This fountain pen was one of my lucky finds at the London Pen Show, in October 2017. Unfortunately I cannot tell you what it is called, since the pen, the nib and the packaging are devoid of any branding. I have been calling it “my Mystery pen”. I hope that someone reading this might recognise the make or model and let me know by commenting on this post. Meanwhile, if you want one, all I can suggest is that you come to the London UK Pen Show next time and hopefully the seller might be there again. I hope so, as I would like to buy another one.
Construction and appearance
This is a large, cartridge/converter/eye-dropper pen, with a suitably large stainless steel nib, in a plastic body. It has a clear demonstrator barrel, with a distinctive bullet shaped end cap in an attractive, marbled blue and black. The grip section is of the same blue and black pattern. The cap is black, but with a rounded finial also in the blue and black. Other colours were available.
The cap screws on and off in two twists. There is a sprung inner-cap (like on a Platinum 3776 Century) and so as you cap and uncap the pen, you feel the resistance of the spring inside.
There is a sturdy, metal pocket clip, a shiny chrome cap band (no branding) and one chrome ring separating the clear part of the barrel from the end cap. Presumably, there was intended to be some branding on the cap band.
The packaging consisted of a black cardboard tray, with a foam insert with cutaways for the pen and a syringe for eye-dropper filling, in a black cardboard sleeve. There was a page of instructions for each of the filling options, but again with no brand name or address.
The syringe did have a brand name, Terumo, which seems to be a medical supplier and nothing to do with pens.
Nib and filling mechanism
The nib is stainless steel, and looks like a size 6. There is some scroll work on it and the letter M for medium, but a smooth empty space in the middle, where presumably a brand name was to be inserted.
The plastic feed and the nib are friction fit and can be pulled out for cleaning or adjustment.
The pen came with a converter but also accepts standard international cartridges, or can be eye-dropper filled.
Size and weight
The beauty of this pen is its generous size making for a very comfortable writing experience and no need to post the cap. Sizes and weights are approximate.
Length closed: 151mm (6″)
Length open: 140mm (5 1/2″)
Length posted: 174mm (6 9/10″)
Weight closed/posted: 25g
Weight uncapped: 15g
Weight of cap only: 10g.
My favourite figure above is the length open, 140mm. What a treat. I am happy with 130mm (a Lamy Safari) but this is even nicer, even allowing for tapering of the end cap.
Likes and Dislikes
Since I bought the pen, it has remained inked, mostly with Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue but more recently with Conway Stewart Tavy, by Diamine. There is such a lot to like about this pen and here are a few points, in no particular order:
nib writes smoothly with no effort at all (I even wrote “dreamtouch” in my ink journal, in a nod to the vastly more expensive Visconti);
very comfortable to hold and grip, leading to neater writing;
a great size for me, especially that 140mm unposted length;
sprung inner cap. I have not had any problems of hard starts;
screw cap, rather than push on;
excellent value; I paid £30.00 for it.
a good low-cost way to test whether you like this size of pen, before buying a more costly one.
Smooth and tactile.
As for dislikes, there are none to speak of, really. I just wish I knew who made it and what model it is.
As you can tell, I am very pleased with this pen. I enjoy writing with it. I have so far used it only with the supplied converter and have not tried to eye-dropper it. I imagine it would hold a vast amount of ink. I have no real need to do that. Using the pen, especially with the lovely Cobalt ink, I noticed that my usually rushed handwriting looked a little more tidy and legible (what I might call the Pelikan effect), from slowing down and writing a little more carefully and deliberately. And that has got to be a good thing. I will be on the look-out for one or two more of these in other colours, if I get the chance.
On a day of beautiful autumn sunshine in September 2015, I went into central London to look in a few pen shops. I bought a bottle of Waterman Harmonious Green ink at Pen Friend in the Burlington Arcade, before going into Fortnum & Mason to visit their fountain pen department.
As I hovered over the displays, the sales assistant Robert asked “What’s caught your eye?” I had found the Faber-Castells and was rather taken with the striking looks of the E-motion, with its combination of natural wood and shiny metal. A delivery had just come in and he went to find one in the dark Pearwood finish. I preferred this to the lighter brown version or the all black “stealth” model. After trying the pen on a pad of Graf von Faber-Castell paper, I bought one. It was rather an impulsive buy and at £87.99 was one of the more expensive pens that I had bought.
I was delighted with my choice. Before leaving the shop, with my pen and a much appreciated complimentary Graf von Faber-Castell note pad, in a distinctive Fortnum and Mason carrier bag, I went to ink the pen with my new Harmonious Green, then went to the Royal Academy across the road, to try it out.
In the years that followed, it has been a pen for which I have mixed emotions. I have bought four more Faber-Castell fountain pens (an Ambition, two school pens and a Loom) and have always found their stainless steel nibs, even on the entry-level school pens, to be very pleasing. The Ambition, E-motion and Loom share the same nib unit. Today I will look back at the E-motion, my first foray into Faber-Castell fountain pens.
Construction and Appearance
This is a metal pen, rather short and tapering at each end, with a large, heavy, shiny polished metal cap. There is a smooth, curved pocket clip, which is sprung and can be operated one-handed. The cap is tastefully embellished with the Faber-Castell name and logo and the words “since 1761”.
Removing the screw cap, in two short twists, you have the nib and section in shiny steel. There is also a tapered finial (perhaps nugget or lump of metal would be a better description) in shiny polished steel at the end of the barrel. The main part of the barrel is very attractively finished with a layer of dark brown Pearwood, with its beautiful, natural dark wood grain and patina. There is no discernible join around the wood and so I suppose it to be a carefully drilled tube of wood, slid over the metal barrel, before the end finial is put in place. Correct me if I am wrong.
The barrel unscrews to reveal metal threads on both the section and inside of the barrel. Everything fits together very well and gives an impression of sturdiness and good quality. A converter was included with my pen but it also takes standard international cartridges.
This is stainless steel, in an attractive shape and finish. There is no breather hole, but the nib features a pattern of dimples, which are subtle yet catch the light sometimes in a most pleasing way. My nib is a medium, but writes on the fine side of medium, which suits me. I later discovered that the nib and feed unit can be easily unscrewed from the section and that the nibs are interchangeable with those of the Ambition or Loom.
Dimensions and weights
Length closed: 138mm
Length opened: 117mm
Length posted: 148mm
Weight capped or posted: 53g
Weight uncapped: 31g
Weight of cap: 22g.
Handling and performance
The pen writes very well. The tines were level, the tipping material was symmetrical, and the ink flow on all the papers I tried, was just right, neither too dry nor too wet. The nib gives a smooth writing experience, but not overly so; there is enough tooth for the pen to cope with smoother paper and to give a pleasant degree of feedback. Of all the stainless steel nibs that I have used, I would say that these have been consistently among the best. It also provides good “cap-off” time, remaining ready to write even if the pen is left uncapped for a few minutes.
On the downside, for my hands, the pen is just too short to use comfortably unposted. If I were to use it unposted, I would try to grip it low down around the section, but this does not work for me because the shiny metal section is slippery to hold and cannot be gripped steadily.
The cap can be posted (although it needs a hard push and a twist – with a worry of cracking the inner cap or marking the lovely wood covered barrel) and whilst this solves the length problem, this makes for a very heavy pen. You are carrying the full 53 grams as you write.
I do like to be flexible and accommodating to my pens, to allow for their idiosyncrasies and to celebrate their diversity. In the case of the E-motion, I found that the best way to use it was to post a light weight cap from another pen. This means the pen is probably confined to home use, but I have used this method to good effect on at least three pens now (the E-motion, the Faber-Castell Ambition and the Bic Easy-Click). You might have to rummage around to find the best match of size, weight (and even colour if you are lucky) and try several tops before you find the best fit.
It is a good idea to keep some pen tops when roller balls or marker pens such as the Sharpie run out, for this very reason. For the E-motion or the Bic Easy-Click, the Lamy Safari caps work well. For the Faber-Castell Ambition, I use a Sharpie cap. Obviously it looks unfashionable and eccentric, but it is better than leaving the pen unfilled and unfulfilled.
I find that when I post a Safari cap on the E-motion, I naturally grip the pen higher up and around the warm wooden barrel with only my second finger used as a rest for the metal section. Consequently there is no issue of the section being slippery to hold. And the pen is not too heavy or too short, although still on the heavy side. Length with a Safari cap posted is a comfortable 152mm and the Safari cap weighs just 8.5g as opposed to the E-motion’s hefty 22g.
So this, for me, was the way to deal with my E-motions. YMMV. It is an attractive and good quality pen and it is worth persevering to make use of the excellent nib.
When counting how many fountain pens I have currently inked and congratulating myself on how the numbers are down on previous levels, I tend to count only those at home and forget the ones left in the workplace. It feels a bit like (I imagine) having undisclosed hidden funds sitting in an offshore account.
So in the interests of disclosure, here is the current office line-up. (The pen cup does not actually look like this; I removed all the dusty ball points, pencils and other junk which were not of relevance to this post).
First there is the Lamy Safari Petrol. I was thrilled with this colour (both pen and ink) when it was launched last year. But for some reason, I did not make very much use of it at home. I recently took one of the Lamy Petrol cartridges and tried it in my Lamy Aion for a little while, before taking it out again and putting it in its matching fountain pen. I decided to bring it to work to use for making notes.
The TWSBI Diamond 580 is an old favourite. Currently with a Medium nib (although it had a Broad for while), this is a deliciously smooth, wet, firm, writer and always reliable. The size suits me nicely and it is long enough to use unposted. Currently inked with Conway Stewart Tavy (by Diamine).
The TWSBI Eco is a newer acquisition from last year. Mine has a Fine nib, which is very firm but writes well. It is filled with Cross Black and is very useful for form filling as the ink behaves well.
Next, there is my newest pen, the Faber-Castell Loom, shiny gunmetal version with a Medium nib. This is not yet two weeks old and hence I still carry it back and forth to use at home and work. This is inked with Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue, in cartridge form. Great for notes, signing letters, carrying as an EDC.
Finally the Kaweco Perkeo in Old Chambray with a Medium nib and inked with Kaweco blue cartridges that were included with the pen. I was a little bit critical of this pen when I first reviewed it last summer. But actually, I find myself reaching for it a lot. It is long enough to be comfortable to hold unposted but also posts very nicely too. The faceted grip has long since ceased to bother me. There is no need for a pocket clip on a pen cup pen. Best of all, the Kaweco steel nib on these pens is slightly bouncy and springy making a very pleasant writing experience and allows for some nice line width variation, for signing letters and documents, to give that unmistakable “fountain pen look”. On the other hand, the build quality is not fantastic. The barrel does not screw on to the section tightly. (When it has been screwed down as far as it will go, it still can still be moved left and right a little bit).
So there we have it. Obviously no gaudy colours as this is a law firm. Actually a fountain pen with red ink would be useful. I will vary the rotation from time to time. There are lots more pens at home which could benefit from some work experience.
If you are trying to resist the temptation to buy more fountain pens for a while, then drifting into Selfridges on London’s Oxford Street and heading for their new pen department, is probably not going to help.
The pen department has moved, from the ground floor to the lower ground floor, near Dolly’s cafe (for afternoon teas). There is a Mont Blanc area and then, next to it, another section with a generous area of brightly lit and enticing glass counters and wall displays, for all the other fountain pen brands that they stock.
As I was not looking for anything in particular, I made the customary lap of the cabinets, admiring but resisting the expensive offerings, but then hesitated at the display of Faber-Castells. These looked particularly good value, after a circuit of all the other brands. I asked to see the Loom fountain pen which I had not handled before. On a previous visit a year or two ago, I had looked at a Loom but at that time, they had only the roller ball version.
Now, there were numerous Loom fountain pens to chose from. Typically, these have a grey coloured metal barrel and section, with a coloured plastic cap in a range of colours. The section is reasonably wide but tapers towards the nib and has five raised rings, to aid grip.
In addition to several models like this, I saw one with a shiny silver chrome barrel and glossy black cap and another, with shiny gunmetal grey barrel and section, and matte black cap. It was this latter model that I was to go for.
I was particularly interested to try holding the pen and to see whether the metal section was slippy or whether the raised rings solved that.
What I found was that the standard, silver coloured metal sections are still a bit on the slippery side for me. However, the shiny gunmetal version was not slippery at all. It seems to have some sort of thin plastic coating over the barrel and section. If you press on it hard with your thumb and then try to slide your thumb on the section, it judders along and squeaks, as it overcomes the surface resistance.
The shiny gunmetal version cost a little more than the others, (£45.00 as opposed to £37.50, I think) but seemed the better option to me, both in aesthetics and handling. I have learned since, that there is also a matte gunmetal version which I have seen online only. I also bought a box of 20 Graf von Faber-Castell cartridges in Cobalt Blue because (a) I love this ink and (b) I loved the orderly ranks of five rows of four cartridges in this handy dispenser, like a box of bullets, and which can be used again.
The pen comes in a decent, white cardboard gift box with a slide out tray in a sleeve and also a cardboard outer sleeve. It comes with one royal blue cartridge plus a dummy cartridge, (showing that there is room for a spare in the barrel) but no converter. There is also a little instruction manual which is now date stamped, 6 January 2018, Selfridges, London. Naturally you pay a bit more than with online-only dealers, but you get personal service, an opportunity to handle the pen (and try it if you wish) and a memorable buying experience.
Examining it more closely at home, the shiny gunmetal finish is interesting, as it appears to have under the plastic coating, an oily finish of patches of dark red and dark green which reflect the light, like a gun that has just been oiled, except that the surface does not feel oily and on the contrary, can be gripped very well.
The pull-off cap is very stiff. (Lips pursed, eye-brows furrowed, elbows a quiver, “Pop” – there it goes!) and also snaps closed with a reassuring click. This stiffness of the cap, so far, is my only negative about the pen but I find that it can be “soft-capped” if in use for extended but intermittent note taking and which I now do. Also the nib and feed are much better than most, at remaining ready to perform, even when left uncapped for several minutes. The pocket clip is, I think, metal but plastic-coated and is hinged, although it lacks the ability to be opened one handed by pressing down at the top.
Unscrewing the relatively weighty metal section, I discovered a tiny code “f7” on mine. I have not yet been able to find any information about these codes but I am guessing it is a production date code, the 7 being for 2017. I think this because each of my 20 Cobalt Blue cartridges also has f7 stamped on them, in black. Also, I looked again at a Faber-Castell Ambition that I bought two years ago and discovered that it also had a stamp near the threads for the barrel, reading “d4” and so I guess that would indicate a manufacturing date in 2014. If anyone has any further information about these codes I would be interested to hear. I do like a production date code. Next best thing to a serial number.
In use, the metal barrel and section initially feel cold to the touch but swiftly warm up. The cap posts quite deeply and securely, making for an extremely comfortable and nicely balanced pen. At 120mm opened and unposted, it could be used without posting but my preference is to post the cap, bringing the length to around 155mm. Weights are 33g in all (including two cartridges), or 26.5g uncapped. The cap alone weighs 6.5g.
The best thing about this pen though, is the Faber-Castell stainless steel nib. This is a traditional shape, but with an attractive dimpled pattern and no breather hole. There is the Faber-Castell logo of jousting knights (although you need a magnifying glass to make this out) and an M for medium. Mine performed perfectly, glassy smooth and with ideal ink flow, straight out of the box. This has also been my experience with the same medium nibs of the Faber-Castell e-motion and Ambition. Some reviewers find the nib to be too smooth, so that it runs away with you. I do not think this is a fault but you do need to slow down, particularly if you are used to writing with a ball pen. It is not a feedbacky nib and so it might skip on very smooth papers.
Incidentally, the nib and feed are within a black plastic collar and the whole nib unit can be easily unscrewed from the section. You may then extract the nib and feed from the collar, which are friction fit, if you ever need to. I refer to SBRE Brown’s useful Disassembly Line videos which demonstrate this process. When replacing, take care to a line up the nib and feed correctly with the air replacement channel.
Using the pen extensively at work and at home this week I found that the weight, balance and feel of the pen in the hand were so comfortable, that I soon stopped being aware that I was holding a new pen and was aware only of what I was writing. It is rather like having a very comfortable new pair of shoes.
I used up the supplied royal blue cartridge first, rather impatient to get on to my Cobalt Blue cartridges. The Cobalt Blue is one of my all time favourite inks, being a rich dark blue but without being blue-black.
So, the New Year pen fast has been broken. But I have no regrets and am delighted with this pen, which I personally find more comfortable than both my Faber-Castell e-motion or Ambition. At this price level, other comparables for a metal-bodied, stainless steel nib cartridge converter pen would include a Lamy Aion, a new model Parker IM, or Sheaffer Sagaris, but which all use their own proprietary cartridges. But for handling and nib performance, I would recommend the shiny gunmetal Loom.
I am usually wary of buying a journal which is sealed in cellophane so that you cannot examine the paper before buying. This now seems to be the way many diaries and notebooks are sold in Rymans.
I enjoy writing a diary, for many reasons. I like to keep a record of the day, for my future reference. But the act of writing it is a chance to reflect on the day and to order your thoughts and put them into writing which is therapeutic. And then there is the sheer joy of writing, with a fountain pen.
For the past few years, I have used A5, page a day diaries from Rymans. This year, after browsing around their shelves, I decided to play it safe and go for the same version that I used last year.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I got it home and unwrapped it, to find that the line spacing had been reduced. In 2017, we had 23 rows per page, at 7.91mm. Now this year, there are 28 rows per page, at 6.5mm. That is a reduction of 1.41mm, or 17.82%.
I did not want to go to the trouble of exchanging it and also doubted whether they had anything better. So, I had to decide quickly whether I could live with it.
I tend to chose a fountain pen to use for my diary and then stick to it for the year. Last year, it was the Pelikan M800 with a medium nib, (which is on the broader side of medium). This year, in view of the reduction in row height, I plan to use my Kaweco Dia2, with an Extra Fine nib. Dropping a nib width or two, is a good solution for dealing with narrow line spacing. So, having a range of nibs to chose from can save the day. Or year.
On the plus side, the new diary gives five extra rows a day. For day one, I used them to vent my annoyance with Rymans. Also, I do like that this diary has a full page each for Saturday and Sunday. And at least the line spacing is not as bad as in 2016 when it was just 5.8mm. I should mention that my preferred line spacing, from experience, is 8.0mm although I do have some note books with a very generous 10.0mm.
Aside from the daily diary for home use, I also keep a bullet journal, on a simple, ruled notebook on which I have made up two page spreads for each month. I started this last year. As 2017 only used up 24 pages plus some extra pages for specific topics, there were plenty of pages left to continue in the same book in 2018.
Obviously, with my new year resolutions still fresh on the page, it is too early in the year to be thinking about buying another pen. (I do have a page in the bullet journal for the “wish list”). But if I had been thinking of doing so, then the Edison Collier is tempting me at the moment. I had put it on the list and noted the price as £129.00, with a steel nib. However, when I happened to look at the price again very recently, at The Writing Desk, I saw that the price had changed to £152.00. That is an increase of £23.00, which is 17.82%. Hmmm, coincidence. I suppose the lesson here is that nothing stays the same or the same price forever.
For now, I am resisting the Edison Collier. I am not convinced that it is sufficiently different from another pen that I have, the Campo Marzio Ambassador, to warrant the expense. The Ambassador is just slightly short for my liking but the cap can be posted, whereas the Collier’s cap can not. But I might ask whether anyone has got one at our next monthly gathering of the London Fountain Pen Club. Just to make sure.
As the year draws to a close, it is time to reflect on some of the year’s highlights of my fountain pen hobby. In what was a busy and eventful year, this is a continuing source of relaxation and enjoyment. I include in this, not only using fountain pens but all the related activity of filling, cleaning and general tinkering with pens; hours of pen, ink and paper sampling; reading and writing about new pens, photographing them and shopping for pens and supplies.
Before writing this, I looked at my end of year review from 2016. During that year I had bought 40 new pens for myself and concluded that in 2017, I expected to buy a lot less. Oh dear. Let me admit right away that this did not happen.
I have kept a record of pen acquisitions. In 2017, the gross number acquired, was 52 (gasp). That sounds like one every week. I can imagine detectives in an incident room, huddled around a map and predicting when and where I am likely to strike next.
Well, it wasn’t quite like that. Two were for bought for other people. Another, a Visconti, I returned the following day as I decided that I was not suited to it, and so that doesn’t count. Then towards the end of the year, while on holiday in China I was given two pens by a cousin and eight, mostly Heroes, from an uncle who was a retired teacher, who insisted that he did not need them anymore. So that brings it down to 39.
And of these, only three (the ones with gold nibs) cost over £100.00 and the most expensive was £159. These were the vintage Pelikan M400, Sailor Magellan Lapis Lazuli and the Cleo Skribent Classic Gold. My total pen spend came to around £1,300.00. Many of the pens cost little more than a trip to a cinema or a meal out and have given me hours of enjoyment. Some were in sales at irresistible prices.
Anyway, without further excuses, here are some highlights, in no particular order.
In view of the number, I am not going to post one photograph showing them all. It would be a bit like seeing all the food I have eaten in a year.
To summarise the main acquisitions by brand, these are:
Cleo Skribent: (2) – Classic Metal and Classic Gold. I am delighted with them both. The nibs, whether steel or gold, are wonderful.
Conklin: (2) – Mark Twain Crescent Fillers, in coral chase and red chase, from the London pen show. Lovely to use and to fill.
Faber Castell: (2) a pair of cheap school pens, one red and one blue, with good nibs.
Hero (9): either bought or given to me while in China.
Kaweco (5): I bought the Allrounder, the Dia2, two of the newly released Perkeos and one Sport Skyline Mint. Of these, the Dia2 is my favourite and one of the most comfortable and reliable pens I have, at any price. The Perkeos have grown on me, as I like the length and the slightly bouncy nibs. The aluminium Allrounder is well made and solid, but for just slightly more money, I would still prefer the Dia2.
Lamy (5): I picked up the new 2017 special edition Safari in Petrol and AL-Star in Pacific Blue. Both came with a pack of matching cartridges. I was more thrilled with the Petrol (dark teal) with its lovely shading and closely matched pen and ink, although in practice, I did not use it very much. The Aion was a journey; I read and watched lots of online reviews, deliberated over the grip and then succumbed. I posted some thoughts on it at the time. I do like it but find that it needs a different way of writing; you need to “let go” and not grip too firmly as the surface won’t let you.
Parker (4): I bought three Sonnets, because they were greatly reduced in a Rymans sale. I got one in red and gold, one in black and one in brushed stainless steel. I rather like using the black one with the cap from the brushed stainless steel one. Then in November I picked up a simple, blue plastic Parker Reflex which writes effortlessly. I read that the caps are prone to cracking in time but I am not worried as I have already found several other pen caps which would fit if need be (such as a Kaweco Sport).
Sheaffer (4): I bought a Sheaffer 100 with Translucent Blue barrel and steel cap, which I think looks stunning and has a good nib. It looks more attractive than its modest £35.00 cost would suggest. I also bought another Sagaris (medium) in black, since I like my burgundy one so much. Then I spotted the Sheaffer Pop in blister packs, reduced to half price and bought two.
TWSBI (2): I bought an Eco with a fine nib and a new Classic in white with medium nib. These are both great, as low-cost, high-capacity piston fillers and both perform well. I now have four different TWSBIs in all.
So, in number, Hero were the pens that I got the most of this year, although many were gifts. Of my purchases, Kaweco and Lamy were the brands that I bought the most of (with five of each) closely followed by Parker and Sheaffer both on four.
New old pens
I bought a vintage Pelikan M400 tortoise at auction, with a fine and rather flexy 14k gold Rover nib. I enjoyed cleaning this and was thrilled when after a night’s soaking in water, I was able to unscrew the nib and ebonite feed. At the same auction, buoyed by my newfound bidding success, I went on rather impulsively to bid for a Sailor Magellan Lapis Lazuli, limited edition, with a 21k zoom nib.
I have kept a diary for years. This year, I used an A5 page a day diary from Rymans. I find that the best time for me to write is early in the morning, to write up my record of the previous day. I used my Pelikan M800, with Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue, a favourite combination. I also finished writing up a volume of memories, purely for my own amusement, of being at boarding school in England in the 1970’s. For this I used a selection of different pens and inks over the year, really as a writing exercise and at the same time, to try out pens and inks for longer writing sessions with some sort of purpose, rather than writing “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” I also enjoy writing letters and picking up whatever pen I fancy from the pen cup.
One pen, one ink, one hour
I have struggled all year with the dilemma of having too many fountain pens inked at once. Do you keep them all in use until you write them dry, or strive for an impressively minimal number of pens in the cup at the expense of flushing away good ink ? I am now less fussy than I was, about washing pens half full of ink but even so, I think my pen cup occupancy peaked at around thirty at one point. Part of me longed for the days when I possessed only one pen and one ink. As a break from having too many pens to hand, I made up an activity which I cleverly named “One pen, one ink, one hour” which involves retreating, generally to a coffee shop and then writing more or less continuously in a notebook for an hour, with one pen. It is a good test of how a pen feels, whether the shape or the weight make your hand ache, how the feed keeps up and how you like the nib and the ink. You can write about anything, the pen itself, the fellow customers or whatever you like. No one is going to read it, thankfully.
Giving pens and advice
I mentioned that I bought a couple of pens for other people. One was a Kaweco Dia2, for my neice’s birthday. I had bought one for myself earlier and was so utterly delighted with it that I wanted to spread the joy. It is one of my favourite new pens of the year, along with the two Cleo Skribents and Conklin Crescent fillers. Another pen bought for someone else, was a Manuscript Clarity, requested by a reader of my blog, living in Vietnam.
In the summer I was flattered to be asked secretly by a cousin, to advise her on buying a fountain pen for her husband on their wedding anniversary. That would be my dream question in an exam. I sent back rather a long reply but narrowed it down to about three suggestions, based on the budget. In the end, she ordered a Pelikan M600 in blue with a fine nib. Later she sent me the most beautifully written thank you note, in her cursive italic handwriting, written with the pen that she had chosen and which was a great success.
Fountain pen blog
This blog celebrated its first birthday on 5 November 2017. Born in a few hours of playing on the WordPress web site, it was a bold step into the unknown. I had aimed loosely to post about once a week, just writing about whatever pen-related topic interested me. Now, I have just passed 50 posts. The number of followers gradually grew, roughly in tandem with the number of posts. I find the whole experience, of writing and publishing posts and getting feedback from readers, most enjoyable. This week the total views nudged past 7,000 and from over 80 countries, which I find astonishing. I am not trying to boast here as I am sure many reading this have far higher numbers, but I am genuinely amazed at this exposure. In the summer, I published two posts about the newly released Kaweco Perkeo and these have between them been viewed over 900 times, largely because someone on FPN kindly put a link to my post in his.
It is easy to spend too long online reading about pens, what with WordPress, Instagram, YouTube and various online pen shops, such as Cult Pens and The Writing Desk. So it is particularly nice when the opportunity arises to meet pen people. This year, I attended my first Pelikan Hub event in September, which I enjoyed, closely followed by the London Writing Equipment Show in October when I came away with five new pens. Then in November, I met some of the same people at the monthly gathering of the London UK Fountain Pen Club.
Travelling with ink
When the opportunity arises, I enjoy looking in stationery shops overseas to see a different range of pens. I was interested to shop in China while on a holiday earlier this month, as covered in my most recent posts.
For me, this is the continuation and escalation of a hobby that began when I was about ten years old. The fountain pen community, I find, are very decent and not judgmental of others. Perhaps we are our own fiercest critics and there is a lot of self-guilt which goes with buying too many pens. Our favourite pen, when asked, is often “the next one”. It is addictively enjoyable, when it goes well. But I am reminded of lines in the song Beauty for brokenness (Graham Kendrick), which read “Lord end our madness, carelessness, greed; make us content with the things that we need.” I am aware that my accumulation of pens (I haven’t mentioned the thirty or more new notebooks that I have “in stock” and the drawer full of ink) is hard to justify, even to myself. Indeed there are times when I would prefer to have fewer and appreciate them more, as in my coffee shop exercise. For 2018, I will simply repeat 2017’s resolution, to aim to buy a lot less pens and use and appreciate those that I have, all the more. Wish me luck, everybody.
During a recent holiday to visit my wife’s relatives in China, I was given a bag of eight old fountain pens, by an elderly uncle who assured me that he had no further use for them.
Over the Christmas holidays I have had a chance to have a play with these and try them all out. All were Chinese made pens, all with steel nibs and all with the Parker 51 Aerometric style (squeeze bar) filler. Four of them are what I loosely call Parker 51 copies, with the distinctive hooded nib, resin barrel and section and a metal cap. It is perhaps not correct to describe them as copies since they are unashamedly branded as Hero pens of various models and not all even have the arrow clip. However the origins of the design are unmistakable.
Then there were two metal pens, one being a Hero 443 in chrome finish with black section, the other a brushed stainless steel pen, with an attractive light blue reflective inlay and a letter “Y” on the pocket clip and an interesting looking curved nib. I do not know the make.
The final two were a pair of lacquered metal pens one cream coloured and one black, bearing the name Jin Rong.
I uncapped all the pens, posted the caps (taking care not to get the caps mixed up), unscrewed the barrels then took them all to be washed. With a sac filler, you do not immerse the sac in water but just the nib section and then operate the squeeze bar a few times to flush water in and out of the pen until the water runs clear. I was pleased to find that they all produced a small stream of air bubbles when I squeezed the bars, which I took to be sign that the sacs were air tight. Furthermore, all were clean. It was good to know that uncle had washed the pens before putting them away. Only the burgundy model produced a pale wisp of red ink in the water. This made me smile. So uncle also matched his pens and inks. I do that too. Perhaps this one had been used for marking school work.
After flushing and drying them all, I then tried dipping and testing each of the nibs and writing a few lines, to see which might be usable. I used Waterman Serenity Blue ink. All of them wrote although they tended to be firm, feedbacky and not the smoothest of writing experiences that money can buy. But I was pleased that they all at least wrote and could be used.
I have since chosen to ink the teal Hero 716 and the stainless steel one with the curved nib both with KWZ Azure #4.
The curved nib pen is rather unusual. At first glance, the nib appears to be a gold coloured piece of metal with a fold down the centre. On closer inspection, this is not the bit that does the writing. Beneath this sits the stainless steel nib, with the tip curving upwards at about 45 degrees and beneath it, the feed unit. The gold coloured part serves to stop the nib from bending upwards any further. Perhaps it might also serve as an ink reservoir since there is a gap between it and the nib, if you are using this as a dip pen.
This nib produces a fine line on the downstroke and a broad line on the cross-stroke. This is rather unusual and is the opposite of what you get from a stub nib. This is similar to the writing experience from an “architect grind” nib. I found it fun to try although it takes a bit of experimenting to find the correct angle at which to hold the pen. Also, I need to write a little larger than usual to avoid loops all being blocked in.
As for the teal Hero 716, I am enjoying it, particularly with the KWZ Azure #4 ink that seems a good match for the pen. My only reservation would be that the sac did not seem to be drawing up much ink. Perhaps the breather tube was blocked or the rubber sac had insufficient vacuum-pulling power when resuming its shape. Next time I will try to measure the ink up-take.
It is a pity that original Parker 51s are no longer made and that you can no longer visit a local stationery store and purchase a brand new one with gold nib, but times have moved on. Fortunately, used models can readily be found at pen shows. I am told that the original aerometric filler sacs rarely have anything wrong with them, although if need be, the sac can be replaced.
It is rather old fashioned nowadays in this digital age to be using a fountain pen at all and particularly to be filling from a bottle with a squeeze bar. But as we know, this is all part of the joy of fountain pen ownership. The satisfaction of filling a pen from a bottle more than makes up for the inconvenience. For me, anyway. I will enjoy picking up one of uncle’s old pens to use from time to time, along with my other pens. Thank you uncle. I will take good care of them.
Time now to conclude this two-part post, about shopping for fountain pens while on holiday in China. For Part 1: Meeting the Heroes”, follow link here: Part 1 . (Update: a Part 3 epilogue was later added).
After Shantou, we sped by bullet train at over 200 Kmph, southwards down the coast to Shenzhen, a city on the border of China and Hong Kong. Taking a short walk along a bustling shopping street near our hotel, we came to a shopping mall and department store and popped in to have a browse. The supermarket had a stationery section, with pens and exercise books. There were few fountain pens to be seen, but I picked up one which looked unusual.
This was the Maped Reload. In a blister pack, it was not possible to handle the pen before purchase, but at around £2.00 in our money, it seemed worth a shot. The name “Reload” is a reference to the filling mechanism, whereby you slide back a chamber in the barrel, insert a standard international cartridge, plus a spare one, and slam it home again, like cocking a Winchester. The closest thing I had seen to one of these before, was a Bic Easy-Click child’s pen. However, the Maped Reload appeared to have several advantages over the Bic, in that (1) at around 138mm uncapped, it is a full size pen and does not need posting; (in fact you cannot post the cap as it simply will not fit on the barrel); (2) you get a stainless steel nib with tipping material, rather than a butterfly, folded nib tip; (3) there is room to carry a spare cartridge in the barrel; (4) you get a strong, metal pocket clip.
The pen has a snap-on cap and a rubberised grip section with three facets and is reasonably comfortable to hold. On the down side, the pen is very plasticky as you might expect at this price point. However, that was not my biggest complaint. What really turned me against the pen was the force required to pull off the cap. Holding the barrel with my thumbs at right-angles to the barrel, I found myself exerting an ever increasing amount of lateral force on my thumbs until eventually my joints almost gave way. Moral: look after your thumbs; keep them in line with the pen, not at right angles, when dealing with stiff caps or caps of untried stiffness!
Just as we were leaving the shopping centre, I spotted a pen shop on the ground floor. The signage advertised Parker, SJ Dupont and several other well-known brands although the stock in the glass display cabinets was for the most part, either Parker or local Chinese offerings. The prices of the Chinese fountain pens were very modest and furthermore, there was a 50% reduction on all marked prices.
The first to catch my eye, was a bright red and chrome pen, with stainless steel nib and brushed stainless steel section. This brand was called Picasso and featured a cubist face logo on the cap and nib and the Picasso signature etched in the section. A converter was included. Metal lacquered cap and barrel. Metal threads. A decent gift box and a colour booklet. The cost? 98 RMB reduced to 49 RMB, about £6.00. And it writes beautifully.
In this sudden flurry of holiday shopping activity, I picked out another Picasso, a slightly different and larger model but again, a stainless steel nib pen with metal lacquered cap and barrel and a good quality feel. This cost a little more and was called the Pimio.
I later read on the included booklet, that Picasso pens are produced by the Shanghai Pafuluo Stationery Co Ltd (web site http://www.sh-picasso.com, which is worth visiting).
The last of my pen purchases, perhaps the most unusual and the one which had caught my wife’s eye in the display, was burgundy with three bands of gold glitter running down the cap and barrel. The pocket clip was of both silver and gold colour, nicely introducing the bi-colour 18K gold plated stainless steel nib within. This was the SZ LEQI 700. No, I had not heard of it either. It is crying out for a shimmering ink!
I hit upon this shop shortly before closing time and the lady was pleased to sell me three fountain pens in as many minutes. As well as the gift boxes that the two Picassos came in, she gave me one of her empty 10 pen plastic trays with see through lid which proved ideal for transporting the eight old pens that I had been given by an uncle a few days earlier.
Back at the hotel I enjoyed dipping the new additions and then inked them up with Aurora Blue Black, the only ink that I had on the trip. All wrote very well.
However, this was where my fountain pen spree came to an end. In Guilin, our next destination, after two full days of sightseeing, I was laid low with Sciatica for the remainder of the trip. Thus, once back in Hong Kong, I was not able to go searching for the elusive Pilot Custom 823. However, being incapacitated cured me from any urge for further pen shopping. So if you ever need a remedy for too much pen-purchasing, there it is. Sciatica.
Guilin, incidentally, is the place to go to see steep limestone pinnacles. A few hours’ drive from the city, we visited the Longji terraced rice fields which are spectacular even though the colours are not the best in December. We saw women of the Yoa minority whose custom is to not cut their hair. Many had hair of over 2 metres long and I end with a few more pictures.
Our recent holiday in China saw us spending time in the cities of Shantou, Shenzhen and Guilin plus a brief stay in Hong Kong at each end. Shantou and Hong Kong are where our Chinese friends and relatives live, whilst Guilin was purely for sightseeing, in a spectacular region of strange limestone hills, ancient terraced rice fields and quiet rivers.
My pens chosen for this trip were the humble blue plastic Parker Reflex, filled with Aurora Blue and a red Conklin Mark Twain crescent filler, in which I had put a Jinhao nib. I judged it best to fly with the Conklin empty but carried a bottle of Aurora Blue Black ink, a recent favourite, to use when I got there. The box makes a handy pen cup.
I had rather hoped that there might be time to do a little pen shopping in Hong Kong and possibly track down a Pilot Custom 823 and had even noted down the address of a shop to look for. As it turned out, this did not happen, owing to unexpected events but I still managed to come home with a staggering seventeen additional fountain pens (old and new) that somehow attached themselves to me during our travels.
First, on arriving in Shantou some cousins presented me with a very smart, hefty, black lacquer and chrome fountain pen, a Hero 912. Hero is a long-established and well regarded pen manufacturer in China. This model has a bi-colour stainless steel nib, a push on cap and a Hero branded, slider-type converter similar to those made by Parker. Nib and feed were friction fit. I inked it up with the Aurora Blue Black and was very pleased with the result.
Also tucked into the box as an extra gift, was a brushed stainless steel pen, which looked at first glance to be a ball point but was also a fountain pen. There were swirly patterns on the barrel and cap and the words “Beijing 2008” and so this was presumably a souvenir from the Olympic games. The stainless steel nib had some scroll work and the word “CHINA” and an Aerometric style push bar filler. This one had been inked before and had a little corrosion at the end of the section. I took it apart and gave it a quick clean but found that the sac struggles to draw up ink. Still, an interesting specimen and I will enjoy tinkering with it.
It is customary to visit the older, senior relatives first and we arranged to visit my wife’s elderly uncle, whose flat was just a couple of blocks from our hotel in Shantou. He lives with his son and daughter in law and grand-daughter, a school student. In his younger days he had been fond of writing although his eye sight was now such that he had no further use for his pens. To my surprise, he gave me a bag of eight old fountain pens, assuring me that he did not need them any more, that no-one in the family would want them and that they would otherwise only be thrown out. I was thrilled at the prospect of giving them a new home and cleaning each of them and trying them out.
Uncle’s pens were all Chinese and included four with hooded nibs and steel caps, of the Hero 616 type and similar – being a Parker 51 Aerometric copy. He had one each in teal, burgundy, grey and black. Then there were a couple of brushed stainless steel pens and two laquered pens with the name “Jin Rong” and one which appears to have a fude nib. All eight pens had the Aerometric style push bar filler. I shall enjoy cleaning them up and seeing how they write.
I had an interesting chat to his grand-daughter, aged 17, who had studied English since the age of 10. Her bedroom in the modern flat was a marvel of storage space solutions, with hidden compartments under the floor, under the bed and under the bench seat in the window. School starts at 8.00am each day and they have nine subjects for homework.
During our few days in Shantou, we did visit a modern shopping mall, on three floors with a huge Walmart supermarket and car park occupying the basement levels. We browsed around, what were mostly clothes and shoe shops. I did not find any stationery shops. However, in Walmart, to my delight, there was an entire aisle of stationery – with writing materials on one side and notebooks on the other. There I saw some Lamy Safari-style pens (shall we say, Safari tributes or homages), plus some other models not available at home in England and at very low prices, all hanging up in blister packs.
Perhaps the most inviting of these was a Hero 975, in a metallic blue finish and gold. Displayed in a sealed pack but in its opened gift box within, the pen appeared to have a screw on cap which appealed to me. Add to basket. I leafed through the other models behind it on the peg. One pack had been sliced open and the pen removed, which was sad to see, given its modest price.
Also there was another Hero, the 2017. Again, I had not seen one before and it was notable for its very rich coloured laquered cap and barrel, (in blue or burgundy) and a hooded nib in a half metal section. At just a few pounds each, I took one in each colour. The blister pack also included a 15ml bottle of ink! I picked up a nice bound A5 notebook too.
I may review these in due course. For now, I should add that the Hero 975 does not have a screw cap and that what appear to be cap threads are just part of the design. The cap simply slides on over them. Still, it is quite a handsome pen.
As for the Hero 2017, with its hooded nib, this came with a converter and performed reasonably well. The finish is lovely. However, the bottle of ink that it came with turned out to be almost useless. Instead of the jet black that I had expected, it was a very weak wishy washy sepia and barely legible and I threw it away. I cannot believe that this is how it was intended to be and so it was perhaps just a faulty batch or past its best.
Who doesn’t love a mechanical pencil? I already have several but could not resist this one when it was less than half price in our local Rymans.
Recently, I have been enjoying a revitalised enthusiasm for photography, prompted by the acquisition of a new Nikon Coolpix A900. New camera day! I was attracted by a host of exciting features, particularly the articulated screen, the ability to shoot macro from 1cm, a massive x35 optical zoom with Vibration Reduction, (Nikon’s anti-shake), 4K video, 20 million pixels, Wi-Fi connectivity and many more. It was some years since I last bought a new camera, if you do not include mobile phones and things have move on a lot in that time.
There are a few things that it doesn’t have, such as the ability to shoot in RAW, or a touch screen, which I decided that I could live without. Exposure compensation settings are readily to hand, as are white balance settings and colour adjustment. It is wonderful to be able to have white paper looking white, even if taken under artificial light in the depths of winter.
It is the ability to take macro shots with such ease, that I have found most exciting. Even hand-held shots seem acceptably sharp but with a small tripod, combined with a two second self-timer delay setting it is better still. Here is my new pencil again.
Here is the production date stamp on the elegant black and chrome guilloche Cross Century II fountain pen:
Obviously it is tempting to try the other extreme and see how the telephoto performs. I tried a quick shot of the moon, with a manual exposure and a few stops of under exposure. This was the result:
Finally, one of the subjects that I wanted to photograph better, was paper. Not ideal with a mobile phone. I wanted to be able to capture the texture that you see, particularly under high magnification and with a low wintry sun slanting in to add contrast to the ups and downs of the paper surface. I shall continue experimenting with this but am always impressed and appreciative of the professional looking close-up photography that I see on fellow bloggers’ sites. Working during the week, there is limited time to enjoy the daylight hours at this time of year but sometimes it all comes together with a bit of sunlight at the weekend. Here was one of my early efforts. I used to think that Paperchase soft flexi notebooks had very smooth paper but under high magnification, the surface looks more like a newly plastered wall. Most of my fountain pens love it.