A quick look at the Manuscript Clarity fountain pen

On a recent visit to our local Ryman stationer, this new cartridge pen from Manuscript, called the Clarity, caught my eye.

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This is a clear demonstrator, taking standard international cartridges. The cap, section and barrel are of a clear plastic but with matching end caps in black, a sturdy metal clip finished in matte black and a black centre band bearing the words Manuscript UK, in capital letters. Yes, it is rather unusual to find a mainstream fountain pen that is made here in the UK.

It was displayed in a clear plastic clam shell type box hanging on a peg. I did not see any other colour options. Having purchased one, I took it to a nearby coffee shop to try. Here I was glad to find that the packaging could be opened without the need of scissors or sharp knife.

The pen is really very pleasing. The classic cigar shape, tapering towards the rounded ends, is attractive and comfortable. The body material appears reasonably durable although the cap would not withstand being stepped on.

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I pushed in one of the supplied cartridges and the ink started to flow within a couple of strokes, which I always like.

You get a “proper” stainless steel nib, with Iridium point, in a Medium width. The tines were aligned and the nib slit tapered nicely from the breather hole to the tip. So far so good.

The pen measures 140mm capped, 125mm uncapped, or 155mm posted which is how I prefer to use it. It is very light at 14g capped or posted (including two cartridges), or just 8g unposted.

The writing experience was very pleasant, on the wet side but not a gusher, but smooth and with good lubrication of the nib. Having very often had the opposite experience of finding new pens to be very dry and stingey, this was a welcome result.

The cap is a snap on one, which feels firm and secure, although the cap does still rotate freely. There is an opaque, white inner cap, which serves well in keeping the nib from drying out. If you cap the pen and rotate it in the cap, you can observe the inner cap turning as well, although it does not unscrew so this does not seem to be a problem.

I found that the barrel end cap is threaded and can be unscrewed. This allows you to replace the spare cartridge without having to uncap the pen and then unscrew the barrel. The time saving is negligible but I rather liked this feature.

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To my mind, Manuscript are a brand associated with calligraphy pen sets, whereas this model is sold as a handwriting pen with a single, standard medium nib. I have bought a few Manuscript pens in recent years in the sub-£10.00 price range but this one seems more attractive, comfortable and pleasurable to use.

In summary, my likes:-

  • UK made (yay!);
  • Useful size, shape and weight;
  • Firm metal pocket clip;
  • Firm snap-on cap;
  • Cap can be posted securely to give a decent length but still light-weight pen;
  • Demonstrator design, gives clear view of feed and cartridges, but there are also two round port-hole windows in the section, just above the feed, to observe your cartridge;
  • Pleasant nib, particularly at this price level; Good ink flow;
  • Although I have not yet tried, the nib and feed look to be friction fit. The feed also has its fins pointing inwards (up towards the nib side) rather than away from the nib, which reduces risk of damage if gripping the nib and feed to remove them for cleaning or adjustment;
  • The barrel end cap unscrews, a marginal benefit but added gadgety likability!

Dislikes:-

Very little really. The clear plastic parts do have a lot of striations in the moulding, which can look like cracks at first glance but it is reassuring to find that they are repeated and form a pattern.

Overall, at £9.99 this seems to be good value and with many benefits above some lower priced models.

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A look at the Sheaffer 100 Translucent blue and chrome fountain pen

What is it about the combination of electric blue and chrome which makes it so captivating and (to me) irresistible?

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This year marks the 225th anniversary of WH Smith, the high street  book shop, newsagent and stationer chain that is a familiar sight in our towns and cities. Our local branch, at Brent Cross shopping centre, North London has reinvigorated its fountain pen display cabinets. This was a welcome find, when I visited recently. I enjoy looking around for anything new. This time I was rewarded with their dedicated self contained glass display cabinet showing a range of fountain pens from Parker, Cross, Waterman and Sheaffer each arranged in a fan shape although closer inspection revealed that the brands were intermixed.

It was there that I spotted what I now know to be the Sheaffer 100, in translucent blue, with polished chrome section and a brushed stainless steel cap, featuring the trademark Sheaffer white dot. The pen, with cap posted, looked stunning with its vibrant blue barrel and contrasting silver coloured section and cap. The nib, with its decorative scroll work, harks back to the glory days of Sheaffer when they were made in Fort Madison, Iowa.

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Sheaffer 100 Translucent blue and chrome

The pen looked to be good value, particularly in comparison with some of the other offerings on display with similar specification. With its striking good looks, needless to say, I succumbed to buying another pen.

The pen comes in a decently made and typical, black gift box with a removable padded tray, underneath which is a Use and Care Guide and 1 year warranty leaflet. Whilst this is for a Sheaffer pen, the name on the back of the leaflet nowadays reads A.T.Cross Company. You also get two Sheaffer Skrip cartridges, one blue and one black but no converter.

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A feature of this pen is the shiny grip section. But there we have a contradiction in terms. Shiny sections are difficult for me to grip. I know this. I have a Cross Aventura with the same issue. The section looks pretty and photogenic but slips around in my hand.

Why is this important? We look at writing samples to see how nibs perform, how wide the line is, how dry or wet the ink flow is, whether it skips and so on. But there is another factor at work here. Is the pen comfortable to hold? And part of feeling comfortable with a pen, means being able to hold it securely and confidently so that you can exercise sufficient control of the pen as you write. At the same time, you do not want to be overly aware of how you are holding the pen, which you will be if you are gripping too tight as your hand will tell you after a little while.

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A pen which cannot be gripped securely will manifest itself in shaky and erratic writing. Happiness does not shine through.

In the case of the Sheaffer 100, I have been writing with it for a few weeks now and have become accustomed to holding the pen just above the join of the section and the barrel. In this way, I can hold the blue barrel between finger and thumb, whilst the cool and shiny section rests on my second finger. This works for me. It feels slightly higher than I would normally hold a pen, but not too much higher like chopsticks.

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Holding the pen further back from the nib also means that you still need sufficient length for the back of the pen to rest in the crook of your hand. The pen unposted measures 120mm (4 3/4 inches) but happily, the cap posts securely (if you give it a firm push) and brings the pen up to 149mm (about 5 7/8ths inches) which is a very comfortable length, for me. The pen weighs 28g capped or posted. Uncapped it is 18g, with the cap weighing 10g.  I like to use it posted and this is not too heavy.

As for the writing experience, I tried the pen first with the supplied blue Sheaffer Skrip cartridge. The medium nib wrote a nice wet line, on the fine side of medium. The nib looks very attractive. However, seen under a loupe, the tipping on my nib looked just a little off, with the nib slit at the tip being not quite perpendicular when viewed head on, but leaning towards a 1 o’clock to 7 o’clock line. I decided to leave it to wear in naturally and I think it will wear smooth as I use the pen.

Whilst having a lovely ink flow, the blue Skrip did bleed through quite badly on a particular Paperchase notebook that was using such that when I finished the first cartridge I syringe-filled it with Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt blue, which I am using now and without the bleedthrough.

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Sheaffer 100 with Medium stainless steel nib and Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt blue ink on Rhodia 90gsm paper. Words by William Wordsworth.

I have adapted to holding the pen a little higher than I might otherwise, in view of the slippy no-go area of chrome section. But it is good to adapt and be comfortable with using different pens, rather like being able to drive different types of car.

If I had not liked the look of the pen I would not have persevered with it but I am fond of Sheaffers and it has been worth the effort.

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My grandmother had a sugar bowl like this one.

 

 

 

Paperchase Inky Swirls Open Spine Notebook review

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Paperchase, Inky Swirls Open Spine notebook, with Cleo Skribent Classic Metal, piston filler.

For the notebook enthusiast, Paperchase has a lot to offer. For those unfamiliar with the name, Paperchase is a chain of high street stationery shops here in the UK, selling pens, greeting cards, novelty gifts and stationery supplies as well as numerous styles of notebooks. The shops are bright and attractive although the displays of fountain pens in spot-lit glass-shelved cabinets, are very uniform from branch to branch. You will never see a fountain pen displayed at an angle of other than 90 or 180 degrees on the shelf and equidistant from its neighbour. Not that this a bad thing particularly. I enjoy browsing and shopping there. They also have a loyalty card offering various special offers and benefits.

On a recent visit, I noticed a new type of notebook. Available with a choice of cover design, (I chose the Inky Swirls), this measures 216mm x 172mm (8.5 inches x 6.8 inches). It contains 288 pages, of cream (not quite white) paper, with headings “SUBJECT” and “DATE” at the top of each page. Lines are ruled, in a reasonably wide format that I like, giving 22 rows per page (not including your header and footer area).

What sets this note book apart however, is that the pages are sewn AND the notebook does not have a covered spine! At first glance, it looks like a book from which the spine has come off. Instead, you look directly upon the neat row of batches of sewn pages.

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The unusual exposed binding of the open spine notebook

The colourful front and back cardboard covers are attached, with dark grey end papers. The notebook is nicely bound, but the absence of a spine looks a bit odd at first.

The great advantage though, is that the notebook will open and lay flat easily at any page. This is quite unusual.

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Notebook opens flat with ease.

At home I paginated my notebook (surprisingly relaxing, thanks for asking) and then tried out a few different fountain pens on the last page to see how the paper behaved. I found it very smooth and pleasant to write on. However, the ink did bleed through the paper with most of the pen and ink combinations that I tried, to the extent that you might use only one side of each sheet, if you are fountain pen user. There were some combinations that fared better. My Cleo Skribent Classic with fine stainless steel nib (currently inked with Cross black) writes a very fine line and did not bleed through. Also My Pelikan M800, medium nib, with Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue did quite well at avoiding bleedthrough, (unless you let the nib linger too long in one spot). On the other hand, a very wet Sheaffer 100 with a Sheaffer Skrip blue cartridge, bled like a stuck pig.

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The back of a page, demonstrating bleedthrough from a Sheaffer 100 inked with Sheaffer Skrip blue cartridge.

In the UK we have a saying, that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes. This set me thinking that perhaps there may be no such thing as not fountain pen friendly; you just need to find the right friend.

For example, I have been reading a very cheap penguin paperback edition of William Wordsworth Selected Poems.  The yellowed, coarse paper is of the type that you would probably not even consider writing on with a fountain pen. Ironically, some of the most beautiful poetry in the English language, printed on some of the worst paper. However with a bit of trial and error I found that the ultra fine Cleo Skribent Classic with Cross black is also able to write on this without undue feathering, bleed or showthrough. It is satisfying to find combinations which cater to a paper’s strengths or weaknesses.

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The Cleo Skribent Classic with stainless steel fine nib. There was no bleedthrough with Cross Black ink.  

I am fond of the cheap edition of Wordsworth’s poems. I don’t mind that the cover gets creased and dog-eared.  And I don’t need to feel too worried about scribbling in it. In a way, the Paperchase open spine notebook looks a little like a book that has been pre-loved and worn.  I rather like it.

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The Pelikan M800 likes this notebook. No bleedthrough, with Graf von Faber-Castell, Cobalt Blue.

Remembering Mr Chiu Fa Chan.

 

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Today marks the second anniversary since my father in law, Chiu Fa Chan passed away on 29 July 2015. He was in his 90th year.  He had been fit and active, but died after a short stay in hospital from complications following an operation.

As a young man, growing up in China, he went to sea, working on cargo ships and travelling the South China Seas. He rose to second officer. Later, in China he was to become a respected lecturer in navigation. He was still in touch with some of his former students from decades ago, now all elderly. He enjoyed a reunion with a group of them when he last visited China.

For the last twenty years of his life, he and his wife lived in London, not far from my wife and I.

He knew of my interest in fountain pens and I would sometimes show him my new acquisitions. He once told me the story, that with his very first month’s pay at sea, when going ashore at Singapore, he had bought himself a new Parker 51. Unfortunately the story had a sad ending as it went missing from his cabin not long afterwards. I don’t think he bought another one.

Last year at the London Pen Show, I bought a Parker 51 Aerometric in cedar blue which bears the markings Made in USA, 9, which I think dates from 1949 and so would be a similar age to dad’s pen if we still had it.

People often remember what they bought with their first earnings. In my case, after some temping work in my college holidays in the late 1970’s , I bought a portable typewriter and a book Teach Yourself Typewriting and laboriously set about learning to touch-type, (up to a point), little knowing that I would be spending such large chunks of my working and leisure hours at a keyboard in the years to come.

This morning my wife, her mum and I visited the peaceful gardens of the Golders Green Crematorium, North West London to see dad’s memorial stone and leave some colourful flowers, which my wife had brought from his own garden.

 

 

 

Kaweco Dia 2 fountain pen review.

I know well the pleasure of receiving a new fountain pen. There is an element of risk as sometimes the pen might not live up to expectations and the initial excitement can turn to disappointment.

The Kaweco Dia 2 had been on my wish list for over a year. Eventually I succumbed. This was in part triggered by my recent experience of the new Kaweco Perkeo. I fully appreciate that the Perkeo is an inexpensive, entry level pen. I do not like to be negative about it and would feel awful if anything I wrote caused anyone who had just received a Perkeo, to like it any the less.

I liked the nib of the Perkeo and it certainly has a place as a robust, reliable, decent quality writing tool. But I came to realise, as I looked again at favourable reviews of the Kaweco Dia 2, that the various aspects of the Perkeo that I liked less were all remedied in the Dia 2 and that perhaps this was the pen for me.

I did not have the opportunity of handling a Dia 2 before buying, as I do not know anyone nearby who owns one and they are not found in the shops here. Paperchase do sell Kawecos but these seem to be limited to the Sport models including some aluminium and brass versions, (and now the Perkeo too).

I ordered my Dia 2 from Cult Pens and enjoyed their excellent service as usual. I received the pen on a Friday evening, with the happy prospect of a weekend ahead to get acquainted with it.

To get to the point, the pen is simply gorgeous. I have seldom been so thrilled with a new pen (and I have bought a few).

Admittedly, a fountain pen, like a wristwatch, is a personal thing and what appeals to one person does not appeal to everyone. But as someone who appreciates nice quality design, features and materials in a fountain pen, I found lots of detail to enjoy in the Dia 2 and very little to dislike. It seems to embody an excellent compromise, of being not too heavy, not too light, not too large, not to small, not too cheap and (dare I say) not 2 dia.

The pen is based on a classic design from the 1930’s. What immediately impresses, is the glossy black finish, with contrasting chrome coloured fittings, the classic subtle beauty of the shape, the gentle curves to the cap and barrel and the section where the pen rests comfortably on your finger as you write. Also  the elegant knurled end caps and metal Kaweco badge at each end.

My pen arrived in a smallish black, hinged box with a push-button catch and a cushioned white satin interior, like a jewellery case. This was in a cardboard sleeve, with the Kaweco logo and slogan “License to write, Germany since 1883”. However I have heard the pen is sometimes packaged in the Kaweco tin instead (which I am familiar with, from purchasing a Kaweco Al-Sport).

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The Dia 2 is a black, cartridge-converter fountain pen, taking standard international cartridges with a stainless steel nib. There is a 14k gold nib unit available. There is an option of the chrome coloured fittings, or gold coloured at a little extra cost. In the hand, the pen feels reassuringly solid, beautifully balanced and particularly tactile. It wants to be picked up. 

The pen measures (approximately) 133mm capped, 124mm open (not counting the raised badge at the end of the barrel) and 158mm posted.  I weighed it at 28g (including two cartridges on board) of which around 18g is the pen unposted and 10g is the cap. 

For me, this puts the length as being adequate to use unposted, although it is a little shorter unposted than the generous 130mm of a Lamy Safari or AL-Star, or the 135mm of my Cleo Skribent Classic. However, I do prefer to use the Dia 2 posted. It still feels nicely balanced this way, is not too long or back heavy and has the advantage that you can put it down on a desk without it rolling off.

The stainless steel nib is part of a unit, which unscrews from the section when you want to clean it or swap nibs (rather like a Pelikan). Spare nib and feed units are very affordable, and available from Cult Pens in EF, F, M, B and BB widths. Currently these are priced at £8.40 each except for the Extra Fine or Double Broad which are £10.49. There is also a 14k gold option for £99.00, (all widths) if you want extra luxury.

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I have been genuinely delighted with my Dia 2. I ordered mine with a Fine nib, in stainless steel.  I tried this for a day or two but found mine a little skippy and not as effortless as it should be. Perhaps it just needed tweaking or running in but I was impatient.  I then swapped this with the medium nib unit from my Kaweco Al-Sport, the shiny aluminium one, that looks stunning but which I find slippery to hold. With the medium nib installed, the Dia 2 came into its own and wrote superbly. 

Nothing is perfect but, being reasonable and taking account of the moderate price tag, I cannot really think of many improvements that could be made.  To summarise likes and dislikes:

Likes:

  • Aesthetically very pleasing; a classic, 30’s design;
  • Combination of metal and acrylic materials for beauty and strength;
  • Nice design flourishes, such as the knurled end caps, the metal Kaweco badge at both ends, the sweeping curve of the pocket clip and the very subtle tapering curves on cap, barrel and section;
  • The inscription in white lettering, “Kaweco Dia GERMANY” at the back of the black cap, rather than on any of the rings;
  • Good quality yet very affordable Bock stainless steel nib, in an easy-to-change, screw in unit;  
  • Commendable performance for an inexpensive nib. Pleasant feedback. No skips or hard starts. (I am using Caran d’Ache blue cartridges in mine);
  • Comfort. The gentle curve at the middle of the section, makes for a comfortable and natural way to rest the pen on your finger as you write; the weighty section balances the pen nicely when the cap is posted;
  • Screw-on cap with minimal turns, with a good secure bite at the end; it is not going to uncap itself in your pocket or bag;
  • The cap threads are not sharp and there is no step down from barrel to section;
  • Removing the barrel, reveals nice metal threads on both the section and the interior of the barrel, for durability; 
  • There is an O-ring at the base of the threads, on the section, which is a nice touch, preventing the barrel from coming unscrewed in a pocket;
  • The cartridge is inserted into a deep, chrome collar (about 15mm long, including the screw threads), unlike some pens where the cartridge can wobble from side to side;
  • The barrel can carry a spare cartridge – a benefit if you are out and about;
  • There is a spring inside the barrel, which compresses when you have two cartridges on board, so that the spare does not rattle;
  • I loved the box that mine came in, with its push-button clasp. 

Dislikes:

  • The pocket clip is very tight. If you clip it in a pocket, it is not going to fall out, which is a good thing, but it takes a bit of practice to find a way to release it; I tend to put my thumb-nail under the end of the clip to pull it away from the cap, before trying to pull the pen out of a pocket;
  • I have read a criticism that the nib size looks a little bit too small for the pen; personally, I do not have any problem with this;
  • Also I have read comments that for the price, it should be a piston filler, like a Pelikan M200 for example. Well, that would make it a different pen altogether. Personally I like it just as it is. I have a hoard of standard international cartridges at home and am glad of having an enjoyable pen in which to use them.
  • Again, other reviewers have said that the cap does not post deeply enough for them. I think a lot of engineering design has gone into the cap and inner cap. If it had been made wider, to post deeper, then this might have thrown up other problems. As it is , it does cover about 27mm of the barrel when posted and is not perched precariously on the tip of the barrel. I have no problem with it. I enjoy using the pen posted, it does not make for an uncomfortable, back-heavy pen and the overall posted length is not too long, in my opinion. It does post securely;
  • I have read that some converters do not fit, (due to the spring inside the barrel) but a Kaweco converter (not included with the pen) costs only £2.99 from Cult Pens. Interestingly, if you do not tighten the nib and feed unit enough, and then refit the barrel, with cartridge and a spare on board, you will have the disconcerting experience of seeing the nib unscrew itself as the barrel goes on! Simply tighten the nib and feed a bit more, to resolve this.

Conclusion.

I have been using the Dia 2 at work now for several weeks, for taking notes on pads of file paper. It is a joy to look at and to hold. For a work pen, the ability to start immediately if left uncapped for a while, is appreciated.

If we were playing the “If you could only keep one pen” game, then currently this Kaweco Dia 2 would be a contender. It has very quickly become a daily companion for me. I cannot imagine getting bored of the classy design. For anyone looking for a well designed, well made cartridge converter pen that is smart and attractive enough to treasure but which does not cost a fortune, this is well worth considering. 

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Kaweco Perkeo, a brief update.

Following my recent post A peek at the Perkeo; first impressions of the new Kaweco cartridge pen. I wished to add a few comments after my first week of ownership.

The good news and the main message to take away, is that the performance of the Bock, stainless steel medium nibs on both of the pens that I bought is quite superb, with a lovely smooth writing experience far beyond what you might expect at this price level. Yes, perhaps the size 5 nib is a little more firm than a larger, size 6 might have been but overall I am delighted with it.

My biggest gripe had been with the faceted grip section. After all it is probably targeted by its price tag as being a beginner’s pen or close to it. But having medium to large hands myself, I have very quickly found that I automatically grip the pen higher up the body than the facets (save for the third facet on the underside, where the pen conveniently rests on my second finger) and so the facets were not an issue for me in practice. Within a few days of use, I barely noticed them.

On the downside, I have received one comment from a work colleague, who saw my Old Chambray coloured Perkeo on my desk, and said that it looked like an insulin pen. Admittedly, the colour scheme, size, shape and material of this pen do give it a slightly clinical look.

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This week I did try removing the nib and feed. I had expected them to unscrew, as a unit (as on the Kaweco Al sport). However this is not the case. The nib and feed of the Perkeo are friction fit and push directly into the coloured section.

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As I tried in vain the unscrew them, I was simply rotating them in the section.

There is no flattened edge of the circular opening, to give any guide to locating the nib and feed. To replace them you just seat the nib on top of the feed, align them with a centre line between two facets and then push them home.

For the benefit of anyone new to the art of nib removal, (a noble and relaxing pass-time which I whole-heartedly recommend) then there are few rules which I have gleaned online and from experience:

  • take care to grip the nib and feed together firmly, between thumb and the first joint of your finger (with thumb over the nib) using some grippy material or else a tissue or cloth;
  • for nib and feeds which are friction-fit (as with the Perkeo), grip firmly and then pull in a straight line, taking care not to bend or distort the nib or damage the delicate fins on the feed;
  • if doing this over a basin, do have the plug in place, in case the small nib or feed drop down the plug hole;
  • once removed, it is very easy and satisfying to rinse the nib and feed and the section in water and dry them, before reassembling;
  • the nib can be examined under a magnifying glass or loupe to check that the tines are aligned and adjustments can be made (very gently and by hand) before reassembling;
  • for nib units which unscrew, (such as the Kaweco Al-sport, or Pelikan M series, for example) then grip the nib and feed as described above but rotate the barrel, not the nib, to unscrew;
  • It is good practice to clean a nib and feed from time to time, particularly before changing inks. A short cut, rather than removing the nib and feed, is to leave the entire nib section to soak in water overnight and then rinse under a tap or use a rubber squeezy blower to squirt water through it, until it runs clear.

Coming back to the Perkeo, since there is no set position to align the nib and feed in the section, this means that you are free to align them how you wish, in relation to the facets. You can offset the nib if you wish.  There is no need to feel that you are forced to have the nib centred between two facets. With trial and error, if the centred nib does not conform to your preferred grip, you can customise your pen – rather than feeling that you have to adjust your grip to suit the pen.

In conclusion, I think that the Perkeo is a pen that I shall use and enjoy, for its excellent stainless steel nib and writing performance, if not for its looks.

 

A peek at the Perkeo; first impressions of the new Kaweco cartridge pen.

A cruise ship holiday offers a wonderful opportunity for the fountain pen enthusiast, to spend a little time away, in new surroundings with a few select pens for journaling on the trip.

Our recent one-week cruise departed from Southampton, with visits to La Rochelle in France, Bilboa in Spain and finally, St Peter Port, Guernsey.  Being a novice at the modern cruise ship experience, I had not prepared myself much beyond planning which pens to bring.  While my wife was happily picking out which evening dresses to pack, I was looking forward particularly to sitting in our balcony cabin, with notebook and pen, to “unpack” a few thoughts and impressions of our travels.

Choosing which pens to bring from the “currently inked” selection in my pen cups, was a challenge, but an enjoyable one. I settled on the following:

  1. Lamy AL-star, Pacific Blue (with Lamy turquoise ink cartridges);
  2. Lamy AL-star, Charged Green (with syringe-filled cartridge of Graf von Faber-Castell Moss Green ink);
  3. Cleo Skribent, Classic Gold piston filler, with Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue ink); the ink colour reminds me of a Guernsey pullover;
  4. Cleo Skribent, Classic Metal piston filler, with Graf von Faber-Castell Moss Green ink);
  5. Faber-Castell School pen, with blue ink cartridge. A light-weight and reliable shirt pocket pen for the hasty note.

Admittedly, any one of these would have been sufficient on its own to use for a week, but I enjoyed each of them in turn.

I had hoped that the shore excursions might afford an opportunity to stumble across a charming local pen shop and browse among some unfamiliar brands of fountain pens and inks. However, having chosen to join guided tours for our visits to La Rochelle and Bilbao, there was limited time available for shopping.

It was not until day six, when spending a day wandering on our own at St Peter Port, that I spotted the familiar “Paperchase” shop sign and found a stationery shop looking just like any of their other branches in London. Nevertheless, starved of pen shops for almost a week I was interested to check whether their stock was any different from ours at home.

The glass cabinets displays of Cross, Kaweco and Parker pens and the hanging displays of Lamy Safaris and AL-stars were all very familiar. But then I had my first sighting of a Kaweco Perkeo, a recently released model, news of which had not yet reached me.

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Displayed in a clear plastic clam-shell style pack, I first noticed the “Cotton Candy” version, with a contrasting taupe coloured cap. I understand that cotton candy is the spun sugar confection that in the UK is known as candy floss. To me however, the colour of this pen puts me more in mind of salmon which would be a truer although perhaps less appealing description.

Beside this on the rack, there was another version called “Old Chambray” which denotes a blue-grey colour for the cap, with white barrel and section.

The pen has a stainless steel nib (made by Bock) familiar from the Kaweco Sport pocket pens. Indeed the pen is similar to the Kaweco Sport but larger all round and with a broader cap. The cap is eight sided whilst the barrel is sixteen sided. I have read that it is based upon another old Kaweco fountain pen.

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The main and most obvious difference is the length, with the Perkeo having a length, opened and unposted, of about 128mm (or 160mm posted), whilst the Kaweco Sport measures just around 100mm opened and unposted, (or around 133mm posted, as it is intended to be used). Thus the Perkeo is almost as long unposted, as the Sport is posted. Other differences are that the Perkeo section has three flat surfaces, or facets, intended to improve correct grip and that the cap of the Perkeo is broader and shorter than on the Sport and snaps on rather than being threaded.

The packaging shows three cartridges included although there are in fact four, since you find one more in the barrel, plus a blank, dummy cartridge already fitted in the section.

Deciding to buy one of each colour, I was keen to have a closer look at home and to ink them up. The nibs on both proved to be very smooth, with tines well-adjusted “out of the box” with a good ink flow thus giving a very pleasing, well lubricated writing experience. No complaints there.

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I have since read online that there are two other colour options, namely “Indian Summer” which is yellow and black, or “Bad Taste” which is coral pink and black.

I inked the Old Chambray model with one of the supplied cartridges of Kaweco blue ink. This is an excellent ink, a rich, dark royal blue. As for the Cotton Candy model, as I have rather too many pens already inked with blue, I inserted a dark blood-orange cartridge from an old bag of standard international cartridges in assorted colours from Paperchase that I had at home. (At £2.50 for a bag of 50, these are great value and give your pens a low running cost for high mileage writing).

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In summary my initial impressions are:-

Likes

  • good length, comfortable to use posted or unposted;
  • barrel has room for a spare cartridge;
  • strong resin material; a tough pen to use and carry around every day, such as for school use;
  • excellent stainless steel nib; smooth, optimum flow (wet but not overly so);
  • four Kaweco ink cartridges included with the pen;
  • firm snap on cap, with good inner cap fitted and an attractive metal Kaweco badge for the finial;
  • reasonable price; similar to the Lamy Safari.

Dislikes

  • three facets in the section; I would have preferred the section without these; however they are shorter than those on the Lamy Safari or AL-star and the pen barrel is sufficiently long, to avoid the facets and grip the pen higher up with thumb and forefinger over the contrasting coloured band at the end of the section and still have the barrel resting in the crook of your hand; or you may post the cap for even greater length;
  • colours are a bit garish and weird, unlike the more standard colours available for the Safari;
  • tough resin material and the snap-on cap (with no pocket clip) combine to give a functional but rather charmless, clunky, white board marker-pen feel.

Conclusions

Overall, this is a pen that writes very well, with a good quality German stainless steel nib. If you like the Kaweco Sport but wish it was a full sized pen that you could use unposted, then this may be the answer, being bigger and longer than the little Sport. For me, I would have preferred it without the facets on the grip section. As there are three of them they do narrow the grip and also do not quite coincide with the angle at which I like to hold the nib to the page. However I liked the pen despite this feature.

Finally, the irony of choosing a German pen as a souvenir from Guernsey, has not escaped me. Guernsey was occupied by Germany during the war and was not liberated until 9 May 1945, a date commemorated on several monuments around the pretty harbour area of St Peter Port.  The pens will still remind me of a brief and pleasant visit to the island. I did also buy some Guernsey Cream Fudge.

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Faber-Castell School fountain pen; initial impressions.

 

Whenever I get the chance to travel, one of the joys is to visit the stationery shops and supermarkets to see whether they have anything different from the familiar range of fountain pens found in our local WH Smith, Rymans or Paperchase.

The hope is that I will discover a nice new pen, from a well known and respected brand, which writes like a dream, targeted at school students and costs very little.

Last week, without even travelling, I was browsing in a local Waterstones book store and was distracted by the sign for Stationery.  There, among the greeting cards and notebooks, on a revolving stand, was a Faber-Castell Schulfüller School pen, for just £4.99, in a blister pack with a box of 6 Faber-Castell cartridges.

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This looked to be a good find. The design was a basic, bright coloured plastic barrel and cap, a black rubberised section with two flat grip surfaces left and right of centre, (like a Lamy Safari), and an attractive-looking stainless steel nib. With 6 cartridges included, it was a no-brainer and it just remained for me to decide whether to go for blue or red. I chose blue. There was only one of each colour left on the rack and it seemed greedy to take them both.

On closer inspection, the packaging declared that the pen featured a tough stainless steel nib with iridium tip, a rubberised grip zone and was for right and left handers and had a tough plastic barrel with metal clip. The ink cartridges were made in Germany and the fountain pen made in Slovenia.

On first inking the pen, using one of the supplied cartridges, I was delighted when the pen wrote immediately with no shaking, squeezing or coaxing, very smoothly and with good flow. The Royal Blue ink is very pleasant having some shading when a little added pressure is applied to the nib.

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I will not go overboard in describing what is a very simple and inexpensive pen. It measures around 133mm capped , 122mm opened and a very comfortable 150mm with cap posted. It takes standard international cartridges. A very useful feature is that there is room to carry a spare cartridge in the barrel so that you are unlikely to run out in a day.  The barrel does not have an ink window. It does have some air vents at the base of the barrel as an anti-choking feature and so this is not suitable for converting to eye-dropper. You could however use a converter, for bottled ink although none is included.

For such an inexpensive pen, there is a lot to like. I was disproportionately pleased for my modest £4.99 outlay. I particularly liked the following:

Likes

  • Respected, long-established German brand;
  • Attractive stainless steel Medium nib, with dimple pattern (similar to the Faber-Castell emotion and Ambition range) and jousting knights logo;
  • Writes smoothly with good flow and lubrication; nib is firm but can provide a little line variation with some pressure;
  • Comfortable to hold either posted or unposted; light-weight cap posts well, without upsetting balance;
  • Barrel has space for a spare cartridge;
  • Secure, snap-on cap has a springy, metal pocket clip with Faber-Castell name in black letters (the correct way up for left handers like me, when posted);
  • A white plastic inner cap to stop the nib from drying out;
  • Good, practical and simple design; does not look like a child’s pen;
  • Excellent value.

Dislikes

I could not find much to dislike, especially for the low price. I did notice that the nib and feed seem to point downwards, (like the droop-nose design of the Concorde when taking off and landing). In a photograph on a mobile phone camera, the distortion made this even more pronounced. It is not a concern as the pen writes very well. However I was curious to see whether this was just a one-off or whether this was by design. This was all the excuse I needed, to go back to buy the red one.

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Well, the red one had the same nib droop as the blue. I was not quite so fortunate with the nib of the red pen at first, as the tines were not quite aligned, viewed with a loupe and there was a little bit of scratchiness in side strokes. This was easily remedied by a little gentle bending of tines until they were level. Thereafter the pen wrote smoothly, like my blue one.

I decided to put a red cartridge in the red pen. I had a bag of 50 standard international cartridges in assorted colours from Paperchase which had cost just £2.00, although they might be a bit more now.

I have not experienced any hard starts with either of the pens (although, admittedly, both have been in quite frequent use so far) and I think they make ideal pens for carrying around without worrying too much. In conclusion, these are very enjoyable pens to use and would make great gifts, if you can bear to part with them.

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Off topic warning: the story of an unexploded bomb.

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Today I was asked to put together some notes about an unexploded bomb which had remained in the family for over 40 years before moving to a museum.

It seemed impossible to tell the story without saying a little about my late father, who died in 1983.  It is not about fountain pens but there is a little about collecting things. And so here is an abridged version.

The story of dad’s bomb.

My late father was born in Ealing in 1929, and grew up in Hangar Lane, West London. He was ten years old when the Second World War broke out in 1939 and remained with his parents throughout the war.

From the 1950’s until 1974 (when made redundant) he worked for Ultra Electronics, in Perivale as a general and electrical maintenance engineer. He then moved to a similar position at EMI in Ruislip. He had left school with minimal qualifications but was very practical and experienced at making and fixing equipment.

One of his main hobbies was target shooting. He had a firearms licence and always kept a variety of pistols and rifles, which he would shoot at Bisley or our local gun club, often bringing me with him from a young age. He also had a few old muzzle-loading flintlocks and percussion cap pistols and one which he had built himself. He enjoyed casting his own bullets in lead, in his garage. He also built a small cannon on a wooden carriage, which he fired in the garden at midnight every new year’s eve to see the new year in.

He collected old incendiary bombs and tall, brass anti-tank shell cases, which, along with his cannons and large jagged pieces of shrapnel, were arranged on the floor around our TV set.

Against this background, the largest item in his collection was an unexploded German 500 pound bomb. As I recall, he got this in the mid 1970’s from an industrial estate, possibly near Perivale or Kew, West London where, probably since the war,  it had served as a speed limit bollard, standing upright by the roadside, with its base set in a car tyre filled with cement. It was painted white with the speed restriction painted in black figures, for vehicles entering the estate.

I remember going in the car with him, to collect it. I have a vague recollection of him telling me that he had heard the bomb fall during the war. I suppose if you heard a bomb falling, you would wait for the explosion and if none came, you would be curious to find where it had landed.

I cannot recall now how he knew it was there or why it was being disposed of. Perhaps the site was being redeveloped and he might well have simply asked whether he could have it.  I believe we went there in his grey Vauxhall Cresta Deluxe, a 1966 model, which he had bought second hand with part of his redundancy money and so it would have been around 1974 or shortly after.  The bomb went in the large boot of the car. I imagine we left the plinth behind.

At home, he set about cleaning it up, at the back of the garden, near his bonfire patch behind the garage.  He was confident that it was safe. The cylindrical metal detonator device had been removed. He had read several books about the various types of detonators and tense stories of bomb disposal work, on UXB’s (unexploded bombs).

Originally there would have been metal tail fins on the bomb but these had long since gone. He was able to access the inside of the bomb case, through its base. It was largely empty, the explosives having been removed but there were vestiges of this (TNT perhaps) around the inside, which he chipped away and which came out in thick, rusty brown clumps. These, he assured me, were quite safe and he chucked them on his bonfire, where they fizzled and spat a little.

Once satisfied that he had got the inside as clean as he could, he gave it a new coat of paint, in British Racing Green. He then made a sturdy wooden cradle for it and a bench seat at the top (pictured). For the next 15 years or so, it remained in our house in Ickenham, either as a seat around the dining table or latterly, in the hallway beneath the coat pegs.  We enjoyed having it. It was a rather different and eccentric, to have a 500 pound bomb in the house.

Dad died in 1983. The bomb stayed in the house until my mother moved some six years later and since then has been in the wider family, in the custody of my aunt until she also moved house in 2016 and then my cousin. Now, having survived for over 70 years in these various unexpected roles, it will be great for the bomb to move to a museum.

Cleo Skribent Classic Gold, Piston fountain pen; first impressions.

Cleo Skribent is a German manufacturer of writing instruments, based at Bad Wilsnack, which is between Berlin and Hamburg. It was founded immediately after the Second World War, from small beginnings in a backyard car park. The first collection of writing instruments was called Cleopatra, which later became Cleo. Today, it is one of the few remaining companies to manufacture exclusively in Germany.

Readers of this blog may recall my review in February 2017 of the Cleo Skribent Classic Metal piston fountain pen, (click here: Cleo Skribent Classic Metal Piston fountain pen) a sleek, black resin pen with a brushed metal cap and a stainless steel nib. My fine nib model continues to be a delight.

So, what do you do when you find a pen that is near perfect for you? Do you stop looking for pens? No, it turns out you buy another one the same. Well, not quite the same. The differences (a.k.a. justifications) this time are (1) that it has a 14k gold nib; (2) the nib is a Medium; (3) it is all black resin, with gold coloured fittings and (4) lighter than the metal cap version.  So, totally different. Yet retaining the design and feel which I loved in the metal cap version.

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Once again I bought through Cult Pens, one of the handful of UK dealers of Cleo Skribent instruments. The company is much less well known here than Mont Blanc, Pelikan, Lamy or Faber Castell, but prides itself in making high quality writing instruments, with emphasis on quality rather than quantity and (as their booklet says) “instead of fully automatic machines, we employ people who understand their craft.”

Cult Pens refers to this model as being astonishingly light, for fatigue-free writing and ease of handling. Newly filled with ink, mine weighs around 19g capped, or 12g uncapped. It measures 145mm capped or 135mm uncapped, which I have found to be a comfortable length to use un-posted. However, you could post the resin cap, quite deeply and securely to add some weight without making the pen back heavy, but just bear in mind that it grips on the blind cap (not the barrel) and so be careful not to rotate the cap whilst posted in case you over-tighten and damage the blind cap.

The body and cap are of a beautiful, glossy black resin. I opted for the version with gold coloured fittings. There is also a version with palladium fittings which costs less, (why,  I do not know, as the pen is otherwise identical, with both having a 14k gold nib). I am not particularly averse to mixing my metals, when it comes to pen finishes. It is purely cosmetic, I know, but on this occasion, I decided on the gold coloured furniture as being indicative of the gold nib within.

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The nib is the heart of a pen. I have been delighted with the Fine stainless steel nib in my metal capped version, which is superbly set up, being responsive to the slightest touch and having a marvelous feed back. A joy to use.

I had read in reviews that their gold nibs were even better, with some flex. So when mine arrived, I was eager to examine it and give it a try. First, under the x7 loupe, the gold nib had everything that you look and hope for in a new nib. It looked to be set up perfectly, with the nib slit narrowing just so, the tipping material being even and the tines level. Admittedly I have only two Cleo Skribent pens to go on, but I believe the brochure and can imagine that they take care in sending out well finished products, which as we know, is not always the case these days.

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Whilst waiting for the pen to arrive (which was not very long, less than 24 hours) I enjoyed pondering what ink to use. I tend to use blues mostly for work. I love to see the blue ink on scanned signed documents on my computer screen. I narrowed it down to Waterman Serenity Blue, Caran d’Ache Idyllic Blue or Aurora Blue and went for the latter.

At first, dipping the pen, the writing experience was so smooth and pleasant and so pleased was I at the Medium nib width for this gold nib, that I happily continued writing for a full page on the first dip. I then inked it properly with the piston filler, one of life’s simple pleasures. I was using a spiral-bound pad of smooth, white, lined paper from Cherry Press, an independent stationer and print shop in Chipping Campden, in the Cotswolds. This showed off the blue ink beautifully. The ink flow, on this paper, is pretty much ideal being neither too wet nor too dry. The nib does have a little bit of flex, to allow for some line variation but it is certainly not too soft. As a left hander, I fare better with a firm nib.

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To summarise what I like about this pen (at the risk of sounding too gushing):-

  • Attractive, long and sleek design;
  • Handsome, glossy black resin body;
  • Piston filler, with blind cap covering the turning knob;
  • Large clear ink window;
  • Large ink capacity;
  • Superb 14k gold nib;
  • “Reverse writing” also smooth, for extra fine writing or drawing;
  • Nib and feed are friction fit and can be removed if desired for cleaning;
  • Comfortable length to use unposted (but can post cap if desired);
  • Good value for a high quality pen, in comparison with well-known German brands;
  • Lifetime warranty.

What about dislikes? Well, I have not found any major failings. Rather, I would mention the following points:-

  • Remember that this is a screw-cap pen; do not forget (as I did at first) and try to pull the cap off or hand it to someone who might do so, as this will exert force on the glued joints around the clear ink window. (The cap threads are located on the nib-side of the ink window);
  • Be careful not to inadvertently over-tighten the blind cap by posting the cap and then rotating it;
  • The piston mechanism works well but feels less smooth in operation than my Pelikans; it is too soon to say how this will perform in the long term, but there is a lifetime warranty;
  • The glossy black body does show up dust, as I have tried to demonstrate on my photos 🙂

Although I have no affiliation with Cleo Skribent, or Cult Pens, I am pleased to recommend them both.

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