Review: Lamy AL Star Fountain Pen
I'm not an expert on fountain pens by any stretch of the imagination, having received my first one about two years ago --an amazing and unexpected gift from Robert Lynch, an Aurora Style. Since then, however, I've certainly fallen under their spell. True, they're not always the most convenient, and I almost always have a little splatter of ink in the corners of my fingernails, but there's something about the way that they glide across the page trailing a fine wet line that glistens even in the dim light of my office. Or perhaps it's the throwback to a calmer, less hectic time when we had time to make words meaningful. So, too, the relaxing ritual of filling my pens with sundry types and colours of ink, even mixing my own concoctions, a past-time that merges my wild ambitions as artist, scientist and writer.
But the mystique of fountain pens can also be mystifying for the beginner. I know it was for me. A glance through various fountain pen websites will quickly bring into focus the highly regarded pens that cost thousands of dollars. Wandering through fountain pen listings and forums will baffle you with an arcane lexicon and conflicting statements about pens, nibs, inks, filling systems, pricing, collectability and custom grindings. Alas, these are barriers to entry for the poor newbie who wishes simply to buy a reliable and inexpensive pen that can be used as a daily writer without pain, confusion, financial ruin or the permanent soiling of one's carpet.
Enter the Lamy AL Star.
The AL Star is the slightly upscale version of Lamy's low-end utility Safari line, upgraded with an aluminum body and a translucent gripping section, but still keeping the same form factor and nib as the plastic-bodied Safari. The suggested retail value of the AL Star is $38 USD, about $9 more than its sibling, but it can often be found on eBay and on special for between $23-29 USD.
Given that so many people recommend pens that cost $250-400, it mustn't be a very good pen, right? On the contrary, the pen writes quite well on decent paper. (Few fountain pens will write well on ultra-cheap paper like newsprint or bargain-basement stock.) The fine nib on my Silvergreen pen exhibits little scratchiness --it'll never write as smooth as a $150-200 pen, but it's quite acceptable-- and it demonstrates excellent flow with most of the inks I've tried. In fact, it's probably one of the most reliable of the pens I've used; it starts writing smoothly every time, with no need to "start" it on some scratch paper beforehand. The nib is affectionately known as a stick type, which means that is has no flexibility, but just a strong, even line with little deviation in thickness.
One thing that often plagues newcomers to fountain pens is the turning or rotation of the pen while writing, since the nib should always remain at a consistent angle on the paper. The AL Star (and Safari) line overcomes this problem with two angular cuts in the usually-rounded area of the gripping section, just behind the nib where the fingers generally squeeze while writing. This clever design is not only ergonomic, but has the effect of maintaining the nib at the perfect angle all the time time, with no creeping rotation.
The body is more or less rounded except that opposite sides are flattened to prevent rolling off the table. Within these flat areas are a window to see the remaining supply of ink and an etched Lamy logo near the rear of the pen. The pen itself is rather thick, about one and a half times as thick as a Pilot G2, but it tends to fit all but the smallest hands fairly well, and it's quite light to handle.
The cap is completely rounded and a bit bigger than the body of the pen. A large wire-spring clip and a plastic plus-shaped accent at top round out the stylish modern look of this pen (which is decidedly not for everyone). The cap doesn't screw on, but instead creates an air-tight seal with a satisfying click. This is a virtue in a pen that you need to uncap quickly.
The whole pen is quite a rugged affair and --given its toughness and inexpensive price-- would feel quite at home tossed in a backpack or in a purse. Combine it with an adapter/converter for filling from ink bottles and a small selection of smooth-writing ink such as Noodler's or Waterman, and you can have an excellent daily writer that's not only economical and ecologically friendly, but a great introduction to fountain pens.
Thinking of dipping your toe into the fountain pen waters? I doubt you'd go wrong with the Lamy AL Star, or even with the more vibrant colours of its cheaper plastic cousin, the Safari.