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Waterman Phileas

Waterman Phileas, red & blue, c 1998

Some years back, there was a bit of an internet uproar among pen collectors when an unknown eBay seller managed to sell several of these pens online for prices as high as $125. Apparently, the buyers were unaware that they could have bought about three of them brand-new in the box at full retail for the same money, with perhaps some change left for a bottle of ink. We'll leave the argument about online auction ethics for another time and place, but for the moment we'lljust note that the Phileas manages a neat trick: it looks much more expensive than it actually is. That's undoubtedly the main reason that it continues to sell in very high numbers.

The Phileas, which was introduced in the mid-1990s, is named for Phileas Fogg, the aviator hero of the 1870s Jules Verne novel Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (Around the World in Eighty Days). Appropriately, the publicity campaigns for this pen have so far generated enough hot air for several trips in Mr. Fogg's balloon. We have been told that this pen recalls the vintage designs of some remote and unspecified era in the 19th century, presumably when M. Verne was doing his prognosticatory writing. Never mind that no one made good fountain pens back in those days (even Waterman wasn't yet in business), and that even if they had, those pens wouldn't have looked anything like this one, with its tapered shape, rounded cap, and colorful finish — but never mind, it would be excessively curmudgeonly to let mere facts stand in the way of a good marketing pitch.

The original Phileas came in a variety of colorful finishes, many of which remind me of the moiré designs you find inside the bindings of old books. The finishes suggested the patterned celluloids of the middle 20th century (of which, ironically, Waterman itself was negligently late to partake). The colors in the Phileas range have been updated a time or two over the past decade, but always to great effect. The plastic used in the barrel and cap has a warm, soft feel and is quite lightweight. These finishes appear to be screened on; in fact, you can get siblings of the Phileas with other more modern decoration (like one I saw recently that featured the image of computer-game vixen Lara Croft). The barrel contains a brass sleeve to give the pen some weight and an expensive feel.

The Phileas' steel point (currently available in medium or fine grades) has a gold-masked fan motif which is playfully repeated on the barrel band. The pen fills with cartridges (a nice vivid Florida blue is included), or you can use the excellent Waterman piston-fill converter (also included) if you prefer nursing your baby from a bottle. The Phileas writes very well, tho' I hear there is some variability in the finish of the points, so try out a couple before you put down your money. As is typical of newer pens, the Phileas nibs run rather broad; this one was labeled as a medium but writes with a bigger line than most other makers' medium nibs.

Waterman didn't skimp on the packaging, as this Phileas came in the same luxurious blue gift box as many of its more expensive pens. Waterman's informative multilingual instruction booklet was also included, but could probably have used some update since it referred to the Gentleman series, which had been out of production for some time.

The Verdict

The Phileas offers you inexpensive yet stylish entrée into the cult of fountain pens. It writes nicely and is easy to clean and maintain.

Maker Waterman
Origin France
Production current
Type Cartridge/converter
Point Plated steel
Construction Decorated lightweight plastic with brass liner.