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The firm of C. Josef Lamy GmbH (of Heidelberg in southwestern Germany) is without a doubt my favorite of all modern penmakers. Here we have family-run firm that competes right in the middle of the busy European mid-price pen market with the big conglomerates, and consistently exemplifies the same spirit of technical innovation and design sense that drove the pen industry throughout its classic age in the mid-20th century what's not to like? Well, I suppose you might yawn if your tastes run to limited-production jewel-encrusted swirly-colored gegaws commemorating sundry DWEMs (Dead White European Males), or if the subtlety of matté black and stainless steel don't exactly set your pulses racing. However, if (like me) you're a Meyers-Briggs INFP type who somehow found his way into the engineering game, Lamy (the name rhymes with 'Tommy') may be right up your alley too.
C. Josef Lamy was an executive with Parker's operation in Continental Europe; in 1930, he left to go into business for himself, with the acquisition of the existing Orthos pen firm. For a time, the company made Duofold-inspired button fillers under the Orthos name. After World War II, Lamy introduced a new line of inexpensive pens under the Artus name; these were among the very first pens in Europe to be manufactured using molded synthetic plastics (rather than hand-turned natural resins). Lamy began to sell pens under its own name in the mid-1950s; mostly, these were handsome conservative pens in the style of the contemporary Montblancs and Pelikans.
In the mid-1960s, Lamy stepped out from the pack, design-wise, when they commissioned industrial designer Gerd A. Müller to create a new flagship product. This was the model 2000, a classic Bauhaus-inspired design that has remained in production ever since 1966 with no significant change (I cover the 2000 on a separate page). This pen set the tone for all Lamys to come: forward-looking design, quality construction, and excellent writing performance.
Surprisingly, perhaps, Lamy remains a family-run business (under C. J. Lamy's son Manfred), and continues to concentrate exclusively on the writing-instrument trade. Today, Lamy's products embrace the broad center of the pen and pencil market; they don't make sybaritcally expensive pens, but they don't make really cheap ones either (no disposables or bulk-pack stick pens). They're very popular in Europe, but are less often seen in the U.S., perhaps because they face a tough challenge against established domestic brands and imports from Japan and elsewhere. As a result, only a portion of the suprisingly large Lamy model range is commonly available on the left side of the big culvert, and you'd be just as likely to find them in PDA-accessory shops, or executive toy stores (where the customers go ga-ga over four-way stylus-equipped ballpoints and such), as in fine-pen boutiques. Lamy is currently distributed here in the U.S. by Letts of London (the folks who also bring us Filofax journals and Yard-O-Led pens and pencils), and you can visit their website at http://www.lamyusa.com/. Distribution here seems to have widened considerably since Letts took up the brand.
I've included here a sampling of some of Lamy's more interesting and (in some cases) less-often-seen models. If you happen to run across any of these on your travels (whether in the real or virtual worlds), they're worth picking up: you won't exhaust your bank account, and you'll have some absolutely unique pieces of practical art and technology.
NOTE: the photographs on this page (with the exception of those of the 2000, the Vista, and the Accent) are not mine, but are taken for fair use from Lamy's very nice corporate website (http://www.lamy.de/) which is worth a visit if you are looking for more info about this company, its history, its philosophy, and its products).
Student pens represent make up a lucrative and important component of the European pen market. Such pens are a true test of a manufacturer's ingenuity, since they have to be completely functional and durable (otherwise they won't stay long in Junior's backpack or jeans pocket), but they must also be inexpensive and stylish (or they won't make it there in the first place). Lamy's most successful contribution to the breed is the Safari, designed by Brent Spiegel of Entwicklungsgruppe Mannheim (Mannheim Development Group). Introduced in 1980, the Safari has become the most recognizable of Lamy pens for many of us here in the U.S. It has been so successful that it has "spun off" a number of variants, including the aluminum-clad Al-Star, the transparent Vista, and the taper-tailed Joy model for calligraphers (which is available with italic points in a few useful widths).
The basic Safari fountain pen remains in the lineup, however, and is joined by a matching pushbutton pencil, a ballpoint (with a clever rubber-booted button), a capped rollerball, and a pencil-ballpoint combo, as well as the familiar fountain pen shown here (which currently lists for $20 and usually sells for less). The Safari is a large pen, and looks as much like a piece of industrial machinery as it does a pen (which, of course, is an advantage in this style-conscious market sector).
The Safari is a cartridge filler (using Lamy's proprietary cartridges or bottle-fill converter) with a tough, rigid steel point in the familiar German "wing" motif. Most Safari points have a satiny gunmetal finish (the Safari's sister models use nickel plated points). The section joint is sealed by a rubber o-ring; this is more for appearance than function, since if the pen leaks, the ink will go right out the ink-view windows cut in the sides of the barrel. The clip is an industrial-looking bail of brass wire, secured under the derby with its hefty looking top screw. The section is tapered, and has two cutouts for a secure grip. Barrel, cap, and section are made of tough ABS plastic in pale or dark gray, red, blue, or bright yellow (I have a couple in white, but this color seems to have dropped from the lineup). During 2004, Lamy added an orange-on-orange "Flame" color to the line.
I've owned a couple of Safaris but they don't get as much use as some of my others; this is no reflection on the utility of these pens, it's just that I have plenty of others to play with. Still, if you are new to FPs or are on a budget, you can't go wrong with these. Note that you'll have a tough time finding the Lamy cartridges in stores (you can mail order them from many sources), but if you invest the extra five bucks or so in a Lamy converter (not included with the pen), you won't have to worry about refilling. They're big, but light in weight, and are extremely tough. They're rigid writers that suit most modern hands used to ballpoints and pencils.
|Production||1980 - present|
|Type||Fountain pen (cartridge/converter), pencil, ballpoint, capped rollerball, ballpiont/pencil combo|
|Point||Steel with gunmetal finish.|
|Construction||ABS plastic barrel, cap, and section; wire bail clip.|
The Spirit, designed by Wolfgang Fabian and introduced in 1994, has its grip and clip made up (by simple rolling and folding) from a single stamping of stainless steel sheet. The result is a gem of minimalist design, a svelte 6mm/0.25" in diameter. Into this mere slip of a superstructure (it has no real barrel to speak of) is inserted either ballpooint or 0.5mm pencil guts (the ballpoint uses the smaller M21 refill found in Lamy's multi-way ballpoints). Sorry, no fountain pens on the horizon, apparently (although I wouldn't put it past Lamy's ingenuity). Both instruments sell for around 25 Euros in the home market (for the basic stainless-steel finish), and a bit more here in the states (when you can find them), but they're a tiny fraction of the price of other currently-fashionable "skeleton" pens.
Every engineer has to have at least one geeky-looking mechanical pencil, and this one is mine (well, OK, I also have another and still another). On the other hand, maybe it isn't so geeky. I'll admit that I got it mostly for the cool design, and it is just a bit too thin for me to use steadily, but for the rare occasions that I need a pencil, it is just right. It's also a fascinating object to hold and play with, and has kept me awake through many a dull meeting. I had to beat the bushes to find a supplier in the Americas who didn't want an arm and a leg for it, but you may now find it at http://www.swisherpens.com/. You can use common 0.5mm lead, but think about stocking up on the unique erasers for the pencil or the tiny M21 refills for the ballpoint.
|Production||1994 - present|
|Type||Ballpoint or pencil|
|Point||Small ballpoint refill or 0.5mm lead|
|Construction||Clip and superstructure formed in simple operations from a single stamping of stainless steel; nickel, black, or palladium finishes.|
Rollerballs are often touted as "poor mens' fountain pens," offering smooth wrting with liquid ink in a less fussy package. Most rollerballs that are offered in pen "families" (such as the current Parker Duofold line) have caps just like their fountain-pen siblings. Capless rollerball pens can be dangerous, since the liquid ink can be drawn out when you put such a pen in your pocket with the point out (which is very easy to do). So, with the Swift (introduced in 1990, also designed by Wolfgang Fabian), Lamy introduced a unique safety feature: the disappearing clip, which drops flush with the barrel when the point is extended for writing. You'll know not to put the pen back in your pocket with the point out because you have no clip. All you have to do is to retract the point and the solid steel spring-mounted clip pops back out for service. The Swift uses Lamy's smooth and capacious M66 refill.
If the price of the Swift (around $50-$80, depending upon the finish) scares you off, you can try the Lamy Tipo, which uses the same highly-regarded M66 refill, and comes in both plastic and metal versions (it typically sells for $15-20 here in the U.S.). The Tipo's clip doesn't disappear, but it does automatically retract the point when you hook it on your pocket. The less-expensive line of plastic-barreled Swift IIs (with the disappearing clips) has been discontinued, but may still be available (you may have to try a European source), and the disappearing-clip gag is also found on the top-shelf Persona series.
I'm known around the office as "that weirdo who only writes with fountain pens," but there are circumstances under which even I must resort to more socially-acceptable writing instruments. If you're gonna have to write with a stick, you might as well make it a really nice stick, and the Swift certainly fits this description. It is a very solid pen, without the cheap, rattly feel often found in similar pens. The M66 refill writes well, and is available in four colors (NOTE: these are proprietary Lamy refills, not available from other makers).
|Production||1990 - present|
|Point||M66 disposable rollerball cartridges in red, blue, black, and green.|
|Construction||Stainless steel in various finishes. Retractor button causes clip to "disappear" into the barrel as the point is extended for writing.|
Is there such a thing as a 'woman's pen?' Many of the female pen collectors I know bristle at what some less-enlightened manufacturers offer to fill this need: dainty, overdecorated pieces, perhaps not always well-suited for work as writing tools. Lamy waded out into these dangerous waters in 1994 with the Lady, designed by Wolfgang Fabian and the Indonesian-born graphic artist Sharon Jodjaja (who is responsible for the colorful barrel designs). Lamy claims that the design was based on a survey of what women expect from pens, but you can take that for whatever it might be worth.
The Lady is still distributed in this country, but is very rarely seen (I've only run across a couple in the flesh) and may actually be on its way to discontinuation. It comes in fountain-pen versons (14k point in various widths, with cartridge/converter fill) and rollerball versions (the rollerball uses the same M66 refill as the Swift), with three distinctive barrel designs contrasted by frosty argent or gold-tone sections, caps, and end bits. The pen is not teensy-weensy; if memory serves me, it is about the same size as the Swift (therefore quite a bit bigger than a Parker 51). Lamy claims that it was the first pen to be made from porcellain (a special hard grade of the material, obtained from Rosenthal). Since ladies don't normally keep pens in their shirt pockets (if indeed they have any shirt pockets), the Lady has no clip; instead, it has a couple of bumps at either end that keep the pen from rolling off the table.
I can't say how well these pens work, or how durable they are, but I trust Lamy not to put out a product that will crack or shatter in normal use. Whether you use the FP or the rollerball versions, both have an excellent pedigree and should provide good service. The fountain pen's price is in over-$200 territory (the rollerball a bit less), but you might be able to get in on a bargain soon if the pen is in fact on its way out.
|Type||Fountain pen or rollerball|
|Point||14k white or yellow gold.|
|Construction||Decorated porcellain barrel, metal section, cap, and end cap. Clipless.|
The Accent was introduced in 1998. the product of Phönix Design. The pen derives its name from the extra bit of color and individuality the user can achieve by slipping in his or her favorite from among a bunch of interchangeable grip sections (although the grips are supposedly available aftermarket, I never see them sold anywhere). The grips range from rubbery plastics to colorful aluminum, even to cow-colored natural resin. The grip on this particular pen is a nice pear wood with a tight, barely visible grain, beautifully finished. The rest of the pen is finished in a satiny chrome or black finish, with a mirror-polish steel clip. The cap posts positively at the barrel end for writing, thanks to small buttons on the end cap.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Lamy without a gimmick; the point and section of this cartridge/converter pen can be advanced out of the pen for refilling (like lead from a pencil) by twisting the section. My pen has the steel point found on the earlier examples (in medium oblique); these have since been upgraded to 14k gold (with a corresponding price rise that places them almost in Lamy 2000 territory).
This pen writes, and writes, and writes. No muss, no fuss. I don't care so much for cartridge/converter pens since you have to field strip them in order fill them (much nicer just to flick a lever or twist a piston), but this pen's capacious and well-designed converter means I don't have to do so very often. The oblique point is just big enough to make a good signature, and writes very smoothly (if without any trace of flex). The prices I see for the gold-pointed version seem a trifle high to me; you may be able to find the earlier steel-point models if you shop around a bit.
|Production||1998 - present|
|Type||Cartridge/converter fill fountain pen|
|Point||Steel (14k gold on later models)|
|Construction||Aluminum barrel with brushed natural or black finish; contrasting grip sections in various materials and colors|
The aptly named cp1 ('cp' stands for 'cylindric pen') is representative of several lines of metal-barreled steel-pointed cartridge/converter fillers (others include the Linea, the ST, and the Logo) offered by Lamy in the $20-40 range (these are home market, pre-VAT prices). Nothing exotic here, although the cp1 offers a solid steel spring-loaded clip and a comfortable ribbed grip section. The steel point (of a similar shape to Montblanc's famous "wing nibs" of the 1950s and 60s) is built for a fight; not very flexible at all, but quite smooth. It's also proud to be a steel point; no gold plating, no curlicues. The deep black matt finish comes from a coating of titanium oxide. The slender design was reportedly aimed at feminine users, although it works just as well for manly men who happen to prefer skinny pens. The cp1, designed by Gerd A. Müller (who also did the Lamy 2000) has won several awards for its designer and manufacturer, including the 'Busse Longlife Design Award' (which should perhaps be good news for buyers).
Another flawless performer, this pen reminds me of the Montblanc Noblesse with its thin, simple shape, subdued style, giant converter, and solid feel. Very hard to find in the U.S., but it makes a great gift for fountain-pen newbies (or, hell, just keep it yourself like I did). These pens should ship with a Lamy converter, which will free you from having to find the proprietary Lamy cartridges.
|Production||c1980 - present|
|Type||Fountain pen, ballpoint, automatic pencil, multi-point versions|
|Construction||Metal, brushed stainless or matt black (titanium oxide).|
Until its recent discontinuation, the most expensive Lamy (at about $300) was the platinum-plated edition of the Persona (less expensive finishes were also available). Befitting a "flagship" product, the Persona (designed for Lamy by Mario Bellini) is big and distinctive looking, and, being a Lamy, it has lots of style and interesting technical features. Among the latter is the disappearing clip, with a little peg on the side to keep the pen from rolling off tables (although it isn't always adequate for this task if the pen gets a good rolling head start).
Contrast could be the motif of this design: a smooth cap, fluted barrel, and ribbed grip section. The "hawk-beak" 18k point is platinum plated, and fairly flexible for a modern pen; it actually wraps around the feed like the old Sheaffer Triumph point. The pen uses cartridge or converter filling.
The Persona is no longer listed in the product line on the Lamy website, although you can still find them for sale in various places at this writing. My Persona was purchased second-hand for far less than the retail price; otherwise, I'd probably not have considered it. It is a wee bit heavy for me, although it is nicely balanced, and writes very well. I sometimes fill it with Carbon Black ink to give a very dramatic contrast between instrument and mark). The mirror finish gets to looking kinda shabby under even light handling, although the hard plating polishes quickly and well with just a soft cloth.
|Production||1990 - c2004|
|Type||Fountain pen, rollerball, ballpoint|
|Point||18k platinum plated|
|Construction||Platinum plated base metal barrel and cap; spring-loaded disappearing clip.|
I don't actually own this pen (and it is not distributed in the US), but I couldn't resist including it here. Like Pelikan, Lamy is quite active in the low-priced student pen market, and is also involved in promoting handwriting education; here they've combined the two pursuits and made a pen for the very youngest fountain-pen writers. With a sculpted natural wood barrel and fire-engine red cap and barrel-end knob, these are clearly designed to appeal to the primary-school set. The abc's tough steel points (including a grade suited to little left-handers) are easily replaced, which should be good news to parents while little Hans and Lotte are struggling to develop their fine motor skills or poking holes in the furniture. A matching big-lead pencil is also available; the end-knob in this case being removable to reveal a sharpener.
|Production||1994 - present|
|Type||Cartridge/converter fountain pen (pencil also available)|
|Construction||Wooden barrel; plastic section, end knob, and cap.|