Tim's Thoughts

Third Tier Pens Deserve Love, Too

Generally speaking, “third tier” in the world of fountain pens is not a complimentary term. It is home to the many brands of vintage pens that were made of cheap materials, in mass quantity, with limited quality control. These are usually differentiated from the first tier, those by Sheaffer, Parker, Waterman’s, and Wahl-Eversharp, the Big Four of fountain pens’ golden age; and the second, by Carter’s, Moore, LeBouef, Chilton, good pens that couldn’t compete with the Big Four. The rest are considered “third tier”.  Esterbrooks. today’s ubiquitous and most durable vintage pen, defy slotting into a tier. They were made as well as the best pens, have survived in innumerable quantities, and today are loved, used widely, and are still by far the best inexpensive pen you can buy.

All the criticisms of third tierdom aside, many thousands have survived, write well and look great. There are beautifully marbled and patterned celluloids and some injection molded plastics, cap rings that were effective copies of Wahl’s Dorics and Patricians, “abalone” patterns that mimic Sheaffer’s, and stripes that wished they were Vacumatics.  There are nibs that,  to save money, substituted tipping with ax points or scooped-out spoon tips; like Esterbrook 2xxx nibs, they can be outstanding writers. Some have offbeat filling systems — bulbs, twists, even a coin filler a generation after its time—devised to save parts and assembly costs. Being strictly brand-conscious can indeed cost one a great writing experience.

When I’m asked why restoring a third tier pen is worth my bench time, the cost of a new sac and sometimes a pressure bar, and real estate on the website — my response is pretty standard:  if a pen that writes well, looks great, and is mechanically sound comes from the work, and its use will bring pleasure to its next owner, the work is worthwhile. In addition, since these pens are usually very affordable, they are often first fountain pens for a new user. To me, a pen’s value is primarily based in its potential,  not its resale value. There are simply too many great NoName and third tier writers out there to ignore.

So if you find a Wearever that has not completely corroded, a Salz with all of its parts intact, a Traveler, Majestic, Epenco, Lincoln, Remington, Ambassador, Arnold, Eclipse, Eagle, Everlast, Windsor, Lakeside…don’t dismiss it because it isn’t a Sheaffer, Parker, Wahl/Eversharp, or Waterman’s, it might be a gem.