Of bad arguments, apologetics and precious resin…

So Dr. Jonathon Deans is at it again. His latest post is about Montblancs use of the term “precious resin”, and it is a trainwreck. To explain the point I’m coming from I would like to preface this post by telling you that I am a native German speaker (this will be quite useful later on), I have a background in journalism and I am a scientifically minded rationalist and skeptic. Here’s my response:

One of the more perplexing things about our community is the lengths that some members will go to in order to support the firms which provide for us and sustain the hobby – the manufacturers, distributors, and retailers – but some of those very same members will dig the boot into one particular brand, Montblanc, without hesitation.

Well, thats almost as perplexing as Deans making unwarranted claims about Lamy and attacking the people that enjoy their pens on Twitter earlier this year. It seems to me that we have a bad case of a pot calling a kettle black here.

It’s quite common to see the claim made that Montblanc pens aren’t really made from ‘precious resin’ but from plastic. Often, it’s followed with the argument that Montblanc have chosen a fancy name for a common material and somehow use this terminology to convince stupid customers to pay huge amounts for low-cost pens.

The use of “It’s quite common…” without giving examples or sources reeks of a hidden “I feel like this is how it is”. But is that really the argument that we see when we talk about Montblanc and their use of the term “precious resin”? I never got that impression.

Deans makes a case that the term is made out to be “marketing magic” that “enables them to dupe their customers” if it works. It obviously isn’t as Deans rightfully points out. He also truthfully points out that “precious resin” is not used in sales pitches. But does the criticism he is trying to dismantle here ring true? It doesn’t, at least to me…

He than points fingers at Pelikan and Faber Castel and , buhu, shouldn’t we criticize them in the same way?

I think Deans is fundamentally misunderstanding (or is suspect misrepresenting) the criticism that people aim at Montblanc and their use of the term “precious resin”. I have never seen claims that their use of the term is a reason for people to buy MB pens and that they are being conned. My impression and a much more reasonable point is that people are ridiculing Montblanc for using the term to hide the mundane origins of their materials because they sell exclusively to the premium market segment, at what people perceive to be even higher prices. And I think that is justified. A flagship Montblanc compared to a flagship Pelikan in Germany is a 200€ step up.

Enthusiasts like us see right through it of course. We know that “precious resin” is not a naturally occurring material but a man made artificial substance. And we wouldn’t mind. We just ridicule the slight of hand that is used to hide it while charging premium prices. Montblanc does have a big customer base of non-enthusiasts though, just because they are known as the luxury pen brand. And I don’t think it is a stretch to say that these people are not aware of what “precious resin” actually means. An there lies a problem, a potentially unethical sales tactic.

The third problem is that the resin isn’t equivalent to plastic – especially not the ABS plastic that most of us think when we hear the term.

Is it not? It is all just processed petroleum, isn’t it? Is Montblancs plastic manufactured differently than other plastics? Probably. Is that process more difficult and labor intensive? Maybe. Does that make the material better or of higher quality? Well, that’s your personal and subjective judgment.

Can you really argue that the term “precious resin” has been coined to disguise the mundane origin of the materials?

Yes, apparently Deans can. In his apologetics for a pen brand he enjoys he is arguing for a simple error in translation.

The German term Montblanc uses for the material is “Edelharz” (please mind the capital “E” Jonathon, all nouns start with a capital letter in German).

“Harz” is resin, no argument here. So the issue apparently is with the term “edel”.

I can see why the confusion exists, I can’t come up with a straight translation either. The word is defined by the Duden (the German standard dictionary) as:

  1. of noble birth (outdated), pure or high breed
  2. well mannered, well intended
  3. harmonic, of pleasant shape, exquisite, high quality

All things that you would like to have in a material for a premium pen, no question, and Montblanc probably uses a very high quality plastic as their “precious resin”.

That’s not enough for Deans though. He goes through a made up train of thought of someone translating the term, comes up with “exclusive” which would be fine with me because it changes little from “precious”. “Exclusive” is just as ambiguous as “precious”, it expresses scarcity and higher quality and would deserve the same ridicule if it were used by Montblanc.

Deans goes a step further by proposing “proprietary” for being synonymous with “exclusive”. I don’t think these are synonymous at all, but even worse, “proprietary” is completely removed from the German origin. When a native speaker reads the word “Edelharz” in Montblancs materials, she would never arrive at a meaning that means “proprietary”. “Edelharz” does not express that the material is proprietary to Montblanc. It actually expresses a high quality naturally occurring tree sap. Which it is not.

So what do we have here? I would say that Montblanc very deliberately uses both “Edelharz” and “precious resin” to obscure the fact that it is in fact a plastic (of high quality, no argument there) to support their image of luxury goods and premium prices.

Deans post irks me, like so many of his posts. I get the impression that he is not very self aware, engages in behavior that he has criticized in others, is apologetic about a brand that is close to his heart. He talks with confidence about things that he later on freely admits to having no facts to base his arguments on (“precious resin” not being an ordinary plastic but stating that he has no knowledge of the actual chemistry and I assume the manufacturing process). He makes false analogies by talking about vintage celluloids and how they are perceived differently by the community. Yes, but for being vintage (so, nostalgia…) and aesthetically pleasing, mostly. I don’t think anybody would object to the fact that celluloid is plastic, albeit a nice one.

I wish Deans would be more careful with his opinion pieces. Or stick to his area of expertise. He has a tendency extrapolate wildly, to make up strawmen just to knock them down. Being so aware of his sloppy arguments and thinking in his writing on issues I have some expertise in has made it impossible for me to trust his views on economics, where I have little. It’s a shame, really.

Fountain Pen Day 2016

Has it really been a year?

Well, let’s see, how did it go?

I did not blog and post as much as I wanted, but I learned to love Instagram and the great community of pen enthusiasts over there.

I have met friends that share my pastime at my second visit of the Hamburg pen show, Pen*Port. And I realized again that it’s all about the people, and I have been incredibly lucky to meet some of the best this community has to offer. Some of them have moved across the globe since then, but I know that this connection we build will make my life more rich no matter how close or distant we live.

I tried some other forms of posts than just reviews, somewhat more of narratives and conversations or thoughts on topics that are points of discussion within our little community of pen nerds.

And I am still enjoying my pens. I’m getting more but at a slower pace. My tastes evolve and change.

So here’s to all of you, of us, and to another year of loving pens and the friends me make over them.

Tim

Tactile Turn Gist

Tactile Turn is a one man shop run by Will Hodges. Will did very well received bodies for ballpoint and gel refills in the past and recently crowd-funded the Gist, his first fountain pen, after .

After some technical difficulties and the resulting delays (this is a Kickstarter project, after all) the Gist is in the hands of backers and I have been using mine for some weeks now.

Design

The Gists big appeal is the mix and match approach to the materials that you can get it in. Body, finial and grip can be machined either from a black polycarbonate or one of several metals.

The pen is 13cm long when capped and only 11,5cm when uncapped. Unposted it is very short and not comfortable for me to write with. Fortunately this pen begs to be posted, which gives you a very comfortable length of 15,5cm. The cap posts deeply and securely, and the polycarbonate material with the ribbing is very durable so it probably won’t leave any marks. I usually don’t like posting my pens but I have no trouble doing it here.

The polycarbonate body with the stainless steel grip section add up to 25 grams including the cap. This is a very light pen, although the metal body variants will no doubt be considerably more heavy.

The overall shape in combination with the black polycarbonate body and the metal grip section is very reminiscent of the Lamy 2000, a timeless design that has stood up to 50 years of progress and new design languages.

The cap screws on, which is a blessing and a curse when it comes to pocket pens. On the one had it stays capped securely and you won’t ever reach for it just to notice that the bare nib is leaking ink into your pocket. On the other hand you can’t just pull off the cap to jot down a quick note, either. I guess I never understood the appeal of pocket pens. There are pens that I am comfortable carrying in a jeans pocket, but they aren’t necessarily pocket pens.

The grip section is long and comfortable and you can grip the pen as low or as high you want to and be comfortable. The machined groves give the section an nice texture that won’t get slippery even during long writing sessions. The threads for the cap are wide and flattened out at the top. They feel like a continuation of the ribbed body pattern and you don’t notice them at all when writing.

Every Gist in existence has been made by one person. Will Hodges is the entirety of Tactile Turn, and I can’t even imagine how stressful it must have been to fulfill so many pledges for such a successful project. And the pen feels well made. The threads are precise, there is no wiggle. Sometimes it seems like the cap sits a little crooked on the pen although the threads are machined well. Maybe it’s an optical illusion.

The Gist uses a cartridge/converter filling system. It comes with a supplied converter and the system works well. The converter looks a little lost and as if it has too much wiggle room in the section, but once you screw the barrel back on everything is tight and secure. I have had no reason to test the Gist with another convert since this one does it’s job well, but be advised that I have heard that most standard international converters are too long for the barrel. The one that come with the pen looks kinda short, so take good care of it, it might not be easy to replace.

Perfomance

A fountain pen is only as good as its nib. You can have the best barrel design, the pretties celluloid or acrylic, golden trim or Sylvester Stallone for promotion and testimonials

If your nibs don’t work, your pen doesn’t work.

The Gist uses Bock nib units.

I hate Bock nib units.

Bock doesn’t stamp their nibs with the nib grade, they never start well for me and the titanium nibs that they offer are so finicky and inconsistent…

I got my Gist with a titanium nib unit. I made that choice before I had received my first titanium nib in the Namisu Nova. This one isn’t any better than my previous experience.

I don’t know what grade I got. Again, the nibs aren’t stamped, and with a titanium nib I just can’t tell! I’m pretty sure I ordered a fine. One day the nib is so wet that it writes closer to a broad, the other one its dry and won’t start when I begin a new word. The tines get knocked out of alignment by just looking at them disapprovingly. Which I do pretty much constantly!

At some point I just gave up and screwed in a steel nib that I got with my Namisu Nexus. They don’t perform well, but at least they are consistently annoying.

Conclusion


I really want to like the Gist. And some days I do. I guess it’s just not for me? I like the look, because I like the look of the Lamy 2000, but I like the Lamy better. I like that it’s pocketable, but I don’t really need a pen that I can carry like that. I like that it is hand made, but then again, there are other pens that are hand made that are just more exiting to me.

And the nibs…

I can tolerate the steel Bock nibs that I got some time ago, but they are not great. The titanium is nice in theory and to play with, but it is a hassle. A pocket pen I expect to perform immediately when I get it out. The steel nibs barely ever do that, and forget about the titanium.

So should you get one? If you have experience with the Bock nibs and like them there is nothing that speaks against it. For me though? This won’t see much use…

What others thinks about the Gist

SBRE Brown has a video on every pen in existence, and that is why we love him so much.

Ed Jelley did a great job capturing the unique design aspects of the Gist in his pictures.

Azizah over at GourmetPens loves the pens and gives them a glowing review that you should read right now.

Matt did a review on PenHabit recently. His videos are a delight, check them out.