New Spring Semester, Old Green Technology

fountain pens and notebook
Fountain pens: the ecological choice for note-taking. Clockwise from top: gold-filled Cross, “Turmaline” Lamy Al-Star, silver Pilot MR Metropolitan, black Sheaffer Connaisseur, multi-colored promotional pen.

School starts in a couple days! During intersession, I’ve been preparing for classes in statistics and geology by watching YouTube videos on statistics (thanks, Crash Course and Khan Academy) and taking a free Open University course on geology.

I also reached out to my professors from last semester about getting references for the archaeology scholarship and also for future jobs. I reviewed and organized last semester’s class files, purging about 80% of the paper and integrating the books into my bookshelves. And, I’ve done a little free reading, something I didn’t have much time while school was in session. Most of it, though, was archaeologically related.

school supplies
A five-pack of notebooks and 50ml of Pilot Namiki black should be enough for now. The converter is another story.

And, I got some fresh school supplies! A pack of notebooks and … a fountain pen converter?

I was unhappy about the amount of plastic waste I generated last semester through my use of disposable pens – I think one class alone emptied about a half-dozen throw-away pens. That’s not a ton of plastic waste, but it’ll be around forever, and considering I’d switched to bamboo toothbrushes over a year ago, and I was going through pens quite a bit quicker than toothbrushes, it was time to change.

The thing is, I’d used fountain pens since junior high school. Not because they were common, but precisely because they were uncommon. Plus, they wrote better, smoother, and quicker than ballpoint pens. They could write or draw a regular line or an extra-fine line depending on how you oriented the nib on the paper. And, they were indefinitely refillable, making them a great choice for a kid who was into buying green decades before it became a market segment. Even though I identify as a child of the late 1970s, environmentalism was a piece of the ‘60s I carried with me into adulthood,.

I used to get (or my Mom did) Sheaffer cartridge pens in blister packs from the grocery store, along with refill cartridges. After exploring some pen collecting websites, I can say the ones I used were of the last generation, with squared off plastic barrels in assorted colors, steel nibs, and squared-off chrome pull-off caps. I remember having them in black, red, blue, and even one in olive green, generally with black, blue-black, or blue Sheaffer Skrip ink cartridges depending on what the store had in stock. I used Sheaffer cartridge fountain pens all through college.

But, after starting to work in advertising, I switched to Pilot Razor Points because that was what the creative director used and what the ad agency had in its supply cabinet. Besides, a fountain pen is an unhandy thing for non-continuous writing, as you do when you’re concepting. Still, I kept a fountain pen around for taking notes. And, as my income rose, I upgraded to an 18k gold-filled Cross, and later a Sheaffer Connaisseur off the clearance shelf at a local office supply store. Both have solid gold medium nibs. But gradually I shifted to the Pilot Razor Points for everything, and the fountain pens went into the drawer.

Flash forward 35 years to last semester. I used top-rated Papermate Inkjoy ballpoints, which  didn’t last very long and the black ones would quickly go gray in use. No amount of shaking would make them write black again. I went through a lot of pens, and every one I threw away caused a pang of regret for the plastic I was sending to the landfill.

fountain pens
Top to bottom: Sheaffer Connaisseur, medium nib. Lamy Al-Star, fine nib. Pilot MR Metropolitan, medium nib. Promotional pen from a bank circa 1990s, fine nib. Cross, medium nib.

I was shopping Amazon for a refillable pens when it hit me that I already owned some: my fountain pens! I dug them out of the drawer, gave the nibs a quick rinse, loaded them with ancient ink cartridges, and they fired right up. But the cartridges themselves are plastic, so I bought some bottled inks and the aforementioned converter for the Sheaffer. That converter didn’t fit – the Sheaffer Connaisseur needs a really weird, hard-to-find converter – but I was on to the right idea. The Cross had a converter (for some reason, I had three), as did my more recently acquired Pilot MR Metropolitan. I also found in my pen drawer a promotional giveaway fountain pen I think I picked up at the grand opening of a local bank branch.

And, I dug out my Dad’s old Parker 51 fountain pens from the 1950s. He had other fountain pens, but I have only these two, recovered from a box as we cleared my mother’s old house. I sent them out for repair, and they should be back and in service this coming week.

highlighting over fountain pen ink
Fountain pen inks that hold up well enough to even multiple passes of highlighting

In the meantime, I bought some inks (in reusable/recyclable glass bottles) and a new Lamy Al-Star fountain pen in a limited edition color called “Turmaline” (sic) with a fine nib. I also got some blunt syringes for refilling the Sheaffer cartridges; it’s currently running a lovely turquoise ink from Diamine called “Aurora Borealis.” The Cross is currently loaded with Diamine “Imperial Purple,” the Pilot MR Metropolitan with J. Herbin “Lie de Thé” (brown), and the promotional pen with Diamine “Earl Grey.” The Lamy is running reliable Pilot Namiki black, as will at least one of my Dad’s Parker 51s. As you can see, all the inks work well on my cheap Amazon notebook paper and hold up to even multiple passes of highlighting with my Sharpie highlighters.

So, with a small selection of inks and an esoteric arsenal of pens, I’m ready for next semester – and the semester after that, on and on with nary a scrap of plastic waste!


  1. Hey, I have been looking for pens like that promotional pen!!! I used to have several, bought in the 1990’s and lost in a move. Can you please look at that pen and see what brand it is if at all possible? I would really appreciate it!
    And I totally agree about reusing pens, among many other things, as a way to be green. I loathe just throwing something away!


    1. The promotional pen is unbranded and completely unmarked except for the bank logo. It takes universal cartridges and converters.

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