I have been an admirer of the Indian variety of pens for a while. There are many pens one can buy, but the simplicity, classic styling, durability as well as serviceable nature and value of the Indian pens attracts me more than most. Thanks to PSP and FPR, well, Noodlers as too, Indian pens have become more accessible. For Noodlers fans, not to kick start the old are they US made or not debate, even if assembled here with a mix of domestic parts, like it or not, Noodlers pens fit in this category and are largely Indian. Although an American invention, ebonite materials have been sourced from India from the beginning and it's a country where everyday people continue to use fountain pens.
Indian pens however are largely cheap and low cost, but there are a number of quality pens in the sub $35 dollar range, and some really fantastic pens in the sub $90 dollar range. In my experience, Noodlers and FPR pens are quite similar, In the middle are Gama's and ASA Pens from ASA in India. Many are rather effective eyedroppers which is for the most part my preferred filling system due to the high ink capacity and superior flow. Personally, I like the Ranga's the most.
My first Indian experience was the PSP Ranga Zayante. Since have three PSP Ranga's, two FPR's, three Noodlers, an ASA Genius, the new ASA Nakua and an assortment of cheap Airmails or like that find their way in the box as gifts when buying from Indian. The freebies are nice, I give them to my kids to play and draw with, actually some were not all that bad considering are probably worth a dollar or less. FPR following PSP's lead now has a new US site and ships domestically which offers one to purchase Indian's more in line with the American, gotta have it now shopping experience.
Buying a pen direct from India however is more of an adventure and requires a degree of patience. I find, respectfully,that pen collectors at time can be technocratic, and India as a whole can be an imperfect place at times, as such, so can be the pens, hence it's possible shopping for Indian pens is not for everyone.
As some back story, I work in commercial shipping, first as a boarding officer, or water clerk as known in some places, for our port agency and in total have spent 21 years working closely with Indians, either on board the ships with Indian officers and sailors that largely populate the worlds merchant trades, or with Indian shipping and commodity firm executives now here later in my career. Overall, it's a culture I know well. It's also a culture that is extremely unique and rich in diversity and history, however a depth in which that not always apparent to the naked eye. Just read the history of the Parsi, one of the many fascinating Indian sub-cultures. Houston where I live is unique as it offers one of the largest East Indian populations in the US to the degree many are now proud to be of Texas-Indian decent as second generations are taking root. You can also some of the best Indian food west of London here in Houston as well, which strikes most as odd, as the typical thought of Houston cuisine is fajitas and steak. Where else outside of India could you find a "Chindian" place to eat ?
Largely India is a can do place, because they must do. Indian pens reflect this effort and durability.
The peculiar thing that strikes me about many Indian pens, they are really huge ! Is that an Indian fountain pen in your pocket or are you happy to see me is my common joke to that effect. PSP has done a good job of offering more western taste pens like the Zayante and new Monterrey, but the No. 3 Duofold, or my ASA Nakura are oddly large. Both are typically desk pens for me as a result.
The Duofold style, like Pelikan is one of the more classic and timeless fountain pen designs. One day when i have $500-1000 to spare, I may actually get a nice Parker Duofold restoration. But the stock No. 3, although classical Duofold design, is just too big, I don't even have dress shirts with pockets deep enough. In meetings people ask if it's a mini baton or a pen . But I love it and use it at my desk daily.
This time I decided to buy a No. 3 direct from Ranga via Amazon in hope of breaking the size issue. With all Indian direct purchases, they ship registered Indian airmail and are generally made to order. So your never quite sure when it will ship and when it will arrive, but typically seems to be 4-6 weeks. It's not terribly clear how to select options via Amazon. So I ordered it and made a remark that I wanted a Blue Mottled ebonite if possible, which was not listed as an option, a silver clip, and ordered the Jowo nib with a Schmidt k-5 converter. The same type of pen I ordered from PSP and received in 4 days for slightly more, $69 and free shipping via Amazon.
But this time I made a note, that if they could, I would like it about 3/4 of an inch shorter. I receive a prompt and friendly confirmation, "yes sir, we will gladly make your pen". I was not terribly sure if my options were available, when it would ship, when it would arrive but with past experiences, had faith in the process. That was August 4th, Today Sept 9th this hard traveled, well packaged, hand addressed pen box arrived to my office from India.
So this really awesome "short" Duofold No. 3 was in the box, as was the standard cheap eyedropper gift pen.It's slightly larger than my ASA Genius. Wonderfully polished blue mottled ebonite and wrote fantastically our of the box as do most pens with JoWo nibs. ASA's are nice, but the Ranga's are just a but better finished.
Here are some photos. Ranga lists the No.3 as 6'' in length capped, PSP lists it as 5 3/16'', my measurement was 5 7/8'', as explained, they are all handmade, so may vary somewhat. This pen is 5/8 of an inch shorter at a capped length 5 1/8'' of which may not sound like much, but it's a major difference. Posted the stock No. 3 is a monstrous 7 1/2'' where this one is 6 1/2'' . Unposted, which is my preference in writing, the short is 5'' where the stock No. 3 is 5 1/2''. You can see in the photos the lower section is the same, as are the diameters, but has a shorter threading, shorter cap and barrel. You get one turn less than the stock no, 3 when capping, and the threads are really snug but will wear in over time. It's just short enough to have that true Duofold appearance, just long enough to be comfortable unposted, and does not look like a freak of nature posted.
Am using the converter for now, but soon it will be eyedropped like my others, the firm and deep thread seat on the caps and lower sections of these pens with a little silicon never leak. Only issue was on the larger stock no. 3 the barrel is so huge in volume, burping can be an issue at times.
I am sure they would make it in acrylic, but there is just something proper about ebonite for fountain pens. You can also order it eyedropper only with an ebonite feed and fit a better quality nib on it aftermarket at a later stage. The Indian ebonite feed eyedroppers typically have a large and deeply seated feed.
I could not be happier, I may never actually buy that old Parker. Maybe a longer review than most, but Ranga just made my day, a custom ebonite Duofold, for $69 !! Not to knock the US turners, but same quality customs pen also with a JoWo nib could cost you well north of $150 dollars.
So please, if you have not tried one, get and Indian pen, either from a US source, or don't be afraid to shop in Indian directly. Although slower, the service from Ranga, FPR and ASA has been fantastic in each instance.