The Post Pen Show Post: London Autumn 2021.

Last week I wrote The Pre Pen Show Post, in anticipation of the show on Sunday 10 October 2021. Now that it has passed, it is time to reflect on the day.

In short, it was wonderful and I had a great time. My wife was to have come, but changed her mind on the day and so I was left to make decisions unaided. I set off cheerfully, taking the London Overground train to Kensington Olympia and enjoyed a stroll to the venue, at the Novotel, Hammersmith.

The venue, Novotel London West.

With UK Pen Shows in new but very capable ownership, membership of the Writing Equipment Society no longer gets you free admission but I heard that this might change. However, visitors were given a free tote bag with the handsome UK Pen Shows logo and names of sponsors, which came in handy for my subsequent haul.

I soon found there to be a special ink for the show, namely a bottle of Beefeater Red from KWZ Ink of Poland. I purchased a bottle immediately without pausing to check what colour red it was. It turned out to be a very pleasing one, a rich dark beetroot tone which strangely reminded me of my favourite wax crayon in the colouring box at primary school.

Beefeater Red, the new show Ink from our friends in Poland, KWZ Ink.

Also within minutes of arriving, I spotted an enticing table of Diplomat fountain pens at generously discounted prices and pounced on a couple of Diplomat Excellences, being one of my favourite steel nib pens of all time. I will not dwell on them here as I have reviewed them previously in this blog.

Two Diplomat Excellences. The one at the front has a nifty quick release screw cap.

Having come through a period of 18 months with very little social interaction, it was a treat to catch up with friends, about a dozen from our London Pen Club, over the course of the day, as well as to chat to the friendly vendors. The venue was bright, spacious and airy and this all made for a very pleasant and enjoyable atmosphere.

The main hall.

Others have written about how to prepare for a pen show, to get the most out of the day and some good tips are to (a) have a budget, (b) make a list of anything in particular that you want to look for. I like to bring a loupe to inspect nibs. You might want to bring a bottle of ink, a notebook, a little bottle of water to clean pens that are dipped, and some paper towels.

This time, I had not got any particular fountain pens in mind to hunt down and was aiming to “be good” and not get carried away in a spending spree, but to keep an open mind and see what was available.

Of the pens that I acquired at the London Spring Show earlier this year, the one that I had enjoyed picking up and using the most, turned out to be a Sailor Procolor 500, a steel nibbed pen about the same size as a standard 1911 and with a Fine (very fine) nib. It has been filled ever since with Noodlers’ bullet proof black. I had found this pen for sale on John Twiss’s table. I asked John if he had any more of these. Sure enough he had a few and I chose a nice sparkly dark red one, (now called the Shikiori), perhaps a good pairing for the Beefeater red ink.

Sailor Shikiori in burgundy with sparkles.
An exquisite steel nib on a Sailor Shikiori.

As for inks, I also bought a bottle of Aurora blue in the nice special edition bottle, from Kirit Dal’s Aurora table. I have become a fan of Aurora’s lovely fountain pens, since finally owning an 88 and an Optima.

I also picked up an extra bottle of Diamine’s Conway Stewart Tavy, a blue black ink that I am keen on, having bought and emptied previous bottles from pen shows.

My ink haul.

It is not the pens but the people that make a pen show: I enjoyed visiting so many tables, in particular John Hall of Write Here, John Foye (whose pen photos I enjoy daily on Instagram), John Twiss, Derek of Stonecott Fine Writing Supplies Limited who was selling pens from Narwal, Benu and Venvstas (pronounced Ven-oost-as), the Onoto table and Den’s Pens.

There were some tables that were new to me this time. Scrittura Elegante from the Netherlands, had a good display, where I handled an Edison Collier in the lovely burnished gold finish and saw some Opus 88 eye-dropper demonstrators that I had not come across before, as well as some Laban pens from Taiwan with German nibs in some attractive colours.

I spoke to William Shakour who showed me his impressive Titan fountain pen, made by 3D printing (which I do not understand). He had some rough grey, unpolished examples for people to test four different nib sizes, with Titanium nibs. I was intrigued. The pens are piston fillers with a huge reservoir. He had been working on making a slightly slimmer version but this meant having thinner walls on the ink reservoir, which he was able to show me.

At The Good Blue, I tried their unique design of flex nib pen, with a metal body and one flat side to stop it from rolling.

By late morning I was glad of a coffee break with friends Jon of Pensharing.com and Vijay – both of whom are on Instagram, where we had a catch up and tried a few of each other’s pens.

Vijay and I then went to find the nib units, being sold at John Twiss and Vincent’s table with titanium nibs and ebonite feeds in various widths and with a choice of Jowo or Bock fittings and even a choice of colours for the feeds! I chose a Titanium fine nib, with red feed and Jowo fitting, hoping to fit it in a large Opus 88 Demonstrator that I had bought three years earlier with a steel broad.

A Titanium nib in an ebonite feed and housing, Jowo fit. Very popular at the show.

After making several more circuits of the tables and testing my self restraint to its limits, it was time to go home. My final tally was three new pens (two Diplomats and a Sailor at irresistible prices), three bottles of ink (KWZ Beefeater red, Diamine Conway Stewart Tavy and Aurora Blue in the fancy bottle) and one Titanium nib.

Overall I was very content with my purchases. The choice is phenomenal and easily overwhelming, particularly if you are more used to a quick browse at the pen shelf in Rymans or WH Smiths! There are pens to suit all budgets. I came away feeling that I had got the balance about right and had not gone mad. You cannot go to a restaurant and not eat.

At home I tried out the Titanium nib in my Opus 88. I was a good match and the clear acrylic grip section allows the dark red ebonite feed to be seen and appreciated. I inked up the pen with Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue (you need a colour that you will not get bored of in this pen) and the nib is a nice, feedbacky firm Fine. This was my first ever experience of having a Titanium nib so that is a novelty.

The new nib in my Opus 88, eye-dropper demonstrator. You must remember to put the pen’s rubber O ring on the back end of the housing.

Thanks as always to the organisers and vendors and fellow visitors who make these events so enjoyable. See you all again next year, if not before.

The London Spring Pen Show: my haul.

Well, what a lovely day this has been. Sunday 25 July 2021 and the first pen show since March 2020, before our first lockdown.

Instead of the Holiday Inn near Russell Square, the event had moved to a new venue: the Novotel London West, at 1, Shortlands, Hammersmith, London W6 8DR. This provided many advantages, being four times larger than the previous room, 150 nicely spaced out tables and all vendors in the same room. Most importantly, it felt roomy and safe, with ample space between the aisles, cool and airy, less crowded, and generally more relaxed, notwithstanding the face coverings and hand sanitisers.

Having seen a short video of the hall being set up, from Penultimate Dave on Instagram the night before, I was looking forward to the new venue. I had got out some spending money – although for the most part, dealers were taking card payments to avoid handling money.

Very soon, I started to see familiar faces. Most of these friends, from pen meets and pen shows as well as some from Instagram I had not met in 16 months and so there was an air of reunion on top of the usual buzz of excitement for the pen show itself.

It was a real joy to see all these folk again, as we emerge from a series of lockdowns and there was much to catch up on, in how life had treated everyone as well as sharing pen news and comparing notes on our shopping priorities for the day.

One thing was plain to me before today: I did not need any more fountain pens – or ink or notebooks for that matter. I brought along a few of my lesser used pens to re-home with Jon of Pensharing.com where they can be put to better use than by me in recent years.

I have been largely successful in fighting the constant temptation to acquire more fountain pens this year, aside from a few modestly priced acquisitions such as the Moonman S5 (I have three now) and another Cross Bailey Light in dark green. I am slowly realising that adding more pens will only reduce the use that I can make of my current hoard, plus I tell myself that I am unlikely to find any pens, within my budget, that provide a more suitable writing experience than many of those that I already have.

In my armoury against temptation, I brought along a pen-roll of 8 of my currently inked favourites which included my Aurora 88, Montegrappa Fortuna, Cross Peerless 125, blue Diplomat Excellence A plus and the humble Moonman S5 with its oblique broad nib which works so well for my lefty overwriting.

My other weapon was to remind myself of just how difficult it had been to maintain an earned income over the past year and how much chargeable time I needed to expend to receive the percentage that ends up in my pay packet! With these thoughts in mind I hardly needed to go to step three which was going to be writing an essay entitled “I do not need a new pen because….”

Having said all of that, I was still excited to see the tables and in particular the luxurious editions from Onoto, whose Magna Classic range has been on my grail pen radar for a while. I also had a good browse at the Aurora table, and at John Hall’s table, from Write Here of Shrewsbury and admired his Scribo pens. These included the latest colour called the Mariana: swirly dark blue, green and black tones representing the ocean trench. I am still yet to pull the trigger on a Scribo, which, although obviously desirable and gorgeous, is priced at the outer reaches of my comfort zone. Also, even with the less soft of the two nib options, I fear that the nib may be a bit too delicate and flexy for work and my day to day writing sessions. Maybe one day.

John Hall also had some of the lovely new Sailor Pro-Gears on display in the blue with translucent orange ends called “Sunset over the ocean” and I was tempted to buy a second PG slim with music nib as I so much enjoy my black and gold model.

In between making several laps of the hall, stopping for numerous conversations with friends and friendly dealers and a break for lunch, the outcome was that I still came home with four new and very useful fountain pens, coincidentally equalling the number that I gave away and so remaining “pen neutral” without increasing my fountain pen footprint (if that is a thing). Here they are:-

Jinhao 100

This, a little guilty pleasure, is an homage to the Parker Duofold Centennial, in the classic “big red” body colour and silver coloured nib and fittings. In my defence, I do own two “real” modern Parker Duofolds although of the “International” size, slightly slimmer than the Centennial and so this Jinhao will scratch the itch of having a full size version. It is a cartridge converter pen (unlike the early button fillers of the 1920’s) and aside from lacking the Parker’s current 18k gold nib, otherwise offers a similar shape and size. Jinhao steel nibs have, in my experience, been smooth and enjoyable and I am hoping that ink flow will be consistent in this one. I have not yet inked it up.

A Jinhao 100
An attractive and nicely set-up Jinhao nib.

Narwhal Schuylkill, Marlin Blue (fine).

This is my second Narwhal, also from Derek of Stonecott Fine Writing, the first being the limited edition one year anniversary model in red stripe ebonite with a gold coloured medium nib. In contrast, today’s purchase, has an irresistible, blue swirly body with silver coloured fittings and a fine nib. Their nibs come a little wider than their stated grade (my medium being more like a broad) and so I went for a fine this time.

Narwhal Schuylkill Blue Marlin. A stunningly pretty and fascinating material.

I was thrilled to find that on rotating the pen, the patterns revealed what with a little imagination, could be a leaping bright blue Marlin in the resin! Given that this is large size, piston filling pen at £55.00 you get a lot of pen for your money.

Watch for the blue Marlin, just below the ink window!

Diplomat Excellence A2, chrome plated fountain pen (steel medium) and ball pen set.

The Diplomat Excellence is one of my all time favourite pens. I have a Marrakesh and a rather less common blue and black harlequin edition and now today picked up a handsome shiny chromium plated guilloche patterned model. As my previous Excellences are both fine nibs, this medium will be a useful addition and was on sale from John Twiss with a matching ball pen for a very favourable price.

The underrated Diplomat…this time in chrome guilloche stripe pattern.
Diplomat Excellence A2, chrome plated.
Superbly comfortable, with heft, girth and no step.

Sailor Procolor 500, blue demonstrator, fine.

Finally, also spotted on John Twiss’s table, was this Sailor. Sailor nibs are a grade finer than their western equivalents and hence a Sailor fine is like a western extra fine. I was keen to try one – being firm and precise and toothy- but had always hesitated at buying a gold nibbed Pro Gear just to see if I like such a fine nib. However, this steel nibbed pen, in an attractive blue demonstrator version, seemed a perfect opportunity to experience some Sailor fine nibbage at an entry-level price of £35 (and John kindly reduced this as I bought the Diplomat too).

Sailor Procolor 500, blue demo, fine steel nib.
That deliciously crisp fine Sailor nib.

So, those are my purchases. So far I have only inked the Sailor and am thrilled with it. I first dipped and then filled it with Noodlers bullet proof black ink, which was my only other purchase of the day. I had heard good things about its water proof qualities for highlighting or water-colour painting over.

The Sailor again.

I do not want to ink up all four new pens in one day. That would seem like opening all one’s Christmas presents at once. I have flushed them all with water and had a good look at their nibs with a loupe. All look promising and I have no concerns. I am very happy with my purchases, even though my resolve was not as bullet proof as my Noodlers ink.

An extremely full bottle of inky black goodness from the Pure Pens table.

But today was not just about the purchases but about seeing friends again after a long absence, with a palpable sense of thankfulness at coming through the pandemic (so far!) and the renewal of hope in this step towards normality.

Today’s haul, group photo.

A new era for marriage registrations.

On May the Fourth this year, while many on Instagram were marking Star Wars day in their posts, there was another event which might have slipped under the radar. This was the coming into force of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act, 2019.

I awoke to a 6.30am radio news item from the BBC that for the first time, mothers’ details would also be included in the registration of a marriage, this being just one of the changes introduced by the Act, hailed as the biggest modernisation of marriage registration since 1837.

A Register of Marriages, with a bottle of Registrar’s ink and my two Parker Frontier fountain pens.

I mention this as for the past 10 years, I have been the Authorised Person from our church in Golders Green, London, to register marriages taking place at the church. I was quite proud of this role, although a little apprehensive at the responsibility involved to get it right. The Guidebook for Authorised Persons, issued by the General Register Office at that time, ran to 40 pages. I was particularly worried about the lengthy procedure to be followed in the event of a mistake being made in the registers after signing. Whenever registering a marriage, I drafted all the entries on a separate sheet first, in the same format, looking out for any unusual names and ensuring that addresses would fit in the required boxes.

I learned what I could from a brief conversation with a departing minister. I also attended a couple of annual workshops for Authorised Persons, hosted by our local Register Office which were helpful and lively, and included such topics as sham marriages, entered into to derive some advantage in immigration status for one or other of the parties.

I enjoyed familiarising myself with the conventions of recording details in the marriage registers, such as writing clearly and legibly, avoiding fancy flourishes; using capital letters for surnames and entering the groom’s details above those of the bride. I was excited to use Registrar’s ink, an iron gall blue black ink, from Ecclesiastical Stationery Supplies. I find the way that it darkens from a grey blue, almost to black, endlessly fascinating in a way that other more fountain-pen friendly blue black inks can not match.

I soon learned that Registrar’s ink needs to be used within about 18 months of opening a bottle and exposing it to air. After this, it gradually loses its colour and ends up a weak grey. I found this out by using an old bottle of ink at the church, which was past its best. However, I would never get through a 110ml bottle of ink in this time. I decanted some of the ink into a bottle to use at home and had to buy a new bottle when it had lost its properties.

In the very first marriage that I registered, arriving at the church very early to prepare, I found from the printed orders of service that the bride’s middle name differed from my notes and so was glad to have spotted this. Being early reduces last minute panics.

Registrar’s ink, apart from being permanent, is not kind to fountain pens and it pays to flush the pens promptly after use. I was told of one minister shaking a fountain pen to get it started and splashing Registrar’s ink on a bride’s white dress.

Ours is small church and over the past decade, having very few weddings, I was called into action only a handful of times. Mostly my role was to submit the quarterly returns to the Register Office, declaring that the number of marriages in the past quarter to be “Nil”, or if there had been one or more weddings, copying out all the details again by hand, and certifying these, in Registrar’s ink on the returns form.

Now, the new procedure means that the old Marriage Register books, completed in duplicate, are redundant. I was instructed to cross through all unused entries and to hand in one of the books to the local Register Office along with any unused stock of marriage certificates (drawn up and issued to couples on their wedding day), or any surplus quarterly return forms. The other copy of the Marriage Register remains at the church for record purposes.

Under the new procedure, paper marriage registers are withdrawn: it will no longer be necessary to fill out all the details of the marriage by hand in a Marriage Register. Instead, couples will be issued with a Schedule printed in advance. This will be checked and signed by the couple, the witnesses and the Authorised Person on the day of the wedding (still using Registrar’s ink). It is later returned to the Register Office, for the details to be uploaded on the electronic register.

I am relieved, that this occasional duty has been lifted from me, even though I was so seldom required to perform it. The anxiety of entering all the details quickly and accurately, twice in the Marriage Registers and then once more on a Certificate, whilst the wedding couple and their supporters and photographer waited in excited anticipation, was stressful to a non-professional Authorised Person, in a way that is hard to describe. For Authorised Persons, the changes are:-

  • We are no longer required to register marriages;
  • We no longer issue marriage certificates;
  • We no longer need to complete quarterly returns;
  • We no longer have to undertake corrections in marriage registers (these instead being carried out by registration officers).

One young bride-to-be has already commented to me that the new system seems a bit of a shame and less romantic in a way but a sign of the times. Perhaps it is the end of an era, but the dawn of a new one.

Other colours are available.

It is probably safe to say that blue is my preferred colour when it comes to fountain pens. A quick glance at my pen cups shows blue pens to be the most prevalent. And looking back at my pen buying over the past few decades, I have generally gone for a blue, if there was a choice.

The pens above, from left to right are:

  • (1) Campo Marzio Accropolis;
  • (2) Cross Peerless 125;
  • (3) Cross Bailey Light;
  • (4) Diplomat Excellence A Plus;
  • (5) Parker 51 aerometric;
  • (6) Pelikan M205, blue demonstrator;
  • (7) Pelikan M800;
  • (8) Platinum Curidas, Abyss Blue;
  • (9) Sheaffer Prelude, cobalt blue with rose gold trim;
  • (10)Waterman Expert, (1990’s).

I have had no regrets about choosing blue for any of the above. The Cross Peerless, in quartz blue, is possibly the most handsome pen that I own, along with my Aurora 88 (black and gold) and the Pelikan M800. Nevertheless I remain tempted by the Peerless in titanium grey, imagining how nice this would be with a burgundy or dark red ink.

It is not just fountain pens in blue that I prefer, but inks too. Whilst I have accumulated a stash of ink of many colours, blues are by far the most numerous and of these, I tend to fall back on the same favourites time and time again, including Waterman Serenity Blue, Montblanc Royal Blue, or Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue. When I want a blue black, I usually reach for the Diamine Conway Stewart Tavy.

I have a fair number of other colours too. I sometimes feel like trying a turquoise, but usually seem to go off it before the end of a fill. But flushing a pen does not always have to mean jettisoning the remaining ink, when there is an option to use it in a mix.

Occasionally I experiment with new (to me) colours to broaden my horizons. This year I have been enjoying one pen and ink combination per calendar month for my A5 page a day diary. In April, it was a Moonman S5 filled with Diamine Scribble Purple – which looked, to my eyes, rather less “Deep Purple” and more “Black Sabbath.” I was looking forward to the May changeover However, rather than ditch the remaining Scribble Purple, I simply added some Robert Oster Fire and Ice, plus a little Serenity Blue, and found that I had made myself a very acceptable blue black. I was happier with this than with either the Scribble Purple or the Fire and Ice on their own.

One of the many things that I love about the Moonman S5 is its ability to receive top-ups of ink from half-spent cartridges or converters in pens that I want to clean, or ink samples, into its clear demonstrator eye-dropper barrel. The see-through acrylic lets you keep an eye on the reservoir for any signs of inks clashing.

A rather fetching pencil.

Recently, visiting a delightful stationery shop in Eton, I found a display of the Lamy Crystal range of inks, which I had not tried before and bought a bottle of Lamy Azurite, which looked promising as a vibrant rich blue, although I had not done my homework and had not appreciated that it also has purple leanings. I also bought the classic, Pentel P207 (0.7mm) mechanical pencil, which is a pleasing blue. I think my blue credentials are clear!

Lamy Azurite, Crystal Ink.

I suppose that we all learn more about ourselves as we get older. One conclusion for myself is that I would not mind too much if I had to restrict myself to a royal blue ink, in a blue pen. I just never tire of that.

Gratuitous final image of a back-lit blue stripe M800.

A look at the Pilot V disposable fountain pen and how to refill one.

I realise that there is a risk here in marking myself out as a cheapskate. I make no secret of my fondness for inexpensive pens. This is not from any inverted snobbery: I like expensive pens too, but they sometimes lose points in my eyes from being too expensive. When a fountain pen costs more than, say, a decent bicycle, something seems wrong.

I happened to be out on my bicycle at the weekend and visited a stationery shop in St John’s Wood in North West London. I went to buy some supplies of file paper. I was tempted by a colourful display of Pilot pens – gel pens, fineliners and the Pilot V pen, a single use fountain pen. I stocked up on a selection of stuff, including a red ink V Pen, which I fancied as being a useful tool to use at work for amending drafts. I tried it out on a test pad and was impressed at the colour and how smoothly it wrote.

Pilot V Pen, a disposable or single-use fountain pen.

I have had a few of these V Pens in the past. Well, I say past, but I still have them in blue, black and purple. They seem to go on almost forever and do not mind being ignored for months or years on end. The ink seems to be specially formulated to resist drying out in the pen. The downside of this is that the ink seems prone to bleedthrough. On a recent test of thirty different inked pens on an A4 notebook, I found that the Pilot V pen was the only one to bleed through the paper.

Available in a wide range of colours.

When I looked recently at my old V pens, which had languished in a pen cup for longer than I can remember, the black and the purple ones still wrote at once, but the blue one seemed to have finally run dry. I also noticed that the blue ink model was of an older design than the others, with a narrow slit for the ink window along the barrel on two sides and with a rather basic butterfly nib. This is a nib where there is no tipping material but the tines are crimped, and folded downwards at the end and polished to form a writing tip. I have encountered this design before on a Bic Easy-Click fountain pen.

I then remembered a friend mentioning that it was possible to refill and reuse these Pilot V pens. I did not know how and had never looked into this. I did a quick search on Google and found a very useful blog post How to Refill a Pilot Varsity Disposable Fountain Pen on Fountain Pen Love, by John Bosley in a post from September 20, 2017. I read this with interest. I was keen to have a go at refilling my blue V Pen and felt that I had little to lose.

The technique simply requires that you pull out the nib and feed, which are friction fit. You can then flush out the pen and refill the barrel with some ink of your choice and refit the nib and fit with a firm push, until it clicks into place.

I got some grippy material. I pulled and pulled at the nib and feed but they would not budge. Instead, the nib came away, leaving the feed in place.

Determined to get it out, I resorted to using hand tools, (a big no-no in fountain pen work) and used the pliers of my Leatherman. This was rather reckless as you have a good chance of crushing the feed and breaking it, or at least cracking it. Squeeze too hard on those pliers and it will break like a walnut.

I tried gripping it firmly with the pliers but not so hard as to crush the feed. I pulled. After the pliers had slipped off a few times, eventually I was successful and the feed came away with a pop, like a Champagne cork. That the feed came out and was not broken, was very pleasing.

An older style Pilot V pen disassembled for refilling, with butterfly nib and narrow slit ink windows.

I washed the nib, feed and barrel then had a closer look at the nib and feed under the loupe. There were some marks from my pliers, but nothing terrible. I noticed that the feed has a wick running along the channel, to keep the nib moist.

Nib and feed disassembled

It just remained to choose some ink and refill the barrel, with a pipette. I decided on Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue. I was careful not to put too much in. You need to leave space for the feed, which can be seen through the clear plastic grip section.

The pen now writes again! The Cobalt blue looks good. It should not bleed through paper like the original ink, but then again the pen will probably not be so resilient as before in coping with long periods of neglect.

A sample of Cobalt Blue from my newly re-filled Pilot V Pen, on a Moleskin notebook.

The butterfly nib is not the best writing experience, but it is reasonably smooth. The newer version with the rounded tipping material is a big improvement.

In conclusion, I doubt that I would want to get out the pliers every time to refill this pen and risk shattering the feed. Perhaps it might come out a bit easier next time. But even refilling the pen just once means it has doubled its working life, roughly halving the pen’s “cost” and helps to reduce plastic waste. It is nice to know it can be done.

That red though!

Update 27 March 2021: I would just like to add, that in using the pliers I did also have the grippy material wrapped around the feed to protect it from the sharp metal jaws of the pliers.

The Moonman S5 – another update.

I have already raved about this pen in two posts, in November 2020. However, for an inexpensive pen it has been giving me a disproportionate amount of enjoyment. I really like it.

Readers may remember, that this is an eye-dropper pen, in a clear acrylic demonstrator body, except for the rather mis-matched grip section in a multicoloured but predominantly green, crazy-paving patterned plastic. It came with three nib units, of which the largest was an unmarked Oblique Broad. That nib proved to be such a smooth writer, with almost magical powers to bring out the best in my lefty overwriter handwriting, that I have used that nib exclusively. It is wonderful for writing letters. I posted the cap at first but have got used to it unposted now. Also, I have kept to Waterman Serenity Blue ink.

Often at work I need to sign forms which then get scanned and up-loaded. Seeing the scanned blue ink on my computer screen always lifts my spirits, in the course of a busy working day: I enjoy the effortless, automatic line width variation which comes from the stubby OB nib.

If the search for fountain pens is a journey, then it is not surprising that once in a while you may reach a destination where you want to stop and linger. For me at the moment, that’s the Moonman S5.

I would not say it is a perfect pen: I worry that the cap feels quite brittle like it could crack (although there is no hint of any weakness at all after 4 months’ use). Also, when picking up the pen for a quick signature, in the course of the busy working day as aforesaid, it does break your stride to uncap the pen which requires six separate twists. But I do still prefer screw caps to snap caps and also the Moonman does not ever suffer from hard starts or ink evaporation.

I was so taken with the pen that I decided to order a second one, so that I could keep one at my work and one at home. Again I was interested chiefly in that lovely OB nib.

My two Moonman S5 fountain pens. Checking ink levels on a Saturday morning.

My second Moonman duly arrived. I eagerly examined the nib which was fitted (extra fine) and two extra nib units, expecting a medium and an OB again. However, it so happened that in the box this time, there were two medium nibs. No oblique broad.

I could have sent it back I suppose, but I tried the two medium nibs out – and I really liked them. I kept one of them in the pen and the other one in the tin, for a spare. Once again, I have filled the pen with Waterman Serenity Blue.

I have been using my second S5 all this month for my daily journal. (I am changing pen and ink combinations monthly and so far this year have had the Cross Peerless and then my Aurora 88). So, the second S5 (medium nib) now lives at home whilst the first one (oblique broad) lives in my pen cup at work, coming home for weekends. Both have Waterman Serenity Blue. The OB nib is best for overwriting and the medium nib best for underwriting, for me.

I am pondering whether to ink one of them with Rohrer and Klingner Salix, blue black iron gall ink. As it is, the S5 impresses me for its design, its comfort, its writing performance, its fun filling system and huge capacity, and its modest price. If I added Salix into the list, you could add to these benefits, a permanent ink, which darkens as it dries, is rarely subject to bleed-through and which can be written over with a highlighter pen without smudging. That would make an impressive feature list for one cheap pen!

I might try this when I next fill one of them. I have used Salix successfully with the Cross Bailey Light and have not had any blockages or corrosion but there does seem to be some blue staining to the silver coloured steel nib and to the inside of the converter. The S5 nibs are gold coloured and it may be that their plating might be better at coping with the Salix.

Who will be the first to get Salix on the next fill?

It will be a while before either of the pens needs filling again, such is the huge ink capacity. If I try one with Salix, I shall only fill it partially to start with while I monitor for side effects. If it turns to disaster, I do have some spare nib units – but I do not expect there to be any issues. It is recommended that pens with iron gall ink be flushed out every few weeks and so it would be best not to fill the S5 to its gills but just put in enough ink for a two to three week trial. Watch this space!

Inky Pursuits: some notebook tales.

I have always enjoyed getting a new notebook. I start on the back page with a range of pens to test the paper, primarily for bleed through. I also like to paginate my notebooks, if they are not paginated already.

Lately I have also taken to paginating new pads of A4 paper. I use this all day for work notes and sometimes find when gathering up a pile of loose sheets, it helps me assemble them back in order. It is also handy for seeing how many pages you have used and therefore, how many remain – a bit like an ink window on a pen.

My notebooks fall into two broad categories: those that are expendable, filled up with pen and ink sampling, handwriting practice and writing for its own sake, and those that I want to keep, filled with more purposeful writing such as collected memories or other writing projects.

Finding your palette.

The logical consequence of testing a new notebook for which inks it likes, is to arrive at a list of those which can be used without bleed through or excessive show through or feathering and those which cannot. This is useful, particularly if you buy the same type of notebook regularly or if you have bought a few spares to keep “in stock”.

Taking this a step further, I thought it may be useful to arrive, for a given notebook, at a core palette of say four colours – a blue, red, green and brown, which not only behave well individually on the paper but also look good together, and compliment each other, as if part of the same range. For example, for a Radley A5 notebook that I bought last February, I made at the back, a list of inks that could be used and a list of those which could not. For my core four, I have almost got this down to (1) Rohrer & Klingner Salix; (2) Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red; (3) Graf von Faber-Castell Moss Green: and (4) Pelikan Edelstein Smoky Quartz.

This is not quite as simple as it sounds. I found that I had entered Smoky Quartz in both the “can use” and “cannot use” columns. This might suggest that the paper is not consistent throughout the notebook but more likely, is because the paper’s ability to resist bleed through with a given ink, depends also upon how wet the pen writes.

I had hoped to be able to use Conway Stewart Tavy, my go-to blue black in the Radley notebooks but this ink bleeds through on some papers – Radley included. Honing my palette is a work in progress and constantly evolving. But since I picked up three spares of the Radley red notebook whilst they were in a sale, it is worth pursuing – before I fill them all!

The notebook stash.

Buying more notebooks than you immediately need, might sound a bit crazy. I seem to have accumulated a whole drawer full of mainly A5 size journals. When you find one you like, it is best not to buy too many spares in case you later find one you prefer.

However, with the UK now in lockdown again, with non-essential shops closed, I am now unable to roam through Rymans or Paperchase for supplies. Suddenly my drawers of journals and inks are not so crazy after all. Although I still have far too many to sit out any conceivable period of lockdown, to be fair.

The telephone table diary.

One thing that I had not bought before lockdown, was a 2021 diary to keep next to the home telephone. For the past few years, I have used a Letts Royal tablet diary from Rymans, with a week to a page, spiral bound A5 size and with the spiral at the top. Instead, for this year, I made my own from one of the spiral side-bound notebooks in my stash. I ruled pencil lines at three row intervals and then spent a merry few hours writing Monday to Sunday on each page and inserting the dates. I broke this up over two evenings as the process was a bit monotonous to be honest but it was satisfying to reach Week 52 eventually and put away my Cross Bailey Light, with its black ink cartridge. The Letts diary cost £8.49. My notebook was £2.00. A saving of £6.49 if you do not factor in my time.

Voilà! The new home-made diary. Somewhat crude but it works.

The daily diary.

Writing my page-a-day diary is a routine which I honestly could not be without, such is the satisfaction of recalling the previous day and condensing it into note form. For working days, I now find that balloon diagrams work best. It is very easy to stress oneself with “to do” lists for work but healthy to pause sometimes and reflect on what daily progress was achieved… a sort of “done” list.

There was a time when I would settle upon a fountain pen and use it for my diary for the entire year. My current plan is to change over at the start of each new month. For January I used my lovely new Cross Peerless 125, with Tavy ink. For February I am using my Aurora 88, with Aurora blue. I am very fortunate to have gathered a collection of fountain pens, of which so many are wonderfully enjoyable.

The Great Bottled Ink Count.

Well, that wasn’t too terrible. Being confronted with my own greed and folly was never going to be comfortable. But it was not as bad as I feared.

During the week I took part in Anthony’s online survey of the pen community, on UK Fountain pens. One of the multiple choice questions was how many bottles of ink you have. I honestly did not know and had not counted but suspected it might be nudging past the hundred mark. I resolved to find out.

I used to own only a few bottles of ink, Parker Quink generally. Getting through a whole bottle of ink takes time, particularly if you often use cartridges instead. Assuming, very roughly, that a 50ml bottle might give you fifty fills and that each fill would last you for, say 20 pages of A4 writing, that is 1,000 pages. Fortunately most bottled ink keeps well. The exception, ironically, is iron gall ink which needs to be used up within around 18 months of opening the bottle, or else it loses its colour and darkening properties.

I have a couple of old bottles of Monbtblanc ink, still in their boxes with a price sticker saying £4.95. Now they cost about £18.00 I think.

It was perhaps around 2014 that things escalated with my fountain pen hobby getting hooked on pen reviews on the internet. That was the first year in which I attended the London Pen Show, coming away with a TSWBI Vac 700 and a bottle of Omas blue ink. Should I have stopped there? In November 2016 this blog was launched to share the journey.

Since then I have been adding steadily to the fountain pen stash and accumulating a fair amount of ink along the way. I was curious to see quite how bad it had become.

A couple of years back I bought a plastic storage unit, with four nice deep drawers for my stationery stash. The top drawer has some accessories, like pen wraps and pouches, micromesh kit, some dip pens and a few boxed pens. The second drawer is my stock of unused journals, mostly A5 size but with a few smaller ones. And then the third and fourth drawer down are for ink. That is not to say that all of my ink is in these drawers: some frequently used bottles are on my desk (AKA the dining table) and others on the book shelves behind me.

The bottom drawer

It was not difficult to do a stock take. They are all in one room, (except for an emergency bottle of Cross black which lives in my desk drawer at work).

I created a spreadsheet, with columns for the Brand, the Colour or name, and finally, a simple name for the group which that colour falls into (for example Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue, Waterman Serenity Blue and KWZ Azure number 4 all come under “Blue”).

It was interesting (to me at least) to see them sorted by brands too and which were the most represented brands in my stash. It turns out to be Montblanc with nine bottles, closely followed by Waterman with eight and then Pelikan Edelstein with five (mostly gleaned from the annual Pelikan Hub events).

These should cover most eventualities for a normal person.

My final tally came to 65 bottles. As I was expecting it to be around one hundred I was pleasantly surprised. So I have enough ink for 65 years and not 100! Phew!

By colour group, it came as no surprise to me that I had 16 bottles of blue ink plus another 11 of blue black, almost enough to form a Democrat government. Next were 8 browns, 7 blacks and 7 greens, 6 reds, 3 pinks (What?!) 2 Burgundies, 2 green-blacks, and finally 1 each of Magenta, Purple and Orange.

What lessons can I learn from this?

  • I need no more ink for a while;
  • It is good to know what you have;
  • I have been buying ink faster than I have been using it.

I have not included a stash of ink cartridges in this count. Nor have I included a half dozen or so ink samples which are not in original bottles.

It is satisfying to finish a bottle ink. Last week I came to the end of a very enjoyable bottle of Pilot Iroshizuku Shin-kai blue black which I had been given by a friend. Once it got down to the last 5ml or so, I decanted it to my Pineider Travelling Inkwell, so that I could go on filling my Diplomat Excellence easily, without wasting a drop.

For anyone in a similar boat who has put off counting, I recommend it. It might not be as bad as you think.

Currently inked, 16 August 2020.

This morning I made a list of the currently inked pens that I have at home, knowing that the result would be embarrassingly uniform. I arranged them in order of colour, making it even more apparent that of the 20 pens shown, 15 are inked with either blue or blue black.

The currently inked as at 16 August 2020

For some months now, I have been juggling 20 inked pens on the go. This does not include a further two (both Cross Bailey Lights) which I keep at my office, since returning to work after lockdown, in July.

Twenty pens is a lot to use at any one time. I have tried to keep the number from growing any higher and have imposed a “one out one in” rule. But even so, assuming that the average cartridge or converter might manage around 20 pages of writing, (more if a piston filler), that is 400 pages of writing, sitting on the table. Pens are not running dry fast enough to keep the cups from becoming stale.

On one hand, I do enjoy having a lot of pens available simultaneously and I enjoy the variety that they offer. But on the other hand, part of me craves a simpler existence of running just one fountain pen (flashback to me aged 12…) and just filling it up, with the same ink usually, whenever it needed ink. It is possible to re-create this simplicity, temporarily, by getting away from the desk and going to write in a coffee shop taking just a single pen and notebook. Of course you cannot then enjoy the option of selecting any one or more of 20 pens from the pen cups as the fancy takes you, but you cannot have your cake and eat it.

But the bigger problem I see from my list is that 75% of the pens are inked with blue or blue black. No greens. No bright reds. No turquoise, or orange. This highlights the fact that the pens and their inks have each been selected individually without regard to the bigger picture of the pallette that is being created. Who of us, given an empty paint box, would set out to equip himself with 75% of the space given to blue and blue black?

When a pen runs dry, unless it is one of those to keep in circulation, I enjoy picking another pen to replace it. I generally pick the pen first and then decide which ink to use. Very rarely do I start with the ink and then decide which pen to put it in, except perhaps with iron gall ink.

There is always the option, to remove a bunch of pens and give them an early bath, to keep the pen cups fresh and varied but at the expense of jettisoning some good ink.

It is, after all just a hobby. The pen cups do not stand up to a lot of scrutiny. Why for example am I using a Waterman Allure when I have two empty Carenes at my disposal? Why not use only my best pens, all the time?

Perhaps by mixing in some entry level pens we appreciate the difference more when picking up the Montblanc.

There are no right and wrong answers. I am sure each one of us has his own principles and systems for managing the currently inked. But one simple lesson to take away, (for me at least) is not to loose sight of the bigger picture when filling the pen cups, to ensure you have more than just blue and blue black at hand.

My new approach to notebooks.

I have always enjoyed buying a new notebook. Like many fountain pen enthusiasts, I have a several notebooks on the go as well as a stash of new ones of various types waiting to be used.

My used notebooks could be divided into two broad categories: those which I have used for a specific purpose and would want to keep, or those which I have just filled for the joy of writing, consisting mostly of pen and ink samples or note taking.

When I buy a new notebook, I often paginate it first, except of course for those when this task has been done for you, such as the Leuchtturm A5 or Taroko Design Breeze. Next I try out my currently inked pens on the last page. This has two purposes. First, it is a useful exercise to see which inks are suited to the paper and write without bleedthrough, feathering or excessive amounts of show through. I can also see how different nibs feel on the paper. It is about establishing the right tools for the job.

Secondly, it breaks the ice of starting a new book, without having to dive straight into the blank first page and risk spoiling it.

However, I have found that on some occasions I have started a notebook at the back and continued happily, with random pen and ink samples all the way to the front of the book!

It occurred to me that my stash of old notebooks from the last few years, even if they contain little writing of any significance, are at least an accumulation of pen and ink tests which I have not followed through in any methodical, let alone scientific manner.

Many hundreds of hours have been whiled away, in picking up a pen from my pen cups and writing a few lines or paragraphs, purely for relaxation and the momentary enjoyment of feeling the nib glide along the paper.

Paper types in notebooks are very variable. If you use only the best, such as Tomoe River, there may be no need to test for bleedthrough as this will not be an issue, nor will there be a feeling of draggy resistance from an overly coated surface. For other types of untried notebooks, it is useful to find out which inks can be used and which are best avoided – unless you are happy to write on one side only.

Although I do try out pens and inks and try to keep a mental note of the outcomes, I have not recorded the findings in a consistent way. Perhaps there are just too many variables of pens, nibs and inks and papers that I have accumulated.

However today I decided to try a slightly new format for recording my little experiments. Starting with a Radley A5 notebook, I set up a double page spread, with one side with columns for the ink and the pen: the facing page to show the degree of showthrough and bleedthrough (if any) – written from the other side of that page – and a column for comments, such as my subjective impressions of the sensation of the nib on the paper, the feedback and so on and whether the combination is successful. There is one constant in the test, namely the paper of that particular notebook.

A selection of my currently inked, now paired with findings on the facing page. The column for bleedthrough is written from the other side.

I do not want to turn a relaxing enjoyable hobby into an onerous project of recording a vast combination of variables and test results. But on the other hand it seems useful to me to record the simplest of conclusions, to avoid having to repeat the same tests and reinvent the wheel. Once we settle on a favourite type of notebook and stick to it, we can also pick a palette of coloured inks to use in it.

The third page of the pen and ink test – the column to demonstrate bleedthrough.

In conclusion, some preliminary lessons for the Radley notebook are to avoid Waterman Tender Purple, Pure Pens Cadwaladr Red and Pelikan Edelstein Star Ruby due to bleedthrough. Good choices are Waterman Serenity Blue, Pilot Blue Black and Montblanc Velvet Red. In the case of the Radley, I have three more bought in a sale and so it is well worth knowing which inks it prefers.