The London Spring Pen Show: my haul.

Well, what a lovely day this has been. Sunday 25 July 2021 and the first pen show since March 2020, before our first lockdown.

Instead of the Holiday Inn near Russell Square, the event had moved to a new venue: the Novotel London West, at 1, Shortlands, Hammersmith, London W6 8DR. This provided many advantages, being four times larger than the previous room, 150 nicely spaced out tables and all vendors in the same room. Most importantly, it felt roomy and safe, with ample space between the aisles, cool and airy, less crowded, and generally more relaxed, notwithstanding the face coverings and hand sanitisers.

Having seen a short video of the hall being set up, from Penultimate Dave on Instagram the night before, I was looking forward to the new venue. I had got out some spending money – although for the most part, dealers were taking card payments to avoid handling money.

Very soon, I started to see familiar faces. Most of these friends, from pen meets and pen shows as well as some from Instagram I had not met in 16 months and so there was an air of reunion on top of the usual buzz of excitement for the pen show itself.

It was a real joy to see all these folk again, as we emerge from a series of lockdowns and there was much to catch up on, in how life had treated everyone as well as sharing pen news and comparing notes on our shopping priorities for the day.

One thing was plain to me before today: I did not need any more fountain pens – or ink or notebooks for that matter. I brought along a few of my lesser used pens to re-home with Jon of Pensharing.com where they can be put to better use than by me in recent years.

I have been largely successful in fighting the constant temptation to acquire more fountain pens this year, aside from a few modestly priced acquisitions such as the Moonman S5 (I have three now) and another Cross Bailey Light in dark green. I am slowly realising that adding more pens will only reduce the use that I can make of my current hoard, plus I tell myself that I am unlikely to find any pens, within my budget, that provide a more suitable writing experience than many of those that I already have.

In my armoury against temptation, I brought along a pen-roll of 8 of my currently inked favourites which included my Aurora 88, Montegrappa Fortuna, Cross Peerless 125, blue Diplomat Excellence A plus and the humble Moonman S5 with its oblique broad nib which works so well for my lefty overwriting.

My other weapon was to remind myself of just how difficult it had been to maintain an earned income over the past year and how much chargeable time I needed to expend to receive the percentage that ends up in my pay packet! With these thoughts in mind I hardly needed to go to step three which was going to be writing an essay entitled “I do not need a new pen because….”

Having said all of that, I was still excited to see the tables and in particular the luxurious editions from Onoto, whose Magna Classic range has been on my grail pen radar for a while. I also had a good browse at the Aurora table, and at John Hall’s table, from Write Here of Shrewsbury and admired his Scribo pens. These included the latest colour called the Mariana: swirly dark blue, green and black tones representing the ocean trench. I am still yet to pull the trigger on a Scribo, which, although obviously desirable and gorgeous, is priced at the outer reaches of my comfort zone. Also, even with the less soft of the two nib options, I fear that the nib may be a bit too delicate and flexy for work and my day to day writing sessions. Maybe one day.

John Hall also had some of the lovely new Sailor Pro-Gears on display in the blue with translucent orange ends called “Sunset over the ocean” and I was tempted to buy a second PG slim with music nib as I so much enjoy my black and gold model.

In between making several laps of the hall, stopping for numerous conversations with friends and friendly dealers and a break for lunch, the outcome was that I still came home with four new and very useful fountain pens, coincidentally equalling the number that I gave away and so remaining “pen neutral” without increasing my fountain pen footprint (if that is a thing). Here they are:-

Jinhao 100

This, a little guilty pleasure, is an homage to the Parker Duofold Centennial, in the classic “big red” body colour and silver coloured nib and fittings. In my defence, I do own two “real” modern Parker Duofolds although of the “International” size, slightly slimmer than the Centennial and so this Jinhao will scratch the itch of having a full size version. It is a cartridge converter pen (unlike the early button fillers of the 1920’s) and aside from lacking the Parker’s current 18k gold nib, otherwise offers a similar shape and size. Jinhao steel nibs have, in my experience, been smooth and enjoyable and I am hoping that ink flow will be consistent in this one. I have not yet inked it up.

A Jinhao 100
An attractive and nicely set-up Jinhao nib.

Narwhal Schuylkill, Marlin Blue (fine).

This is my second Narwhal, also from Derek of Stonecott Fine Writing, the first being the limited edition one year anniversary model in red stripe ebonite with a gold coloured medium nib. In contrast, today’s purchase, has an irresistible, blue swirly body with silver coloured fittings and a fine nib. Their nibs come a little wider than their stated grade (my medium being more like a broad) and so I went for a fine this time.

Narwhal Schuylkill Blue Marlin. A stunningly pretty and fascinating material.

I was thrilled to find that on rotating the pen, the patterns revealed what with a little imagination, could be a leaping bright blue Marlin in the resin! Given that this is large size, piston filling pen at £55.00 you get a lot of pen for your money.

Watch for the blue Marlin, just below the ink window!

Diplomat Excellence A2, chrome plated fountain pen (steel medium) and ball pen set.

The Diplomat Excellence is one of my all time favourite pens. I have a Marrakesh and a rather less common blue and black harlequin edition and now today picked up a handsome shiny chromium plated guilloche patterned model. As my previous Excellences are both fine nibs, this medium will be a useful addition and was on sale from John Twiss with a matching ball pen for a very favourable price.

The underrated Diplomat…this time in chrome guilloche stripe pattern.
Diplomat Excellence A2, chrome plated.
Superbly comfortable, with heft, girth and no step.

Sailor Procolor 500, blue demonstrator, fine.

Finally, also spotted on John Twiss’s table, was this Sailor. Sailor nibs are a grade finer than their western equivalents and hence a Sailor fine is like a western extra fine. I was keen to try one – being firm and precise and toothy- but had always hesitated at buying a gold nibbed Pro Gear just to see if I like such a fine nib. However, this steel nibbed pen, in an attractive blue demonstrator version, seemed a perfect opportunity to experience some Sailor fine nibbage at an entry-level price of £35 (and John kindly reduced this as I bought the Diplomat too).

Sailor Procolor 500, blue demo, fine steel nib.
That deliciously crisp fine Sailor nib.

So, those are my purchases. So far I have only inked the Sailor and am thrilled with it. I first dipped and then filled it with Noodlers bullet proof black ink, which was my only other purchase of the day. I had heard good things about its water proof qualities for highlighting or water-colour painting over.

The Sailor again.

I do not want to ink up all four new pens in one day. That would seem like opening all one’s Christmas presents at once. I have flushed them all with water and had a good look at their nibs with a loupe. All look promising and I have no concerns. I am very happy with my purchases, even though my resolve was not as bullet proof as my Noodlers ink.

An extremely full bottle of inky black goodness from the Pure Pens table.

But today was not just about the purchases but about seeing friends again after a long absence, with a palpable sense of thankfulness at coming through the pandemic (so far!) and the renewal of hope in this step towards normality.

Today’s haul, group photo.

Cross Bailey Light fountain pen: an update.

Those who know me or follow this blog may be aware that I am a fan of the Cross Bailey Light fountain pen. I posted some early thoughts on these inexpensive fountain pens, on 19 October 2019 soon after buying my first one.

I had bought the grey version, which had appealed to me most from the colours then available. In the following months I bought one of each of the other colours too, being royal blue, black, white, coral and turquoise (which they call teal).

My plan, you might have guessed, was to use them with different colour inks. I bought the optional Cross push-in converters with each one, except the black pen which I planned to use with my stock of Cross black cartridges. I used the white pen with Rohrer & Klingner Salix, iron gall ink.

I used the royal blue pen at work for a while, with Waterman Serenity blue. This is in many ways an ideal office tool, with its quick pull-off cap, comfortable body and smooth, firm nib. The girth of the pen is ideal for me. It is also long enough to use comfortably without posting the cap, but you can post the cap securely if you wish.

Sometimes it is not what a pen has, that makes it a success, but what it has not: in the case of Bailey Light, the grip area has no step, (a sharp-edged drop in diameter from barrel to section), no facets (such as the Lamy Safari) and no slippery metal to deprive you of grip and control.

Whilst soft, expressive nibs may be enjoyable for those who can use them well for beautiful leisurely calligraphy, I personally find the Bailey Light’s hard nib better for work, when I need something nicer than a ballpoint to sign a letter or make some notes. (As a left-hander, when I want line width variation, I use a stub nib, like the oblique broad on my Moonman S5 and not a flex nib).

I had no trouble using the Bailey Lights with the push-in type of Cross converter. A few people reported in the comments on my blog post, that they could not get the converter to go in. Their problem turned out to be easily remedied: they had not realised that there was already a cartridge wedged in tight at the back of the barrel. If you do not realise it is up there, and try to screw the barrel on over a converter and a spare cartridge, obviously the barrel will not fit.

Rather confusingly, Cross makes both a push-in and a screw-in converter and tells you on its web site to use the screw fit version for the Bailey Light. But the Bailey Light does not have the benefit of a threaded collar to make use of the screw-in converter, but the screw-in converter can still be used: just push it home securely.

As well as the fountain pens, there is a ball point pen available in the same range of colours. I bought a grey one to try. It has the same pleasing aesthetics as the fountain pen and is operated by twisting the cap.

Cross Bailey Light fountain pen with matching ballpoint.

It came to my notice some months ago that Cross had introduced some new colours to the range of Bailey Lights, including a dark green and a burgundy, both with gold plated nib and furniture instead of the silver coloured finish of the originals. I had seen these online. The fountain pens with gold coloured trim tended to be priced slightly higher at around £25.00 as opposed to £20.00 for the silver trim, but still very good value in my opinion.

The Bailey Light fountain pen: new colour scheme of green and gold.

What with the lockdowns, being busy at work and with limited shopping excursions to our local John Lewis, it was not until last weekend that I found myself there with a first opportunity to see the dark green Bailey Light in person.

A dark green fountain pen with gold coloured furniture has a special association for me, reminding me of my mother buying a Parker with a gold nib for me, from Arthur Bird’s, our local Ickenham stationer, to take to my new school in 1970. So I simply had to have one of Bailey Lights in this colour.

A particularly enjoyable medium nib on my green Bailey Light.

I also bought a gel pen to try, in the burgundy and gold, which looks really gorgeous! The gel pen writes well but needs to be held more upright to write smoothly, whereas a fountain pen can rest in the web of the hand.

A gorgeous burgundy and gold plated gel pen (before removing the protective blob from the tip).

Having laid out above, my credentials as a reasonably experienced user and fan of the Bailey Light fountain pen, I have to report that I have experienced my first problem! My green and gold model would not accept a converter, for some reason. It was not that I could not put the barrel back on, but rather that the converter would not attach securely to the pen. I tried pushing one onto the section as I have done many times, but it would not stay on. I also tried the screw-fit version (just in case there had been some change to the pen’s specifications) but this one could not even get close to the feed. This was disappointing as I had been looking forward to inking the green pen with a blue black ink for a vintage vibe.

Currently, I am using the green pen with the included Cross black cartridge. This pushed in nicely, with the usual “pop” as the seal punctured. The black ink flows well. The nib writes very nicely (firm, smooth and with ideal flow) and so I am reluctant to send the pen back.

My green pen, which will take a cartridge but not a converter, it seems.

But being unable to use a converter in this pen would mean being tied to buying Cross cartridges. This is a costly way to buy ink, at almost £1.00 per cartridge – rather like paying pub prices for a glass of wine when you could buy a bottle. Also, you are limited to Cross Black or Cross Blue and have the plastic waste on your conscience.

I am hoping that there is a simple explanation of why I cannot attach a converter to my green pen. If and when I find out, I will let you know. If anyone else has had a similar experience and knows the answer I will be glad to hear it.

The fountain pen, ballpoint and gel pen family.

Update: 22 July 2021.

After using my green Cross Bailey Light with a cartridge for a while, I thought I would have one more go at fitting a Cross converter. I found another, push-in converter. Pulling out the cartridge, I first marked how deep it sat in the converter by holding a thumbnail against the cartridge at the point where it disappears from view behind the metal collar, and then placing it beside the pen, to measure how far in it had gone into the section.

I then pushed in this converter. Lo-and-behold, this one did go into the section and to the same depth as the cartridge as it should, meaning that it was sitting over the coupling. It did not grip very securely, but securely enough to work, I think.

For completeness, I tried again fitting a screw-fit converter but still this type would not fit into the collar. However I was very happy that I can use my pen with a converter after all. I guess that the converters that I had tried previously may have just have become loose at the nozzle.

Early thoughts on the Diplomat Traveller fountain pen.

Just occasionally I manage to find myself in the right place at the right time. On passing Rymans stationery shop in Hampstead recently, I noticed the large red “SALE” sign and returned a couple of days later to investigate.

The pen display cabinet showed some very generous discounts. I could not resist a Waterman Hemisphere and Parker Urban fountain pen, and a Sheaffer Prelude ball point pen in Cobalt blue with rose gold trim (for which I have the accompanying fountain pen) all heavily discounted. The helpful lady shop assistant, somehow sensing my appetite for pens, told me that she had more pens at the back which they did not have room to put out on display. Would I like her to get them out to show me? Yes please!

She reappeared with a few Diplomat Traveller fountain pens, in a pastel turquoise or purple which I now know to be called Lapis raspberry. On checking the current price at the till, she told me that the raspberry one, usually around £20.00, was now just £5.00, putting it firmly into the “no brainer” category of purchases.

The Diplomat Traveller in Lapis rasperry

I have not had one of these before. I recall being shown them in John Lewis, some years ago when they used to sell Diplomat pens, and being told that they were popular with business people as they could be slipped into a suit pocket without disturbing the line of the cloth. There are merits to slender pens.

A very nicely set-up nib, performing perfectly out of the box.

The Traveller is the smallest of a series of three pens, its larger brothers being the Esteem and then the Excellence. I had acquired the other two. The Excellence A Plus, with its smooth steel nib, heft, wide girth and twist cap ranks as one of my GOAT fountain pens.

Diplomat Traveller, Esteem and Excellence for comparison.

The Traveller, in contrast is much smaller and slimmer pen, with a smaller nib. The barrel is only around 10mm at its widest, and the plastic grip section tapers from 9mm down to 7mm. The length is 135mm capped, or 117mm uncapped. The cap does not post securely.

However, the metal body feels robust. The matte finish is pretty. I like the distinctive Diplomat finial of black petals on a white background. There is a strong metal pocket clip. It comes in a metal gift box.

The cap is a snap-on one but is reassuringly firm, fits flush with the barrel with no wobble and has a plastic inner cap.

Filling is by standard international cartridge or a converter (not included, although I borrowed one from another of my Diplomats).

These seem made for each other.

Diplomat were established in 1922 (as the nib reminds us). The brand is commonly described in the pen community as being much under-rated. It is rare to find them advertised or for sale in shops in the UK yet everyone who has one appreciates the quality and excellent nibs. There is a five year guarantee and the booklet tells us that the nib of every fountain pen is tested and professionally run or “written in” by hand. We can all think of a few brands that could benefit from this example.

At home, still glowing from my good fortune, I held a gathering of my Diplomats, to compare their dimensions and have some group photos. I had planned to ink the newcomer with Waterman Tender Purple but at the last minute spotted a bottle of Yama-budo and went with that instead. It is a good match.

Summoning all my Diplomats

Conclusion: likes and dislikes.

The Diplomat Traveller is undeniably a small and slender pen. Over the years, I have discovered that I generally prefer larger pens, like the Diplomat Excellence, Cross Peerless, Aurora 88 or Montegrappa Fortuna (to name a few from a brief glance at my pen cups). However, to criticise the Traveller for being small misses the point of the pen, which is to be a small and lightweight, convenient and portable pen when on the move. Still, it is slightly disappointing that the cap does not post.

On the plus side, you get a sturdy and well made pen, with a very smooth steel nib, the convenience of using standard international cartridges or a converter and some fun colours to chose from. It is ideal to carry in a bag or shirt pocket. You would be hard pressed to do any better for £5.00 (while stocks last at Rymans in store or online).

Writing samples with Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-budo.

Travelling with ink: Blackwood Forest

One of the things I hope for when travelling, is a desk by a window, with natural light and preferably a nice view. Perhaps this desire comes from spending my working days in an office with no natural light.

Having come through a particularly busy few months at work, I was looking forward to a long weekend break in a forest cabin. Set in the heart of Blackwood Forest, Hampshire I am not sure if this still counts as part of the New Forest, but I am on holiday so who cares?

Picking some fountain pens for the trip is one of the pleasures. However this time I found myself a bit torn between (a) the usual urge to bring a selection of pens to enjoy, with different nibs, different inks, different sizes, weights and materials or (b) to go minimal, travel light and just pick one pen, perhaps even one that I did not like very much, to get more use from it. In the event, the usual option of bringing a selection was the winning one.

The final eight.

This was my first experience of a forest cabin holiday and I had not expected our cabin to have such a “Wow” factor on arrival. Imagine my delight on finding it to have such a spacious living room/ kitchen/ dining room with an entire wall of windows, looking onto the beech tree forest, beyond the decking (with table and chairs, and even our own outdoor hot tub).

Our forest cabin

I am a morning person and enjoy my writing most in the morning when my brain is fresh and rested. That tends to be the time I find best for journaling, usually off-loading the events of the previous day. One of the ironies of journaling is that when life is at its most busy and eventful you have the least time and energy to write about it, but if you are freed from the pressure to get through endless to-do lists of tasks, you have plenty of time to write about very little. I then like to refer to my lists of writing prompts, neatly and alphabetically saved on a notepad app on my phone called Colornote – often comprising a few words or phrases which I can come back to and write up when I feel like it.

Our cabin in the woods.

I set my alarm early, hoping for some time when the household (that is my wife and mother in law who was holidaying with us) had not yet risen and I could sit at my window and pour out thousands of words like an imagined Ernest Hemingway, the creative juices running at full throttle. Obviously that did not happen. But I did enjoy some light tinkering with the pens, reminding myself which ones I had brought along, which inks they had and then having just enough time to summarise each day in a few brief headings. Sitting out at the table on the decking, enjoying the tranquility was restful and restorative.

A short drive from our base, was the city of Winchester, which we visited for a sunny afternoon’s excursion. My wife spotted a stall at the outdoor market with leather goods including some lovely notebook covers, for A5 or A4 notebooks. I use both sizes but have been looking unsuccessfully for about five years for a nice leather A5 size cover, after passing up a chance to buy one once in the Cotswolds. I did once buy a cover which did not work for me as it featured a pen loop which got in my way and had bulky and unnecessary credit card slots which meant that pages would not lay flat. In short it was unusable and was returned.

In contrast these market ones from “redleathers”, an ethically sound business run by Kirk Newton, (@redleathershandmade) were attractive, simple and functional. Unable to narrow down my choice between a dark green and a cherry colour, I opted for both.

Oooh! New leather notebook covers.

Another pleasure for the stationery enthusiast in Winchester, is Warren & Co, a stationery shop at 85 High Street, selling a good selection of stationery and pens mostly from Lamy and Cross, plus inks from Parker, Waterman, Cross, Pelikan and J Herbin. The display of Lamy pens was comprehensive, with racks of Safari and Al-Stars, Vistas, Nexx and then glass cabinets of Studios, 2000s, CP1s and even a few Imporiums. I toyed with the idea of buying the Aion again as the dark green edition looked so appealing, with either M, F or EFnibs, but I had found the black one too slippery to grip and gave mine away. I resisted and told myself that I had been down that road before. As it was almost time for the shop to close for the day, I left without buying anything this time but it is a wonderful shop to visit and was a real joy to see so many pens in the flesh rather than just online for a change and to chat with the charming proprietor.

Warren & Co of Winchester.

Back in the secluded forest, it was fun to put notebooks in the new leather covers. The Leuchtturm 1917 A5 books fit in very well and I shall enjoy using them.

We enjoyed a very restful weekend stay – with good food and walks and let the forest work its magic in sending us home rested and refreshed.

With my trusty Nikon Prostaff 10×30 bino’s.

And as for that desk by the window, the truth is that I did not sit there writing all that much. Sometimes it is nicer just to lift up your eyes to what is around you. Perhaps it is one of those things where the anticipation is better than the reality. There will be time to reflect and to write when the holiday is over.

A new era for marriage registrations.

On May the Fourth this year, while many on Instagram were marking Star Wars day in their posts, there was another event which might have slipped under the radar. This was the coming into force of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act, 2019.

I awoke to a 6.30am radio news item from the BBC that for the first time, mothers’ details would also be included in the registration of a marriage, this being just one of the changes introduced by the Act, hailed as the biggest modernisation of marriage registration since 1837.

A Register of Marriages, with a bottle of Registrar’s ink and my two Parker Frontier fountain pens.

I mention this as for the past 10 years, I have been the Authorised Person from our church in Golders Green, London, to register marriages taking place at the church. I was quite proud of this role, although a little apprehensive at the responsibility involved to get it right. The Guidebook for Authorised Persons, issued by the General Register Office at that time, ran to 40 pages. I was particularly worried about the lengthy procedure to be followed in the event of a mistake being made in the registers after signing. Whenever registering a marriage, I drafted all the entries on a separate sheet first, in the same format, looking out for any unusual names and ensuring that addresses would fit in the required boxes.

I learned what I could from a brief conversation with a departing minister. I also attended a couple of annual workshops for Authorised Persons, hosted by our local Register Office which were helpful and lively, and included such topics as sham marriages, entered into to derive some advantage in immigration status for one or other of the parties.

I enjoyed familiarising myself with the conventions of recording details in the marriage registers, such as writing clearly and legibly, avoiding fancy flourishes; using capital letters for surnames and entering the groom’s details above those of the bride. I was excited to use Registrar’s ink, an iron gall blue black ink, from Ecclesiastical Stationery Supplies. I find the way that it darkens from a grey blue, almost to black, endlessly fascinating in a way that other more fountain-pen friendly blue black inks can not match.

I soon learned that Registrar’s ink needs to be used within about 18 months of opening a bottle and exposing it to air. After this, it gradually loses its colour and ends up a weak grey. I found this out by using an old bottle of ink at the church, which was past its best. However, I would never get through a 110ml bottle of ink in this time. I decanted some of the ink into a bottle to use at home and had to buy a new bottle when it had lost its properties.

In the very first marriage that I registered, arriving at the church very early to prepare, I found from the printed orders of service that the bride’s middle name differed from my notes and so was glad to have spotted this. Being early reduces last minute panics.

Registrar’s ink, apart from being permanent, is not kind to fountain pens and it pays to flush the pens promptly after use. I was told of one minister shaking a fountain pen to get it started and splashing Registrar’s ink on a bride’s white dress.

Ours is small church and over the past decade, having very few weddings, I was called into action only a handful of times. Mostly my role was to submit the quarterly returns to the Register Office, declaring that the number of marriages in the past quarter to be “Nil”, or if there had been one or more weddings, copying out all the details again by hand, and certifying these, in Registrar’s ink on the returns form.

Now, the new procedure means that the old Marriage Register books, completed in duplicate, are redundant. I was instructed to cross through all unused entries and to hand in one of the books to the local Register Office along with any unused stock of marriage certificates (drawn up and issued to couples on their wedding day), or any surplus quarterly return forms. The other copy of the Marriage Register remains at the church for record purposes.

Under the new procedure, paper marriage registers are withdrawn: it will no longer be necessary to fill out all the details of the marriage by hand in a Marriage Register. Instead, couples will be issued with a Schedule printed in advance. This will be checked and signed by the couple, the witnesses and the Authorised Person on the day of the wedding (still using Registrar’s ink). It is later returned to the Register Office, for the details to be uploaded on the electronic register.

I am relieved, that this occasional duty has been lifted from me, even though I was so seldom required to perform it. The anxiety of entering all the details quickly and accurately, twice in the Marriage Registers and then once more on a Certificate, whilst the wedding couple and their supporters and photographer waited in excited anticipation, was stressful to a non-professional Authorised Person, in a way that is hard to describe. For Authorised Persons, the changes are:-

  • We are no longer required to register marriages;
  • We no longer issue marriage certificates;
  • We no longer need to complete quarterly returns;
  • We no longer have to undertake corrections in marriage registers (these instead being carried out by registration officers).

One young bride-to-be has already commented to me that the new system seems a bit of a shame and less romantic in a way but a sign of the times. Perhaps it is the end of an era, but the dawn of a new one.

Other colours are available.

It is probably safe to say that blue is my preferred colour when it comes to fountain pens. A quick glance at my pen cups shows blue pens to be the most prevalent. And looking back at my pen buying over the past few decades, I have generally gone for a blue, if there was a choice.

The pens above, from left to right are:

  • (1) Campo Marzio Accropolis;
  • (2) Cross Peerless 125;
  • (3) Cross Bailey Light;
  • (4) Diplomat Excellence A Plus;
  • (5) Parker 51 aerometric;
  • (6) Pelikan M205, blue demonstrator;
  • (7) Pelikan M800;
  • (8) Platinum Curidas, Abyss Blue;
  • (9) Sheaffer Prelude, cobalt blue with rose gold trim;
  • (10)Waterman Expert, (1990’s).

I have had no regrets about choosing blue for any of the above. The Cross Peerless, in quartz blue, is possibly the most handsome pen that I own, along with my Aurora 88 (black and gold) and the Pelikan M800. Nevertheless I remain tempted by the Peerless in titanium grey, imagining how nice this would be with a burgundy or dark red ink.

It is not just fountain pens in blue that I prefer, but inks too. Whilst I have accumulated a stash of ink of many colours, blues are by far the most numerous and of these, I tend to fall back on the same favourites time and time again, including Waterman Serenity Blue, Montblanc Royal Blue, or Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue. When I want a blue black, I usually reach for the Diamine Conway Stewart Tavy.

I have a fair number of other colours too. I sometimes feel like trying a turquoise, but usually seem to go off it before the end of a fill. But flushing a pen does not always have to mean jettisoning the remaining ink, when there is an option to use it in a mix.

Occasionally I experiment with new (to me) colours to broaden my horizons. This year I have been enjoying one pen and ink combination per calendar month for my A5 page a day diary. In April, it was a Moonman S5 filled with Diamine Scribble Purple – which looked, to my eyes, rather less “Deep Purple” and more “Black Sabbath.” I was looking forward to the May changeover However, rather than ditch the remaining Scribble Purple, I simply added some Robert Oster Fire and Ice, plus a little Serenity Blue, and found that I had made myself a very acceptable blue black. I was happier with this than with either the Scribble Purple or the Fire and Ice on their own.

One of the many things that I love about the Moonman S5 is its ability to receive top-ups of ink from half-spent cartridges or converters in pens that I want to clean, or ink samples, into its clear demonstrator eye-dropper barrel. The see-through acrylic lets you keep an eye on the reservoir for any signs of inks clashing.

A rather fetching pencil.

Recently, visiting a delightful stationery shop in Eton, I found a display of the Lamy Crystal range of inks, which I had not tried before and bought a bottle of Lamy Azurite, which looked promising as a vibrant rich blue, although I had not done my homework and had not appreciated that it also has purple leanings. I also bought the classic, Pentel P207 (0.7mm) mechanical pencil, which is a pleasing blue. I think my blue credentials are clear!

Lamy Azurite, Crystal Ink.

I suppose that we all learn more about ourselves as we get older. One conclusion for myself is that I would not mind too much if I had to restrict myself to a royal blue ink, in a blue pen. I just never tire of that.

Gratuitous final image of a back-lit blue stripe M800.

Going for a dip with the Moonman glass nib pen.

One risk you take in the fountain pen hobby, is splashing out a large sum of money only to find that it is a disappointment and poor value. On the other hand, occasionally you can buy an inexpensive pen and be genuinely delighted with it exceeding your expectations.

Fortunately this is the case with my newest arrival, a Moonman glass nib pen. This story began when I read a review of the Moonman n6 by Anne on her blog Weirdoforest Pens, a few weeks ago. I was thrilled at the potential of a glass nib housed in a conventional fountain pen body, with a cap, that could be easily transported. I promptly set about finding and ordering one from ebay.

I thought that what I ordered was the same model as Anne’s pen, but evidently I had not paid close enough attention. If hers is the n6, then mine must be something else! Anyway, I will show you what I bought:-

Moonman glass nib dip pen, in Autumn Leaf acrylic.

When ordering the pen, there was a choice of four colours: the names of the colours differ somewhat depending where you order but the choices were Black Ice Flowers, Red Ice Flowers (both of which looked like Koi fish colours), New Rose (the pink version like the colour of the pen in Anne’s review) or the one I chose, called Aurora or Autumn Leaf or Gradient Green. I have since learned that the same acrylic can be found on some Pen BBS models too. It is gorgeous blend of colours and in one of the marketing photos, the pen can be can be seen against an avenue of trees in their autumn colours.

Secondly, apart from chosing your colour, you also have the option to chose a steel nib unit too. There were a few choices but I opted for the “bent nib” or what I would call a fude nib, as something a bit different. Whilst the glass nib has to be dipped in ink, it can easily be unscrewed from the section and replaced with a steel nib, and inked by a cartridge or converter or (although I have not tried), as an eyedropper.

When my pen arrived, it came in a box marked Delike. The glass nib was fitted in the pen, but there was a separate little cellophane sleeve containing my fude nib and a simple converter, with a sliding plunger and a coiled spring ink agitator inside.

It was not until revisiting Anne’s review, that I realised that our pens were not quite the same. Her n6 was 125mm long, or under 120mm uncapped and not postable.

My pen, on the other hand was just 102mm long when capped, a tiny 95mm when uncapped but a super generous 140mm long when posted. As can be seen in my photo, there are screw threads at the end of the barrel, to screw the cap onto the back, where is sits flush with the barrel:

Now with cap posted to make a 140mm beauty!

I was excited to try the glass nib. I dipped it in a nearby bottle of Waterman Serenity blue and tried it on a pad of file paper. For a glass nib pen, the result was very pleasing! It wrote with a fine line and a bit of audible feedback but not scratchiness. The ink flowed evenly and I found that I was able to get a good ten lines of A4 paper on one dip!

I tried a few other inks. That is the beauty of a glass nib pen: you just dip it in water, swish it around a bit and then dry it on a tissue and you are ready to dip again! It is great for sampling a few different inks.

I found that some inks worked better than others with the dip nib. I think it depends on the viscosity and how well the ink sits in the channels in the nib but it is fun to try a few different inks and see how it goes.

When I looked at the steel nib, my first thought was that they had made a mistake or else run out of bent nibs and had given me a standard fine nib instead. However, on closer inspection, I saw that it was I who was mistaken and that the nib was indeed bent.

Dlike EF bent nib. Interchangeable with the glass dip nib. Spelt “Dlike” on the nib but is “Delike” on the box.

I was a little wary of unscrewing the glass nib as I did not want to snap the lovely bulbous nib off. However, it came out quite easily.

Dlike steel bent EF nib and converter, in front of the glass dip nib.

Here is a little writing sample, my first jottings with the glass nib:-

Writing sample, Glass nib and Waterman Serenity Blue. One one dip!

I also had a quick dip with the bent nib but have not yet inked it with the converter. Once it started, it was pleasant to use just writing normally as the bent tip gives narrow down strokes and broad cross strokes, like an architect grind. I will experiment some more with this shortly when I am done with testing the glass nib.

What you get in total, for a modest £21.00.

I am very excited at the possibilities of the cap-able glass dip nib. It is great to be able to sample lots of inks with minimal fuss, without having to ink up a pen and then wash it out thoroughly. Secondly, this one is so easily transportable, unlike my previous all-glass dip pen which is rather delicate and lives in its cardboard box and is anchored inside with elastic loops at both ends.

This pen is about the same size when capped, as a Kaweco Sport and as such, it fits nicely into a Kaweco Sport sleeve. Once our pen club re-convenes, I shall make a nuisance of myself dipping into inks that I have not tried before. A dip nib gives you the option to sample an ink, write for a few lines, or a few pages and then carry on or else try a different ink: no big decisions on whether to ink up a pen and to have to get through 20 or more pages before you can have a change.

Also, it is great for trying a little bit of mixing, without any fears of the inks being incompatible and gumming up your feed. Or you can re-discover inks that had been put aside due to causing nib creep: I can think of an orange ink and a yellow-green that I enjoy but do not use, because of that.

Finally a size comparison of the posted pen against the ubiquitous Safari:-

Moonman glass nib dip pen next to a Lamy Safari. The Moonman is about 10mm longer.

As you can see, the Moonman is a good comfortable length yet not heavy and the section is a good size for comfort while not too big for some ink bottles. I am a happy customer.

Another look at the Hero 912 fountain pen.

This weekend my fountain pen-related activities have included a typical mix of journaling, letter-writing, cleaning four pens that were empty or near empty, inking some others and a little nib tinkering. I unzipped a case of 24 lesser-used pens and pulled out a steel nibbed Parker Sonnet to help it write a bit wetter. This proved quite satisfying and I filled it with Quink blue black and added it to my currently inked.

Whilst looking through those 24 pens, I came across my Hero 912. This is not a particularly heralded model but has sentimental value as it was a gift from our cousins in China, on a holiday there in December 2017. I included a picture of it in my post of 14 December 2017, Travelling with ink, China 2017. Part 1: Meeting the Heroes. I do not know where they bought the pen: probably a department store in Shantou, their nearest big city and I suspect that it may have been the largest, most statesman-like and expensive of the pens available. It is always touching to receive a fountain pen as a gift, particularly if the givers are not particularly fountain pen people.

Hero 912 fountain pen

This particular trip to China, with its sensory overload of wonderful people, places, landscapes and impressions, catching up with as many friends and relatives as possible in a few crammed weeks, was later overshadowed for me by being hospitalised in Guilin with what I later discovered to be sciatica – a rather disabling bout of back pain radiating into the leg. Still, it was a memorable experience, I was very well looked after and where else could you get an MRI scan immediately and for £20?

I mention all this as I had not given the Hero the attention it deserved at the time. It is not a very common pen. There do not seem to be many mentions of it online, apart from me.

It is metal pen, with a glossy black lacquer finish and silver coloured fittings at both ends. The cap pulls off and looks, from the shape of the barrel, as though it is meant to be posted. It will post but makes the pen very back heavy and overly long.

The nib is stainless steel, bi-colour and rather small for the size of the pen. The nib grade was not shown but I would call it a fine. It was smooth, with the tines and tipping material nicely level but very firm and with a rather dry flow.

I was quite pleased with the texture of the paper showing here.

Under the barrel, removed by metal-to-metal threads, there is a collar to fit a standard international cartridge but a Hero branded, plastic slide converter was included.

The pen weighs a fairly substantial 41g capped, or 24.5g uncapped. The cap alone weighs 16.5g. Capped, the pen measures around 142m. Uncapped it is 118mm, and a massive 168mm if you dare to post it.

There is a white plastic inner cap. The cap is quite tight to pull off and so you would probably not want to use this for intermittent note taking. I find it reasonably comfortable to hold, with a tapering grip section (also lacquered metal) and a minimal step from section to barrel.

However I found the length at less than 12cm, to be a bit on the short side, unless holding the pen very low near the nib. Posting the metal cap is not ideal. Fortunately an easy solution lies in posting a light weight cap from another pen, to give you extra length without adding much weight or upsetting the balance. I found that a Lamy Safari cap posts quite well.

The barrel end, shaped for posting. Best not though.

The other issue for me, had been the dry nib. Today, after my recent success with the Parker Sonnet, I had a go at opening up the gap between the tines just a little to get the ink flowing, to write darker and with better lubrication. Before doing this I examined the nib under my x7 loupe and could see that, whilst there was a little gap between the tines at the breather hole, the tines were pretty tight at the tipping. This might suit someone with a heavy touch who writes in the under-writer style. However I am the opposite, mostly using an over-writer style and without using pressure.

Fortunately, this is not too hard to fix, with a little patience and the minimum of tools. One way to make the nib wetter in seconds, advocated by an old SBRE Brown video, is to bend the nib upwards very slightly as this will also have the effect of opening the tine gap a little. But a preferable way, I think, is to separate the tines without bending them upwards, if you can, by using brass shims to floss the tine gap.

My trusty Eschenbach x7 loupe, used almost daily.

With a little trial and error, this is done by starting with a very thin grade of brass shim and inserting a corner of the sheet into the breather hole, and then drawing it downwards and out through the tip. As it loosens, you may work the brass back and forth a little, up and down though the nib slit. The brass shim can also be inserted between the tines from the tipping end. Once you feel that it can move freely between the tines, you may stop or repeat with a slightly thicker grade if you want to go further. It is a good idea to stop frequently, blow away any metal residue or rinse in water and examine the results under the loupe again and test the writing experience with a dip in the ink.

Just a little light now between the tines, makes a big difference.

I did not go too far with this nib but just got the barest glimpse of daylight between the tines at the tipping material, which means that I can lay down ink without pressing down on the nib. You do not want to go too far with this, as it is harder to undo an overly wet nib.

I am pleased that the pen is now more usable, as a result of a little nib wrangling and the application of a handy Lamy Safari cap on the back. It now writes well with a smooth, fine line and joins my pen cups, newly inked with a cartridge of Kaweco royal blue. Given the right paper (something fairly smooth like Basildon Bond letter writing paper) this can be used and enjoyed as well as being a fond reminder of the kind and generous cousins in China.

Writing sample after easing the nib a bit.

The Pilot Capless: how to turn a pocket clip into a roll-stop.

I had avoided the Pilot Capless (or Vanishing Point) for a long time, as I could foresee the pocket clip being in the way. Eventually I succumbed to the temptation, unable to resist the all matt black version and bought one in June 2020.

Although I had heard good reports of the nibs on these pens, the 18k gold, medium nib on my pen was wonderful and exceeded my expectations. The writing experience was smooth, with a lovely degree of softness. Also, because of the generous ball of tipping material and an ample ink flow, lubricating the nib well, I found that I could hold the pen at less than the optimum “sweet spot” and it would still write almost as well.

Pilot Capless in the matt black finish.

If you are a lefty-overwriter, as I am, there is no escaping the fact that the clip on the Pilot Capless may be just where you would like to rest your thumb, in order to rotate the nib slightly inwards. To get the best flow from a nib, the two tines need to be held evenly to the paper, not one touching the paper before the other (although a soft nib compensates and adjusts itself to your grip, like the independent suspension on a car).

As I do not have a perfectly symmetrical grip, with finger and thumb either side of the pocket clip, I found that the Capless was best suited to my lefty-underwriting style, but this does not feel natural to me and I still find it difficult to write vertical lines which do not lean, either backwards or forwards.

I read an article online about how to perform a Pilot Capless “clipectomy”. This is not as easy as you might hope. It involves warming the nose cap to soften the adhesive that holds it on, and then pulling it away from the pen, so that you can get at the underside of the clip fastening, to prise open the folded metal wings of the clip that hold it on. You then replace the nose cone, and need to glue it in place again. You are left with unsightly holes in the nose cone where the clip used to be fixed (although they do not affect the air-tightness of the nib chamber). Some people like to paint the inside with lacquer or nail varnish before replacing the nose cone, to have some contrasting colour show through the holes, like the eyes of a little robot.

I did once make a tentative effort to perform this operation, first removing the nib unit from the pen and then warming the nose cone carefully over a flame. Once it was hot, I tried pulling it away but it would not move at all and I gave up, planning at some point to ask someone with more expertise.

In recent days, seeing the pen in my pen cup and rather unfulfilled, I decided to have a go at removing just the lower part of clip, since this is the part that obstructs my grip. I thought it may be possible to saw it off, near the top and then file the jagged edge smooth.

I prepared myself, with a metal hacksaw and slid a piece of cardboard under the clip to protect the black coating of the barrel. This proved more difficult than expected: the saw would not stay in the same grove and would slide left and right, scratching the coating of the clip wherever it went.

Giving up on this method, I then decided to bend the clip upwards, away from the barrel. This was very quick and easy and once it reached about 90 degrees, it simply broke off. This literally takes a few seconds.

Problem solved. Almost.

However, what takes longer is then trying to file the jagged edges smooth so as not to cause injury or discomfort. I slid cardboard under the remains of clip and used the metal file on my Leatherman, holding this in one hand and the pen in the other, braced against the table. Care is needed to avoid the file slipping and scratching the pen.

Using cardboard to protect the pen while filing the sharp edges.

I spent a bit of time on this stage, checking the results and blowing away the residue. It would have been nice to bend down the broken end of the clip to meet the barrel but I could not figure out a way to do this with pliers whilst still protecting the pen from marks, so I decided against it.

The result is far from perfect and obviously not expertly done. However, leaving aesthetics aside, the pen is now very much more usable and I have the freedom at last to hold it any way I want. It would still be preferable to remove it completely but as a quick fix, it has solved this lefty’s problem.

The former clip is now a roll-stop (before puffing away the filings).

A look at the Pilot V disposable fountain pen and how to refill one.

I realise that there is a risk here in marking myself out as a cheapskate. I make no secret of my fondness for inexpensive pens. This is not from any inverted snobbery: I like expensive pens too, but they sometimes lose points in my eyes from being too expensive. When a fountain pen costs more than, say, a decent bicycle, something seems wrong.

I happened to be out on my bicycle at the weekend and visited a stationery shop in St John’s Wood in North West London. I went to buy some supplies of file paper. I was tempted by a colourful display of Pilot pens – gel pens, fineliners and the Pilot V pen, a single use fountain pen. I stocked up on a selection of stuff, including a red ink V Pen, which I fancied as being a useful tool to use at work for amending drafts. I tried it out on a test pad and was impressed at the colour and how smoothly it wrote.

Pilot V Pen, a disposable or single-use fountain pen.

I have had a few of these V Pens in the past. Well, I say past, but I still have them in blue, black and purple. They seem to go on almost forever and do not mind being ignored for months or years on end. The ink seems to be specially formulated to resist drying out in the pen. The downside of this is that the ink seems prone to bleedthrough. On a recent test of thirty different inked pens on an A4 notebook, I found that the Pilot V pen was the only one to bleed through the paper.

Available in a wide range of colours.

When I looked recently at my old V pens, which had languished in a pen cup for longer than I can remember, the black and the purple ones still wrote at once, but the blue one seemed to have finally run dry. I also noticed that the blue ink model was of an older design than the others, with a narrow slit for the ink window along the barrel on two sides and with a rather basic butterfly nib. This is a nib where there is no tipping material but the tines are crimped, and folded downwards at the end and polished to form a writing tip. I have encountered this design before on a Bic Easy-Click fountain pen.

I then remembered a friend mentioning that it was possible to refill and reuse these Pilot V pens. I did not know how and had never looked into this. I did a quick search on Google and found a very useful blog post How to Refill a Pilot Varsity Disposable Fountain Pen on Fountain Pen Love, by John Bosley in a post from September 20, 2017. I read this with interest. I was keen to have a go at refilling my blue V Pen and felt that I had little to lose.

The technique simply requires that you pull out the nib and feed, which are friction fit. You can then flush out the pen and refill the barrel with some ink of your choice and refit the nib and fit with a firm push, until it clicks into place.

I got some grippy material. I pulled and pulled at the nib and feed but they would not budge. Instead, the nib came away, leaving the feed in place.

Determined to get it out, I resorted to using hand tools, (a big no-no in fountain pen work) and used the pliers of my Leatherman. This was rather reckless as you have a good chance of crushing the feed and breaking it, or at least cracking it. Squeeze too hard on those pliers and it will break like a walnut.

I tried gripping it firmly with the pliers but not so hard as to crush the feed. I pulled. After the pliers had slipped off a few times, eventually I was successful and the feed came away with a pop, like a Champagne cork. That the feed came out and was not broken, was very pleasing.

An older style Pilot V pen disassembled for refilling, with butterfly nib and narrow slit ink windows.

I washed the nib, feed and barrel then had a closer look at the nib and feed under the loupe. There were some marks from my pliers, but nothing terrible. I noticed that the feed has a wick running along the channel, to keep the nib moist.

Nib and feed disassembled

It just remained to choose some ink and refill the barrel, with a pipette. I decided on Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue. I was careful not to put too much in. You need to leave space for the feed, which can be seen through the clear plastic grip section.

The pen now writes again! The Cobalt blue looks good. It should not bleed through paper like the original ink, but then again the pen will probably not be so resilient as before in coping with long periods of neglect.

A sample of Cobalt Blue from my newly re-filled Pilot V Pen, on a Moleskin notebook.

The butterfly nib is not the best writing experience, but it is reasonably smooth. The newer version with the rounded tipping material is a big improvement.

In conclusion, I doubt that I would want to get out the pliers every time to refill this pen and risk shattering the feed. Perhaps it might come out a bit easier next time. But even refilling the pen just once means it has doubled its working life, roughly halving the pen’s “cost” and helps to reduce plastic waste. It is nice to know it can be done.

That red though!

Update 27 March 2021: I would just like to add, that in using the pliers I did also have the grippy material wrapped around the feed to protect it from the sharp metal jaws of the pliers.