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Thoughts on Deconstructing the Major Pen Manufacturers I
A reply to John Morgan's first article
from the fountain pen of Michael Richter

Comparing the models of the big pen companies and trying to rate their overall appearance and might lead to some serious discussions and is indeed a very interesting topic.

Well here is my take:

I just wrote down a couple of thoughts regarding pens comparing to each others, their prices and the German market for modern fountain pens and, as you mentioned their future.

From performance I can rate some from own experience.

First you mention the Sheaffer Legacy which really counts as one of the best modern pens and definitely is the top model of the line.

The Sheaffer Legacy I was priced in (Germany) for around 200 US $ (at that time 450 DM) which was really a good price for such a pen (I bought mine for brand new 100 - 110 US $).

The Legacy II was (and still is) 550 DM ( well in Euro now of course ) which is around 245 US $ and is still a goof buy; referring to its superb writing qualities.

A similar Montblanc Meisterstück Le Grand would be more expensive.

A Pelikan M 800 is about the same price I think.

If you compare the Legacy to Parkers top of the line model (which would have been the Duofold so far - I don't know about the Eclipse yet), the price difference is Germany is not as big. The International size sold for around 215US $ and the International size for 260 US $ (while the de lux version is 45 US $ more expensive) - so they do compete directly with each other.

I haven't really seen or tried the Eclipse yet, so I cannot comment on that pen, but from the data-sheet it would compare to the Legacy even better than the Duofold.

I had no problems with my modern Duofolds so far but heard from different believable sources of flow problems.

It's really interesting to see that the price difference in the US is much bigger between both two models and I don't really see a reason (for the customer and user) to spend that much more for the Duofold (the company could argue with the manufacturing process for turning the acrylic body of the Duofold being more expensive than the lacquered or electroplated brass construction of the Legacy - but I really don't know about that! and if this would be the case why are they of similar price in Germany than?).

The Sonnet is hard to fit into a category because of its many different finishes and nibs (just like the Sheaffer Targa which was available from around 40 US $ up to 4000 US $ in solid gold), but is also a reasonable offer in it's "normal" lacquered version with gold nib, but somehow seems to miss the status of a Duofold or Legacy simply because of size (I think of the China lacquered versions very highly and as top of the line pens, but it stays a smaller medium sized pen)

If you take a look at Waterman as a competing company, prices are are not as easy to justify I think.

What Waterman pen would you compare the Legacy/Duofold to?

Well the Carène fountain pen is a little bit smaller than both of the above pens, but has a 18kt gold nib, too, so being priced at around 125 US $ in Germany (compared to 200 US $ in the US) it's a pretty pen for a good price (even if it has not the size and status as a Legacy or Duofold).

The next in line (not looking at the new Charlston nor the older MAN 100/200) would be the Liason for 270 US $ (compared to 340 US $ ) which is a bigger pen with a plastic or hardrubber over brass construction.

I don't really see a reason (beside paying for a superb design) why to pay 440 US $ ( 600 US $ in the US ) for the Sérinèté (Waterman argues that it needs a lot more efforts and work (costs more money) to make and polish the curved body of the pen but I'm really not sure about that !!!).

It seems that the next model in line, the Edson also seems to take a special place being priced at 622 US $ (US: 795 $). Maybe the double wanded body or the so called "ink engine" (nobody really could explain to me how this really works) need more work, but does it justify such a big price difference?

I'm really having a tough time to find the right model to compete the Waterman models too!

The new Sheaffer Intrigue would easily compete against the Waterman Carène I think (The Intrigue now is strangely enough far more expensive than in the US - the fountain pen does cost 200 US $ compared to 140 in the US, leaving a price difference of only 45 US $ in Germany to the Legacy, which would make me recommend the Legacy over the Intrigue because of it's writing qualities being far more bigger than 45 US$ - with the US price difference of 135 you really have to think about that and maybe choose the Intrigue).

While I would prefer the Intrigue (because it's slightly bigger and has a cool filling system) to the Carène, but would recommend the Carène to somebody else over the Intrigue because of its big price difference to the Intrigue in Germany!

Maybe the Sonnet fits in this category better!

Some other pens are pretty reasonable priced in Germany as well, as e.g. the Lamy 2000 which makes a superb writer (if you're able to hold it comfortable, which I really cannot, unfortunately) with great looks and is priced almost "really cheap" at 75 US $ for the plastic and 155 US $ for the 2000 Edition in stainless steel compared to what Lamy charges in the US ( US $ 145 in the US ) - I paid 55 US $ and 108 US $ for both of the models at a pens store - which makes it the most affordable pen with a semi flexible 14kt golf nib!

All Lamy pens are of good quality and sell pretty good in Germany (mostly lower priced models as the Safari (which is really expensive in the US, too) or the ST line).

Aurora has some pretty good pens at reasonable prices (Talentum for 128 US $ compared to 195 $ in the US) or an Optima.

Omas prices went higher and higher the last years, but quality issues and the mentioned raising prices resulted in almost all pen stores selling out there Omas pens without ordering new ones !

I don't really want to discuss Montblanc pens here because they still seem to be a bigger status symbol compared to other brands. I think some models are just to expensive (they kept raising there prices over the years also!!!), but they are not as bad either as some pen folks like to point out (I really had serious problems with MB pens also, but I must mention I had some Sheaffer pens also which just wouldn't write).

Pelikan is also a company which makes great reliable products at reasonable prices (I don't know how prices compare here and I heard that the new US distributor dropped some prices as well) and stays at the top list of pens I would recommend for both price and quality.

I'm a big Sheaffer fan myself, and I have to see that this brand almost totally disappeared from the German market after many distributor changes (one of the recent distributors didn't deliver ordered new products for almost two years, so the stores and many warehouses got tired of this brand )

They won't even order new Sheaffer products from its new distributor which finally seems to be a good one, so I'm afraid right now there are no big chances for Sheaffer in Germay so far (I really hope for the better, but I actually don't believe in it).

I was very positively surprised on a stay in France that even very small towns would offer a big selection of Parker, Waterman and Sheaffer products (even the more expensive models) - and again compared to Germany prices very much higher!

For the Fountain pen user (not as pen collectors) I see only Waterman, Cross, Pelikan, Lamy and Montblanc really competing on the market (Parker is presented very underrated in the higher priced section in Germany - you're having a hard time to find a store offering the Duofold line or the more expensive Sonnet models).

I have no experiences so far with Cross pens, but to me they also seem very reasonable priced and I haven't heard (serious) complaints about this brand and Cross products are widely available.

One thing I'm trying to say with this (very) long reply is that it seems from my point of view that the pen manufactures try to position a pen on the market by it's price (which does not always reflect the quality or value in my opinion).

The price difference of pens in Germany and the US is most likely connected to the currency and to what people earn in their country, but it's interesting to see that price differences between some models in one country are differing a lot from price differences in another country! which seems to tell me that I'm not that wrong with my above mentioned theory.

Regarding your thoughts about the fountain pens' future in common, I also see Shaeffer in a transitional position to a more modern company with fewer, selected products (which must not be what a fountain pen collector wants) - but as mentioned above - not in Germany so far.

Parker seems to be disappeared from the higher priced section in most pen stores in Germany since a couple of years, and I don't know if this will change in the near future. Only lower priced models as the Vector or Reflex which are really very reliable writing instruments. Changes which become slowly visible browsing through there newer products aren't visible on the German market yet.

Waterman really had some striking new models and is seen more often now in the higher priced area ( I must say now I really find most Waterman models very appealing, compared to some years ago I wouldn't really find a pen in the catalogue I'd really have liked, except for the Edson and MAN) and is doing great work with their products. Just the pricing policy might be confusing not only to the more common customer (explain to a "NON" pen enthusiast who just wants a writing/working fountain pen to use, why a Edson costs 5.3 times as much as a Carène). Waterman sells some really popular and quality products in the lower price segment.

Omas almost plays a negligable role on the German market and seems that LVHM (the company owning Omas) wants to place it in the absolute luxury section but has no big success so far.

Aurora seems to gain popularity in Germany and is seen in few stores since a couple of years now, but doesn't get the customers acceptance it should deserve so far.

Lamy stays the market's leader so far with everything priced lower than the 2000 (I remember reading somewhere, that the Accent is the best selling fountain pen over 25 US $ in Germany ) and on the "students" and "everyday user without having a really abnormal passion for pens" sector, also with writing modes being different from the fountain pen. The 2000 for sure and thinking some higher priced models like the Lady and maybe even Persona sell pretty good, too, to customers who want something more "expensive".

Pelikan remains as one of the most popular pens and I think deserves this, too.

Cross as well seems to be one of the leading (ballpoint-) pen selling brands and gained a lot of market with the introduction of the ATX. The whole marketing is very future orientated and I'm pretty sure will succeed over the near future.

I don't really know about Rotring, Dipomat and Senator, but I'm sure they will have their share in the lower and medium priced section also (at least in Germany).

Montblanc seems to sell well, too (I can't remember if the Meisterstück 144 is on second or third place of the most often sold pen over 25 US $ in Germany, and that is a really over priced little pen, I think!) regardless of higher and higher prices. The Bohème model did good here. MB tries to be sold separately from other company as a definite luxury products ( MB wishes to sell over it's boutiques only, one could think).

Introduction of many different "non" pen related products like watches, cuff-links, jewellery, perfume and so on... seems to be a proof that MB wants to be seen as luxury company selling also pens rather than the pen company selling luxurious pens/products.

There seem to be enough rich people who are willed to pay a premium for such products s far.

True fountain pen enthusiasts seem to react for sensible on such changes (but they aren't as much of us to have a company change their marketing).

The overall future of the higher priced fountain pen seems not as shiny as we would wish.

The big boom of the classic fountain pen of the early to mid 90's seems to have slowed down massively and everybody seems to have a fountain pen now (well of course not everybody, most of us will never have enough pens :-) - I'm talking of the "normal" user), so stores sold less higher priced pens recently if you ask them.

I'm really curious myself what the future will bring us (near future will hopefully bring us some great new pens from the Frankfurt Paper World which starts this weekend), but I'm sure there still will be more nice pens out there than we can afford and just think about all those great vintage pens....mmhhhh.

Maybe this thoughts went into a different direction as intended by Johan, but still might give you an overview, how I would rate the German market and some pen companies (!!!Only regarding their modern products!!!).

There are many, many great pen making companies out there I didn't mention, not because they are not important to me, but they don't have a big share on the market.

Have some nice pens and ink

Michael Richter

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