Buying a new fountain pen is tempting and exciting. However, during the past few months of lockdown, I have also enjoyed looking back over my accumulation and, in a few cases, making some simple nib adjustments. So having an old fountain pen is nice too. Some benefits are (1) saving your money; (2) reducing waste; (3) avoiding additional clutter in the home from stored pen boxes; (4) using and appreciating what you have and (5) connecting with some memories and associations from the past.
Today I am looking at my old Waterman Phileas. I remember buying it, a long time ago in a department store in Shantou, China, chosing it from the selection in the glass display counter. I cannot now recall what year it was. It could have been late 1990’s or early 2000’s. It was not very expensive by UK standards, possibly around the same price as a Lamy Safari at home but, as my wife pointed out, quite expensive for the locals.
This is a plastic pen, taking Waterman cartridges or a converter. It has a vintage look from its red marbled patterns on the cap and barrel and gold coloured furniture. The cap has a rounded black top, with a sprung metal clip bearing the Waterman logo. There are two gold coloured rings on the cap which add to the elegance. It is a snap cap. The black band next to the gold ring, is stamped with the name Waterman and (on the back), France.
The section is black plastic, tapering slightly towards the nib but with a combination of a smooth area near the nib and a ribbed grip area higher up, which has a comfortable girth of approximately 12mm. I noticed that although the Phileas is discontinued, this section appears to have resurfaced for the new Waterman Embleme fountain pens.
The barrel has two more gold coloured rings but the most elaborate part is an inlaid gold coloured badge with some decorative engraving. This seems to echo the golden area of the bi-colour nib.
Unscrewing the barrel, on plastic threads, it can be seen that there is a metal liner inside the barrel, for about the rear two thirds of its length, presumably for added weight, strength and to help with balance. There is still room for a converter inside the barrel.
The cap can be posted, both deeply and securely which I appreciate.
The bicolour nib is stainless steel but with a large area of gold coloured plating. It bears the logo and name Waterman, Paris, M, for medium. The nib and the plastic feed are friction fit.
Size and weight (approximate).
This is a medium sized pen and relatively light weight which should be comfortable for most people. Closed, the pen measures about 136mm; open 126mm and posted 146mm. Weights are about 21g in all (not including a cartridge or converter) comprised as to 14g for the pen and 7g for the cap.
My vague recollections of the pen when I bought it, are that it was a little disappointing, a bit plasticky and not the best of writers as the nib was smooth but on the dry side. Whatever the reason, I did not make much use of it.
I am glad that I kept it. Recently I got out an old Waterman Kultur, blue demonstrator, which is very similar to the Phileas but with a simpler, less ornamented cap and barrel and an all-silver coloured nib. I was able to tweak the nib of the Kultur to open up the tines and improve ink flow. The result was to rediscover a very enjoyable pen.
And so with the Phileas I performed the same trick, (once again with thanks for SBRE Brown for the old instruction video “How to make a nib wetter in seconds”) bending up the nib just a little to widen the tines and to introduce a glimpse of daylight between them at the tip, for an easier flow of ink without pressure for my lefty overwriting preferences.
Perhaps, around 20 years ago, I had looked down on this pen for trying to appear vintage and of better materials than it was made of. But with older eyes and a little more experience to perform some easy nib work, I now appreciate the pen for what it is. Waterman succeeded in producing a pen which had timeless, classic looks (even recalling the decoration of old Waterman Ideal pens) and some elements of feel-good luxury in the gold coloured fittings, but at a modest cost. The metal liner inside the barrel is a particularly nice touch and marks this pen out as a quality tool in its own right. And so whilst I still enjoy buying a new pen, it sometimes pays to keep the old ones too.
Since buying this pen two years ago, it has stayed inked in my pen cup. There seemed no point in taking it out of service. It has been paired with Pilot Iroshizuku Tsuki-yo ink. It is always ready and never skips or hard-starts. It does not seem to lose any ink to evaporation. With its large ink capacity and light use, it can easily stay inked for six months or more.
Yesterday, on finding it almost empty I decided to give it a clean. As it had been so long since since the last clean, I had forgotten the detail of how to do it, although I had a recollection of there being a few points to bear in mind. I had to recall these as I went along. So while the sequence is now fresh, it seems a good time to describe the process. Actually I found it very satisfying.
The Wing Sung 601 is a Chinese homage to the classic but long- discontinued Parker 51 vacumatic but with a few differences such as a stainless steel nib, ink windows and a price tag (in this instance) of around £7.50. It came with a small container of silicone grease, (the container being based, confusingly, on a cartridge- converter which has no place in this pen). I prefer to use a thicker silicone grease, which I purchased from a diving shop. My pen did not come with the necessary wrench to unscrew the plunger, but I received one later with the Wing Sung 601A and it also fits the 601.
Here are the steps to disassemble and reassemble this pen:-
1. Remove the cap…
2. Unscrew the front shell, to expose the ink collector, nib and feed. Put the metal cap-retaining ring aside safely. It does not matter which way round it goes back.
3. Pull the ink collector out from the barrel. The nib and feed are still inside the ink collector, with a clear plastic breather tube at the back.
4. Grip the tiny, tubular nib (and the black plastic feed inside) firmly and pull them out of the ink collector. They might be tight and difficult to grip. Be careful not to distort the nib or damage the ink collector. Note: to reduce risk of damage, this stage could be skipped and the assembled nib, feed and ink collector instead be placed in water to soak.
5. Now, for the other end: unscrew the blind cap.
6. Use the wrench to unscrew the plunger mechanism and withdraw it from the barrel, which can then be rinsed. Mine has the soft rubber diaphragm but I have a later version too with a hard plunger instead.
When the parts have been rinsed and it is time to reassemble the pen, proceed as follows:-
7. Replace the black plastic feed (and breather tube) back inside the tubular nib, checking that it is centred symmetrically under the nib. It may be loose, until the nib goes back in the ink collector.
8. Apply some silicone grease to the barrel threads if desired and then replace the metal ring. But before pushing the ink collector back into the barrel, first screw on the front shell, to see where the protruding lip (for the hooded nib) finishes up: this is then the top, or 12 o’clock position. Then, keeping the barrel with the 12 c’clock position at the top, remove the shell again and then push the ink collector back into the barrel, with the nib in line with your 12 o’clock position.
9. Now screw the shell back on, over the ink collector. Hopefully, the lip will now line up over the hooded nib. If it is not quite right, just make a mental note of which way to make the adjustment; remove the shell, turn the ink collector a little to one side or the other as necessary and replace shell. Repeat until symmetrical.
10. Replace plunger. First apply a little silicone grease to the threads if you wish. Tighten with wrench but avoid over tightening.
11. Cap pen and you are done.
In between washing the pen parts I took the photos for this post. It was only on looking closely at these after refilling, that I noticed the gap all along one side of the ink collector. I feared that I had damaged it, perhaps by squeezing too hard to pull out the nib. However, I checked my other model 601, (a demonstrator version and so I did not even need to remove the section). I could see the same gap all the way down the ink collector and was relieved that it is meant to be like this and not some damage of my doing.
I have inked my pen up once again with Tsuki-yo. I expect it to keep writing until Christmas. It is a great little pen. It has proved to be a very reliable writer and exceptionally good value, especially once you include the pleasure of cleaning it.
I am thinking of buying a Pilot Capless. I have not had one before and am attracted to the matte black version with black trim, particularly after watching a review by Scrively on YouTube. I hover over the pictures of it on The Writing Desk and add it to my wish list.
This would be a significant decision for me, for two reasons. First, it would break a four month pen no-buy, about which I am feeling slightly proud and self-righteous. Secondly it would be a purchase of a pen that I have deliberately resisted until now, as I believed that the pocket clip would interfere with my natural grip of the pen. As a lefty over-writer, I tend to rotate my pens inwards a little, which means that my thumb then rests right on the centre of the grip, just where the clip is.
However, I have, since the age of 18 or so, also practiced a lefty under-writer style, with left elbow tucked into my side and in an upright style. For this, I do hold my pens in the customary fashion.
I am encouraged by Scrively (himself a lefty side-writer) who stated in his review that although initially put off by the pocket clip, he has since grown to like it, although it is not perfect. He encouraged people to try holding a Lamy Safari by the facets, to see how this feels.
I do have a box of Safaris and AL-Stars. In a typical pen-pottering diversion today, I had a look through them all and chose one to ink up. I picked my familiar old charcoal Safari, my first and oldest model.
I was surprised to see that that the nib showed signs of having been put away without a thorough clean last time. I took it up to the bathroom to flush the section, and give it a few squirts through of tepid water with a bulb-blower, as is my custom. I then thought to remove the nib, to clean beneath it. I wrapped a piece of Selotape over it and pulled. To my surprise and excitement, the entire feed came out of the section, with the nib still attached. I cannot remember ever having succeeded in pulling a Lamy Safari feed out before; generally I remove the nib only and leave the feed in place, but I seldom do even that.
I was therefore able to wash the nib, feed and section separately, have a quick photo-session and then put them back together. The feed went back in the section with a satisfying click. I had put the nib back on first but on reflection it would have been preferable to put it on last, to avoid any risk of distorting the nib.
The other benefit of this exercise is that, following a pen friend’s good example, I am trying to use up some of my accumulated stash of ink cartridges. This is a daunting task but sounds easier one brand at a time. For example I am now down to my last nine Cross cartridges. And so I took one of my loose blue Lamy cartridges and popped it in.
Putting pen to paper, the ink flowed immediately. I was thrilled at just how smoothly my old Safari writes, having been my work pen for a few years. I also liked the Lamy blue ink very much.
I have since written a few pages in underwriter style, obeying the Lamy’s call to place my finger and thumb on the facets. I cannot write as fast or uniformly but am happy writing this way for some purposes.
This old Lamy Safari, well worn in to my writing angle, and after its bath today, writes as smoothly as I could wish for. It has a nice medium nib and is matched perfectly with Lamy blue ink.
And yes, I can manage to hold the Safari by the facets, for lefty under-writing. This bodes well for a Pilot Capless. But do I really need the Pilot Capless when my Lamy Safari writes so smoothly, not to mention the rest of the pens currently inked and those resting? I have to accept that the answer is no. I think I may write to the end of this Lamy cartridge and see whether the temptation to go Capless is still there or has gone away.
Opus 88 is a fountain pen brand from Taiwan. Whereas TWSBI is known for its piston fill demonstrator pens, Opus 88 is for eyedropper pens, where ink is transferred to the barrel by a pipette. Some cartridge-converter pens can be adapted for eyedropper filling but the Opus 88 range are “true” eyedroppers, having no other filling options.
The expanding range now includes such models as the Koloro, Omar, Picnic, Fantasia and a recent model called the Flora shaped like a tall narrow vase. My model is simply called the Demonstrator and is the clear version, although also available in translucent smoke, red or orange. I bought mine from John Hall of Write Here at the London Pen Show in October 2018 and first mentioned this in my post My haul from the London Pen Show, 2018.
I have since enjoyed using it from time to time in my rotation. Recently, I was inspired to ink it up again after seeing a post on Instagram from Kimberly of @allthehobbies showing extracts of her transcription of Marcus Aurelius in a print style like a type face. She had used a pretty purple Opus 88 Picnic with a steel medium nib and the ink was Kobe #57 Himeajisai “Hydrangea”. Whilst I did not have that precise pen or ink, I went for my Waterman Tender Purple, (or Encre Violet Tendresse for added glamour).
This is a large pen, by usual standards, cylindrical with flat ends in a clear acrylic. The cap finial and the piston turning knob (more of which later) are particularly clear and create an interesting distortion of your lined paper or writing below when the pen is put down. The lower half of the cap is frosted. The cap has a matte black metal pocket clip which is firm and springy with a ball at the end. There is no cap ring but the name Opus 88 is on the cap in black lettering.
Unscrewing the cap requires four complete revolutions, which is off-putting for some. The grip section, also clear, tapers slightly but has a generous girth of around 13mm towards the top end near the cap threads.
The barrel unscrews from the section for filling. At the end of the barrel, the 14mm long turning knob can be unscrewed to lift a piston rod which runs down the centre of the ink reservoir, to open the channel between the reservoir and the feed. Screwing this down again, cuts off the ink supply, converting your pen to a travelling ink well, to protect from leaks when the pen is carried around. The ink remaining in the feed may be enough to enable you to write for a few more pages but if more is needed, the cut off valve can simply be opened to recharge the feed, or left open if preferred, for a long uninterrupted writing session.
To fill the pen, remove the barrel and drop ink directly into the reservoir. An eyedropper is included in the box for this purpose although I use longer ones, from an art shop. A syringe could instead be used. The reservoir holds a massive amount of ink. I have not measured the capacity but Goulet Pens describe it as 3.56ml. This would be equivalent to around 4 standard international short cartridges!
My pen came with a Broad nib. I believe it to be a Jowo No. 6 steel nib. My nib was extremely smooth and wrote like a western broad. I found it great for laid paper, as it would glide over the ridges with ease. However, I found the lack of feedback from the nib to be disconcerting.
However, I had a suitable donor for a nib transplant, namely a Manuscript ML 1856 fountain pen which had an identical nib and feed unit but in a Medium. The nib and feed units are easily unscrewed. Just remember that in the Opus 88, the small chubby O-ring must be placed over the nipple of the feed, before it is screwed into the section. Be careful not to lose this when removing the nib and feed unit for washing, since it is not attached.
When re-assembling the pen, I took the opportunity to apply a little silicone grease at various points, being the threads of the nib and feed housing, the threads between section and barrel, the threads of the piston knob and the piston shaft itself. This should keep everything working nicely.
Size and weight.
This is one of my largest pens, at 147mm closed and 137mm uncapped. (A Lamy Safari is around 130mm uncapped). The cap does not post but the length is ample.
My pen, currently around half full, weighs 29g, of which 19g is the pen uncapped and 10g for the cap alone. The weight is enough to feel substantial without being burdensome.
Likes, dislikes and conclusion.
I find little to dislike about this pen. I have mentioned that the original broad nib was a bit too smooth and lacking in feedback for me although it wrote very well and was good for laid paper. Also I know that some people dislike caps that require more than one or two turns to be unscrewed.
On the plus side, this is a big comfortable pen. There is a certain joy to be had in using a pen which is unashamedly a pure eyedropper, and with a massive ink capacity. I know that access to ink is not an issue for most of us but it is nice to be able to go travelling without needing to bring a bottle of ink, because basically your pen is one. The demonstrator body means there is no risk of being taken by surprise by your pen running dry. The pen looks great with a bright colour ink inside. Also an eyedropper pen is well suited to using up random small ink samples: just pour one in!
The piston rod with its shut-off mechanism is a very useful feature, so that the pen can be carried around with less risk of leaking. Also it reduces the risk of blobbing or burping.
I have a long way to go before I can come near to Kimberly’s neat printing. But with this ink capacity I am ready for a long haul.
Since I began this blog over three years ago, the banner photo has featured my black Sheaffer 300 fountain pen, poised on a Ryman’s A5 notebook on a park bench. Yet until now, this pen had not enjoyed a post of its own.
I recall that I bought the pen at the John Lewis department store in Brent Cross and that the price then was about £45.00. Not super cheap but not expensive either.
This is a lacquered metal pen, heavy and robust, in a glossy black finish. The cap fits flush with the barrel. The cap features a sprung pocket clip with the Sheaffer white dot. The broad shiny chrome cap band bears the name, Sheaffer.
The cap pulls off silently but makes a click as it goes back on and needs only a modicum of effort. It also posts very securely, designed to click onto a ridge on the barrel finial.
The grip section is black plastic, tapering but free of any facets telling you where to put your fingers. There is a slight step down from the barrel to the section (enabling the cap to fit flush as mentioned) but this does not feel rough or uncomfortable.
The steel nib has some attractive scroll work and states Sheaffers, with an M for medium. The tines are nicely aligned and there is just a minimal gap visible between them, which is to say that the nib is tuned just as I like. It writes smoothly with a good flow, on the fine side of medium. If you need a fine/extra fine line occasionally, you can turn it over to write with the other side of the nib. It is a firm nib, which I find more practical as a left hander.
Filling is by Sheaffer Skrip cartridges or else a Sheaffer converter.
Weights and measures.
The pen has a generous girth, for those who like larger pens. However, uncapped it measures only 120mm. The cap can be posted, which brings the length up to 155mm, but it then becomes back heavy, unless (like me) you hold it fairly high. Closed, the pen measures 141mm.
If used unposted the pen weighs around 19g, which is quite substantial. However, the cap alone weighs in at 23g making a total of 42g if you wish to write with the cap posted.
Later, I was persuaded to buy a Sheaffer 300 ball pen when half price, but at 49g this is even heavier than the fountain pen.
Likes and Dislikes.
On the plus side, the pen feels solid, well made and indestructible. It has a good sizeable girth, (broader than the Sheaffer Sagaris) and the nib on mine writes very nicely. The pen seems built to last, of sober design and good value for money. Other colours or a chrome cap version are available.
On the negative side, the section can feel a little plasticky, in comparison to the glossy lacquered metal finish of the cap and barrel. Also I would have preferred the barrel to be another 10mm longer so that I could use it more comfortably unposted. But this is just my preference and others who grip their pens lower may find the length no problem. Also, the threads to unscrew the barrel seem to go on forever.
Posting the cap does make for a very heavy unit and the pen can feel unbalanced unless you then grip quite far back from the nib.
The nib cannot easily be removed. I did once try to pull it out of the section but it would not budge and I did not want to use any greater force, for fear of damaging the plastic feed. Having used Pelikans with their easily unscrewable nib units, I am rather disappointed when other pens do not have this feature.
All things considered, this is a decent pen for the money. Pricewise it could be a rival to the Cross Bailey, but now Cross and Sheaffer are both under the same umbrella. For a steel nibbed, lacquered metal pen there is a lot to commend it. Mine has been rather neglected in recent years but I am glad to still have it, to enjoy from time to time and to use for my stock of Sheaffer Skrip cartridges.
Once in a while, I come across a fountain pen which writes so smoothly and well, that I almost want to put all my others away. If it happens to be inexpensive, so much the better. Such discoveries are partly what make the hobby so enjoyable and addictive.
Last August, I met up in London with a pen friend now living in Australia. We went for a coffee and got talking about pens. He showed me one that he was carrying, which he called his “melon pen.” It was an Online College. I was immediately struck by how smoothly it wrote and what an attractive line it produced. When I remarked upon this, he kindly said that I could keep it as he could easily pick up another, having bought it for a few euros from a German department store or pharmacy.
Online is a German pen brand, established in 1991. Whilst this does not seem long ago to me, it pre-dated internet shopping. However they do now sell online (see website http://www.online-pen.de), as well as in shops.
To put this pen in context, the website shows various categories of pens. Under “Young Line” we see that the College is one of six different models geared towards children and the young at heart. Clicking on the College, you are taken to a large number of different patterns with brightly coloured graphics and with various nib options too. This particular model, to give it its full title, is the “Online Best Writer College 0.8mm Pineapple” and currently sells for 9.99 euros.
The extraordinary thing about this, is that there are so many nib options at this price point, from Medium, Fine, Extra Fine, Left handed to calligraphy nibs of 0.8mm, 1.4mm and 1.8mm.
This is a plastic pen, with a snap cap that can be posted. It has a steel nib. The grip section is soft touch and ergonomic, that is, rubberised and tapering but with two flattened facets for finger placement. There is a clear plastic ink window from which you can see if your cartridge is running low, when held up to the light. The barrel unscrews on plastic threads but with a distinct click at the end when tightened back on again.
The cap and barrel are pink with a pattern of a pineapple and slices of watermelon and some yellow shapes. The clip is plastic and quite flexible but not very tight and secure.
The nib and writing performance.
This particular one has the 0.8mm stub nib, imprinted with the words Online, Germany and 0.8. As I have said, it is very smooth. It is hard to tell whether it has a small amount of tipping material or is just very well polished but the effect is delightful and belies its low price. Personally I find this tip size very useful, being somewhat finer than the more common 1.1mm stub size from other brands. It is very flattering to one’s handwriting, whilst still being forgiving and without sharp edges to dig into the paper.
The nib and feed are friction fit. I have tried transplanting this nib into a TWSBI Eco, which partly worked but was not entirely successful as the nib did not fit snuggly against the Eco’s feed and so eventually I returned it to its own pink melon and pineapple body.
This is a cartridge pen, which takes standard international cartridges. When I received it, it was inked with an Online branded cartridge. The interesting thing is that these are “combination cartridges”, that are double ended: one end is the standard international fit (for this pen) whilst the other end has the Lamy fitting, thus enabling people to use their Online ink cartridges to fit in their Online or Lamy pens.
Size and weight.
Being all plastic, this is a very lightweight pen. Inked, it weighs around 12g in all, of which 4g is the cap, and so only around 8g if used un-posted.
Capped, the pen measures around 139mm, and uncapped, a respectable 126mm. It is designed to be posted (the cap fitting over a recess in the barrel) but then measures a whopping 172mm, although still very comfortable and light. I prefer to use it posted and to grip high up, over the ink window.
Likes and dislikes.
For its modest price, this is a great buy and the smooth 0.8mm stub nib punches well above its weight. The pen is comfortable to use posted or unposted although very light. The cartridge filling system is very convenient although presumably, a converter could be used for bottle filling. The website states “The design contains fun and joy and lots of vitamins!”
As for dislikes, it is lightweight and plasticky, but that is the point. I would have preferred a more boring plain colour or pattern, but that is a reflection on me and not the pen, which is obviously meant for young people. The fruit is refreshing and distinctive. There is no risk of me mistaking this for another pen. If melons and pineapples do not work for you, there are dozens of other designs to chose from.
It is good to know that such a pleasant writing experience can be enjoyed for such little cost. It would be fun to visit a shop selling these in Germany and to rummage through the many patterns and nib options. I have not found them for sale in the UK either in shops or my usual online stores and so you may need to order your Online direct. But if you do not mind the lightweight plastic body and the lively design, you will be rewarded with a surprisingly good writing performance.
Whatever else I have in my pen cup, I like to keep one pen inked with a waterproof ink. For a few years, it was Sailor Kiwa-guro; then I tried Montblanc Permanent Blue. For the past three months, I have been using Rohrer & Klingner’s Salix in a Cross Bailey Light.
This is an ink from Germany, sold in glass 50ml bottles without a cardboard box. The label on the bottle states “For fountain pens, steel nibbed pens, dip pens and individual writing utensils for calligraphy.”
Some benefits of this ink are as follows:-
1. It is an iron gall ink.
As such it has greater permanence than regular inks and should be suitable for documents which need to be kept for many years. It goes on like a pale royal blue when wet but darkens as it dries and oxidises over time, to a darker blue black. This change can be seen in both the light and dark tones:
2. It shades well.
Salix has an attractive, pronouncedshading in blue black tones, which has a pleasing, vintage style.
3. It is waterproof.
It is useful to have a waterproof ink when addressing envelopes but also to protect against spillages and smudges.
4. Less bleed through.
It can often be used on types of paper that would otherwise be subject to bleed through and feathering with normal inks, such as photocopying paper. Thus some notebooks that might have been put aside for being not fountain pen friendly, can be used for double-sided writing after all.
5. You can highlight over it!
Being waterproof once dry, it does not smudge if you go over it with a highlighter pen. Ink is not transferred to the tip of the highlighter. I was excited to discover this. Being able to highlight sections of your own handwritten notes opens up new possibilities, for example for use in a work diary.
6. It is good value.
The ink is not expensive. I bought mine at Choosing Keeping, a stationery shop in London. According to their web site, their current price is £8.00 for a 50ml bottle.
The downside is that iron gall inks are regarded as being higher-maintenance than normal inks. They are more acidic and may cause staining and corrosion of steel nibs. Rohrer & Kingner recommend that you clean your pen once a week. This advice is also given by Goulet Pens on their web site. Jet Pens recommend cleaning every four weeks or so.
For this reason I have been using it in an inexpensive pen so far but I am encouraged that I have not yet noticed any ill effects. Cleaning of the pen has been quick and easy. Also, the ink flows back and forth freely in the converter, leaving a nice even film on the sides and does not get stuck at the far end. Because of concerns over corrosion and staining of the nib, the natural response is to use it in an inexpensive pen with a steel nib. However, a gold nib will actually be more suitable as gold does not corrode. I plan to try it in my Sailor Pro-Gear slim, for its next fill.
My only prior experience of iron gall ink has been with the registrar’s ink from Ecclesiastical Stationery Supplies prescribed for use on marriage registers. I learned that once opened, their ink needed to be used up within around 18 months or so. Certainly, if kept for years after opening, the ink loses its colour and turns to a pale grey. Once that happens it is time to throw it out and order a fresh bottle. I do not know whether Salix also does this but will try to make regular use of my bottle.
Rohrer & Klingner also have one other iron gall ink in their range, called Scabiosa, which is a dusty purple. I believe that it will have similar properties to the blue black Salix. I am keen to try it when I can get my hands on a bottle.
Recently I have been taking stock of my fountain pen accumulation. This involved getting them all together and listing them on a spreadsheet, a sure sign of having too many pens.
They included twelve Lamy Safaris and AL-stars. I am not even a particular fan of these pens. What was I thinking?
But then as I looked, their stories came back to me, one by one. The charcoal Safari was my first. It was an impulse buy in Rymans in Golders Green when my wife had sent me to buy Sellotape. She was busy making a photo display for our church. I used that pen a lot.
Then the pink one was bought in Marlow, a pretty town on the River Thames. We had gone for a day trip with Joey, a Chinese student who was visiting us at the time. I tried unsuccessfully to enthuse her in fountain pens.
I bought the red one in a traditional fountain pen shop on another day trip, to Oxford. An aunt had sent me a cheque for my birthday to buy myself something pen-related. A Safari seemed just the thing. The helpful lady in the shop offered me a choice of nib too, in silver or black. I chose black. (At the moment, this nib has been borrowed by my Lamy Studio, whose own nib was ruined when it fell off a table).
The Lamy Vista, (Safari demonstrator version) was bought in the summer of 2014. I remember showing it to my brother when we met up to see the Eagles at London’s O2 Arena, in the final stages of the History tour. It was one of the most fabulous concerts I had ever seen, more poignant now as it included the late Glenn Frey, who passed away in 2016. My brother and his partner had generously bought me the ticket as a surprise.
I remember buying the black Safari in Harrods’ stationery department, from a pen cup rather than in the usual blister pack. It was probably my intention to use this with black ink. A black pen always looks smart.
I was thrilled to find the limited edition Dark Lilac Safari, when eventually it appeared in our local shops. I had been waiting for it to arrive. This was a great colour and so was the matching ink.
Similarly, the limited edition Petrol was a thrilling find, when it arrived in our shops quite some time after news of the colour had first appeared on the internet. I much enjoyed the matching ink colour, a dark teal with lovely shading.
The yellow Safari is still my favourite of the Safari colours. I was on the way home from Hampstead after an annual cardio check-up at the hospital. I popped in to have a look around Rymans and treated myself to the Safari “for being good.”
Turning to my AL-stars, the black was my first. I remember being excited to discover that an aluminium version existed and enjoying the touch of the cool aluminium body. I had this pen with me during a short stay in Tetbury, in the Cotswolds in May 2013 where we had been for a wedding. I found a stationery shop there with a display in the window of the same black AL-star as mine. Naturally I took a photograph of it.
The Ocean blue AL-star was bought in Rymans Golders Green and has been featured in this blog before (here). The nib was particularly smooth.
The colour name is not to be confused with the lighter, Pacific blue version, which I ordered from Cult Pens and which came with a pack of cartridges in the lovely bright Lamy turquoise.
Finally, the rather unusual colour called Charged Green was another impulse buy, probably because the price was reduced. It was not a colour that appealed to me really but I decided to give it a go. However the accompanying cartridges were too light a shade to be useful.
I did not set out to be a pen collector. I think the fact that I passed up all the other colours of the Safari and AL-star and the LX models too, proves that I am not a collector. But as I get older, I am realising that it is not so much the merits of a pen in our ownership that make it important to us, but the associations that the pen has for us. I have shared mine here, not because they are particularly significant but to prompt you to reflect on what associations your pens have for you. Whether we see ourselves as collectors of pens or not, we are traveling through life collecting memories.
Recently I was asked in an email, what fountain pen I would recommend for a beginner. She mentioned that she had traditional taste, enjoyed good quality and style and wished to start with a cheaper pen, costing no more than say 20 to 30 euros. She wished to use it with a Leuchtturm 1917 notebook. “Is it possible to get a good quality pen for that price?”, she asked.
Happily, the answer to the last question is yes. There are numerous fountain pens on the market in this price bracket, from a wide range of brands and with a host of different attributes.
Ideally, before making recommendations, I would find out a little more such as her previous experience of fountain pens, how she holds her pens, her writing size and style, whether she has any preferences as between brands, materials (plastic or metal), filling systems and the pen’s size and weight, and so on.
In the absence of such information to narrow down the field, I made a number of assumptions and the following can be general advice only and is based upon my own experience, likes and dislikes.
From the mention of the Leuchtturm notebook, I assume that the pen may be used for journaling but may also be enjoyed for letter writing, occasional notes and other general tasks: in short, a general purpose pen.
Also, the suggestion of “starting with a cheaper pen”, implies that she wishes to try an entry-level pen first and then later progress to the next level. This is sensible to ensure that she likes using a fountain pen before investing too much money and secondly, to spend some time with a beginner’s pen and so appreciate the improvements when moving on.
A beginner’s pen will have a stainless steel nib. I suggest a medium nib to start with (assuming average sized handwriting). As for filling systems, the pens in the following selection are almost all cartridge-converter pens. That is, they are filled by inserting a plastic cartridge of ink but can also be adapted for filling from a bottle, by inserting a “converter,” typically an ink reservoir with a twist mechanism for drawing up ink.
Cartridges are quick, clean and convenient for refilling on the go. The downside is that it is generally more expensive to buy ink in cartridges, (especially if the pen accepts only its own branded cartridges, as with Lamy and Cross for example). There is also the plastic waste. Bottled ink gives the benefit of being available from a variety of brands and in a huge number of colours.
The one other filling system represented in my list, is the piston filler (TWSBI Eco) which draws ink directly into the barrel and can be filled only from a bottle.
If possible, it is best to visit a shop to see the pen before buying but this is not always practical, not least because of the current lockdown and so buying online may be the only option.
With all these caveats in mind, here is my personal selection, in no particular order, with a few thoughts on each:-
Perhaps the most obvious choice, the Lamy Safari is widely available, in a range of colours with new special edition colours coming out every year. These are tough, plastic pens with quick, snap-on caps and are a decent size even for larger hands. Thanks to state of the art engineering, good quality control and testing, the nibs are well finished and write smoothly, straight out of the box. Replacement nibs are available in various widths and are easy and inexpensive to replace. The pens cost around £18.00 in the UK
The downside for some is that the grip section has two facets, pushing you to adopt a symmetrical grip between finger and thumb, centred above the nib which is not so comfortable if you prefer to rotate your nib inwards as you write (as I do). This puts some pen enthusiasts off, although most whom I know, probably own or have owned at least one. Also you are restricted to Lamy cartridges. A Lamy converter can be bought separately.
An aluminium version of the pen, in a range of colours, is available at around £25.00.
Cross Bailey Light
This new pen from Cross appeared in 2019, as a plastic version of the popular, heavier lacquered metal Cross Bailey. This is a cartridge-converter pen, taking Cross proprietary cartridges or else a Cross converter (the push-fit version, model 8751). It is a simple, traditional style pen of a good, medium size and proportions. The plastic cap can be “posted” (pushed on the back of the pen) for added length and weight. This looks a more adult pen than the Safari, having no facets on the grip. The pens are sold in sealed packs, with medium nibs. These offer a firm writing experience, good for note-taking and faster writing. Personally I try to pick out pens with nib tines with a slight glimpse of daylight between them, which mean good ink flow and effortless fast writing.
The downside is that Cross cartridges are rather expensive. But with the pen costing £20.00 in the UK plus a converter for £7.00, you are still under £30.00 in our currency. I am a big fan of these pens finding them very comfortable and reliable.
This is another fairly traditional syle pen, perhaps rather under-rated here and certainly less prevalent in the shops than Lamy and Cross brands. However, this pen has a delightful smooth, steel nib. If bought online, from Cult Pens for example, there is a choice of nib in extra fine, fine, medium and broad widths. I have only tried the medium nibs but imagine that a broad would be silky smooth. The pen features a rubber ergonomic grip with subtle, smooth edged facets for your thumb and forefinger to rest on. At around £15.00 these are excellent value. They also have the advantage of accepting standard international cartridges, which are readily available from numerous brands and in a vast array of colours.
For the price there is little to say against this pen. It is a good size, light in weight and the cap can be posted if desired but this makes it rather too long at 17.5cm.
The Nexx seems to be rather overlooked here, being over-shadowed by the ubiquitous Safari. However, it is a tough workhorse pen. It has the same nib as the Safari and AL-Star, but features a wider, rubber grip and an aluminium barrel which blends gradually from being cylindrical to a rounded triangular shape at the end. It has a tough plastic cap in a variety of bold colours. Again, like the Safari, it will need Lamy cartridges or the appropriate Lamy converter. The price here is around £19.00, similar to a Safari.
The downside of this pen for me is that the rubber grip makes it slightly harder to make small adjustments to the angle of rotation of the pen as you write: you need to lift the pen off your fingers before you can twist it in your hands. Secondly, there is an unusual clash of materials, as between the plastic cap, rubber grip section and aluminium barrel. This, plus the unusual shape of the barrel makes for an interesting tactile experience. Personally, I am not keen on rubber grips or triangular barrels and yet inexplicably, taken as a whole I am impressed by the pen. I have had mine for only a few months. It could not be described as traditional in style.
The Perkeo is another cartridge-converter pen, in a range of colour options and an All Black in tough plastic and multi faceted cap and barrel. The grip does have some facets for your finger positions but it is not rubber and these are less obtrusive than on the Lamy Safari. Personally I grip the pen higher than the facets and so they do not interfere with my grip. The pen is a good size, whether posted or not. I enjoy the Kaweco nibs which are slightly softer than the Lamy Safari nibs. The pens are sold in clear plastic packs with either a medium or fine nib. I have bought quite a few of these in both widths. The medium nibs are great for general use but I also like the fine nib version to use with black ink which is very precise with a pleasant feedback. The pens cost around £16.00 here. They take standard international cartridges and are supplied with four blue cartridges of the lovely vibrant Kaweco blue.
The downside perhaps is that the pen is not traditional in style and looks like a whiteboard marker pen. There is no pocket clip. Also, the build quality can be a bit variable and some people have had complaints with the nibs. Aside from such quality control issues I think they are great value and provided you get a good one, the writing experience can be delightful.
My final suggestion is different from all the above in that it is a “piston filler” (bottle only) pen, which means a much larger ink capacity than any cartridge. Secondly, it is a “demonstrator” pen meaning that it is made of a clear plastic so that you can see the nib and feed and filling mechanism. Once filled, you can also see the ink sloshing around. Nibs are available in a range of widths. The pens start from around £28.00 here increasing for some of the different colour options. It is also the only pen in this selection with a screw on cap.
TWSBI pens are appreciated by enthusiasts, not only for their quality and value but also because they can be disassembled for cleaning. TWSBI supplies its pens with a wrench to unscrew the piston. The nib and feed can be pulled out and are “friction fit” for ease of changing, cleaning or maintenance, although none of this is strictly necessary if you prefer not to tinker with it. TWSBI even supplies each pen with a small container of silicone grease to lubricate the piston.
There are numerous other pens that I could have included but have left out to keep the list managable. As it is, I have already stretched the brief rather beyond the traditional. Any pen enthusiast would have his own opinions and this is clearly subjective and tastes differ.
I have not included Parker pens at this price level. A Parker Vector is well within the budget but rather too slender in my view and not one of my favourites. Many people might recommend the Pilot Metropolitan as a starter pen, also within budget, but I do not find them very comfortable and the nibs are very fine. Then there are Chinese pens such as the Wing Sung 601 or the Wing Sung 699, both well inside this price range and of traditional design but although great value, I think that they are not everyone’s idea of a beginner’s pen.
My own preference, would be for the Cross Bailey Light with medium nib and converter which is a good, traditional pen of quality and style. Although having said that, everybody should have at least one Lamy Safari, preferably yellow.
I have done quite well over the past three months at resisting temptation to buy another fountain pen. However I cheated slightly and opened one from my small stockpile of pens bought long ago as possible gifts or for a rainy day. This one I bought in October 2017 in a sale, reduced from around £18.00 to £9.00.
This is the Sheaffer Pop, Glossy Red, or Sheaffer 9207 according to a sticker on the blister pack. It does not say “Pop” anywhere on the packaging or on the pen, but this is the name on the company’s website, Sheaffer.com. It is available in a range of colours including some Star Wars themed designs.
Thus we are dealing with an entry level type of pen, presumably targeted mainly at school students and so it is not appropriate to be overly detailed or critical in a review. I am fond of Sheaffer fountain pens and like their steel nibs which are generally well finished. Nowadays the packaging also bears the name A.T. Cross Company and this model was made in China.
Construction and design.
This is a plastic pen, light weight and with a uniform diameter cylindrical barrel and cap, which snaps shut firmly to be completely flush with the barrel. The cap features a strong metal pocket clip with a cutaway and the easily recognised Sheaffer white dot.
Owing to the flush cap, the walls of which are quite thick, there is a significant step down to the section. This has a black rubber sleeve grip, which is soft and grippy to rest on your finger. Personally, I hold the pen with my thumb on the barrel and my first and second finger at the section. The cap can be posted if desired, where it sits very securely perched on the back of the pen and again, flush with the barrel. The downside is that the pen is then very long, although the cap is not heavy and so does not make the pen back heavy.
The stainless steel, medium nib was set up nicely and wrote, straight out of the box. I was delighted to see that the tines and tipping were even, with a glimpse of daylight between them signalling a good ink flow.
Filling and writing performance.
This is a cartridge converter pen, taking the proprietary Sheaffer Skrip ink cartridges, one black cartridge being included. A Sheaffer converter can be bought separately.
The medium nib on mine is firm and writes without any fuss, in all directions with no skips and no hard starts as yet. The nib writes smoothly and will improve after a few weeks once it has worn in to my angle of writing. The line is perhaps better described as a medium – fine. Ink flow from the supplied black cartridge is good, requiring no pressure. However, the black ink does have a tendency to bleed through on some papers and this might be a reason to get a converter and have a wider choice of inks.
Size and weight.
The Pop measures (approximately) 127mm closed, 121mm open and 166mm posted. It weighs approximately 16.5g in all of which around 5.0g is the cap.
Likes and dislikes.
To get the negative stuff out of the way first, the possible issues I noticed with this pen are as follows:-
Very stiff snap cap. Also very stiff on posting; needs to be handled with care;
Significant step down from barrel to grip section although not sharp, could be an issue for some;
Rubber sleeve on the grip section can rotate (although it does not do so whilst writing); section needs to be squeezed tight when unscrewing the barrel, otherwise the grip will just rotate without the section unscrewing;
The cap makes a loud pop, especially when being removed after posting; could become irritating or embarrassing in quiet surroundings;
Plastic cap appears thick walled but could eventually crack;
No inner cap present, although I have not yet experienced any hard starts.
Nib performs well;
Comfortable wide girth of around 12-13mm, similar to a Montblanc 146; much larger than a Parker Vector;
Soft rubber grip;
Very secure snap cap. Good for an every day carry;
Simple design with attractive cylindrical shape and metal fittings.
I have been pleasantly surprised by this inexpensive pen. There are certain design elements which have both positive and negative impacts: the flush cap and barrel means a significant step down from barrel to section; the very secure capping (with no rattle, wobble or play at all when the pen is capped or when the cap is posted) makes for a safe every day carry and perhaps avoids nib dry out, but the downside is a very stiff and noisy cap to remove (especially after posting).
Overall however, aside from the stiff cap, I like the pen and am much happier with this girth than that of the Parker Vector. I imagine that competition between brands is fierce at this price level. Having bought mine at half price, I got a bargain here.