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Weird workhorses: four loud pens for everyday use
when you can’t plan to get weird
It’s easy to be extra on occasion; you know you’re going to want to use one of your stranger pens for a specific purpose, so you plan for it and bring it along, often in a case that goes in a pocket far, far away from your keys. “Today,” you say, “is the day to use this pen that looks like a parrot, for today I am signing mortgage documents.”
But what about everyday use? Are there pens that make regulars stop and say “uh what is that” while still being the kind you can throw into a pocket or purse without worrying about it too much?
Yes—and that’s what this list covers. To make this list, a pen must be:
Extra. Either weird colors or a weird shape or some other feature that makes normals stop and ask what you’re using. Are you writing with a tiny egg?1 Yes.
Durable. It can take a reasonable beating, meaning it’s either going to be made of metal or have such a busy design that you wouldn’t notice cosmetic scratches, just in case you didn’t learn your lesson after that time you dropped a Starwalker on concrete.
Accessible. It’s in production, not a limited edition, and either accessibly priced or the kind that you can get on sale—all so that you can use it frequently without anxiety about what would happen if you break or lose it.
Quality. Not too expensive, but not too cheap either—it’s a workhorse because you aren’t worried about it leaking in your pocket.
Best weird workhorse, all-around: BENU Scepter
Most of BENU’s current line could go here. The Talisman is a great, reliable pen with absolutely bonkers color schemes; I have recently been using the Skull ‘n Roses virtually every day as a roller; the Parrot (retired) is one of the best pens ever; and of course I have a glow-in-the-dark Euphoria because hey shut up I don’t know.2
But I’m going with the Scepter as the one that looks least like a pen and yet somehow writes comfortably and reliably over and over again. I bought this one for the weird shape and it was a genuine surprise to see how comfortable it is for long writing sessions. It’s made of resin, but the unusual shape and very busy design means mine still looks good even after a couple years of use, including earlier today when I flung it off of a bar-height table in my kitchen definitely on purpose for testing reasons.
Best weird workhorse, pocket pen: Kaweco AL Stonewashed Sport/Opus88 Fantasia (tie)
Like everyone, I have a bunch of Kaweco Sports. Unlike everyone, I have the Stonewashed Sport, the Robin Sparkles of the Kaweco line.
In my defense, I did not choose this; it chose me. I got it in a subscription box, hated it immediately, but still find myself using it over and over again.
Here’s why: the stonewashing gives this pen a really nice soft texture; it feels like the soft-touch coating that comes on high-end plastic appliances and accessories, but without the part where that coating eventually degrades and just turns your item into a revolting lint magnet. The stonewashing also means you can throw this pen into a pocket with a whole bunch of loose junk and it’ll be fine, as that’s the look. I wouldn’t have bought this on my own, but I’m actually really glad I have it.
The Opus88 Fantasia has a lot going on in a small body. It’s a fat little pen with a transparent body and a matte ebonite cap, which has a really interesting feel. You’ll have to be a little more careful with it than the Stonewashed Sport, but it’s an eyedropper filler with a shut-off valve that stops the flow of ink between the reservoir and the feed, meaning it holds a huge amount of ink but you can take it on a plane without worrying that you have to carry it right-side up.
This is a particularly great feature because not worrying about a fountain pen leak lets you focus all your neurotic travel energy on obsessing about what would happen if you watch one of the horror movies that the airline provides in the little TVs and there’s a surprisingly gross scene on your little TV right when the flight attendant comes and they’re like “whoa sir what is wrong with you” and you say “wait you guys pick the movies” and they’re like “yes and this one was a test that YOU FAILED” and you are banned from flying for life by the federal sky wizard so instead you end up watching Air Bud 13: Who Let the Dogs Out.
Best weird workhorse, italic writing/headings: Lamy Dialog 3 w/Joy nib
The Dialog 3 is the pen that Lamy conveniently forgets about whenever they get on their high horse about practical design. It’s a pen made for people who want a retractable fountain pen because it seems like a practical idea but then decide the “practical” part is not as important as “looks like a tiny space submarine.”
I am that type of person.
To explain: most retractable fountain pens open and close with a button at the back of the pen, which means they can be conveniently and quickly operated with one hand. The Dialog 3 rejects that design by twisting to open, just like virtually every regular fountain pen that has a cap.
But: it’s a complicated mechanical pen that looks like a tiny space submarine, which explains why I own a Dialog 3 and no other retractable pens. Moreover, of all my Lamy pens this is the only one I consistently use because it is the best Lamy.
The Dialog 3 comes with a gold nib and is normally far more expensive than would get on this list, but it has been around for so long that finding someone unloading theirs or a retailer trying to get you in the door on Black Friday is achievable, I think; I got mine a couple years ago with a deep enough discount that I feel comfortable including it here.
Is this a good pen for long writing sessions? Not really. It’s heavy and long and trying to write with the included nib for regular writing was a fail for me. Swapping it out with a 1.9mm stub from a Lamy Joy calligraphy pen, however, turned this into a pen I use almost every day for headings in my journal and notes and for practicing italic calligraphy—the size and weight helps me with control there. It’s also fun to watch the mechanism work if you want to shut your brain off for a while.
Your Turn: Discussion Questions
What are your go-to pens, weird category?
Do you agree the Dialog is the best Lamy? If not, where would you like to meet to fight?
Are they still making Air Bud movies?
Forthcoming. No, it’s not a Tombow Egg. I don’t know what the brand is but it looks like one of those robin egg chocolates they sell around Easter time.
Also forthcoming. I have to space out my BENU and Montegrappa features or else that’s all this blog would be.