Goodbye to Paperchase.

In recent weeks we have witnessed the disappearance of another well-loved chain of shops from our high streets and shopping malls. Now the UK’s Paperchase stationery stores have closed.

This means the loss of 106 stores, 28 concession stands (in shops such as Next and Selfridges) and the loss of some 820 jobs. As well as being a familiar presence in the shopping centres, there were Paperchase shops at some railway stations too.

At the eleventh hour, the supermarket giant Tesco stepped in and acquired the Paperchase brand. It remains to be seen what they will do with it. The Paperchase shops are gone. If you click on Paperchase’s web site, you are now diverted to Tesco and greeted with a message that Paperchase online and UK Paperchase stores are now closed and that “we look forward to bringing this well loved brand to Tesco.”

Paperchase was founded in 1968 and grew to be a familiar sight, along with stationers Rymans and WHSmiths. The branches were not all identical but were bright and inviting to browse in, featuring a large selection of greeting cards, shelves offering numerous styles of notebooks in all shapes and sizes, tables of toys and novelty products appealing to children, loads of stationery accessories, pots of colourful pens and, in some stores, displays of fountain pens in glass cabinets. These might included Parker, Cross and Kaweco and a few others although generally none too expensive for an impulse buy.

The Paperchase logo on the back of a journal.

Over the years, I visited Paperchase a lot. If my wife and I came across a Paperchase we would pop in for a look round and often buy something.

Today, looking around my writing space (aka the dining room) I rounded up just some of the products that had come from Paperchase, for a team photo. These ranged from packets of standard international cartridges in a variety pack (I seem to remember that they had once cost £2.50 for a bag of 50), through literally dozens of notebooks, pads of writing paper and file paper, to a few memorable pen purchases.

A quick round up of just some of my Paperchase purchases over the years.

If you chose a fountain pen from the display cabinet, the staff often struggled to locate the box. My favourite Paperchase story (told here before) is of once buying a handsome Cross Century II fountain pen in black with a chrome cap, at the price marked on the display. Several months later, I was in the same shop and saw the matching Cross ball pen and asked to buy it. This time, they were unable to find the box and its code in order to sell it. Eventually, it transpired that it could be sold only as part of a set with the fountain pen. After proving that I had bought the fountain pen already, they agreed that the ball pen was mine too!

Loose cartridges from my first variety pack. I have a lot of pinks left.

I remember where I was when I bought my first Kaweco Perkeo: it was the Paperchase shop in St Peter Port, Guernsey. The pen was a success and I later stocked up on about five more, in various colours. This pre-dated my same behaviour with the Cross Bailey Light, although those were not from Paperchase.

However, my greatest dependence on Paperchase, was for notebooks and journals. I remember discovering the little chunky black A6 journals with a staggering 600 pages of squared, fountain pen friendly paper. I bought a couple of those and was sorry when on a later visit, they seemed to have ceased selling them. But then I later found them back in stock again a year or two later, I binged on another three! They were great, such as for jotting down trivia when watching tv or listening to music online. They would last for ages.

One of my favourite Paperchase products. Actually 600 pages.

Paperchase had a wide choice of journals. Some had paper that was not fountain pen friendly. I liked the A6 flexi-covered books, nicely stitched, with 320 pages of either lined paper (8mm line spacing) or plain paper, both of which were great for fountain pens. They were usually £8.00 each and occasionally reduced in a sale. I tended to buy more than I needed (an understatement).

Paperchase A6 journals, of various designs.

For larger, A5 journals, Paperchase once sold journals with bonded black leather covers, with 384 pages of smooth, lined paper, with a generous 10mm row height. I used these for more lasting projects, such as memories of my school days and would enjoy writing in these with various fountain pens and inks.

A few of the more luxurious, bonded leather covered journals.

Paperchase also had an online service, although I did not use it as I was well served with branches in London. But I did make use of their loyalty card. If presented when making a purchase, you would be given an offer with your receipt, for a discount on your next purchase, subject to various conditions. I once bought some pads of file paper, only to be told that there was nothing to pay as it was all covered by accrued benefits. I was very fond of their pads of file paper, which I use at home and at work. Not only was the paper of good quality but also, the pages could be torn off the pad easily without ripping the paper, unlike some I have used.

Paperchase pads of white A4 file paper. They also had yellow paper.

The final months of Paperchase’s departure have been sad to see. I visited the branch in Windsor and bought a few more pads of file paper. The staff had just heard the news of the closures and did not know what the future held for them.

I was at the O2 Centre in Swiss Cottage when I saw the massive black-on-yellow posters in the shop window, announcing the closing down sale. I went in to look round, but most of the stock had gone. What was left was all discounted and it was unclear what the final price would be. I picked up a few small items, such as Lamy ball pen M16 refill, marked at £3.75 but which came to only fifty pence when rung on the till. Similarly, a clear plastic ruler was only a few pence.

One of Paperchase’s occasional, own-brand cartridge pens.

On visiting Bracknell recently, and also Southampton, the Paperchase stores were dark with their shutters down. I almost took a photo of the sad looking shop fronts, but it seemed like gloating.

I have been sorry to see Paperchase go. I will miss them. I read that the company had suffered years of plummeting sales and soaring costs and was a victim of the Covid lockdowns and the growing shift to online shopping.

But we had many good years. I will wait to see what becomes of Tesco’s involvement. If some of the better notebooks and journals can be offered through Tesco’s many stores, this will be some consolation.

Travelling with ink: April snippets.

An Easter at Easthampstead Park.

I recently enjoyed a nice Easter break at the Easthampstead Park hotel, near Wokingham. It was little more than an hour’s drive from home, but still felt like a holiday. The hotel is a stunning 1860’s mock Jacobean mansion, and for many years belonged to successive generations of the Marquess of Downshire, whose estates also included Hillsborough Castle in Ireland. Eventually, it was sold to the local council and then a few years ago to the Active hotel group.

Easthampstead Park Hotel, Wokingham.

As with any holiday, part of the enjoyment is deciding which pens to bring. I am always torn between going minimal and just bringing one pen, or else going the other way and bringing too many. Even though it was just a one night stay, I ended up bringing three of the new pens bought at the London Pen Show in March, plus a Jinhao X159. Three of these went into my new Orom pen case in Elk leather, and the fourth in my shirt pocket.

Believe it or not, this was the stationery that I felt necessary for a one night hotel break.

Whilst I could not resist the desire to bring all these, I did in fact use only one pen for holiday journaling, namely the Aurora Duo-Cart. This was bought from Kirit Dal at the recent London Pen Show, who, after seeing my pen show haul blog post, kindly got in touch and offered to send me a proprietary converter for the pen. A few days later, I was thrilled to receive the converter in the post – a lovely metal squeeze bar type, which seems appropriate for the vintage inspired Duo-Cart model. He also enclosed a box of Aurora cartridges which was very kind.

Before driving home, my wife and I visited Bracknell, a Berkshire town not far from the hotel. Although only an hour from home, it was the first time we had been and we had a saunter around the pedestrian shopping centre, a nice mix of shops, some inside the mall and some outdoors. Although well-prepared with my pen stash, I found myself wondering what options there would be to a traveller who found himself in Bracknell, and (for some reason) in urgent need of purchasing a fountain pen! From our brief visit, it seemed that there were various options although somewhat limited. Someone desiring a fountain pen from the Italian or Japanese brands might be out of luck. However there was a selection of Montblanc pens in Fenwicks’ department store. For Cross, Lamy and Parker you have a Rymans. There were also Parker and Lamy in WHSmiths. Sadly the Paperchase store, as with all their branches, has recently closed.

Just before leaving I did come across a fountain pen, in the shop window of F Hinds, jewellers, which I had not seen before. It was a Sheaffer, in polished chrome and from its size and shape I wondered whether it might be one of the recent Sheaffer Legacy models. I went inside to investigate. They also had a few Cross and Parker fountain pens. The Sheaffer model that had caught my eye, labelled at £85.00, turned out to have a very tiny steel semi hooded nib, not the inlaid nib that I had rather hoped for. The nib looked more like the one on the Sheaffer Taranis. It looked rather odd but strangely appealing, and certainly felt comfortable to hold, with its generous girth and decent weight. But with the help of my wife at my side, I was able to resist buying it. I later found online that this model is called the Sheaffer Icon, in lustrous chrome and found a favourable review of it on The Pen Addict blog.

Sheaffer Icon, Lustrous Chrome. (Photo from F.Hinds’ website).
In Costa coffee shop. This is my writing face apparently. Aurora Duo-Cart.

The Quiet coach.

I am not very good at confrontations. Nor am I very good at conversation, which may be a result of spending most of my working life in rooms on my own.

Travelling back by train from Southampton to London, I was looking forward to reading my God-daughter’s book “Tomorrow Perhaps the future”. I had travelled down to see off my wife and mother-in-law for their cruise ship holiday and was travelling back alone.

Seeing that I’d boarded a “Quiet coach” on the train, (where passengers can escape from overhearing other people’s loud mobile phone conversations etc) I settled into a corner seat with a table. However the remaining three seats were promptly taken by three men in buoyant mood from watching a football match, whose manner seemed unnecessarily rowdy and boisterous for conversation across a table. Fearing that I might be subjected to this for the next hour, I politely mentioned that this was a quiet coach. The man turned to me as if I was mad and told me that I was “very silly,” travelling on a train from Southampton on a match day and expecting the train to be quiet.

To be fair I had not thought this through. Perhaps I expected these three football supporters to just say “oh, sorry” and talk in hushed tones for the trip as if in a library, whilst I read my book in peace. Instead they bellowed “Does that mean we can’t talk?” and asked “what are you going to do, confiscate our phones? “No, that won’t be necessary” I answered, sounding even more ridiculous, before adding apologetically “clearly I am out-numbered, my mistake.”

What could have been an awkward and uncomfortable journey then turned out to be delightful and memorable one. Introductions were made. Whilst one of them went to find the facilities, another, Tim next to me explained that they were keen supporters of Crystal Palace, a London team although he had travelled from Manchester to see the match against Southampton. The third man told me that he had been to every game, and had collected every match programme, for decades. Clearly they were lifelong football fanatics and took great enjoyment in travelling to follow their team.

Tim then asked what turned me on. I hesitated, saying that they would find this ridiculous, before saying that I was a fountain pen collector. Tim immediately recalled his school days with inkwells in the desks, for dip pens. That would be back in the 1960’s. He asked whether I had any fountain pens with me. Funnily enough I had with me a pen case with a Montegrappa, a Cleo Skribent and a Waterman (representing Italy, Germany and France, in football parlance). I got these out, bracing myself for further ridicule, but none came. He took interest in each pen. I talked about the issues for fountain pen users, of being left handed. I got out a notebook to demonstrate the pens and explain the style that I had adopted of writing away from me, turning the paper 90 degrees left, rather than hooking my wrist, to avoid smudging.

One of the men opposite returned to his seat. He asked what I did, to which I replied that I was a lawyer working in residential property. This prompted a bitter tale of his own experience of using a solicitor for a property sale, in which he had complaints about perceived delays being the fault of the lawyers. But soon after this the train reached his stop.

Tim remained while the two friends opposite got off. A young woman boarded and took the window seat opposite me.

To my embarrassment, Tim then asked the newcomer “Are you into fountain pens?” She took out her ear buds and he repeated the question. “No, not really, I mostly use biros” she replied. Tim (who was clearly good at starting conversations) then filled her in, with our conversation thus far. We established that her name was Hannah and that she was an illustrator and author of children’s books. She had written a series of children’s detective books. She was also left handed.

Tim and Hannah each try my pens: Cleo Skribent (Diamine Deep Dark Red); Monte Grappa (Diamine Tavy blue black) and Waterman Embleme, (Serenity Blue). They both liked the Waterman best.

I mentioned that my God daughter Sarah Watling had recently had a second book published and showed it to her. The book concerns a number of women writers and outsiders, who were drawn to the Spanish Civil War. Tim was familiar with George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and was well versed in this part of Spain’s history.

We also got on to talking about the Titanic and coincidentally I had just visited an exhibition about the ship whilst in Southampton and had noticed that the anniversary of the sinking was just a day ago 14 April 1912. Tim was clearly well read about the Titanic too. Many of the crew who perished in the disaster had come from Southampton.

The journey to London flew by in pleasant conversation between us three random strangers on the train. As London approached, Hannah put on her woolly hat, coat and back pack. Tim shook my hand and we parted as friends. On the platform Hannah disappeared into the crowd and we each went to our separate lives.

After such encounters I am often left feeling that I have not been a very good ambassador for the fountain pen hobby and community. Although one cannot rehearse such conversations it was enriching to meet both Tim and Hannah.

Early thoughts on the Conklin Mark Twain crescent filler fountain pen.

This pen was part of my haul from the London Pen Show in March 2023. I do already have a pair of these, also bought at a pen show several years ago, one in red and one in a dark orange, (which might be called coral) but was newly tempted by this handsome black chase edition with rose gold colour trim and a stealthy black-coated nib.

Conklin Mark Twain crescent filler, black chase and rose gold colour trim.

The pen is based upon the original, designed by Roy Conklin between around 1897-1901 and featuring a quick and easy filling system. Advertisements at the time claimed that the pen “fills itself in four seconds.” Whereas the original was made of ebonite, the modern one is of some sort of plastic or resin, but has a pleasing, glossy finish and an attractive wave pattern on the barrel and cap for decoration and texture, like the original.

The cap features a sprung metal clip: you press the top end inwards to raise the clip, making it easy to slip the pen into a pocket one-handed. There is a broad metal cap band, with Conklin on the front and a facsimile of Mark Twain’s signature on the back.

The cap unscrews, in about one and half turns. The nib is a size 6 steel one, with a distinctive crescent shaped breather hole and an imprint of the Conklin logo and Toledo, USA. Mine has an M for medium.

Stealthy black nib. Not-so-stealthy rose gold trim.

The nib and feed housing can be unscrewed from the section, for ease of cleaning. I found the nib on one of my older pens to be rather rough but it was interchangeable with one from a Jinhao X450. Separate replacement nib units from Conklin are also available (for example from Cult Pens at £28.00).

On this new black pen, the nib has a glossy black coating. Mine is a gusher. Whereas I do generally like a wetter nib for lefty overwriting, this one was leaving such a volume of ink on the paper that I needed to try to narrow the tine gap slightly by gently bending the tip downwards. This has helped and I may yet try using a drier ink, such as Pelikan 4001 Konigsblau at my next fill.

There is a single rose-gold coloured ring separating the section from the barrel. However the barrel does not unscrew, or at least I do not think it is meant to, and I have not tried to force it. It is not necessary to remove the barrel to fill the pen.

Beneath the barrel, there is a large ink sac, or reservoir. To fill the pen, you simply twist the locking ring to align a gap in the ring with the crescent-shaped filler button. Dip the nib in your ink bottle. You can then press this button causing a long flat metal bar inside the barrel to deflate the reservoir, creating a vacuum which then draws up ink as the sac regains its shape. After a few presses, when you cease to hear bubbles, you have a good fill. Twist the locking ring back again, to prevent unintended ink ejection and you are all set. The pen holds a mass of ink.

Mark Twain (1835 – 1910) was an early fan of the Conklin’s crescent filler pen, for its ease of filling and also for the added benefit of it not rolling off a table.

This won’t roll anywhere.

Size and weight.

When capped, the pen measures about 140mm. Uncapped it is around 129mm. The cap can be posted, but it then becomes very long at around 166mm and the pen is plenty long enough without posting. It weighs about 30g, comprised as to 19g for the pen and 11g for the cap. I find the size and weight to be very comfortable. The only issue in terms of comfort is to ensure that the crescent filler button is roughly in line with the nib and not facing too far one way or the other so as to be in your way as you hold the pen.

Some do’s and don’ts.

On my coral-coloured pen, I found that the barrel was not securely glued to the section and I was able to remove it. The rubber sac stays attached to the section. There are metal threads inside the barrel. If you do remove it, you can then remove the crescent filler. However you should apply some talcum powder to the sac before reassembling. I later re-visited this pen to find that the barrel was stuck and would not unscrew. When I forced it, I found that the sac had become stuck to the inside of the barrel and that by unscrewing the barrel, I had torn it from the section. I have still got the bits.

My Conklin crescent filler family.

Another thing to avoid is immersing the pen in water. If flushing the pen, be careful to keep the crescent filler clear of the water as you do not want water getting in the barrel through the openings.

One handy tip when capping the pen, given that the cap threads have four entry points, is to work out how best to align the cap clip with the crescent filler button. To do this, insert the pen loosely into the cap, with the nib in line with the pocket clip. Then turn the pen left (anti-clockwise), and listen for the clicks. You can then find by trial and error whether you need 1, 2, 3 or 4 clicks to the left, before turning the pen the other way to screw the cap on. Once learned you have perfect alignment every time.

Conclusions.

I was fortunate to find this pen greatly discounted at a pen show. A more usual price would be closer to £200.00 and I do think that at full price a well-tuned nib is in order. If not in gold, then at least a really delightful steel nib (such as one finds on a Diplomat, Onoto or Otto Hutt, for example) would be appreciated. As it is, all three nibs on my crescent filler pens needed some attention.

However, I love the filling system which is very convenient and satisfying. Also I find the girth, length and weight of the pen to be ideal. Having owned this pen for a month now, I can report that it has not suffered from hard starts and has performed well. And so with that one caveat that a nib might need a little fine-tuning, I think the pen is good to have, as a modern reminder of an important piece of history in fountain pen development.

Cap and crescent filler alignment achieved.

My Parker “17” fountain pen family.

I shall always have an affection for Parker fountain pens. The brand was my first introduction to a higher quality, grown-up’s pen when I went to my new school in 1970. Previously I had used Platignum or Osmiroid pens at junior school.

I used Parker pens throughout my seven years at secondary school. Since then I have tried many different Parker models, most recently the new version Vector XL, which I quite like but which lacks the character of the vintage models.

Happily, vintage Parker pens are in plentiful supply at pen shows. One sees numerous trays of Parker 51 pens in their various finishes, which can be found at prices from about £50 upwards depending upon the model and condition. But in the crowded setting of a pen show, it may be difficult to pick out which one to buy, if you are faced with several trays of almost identical models. To check their condition, to have a quick look at the nib, the state of the barrel and the “Lustraloy” cap and the aerometric filler, one by one, whilst being careful not to mix up their caps, and then to remember which one you liked best, is a challenge.

Parker “17” Lady, green with gold trim. Broad nib.

Somehow there seems less pressure, to go down a rung or two, and look at the lower priced pens, sometimes grouped together by price. And so it was, at the London Pen Show in October 2022 that I picked up a Parker “17” Lady, for a very modest sum of £10.00.

On closer inspection at home, this particular example was damaged in several places, with a chip near the cap finial and cracks to the grip section, which I had not really noticed properly until I had filled the pen and found ink on my fingers. It was a pity, as the broad nib was silky smooth. Still, it was only £10.00. I could not bring myself to throw it away but thought perhaps the nib and reservoir (attached together) might be reusable as a spare in another body.

Parker “17” Lady, blue with gold trim. Broad nib.

At the London Pen Show in March 2023, I hoped to pick up another Parker “17” Lady. Sure enough I spotted a blue one in a box, at £20.00. The condition this time looked like new and the barrel even had the original white markings, in chalk or white crayon, which read “17” LADY B 25/ -. These rub off very easily, suggesting that this pen had been handled very little in the past 50 years. I bought it eagerly.

It appears that this pen has been largely untouched in 50 plus years.

Parker “17”, Burgundy with gold trim. Oblique broad nib.

A little while later, on another pass of the tables, another Parker caught my eye, this time a Burgundy red model which was also a Parker “17” but not a Lady, and with a tag indicating that it had an italic nib. This one was £40.00. Using my loupe, I saw that the nib appeared to be a left foot oblique, and looked in good shape but there was a crack to the section just above the nib. I suppose this is a weak point and prone to cracking if too much pressure is applied to the nib. I hoped that the section might be reparable or replaceable. I was still keen to give the pen a chance and a deal was agreed at £30.00.

Thus I have in the last six months bought three Parker “17”s, at £10.00, £20.00 and £30.00. See how this hobby escalates?

My three Parker “17” fountain pens. The two on the left are the Ladies.

Reading up on the Parker history, I learned that the Parker “17” range of pens were made from 1962 to 1972. They have the aerometric, squeeze bar filling system and so were true fountain pens, before the introduction of the Parker 45 which was a cartridge-converter pen. For more information on the Parker 17 range and the rest of the Parker family, visit Parkerpens.net.

After the pen show, when I was able to try out my purchases, I found that the blue Lady did not want to write, neither when first dipped nor when filled from a bottle. The aerometric filler was working fine and so I could not understand why no ink would come out of the nib when the pen touched paper. After a couple of days, I tried flossing the nib with brass shims. This seemed to do the trick: the problems was simply that the tines were too tightly together. I tried to ease the tines apart very slightly and then smoothed them on Micromeshe pads. The pen now writes smoothly, with a good broad line.

As for the Burgundy model, after cleaning the pen a bit, I could see that the crack to the hood over the nib was likely to be a problem and I could foresee leaks occurring. I found some Loctite glue and dripped some of the clear liquid onto the hood, to allow it to run down into the crack and waited a few hours for it to set hard. This worked. I filled the pen and there have been no leaks, after several weeks of occasional use. In hindsight, I wish I had had the patience to try out the pen before applying the glue, and also wished that I had been a bit more thorough in cleaning the crack before gluing it, but you live and learn.

Notwithstanding my rather amateur repair efforts, the real success story is how well the pen writes for me as a lefty overwriter and the pleasing effect that it has upon my usual writing style. The nib does tend to dry out and is a hard-starter. Also it needs to be held at a certain angle to the paper and quite upright, like a ball-point. But once it gets going and you find the sweet spot, it is worth the wait. For these reasons it may be better suited to longer, continuous letter writing or journaling sessions, rather than for intermittent notes.

The Parker “17” in Burgundy red with an oblique broad nib.

At the last pen show, spending several hundred pounds, I got some great bargains and some wonderful pens and have no regrets. However, if I am honest with myself, it is the 50 year-old Burgundy red Parker with its oblique nib that is the best suited to my writing style and the most complimentary to my handwriting. It is a salutary reminder that in buying a fountain pen, perhaps the most important question is whether the nib will suit your writing style. If not, you will need to adapt your style to suit the pen.

Arguably for the £60.00 spent on my three Parker 17’s, I could have bought a Parker 51. Three 17’s do make 51. But, I have already enjoyed more than £60.00 value in my new Parker 17 family. If I do venture towards a Parker 51, I shall know that an oblique broad is the nib for me.

They were available in black too.

Early thoughts on the Aurora Duo Cart fountain pen.

For the past three weeks, I have been getting acquainted with the pens I bought at the London Pen Show, some old and some new. Coming home with seven pens for myself (the eighth was to be a gift), I have enjoyed inking the new arrivals and trying them all out.

One of the these was the Aurora Duo Cart. I had been interested in this model for a few years since first learning of it, possibly through the favourable review by Anthony on UK FountainPens in 2019. More information can be found on another positive review also in 2019 by The Gentleman Stationer.

I am a late comer to this pen. I had pondered buying one online a few times, but it was spotting one for sale on Kirit Dal’s tables at the recent pen show, one of his test samples being sold off at half price, that finally made me buy.

Aurora Duo Cart fountain pen.

This is a cartridge-converter pen, in black resin with a shiny metal cap and a distinctive hooded steel nib. It was introduced a few years ago and is part of Aurora’s current range but has its origins in the Aurora 88 designed in 1947 by Marcello Nizzoli. I do not have such a pen to compare but have read that it was 145mm long when uncapped, had an 18k gold nib and was a plunger filler with some form of ink window. It was therefore longer than the modern Duo Cart but the subtle contours of the grip section and the hooded nib look very similar.

Hooded nib.

According to Aurora’s web site, the Duo Cart collection was inspired by the 1950’s and reinterprets the style of that period, with its tapered shape typical of those years. I understand that the name Duo Cart was taken from another vintage Aurora model, which carried two ink cartridges. The current Duo Cart is sold at 165 euros with the silver coloured nib and cap, or 190 euros for the version with a gold coloured nib and cap.

An eye-catching flat base with metal disc.

For me, the beauty of the Duo Cart lies in its profile, the gentle tapering of the section towards the hooded nib, the curvature of the hood itself with its striking parabola of resin, partly covering the nib and then, viewed from the side, the curved cutaway and the curved plastic feed. The tapering is matched at the opposite end in a truncated bullet-shape barrel with a shiny metal disc inset at the base. The pen looks and feels good in the hand and looks good on a table.

Attractive curves.

The metal cap has a flat top, a straight, guilloche design, and a springy pocket clip. The cap bears the name Aurora and the words “Made in Italy” in capital letters in a style also redolent of the 1950’s.

The cap is friction fit but fits very snuggly and securely, and makes a little pop as it is removed. As the cap material is so thin, the cap and barrel are almost flush when the the pen is capped.

The nib.

The steel nib has no visible markings but is a medium. The tipping, when viewed head on, is rounded making for a rather small sweet spot and a line that is on the fine side for a medium. It feels firm and this, together with the absence of a flattened (or stubby) surface for contact with the paper, means that there is little line variation between down strokes and cross strokes. Mine was set up well but I also flossed and smoothed the nib just a little, to try to improve ink flow and lubrication.

Filling.

The barrel unscrews on plastic threads. The barrel is of resin but inside the barrel, a brass liner can be seen. The pen takes Aurora’s proprietary cartridges. These can be rather difficult to come by in the UK. My pen, having been a rep’s sample, came without box, papers or any cartridge or converter. I did have some Aurora cartridges at home, which had come with the purchase of an Aurora Talentum, so I inserted one of these. I could syringe-fill these until I find some new ones. However, the good news is that the Aurora cartridge fitting is compatible with Parker Quink cartridges. This means that Parker converters may also be used although this also depends on their girth. I have a selection of Parker converters gathered over the years. One of the squeeze bar models did not fit. Although the coupling was compatible, the barrel would not go over the wide girth of the converter.

A selection of Parker converters. The second on the left was too wide for the barrel.

Size and weight.

The Duo Cart is a smallish pen, at around 134mm long when capped. Uncapped it is just 119mm long. With cap posted the length is 140mm, but the cap does not feel very secure. I have been cautious of pushing the cap on to the barrel too hard. However I have quickly got into the habit of using the pen unposted. It weighs about 25g, or about 14g uncapped and 11g for the cap alone.

Concluding thoughts.

I am very taken by the vintage styling of the pen, with its modern materials. I enjoy holding and writing with it. It works best in my lefty-underwriter style. I am also glad to be able to use it with Parker cartridges or converters. I would like the pen even more if I had better handwriting and a more conventional writing style. As a person who is predominantly a lefty over-writer, I have found in recent years that oblique nibs are a benefit for me. It is not the most forgiving of pens to use as the nib has a narrow sweet-spot. I think this will improve with use.

That said, I am glad to have bought the Duo Cart. Rather like the classic Citroen DS, it is refreshingly different.

Some lefty overwriting with the Aurora Duo Cart.

Edit: 26 March 2023: For an in-depth account of the vintage Aurora 88 family, please see the post on Matspens Vintage Aurora 88 Family Ultra Review.

London Spring Pen Show, 2023: my haul.

Last Sunday found me at the Novotel, Hammersmith, for the twice-yearly London pen show. This time I went alone, my wife having changed her mind about attending, but sending me off with the cheery instruction “Don’t go mad.”

As always, I had a great day. The atmosphere was relaxed and enjoyable in the bright and spacious halls. The hotel’s bar/restaurant area is on hand for those wishing to take a break although I prefer to make the most of the time browsing the tables.

John Twiss and Vincent Coates’ (The Turners Workshop) table.

I soon found several friends and familiar faces such as Dave, and Gary from the pen club and Jon of Pensharing who attended this time as a visitor, without his Pensharing table.

My first task was to buy another Onoto Scholar so I made a bee-line for the Onoto table. These were again offered at an attractive show discount. Buying one requires decisions as to pen colour, whether gold or silver colour trim, nib grade and lastly the colour for the included leather single pen pouch. Without too much deliberation, I went with Black, Silver, Fine, Black. These were put in a smart Onoto box with an additional pen sleeve, custodian’s welcome card and a polishing cloth, making a wonderful, presentable package, which is what this will be.

The Onoto Scholar.

Next I visited John Hall’s “Write Here” table. His newsletter the previous day had teased of some attractive show offers, including on Montegrappa and Cleo Skribent and I was keen to see what these were. To my delight, John had a Montegrappa “Monte Grappa”. Longer term readers may recall that I have some history with this model having bought one in Harrods but promptly returned it in a bout of buyer’s remorse. I had never quite got over this “break-up” and had often looked longingly for online offers to own one once again, but without success. Imagine my delight then, when John showed me one in a smart glossy black, with 14k gold medium nib at an irresistible less-than-half-price discount. I bought it in a flash.

A Monte Grappa is back in my life!

I asked John whether he had any Cleo Skribent pens with him. He directed me to the other end of his tables. I do already have two models from this lesser known German brand, which I liked very much save for the fact that they were piston fillers and that the pistons had grown stiff and could not be re-greased. Over the years I had tried in vain to introduce some silicone grease into the reservoir, as you can with a Lamy 2000 using a tooth pick. However the barrel of the Cleo Skribent Classic, piston filler does not unscrew and the piston cannot be removed from the other end either, as far as I know. This is a pity as it is a comfortable and elegant pen and the nibs are very pleasant (and are friction fit, easily removable).

I had long been interested in getting another Classic, but cartridge-converter version. These look just the same as the piston fillers but without an ink window. My preference was for the Bordeaux red, to complement my two black models.

A Cleo Skribent Classic, Palladium trim, with 14k gold nib. Cartridge-converter fill.

Again, my luck was in! John had a selection of Cleo Skribent Classics, including one Bordeaux red cartridge-converter model, fitted with a 14k broad nib. Perfect! (I already have a steel fine and a gold medium). This was for sale with over one third off the full price. Yes please! John had a number of Classics in white and with stainless steel nibs also greatly discounted. I was unable to resist picking up one of these with a medium nib. I figured that I could later give it the gold nib from my old black piston filler model.

Always a pleasure to deal with John Hall.

One of my objectives for this pen show was to find another Parker 17 Lady. I had bought one at a previous show, in green but had gone a little too cheap and picked it from the “everything £10.00” box. Although its nib was soft and smooth, the body of the pen had a number of cracks to the cap, barrel and section making it unusable.

This time, browsing through the trays and tubs of vintage pens at various price points, I spotted another Parker 17 Lady, this time in blue, in a box at £20.00. Examining this, I could not believe my eyes as it appeared to be new, with the model and nib description still clearly visible stamped in white ink on the barrel. Seeing no cracks this time, I bought this little beauty.

Parker 17 Lady
It appears that this pen has been largely untouched in 50 plus years.

I also spotted a larger Parker in dark red with hooded nib, also a “Parker 17” but not a Lady this time. It appeared to have an oblique broad nib. Unfortunately I could see a crack to the shell immediately over the nib, which was stained with old ink. I could foresee this one leaking, which was a shame as I was very tempted by the nib. However, I was offered it for £30.00 instead of £40.00 and at this price I thought it well worth taking a chance.

Parker 17.

Another bargain of the day, was a Conklin Mark Twain Crescent filler, in black chase finish, with rose gold colour plating on the clip, cap ring and crescent filler. The nib was a stealthy black coated medium, rather at odds with the rose gold bling but handsome none the less. The black chasing was much like the original ebonite model produced in 1903 as used by Mark Twain. These are good fun and I have had a couple of them in the past. The nib housings are also interchangeable with the Jinhao X450.

A Conklin Mark Twain Crescent Filler, black and rose gold.

My final fountain purchase was made at Kirit Dal’s Aurora table. He had trays of his sample pens, now generously discounted to around half normal price. This was all the encouragement I needed to take another look at the Aurora Duo-Cart, a steel nib pen with an unusual semi-hooded nib and a metal cap. It is a modern pen but looks very similar in style to the Aurora 88 designed in 1947 by Marcello Nizzoli – an Italian architect, designer and artist who was the chief designer for Olivetti for many years, designing their portable typewriters in 1950. I had been rather intrigued by the Duo-Cart but had not tried one before and seeing one at half price was too good to miss.

Aurora Duo-Cart.

I had a very happy day, seeing many friends, browsing the tables and making some purchases. If not exactly a frenzy, I was certainly on a roll. Several times, I lost count of how many pens I had bought and had to stand still and peer into my tote bag and count the boxes, which I had packed upright so that I could more easily count the ends.

Aside from the pen-purchases, I also picked up another A5 Semikolon journal, a rather luxurious leather 3-pen case at Vince Coates’ table, and a large book entitled Fountain Pens History and Design, full of interesting information and photographs published in 1998.

My non-fountain pen purchases

Epilogue.

After all these new arrivals, it was fun to examine them all at home. Being too many to play with in one evening, I have been inspecting them all week! Oddly enough, it was the least expensive of these, the Parker 17 Lady, which I was the most eager to try out. A tiny pen, it is dainty and elegant when posted. The aerometric filler looked surprisingly clean for a pen which could be around 50 years old. I dipped the pen and tried to write: nothing! I dipped again: again nothing. I then filled the pen with Waterman Serenity blue and although I got a good fill with about five presses of the bar, still the nib refused to write. I wondered whether this was why the pen had remained in such remarkably new condition. I put it aside whilst I played with some of others.

A few days later, it occurred to me that the nib could be suffering from “baby’s bottom” and might benefit from a little smoothing on the Micromesh pads. This I tried but again, although filled with ink, the pen would not write a word.

Next I tried tackling the tines, sliding a fine brass shim between the tines at the tip and then sliding it up and down until the nib’s grip on the brass could be felt to be weakening slightly. This time, the pen then began to write, and very smoothly at that. It was still necessary to go at a measured pace and not to write too fast. The Lady will not be rushed.

As for the larger red Parker 17, I flushed the nib and tried to clean the cracked area of dried ink. Then, rather impatiently and before even trying to fill the pen, I dropped superglue on the shell to allow it to run down through the split in the shell and hopefully bind up the crack and prevent leaks. I left it a few hours to harden. The pen does now write, with a lovely line as you would expect from a vintage oblique broad but is a bit of a slow starter.

The Montegrappa, predictably, feels lovely in the hand. The medium nib writes well with just a little softness. I filled it with Diamine Tavy, blue black. Whilst I try multiple inks in some pens, with this pairing I feel like I have got it right first time. However, I did have a slight scare on Friday night when I tried to write something and found the nib to be dry. I had written only around 4 – 5 pages since filling it. I worried that perhaps the piston on this mystery filler was at fault. But, it transpired that on filling the pen, I had then wound the piston down again emptying the ink silently back into the bottle, thinking I was filling it. A newbie error! I now know that you must turn Clockwise to fill the pen. It is easy to forget, when the piston knob does not rise or fall but stays in the same place.

The Conklin is fun to fill and to use. The Aurora Duo-Cart needed a little tine-easing and might benefit from a little more.

The cast of my pen show, prepare to take a bow.

In conclusion, I did rather blow my annual pen budget in a day, but arguably it makes sense to do this early on and so have the rest of the year to enjoy the pens. There was a theme to my purchases in that many were “classic”, vintagey designs and/or pens that I own or have owned before. I don’t think I went mad, as every purchase was eminently well reasoned and justifiable. And that is the case for the Defence.

My growing Lamy 2000 family.

My journey with the Lamy 2000 began in May 2014, with the purchase of the fountain pen, at Websters on a day trip to Brighton. In fact, I had wanted one for some time before this, since being shown one by a helpful sales lady at her pen shop in Hampstead, whilst purchasing my first Lamy Al-star. That must have been around 2012. I still remember wrestling with my conscience over whether to buy one from a shop, or from a well-known online source whose price was significantly lower. I chose Websters.

My first Lamy 2000. The original medium nib was exchanged for this stubby broad.

The story of my first Lamy 2000 has been told here before and in an update here. Several years after buying the fountain pen, I picked up the matching four colour multipen, also in Makrolon and brushed stainless steel. It features an ingenious colour selection system, in fact based upon gravity but which seemingly enables you to select one of the four colours just by looking at that colour on the indicator, before pushing the nock. I love this. It is a great party trick.

Lamy 2000 four colour multi-pen.
The innards.

My Lamy 2000 fountain pen was then joined by another, this time a gift from a pen friend in Australia. He had sent one with an oblique broad nib, which sounds right up my street but which in practice I struggled with. However, the good people at Lamy in Heidelberg very kindly allowed me to send the pen to them for a nib swap and this time I opted for a Fine nib, which is lovely. That tale was told here. The pen is currently inked, with Montblanc Royal Blue, a good pairing.

Lamy 2000 back from Heidelberg with a fine nib (in place of the oblique broad)

I had no burning desire for any more Lamy 2000s. However, a few weeks ago whilst taking a walk in Hampstead, I spotted that Rymans had some display pens on sale. A Lamy 2000 ballpoint pen caught my eye, priced at £20.00. (Rymans do occasionally have some great discounts: in the past I have bought Diplomat Traveller fountain pens here for £5.00).

Trying hard to fight temptation, I passed up this opportunity to buy the Lamy 2000 ballpoint, even though it was about one third of the usual price. I walked back to my office, feeling self-righteous but also disappointed and Lamyless.

Over the following couple of weeks, I kept remembering the Lamy 2000 and tried to convince myself that I did not want it, certainly did not need it, and that I should let it go. This strategy was not very effective. Occasionally I would see something that would remind me of the pen, such as an Instagram post by Phil @theinkscribe on 22 February 2023, thanking the Brew Hull cafe, Kingston upon Hull, for finding and looking after his Lamy 2000 ballpoint, which had got cleared up with a board game that he and some friends had been playing at the weekend. A lovely story with a happy ending.

Not long before this, a solicitor had visited my office to sign a deed and produced his Lamy 2000 ballpoint with a green refill for this task, which was an unusual sight and lifted my spirits.

Unable to put the Rymans pen out of my mind, I decided to pay another visit to the shop, “just to see whether it was still there.” I had an, admittedly feeble idea that seeing it again would enable me to tell myself that I did not need it.

And so one Friday lunchtime, I strode up to Hampstead village again. First I popped in to Waterstones book shop, to see whether they had the new book “Tomorrow perhaps the future” written by my Goddaughter Sarah Watling. I very proudly attended her book launch evening earlier in February at Hatchards in Piccadilly.

“Tomorrow perhaps the future” by Sarah Watling, on display in Waterstones, Hampstead.

Not only did Waterstones have the book, but it was in the middle of the window. And then, on entering, I was greeted by an entire table displaying the book. I could not have been more thrilled.

Buoyed up by this exciting discovery, I floated into Rymans and made my way to the pen display. Miraculously, the Lamy 2000 ballpoint, marked “Clearance, £20.00” was still there! I could not believe that no-one had bought it in more than two weeks. What is wrong with people?

With the last of my resolve evaporating, I asked to see the pen and waited while the display cabinet was unlocked. In celebratory mood, I said that I would like to buy it. I asked whether the refill was black or blue. The sales lady made a little scribble and said “Black – and it’s very smooth!”

But then a little drama ensued. She went in search of the accompanying box for the pen, which was surprisingly and frustratingly necessary in order scan the bar code and sell the item. Several minutes passed. Eventually she returned with a handful of Lamy boxes. As there was no indication of which, if any was for the Lamy 2000 ballpoint, she took them to her computer to scan the boxes, hoping that for one of them, an image of the ballpoint pen would appear on her screen. One by one she scanned the boxes. At one point she announced “Lamy Assent?” this being another of the pens in the clearance sale. “Lamy Accent, I think you’ll find”, I replied. “I love that you know this!” she answered. She continued scanning boxes but none seemed to be the right one.

Eventually she found a way out of the impasse and I proffered a twenty pound note. She handed me back £5.00 change. “No, it was £20.00” I said. “Not any more it isn’t” she replied. And so, for a mere £15.00 I was the proud owner of a Lamy 2000 ballpoint, albeit without a box AND the proud Godfather of a published author.

Lamy 2000 ballpoint. Fitted with a black, medium refill

It is not that I am a mean person but it is lovely when a bargain like this comes your way. The ballpoint pen and I started off on a great footing. I found the familiar Makrolon to be very pleasant to the touch. I very much enjoy having the pen on my desk at work and relish every opportunity to pick it up and use it.

Perhaps the moral of the tale here is that, even if you do not think you need a certain pen, perhaps you do. As one of my colleagues in the office later said, “It had your name on it.” And big thanks to Rymans of Hampstead for enabling.

A family of four.

Early thoughts on the Waterman Emblème fountain pen.

This is a current but not new model in Waterman’s range. It is one of their lesser spotted models, at least here in the UK. I remember first seeing them online a few years ago and that they were available in a choice of black, red, white or blue. There were also grey and a gold coloured “Deluxe” versions with a more lustrous finish.

I did not buy one at the time, but having spotted a Deluxe grey one online last weekend at a very attractive price, I went for it. It has been with me for only five days and is still within the honeymoon period but I shall try to give a balanced opinion.

Waterman Emblême fountain pen, Deluxe grey.

Unboxing.

The pen came in a small and simple cardboard box, with a white protective outer box. Inside is a pen tray where the pen is gripped by an elastic band under a white sash. The tray lifts out and underneath is a sheet with filling instructions and an international 3 year warranty. One Waterman blue cartridge was included but no converter. Full marks for the presentable packaging which can be kept or recycled.

Simple cardboard gift box.

Description.

This is a smart, elegant pen with a plastic barrel and a brushed stainless steel cap. The cap finial is flat and plain. The pocket clip is firm and functional with a gap down the middle and the Waterman logo at the top. The glossy polished cap band reads Waterman Paris on the front and France on the back.

Brushed stainless steel cap and finial.

The cap and barrel are almost flush and the transition is smooth and tactile. The barrel tapers gently and ends in a shallow conical point.

The snap cap closes tightly with a reassuring click. It could be carried in a jacket pocket, with confidence that the pen will not drop out of the cap.

The Emblême (left) next to an older-style Waterman Hemisphere.

Removing the cap, you have a stainless steel nib, featuring an Eiffel Tower image and Waterman, Paris, and the nib grade, “F” in my case. There is a black plastic grip section, ridged at the top end and smooth at the lower end with a lip which serves to stop your fingers sliding onto the nib and to secure the pen in the cap. The plastic grip section design is the same as that which was used on the Waterman Phileas and also the Kultur and so is well tried and tested.

Eiffel Tower!

Beneath the barrel, which unscrews on plastic threads, there is a plastic collar in which to insert a Waterman cartridge.

Inside the barrel, a brass liner can be seen, which is a very nice feature and adds a little more heft and strength to the pen. There is still room to fit a Waterman converter in the pen if you prefer.

Brass liner adds weight to the barrel.

The nib.

According to Waterman’s web site, the Emblème has the largest nib in the Waterman range. It is engraved with a unique Eiffel Tower design. There is no breather hole. The tines were even and level. The tipping was smooth and symmetrical. It might have been an ideal set-up for the majority of users with an “underwriting” style, but my personal preference is to have a very slight gap between the tines at the tip, so that ink flows as soon as the nib touches paper, without needing any pressure. This is preferable for an “overwriting” style. I therefore spent a few minutes in flexing the tines up and down a little just enough to get daylight between the tines at the tip. Having checked that the tines were still level, I then smoothed the tipping, with the very minimum of wear, on Micro-mesh pads.

Nib and feed, before adjusting.
And now with a visible tine gap for pressure-less writing.

Writing performance.

The result, once I had tweaked the nib to my preference, was that it wrote wonderfully: smooth and effortless with a fine line and good flow. I was very happy with this outcome.

Size and weight (approximate).

Closed, the pen is 141mm long: uncapped, about 125mm, and posted 152mm. It can be posted quite deeply but I did not like to push the cap on to the back of the barrel too firmly for fear of damaging either the barrel or the inner cap. The result was that the cap when posted soon worked loose. In fact I prefer to use this pen unposted.

It weighs 26.5g in all, as to 15g uncapped and 11.5g for the cap alone.

Likes and dislikes.

I very much like the overall smart look of the pen. I have always liked pens with metal caps, with a Parker 51 vibe. It also makes me happy to think that the nib would be protected in its cap if the pen were to be accidentally dropped or stepped upon. Also I like the Eiffel Tower engraving. The section is of a good width and can be gripped comfortably. The brass liner in the barrel is very nice benefit. You are buying into the Waterman heritage and reputation and even the name harks back to the early Waterman Emblem Pen model, dating from around the 1930’s.

Comparison: Watermans Emblême, Phileas and Kultur.

There is not much that I dislike. The featureless cap finial is perhaps a missed opportunity. A coloured jewel insert to match the barrel would have been lovely but given its modest price there is nothing wrong with the simple steel disc as it is. The same might be said for the barrel finial: a metal finial would look nice but then you are not paying for a Waterman Carène here. For the price I have no complaints.

Conclusions.

The pen, at the price I paid, is great value, costing about the same in the UK as a Cross Bailey Light or a Lamy AL-Star. The full price should be around double that. I am delighted with mine and am very glad to have bought it. Whilst at work during the week, I looked forward to coming home to my Waterman Emblème. Perhaps here I am allowing myself to be overly biased in this honeymoon period but honestly my heart did a little leap whenever I thought of it. I have enjoyed letter-writing with it and have written plenty of paragraphs just for the simple and inexplicable pleasure of writing with a smooth, fine, wet nib.

Further thoughts on the Jinhao X159 fountain pen.

I am still besotted with these. Following the success of my recent purchase of two Jinhao X159 fountain pens, I found myself tempted to add more, in other colours.

They are available in a variety of editions. Most colours have the option of gold-coloured or silver-coloured trim and a choice of a Fine or Extra Fine nib. Depending upon your preferences the prices ranged from £7.49 up to around £20.00 and the estimated delivery times also vary.

Lingering repeatedly over the online photos, I contemplated adding a couple more to my existing pair. Readers may recall, I had started by ordering a black one, with silver trim and a Fine nib. This was swiftly followed by a blue one with gold trim and Extra Fine nib.

For my next order, I went for a dark orange with silver trim, Extra Fine nib and also a dark red one, gold trim and Extra Fine nib. Two pens in one order. See how this escalates!

A dark orange edition, with silver colour trim.

They arrived within 24 hours of ordering. Again, each pen was packed in its own simple padded envelope. Each comes with a converter fitted. No cartridge is included although they take standard international cartridges.

New pen induction ritual.

Again, I had the happy prospect of inspecting and preparing my new pens. Starting with the orange pen, and in what has become a familiar routine with my Jinhao flock, I started by examining the nib under a loupe. It looked to be set up well. I unscrewed the nib housing, separated the nib and feed and gave them a good rinse in warm water. In each of my Jinhaos from the seller Erofa, I have noticed a little blue ink residue in the water at this stage, a sign that the nib has been tested before sale. This is very admirable for its modest price.

I reassembled the nib, taking care to centre the nib over the feed and to hold it to the feed tightly as I pushed it back into the housing. I like the dark orange colour. It is not bright and showy, but more of a terra cotta.

A lot of nib for your money.

Using cartridges.

I had given some thought to what ink to use, pondering a brown perhaps. But when the time came to ink the pen, I decided on trying a black cartridge. I have a stash of these, having bought WHSmith bags of 30, when they were about £3.00. I found that this ink actually performed very nicely and flows well. Somehow, this humble and inexpensive ink seems right to pair with the budget priced Jinhao – to keep the theme of getting the job done at the lowest possible price.

One big advantage of using these cartridges is that a pen will often have room in the barrel to carry a spare, great if you run dry while away from your supplies. I popped a spare one in the cavernous barrel of the X159. There was ample room for the barrel to be screwed back on, so much so that the spare cartridge could be heard ratting inside.

I thought of cutting a small piece off an eraser and putting it at the back of the barrel. I tried this, but on screwing it back together with the spare cartridge inside, the piece of rubber got stuck in the pen. I had also cut it too large, as the barrel would not screw on all the way. Having something stuck in the pen, or the risk of it happening, annoyed me and after eventually dislodging it, I decided on a different option, that of using a scrunched up piece of kitchen roll paper, (about 1 inch square, rolled into a ball) and placing it between the two cartridges, rather than behind the spare. This worked nicely: no rattle, and it could be removed easily. The cartridge did not get stuck either (a common issue with the Cross Bailey Light, incidentally).

Nib tweakery.

I had saved the red Jinhao for the next evening. When I inspected the nib, it was quite a way off the centre line of the feed, but this is very quickly and easily corrected. Again, I took out the nib housing and separated the nib and feed. I flexed each tine up and down a few times to loosen up the tine gap a bit, before rinsing and drying the parts and reassembling. I took my usual care over centering the nib and put it all back together.

A dark red edition, with gold colour trim and bicolour nib.

I then noticed that the tine gap was a bit wider than it had been. Important lessen to self: make sure the nib is correctly centred symmetrically over the feed BEFORE widening the tine gap. It may be that once centred, the tine gap will be wider.

Now centred on the feed. Tine gap a bit on the wet side, but good for lefty overwriters.

To ink the dark red pen, I got out six bottles of red ink and sampled them all with a glass nib dip pen. I settled on Pure Pens Cadwaladr, a lovely dark red. The colour reminds me of my favourite wax crayon as a child, in primary school “wet play” times!

I now have four Jinhao X159s each inked with a different colour. Here is the collection (so far!):-

Pen colourTrimNib Ink
BlackSilverFineMontblanc Royal Blue
BlueGoldExtra FineDiamine Tavy blue black
OrangeSilverExtra FineWHSmith black cartridge
Dark redGoldExtra FinePure Pens Cadwaladr red

When you buy more than one of a pen, the downside is that you may find yourself liking one over the others. Currently, I tend to bring the orange one if going out, since its spare cartridge means I will not run out, away from home. With the prices being so attractive, it is tempting to gather up one of every colour, perhaps to use with corresponding inks. I would fancy a dark green and a brown next, if I were to buy any more. Then there are the white or ivory editions.

Mixing and matching parts.

There is also the useful option of being able to mix and match the pen parts and make your own colour combinations. For example I could put a black cap on my orange pen, and give it a Delta Dolce Vita vibe. Also the black pen, given an orange section, looks rather special. Mixing has a practical purpose as well as an aesthetic one, in that you can chose what ink colour you want to carry and then put the nib section with its converter or cartridge, into whichever barrel you wish. Don’t want an orange pen in a courtroom? Clothe it in a black cap and barrel!

If you have more than one X159, you can pull off crazy stunts like this.

So, four new pens for me before January was out. The black version is probably the most versatile to take any ink colour but if you want to treat them like a set of colouring pens, with every colour carrying a matching ink, then the Jinhaos are probably the most economical way of doing so.

My Jinhao X159 family.

Early thoughts on the Jinhao X159 fountain pen.

Occasionally, something new comes along in the pen world which sets social media buzzing amongst the fountain pen community. Recently, we have had a new offering from Jinhao, named the X159.

The imposing Jinhao X159.

This is not entirely new: there has long been a Jinhao 159 (without the “X” factor), which we might call an homage to the Montblanc Meisterstuck 149, but with a steel nib, cartridge-converter filling and a fraction of the cost. However, it was a heavy beast, being made of metal. I owned one myself. In the event it did not see a lot of use, on the ground that the ink flow in my model proved to be a bit erratic despite my efforts.

However, the new version, the X159 is different in many respects and offers significant improvements. Whilst similar in size and appearance to its forerunner, the main changes are as follows:

  • It is now made of acrylic and is much lighter;
  • It has a larger, number 8 nib;
  • There is new, more subtle pocket clip;
  • The grip section is much less tapered and does not end with a metal ring (colloquially termed a “rust ring”);
  • The threads on the barrel, for the cap are now acrylic instead of metal.
Uncapped. Big girthy pen with number 8 nib.

These cannot be found in our shops but are available online. The prices on Amazon currently range from £7.49 to around £20.00 depending upon which colour, trim finish and nib size you chose. Nib sizes are Fine or Extra Fine. There is an option for gold or silver colour trim, the former having a bicolour nib.

I resisted the temptation to order one for several weeks, happy with my current line-up and convincing myself that the Jinhao could not possibly perform any better than steel nibbed pens that I already owned, such as my Onoto Scholar or the Otto Hutt Design 06 to name but two. Whilst the price was obviously not an issue, I did not want the added clutter.

However the temptation did not go away and I learned that a few friends had ordered one. Still curious to try one for myself, I eventually weakened and pulled the trigger. I opted for a black version, with silver coloured trim and a Fine nib, for a princely sum of £9.99.

The unboxing.

With Amazon Prime, the pen arrived the following day. Inside the cardboard envelope, the pen was packed in a simple polythene sleeve inside a padded envelope. This was just enough to get the pen to me without damage and did not leave me with any unnecessary box.

That’s all the packaging.

In the flesh, first impressions were very favourable. The black acrylic body was smooth and glossy. Fit and finish all seemed good. The number 8 nib, being the first pen I have bought with one, was a good bit larger than the usual number 6 size and looked impressive and perhaps a bit more in keeping with the large girth of the pen.

The nib and feed.

I examined the nib under a loupe. The tines looked to be even, with good symmetrical tipping. There was a nib slit which narrowed down from the breather hole to the tipping at which point the tines were quite tightly together. Viewed from the back, the nib was not quite symmetrical to the feed, but this is easily adjusted.

Disassembled.

I flushed the nib and feed in warm water to remove any residue of grease from manufacturing. The nib is easy to disassemble – a feature that I appreciate very much. You can unscrew the nib housing from the section. Once out, the nib and feed are friction-fit and can be pulled out from the housing, by gripping them together, perhaps with a soft cloth or tissue and pulling in a straight line, being careful not to damage the delicate plastic feed. Once out, you can lift the nib off the feed, and it is more easy to clean and adjust if necessary. I noticed that the ink channel at the top of the feed was cut quite wide and more like a trough than a slit. Good!

I had expected the nib to be a bit dry, having seen a video review by Stephen Brown. As a lefty-overwriter, my preference is for pens which lay down ink with little or no pressure needed. This can usually be achieved by opening up the gap between the tines at the tipping, just a very little until you can see a space, or daylight, between them.

After separating the tines slightly and realigning the nib on the feed.

This is a very useful adjustment. It is often easier with a gold nib than a steel one. There are various tricks to doing this, using brass shims to floss the nib, bending the tines up, or trying to wriggle a blade between the tines – all of which should be attempted with great care and with frequent pauses to inspect the nib under a loupe and to try writing with it again. Eventually, I had the best success by lifting first one tine, with my thumbnail, bouncing it up and down a few times – and then doing the same with the other. I then replaced the nib onto the feed, and pushed them back into the housing, carefully ensuring that the feed’s point was centred with the nib and that the tines were both level and smooth.

Filling:

After flushing and drying the pen, I filled it with Montblanc Royal Blue. The large nib does need quite a full bottle to be able to immerse the nib for filling. My Montblanc bottle has the useful feature that you can tip it to make the filling area deeper. Before doing this, the converter did not draw up any ink leading me to wonder whether it was not pulling a vacuum. Note that the converter is like the Lamy ones, with a flat edge to hold rather than being round. Personally I do not like this feature as it makes the converter harder to twist.

Converter included.

Writing and performance:

Having adjusted my nib I then flushed, cleaned, dried and filled it, all of which took less than an hour. I was thrilled that it wrote superbly, as well as I could wish for. The nib was smooth, with good ink flow and lubrication. It is a firm nib. My fine nib writes a slightly wider line than intended by reason of my tine-widening exercise, but the end result, a medium-fine, is very pleasing. All in all, I was absolutely delighted.

It then just remained to do two further tests. One is to write for about a page of A4, to see how the feed keeps up, once the excess ink from filling the pen and saturating the feed, is used up. This is to check for “ink starvation” if ink is not being replenished from the converter. This (like opening the tine gap) is another tip I picked up from Stephen Brown’s videos. All looked good on this front. The final test was to check for hard starts. Leaving the pen untouched for 8 hours, revealed no issues. Later, when I could bear to leave it alone, I managed some longer intervals and again, there were no hard start issues.

Size and weight.

Jinhao 159Jinhao X159
Weight, total46g28g
Weight without cap27g18g
Weight of cap 19g10g
Length capped148mm148mm
Length open125mm130mm
Length posted165mm162mm
Size and weight (approximate) comparison.
Comparing the X159 with the 159 (right).


Epilogue.

I have been really thrilled with the Jinhao X159. I think it is phenomenally great value. There is nothing else quite like it on the market. It could compete well with some pens in the £100.00 to £200.00 bracket. I hope that it continues to perform as well as it does now, and see no reason why it should not, with usual care and maintenance.

Indeed, so impressed and blown away was I, that I ordered a second one, this time trying a different colour, and with gold coloured fittings with a bi-colour nib and in Extra Fine. I opted for a blue and gold one. This cost just £7.99, firmly within “no-brainer” territory. There is also a Dark Blue version but this was priced around £20 and would come from the US, taking longer.

The blue-teal colour is quite hard to capture in a photo.

Once again, my pen arrived the following day. At first, it looked like I had got Dark Blue as it looked like navy, in artificial light. However, daylight revealed the colour to be a very pleasing blue-teal, which I am very happy with. I was excited to see under the loupe that the EF nib looked to be tuned to my liking, with the slightest of gaps between the tines, promising a good writing experience. After flushing the pen, I filled it with Diamine’s Conway Stewart Tavy, my go-to blue black. Bliss. This feels like its “forever ink.” The extra fine nib performs beautifully. In my notebook I wrote “I am genuinely over the moon at how good this pen looks, feels and writes and all for a £7.99 price tag.”

Writing sample of EF nib.
A big pen with a tiny EF tip.