Ballpoint thoughts and the Caran d’Ache 849

A few weeks ago I found myself putting aside the fountain pens I’d been using and pick up ballpoints again. I go through long periods where I abandon FP’s for ballpoints, from time to time. While FP’s have their advantages and provide a particular kind of satisfaction, BP’s provide a thoughtless ease. The writing experience is the same regardless of the paper, no concerns about where it’s kept or in what position, or whether there are temperature or pressure changes or someone borrows it, and last but not least they hold enough ink to last months instead of days.

People often have strong opinions about the quality of various BP refills, but I find that almost any ballpoint will be an excellent writer if it is used a lot. Ever notice that the pens they hand you at the store or bank tend to write better? It’s because they’re being used constantly.

I’ve accumulated more than a few BP’s over the years and I find that nearly all of them write poorly if left alone for a long time, but if I use one exclusively for a day or so it gets really nice as the fresh ink flushes out the crustier stuff near the point. Caran d’Ache pens seem to stay the easiest, the Fisher needs more constant use to stay at it’s best, but it’s best is really nice. But there is nothing like the difference there is between different nibs and inks.

I rediscovered the Caran d’Ache 849 recently. I originally got one from the folks at Muller Martini when I worked in the graphics industry, and always thought it a nice pen. It has a simple, quiet, mechanism, keeps it’s spring when the cartridge is out, and is about as sturdy as any pen. The clip is replaceable if it gets bent. Since then I’ve accumulated a few more, because they come in neat colors and patterns. It takes Parker and Fisher cartridges although the CdA cartridges are excellent, if expensive. I prefer the Fisher refills because I can write in any position and on wet paper (think credit card slips that have been laid on a damp bar) but if I’m at home or work it doesn’t matter much. [UPDATE: Turns out the CdA cartridges are evidently pressurized and write just fine at any angle. I can’t imagine why I didn’t know this, but I have confirmed that the cartridges I have all perform just fine at any angle]

I carried a Fisher AG-7 for years until I realized their CH-4 is a little more comfy to hold. If not for the cartridge flexibility of the 849 the CH-4 would be my favorite. The Rotring 600, Pelikans, and Faber Castell all take Parker cartridges and so will take the Fisher as well.

Sooner or later though, the line quality and blandness of BP’s send me back to fountain pens and the cycle starts over.

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