I have had a few Pilot pens in my collection over the years, including a much loved Custom 823. Tragically, the 823 was stolen during the after-hours of an academic conference some years ago, whilst I was attempting to prove the hypothesis that a yard of Young’s Winter Warmer could indeed be consumed in less than 30 seconds—don’t ask, it was not my finest moment, and I still maintain it can be done, though not by me*. Strangely, I’ve never replaced the 823, though it was a lovely pen. These days, I have an array of Metropolitans in colors which match my favorite inks, and two others which are daily essentials—the Falcon (known years ago as the Namiki Falcon), and the Custom 74 (the cartridge/converter version of the more expensive Custom 92). Both my Falcon, and the Custom 74 have nominally the same nibs, they’re both 14K gold and soft-fine (SF), but therein the similarities begin pining for the Fjords. Those of you not familiar with what may be the most famous Monty Python sketch of all time (bow your heads in shame), just turn your sound on and click the link, you’ll get the idea.
I purchased each of these pens, at one time or another, with my own addiction-dwindled-funds from the wondrous Wonder Pens…
Phone: (416) 799 5935
General Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Online Order Email: email@example.com
They are now most definitely not the only resource for online fountain pen purchases in Ontario, but I have to say—entirely independently—that after spending a lot of hours online, looking for the best buys, selection, and service, they are still very much my number one choice for the majority of my purchases.
Anyway, I thought it was about time that I plucked my favorite Pilots out of the pen case, and had a look at what has made them a part of my essential carry over time.
Oh yeah, and I threw in a Pilot Metropolitan Retro Pop Purple with a medium steel nib, because I had room at the bottom of the Clairefontaine Triomphe (90gsm, white, lined) A4 paper, that I used for the writing sample/s; and of course, because it’s a great pen. Trust me, the paper really was a nice crisp white, it’s just my poor lighting and lousy photographic skills that make it look a weird shade of off-lilac. Or maybe it’s just my eyes.
As I’m writing this post (August 2019), the Custom 74 and the Falcon are available at $230 and $235 CAD respectively, from Wonder Pens, and the Metropolitan is a bargain at about $30 CAD. I have reviewed the Metropolitan before, so I won’t be going into depth about it here, but I thought it was worth including in the writing samples, in order to give a comparison of Pilot’s soft-fine versus medium nib classifications. Or at least I thought it was interesting, pen nerd that I am.
I like the size of both of these pens, they sit in my large hands comfortably, and are very well balanced with or without posting (which I never usually do). And looking at the comparison graphic above, they compare very favorably with other models in the same price bracket.
From left to right (above), we have the Custom 74, with its rounded cap and finial; the Falcon, with the flat cap and finial; and the Metropolitan, the only one of the three with a rounded push-on (instead of threaded) cap.
All three pens are cartridge/converter fillers, and there are interesting differences even with such a common filling mechanism. The Custom 74 can support Pilot’s hi-capacity Con-70 converter (a somewhat pricey $27 CAD from Wonder Pens). The pen isn’t supplied with this model of converter, but I thoroughly recommend picking one up if you’re buying the pen. The Falcon is supplied with Pilot’s standard Con-40 converter (a much more agreeable $8.50 CAD), which can also be used by the Metropolitan. However, the Metropolitan, is fitted with Pilot’s squeezy converter. This is a sort of bladder-like device, which never really gathers up much ink. All the same, I find this converter incredibly easy to clean, and thus it makes for a very convenient pen to fill with a little ink for a specific project, then clean and leave to dry between uses (e.g., for testing inks on different paper).
In contrast to many other pen manufacturers like Sailor, Platinum, Pelikan, and even the likes of TWSBI, who tend to standardize designs across the range, Pilot’s clips and cap bands are completely different between the Custom 74 and the Falcon.
The Custom 74 shares the same clip and cap band design as the Custom 92 and 823. The clip is inscribed with the Pilot brand name near the top of the cap, and terminates with a round ball at the bottom. The cap band reads Pilot Made in Japan Custom 74 (or the alternative appropriate model for either the 92 or 823).
The Falcon however, has a straight-edged, flat clip, with no branding, and a cap band which reads Pilot Japan amidst a pattern of links around the band. Overall, the Falcon has a more angular design from the finial to the top of the cap—not to mention the nib… which I won’t, not until I get to it in a line or two.
And, of course, the budget-conscious Metropolitan is different yet again.
The angular design of course, includes the famous, swooping, predatory beak of the Falcon…
Which, I have to admit, is an acquired taste; it looks a little odd at first, but I’ve found its appeal definitely grows over time and use.
The Custom 74 on the other hand, is about as conventional to look at as a 14K gold nib gets, but again, this is where the two differ from most norms.
They may both be called soft-fine, but some soft-fine nibs are more soft-fine than others.
So What Do They Write Like?
This scan compares my (awful) handwriting, as produced by each of the pens I’ve been looking at; the top two are the Custom 74 and Falcon, 14K soft-fine nibs. The Custom 74 was—even to me, and I don’t really vary the weight of my touch when writing—obviously more flexible than that of the Falcon.
I should note that neither pen is strictly a flexible nib, so don’t push those tines too far if you ever use one of these pens, but they do offer a degree of flexibility beyond the norm (whatever you may define that as). Both pens exhibited a considerable degree of flexibility and thus line variation when pushed, but that swooping falcon nib was noticeably firmer than the Custom 74.
The Metropolitan’s medium steel nib however, was about as flexible as a pick-axe. Don’t get me wrong, it was as pick-axe-like as a pick-axe that had spent hours being smoothed by The Seven Dwarves, and hand polished by Snow-White, but only a magic fairy or two could ever make it flexible.
Writing with each nib is therefore an exercise in contrasting similarities. They’re all beautifully smooth, but…
… the Custom 74 would suit somebody who can naturally vary the heft of their hand as they write, and can get the most out of that—almost, but not quite—semi-flexible nib; whereas…
… the Pilot Falcon suits me better. I like the springiness of the soft-fine Falcon nib, but it’s firm enough that I don’t worry about springing the tines, the way I do—a little—with the Custom 74. Whilst…
… the Pilot Metropolitan is the proletariat of the fountain pen world, the daily worker that doesn’t cost much in the great scheme of things, but can always be relied upon to get the job done.
NB. Okay, I’ve given enough hints, how many of you can name where the last three writing samples came from (without Googling the quotations)? And who’s going to be first?
The Pilot Custom 74 never seems to get much love in the fountain pen world. People always seem to recommend the piston-filling Custom 92 for the ink capacity; and other than that, they’re the same pen. Yet with the Con-70 converter installed, I think you can strike a great compromise between the convenience of cartridge/converter filling, and the capacity of filling an ink chamber directly from a bottle. That sort of compromise is a major pro for me; I have used both the 74 and the 92 over time, and I bought a Custom 74, not a 92.
The Falcon is a different matter. It’s a quirky pen to look at and to use. I know some people that just can’t seem to write with that nib at all, and are put off by its bird-of-prey profile; I love it, on both counts. And then there’s the Metropolitan, is there anything new to say about the Pilot Metropolitan? This is a great little work-horse of a pen; inexpensive; easy to clean; available in a huge variety of nib sizes (including an italicized stub); and a color range that can match almost any ink you can throw in it. I may never have met a Sailor I didn’t like, but I quite fancy a Pilot or two too.
PS. If you ever read this blog, I know you stole my 823, and I have a vague idea of who you are. If you return my pen unharmed, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I probably won’t find you, but I might, and if I do, I will seriously embarrass you, or maybe myself.
My apologies to Liam Neeson. He didn’t steal my pen… unless he was in the bar; I may not have noticed.
* This is such a bad idea on so many levels, beginning with your shirt, half-drowning in perfectly good beer, and quite possibly ending in kidney failure.