I’d argue that the Pilot Vanishing Point – also known throughout its illustrious history as the “Capless” and at times produced under Pilot’s old banner, Namiki – is one of several pens that deserve a spot on the Mount Rushmore of Fountain Pens for Normal People.
Their pricing most decidedly moves the Vanishing Point out of the “starter fountain pen” category, but given that they are still relatively affordable ($160-ish, depending on where you look), I’d say the V.P. – alongside the likes of the Lamy 2000, Platinum 3776, Sailor 1911/Professional Gear and Pilot 74/92 – is a pretty common upgrade for those looking to dabble with gold-nibbed pens.
So before I get too far into my thoughts on the pen itself, I think it’d be worth taking a look at the Vanishing Point’s history.
The V.P. – then the Capless – was introduced in 1963, but notably, relied on a twist mechanism to extend the removable mechanism that houses both a converter and nib.
The company introduced a push-button version the following year, and even experimented with a sliding clip design in 1968, before using a push-button mechanism almost exclusively since 1971.
In 1973, Pilot introduced the so-called “faceted” design, which sleekly incorporates the clip and nib hood into a single steel piece. That design stayed relatively unchanged until the late 1990s, when Pilot introduced the design still being used today.
Pilot offers the Vanishing Point in a number of finishes and special edition designs, alongside a slightly smaller variant called the Decimo. The company has also just brought a second, more expensive Vanishing Point version – called the Vanishing Point LS – which changes the clip design slightly and adds a rotating actuator to retract the nib. It’s sort of difficult to describe, but it looks slick in action. $440 slick? Probably not. But that’s a discussion for a different post.
Edit: David Parker, who runs the excellent Figboot on Pens channel over on YouTube, literally posted an in-depth review of the LS nearly simultaneously with the publishing of this post. Watch here.
If I’m being honest, I’m not a big fan of the modern V.P. in terms of how it looks. I’ve seen other bloggers refer to it as “porpoise-like” in appearance, and honestly, it’s sort of hard to disagree. So while I’ve I really liked the idea of a retractable nib in principle, I’ve never been very interested in purchasing one just given their look.
Enter the “faceted” version, which, as mentioned earlier, was produced for around 25 years beginning in the early 70’s.
It isn’t like these are especially rare – but they can get pricey. Especially for the very popular matte black version, which, from my little bit of research, seems to have only been produced for a few short years before Pilot switched to the current design.
I felt fortunate to pick up my Vanishing Point – manufactured in September 1981 – in an auction of new old stock pens. I’ve seen identical pens in much poorer condition going for over twice what I paid, and mine came sealed in its original plastic bag with the Pilot hang tag still affixed to the clip.
The body is made from a glossy black plastic. It’s extremely difficult to see in photos, but the barrel is actually 16 (I think?) sided, hence the “faceted” nickname. But, the facets are so small that I actually wasn’t even aware that the barrel wasn’t cylindrical until the first time I held one. It’s hard to pick up in photographs.
The facets the pen a really interesting feel when you’re holding it, and keeps it from rolling around on a desk. Not sure that I have any other pen that quite compares to it, but if you’ve handled a TWSBI 580, it’s sort of like that, but a lot thinner.
So while the shape of the barrel is cool, the real star of the show – in my humble opinion – is the hood/clip piece. I mean, look at that thing. It makes the pen look like a little shark, and even though I’m sure the expense of making that part was a large part of its demise, it is, objectively speaking, an outstanding bit of design.
Inside the hood is a spring-loaded trapdoor that helps keep the nib clean and from drying out between uses. Since the door is opened by the feed pressing against it, I’ve heard some long-term V.P. users mention durability issues – but those seem pretty few and far between.
Other Stuff to Know
Vintage Vanishing Points, like modern ones, use a removable carrier unit. These units hold the nib, feed and cartridge/converter, and mean swapping nib sizes is as simple as unscrewing the barrel, removing the entire unit and plopping in a new one.
I haven’t picked up a newer nib unit to see definitively, but my understanding at least is that modern ones are compatible with older models – at least many of them.
What I do know, however, is that modern Pilot cartridges fit with zero issue. Pilot makes a metal cover for the cartridges that are supposed to reduce some stress on the cartridge, but I don’t have one and haven’t had any issues so far.
I’ve also used Pilot’s CON-20 and CON-40 converters without issue. I do sort of wonder if the button plunger might not eventually bend the sac guard on the CON-20 or snap the twist knob on the CON-40 though, but so far, no problems.
I’m not rich enough to buy pens that I don’t intend on using, so this is a pen I’ve kept inked-up and reach for regularly.
My V.P. is a medium 14kt gold nib, which I would say writes fairly comparably to a Sailor medium. There’s just a slight bit of feedback to the nib, and being such a small little thing, this isn’t one you’re going to get a lot of line variation from. But, I imagine the target market for this pen was (and still largely is) those who want a pen for taking quick notes without the need to fumble around with a threaded cap – not those looking to do intricate calligraphy work on their Christmas cards.
Overall though, the nib was plenty wet for my taste, and has generally just been a very pleasant pen to write with with no skipping and zero issues starting.
Last, I was a bit concerned with the glossy finish being a bit slippery, but rest assured, it is not. I’m not sure if it has something to do with the material itself or the shape, but I feel like this thing almost suctions to my fingertips. Which I like, because I have a fairly high grip and don’t have to worry about my fingers inadvertently working their way toward the tip as I’m writing.
I was surprised at how thin the V.P. was when I got my hands on it. I think I was basing my assumptions off the slightly bulbous appearance of the modern design and assumed this was going to be a significantly chunkier pen than it is, but it’s one I’d put in that mid-sized range.
You can see in the photo above, but in terms of diameter, it’s feels pretty comparable to both the Metropolitan and Parker 51 – though the others are all fairly similar reference points, too.
The one thing to remember, however, is that all the other pens lengths are significantly reduced by removing the cap. Generally speaking I don’t post my caps (“posting”, for those not yet fluent in pen-speak, is putting the cap onto the butt of the barrel while writing), so it’s a little longer in-hand than I’m used to. But, it’s balanced well – and I imagine aided quite a bit by the weight of the steel hood/clip being on the nib end.
If you’ve stuck around this long, let me address what some of you might have already identified as a glaring omission from my exhaustive rambling thus far – that being the clip’s placement.
I was concerned about it getting in my way and being annoying, but for my grip, it hasn’t been an issue at all.
Anyway, I suspect this is as true the modern Vanishing Points as it is for vintage ones, but if you have a Pilot Metropolitan sitting around, you can get a pretty good idea of what it would feel like just by gripping the Metro by the cap end. It feels a lot like that.
I like the faceted Vanishing Point a lot. Even being of a design that’s nearly 50 years old, it still has a very modern look to it that I find very appealing.
The biggest drawback, of course, is finding one that isn’t going to cost you a fortune. I was lucky and found mine for a price almost identical to that of a new modern version, which I was happy to pay. It is not uncommon, however, to see these faceted versions going for well over $350, and at that price, I’d have a hard time biting.
Your best bet for picking up one of your own is probably a pen show or eBay, though I do see them pop up from time-to-time on some retailers like Rivera Pens, which also has an outstanding timeline of Capless/Vanishing Point designs if you’re into that kind of thing.