Grail pens. It is a term I have seen over and over as I read about pens and review the blogs. A grail pen is the one you wish you had, the one that is not just a quick purchase or impulse buy. And it is a pen that no person would consider buying lightly. In other words, it is expensive, or rare, or perhaps not really needed (are any, really?) but there is something inside of you that says – I must have this. As a gear guy (fly fishing, camping, writing, etc) this is not a new phenomenon to me. Of course, depending on your economic situation, an expensive pen can be any pen you don’t pick up along the way or “borrow” from your kids school supplies, or it can run into the $1,000s . Like cars, or stereos, or diamond-encrusted IPhones, we live in a consumer-driven age, and for many people the acquisition and the having is must the point as the using.
For me, my grail pen is not so much one specific pen but something that satisfies my love of Japanese style and culture – a Lacquer Fountain pen. I have visited Japan many times, and know that I will never really be able to penetrate very deeply into true Japanese culture and society. But the aesthetic speaks to me, I adore the food, and the design and traditional craftsmanship are tings I admire. I can spend a whole day in a Japanese department store and never get past the housewears, stationary and food courts.
So for me, my grail pen is a Japanese lacquered pen made in a traditional style. So far, I have narrowed my interest to one of three pen makers/styles:
Nakaya – ok, not just one model. When I am feeling clear headed, I look at the Piccolo Cigar model. It is stunning. Simple. Classic and elegant. At $650 it is not to be considered lightly and for any reasonable person, saving up over a significant period of time is the order of the day. But it is pretty.
But then I poke around some more, and get a little light headed and check out the Dorsal Fin. And then the $1,600 brings me back down to earth, but if you are going to dream, this pen is the one to think about. The style is amazing, and the look just grabs me.
Pilot-Nimiki – The lacquer black # 50 is also a stunner. I am a little less interested in this because of the clip, but is has an amazing 20 century Japan design vibe that I also find quite striking. Not as classical as the other pens, but looks like a period piece, solid, practical. Are you sitting down – $1,500 and up, depending on nib and options. Gulp.
Wancher – When the sticker shock wears off and the blood starts to return to my brain, I then think about an interesting new brand I discovered from the blogs. A kickstarted venture that recognizes the cost of the higher end pens makes them a little too grail-like for many, the Wancher pens have a terrific look and a lower price point.
The price – at $350 is still a tremendous amount for a pen, but closer to reality. And the pen is a little longer and slightly thinner than the Nakaya which I think would suit my hand better. It is the same Urushi/lacquer gorgeous that I keep coming back to in my searches.
What to Do:
So here is the thing. I have never held one in my hands. I’ve seen them at pen shoes, looked on line, and ogled. But now, especially now in the age of Covid isolation – I know that my grail will remain out of reach for quite some time. So for now, this is a long-distance love affair. But one I would like to work towards, saving up week by week, seeing what other options develop and then one day – perhaps when people can congregate inside, or perhaps even on a future trip to Japan I can start to do some in person research and see how the feel affects my thinking.
For now, I would welcome people sharing their thoughts, reviews and, of course, what are their grail pens. This is a safe space – no judging.