Early thoughts on the Sheaffer Prelude cobalt blue fountain pen.

Whenever I go to our local John Lewis department store, I always pay a visit to the friendly and helpful staff in the Stationery department and take a look at the displays of fountain pens in the glass counters.

These contain the usual suspects from Parker, Waterman, Cross and Sheaffer. But this time, although I must have seen them countless times before, my eyes were drawn to a tray of Sheaffer Prelude fountain pens. They were in several different colours, including some metallic finishes, but the only one I really noticed was a beautiful deep, dark blue, accentuated by rose gold plated furniture. It demanded a closer look.

Sheaffer Prelude, cobalt blue with rose gold PVD trim.

I am not a big fan of faceted grip sections, which this pen has. I do not generally like them because (a) they make the section narrower and (b) they do not cater for lefty overwriters such as myself, who may want to rotate the nib inwards a little, whereupon the facets are no longer under your thumb and forefinger and instead you find yourself gripping a sharp edge. However, I tried the Prelude and found that with the cap posted, I naturally gripped the pen higher up, at the join of the barrel and the section so that the facets were not a problem at all.

I do very much like the shape of Sheaffer nibs and the attractive scroll work on them. I took a close look at the nib with a loupe and was excited to see perfectly aligned tines and a nib slit, with light visible between the tines, narrowing perfectly to the tip. It promised to be a smooth and responsive writer. I have since read that the rose gold coating is a PVD, or Physical Vapour Deposition. The science is beyond me but it looks lovely.

The rather vintagey-looking nib of the Sheaffer Prelude.

I decided to liberate the pen and was pleased that it came with a converter as well as a proprietary Sheaffer cartridge in blue and black and a lifetime warranty.

At home I filled the pen via the converter, from a bottle of Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue ink, which I have decided is probably my favourite blue ink. It is a rich dark blue, like the traditional colour of a Guernsey woollen jumper (which had for two years been part of my school uniform in the early 1970’s).

Cobalt blue pen with Cobalt blue ink. Genius.

The medium nib wrote smoothly and effortlessly as I expected but produced a line that was closer to a Fine than a Medium. I was quite happy with that.

But this combination of Sheaffer Prelude, Cobalt Blue ink and a Leuchtturm A5 journal was so enjoyable that I could not stop writing with it and quickly filled 14 pages of my notebook. The smooth, fine, wet nib leaving a wake of deep dark blue ink emanating from the rose gold coated nib were so appealing that it was hard to put it down.

My favourite Prelude pic. Look at that paper texture!

I did eventually stop, but only to take some photos of the pen and a few comparison shots with similar pens. Then, like having a new baby, I came down in the middle of the night to test it for hard starts (none) and to write a little more with it.

The Sheaffer Prelude (right) beside a near equivalent, the Parker Sonnet. Both with steel nibs but each taking its own proprietary cartridge or converter.

The pen is a of metal build, with a lacquer coat. There is an attractive white inlay in the finial, which helps to distinguish the pen in the pen cup. The pocket clip (topped with the Sheaffer white dot) is very firm. The snap-on cap posts securely and closes with a reassuring click. The barrel has metal threads on the inside, which are extremely long. I counted fifteen twists to get to the end of the threads and remove the barrel. The section, with its two grip pads, has a black cylindrical plastic housing to support the cartridge or converter, which I liked as I have seen another Sheaffer, the 100, with no such side support and just a platform with the tube sticking up to puncture your cartridge.

Priced at £75.00, the Sheaffer Prelude is a superior model to the Sheaffer Sagaris, the 100 and the 300. In terms of its specification, it seems on a par with the steel nibbed Parker Sonnet which for a time was my best and costliest pen.

I am pleased to have discovered the Sheaffer Prelude and very glad that I stopped to give it a proper look. It is reliable, enjoyable, attractive and robust which all go to make it a great daily carry.

Some early thoughts on the Helix Metal Desktop Sharpener.

I first spotted this for sale, in a rather battered cardboard box, at our local Ryman stationer a few of weeks ago. I did not buy it the first time, but when I saw it still sitting there last weekend, I decided that it needed a new home.

It is an intriguing device. Ryman has a selection of pencil sharpeners, including battery operated models but it was this good old fashioned hand-wound model that appealed to me. Perhaps it was a reminder of primary school days when the teacher had a pencil sharpener clamped to the edge of the desk.

According to the box, there are three colour options, blue, black and red. There was only this one on the shelf, which was red and that seems a good colour for a pencil sharpener.

I stood for a while in the shop, looking at the instructions and features and trying to visualise how it all worked. When I came to buy, I was given 10% off for the damaged box which brought the price down from £14.99 to £13.49, an unexpected bonus. (Note: they are currently for sale on Ryman online, at £14.99 and part of their 3 for 2 promotion).

Helix Metal Desktop Sharpener.

This is my first experience of owning a desk top sharpener. Its features include five settings for various grades of sharpness; a quick release to clear broken leads; a clear plastic tray to collect the shavings; an anti-slip base and a simple clamp for easy attachment to a desk. It is not essential to clamp it and you can still operate it by pressing it down with one hand, whilst operating the crank with the other. You do not need to hold the pencil.

The two cute little ears on the front are actually to squeeze and open a grip, to hold the pencil.

It is very exciting to sharpen your first pencil. The procedure is as follows:

  • Select your desired setting. The first on the left is the sharpest;
  • Pull the chrome “carriage” forward, against the tension of the spring inside, until it locks into position;
  • Squeeze the two black levers, opening the sprung aperture, or “jaws” which grip the pencil; insert a pencil, as far as it will go into the sharpening chamber, then release the black levers;
  • Holding the sharpener down firmly (if not clamped), wind the crank clockwise for a few turns until you feel no resistance and it turns freely; once sharp, the handle continues to rotate but the pencil will stop being sharpened;
  • Squeeze the levers, and remove your now sharp pencil.
With carriage extended and a pencil in the chamber.

I rounded up about 35 pencils from the house and gathered them together to be sharpened. This was an interesting diversion in itself as I recognised a few pencils from years back which brought back different memories.
I found some 2B and 3B pencils, that I had used for drawing, decades ago. Also there was a pencil in white with the red lettering of Greater London Record Office and their old style central London telephone number. I had been given this when visiting the offices near Farringdon to research a property title, looking at records on microfiche, some time in the 1990’s. It was forbidden to take notes in anything but pencil for fear of damaging the aging records.

The great pencil round-up.

I was interested to try the five different point settings. To adjust the setting, you turn a red plastic selector. I found that I had five Staedtler Noris HB pencils and so tried sharpening one each at the five different settings to compare the results.

The settings of 5 (top of photo) down to 1, on Staedtler Noris HB pencils.

Having figured out how to operate it, I tried removing the handle and the blade. These are easily removed by turning the black locking ring 90 degrees anti-clockise and then pulling it out carefully through the hole. The instructions warn against holding the blade, which is obviously sharp. It should be gripped in a vice if unscrewing the handle.

I found it quite fascinating to see how it works. With a pencil inserted, the pencil is gripped and does not rotate, but just pulled forwards. Instead, the conical sharpening chamber rotates around the pencil. A cylindrical blade, rather like a lawn-mower blade with a sharp edged, helical arrangement, rotates over a slot in the sharpening chamber. It is a joy to watch and an amazing design.

A peek inside at the rotating blade.

To replace the crank and sharpening assembly back into the device, (which is slightly more fiddly than taking it out), offer it up carefully back into the hole, then turn the black locking ring 90 degrees clockwise. I found that it helps to try to hold the crank and the locking ring tightly together as you do this.

The clever bit. The crank with the sharpening chamber and blade attached.

To empty the shavings , the clear plastic drawer is just pushed out freely out the front. It will not go in too far or come out through the back.

Fine wood shavings and pencil graphite dust.

As you can well imagine, I had a happy time sharpening a batch of pencils, whilst reminiscing over days of old and restoring lots of elderly stubs to a sharp condition once again. It makes for a pleasant afternoon and is a fine pursuit for National Stationery Week here. The sharpener is a marvel of design, works well, is good value and has a very refreshing old world charm.

The red selector switch to choose your sharpness.