Inky pursuits: November 2021 round-up.

It has been a quiet month for the blog, but leafing back through my current notebook reminds me that there has been no shortage of stationery-related activity. So here are a few glimpses into what has been happening.

The 5th of November 2021 marked the fifth anniversary of this blog. I spent the day at a school reunion lunch in Reading, where I enjoyed catching up with several of my near contemporaries, some of whom I had not seen in 44 years. It was quite extraordinary: it seemed like no time at all since we were all at school together and now suddenly the topic of conversation is retirement. I think about my old school often and being back in its familiar buildings brought back so many memories.

Perhaps another sign of my advancing years, is that I do appreciate a good magnifying glass. Recently, I bought myself a new jumbo-sized illuminated magnifier, with a huge main lens of more than 13cm diameter. It is a x2 lens, with a small area of x4 inset at the 9 o’clock position. There is even a x10 loupe inset in the handle which is useful occasionally, although it needs to be held very close to the eye. The main lens is comfortable and enjoyable to use. Being a plastic lens, it is not too heavy and unbalanced. The sight of my writing emerging in glossy-wet Serenity Blue ink on my Leuchtturm journal paper, enlarged and under the three bright LEDs, always lifts my spirits.

Fancii illuminated reading glass

In a stationery shop not far from home, I came across some Pentel mechanical pencils recently that I had not seen before. I am a big fan of the P200 series, using them daily at home and in the office, but had not seen their cheaper “120 A3” series. Available in the same four lead sizes, 0.3, 0.5, 0.7 and 0.9mm as the P200, you still get a sturdy metal nose cone, but with a comfortable grippy rubber section. I bought a couple of them and have been enjoying them a lot.

Pentel 120 A3 mechanical pencils. About half the price of the P200 series.

As for most of us, there has been little in the way of travel this year, but we did recently spend a weekend in Reigate, visiting my Godmother, “aunty” Mary, (not my real aunt) and then staying over at the Reigate Manor Hotel to make a weekend break of it. Even such a modest trip provided an excuse to plan a few pens to bring.

Ready for an overnighter: Opus 88, Waterman Expert, Lamy 2000 multipen, Pentel mechanical pencil and a Diplomat Excellence.

I have written before about my late Godfather, uncle Brian, whose old Montblanc Mary once showed me on a previous visit. This time, she gave me Brian’s last bottle of Cross royal blue ink to use up, with the date 1-3-10 written inside the box lid. Mary hates waste and I shall try to use it wisely.

My late Godfather’s last bottle of ink.

Later exploring Reigate’s town centre, I found a stationery shop with an attractive glass display counter of brightly lit fountain pens. These included a good selection of Sheaffer and Cross pens. I was almost tempted to support them by purchasing another Sheaffer 300 or a Sagaris as there were some attractive versions on display, but I already have almost identical models and managed to stop myself.

I did however succumb to purchasing a Companion notebook in the post-office, (as you can never have too many notebooks) with 240 pages of 80gsm paper. The texture of the cover was particularly pleasing and they were available in red, blue or yellow. I got a blue one but later kicked myself for not getting the red and yellow as well. The paper turned out to be very pleasant to write on with ink, although a bit prone to bleed through and so you need to chose your inks carefully. I am still yet to beat my Leuchtturm notebooks as the best all rounder, from what is readily available on the High Street. I use the Companion notebook with a humble Bic Easy-Clic cartridge pen, (which never hard starts!) as a bedside jotter.

An A5 (ish) journal with plain paper and an elastic closure, seen here with a Bic Easy-Clic cartridge pen.

Then, having a Sunday morning free in Surrey, with lovely autumn sunshine, we decided to drive to Box Hill in the Surrey Hills, and walk up to enjoy the view. Box Hill is immortalised in the Richard Thompson song “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” and is a favourite spot for bikers. We found ourselves in the Ryka’s Cafe Car Park, full of motorcyles, while their owners stood or sat around at the picnic tables, chatting in their leathers. I was reminded of happy times spent in the London Fountain Pen Club meets, but guessed that my latest pen and ink combination might not have been of much interest to these leather-clad gents (and a few ladies). Each to his own. I wrote in my notebook “We do not choose our addictions.” I am not a biker, to say the least, but if I was, then a Triumph Thruxton that I spotted in the car park stood out from the crowd.

Triumph Thruxton. (Not my bike!)

Now the Black Friday feeding frenzy has subsided. I can report that I did not buy anything this time despite some attractive fountain pen bargains being there to tempt us. I was quite tempted by some of the Auroras on Iguanasell’s Black Friday offers, but am already as happy as can be with my Aurora 88 (Medium) and Aurora Optima (Oblique Broad), and buying any more would just mean using these two less.

Finally, this past weekend I found myself in just the right frame of mind to attempt some nib adjustments. I find that, for me, this needs a delicate balance of boldness and caution, of recklessness and restraint, of caring versus not caring. Just as I had transformed my Aurora 88 by easing the tine gap slightly with a craft knife blade, I tried the same technique with a pair of Cleo Skribents, taking a bit of a risk but going carefully. I was thrilled at the success in improving the flow a little and enjoyed inking both of these pens with Waterman Serenity Blue and bringing them back into circulation. I then had a fruitful afternoon of letter writing. Much as I would have enjoyed being at Sunday’s Birmingham Pen Show, I would undoubtedly have returned with yet more new pens. As it was, my Cleo Skribents were rejuvenated and there was satisfaction in using what I have. My aunty Mary would have approved.

Cleo Skribent Classics, piston fillers, one with a14k gold medium nib, the other a steel fine.
Families enjoying the Surrey Hills on a Sunday morning.

Inky Pursuits: October 2021 round-up.

Whilst work has been quite busy recently, it has been particularly good to have my stationery hobby as a backdrop for some much needed R & R. This has also been eventful, including some unexpected gifts and a satisfying bit of pen-tinkery. It is time for another round-up.

Frogmore Paper Mill, Hemel Hempstead.

This working paper mill is home to two Fourdrinier paper machines, over a hundred years old. Named after the brothers Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier, the world’s first successful machine for making a continuous reel of paper was operated at the mill in 1803. My wife visited their museum and gift shop and brought me back an A4 sample pad of their various heritage papers that are made there, of various colours, weights and textures, some quite fibrous. It occurred to me that they would make good backgrounds for some pen photography with my lightbox. (See photo of Opus 88 nib and cap further below as an example). I hope to visit there myself in a little while. The shop is open only on weekdays.

Sailor multi-pen.

A new gadget. “Now pay attention 007.”

Another surprise was this lovely Japanese Sailor multi-pen in metal, featuring artwork by Katsushika Hokusai (1760 – 1849), his famous images of Mt Fuji and waves off the coast of Kanagawa, depicted in silver and gold colour against a matt black background. The pen comprises a black and a red ballpoint refill plus a 0.5mm mechanical pencil, each selected by a twist of the barrel. I do love a gadget and operating this one is very enjoyable. The pen ball-point refills are D1. It has a pencil eraser under the finial cone. But what is so touching is the fact that it was an unexpected gift picked out for me at the Tokyo National Museum, by Yoshino, a charming Japanese music student in London, whose parents have been friends of our family for many years. As a Japanese gift, this is as authentic as it gets!

Sailor multi-pen (black and red ball points and pencil).

Agenzio Notebook, Paperchase.

I am aware that I have a tendency to buy stationery items for myself as a souvenir of an enjoyable day out. There was my Lamy 2000 fountain pen for example, which will forever remind me of a day trip to Brighton in May 2014. Recently my wife and I spent a happy day in Henley, enjoying a walk along the riverside in the autumn sunshine, a pub lunch at The Angel and then a browse around the shops.

I found a branch of Paperchase, and was drawn to an enticing and colourful display of new notebooks. The slightly odd thing is that I have found their Agenzio notebook paper to be not fountain pen friendly and to have a line width spacing a little narrower than I prefer. Yet despite knowing this I found myself purchasing one, half-eager for a challenge of finding an ink which it would like. Sometimes you can get away with using iron gall or permanent inks. Then, paying for the notebook, the young lady on the till informed me that if you buy two, you get 20% off the total price. So I chose a second one, in a different colour and with plain paper rather than ruled.

Agenzio hard cover notebook.

It is not all bad. The ruled version gives you 240 pages of very smooth and pleasant Champagne paper, with 33 rows to a page and with a row height of 6.9mm. The book is nicely bound with a stiff card cover, rounded corners, a single ribbon bookmark, an expandable pocket in the back cover, and an elastic closure. The binding is neatly sewn and the book opens flat, without risk of pages popping out. Interestingly, the pages are about 7″ wide by 10″ long, making the book a handy compromise between the usual A5 and A4 sizes:-

Agenzio notebook in blue, sandwiched between A4 and A5 notebooks.

The paper is pleasant to write on but (and I knew to expect this) almost every pen and ink combination I have tried so far, results in bleed-through, the line width, whilst roomier than some, is rather restricting for wider nibs. Also the book smells of glue.

Nevertheless I had an enjoyable time testing out the back sheet with my currently inked and then numbering the pages in pencil (yes there were the correct 240 pages). It IS pleasant to write on and with some trial and error you can find a combination of tools to use with it. For example my Sailor Procolor 500 with a fine steel nib and Noodler’s Bulletproof black does not bleed through, and you can even highlight over this if you are careful and do not overdo it.

A new notebook. Yes please. Homeward Bound as Paul Simon might say.

Update on the Opus 88 fitted with titanium nib.

Readers will recall that I bought a size 6, fine, Jowo-fit nib in titanium with an ebonite feed and housing, at the London Pen Show earlier this month. It is very enjoyable to use. I have had it in my Opus 88 Demonstrator, eye-dropper pen, whose original Broad nib was super smooth, great for laid papers but proved a little bland and lacking feedback. The titanium nib has injected a new lease of life into the pen which I was not using much. It is feedbacky, fine and wet, with just a little bounce but pretty firm, as I like. It never skips or hard-starts. Paired with the large Opus it is a wonderful pen, perhaps a poor-man’s Conid bulkfiller, but a great long-haul writing tool.

Opus 88 now fitted with titanium nib and ebonite feed.

The only issue which stood in the way of my total happiness, was that the titanium nib, when seated as deep as it would go into the section, still managed to touch the end of the cap in the final twists of the four-and-a-quarter turns to cap the pen (not for the impatient). I could see the tip of the nib actually writing a little arc of ink on the inside of the clear acrylic cap.

Titanium nib. Tell-tale ink arc inside cap. Also, heritage paper background from Frogmore Paper Mill!

Obviously I did not want to risk damage to the nib but was always a bit worried when capping the pen. I thought that it would be good to drill out the acrylic cap, just by about half a millimetre to get a little more headroom for my new nib. This would be a precision job. Alternatively I thought that it may be possible to grind the inside acrylic of the cap, with a Dremel or similar electric tool (if I had one, which I don’t). But then a breakthrough came unexpectedly late last night when I realised that the cap finial may be removable. There appeared to be screw threads there. I tried to unscrew it. At first it would not budge but when I tried again with some grippy material, it began to move and I was soon able to get it off. Inside the acrylic finial, I could more clearly see and reach the conical recess at the end. It looked to be quite simple to grind this deeper, very minimally, to accommodate a longer nib.

But in the absence of the right tools, I decided to try adding an O ring between the finial and the rest of cap, just to make it sit a little higher. This worked well, although I did not have an O ring of the ideal size but it does the job for now. I removed the pocket clip whilst I was at it, since I do not use it and the O ring alone still gave the necessary added height clearance. So now I can screw the cap on safe in the knowledge that it will not crush my nib.

An O ring below the cap finial gives a bit more clearance for a long nib.

Throughout the year I have been changing fountain pens each month for my daily journal. In October I used a white, Cross Bailey Light with Noodler’s Bulletproof black. It writes well but I found some flow issues and the pen has needed to have the feed re-charged with the converter, then all is well again. Next month I may switch to the Opus with its titanium and ebonite goodness.

Fine titanium nib writing sample.

Handbound letter.

This week I received a letter from a good friend in Sweden. To my surprise and delight it was carefully hand-sewn into a card stock cover to make a little booklet. I learned that it was written on Clairfontaine 120gsm paper, with a Sailor Pro Gear Realo with Naginata Togi nib and Rohrer & Klingner Salix iron gall blue black ink. Together with the news that the letter brought of my friend and his family, this was a wonderful and thoughtful piece of mail to receive.

An impressive hand-sewn letter. Being a doctor must help.

This reminds me that I am a little behind in replying to my correspondence. I will relish an opportunity to sit with a fountain pen of my choice, for an hour or so when the energy and inspiration levels are both favourable.

My current dream-team: Opus 88, titanium fine nib, ebonite feed, Cobalt Blue ink and a Leuchtturm journal.

Showing some love to the Waterman Expert fountain pen.

When I look at the Index of pen posts in this blog’s menu, I see that there are some glaring omissions, of pens that I own and like but have not got around to reviewing. It is remiss of me not to have covered the Waterman Expert in the years since this blog was launched. This is a consequence of the ad hoc nature of these posts, not from any decision to give the pen the cold shoulder.

It is sometimes said that the Waterman Expert is an under-rated pen. Certainly it is not one of those that gets reviewed and talked about very often. Perhaps this is due to it being an old model and from one of the mainstream brands, like Cross, Parker and Sheaffer that can be found in department stores here, without the cachet of having to be sourced from an online dealer in Spain or the Netherlands or being the latest new thing.

Waterman Expert, with cap posted.

I remember where I was when I bought my first one. It was in John Lewis, at London’s Brent Cross shopping centre whose pen counter I never tired of checking out. This would have been in about the early 1990’s. They had a selection of colours and I chose the marbled blue one. I remember being impressed by its heft, being a metal pen with a lacquered coat. I cannot remember the price any longer but it was a not insignificant amount to me at that time, for a fountain pen.

My first Waterman Expert – still stunning at around 25 years old.

I was to use that pen as a daily carry and in my office, for several years.

The Expert was, and is, a good solid pen, of a decent medium size which should be comfortable for the majority of people and nothing particularly fancy. It is a cartridge converter pen, with a pull-off cap, that can be posted deeply and securely (with a little click). It has a steel, bicolour nib, a grip section which is of a sensible girth, no irritating facets, and no uncomfortable cap threads or step to spoil the comfort.

A little bit of modest luxury from Paris

I found it an ideal pen to use for work, as being reliable and well-behaved, but not too precious and ostentatious.

My first Expert came with a medium nib, which suited me very well. I went on to buy two more, (one red also with a medium nib and one black, with a fine nib). For some reason these were not able to match the success of my first blue model for its smooth writing performance. However I am glad to have kept them all as the steel nibs need only a bit of tuning, perhaps a slight opening of the tine gap and a little smoothing with micromesh pads, which in recent years I have discovered how to do and am now equipped with the necessary tools: a set of micromesh pads of different grades and a set of brass shims of various thicknesses.

Ask four experts, get four different opinions.

In recent days I have been reminded of my secondary school for several reasons (including an invitation to an old boys’ lunch next month) which set me thinking again about the pens that I used at school. I recall using mostly Parker 45’s as they were available at the time and not totally out of reach cost wise. I wondered what pen I would take back with me from my present accumulation, if I had to be 11 years old again. Leaving aside the risk of loss, I think perhaps a Waterman Expert would have made a good pen for school lessons: durable, comfortable, suitable for long writing sessions, a great steel nib and a quick release snap cap.

I tend to associate different pens with different stages of my life. After leaving school, I went to college and entered the Sheaffer No Nonsense era. Then in my early professional life, you would find me using the Waterman Expert.

A stainless steel, bi-colour nib.

It is a testament to their good design, that Waterman Experts are still sold and largely unchanged except for some cosmetic changes. Perhaps it was partly out of nostalgia, as well as being a bargain, but in January 2019, I found myself again in John Lewis Brent Cross where I bought a new Expert in light blue with a shiny chrome cap. It came in a gift set with a carrying pouch but was reduced in the January sales to around half of its previous price and so once again I was in the right place at the right time.

My most recent Expert, with chrome cap.

I have this pen inked at the moment, with a Waterman Serenity Blue cartridge. Its rounded tipping writes very nicely with a good medium line, which is not distinctive but smooth and easy. In September, (traditionally the back to school month) I used it every day for my journal.

A writing sample of the Waterman Expert, medium nib on Leuchtturm paper. Waterman Serenity Blue ink.

I am very glad that I do not have to go back to being 11 years old again, but if I did, having a Waterman Expert this time round would be some consolation.

Ladies and Gentlemen The Four Tops!

The Post Pen Show Post: London Autumn 2021.

Last week I wrote The Pre Pen Show Post, in anticipation of the show on Sunday 10 October 2021. Now that it has passed, it is time to reflect on the day.

In short, it was wonderful and I had a great time. My wife was to have come, but changed her mind on the day and so I was left to make decisions unaided. I set off cheerfully, taking the London Overground train to Kensington Olympia and enjoyed a stroll to the venue, at the Novotel, Hammersmith.

The venue, Novotel London West.

With UK Pen Shows in new but very capable ownership, membership of the Writing Equipment Society no longer gets you free admission but I heard that this might change. However, visitors were given a free tote bag with the handsome UK Pen Shows logo and names of sponsors, which came in handy for my subsequent haul.

I soon found there to be a special ink for the show, namely a bottle of Beefeater Red from KWZ Ink of Poland. I purchased a bottle immediately without pausing to check what colour red it was. It turned out to be a very pleasing one, a rich dark beetroot tone which strangely reminded me of my favourite wax crayon in the colouring box at primary school.

Beefeater Red, the new show Ink from our friends in Poland, KWZ Ink.

Also within minutes of arriving, I spotted an enticing table of Diplomat fountain pens at generously discounted prices and pounced on a couple of Diplomat Excellences, being one of my favourite steel nib pens of all time. I will not dwell on them here as I have reviewed them previously in this blog.

Two Diplomat Excellences. The one at the front has a nifty quick release screw cap.

Having come through a period of 18 months with very little social interaction, it was a treat to catch up with friends, about a dozen from our London Pen Club, over the course of the day, as well as to chat to the friendly vendors. The venue was bright, spacious and airy and this all made for a very pleasant and enjoyable atmosphere.

The main hall.

Others have written about how to prepare for a pen show, to get the most out of the day and some good tips are to (a) have a budget, (b) make a list of anything in particular that you want to look for. I like to bring a loupe to inspect nibs. You might want to bring a bottle of ink, a notebook, a little bottle of water to clean pens that are dipped, and some paper towels.

This time, I had not got any particular fountain pens in mind to hunt down and was aiming to “be good” and not get carried away in a spending spree, but to keep an open mind and see what was available.

Of the pens that I acquired at the London Spring Show earlier this year, the one that I had enjoyed picking up and using the most, turned out to be a Sailor Procolor 500, a steel nibbed pen about the same size as a standard 1911 and with a Fine (very fine) nib. It has been filled ever since with Noodlers’ bullet proof black. I had found this pen for sale on John Twiss’s table. I asked John if he had any more of these. Sure enough he had a few and I chose a nice sparkly dark red one, (now called the Shikiori), perhaps a good pairing for the Beefeater red ink.

Sailor Shikiori in burgundy with sparkles.
An exquisite steel nib on a Sailor Shikiori.

As for inks, I also bought a bottle of Aurora blue in the nice special edition bottle, from Kirit Dal’s Aurora table. I have become a fan of Aurora’s lovely fountain pens, since finally owning an 88 and an Optima.

I also picked up an extra bottle of Diamine’s Conway Stewart Tavy, a blue black ink that I am keen on, having bought and emptied previous bottles from pen shows.

My ink haul.

It is not the pens but the people that make a pen show: I enjoyed visiting so many tables, in particular John Hall of Write Here, John Foye (whose pen photos I enjoy daily on Instagram), John Twiss, Derek of Stonecott Fine Writing Supplies Limited who was selling pens from Narwal, Benu and Venvstas (pronounced Ven-oost-as), the Onoto table and Den’s Pens.

There were some tables that were new to me this time. Scrittura Elegante from the Netherlands, had a good display, where I handled an Edison Collier in the lovely burnished gold finish and saw some Opus 88 eye-dropper demonstrators that I had not come across before, as well as some Laban pens from Taiwan with German nibs in some attractive colours.

I spoke to William Shakour who showed me his impressive Titan fountain pen, made by 3D printing (which I do not understand). He had some rough grey, unpolished examples for people to test four different nib sizes, with Titanium nibs. I was intrigued. The pens are piston fillers with a huge reservoir. He had been working on making a slightly slimmer version but this meant having thinner walls on the ink reservoir, which he was able to show me.

At The Good Blue, I tried their unique design of flex nib pen, with a metal body and one flat side to stop it from rolling.

By late morning I was glad of a coffee break with friends Jon of Pensharing.com and Vijay – both of whom are on Instagram, where we had a catch up and tried a few of each other’s pens.

Vijay and I then went to find the nib units, being sold at John Twiss and Vincent’s table with titanium nibs and ebonite feeds in various widths and with a choice of Jowo or Bock fittings and even a choice of colours for the feeds! I chose a Titanium fine nib, with red feed and Jowo fitting, hoping to fit it in a large Opus 88 Demonstrator that I had bought three years earlier with a steel broad.

A Titanium nib in an ebonite feed and housing, Jowo fit. Very popular at the show.

After making several more circuits of the tables and testing my self restraint to its limits, it was time to go home. My final tally was three new pens (two Diplomats and a Sailor at irresistible prices), three bottles of ink (KWZ Beefeater red, Diamine Conway Stewart Tavy and Aurora Blue in the fancy bottle) and one Titanium nib.

Overall I was very content with my purchases. The choice is phenomenal and easily overwhelming, particularly if you are more used to a quick browse at the pen shelf in Rymans or WH Smiths! There are pens to suit all budgets. I came away feeling that I had got the balance about right and had not gone mad. You cannot go to a restaurant and not eat.

At home I tried out the Titanium nib in my Opus 88. I was a good match and the clear acrylic grip section allows the dark red ebonite feed to be seen and appreciated. I inked up the pen with Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue (you need a colour that you will not get bored of in this pen) and the nib is a nice, feedbacky firm Fine. This was my first ever experience of having a Titanium nib so that is a novelty.

The new nib in my Opus 88, eye-dropper demonstrator. You must remember to put the pen’s rubber O ring on the back end of the housing.

Thanks as always to the organisers and vendors and fellow visitors who make these events so enjoyable. See you all again next year, if not before.

The Pre Pen Show Post

This is a brief, mid-week post and intended largely as a reminder to myself that I do not NEED any more fountain pens. I shall therefore be able to look back at this post next week and see how I did in reality, compared to my resolve.

I have been looking forward to the London Autumn Pen Show, taking place this coming Sunday, 10 October 2021. Once again it will be at the spacious new venue, the Novotel in Hammersmith. The London Spring Pen Show, having been delayed, did not take place until July and so it is unusual to have two shows just three months apart.

What I currently look for and enjoy in a fountain pen, is for it to be comfortable to hold, to write well (smooth and with good flow) and to lay down the line that I want, which is interesting and flattering to my handwriting.

I discovered all of these qualities in the Moonman S5 eyedropper pen. I now have one on my desk in my office and an identical one at home.

Moonman S5 fountain pen.

When I pick this up, it always writes without hesitation. The smoothness and the line variation just blow me away every time. I love using it.

Moonman S5, multi-coloured section

A feature of the pen is the multi-coloured grip section. I felt that this was a bit odd at first given that the rest of the body is clear, but actually I have grown to like it and it looks better in macro! Also, because every pen is slightly different, it helps to distinguish them, if you have more than one.

The real star of the pen, for me at least, is its oblique broad nib although this might not be everybody’s cup of tea. The pen came with three nib units and you also have the choice of an extra fine and a medium.

I have raved about this pen before but it is worth saying again, that it has all these qualities and more, and yet costs only £27.50. I have spent a lot more on a pen and will probably do so again, but I need to keep in mind that the comfort and writing experience, whilst they might match my S5, are unlikely to be appreciably better.

That is a very subjective opinion of course, but my own needs are dictated by my being a lefty-overwriter. The goal for us all is to find a pen that ticks all our boxes. Good sense tells us that when we find one, we should then stop amassing more pens and enjoy the fruits of our search, but we shall see!

In other news, I am very much enjoying my latest gadget, namely the Puluz 23cm mini-lightbox that I reviewed in my last post. Here are a few more gratuitous examples of my recent photos with it:-

Lamy 2000 fountain pen with the matching multi-pen.
Cross Century II with the chrome guilloche cap.
A detail of the Cross Peerless 125.

Well, wish me luck everybody at the coming pen show. I hope to gather a bottle of ink or two. As for the temptation to buy more fountain pens, I shall cross that bridge when I come to it!

Early thoughts on the Puluz ring LED portable photo studio.

One of the challenges of running a fountain pen blog, is taking good quality photographs of the pens. We want our images to be well composed, sharply focused, with faithful colours and well lit.

Aurora 88 and Aurora Optima, now photographed with a lightbox.

It is very convenient to use the camera on a smart phone, which allows uploading of photos to the blog’s media library through WiFi, without connecting the camera to a computer to download the files. Smart phone cameras have improved enormously, in resolution and many other features.

It is easy to forget that our subjects need to be well lit, particularly if indoors using available light. A case in point is the photograph of my pen cups in my last post, The state of the pen cups, September 2021, where I over-estimated the quality of the lighting in the room and used an image which had areas of dark shadow.

One solution is to invest in studio lighting or a ring-flash for your SLR camera. Another more practical option for the amateur, is to try a portable “light box” with LED lights, powered by a USB cable.

My good friend Jon of Pensharing.com, provides advice for members on his website for photographing their pens for hire and recommends investing in a simple light box and a tripod. I bought a light box about a year ago, a self-assembly cube of white plastic, which had rows of many bright LEDs in the front and the back of the top section. The problem I soon found was that it was difficult to avoid reflections of all of these LEDs in the pens. Also the model I had bought was rather a faff to put up and take down, which also deterred me from getting it out much.

This weekend I found myself looking again on Amazon at the vast range of such lightboxes available. I wondered whether a model with a ring of LED lights might be easier to use. Also, I wanted to try one which was smaller, and more convenient than the one I had bought. The name Puluz was one that I kept noticing. Also, they had one in their range, which was small (about 9 inches across), had a ring LED pattern, boasted three different colour temperatures, an adjustable brightness, six different coloured backdrops, and cost only £14.99. Impressively, it arrived within a day of ordering.

The Puluz 9″ Ring LED light box. (“And the award for best turntable in a supporting role, goes to…”)

Description.

The Puluz “Mini Photo Box” is an open-fronted box measuring 23cm or 9″ wide. It is made of a white semi-rigid plastic. The five sides are all joined together and fold flat into a bag. To set it up, you just need to unfold it and assemble it into the box shape, clipping the sides to the base and to the top. They cleverly slot into each other and so there are no separate parts needed. It comes with six coloured backdrops, in black, white, blue, red, green and yellow.

The lighting comes from 72 LEDs arranged in two rings around the top (where a round flap can be opened for direct overhead shooting). One outer ring provides a cool, bluish light and the other, inner ring provides a warmer, orangey tone. These are powered by an attached USB capable, which needs to be connected to a power socket, PC or a portable USB power bank.

The two rings of LEDs, both lit

In use.

The box, the cable and the backdrops are all supplied in a handy white tote bag and weigh very little, making a very portable piece of kit.

The light box is straightforward to assemble and this takes only a couple of minutes. If you want to use one of the backdrops, you just hook it on to the tabs. It is easier to do this before you fold it all together.

The USB power cable is fixed in place and about 2 metres long. About half way along the cable is the control switch. This has an on-off button. When plugged into a power source, but not switched on, a blue light glows to show that it is in stand-by mode.

There are three more buttons: the middle one alternates between the three colour temperature options, which, in simple terms, give you a lighting which is white, orange or blue (or which can be expressed as cool or warm tones). The other two buttons are plus and minus, to go up or down through the 10 brightness levels, in whatever colour you have selected. And so you have choice of 30 different settings all together.

On/off switch, plus colour selector and brightness controls.

To power the lightbox, I first connected the USB cable to a mains plug (usually reserved for my mobile phone). This is fine if you have a power socket nearby. But the control switch might then be dangling off the edge of your table. A more convenient method is to plug the cable into a rechargeable USB power bank (not supplied). I had an old one, with a 2,200 mAh capacity and charged it up for its new duties. With one of these, you can take your light box out and about, and use it anywhere without being tied to a power socket. I do not know how long a charge would last but there are models now with much higher capacity.

I spent a bit of time experimenting with the settings. The different colour tones are achieved by activating either the inner ring, outer ring or both. So far, I tend to prefer the white light (using both rings), but I found that when using the green backdrop, my Samsung Galaxy S10’s camera was a bit confused when trying to sort out the white balance. The green flickered between yellowy-green and bluey-green. Things were easier with the white backdrop. I have not tried the other backdrops yet.

As for the brightness settings, whilst you can see the lighting getting brighter or darker as you click through the steps, I found on looking back at my test photos, that it was hard to see much difference in the image, because the camera automatically compensates. Perhaps going for a mid-level brightness is the answer and then decide whether you need to go either brighter or darker from there.

Photographing pens.

I tested the lighting first on my Aurora Optima, whose red Aureloide barrel would reflect the LEDs. Even though the LEDs are in a ring, you still find ugly reflections on the barrel, if you photograph the pen sideways on. You can reduce this to some extent by having the pen diagonal to the camera, but it is hard to eliminate it completely.

Unsightly reflections. Before adding a lamp shade.

It occured to me that what was needed, was a light shade, to block off the LEDs and instead deflect the light to the white sides of the light box where it can be reflected down softly, rather like using a bounce-flash pointed at the wall or ceiling instead of your subject.

The hack.

I cut out a circle of white card, having drawn around a plate. I then cut out a small wedge shape, like a piece of pizza, then drew the sides together so that the disc was pulled into a cone. I tied this to a pencil, which I then used to suspend the disc through the hole, just below the LED’s.

My home-made lamp shade!

I then re-took the photos of my Auroras and found, to my delight, that the harsh reflections were eliminated and I now had the capability to take pen photos, day or night, with lighting under my control!

No unsightly reflections! Using home-made lamp shade below the LEDs.

Conclusions.

It is early days, but provided that the LEDs and the control switch don’t break, this is a very useful accessory, for photographing fountain pens, or jewellery or other small items. It is modestly priced and with a little practice and experimentation, can help produce some excellent photos to enhance a blog.

Another practice shot, using primary colours to check white balance.

Personally I think it would be better still if it came with a simple lamp shade, perhaps made from the same material as the lightbox and with a means of attaching and removing it. This makes a vast improvement if photographing pens or other reflective items.

With my custom lamp shade in place.

All photos taken with Samsung Galaxy S10 smartphone. All pens photographed in a Puluz Ring LED mini light box.

The state of the pen cups, September 2021.

It has been a quiet month on the blogging front. This niggles at me occasionally, as being wasteful, rather like having a car parked outside but not driving it. I do also have a car parked outside which I am not using much either. We currently have a situation with queues at petrol stations, as a shortage of fuel deliveries led to some panic buying.

For a change today, I thought to round off the month with a short tour of my “currently inked” fountain pens. I have fifteen, spread across three pen cups at home. This number is fairly typical for me. I enjoy the variety, but also wish I could be more minimalist and just have a couple on the go. Having the simplicity of just one pen and one ink, is a fantasy that I sometimes create by going thus-equipped to a coffee shop and spending an hour writing with whatever I have taken with me.

I should point out that the fifteen inked pens at home is not quite the end of the story and that I counted a further four fountain pens in my pen cup at work. These are a Parker Duofold, a Cross Bailey Light, a Moonman S5 with oblique broad nib and a Pilot V pen with red ink. The first three are filled with blue black, black and blue ink, respectively. These meet all my needs at work – for writing notes, signing letters and documents or amending drafts.

At home it is a different story as I am constantly picking up a pen and writing a paragraph or two just for relaxation and the sheer joy of the flow of ink on the paper, hence the variety. So here they are, roughly from left to right:-

The pen cups – a snap shot of my currently inked.

Pilot V pens in black and purple. These are both quite a few years old. For a long time they lived in a separate pot behind the sofa and were seldom touched. I felt that I should bring them into circulation. They write adequately, never hard start and seem to last forever (particularly with such little use). The downside is that the ink bleeds through paper badly. Also the colour of the purple ink is now well past its best.

Italix Captain’s Commission, Fine italic. This is a gorgeous pen, which did not cost a lot. At the time, I think it was under £60.00 and included a hand-ground nib, which writes like a dream, incredibly smooth and with generous flow. I since bought a couple more, with the same nib as gifts. Mine is inked with Onoto Mediterranean Blue.

Waterman Expert, Chrome cap. My history with Waterman Experts goes back to the 1990’s when I bought my first one, in marbled blue lacquer and used it for years at work. I added a couple more, one black and one red although I never made as much use of them as my blue one, as the nibs were not so joyous. And then a couple of years ago I bought this handsome blue model with a chrome cap, in a gift set with a pen case and some ink. I did a little bit of tinkering with the nib, with some brass shims to improve flow and now it writes wonderfully. It has been my journal pen, with Serenity blue cartridges for the whole of September. Like many of my pens, it is one of those which I could manage with on its own.

Moonman S5s, with oblique broad and with medium nib. This little pen has been a revelation, turning my pen world upside down. It is a clear demonstrator, eye-dropper filler and comes with three nib units which can be swapped around. The oblique broad is my favourite and seems well suited for my lefty overwriter, slanting handwriting. It is super-smooth, gives a nice line variation and is not too wide (given that the nib is held at an angle so you do not get its full width most of the time). It is fun to fill, holds masses of ink, is supremely comfortable and costs only £27.50. I just love it.

Platinum Plaisir. I bought this pen on impulse and out of curiosity, when browsing in Selfridge’s stationery department a few weeks ago. It is very good at not hard-starting, with its Platinum slip’n’seal inner cap. It writes well enough and would make a robust EDC but I have not been sufficiently excited to want to write with it for long periods.

Lamy Safari, yellow. What can I say? I do not consider myself a fan of the Safari as I dislike the faceted section. And yet I have a dozen or so of them in all different colours, with a Vista, some AL-Stars and even a Lamy Lx. They are well made, write well and are inexpensive. And the different colours make them strangely collectable. Yellow is my favourite. I had one which got ruined by absorbing the black dye from a pen case, but recently I bought a replacement, tempted by a 25% discount in Rymans. It writes very nicely and is also filled with Onoto Mediterranean Blue. No pen cup is complete without one!

Aurora 88. This is most probably my favourite pen, one of a very small number on which I have ever splurged more than £300.00, (and this was heavily discounted in a summer sale) but has everything you could wish for: black resin barrel and section, gold plated guilloche cap, 14k gold nib, (easily removable), ebonite feed, piston filler and a large clear ink window. It is very comfortable and very handsome. Filled with Aurora Blue.

Aurora Optima rossa, OB nib. This is my latest significant purchase – in which I was hoping to combine the joy of my Aurora 88 with the joy of my Moonman S5 oblique broad nib! It is a lovely pen and I am very happy with it but to be honest its OB nib does not perform any better than the Moonman’s. It probably needs to wear in a bit more. But the materials are beautiful to look at and to feel.

Montegrappa Fortuna, black. This is my only Montegrappa. It is a steel nibbed pen, not quite “entry level” for the brand but fairly basic. It came with a very enjoyable medium nib but I bought a spare nib in Selfridges in a Fine and now have this in the Fortuna, which is beautifully firm and precise. I have it inked with Pelikan Smoky Quartz, which seems to suit it well.

Montblanc Meisterstuck 146. This is a 1970’s model with a wonderful soft broad stubby nib, an ebonite feed and a large grey ink window unlike the current models. It was a generous gift from a pen friend in Australia and is one of my best writers. I use only Montblanc Royal Blue in this one.

Cross Bailey Light, white. My fondness for these pens is well known, to anyone who follows this blog. Shortly after they were first introduced, I devoured all the available colours. The white model I have kept for waterproof inks – such as Rohrer & Klingner Salix iron gall ink or, as currently filled, Noodlers bullet proof black. This ink was a purchase from the London pen show last July and I am delighted with it. It seems very well behaved and has a pleasing silver-grey-black tone. I love that you can use a highlighter over it, or use it for addressing envelopes for wet weather delivery!

Diplomat Traveller, lapis raspberry, medium nib. This little pen is the smallest in the Diplomat line up, but still sports a very pleasing steel nib. I was extremely fortunate to stumble across this when it was reduced to £5.00 in a Rymans sale. Once you adapt to its slender girth and shortish barrel (it does not post) then it is a real treat. Mine is paired with Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-budo – the lovely magenta ink like no other.

Sailor Procolor 500, blue demonstrator. And so finally, to this pen which was a London Pen Show purchase in July. Of the four pens that I bought that day, it turned out to be the one I have enjoyed picking up and using the most. This was due, to a large part, to my pairing it with the Noodlers bulletproof black. It has a fine nib, which, being Sailor, equates to an extra fine in European terms. It has a lovely, pencil-like feedback. But it writes like a pencil in more ways than one: the line from the Noodlers ink from this very fine nib also looks like the work of a sharp HB pencil. Used on the smooth satin-matte finish of the Leuchtturm A5 journal paper – and then with the ability to go over your notes with a highlighter, you will appreciate what a delight this is.

And so there you have it – a quick canter through my current random selection of pens in use. Here in London we are now blessed with two pen shows a year, having both a Spring and an Autumn show. The Autumn event is on 10 October 2021. Whilst my needs are more than satisfied by what I have on the table right now, I expect to be there and will probably be tempted by something.

Early thoughts on the Aurora Optima Rossa fountain pen.

This week a new Italian beauty came into my life. Was this sensible? How did this happen? Does it end well? Read on to find out.

It was exactly one week ago today, that I placed an order for an Aurora Optima. This was rather sudden but not entirely without reason. The splendid Aurora 88 that I bought two years ago became one of my favourite pens. I had been curious to try an Optima which has the same range of nibs, same piston filling system but housed in a body with rather more of that Italian flair. I knew it to be a favourite of Laura, whose blog fountain pen follies I greatly admired. (See her review here). But the triggering factors were (a) I noticed that it was available with an Oblique Broad nib and (b) it was in the Iguanasell summer sale with 20% off.

The wait was an anxious time. I fretted over whether I had made the right nib choice. Would it be suitable? Would it be to my liking? Would it be too broad, too firm, too feedbacky, too dry? I know of only a handful of pen companies offering pens with oblique nibs now, including Montblanc and Lamy. Aurora pens are not readily found in shops in the UK. It is therefore necessary to take a chance on ordering online and to hope that you pick a suitable nib from the 11 options. Iguanasell do offer easy returns if you change your mind.

The pen arrived, from Spain via FedEx, in just four days which was impressive. My order, placed on a Saturday, was despatched on Monday and with me by Wednesday.

The unboxing.

Once the pen arrives the anxieties of the wait are soon forgotten. The package was in a sturdy brown cardboard box, protected in bubble wrap. Inside this, was the glossy black Aurora cardboard box, with a fold-down flap at the front. Finally, inside this is the large, black gift box with a hinged lid and a padded black interior. The pen rests on a black padded tray, in a cellophone sleeve. A little metal badge proclaims 14K solid gold nib. Under the tray is the booklet, comprising the instructions for use, care guide and guarantee (two years against any defective materials and workmanship). It is certainly a very impressive and presentable package and gives confidence that you have bought a top quality item.

The Aurora Optima rossa in its gift box.

Design and construction.

The model I chose features a barrel and cap made of red “Auroloide” which is Aurora’s name for its modern celluloid material, cellulose acetate. Some more information about this can be found in Pen Review: Aurora Optima Auroloide by Matt Armstrong of The Pen Habit . It has a marbled or variegated pattern which looks very pretty as you turn it in your hand to see the different tones. It is also slightly translucent so that, when held against the light, you can make out the shape of the nib inside the cap. There is a darker area in the barrel when the pen is inked although it is not so obvious as to be unsightly.

The cap has a glossy black plain finial. There is a sturdy and firm metal pocket clip ending in smooth hollow ball of folded metal. It is very functional but I would worry about letting it spring back violently against the cap in case of cracking the material.

The red temptress.

The cap band is a feature of the pen, with two rows of Greek key pattern filled in black, between which are the names AURORA at the front and ITALY on the back, in smooth and shiny relief against a lined, textured background. The cap ring blends very smoothly with the cap.

The cap unscrews in about one and a quarter turns. The threads of the Auroloide cap meet the threads of the black resin grip section.

Removing the cap, you find Aurora’s famously in-house made 14k gold nib, (Rhodium plated on my model), an ebonite feed and a long comfortable grip section. This ends in a large clear ink window, with chrome rings either side. The ink window is concealed by the cap when the pen is closed, which I find tidier than having the ink window visible when the pen is capped.

The barrel, in red Auroloide, has some text engraved, a feature that I like very much. This has the Aurora logo with “AURORA ITALIA inside and the words “FABBRICA ITALIANA, DI PENNE A SERBATOIO. This last slogan can be found on advertising images of old and translates, I think, to something like “the tank pen” or “the pen with a reservoir.” As an added bonus, the words can be read with the pen in the left hand! This is a rare and joyous thing. (Good luck finding any left handed pencils).

The barrel engraving for lefties!

At the end of the barrel, is a black resin piston knob, separated from the Auroloide by another chrome ring.

The Auroloide is produced from coloured pellets. I am not certain whether it is then injection moulded to make the barrels and caps or whether it is formed into solid rods which are turned on a lathe. I expect someone can help me out on this. In any event, there are no discernible seams in the barrel, cap or section and the finished product is beautifully smooth and polished.

Filling system.

The pen is filled from a bottle by turning the piston knob, to expel the air and then draw up ink. The piston operates very smoothly.

The instructions advise letting go of three drops of ink at the end of filling, turning the pen upright and then turning the piston back to the home position to draw up any surplus ink. This will help if you do not want the feed too saturated after filling. Personally I do not find this essential as the feed seems to do an excellent job of regulating the flow of ink to the paper.

The Aurora piston filler has another feature, a hidden reservoir or reserve to use if you “run out” of ink. Simply operate the piston up and down again and the reserve is released into the feed and you have enough ink for another page or so, to keep you writing until you can get to your ink bottle.

This reminds me of the feature in Parker Quink cartridges, called “tap tank” whereby you were to give the cartridge a gentle flick to dislodge the ink reserve and let it run down into the section. In the Aurora, with its large ink window, a reserve seems a bit unnecessary as you are unlikely to get caught out with no ink when you have an ink window. Unless changing ink colour, you do not need to wait until it is empty and can refill before a trip. I worry that the hidden reservoir means a trap for ink when you are flushing the pen, although operating the piston a few times, with the nib immersed in warm water should be enough. For a quicker clean, you can unscrew the nib and feed unit and wash them separately or leave them to soak overnight, but you need to take great care not to grip them too tightly to alter the alignment or tine gap, or damage the delicate ebonite feed, when doing this.

According to Aurora the pen needs no special maintenance, other than to flush the pen with warm water if you are to change ink colour or if the ink should stop flowing. They advise that the pen be kept with nib pointing up if travelling by car or aeroplane but “If you bear this little advice in mind your Aurora will be your faithful writing companion throughout your life,” a very appealing sentiment.

Size and weight.

I measured the pen to be around 127mm long when capped, or 123mm uncapped. The cap posts very nicely to bring the length up to around 152mm. The girth is about 14mm maximum at the barrel.

The pen is light, at around 15g uncapped (including about half a tank of ink in my case), plus 7g for the cap or 22g in total.

At 123mm, the pen is longer than it looks.

In Matt Armstrong’s review, he mentions his initial disappointment at finding the pen “so short”. The pen does appear short but I think that, to some extent at least, this is an optical illusion, caused by the coloured Auroloide being sandwiched between a very long black section and black piston knob. The girth is quite wide, which might also make the pen look short and chubby. On paper, an uncapped length of 123mm is not unduly short. I have been using the pen unposted, very comfortably. When compared with other pens, it is interesting to see that that the uncapped length is not so different from a Montblanc 146 or a Montegrappa Fortuna, and these are not usually accused of being short pens. In any event, Matt’s pen “grew” to become one of his top five pens.

Size comparison with the Pineider Avatar. See how the Opitima’s black ends and wider girth exaggerate the shortness.
Some more size comparisons: with Diplomat Excellence, Montegrappa Fortuna, Cross Peerless 125, Montblanc 146 and Pelikan M800.

The nib and writing performance.

One of the main draws of this pen for me, was the option to choose an oblique broad nib. For the past 9 months, I have been enjoying an OB nib on a humble Moonman S5, a Taiwanese eye-dropper pen costing just £27.50 (including two other nib units!) and have found it to be wonderfully suited to my way of writing. I have been curious to try another OB from Montblanc or Lamy although with some trepidation in case these might not prove as great for me as the Moonman! Finally the opportunity to buy the pretty Optima came along and I took the plunge.

The Aurora OB nib is a left-foot oblique, a stub with the tip cut at a slant of about 15 degrees. Aurora nibs are known to be firm (except the flex nib) and to have a distinctive feedback, which is not to everyone’s taste.

Aurora 14k gold, Rhodium plated, OB nib.

My last experience, of the 14k gold medium nib on my Aurora 88 was that it was smooth but a little on the dry side and not as wide as I had expected. However I had been able to adjust it myself to widen the tine gap marginally, which made just enough difference and now it writes wonderfully. Filled with Aurora Blue, the ebonite feed keeps the nib in a permanent state of readiness.

Ebonite feed, a rare luxury.

The OB nib on my new Optima was great, right out of the box and has not needed any such tinkering from me. Under the loupe, there was a very slender gap between the tines, even at the tip which promised good flow with no pressure required. The line it produces varies according to the angle of rotation: the principle is that you hold the pen at a constant angle, with the tip of the nib flat on the paper (the “sweet spot”) and then enjoy effortless line width variation according to the direction of the stroke. If you make a cross stroke, left or right then you get the thinnest possible line. If you move directly down, you get the widest. There are degrees of thickness to be had between these extremes according to the angle. I found that I could produce about 5 different thicknesses, from 1 to 5. In ordinary writing you might not see the extremes of this range 1 to 5 but more likely a more subtle range from about 2 to 4.

Range of line widths available from OB nib.

The edges of the nib are a bit sharp, as an italic nib. Care is needed to keep the nib on the sweet spot for smooth writing and so the corners do not dig into the paper. As the nib is Rhodium plated, it is hard to tell where the gold nib ends and the Iridium tipping material begins, but I hope that the nib will hold up well and last me a good long time.

The nib was chosen for my specific needs when writing in my “lefty overwriter” mode, a rather awkward habit which involves rotating the paper 90 degrees anti-clockwise and then writing with my pen over (above) the line, rather than below it. This style evolved for me as an alternative to bending my wrist to avoid smudging and has been called by some people, “writing up-hill”.

A few favourite stubby nibs: Sailor Pro-Gear slim music nib, Aurora Optima OB, Moonman S5 OB, and Italix Captain’s Commission Italic Fine.

I have practised writing in an underwriter style too when occasion requires but experience tells me (including copying out Marcus Aurelius’ book Meditations) that I cannot write very uniformly in this style and my ascenders and descenders tend to lean all over the place.

Conclusion.

I am enjoying my new toy. I am happy with my choice of OB nib. It may be that an OM or even an OF (both of which were available) might have suited me too and it would have been good to try them all in a bricks and mortar shop, as you can with Montblanc’s range at their boutiques. Compared to my Moonman, I am glad to say that that the Aurora stands up well in comparison (with its 14k nib, ebonite feed, piston filler and Auroloide body and exquisite finish and elegance) but I love them both.

New pen, with some old Aurora catalogues.

Early thoughts on the Ryman soft cover notebook.

Let me begin by saying that I am a big fan of Leuchtturm A5 journals. I like the format, the paper, the quality and the wide range of colours. They are readily available from my local branch of Ryman stationers. Over the last three years, I have filled about ten of them.

The one issue that I have with them, is that the line spacing is a bit too narrow for me. They have versions with dot grids, but these are at 5mm intervals and so would give you either a 5mm row height, which I find too narrow or 10mm if using two rows, which is a bit too wide. About 8mm would be just right. I prefer to buy the Leuchtturm with plain pages and then use a guide sheet or rule my own pencil lines, when and where I want them.

Yesterday, on a visit to Rymans I decided to try one of their own brand journals. Whereas the Leuchtturm journal costs typically around £16.99, the Ryman alternative is just £7.99. Ryman also make a larger one, which is approximately A4 size.

Ryman small, soft cover notebook.

As it is sealed in plastic shrink-wrap, you cannot inspect it fully. The labelling tells you that it has 192 pages of lined, cream, 70gsm paper.

Features.

  • 192 pages;
  • cream paper;
  • 70 gsm paper;
  • ruled lines (7mm row height)
  • one ribbon page marker;
  • expandable pocket in rear cover;
  • hardback;
  • soft-touch finish;
  • a selection of colours;
  • stitched binding, (book can be opened flat);
  • elastic pen loop.

When they say “soft cover”, this means soft-to-the-touch, not soft as in floppy like a paperback. It is a soft touch hard cover. It has the look and feel of leather.

The pages are not paginated. I did not mind and quite enjoyed paginating the book myself in pencil, especially when reaching the end and finding that I also arrived at 192, rather than, as sometimes happens, having to go back and look for where I had made a mistake.

Each page gives you 26 rows at 7mm spacing. The page numbers are my own.

The colours for the Ryman book included a pastel pink, and a pastel turquoise which did not particularly appeal to me and which I thought would get grubby in time. I chose the grey which seemed the most inoccuous.

The size.

The book is not A5 size and does not claim to be. An A5 page would be 148.5mm wide, by 210mm. This book’s pages are considerably narrower, at around 126mm and so your rows are around 22.5mm (almost one inch) shorter than A5. The page height is 207mm, which is only slightly less than 210mm A5 size. It is about the same as the Moleskine format.

When I compared the Ryman notebook with one that I had bought from the same shop about 7 years ago, I was surprised to see that the old one had much wider pages. I preferred the old one. I cannot see any advantage to the consumer in making the book narrower, except perhaps that it would be easier to fit in a coat pocket. It seems that, like many familiar chocolate bars, products are now being sold in smaller sizes.

Ryman notebook 2021 version, with an old version below for size comparison.

The paper quality.

The cream paper, with grey lines, is pleasant enough to write on with a fountain pen. The weight of 70gsm means it is a little on the thin side, and so you can expect some show-through. However it is bleed-through that renders a paper unsuitable for double-sided writing with a fountain pen. I tested a selection of pens and inks from my currently inked pen cups, to see which could be used and which could not.

Some bleed-through with certain inks. You need to choose your inks with care.

Those (from my initial test batch so far) that did not exhibit any bleed-through were Aurora blue, Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt blue, Waterman Serenity blue, Noodler’s black and Platinum black cartridge.

On the other hand, those inks that the paper did not cope with so well, were Waterman Harmonious green, Conway Stewart Tavy by Diamine, Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-budo, and Onoto Meditteranean blue.

I realise that it is not just the ink that determines whether it will bleed through papers, but how wet it is applied, which depends upon the individual pen.

I quite enjoyed sampling a few different pens and inks on the back pages of the notebook to see which I could use without bleed-through. This was no hardship and I anticipate that most fountain pen enthusiasts can find several combinations that work well from their own selections. It may be disappointing if you have a particular ink that you want to use in the notebook and then find that you cannot, or at least that you cannot use both sides of the page. It is necessary to test out the ink first.

Ticks for pen and ink combinations that do not bleed through. Crosses for those that do.

Conclusions.

Compared to the Leuchtturm, the pages are smaller, there are less of them, and the paper is less resistant to bleed-through from certain inks. Whilst it might look superficially to be an alternative to the Leuchtturm, (with its elastic closure and expandable pocket), it loses out to the Leuchtturm in size, paper quality and the number of pages.

Still, if you have lots of fountain pens and enjoy writing, then you need notebooks to write in. I shall enjoy using this one. It is not perfect for me. I would prefer that the line spaces were 8mm rather than 7mm and that the page width not been cropped since the last version I bought.

I have in mind to use it to write up some memories, little fragments of life remembered. Sitting down with one pen and one notebook, and one hour of quiet time, is something I find relaxing. Perhaps it is my equivalent of going to the pub for a pint.

The not-quite A5 journal with a Sailor Procolor 500 fountain pen.

A London odyssey and early thoughts on the Platinum Plaisir fountain pen.

This weekend, with Covid restrictions having eased in the UK of late, I enjoyed an excursion into London’s West End for the first time in many months and visited a few of my favourite haunts.

Beginning at Choosing Keeping, a wonderful store for stationery, I found that they have an exciting range of fountain pen inks, including Pilot Iroshizuku, Sailor, and Rohrer & Klingner, a refreshing change from the usual chain store selection. I was able to handle a Sailor Pro-Gear Slim Blue Dwarf limited edition pen, of which they have plenty in stock with a range of nibs. This is a great shop for attractive journals and for boxes of Japanese pencils too.

I visited some guitar shops in Denmark Street. Rose Morris has a good range of Taylor acoustic guitars on display. Another shop across the road sells Martin guitars. For mandolins and a huge variety of other stringed instruments, Hobgoblin Music in Rathbone Place is a gem and it was good to have a browse. I discovered and bought my baritone Ukulele there a few years ago.

Also in Rathbone Place, is Park Cameras, where I tried some Nikon Monarch binoculars and compared them with the Zeiss Terra ED, 10×42, of similar price. Either would be an upgrade from my current Nikon Prostaff 10×30 binos although I am very happy with them and they are excellent value.

Walking along London’s Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon, weaving through the crowds of shoppers, it was good to find things getting back to normal. A lot of American Candy stores have appeared in Oxford Street, which I do not remember seeing before. At John Lewis, I had a look at the stationery department on the lower ground floor. The island of fountain pen display cases seemed to have shrunk a bit from days of old, but the usual suspects (Cross, Sheaffer, Waterman and Parker) were all there.

Finally I reached Selfridges. The Fine Writing department is also on their lower ground floor although it had moved position sometime before the pandemic. Montblanc has its own area. A short glide down on the escalator and you enter a world of Montegrappas, Graf, Caran d’Ache and other exotica.

There is also a stationery corner for more ordinary items and it was here that I found a row of Platinum Plaisir fountain pens, hanging on a rack in a selection of colours, with matching coloured packaging. It was the first time I had seen them in a bricks and mortar shop. My usual source for such items would be Cult Pens.

Not having tried the Plaisir before, and given that they were only £13.00, it was simply a question of choosing between black, dark blue, red, orange, citrus yellow, light frosty blue or silver. All had the same Medium (0.5) nib. I went with red.

Platinum Plaisir. It is very red.

Description.

The Platinum Plaisir is an aluminium pen, making for a more attractive and durable body than Platinum’s entry level plastic demonstrator Preppy, but with the same nib and a feed which is visible through the transparent grip section. You get a strong metal pocket clip, a shiny chrome cap band and a barrel which is not covered with text and bar code.

The cap pulls off, needing a very determined effort, made more difficult by the hard-to-grip finish of the barrel and cap. The cap features the Platinum “slip and seal” sprung inner cap which supposedly allows the pen to be left inked for up to a year without drying out.

Unboxing. Each colour pen has its own colour package but not one that you would want to keep.

The pen came with one Platinum black cartridge but no converter. Cult Pens sell Platinum converters separately in either silver or gold coloured finish but with a notice that whilst they will fit inside a Preppy or Plaisir, ink will only be drawn into the feed and not the converter and so you may need to fill the converter separately, outside the pen. Another filling option is to purchase an adaptor to enable use of standard international cartridges.

With cartridge inserted.

Size and weight.

The Plaisir is a good medium size, at 142mm long capped, or 122mm uncapped. The cap posts well bringing the length up to around 151mm whilst still remaining very light. Capped or posted, it weighs about 17.5g with a cartridge, or uncapped 9.5g and 8g for the cap alone.

The nib and writing experience.

The steel nib is of the wrap-around variety, like a Lamy Safari nib. It has no breather hole. The nib set-up looked promising under the loupe, with nice symmetrical tipping and a visible but minimal gap between the tines right down to the tip. I pushed in the supplied black cartridge. It popped in decisively and ink immediately splattered onto the feed. I put pen to paper and it started to write almost straightaway. Ink flow to the nib was consistent and ample, even for lefty-overwriting but without being too wet.

The M05 nib. Plenty of tipping.

The medium nib with rounded tipping provided a very smooth writing experience. It has a little bit of give but no “tooth” to give feedback. Like a Preppy nib, it works well. On the Leuchtturm and Rymans notebook papers I have tried so far, it did not skip but might struggle with very shiny papers. It did not have the same “Wow” factor as the medium nib on my Platinum Curidas which seemed more crisp and stubby, but as a general purpose writing tool at this price it provides a very adequate service.

The writing is as you would expect from a round tip medium nib. A fine line can be obtained from the reverse side.

Likes and dislikes.

Before being critical, it is worth remembering that this is a £13.00 pen which is probably about as good as it can be at that price.

At first I was a bit disappointed by the cap being so hard to pull off. However this is probably necessary to help create an air tight seal around the nib in conjunction with the slip and seal inner cap. It does shut firmly with no wobble. Also, I have a knack for this, to minimise the effort and avoid mess: grip pen firmly with thumb tips side by side and parallel to the barrel; then push two forefingers against each other in a controlled pull, and stop as soon as the cap clicks (not ripping the pen and cap apart and sending ink splashing on clothing and surroundings etc).

The proprietory ink cartridges are a bit limiting but there are other options as mentioned above. Also the nib, whilst smooth and reliable, is rather bland and basic.

On the plus side, you get a good sized pen, competitively priced, well made in Japan, with durable metal body, in a wide choice of colours, a grip section which is not marred by facets or a sharp step, which writes reliably, with the admirable slip and seal capping feature, all making for a pen that is robust and ready to be carried around as an EDC or chucked in a bag without worry. It is a good rival to the Lamy Al-star, for those opposed to faceted grips.

A good true red, high gloss finish.

Before getting the tube home, I walked over to see the new Marble Arch Mound, a green hill that has been created in a corner of Hyde Park, next to Marble Arch. It has been in the news this week as the project costs ran to double its initial budget, finishing up at £6 million and the minister in charge at Wesminster City Council resigned. It is not, as I first thought, a huge mound of earth but a hollow structure made from scaffolding poles and then with an outer shell and covered with turf and real grass. An external metal staircase allows visitors to climb up to a viewing platform at the top. It is well worth the climb to gain a new viewpoint over the London skyline. It is a temporary installation and currently free to visit although tickets are booked online.

A view from the Marble Arch Mound. Looking down on Park Lane, with the London Eye and the Shard on the horizon.

I do not doubt that it must have taken a lot of work to design and create this empty hill. I am glad that I was able to go up it without pre-booking (it was late afternoon) and that it was free. Also, it made the new Platinum Plaisir in my bag seem even better value for money.