It is a tradition of mine at Christmas, to convince myself that I need no more fountain pens for a while. And it is also my custom, in about the second week of January, to cave in and buy my first new pen of the year.
A few weeks ago, I spotted this Duke Bamboo fountain pen, while surfing on the Amazon. I was intrigued by the photos in particular one showing a cross section through the Bamboo which is comprised of lots of tiny hollow tubes. The description stated that the entire barrel was made of a unique, high grade, Golden Stripe Bamboo, with a high sheen finish which was super durable.
However I was in my no-buy mode and was able to put it out of my mind. Until today that is, when Amazon sent me a message asking if I was still interested in this item and mentioned that if I ordered it within the next 1 hour and 48 minutes, it would be delivered free by 10pm today. I needed only the first two of those minutes.
It ships in a simple padded envelope, inside which is a little black velvety draw-string pouch, and the pen itself in a cellophane sleeve. There is no box.
It is a good sized pen, about the same length as a Lamy Safari when uncapped but about a centimetre longer when capped. First impressions are very favourable. The Bamboo barrel is a beautiful stripy brown and is very smooth to the touch. It contrasts nicely with the black lacquered cap, like a black jacket with pinstripe trousers. The shiny silver coloured fittings look elegant. The barrel is flush with the cap meaning that there is a step which might be where you grip the pen.
The cap unscrews, in just over one full turn. The nib looks to be a size five which some might consider a bit small for a pen of this size, but this does not bother me. It has the name Duke and the Crown emblem and some decoration. The nib looked in good shape although lacking a tine gap at the tip.
The section is a rather unusual design, tapering with another step half way down. There appeared to be some white patches which I at first took to be glue residues and tried to scrape away, before realising that they are swirls of colour in the marbled plastic. They are described as blue and white pearlized inclusions.
This is a cartridge-converter pen, taking standard international cartridges. A cartridge converter is included, with a metal coil ink agitator inside which is a nice touch. You can just hear it move when you turn the pen up and down.
I enjoyed examining the pen and taking a few photos of it. I flushed the nib and feed and then filled it with Cult Pens Deep Dark Red to suit the Bamboo. The section only just fits through the narrow rim of my 30ml bottle.
Nib and writing performance.
The steel nib is a medium-fine. The first strokes were a bit disappointing: the nib wrote, with some pressure but was otherwise rather dry. I had already filled it and so was resigned to getting inky fingers in adjusting the nib but didn’t mind this, so long as it did not transfer to the barrel. I spent a merry half hour, employing a few different techniques to open up the tines just marginally, to increase flow. I used some brass shims first, then a blade and then finally tried very gently pressing and bouncing the nib tines against my thumb nail – all the time being careful not to overdo it. This had the desired effect in getting a nice easy wet flow and it then just remained to ensure that the tines were level once more.
Having a wetter nib is necessary for us lefty-overwriters and means that the pen lays down ink effortlessly, without downward pressure.
Size and weight.
This is a large pen, at 149mm capped and a comfortable 130mm uncapped. Posting is not needed but makes the pen 182mm long and back heavy. It weighs a decent 41g, around 23g uncapped and 18g for the cap alone.
Likes and dislikes.
Having thus tweaked the nib I can give a few first impressions:
- Attractive and unusual Bamboo barrel;
- Warm, natural, tactile satin finish;
- Duke branded converter included, with an ink agitator;
- Screw-on cap;
- “Mother of pearl” effect insert in the finial;
- Generous length and girth;
- White plastic inner cap.
- Rather lumpy step near to where I commonly grip the pen;
- Pocket clip is extremely firm; better regarded as a roll stop;
- Cap posts securely on the recessed area but pen becomes too long and back heavy.
I have not included in my dislikes, the need to fine-tune the nib as this was to make the pen write to my preferred wetness and is also an issue with pens across all price brackets.
I particularly like the Bamboo finish and the fact that it has a screw cap – so much nicer than a snap cap. Also the cap, barrel and section all seem to screw together firmly. I have not yet had the pen long enough to test for hard starts but I am hopeful that the presence of a plastic inner cap will mean that this is not an issue.
The flush cap has resulted in a pronounced step down from the barrel ring to the cap threads, which I find less comfortable than a stepless pen but preferable to a pen that is too slippery to hold firmly.
It is very early days (or hours) to be giving a review but the pen seems very promising and I am happy so far to have added it to my accumulation. This is now my third model from Duke and all have been designs which are interesting and unusual.
4 thoughts on “Early thoughts on the Duke 552 Bamboo fountain pen.”
Bamboo is a great material, I have some pairs of bamboo knitting needles and they’ve always proven to be strong and light and very pleasant in the hand. I’m less convinced on this pen by that peculiar step in the section, although it does seem to mirror the step at the end of the barrel and therefore possibly required by the plastic inner cap to provide the seal. Definitely an interesting find and you’ve made a good start to your 2021 collection.
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Thankyou! I think you are right, that the peculiar step in the section fits with where the inner cap starts, when the pen is capped.
I am getting accustomed to how the pen feels, with the step and can work around this with my grip. But it is funny how much more comfortable my Sailor Pro Gear, with no step feels, right after using this pen! It is a bit like comparing loud speakers or binoculars- it just depends what you have been used to.
Thanks for the review. It’s easy to see why this pen appeals. The cap and barrel are really nice looking, but I think I’d struggle with the section design. I’m also beginning to factor in either major surgery or a transplant with Chinese pen nibs – too many duds for my liking.
You are absolutely right. The big chrome step is the problem. You only realise how uncomfortable that is when you put it down and pick up a different pen afterwards, without a step, and feel how much more comfortable it is. Yes the nibs can be a gamble so all in all I would probably not recommend this one.