My first fountain pen was an inexpensive Schaeffer I received when I was in the third grade. I liked the little blue and chrome pen with its cartridges of blue ink. Sure, it tended to leak and the nib scratched terribly on cheap notebook paper, but I felt that my fountain pen gave my writing a sense of gravitas, though I had no idea what that meant at the time.
In the years since, I've owned several fountain pens - some family heirlooms, others more modern incarnations of classic pens. Though I don't use a fountain pen daily, I keep two Levenger Tru-Writers (one with a fine nib, one broad) and a Cross with a medium nib nearby. All use converters so I can write with a variety of inks (the real fun of writing with a fountain pen!)
I began to wonder what the ideal starter fountain pen would be today that would allow a person to experiment with different inks and nibs. Cartridge-only pens and disposables were eliminated by default. A bit of on-line research led me to the Lamy Safari. I've read several reviews that were generally favorable. The Safari seemed like a promising candidate, so I ordered a bright, tomato red Safari with an extra-fine nib. I paid under $25 for the pen and an additional $4 for the converter.
The pen arrived packed in a sturdy gray cardboard box with a muted "made in Germany" printed on the side. In the box was the pen and a Lamy ink cartridge. Note - Lamy pens must use Lamy cartridges if you choose not to use a converter, a cost and convenience factor to consider. (Our local stores do not carry Lamy products.)
The pen has a plastic body, molded in the pen's color. The clip is a rather heavy black wire loop - functional if not elegant. I thought the look of the clip fit the overall simple design well. The barrel is rounded with two flat sides and windows to view your ink supply. The cap clicks into place nicely. The steel nib is blackened rather than shiny. The pen is not heavy, but it feels well made even if it is mostly plastic.
I set aside the included ink cartridge and installed the Lamy converter. Please note that there are tiny plastic nubs on the converter that click into "ears" on the pen. It's easy to install this incorrectly, so pay attention to what you are doing. The converter worked smoothly, drawing a supply of Private Reserve "Orange Crush" ink into the reservoir.
The pen fit well in my hand - the flat sections preventing the pen from turning and aided me in holding the Safari in the proper position for writing. The Private Reserve ink flowed smoothly from the nib with very little scratching or skipping. To be honest, it wrote every bit as smoothly as my more expensive Levenger pens. I wrote on a variety of paper from Doane, Levenger and Rhodia. The results were pleasing in each case. I then pulled out a cheap note-pad of recycled paper. I experienced some scratching and the ink bled somewhat, but I attribute that to the cheap paper rather than the pen.
I highly recommend the Lamy Safari to anyone wishing to take the plunge into fountain pen writing. In fact, I would recommend this pen to anyone who likes fountain pens. It may not be a Mercedes, but I'd liken it to a dependable Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic - not fancy, but it certainly gets the job done. I plan on buying a few more of these pens - at under $25, I might buy one in each color!