Personal Values

15 01 2022

Don’t worry – this isn’t about COVID or anti-vaxxers. It’s about value and cost. A bit. Mainly it’s about me just typing stuff as it comes into my head. So – unfiltered naïveté mainly. (And the fun of hunting down all those rarely used characters on the keyboard).

I grew up in a less wealthy part of the UK, but I can’t say I really needed for anything. Sure, as a kid in the 70s I wanted for plenty… but I think I shared that with even the most wealthy of my cohort. And every kid before or since!

My parents did a pretty good job though, and I was fed, sheltered and watered as well as any plant. We’ll gloss over Bretford Nylons and pig’s liver (here‘s a fancy version I was never fed), and focus on the fact I am still an active, contributing member of society several decades later. Job well done, mum and dad!

But there was a practical part to my upbringing – and therefore subliminal education – that tended to appreciate “value”. This is often characterised and even caricaturised as people from Yorkshire being “tight-fisted” or at best “careful with their money”. Personally I see no fault in trying to get the best return from one’s hard-earned money. Especially as for many in the North, it was very hard earned.

But there’s a huge difference – and this wasn’t always appreciated by me at the time – between high value and low cost. Low cost items may not be high value. They may be “cheap” but poorly made, such as colouring pencils that break as soon as one looks at them too suddenly. Their value is therefore low, despite the low cost… you may well end up throwing them away and not getting much use at all.

Or, alternatively, they can be low priced simply due to the mode of manufacture and low raw materials cost. Paper tissues are incredibly low cost per sheet, but they are manufactured in the millions to be used once and discarded. Arguably discount tissues are good value, because they perform as expected despite the low price point… and arguably low expectations of any tissue. Paying 3 times more for a premium tissue doesn’t improve its effectiveness. Its value in use remains essentially the same, but its increased cost reduces its monetary value.

Similarly, many Japanese manufactured goods – say an electronic device such as a TV – can offer great value because for a given price point they may well offer superior build quality, features, or less tangible things such as warranty than other brands. That value is therefore relative to similar offerings at the price point, and not merely measured by its cost.

Value is a weird concept as one delves into it because it’s highly fluid.

Water (maybe “fluid” prompted the example) is incredibly valuable because, quite simply, without it we die! Aside from air, it’s hard to think of something with more absolute value! Yet we complain that the price of bottled water is too much in a café. The reason of course is contextual. At that moment, we’re in the café for recreational reasons (and in absolute terms reasonably well hydrated, despite any thirst we may perceive) – to enjoy a pleasant few moments with friends or perhaps to catch up on our studies and annoy other customers who can’t now sit down because we’ve taken up an entire table for 6 with our text books.

The water’s price is more likely a function of the brand label on the plastic bottle containing it. Whatever the reason, in a café, it’s unlikely to be a life-threatening situation in which the price of the water is a mortal matter. In other places, in other times, it is exactly that, and the price one is willing to pay goes way beyond any financial measure. Indeed there are countless lives that have been lost in order to attain or control even muddy, polluted water, where the alternative is the ultimate price: death.

Admittedly, an example in the extreme, but my take-away is that “good value” and “low cost” do not share a consistent relationship, and the value of an item, even at a fixed cost, may vary by situation.

So called luxury goods add a whole new twist to “value”. A peculiarly human thing, we associate value to the very concept of brand. A name, a logo, even a colour – it is amazing that simply by applying it to an article we can somehow increase its desirability (contextually) and therefore increase its perceived value. Someone in need of a bag to haul their groceries sees no additional value in a bag branded Louis Vuitton, over one branded Morrisons. Someone on the other hand who is keen to be perceived as glamorous when out and about may see huge “value” in the former, and an actual negative value in being seen with a supermarket carrier bag.

And so we come to fountain pens. A device that has moved from a workaday functional item in the 1920s to a less common or even luxury item in the 21st century.

There are those amongst us who perceive fountain pens merely as “coloured plastic sticks with ink coming out of (hopefully) one end”. Indeed – this would then apply to any number of technologies including gel pens and Biros. If you’re merely looking for something to write with – they’re all of equal value…

There are others that enjoy the history of the engineering discoveries that allows the ink to be delivered in a controlled, even manner; the chemistry in the various types of inks; the different methods of paper manufacture. Every mode of human activity has its nerds.

There are the “brand whores” who prefer Montblanc or any number of Italian brands because of the name, and irrespective of any design issues – confusing brand marketing with quality. Like those in North America who value Mercedes “because it’s posh” and are dumb-founded to find almost all taxis in Germany are Mercedes.

Each finds value through their own lens.

Then there are the pen users – and of course they may also reside in one or more of the previous arbitrary categories too. I consider myself one of these.

I enjoy writing with a fountain pen. I appreciate a nicely executed pen design. I love the way my Parker Vacumatic looks, I enjoy the history of its design… and I hate the way it writes. Not because it’s in any way defective, but I simply don’t like extra fine (EF) nibs… which is how this one was made back in the early 1940s. A thing of beauty, not inconsiderable financial value, but rarely used by myself and therefore unappreciated (unvalued) at some level.

At the other extreme, I own many sub-$20 pens that I love on all fronts and use regularly. They write well, they’re reliable, they feel solid, and I like the way they look. In the middle ground are some older Parkers, a couple of Opus 88s, Narwhal and many other new and vintage offerings. I enjoy and use all of them (even the Parker Vacumatic on occasion), but I have to admit that the lower cost ones most often offer the biggest bang for the buck.

Like the tissue, they do what is expected just as well as many higher priced offerings, and though they may not have the brand cachet of more expensive pens they often look just as good, display equally high design features and at the end of the day, lay just as bad an example of ones handwriting on the page as the most expensive Montblanc.

My most recent acquisition was a Jinhao 95, which slipped into the cart when I bought a Jinhao 9035. I have a few “types” when it comes to pens, and this one appealed to my love of stealth pens. I love the vintage green marble look as displayed on my vintage Mabie Todd, Wyvern and others. I love all-metal pens such as the Parker 25 and other Parker “Flighters”. I have an all-copper Retro 51 Tornado, for example, as well as a Kaweco Brass Sport. And then there’s the “stealth” style. These are all-black pens, ideally including the nib.

Historically of course many pens were all-black, though usually this was (still is, in fact) a high gloss black and often accompanied by chrome/silver trim or gold trim – often abbreviated to CT or GT in pen-parlance. Stealth style pens in contrast use a matte black finish to barrel, cap and section, trim that is black or no trim at all, and ideally a black PVD (physical vapour deposition) coated nib. Cheaper offerings simply paint the nib.

The Jinhao 95 I selected fit the bill perfectly, and was right at home with other pens of the style I already owned.

Jinhao 95, Lamy Studio, Hong Dian 517D

The overall finish is very similar to the black Studio LX I own, though the matte finish is ever so slightly more reflective. The metal parts are all a smoky very dark grey, including a firm, serviceable clip and “JINHAO” and “95” engraved on the cap’s lip. The cap has a plastic liner to prevent the nib drying out, and the seal is so effective that the cap makes a gunshot crack as it clips shut.

The nib is a standard Jinhao steel No 5 nib with the usual border decoration, horse and chariot logo and Jinhao F on it. As mentioned, this model comes with a black-painted nib, which is housed in a removable nib unit for ease of swapping by unscrewing. There is a slight step up to the barrel from the section, but it is smooth and inobtrusive to the grip when writing.

I inked my pen with Diamine’s Peach Punch, as obtained from the 2021 advent calendar. I find this particular ink needs a little dwell time or a wet nib to get the best from its shading capabilities, and that meant having to press a little harder with this stiff nib than I’d really like to. I have no concerns about damaging the nib, but it just makes for a less enjoyable writing experience. A wetter, more saturated ink or maybe a broader nib at some point might solve that. This totally serviceable but nail-like nib is my only (very mild) gripe.

The inner collar holding the standard converter and having the threads for the barrel to screw to is also made from the same smoky grey finished metal as the other fittings, giving a classy feel to even the hidden parts of the pen.

All fit and finish points are well executed – there’s no wobbly cap or uncertain threads. I’m sure the matte finish will not stand up unmarked to years of abuse, but then I’m not sure my much more expensive Lamy Studio’s will either! I paid around CAD$6 for this pen, delivered. (Well over $100 for the Lamy). That puts it in the price range of a disposable Pilot V-pen or an all-plastic Platinum Preppy. They are all excellent designs, built to a price, but the heft and feel of this pen is far superior to either, and is all metal. I myself prefer the look of this Jinhao, but at the end of the day, perceived value is a very personal and situational concept.


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3 responses

16 01 2022
I can stop. Anytime I like. | Quieter Elephant

[…] indeed stop any time I like, I’ll call that it for this post and talk about the Jinhao 95 in a separate outing to the keyboard. Until next […]

23 01 2022
Fountain Pen Quest Trail Log – January 23, 2022 | Fountain Pen Quest

[…] Personal Values | Quieter Elephant […]

19 02 2022
The good and the bad… but at least they’re not ugly. | Quieter Elephant

[…] be clear – these are all Chinese manufactured pens (I didn’t include my Lamy Studio LX which is more expensive)… and they’re better than the Parker. So it has nothing to do […]

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