I recently picked up a NOS MB 220 from a fellow FPNer. As soon as I opened the box and picked it up I thought: "Hold on, I've seen this pen before!" And lo-and-behold, it is, for all intents and purposes, Montblanc's riposte to the L2K. Even today, the similarities are striking. Both were designed in the 1960s, both are made of makrolon in Germany, both have gold EF nibs, both are piston fillers, and both cost me a nearly identical €100 or thereabouts.
So, we've ascertained that they're shockingly similar; what are those differences that will make-or-break this test, and allow us to tell them apart, and sort the winners from the losers. Let's start, shall we?
1. Size, weight and feel: Though both are nearly identical in length and taper to an almost identical diameter at the ends, the Lamy is substantially fatter in the centre. This may contribute to its greater heft and mass: it is substantially heavier (26g - 17g without the cap) than the 220 (16g - 11g without the cap). That said, however, it is the heavier Lamy that is more comfortable to use posted; though the 220 is lovely without its cap, it does not post properly (there is some spring inside that repels the end of the pen when inserted) and completely throws off the balance.
I usually like light pens, but there are two types of lightness - the first (personified by the Japanese) is lightness as intrinsic quality, something engineered-in; the second is lightness as cheapness. Unfortunately, the 220 falls into the second category.
2. Grips: Although both make statements with their designs - the 220 transitioning to smooth rather than textured makrolon, the L2K preferring steel - it is the Montblanc that is the more comfortable. Why? Firstly, the taper down to the nib is less dramatic; secondly, the little metal nubs that hold the cap in place are placed higher up the body, away from fingers. It should also be noted that there are three of them (versus the Lamy's two) and as a result that cap fastens insanely tightly, requiring a very hefty tug to remove.
3. Trim: This is probably the starkest difference between the pens, and I must admit I prefer the Lamy's approach. I live in the Bauhaus White City, and this pen is definitely at home here. When closed, it screams its intent through lack of bling, only the rock-solid and ultra-functional spring-loaded clip breaking the unadulterated lines. The 220 cannot hope to compete: its gold trim, though pretty in an unassuming and surprisingly conservative way, feels cheap and unnecessary; the rubber recessed splat at its flat bottom unpleasant to the touch. Only the milky Montblanc star on then cap seems well considered, the white almost bleeding into the black with a loose, etherial quality.
4. Nibs: Here, the Montblanc flat-out shines. It looks odd (in a quaint retro-futuro steampunk kindof way), but by god can it write. Like Montblanc's best, it has a slight upturn at its end, leaving a solid, wet but easily controlled line, just a little feedback edging the smoothness. I have quite a few Montblanc EF nibs from the 1960s all the way to today, and this is as good as any of them without even the slightest adjustment. And what of the L2K? Well, I'm not a big fan of hooded nibs, so it is already at a disadvantage. But wow can it write. It was, I must admit, not always that way, starting life as hands-down the worst EF nib I've ever owned. It wasn't a fire-hose, rather it was a broken fire-hydrant, gushing forth with so much ink that it soaked through my notebooks and stained my wrist as I wrote across the paper. The resulting line was more BB than EF. Now, however, after a trip to FPN's own Oxonian, it is a different story. Ground to an italic, it is simply phenomenal, matching and even surpassing the Montblanc in every way. But, remember, this comes after both time and money - I was tempted to fling the damn thing from the window when it arrived.
Neither show the slightest interest in flexibility, but that's the way of the world now I guess (and the 1960s) and I don't think we can mark them down for it.
5. Sundries: And what of the other things? Well, piston-fillers are piston-fillers, and although one company is known for theirs, and the other shuns them for all but this one line, it is the Lamy that seems the built-to-last. And ink-windows? Well, both are equally useless.
So, which do I prefer?
Honestly, they are both great pens, but given the opportunity to own just one, it would be the L2K. The 220 feels like an imitation; worse than that, it feels like an imitation built down to a price so as not to step on the toes of its more expensive Meisterstuck siblings. The Makrolon King is still the king, but it is rather closer than I would have thought.
Had Montblanc used the material for its premier line rather than 'precious resin', the result may have been very different indeed.
Edited by mongrelnomad, 11 June 2011 - 19:31.