A tribute to UKfountainpens.

Before I soldier on with my blog as if nothing has happened, it seems rude not to say a few words of thanks to Anthony for his excellent blog, ukfountainpens.com.

On 16 November 2019, in a post entitled (with characteristic humour) “It’s not you, it’s me,” Anthony announced his decision to end his blog, after almost three years. This post was met with an outpouring of comments from his many shocked readers, expressing sadness at his decision but also, understanding at his reasons, which he had laid out and explained with honesty and undeniable logic.

During this time, it seems that he has done it all. Having long since exhausted the mainstream options, he had bought pens from every conceivable source, tried every sort of nib, published numerous detailed and authoritative reviews, set himself challenges, met them, not met them, published interviews, travels with pens stories, currently inked lists, buying guides, news round-ups, pen show write-ups and editorials.

I, like many of his blog followers, will miss his posts. Since January 2017, Anthony has published some 319 posts, bringing us on his journey through the world of stationery and in particular, his passion for fountain pens and inks.

I am not setting out here to review the reviewer, which would be patronising, but just to acknowledge the achievement and work that has gone into this. Since New Year’s Day in 2017, Anthony has grown the blog to achieve around half a million views.

His blog was always interesting, entertaining, informative and written in his engaging style. Being a writer by profession must have helped, with a keen interest in product photography too, but it is still a lot of work to be a frequent blogger. From September to November alone he published some 47 posts.

Anthony has an insatiable appetite for the best that the world of fountain pens has to offer. To some extent, he bought, tried and reviewed these pens so that we did not have to. At times it was staggering to hear how many ever more fabulous pens were incoming. The rate at which he bought and then sold some of his high end pens if they did not make the grade, also became staggering. And all this, while trying to reconcile his temptations with a longing for minimalism, tidiness and order.

Anthony probably tried harder than anyone else I know in the fountain pen community, to keep his collection of quality pens to around thirty to fit his storage facility and to move any pens on, which he was not using. He also went to unusual lengths to control his ink stockpile, by selling boxes containing a random selection of almost full bottles of inks, to buyers happy to take the gamble on a mystery selection. That sounded a lot of fun to be a part of.

One of the nice things I find about the fountain pen community generally, is that we take people as we find them. Everyone is different, has different tastes, budgets, talents and foibles. Anthony admits to having an obsessive tendency and recognised that his pen buying habit had become unhealthy and that the demands of maintaining his blog were fuelling this. He chose to take decisive action and call time on his blogging, at the height of its success.

Anthony’s posts were often thought provoking. On occasions, I made notes from his posts, leaving a column to insert and compare my opinions next to his. One such post was “Are we pen-compatible?” of 3 February 2019. Here he detailed his fountain pen likes and dislikes. We are both left handed over-writers. He never posts his pens. I mostly do. The most telling distinction between us was that he generally did not use pens costing under £150 and his pens were mostly to be found in the range of £300 to £500. For me, whilst I have a handful of what I call valuable pens, such as Montblancs, a Pelikan M800 and recently an Aurora 88, the majority of my pen accumulation falls in the “below £150” category.

Our paths did run in parallel, to some extent. My blog was started in November 2016, a couple of months before his. However I seldom produce more than three posts a month and my viewing figures were dwarfed by Anthony’s. But it never felt as though we were competing. Our interests lay at opposite ends of the spectrum, although occasionally they converged in the middle (for example, over the excellent Waterman Carene).

Through Anthony’s post on the Parker Duofold International, my interest in this pen was aroused and I went on to buy from Anthony, the very model that he had reviewed. On another occasion, Anthony bought a Kaweco Dia2 partly on the strength of my review. However, he later found that the pen did not suit him and I bought it from him.

After reading that there would be no more posts, I trawled the archives on his web site to compile a list of all his back catalogue by number, date and title. I wanted to make a checklist against which I could record which I had read and to help catch up on those I had missed. The list runs to 13 A4 pages. Many warrant a second reading and bring a smile to my face, such as the line in his review of the Montblanc Heritage 1912 ” I recently went on a business trip, and found myself unable to get in the taxi to the airport until I had it safely in my jacket pocket, like a weighty talisman”. I now have a 1912 of my own.

I appreciate that some of these posts will have taken several hours to create. We do well to remember that what readers may take 10 minutes to devour, may have taken the writer half a day or more to plan, photograph, draft and edit. It is a labour of love and if it stops being fun for the writer, it is time to stop.

I hope that Anthony’s blog will remain up for the foreseeable future, for everyone to enjoy as it represents a huge body of work. Three years is a good chunk of time. I would have started writing this piece a few hours ago but have just been enjoying again some of his older issues, back to back.

So, thank you Anthony for this legacy to the online pen community and best wishes for the future, wherever the journey takes you.

A quick look at the Kaweco Perkeo, All Black fountain pen.

There has been a recent flurry of matte-black fountain pens, with black nibs and furniture, known to enthusiasts as stealth pens. These have come from the likes of Aurora, Lamy and Sailor. Now there is also a new All Black version of the Kaweco Perkeo. I bring this to your attention in case it has slipped in under the radar.

Kaweco Perkeo, All Black

The Kaweco Perkeo has been around for a couple of years now and is a decent, affordable, entry level pen, of comfortable proportions. Initially this was available in four colour combinations. Somehow I ended up buying them all plus a few extra of the mustard and black “Indian Summer” version which I liked the most and which came with a black, Fine nib. I have one in my pen cup at the office and another at home, filled with a black cartridge. I must confess that I had experimented, in swapping the caps around to pair a black barrel with a black cap, but you still end up with a coloured band in the centre. Thus, when I first laid eyes on the new All Black edition, I bought one instantly without a moment’s thought.

Packaging. There are three cartridges shown, plus one included in the barrel.

The Perkeo, which I have reviewed previously in this blog, is made of a tough plastic with a sixteen sided barrel and an eight sided, pull-off cap. There is no pocket clip, but there is a black, metal finial. It takes standard international cartridges, with room to carry a spare.

Cap and barrel ends.

I know that some people are critical of Kaweco for poor quality control. My own experience with the Perkeo has been ok. The nibs generally write well in my limited experience. However it is worth examining the nib through the packaging if you can, as your enjoyment of this pen (and any in this price range, for that matter) will depend much upon whether you get a good nib or not. What I look for is a little bit of light between the tines, to indicate that the nib will not be a dry writer. Perhaps being a left hander, I am more sensitive to having a nib on the wet side, particularly for lefty overwriting.

A glimpse of light between the tines, bodes well.

The pen comes with four cartridges of lovely, rich dark Kaweco blue ink. I keep my stash of Kaweco cartridges separate from other unbranded ones. Kaweco cartridges have Kaweco on the side.

Chunky plastic barrel threads. Kaweco cartridge.

Talking of quality control, I did have an issue with one of my Perkeos, in that the inner cap was defective. Basically, you could cap the pen but it took two distinct clicks to cap it, rather than just one, which was a bit disconcerting. Something was catching inside. Aside from this, I have another on which the barrel does not screw on to the section tightly and seamlessly and ends up with a little bit of play and a slight gap.

Overall however, I have been pleased enough with the Perkeos to buy several. The nibs are the key. The great thing is that they seem to be a bit softer than the nibs of the Kaweco Sport pens. Also, I have found that the Fine versions have a delightful feedback to them which I enjoy, on smooth paper. They also resist hard starts, very well.

I sometimes find myself pondering that if I arrived in an unfamiliar town, in need of a pen but had forgotten to bring one, and had a budget of only £20.00, what would be a good stand-by. Aside from the ubiquitous Lamy Safari, and depending upon where you go, there is now the new Cross Bailey Light and the Faber-Castell Grip, as well as the Kaweco Perkeo which costs around £16.00. The Lamy and the Cross will each need their own proprietary cartridges or converters, whereas the Kaweco and the Faber-Castell accept standard international cartridges. Chosen with a little care, the Kaweco Perkeo makes a good option.

A brief encounter with the Montegrappa Monte Grappa fountain pen.

The past week has seen me on an emotional roller-coaster journey with this Italian beauty. I could write just a bare review of the pen but it would be incomplete without the twists and turns of my experience.

I first saw one of these about a year and half ago, while visiting Harrods’ Great Writing Room. A visit to Harrods is a rare treat for me and always memorable. You can lose track of time and distance and also your sense of proportion in this huge emporium of casino-like halls full of luxury products.

The Montegrappa Monte Grappa in Lavender resin.

On that first sighting, I handled the pen and was impressed at how comfortable it felt. This is a piston-filling fountain pen, of decent size and relatively plain and simple and with a 14k gold nib (but with a silver coloured plating, perhaps rhodium). The price then was about £440.00. The pen was available in four colours, black, navy blue, lavender or coral, all with silver coloured trim.

I did not buy the pen immediately, but after finding my way out of the store into the evening air of busy Knightsbridge, I was already having second thoughts and wondered if I should dash back in and buy one.

I do not know anyone else who owns this pen, or of any other bricks and mortar store in London that stocks them, but the pen remained in my consciousness.

Then, last Saturday whilst in London after a monthly pen club meet, I visited Harrods again and went to browse in the pen department. The store is undergoing a refit and the pens had moved floors and are to move again, I am told, once works are finished. I only mention this as, to the occasional visitor, Harrods can seem like a huge maze and so by the time you find the pen department you may feel that you deserve a new pen. Well, I do.

On this visit, I browsed the displays and alighted on the Montegrappa counters. I spotted a Montegrappa Monte Grappa, currently £445.00, but being a 10% discount weekend, reduced to £440.50. Still pricey for me, but it looked positively good value as the model next to it was £1,075.00 in celluloid and sterling silver.

I got talking to the Montegrappa representative who got out the Monte Grappa for me to try. They had only the lavender model left, but it was rather attractive, unusual and distinctive. He found some ink (Montegrappa fuchsia?) for me to try. I made a few tentative strokes, sampling the smooth Medium gold nib, with a little line variation possible with slight pressure.

After a short time, the rep left me with the pen whilst he went to attend to another customer. I was enjoying the pen, imagining myself owning it and generally “bonding” with it in those precious first few moments. I had to decide how this was going to end. When he returned I was still dithering but leaning towards taking it home with me, rather than leaving empty handed as I had done a year earlier.

When the crunch time came I decided to buy the pen. He offered me a brand new, boxed one. I took a look at it. The nibs on both looked to be perfectly finished but I opted to take the one that I had already tried. I carried it home, in a smart Montegrappa bag.

Montegrappa, founded in 1912, is one of the oldest or possibly the oldest fountain pen manufacturers in Italy. Now famous for their extravagantly designed, limited editions, I was more interested in their accessible models, without too many embellishments but with a gold nib and a piston filling mechanism. The Monte Grappa model fulfills this. There are just a few adornments, in this case, the characteristic pocket clip with a revolving wheel at the end and a silver coloured cap ring, which has the look of having been hammered by hand. On closer inspection the design around the cap ring looks like lots of little entrances to a road tunnel. I am not sure if this may be a reference to the mountain, close to the Bassano del Grappa factory.

The unique cap band.

The cap finial has the year 1912, on a metal disk. The wheeled pocket clip and the cap ring did not particularly appeal to me. It was the writing experience that attracted me.

Cap and finial with the year of founding.

The section is comfortable although you may need to grip the pen at or close to the chunky but non sharp, plated metal cap threads. The barrel design is a nice feature, slightly bulbous in the middle and with the name Monte Grappa engraved in the resin, with an emblem of the mountain itself between the two words. This I did like, except that the words are upside down if you write left handed. Also the pen rolls around very easily if not posted.

Barrel engraving.

The piston knob is separated from the barrel, by a shiny silver coloured trim ring. If you look closely you find the words “Made in Italy” etched here.

Piston knob. Made in Italy on the trim ring. Stainless steel disc in the base.

Another feature, new to me, is the ratchet-sounding piston turning knob, which emits a sound akin to winding a mechanical watch. This is intended to emulate that very task, for those of us who miss wearing hand-wound watches. Also the piston knob does not extend outwards as you lower the plunger, as it would on a Pelikan, Montblanc or other typical piston filler. It simply rotates, and clicks, without going up and down. You cannot see the operation of the plunger within. A few practice runs soon tell you that you turn the plunger anti-clockwise to lower the plunger and then clockwise to raise it again, filling the pen. Unusually, it takes a lot of twists to operate the plunger, perhaps 12 or so (depending upon how far you go with each twist), before it reaches the end of its travel. This is not really a problem. But you cannot tell from looking at the pen, how much ink it contains.

The nib is an attractive, traditional shape with the Montegrappa filigree pattern, and the inscription “Montegrappa ITALIA, 14k, 585” and finally “2670VI” the significance of which I do not know. The rep told me that the feed was ebonite although I wonder if he might have been mistaken on that. It looks like a plastic Jowo feed to me.

14k gold nib, Medium. Comfortable section. Metal cap threads.

At home, I watched some YouTube reviews to find out more about my new pen. A short video from Guiseppe Aquila of Montegrappa, talks of the pens being available with either stainless steel or 14k gold nibs, but all fitted with the same special, international patented filling mechanism. This is comprised of parts made of five different materials: the clear plastic reservoir, rubber plunger, brass piston, an aluminium body and a stainless steel fitting.

I was keen to see how much ink it would draw up. Having to flush the pen anyway after its dip in fuchsia ink, I tried filling it with water and then ejecting it into a vial to see how much came out. This gave me a shock as the volume of water looked rather feeble, although admittedly it was in a larger diameter container than the pen’s own reservoir. I tried the same experiment with an Aurora 88 and found that even the contents of the Aurora did not look very much although it was considerably more than the Monte Grappa held.

Attempting to measure the ink capacity. The ejected contents after filling.

I then found another video on the OdE (Objectos de Escrita) YouTube channel which showed the same exercise to measure the ink capacity of the Monte Grappa. The ink ejected amounted to about 0.6ml. Arguably it may be that there is some residue left in the feed which is not being expelled. However this volume would be similar to the contents of a standard international cartridge and only around half of what you might expect of a piston filler.

This bugged me as I had hoped that a fill would be around a similar volume to a Pelikan M800, Aurora 88 or Montblanc 146. Why can the Montegrappa not carry as much as these, or even a TWSBI Eco?

Montegrappa Monte Grappa. Cap posted. Next to an Aurora 88.

On delving into Fountain Pen Network, I found opinions from various threads, that this filling system is not a “true” piston filler but a “captive converter.” This means it is like a cartridge converter reservoir, albeit permanently fixed inside pen, which draws the ink into a reservoir rather than directly into the pen’s barrel, which would be a larger diameter. This also explains why the piston turning knob did not rise.

I found this a little disappointing. I appreciate that even 0.6ml of ink is sufficient to write a good number of pages with a medium nib and that refilling the pen is no hardship (actually quite pleasurable) yet this discovery, combined with the feed probably being plastic and not ebonite, made me question the wisdom of my purchase.

Size and weight

The pen does have a lovely tactile shape and finish. It is heavier than you might expect for a resin pen, probably due to the metal components in the filling mechanism. The pen measures around 137mm closed, 125mm uncapped and 158mm posted. Uncapped, it weighs around 30.5g, or 40.5g posted (with the cap alone weighing 10g).

The cap posts well and to me, did not seem to unbalance the pen although I hold my pens quite far back. The cap ring might feel rough against your hand, depending on where you chose to grip the pen. If you grip the pen lower, you may find it to be too back heavy. But then if you hold your pens low, you probably will not need to post the cap anyway.

Likes and dislikes

I liked the pen, for its brand history, its shape, comfort and heft and the solid, high quality feel. The medium nib wrote well. The self-contained ratchet-sound filling mechanism is a novelty but not necessarily an advantage and I have no complaints about filling my Pelikan, Aurora and Montblanc pens in silence. I liked the vintage look, the barrel text and the fact that this aligned with the nib and pocket clip.

On the downside, you need to accept that this is a mystery filler with no ink window, and as I suspect, not a large ink capacity and (unless I am mistaken) a plastic feed. This, I felt, made the cost rather on the high side.

The feed.

All in all, whilst I much enjoyed writing with the pen, I found myself suffering from “buyer’s remorse.” A decision had to be made quickly of whether to continue with the bonding process and accept the pen as it is or else to return it promptly for a refund.

I am sad to say that I decided to take the pen back to Harrods. After flushing it out I took it back to the store where I saw a different Montegrappa rep this time. I said that there was nothing wrong with the pen, but that I had changed my mind about it and that it was not quite what I had expected. He took a look at the nib and joked “It looks better than when it left the store!” I had certainly cherished it in those few days whilst it was in my ownership.

We talked about the feed and about the ink capacity. He explained that it should be around 1.2ml and that the plastic ink reservoir was to protect the body of the pen from the ink, which is alkaline. This sounded reasonable enough. However, to Harrods credit, they took the pen back and gave me a full refund without any fuss.

The story should end there, except that I found myself feeling rather bereft in the following days, with a case of the “refunder’s remorse.” I missed my lavender pen with its superb nib. My decision could quite easily have gone the other way. The pen had got under my skin. Montegrappas can do that to you.

Goodbye pen. Sorry that I gave you up.