Fountain Pen Reviews – Lamy Safari and Pilot 78G

I have always had a thing for nice writing instruments. I distinctly remember the Cross pen and pencil set that I had in my youth. Back then, it was more about cosmetics and a substantial feel than about writing quality. The Cross set had enough heft to feel like a quality product, and looked like a million bucks to me. I remember how pissed off I was when I lost the pen from that set.

A while back, I decided to investigate the fascination with fountain pens expressed by a few bloggers that I follow. The general consensus was that the Lamy Safari was a good starter pen. So, I went to my local purveyor of office supplies and took a Safari for a test drive. I liked it. It looked good, and after I got used to holding it with the tip pointing sideways (forced by a flat area where the index finger ends up), it felt good. Although plastic, it had enough weight to not feel cheap. I bought one with a fine nib (because extra fine versions of many fountain pens have the reputation of skipping, at least if internet reviews are to be believed), a refillable converter, and a bottle of house brand black ink. The total was just under fifty dollars.

I was mildly disappointed at first. It didn’t like the ink, and skipped regularly while using it. I did some research, and ordered a bottle of Aurora ink. While waiting for it to arrive, I switched over to the single cartridge of blue ink that came with the pen. It was smoother, but still not as smooth as I had expected. Also, the ink dried very slowly, and as a result was prone to smudge.

When the new ink arrived, I loaded the pen up and started writing. Things were better. The ink tended to bleed slightly into the paper, making the lines thicker than I wanted, but I blamed that on cheap paper. No Moleskin for me. Plus, somehow, a thin layer of ink quickly built up on the ridge just above the tip, causing inky fingers unless one remembers to wipe it down regularly.

I lived with it for about a year, and was reasonably happy. It wrote every bit as well as a good quality ball point pen with gel ink, and since it looked and felt good, it was my go-to writing implement. Then, one night I dropped it as I was trying to put the cap back on.  As luck would have it, it landed point first. With a little patience, I was able to straighten it out enough to get it to perform as well as it ever did, although it was still bent.

I decided to use the accident as an excuse to buy a new tip, an extra fine if I could find one. That is when I learned that Lamy really likes their replacement nibs. They like them so much that one is required to pay almost fifteen dollars to get them to part with one.

I got to thinking that, perhaps I was ready for a different pen altogether. The all-knowing interwebz offered several suggestions besides the Safari, but one seemed to appeal more than the others.

Enter the Pilot 78G. On the surface, it had a lot going against it. It is not available in the US, only Asia. It has a small squeeze bladder that requires submerging the tip in ink to fill. Said bladder is not transparent, so it is impossible to visually ascertain how much ink remains. It is made of light plastic, which tends to feel cheap.

It does offer quite a bit on the positive side, though. New models are readily available on flea-bay for around twelve federal reserve notes, including shipping, as long as you don’t mind waiting a few weeks for the boat to get here from Hong Kong. The refillable bladder is included, unlike Lamy and others who charge upwards of ten dollars extra for something that, while admittedly a superior design, performs the identical function. The entire tip is gold plated. And finally, I have yet to find a single complaint on the quality of the writing experience, save one that was caused by the bladder not being fully seated.

I ordered one in black, and waited impatiently for it to arrive. I chose a fine nib, as defined by Asian standards, which is the same size as a US extra fine. As expected, it showed up a couple weeks later.

Externally, I was less than impressed. It was indeed light, and felt cheap. The seam that ran the length of the barrel was slightly raised, just enough to give annoying tactile feedback when held in the writing position. The gold band at the bottom of the cap is painted on, and doesn’t inspire confidence as to its longevity.

I spent a few minutes rubbing the barrel with my finger, smoothing out the seam until it was almost unnoticeable. Then, I made sure the bladder was seated, dunked the tip into my bottle of Aurora black, and did the requisite six squeezes.

The moment of truth.  The nib glided across even the cheapest paper with almost no friction.  The line was thin and uniform, with no skips.  I have used it almost daily for nearly a month, and I have yet to find something to complain about when it comes to performance.  I haven’t tried it with the private label ink that I bought with the Lamy, only because it is packed away in a box somewhere, I know not where.  I expect it to work flawlessly.

In short, it writes like a dream.  I have never had such a perfect writing experience.  Granted, I am still a fountain pen rookie, but I have been writing with other instruments for over four decades. While the Lamy is a quality product, it simply cannot compete with the performance of the Pilot.  The pilot is available in many colors and tip styles/sizes.

I ordered two more.  Just in case I lose or gravity check the one I have now.  I have a history

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10 Responses to Fountain Pen Reviews – Lamy Safari and Pilot 78G

  1. Glenfilthie says:

    There are times when it is just better to do it the old way. A shave with a straight razor isn’t a chore, it’s an indulgence. Well crafted home brewed beer will wipe the mat with the mass produced swill of the big breweries. Black powder guns have a charm in spite of the filth and smoke.

    You should post pics of your pens and penmanship, Grump. I would dearly love to indulge in a fountain pen but heat makes them explode and cold makes them freeze. I am forced by practicality to use mechanical pencils – and if you find yourself in the same boat you should look at the Staedtler drafting pencils with the 2mm leads. They are ugly and cheap but hell for stout and perfect for work.

    • alaskan454 says:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I agree with your sentiment about doing things the old way. Then again, I’m old(ish) so I guess it fits.

      Trust me, you don’t want to see pictures of the chicken scratch that passes for my penmanship. 🙂 As for pics of the pens, I’ll see what I can do within the next day or so.

  2. His Nibs says:

    Thanks for your reviews. You can see photos of the 78G here: http://www.hisnibs.com/pilot_pens.htm…and I’ve been selling this great little writer here in the U.S. for more than a decade (they only became available on eBay *after* I’d been selling them for years. 🙂 I have hundreds of customers that agree with you about the pen. I don’t carry the Safari, so can’t help with photos there.

  3. GarandGal says:

    My grandmother worked for parker pen from just after the depression until her death in the 60’s so we had grosses of fine writing instruments about the house when I was growing up. When you next feel the urge you might try a nice vintage parker 51 http://www.parker51.com/history.html or my favorite, the vintage jotter ball point pen. My grandmother made both 🙂

    • alaskan454 says:

      I would love to have a 51. It’s just that I lose stuff with alarming regularity, and what I don’t lose, I gravity check. My name is Grumpy, and I am a klutz. I would feel terrible if I were to damage or lose such a classic, especially since the newest ones were made over sixty years ago.

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