Imagine replacing all the pictures on this blog with me standing in front of you in a hip and dimly lit bar, tipsily waving a pen in your face, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what my Thursday nights are like. This is, of course, an excellent opportunity for you, if you’re getting a pen waved demonstratively in your face, to make a suggestion for what kind of pen I should review next. Now, replace “Thursday” with “last Monday,” and you’ve got the full picture of how this review came to be. This time, I believe the suggestion started with “that really cylindrical pen” (which is only nearly all of them) and eventually meandered into “Pilot Varsity,” courtesy of one Devin T. Rooney (friend of Risden–remember Risden?); at least, I assume that was his name, because this was what he wrote down when I asked “What do you want me to call you on the internet?” So now you know who to
So I originally bought these in a Staples, an impulse as usual, just because they were fountain pens! at an affordable price?! in an actual, physical store?!?!?!!! This is apparently my biggest weakness. Right out of the package, the blue pen didn’t want to write (though it now works, months later). Black and purple did all right, and I was really enamored with the rich, purple ink.
Speaking of the ink, there’s something strange smelling about this ink. Sort of…like a hospital? (My coworker says vinyl, perhaps PVC.) I can’t quite put my finger on what it is right now, because I’m scribbling on and sniffing a piece of paper in public. The black isn’t a perfect black, but the colored pens are very rich–I’d peg the blue as Wikipedia-defined ultramarine, and the purple as … well, there isn’t an easy match for the shade. So we’ll just say it’s lovely.
On my first draft of this post, I kinda failed completely to mention much about the writing and drawing performance of this pen, as I was just so …anti-impressed (or impressed, but in a bad way). The ink flows out more in the manner of water than ink; too much flow, too much ink on the page, too much bleedthrough and just ink everywhere, either getting absorbed clear through the page in my Behance journal, or sitting pooled on the line on Rhodia paper. I couldn’t find any medium suitable for this pen. Moleskine sketch paper came the closest, as it’s thick enough that its absorbent tendencies didn’t draw the ink all the way to the other side of the paper. You’ll notice I didn’t sketch much with this pen. When the pen is good, I’ll fill up the doodlespace because I just want to keep making lines, using the pen is that enjoyable. But with a pen like this, I go through the cursory sketches to test the pen and leave it at that. Things just feel sloppy, in terms of markmaking. I’m not even really excited to be writing about this pen! It’s so…BLAH.
As for the body of the pen, the plastic barrels show no signs of damage so far, and, like many of the cheap fountain pens I own, have no problem writing right away after months spent dormant.
We’ve seen this nib before. It’s just the medium nib to the Pilot Petit1’s fine nib, which is to say, neither nib ever actually approaches medium and it’s really the gigantically awful nib to the Pilot Petit1’s medium.
This pen has made me realize that I have a fine-nib bias in my pen preferences. This pen gives out ink like it’s free. Like it’s candy. Like it’s hotcakes? I think this is just a function of the medium nib, and all my problems with this pen–heavy ink flow, slow-drying time and/or bleedthrough (paper dependent), fuzzing and feathering–may be problems I have with medium nibs in general. There are some problems I can isolate specifically to this pen–terrible squeaking while writing on a Staples junior legal pad as well as fuzzing/feathering I don’t see from other pens/inks on the same paper.
In hindsight, I was too harsh on the Platinum Preppy (but the fact that its fine nib is equivalent to a Kaweco Medium nib still stands), another thing this Varsity has made me realize. If you want an entry level fountain pen (like, really cheap entry level), the only reason to get the Pilot Varsity, in my opinion, is if you just have to have it from a physical store and can’t wait the 2 or 3 days it takes for JetPens to ship better pens to you.
It is durable, yes. And a fairly smooth, consistent, easy-start writer. It WILL write. But will it write well? Will I ever find a kind of paper where I’m satisfied with the ink flow, appearance, drying time, amount of bleedthrough? Doubtful. Also, ink shouldn’t smell this weird. Sorry, Pilot Varsity! You are a pen for someone else.