It's fairly well-known amongst the forums about what happened to me at the Montblanc boutique in Roosevelt Field. The 149 did in fact come, and it is a very large pen, a very pretty pen, and from what I've heard recently broke the $700 US barrier (it's currently $719 in the SoHo boutique). As we all know, pens are individuals when one reaches that level of pricing, and each one comes with its own personality traits. Before I go into reviewing this rather large specimen of a pen, I'm going to go on record as stating that I am not a blind fan of Montblanc, and that it is written from the subjective point of view of a 22 year old, left-handed writer. (Disclaimer: as this pen was a gift from Montblanc, I cannot give a fair grade for the price of the pen. It is $700 give or take, so I will abstain from giving a grade either way in that regard.)
The first thing one sees naturally is the packaging. I don't mean the literal box, but I mean the giftbox and its paraphernalia. The presentation is flawless here. Unlike my Noblesse Oblige, which came in a cardboard top / plastic bottomed box with plastic grips covered by a silk-like sheet and a slot for the manual within the box bottom, the 149's presentation is a BEAUTIFUL (leather-covered perhaps) box that opens on a hinge. The inside of the box has a foam top with a circular cutout that leaves the Montblanc logo and font visible, and the cutout enables the ink to be held in the box as well. The bottom of the box has a beautiful white cloth lining with a stuffed underside that holds the inkbottle quite snugly and of course, the 149. It's apparent Montblanc knows that this is their premiere pen; the box is unlike any other box for their standard "resin and gold / platinum" line, and they know that a person who desires to give this pen set as a present is going to want something with presence, so the box is set up as such. High marks go to Montblanc here for making a box that is suitable to the aimed audience for this pen, both in aesthetics and quality. (Box Score: 5/5)
The manuals here are unlike the manuals for my other Montblancs. The covers of both are a very thick, embossed paper (possibly 100+ lb stock) with thick glossy pages. The standard manual covers details for their entire lineup from piston fountain pen to highlighter, and appears to be an upscale version of their normal manual. Its pictures are a hybrid of diagrams and black and white photos combined with instructions that get to the point and do a more-than-sufficient job of explaining how to maintain your new "writing instrument". The 149's manual has more detailed instructions, but approximately 2/3 of the manual is spent as a cheesy promotional spread for Montblanc's "upper-crustedness" in about 12 different languages. As nice as the photography is of the mountain itself and the pen (one could learn a lot by looking at all the pretty pictures), for a pen user such as myself, I just want to see diagrams and color photography of how to care and maintain my pen. Both of the manuals were stamped by "Montblanc North America, LLC" and have the serial numbers and the date of purchase, so the 2 year warranty is valid. Weird point: The 149 manuals are both signed by Joyce Workman, VP of Montblanc USA Customer Service, so there should be NO PROBLEMS getting service. (Manual Score: Small Manual: 5/5, Large Manual 5/5, though with the promotional story stuff, I should take off a point... but I won't)
Empirical: The pen has an empirical presence like almost no other, and in more ways in one. Compared to my Ramses, my Classique ballpoint, and my Noblesse Oblige, this thing is absolutely massive. It's 5/8 inch in diameter, 5 ¾ inches capped shut, and 6 ¾ inches with the cap posted. It also weighs 38 grams on my postal scale, which seems a bit heavier than normal for a 149, my two friends' 149s weigh 33.75 and 34 grams respectively. This does come with the downside that having a 149 will mean people will inherently expect you to have unbelievable writing skills, and will spend more time ogling your pen's appearance, beauty and size than care about what you're actually writing. However, the empirical qualities of massiveness extend to the quality of the pen itself. The precious resin seems to be much thicker on this pen than on my other resin-based Montblancs. I'm not sure whether or not this is due to the much-documented stress cracks that come with having that much size with very thin resin, but it appears at least 2 to 3 times as thick as the resin on my Noblesse. I'm hoping my premonition that a thicker resin makes a better quality pen is correct, as I do not plan to add myself to the list of complainers that the resin is cracking and my pen is dying prematurely. The nib is standard Montblanc nib fare: 18k 750 gold with 1/3 of the nib plated with platinum (ie: the viewer sees gold in the center, surrounded by platinum coated 750 gold, and then normal 750 gold covering the perimeter area), a hole to promote capillary action, and an iridium tip fashioned into an OBB shape. Quite nice looking and very tastefully, if conservatively, done, and if the aim is to appear to appeal to a returning crowd, then the 149's appearance accomplishes this in spades and allows for the younger crowd to enjoy the modern properties of the Starwalker and Boheme line. I for one, find its traditional 1930s styling to be very nice and inoffensive when I use it in professional applications. (Empirical: 5/5)
What good is presence and a nice box if the pen is unbalanced? Here's the 149's weakspot. Posted it is a very hard to balance pen. Whether that is due to my being left-handed and using an OBB nib designed for a righty, or my just simply not being used to its mass, it is very hard to balance and get it to write consistently while posted, and when it is balanced properly, my hand feels completely out of whack. (Ahh, my natural underhook strikes again.) Uncapped, this pen is an absolute dream to write with, it just seems to balance itself and once you get the nib to paper going correctly, it's unbelievably balanced. This is leading me to believe that the balance lies on 3 things: First, handedness to nib relationship, second, the size of your hand... an average-size hand would find this pen to be a challenge due to its sheer posted size (and the post is large enough to throw its center of gravity off), and third, the writing style one is used to writing in. Can't change handedness, may POSSIBLY be able to get Montblanc to make a one-off OBB nib for a lefty if I try, and as for center of gravity, maybe moving higher up (ie: away from the nib) to offset the posting's center of gravity. It's amazing what an action as simple as posting the cap can do to the balance of a pen, and it's something I will continue to experiment with, and hopefully find a happy balance that lets me keep it posted and balanced enough to write for long periods of time with. (Balance: Non-Posted: 4.75/5, Posted: 3.5/5)
One of the major things I like in a fountain pen, is that it cannot use cartridges. Even though this pen is my first fountain pen, I was insistent on at least having a pen that could do both so I could get the feel of filling up a pen in a somewhat traditional way. The 149 is amazing at sucking up, and retaining ink, and cleaning is a fairly simple task, if very consumptive of dihydrogen oxide. The twist mechanism is simple to use, counter-clockwise to lower the internal piston and remove ink, and clockwise lifts the piston, enabling the nib to syringe ink into itself. The twisting mechanism is brass instead of plastic, so it should hopefully maintain a solid level of performance as the years go by. Plastic on a twist mechanism for this type of pen doesn't bode well, and I have read that other 149s of the 80s and 90s did have plastic twist mechanisms... quite disconcerting. As an experiment, I decided to fill it up and see how many drops of ink would come out between full and empty. I managed to count 53 drops from full to empty (ie: normal drip, drip, drip drops). I'm not sure if this means that the internal chambers are larger than the 144 and 146, but if the empirical properties are any indication, I'd say this thing holds a great deal of ink. Ink holding however, is a different story. When attempting to clean the nib from its dip, ink goes EVERYWHERE on the nib, with the source being at the capillary action hole. I've read this is normal, and that I have to be more careful with cleaning. I'll give this the benefit of the doubt as I'm still new to fountain pens, and as long as it doesn't damage anything, I'm fine. (Ink sucking and retaining: 4/5)
Now to save the best for last: How's it write. Well I will say this. When I can get it to balance and write, the Oblique double bold nib is a thing of beauty. It writes very consistently, just wet enough to give a true black, but not so black that it smudges everywhere. The ink isn't quick-drying, but I write slow enough so that it dries before I go over it while writing. As a lefty, the writing experience with the OBB nib is awkward. As much as I enjoy the calligraphy effect produced when I sign documents and write essays, the nib's "right-handed orientation" means that I have to wrestle a bit to get that elusive calligraphic effect I like. The general scheme of the lines is like that of a sharpie. VERY THICK, very smooth, not at all scratchy, and I love the way it looks. It gives your writing a very authoritative appearance and makes signatures stand out, but if a very tight style of writing is desired, you might end up with cursive loops that either become very tight or non-existent. Writing with an OBB nib might give you more surface area for ink to flow out, but it means that writing in tight areas is a challenge without a trained hand. On the positive side, accomodating for such a broad nib means that I have to write slower and more clearly to make my penmanship legible, I've been able to better organize my thoughts and thus write more coherently than if I had a ballpoint or rollerball and could merely scribble down whatever I wanted. On a side note, I am planning to get the OBB nib replaced with a BB nib to facilitate writing if I cannot convince Montblanc to make a one-off OBB nib that has its obliqueness reversed, I will most likely fix this over winter break. As such (Writing experience: 3.5/5 confirmed, possibly 4.5/5 when the nib is corrected to reverse OBB or just plain BB... or maybe that really big signature O3B nib...).
Does this pen equate to perfection? Absolutely not. Even as a Montblanc fan, I will admit that there are things that this pen does spectacularly and things that could use improvement. Some improvements will come in time, such as learning to balance the pen posted in a better fashion, others will need modifications, such as fixing the nib to better accommodate a left-handed person, and some things just can't be fixed. For all the glitz and beauty this pen provides extrinsically, I knew it would interpret into something special as a whole. Unfortunately, the fatal flaw of the pen is simply it's size. Unless you have frying pan hands, this pen is a great signature / essay pen, but for writing long manuscripts it becomes a challenge. At the same time, its iconic status and instant recognition serves a dual purpose. In mega metro areas and among the pen community, it's viewed lower than it should because of perceived qualities as a pretentious, snobbish upscale marque and extreme overpricing. However in less "observant" areas of the world, it is a symbol of class and status that goes unquestioned. Odds are, this pen will never become my #1 unless out of nowhere the BB nib is the holy grail of nibs, however for what it is, it happens to be a pretty solid pen that I expect to get many years of service out of once all its kinks are nailed out and the nib gets molded to the way I write.
Overall: 4/5 stars. Get over the pretentiousness of the "birdsplat" and the excessive price, and it happens to be a very good, if oversized and imperfect pen. Worth trying and having one, best bought used as $700 new is a bit much.
Edited by ganzonomy, 05 December 2007 - 13:23.