A brief encounter with the Montegrappa Monte Grappa fountain pen.

The past week has seen me on an emotional roller-coaster journey with this Italian beauty. I could write just a bare review of the pen but it would be incomplete without the twists and turns of my experience.

I first saw one of these about a year and half ago, while visiting Harrods’ Great Writing Room. A visit to Harrods is a rare treat for me and always memorable. You can lose track of time and distance and also your sense of proportion in this huge emporium of casino-like halls full of luxury products.

The Montegrappa Monte Grappa in Lavender resin.

On that first sighting, I handled the pen and was impressed at how comfortable it felt. This is a piston-filling fountain pen, of decent size and relatively plain and simple and with a 14k gold nib (but with a silver coloured plating, perhaps rhodium). The price then was about £440.00. The pen was available in four colours, black, navy blue, lavender or coral, all with silver coloured trim.

I did not buy the pen immediately, but after finding my way out of the store into the evening air of busy Knightsbridge, I was already having second thoughts and wondered if I should dash back in and buy one.

I do not know anyone else who owns this pen, or of any other bricks and mortar store in London that stocks them, but the pen remained in my consciousness.

Then, last Saturday whilst in London after a monthly pen club meet, I visited Harrods again and went to browse in the pen department. The store is undergoing a refit and the pens had moved floors and are to move again, I am told, once works are finished. I only mention this as, to the occasional visitor, Harrods can seem like a huge maze and so by the time you find the pen department you may feel that you deserve a new pen. Well, I do.

On this visit, I browsed the displays and alighted on the Montegrappa counters. I spotted a Montegrappa Monte Grappa, currently £445.00, but being a 10% discount weekend, reduced to £440.50. Still pricey for me, but it looked positively good value as the model next to it was £1,075.00 in celluloid and sterling silver.

I got talking to the Montegrappa representative who got out the Monte Grappa for me to try. They had only the lavender model left, but it was rather attractive, unusual and distinctive. He found some ink (Montegrappa fuchsia?) for me to try. I made a few tentative strokes, sampling the smooth Medium gold nib, with a little line variation possible with slight pressure.

After a short time, the rep left me with the pen whilst he went to attend to another customer. I was enjoying the pen, imagining myself owning it and generally “bonding” with it in those precious first few moments. I had to decide how this was going to end. When he returned I was still dithering but leaning towards taking it home with me, rather than leaving empty handed as I had done a year earlier.

When the crunch time came I decided to buy the pen. He offered me a brand new, boxed one. I took a look at it. The nibs on both looked to be perfectly finished but I opted to take the one that I had already tried. I carried it home, in a smart Montegrappa bag.

Montegrappa, founded in 1912, is one of the oldest or possibly the oldest fountain pen manufacturers in Italy. Now famous for their extravagantly designed, limited editions, I was more interested in their accessible models, without too many embellishments but with a gold nib and a piston filling mechanism. The Monte Grappa model fulfills this. There are just a few adornments, in this case, the characteristic pocket clip with a revolving wheel at the end and a silver coloured cap ring, which has the look of having been hammered by hand. On closer inspection the design around the cap ring looks like lots of little entrances to a road tunnel. I am not sure if this may be a reference to the mountain, close to the Bassano del Grappa factory.

The unique cap band.

The cap finial has the year 1912, on a metal disk. The wheeled pocket clip and the cap ring did not particularly appeal to me. It was the writing experience that attracted me.

Cap and finial with the year of founding.

The section is comfortable although you may need to grip the pen at or close to the chunky but non sharp, plated metal cap threads. The barrel design is a nice feature, slightly bulbous in the middle and with the name Monte Grappa engraved in the resin, with an emblem of the mountain itself between the two words. This I did like, except that the words are upside down if you write left handed. Also the pen rolls around very easily if not posted.

Barrel engraving.

The piston knob is separated from the barrel, by a shiny silver coloured trim ring. If you look closely you find the words “Made in Italy” etched here.

Piston knob. Made in Italy on the trim ring. Stainless steel disc in the base.

Another feature, new to me, is the ratchet-sounding piston turning knob, which emits a sound akin to winding a mechanical watch. This is intended to emulate that very task, for those of us who miss wearing hand-wound watches. Also the piston knob does not extend outwards as you lower the plunger, as it would on a Pelikan, Montblanc or other typical piston filler. It simply rotates, and clicks, without going up and down. You cannot see the operation of the plunger within. A few practice runs soon tell you that you turn the plunger anti-clockwise to lower the plunger and then clockwise to raise it again, filling the pen. Unusually, it takes a lot of twists to operate the plunger, perhaps 12 or so (depending upon how far you go with each twist), before it reaches the end of its travel. This is not really a problem. But you cannot tell from looking at the pen, how much ink it contains.

The nib is an attractive, traditional shape with the Montegrappa filigree pattern, and the inscription “Montegrappa ITALIA, 14k, 585” and finally “2670VI” the significance of which I do not know. The rep told me that the feed was ebonite although I wonder if he might have been mistaken on that. It looks like a plastic Jowo feed to me.

14k gold nib, Medium. Comfortable section. Metal cap threads.

At home, I watched some YouTube reviews to find out more about my new pen. A short video from Guiseppe Aquila of Montegrappa, talks of the pens being available with either stainless steel or 14k gold nibs, but all fitted with the same special, international patented filling mechanism. This is comprised of parts made of five different materials: the clear plastic reservoir, rubber plunger, brass piston, an aluminium body and a stainless steel fitting.

I was keen to see how much ink it would draw up. Having to flush the pen anyway after its dip in fuchsia ink, I tried filling it with water and then ejecting it into a vial to see how much came out. This gave me a shock as the volume of water looked rather feeble, although admittedly it was in a larger diameter container than the pen’s own reservoir. I tried the same experiment with an Aurora 88 and found that even the contents of the Aurora did not look very much although it was considerably more than the Monte Grappa held.

Attempting to measure the ink capacity. The ejected contents after filling.

I then found another video on the OdE (Objectos de Escrita) YouTube channel which showed the same exercise to measure the ink capacity of the Monte Grappa. The ink ejected amounted to about 0.6ml. Arguably it may be that there is some residue left in the feed which is not being expelled. However this volume would be similar to the contents of a standard international cartridge and only around half of what you might expect of a piston filler.

This bugged me as I had hoped that a fill would be around a similar volume to a Pelikan M800, Aurora 88 or Montblanc 146. Why can the Montegrappa not carry as much as these, or even a TWSBI Eco?

Montegrappa Monte Grappa. Cap posted. Next to an Aurora 88.

On delving into Fountain Pen Network, I found opinions from various threads, that this filling system is not a “true” piston filler but a “captive converter.” This means it is like a cartridge converter reservoir, albeit permanently fixed inside pen, which draws the ink into a reservoir rather than directly into the pen’s barrel, which would be a larger diameter. This also explains why the piston turning knob did not rise.

I found this a little disappointing. I appreciate that even 0.6ml of ink is sufficient to write a good number of pages with a medium nib and that refilling the pen is no hardship (actually quite pleasurable) yet this discovery, combined with the feed probably being plastic and not ebonite, made me question the wisdom of my purchase.

Size and weight

The pen does have a lovely tactile shape and finish. It is heavier than you might expect for a resin pen, probably due to the metal components in the filling mechanism. The pen measures around 137mm closed, 125mm uncapped and 158mm posted. Uncapped, it weighs around 30.5g, or 40.5g posted (with the cap alone weighing 10g).

The cap posts well and to me, did not seem to unbalance the pen although I hold my pens quite far back. The cap ring might feel rough against your hand, depending on where you chose to grip the pen. If you grip the pen lower, you may find it to be too back heavy. But then if you hold your pens low, you probably will not need to post the cap anyway.

Likes and dislikes

I liked the pen, for its brand history, its shape, comfort and heft and the solid, high quality feel. The medium nib wrote well. The self-contained ratchet-sound filling mechanism is a novelty but not necessarily an advantage and I have no complaints about filling my Pelikan, Aurora and Montblanc pens in silence. I liked the vintage look, the barrel text and the fact that this aligned with the nib and pocket clip.

On the downside, you need to accept that this is a mystery filler with no ink window, and as I suspect, not a large ink capacity and (unless I am mistaken) a plastic feed. This, I felt, made the cost rather on the high side.

The feed.

All in all, whilst I much enjoyed writing with the pen, I found myself suffering from “buyer’s remorse.” A decision had to be made quickly of whether to continue with the bonding process and accept the pen as it is or else to return it promptly for a refund.

I am sad to say that I decided to take the pen back to Harrods. After flushing it out I took it back to the store where I saw a different Montegrappa rep this time. I said that there was nothing wrong with the pen, but that I had changed my mind about it and that it was not quite what I had expected. He took a look at the nib and joked “It looks better than when it left the store!” I had certainly cherished it in those few days whilst it was in my ownership.

We talked about the feed and about the ink capacity. He explained that it should be around 1.2ml and that the plastic ink reservoir was to protect the body of the pen from the ink, which is alkaline. This sounded reasonable enough. However, to Harrods credit, they took the pen back and gave me a full refund without any fuss.

The story should end there, except that I found myself feeling rather bereft in the following days, with a case of the “refunder’s remorse.” I missed my lavender pen with its superb nib. My decision could quite easily have gone the other way. The pen had got under my skin. Montegrappas can do that to you.

Goodbye pen. Sorry that I gave you up.

Some early thoughts on the Montegrappa Fortuna fountain pen.

The Elmo & Montegrappa S.p.A. (public company) traces its origins to the Italian city of Bassano del Grappa in 1912, a date commemorated in the finial of this pen. Fortuna was the Roman name for the goddess of fortune (chance, luck and fate), so I gather.

My experience of Montegrappa fountain pens has until now been minimal. I had noticed them a few times in recent years when browsing in Harrods or Selfridges in London but had never owned one. However, I had heard good reports and on my latest visit to Selfridges I decided to give them a closer look. I was drawn to the Fortuna, in black which looked to be a good sized, un-fussy model with a stainless steel nib. Initially I was interested to hold it to see whether the metal cap threads and step from the barrel to the section, would be uncomfortable. They do coincide with where I hold the pen but the threads are not sharp and I was satisfied that they would not cause discomfort.

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Montegrappa Fortuna fountain pen.

I then had a closer look at the nib. It looked to be very nicely set up but I was also impressed by the decorative work in a sort of geometrical honeycomb pattern. I then tried writing with it. Wow! It felt beautifully smooth. It was a steel medium although the sales assistant explained that these were on the finer side of medium. This sounded ideal for me as I am sometimes unsure which to chose, between a fine and a medium.

After comparing the alternative models in the range, I settled on the black one that I had tried and also picked up a bottle of Montegrappa ink, in blue black.

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My writing paw.

Description

The Fortuna is constructed of resin in a gleaming, polished black finish and is a cartridge-converter pen taking standard international cartridges. The cap is rather torpedo shaped after which the cap and barrel taper down . The two ends of the pen are flattened. The pocket clip is extremely stiff but ends in a metal wheel which rolls as the clip slides over the side of a leather pen pouch, for example. The cap screws on, in about one and a quarter turns.  The section is of the same, glossy back resin as the cap and barrel. All threads are steel, except for those inside the cap. Under the barrel, a Montegrappa converter is included although the package also included two black cartridges.

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Montegrappa screw-fit converter included.

Size and weight (approximate)

Capped, the pen measures 135mm. Uncapped, it is 127mm but the cap posts deeply and securely to give a length of 157mm. Being a resin pen, this does not make the pen too back heavy, in my opinion, and I tend to prefer using it posted for all but the shortest of notes.  The exposed part of the nib measures 24mm.

Capped or posted, the total weight is around 30.5g, which I find to be neither too heavy nor too light. Uncapped it was 18.5g and the cap alone was around 12g.

The nib

As mentioned this is a stainless steel nib, and will suit those who like their nibs firm, but smooth. It bears the inscription,  Montegrappa, ITALIA, and an M for medium. I was thrilled to find the nib so well adjusted, giving what I consider an ideal flow, generously wet without being overly so and providing a lovely smooth writing experience.

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After filling, ink pools in the patterns and lettering of the nib. Quite lovely.

Likes

Getting the pen home, I spent some time making pleasant surprise discoveries, apart from the obvious pleasure of the writing experience with the Montegrappa blue black ink. To list them all here may need a spoiler alert. Skip this paragraph if you prefer to be surprised by joy!

  • Detailing in the finial, with the year 1912, a laurel wreath pattern and other decoration. It looks distinctive in the pen cup;
  • Unusual rolling wheel design at the end of the pocket clip;
  • Attractive pattern on the nib; after dipping the pen, the nib emerges with the lettering filled with ink;
  • Nice quality, screw-in converter, with Montegrappa branding, and a metal coil ink agitator inside; this should avoid ink starvation, from ink staying at the top end of the converter;
  • Montegrappa name in silver, on the two supplied cartridges;
  • Particularly nice, dark blue gift box, with silver coloured (metal?) Montegrappa name plate on the top and the name in blue on the inside.  Removable pen tray, reveals warranty and information booklet below; but lower section of box is also lined, making this a nice storage box to keep for future use;
  • The gift box is protected in a separate blue cardboard box and lid, with a hinged front flap for ease of access and a separate paper outer sleeve. Both boxes (and the ink box) bear the same geometric pattern as appears on the nib;
  • Attractive, octagonal glass ink bottle with plastic lid and silver coloured centre badge with “1912”.
  • Secure packaging of ink bottle, with cardboard insert in box; bottle and lid wrapped in protective layer and also sealed in clear plastic.
  • 24 months’ guarantee against manufacturing defects;
  • I will not review the ink here but suffice it to say, that Montegrappa Blue Black performs beautifully paired with this lovely smooth wet nib and I have found this combination to work better on the paper of some of my Paperchase journals than many other pen and ink combinations.

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Cap and finial

Dislikes

  • Pocket clip is very stiff; whilst it is good that the pen is unlikely to fall out of a pocket, this does make it rather hard to use and I am more likely to carry the pen in a leather pen pouch than a jacket pocket;
  • The rolling wheel in the pocket clip could fall out and get lost;
  • The steel-into-plastic cap threads need care not to over-tighten but also feel a little too easy to undo. Another good reason for carrying the pen in a pouch rather than straight in a pocket;
  • Whilst I have been fortunate (ha!) to get such a well adjusted nib, it is fair to mention that in a blue mosaic model reviewed by SBRE Brown, he found the nib to be very feedbacky and the step from barrel to section, to be sharp to the touch;
  • He also commented that the price is perhaps high, for a stainless steel nibbed cartridge converter pen and compared the pen to a Conklin All American which was approximately one half of the price.

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Two branded Montegrappa cartridges included

Conclusion

I have been very impressed so far with the nib performance, which seems to give as pleasurable a writing experience as any pen I have used, regardless of price range. I can imagine this quickly becoming a favourite, for home and work use.

Whether or not, at £170.00, it is the best use of the money, given the competition at this price level, is a matter of personal choice. Certainly there are gold nibbed pens to be had for less. You could go for a steel nibbed Edison Collier for a little less or a Sailor Pro Gear, with a gold nib (and from a company one year older!) for a little more, to name but two. But as pen enthusiasts will know, a higher price does not always go hand in hand with a better writing experience. Much will depend upon whether fortune is smiling upon you, as you make your purchase.

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Enough packaging to create your own shop display. Lovely box though.