One of the challenges of getting into fountain pens is that it can be relatively expensive to get started. The fountain pen most often cited as a “beginner” fountain pen, the Lamy Safari, starts at around $35. While plenty of nice ball pens go for that amount, it’s a lot if you aren’t sure fountain pens are for you. There are lots of more inexpensive options, but few are readily available, and are of variable quality.
The one option that was both inexpensive and broadly available was the Pilot Varsity. It is a disposable fountain pen that was commonly available at most office supply stores, as well as many drug and grocery stores. While not as smooth as many of my other pens, it writes well enough that it would not create a negative impression of fountain pens in general due to the quality of the pen. I had one back in college (about…checking the calendar…GAH! twenty years ago) as a first taste. They are still quite available–I probably should add it to my list of pens to do profiles on.
I was in Staples snapping up some Black Friday
loss leaders deals when I noticed something new. They were carrying the Bic Disposable Fountain Pen. Given the ubiquity of Staples, I figured this might be an option for people interesting in getting their feet wet. There were two options. One was a three-pack with three colors. I bought a two-back of black, which was priced similarly to the Pilot Varsity hanging above it.
The pen wrote OK overall-no scratchiness. Though it felt as though there was a bit of drag (as opposed to the light feel of other pens), it seemed smooth. It would meet my “not give a bad impression of a fountain pen” criteria, though if one were to upgrade, they would have a very pleasant surprise. I tried a variety of papers–from cheap pads that were in the supply cabinet to the journal I use for my pens. While the ink could be described as “whimpy green-black” in color, it bled only slightly more than my other pens, mostly on a pad from the supply cabinet that every wet ink pen bleeds on. It dried reasonably quickly–a key feature for a lefty.
However, it wasn’t a particularly comfortable pen to write with. If I was taking notes in a meeting, where I might write in bursts of a sentence or two at a time, it did fine. That does not really give a sense of the ergonomics of any pen. When writing several pages in my journal, the grip felt hard (even when compared to pens with metal bodies). Between that and the dragginess of the nib, I rarely used it for more than a paragraph after that experiment.
The pen’s design is very similar to the Varsity (on the right) overall, with a clear plastic section showing the feed. The section, where one grips the pen, is a bit thicker than the Pilot, but within the range of what is typical for pens in my collection–it doesn’t stand out at either extreme. The clip appears to have a more modern design, “growing” out of the top of the cap. The cap closes with a satisfying click, and, when posted, covers an ugly bar code.
The Bic appears to have a stamped steel nib. The design of the nib is quite similar to the Varsity, with more of a breather “ring” than hole on top. However, the Bic’s nib is a bit larger, and less stylized.
For what it is, the Bic Disposable Fountain Pen is an adequate writing instrument. It writes reasonably well in the context of handwriting in the Twenty-First Century, and would leave the user with a not-negative impression of fountain pens. It wrote surprisingly well, though not as good as other pens in my collection.
However, if I were looking to get someone a cheap introduction to fountain pens (or were on a business trip, inkless, and jonesing for fountain pen), I would probably leave the Bic on the shelf, and reach for the Pilot Varsity. Overall, it is smoother, more comfortably for longer writing sessions, and is a more attractive piece.