Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pen Addict Interview

Lots of you that read this blog might also read Brad Dowdy's blog on pens, Pen Addict.  If you don't, even if your not interested all that much in pens, you should.  He and Myke Hurley also have a Pen Addict podcast which, again, is quite good.  Brad, for those of you who aren't familiar with him, is doing something very similar to what I aspire to do: find stuff that works and get the word out.  In the world of pens there are many, many kilobuck pens, but few of them write better than Brad's go to pen the Pilot Hi-Tec-C.  His knowledge of pens is probably unsurpassed by any living person, but it is his eye for what counts--writing quality--that separates him from those that worship at the alter of fancy barrels.  When the design warrants, such as in the case of the Pilot Vanishing Point, Brad's not afraid to pull the trigger and make an all out recommendation. 

I admire that focus.  There are too many folks in the gear world that praise the damasteel, bejeweled custom blades pretending as if anything less is trash or conversely those that think a person is daft for spending more than $50 on a blade.  In the end, the focus should be on what works.  That's why I love the Dragonfly II ZDP-189.  Its not the most expensive blade I own.  Not even the second or third most expensive, but it really, really works.

So without much ado, here is an email interview with the Pen Addict, the Chief Enabler, Brad Dowdy:

1. What's in your pocket RIGHT NOW?

Bosca Napa Vitello front pocket wallet. (Front right pocket) Owned for 5 years or so. I have been looking for an even lower profile replacement the past year or two to no avail.  [EDITOR'S NOTE: Any luck with Big Skinny Front Pocket Wallets?  I converted over to their ultra thin designs after too many leather wallets that just stunk.  Thin enough to drop in the back pocket even]

Victorinox Bantam Alox Pocket Knife. (Front right pocket) A big part of the slim-downed pocket carry I believe in. It replaced a Spyderco Delica. Love, love, love this knife.

iPhone 4s with a slim Moshi iGlaze snap-on case. (Front left pocket) I just downgraded the size of my case from the Otterbox Defender because I carry this in my pocket all the time and the size of the Defender was bothering me.

2. In the gear world, its called a grail, but I am not sure if there is a pen equivalent. Either way, what is one pen you have always wanted but do not have?

My tastes are relatively simple and obtainable with the right amount of cash. I obtained my previous grail pen - the Pilot Vanishing Point in Black Matte - earlier this year, and now I am looking at a Rotring 600 Trio Lava.

It is a discontinued pen, but often comes up for sale on ebay in the $150-$300 range. I just haven't chosen to part with the cash yet.

3. What's the next big purchase?

 I never thought I would become such a fountain pen fan, but I am hooked. I enjoy what is referred to as a demonstrator barrel (aka translucent) and am looking at an orange Pilot Custom 74 or orange Sailor Sapporo Demonstrator.

4. Recommend to my readers a rough and ready pen. I personally beat the hell out of my pens, writing quite a bit in tough places--courtrooms, jails, prisons and the like. Some of my readers actually work in those places permanently. The Vanishing Point won't cut it. Any ideas? (Here's a curveball: how about all of that roughedness without a cap?)

I'm sure many of your readers are fans of the Zebra F-701 , and I think it is the no-brainer answer to this question. Stainless steel barrel, knurled grip, retractable, refillable, and cost effective. It is one of the best bang for your buck, readily available EDC pens, with the only thing lacking being a pressurized refill (here is my post on the common F-701 hack that fixes the problem Brad references). If you want an upgrade, the County Comm Embassy Pen fits the bill and uses the Fisher Space Pen pressurized ink cartridge. The only downside is that it is capped.

5. We both write about carrying tools on your person (you: writing instruments; me: flashlights, knives and multitools). Why do folks still need to carry a pen? With all of the signing pads and the death of checks (and check books), other than the occasional restaurant bill, what do you need a pen for these days?

For me, it is the comfort of knowing I have it if I need it. I do carry my iPhone constantly and use it to take notes, but a pen and paper is always within reach. The vast majority of my notes and ideas and brain dumps start out with analog tools then get converted to digital. If I need to be quickly creative I can do it faster with pen and paper than with anything else.

6. After a recommendation on the podcast, I took a look at some ink reviews. Holy crap, those ARE nerdy. Was this level of nerdiness and intense focus on details possible before the internet or is there a "racheting" effect whereby one super nerd tries to outdo another super nerd?

I think in fountain pen circles it was possible since traditional brick and mortar pen stores have a regular, recurring clientele. For the regular every day use types of pens that I review I don't think so. I had no idea the types of pens the Japanese were using on a daily basis and discovering that is what lead me to start my blog.

7. What's wrong with Pilot? How about a wide release of the Hi-Tec-C pens here in America?

This is exactly why I started my blog. The stationery products made readily available to US consumers are generally terrible and are only a fraction of what these same manufacturers produce and release in countries more stationery-friendly like Japan. There are so many better options than the generic pens stocking our shelves. I have called out the US-based subsidiaries a few times over the years and to Pilot's credit they have started stocking the Pilot G-Tec-C (same as the Hi-Tec-C) in office supply stores such as Staples. Granted, it is only one peg on a wall of hundreds, but it is a start.

8. I found your comment about gift pens really interesting, especially because there is a lot of the same issues with buying a knife. Folks will ask for recommendations for $300, $500, and $1000 blades and I have a hard time because few, if any of the knives in those price ranges cut better than my beloved $80 Spyderco Dragonfly II in ZDP-189. How do you persuade people away from fancy pen body with shitty writing performance? I call this the William Henry problem. Have you had a chance to review any William Henry pens?

It is about getting to the core reason why someone is making a purchase. Are they making it for show, or are they making it to do work? For me, it is to do work. Why pay a premium for barrel materials when that is not what is putting ink on the page? Pay for the ink cartridge or the nib first, then consider the remainder of the cost. With me, it is the Montc Blanc problem (I have never tried a William Henry btw). I get asked all the time "Should I buy a Montc Blanc?" My answer is always along the lines of "Are you buying it because you want to get or give a great writing pen, or are you buying it as a show piece?" A lot of people reconsider once they think about their answer to that question.

9. How important is Kickstarter in the pen world? Is it a speciality only thing or have you sent it push innovation into the mainstream?

I think it is very important from the perspective that it shows there is 1. Innovation in the pen design space, and 2. A large and dedicated group of consumers interested in this type of product. I think there is plenty of growth still in this area.

10. Is this a true statement: countryfied grandpa means you will carry a pocket knife; gentleman grandpa means you will carry a fountain pen.

Well, I must be a countrified gentleman then. :)

Thanks a ton to Brad for playing along.  I hope in the years to come that I can be as knowledgeable and as focused as Brad has remained since starting the Pen Addict years ago.  


  1. If you wanted to persist in your testing work environment with a Vanishing Point, there was an earlier all matt black aluminium version. Probably very hard to find now but you would no doubt enjoy the catch. Also, John Mottishaw's can customise a VP nib. I've a duckbill broad on the aforementioned Vanishing Point. It's an awesome, robust and unassuming writing rig.
    As an alternative to the Rotring 600 Trio Lava you might consider a Lamy 2000 4-color ball pen in Makrolon whilst they are still available.
    On demonstrators, you could consider entry level M200/M400 Pelikan FPs. Up the money tree you could acquire an M800 clear, green or blue ocean. The M1000 clear is just too big for mine.
    In the interest of response completeness and pegging the nerd meter, just bite the bullet and hunt down some Parker Penman Sapphire. The Grange or Chateau Lafite of ink. In this modern digital age I find that a bottle of ink actually lasts pretty well and those with a strong tint, like PP Sapphire will even deliver with an emergency water fill on an empty reservoir.

    1. I admire that focus. There are too many folks in the gear world that praise the damasteel, bejeweled custom blades pretending as if anything less is trash or conversely those that think a person is daft for spending more than $50 on a blade.
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