My (restrained) haul from the London Pen Show, Spring 2019

This year for the first time, London has two pen shows. In addition to the usual one in October, a second London date in March was added to replace the show in Cambridge.

I had been looking forward to it, albeit with conflicting ideals of (a) trying to be sensible and not buy more pens unless there was some good reason and (b) having a look at the new Leonardo Furore, the Opus 88 Omar or Koloro, the new Scribo in blue and perhaps a Sailor Pro Gear Ocean, (although I was still undecided on nib choice). My preparations for the day included bringing cash, a bigger shoulder bag, dressing lighter, and bringing some ink plus a pen that I had agreed to lend to a friend Gary. My wife was also joining me for her first pen show.

We arrived soon after 9am and had time for a chat with some friends from my pen club before the early bird admissions at 9.30am.

Once inside, the temptations came thick and fast. At the first table I realised I had forgotten to bring my loupe to look at nibs. I handled a modern Conklin Mark Twain Crescent Filler in black carbon fibre for £100.00 which was likely to sell fast. I have two of these pens in the red and the coral resin and managed to resist.

Next, with my powers of resistance already depleted I found Stefano’s table. I first met Stefano at last October’s show, when I bought a new limited edition Delta Fantasia Vintage from him, in beautiful dark green celluloid. This time his table included a prominent display rack of brightly coloured Leonardo Officina Italiana Furore pens. Last year, the Leonardo Momento Zero fountain pen was very well received. I had bought one in an attractive burgundy resin. The new model, the Furore was introduced late last year and I had not yet seen one in the flesh. Like the Momento Zero, it is a resin pen, cartridge converter filler, with a good quality stainless steel nib. A blind cap unscrews to access the converter without removing the barrel if you wish. Whilst the Momento Zero had flattened ends, the Furore goes for bullet shaped ends and looks very appealing in photos on social media.

Leonardo Furore Arancio

it is a good sized pen, wide and chunky but sleek. I liked the look of the turquoise model and the bright red, both very vibrant, but it was the orange one that most took my fancy. It had an Extra Fine nib but Stefano kindly swapped it for a Fine. They are friction fit although this involved a bit of a wrestle.

The new Furore, from Leonardo Officina Italiana

These pens, whilst not limited editions, are individually numbered on the barrel. Perhaps the orange (“Arancio”) edition was introduced after the first run. Stefano told me that he had only just received these from the manufacturers, just in time for the London show. The serial number of the orange pen was 001! I was already smitten but the serial number was a special bonus. I felt like David Gilmour owning the first Fender Stratocaster. This sort of thing does not normally happen to me. (Coincidentally I had been listening a lot to Brit Floyd on YouTube recently, the highly accomplished Pink Floyd tribute band).

Numero uno!

I had been attracted to the idea of having a bright orange pen since seeing the Pineider Avatar, saffron, in Harrods last year and perhaps seeing the Pelikan M600 in vibrant orange had also put ideas in my head.

Next I met John Hall of Write Here and had a look at the new Opus 88 pens on his table. He had brought the Koloro eye-dropper pens and also had one which had been fitted with a Titanium nib, which was quite flexy. I also liked the look and the size of the new larger, Omar pens. He had them in all colours except the green which was the colour that I might have bought, but there is always the online option. I later met a friend Vijay in the coffee lounge who had just bought an Omar in grey and it looked very nice. They hold a massive amount of ink but unlike my Opus 88 Demonstrator, it is more discretely hidden in the Omar.

At John Twiss’ table, in addition to his own range of pens, he had a few Diplomat Excellence pens at irresistible prices. I saw a smart silver grey model and also the metallic brown Marrakesh. Both were fitted with 14k gold Diplomat nibs and were for sale at £150.00 , which as John pointed out was less than Cult Pens’ price for the steel nib version. I have a Diplomat Esteem, which is the mid sized model, with a steel nib which is fabulous, very smooth and a little springy. I had thought about buying an Excellence, (the large size model) as the nibs are so good but had never seen a gold nib version for sale. I chose the Marrakesh, with a 14k gold nib in a Fine.

The Diplomat Excellence A2 Marrakesh with a Fine nib in 14k gold.

John Twiss also had an unusual Diplomat Excellence in a beautiful geometric pattern of dark blue and black rectangles for £70.00, which looked stunning under the lights. I persuaded my wife to buy it, telling her how great Diplomat pens are and how you do not see them for sale here, even in Harrods or Selfridges. She also liked a ball point pen in a retro design with metal latticework. John offered her a price of £10.00 for these if bought with the Excellence. She bought two of them.

Wife’s haul. A Diplomat Excellence, with a steel nib (Fine) and a screw cap. Also two ball point pens. Not bad for a first timer.

It was good to see so many friends from our monthly pen club meet ups, about 12 of them, and to introduce my wife. Jon and his wife Deb had a table, to promote Pensharing, Jon’s online scheme to enable people to hire pens from each other. We also spoke to the vendors, many of whom I know by name now from previous pens shows.

We stopped by the Armando Simoni Club table, to talk to Europe Sales Manager Cristina Guida. I looked at a really gorgeous Wahl Eversharp in turquoise with a massive gold nib. which looked like a grail pen, if not a daily carry.

Cristina from Armando Simoni Club

We met Sarj Minhas and had a look at his extensive displays, living up to the name of the one man pen show. We stopped to talk to KWZ Ink, over from Poland. I had met Konrad Zurawski and Agnieszka when they visited our London pen club meet up in June last year. Their table had a well organised ink testing station with colourful samples of their expanding range of inks.

Agnieszka and Konrad Zurawski of KWZ Ink. Also Konrad’s homemade chocolate brownie!

After going round a couple of times, we took a break in the coffee lounge. Many of our pen club had gathered and it was fun to hear what others had bought. We had some lunch and a cup of tea, chatting to friends. My wife was happy to sit out the next round while I went back in for another lap. There was so much to see and I could very easily have got carried away if money had been no object. I had a look at a Sailor pen on The Writing Desk’s table (Martin and Anna Roberts). I have bought a several pens from them in the past. I held off this time but bought a bottle of Diamine Cherry Sunburst (in the Gibson Les Paul guitar series).

Ink stash from the show. Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red, Diamine Tavy, a Diamine Conway Stewart mystery ink (green) bought because of the cute bottle and a Diamine Cherry Sunburst.

The aftermath

The pen show experience does not end when you leave the hall. Back home in the evening, I caught up on the many photos of the day on Instagram and enjoyed Anthony’s excellent blog on UK fountain pens.

It had been a wonderful day. I inked up both of my new pens, after rinsing the nibs which had been dipped at the show. I chose to put the Diamine Cherry Sunburst in both. The brown ink looked quite nice on cream paper, although I was tired by then and with hindsight it was a mistake to ink up two new pens at once, particularly with the same new ink. The ink is more suggestive of the natural wood colour than the red and gold sunburst paint job of a Les Paul. I also noticed that the Furore resin is semi translucent and that when inked, the dark ink is visible through the section and slightly spoils the effect of the bright orange. Both of my new pens had Fine nibs.

Leonardo Furore, Fine nib (gold colour plating)

During the week I had the opportunity to spend time using the Diplomat Excellence taking notes at a day of CPD lectures. By then I had refilled it with my favourite blue black, Diamine’s Conway Stewart Tavy which suits it better. The pen writes reliably and well although the nib feels a bit firmer than I had expected. Perhaps I was remembering the Scribo Extra Flex nib that I had tried at the show which makes normal nibs feel like nails. The Diplomat has a pleasant feedback. I expect the nib will feel smoother once it has been written in. It is also a heavy pen at 47g posted, or 29g unposted.

There were lots of other pens that I resisted. I could have bought another Wancher Crystal Emerald (clear demonstrator with lovely dark green section and ends) but reminded myself that I already have three of these eye-dropper, cartridge converter pens. They are the perfect size and shape for me and the Jowo steel nibs are generally very good. I also looked at some old Parker Duofold Big Reds, as seen in the advertisements of the 1920’s but without knowing more about them and their prices I would need some help to find one.  There were countless other vintage Parkers and other pens at affordable prices, with coloured stickers indicating the price group but I passed these by.

As always, the pen show makes for a great day out. My only regrets are of not spending more time at certain tables, such as Onoto for example and that I took hardly any photos during the show but with the limitations of time and energy and with so much to see, it is difficult to make the most of the day. I did not do too badly and there is always the next one in October.

On attempting to score the currently inked.

Today’s post is inspired by a recent piece by Anthony at UK Fountain pens, A grand new methodology: scoring my pen collection. The idea was to give pens a score, by awarding marks in four categories, namely Practicality, Writing Experience, Comfort and Visual Appeal. Two other categories, namely Rarity and Sentimental Value were discarded for reasons which he explains.

Having made a currently inked list today, of no less than 27 fountain pens in the pen cups at home, I thought to revisit Anthony’s post and try the exercise for myself, applying it to the pens that I have in use.

And so I made a list of the pens. I ignored duplicates. For example I have two Wing Sung 601s and another two Wing Sung 601As all inked. I included one of each in my table. I added four columns to insert my score plus a fifth column for the total. The pens were listed in no particular order.

I found it easiest to complete one column at a time, awarding marks to all the pens for Practicality first, and then moving on to score them all for Writing Experience and so on. Within a short time, I had all four columns done and was able to insert the totals at the end of each row, out of a possible maximum score of 12.

This exercise does produce some pretty bizarre results. First, no consideration was given to the value of the pen, so you might get a very expensive pen sharing the same score as a cheap one. Secondly a pen might score highly in one category but do poorly in another, for example having a wonderful nib and writing experience but being awkward to hold. I tried to be reasonable in my scoring but the method is very subjective. I seldom gave a zero but did so for the Platinum Procyon for comfort, (sharp metal threads just where I grip the pen) the Lamy CP1 for comfort (very narrow and slippy even though the pen is a marvel and a design classic) and to the Kaweco Perkeo for (lack of) visual appeal. But they all have other attributes which go to balance their bad points.

At the end of the exercise, I wrote up the list again, in descending order of total scores. I went one step further and converted their marks out of 12 into percentages.

The three winners, in joint first place with 92% were my Parker Duofold International, Waterman Carene and Kaweco Dia 2. These are all pens which should stop me wanting other pens.

Waterman Carene. One of my all time favourites.

Next came the Pilot Custom 823 and Italix Captain’s Commission in equal 2nd place, with 83%. The Pilot is a recent acquisition which had long been on my wish list. I love how it feels but it just loses a mark for ease of cleaning.

In third position, with 75%. were the Wing Sung 601 and 601A, a Waterman Expert and a Pilot Custom Heritage 92.

The biggest group were tied in fourth place, with 67% comprising six pens ranging from Montblancs to a Chinese Duke Dreamworld (re-branded as an Autograph) and so you can see how the rankings get shaken up when you take cost out of the equation.

I had more groups of pens, tied closely in fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth places but looking back over the results, I am not sure that the outcomes fairly reflect how I feel about the pens overall. Perhaps if you add more categories, the end results might start to look more fair.

This was an interesting exercise. I agree with Anthony’s opening comment that any attempt at objectively scoring fountain pens is doomed to failure. In my case, I like all of the pens in my pen cups, some more than others and for a host of different reasons.

I think I probably knew that my Duofold and Carene would come out as favourites. Of more surprise was the Kaweco Dia which is a steel nib pen and of much lower cost. I was surprised that the Wing Sungs tied with the Pilot Custom Heritage 92 and Waterman Expert for total marks, although I gave the Wing Sungs full marks for comfort and a 2 for all the other categories. Since I smoothed the nibs a little with some micromesh there is little to fault them. The later model, 601A comes with a plastic wrench to remove the piston mechanism for cleaning and greasing. They are lightweight, reliable and effortless writers and fun to own.

Wing Sung 601 vacumatic fountain pen, in Lake Blue.

I have not tried yet to rank any other pens in my collection. I am very fortunate to own some excellent pens and also fortunate to find joy in many low and mid-range pens when they perform well.

Perhaps like being able to drive different types of car, it is good to be able to use and enjoy pens of all shapes and sizes. I am still discovering my own preferences but sometimes the reasons why I seem to write more neatly with one pen than another, can be elusive. Is it the weight, the balance, the width of the section, the length of the nib, the materials or some combination of all of these? In all, it is a question of whether you feel relaxed with the pen.

Certainly it is useful to evaluate pens in some way, to think about what we like and why. With the London Pen Show tomorrow I will do well to remember the many favourites that I already own and to try to think whether any new pens on sale are really going to add anything. Thinking in terms of specific categories of attributes might help with this but I suspect that in the heat of the moment the heart will rule the head as usual!

Early thoughts on the Pilot AMS-86G3-ASTD fountain pen.

I recently spent a very enjoyable mini-break in Dubai, enjoying some winter warmth and sunshine. Dubai is famed for its world class shopping and so I was hoping to come across some exciting pen shops.

I gather that Dubai has some specialist pen shops but being such a large city and with limitations of time, I did not get to them and my pen foraging was limited to a couple of vast shopping malls, plus the airport departure hall.

A taste of the Dubai skyline

The Dubai Mall and The Mall of the Emirates both had large Montblanc stores although the prices were no less than at home. At the other extreme, the latter had a vast Carrefour supermarket with an aisle of stationery, including some school pens.

To my delight I spotted, low on the rack almost at knee level, a peg of Pilot fountain pens in blister packs and stooped to have a closer look. This was the unattractively named Pilot AMS-86G3-ASTD. Under the artificial lights it appeared to be a nice forest green with a gold coloured cap although it later proved to be more of a teal. There were no other colours. They all had a Fine nib.

The Pilot AMS-G3-ASTD

While my wife bought bags of delicious dried figs and dates as gifts, I bagged a few of the Pilot fountain pens.

Appearance and construction

This is a smallish, plastic pen with a snap-on, gold coloured metal cap,
a sturdy, flexible pocket clip, a traditional steel nib with gold coloured plating, a slim but textured grip section and all plastic barrel threads and innards.

Filling

This is a cartridge pen, also designed to be eye-droppered, using the pipette supplied. There is also one Pilot Namiki prorietary blue cartridge.

Here I must tell you two important things, so that you may not make the same mistakes that I made. I make no apology if these sound like stating the obvious. I am supposed to know a bit about fountain pens but was still baffled as to how to fit the cartridge.

  1. On unscrewing the barrel, there is a clear plastic tubular insert fitted inside the section, where the cartridge goes. This has to be pulled out before you can insert a cartridge. I read later online that it is a seal to help avoid leaks when the pen is to be eye-droppered.
  2. The Pilot Namiki cartridges go in blunt end first.
Disassembled. Showing the plastic tubular seal which has to be removed before inserting a cartridge. And when inserting a cartridge, the pointy end goes at the back.

Needless to say, in the absence of any instructions, I did not remove the plastic insert and also tried to force a cartridge into the pen, the wrong way round. As it would not go in, I thought it may help to try screwing the barrel on. This did not work and when I unscrewed the barrel, the cartridge was tightly wedged inside. I tried to pull it out with some tweezers from my Swiss Army knife but they just slipped off. I then used a blade to spear the cartridge and hook it out, which worked, but at the expense of puncturing the side of the cartridge which was therefore wasted.

After this stupid but memorable experience of learning the hard way, I removed the plastic insert, popped in a new cartridge (the correct way around this time) and all was well.

Writing performance

Apart from the above teething problems, this is a truly delightful little pen. The Japanese Fine nib equates to a western Extra Fine but is smooth and with a lovely optimal ink flow. It has a slight bit of bounce but no significant flex. Yet it is a real joy to write with.

With Pilot Namiki blue ink cartridge on Leuchtturm A5 journal paper.

Size and weight

It is a smallish pen, measuring approximately 134mm closed, 124mm open or 148mm posted. It posts very well. The pen weighs around 11.0 grams closed or posted comprised as to 6.5g for the pen and 4.5g for the thin metal cap.

Likes and dislikes

My only gripes are:

  1. The absence of filling instructions on the blister pack which led to my wasting half an hour and one ink cartridge. It is not only me. I have since given one to a friend and highly experienced fountain pen collector Penultimate Dave who was also foxed by this pen and its supplied accessories at first, which made me feel slightly better.
  2. The absence of a name. Why call a pen the AMS-86G3-ASTD? I would have liked it to include a word, such as Custom, or Heritage, or Legacy or anything, or even just “the Pilot 86” would do me.
  3. I would have liked some more colours. There may be others but the store where I got mine had only this teal.

As for Likes, I think it is a great little pen. It is comfortable to hold. My preference is to post the cap. It writes really nicely on smooth paper, with an even, extra fine line with no skips or hard starts as yet. And it is fantastic value. The price was 27 United Arab Emirates’ Dirhams, which equates to around £6.00, including a pipette and one blue cartridge. I bought a couple of spare boxes of blue cartridges.

Conclusion

I am very pleased with this little pen and wish I had bought more of them when I had the chance. They make great giveaways to pen users. I am thankful for my ability to enjoy cheap pens just as much as expensive ones.

The nib and section are a similar size to that of the Montblanc Classique 145. Just saying.

At Dubai airport on the way home, my wife and I browsed at another display of Montblancs. We both liked the look of a blue “The Little Prince” special edition 146. My wife offered to buy one for me, for my next birthday. I declined. The fact that she had offered such a generous gift was enough and melted my heart and I was reminded that it is our loved ones that we have to be thankful for, not our fountain pens.

Also I am at last coming to realise that accumulating more and more fountain pens dilutes the use and enjoyment that we get from them. Now, can I hold onto that thought, until the London Pen Show next Sunday?