First impressions of the PenBBS 355.

It is almost embarrassing to be posting a new pen review, quite so early into the new year and so recently after totting up how many pens I acquired last year. But hey ho. This is not even my first pen purchase of the year. I purchased a Kaweco Dia2 from a friend at the London Pen Club on Saturday, as I like mine so much and wanted another for my Kaweco extra fine nib.

Today I received the new PenBBS 355. I first came to hear of this, at the same pen club meet just last Saturday and ordered one from Ebay seller Ross Cooper, (Rossco pens) of Bristol. Coming from the UK there was no long wait for the pen to arrive.

PenBBS 355 fountain pen.

Meanwhile I had watched a few YouTube reviews, particularly about the intriguing filling system. Put very simply, you push a plunger down and then draw it back up again to fill the pen. It is the perfect pen for someone who wants a huge ink capacity, and/or who finds a typical twist converter too easy.

First impressions were favourable. It is a very clear acrylic demonstrator, feeling solid, a decent size and with a screw cap. There is an attractive clear finial at each end, rather like on the Opus 88 demonstrator, but smaller.

Note the shaft, with threads to engage in the plunger once pulled upwards. Unlike the TWSBI Vac 700 this does not cut off the ink supply to the feed.

There is no inner cap but instead the cap is molded so as to seal off the nib when the cap is screwed on fully, with a ledge which meets the rim of the section precisely.

The metal clip is an attractive shape and usefully tight but flexible. There is a broad shiny cap ring, with the brand name PenBBS at the front and the model number 355 on the back.

The nib is a steel bi-colour design with some gold colour plating over most of the exposed part. Through the clear grip section, you can see just how much of the nib lies beneath the grip. I checked my nib with a loupe and was pleased to find that the tines appeared level, the tipping symmetrical and the nib slit slightly tapering from breather hole to tip, just as it should. Mine has Fine nib but a Medium is also available.

The pen is about 147mm long when capped and 130mm uncapped, which happens to be my ideal pen length (anything more is a bonus).

Now to that filling system. I had been rehearsing this in my head for a couple of days whilst waiting for the pen to arrive. The pen is not called a Bulkfiller officially but appears to be similar to the esteemed Belgian Conid system (although I have never owned one). The idea is that it has a plunger, filling the barrel with ink, rather like a piston filler but without needing so much space for a piston mechanism and thus leaving more room for ink.

The pen comes with no filling instructions or papers. Here, in simple steps is what you do:

  • Unscrew the blind cap (about five twists, anti-clockwise);
  • Pull up the piston rod, to meet the plunger;
  • Continue turning the shaft anti-clockwise, gently, for about three twists, to screw it into the plunger; screw it in only loosely;
  • Push the plunger down; this might be quite stiff the first time, as the plunger will have “clicked” onto the black end piece.
  • Draw back the plunger, filling with ink; click the plunger back on to the end piece. (On a YouTube video, the reviewer’s pen made quite an audible click but mine has very little resistance);
  • Now turn the shaft clockwise, (disengaging the piston rod from the plunger) and then push the rod back down to its resting position;
  • Finally screw the blind cap back down again (about five twists clockwise).

There are variants on this if you wish to draw ink up and down more than once, or if you wish to release some ink before you finish. I have not yet experimented with this.

A little word of caution: do not screw the rod into the plunger too tightly or else you may find that it will not unscrew again when you want to push the rod back down and instead, the whole plunger rotates inside the barrel. Needless to say, this happened to me at my first attempt (luckily without ink) and I had to remove the plunger mechanism in order to unscrew the rod. To do this you will need a wrench to fit the flat sides of the end piece. No, the TWSBI wrench does not quite fit. I ended up using a ridiculously large adjustable wrench to grip the end piece, whilst carefully rotating the barrel. It then came out quite easily and is a fairly simple mechanism.

What the plunger mechanism looks like if you have to remove it. Quite easy for periodic cleaning and applying silicone grease.

The nib writes smoothly and is fairly firm but having a little line variation. But the Fine nib is perhaps closer to a western extra fine. With its voluminous ink capacity I can see one fill lasting many months, so chose your ink with care.

Update, 11 January 2019.

In the caption to one of the photos above, I said that unlike the TWSBI Vac 700, the shaft does not seal off the ink supply to the feed, once screwed down. I think I may have been wrong on this. Having inked the pen, it does appear on closer inspection that the end of the shaft does form a plug, in a clear acrylic ring at the bottom end of the ink reservoir. When inked, you can see that the ink does not swill around below a certain point. This is quite a useful feature, as it should reduce the chances of “burping” or blobbing or of ink leakage from pressure changes when flying. It would mean that you need to unscrew the blind cap a little and raise the metal rod, to refill the feed from time to time.As I said, the pen came with no instructions and so it is a case of finding out for yourself.

2018: Some of my fountain pen highlights.

It is that time of year again, when we reflect on the year that has passed; the highs and lows, the lessons learned and the resolutions for the future. This is now my third such annual round-up on this blog.

My enthusiasm for fountain pens, inks and journals has continued unabated. Depending upon your point of view, this could be seen as an unhealthy obsession or on the other hand, a harmless source of joy and relaxation. The discussion of whether a fountain pen addiction is a blessing or a curse is one for another day.

The reckoning.

I continued to keep a simple database of my pen acquisitions – whether they were purchases or gifts. A brief review of this today tells me that I have acquired 61 fountain pens over the year with a total spend of around £3,300. Some of you may be comparing this now with your own tally and finding my figure either shockingly high or low depending upon your own budgets and sense of proportion. Happily, in my experience the fountain pen community is not judgmental and we take people as we find them.

As in previous years, the number of pens incoming, is inflated by quite a large number of inexpensive pens, which you might class as school pens. For example, I was so pleased when some clear plastic demonstrator cartridge-converter pens re-appeared in our local Tesco supermarket after a two year absence, that I bought one of each of the four colours, in blue, black, red and green. They are only £2.00 each but write very well with a smooth, fine line. They are undeniably cheap and plasticky and yet I am capable of getting almost as much pleasure from these as one of my high end pens. “I know it’s crazy, but it’s true.” (Arthur’s Theme).

Also, some of my pen purchases were gifts for others. So impressed was I with the Italix Captain’s Commission, that my wife and I bought two more during the year, as gifts for friends. My pen tally includes five pens bought as gifts.

The list included eight pens given to me by friends or family and which are therefore of special importance to me. These included a new Pelikan M120 in green and black, kindly sent by a fellow blogger in Sweden and some pre-owned Pilots and a Montblanc from another generous reader of my blog.

Browsing in pen shops is a regular habit of mine, in particular our local John Lewis department store or Rymans, Paperchase and WH Smith for more workaday pens. Occasionally when in central London I take a look at the fountain pen departments of Selfridges or Harrods. If visiting other towns and cities here and abroad, it is great to seek out the pen shop if there is one. In the summer we took a holiday in Italy. The pen shop in Verona (called Manella) where I bought an Aurora Ipsilon, was a delight.

In Cardiff recently, I was pleased to find not only a John Lewis but also a branch of The Pen Shop and an independent stationer called Pen & Paper which was a treasure trove of fountain pens not commonly found in bricks and mortar shops. They had a good selection of Visconti pens including the range of Visconti Van Goghs.

Pen Shows.

As in previous years, the London Pen Show in early October is a highlight of the year. I bought five pens and met lots of friends there. It can be a bit of a frenzy with so much to see and it is good to take some breaks from going around the tables, to catch up with friends and compare notes on our respective purchases. At the end of a pen show, it can be shocking to add up what you have spent in total. A pen which looked way over budget at the beginning of a pen show, could have been purchased after all, if you had not bought all the others which added up to a similar amount! Much the same thinking can be applied to the year-end count-up.

This year, as well as the London show, I also attended the Cambridge Pen Show in March, for the first time. I had a very memorable and enjoyable day, travelling out to Cambridge on the train from London, making some purchases and making some new friends from the online pen community. Sadly it may also be the last time as I have heard that it is being disbanded next year and that instead there will be an extra show in London.

Cambridge Pen Show, March 2018.

The London UK Pen Club.

I was first invited to come along to the London UK Fountain Pen Club, by
Marisa whom I met at the London Pelikan Hub in September 2017. I have since been to almost all of their monthly meet ups. We meet at Bierschenke, a German restaurant and beer hall near Liverpool Street Station to talk pens and enjoy food and drink and each other’s company. Typically we will have around a dozen people who all bring along some pens for others to try. These might be currently available pens, or obscure limited editions or vintage pens and with a host of different nibs, filling systems and characteristics. There are pens for all tastes, whether your preference is for colourful pens in exotic materials or minimalist, understated functional designs. We try them out in our own journals and note any particular inks or pens that we like. It can be very useful to try pens and hear other people’s opinions on them, before committing to a purchase. There is a vast amount of knowledge and experience in the room.

The London UK Fountain Pen Club.

The online community.

There is a vast friendly community of fountain pen users and enthusiasts out there, from the thousands who use FPN, to bloggers and instagrammers. I have enjoyed keeping up this blog and following a number of others, as well as interacting daily with enthusiasts on Instagram, here and abroad.

The successes and failures.

Looking at my list of pens acquired this year, there have been a few which turned out to be less successful. A vintage Sheaffer with a tubular nib wrote dry despite my efforts at flossing and adjusting the nib. It could benefit from some expert help. The Pilot Falcon with soft fine nib was interesting but ultimately not suited to my lefty overwriter style of writing and I passed it on to my neice who writes beautifully with it. I bought a Lamy Dialog 3, which is also unsuited to my writing style, since the pocket clip only caters for people who hold the pen symmetrically and not for those who rotate it one way or the other. It is a pity as I like the look, the weight and the retractable nib. The Lamy gold nib is also very pleasant. I can still write with it if I hold it underwriter style, but it has sat unused since I cleaned it and put it away, in favour of many other easier pens.

My Aurora Ipsilon suffered from a leaky converter, but I was pleased to find that Parker cartridges fit. I have not warmed to the pen as I usually do. Perhaps it is the fine feedbacky nib. Perhaps it just needs more getting used to, but it has been cast aside in favour of other pens which require less effort to like. Finally, the Lamy CP1 is a design classic and impressive for containing a Safari sized nib and cartridge or converter inside such a slim body, but in use it us just too skinny for me to hold comfortably.

The favourite pens of 2018.

On the other hand there have been far more pens that I have really enjoyed. I list just a few of my year’s favourites below:-

Faber Castell Loom, shiny gun-metal version: This has been my EDC pen for the whole year with a superb steel nib, comfortable handling (when posted) and used with a box of Cobalt blue cartridges.

Lamy Studio, brushed metal version with black grip: Another inexpensive pen but a comfortable and reliable work horse which has served me well as a work pen. Unfortunately it did roll off the table once but I was able to replace the nib from a spare Safari.

Pineider Avatar: This brand was new to me this year and I loved the look and the writing experience of theLipstick Red version, with its long elegant steel nib.

Pineider Avatar, Lipstick Red.

Wing Sung 601: These are inexpensive steel nib versions modelled on the Parker 51 and offer great looks, comfortable handling and a large ink capacity from the push-button filler. I have one which is still on its first fill from six months ago. I have since bought a couple of the 601A versions, which are the same but with a tubular nib like a vintage Sheaffer Triumph.

Wing Sung 601 in Lake Blue.

Parker Duofold International, Big Red. Medium nib, 18k gold: This pen needs little introduction. I got mine at a great price in a John Lewis sale and after a little wearing in, the pen writes superbly for me and looks and feels great in the hand. Previously I had a Kaweco Dia 2, which was similarly styled. I realise now that one of the reasons why I liked the Kaweco so much was that it looked a bit like the Duofold, when the cap was posted. I have since bought a previously owned Duofold in black from a friend who found the nib too firm for his liking.

My Duofold duo.

Opus 88, clear demonstrator, eye-dropper pen: This was one of my purchases at the London pen show and has one of the smoothest broad steel nibs that I have ever used. It holds a massive 3ml of ink and is large and chunky but very comfortable.

Delta Fantasia Vintage, limited edition in dark green celluloid, Medium steel nib: This was another buy at the London pen show and also my most costly single pen of the year at £230.00. The celluloid body is wonderful to hold and to look at. As I write this I am itching to re-ink it with Graf von Faber-Castell Moss Green ink.

Cross Townsend, quartz blue: Another well known pen. I reviewed it not long ago here and am enjoying the writing experience, with Montblanc Royal blue. I have tried a number of Cross pens over the years, including the Apogee, Aventura, Bailey, Calais and Century II but find this Townsend to be the best of these.

Waterman Carene, Marine Amber, 18k gold inlaid nib (Medium): This was my final pen purchase of the year and probably the best. It is supremely comfortable. It looks stunning and it writes like a dream. I now have to think very carefully if buying another pen, “Will it be better than my Carene?” If only I had found it in January!

The Waterman Carene, in marine amber. Seen here in dry dock.

Concluding thoughts.

Apart from the buying, the researching of pens online and in shops, the pen shows and club meets and the social media rabbit hole, what this hobby is all about is the enjoyment of owning, using and caring for fountain pens. Not necessarily expensive ones but pens which write nicely. Every pen is different. And they behave differently depending upon the inks and paper used. Currently, I have 26 fountain pens inked, which I feel is a bit too many even for me. Part of me craves the simplicity of having just one pen. But I also enjoy the variety of having several to chose from. As in previous years I will aim (again!) to cut back on the buying.

At the end of the day, I am thankful to have a hobby that has given and continues to give me so much pleasure, enjoyment and relaxation and friends to enjoy it with. Thanks for reading and best wishes for the New Year.

Some early thoughts on the Pineider Pen Filler travelling inkwell.

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

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

What’s in the box.

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

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

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

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

The four parts of the Pineider Pen Filler.

How to use.

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

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

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

So, you are ready to fill your pen.

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

Limitations.

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

Advantages.

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

Conclusions.

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

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

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

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

My Duofold Duo.

Regular readers may recall that I was fortunate enough to find a new Parker Duofold International, Big Red on sale at half price, in John Lewis, Oxford Street branch in October. I wrote a post about it here. 

I have been very much enjoying the pen, these past two months. What had aroused my interest in the pen, just before I bought mine, was a post by Anthony on UK fountain pens blog entitled A Day with a Duofold.

Fast forwarding two months, Anthony advertised his Duofold for sale, as he was not getting along with the very firm nib. I pondered buying it myself and, after sleeping on it, was sure that this was the right thing to do. (“There is a Duofold out there and it needs my help!”).  At 07:42am the next day, I sent Anthony a DM offering to buy it, if it had not already gone. Within moments, he had replied that the pen was mine. He kindly sent it out to me that day and it arrived the next day. 

I felt like I knew the pen already. It is not often that you get a chance to own a pen not just of a type that you have read about online, but that very one. 

This differed from mine sufficiently to make it a very worthwhile addition. First, it is black, and a gleaming glossy black at that. Secondly it is a 2006 model and had a few subtle differences from my 2016 model. And also the metal furniture on it is gold coloured as opposed to silver on mine. 

They both have 18k gold, bi-colour medium nibs, but the silver and gold colours are reversed in the two versions:-

Parker Duofold Internationals. The black one is a 2006 model and the ‘Big Red’ is 2016.

Plating reversed. Excuse the ink residue, but these are both currently inked. 

I knew already that I would like the size, shape and weight of the pen. I use it with the cap posted, holding near the cap threads (which are not sharp) and find it very comfortable like this. 

The nibs ought to feel similar. My Big Red had been a bit skippy at first but, like my Pelikan M800 nib, I had written it in, a few pages a day and within a week or so, the skipping subsided until it was all but gone completely. It is now a joy to write with and has a distinctively pencil-like feedback. I use it with Conway Stewart Tavy, a blue black ink now made by Diamine. 

Anthony had commented in his post about how the nib drooped or dips downwards, which it does. The nib of my Big Red has a more level profile. Perhaps this is what contributes to the nib on Anthony’s being quite so stiff. I recall hearing Stephen Brown say in an old YouTube review that the Duofold nibs were reputedly stiff in order to make carbon copies, through two layers of paper (back in the day) and hence the name “Duofold”. Also the tipping material, at least on the old vintage model Duofolds, was advertised by Parker as being harder than others. Perhaps the gold is thicker too than on other pen nibs and this is no bad thing. 

I do not mind the stiff nib. I have spent some time each day writing with Anthony’s Duofold (I must stop calling it that now) and am thrilled to have it. The tines are aligned. The tipping material is huge and so there is a lot of mileage in this nib yet. The nib is smooth, provided that you hold it level; if I rotate it clockwise a little, it starts to scrape the paper, which suggests that the outer edge of the tipping needs smoothing. I do not think this is such a problem as an inner edge being prominent (which causes not only scratchiness but a build up of paper fibres in the nib slit). I have a sense that the tipping material is shaped slightly like a garden roller with flat sides, rather than rounded like a ball. I am exaggerating but you get the idea. I am wary of doing any harm to the nib by my ham-fisted grinding and so for now I will continue to use it with nib angled the way it likes. 

Notwithstanding the stiffness of the nib, there is some very pleasant shading apparent, just from writing quite normally with no pressure. Looked at this under the loupe,  the shading from this blue black ink has a lovely vintagey iron-gall look which is in keeping with the whole 1920’s vibe of the pen. Thank you Anthony for passing this one on. I am delighted with it. 

From the black Parker Duofold. Tavy ink, Leuchtturm paper. 
And look at that shading 🙂
The same. But different.

Some early thoughts on the Cross Townsend, quartz blue fountain pen.

Does anyone remember the Cross pen billboard advertisement, late 1990’s, which featured a Cross fountain pen, with cap posted, against a plain white background? The slogan went something like “Twelve jobs; five homes; three marriages; one pen.”  I cannot recall the wording exactly but the message was that, for this owner, through life’s changes, a Cross fountain pen had been the one constant. 

I guess that message appealed to me, the thought of having the ideal pen and not needing any others. 

I notice that we do not see very many Cross fountain pen reviews online, at least not many in proportion to the availability of Cross pens almost everywhere. I have visited department stores with hardly any fountain pens at all except for a display of Cross. And for those stores that do stock a range of brands, the Cross displays seem to dominate. Perhaps we just see too many of them.  

My local shopping centre, with its large John Lewis department store, is a typical example, with glass counters displaying Cross, Sheaffer, Waterman and Parker plus a couple of other brands such as Hugo Boss and Ted Baker.  Lamy Safaris and AL-Stars hang in their blister packs on a shelf behind with the inks and refills, with a few calligraphy pens from Manuscript and Sheaffer. I practically know them by heart. 

To buy a fountain pen with a gold nib from here, your only options are a Cross Townsend or a Waterman Carene, both priced around £235.00 usually. For a year or more I had been glancing at these whenever I passed by,  but had not been sufficiently tempted by either at this price.

However, a recent promotion around the time of the Black Friday sales, offering 30% off almost all fountain pens on display, was enough to melt my resolve and I took a closer look at the Cross Townsend. There was a choice of black or quartz blue, both with rhodium plated fittings. Both were appealing but I chose blue as a more interesting and unusual finish and with less presidential associations. 

Cross Townsend, quartz blue. 

Appearance and construction.

This is a sturdy, brass lacquered pen, long and sleek, with a slip on cap and an interesting patterned blue finish. If you look down the length of the pen it appears almost black. But in good light, the finish is a lovely glossy gleaming blue. If under bright lights, you see thousands of tiny pinpricks of light. Also the combination of the blue lacquer with the rhodium trim is very pleasing. 

The elegant shape of the cap, cylindrical with a torpedo shaped top and a shiny metal finial is classic Cross, smart and elegant.  Aside from the unmistakable iconic cap, the name CROSS appears on the clip and, less obviously, on the back of the cap (if you look closely) just above the two cap rings. The clip is usefully strong and springy and works well if pinched between finger and thumb, to lift it as you slide the pen into a pocket, although I usually carry mine in a pen case. 

Unusual blue lacquer finish.

The cap closure is very firm and secure, (thankfully not so tight as a Cross Bailey medalist that I have, which is almost impossible to uncap without violence and expletives). The inner cap fastens with the metal lip at the nib end of the section, but as you push the cap on you feel the gradual increase of resistance , until it clicks over this lip. 

The cap can also be posted deeply and securely, where a black plastic ring located between the blue barrel and rhodium end piece, serves the same function of fastening the cap on. 

Packaging.

The pen comes in quite a nice large box somewhere between the usual size pen box and the extra large one for the top-of-the-range Cross Peerless. It is a hinged box, with a black velvety bed for the pen, which can flap up to reveal a compartment below, where you find a cardboard envelope containing two black proprietary cartridges. The box also contains the guarantee brochure and the whole box is protected in a cardboard sleeve.  All in all a very presentable package. 

Unboxing the Townsend. 

The nib, filling and writing performance.

The nib is 18k gold, bi-colour with rhodium plating. Mine is a medium. I examined it as best I could in the shop and all looked well, which indeed it was. The nib is long and rather narrow, in keeping with the rest of the pen, making for an aesthetically pleasing look. It bears the Cross name and logo, 18k – 750, and the letters ACT, a reference to Alfonzo Townsend Cross, from whom the pen takes its name, being the son of founder Richard Cross. The nib also has the name Sté which I have not yet deciphered – perhaps a form of gold hallmark.  

18k gold nib, bi-colour. Soft and juicy. 

The lovely gold nib is smooth, with a very pleasant softness and a good wet flow. This was a relief as I have sometimes found Cross steel nibs to be dry and difficult to correct. 

Writing sample. Some words from William Wordsworth, (opened at random but strangely topical).

The pen takes Cross cartridges or a Cross converter. None was included in the box but the sales assistant kindly gave one to me. The Townsend, along with the Aventura,  takes the push-in converters whereas the Apogee, Bailey, and Century take the screw-in converters. 

The Townsend takes the Cross push in converter. 

Size and weight.

The pen is long, at 150mm capped. Uncapped it measures 131mm, which I am very happy with, although I still prefer the feel of it posted, at 157mm. As I hold the pen quite high up (with my thumb at the barrel, just before the section) I do not find it back heavy.

It weighs around 39.5g (freshly inked) or 22g uncapped. The cap alone is around 17.5g.

Likes and dislikes.

I have been using this pen for three weeks now, with Montblanc Royal blue bottled ink. Personally I have not found any serious dislikes. But trying to be objective, I list a few points that might bother some people.

Dislikes:-

  • Some may find the pen slightly slender, if accustomed to modern oversized pens; but it is a good bit wider than a Cross Century II;
  • Some may find the pen a little unbalanced if posting the cap and gripping the pen low on the section. However I think anyone who wishes to grip the pen low, would probably find it long enough without posting; 
  • If you stroke the finial with your thumb, the join with the blue lacquered cap feels slightly rough, but this is not a big point and I mention it only for those expecting Rolls Royce perfection. Likewise, at the other end, you feel the slight prominence of the black plastic ring which secures the cap when posted;
  • The worry of whether the slip on cap will wear loose in time. Happily all Cross pens carry a lifetime guarantee so no worries there. 

Likes:- 

There are far more factors to like than to dislike, thankfully. 

  • The smooth, soft, wet nib with a hint of feedback. The generous flow means that I, as left hander, also have the option of writing in my slanting “lefty overwriter” style which demands better flow and nib lubrication than some pens allow;
  • Comfort! Total absence of step or cap threads where I grip the pen;
  • The attractive blue lacquer finish next to rhodium accents;
  • Generous long barrel; pen can be used unposted for shorter notes;
  • Tall pen, stands out in the pen cup yet the pocket clip starts a little way down the cap so that the pen is not too long to clip in a pocket;
  • A date code. Mine was 0917;
  • Reassuringly secure cap mechanism. 
Date code, September 2017.

Conclusion.

This is a sturdy, durable and attractive pen that is comfortable and reliable and which writes extremely well. And so it could become the only pen you will ever need, if you are the sort of person envisaged by that billboard ad. Personally, I love mine but I am not yet ready to forsake all others.

Resistance is futile.

 

First impressions of the new Platinum Procyon fountain pen.

I am pushing out this  “first impressions” review with unseemly haste, as the pen has been with me for only half a day. However I saw that there had been some speculation and eager anticipation on Fountain Pen Network about this new model, although the thread Platinum Procyon New Model digresses into discussions of Platinum nibs generally and people’s differing experiences with the gold nib of the Platinum 3776.

I first learned of the Procyon while browsing on Cult Pens’ web site a few nights ago and was intrigued by the promotional video, showing the pen sucking up the last drops from an ink bottle, by means of the newly designed feed. And how nice to have a promotional video at all! The pen also benefits from Platinum’s slip and seal inner cap, which supposedly prevents ink drying out for up to 2 years. Also it boasts a steel nib offering flexible writing like a gold nib. With Cult Pens currently offering 10% off, and a free Platinum Preppy thrown in, it seemed worth a go.

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The post it note is the only thing I can find which is like this colour.

Unboxing.

The pen arrived in a plain black cardboard box and separate lid,  with a foam insert, and protected by a cardboard outer sleeve. The pen was in a polythene sheath. Also in the box were a sample set of three Platinum coloured ink cartridges, in Gold Ochre, Aqua Emerald and Dark Violet, plus one blue one and a fold out Instruction Manual. The box seems perfectly sensible and proportionate at this price point.

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What’s in the box.

Construction and appearance.

The Procyon, or PNS 5000 as it is also called, is an aluminium pen, feeling solid but not overly heavy. The finish is matte, not glossy and feels pleasantly smooth and yet is not slippery. It has a screw cap (which is to be applauded) and despite the rather large area of screw threads on the section, the cap is removed in less than one full turn.

It is available in a choice of five colours. I chose Citron Yellow but the others are Deep Sea, Porcelain White, Turquoise Blue and Persimmon Orange.

The metal pocket clip is springy and moderately firm, and quite easy to use albeit not giving great security. There is a shiny cap ring, which is not sharp to the touch and the cap has the name PROCYON on the front, below the clip and PLATINUM, MADE IN JAPAN on the reverse.

The cap closes to be almost flush with the barrel, but is just slightly wider. This is achieved by having a small step down from barrel to section and to the shiny plated cap threads. The step and the threads are a bit sharp and uncomfortable and so you will probably want to find a grip which is either above or below the threads. Personally, I like to post the pen and hold it higher up so that my thumb is on the barrel. It is therefore important for me that the barrel material is not slippery (which this is not) in order to be able to anchor the pen with my thumb and keep the pen at the same angle.

The section is of a smokey grey translucent plastic, with a small lip at the nib end.

Unscrewing the barrel, with durable metal threads on both barrel and section, there is a generously long housing for the cartridge or else for a Platinum converter (not included but £4.99 from Cult Pens).

The cap can be posted, deeply and securely and being aluminium does not upset the balance.

Nib and Feed.

At first glance, the nib looks rather like those on the Lamy Safari and AL-Star. I chose a Medium. It does offer a little bit of flex but this is not very pronounced and it is not what I would describe as a flex nib. It does however have a pleasing softness or bounce, whereas Lamy steel nibs tend to be on the firm side.  There is no breather hole on the nib, which features just the P for Platinum and M for medium.

The black plastic feed does not have any fins but does have a noticeable inlet, about half way up the nib. This is the breather hole which is also used to fill the pen from a bottle and so the nib needs only to be dipped in the ink sufficiently to cover the hole. This means less mess when filling and also that you can still fill the pen when the bottle has only a puddle of ink left, by tilting the bottle and positioning the feed in the ink, as in the promotional video.

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The nib, section and threads of the Procyon.

I first tried the nib dipped in Pelikan Edelstein Smoky Quartz and was immediately impressed with its smoothness, good flow and some pleasant shading. For those who worried that the nib might be scratchy or dry I can say that my nib wrote smoothly and well, straight out of the box, with no skipping and was adequately wet. Of course I have only this one pen to go on and YMMV.

After trying the pen for a while on one dip of ink, I inserted one of the three coloured cartridges and went for the Gold Ochre, which is a nice autumnal dark orange.

Filling system.

This is a cartridge-converter pen, taking either Platinum’s proprietary cartridges or else the Platinum converter. It is slightly disappointing that a converter is not included at this price, particular as the ability to draw up the last dregs from a bottle is a feature of this pen. I do already have a converter from my Platinum Century 3776, which I might put to use once I have used up the cartridges. Another option is to recycle the old cartridges and syringe-fill them with ink of your choice.

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Some cartridges included, but no converter.

Sizes and weights.

Closed, the pen is reasonably large and at 140mm is about the same length as a Lamy Studio and a bit wider. However, uncapped it is a bit on the short side at 118mm but posts well, to give a length of 155mm. It weighs 24g, which is quite a nice happy medium, neither too heavy nor too light.

Likes and dislikes.

It is exciting to try a completely new design, from a respected and long-established Japanese pen maker. With the proviso that my pen is only hours old, I venture the following:

Dislikes:

  • The uncomfortable step and threads, which mean that you may want to adjust your grip to work around these;
  • I am still coming to terms with the colour I chose, which is a sort of pastel lemon, giving the impression of an old and rather faded hi-viz jacket, but it is unusual and distinctive.

Likes:

  • Smooth and effortless writing;
  • Comfortable weight and balance;
  • Screw cap;
  • That feed! I am looking forward to experimenting with near empty ink bottles.

Conclusion.

It is early days but overall I am pleased with the pen, particularly how nicely it writes. Having a screw cap and a slightly softer nib plus the innovative feed feature lift it above the Lamy AL-Star, although it costs about twice as much as an AL-Star in the UK.  It represents a step up from the entry level pens and a welcome change from the usual offerings of the big brands here. As to value, it is priced a little higher than a Cross Bailey or Parker Urban, which are metal and lacquer steel nib pens. For the writing experience that I have seen so far, (and my nib was perfect, out of the box) I think it is a good new option.

 

 

 

 

A look at the Montblanc Meisterstuck No. 12 fountain pen.

I have been very fortunate this year, to have been given some superb fountain pens by generous friends in the fountain pen community. The most recent of these was a 1960’s Montblanc Meisterstuck No.12, given by a pen pal who was leaving London to work in Melbourne. I have been using it for a few weeks now and the pen is truly delightful. 

Showing the distinctive semi-hooded nib and the bishop’s mitre cap band.

I knew very little about vintage Montblancs. I had seen one or two at our monthly pen club gatherings in London. Coincidentally, back in the summer, I was shown one whilst visiting my late godfather’s wife, Mary.  She said “You might be interested in Brian’s old pen” and went to find it from a writing desk drawer.

First, a few words about my “Uncle Brian.” He had been my father’s best friend and cycling companion at school and later his Best Man. Brian was a tall man, hale and hearty with a bellowing loud voice. He was a surveyor and was probably one of Vespa scooter’s most loyal customers and had ridden over a million kilometres on them over the years. 

I was therefore a little surprised initially, to see that his chosen fountain pen was a rather small and unassuming black pen. However it was a Montblanc. I established that it was a cartridge-converter pen, with a semi-hooded nib. I told Mary that she ought to keep it in the family and took a few photos of it before handing it back. 

Uncle Brian’s 1960’s Montblanc

I think it was a 22x series although I am not sure which. It had a shiny black body, a single cap ring and a was a cartridge-converter filler:

A cartridge converter version.

After seeing this, I thought of looking for one at a pen show in memory of Uncle Brian but had not yet done so. Imagine my delight then, when last month over a coffee, my friend offered me his Meisterstuck No. 12 adding that I had remarked upon what a nice line it produced when he had used it to write to me. 

Appearance and Design

I gather that the No.12 formed part of a range, introduced in around 1959, with model numbers identifying where they sat in the hierarchy, their size and their filling type. For an authoritative account, visit FPN and “A thorough report on Montblanc 12/14/22/24/32/34 Series.”

Model numbers beginning with a figure 3 were the economy range. Model numbers beginning with a 2 were the medium range. Those beginning with a 1 were the superior range, the Meisterstuck, or masterpiece, the flagship range.

This is a piston filler, with a black resin body and the trademark white star at both ends. There is a gold coloured pocket clip (which can be removed by unscrewing the finial) and a distinctive cap band known as the bishop’s mitre. This has a chamfered edge around which are the words  “MONTBLANC MEISTERSTUCK No.12.”

Montblanc Meistestuck No.12

The cap pulls off, is reassuringly firm and secures with a click. There is an amber coloured ink window, with some decorative striations and a metal ring either side, a long tapering section and a semi-hooded 18k gold nib. 

At the other end, the the barrel tapers gently, to a flat base with a decorative gold coloured ring and a white star, so that you can enjoy the Montblanc emblem whilst writing with the pen, whether the cap is posted or not. 

The Montblanc white star, or snow peak.

Hardly noticeable in the barrel, is the join where the piston turning knob blends in to the barrel. It is all very subtle and understated. 

Weights and measurements

Capped, the pen is 129mm long. Uncapped it is 117mm and so quite usable unposted for those who hold their pens low down near the nib. However I prefer to add a little length and weight and to hold it higher up, with my thumb on the ink window. The cap posts deeply and securely to give a length of 144mm.

The whole pens weighs only around 15g, of which 6g is the cap, so the pen weighs just 9g if you are using it unposted.

Disassembly

My friend had mentioned that the section could be unscrewed and also that the piston was a bit stiff. At home, I watched a YouTube video by Peter Unbehauen on cleaning the section of a Monblanc No.12. I was happy to learn that it is quite easy. You simply unscrew the section, being careful with the delicate plastic amber ring that forms the ink window and the two metal rings, one each side of the window. Then, the nib unit (comprising the gold nib, the feed and a surrounding plastic housing) can simply be pushed out through the back of the section, rather like removing the nib of a Lamy 2000. 

Disassembled and after a clean.

Once the nib unit is removed, you can see that the grip section, or shell, is very thin and translucent. It is rather fragile when separated. 

From the video, I saw that you can disassemble the nib unit quite easily, by sliding the clear plastic housing back off nib and then separate the nib and feed. When you put it all back together you just need to align everything correctly and then screw the section back in place and not over-tighten it. It is great to know that the pen can be stripped for cleaning so easily, unlike the modern Meisterstuck 146 where such DIY exploits are discouraged. 

I did not completely disassemble the nib unit but left it to soak in water overnight. But while the section was off, with access to the ink reservoir, I took the opportunity, after flushing with water a few times, to introduce a little silicone grease on the end of a plastic stick, to the inner walls of the ink chamber and then operated the piston up and down a few times. Within moments the piston was gliding up and down, silky smooth again. The pen is like new! I got this tip from an old Brian Goulet video. 

Nib and writing performance 

As I mentioned, the nib is 18k gold. I think it is a medium but it has a wonderful stub-like quality to it and a very pleasant softness. I filled the pen with Montblanc Royal Blue, an excellent combination which I will stick with.

A perfect combination, unsurprisingly. You cannot go wrong with this, for business or pleasure.

The ink flow is sufficiently generous to make for a very pleasing smooth writing experience. It is not too wet but does have ample lubrication for the nib to cope with my lefty-overwriter handwriting style, (which requires a wetter nib than if writing in the more conventional “underwriter” style). I have tried a few longer writing sessions with it and am extremely pleased with its performance. It is comfortable and light in the hand. It certainly makes for more characterful writing than a standard round medium nib as you get a subtle variation of line width between your down strokes and cross strokes. 

Conclusion 

I am thrilled to own this pen and love using it. It shows no signs of being nearly 60 years old. It is a superb writer, with a large ink capacity and a really enjoyable soft gold nib. It is interesting to observe that there are elements in the design which were to appear in the Lamy 2000.

I would recommend trying one, if you get a chance to pick one up at a pen show. For those who find it too slender, there was the Meisterstuck No.14 offering slightly more girth. But my No.12 is the same size as my Uncle Brian’s and if it was big enough for him, it is big enough for me. 

My haul from the London Pen Show, 2018.

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Left to right: Opus 88, TWSBI Diamond 580 AL R, Delta Fantasia Vintage, Leonardo Officina Italiana Momento Zero Collection and a Wancher Crystal.

For a London based fountain pen addict, the annual London Pen Show is probably the biggest date in the calendar, for meeting dealers, fellow enthusiasts and some pen shopping. I had been looking forward to it for months.

It is sensible to have some sort of plan or list if you intend to buy something, as the day can be intense. I didn’t do this. I had only a vague idea, perhaps to look at some vintage Parker pens, a Duofold such as a Standard or a Senior, a bit larger than the Junior that I picked up at the Cambridge pen show in March. I was also interested to look at a Big Red, a proper vintage one, having bought a modern Duofold International just the week before. But mostly I came with an open mind and was not looking for anything in particular to buy.

I arrived at the Holiday Inn just after 9.00am, to discover that even the “early bird” admission did not start until 9.30am and that the regular admission was from 10.30am. I headed over to the lounge and met Penultimate Dave from our pen club, who showed me his latest acquisitions.

We paid the extra for early admission and enjoyed the relative quiet of the halls before they got crowded.

Throughout the day, I was to run into numerous other regular members of our London fountain pen club and a few others from further afield, such as Jon, Vijay and Mateusz and so it was a very social occasion. Every time I came out of the halls for a break, there would be a different group of friends to join in the coffee lounge, chatting over their purchases.

In the course of the day, I was to buy five new pens, none of them Parkers, as it turned out. Here is a brief summary.

Delta Fantasia Vintage.

My first stop was the enticing table of Stefano and his wife, of Stilograph Corsani. I had heard great reports of his Delta Fantasia Vintage, his collaboration with Delta to produce a small number of beautiful, traditional looking cartridge-converter fountain pens in celluloid, with steel nibs. My friend Jon has one in turquoise which looks stunning in photographs. I had looked at them online and pondered on ordering one unseen. And then suddenly, here they were in front of me on the table, in the range of five colours. They are limited editions, with only 25 made in each colour.

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Delta Fantasia Vintage, Verde Scuro, Dark Green sounds so much nicer in Italian.

In my wish list, I had thought of choosing the burgundy version. However, in the flesh, albeit under the artificial lighting of the hotel passageway, it was the dark green which most appealed to me. The celluloid has a most luxurious, distinctive feel. Stefano assured me that it is a pen which is meant to be used and that you will not harm the pen by posting the cap if you wish. I was smitten by the patterns in the dark green celluloid, where beautiful parabolas appear as the barrel tapers, yet the pen appears almost black if you revolve it a little. It felt extremely smooth and comfortable in the hand. The nib is firm but very smooth.

My friend Anthony had brought his 6 year old daughter along, who decided that my pen looked like snake skin. I cannot top that. Coincidentally Anthony had just had the pleasure of hiring Jon’s turquoise version, under Jon’s recently launched online Pensharing scheme.

Opus 88 Demonstrator.

My next stop was to see John Hall of Write Here. I am yet to visit his shop in Shrewsbury but have spoken to him several times at pen shows. I was aware that he sells Opus 88 eyedropper pens, from Taiwan but which tend to sell out quickly and take a while to come back in stock. I had tried one at our pen club (Penultimate Dave again) who had bought one and bought two more to ink in different colours. He tends to prefer broad nibs and this makes sense with such a large pen with a voluminous ink capacity.

John Hall had brought just a couple of these along (and this is the real benefit of the early admission) and so I was able to handle one and clinch my purchase of it, beating the crowds.

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The mighty Opus 88 Demonstrator, eye-dropper fountain pen, inked with GvF-C Cobalt Blue.

Like Dave, I opted for a broad nib. I have been using it with Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt blue, thinking that I want to have an ink that I will not get bored with! I can honestly say that the pen is a joy. It is big, wide and long. The cap does not post but it is very long already at 137mm and the nib is quite possibly the smoothest I have ever used. The great thing is that you can write on ridged paper (white laid writing paper for example) and the large nib will ride over the bumps like a beach buggy over sand dunes.

Wancher Crystal flat top.

My next purchase was at John Twiss’ table, where he had some of his hand-turned fountain pen creations in beautiful colours and some other exotic wares, such as a red urushi Danitrio Bamboo Tamenuri. I witnessed in awe as Dave decided upon and bought that stunning pen, in the same time as it took me to chose one of John’s more accessible £30.00 Wancher Crystal flat-top eyedropper/cartridge converter pens, in a mix of blue and clear plastic of some sort, with a nice size 6 steel nib. I have two of these from John already, but with the bullet shaped ends and so this is essentially the same pen, with all the same great features (sprung inner cap, demonstrator barrel, optional eyedropper or cartridge/converter filling) which I love. They are to my mind extremely good value. Somehow, the large comfortable proportions seem automatically to improve my handwriting.

TWSBI Diamond 580 AL R, with 1.1mm stub nib.

This year, Martin Roberts of The Writing Desk was back at the London Pen Show. I had bought my very first TWSBI from him at the same event 4 years ago, a Vac 700, which remains one my most fun pens! I have since gone on to add a Diamond 580, an Eco, and a Classic to my TWSBI line-up, all of which have performed well. This year, the novelty was the TWSBI Go, in grey or sapphire, with a quick and easy push button sprung filling mechanism. However, I let that one go (no pun intended) and instead asked for the new AL-R version Diamond 580 piston filler, with a 1.1mm stub nib. I had not tried this nib before but thought it a good option for the large capacity pen.

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TWSBI Diamond 580 AL R, a new finish for a popular classic, piston fill pen.

At home I have also inked this one with the GvF-C Cobalt Blue and am enjoying the stub nib a lot. I am finding it more like a crisp italic nib, a little sharp at the edges but if you hold it right at the sweet spot and keep to that grip, it is smooth and gives a gorgeous amount of line variation, with no effort.

Leonado Officina Italia, Momento Zero Collection

My last purchase of the day, on that fatal “just one more lap” of the halls was this beautiful resin pen with steel nib, from the table of iZods Ink (Roy). He had a selection of colours on display. Prices were displayed for both the celluloid and the resin models. At first I picked up one of resin ones, so impressed by the beautiful finish that I thought it must be one of the pricey celluloid models. When Roy told me that it was the resin pen (and accordingly a very reasonable £135.00) it was irresistible and the only decision remaining was whether to go for dark red marbled or dark blue marbled finish. Both looked stunningly attractive and resistance was futile. I would have been very happy with either but went for the dark red.

At home I filled it with Conway Stewart Tavy, my faithful favourite for an attractive blue black which flows well. With cap posted, it is a sizeable but comfortable and well balanced pen. I have since enjoyed watching Emy’s review of it on Youtube and his film of visiting the founder, Salvatore at his factory in Italy.

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Leonardo Officina Italiana, Momento Zero Collection, red marbled. Numbered edition. Handmade in Italy.

Apart from these five lovely pens, I bought an A4 Leuchtturm journal and two bottles of ink, (or three if you count the bottle of Delta black that was included inside the gift box of my Fantasia Vintage). I chose the Pure Pens Cadwaladr red (recommended by Anthony) and a bottle of Mont Blanc Royal Blue, that will perhaps be used to feed my thirsty Opus in the winter months ahead.

If this all sounds like pen-saturation, well yes it was. I vowed that I did not need to buy any more fountain pens for the foreseeable future. And that decision served me well, for almost nine full days until I happened to come across a solid brass pen, a Monograph Mgcc 099 sold at the Barbican Centre gift shop in the City of London while there to see a Richard Thompson concert last week. So, never say never.

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The team photo. Three Taiwanese flanked by two Italians.

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And I leave you with this walk in the park today.

Some early thoughts on the Parker Duofold International Big Red fountain pen.

This iconic beauty had been on my wish list for six months, although I was not actively looking for one and was deterred by the price. Then my interest was reawakened recently on reading “A day with a Duofold” on Anthony’s blog “UK fountain pens.” I was particularly interested in his comments on the similarity between the Duofold International and the Kaweco Dia2, as the latter is one of my most comfortable pens.

I could not believe my luck when browsing in John Lewis’ pen department, in London’s Oxford Street. A new Duofold, in Big Red colours, was reduced to less than half price to clear. A black model with gold furniture was still at full price.

It was not clear to me at the time, whether it was a Centennial or an International since there was nothing to compare it with. In fact I had forgotten again which was which. (The Centennial is the bigger of the two versions). There was no help from the packaging. I was amused to notice that where the words “Duofold Red FP” had been written on the outer box, someone had crossed out “Red” and written “Orange”. Bless.

Notwithstanding this question, I decided to snap it up. I had looked at the nib with my loupe and the indications were that it would be smooth and reasonably wet. This was confirmed when I dipped it, but a dipped nib is not representative of how a pen will write when filled normally. I could not wait to get it home and try it out.

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Unboxing the Duofold. A converter is inside the pen. Two black cartridges were included beneath the booklet.

Appearance and design

This is an acrylic pen, not very much changed in overall appearance since it was introduced in 1921, although there have been many changes, such as to the finial, the cap bands, the nib scroll work and the barrel text. The shape and proportions are as classic as they come. The cap has a black crown to it with an inset metal finial bearing the name Duofold and the shape of an ace of spades in fancy scroll work. Then there is the classic 1920’s Parker arrow clip. The current model Duofold has a single, wide cap band with the Parker name and logo.

The cap screws off in just over two full rotations. The threads have a reassuring grip at the end and so there is no worry of the cap coming lose. The barrel is of the same orange acrylic, reminiscent of the red lacquer original of the twenties, then made of a supposedly indestructible material called Permanite. A nice feature, dating from the original is the engraved text on the barrel, now reading DUOFOLD Geo. S. Parker, Fountain pen, and in a little banner, Parker Pen . There is a black grip section and black end cap, although only for decoration, this now being a cartridge-converter pen.

Unscrewing the barrel, I was pleased to spot what appears to be a serial number, 16210079, FRANCE on the metal holder for the converter. I believe this pen to be the 2016 edition. Apart from this number, I have not found the usual Parker date code anywhere.

The nib

My pen came with a medium nib, in 18k gold with bi-colour finish. The text says Duofold, Parker 18k 750. The tines looked to be very nicely set up. It has a huge blob of tipping material, particularly for a medium nib and so looked to be built to last. The plastic feed has an unusually slim profile and is smooth, with no fins visible.

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Serious tippage.

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The business-end of the Parker Duofold International.

Filling

The pen was supplied with a very superior, Parker branded converter with a smoked grey ink reservoir, knurled black plastic turning knob and knurled metal collar. The plunger had a nice tight feel to it and the black plunger has a red O ring in it. I have not had any leaks from it.

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Parker Converter. Also showing what I hope is a serial number.

Weights and measurements

When I got home, I looked at the specifications given for the Centennial and the International, on The Writing Desk web site. This is how I found out that my pen is the International. It is 132mm long capped, 124.5mm uncapped, and has a barrel diameter of 11.8mm. Posted, it is 164.6mm. The visible part of the nib is 20mm long. It weighs around 23g of which about 8g is the cap.

Personally, I find it just a little too short to use unposted. Also, if I do hold it unposted, it means that I hold it around the section which is a bit too narrow. So instead, I post the cap and then hold it a bit higher up, around the cap threads, with the section resting on my second finger. This, I find comfortable for longer writing sessions and is how I use my Kaweco Dia2. Incidentally, to those who say that the nib of the Dia2 is disproportionately small, the Duofold might be what you are looking for!

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Parker Duofold International (top), with Kaweco Dia2 below.

Although the Duofold’s cap does post securely, it only just covers the black end piece and ring. It does not go on very deeply. It does leave the pen looking rather long and if you were to hold it lower down than I do, you would probably find it too unbalanced and top heavy.

Writing performance and conclusions

There was no way I was going home without this. In use, I filled it the first couple of times with Parker Quink blue-black, which flowed well. I know that people say that when filling a pen, you should turn the the piston back a little at the end to release a drop of ink back into the bottle, and then wind it up again so that you do not have a saturated feed. I tend not to bother. However with this pen, you will get a very saturated feed and it does then write very wet for the first couple of pages. In fact, this has suited my purposes well because the nib was otherwise a bit skippy at first. I remember the advice that I read on buying my Pelikan M800, that you do need to let it wear in, by using it for a few weeks or a month to get rid of any “baby’s bottom”. It is already improving and the nib is now settling down nicely.

I now have it inked with Conway Stewart Tavy, by Diamine and rather prefer this darker blue-black to the Parker version.

I am very much enjoying the pen. Although smooth, it has a distinctive feedback which can be heard on my Leuchtturm paper. It is very firm with very little flex. I have had several hour-long sessions, filling pages with it just for the pleasure of feeling and watching the words go down on the page in glistening new ink.

I have also enjoyed looking at the old advertisements for the 1920’s Duofolds. You can spend an entertaining evening Googling “Parker Duofold Advertisements.” I also learned that it was the most expensive pen of its day, at $7.00 back then. So confident were Parker of their nib (the tip of which involved over twenty separate operations) that they offered the pen with a 25 year guarantee. The tip was supposedly three times harder than the usual, and three times more expensive, so that you could lend the pen without any qualms. I lap up all this stuff. (As a ten year old, I once wrote off to Parker, to ask for some more information about the Leonardo da Vinci Vitruvian man image that they were using in their magazine advertisements for the Parker Jotter at the time. But enough about me). Here is the pen again.

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The Parker Duofold International, Big Red. The current version of an old classic.

Some silly mistakes with the Faber-Castell Basic (black carbon) and how to avoid them.

Whilst at Victoria Station recently, with ten minutes to spare before my train was due to leave, I popped in to WH Smiths to have a browse around their stationery section. There I made the happy discovery that they sell Faber-Castell fountain pens.

I bought a Faber-Castell Loom earlier this year and have been using it as my every day carry. It is my most successful of the Faber-Castells that I have tried. I found the Emotion too short for me and too heavy; the Ambition (black resin version) also too short and too slippery, or too back-heavy if posted. However, their steel nibs had all been excellent. Even on their £5.00 plastic school pens, the nibs were very enjoyable.

I spotted a pen which looked similar to my Loom, but with a slightly different shaped cap and which had a shiny, black carbon-fibre look to the barrel. Also, the long, cylindrical section was of grippy black rubber. There was even a smoky grey ink window. I now know this to be the Faber-Castell Basic, black carbon version.

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Faber-Castell Loom (above) and Faber-Castell Basic, (below).

I asked to have a look at it and was immediately impressed by the length of the pen when uncapped, (about 134mm) which was considerably longer than my Loom, which I took out of my pocket, to compare. The familiar stainless steel nib looked in good shape and I decided to buy it. The sales assistant apologised that it did not have a cartridge with it but that did not bother me. A new Faber-Castell, like my Loom but longer! What could possibly go wrong?

Later inspecting my purchase, I unscrewed the barrel and found a spent blue cartridge inserted in the pen. Either someone had been testing the pen rather too extensively in the store, or it had had a previous owner and was a return. Never mind, the nib looked promising and I was not bothered about having to clean it first.

At home that evening, I flushed the pen. I planned to fill it with Graf von Faber-Castell Garnet Red. It is important to remove all traces of blue ink from the nib and feed first, otherwise you lose that lovely deep orangey-red colour in the Garnet, and instead it turns to a burgundy. (Ask me how I know this).

So after flushing the section several times I unscrewed the nib and feed unit from the section and patiently left it to soak in a jar of water overnight.

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The screw-fit nib unit for the Faber-Castell Basic

The next day, when screwing the nib unit back into the grip, (having carefully flushed it again, dried it and applied a little silicone grease on the threads) I realised that I had forgotten what it was supposed to look like. Or rather, I did not realise that I had forgotten and went on screwing it in, expecting to get the unit to fit flush into the grip, right up to the start of the nib, like the Loom. (DO NOT DO THIS!) Needless to say, it did not want to go in any further.

Next I got out a standard international converter. None was supplied with the pen, but I had a few different brands. The first I tried, did not grip onto the coupling at all. The next one, (actually a screw-fit converter, from a Conklin Duragraph) gripped nicely so I gleefully filled it with my Garnet Red ink.

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The wrong size converter. (This is NOT a Faber-Castell converter).

Next, on trying to replace the barrel, I found that it was a very tight fit over the converter, although it did just fit, so I screwed the barrel into place. (DO NOT DO THIS EITHER!) I then tried unscrewing the barrel again and was alarmed to find that, in unscrewing the barrel, the metal collar of the converter had unscrewed and was now firmly wedged inside the barrel.

The only way to retrieve this was to offer the converter back into the barrel (losing the ink first), screw it back into its collar, and pull. This operation, thankfully, was a success. I also learned how to disassemble, clean and re-grease a Conklin Duragraph converter in the process.

I found a different converter to use, this time checking not only that it would grip on the coupling, but also that the barrel would fit over it without touching the sides, before filling. I inserted a Kaweco converter (not the mini one but from a Dia 2) which worked fine.

So I filled the pen, replaced the barrel and thought that all would be well. However, the next discovery was that the cap had become an uncomfortably snug fit, when capping and uncapping the pen. Closer inspection revealed the apparent cause of this to be that the rubber grip had several stress cracks at the nib end and the rubber had actually flared out very slightly and was rubbing on the inside of the cap. This probably happened when I had been trying to screw the nib unit too deeply into the grip.

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Damaged rubber grip section, cracked and slightly flared.

Conclusion.

I think the Basic will be great pen, once I have obtained a replacement rubber grip. However it is not fool proof. I have since enjoyed watching old reviews of the pen by Stephen Brown and Brian Goulet who both spoke very highly of it. As a veteran of over 200 pen purchases, I had become sloppy and made a series of mistakes. Did you spot them all?

Notes to self:-

  • Do not rush a fountain pen purchase, if you have a train to catch;
  • Inspect the pen properly before purchase, including under the barrel;
  • Before removing a nib, perhaps take a photo as a record of how it looked before;
  • Do not use force when screwing a nib and feed back into a section;
  • Before filling a converter, (if it did not come with the pen) check that the barrel will fit over it.
  • If the barrel is going to be a tight fit over the converter, use a converter that fits properly.
  • You are only as good as your last pen purchase.

I hope that Faber-Castell will not mind sending me a replacement rubber grip and I can then start to use and enjoy the pen, with a fresh start.