Pen Zero.

Vampire epidemics, zombie apocalypses, werewolf plagues. They all begin with Patient Zero: the guy who keeps coughing in flight, the rat with bulging red eyes that falls asleep in a sack of rice and never wakes up again.

Pen collections begin in the exact same way, minus the unquenchable desire to drink human blood. 💀 There is, inevitably, a Pen Zero. The pen that behaves innocently, functioning as a pen should, so we remain unaware of the deadly contagion until we peek inside our pen cases and wonder, “How the hell did all these TWSBIs get here?”

My Danitrio Pen Zero was a prototype, black ebonite with a phoenix and dragon in sterling silver inlaid on the barrel. Several more followed it, but this particular pen has aged with me.

Three Danitrio fountain pens
Danitrio pens

My fascination with Nakaya pens started way before I saved enough to get my Nakaya Pen Zero. I ogled the few models that people posted in forums. A business trip to Singapore gave me the chance to visit Aesthetic Bay (in its Funan Mall incarnation), and the equivalent of a pendemic (yes, I had to get that in there) swept my wallet. 😉

My Nakaya Pen Zero was a Piccolo in shu (red) chinkoku (incised technique) in the housoge pattern. This pen also inducted me into the Urushi Isn’t Just a Shiny Lacquer Paint Job Enlightenment Club. Prior to this I had only had Danitrio urushi and maki-e work, and none of them treated urushi as a three-dimensional ground. Later on, I would discover ishime, and kamakura-bori, and negoro-nuri. Pen Zero also wears my (correspondingly) oldest elastic nib.

Five Nakaya pens
Piccolo, Dorsal Fin 2, Long Piccolo, Semi-long Piccolo, Cigar with rollstop


Infection runs a different course for each patient.


This type manifests in patients who apply at least six months of research into which pen model from which brand deserves to be their Pen Zero. Research includes asking incessantly in forums and groups (seeking clarity on such features as millimeter differences between model a1 and a2’s section girth, which grind to request which nibmeister to do on a pen that has yet to be acquired, and which pen should be next after the pen that has yet to be acquired). Pen Zero is usually (although not always) an entry- to medium-level model of the brand under investigation, as this, the patient reasons, provides the optimal balance between having a pen with the key characteristics of the brand, and not overspending. This type of research, meant to afford the patient maximum certainty for an online purchase, sometimes still results in disappointment.


Patients infected with maximum randomization will buy anything that fills with ink, reasoning that they can keep what they like and sell the rest later. Their Pen Zero will most likely be long gone, sold off in the first of many for-sale posts awash in equal parts guilt and resolve. They most likely owned then sold a fair number of pens which appear in show-and-tell, like those Audiard pens lavished with crawling golden ants.


Only around 3% of patients display this infection course, where Pen Zero does not manifest because of a general affinity for pens, but for something else, like Tyrannosaurus Rex or the Apollo 11. The patient can also believe in a lucky color, such that Pen Zero acquires talisman status, and becomes the foundation of an obsession. This infection is unique in that it either stops after Pen Zero, or intensifies into a life-consuming condition.


Most patients fall under this category. Their Pen Zero shares several characteristics with The Measured Descent: entry to medium-level, carefully assessed, ticks all the useful boxes. And then, almost without noticing, the patient manifests multiple symptoms: watched keywords on eBay, active participation in fountain pen groups, ogling pens on Instagram, listening to pen and stationery podcasts at 1.5x, saving up to attend a real pen show… And then the midnight posts start to appear: “do I really need this much ink?,” “my thought on cursive italics vs forgiving stubs,” and “Did you know Neil Gaiman uses a Pilot 823?” The patient becomes prone to newsletter subscriptions, and asks for pen store tips before going on business trips. The patient might even begin a blog and attempt to monetize their knowledge. Currently, there is no proportional de-escalation observed in the wild.


This patient goes to his first pen meet, places a limited edition M1000 on the table, and says, “This is my only pen, is that okay?”

I must say, my Newton Pens Shinobi makes a great Pen Zero. 😀

Four Newton Pens
Prospector, Shinobi, Vapor, Prospector in Arco Verde

One of the most dangerous Pen Zeros is the Oldwin Classic. Never mind that they all come with medium nibs.

While the world vainly searches for a cure, more and more of the infected band together and roam pen shows in packs. While they are not harmful to others, their frequent bursts of laughter and ink-stained appendages can occasion puzzled glances from the uninfected waiting for their coffee and bagels.

My Franklin-Christoph Pen Zero was the Model 20 Marietta in this amazing cobalt. Jim Rouse made sure nib was set to the right flow for me.

Franklin-Christoph pens
My first and my most recent Franklin-Christoph pens

(He passed away recently, leaving a void in the pen community he had been such a bright, steady light in. His smile was certainly one of the most infectious. I’m sure he would have gotten at least a smirk from this tiny vanity of metaphor; good night, Jim.)

Do you still have your Pen Zeros? Have you identified your particular strain of infection? 😉 Comments are open, as always.