2017: Some of my fountain pen highlights.

Cleo Skribent Classic Metal piston filler. Gorgeous.

As the year draws to a close, it is time to reflect on some of the year’s highlights of my fountain pen hobby.  In what was a busy and eventful year, this is a continuing source of relaxation and enjoyment. I include in this, not only using fountain pens but all the related activity of filling, cleaning and general tinkering with pens; hours of pen, ink and paper sampling; reading and writing about new pens, photographing them and shopping for pens and supplies.

Before writing this, I looked at my end of year review from 2016. During that year I had bought 40 new pens for myself and concluded that in 2017, I expected to buy a lot less. Oh dear. Let me admit right away that this did not happen.

I have kept a record of pen acquisitions. In 2017, the gross number acquired, was 52 (gasp). That sounds like one every week. I can imagine detectives in an incident room, huddled around a map and predicting when and where I am likely to strike next.

Well, it wasn’t quite like that. Two were for bought for other people. Another, a Visconti, I returned the following day as I decided that I was not suited to it, and so that doesn’t count. Then towards the end of the year, while on holiday in China I was given two pens by a cousin and eight, mostly Heroes, from an uncle who was a retired teacher, who insisted that he did not need them anymore.   So that brings it down to 39.

And of these, only three (the ones with gold nibs) cost over £100.00 and the most expensive was £159. These were the vintage Pelikan M400, Sailor Magellan Lapis Lazuli and the Cleo Skribent Classic Gold.  My total pen spend came to around £1,300.00. Many of the pens cost little more than a trip to a cinema or a meal out and have given me hours of enjoyment. Some were in sales at irresistible prices.

Anyway, without further excuses, here are some highlights, in no particular order.

New Pens

In view of the number, I am not going to post one photograph showing them all. It would be a bit like seeing all the food I have eaten in a year.

To summarise the main acquisitions by brand, these are:

  • Cleo Skribent: (2) – Classic Metal and Classic Gold. I am delighted with them both. The nibs, whether steel or gold, are wonderful.
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    Cleo Skribent Classic Metal piston filler.
  • Conklin: (2) – Mark Twain Crescent Fillers, in coral chase and red chase, from the London pen show. Lovely to use and to fill.
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    Conklin Mark Twain crescent filler, in red chase.
  • Faber Castell: (2) a pair of cheap school pens, one red and one blue, with good nibs.
  • Hero (9): either bought or given to me while in China.
  • Kaweco (5): I bought the Allrounder, the Dia2, two of the newly released Perkeos and one Sport Skyline Mint. Of these, the Dia2 is my favourite and one of the most comfortable and reliable pens I have, at any price. The Perkeos have grown on me, as I like the length and the slightly bouncy nibs. The aluminium Allrounder is well made and solid, but for just slightly more money, I would still prefer the Dia2.
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    Kaweco Dia2. Pretty much the ideal pen for me and a firm favourite of 2017.
  • Lamy (5): I picked up the new 2017 special edition Safari in Petrol and AL-Star in Pacific Blue. Both came with a pack of matching cartridges. I was more thrilled with the Petrol (dark teal) with its lovely shading and closely matched pen and ink, although in practice, I did not use it very much. The Aion was a journey; I read and watched lots of online reviews, deliberated over the grip and then succumbed. I posted some thoughts on it at the time. I do like it but find that it needs a different way of writing; you need to “let go” and not grip too firmly as the surface won’t let you.
  • Parker (4): I bought three Sonnets, because they were greatly reduced in a Rymans sale. I got one in red and gold, one in black and one in brushed stainless steel. I rather like using the black one with the cap from the brushed stainless steel one. Then in November I picked up a simple, blue plastic Parker Reflex which writes effortlessly. I read that the caps are prone to cracking in time but I am not worried as I have already found several other pen caps which would fit if need be (such as a Kaweco Sport).
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    Black Parker Sonnet, with the cap from the brushed stainless steel model. “Let me not to the marriage of two pens, admit impediments.”
  • Sheaffer (4): I bought a Sheaffer 100 with Translucent Blue barrel and steel cap, which I think looks stunning and has a good nib. It looks more attractive than its modest £35.00 cost would suggest. I also bought another Sagaris (medium) in black, since I like my burgundy one so much. Then I spotted the Sheaffer Pop in blister packs, reduced to half price and bought two.
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    Sheaffer 100 translucent blue. That nib though!
  • TWSBI (2): I bought an Eco with a fine nib and a new Classic in white with medium nib. These are both great, as low-cost, high-capacity piston fillers and both perform well. I now have four different TWSBIs in all.

So, in number, Hero were the pens that I got the most of this year, although many were gifts. Of my purchases, Kaweco and Lamy were the brands that I bought the most of (with five of each) closely followed by Parker and Sheaffer both on four.

New old pens

I bought a vintage Pelikan M400 tortoise at auction, with a fine and rather flexy 14k gold Rover nib. I enjoyed cleaning this and was thrilled when after a night’s soaking in water, I was able to unscrew the nib and ebonite feed. At the same auction, buoyed by my newfound bidding success, I went on rather impulsively to bid for a Sailor Magellan Lapis Lazuli, limited edition, with a 21k zoom nib.

Pelikan M400 vintage, tortoise. My first auction purchase.


I have kept a diary for years. This year, I used an A5 page a day diary from Rymans. I find that the best time for me to write is early in the morning, to write up my record of the previous day. I used my Pelikan M800, with Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue, a favourite combination.  I also finished writing up a volume of memories, purely for my own amusement, of being at boarding school in England in the 1970’s. For this I used a selection of different pens and inks over the year, really as a writing exercise and at the same time, to try out pens and inks for longer writing sessions with some sort of purpose, rather than writing “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”   I also enjoy writing letters and picking up whatever pen I fancy from the pen cup.

One pen, one ink, one hour

I have struggled all year with the dilemma of having too many fountain pens inked at once. Do you keep them all in use until you write them dry, or strive for an impressively minimal number of pens in the cup at the expense of flushing away good ink ? I am now less fussy than I was, about washing pens half full of ink but even so, I think my pen cup occupancy peaked at around thirty at one point.  Part of me longed for the days when I possessed only one pen and one ink. As a break from having too many pens to hand, I made up an activity which I cleverly named “One pen, one ink, one hour” which involves retreating, generally to a coffee shop and then writing more or less continuously in a notebook for an hour, with one pen. It is a good test of how a pen feels, whether the shape or the weight make your hand ache, how the feed keeps up and how you like the nib and the ink. You can write about anything, the pen itself, the fellow customers or whatever you like. No one is going to read it, thankfully.

Giving pens and advice

I mentioned that I bought a couple of pens for other people. One was a Kaweco Dia2, for my neice’s birthday. I had bought one for myself earlier and was so utterly delighted with it that I wanted to spread the joy. It is one of my favourite new pens of the year, along with the two Cleo Skribents and Conklin Crescent fillers. Another pen bought for someone else, was a Manuscript Clarity, requested by a reader of my blog, living in Vietnam.

In the summer I was flattered to be asked secretly by a cousin, to advise her on buying a fountain pen for her husband on their wedding anniversary. That would be my dream question in an exam. I sent back rather a long reply but narrowed it down to about three suggestions, based on the budget. In the end, she ordered a Pelikan M600 in blue with a fine nib. Later she sent me the most beautifully written thank you note, in her cursive italic handwriting, written with the pen that she had chosen and which was a great success.

Fountain pen blog

This blog celebrated its first birthday on 5 November 2017. Born in a few hours of playing on the WordPress web site, it was a bold step into the unknown. I had aimed loosely to post about once a week, just writing about whatever pen-related topic interested me. Now, I have just passed 50 posts. The number of followers gradually grew, roughly in tandem with the number of posts. I find the whole experience, of writing and publishing posts and getting feedback from readers, most enjoyable. This week the total views nudged past 7,000 and from over 80 countries, which I find astonishing.  I am not trying to boast here as I am sure many reading this have far higher numbers, but I am genuinely amazed at this exposure. In the summer, I published two posts about the newly released Kaweco Perkeo and these have between them been viewed over 900 times, largely because someone on FPN kindly put a link to my post in his.

Meeting people

It is easy to spend too long online reading about pens, what with WordPress, Instagram, YouTube and various online pen shops, such as Cult Pens and The Writing Desk. So it is particularly nice when the opportunity arises to meet pen people. This year, I attended my first Pelikan Hub event in September, which I enjoyed, closely followed by the London Writing Equipment Show in October when I came away with five new pens. Then in November, I met some of the same people at the monthly gathering of the London UK Fountain Pen Club.

Travelling with ink

When the opportunity arises, I enjoy looking in stationery shops overseas to see a different range of pens. I was interested to shop in China while on a holiday earlier this month, as covered in my most recent posts.


For me, this is the continuation and escalation of a hobby that began when I was about ten years old. The fountain pen community, I find, are very decent and not judgmental of others. Perhaps we are our own fiercest critics and there is a lot of self-guilt which goes with buying too many pens. Our favourite pen, when asked, is often “the next one”. It is addictively enjoyable, when it goes well. But I am reminded of lines in the song Beauty for brokenness (Graham Kendrick), which read “Lord end our madness, carelessness, greed;  make us content with the things that we need.” I am aware that my accumulation of pens (I haven’t mentioned the thirty or more new notebooks that I have “in stock” and the drawer full of ink) is hard to justify, even to myself. Indeed there are times when I would prefer to have fewer and appreciate them more, as in my coffee shop exercise. For 2018, I will simply repeat 2017’s resolution, to aim to buy a lot less pens and use and appreciate those that I have, all the more. Wish me luck, everybody.

Happy New Year to all and thanks for reading.

Tinkering with the tortoise.




Travelling with ink, China 2017. Part 3: The Pens from Uncle

During a recent holiday to visit my wife’s relatives in China, I was given a bag of eight old fountain pens, by an elderly uncle who assured me that he had no further use for them.

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From left to right: 1. Hero 716 (teal); 2. Hero 329 (grey); 3. Hero 616 (burgundy); 4. Hero, black (number unknown); 5. Hero 443 chrome; 6. Brushed stainless steel pen with fude nib, make unknown; 7. Jin Rong; 8 Jin Rong.

Over the Christmas holidays I have had a chance to have a play with these and try them all out. All were Chinese made pens, all with steel nibs and all with the Parker 51 Aerometric style (squeeze bar) filler. Four of them are what I loosely call Parker 51 copies, with the distinctive hooded nib, resin barrel and section and a metal cap. It is perhaps not correct to describe them as copies since they are unashamedly branded as Hero pens of various models and not all even have the arrow clip. However the origins of the design are unmistakable.

Hero 716 fountain pen.

Then there were two metal pens, one being a Hero 443 in chrome finish with black section, the other a brushed stainless steel pen, with an attractive light blue reflective inlay and a letter “Y” on the pocket clip and an interesting looking curved nib. I do not know the make.

The final two were a pair of lacquered metal pens one cream coloured and one black, bearing the name Jin Rong.

I uncapped all the pens, posted the caps (taking care not to get the caps mixed up), unscrewed the barrels then took them all to be washed. With a sac filler, you do not immerse the sac in water but just the nib section and then operate the squeeze bar a few times to flush water in and out of the pen until the water runs clear. I was pleased to find that they all produced a small stream of air bubbles when I squeezed the bars, which I took to be sign that the sacs were air tight. Furthermore, all were clean. It was good to know that uncle had washed the pens before putting them away. Only the burgundy model produced a pale wisp of red ink in the water. This made me smile. So uncle also matched his pens and inks. I do that too. Perhaps this one had been used for marking school work.

After flushing and drying them all, I then tried dipping and testing each of the nibs and writing a few lines, to see which might be usable. I used Waterman Serenity Blue ink.  All of them wrote although they tended to be firm, feedbacky and not the smoothest of writing experiences that money can buy. But I was pleased that they all at least wrote and could be used.

I have since chosen to ink the teal Hero 716 and the stainless steel one with the curved nib both with KWZ Azure #4.

The curved nib pen is rather unusual. At first glance, the nib appears to be a gold coloured piece of metal with a fold down the centre. On closer inspection, this is not the bit that does the writing. Beneath this sits the stainless steel nib, with the tip curving upwards at about 45 degrees and beneath it, the feed unit. The gold coloured part serves to stop the nib from bending upwards any further. Perhaps it might also serve as an ink reservoir since there is a gap between it and the nib, if you are using this as a dip pen.

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Make unknown; a souvenir pen from a mountain beauty spot. Fude nib.

This nib produces a fine line on the downstroke and a broad line on the cross-stroke. This is rather unusual and is the opposite of what you get from a stub nib. This is similar to the writing experience from an “architect grind” nib. I found it fun to try although it takes a bit of experimenting to find the correct angle at which to hold the pen. Also, I need to write a little larger than usual to avoid loops all being blocked in.

Fude nib on the brushed stainless steel pen.
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Writing sample from the fude nib. Ink is KWZ Azure #4.

As for the teal Hero 716, I am enjoying it, particularly with the KWZ Azure #4 ink that seems a good  match for the pen. My only reservation would be that the sac did not seem to be drawing up much ink. Perhaps the breather tube was blocked or the rubber sac had insufficient vacuum-pulling power when resuming its shape. Next time I will try to measure the ink up-take.

Trying the Hero 716, with KWZ Azure #4. A good match.

It is a pity that original Parker 51s are no longer made and that you can no longer visit a local stationery store and purchase a brand new one with gold nib, but times have moved on. Fortunately, used models can readily be found at pen shows. I am told that the original aerometric filler sacs rarely have anything wrong with them, although if need be, the sac can be replaced.

It is rather old fashioned nowadays in this digital age to be using a fountain pen at all and particularly to be filling from a bottle with a squeeze bar. But as we know, this is all part of the joy of fountain pen ownership. The satisfaction of filling a pen from a bottle more than makes up for the inconvenience. For me, anyway.   I will enjoy picking up one of uncle’s old pens to use from time to time, along with my other pens. Thank you uncle. I will take good care of them.

Travelling with ink, China 2017. Part 2: Finding a Picasso.

Terraced rice fields, Longji, near Guilin

Time now to conclude this two-part post, about shopping for fountain pens while on holiday in China. For Part 1: Meeting the Heroes”, follow link here: Part 1 . (Update: a Part 3 epilogue was later added).

After Shantou, we sped by bullet train at over 200 Kmph, southwards down the coast to Shenzhen, a city on the border of China and Hong Kong. Taking a short walk along a bustling shopping street near our hotel, we came to a shopping mall and department store and popped in to have a browse. The supermarket had a stationery section, with pens and exercise books. There were few fountain pens to be seen, but I picked up one which looked unusual.

This was the Maped Reload. In a blister pack, it was not possible to handle the pen before purchase, but at around £2.00 in our money, it seemed worth a shot. The name “Reload” is a reference to the filling mechanism, whereby you slide back a chamber in the barrel, insert a standard international cartridge, plus a spare one, and slam it home again, like cocking a Winchester. The closest thing I had seen to one of these before, was a Bic Easy-Click child’s pen. However, the Maped Reload appeared to have several advantages over the Bic, in that (1) at around 138mm uncapped, it is a full size pen and does not need posting; (in fact you cannot post the cap as it simply will not fit on the barrel); (2) you get a stainless steel nib with tipping material, rather than a butterfly, folded nib tip; (3) there is room to carry a spare cartridge in the barrel; (4) you get a strong, metal pocket clip.

Maped Reload. Look after your thumbs when removing the cap.

The pen has a snap-on cap and a rubberised grip section with three facets and is reasonably comfortable to hold. On the down side, the pen is very plasticky as you might expect at this price point. However, that was not my biggest complaint. What really turned me against the pen was the force required to pull off the cap. Holding the barrel with my thumbs at right-angles to the barrel, I found myself exerting an ever increasing amount of lateral force on my thumbs until eventually my joints almost gave way. Moral: look after your thumbs; keep them in line with the pen, not at right angles, when dealing with stiff caps or caps of untried stiffness!

Just as we were leaving the shopping centre, I spotted a pen shop on the ground floor. The signage advertised Parker, SJ Dupont and several other well-known brands although the stock in the glass display cabinets was for the most part, either Parker or local Chinese offerings. The prices of the Chinese fountain pens were very modest and furthermore, there was a 50% reduction on all marked prices.

The first to catch my eye, was a bright red and chrome pen, with stainless steel nib and brushed stainless steel section. This brand was called Picasso and featured a cubist face logo on the cap and nib and the Picasso signature etched in the section. A converter was included. Metal lacquered cap and barrel. Metal threads. A decent gift box and a colour booklet. The cost? 98 RMB reduced to 49 RMB, about £6.00. And it writes beautifully.

Picasso fountain pen.
Cubist logo on the Picasso fountain pen nib

In this sudden flurry of holiday shopping activity, I picked out another Picasso, a slightly different and larger model but again, a stainless steel nib pen with metal lacquered cap and barrel and a good quality feel. This cost a little more and was called the Pimio.

Another Picasso, this one is the Pimio.
Picasso Pimio finial

I later read on the included booklet, that Picasso pens are produced by the Shanghai Pafuluo Stationery Co Ltd (web site http://www.sh-picasso.com, which is worth visiting).

The last of my pen purchases, perhaps the most unusual and the one which had caught my wife’s eye in the display, was burgundy with three bands of gold glitter running down the cap and barrel. The pocket clip was of both silver and gold colour, nicely introducing the bi-colour 18K gold plated stainless steel nib within. This was the SZ LEQI 700. No, I had not heard of it either. It is crying out for a shimmering ink!

SZ LEQI 700 fountain pen
Bi-colour nib of the SZ LEQI 700

I hit upon this shop shortly before closing time and the lady was pleased to sell me three fountain pens in as many minutes. As well as the gift boxes that the two Picassos came in, she gave me one of her empty 10 pen plastic trays with see through lid which proved ideal for transporting the eight old pens that I had been given by an uncle a few days earlier.

Back at the hotel I enjoyed dipping the new additions and then inked them up with Aurora Blue Black, the only ink that I had on the trip. All wrote very well.

However, this was where my fountain pen spree came to an end. In Guilin, our next destination, after two full days of sightseeing, I was laid low with Sciatica for the remainder of the trip. Thus, once back in Hong Kong, I was not able to go searching for the elusive Pilot Custom 823. However, being incapacitated cured me from any urge for further pen shopping. So if you ever need a remedy for too much pen-purchasing, there it is. Sciatica.

Guilin, incidentally, is the place to go to see steep limestone pinnacles. A few hours’ drive from the city, we visited the Longji terraced rice fields which are spectacular even though the colours are not the best in December. We saw women of the Yoa minority whose custom is to not cut their hair. Many had hair of over 2 metres long and I end with a few more pictures.

A display of long hair from the Yao women of Longji.
Rafting on the Li River, near Guilin

Travelling with ink, China 2017. Part 1: Meeting the Heroes.

Our recent holiday in China saw us spending time in the cities of Shantou, Shenzhen and Guilin plus a brief stay in Hong Kong at each end.  Shantou and Hong Kong are where our Chinese friends and relatives live, whilst Guilin was purely for sightseeing, in a spectacular region of strange limestone hills, ancient terraced rice fields and quiet rivers.

Conklin Mark Twain Crescent Filler having a selfie near Guilin.

My pens chosen for this trip were the humble blue plastic Parker Reflex, filled with Aurora Blue and a red Conklin Mark Twain crescent filler, in which I had put a Jinhao nib. I judged it best to fly with the Conklin empty but carried a bottle of Aurora Blue Black ink, a recent favourite, to use when I got there. The box makes a handy pen cup.

Improvised pen cup. Traveling with the bare essentials.

I had rather hoped that there might be time to do a little pen shopping in Hong Kong and possibly track down a Pilot Custom 823 and had even noted down the address of a shop to look for. As it turned out, this did not happen, owing to unexpected events but I still managed to come home with a staggering seventeen additional fountain pens (old and new) that somehow attached themselves to me during our travels.

First, on arriving in Shantou some cousins presented me with a very smart, hefty, black lacquer and chrome fountain pen, a Hero 912.  Hero is a long-established and well regarded pen manufacturer in China. This model has a bi-colour stainless steel nib, a push on cap and a Hero branded, slider-type converter similar to those made by Parker. Nib and feed were friction fit. I inked it up with the Aurora Blue Black and was very pleased with the result.

Hero 912 fountain pen

Also tucked into the box as an extra gift, was a brushed stainless steel pen, which looked at first glance to be a ball point but was also a fountain pen. There were swirly patterns on the barrel and cap and the words “Beijing 2008” and so this was presumably a souvenir from the Olympic games. The stainless steel nib had some scroll work and the word “CHINA” and an Aerometric style push bar filler. This one had been inked before and had a little corrosion at the end of the section. I took it apart and gave it a quick clean but found that the sac struggles to draw up ink. Still, an interesting specimen and I will enjoy tinkering with it.

It is customary to visit the older, senior relatives first and we arranged to visit my wife’s elderly uncle, whose flat was just a couple of blocks from our hotel in Shantou. He lives with his son and daughter in law and grand-daughter, a school student. In his younger days he had been fond of writing although his eye sight was now such that he had no further use for his pens. To my surprise, he gave me a bag of eight old fountain pens, assuring me that he did not need them any more, that no-one in the family would want them and that they would otherwise only be thrown out. I was thrilled at the prospect of giving them a new home and cleaning each of them and trying them out.

Uncle passing on his fountain pens to the next generation.

Uncle’s pens were all Chinese and included four with hooded nibs and steel caps, of the Hero 616 type and similar – being a Parker 51 Aerometric copy.  He had one each in teal, burgundy, grey and black. Then there were a couple of brushed stainless steel pens and two laquered pens with the name “Jin Rong” and one which appears to have a fude nib. All eight pens had the Aerometric style push bar filler. I shall enjoy cleaning them up and seeing how they write.

I had an interesting chat to his grand-daughter, aged 17, who had studied English since the age of 10.  Her bedroom in the modern flat was a marvel of storage space solutions, with hidden compartments under the floor, under the bed and under the bench seat in the window. School starts at 8.00am each day and they have nine subjects for homework.

During our few days in Shantou, we did visit a modern shopping mall, on three floors with a huge Walmart supermarket and car park occupying the basement levels. We browsed around, what were mostly clothes and shoe shops. I did not find any stationery shops. However, in Walmart, to my delight, there was an entire aisle of stationery – with writing materials on one side and notebooks on the other. There I saw some Lamy Safari-style pens (shall we say, Safari tributes or homages), plus some other models not available at home in England and at very low prices, all hanging up in blister packs.

Perhaps the most inviting of these was a Hero 975, in a metallic blue finish and gold. Displayed in a sealed pack but in its opened gift box within, the pen appeared to have a screw on cap which appealed to me. Add to basket. I leafed through the other models behind it on the peg. One pack had been sliced open and the pen removed, which was sad to see, given its modest price.

Hero 975. No, those are not cap threads; the cap just pushes on.

Also there was another Hero, the 2017. Again, I had not seen one before and it was notable for its very rich coloured laquered cap and barrel, (in blue or burgundy) and a hooded nib in a half metal section. At just a few pounds each, I took one in each colour. The blister pack also included a 15ml bottle of ink! I picked up a nice bound A5 notebook too.

Hooded nib of the Hero 2017 fountain pen.

I may review these in due course. For now, I should add that the Hero 975 does not have a screw cap and that what appear to be cap threads are just part of the design. The cap simply slides on over them. Still, it is quite a handsome pen.

As for the Hero 2017, with its hooded nib, this came with a converter and performed reasonably well. The finish is lovely. However, the bottle of ink that it came with turned out to be almost useless. Instead of the jet black that I had expected, it was a very weak wishy washy sepia and barely legible and I threw it away. I cannot believe that this is how it was intended to be and so it was perhaps just a faulty batch or past its best.

More China pen stories to follow in Part 2.