When Grail Pens Become Grail Sets - Collecting The Impossible

Probably something I've always known, but realize more so now is that I'm probably a bit on the compulsive side. I am usually pretty logical (almost to a fault), but when something fascinates me I feel a need (compulsion) to educate myself about, pursue, and ultimately experience most of what that "thing" has to offer.

There have been a few posts around the pen community from time to time about the pursuit of "Grail" pens. Below are links to a few: 

My Pen Needs Ink

Ken Crooker

Pen Economics

Ed Jelley

With some obvious reference (albeit religious in nature which hopefully doesn't drive too many people nuts) to the mythical crusade in search of the cup Christ used at the Last Supper, seeking out a grail pen could mean different things to different people. It could be price, scarcity, rarity+condition, etc.

What I mean by rarity+condition is that maybe it is fairly easy to find one of your grail pens, but they all seem to be in really poor condition. Perhaps you're looking for something NOS (new old stock) that is as mint as the day it came from the manufacturer, even if decades later. I've been bitten by the NOS bug for sure, but generally that means you'll be paying a bit more to get what you want.

Maybe they only made a very small number and there are few surviving examples... Whatever your grail quest is about, it can be your own.

The title of this post suggests taking the grail pen journey to a different level: grail sets.

If you've been following the blog for quite some time you'll know that I went through a pretty heavy patch (understatement) of buying and reviewing vintage rOtring pens. Ok, I went nuts about the brand for a time. At one point my collection of vintage rOtring pens was near 25 or so, but slowly over time I parted with many until I'm now down to about 7 or 8 "core" rOtring pens I know I'll use and enjoy. Even though I bought a lot of them, I'm not sure I ever had the idea in my head that I needed one of each or anything like that.

There are some other pens that I'm finding a need to complete... which is proving difficult, but a fun challenge.

The Striped Pilots

Once the rOtring thing died down a bit for me I found myself enamored with vintage steel Pilot pens like the MYU, Murex, Custom, and Elite. Such a fascinating time in pen manufacturing.

While I have bought a good range of these pens, there is a specific sub-group of them that has really gotten ahold of me. For a time in the early 70's, Pilot produced a specific style of these pens in a black vertical stripe pattern which I find absolutely stunning.

They produced several different pens in the line with this design:

Ballpoint, Mechanical Pencil, Custom, MYU, Feltliner, and Capless (notice this one is not pictured...)

Once set side by side, they are just an amazing looking group of design and pen history and I am smitten by them.

Some of the regulars that come up are the striped MYU and Custom, but you'd be surprised at just how scarce the others are. I could go months and months without catching a glimpse of the others on eBay or other sites.

I received the striped pencil from an awesome reader and Instagramer, Nic (@NIC_V5) who knew I was on the hunt, and I'm so appreciative he gave me the opportunity to get it from him.

Oddly enough I found the feltliner and ballpoint in two separate auctions on eBay in the same week, although they are also super rare it seems.

The Capless (retractable fountain pen) version is my true-true grail pen it seems. I've only seen them pop up once every few months or so, but when they do they are either in terrible condition or they end up going for really, really high prices (that I'd just need to be comfortable paying). It isn't even that attractive of a pen, but it is fantastic... and I need it.

The LAMY Unic

The other bug I was bitten by over the last year and a half was the LAMY Unic, a discontinued line of slim, cylindrical ballpoints and fountain pens designed by the beloved Gerd A. Müller, the father of the iconic LAMY 2000 that we cherish.

One of the things that makes the Unic different is that the ballpoint versions have a telescoping tip which retracts in and out. The clip is sort of bolted on and carries a very "Müller-esque" appeal. It was created in the early 80's, held on for probably about 15 years or so, but was ultimately pulled from production. Not sure why, but info is pretty scarce.

Now, getting your hands on just ONE Unic can seem somewhat daunting enough, but how about trying to acquire all of the possible variations? Probably crazy.

What I discovered pretty quickly from an Instagram friend, Marcel (@marcellix), was that the ballpoint came in four finishes/materials: stainless steel, matte black, titanium coated, and gunmetal. And from what I could find the fountain pen came in matte black and stainless, but I'm not entirely sure about the other finishes.

Wow. Even with only six potential pens to find, I knew I had my work cut out for me.

Take a moment to go on eBay and search "LAMY Unic" and see how many come up... not many, and usually always in the matte black. And, expensive.

Now that my quest was started, Marcel was kind enough to help me get going with a matte black set and eventually a titanium coated, but I was on my own for the others.

I later found a stainless steel fountain pen on ebay that I scored for a solid deal (which also had a gold nib to boot), and got a stainless ballpoint from an auction house in Germany I think.

Even looking at the Unic pens, I'm still not sure what it is that makes me so drawn to them. They are just super cool, interesting, designed by one of our favorites, and maybe even a bit obscure. Maybe all of that is a recipe for intrigue. 

If you've been keeping track, you'll have noticed that I was missing one more: the gunmetal.

With a pretty decent pulse on the available eBay Unic pens, I only saw one gunmetal go up for sale in a year... 

Although by pure happenstance, another Instagram friend shot me a photo of a Unic as we were randomly messaging about the model. It was a gunmetal version. Swoon.

After a few months, we came to an agreement where I could acquire the gunmetal Unic from him and complete the set. You would think it would leave me feeling empty now that the search was over... nope. Feels great.

Besides, I still have the striped Pilot Capless to find... 

Do you have a grail set? I would love to hear what you're searching for...