I’ve had three grail pens on my list since I began using fountain pens. None of them are cheap, but isn’t that the definition of a grail pen, that pen that moves you in inscrutable ways, that pen that turns want into need, that pen that plays hard to get, that requires some sacrifice, or at least a stretch of some sort, be it patience or money?
Grail pens are a conundrum to me in a way that might not be obvious despite my chosen nom de plume. While I’m fortunate to have the means to buy any of the pens on my grail list whenever I please, what stops me from doing so is the guilt, the “How can a sane person possibly spend that much on a pen?”
The first grail pen I bought was the Pilot Long Murex, and I went about it all the wrong ways. At the time, I was relatively new to fountain pens, and I knew next to nothing about buying them, much less buying a vintage one. My soul cried out for a Long Murex, so I hopped on eBay and bought the first one that looked good. The result was a beautiful pen to add to my collection, a pen that still makes me smile every time I look at it, but I always hear a little voice that whispers, “You coulda gotten a better deal.”
I often wonder where that little voice comes from. It’s not like I’m a stranger to expensive hobbies. (Seriously, if you want to burn a great deal of money, start riding motorbikes.) But I have far less guilt when I plunk down $360 for a set of new tires for my motorcycle than when I’ve paid half that for a pen.
Perhaps it’s because a fountain pen is a true luxury item. I won’t die for lacking a Murex, but I damn well might if I put cheap tires on my motorbike and the rubber disintegrates while I’m rounding a corner. A high-quality, armored touring jacket can cost nearly as much as a Montblanc 149, but when I walked away from a crash without a scratch it was worth every penny. My brain knows that there’s a difference, and that if I just wanted to put words on a piece of paper I could do so with a cheap Bic. Then again, it’s not as if I need a motorcycle or three to get around. Perhaps the little voice is trying to rationalize the irrational.
I went about things differently when I bought my second grail pen, a Namiki faceted Vanishing Point. Not a new Vanishing Point, and not a Pilot faceted Vanishing Point, but a mid-to-late 90s era Namiki Vanishing Point. This time, I did a lot of research. I studied classified ads on FPN and watched countless eBay auctions to get a feel for the market value of these very particular pens. And after a few months of waiting, when I saw an excellent specimen for a great price on eBay, I didn’t hesitate to Buy It Now.
Oddly enough, the little voice stays silent whenever I take out that pen.
The last pen on my grail list is the most expensive of all, because of course it is. It’s also the pen that I doubt I’ll be able to find much of a deal on, simply because people don’t seem to sell them very often. Yes, the Conid Bulkfiller is the holiest of grails, and at $450, I’m not sure what it’ll take for me to muster up the courage to buy one. In the meantime, I’ll drool over its gorgeous engineering, play with the ones that my pen friends bring to meetups, start saving my pennies, and hope that the little voice will leave me alone one last time.