A look at the Sailor Pro Gear Slim fountain pen, with Music nib.

After my last post about the Sailor 1911, it seems timely to follow up with a look at the Pro Gear Slim. Also, a reader asked in the comments, how the music nib compared to a conventional stub and so I will cover that here.

It is getting on for a year now since I received my Pro Gear Slim. It came to me in very happy circumstances, won in a giveaway competition hosted by John Hall, of Write Here, stationery shop in Shrewsbury. The brief had been to write a short piece extolling the virtues of the pen and to include a music suggestion. I spent an enjoyable hour brainstorming some music-themed puns on the names of composers and assembling them into a letter to John. At the risk of blowing my own trumpet, I will include my successful entry as published in John’s newsletter of 22 November 2019, at the end of this post.

Sailor Pro Gear Slim, in black with gold colour fittings. 14k gold music nib.

This was my first introduction to the Pro Gear Slim, apart from seeing a few at our monthly pen club meetings, which I miss now that such gatherings are currently not possible.

The Pro Gear Slim is a small pen. However, I think that the name “Slim” is rather a misnomer and could put some people off, before even picking one up. Certainly it is a short pen, and slimmer than the Pro Gear Classic. But I find the girth very comfortable. It feels solid and of good quality, not plasticky. There are many pens which are slimmer which are not called slim. The grip is not slippery. I think most people would use the pen posted and for me, holding the pen around the base of the barrel, with the short section resting on my second finger, feels comfortable and natural so that I soon forget that I am holding it. I am not very proficient with the measuring calipers but think it is about 11mm wide at the threads where I hold the pen. It is certainly short though: at just 110mm uncapped or 143mm posted.

Like the Sailor 1911, it is a cartridge-converter pen, and was supplied with a Sailor-fit converter or else needs Sailor’s proprietary cartridges.

The real interest however, lies in the nib. Available with a range of nibs, mine has the Music nib. This is 14k gold (although there is a 21k nib option for a slightly higher price). It is a stub nib, in that the tip is wide to give broad down strokes and narrow cross strokes. I believe the name comes from being suited to writing musical notation, squiggling a quick circle to make your crotchets, quavers and minims and so on, without having to go back and ink them in, as the loop will already be filled in by the wide writing surface. This ironically is just what you want to avoid when forming letters with loops in. You need to write a bit larger than normal if writing with a music or stub nib, to avoid this.

But unlike a conventional stub nib where the tipping is cut off and ground, there is a blob of tipping material on the nib. This is flattened on the face and reverse sides of the nib, but rounded at the tip which is the writing surface. Also it still provides that special Sailor feedback.

Some music nibs, such as on the Platinum 3776, have three tines and two slits, to provide better ink coverage for the writing surface. The Sailor music nib has just the usual two tines yet works very well.

It is perhaps easier to show in a photograph than it is to describe.

Music nib. Note the stub-shaped tipping for broad down strokes.
The underside of the music nib. The tipping is flattened, front and back, but rounded at the writing surface.

Here is a quick sample of how it writes, bearing in mind I am a left handed overwriter by nature, (writing from above the line rather than from below). Thus the nib is pointing towards me as I write, rather than away from me as an under-writer would hold it. Experience shows that when holding the pen this way, whilst it feels more natural for me, the nib needs a better ink flow. This is because it is pulling less downstrokes to spread the tines and re-charge the nib. There is more pushing of upstrokes where you do not apply pressure to the nib, do not open the tines and do not increase ink supply.

Writing sample from Sailor music nib. Note the line variation in the capital A. I love doing those! But I also need to remember to go large and not fill in the loops.

Fortunately, the Sailor music nib (or at least my example) is a nice wet writer and copes with my writing style very well. And the benefit of using such a pen, for a lefty overwriter, is that it gives you that lovely attractive line width variation between down strokes and cross strokes that otherwise would require a flexible nib and skillful handling to apply variation in writing pressure to open and close the tines.

Since receiving this pen, I went on to order my first Pro Gear Classic, from Write Here, which is a bit more girthy and with a larger nib too. I chose a broad nib which from Sailor, equates to a typical western medium. It is a good pen undoubtedly and feels in size rather like holding a Montblanc 146. Yet, I find that I do not use it as much as my Pro Gear Slim. It is subjective, admittedly but the classic is just not as cute (dinky, petite and adorable) as the slim.

My winning entry:

“A Sailor fountain pen with a music nib has long been on my Chopin Liszt even though I have not had a chance to Handel one.A black resin body would be perfect for me although the maki-e editions have the Mozart on them. Also the new Faure special editions look wonderful. It is an exquisite pen, not for just any Dvorak-the-lad. I would buy one myself but am a bit Bruch at the moment and don’t want to put my hand in my Purcell. If I could Gershwin one competition, this would be the one! If not, it is Bach to the drawing board. I have not entered a giveaway before. This is my Debussy? So, if you could Delius a Sailor PG Slim, with a music nib, that would be Verdi kind of you. I trust you can find one, Haydn in a cupboard somewhere. I so look forward to receiving your Purcell in the post.  My music suggestion: Had this been a different music nib, I would have suggested Lionel Richie’s Once, Twice, Three tines a lady. However, instead in anticipation of my success I will go with Abba’s Thank you for the Music.”

I thank you.

A look at the Sailor 1911 standard fountain pen.

Recently after hearing of the imminent price rises of Sailor pens, I decided to pull the trigger on a 1911 standard, to go with my Pro Gear Slim which I love.

I have had my eye on a 1911 for some time. I have been tempted by the yellow version, with black ends and had almost bought one, a couple of times. But when the time came to chose, I was swayed by a gorgeous dark blue model with gold coloured fittings. The dark blue is one of those which has matching ends and grip section, rather than the black ends and grip which some of the other colours have. In the photographs, the dark blue looked very appealing.

The nib is 14 carat gold and I opted for a medium, thinking that this would be a good all-rounder for general use.

Pleased with myself for getting in ahead of the price hike, I looked forward to the pen’s arrival. At the unboxing, the first impression was that the dark blue is seriously dark. In artificial light it looks for all intents and purposes, like a black pen. But shining a bright light on the pen, it certainly is a lovely rich dark navy blue.

Unboxing the Sailor 1911 standard.

I was delighted. It is an exquisite pen. Not large, but not too small either. Personally I find this size to be very comfortable. The grip looks to be the same diameter as the Pro Gear Slim.

The sleek lines of the Sailor 1911. Whoever said this pen is “dark blue” was not wrong.

The Sailor size designations are a bit confusing: with the Pro Gear range you have the classic (in the middle) and then the Slim which is smaller and the King of Pen which is larger. But with the 1911 you have the standard and the large – yet the 1911 standard is the same girth as the Pro Gear Slim. The main difference is that in the Pro Gear both ends are flattened whereas on the 1911 they are rounded and bullet shaped.

Rounded ends, top and bottom.

For a modest price, (at least, before the price rise) you get a gold nibbed pen with a very smart, nice quality body. The cap unscrews in about two complete turns. When capping the pen again, it tightens nicely towards the last stage and so you have confidence that this is not a pen that will unscrew itself in your pocket or bag.

Similarly, when unscrewing the barrel, you see the tiny O-ring at the base of the metal threads which helps to stop the barrel from loosening. The pen came with a Sailor fit converter.

For some reason, this was to be one of those pens in which I struggle to settle on an ink. In less than two weeks I have already tried four: Diamine Pelham Blue, Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue, Rohrer and Klingner Salix and currently, Montblanc Toffee Brown. This happened with my Montblanc 145 Classique too and I must have gone through about eight inks before discovering Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red and I have not looked back since. I am still happily working through my inks with the Sailor.

The real story with the pen though, is the nib. It pays to know what to expect with a Sailor nib. They have a reputation for being well tuned, right out of the box. However there are two issues to be aware of. First, the width will be about one grade finer than a typical western nib, so that a Sailor medium equates to a western fine, and so on. Secondly, there is that legendary Sailor “feedback”, which at first might feel like a defect. However, it is not a case of misaligned tines but rather a deliberate toothy feel which Sailor somehow gives to its nibs.

That nib though!

Looked at under a loupe it is possible to see that this medium nib appears to have a rounded blob of tipping material on the end but with the two sides towards the front end, flattened and angled inwards like the prow of a ship. The result seems to be that when the pen is held with both tines on the paper evenly, the pen is at its smoothest but if the nib is rotated, or rolled to one side or the other, the sharpened edge of the tipping scrapes the paper giving a slightly gritty feeling and sound, commonly likened to writing with a pencil. It is very different from the feel of your typical steel medium nib on say, a Lamy Safari. It is, you might say, not very forgiving.

For me, as a lefty overwriter much of the time, these Sailor nibs seem better suited to my underwriter style. Funnily enough the opposite is true of my music nib, (fitted in my Sailor Pro Gear Slim) which writes like a dream for me in overwriter mode, but is very awkward in underwriting style.

So it is important to know what to expect with a Sailor pen. Provided you like the feel of the nib, you get an excellent Japanese pen, impeccably well mannered and which writes whenever required, does not hard start, blob or burp or come undone in your jacket. It is a smart looking pen too, not ostentatious but unassuming with a quiet quality and confidence of its own. And that is probably why a Sailor is a staple of every pen enthusiast’s collection.

The End.

Early thoughts (and some vandalism) on the Waterman Allure fountain pen.

A couple of weeks ago, whilst away for a long weekend in North Norfolk and in a happy, holiday mood, I popped into WH Smiths in King’s Lynn, to have a look at their wares. Just a couple of hours earlier, walking around the quays, I had learned that the town was the birth place of Captain George Vancouver (born in 1757), a British officer in the Royal Navy famous for the expedition which explored and charted North America’s northwestern Pacific coast regions.

Finding myself in front of the fountain pen rack, I spotted the Waterman Allure, in a few different pastel colours and at £19.99. I peered through the plastic packaging and admired the nib. I had seen these a few weeks before, in our local branch but had managed to resist them. I almost succeeded again, but when about to leave the shop, spotted a sign which said “Please only handle items that you wish to buy.” A small wave of guilt overtook me and I went back to buy it.

The Waterman Allure

Later, opening the packaging, the first impressions were mixed. The simple design and the matt finish to the pretty lilac barrel and cap were appealing. It is a little on the slim side. There is a shiny metal finial and a sturdy metal pocket clip with the Waterman logo at the top. A narrow chrome cap band simply bears the name Waterman.

Removing the pull-off cap, there is a black plastic section and a very acceptable, steel nib in a Fine. The pen was supplied with one Waterman blue cartridge which I inserted.

Size and weight (approx).

The pen is 133mm long when closed. Uncapped it is 124mm, which is okay to use unposted, although the cap does post well and brings the length up to 157mm.

I measured the weight to be around 23g including a half spent cartridge, comprised as to 14g for the pen uncapped, plus about 9g for the cap.

The writing experience.

The pen wrote without too much initial coaxing. I enjoyed the smooth nib, which is fairly firm and produced a good flow, being neither too wet nor too dry in my opinion. The fine line was pleasing.

Waterman Allure and Waterman Graduate.

Likes and dislikes.

The pen writes very nicely and I enjoy carrying it and using it. It is lightweight and well suited to being clipped into a shirt pocket or a shoulder bag. It seems good value for a metal bodied pen. The finish is attractive. The nib and feed are friction fit and can be removed for cleaning and maintenance quite easily. I might switch to an ink like Pilot Yama-budo or Pelikan Star Ruby for the next fill.

The only real downside, for me, is the material from which the grip section is made. It is a black plastic of some sort but whilst it looks innocent enough, it manages to be very slippery to the touch. The consequence is that the pen felt insecure in my hand.

The modification.

Having pondered this over for a few days I decided that the pen’s section needed some texture or some means to make it more grippy and less slippy. In an ideal world I would like to have machined some attractive regular grooves, perhaps in a diamond cross-hatch pattern like on the Parker Reflex. My late father used to do that with wooden pistol grips in the 1970’s when he bought a new hand-gun and produced beautiful results which looked very professional.

He would not have been impressed at my efforts. I used the saw blade on my Leatherman (which is very sharp) to scratch some random texture all over the section. This resulted in gouging out little bits of plastic which I then had to brush away.

Here is a photo of the result. (Please look away now if you are of a nervous disposition).

The section after scratching some texture into it with a Leatherman saw blade.

This is not a look that I am proud of. Let me be the first to admit that it looks terrible. It does not equal the aesthetically pleasing modification that I made to my Platinum Curidas and which I would rather be remembered for. However, it does serve the purpose and is no longer at all slippy.

Conclusion.

I am happier with the pen now that it does not slip around in my fingers whilst writing. I have been using it every day. However I expect the majority of customers will be happy with the pen just as it is without any butchery.

Inspired by Kimberly of @allthehobbies on Instagram, I have been having a go at transcribing Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

I had been under the impression that the Allure was a new addition to the Waterman line up. I have since noticed that it is a new finish on the Waterman Graduate which has been around for a long time. I have one to compare.

Waterman Allure, alongside a Waterman Graduate which used an identical nib and section.

Waterman’s website proclaims the Allure to be a first step into the world of Waterman. Clearly they intend this as an entry-level pen but also to be “a symbol of flair and sophistication.”

I think it is great value and a robust and practical pen. A Waterman for under £20.00! As a newcomer to my pen cups, I have been using it a lot and have had no hard starts or other misbehaviour. If I had any say in the matter, I think it could be so much better by using a nicer quality material for the section and then it really would be something. I expect Captain Vancouver would have been very glad of one.

Getting matchy matchy with a Silvine notebook.

Currently inked, 16 August 2020.

This morning I made a list of the currently inked pens that I have at home, knowing that the result would be embarrassingly uniform. I arranged them in order of colour, making it even more apparent that of the 20 pens shown, 15 are inked with either blue or blue black.

The currently inked as at 16 August 2020

For some months now, I have been juggling 20 inked pens on the go. This does not include a further two (both Cross Bailey Lights) which I keep at my office, since returning to work after lockdown, in July.

Twenty pens is a lot to use at any one time. I have tried to keep the number from growing any higher and have imposed a “one out one in” rule. But even so, assuming that the average cartridge or converter might manage around 20 pages of writing, (more if a piston filler), that is 400 pages of writing, sitting on the table. Pens are not running dry fast enough to keep the cups from becoming stale.

On one hand, I do enjoy having a lot of pens available simultaneously and I enjoy the variety that they offer. But on the other hand, part of me craves a simpler existence of running just one fountain pen (flashback to me aged 12…) and just filling it up, with the same ink usually, whenever it needed ink. It is possible to re-create this simplicity, temporarily, by getting away from the desk and going to write in a coffee shop taking just a single pen and notebook. Of course you cannot then enjoy the option of selecting any one or more of 20 pens from the pen cups as the fancy takes you, but you cannot have your cake and eat it.

But the bigger problem I see from my list is that 75% of the pens are inked with blue or blue black. No greens. No bright reds. No turquoise, or orange. This highlights the fact that the pens and their inks have each been selected individually without regard to the bigger picture of the pallette that is being created. Who of us, given an empty paint box, would set out to equip himself with 75% of the space given to blue and blue black?

When a pen runs dry, unless it is one of those to keep in circulation, I enjoy picking another pen to replace it. I generally pick the pen first and then decide which ink to use. Very rarely do I start with the ink and then decide which pen to put it in, except perhaps with iron gall ink.

There is always the option, to remove a bunch of pens and give them an early bath, to keep the pen cups fresh and varied but at the expense of jettisoning some good ink.

It is, after all just a hobby. The pen cups do not stand up to a lot of scrutiny. Why for example am I using a Waterman Allure when I have two empty Carenes at my disposal? Why not use only my best pens, all the time?

Perhaps by mixing in some entry level pens we appreciate the difference more when picking up the Montblanc.

There are no right and wrong answers. I am sure each one of us has his own principles and systems for managing the currently inked. But one simple lesson to take away, (for me at least) is not to loose sight of the bigger picture when filling the pen cups, to ensure you have more than just blue and blue black at hand.

A look at the Diplomat Excellence A Plus fountain pen.

Today I want to share a few thoughts on a pen that I have been particularly enjoying lately and which has rapidly become one of my favourites. This is the Diplomat Excellence A Plus.

Diplomat Excellence A Plus (blue and black harlequin pattern).

The background to this particular specimen is that my wife bought it, when we attended the London Pen Show together in March 2019. It is fair to say that she is not a fountain pen person but having persuaded her to come to the Show, I rather twisted her arm to buy this pen for herself, convincing her that Diplomat was a very under-rated brand, that their pens were well regarded and not easy to come by and that this one was on offer at a great price (from John Twiss). She negotiated a deal with John which included a couple of attractive pseudo-vintage metal lattice ball point pens, which I am sure she intended as gifts rather than for herself. Meanwhile, I happily bought myself a Diplomat Excellence A2 Marrakesh, which had a gold nib and which I reviewed here.

In the weeks and months that followed, I am not sure that she even looked at her Diplomat Excellence again, let alone inked it and tried it out. Eventually over a year later I came across it in a drawer and expressed enthusiasm about it and asked permission to try it out for her (ahem). The upshot of this was that she said that I could have it and that it could be my birthday present, as I had a birthday approaching in a few weeks time. What with the lockdown, we had not done any shopping for gifts in months and so this all worked out very conveniently!

Well it turns out that this pen is absolutely fantastic! I am not just saying that because it was a gift, although that helps and gives it added sentimental value. Much of what I said last time about the Marrakesh also applies here and so I will focus on the differences.

The first and most obvious difference is the pattern. This is a beautiful dark blue and black harlequin design. I have not seen another one like it, before or since. It is subtle too, as you do not immediately notice the pattern until you look closer: it just looks like a dark blue pen.

Secondly, and one of the best features about it, is that the cap on the A Plus unscrews, rather than being a push-on cap like the A2. But these are not just any screw threads. The cap needs only one third of a rotation. It might be more correct to call it a bayonet mount, a bit like on a camera lens. It is very quick and easy and feels smooth and secure.

The shortest cap threads ever!

Thirdly, there is the nib. This one has a steel fine which wrote perfectly for me, out of the box. I filled it first with a Waterman Serenity Blue, which was a good pairing but after that first fill I have been on Pilot Iroshizuko Shin-kai. I find the nib really enjoyable. It is smooth, with effortless flow, firm but with a touch of bounce and just the right amount of feedback. My Marrakesh came with a 14k gold fine nib which was good too, but I actually find myself preferring the steel nib. Certainly (and from my very limited samples) I do not think there is much to be gained by opting for a gold nib here.

The inside and outside of the Diplomat Excellence A Plus.

It is great when you find a pen that you love. This seems to have everything I could wish for: the attractive body; a distinctive finial; a robust metal pocket clip (hinged and sprung); the short cap threads, the generous girth, the long smooth, comfortable section, the very minimal step from barrel to section (the threads are not sharp), nice balance, the 129mm open length – being comfortable to use unposted and the pleasing weight (about 28g uncapped; the cap adds another 15g). And of course that great nib and wonderful writing experience.

At almost 130mm, the pen is comfortable for me to use unposted.

In summary, the recurring theme here is comfort. I could talk for a long time about all the things that make up a successful fountain pen. A shorter list is to look for a list of dislikes. Here there are virtually none.

Really there is not much I would criticise here. One point though, is that I was worried about pushing the cap on the back too firmly in case of damaging the plastic inner cap. I am not sure whether it is one of those designs where the cap clicks on securely to the metal disk at the foot of the barrel: it looks as though it does but I did not want to chance it. But the cap can be posted gently and grips on to the barrel. It does make for quite a heavy unit, at 43g and I have got used to writing with it unposted.

My only other complaint is about the confusing name. The Excellence is the largest of the trio, of Traveller, Esteem and Excellence. I can imagine a company board meeting at which the discussion goes “Well, we have got the Excellence… now this version with the clever cap threads is even better. Any ideas for a name anyone?” Personally, I am not keen on either of the names “Excellence A2” and “Excellence A Plus” to distinguish the two models. Could do better. Please see me after class.

That said, I think this is a wonderful pen. My pen cups have hovered at around 20 inked pens for the past few months but the Excellence A Plus has been used daily and always impresses me with its looks, comfort and performance.

The perfectly tuned nib right out of the box.

Early thoughts on the Graf von Faber-Castell, Classic Anello fountain pen.

Recently I had a rare treat. A pen friend in Australia asked if I would do him a favour and take delivery of a pen for him, that he was to order from Izods. He gave me free rein to open it, to test it out and use it as much as I wished and even to review it. To add to the fun, he did not tell me what pen it was.

The pen duly arrived, lavishly wrapped by Roy of Izods and was in fact a Graf von Faber-Castell Classic Anello (the version with inlaid metal rings along the barrel) in Ebony.

The pen arrives in a chamois-coloured linen bag, in a solid wood gift box.

Description.

This is a luxury pen, priced towards the bracket at which stationery becomes jewellery, but with a great deal of attention to detail and no compromises in the exquisite 18k gold nib, for a wonderful writing performance.

Graf von Faber-Castell (“Graf”) is the luxury arm of Faber-Castell. This is a slender but weighty pen, with the distinctive highly polished cap with a flared top, which reminds me of the funnel of Stephenson’s Rocket, of 1829, contrasting with the warm texture of the black Ebony segments in the barrel, with four platinum rings.

The distinctive flared cap.

The cap has a sturdy hinged and sprung pocket clip, above which is the brand’s coat of arms. The name Graf von Faber-Castell appears on the rim and “Germany” on the other side.

Hinged clip and coat of arms.

The cap unscrews, in three-quarter’s of a turn. The cap feels very secure with no wobble and no fear of coming undone by itself.

The section is long and slender, tapering gently towards the nib but then flaring out again, creating a natural curve on which to rest the pen on your second finger as you write.

At the other end, there is a shiny plated metal knob, shaped to allow the cap to be posted. However, posting is not advisable as the pen becomes very back heavy and about 175mm long.

The nib.

This is a stunning piece of work, in bi-colour 18k gold, the front part and the coat of arms picked out in silver coloured plating against the gold background. This one is a Medium nib. Although I take it that this is a pre-owned pen, the nib looked perfectly set up and with a generous amount of tipping and no signs of wear.

The 18k gold Medium nib is superb.

According to Graf’s official web-site this is a handmade nib, run in by hand and with a manufacturing process that involves over one hundred steps. This is a polite way of saying “Please don’t drop it, you ham-fisted oaf.”

I was thrilled to dip-test the pen. I reached for my customary Waterman Serenity blue, and spent a very happy few minutes enjoying this smooth and springy nib, on a variety of different papers. The wetness from this initial test and the degree of feedback seemed spot on to me. I later filled the pen with Graf’s Cobalt Blue, probably my favourite dark blue and the pair seemed made for each other.

Graf von Faber-Castell pen, Cobalt blue ink, and headed paper. Other brands are available.

Filling.

This is a cartridge-converter pen, taking either standard international cartridges (look no further than Graf’s Cobalt Blue!) or a converter. The pen arrived with a Faber-Castell branded converter, which worked well and drew up a decent amount of ink.

The section unscrews from the barrel on very long screw threads, which are metal to metal. These will be hard-wearing but I noticed the occasional tendency to come loose, whereupon the section just needs tightening again.

On the rim of the cartridge-converter holder, I found the markings “031011 PT” which I presume to be the date of production in 2011. For comparison, my Graf Guilloche has the markings “010717” here. Even Graf’s ink cartridges have a date mark which I think is a very nice feature.

Production date code, just above the threads.

Size and weight (approx.)

The Classic measures 138mm closed, 130mm open and 175mm if you try posting. The whole pen weighs about 41g comprised as to 27g for the pen uncapped and 14 for the cap.

Likes and dislikes.

This pen is hard to beat for sheer elegance and sophistication. The flared cap with its smooth, secure, precision fitting threads works perfectly. I have not noticed any hard starts, after intervals of over 24 hours. The pocket clip has a good amount of movement and is reasonably tight although personally I would carry the pen in a pen case rather than a jacket pocket. The contrast of materials and textures from the almost black Ebony wood and polished furniture is very pleasing. But although this is clearly a luxury item, it is no less a fountain pen and the nib should delight any pen fan.

On the negative side, the grip section is slim, tapering and slippery. Personally I like to hold pens quite high up and for this pen, I have found a grip where the section rests on my second finger, my first finger is at the threads and my thumb anchors the pen at the wooden barrel, which is not slippery. Fortunately the 130mm length uncapped still allows the pen to sit just about comfortably in the web of my hand although I sometimes find myself holding the pen slightly more upright like a ball point pen.

Comparison with the Graf Guilloche.

I have a black Guilloche, with a Broad nib. Although they share a similar style, the Classic is superior in having extra weight, length, and girth, a threaded cap and a bicolour nib.

Guilloche (left) and Classic Anello.

However, it appears to me that the nibs are the same size and that the only noticeable difference is that the Classic’s nib is bi-colour. Fun fact: the nib and sections of the Guilloche and the Classic are interchangeable and so if you have a different nib in your Guilloche, you can simply screw the Guilloche’s entire nib, section and converter, into your Classic Anello body.

The nibs of the Guilloche (left) and Classic.

Conclusion.

The Classic is a lovely pen. I am sure that my friend will be happy with his purchase (when eventually he can collect it). I know that as a long term user of pens with plated metal sections this is not an issue for him.

For me, whilst I appreciate the pen’s artistry and quality, the grip would take a bit of getting used to and whilst I am able to use the pen, I do not yet find it the most comfortable. But I anticipate that with time I would get more used to that, particularly whilst swept away by the superb nib which sings along the page. But to do that would mean to bond with the pen, of which in this instance, I am its temporary custodian.

Another comparison shot of the Guilloche and Classic.

For further reading, see Graf’s official web site. It seems from this that currently there are four versions of the Classic Anello fountain pen, namely the Rose Gold, Grenadilla, Ivory and Black. There is currently no mention of Ebony or Pernambucco. See also the excellent reviews of versions in other woods by UK fountain pens and The Gentleman Stationer.

My Aurora 88, one year on.

It has been a year to the day, since my Aurora 88 arrived in the mail, as told in my post Some early thoughts on the Aurora 88 fountain pen. That same pen has been the focus of my attention over the last few days and it seems timely to give an update.

The pen is magnificent and has “the wow factor” whenever it is produced. People exclaim “What a gorgeous pen!”

It has remained inked since I bought it, as befits a pen which is almost my most costly to date. Looking at my records, I see that I have filled it with seven different inks over this time, starting with the obvious Aurora Blue, then Aurora Blue Black, Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue, Montblanc Irish Green, Diamine Tavy, Cult Pens Deep Dark Red, Aurora Blue Black (again) and then Waterman Intense Black.

Board room ready.

The pen is a joy to look at and to hold. The only problem was that the written line was not as bold and juicy as I had expected. Although described as a Medium nib, the resulting line was a Fine by most people’s standards. That in itself was not an issue for me as I enjoy a good fine nib too. However it was so fine and so thin and pale that on some papers, it would look like the work of a needlepoint. Generally speaking I am a fan of blue black inks as preferable to black, but in this case I had resorted to trying Waterman Intense Black, in an effort to make a more contrasty line. The result was anything but intense. More like a pale grey.

I have an abundance of notebooks with different paper types. Some of these make a pen write finer whilst others make it write broader. I found that I could compensate for my Aurora’s fineness by using it on a Radley A5 notebook, which tends to make the line slightly broader, yet without any apparent feathering or bleedthrough.

For a long time, I had avoided trying to adjust precious gold nibs, (apart from simple tine alignment) for fear of damaging them. I am happy to have a go with a steel nib, giving it a tweak here and there to improve flow or to smooth the tipping but most gold nibs I left alone.

I think the turning point came when I realised earlier this summer that I had not made much use of my Lamy 2000 in six years, as the broad nib was dry and hard going. I had reached a point when (a) I had accumulated some knowledge and experience of what was wrong and what was needed; (b) I was sufficiently confident to have a go and (c) the pen was six years old and I had little to lose and was “past caring”: a certain blend of know how and recklessness. As luck would have it, I was able in a few minutes, to open up the tines of the Lamy and improve wetness and flow considerably. I was thrilled with the transformation. More confidence to me.

A few weeks ago I ordered a set of brass shims online. These enabled me to floss nibs and clean out accumulated paper fibres. I had imagined that it might not be that hard to floss nibs with shims of increasing thickness and so make slight adjustment to tine spacing. It is not quite that simple. I watched a Brian Goulet tutorial video about using brass shims although his emphasis was on cleaning between the tines, rather than adjusting the gap.

When the brass shims came, I tried them out first on a Sheaffer Crest, with its distinctive conical nib in bicolour 18k gold but which was dry and hard to use. I wanted to achieve a very slight widening of the tine gap. After a few goes with my brass shims, I very carefully inserted the point of a craft knife, just below the breather hole, and brought the blade down into the gap as low as it would go. I was then able to wriggle it very gently from side to side to get a little more space between the tines. Gold does bend quite easily but you need to push it just past the point at which it will spring back again, so that it stays.

As with all nib work the advice is go to very carefully and check the results frequently with a loupe and with a writing test to check the outcome. When I discovered the Sheaffer now writing effortlessly I was very happy and relieved.

Encouraged by my success with the Sheaffer, I formed the idea of tackling the Aurora 88 nib in the same way. I rehearsed the operation in my head on my two mile walk home from work, as if it were a rocket launch.

Nib work on the Aurora.

The process involved three stages:-

  1. Flossing the nib first with the finest grade of brass shim.
  2. Inserting the scalpel and doing some extremely gentle twisting right and left to spread the tines. It is best to lower as much of the blade into the gap as you can, to avoid “chewing up” the gold surface along the top of the tines.
  3. Once happy with the outcome, checking for tine alignment and doing some final smoothing (the minimum needed) on micromesh pads.

The pen remained inked through this process although at the end, I unscrewed the nib unit and rinsed it, to inspect the results of my handiwork.

Conclusion.

It probably goes without saying that working on a nib, especially with metal tools, is risky and can result in damage. You do so at your own risk. But having said that, it is possible with a little courage and practice to improve a nib and so save yourself the frustration of disappointing nibs.

To the eye, the Aurora nib now looks no different from before. However the ink flow is now more generous. This increases line width and lubrication and makes for a more pleasurable and effortless writing experience. It is better to spread the tines in the way described here, rather than use the short cut of bending the tines upwards which can spoil the look of a nib.

I now plan to re-try my ink choices. Once the Intense Black is finished, I will try Aurora Blue once again in the eager anticipation of seeing the ink flow from this pen in its true vibrant colours.

Writing sample on Tomoe River paper. The medium nib is now a medium!

Early thoughts on the Pilot Capless, matt black.

A month ago, in A new pen deliberation, I mentioned that I was wrestling with a desire to buy a Pilot Capless.

Not for the first time, temptation got the better of me and I placed an order with The Writing Desk, in time for my birthday. A birthday present to myself. Or should I say, from the UK government, as I was on furlough at the time? (Actually, I resented those news announcements that said “The government is now paying the wages of 9.5 million employees”, because I am and have been for decades, a UK tax payer and it was my own money).

Anyhow, this was a slightly odd purchase for me because I had long ago formed the view that this was not a pen that I would like. This is because I am left handed and generally write in an “overwriter” style, with the nib rotated inwards slightly. This means that I do not grip my pens in a perfectly symmetrical alignment around the centre (as required of Lamy Safari users) but a little off centre. As you might imagine, this means that the pocket clip of a Pilot Capless would get in my way.

Pilot Capless, matt black.

Earlier in the year, I bought a Platinum Curidas, which proved to be a very successful purchase. However, I very quickly removed its detachable pocket clip and then filed down the fin which, for me made my pen a whole lot more comfortable.

This is not an option on the Pilot Capless. Nevertheless, I had convinced myself that it was a worthwhile purchase, even if I might be restricted to using it in underwriter mode.

I had always thought that, if I did ever buy a Capless, it would be the lovely yellow one with rhodium plated fittings. However, this preference changed once I saw the matt black version, with black fittings. A stealth pen, except for the nib which is still rhodium plated, over 18k gold. I thought that this looked very nice indeed, and had the advantage of making the upside down clip less obvious when the pen is in writing mode.

The matt black finish is very pleasant to hold, as well as to look at.

First impressions of the pen were very favourable. All looked perfect. In particular the medium nib that I had chosen, was superb – soft and smooth and juicy. What’s more, it was quite forgiving in even allowing me to write in my customary overwriter style without needing to roll the nib inwards to find a sweet spot. The generous round tipping and the soft gold tines enabled the pen to write well at a wide range of angles.

My nib was born in July 2018.

The offer at The Writing Desk included a box of 12 Pilot cartridges. There was no option to select the ink colour (or if there was, I missed it), but the pen arrived with blue black ink – which is exactly what I would have chosen. There was also a converter. I christened the pen with a blue black cartridge and enjoyed every drop. When that finished, I tried a blue cartridge but decided that I prefer the blue black and will stick to those in future.

Not my car. I do not have the car to match my stealth pen, but if I did…. That is my bike though!

Well, I can report that I have been thrilled to bits with my Capless! Happier even than I had hoped to be. I still enjoy the Platinum Curidas immensely and the experience is different, as the Pilot Capless is a metal pen and with a gold nib. I must be one of the last fountain pen enthusiasts on the planet to buy one, but better late than never.

Simply gorgeous.

My new approach to notebooks.

I have always enjoyed buying a new notebook. Like many fountain pen enthusiasts, I have a several notebooks on the go as well as a stash of new ones of various types waiting to be used.

My used notebooks could be divided into two broad categories: those which I have used for a specific purpose and would want to keep, or those which I have just filled for the joy of writing, consisting mostly of pen and ink samples or note taking.

When I buy a new notebook, I often paginate it first, except of course for those when this task has been done for you, such as the Leuchtturm A5 or Taroko Design Breeze. Next I try out my currently inked pens on the last page. This has two purposes. First, it is a useful exercise to see which inks are suited to the paper and write without bleedthrough, feathering or excessive amounts of show through. I can also see how different nibs feel on the paper. It is about establishing the right tools for the job.

Secondly, it breaks the ice of starting a new book, without having to dive straight into the blank first page and risk spoiling it.

However, I have found that on some occasions I have started a notebook at the back and continued happily, with random pen and ink samples all the way to the front of the book!

It occurred to me that my stash of old notebooks from the last few years, even if they contain little writing of any significance, are at least an accumulation of pen and ink tests which I have not followed through in any methodical, let alone scientific manner.

Many hundreds of hours have been whiled away, in picking up a pen from my pen cups and writing a few lines or paragraphs, purely for relaxation and the momentary enjoyment of feeling the nib glide along the paper.

Paper types in notebooks are very variable. If you use only the best, such as Tomoe River, there may be no need to test for bleedthrough as this will not be an issue, nor will there be a feeling of draggy resistance from an overly coated surface. For other types of untried notebooks, it is useful to find out which inks can be used and which are best avoided – unless you are happy to write on one side only.

Although I do try out pens and inks and try to keep a mental note of the outcomes, I have not recorded the findings in a consistent way. Perhaps there are just too many variables of pens, nibs and inks and papers that I have accumulated.

However today I decided to try a slightly new format for recording my little experiments. Starting with a Radley A5 notebook, I set up a double page spread, with one side with columns for the ink and the pen: the facing page to show the degree of showthrough and bleedthrough (if any) – written from the other side of that page – and a column for comments, such as my subjective impressions of the sensation of the nib on the paper, the feedback and so on and whether the combination is successful. There is one constant in the test, namely the paper of that particular notebook.

A selection of my currently inked, now paired with findings on the facing page. The column for bleedthrough is written from the other side.

I do not want to turn a relaxing enjoyable hobby into an onerous project of recording a vast combination of variables and test results. But on the other hand it seems useful to me to record the simplest of conclusions, to avoid having to repeat the same tests and reinvent the wheel. Once we settle on a favourite type of notebook and stick to it, we can also pick a palette of coloured inks to use in it.

The third page of the pen and ink test – the column to demonstrate bleedthrough.

In conclusion, some preliminary lessons for the Radley notebook are to avoid Waterman Tender Purple, Pure Pens Cadwaladr Red and Pelikan Edelstein Star Ruby due to bleedthrough. Good choices are Waterman Serenity Blue, Pilot Blue Black and Montblanc Velvet Red. In the case of the Radley, I have three more bought in a sale and so it is well worth knowing which inks it prefers.

A look at the discontinued Waterman Phileas fountain pen.

Buying a new fountain pen is tempting and exciting. However, during the past few months of lockdown, I have also enjoyed looking back over my accumulation and, in a few cases, making some simple nib adjustments. So having an old fountain pen is nice too. Some benefits are (1) saving your money; (2) reducing waste; (3) avoiding additional clutter in the home from stored pen boxes; (4) using and appreciating what you have and (5) connecting with some memories and associations from the past.

Today I am looking at my old Waterman Phileas. I remember buying it, a long time ago in a department store in Shantou, China, chosing it from the selection in the glass display counter. I cannot now recall what year it was. It could have been late 1990’s or early 2000’s. It was not very expensive by UK standards, possibly around the same price as a Lamy Safari at home but, as my wife pointed out, quite expensive for the locals.

Waterman Phileas

Description.

This is a plastic pen, taking Waterman cartridges or a converter. It has a vintage look from its red marbled patterns on the cap and barrel and gold coloured furniture. The cap has a rounded black top, with a sprung metal clip bearing the Waterman logo. There are two gold coloured rings on the cap which add to the elegance. It is a snap cap. The black band next to the gold ring, is stamped with the name Waterman and (on the back), France.

The section is black plastic, tapering slightly towards the nib but with a combination of a smooth area near the nib and a ribbed grip area higher up, which has a comfortable girth of approximately 12mm. I noticed that although the Phileas is discontinued, this section appears to have resurfaced for the new Waterman Embleme fountain pens.

Showing black plastic section with ribbed grip area.

The barrel has two more gold coloured rings but the most elaborate part is an inlaid gold coloured badge with some decorative engraving. This seems to echo the golden area of the bi-colour nib.

Decorative badge on the barrel.

Unscrewing the barrel, on plastic threads, it can be seen that there is a metal liner inside the barrel, for about the rear two thirds of its length, presumably for added weight, strength and to help with balance. There is still room for a converter inside the barrel.

Disassembled.

The cap can be posted, both deeply and securely which I appreciate.

The nib.

The bicolour nib is stainless steel but with a large area of gold coloured plating. It bears the logo and name Waterman, Paris, M, for medium. The nib and the plastic feed are friction fit.

Bi-colour nib.

Size and weight (approximate).

This is a medium sized pen and relatively light weight which should be comfortable for most people. Closed, the pen measures about 136mm; open 126mm and posted 146mm. Weights are about 21g in all (not including a cartridge or converter) comprised as to 14g for the pen and 7g for the cap.

Conclusions.

My vague recollections of the pen when I bought it, are that it was a little disappointing, a bit plasticky and not the best of writers as the nib was smooth but on the dry side. Whatever the reason, I did not make much use of it.

I am glad that I kept it. Recently I got out an old Waterman Kultur, blue demonstrator, which is very similar to the Phileas but with a simpler, less ornamented cap and barrel and an all-silver coloured nib. I was able to tweak the nib of the Kultur to open up the tines and improve ink flow. The result was to rediscover a very enjoyable pen.

And so with the Phileas I performed the same trick, (once again with thanks for SBRE Brown for the old instruction video “How to make a nib wetter in seconds”) bending up the nib just a little to widen the tines and to introduce a glimpse of daylight between them at the tip, for an easier flow of ink without pressure for my lefty overwriting preferences.

Just a little tine-gap widening work.

Perhaps, around 20 years ago, I had looked down on this pen for trying to appear vintage and of better materials than it was made of. But with older eyes and a little more experience to perform some easy nib work, I now appreciate the pen for what it is. Waterman succeeded in producing a pen which had timeless, classic looks (even recalling the decoration of old Waterman Ideal pens) and some elements of feel-good luxury in the gold coloured fittings, but at a modest cost. The metal liner inside the barrel is a particularly nice touch and marks this pen out as a quality tool in its own right. And so whilst I still enjoy buying a new pen, it sometimes pays to keep the old ones too.

The adjusted nib in profile. The upward bend is barely noticeable.