Simple Isn’t So Easy

Philip “As I work on this pen design I am amazed at how complex simple can be.”

David “Heh. That’s why so many people make things funky: no skill required. Plain, simple, and classic—with no distractions—are much more difficult.”

Philip “As I am finding out.”

Howard, at Bexley Pens, has had some good suggestions, and is confident that we can get a limited-edition pen made in time for Scriptus, now just a few months away. Some of his greatest input has been in connection with costs.

It turns out that some things never change: the two major factors in the cost of a pen are the quality of the nib, and the complexity of the filling system. For nibs, gold is, obviously, much costlier than steel. And for filling systems, a robust piston-filler will be priced like a Montblanc or Pelikan.

Don’t think we’ll sell too many $2000 pens, even if it is in Canadian dollars.

But nib and filling system aside, in terms of actual manufacture, Howard needs to have the basic lines of the pen designed, so that he can get making a prototype for us to look at and—more importantly—hold in our hands.

Not everyone agrees on what makes a pen beautiful.

We have all had it happen: you see a lovely pen in a photograph, or lying in a display case. You think “Wow, I love the look of that pen!” But when you pick it up, it’s a total fail. Or, conversly, sometimes you see a pen and instantly react: “what were they thinking?!” Obviously we want to avoid either of these reactions. But how?

Philip and I both are great appreciators of classic vintage pens. The design of pens from the early 1900s reflects an elegance of style, combined with an understanding of what feels good in the hand for hours of writing. They are often simple in appearance, with a slim & straight profile.

But—when it comes to design— simple is not always easy.

What sort of profile should the cap top have? Do we have a cap ring? What style of clip? How do we design the barrel profile: to post, or not to post the cap? What length & diameter should the gripping section be? All of these questions need an answer. And part of the answer is in prototypes. Theory is good, but actually seeing the combinations is another thing entirely.

After a few phone consultations with Howard, we finally have some prototypes on hand. Finally, something real, even if the prototypes are in fire-engine-red plastic.

We have a few options when it comes to the cap, and you have to start somewhere. In this model, the cap is in two pieces, which screw together where the clip is mounted, using a threaded metal insert.

We have a clear concensus regarding the clip. The roller clip is always a winner: easy to use, and not often seen. Howard has fit it very well, and you can hardly see the seam. There is a notch in the cap, so that the clip can’t rotate in place, which could damage the cap.

A cap ring would be nice, but if we choose all of the ‘nice’ options, costs will go through the roof. And so we agree: no cap ring.

And what about the profile of the top? While flat is a very traditional American style, something about the curve gives the pen that European grace and style. Like Philip: grace, and style. (And round on top?)

This is the part that is tricky. How do make a decision about something as subjective as how rounded a cap should be?

David “We could just decide, you know. It’s the show pen, and asking opinions just slows things down.”

Philip “Yes, but we’re not the ones buying it. I’ll ask around, just to test the waters.”

When Philip asks around, he is talking about the Cambridge Pen Breakfast, held once each month just oustside Toronto, and Pens & Pints, held (it seems) every night possible in north Toronto. At a pub. We’ve known these folks for years, and they are the hardest-core of the pen community here. Lots of experience, both in collecting and in selling pens.

Philip “It’s very simple: when I ask for an opinion, I’m happy to listen. But if I haven’t asked, I charge $500 per opinion. It’s a great way to keep the process moving.”

And so, after a week of consultation, the decision is made, just like Goldilocks: not too flat, not too round. The slightly-rounded middle option is just right. With a roller clip, and no cap rings.

One decision made, only a hundred to go…