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Welcome to the first of what I hope will be many reviews of writing instruments, and the things that go into them. I will cover both ends of the spectrum, from cheap and cheerful Chinese pens to classic designs of bygone days. This is my choice for the first go because it is something I thought I wouldn’t like, but have fallen for big time.

In the world of writing instruments, the name Montblanc sits at or near the very top of the pyramid. Today, Montblanc is part of a large consortium of luxury goods, and their pens represent only a small part of its range and priorities. Modern examples of its writing instruments are seen more as status symbols than anything else, and the company has other fish to fry such as watches, cologne, and $300 belts.

But back in the day, until the late 1970s, a Montblanc pen was a serious pen, a proper pen; built to last, built to write. The company had a large range of pens at all price levels, even student pens, and were highly respected by both the public and the industry. The fact that there are still so many vintage Montblancs around is a testament to their quality.

Throughout most of their existence, Montblanc produced three levels of products, numbered 1xx, 2xx, and 3xx. Our exhibit today is a number 3-42G, an example of Montblanc’s third-tier or lowest quality product line: this particular example is from the mid-1950s. The fact that this pen is “third-tier” really can’t be seen by its quality: Montblanc’s third tier products were as good or better than some companies’ flagship models. The acrylic may scratch a little easier, the gold plating may be thinner, but the main difference in the product lines is size.

Our example here, the 3-42G, is a small pen from any angle in modern terms; however, this was a standard size pen in those days. Dimensions are as follows:

  • Capped length – 127mm
  • Uncapped length – 113mm
  • Posted length – 141mm
  • Capped weight, inked – 16g
  • Uncapped weight, inked – 10g

The average thickness is about 10mm. This was a rather upscale student or entry-level pen: the ‘G’ in the name signifies a gold nib, since it was also available with one made of steel (the 3-42 with steel nib was eventually sold under the Monte Rosa name as model 042).

But good things can come in small packages, and the 3-42 (or 342, depending on the vintage) is a good example. Being so light and small, it reminds me of an Italian sports car: nimble, deft, it darts across the paper with lots of pep for its size.

The tiny 14k nib is very soft, flexing with slight pressure. Being left-handed, I can’t really take advantage of this, but the writing sensation is still soft and springy. This particular nib is a Medium. Being a German nib made in the 1950s, the tipping is not round or ball-shaped like a modern medium nib; as shown in the writing sample, there is some subtle line variation to be had here (a future post will discuss this tipping phenomenon in more detail). The line is smooth, with a wetness I would put at 7 out of 10.

Like all Montblancs of the 1950s, the 3-42 is a piston filler. I have tried quite a few piston fillers of various makes, and this particular one is the smoothest I have ever tried. It is easy to move, and doesn’t feel like it’s going to snap like some modern pistons I have tried. I haven’t measured the capacity, but I’d say it’s very close to 1ml which is not bad at all.

The plating on the hardware of these pens doesn’t always withstand the test of time, like most lower-priced pens, and our example here has certainly seen some mileage. Being an early 50s example, this Montblanc has the old logo with mountain range engraved on the cap. I’ve cheated and filled the engraving in with a sharpened china marker, as well as the outline of the snowflake at the peak of the cap. Later examples of the 342 have the more conventional solid white snowflake, and a straight section as opposed to the concave one here.

When I first held this pen, my first thought was that it was too small for me to use. I’m so glad I didn’t move it on as originally planned. I tend to hold my pens quite far up the barrel, sometimes over the threads or even above them. Holding it in my hand almost like a paintbrush, the 3-42 zips and parries across the page, darting like an epée in the hands of an Olympic fencer. The ride is soft and cushiony. It’s times like this where I am grateful I was trained to have a light touch: when I write, the nib basically brushes the paper. If I press with my over-writing left hand, the nib will dig into the paper. I envy right-handers who can take advantage of this kind of flexibility and create wonderful, flowing script.

For a “third-tier” pen, the quality in this small instrument stands out proudly. A soft nib full of character, a quality filling system, and a solid build equal a very fulfilling writing experience. These diminutive wonders can be had for as little as C$100, if one shops around on ebay.de.

I hope this has been even a little educational, or at the very least entertaining.