Early thoughts on the Parker Vector XL fountain pen.

A few weeks ago I first noticed a new Parker pen called the Vector XL, in my local WH Smith at London’s Brent Cross shopping centre, in a range of colours. I did not buy one immediately, but whilst on holiday recently, checked out branches of WH Smith in other towns that we visited, to see whether they had them. I did not succeed in finding one until back home in London again.

Parker’s new offering: the Vector XL.

I have always had a soft spot for Parker fountain pens, ever since I was a young child. I know that they are now made in China and for several years my attention has been diverted by numerous brands from Germany, Italy, Japan, USA, and other countries, brands that I would have had little or no awareness of as a child, However there is still a certain nostalgia in revisiting Parker, the brand I idolised in my younger days.

With that background, and being curious to try this new release, I took the plunge and bought one. There were four colours to chose from. Teal, Lilac, black or Silver-Blue. I narrowed these down to Teal and Silver Blue and sought advice from a nearby member of staff who was refilling the shelves. His response was to pick the Silver Blue saying “It matches your shirt”, which indeed it did. He then added “I’m not the person to ask – I go for black everything” which was evidenced by his attire of black trousers and tee shirt. I was coming down in favour of the Silver Blue as well, as looking a little more adult than the Teal perhaps.

Parker Vector XL fountain pens in four colours.

I was aware that the pen was available for about a third less from Cult Pens, but opted for the bricks and mortar buying experience, although this was fairly impersonal at a self-service checkout till.

Sitting down outside the shop I opened the blister pack. The pen felt quite nice, with a matte, metallic finish. The cap finial contains a shiny metal disc, featuring the Parker logo. There is a Parker arrow clip. There is no cap ring but the name Parker stands out more legibly against the Silver Blue background than on the Teal.

Silver Blue version, uncapped

The cap snaps on and off firmly. The section is of a matching but transparent coloured plastic through which you can see the base of the nib and the nozzle for the cartridge. Once you insert a cartridge, you can see the first centimetre of it through the section. Crucially for me, the section feels comfortable and just slightly textured.

Transparent section, after inking.

The pen comes with a black and a blue cartridge of Parker Quink ink. I popped in the blue one, omitting the flushing stage as I was still in the shopping centre. Immediately, I could see ink seeping down through the feed and within a few shakes the pen was writing.

Initial impressions were favourable! The large, traditional shaped nib seemed an improvement on the old Vector and I preferred the girth of the XL model. There is no breather hole. The nib does have a large blob of tipping which is not flattened on the face (as it would be on a Montblanc at twenty times the price). From the naked eye, the nib looked to be in good order and it wrote smoothly and well. For a medium nib, the line is perhaps closer to a broad and may be too wide for some users but I was very happy with it. There was some line width variation between the down strokes and the cross strokes. Also a fine line was possible when “reverse writing” – using the opposite side of the nib.

Steel nib, Medium with a generous tip.

Likes:

  • Attractive and robust aluminium finish;
  • The grip section is reasonably comfortable and not too slippery and not faceted. It feels nicer than the black plastic used on the otherwise very similar Waterman Allure;
  • The coloured, transparent section adds interest and is unusual for a Parker; it will also serve as an ink window;
  • Smooth, rounded nib, good for under or over-writing, with good ink flow right “out of the box”;
  • Decent length: 12.5cm uncapped, long enough to use unposted. The cap does post securely if you want it to, but makes the pen 16cm long and a bit unwieldy;
  • There may (I hope) be a production date code on the moulded plastic barrel threads (rather than the barrel itself): mine says “U” which I think would denote 2021, if this is pursuant to Parker’s “QUALITYPEN” system of identifying the year. There is also a figure 5, but this may just be a part number.
  • The XL size is to be welcomed: the original Vector felt too slim.
Parker Vector XL alongside an original Vector (left) and a Waterman Allure (right).

Dislikes:

  • For its price, there seems little to criticise. There is no converter included, although you get two cartridges. My only concern, and something which I had anticipated, is that the cap is not airtight (you can blow air through it), which I think is an anti-choking safety feature but I wonder whether this will lead to ink evaporation and hard starts. It is early days and I will watch for this;
  • Parker’s proprietary cartridges can be a bit pricey (e.g. £4.99 for a pack of 5 in some places – particularly annoying if ink evaporates from the cap, which I hope it won’t), although you can refill the cartridges or use a converter.

All in all I am very happy with this, as a convenient and robust, low cost every day carry pen to use when out and about.

This medium nib writes more like a broad.

Travelling with ink: Forest of Dean.

For our mid-summer break this year my wife, mother-in-law and I spent a week in the woods. This was not camping, but staying in one of the comfortable, self-catering cabins on a site run by Forest Holidays.

Whereas last year we had chosen a location near Winchester, Hampshire, as recounted in my post Travelling with ink: Blackwood Forest, this time we chose the Forest of Dean, Gloucestshire, and also went for a full seven days rather than three. It proved to be a good choice and we had also picked a week of warm sunny weather.

With the happy prospect of having some time to write, I enjoyed picking the line-up for a week away. After much deliberation (or dithering) I settled upon the yellow Aurora Talentum (my most recent pen purchase), a vintage Montblanc 34, Esterbrook Estie, Delike New Moon, and a Duke 552 bamboo barrel pen. Also I brought the Lamy 2000 multi-pen, a Sailor multi-pen/pencil and finally a Pentel 120 A3 0.7mm pencil, making eight writing implements in all.

The 8 writing implements for the trip.

To write on, or in, I brought a fresh Leuchtturm A5 notebook for daily journal writing, another A5 notebook for everything else, one A4 notebook (good for planning and drafting) and finally a small Silvine pocket notebook – which is always handy for jotting down addresses, phone numbers, directions or any notes made while out and about.

The fountain pens were inked with various colours but I decided to bring only one bottle of ink, Pelikan 4001 Konigsblau and so if any of them needed refilling, it would be royal blue or nothing. In the event, I did refill the Talentum mid-week. Whilst I like the Konigsblau, I did notice that the pen seemed to write a little drier and with less lubrication than with the Montblanc Royal Blue that it had started with. But it is useful to have a drier ink sometimes, to compensate for pens that might otherwise write very wet.

Our cabin was very spacious and slept six people, (as my sister and her family were to join us for part of the week). The open plan sitting/dining room had a large oak table with floor-to-ceiling windows and was a lovely bright place to sit, especially in the early morning when the room was cool. It did become very warm in the afternoons but we were generally out then.

The living area. There is a hot tub (with a chair lift) outside.

From our base, it was about a two-mile walk, through tranquil forest paths, to the stunning views from Symonds Yat rock, looking down on a beautiful section of the Wye Valley.

The Wye Valley, at Symonds Yat.

Our nearest small town was Coleford. Here in a local newsagents, I was pleased to find some A5 notebooks called Companion, with nicely textured soft covers in bright colours, and 240 pages of unlined, 80gsm cream paper. I knew of these from purchasing one in blue last year in a post office in Surrey. It turned out to be very pleasing and I wished I had picked up the other colours (red and yellow). Here was the chance to rectify that oversight.

Coleford town centre.

For a larger town, we were about 20 minutes drive from Ross-on-Wye. Whenever visiting another town and exploring the shops I do keep one eye open for any fountain pen shops. It is rare to find one of course, although Ross-on-Wye has a WH Smiths. I had a cursory look at the Fountain Pen section, in particular to see whether they had the newish Parker Vector XL, which I had seen recently in London – not that I would necessarily have bought one, but just as a bit of research. I was not to find one all week.

New notebooks to add to the stash.

A similar distance drive took us to Monmouth, another pretty and colourful high street, and lined with bunting for the Queen’s platinum jubilee, and with some attractive side streets and river views and plenty of history, although not the best choice for fountain pen shopping.

Monmouth’s famous medieval gate tower, on the Monnow Bridge.

A bit further afield, along scenic country roads, we also spent a day in Ledbury, Herefordshire. This is a very attractive town, famed for its half-timbered buildings and historic market building and some nice independent shops for books and clothes, but I did not find any specialist fountain pen shops in evidence.

Ledbury’s market building.

On our last full day, we visited Tintern Abbey, the impressive ruins of a Cistercian monastery beside the Wye River with wooded hillsides making a picture postcard backdrop. Once there, it seemed silly not to drive on for the short distance to visit Chepstow.

A view inside Tintern Abbey

Here, I did find a shop called First Stop Stationery, with displays of Lamy, Schreiber and other pens and a large glass display cabinet for the more expensive pens. On closer inspection, these were from Cross, Parker, Waterman, Sheaffer, Lamy, Pilot, Faber-Castell and possibly some others. Some notable examples were the Waterman Carene, Faber-Castell Ondorro, several pilot Vanishing Points, a smart Lamy Accent in the glossy black with ringed section and even the newly revived Parker 51 gold nib version which I had not previously seen in the flesh although I was not sufficiently tempted to buy one. I did at least buy some Parker cartridges in blue black.

A row of houses on Castle Terrace, Chepstow.

In our final hours of retail therapy, we headed back up to Ross-on-Wye where I had spotted a mandolin a few days earlier, in the window of River Music, in Broad Street. It was still there. I had felt in need of a mandolin, having accidently broken my old one recently when falling off a stool, whilst passing items up to the attic. It had fallen down the stairs, in its soft gig-bag but the neck was broken in two and I adjudged it to be a write-off.

The music shop had a display of ukuleles and a banjolele but it was the Tanglewood mandolin in “Wine red” that tempted me. I am very much a beginner and can play only a few chords, but recently have been captivated watching musicians such as Sierra Hull, Josh Turner, Sam Bush and Chris Thile and whilst they are all in another league, there is a lot of fun to be had from making music, trying to improve and getting to know your way around the fingerboard.

The shop owner told me how he had lowered the action on this instrument, by paring off some wood from the base of the bridge so that the strings sat closer to the neck. He had done a good job, making it much nicer to play, but without overdoing it so that the strings buzzed on the frets. This was a real bonus, rather like buying a fountain pen when the nib has been expertly tuned. At a similar price to an Esterbrook Estie, you get a lot for your money, (although he had me at “Wine red”). And so it was to come home to London with me.

A Tanglewood mandolin in Wine red.

It is probably just as well that there were not more fountain pens shops in this lovely part of the world and I am glad not to have purchased any more. But when a mandolin calls you, somehow nothing else will do.

Early thoughts on the Aurora Talentum fountain pen and OM nib.

This pen has been in my thoughts a lot in its first week with me. Here is the story so far.

The decision to buy.

There were several factors that prompted me to shell out on another Aurora fountain pen, overcoming the voice of reason that tells me that I am very contented with the pens I own and do not need any more. The main ones were:

  • I enjoy my Aurora Optima with Oblique Broad nib and was curious to try to an Oblique Medium;
  • The Talentum features the same gold nib and ebonite feed units as the Aurora 88 or Optima, but in a less costly body and with a cartridge converter system instead of a piston, making it good value. The price compares favourably to some other large pens which cost significantly more but do not come with a gold nib.
  • I was attracted to the bold yellow body, like a classic Parker Duofold in Mandarin Yellow from the 1920’s. Or at least, an upgrade from my favourite colour Lamy Safari.
  • The prices on Iguanasell seemed favourable and I had ordered through them for two previous Auroras.

The unboxing.

The package arrived very swiftly and conveniently via FedEx, at 08.15am before I had left for work. It arrived in the same large presentation box as the 88 or the Optima, which surprised me given that it is a much less costly pen. There is a shiny black, lidded carboard box with a fold down front flap. Inside this is the gift box, which may be of wood, covered with a black faux-leather material and with the Aurora name and logo on the top. There is a padded black tray for the pen, which can be lifted out to reveal the Instruction manual and a box containing two cartridges. The converter was already in the pen. It is a special box to have but once you have bought too many pens, such boxes become a bit of a storage problem and I would be quite happy to dispense with this packaging.

Aurora Talentum fountain pen.

Obviously the first thing you notice is that the pen is very yellow! The chrome trims on the clip, cap finial and end of the barrel look good against the yellow. The fit and finish are all very impressive.

The Oblique Medium nib.

I was keen to see how this compared to my Oblique Broad on my red Optima. The answer is, that the difference is very small. I placed the two oblique nibs up against each other and whilst the OM was a tad narrower, there was not much in it. Perhaps I should have chosen the Oblique Fine instead.

I then tried dipping the pen. I noticed a little bit of “railroading” where you have two lines with a gap in between. I thought perhaps, on examining the nib’s writing edge, there might be a very slight prominence at one end as the edge looked to be very slightly crescent-shaped, like a gently curved bay, rather than an exactly straight edge. However, it really was so slight that I thought it would wear in with normal use and I decided against smoothing it.

However, a bigger issue, once I had filled the pen for the first time, was that it seemed to skip or hard start, and quite a lot. Under the loupe, the nib looked right, with a visible tine gap until coming together at the tip. I deduced that the tines were perhaps a little two tightly together and in need of spreading a little, to increase the ink flow. Then again, it could have been a problem of air not getting up to the ink reservoir, rather than ink not getting down.

I wrote for several pages of A4, and at each hard start, I would draw some capital O’s. Looking back on these pages now, these O’s were occurring after every three or four lines. I also noticed that if I kept writing without a pause, the pen would keep up but if I held the nib poised in mid-air for more than 5 seconds, it would hard start on me.

My first fill had been with Waterman Absolute Brown. I then switched to my familiar Conway Stewart Tavy, by Diamine, which is a blue black that flows well. I tried again for several pages, and on different types of paper. There were still lots of frustrating skips.

A few days into my new pen, a difficult decision had to be made, of whether to try to return it or else to take the plunge, and try to rectify it myself – knowing that this may or may not succeed and that it would then be past the point of no return.

The way I write.

To be fair, I am left handed and generally use an “overwriter” style, with my hand above the line I am writing on and the nib pointing towards me. Instead of hooking my wrist, I rotate the paper 90 degrees to the left, keeping my wrist straight. In writing in this way, I use a very light touch on the nib and cannot apply pressure while the nib is pushing forwards, rather than doing downstrokes. So I need a pen with a generous ink flow, to keep the nib lubricated and the writing from being too pale.

I do also sometimes use an “underwriter” style, with my left arm tucked into my side and the nib pointing away from me, in a more “normal” fashion and immediately notice how much smoother and wetter pens are for the lucky people who write in this way!

I recalled how in the past, I had managed to transform the nib on my Aurora 88 by opening up the tines very slightly, with brass shims and the blade of a craft knife. Sometimes you can manage to remedy a nib problem in a few minutes. I therefore resolved to have a session on the Talentum and to try to increase the flow and hopefully reduce the skips and hard starts.

With a few tentative goes at this, I was able to ease the tine gap a little and to feel the brass shims moving more loosely between the tines. I stopped frequently to examine the nib under the loupe and was careful not to overdo things. I had bought the Talentum to compare the slightly narrower OM line to my existing OB nib, and so it would defeat the object if I simply made the nib broader – or worse still, ruined it and stopped it from writing at all.

I also changed the ink again, this time to Montblanc Royal Blue, a good rich blue which lubricates well.

The outcome.

The good news, is that by day 5 of my ownership, I was writing happily with the pen. I filled a page of an A5 journal without drama. I liked the line from the pen very much, being crisp and with pronounced line width variation between cross strokes and forward strokes.

Conclusions.

In the course of all this, I was also reading blogs and threads on Fountain Pen Network. I came across a thread about Aurora nibs where I learned that ebonite feeds do take a few days to absorb ink. My understanding is that ebonite, a vulcanized rubber, partly absorbs some ink which helps ink to flow through the nib. Perhaps my repeated flushing and ink changing had hindered this absorption process.

I was also reminded by reading a recent post from Gary, on the Scribo Write Here Tropea with 1.4mm stub nib, that you do need to write slower with a stub nib and not expect skip-free performance if writing at a fast pace. Also, this being an oblique nib, it does take some careful positioning to hold the pen at the “sweet spot” for best writing performance. Finding this takes a bit of practice until it is familiar. The moral of this “tale of the Talentum” is not to be too hasty to adjust a nib before spending ample time to allow the nib to settle down and to get used to writing with it.

Size and weight.

The Talentum is big pen, by usual standards. It measures around 135mm capped, 132mm uncapped, which is long enough to use comfortably without posting, or 160mm if you do want to post it. The weight is substantial without being burdensome, at 30.5g with ink and converter, or 20g uncapped in writing mode. The cap alone weights around 11g.

Final thoughts.

I have been interested in the Talentum for a few years now. My Aurora 88 and Aurora Optima are among my favourite special pens and so it was probably inevitable that I would succumb to the temptation to add a Talentum at some point. I had great service from Iguanasell and did not trouble them to seek a return of the pen. A little nib adjustment, although risky, has improved its performance for my style of writing. I like the effect on my handwriting.

This week has been special too, in celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, marking 70 years’ reign since 1952. And in a less publicised milestone, this post is my 200th since starting this blog in 2016. Thank you for still reading.