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Downing Several Fifths

Posted by Dirck on 27 December, 2012

The title might well refer to the state of perpetual tipsiness my parents aim to induce in their sons during the festival of festive festivities. In fact, I’m almost tempted to stop right here, and I won’t take it amiss if the reader says, “Aw, parentally endorsed drunkeness… how sweetly traditional!” and moved on to some other blog.

Shortly before Christmas, I got the 2013 catalogue from the Fountain Pen Hospital.  This is a large magazine of a publication, similar in its dimensions and glossiness to National Geographic, and I will digress so far as to mention that such a heap of paper is put together and sent out to them what asks for free is very happily suggestive of the seaworthiness of the Fountain Pen Hospital’s economic ship.

The National Geographic analogy is also applicable in that, if you use the term with whimsy firmly in place, it acts as a source of covert pornography for a certain fraction of the population.  Applicable, although requiring a little imaginative energy to maintain; ol’ Yellow Back, in this era of internet and cable TV, is no longer really a prime source for frustrated teen boys anxious to discover what topless women look like, and the catalogue is feeding a different sort of lust entirely.  Rather than showing pictures of people in distant lands engaging in aprication, the Fountain Pen Hospital Catalogue presents pictures of pens from distant lands engaging in the lifting of price-tags.  I’m not blaming FPH for the prices, mind you; apart from having to pay their way in the high-priced precincts of Gotham, they’re mostly just passing on the MSRP.  However, because of the stratospheric numbers on some of those prices, the chances of people like… well, me ever getting them is much the same as a visit to Opus T. Penguin’s retirement home on the Planet of Back-Rubbing Bikini Babes (the reader may insert whatever ridiculously sexist sphere they wish, of course).  Thus, for tantalizing without the least chance of consummation: pornography.

There is, however, some rather offensive material in the latest installation of this catalogue, and since part of the reason for this little screed of mine is to complain bitterly about stuff the bugs me, I’m going to share with the world.  I do not complain about the $5,900 Krone Winston Churchill limited edition on the back page, which is frankly less silly-looking than a lot of that company’s similarly priced output.  Nor am I any more than amused at the Sailor 100th anniversary pen going for $11,900.  However, turning to the Parker page, I find offense and dismay struggling for supremacy.

I gave what I think is a reasonable first glance at Parker’s “5th Mode” pen a little over a year ago.  Since then, others have been chiming in, and the general thought (so far as I can distill diverse and frequently contradictory voices into a single message) is that it’s nice enough to write with, it may a good thing for someone that can’t put up with the demands of fountain pen but want a really nice-looking and quite smooth-writing pen, but the refills are still foolishly pricey and quick to empty.  Parker’s managing magi apparently thing the 5th Mode is a must have, and from the perspective of the English-speaking world it’s now somewhat hard to discover any other sort of pen on the company’s website; we’re told by our fellows on the fora that Asian markets still find Parker admitting to the previous four modes, but for we anglophones it’s largely an exercise in “looking at hipsters kissing fake fountain pens,” to paraphrase one of the commentaries.

Thus, I find in the FPH catalogue that in addition to the original Ingenuity, a 5th Mode version appears for the IM, Urban and Sonnet.  Fair enough, one might say, and with a reservation I agree.  That reservation lies in the price.  The Ingenuity continues to be a $160 to $190 item.  The Sonnet is listed at $210, while the fountain pen version lies at $215, but the rollerball is down at $125.  The IM in 5th Mode goes for $80, which is $28 more than the fountain pen, and the Urban at $100 has the biggest differential as the fountain pen version is $64.

Why does this bug me?  Because, as much as I can smile and forgive those multi-thousand dollar pens, I can do so only because there’s some notion of craftsmanship around the back of those ridiculous prices helping to prop them up.  I hate to throw stones at the venerable zombie of the Parker Pen Company, but to suggest that a pen is worth roughly 30% more because this…

...a mere press-formed bit of tin...

…a mere press-formed bit of tin…

…replaces a precision-tooled feed and a point that must meet with certain necessary tolerances to work at all offends me more than I can politely express.  It’s like picking up the Nat. Geo. in hopes of finding a little innocent titillation, and finding instead a cannibal’s butcher shop.  So, I denounce them, I cast them down, and I join those on the fora who worry that Parker is about to sacrificed stupidly by its current masters.

Today’s pen: TWSBI Vac 700
Today’s ink: Mont Blanc royal blue

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