A look back at Basildon Bond writing paper.

As a child at a boarding school in Reading in the 1970’s, our Sunday morning routine included an hour of letter writing. Every boy was expected to write a letter home.

Throughout my seven years there, I used Basildon Bond writing paper and envelopes. I have done so ever since. That means I have been a customer for over 50 years.

Today in the UK, Basildon Bond pads of letter writing paper and matching envelopes are still readily available, in stationers and book shops such as Rymans and WH Smiths. Basildon Bond is a now part of Hamelin Brands Limited, a French, family-owned business. However, many will remember Basildon Bond as a John Dickinson & Co Ltd product, along with Lion Brand exercise books.

Basildon Bond writing paper and envelopes at WH Smiths.

John Dickinson & Co Ltd.

I have just finished reading an excellent book called “The Endless Web” by Joan Evans, published by Jonathan Cape, which tells the story of John Dickinson & Co Ltd from 1804 – 1954. The book was first published in 1955. I think my new copy of the book is a facsimile of the first edition, as the blue dust jacket still bears the price in our old, pre-decimal currency, as 32s. 6d. net.

It is quite a heavy book, in both senses. First, as befits a book about a successful manufacturer of paper, it is beautifully bound and printed on Croxley Antique Wove paper, with text set in Monotype Caslon Old Face. Secondly, it is a detailed work packed with facts and figures, names and dates, and inside stories only available from family letters and diaries and the paper mills’ records. It provides a chronological account of the rise of this company and the characters who built and ran it. The inside front cover contains a vast family tree of the John Dickinson dynasty. The author Joan Evans was John Dickinson’s great-niece and wrote the book to celebrate the company’s 150th anniversary.

I bought my copy of the book at the Frogmore Paper Mill gift shop, while away for a weekend last month, staying at Shendish Manor Hotel, in Apsley, near Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire. Apsley had been the site of one of John Dickinson’s vast paper mills. It turns out that the nearby Shendish Manor had belonged to John Dickinson’s business partner Charles Longman, who in 1853 bought the Shendish estate on the western side of the valley in Apsley and built the house there in 1854-56.

Later, in 1936, the house and grounds were bought by the firm and opened in 1937 as the Dickinson Guild of Sport. This was a club-house for the workers and their families, with facilities for football, cricket, tennis, hockey, bowls and swimming with parks and gardens. In 1948 a new Sports Pavilion was opened.

Shendish Manor Hotel

Basildon Bond

I was keen to find some background in the book, to my favourite letter writing paper. There are a handful of references, towards the end of the period covered. In brief, in 1911 a rival company, Millingtons (founded in 1824) introduced under the name “Basildon Bond”, the first “bond” notepaper to be marketed at 1 shilling a unit. It comprised about 30% fine quality rag content. According to Joan Evans’ book, the notepaper was remarkably good value and was an immediate success. Another of Millingtons’ achievements was that in 1905 they acquired the UK rights in “window envelopes” and were their only manufacturers. I had no idea that these had been around for so long.

In 1918, Dickinsons agreed to buy Millington’s shares, in return for debenture stock and shares in Dickinsons allotted to the Millington shareholders and directors. Joan Evans writes that the Millington business “remained practically autonomous” and that Basildon Bond steadily increased in popularity, stimulated by an advertising campaign authorized in 1924. Later, she writes, in 1932 Basildon Bond was the best-selling notepaper in the UK. There was another advertising campaign in 1934.

Today, the website of hamelinbrands.com states simply that Basildon Bond is the leading brand in personal stationery in the UK, was established in 1911 by Millington & Sons, then acquired by John Dickinson’s in 1918.

The paper, 90gsm and featuring the Basildon Bond (BB) watermark is said to be of the highest quality, and the web site states that “our smooth paper allows the pen to glide effortlessly across the page, creating a more enjoyable writing experience.”

For my part, as a consumer, I can vouch that the paper is indeed smooth and pleasant to write on with fountain pens without feathering or bleedthrough. I learned that the size I now buy, is called “post quarto”, (abbreviated to “P4TO”) and is an old imperial size, (178mm, x 229mm). The pad contains 40 sheets of paper, plus a guide sheet. I tend to save the guide sheets, after the pad is finished. The current ones give an 8mm row height. I sometimes use 9mm. They used to include a sheet of blotting paper too but this seems to have been dropped. I also buy the packs of 20 matching envelopes.

The familiar branding of Basildon Bond, established in 1911.

I have had very little trouble using Basildon Bond paper, with a variety of pens and inks, over the years. I recall that my Waterman Carene skipped badly on the paper, as its very smooth nib could not get a grip on the equally smooth paper. But generally, the paper has served me well.

It is good to know that Basildon Bond notepaper is still available and still thriving, over 110 years since it began, albeit under different ownership now.

Visitors to Apsley can visit Frogmore Paper Mill, which claims to be “Birthplace of paper’s industrial revolution” and tours are available on certain days. Or, for some rest and relaxation and to feel closer to the John Dickinson history, you may book a stay at the Shendish Manor Hotel.

The new year diary, 2022.

For me and many others, today has been the last day of the Christmas and New Year holidays and I return to my work routine tomorrow.

As readers of this blog may recall, I like to keep a diary, or journal, and to have about ten minutes each morning to sit with a fountain pen, to reflect upon and write up (and increasingly these days, try to remember!) the events of the day before. I prefer to do it when the day is past, when I have slept on it. My brain is then fresh and has had a chance to find some order in the previous day’s events. The diary is my record of what I did, not what I am going to do. It is a handy repository for films watched, books read, excursions enjoyed and so on.

An A5 page a day works well for me.

For working days, I have found that a balloon diagram is often best. A central balloon labelled “WORK” leads out to balloons each representing a different matter that I worked on. I can then easily insert bullet points next to each balloon, for lists of tasks or occurrences on each client (or “account” in the States). This is a process which my wife describes as “doing your bubbles.” It helps me to prioritise for the day ahead.

For the past few years I have used an A5 Page-a-day format. This year, I bought a Ryman Soft Cover Diary, page a day, which is a chunky and pleasing book, with a hardback cover that has the feel of leather. According to the paper insert, it features 80 gsm cream paper, a ribbon page marker, and expandable pocket, a pen loop and an elasticated closure. I have found this to be fountain pen friendly. This means not only that most inks do not bleed or feather, but also that the paper surface is nice to write on, not glossy and draggy and also that the colours show quite well. I have noticed that with some other papers, some ink colours loose their vibrancy, as though the paper has sucked all the joy out of them.

Equally important to me, is the fact that the lined pages feature a reasonably generous row height of 7.9mm, giving 23 rows per A5 page. And you still get a full page each day on Saturdays and Sundays.

My 2022 diary – a Ryman A5 page a day.

I used the same format diary last year and so much of my post The new year diary, 2021 still applies, except that this year I chose a navy blue one and the price has risen a bit, to about £12.00 I think.

In 2021 I decided to use a different pen after each month. I enjoyed that, and thought to do the same again in 2022. But then I used the same pen for January 2022 that I used for December 2021, for “continuity”. And then by the 2 January 2022, I had a new idea of picking a single pen to use for all my writing needs for a day, or even a week to see how that goes and that meant I already changed pens on 2 January. Another possibility is to change after each two page spread, as I did for the Marcus Aurelius project. In short, I have not yet decided.

I am not very good at sticking to resolutions, such as giving up chocolate. I have not set myself any particular goals or challenges for 2022 as far as the fountain pen hobby goes. I always start the year with good intentions to buy less fountain pens and to make more use of those I have. This applies now more than ever and I feel very fortunate to have accumulated a vast array of good pens, of which I can see 13 are currently inked, as I sit here. I have the urge after Christmas to simplify life and there is a certain satisfaction to be had from using the least expensive tool for the job. For example, over the holidays the pen I have reached for most, has been an Online Bachelor, a cheap plastic clear demonstrator but with a joyous 0.8mm stub nib which I like very much, currently filled with Rohrer and Klingner Salix, a blue-black iron gall ink. Another resolution is to write more and to empty some bottles of ink, such as the aforementioned Salix. I was inspired recently by Margana at Inkophile who kept a record of repeat fills of her pens and was able to tell me that one was on its 18th consecutive fill of Pilot Iroshizuku Syo-ro. The lesson was that once you find an ink you like, use it!

I realise that it is more effective to have goals that are achievable and measurable. This year, rather than say “I plan to do more walking”, I set myself a challenge to walk 1,500 miles in 2022. I have been using a pedometer app to count steps since August and found that I had 500 miles on the clock after 4 months. I would like to keep that up if I can, as I felt the benefits particularly when walking uphill. My job is a sedentary one and fitting in about 4 miles walking a day, is quite a challenge. But having a target now feels purposeful and every time I venture out on foot I can bank some miles and feed my ever-hungry app.

In my last year’s new diary post, I ended with the following words: “Flicking through the blank pages of my next year’s diary it is hard to imagine what I might be doing in the months to come. Let’s all hope for better times ahead.” I think that still applies. Wishing everyone a happy and healthy New Year 2022.

Inky Pursuits: October 2021 round-up.

Whilst work has been quite busy recently, it has been particularly good to have my stationery hobby as a backdrop for some much needed R & R. This has also been eventful, including some unexpected gifts and a satisfying bit of pen-tinkery. It is time for another round-up.

Frogmore Paper Mill, Hemel Hempstead.

This working paper mill is home to two Fourdrinier paper machines, over a hundred years old. Named after the brothers Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier, the world’s first successful machine for making a continuous reel of paper was operated at the mill in 1803. My wife visited their museum and gift shop and brought me back an A4 sample pad of their various heritage papers that are made there, of various colours, weights and textures, some quite fibrous. It occurred to me that they would make good backgrounds for some pen photography with my lightbox. (See photo of Opus 88 nib and cap further below as an example). I hope to visit there myself in a little while. The shop is open only on weekdays.

Sailor multi-pen.

A new gadget. “Now pay attention 007.”

Another surprise was this lovely Japanese Sailor multi-pen in metal, featuring artwork by Katsushika Hokusai (1760 – 1849), his famous images of Mt Fuji and waves off the coast of Kanagawa, depicted in silver and gold colour against a matt black background. The pen comprises a black and a red ballpoint refill plus a 0.5mm mechanical pencil, each selected by a twist of the barrel. I do love a gadget and operating this one is very enjoyable. The pen ball-point refills are D1. It has a pencil eraser under the finial cone. But what is so touching is the fact that it was an unexpected gift picked out for me at the Tokyo National Museum, by Yoshino, a charming Japanese music student in London, whose parents have been friends of our family for many years. As a Japanese gift, this is as authentic as it gets!

Sailor multi-pen (black and red ball points and pencil).

Agenzio Notebook, Paperchase.

I am aware that I have a tendency to buy stationery items for myself as a souvenir of an enjoyable day out. There was my Lamy 2000 fountain pen for example, which will forever remind me of a day trip to Brighton in May 2014. Recently my wife and I spent a happy day in Henley, enjoying a walk along the riverside in the autumn sunshine, a pub lunch at The Angel and then a browse around the shops.

I found a branch of Paperchase, and was drawn to an enticing and colourful display of new notebooks. The slightly odd thing is that I have found their Agenzio notebook paper to be not fountain pen friendly and to have a line width spacing a little narrower than I prefer. Yet despite knowing this I found myself purchasing one, half-eager for a challenge of finding an ink which it would like. Sometimes you can get away with using iron gall or permanent inks. Then, paying for the notebook, the young lady on the till informed me that if you buy two, you get 20% off the total price. So I chose a second one, in a different colour and with plain paper rather than ruled.

Agenzio hard cover notebook.

It is not all bad. The ruled version gives you 240 pages of very smooth and pleasant Champagne paper, with 33 rows to a page and with a row height of 6.9mm. The book is nicely bound with a stiff card cover, rounded corners, a single ribbon bookmark, an expandable pocket in the back cover, and an elastic closure. The binding is neatly sewn and the book opens flat, without risk of pages popping out. Interestingly, the pages are about 7″ wide by 10″ long, making the book a handy compromise between the usual A5 and A4 sizes:-

Agenzio notebook in blue, sandwiched between A4 and A5 notebooks.

The paper is pleasant to write on but (and I knew to expect this) almost every pen and ink combination I have tried so far, results in bleed-through, the line width, whilst roomier than some, is rather restricting for wider nibs. Also the book smells of glue.

Nevertheless I had an enjoyable time testing out the back sheet with my currently inked and then numbering the pages in pencil (yes there were the correct 240 pages). It IS pleasant to write on and with some trial and error you can find a combination of tools to use with it. For example my Sailor Procolor 500 with a fine steel nib and Noodler’s Bulletproof black does not bleed through, and you can even highlight over this if you are careful and do not overdo it.

A new notebook. Yes please. Homeward Bound as Paul Simon might say.

Update on the Opus 88 fitted with titanium nib.

Readers will recall that I bought a size 6, fine, Jowo-fit nib in titanium with an ebonite feed and housing, at the London Pen Show earlier this month. It is very enjoyable to use. I have had it in my Opus 88 Demonstrator, eye-dropper pen, whose original Broad nib was super smooth, great for laid papers but proved a little bland and lacking feedback. The titanium nib has injected a new lease of life into the pen which I was not using much. It is feedbacky, fine and wet, with just a little bounce but pretty firm, as I like. It never skips or hard-starts. Paired with the large Opus it is a wonderful pen, perhaps a poor-man’s Conid bulkfiller, but a great long-haul writing tool.

Opus 88 now fitted with titanium nib and ebonite feed.

The only issue which stood in the way of my total happiness, was that the titanium nib, when seated as deep as it would go into the section, still managed to touch the end of the cap in the final twists of the four-and-a-quarter turns to cap the pen (not for the impatient). I could see the tip of the nib actually writing a little arc of ink on the inside of the clear acrylic cap.

Titanium nib. Tell-tale ink arc inside cap. Also, heritage paper background from Frogmore Paper Mill!

Obviously I did not want to risk damage to the nib but was always a bit worried when capping the pen. I thought that it would be good to drill out the acrylic cap, just by about half a millimetre to get a little more headroom for my new nib. This would be a precision job. Alternatively I thought that it may be possible to grind the inside acrylic of the cap, with a Dremel or similar electric tool (if I had one, which I don’t). But then a breakthrough came unexpectedly late last night when I realised that the cap finial may be removable. There appeared to be screw threads there. I tried to unscrew it. At first it would not budge but when I tried again with some grippy material, it began to move and I was soon able to get it off. Inside the acrylic finial, I could more clearly see and reach the conical recess at the end. It looked to be quite simple to grind this deeper, very minimally, to accommodate a longer nib.

But in the absence of the right tools, I decided to try adding an O ring between the finial and the rest of cap, just to make it sit a little higher. This worked well, although I did not have an O ring of the ideal size but it does the job for now. I removed the pocket clip whilst I was at it, since I do not use it and the O ring alone still gave the necessary added height clearance. So now I can screw the cap on safe in the knowledge that it will not crush my nib.

An O ring below the cap finial gives a bit more clearance for a long nib.

Throughout the year I have been changing fountain pens each month for my daily journal. In October I used a white, Cross Bailey Light with Noodler’s Bulletproof black. It writes well but I found some flow issues and the pen has needed to have the feed re-charged with the converter, then all is well again. Next month I may switch to the Opus with its titanium and ebonite goodness.

Fine titanium nib writing sample.

Handbound letter.

This week I received a letter from a good friend in Sweden. To my surprise and delight it was carefully hand-sewn into a card stock cover to make a little booklet. I learned that it was written on Clairfontaine 120gsm paper, with a Sailor Pro Gear Realo with Naginata Togi nib and Rohrer & Klingner Salix iron gall blue black ink. Together with the news that the letter brought of my friend and his family, this was a wonderful and thoughtful piece of mail to receive.

An impressive hand-sewn letter. Being a doctor must help.

This reminds me that I am a little behind in replying to my correspondence. I will relish an opportunity to sit with a fountain pen of my choice, for an hour or so when the energy and inspiration levels are both favourable.

My current dream-team: Opus 88, titanium fine nib, ebonite feed, Cobalt Blue ink and a Leuchtturm journal.

Early thoughts on the Puluz ring LED portable photo studio.

One of the challenges of running a fountain pen blog, is taking good quality photographs of the pens. We want our images to be well composed, sharply focused, with faithful colours and well lit.

Aurora 88 and Aurora Optima, now photographed with a lightbox.

It is very convenient to use the camera on a smart phone, which allows uploading of photos to the blog’s media library through WiFi, without connecting the camera to a computer to download the files. Smart phone cameras have improved enormously, in resolution and many other features.

It is easy to forget that our subjects need to be well lit, particularly if indoors using available light. A case in point is the photograph of my pen cups in my last post, The state of the pen cups, September 2021, where I over-estimated the quality of the lighting in the room and used an image which had areas of dark shadow.

One solution is to invest in studio lighting or a ring-flash for your SLR camera. Another more practical option for the amateur, is to try a portable “light box” with LED lights, powered by a USB cable.

My good friend Jon of Pensharing.com, provides advice for members on his website for photographing their pens for hire and recommends investing in a simple light box and a tripod. I bought a light box about a year ago, a self-assembly cube of white plastic, which had rows of many bright LEDs in the front and the back of the top section. The problem I soon found was that it was difficult to avoid reflections of all of these LEDs in the pens. Also the model I had bought was rather a faff to put up and take down, which also deterred me from getting it out much.

This weekend I found myself looking again on Amazon at the vast range of such lightboxes available. I wondered whether a model with a ring of LED lights might be easier to use. Also, I wanted to try one which was smaller, and more convenient than the one I had bought. The name Puluz was one that I kept noticing. Also, they had one in their range, which was small (about 9 inches across), had a ring LED pattern, boasted three different colour temperatures, an adjustable brightness, six different coloured backdrops, and cost only £14.99. Impressively, it arrived within a day of ordering.

The Puluz 9″ Ring LED light box. (“And the award for best turntable in a supporting role, goes to…”)

Description.

The Puluz “Mini Photo Box” is an open-fronted box measuring 23cm or 9″ wide. It is made of a white semi-rigid plastic. The five sides are all joined together and fold flat into a bag. To set it up, you just need to unfold it and assemble it into the box shape, clipping the sides to the base and to the top. They cleverly slot into each other and so there are no separate parts needed. It comes with six coloured backdrops, in black, white, blue, red, green and yellow.

The lighting comes from 72 LEDs arranged in two rings around the top (where a round flap can be opened for direct overhead shooting). One outer ring provides a cool, bluish light and the other, inner ring provides a warmer, orangey tone. These are powered by an attached USB capable, which needs to be connected to a power socket, PC or a portable USB power bank.

The two rings of LEDs, both lit

In use.

The box, the cable and the backdrops are all supplied in a handy white tote bag and weigh very little, making a very portable piece of kit.

The light box is straightforward to assemble and this takes only a couple of minutes. If you want to use one of the backdrops, you just hook it on to the tabs. It is easier to do this before you fold it all together.

The USB power cable is fixed in place and about 2 metres long. About half way along the cable is the control switch. This has an on-off button. When plugged into a power source, but not switched on, a blue light glows to show that it is in stand-by mode.

There are three more buttons: the middle one alternates between the three colour temperature options, which, in simple terms, give you a lighting which is white, orange or blue (or which can be expressed as cool or warm tones). The other two buttons are plus and minus, to go up or down through the 10 brightness levels, in whatever colour you have selected. And so you have choice of 30 different settings all together.

On/off switch, plus colour selector and brightness controls.

To power the lightbox, I first connected the USB cable to a mains plug (usually reserved for my mobile phone). This is fine if you have a power socket nearby. But the control switch might then be dangling off the edge of your table. A more convenient method is to plug the cable into a rechargeable USB power bank (not supplied). I had an old one, with a 2,200 mAh capacity and charged it up for its new duties. With one of these, you can take your light box out and about, and use it anywhere without being tied to a power socket. I do not know how long a charge would last but there are models now with much higher capacity.

I spent a bit of time experimenting with the settings. The different colour tones are achieved by activating either the inner ring, outer ring or both. So far, I tend to prefer the white light (using both rings), but I found that when using the green backdrop, my Samsung Galaxy S10’s camera was a bit confused when trying to sort out the white balance. The green flickered between yellowy-green and bluey-green. Things were easier with the white backdrop. I have not tried the other backdrops yet.

As for the brightness settings, whilst you can see the lighting getting brighter or darker as you click through the steps, I found on looking back at my test photos, that it was hard to see much difference in the image, because the camera automatically compensates. Perhaps going for a mid-level brightness is the answer and then decide whether you need to go either brighter or darker from there.

Photographing pens.

I tested the lighting first on my Aurora Optima, whose red Aureloide barrel would reflect the LEDs. Even though the LEDs are in a ring, you still find ugly reflections on the barrel, if you photograph the pen sideways on. You can reduce this to some extent by having the pen diagonal to the camera, but it is hard to eliminate it completely.

Unsightly reflections. Before adding a lamp shade.

It occured to me that what was needed, was a light shade, to block off the LEDs and instead deflect the light to the white sides of the light box where it can be reflected down softly, rather like using a bounce-flash pointed at the wall or ceiling instead of your subject.

The hack.

I cut out a circle of white card, having drawn around a plate. I then cut out a small wedge shape, like a piece of pizza, then drew the sides together so that the disc was pulled into a cone. I tied this to a pencil, which I then used to suspend the disc through the hole, just below the LED’s.

My home-made lamp shade!

I then re-took the photos of my Auroras and found, to my delight, that the harsh reflections were eliminated and I now had the capability to take pen photos, day or night, with lighting under my control!

No unsightly reflections! Using home-made lamp shade below the LEDs.

Conclusions.

It is early days, but provided that the LEDs and the control switch don’t break, this is a very useful accessory, for photographing fountain pens, or jewellery or other small items. It is modestly priced and with a little practice and experimentation, can help produce some excellent photos to enhance a blog.

Another practice shot, using primary colours to check white balance.

Personally I think it would be better still if it came with a simple lamp shade, perhaps made from the same material as the lightbox and with a means of attaching and removing it. This makes a vast improvement if photographing pens or other reflective items.

With my custom lamp shade in place.

All photos taken with Samsung Galaxy S10 smartphone. All pens photographed in a Puluz Ring LED mini light box.

Early thoughts on the Ryman soft cover notebook.

Let me begin by saying that I am a big fan of Leuchtturm A5 journals. I like the format, the paper, the quality and the wide range of colours. They are readily available from my local branch of Ryman stationers. Over the last three years, I have filled about ten of them.

The one issue that I have with them, is that the line spacing is a bit too narrow for me. They have versions with dot grids, but these are at 5mm intervals and so would give you either a 5mm row height, which I find too narrow or 10mm if using two rows, which is a bit too wide. About 8mm would be just right. I prefer to buy the Leuchtturm with plain pages and then use a guide sheet or rule my own pencil lines, when and where I want them.

Yesterday, on a visit to Rymans I decided to try one of their own brand journals. Whereas the Leuchtturm journal costs typically around £16.99, the Ryman alternative is just £7.99. Ryman also make a larger one, which is approximately A4 size.

Ryman small, soft cover notebook.

As it is sealed in plastic shrink-wrap, you cannot inspect it fully. The labelling tells you that it has 192 pages of lined, cream, 70gsm paper.

Features.

  • 192 pages;
  • cream paper;
  • 70 gsm paper;
  • ruled lines (7mm row height)
  • one ribbon page marker;
  • expandable pocket in rear cover;
  • hardback;
  • soft-touch finish;
  • a selection of colours;
  • stitched binding, (book can be opened flat);
  • elastic pen loop.

When they say “soft cover”, this means soft-to-the-touch, not soft as in floppy like a paperback. It is a soft touch hard cover. It has the look and feel of leather.

The pages are not paginated. I did not mind and quite enjoyed paginating the book myself in pencil, especially when reaching the end and finding that I also arrived at 192, rather than, as sometimes happens, having to go back and look for where I had made a mistake.

Each page gives you 26 rows at 7mm spacing. The page numbers are my own.

The colours for the Ryman book included a pastel pink, and a pastel turquoise which did not particularly appeal to me and which I thought would get grubby in time. I chose the grey which seemed the most inoccuous.

The size.

The book is not A5 size and does not claim to be. An A5 page would be 148.5mm wide, by 210mm. This book’s pages are considerably narrower, at around 126mm and so your rows are around 22.5mm (almost one inch) shorter than A5. The page height is 207mm, which is only slightly less than 210mm A5 size. It is about the same as the Moleskine format.

When I compared the Ryman notebook with one that I had bought from the same shop about 7 years ago, I was surprised to see that the old one had much wider pages. I preferred the old one. I cannot see any advantage to the consumer in making the book narrower, except perhaps that it would be easier to fit in a coat pocket. It seems that, like many familiar chocolate bars, products are now being sold in smaller sizes.

Ryman notebook 2021 version, with an old version below for size comparison.

The paper quality.

The cream paper, with grey lines, is pleasant enough to write on with a fountain pen. The weight of 70gsm means it is a little on the thin side, and so you can expect some show-through. However it is bleed-through that renders a paper unsuitable for double-sided writing with a fountain pen. I tested a selection of pens and inks from my currently inked pen cups, to see which could be used and which could not.

Some bleed-through with certain inks. You need to choose your inks with care.

Those (from my initial test batch so far) that did not exhibit any bleed-through were Aurora blue, Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt blue, Waterman Serenity blue, Noodler’s black and Platinum black cartridge.

On the other hand, those inks that the paper did not cope with so well, were Waterman Harmonious green, Conway Stewart Tavy by Diamine, Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-budo, and Onoto Meditteranean blue.

I realise that it is not just the ink that determines whether it will bleed through papers, but how wet it is applied, which depends upon the individual pen.

I quite enjoyed sampling a few different pens and inks on the back pages of the notebook to see which I could use without bleed-through. This was no hardship and I anticipate that most fountain pen enthusiasts can find several combinations that work well from their own selections. It may be disappointing if you have a particular ink that you want to use in the notebook and then find that you cannot, or at least that you cannot use both sides of the page. It is necessary to test out the ink first.

Ticks for pen and ink combinations that do not bleed through. Crosses for those that do.

Conclusions.

Compared to the Leuchtturm, the pages are smaller, there are less of them, and the paper is less resistant to bleed-through from certain inks. Whilst it might look superficially to be an alternative to the Leuchtturm, (with its elastic closure and expandable pocket), it loses out to the Leuchtturm in size, paper quality and the number of pages.

Still, if you have lots of fountain pens and enjoy writing, then you need notebooks to write in. I shall enjoy using this one. It is not perfect for me. I would prefer that the line spaces were 8mm rather than 7mm and that the page width not been cropped since the last version I bought.

I have in mind to use it to write up some memories, little fragments of life remembered. Sitting down with one pen and one notebook, and one hour of quiet time, is something I find relaxing. Perhaps it is my equivalent of going to the pub for a pint.

The not-quite A5 journal with a Sailor Procolor 500 fountain pen.

Travelling with ink: Blackwood Forest

One of the things I hope for when travelling, is a desk by a window, with natural light and preferably a nice view. Perhaps this desire comes from spending my working days in an office with no natural light.

Having come through a particularly busy few months at work, I was looking forward to a long weekend break in a forest cabin. Set in the heart of Blackwood Forest, Hampshire I am not sure if this still counts as part of the New Forest, but I am on holiday so who cares?

Picking some fountain pens for the trip is one of the pleasures. However this time I found myself a bit torn between (a) the usual urge to bring a selection of pens to enjoy, with different nibs, different inks, different sizes, weights and materials or (b) to go minimal, travel light and just pick one pen, perhaps even one that I did not like very much, to get more use from it. In the event, the usual option of bringing a selection was the winning one.

The final eight.

This was my first experience of a forest cabin holiday and I had not expected our cabin to have such a “Wow” factor on arrival. Imagine my delight on finding it to have such a spacious living room/ kitchen/ dining room with an entire wall of windows, looking onto the beech tree forest, beyond the decking (with table and chairs, and even our own outdoor hot tub).

Our forest cabin

I am a morning person and enjoy my writing most in the morning when my brain is fresh and rested. That tends to be the time I find best for journaling, usually off-loading the events of the previous day. One of the ironies of journaling is that when life is at its most busy and eventful you have the least time and energy to write about it, but if you are freed from the pressure to get through endless to-do lists of tasks, you have plenty of time to write about very little. I then like to refer to my lists of writing prompts, neatly and alphabetically saved on a notepad app on my phone called Colornote – often comprising a few words or phrases which I can come back to and write up when I feel like it.

Our cabin in the woods.

I set my alarm early, hoping for some time when the household (that is my wife and mother in law who was holidaying with us) had not yet risen and I could sit at my window and pour out thousands of words like an imagined Ernest Hemingway, the creative juices running at full throttle. Obviously that did not happen. But I did enjoy some light tinkering with the pens, reminding myself which ones I had brought along, which inks they had and then having just enough time to summarise each day in a few brief headings. Sitting out at the table on the decking, enjoying the tranquility was restful and restorative.

A short drive from our base, was the city of Winchester, which we visited for a sunny afternoon’s excursion. My wife spotted a stall at the outdoor market with leather goods including some lovely notebook covers, for A5 or A4 notebooks. I use both sizes but have been looking unsuccessfully for about five years for a nice leather A5 size cover, after passing up a chance to buy one once in the Cotswolds. I did once buy a cover which did not work for me as it featured a pen loop which got in my way and had bulky and unnecessary credit card slots which meant that pages would not lay flat. In short it was unusable and was returned.

In contrast these market ones from “redleathers”, an ethically sound business run by Kirk Newton, (@redleathershandmade) were attractive, simple and functional. Unable to narrow down my choice between a dark green and a cherry colour, I opted for both.

Oooh! New leather notebook covers.

Another pleasure for the stationery enthusiast in Winchester, is Warren & Co, a stationery shop at 85 High Street, selling a good selection of stationery and pens mostly from Lamy and Cross, plus inks from Parker, Waterman, Cross, Pelikan and J Herbin. The display of Lamy pens was comprehensive, with racks of Safari and Al-Stars, Vistas, Nexx and then glass cabinets of Studios, 2000s, CP1s and even a few Imporiums. I toyed with the idea of buying the Aion again as the dark green edition looked so appealing, with either M, F or EFnibs, but I had found the black one too slippery to grip and gave mine away. I resisted and told myself that I had been down that road before. As it was almost time for the shop to close for the day, I left without buying anything this time but it is a wonderful shop to visit and was a real joy to see so many pens in the flesh rather than just online for a change and to chat with the charming proprietor.

Warren & Co of Winchester.

Back in the secluded forest, it was fun to put notebooks in the new leather covers. The Leuchtturm 1917 A5 books fit in very well and I shall enjoy using them.

We enjoyed a very restful weekend stay – with good food and walks and let the forest work its magic in sending us home rested and refreshed.

With my trusty Nikon Prostaff 10×30 bino’s.

And as for that desk by the window, the truth is that I did not sit there writing all that much. Sometimes it is nicer just to lift up your eyes to what is around you. Perhaps it is one of those things where the anticipation is better than the reality. There will be time to reflect and to write when the holiday is over.

Some early thoughts on the Helix Metal Desktop Sharpener.

I first spotted this for sale, in a rather battered cardboard box, at our local Ryman stationer a few of weeks ago. I did not buy it the first time, but when I saw it still sitting there last weekend, I decided that it needed a new home.

It is an intriguing device. Ryman has a selection of pencil sharpeners, including battery operated models but it was this good old fashioned hand-wound model that appealed to me. Perhaps it was a reminder of primary school days when the teacher had a pencil sharpener clamped to the edge of the desk.

According to the box, there are three colour options, blue, black and red. There was only this one on the shelf, which was red and that seems a good colour for a pencil sharpener.

I stood for a while in the shop, looking at the instructions and features and trying to visualise how it all worked. When I came to buy, I was given 10% off for the damaged box which brought the price down from £14.99 to £13.49, an unexpected bonus. (Note: they are currently for sale on Ryman online, at £14.99 and part of their 3 for 2 promotion).

Helix Metal Desktop Sharpener.

This is my first experience of owning a desk top sharpener. Its features include five settings for various grades of sharpness; a quick release to clear broken leads; a clear plastic tray to collect the shavings; an anti-slip base and a simple clamp for easy attachment to a desk. It is not essential to clamp it and you can still operate it by pressing it down with one hand, whilst operating the crank with the other. You do not need to hold the pencil.

The two cute little ears on the front are actually to squeeze and open a grip, to hold the pencil.

It is very exciting to sharpen your first pencil. The procedure is as follows:

  • Select your desired setting. The first on the left is the sharpest;
  • Pull the chrome “carriage” forward, against the tension of the spring inside, until it locks into position;
  • Squeeze the two black levers, opening the sprung aperture, or “jaws” which grip the pencil; insert a pencil, as far as it will go into the sharpening chamber, then release the black levers;
  • Holding the sharpener down firmly (if not clamped), wind the crank clockwise for a few turns until you feel no resistance and it turns freely; once sharp, the handle continues to rotate but the pencil will stop being sharpened;
  • Squeeze the levers, and remove your now sharp pencil.
With carriage extended and a pencil in the chamber.

I rounded up about 35 pencils from the house and gathered them together to be sharpened. This was an interesting diversion in itself as I recognised a few pencils from years back which brought back different memories.
I found some 2B and 3B pencils, that I had used for drawing, decades ago. Also there was a pencil in white with the red lettering of Greater London Record Office and their old style central London telephone number. I had been given this when visiting the offices near Farringdon to research a property title, looking at records on microfiche, some time in the 1990’s. It was forbidden to take notes in anything but pencil for fear of damaging the aging records.

The great pencil round-up.

I was interested to try the five different point settings. To adjust the setting, you turn a red plastic selector. I found that I had five Staedtler Noris HB pencils and so tried sharpening one each at the five different settings to compare the results.

The settings of 5 (top of photo) down to 1, on Staedtler Noris HB pencils.

Having figured out how to operate it, I tried removing the handle and the blade. These are easily removed by turning the black locking ring 90 degrees anti-clockise and then pulling it out carefully through the hole. The instructions warn against holding the blade, which is obviously sharp. It should be gripped in a vice if unscrewing the handle.

I found it quite fascinating to see how it works. With a pencil inserted, the pencil is gripped and does not rotate, but just pulled forwards. Instead, the conical sharpening chamber rotates around the pencil. A cylindrical blade, rather like a lawn-mower blade with a sharp edged, helical arrangement, rotates over a slot in the sharpening chamber. It is a joy to watch and an amazing design.

A peek inside at the rotating blade.

To replace the crank and sharpening assembly back into the device, (which is slightly more fiddly than taking it out), offer it up carefully back into the hole, then turn the black locking ring 90 degrees clockwise. I found that it helps to try to hold the crank and the locking ring tightly together as you do this.

The clever bit. The crank with the sharpening chamber and blade attached.

To empty the shavings , the clear plastic drawer is just pushed out freely out the front. It will not go in too far or come out through the back.

Fine wood shavings and pencil graphite dust.

As you can well imagine, I had a happy time sharpening a batch of pencils, whilst reminiscing over days of old and restoring lots of elderly stubs to a sharp condition once again. It makes for a pleasant afternoon and is a fine pursuit for National Stationery Week here. The sharpener is a marvel of design, works well, is good value and has a very refreshing old world charm.

The red selector switch to choose your sharpness.

Some early thoughts on the Pineider Pen Filler travelling inkwell.

This handy gadget is a travelling inkwell, introduced in 2018 by Italian company Pineider. A friend arranged a group buy for our London UK Fountain Pen Club although they are now available from Cult Pens at £20.00.

Pineider Pen Filler. Stopper removed to show blue rubber inner sleeve.

What’s in the box.

The pen filler comes in a simple cardboard box, about the size of a cigarette packet. One side of the box has two holes, one of 9.5mm, one of 13.5.mm diameter, being the minimum and maximum size grip sections that can be used. The idea is to use these holes to check that your pen is neither smaller than the small hole, nor larger than the large hole.

Cardboard box. Holes to check that your pens will fit.

Inside the box, was the pen filler together with a small pipette or eye-dropper (although I am not sure these are always included) plus a sheet of instructions. If no pipette is included, use your own or a syringe to fill the pen filler.

The pen filler is comprised of four parts: the clear plastic ink holder with a measuring scale in 1ml units, up to 10ml (or 10 cubic centilitres), a black plastic knurled collar and a black plastic stopper. Hidden by the collar is a blue rubbery sleeve, part of which fits into the ink holder.

The four parts of the Pineider Pen Filler.

How to use.

Preparation: It is recommended that you first check that your pen is not too big or small for the pen filler, using the holes in the box if in doubt. Next practice with water first. Fill the ink holder with water, up to the 10cc mark. If you have a number of pens that you might wish to use with the pen filler, then it might be convenient to flush them all and try each of them in turn with the filler and make a note of which pens you have tried. According to the instructions, “you can use the pen filler to fill lever pens, piston pens, plunger pens, converter pens and even the old eyedropper pens.”

Filling the pen: It is recommended that the pen be emptied first. If it had last been filled with the same ink, you could discharge it into the pen filler if you are not too fussy about only using fresh ink. If using a converter or piston fill pen, then wind the plunger down first, before locking the pen into the pen filler. This is to avoid over-pressurising the ink holder and causing leaks.

Pen gripped securely in the filler, ready to turn upside down and fill.

So, you are ready to fill your pen.

  • remove barrel of pen (if using a converter) and wind down the plunger;
  • pull out the stopper from the pen filler; unscrew the knurled black collar (which gradually increases the opening) until you can insert your pen;
  • tighten the collar; (as you screw the collar down, the blue rubber sleeve tightens around the grip section of the pen); continue until the pen is held firmly. This stage is a little awkward as you are holding the pen in one hand with the barrel removed and so take care not to dislodge the converter from the pen);
  • Now the fun/risky part. Turn the bottle upside down, allowing the ink to cover the nib. Wind the converter or operate the piston to fill the pen, by a combination of suction and gravity;
  • Once filled; turn the pen and bottle the right way up again; unscrew the collar a little until the pen comes free; remove pen; screw the collar back down fully and insert stopper.
  • Replace the barrel on your pen, wipe off any ink from the section and nib. And you are ready to go.

Limitations.

There are some limitations to the use of the pen filler, for those pens which are too wide or too narrow for it. For oversized pens you may have to fill these direct from a bottle. For pens too narrow to use the pen filler system, you may still be able to fill from the travelling ink well, just by removing the stopper and dipping the pen into the ink (if the ink level is deep enough).

Advantages.

  • The pen filler is a very convenient size for travelling, being small and light weight, when you do not want to travel with a typical 50ml glass bottle.
  • A 10ml supply of ink is enough to fill a typical converter around 12 – 15 times I found, although I confess that I lost count while attempting this exercise, filling a pen repeatedly with water until empty.
  • If used correctly and carefully, it is possible to get a good fill with minimum inky mess.
  • You can still fill a pen even from your last 1ml of ink! This would be difficult for most pens, if filling from a conventional bottle.
  • You do not need to be too anxious about the pen not being perfectly clean from a previous ink, as you will not contaminate a whole bottle, but only a few millilitres.
  • You can experiment by mixing compatible inks, just a millilitre or two at a time, in your pen filler. (I made a blend of Robert Oster Aqua and Pilot Iroshizuku Shin-kai, about 50/50, although this carries some risk that certain inks will not be compatible and will combine to make a sticky goo). It is prudent to test out any such blends in a separate receptacle and leave to stand for a day or so, before filling your pen.
  • If going away for a few days, it can be very handy to have a little supply of ink with you just in case you buy a pen (!), or as happened to me recently while visiting an elderly aunt over the holidays, I was asked to see if I could get her old Parker Slimfold working again and she could not find any ink in the house. In this situation it is little consolation to know that you have an entire drawer-full of fountain pen inks back at base camp.

Conclusions.

I am impressed with the simplicity of the design. If used correctly and with care, it works well. It is not entirely fool proof and it is a good idea to practice first with any given pen, using water until confident. When I first got mine, I picked a fairly large sized cartridge converter pen and was interested to see how many times it could be filled, from 10ml of water and using even the last drop. I have been using it successfully for a few weeks now. However, in trying it last night newly filled with Conway Stewart Tavy to photograph for this post, I must have done something wrong and ink leaked over my hands. This could be due to me forgetting to wind down the plunger prior to locking the pen into the holder, or not tightening the screw-down collar sufficiently before inverting the bottle, or perhaps dislodging the converter slightly. Like I said, it is not fool proof.

As for durability, it remains to be seen whether the plastic ink holder may crack eventually from the repeated stress of tightening and loosening the collar but I would expect it to last for a few years at least and would be happy with this. As for value, when looking at the four individual components of the pen filler, each of which looks mass-produced costing only a few pence each, it is questionable whether the sum of the parts amounts to £20.00. I sometimes feel like this when looking at the disassembled parts of a fountain pen. Obviously the company needs to make a profit and the initial costs of designing the parts and manufacturing them all need to be taken into account.

Overall, for the usefulness of the pen filler I would be happy to spend £20.00. And for the question of what to give a fountain pen enthusiast, who has everything except a Pineider Pen Filler, this is a good answer.

Pineider Pen Filler, shown with a Waterman Carene for size comparison.

Pen cases: a cautionary tale

Having a number of fountain pens uninked at any one time, I was in need of a storage case. At the London Pen Show in October 2015, I bought a black, 24-pen zip case, which had elasticated slots for 12 pens on each side and a flap to separate the two sides when the case was closed.

The case was only £15.00, in a padded, leather-look, finish and appeared to be quite a good practical design. The zip extended for a few inches beyond the rim of the case, to facilitate opening it flat on a table and had a popper to fasten the zip down when in the closed position. It had no apparent brand name and so I cannot tell you who makes it or where it comes from. I liked it so much that I bought another identical one at the same show in October 2016.

All was well until yesterday when I took out a yellow Lamy Safari, thinking that I might ink it up and put it into use. I was shocked to find a stain on the back of the cap and barrel where it had been held tightly against the lining of the pen case. I took out a Pink Safari which had the same problem.

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An old, white Sheaffer No Nonsense was also affected, to a lesser degree. Happily, the lacquered pens or metal finish pens such as a Lamy Logo were unaffected. It seems that just the light-coloured Lamy Safaris had suffered.

I tried rubbing the mark off with my thumb but this had no effect. I washed them in water with concentrated washing up liquid, scrubbing them with a soft brush but again this had no effect.

It appears that the stain has got deep into the material from which Safaris are made. Perhaps it is some sort of reaction between this material and the black dye used for the thin inner lining of the pen case.

I have since had a brief look for a remedy on Fountain Pen Network and found a thread where people had experienced staining to the chrome finish of pens, such as a Waterman Carene and reference was made to “chrome tanned leather”. Someone had success resolving that problem using a sort of polish.  I do not think my pen case was leather and it seems to be a different problem.

I am writing this first in order to warn others against making the same mistake and secondly in the faint hope that someone might know of a solution, to lift this stain out. It is not the end of the world and the pens are still usable. But they are adorable pens and I am sorry not to have taken better care of them.