The $4600 Pen

The $4600 Pen

For those who’ve read my past posts, you know I want this pen. I imagine the price tag derives from the cost of materials and workmanship. The pen’s body is made of resin from a 4,600 year-old bristlecone pine named Matsuo on the southern side of Mt. Fuji where it is extracted by hand by the ancient artist who is the reincarnation of another ancient artist who was the first to call upon the Gods to bless his work by calling, “O divine forces which govern our land. . . .”

And the gods said, “‘Sup?”

Not really. The artists and pen masters are just the best of the best. They are meticulous craftsmen with decades of experience, they love their work, and the pens they sell reflect their labor. Not one of them is less than $450. Here’s more about the $4,600 pen, from its description on Nakaya’s website:

The background was done by “‘Togi-dashi’ (polishing) Maki-e, gold fishes were done by “Taka-maki-e”, [or the] heaping up technique. [The] tail of goldfishes have shading off (“bokashi”) technique.”

From the parent company of Nakaya, here is the production process of Maki-e pens using those techniques. The process takes months of meticulous work lacquering over gold and silver powders, buffing the layers so that the color shines through, and repeating this over and over again until the product is complete.

Okay, cool. But it’s a pen. How does it write?

This handwritten review of Nakaya nibs says, quote:

“The Nakaya nib is something that I’ve always heard raves about too, and it is unlike any nib I have used. This is the stock 14k Ruthenium plated EF nib. It is so smooth, taking only a feather touch to move the nib across the page. You can barely feel the nib, but oddly enough, you can hear it. It is like nothing I have ever experienced and it is hard to explain.”

The best pen I have ever used was a borrowed Pelikan M600 with a medium nib. It skated frictionlessly over the paper, showing off my handwriting and the ink beautifully. That pen retails for $450-$500 online. The cheaper models in the line start around $120. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to write with a Nakaya, even with the description.

The point is, the pen takes prodigious amounts of time, effort, skill, and precisely-placed amounts of precious material to make, for an extremely niche market comprised of people who demand more than basic utility, and made by craftsmen who went above and beyond that demand. That’s why it’s so darn expensive.

The price is really about the only practical reason I shouldn’t buy this pen, but it’s a damn good reason. What does this say about me that I want this ridiculous thing? That I am seriously considering buying it when I can? That I have produced this four page essay on the nuances of buying things just for the joy of having them?  

Here are my meditations on the joy things bring me.

I have a hat which I bought at Organ Pipe National Monument. It symbolizes a wonderful two-week trip, it fits well, it works well, it’s has an embroidered Gambel’s Quail on it, which is the coolest bird. . . . It seems impossible to covet the things you already own, but I covet that hat because I think it is just so cool.

I was a little worried to admit coveting the $4600 pen because it comes dangerously close to admitting that I’m materialistic. I’m not so afraid to admit it about the hat, because the hat was about $20, is an ordinary object which you might have yourself, or know several people who do own a similar object, and blocks the sun’s rays and shields my eyes. I’m proud of owning such a useful and cool thing. Why proud? Does owning the hat say my taste in hats is superior? That I am aware of sun protection? Will others covet the hat too? Why is it more or less materialistic to be the proud owner of a $20 hat produced by the gift shop of Organ Pipe National Monument than to be the proud owner of a $4600 pen produced by traditionally trained artisans of Japan?

I don’t have an answer to many of these questions. What I do know is that ownership of the hat makes me happy. It’s useful, it looks good, I like the way it feels and smells (like coconut sunscreen and sweat), it makes me nostalgic, and it marks an important point in my life. This pride feels like a form of joy. I’m supposed to find more pleasure in the trip experience itself, and I do. The hat would probably be worthless if I didn’t go on the trip, and if I never bought the hat, I would still remember that trip fondly. Owning the hat “sparks joy” so to speak.

So what about the pen? Why should I buy it?

  • It will be a memento of the first novel I cut my teeth on as a writer. The novel features a giant magical goldfish, who can split into hundreds of tiny goldfish, and who ferries the protagonist across a primordial void. I can’t imagine a more perfect symbol of that first novel than a fountain pen called, “Friendly Goldfish.”
  • It’s beautiful. Come on.
  • It is widely know to be a fantastic writer.
  • It will hold its value or increase.
  • I appreciate the craftsmanship that went into it.
  • I want it and know I will cherish it for the above reasons.

But why shouldn’t I?

  • I could buy enough Bic Roundstics to last my entire writing career, and several other writers’ careers instead of buying this pen!
    • $4,600 pen/($2.19 per 12-pack/12 Bic Roundstics) = 25,205.5 Bic Roundstics! And the gods said, “LOL.”

I could go on enough frugal, budgeted road trips to write novels for the rest of my life instead of buying this pen! I could buy enough toner to print those novels at home! I could buy all of the other fountain pens I want at once with change to spare for ink and paper to last the rest of my life!

Yes, I could spend the money I spend on fountain pens to go on a short weekend trip; experiences make for more lasting happiness than things. But there’s no reason things can’t enhance our experiences. The secret to buying things rather than experiences is to spend money where you spend your time. For example, mattresses. You spend a third of your life sleeping, and a good sleep has a huge impact on your daily life. So you ought to buy a good mattress, even if it seems like a splurge. Another example are my blue-blocker glasses. I need to use the computer daily to write, edit, email, entertain myself, whatever, for hours at a time. So that the computer doesn’t hurt my eyes so much, I’ve used a variety of apps that lower the brightness or change the color. These glasses work better than all of those methods, and to boot, they’re prescription, came with clip on sunglasses, a case, and a cleaning cloth, and I got them on sale. I’m glad I spent the money on these glasses. These glasses and that hat are my examples of things that enhance my experience of daily life.

To me, writing is an experience, a profession, a community activity, and an art form, which fountain pens enhance. Fountain pens are fun to write with, talk about, and tinker with. I use fountain pens every day for hours at a time to write first drafts, to edit, to brainstorm, and write letters to my friends. It matters to me that they are good pens, because I want to enjoy writing as a physical activity as well as a mental one. My fountain pens perform better and last much longer than disposable pens, and save me time and money because I won’t have to rebuy pens which will eventually be plastic waste in the end. Considering how much I write, I consider good fountain pens bargains.

Then again, a bargain isn’t a bargain unless you actually use the product. I keep coming back to the price tag, as I should. I’m aware how needlessly indulgent, fiscally irresponsible, and plain stupid it is to buy a pen– to buy anything other than perhaps a used car or a few months rent– this expensive. It would seem stupid to anyone not in the fountain pen hobby to spend $15 on one of the most affordable entry-level pens, the Pilot Metropolitan. Even serious collectors blanch at the cheapest Nakaya. $150 is a common rule of thumb within the fountain pen community. It’s the point in which you see diminishing returns on writing quality of any given pen, and anything higher is really just aesthetics. Am I really going to pay $4450 on aesthetics? What if I’m too scared to use the Nakaya? What if I like looking at it, but not using it? What if I don’t like looking at it, but love using it? In addition, I get a lot of joy from buying, trading, and selling my pens online. There’s a core of pens that I use daily and will not consider selling. Will the Nakaya join the core? Considering all that goes into the Nakaya, and my habits, needs, and personal preferences, is the Nakaya a bargain?

Luckily I don’t have to answer that question yet. If I’m going to buy the pen, it will be at a financially secure time of my life that has also engendered a reason to buy a $4,600 pen, such as marking a special occasion in my writing career, such as an award, or achieving long-term financial stability. It might take years to get to this point. Maybe during that time I will decide it isn’t worth it, or will have a new, less expensive pen to lust for. Maybe I will find that lusting after the Nakaya is more fun than actually buying it. If I still want the pen years later, and if I have the means, then I will buy it. Luckily, the company also allows returns and trades. I have 30 days after buying the Nakaya to decide if a $4,600 pen will spark the same joy that my $20 quail-embroidered hat sparks.

For further reading on fountain pens, please consider visiting these sites. It’s a great hobby for writers of all stripes and the community is welcoming to everyone.

If you’d like to know which fountain pens are in my core, they are the Pilot Kakuno with a fine nib, the Pilot Elite NOS (which means New Old Stock) with an extra-fine nib, and the Lamy Safari, which has interchangeable nibs. I also own a Pilot Metropolitan with a medium nib, which has not joined the core, but is nevertheless a great pen. With the exception of the Pilot Elite, these are all considered excellent starter pens and you should check them out when you have the chance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: