Pen Shopping at Appelboom Boston

When the time came to take the ride into Boston to visit the Appelboom pen shop I wondered if it was the right idea not to have a certain thing in mind. Knowing what you’re after can save deliberating over multiple choices that appeal in different ways. Not having a target already chosen can lead you to surprise yourself with something off the cuff. As it turned out, I did a lot of deliberating and I’m not sure if I did anything surprising.

First off, thanks to the MBTA commuter rail for not bothering to check tickets on the way in. I seldom travel into the city anymore, but one of the last times I did I bought a $14 round trip on my phone before boarding and only had tickets checked on one leg of the trip. That meant $7 spent for nothing. This time around I bought a one-way ticket as I entered the station and didn’t activate it. I’d wait for the conductor to ask for it. Turns out they never came through the car so I could save my single fare for the return leg later. It’s more of an annoyance that the T still can’t do basic things right, like fare collection, rather than being out $7 sometime last year. If the T ever gets things figured out and turned around in my lifetime it’ll be a miracle. At least nothing has caught fire this week. 

Once at Appelboom I took the time to peruse just about every fountain pen. There were many good-looking Leonardo models. The swirling chatoyant resins that look so pretty online are even better in person. A Furore in what I think was Smeraldo was quite nice. The one that truly caught my eye was a Momento Zero Grande Pura in blue. The semi-translucent matte finish in that color was especially attractive. However, I already have a Momento Zero I like very much so I saw no need to add another. I saw Piumas and La Dotta Studiorum from Scribo but, like Leonardo, I’ve already got a good one at home.

I told him we already got one.I told him we already got one.

There was a Sheaffer Legacy 2 in silver that looked good but when I held it in hand there was something about the shape of the feed and how it met the nib that looked off to my eye. Not in the sense that there was anything physically wrong with the pen, but visually I didn’t like that part of it. I think my place for a nice Sheaffer is further back in time, something like an old Balance or Triumph.

I spent some time handling the Visconti Opera Gold because I’ve been interested in it since they released some months back. It’s something of an in-between pen for Visconti. It has the vacuum filler, ink window, and hook safe cap but comes with a steel nib. Reviews I’ve seen say the nib writes well, though I still don’t feel especially confident with new Visconti nibs. That said, I was more interested in the size of the Opera Gold. It’s a big pen and I had concerns it would be heavy or unbalanced. It felt good in hand and seemed close in size to the Delta Write Balance I picked up recently. The gold-swirled resins look nice and I was impressed with the pen overall. Then came the price.

Most everything in the store is at or near MSRP. It’s odd to make the value judgments in your mind based on that figure versus the street price we’re used to seeing in our everyday browsing online, but that’s what brick and mortar shopping often asks in return for the chance to see items like this in person. This was true of the Opera Gold because many retailers have been running specials on it in the last month or so. It could be had for under $300 in at least one place I looked. For as much as I liked the Opera Gold, I didn’t see it being worth the asking price of over $400 in store. If it comes around on sale again somewhere I’ve already answered the main questions I had that gave me pause in the past, and that’s certainly worth something.

There was nothing from Pilot on hand that interested me, although I did grab another Plumix. I dropped one of my old ones on concrete and cracked the section. It didn’t have a nib or ink in it at the time, but I rendered it unusable all the same.  

There were several Montblancs to choose from. The standard Meisterstuck line is what it is and paying full price for one of those holds no appeal to me. There were some special editions, including the red Enzo Ferrari, but they were beyond my budget. The Baby was there. It’s cute and I suppose it’s novel in the current MB roster but I didn’t see what it could offer to stand out as a pocket pen for that kind of money. A gorgeous S.T. Dupont with what looked like maki-e style artwork called out but was also over my budget. (After double checking, I’m almost certain it was the Line D Gold Dust. A stunner.)

I found myself looking at Faber Castell Ambitions. I like their style but the absence of a real grip section and sharp-ish edge on the forward end of the barrel material didn’t feel like a good combination in hand. Also, the Ambition has a slip cap but the section, such as it is, where the cap seats is essentially a small cylinder offering very little tolerance for the cap approaching at anything less than straight on. I felt this could lead to catching the edge of the cap on the nib sooner or later if you weren’t paying full attention. A case of what looks good not necessarily being the most practical choice for everyday use. 

Then I noticed some Graf von Faber Castell Guilloche models, which I’ve never seen in person. I know Graf’s reputation for quality is strong, so I decided to look more closely at the Guilloche. 

Seeing them online in the past, I was somewhat put off by the shiny flared metal cap with a large hinged clip on the Guilloche and Classic. In hand, it was a different proposition. I was struck by how well it was finished and how the shine and shape made it stand out from other pens. Overall, the Guilloche is slim. The closest comparison I’d draw in size is to the Parker Sonnet Cisele, though the Cisele’s all metal body is heftier.

The section is smooth metal but I found it gripped just fine. The size and shape of how it tapers down and flares back out creates a nice place for my fingers to settle in. The pattern work on the barrel is neat as a pin. Everything on the Guilloche has a level of finish that I can’t assail. This was a pen that felt worth the price. 

At that moment I went back and forth on the aforementioned value judgment, knowing that I could go home and almost certainly find the exact same pen for a lower price online. I decided that if the pen feels 100% commensurate with the in-store price then it was worth supporting the store to buy there if you can afford it. If people don’t buy pens in a place like Appelboom then it may cease to be there and I would lament that absence far more than whatever the cash difference would have been in this case. Besides, I was already $7 ahead from the train ride in. 

What else did I find? There was a 50ml bottle of Sheaffer purple ink on sale at $6.50 so I had little choice but to buy it. I got a Platinum desk pen. This version, DP-800S, seems harder to find online in the past few years. It came with a Carbon black cartridge, which I think will be worth trying in another pen at some point. It turns out the desk pen fits a converter so I loaded it up with the Sheaffer ink and now I have the finest purple lines in town. 

The final item was a Paperblanks notebook. I looked at these last time I was at Appelboom but didn’t know much about the paper quality so I passed. On seeing them again this trip I did a quick search to verify the GSM of some that didn’t have it labeled. With that detail sorted out, it was a case of choosing the right cover. I must have spun the rack for 10 minutes taking in all the choices. I decided on the Shankha design, lined, in the 5”x7” midi size.

I made a note of the place and date of purchase on the bottom of the last page. I’ve found this is a good way to test notebooks with non-removable pages if you’re not sure about the paper’s compatibility with fountain pens. If the paper’s good, you’re all set. If it’s not fountain pen friendly then all you’ve done is make one small reference line at the end. You could still give the notebook to someone without it feeling used, or sell it with disclosure to the buyer so they’re not surprised. 

On the train back out of town, some of the money considerations tried to creep back into my mind, wanting me to second guess myself and undermine the choice to buy the Guilloche. No, I told them. If I couldn’t live with the cost, I wouldn’t have paid it. This is discretionary spending in my primary hobby, after all. This is meant to be fun. I won’t be haggled with over enjoying my day.

10 August 2023