When I close my eyes and picture a fountain pen, this is that pen.
This is my father’s Montblanc Meisterstuck 149. It’s a model from the mid 1980s, approximately as old as I am. I can actually date it to about a two year period based on the fact that it has a 14C bicolor gold nib (more on that nib later) a split ebonite feed, and a two piece barrel with slightly more obscured ink windows. The story goes that my father found it on clearance at a shop that was going out of business, and paid about $90 for it. It originally had some kind of complicated calligraphy nib installed, but he sent it off for a free nib swap to a fine. I know, it’s the pen equivalent of finding out that your parents replaced a beautiful hardwood floor with linoleum, except there’s no way that the more exciting nib is hidden under the fine nib.
This is a big pen. I’ve been thinking a lot about this pen for the past month or so, ever since Joe at the Gentleman Stationer wrote his recent consideration on oversized pens. Comparing it to a Montblanc Meisterstuck 12 this pen is absolutely massive. The 12 came out in the late 1950s, a few years after the 149 was introduced to the market, but you can see that the existence of this oversized pen didn’t stop Montblanc from working on smaller, slimmer pens as well.
As a man with very large hands, I really appreciate this pen. The length is a treat, but the girth is really what sets it apart for my personal usage. So many of the oversized pens coming new to the market right now, as mentioned in Joe’s piece above, have bigger caps and wider barrels, but keep an identical grip section to their smaller counterparts. Two pens that I have coming up in future reviews, the Leonardo Momento Zero and the Esterbrook Estie, have oversized options of the same model, but the grip sections are the one thing that don’t increase in size. Unfortunately, while the 149 grip is thicker it is a rather short section, as least compared to many of my other pens, forcing you to either crowd your fingers up by the nib, or else balance the pen back on the cap threads which can be less comfortable.
Speaking of the nib, the 149 famously features Montblanc’s number 9 nib, much larger than most other nibs on the western market. This is another area where many of the modern oversized pens are lacking, especially in steel nibbed models, as there aren’t any readily available steel nibs in a size eight or nine. Oversized nibs are available in gold from Pelikan, Pilot, Sailor and a few other manufacturers, and Bock does make a Titanium number eight nib that is the “most affordable” oversized nib option on the market, but it is still a price premium over steel nibs. Most of the biggest pens on the market these days still only feature size six nibs, even if they use gold or titanium. Considering how much of a difference a larger nib can make in terms of writing comfort by allowing you to hold your hand a little further from the page it is almost a surprise that there aren’t oversized steel nibs easily available on the market, and I do expect that when they do eventually come around, they will be met with a high volume of demand.
But enough about all of that, how does it actually write? the writing experience with the 149 starts with loading ink via its piston mechanism, which is still working smoothly after decades of service. With a generous supply of Montblanc Leo Tolstoy ink, I found the 149 to write quite well. I can’t tell you the exact purpose of the split ebonite feed, but it definitely does its job in providing the nib with an ample supply of ink. The nib itself has a slight upturn of its tipping, which is common for Montblanc but also I believe caused it to have a bit of a “sweet spot” compared to other rounded tippings, where if I did not hold the pen at a particular angle the nib didn’t make contact correctly with the page and no ink would flow. I’m used to this from various custom grinds, but less so from just a standard tipping.
This is the part where I’d normally provide my opinion on whether or not this is a pen worth buying, but that doesn’t really make sense for an iconic piece of pen history like the 149. If you like big pens, especially if you like big nibs, and if you find it at a price that makes sense to you, then sure, you should purchase this pen. If you don’t like it, it is an easy pen to sell on the secondhand market. If you don’t like big pens, if you hate black pens with gold furniture, if you find the Montblanc snowcap finial to be too flashy, then ignore the hype and go buy one of the many other pens out there that look completely different. One of the benefits of the 149 being on the market for almost 70 years is that it is a known quantity, and if you pick one up you know what you are getting.
So, why did I bother to review a pen just to tell you that you already know what you’re getting with it? Well, there is something to be said for proving that conventional wisdom holds true, not just accepting it at face value. Also, for as big as some other pens are getting these days, opportunities to play with a nib larger than a size six are relatively scarce. Thinking back to Joe’s piece on oversized pens above, in some ways the bigger pens on the market now feel like just set-dressing to me, not any changes of substance, when the grip section and more importantly nib remain the same size. What I am really hopeful to see in the future is for someone to begin producing steel number eight or nine nibs, so that pen makers have an available source to make affordable “truly” oversized pens. They won’t be for everyone which is totally okay – there are still thinner smaller pens coming out – but for those of us with big hands who can handle a bit more bulk, the idea of an affordable oversized nib is a wonderful thought.
The pen for this review came from my father’s personal collection.