It is that time of year again, when we reflect on the year that has passed; the highs and lows, the lessons learned and the resolutions for the future. This is now my third such annual round-up on this blog.
My enthusiasm for fountain pens, inks and journals has continued unabated. Depending upon your point of view, this could be seen as an unhealthy obsession or on the other hand, a harmless source of joy and relaxation. The discussion of whether a fountain pen addiction is a blessing or a curse is one for another day.
I continued to keep a simple database of my pen acquisitions – whether they were purchases or gifts. A brief review of this today tells me that I have acquired 61 fountain pens over the year with a total spend of around £3,300. Some of you may be comparing this now with your own tally and finding my figure either shockingly high or low depending upon your own budgets and sense of proportion. Happily, in my experience the fountain pen community is not judgmental and we take people as we find them.
As in previous years, the number of pens incoming, is inflated by quite a large number of inexpensive pens, which you might class as school pens. For example, I was so pleased when some clear plastic demonstrator cartridge-converter pens re-appeared in our local Tesco supermarket after a two year absence, that I bought one of each of the four colours, in blue, black, red and green. They are only £2.00 each but write very well with a smooth, fine line. They are undeniably cheap and plasticky and yet I am capable of getting almost as much pleasure from these as one of my high end pens. “I know it’s crazy, but it’s true.” (Arthur’s Theme).
Also, some of my pen purchases were gifts for others. So impressed was I with the Italix Captain’s Commission, that my wife and I bought two more during the year, as gifts for friends. My pen tally includes five pens bought as gifts.
The list included eight pens given to me by friends or family and which are therefore of special importance to me. These included a new Pelikan M120 in green and black, kindly sent by a fellow blogger in Sweden and some pre-owned Pilots and a Montblanc from another generous reader of my blog.
Browsing in pen shops is a regular habit of mine, in particular our local John Lewis department store or Rymans, Paperchase and WH Smith for more workaday pens. Occasionally when in central London I take a look at the fountain pen departments of Selfridges or Harrods. If visiting other towns and cities here and abroad, it is great to seek out the pen shop if there is one. In the summer we took a holiday in Italy. The pen shop in Verona (called Manella) where I bought an Aurora Ipsilon, was a delight.
In Cardiff recently, I was pleased to find not only a John Lewis but also a branch of The Pen Shop and an independent stationer called Pen & Paper which was a treasure trove of fountain pens not commonly found in bricks and mortar shops. They had a good selection of Visconti pens including the range of Visconti Van Goghs.
As in previous years, the London Pen Show in early October is a highlight of the year. I bought five pens and met lots of friends there. It can be a bit of a frenzy with so much to see and it is good to take some breaks from going around the tables, to catch up with friends and compare notes on our respective purchases. At the end of a pen show, it can be shocking to add up what you have spent in total. A pen which looked way over budget at the beginning of a pen show, could have been purchased after all, if you had not bought all the others which added up to a similar amount! Much the same thinking can be applied to the year-end count-up.
This year, as well as the London show, I also attended the Cambridge Pen Show in March, for the first time. I had a very memorable and enjoyable day, travelling out to Cambridge on the train from London, making some purchases and making some new friends from the online pen community. Sadly it may also be the last time as I have heard that it is being disbanded next year and that instead there will be an extra show in London.
The London UK Pen Club.
I was first invited to come along to the London UK Fountain Pen Club, by
Marisa whom I met at the London Pelikan Hub in September 2017. I have since been to almost all of their monthly meet ups. We meet at Bierschenke, a German restaurant and beer hall near Liverpool Street Station to talk pens and enjoy food and drink and each other’s company. Typically we will have around a dozen people who all bring along some pens for others to try. These might be currently available pens, or obscure limited editions or vintage pens and with a host of different nibs, filling systems and characteristics. There are pens for all tastes, whether your preference is for colourful pens in exotic materials or minimalist, understated functional designs. We try them out in our own journals and note any particular inks or pens that we like. It can be very useful to try pens and hear other people’s opinions on them, before committing to a purchase. There is a vast amount of knowledge and experience in the room.
The online community.
There is a vast friendly community of fountain pen users and enthusiasts out there, from the thousands who use FPN, to bloggers and instagrammers. I have enjoyed keeping up this blog and following a number of others, as well as interacting daily with enthusiasts on Instagram, here and abroad.
The successes and failures.
Looking at my list of pens acquired this year, there have been a few which turned out to be less successful. A vintage Sheaffer with a tubular nib wrote dry despite my efforts at flossing and adjusting the nib. It could benefit from some expert help. The Pilot Falcon with soft fine nib was interesting but ultimately not suited to my lefty overwriter style of writing and I passed it on to my neice who writes beautifully with it. I bought a Lamy Dialog 3, which is also unsuited to my writing style, since the pocket clip only caters for people who hold the pen symmetrically and not for those who rotate it one way or the other. It is a pity as I like the look, the weight and the retractable nib. The Lamy gold nib is also very pleasant. I can still write with it if I hold it underwriter style, but it has sat unused since I cleaned it and put it away, in favour of many other easier pens.
My Aurora Ipsilon suffered from a leaky converter, but I was pleased to find that Parker cartridges fit. I have not warmed to the pen as I usually do. Perhaps it is the fine feedbacky nib. Perhaps it just needs more getting used to, but it has been cast aside in favour of other pens which require less effort to like. Finally, the Lamy CP1 is a design classic and impressive for containing a Safari sized nib and cartridge or converter inside such a slim body, but in use it us just too skinny for me to hold comfortably.
The favourite pens of 2018.
On the other hand there have been far more pens that I have really enjoyed. I list just a few of my year’s favourites below:-
Faber Castell Loom, shiny gun-metal version: This has been my EDC pen for the whole year with a superb steel nib, comfortable handling (when posted) and used with a box of Cobalt blue cartridges.
Lamy Studio, brushed metal version with black grip: Another inexpensive pen but a comfortable and reliable work horse which has served me well as a work pen. Unfortunately it did roll off the table once but I was able to replace the nib from a spare Safari.
Pineider Avatar: This brand was new to me this year and I loved the look and the writing experience of theLipstick Red version, with its long elegant steel nib.
Wing Sung 601: These are inexpensive steel nib versions modelled on the Parker 51 and offer great looks, comfortable handling and a large ink capacity from the push-button filler. I have one which is still on its first fill from six months ago. I have since bought a couple of the 601A versions, which are the same but with a tubular nib like a vintage Sheaffer Triumph.
Parker Duofold International, Big Red. Medium nib, 18k gold: This pen needs little introduction. I got mine at a great price in a John Lewis sale and after a little wearing in, the pen writes superbly for me and looks and feels great in the hand. Previously I had a Kaweco Dia 2, which was similarly styled. I realise now that one of the reasons why I liked the Kaweco so much was that it looked a bit like the Duofold, when the cap was posted. I have since bought a previously owned Duofold in black from a friend who found the nib too firm for his liking.
Opus 88, clear demonstrator, eye-dropper pen: This was one of my purchases at the London pen show and has one of the smoothest broad steel nibs that I have ever used. It holds a massive 3ml of ink and is large and chunky but very comfortable.
Delta Fantasia Vintage, limited edition in dark green celluloid, Medium steel nib: This was another buy at the London pen show and also my most costly single pen of the year at £230.00. The celluloid body is wonderful to hold and to look at. As I write this I am itching to re-ink it with Graf von Faber-Castell Moss Green ink.
Cross Townsend, quartz blue: Another well known pen. I reviewed it not long ago here and am enjoying the writing experience, with Montblanc Royal blue. I have tried a number of Cross pens over the years, including the Apogee, Aventura, Bailey, Calais and Century II but find this Townsend to be the best of these.
Waterman Carene, Marine Amber, 18k gold inlaid nib (Medium): This was my final pen purchase of the year and probably the best. It is supremely comfortable. It looks stunning and it writes like a dream. I now have to think very carefully if buying another pen, “Will it be better than my Carene?” If only I had found it in January!
Apart from the buying, the researching of pens online and in shops, the pen shows and club meets and the social media rabbit hole, what this hobby is all about is the enjoyment of owning, using and caring for fountain pens. Not necessarily expensive ones but pens which write nicely. Every pen is different. And they behave differently depending upon the inks and paper used. Currently, I have 26 fountain pens inked, which I feel is a bit too many even for me. Part of me craves the simplicity of having just one pen. But I also enjoy the variety of having several to chose from. As in previous years I will aim (again!) to cut back on the buying.
At the end of the day, I am thankful to have a hobby that has given and continues to give me so much pleasure, enjoyment and relaxation and friends to enjoy it with. Thanks for reading and best wishes for the New Year.