so those who equate heaviness with value will find it wanting at first. In fact, the Metropolitan tends to take more points for its design than the Plaisir, with a more conventional section, lack of a silly cap band, and a rather smoother profile when capped.
Taking the caps off and getting ready to write, the contest begins to even out. Both pens are reliant on proprietary cartridges (unless you come from a market where the MR appears, in which case it accepts international cartridges). The Platinum cartridge holds about half-again as much as the Pilot, and the feed seems to charge rather more briskly in the Plaisir than in the Metropolitan. Having the cap off, one also runs up against the Metropolitan’s handling disadvantage– the smooth capped look calls for that step at the joint of which I have previously ranted about. Some people object to this sort of thing even more strongly than I (for me, it’s not a terrible problem with this Pilot) so for a quantity of users, the shape of that pen will rule it right out. These objectors will probably be balanced by those who abominate a transparent section, which I will admit does look a little squalid when some of the vanes are loaded with ink
Both pens use what is for their makers a pretty generic steel point. However, Pilot with its disposable Varsity has an even-lower end steel point than that which appears in its popular market pens– appearing also in the Petit 1, it’s little more than a clever stamping, and while it’s good enough, it looks catastrophically cheap. The Metropolitan thus gets a somewhat classier point, one might even say a “real” one. The Plaisir, meanwhile, is only a one step up from Platinum’s lowest rung, the Preppy (the corporate US site actually views the Plaisir as a modified Preppy), and they share what one might also describe as a clever stamping of a point. It’s slightly better in its finish than the bottom-end Pilot point, comparing well with that found in many Lamy models, but it is still a rather stiffer item than the Metropolitan offers. Neither has a lot of give to it, but the Metropolitan definitely offers a smoother ride.
You are probably getting the idea that I’m coming down in favour of the Metropolitan at this point, and you’re probably right, but I think I should point out that the contest was slightly fixed –oddities of pricing. In the Japanese market, the Cocoon sells for ¥3,150, and that seems a fair price point for it (using a very shorthand 100 Yen = 1 dollar exchange); it’s a nice pen, it comes with a converter, and it looks like it should last. The Plaisir, on the other hand, is offered for ¥1,000, and that is a definite bargain even if there isn’t an included converter– it may be five times the cost of a Preppy, but it’s got a substantial advantage in the looks department.
However, the experience for the North American buyer is different. Both these pens go for somewhere between $15 and $20, and when one finds both at a given outlet, it’s likely to be the Metropolitan that costs less by a dollar or two. Either Pilot is up to some lost-leader shenanigans of some sort, or Platinum is engaging in a bit of foot-shooting, because the difference comes right at the companys’ MSRPs– $18.75 for the Metropolitan, $22 for the Plaisir. Perhaps Pilot has developed teleportation technology, and they’re saving a bundle on shipping costs.
The conclusion, then, is that the pen that’s enjoying an artificial edge is the better one. Hardly surprising. If one is in Japan, I’d definitely suggest the Plaisir as a better value, in that the Cocoon is not (quite) three times better a pen, but in the North American context there’s little to suggest it other than the power of sitting quietly for long periods. One might, in fact, be well advised to snap up a Metropolitan before Pilot comes to its senses.
Today’s pen: Parker 50 Falcon
Today’s ink: Diamine Ochre