If you find yourself in the vicinity of London’s Piccadilly and feel like a pen prowl, then there are several establishments along the way that can all be visited within an hour or so.
Beginning at Piccadilly Circus and heading westwards along Piccadilly, you soon come to Paperchase, a bright and inviting store full of stationery. There are greeting cards, novelty gifts and a huge selection of notebooks to cater for all ages and tastes. As for fountain pens, there are racks of Lamy Safaris and a few others but head to the back and you find a large glass display counter, with fountain pens including Cross, Kaweco, Faber Castell, Lamy, Tombow and Waterman.
Continue along Piccadilly a little further and you will reach Fortnum & Mason, an elegant and prestigious department store where the staff still wear morning suits. The Stationery department is up the stairs on the first floor. On a recent visit I found that the display counters had been re-arranged from one side, out to form an island in the middle so that you can walk all round them. It is a good place to see luxury pens from Yard-O-Led, such as the Viceroy Grand in Sterling Silver. Also you will find some Visconti Rembrandts and Homo Sapiens and Cross pens as well as calligraphy pen sets and leather covered note books. I once bought a Faber Castell E-motion in dark pearwood here and was delighted to be given two of their test pads of Faber Castell paper and then went to find the mens’ room where I could fill it up from a newly purchased bottle of Waterman Harmonious Green.
After Fortnum & Mason, head into the Burlington Arcade on the north side, to the far end where you find the delightful shop Penfriend.
The shop is one of the few places I know where you can find the Japanese Sailor pens in London and also many vintage pens and a good choice of inks.
Finally, back on Piccadilly, do not miss Campo Marzio, a small Italian shop selling their own brand of competitively-priced modern pens starting from just over £20 and up to around £80. The display is quite unique and eye-catching, with the fountain pens and ball pens and roller-balls each nestling horizontally in a felt-lined rack of little ledges, mounted on a wall, each section containing models of the pen in each of the available colours.
On my last visit I chose a Campo Marzio Acropolis, a lovely cigar-shaped pen in dark blue marbled effect “Celluloide mix” (according to their web site) with black section and a large, (size 6) German-made stainless steel nib. The pen is a cartridge/converter filler, taking standard international cartridges. I had already purchased the Ambassador in marbled brown, which is similar but larger but using the same large nibs.
One advantage of these pens is that the entire nib unit can be unscrewed from the section for disassembly and cleaning, making it easy to flush the nib and feed if changing inks. You unscrew the unit from the section and are then left with a collar, housing the nib and feed. The nib is friction fit and so you then pull out the nib and feed together, using some grippy material. The shop sells these nib units separately (consisting of a nib, feed and collar) for only £5.00 and so it is well worth buying one or two spares in different widths as you can chose what you need, from a selection of silver and gold coloured nibs.
The packaging is a simple but attractive carboard tray in a sleeve, with a cut-out for a “bottle” of ink which in fact contains six cartridges. However the shop also sells converters and its own range of bottled ink in attractive retro-looking bottles with enticing names such as “Tobacco brown”.
Departing the shop, there are plenty of coffee shops nearby where you can ink your pen and try it out. Mine proved to be very pleasing, smooth and on the wet side but not overly so and I have put it into immediate use.
I like the look, size, and feel of the pen which is beautifully tactile. I prefer to write with the cap posted. My only slight niggle is that the screw-on cap does not post very deeply and perches on the barrel a little crookedly if you are not careful. I worry then about accidently forcing it onto the back of the barrel with too much force and cracking the cap but there are no signs of this happening so far and I will take care not to over-tighten it on the metal threads when capping the pen.
I mostly use bottled ink and the pen will take a converter but it is nice sometimes to have pens to use up one’s bags of standard cartridges and enjoy the convenience of easy refills if travelling.