2019: some of my fountain pen highlights.

As another year draws to a close, it is an opportunity to take stock on where the fountain pen hobby has taken me and what has been achieved over the year. Once again, the hobby has provided me with a real, absorbing source of relaxation. I spend a lot of my free time in journaling, letter writing, trying out pens, ink and paper combinations, and other pen-related activities.

Acquisitions.

Again, I have kept a record of pens added to my accumulation. This year there were 44 new arrivals. Of these, seven were received as gifts (including a Sailor Pro Gear Slim that I won in a competition!) which leaves a balance of 37 pens that I bought for myself over the year at a total cost of £2,013.91. However a lot of these were inexpensive pens, such as Faber Castell Grips, Kaweco Perkeos and Cross Bailey Lights, that I was unable to resist for various reasons.

If I just extract those pens for which I spent more than £100.00, there are in fact only six significant buys:

  • Montblanc Meisterstuck 145, Classique, 14k gold nib Medium: £414.00;
  • Leonardo Furore, steel nib, Fine: £155.00
  • Diplomat Excellence Marrakech, 14k gold nib, Fine: £150.00;
  • Waterman Carene, in red, 18k gold nib, Medium, £151.20;
  • Visconti Van Gogh, Starry Night, steel nib, Fine: £120.00;
  • Aurora 88, black resin with gold plated cap, 14k gold nib, Medium:£344.50.

I have not included the Montegrappa Monte Grappa, that I bought in Harrods but then returned.

Thus, two thirds of my annual spend was on just six significant pens, which is not a huge number for the whole year. Also, my total pen expenditure was down on 2018’s total of £3,303.73, which is a reduction of around 39%.

Part of the reason for this is that I was fortunate to be given several very desirable previously owned pens as gifts from a friend and fellow fountain pen enthusiast during the year, including a Pilot Custom 823, a Montblanc Heritage 1912, a 1970’s Montblanc Meisterstuck 146 (with a soft broad nib) and a Graf von Faber-Castell Guilloche in black with a broad 18k gold nib.

Then in November, I was thrilled to win the Sailor Pro Gear Slim, with a music nib in a generous giveaway/competition from John Hall of Write Here in Shrewsbury. This is a delightful pen, one that I had not owned before and which I am much enjoying, not only for its performance but also for the happy associations that it has for me.

Other highlights.

Apart from the enjoyment of new pens, the year has been punctuated with monthly gatherings of the London fountain pen club, although the group became fragmented with a move to a different location and so numbers have been down and it is not what it used to be. Still, it has still been nice to meet up, to enthuse over each other’s pens and have a chat for a couple of hours once a month.

In March, I attended the London Pen Show and came away with a very restrained total of two pens – the Diplomat Excellence with a gold nib and the Leonardo Furore, in vibrant orange and bearing serial number 001 for this colour.

I enjoyed taking a few pens on holidays for journaling during the year – to Dubai, Italy and Menorca. I have established a new tradition of bringing my Montblanc Classique as a travel pen for any overseas trips. Keeping an eye open for pen shops whilst abroad, is another of my habits.

In September the Pelikan Hub came round once again and was a rather expanded version of our pen club meets, but with a few extra visitors from further afield. We all got to take home a bottle of Pelikan Edelstein Star Ruby, a Pelikan magazine a writing pad and reignited our appreciation of all things Pelikan. Reading the write ups aftewards on social media, of Hubs all over the world was fun.

I have enjoyed putting out the occasional post to this blog, for another year. These are not planned very far in advance and depend upon (a) having something to say and (b) the time and energy to write it! This has not come together as much as I would have liked.

When the energy is not there, it is easier to relax and read other blogs and be inspired and entertained by posts on WordPress, Instagram and YouTube. It is all too easy to allow hours to pass in this way, which makes it all the more valuable to have some real human contact with the monthly pen meets.

I do appreciate the time and effort that others put in to creating new content for their blogs. I was sorry to see in November that Anthony had decided to call time on his blog, UK Fountain Pens after three prolific years but fully understood his reasons for doing so.

As for inks, I have not been very adventurous this year and have bought very little. My most used bottled inks are probably Conway Stewart Tavy, (a blue black now made by Diamine), Waterman Serenity Blue and Montblanc Royal Blue. At the pen show I bought a bottle of Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red, which I have settled on for use exclusively with my Montblanc Classique.

I also discovered Montblanc Permanent Blue. I have been using this with a Platinum Procyon, as it has a good slip-and-seal inner cap that resists drying out. I have also put it in one of my Cross Bailey Lights.

I am impressed with the Permanent Blue. At Christmas my neice gave me an A5 soft cover journal, from “Agenzio by Paperchase.” As is my custom, I first tried out a range of different inks (from my currently inked pen cups) on the back page, to see which were best suited. The paper is pleasant to write on but is prone to bleedthrough with many of my inks. However I found that with Montblanc Permanent Blue, there was no bleedthrough and also hardly any show through, or ghosting. Likewise with Sailor Kiwa-guro permanent black and so these will be my choices for this note book.

Pen favourites of 2019.

I really have spoilt myself with pens this year and have had some great additions. I also count myself as very fortunate, among the pen community, to be capable of getting just as excited with an inexpensive pen if it is comfortable, well made and good looking and writes well, as an expensive one. But that is not to say that I do not appreciate great pens as having special value. A few of the stand-out pens for me in 2019 were the following:-

Montblanc Heritage 1912: this is the special edition, retractable nib, piston filling pen that came out a few years ago but is no longer made. It has a unique Montblanc nib that is softer than those on the current Meisterstuck range and is a pen to cherish and enjoy.

Montblanc Heritage 1912

The Aurora 88: this was bought online from Iguanasell of Spain, when a particularly attractive price was available back in the summer. It is a piston filling pen, in black resin with gold plated cap and has a real presence. The 14k gold nib is supposedly a Medium but writes more like a Fine in my view and is very comfortable and enjoyable, paired currently with Tavy.

Aurora 88 in black resin with gold plated cap.

The Sailor Pro Gear Slim, with 14k music nib: The music nib provides a very pleasing italic line for general writing, when held at a consistent angle and when you keep it at the sweet spot. I think the “Slim” name is rather a misnomer and could be off-putting for some. The girth is not particularly slim, although it is smaller than the classic or the King of Pen, which are progressively larger. However it is a short pen at around 124mm capped, almost pocket-pen size, yet makes a very comfortable length when the cap is posted. This pen has won a special place in my heart.

Sailor Pro Gear Slim with a 14k gold music nib. Next to a Kaweco Sport, for scale.

The year’s best cheap pens.

I have enjoyed discovering plenty of very affordable and well-performing pens over the year. There is the Faber-Castell Grip, now sold in Paperchase at £15.00 with a smooth steel nib. In Dubai I came across a Pilot cartridge or eye-dropper pen called the AMS 86 G3 ASTD, sold on a blister pack for about £6.00 which was fun, although I made a mistake to start with in trying to force in the cartridge the wrong way round.

Towards the end of the year I was introduced to the new Cross Bailey Light, by Patrick, of John Lewis’ pen department. Over the following few weeks I went on to buy six of these, one in each of the available colours and now have them each inked in different inks. Patrick joked that he would have to send me on to the furniture department, to have somewhere to put all these pens.

Cross Bailey Light. In all their colours.

Perhaps the greatest value though, has to be the Wing Sung 699, a vac filler and homage to the Pilot Custom 823 but with a steel nib and costing around £16 to £20 on ebay. I learned of these from Daniel at our pen club and now have two of them, one with a fine nib and one with a medium.

Conclusions.

Sitting down to write with a fountain pen, is one of life’s pleasures. Finding combinations of pen, ink and paper that go togther well, is part of the enjoyment. The act of “thinking with a pen”, remembering, reflecting and organising your thoughts on pen and paper is immensely satisfying.

I now find myself owning a large selection of excellent pens in a wide variety of brands and at all price levels up to around £400.00. I do not have a strong desire to go above that ceiling, although if I did, the ones that tempt me are the Scribo 3 , Pelikan M1000 or the Montblanc 149. At a lower level, I could easily be tempted to try other pens and nibs from Sailor, perhaps a Pro Gear Classic or a 1911 Large. If I can stop myself from buying quite so many pens next year, I could aim for a select few special pens and still come under my total spend figure for this year.

For all this talk of pens, the hobby would be rather shallow but for the people who make up the fountain pen community of enthusiasts, users, collectors, reviewers, bloggers and Instagrammers and YouTubers, plus the manufacturers, dealers, the friendly sales staff I have dealt with in shops over the year and those who run all the enticing sites such as Cult Pens, The Writing Desk, Iguanasell and the like. A big thank you to them too and for all who read and support this blog. I wish you a Happy New Year!

Early thoughts on the Wing Sung 699 fountain pen.

I have a friend at our London UK Fountain Pen Club, Daniel, to thank for introducing me to this exciting pen. At our November meet up, he brought his along. I was so impressed with it, that I promptly ordered one. I found a UK seller on ebay and it arrived within about four days.
This is a large, vacuum filling fountain pen, from Chinese brand Wing Sung, presumably based upon the renowned Japanese Pilot Custom 823, but with a steel nib and at a fraction of the price. Wing Sung 699 fountain pen.

Appearance and construction.

I ordered the amber demonstrator version, with gold coloured fittings. There is a finial (which unscrews if you wish to disassemble the cap for cleaning) and a pocket clip, which is firm and springy and has the Wing Sung logo. The cap ring bears the inscription WING SUNG 699 MADE IN CHINA.

Cap disassembled. (Unscrew finial, remove pocket clip, use clip to push out the inner cap).
The cap unscrews, in one full rotation. The section, on mine is of the matching amber demonstrator, clear plastic but there is an option to purchase an opaque section if preferred. The nib, which appears to be a size 6, is steel and bicoloured. I believe it is friction fit but I have not tried to remove it for fear of causing damage.  Mine is a Fine nib, (0.5mm) which is what most of the sellers were selling on ebay. This bears the Wing Sung logo and the name “WING S” followed by F for fine.Bicolour steel nib in a Fine.
The section is separated from the barrel by a gold ring. Be careful not to lose this when the section is unscrewed for cleaning. At the other end of the barrel, is the turning knob which unscrews to operate the filling plunger. There is another gold ring at this point.

Dimensions.

The pen when capped measures 150mm making it one of the tallest in my pen cup. Uncapped, it is around 133mm which is a good, generous length to use unposted, in comfort. The cap can be posted but not very securely and also it makes the pen very long, at around 170mm.Wing Sung 699 (right), alongside a Pilot Custom 823.

Filling the pen.

This is the fun part. You unscrew the end button and draw back the plunger which is at the end of a metal rod. Immerse the nib in ink. Then, whilst supporting the pen to protect the nib, push down on the plunger. You feel the resistance, as the air is pushed out of the barrel and a vacuum builds behind the plunger. Then, as the plunger reaches the end of its travel, the ink chamber widens, the vacuum is broken and ink whooshes in. It is fast and thrilling. One attempt is usually enough to get a good quantity of ink, provided that the nib was sufficiently immersed. You then screw the plunger knob back down again, wipe off any ink residue on the nib and you are ready to go. Being a demonstrator, you get to see the pen filling, although the amber finish also means that the ink sloshing around in the barrel is not distracting in use.
The pen holds a large quantity of ink, even allowing for the fact that it might come only half way up the barrel on one attempt. For anyone brave enough who wants a bigger fill and thrill, you can go back for seconds. To do this, hold the pen, nib uppermost, and, very carefully  pull back your plunger again and then slowly push it inwards, (and I emphasize, VERY CAREFULLY) to expel some air from the barrel, and push the plunger and the ink, upwards until it reaches close to the top of the ink chamber. Then, while still holding the plunger in the same position, invert the pen, immerse the nib in the ink bottle again and push the plunger down the rest of the way. This should result in a near complete fill of the barrel capacity and keep you writing for probably 100 pages or so!
The plunger, when screwed down, seals off the ink reservoir from the nib and feed. Therefore, if writing more than a page or two you may need to unscrew the end button just enough to raise the plunger a little and allow ink to replenish the feed. You may leave it unscrewed if writing a lot or else allow it to recharge the feed and then screw it back down again if preferred. This handy feature helps avoid leaks when travelling.

The nib and writing performance.

As mentioned, I chose the fine nib. This proved to be nicely set up, right out of the box and needed no adjustment. The tines were nicely even and there was a narrow nib slit visible under the loupe, to indicate the prospect of good ink flow and effortless writing which I appreciate, especially as a lefty overwriter. The nib has a slight bit of bounce, sufficient to allow some shading when a little downward pressure is applied but being a fine, steel nib, there is not a lot of noticeable line width variation. The nib is not overly wet. Indeed it may feel dry but bear in mind that this is a fine nib. When viewed under an illuminated loupe whilst writing, you see that it is wet enough and that the fresh ink emerges, wet and gleaming. It has a distinctive toothy feedback which I very much enjoy and which helps enable the pen to cope with very smooth writing paper.Nib and feed.

Conclusions.

I am very excited with this pen. I do now have an original Pilot Custom 823, which had been on my wish list for a long time but hard to come by in the UK. Earlier this year I received one as a gift from a very generous pen friend in Melbourne, in black with a beautifully buttery smooth 14k gold nib, in Pilot’s size 15. That is a fantastic pen and a wonderful thing to have.
The Wing Sung 699 gives you the same advantages, in size, comfort and filling mechanism. In some respects the Wing Sung even scores more highly as:

  • the nib is toothy, whereas some people find the Pilot nibs too smooth;
  • the section can be unscrewed easily making cleaning easy
  • the Wing Sung costs only around 16.00 pounds (as opposed to over 200.00 pounds for the Pilot).
Wing Sung 699 (right) alongside a Pilot Custom 823, uncapped.

At our December get together of the pen club, I brought my new Wing Sung along. History repeated itself and a friend John had the same reaction to it that I had and promptly ordered one for himself. Meanwhile I have ordered another, in blue this time and with a medium (0.7mm)nib. It is coming from China this time and I will look forward to receiving it in a few more weeks.A lovely specimen and unbelievably great value.

The slops bucket experiment.

I have been tinkering with blending my own inks lately with quite pleasing results.

Its funny how one thing leads to another. Things started when I was impressed by a lovely writing sample on Instagram from a TWSBI Diamond 580 with a 1.1 stub nib and a grey ink. I got out my own TWSBI with a 1.1 stub and inked it with the closest equivalent ink that I had, being Montblanc Oyster Grey. However, aside from not having such accomplished handwriting, the ink didn’t appeal to me and almost instantly I wanted to flush it out.

I happened to have a Pineider Travelling Inkwell to hand, in which I had put the last one or two mililitres from a bottle of Conway Stewart Tavy. It occurred to me to flush the Oyster Grey into this and mix them together.

I posted a review of the Pineider Travelling Inkwell in December 2018 and commented that one of the advantages is that you can combine inks in it without contaminating a whole bottle. Also if you flush your pen into this, you may create something useful and also avoid wasting ink. It is a win win situation. You can happily clean out a pen, put it away and not feel guilty about wasting half a converter of good ink.

So, I flushed the Oyster Grey into the inkwell with the existing Tavy and shook up the contents. I then refilled the TWSBI from this new brew and found that I had a pleasant blue black. 

Two ink blend. Tavy and Oyster Grey.

Recently I have been enjoying the new Cross Bailey Light fountain pen. I was so pleased with my first one of these, in grey, that I went back to buy another and picked up the turquoise version. I had envisaged it filled with a matching turquoise or teal ink.

Cross Bailey Light, teal edition.

I filled the pen with Robert Oster Signature Aqua. However there was something about the combination of this ink and the colour of the pen that made me a bit queasy. Perhaps it was too matchy matchy, or maybe the clash of not-quite-matching colours was jarring.

So, I decided to flush the Aqua into the inkwell of Tavy and Oyster Grey, shook it around and then immediately refilled the Cross pen. This produced a much darker teal ink, easier on the eye than the neat Aqua. I temporarily named this TavOyAq.

Three ink blend. Tavy, Oyster Grey and Aqua.

This fill was rather shortlived though, as a few days later, I decided to flush out a few more pens. One was a Wing Sung 601 clear demonstrator, which had been inked for months with Graf von Faber-Castell Garnet Red, but little used and still contained a good quantity of ink. I also had a couple of pens in the pen cup with the residue of a standard international cartridge, one of blue ink and one of black.

The temptation to live dangerously got the better of me and I flushed the Garnet Red, the anonymous blue and black, all into my travelling inkwell.

Miraculously, this gave rise to a very dark blue black which I liked very much. The black ink had been minimal, otherwise this would have overpowered everything else. The bright aqua was well subdued. There was no trace of the red. But I had half expected to get a dark brown and was delighted to find that I had a blue black instead. It was so dark as to be almost like an iron gall, registrar’s ink. I do not have a name for this six ink blend. The best I can suggest is dark inky blue-black.

My six ink concoction, (Tavy, Oyster Grey, Aqua, Garnet red plus some blue and black cartridge ink).

I immediately filled my Cross pen back up again with the new brew. I have been using this mix happily for a week at work now and still have about 3 ml left, probably enough for another 4 – 5 fills for a Cross converter. It flows and shades well and seems well behaved.

It is a bit of a gamble, I know. You need to decide when to stop. You could go too far and blow it all, in an ugly mess. There is a risk that the inks will be incompatible and congeal into something horrible. The smarter thing to do would be to leave the ink overnight or longer in the inkwell, checking it once in a while for any signs of solidifying, before putting the mix in your pen. However I was too excited and impatient for this approach and also figured that the Cross Bailey Light was an inexpensive and simple pen on which to experiment. If anything went wrong, I could flush it out and leave the nib section to soak. This pen is also ideally suited for use with the Pineider Travelling Inkwell, having just the sort of section that the inkwell likes, namely fairly wide, smooth, tapering and not faceted.

Of course I have not been at all scientific about measurements and keeping records. I have some samples from looking back at my Leuchtturm notebook which gets used for tinkering with pens and inks. But as for quantities, I do not have any precise details of the amounts or proportions that went into my mix.

It is satisfying to create a unique and very limited edition blend of ink, especially if the colour is pleasing. Everyone’s creations will be different.

To summarise, the advantages of the Pineider Inkwell are, being able to use your last 1ml of ink; providing a receptacle for emptying pens of unwanted ink; avoiding waste; and potentially coming up with some new and satisfying inky blends. The moral of the tale is that you do not need to be overly cautious about fears of incompatible inks having a bad reaction. Perhaps some do but I have been ok in my limited experience so far and this is something that you can try out on your cheap pens first.  Happy mixing!

Pindeider Travelling Inkwell. Where the magic happens.

A tribute to UKfountainpens.

Before I soldier on with my blog as if nothing has happened, it seems rude not to say a few words of thanks to Anthony for his excellent blog, ukfountainpens.com.

On 16 November 2019, in a post entitled (with characteristic humour) “It’s not you, it’s me,” Anthony announced his decision to end his blog, after almost three years. This post was met with an outpouring of comments from his many shocked readers, expressing sadness at his decision but also, understanding at his reasons, which he had laid out and explained with honesty and undeniable logic.

During this time, it seems that he has done it all. Having long since exhausted the mainstream options, he had bought pens from every conceivable source, tried every sort of nib, published numerous detailed and authoritative reviews, set himself challenges, met them, not met them, published interviews, travels with pens stories, currently inked lists, buying guides, news round-ups, pen show write-ups and editorials.

I, like many of his blog followers, will miss his posts. Since January 2017, Anthony has published some 319 posts, bringing us on his journey through the world of stationery and in particular, his passion for fountain pens and inks.

I am not setting out here to review the reviewer, which would be patronising, but just to acknowledge the achievement and work that has gone into this. Since New Year’s Day in 2017, Anthony has grown the blog to achieve around half a million views.

His blog was always interesting, entertaining, informative and written in his engaging style. Being a writer by profession must have helped, with a keen interest in product photography too, but it is still a lot of work to be a frequent blogger. From September to November alone he published some 47 posts.

Anthony has an insatiable appetite for the best that the world of fountain pens has to offer. To some extent, he bought, tried and reviewed these pens so that we did not have to. At times it was staggering to hear how many ever more fabulous pens were incoming. The rate at which he bought and then sold some of his high end pens if they did not make the grade, also became staggering. And all this, while trying to reconcile his temptations with a longing for minimalism, tidiness and order.

Anthony probably tried harder than anyone else I know in the fountain pen community, to keep his collection of quality pens to around thirty to fit his storage facility and to move any pens on, which he was not using. He also went to unusual lengths to control his ink stockpile, by selling boxes containing a random selection of almost full bottles of inks, to buyers happy to take the gamble on a mystery selection. That sounded a lot of fun to be a part of.

One of the nice things I find about the fountain pen community generally, is that we take people as we find them. Everyone is different, has different tastes, budgets, talents and foibles. Anthony admits to having an obsessive tendency and recognised that his pen buying habit had become unhealthy and that the demands of maintaining his blog were fuelling this. He chose to take decisive action and call time on his blogging, at the height of its success.

Anthony’s posts were often thought provoking. On occasions, I made notes from his posts, leaving a column to insert and compare my opinions next to his. One such post was “Are we pen-compatible?” of 3 February 2019. Here he detailed his fountain pen likes and dislikes. We are both left handed over-writers. He never posts his pens. I mostly do. The most telling distinction between us was that he generally did not use pens costing under £150 and his pens were mostly to be found in the range of £300 to £500. For me, whilst I have a handful of what I call valuable pens, such as Montblancs, a Pelikan M800 and recently an Aurora 88, the majority of my pen accumulation falls in the “below £150” category.

Our paths did run in parallel, to some extent. My blog was started in November 2016, a couple of months before his. However I seldom produce more than three posts a month and my viewing figures were dwarfed by Anthony’s. But it never felt as though we were competing. Our interests lay at opposite ends of the spectrum, although occasionally they converged in the middle (for example, over the excellent Waterman Carene).

Through Anthony’s post on the Parker Duofold International, my interest in this pen was aroused and I went on to buy from Anthony, the very model that he had reviewed. On another occasion, Anthony bought a Kaweco Dia2 partly on the strength of my review. However, he later found that the pen did not suit him and I bought it from him.

After reading that there would be no more posts, I trawled the archives on his web site to compile a list of all his back catalogue by number, date and title. I wanted to make a checklist against which I could record which I had read and to help catch up on those I had missed. The list runs to 13 A4 pages. Many warrant a second reading and bring a smile to my face, such as the line in his review of the Montblanc Heritage 1912 ” I recently went on a business trip, and found myself unable to get in the taxi to the airport until I had it safely in my jacket pocket, like a weighty talisman”. I now have a 1912 of my own.

I appreciate that some of these posts will have taken several hours to create. We do well to remember that what readers may take 10 minutes to devour, may have taken the writer half a day or more to plan, photograph, draft and edit. It is a labour of love and if it stops being fun for the writer, it is time to stop.

I hope that Anthony’s blog will remain up for the foreseeable future, for everyone to enjoy as it represents a huge body of work. Three years is a good chunk of time. I would have started writing this piece a few hours ago but have just been enjoying again some of his older issues, back to back.

So, thank you Anthony for this legacy to the online pen community and best wishes for the future, wherever the journey takes you.

A brief encounter with the Montegrappa Monte Grappa fountain pen.

The past week has seen me on an emotional roller-coaster journey with this Italian beauty. I could write just a bare review of the pen but it would be incomplete without the twists and turns of my experience.

I first saw one of these about a year and half ago, while visiting Harrods’ Great Writing Room. A visit to Harrods is a rare treat for me and always memorable. You can lose track of time and distance and also your sense of proportion in this huge emporium of casino-like halls full of luxury products.

The Montegrappa Monte Grappa in Lavender resin.

On that first sighting, I handled the pen and was impressed at how comfortable it felt. This is a piston-filling fountain pen, of decent size and relatively plain and simple and with a 14k gold nib (but with a silver coloured plating, perhaps rhodium). The price then was about £440.00. The pen was available in four colours, black, navy blue, lavender or coral, all with silver coloured trim.

I did not buy the pen immediately, but after finding my way out of the store into the evening air of busy Knightsbridge, I was already having second thoughts and wondered if I should dash back in and buy one.

I do not know anyone else who owns this pen, or of any other bricks and mortar store in London that stocks them, but the pen remained in my consciousness.

Then, last Saturday whilst in London after a monthly pen club meet, I visited Harrods again and went to browse in the pen department. The store is undergoing a refit and the pens had moved floors and are to move again, I am told, once works are finished. I only mention this as, to the occasional visitor, Harrods can seem like a huge maze and so by the time you find the pen department you may feel that you deserve a new pen. Well, I do.

On this visit, I browsed the displays and alighted on the Montegrappa counters. I spotted a Montegrappa Monte Grappa, currently £445.00, but being a 10% discount weekend, reduced to £440.50. Still pricey for me, but it looked positively good value as the model next to it was £1,075.00 in celluloid and sterling silver.

I got talking to the Montegrappa representative who got out the Monte Grappa for me to try. They had only the lavender model left, but it was rather attractive, unusual and distinctive. He found some ink (Montegrappa fuchsia?) for me to try. I made a few tentative strokes, sampling the smooth Medium gold nib, with a little line variation possible with slight pressure.

After a short time, the rep left me with the pen whilst he went to attend to another customer. I was enjoying the pen, imagining myself owning it and generally “bonding” with it in those precious first few moments. I had to decide how this was going to end. When he returned I was still dithering but leaning towards taking it home with me, rather than leaving empty handed as I had done a year earlier.

When the crunch time came I decided to buy the pen. He offered me a brand new, boxed one. I took a look at it. The nibs on both looked to be perfectly finished but I opted to take the one that I had already tried. I carried it home, in a smart Montegrappa bag.

Montegrappa, founded in 1912, is one of the oldest or possibly the oldest fountain pen manufacturers in Italy. Now famous for their extravagantly designed, limited editions, I was more interested in their accessible models, without too many embellishments but with a gold nib and a piston filling mechanism. The Monte Grappa model fulfills this. There are just a few adornments, in this case, the characteristic pocket clip with a revolving wheel at the end and a silver coloured cap ring, which has the look of having been hammered by hand. On closer inspection the design around the cap ring looks like lots of little entrances to a road tunnel. I am not sure if this may be a reference to the mountain, close to the Bassano del Grappa factory.

The unique cap band.

The cap finial has the year 1912, on a metal disk. The wheeled pocket clip and the cap ring did not particularly appeal to me. It was the writing experience that attracted me.

Cap and finial with the year of founding.

The section is comfortable although you may need to grip the pen at or close to the chunky but non sharp, plated metal cap threads. The barrel design is a nice feature, slightly bulbous in the middle and with the name Monte Grappa engraved in the resin, with an emblem of the mountain itself between the two words. This I did like, except that the words are upside down if you write left handed. Also the pen rolls around very easily if not posted.

Barrel engraving.

The piston knob is separated from the barrel, by a shiny silver coloured trim ring. If you look closely you find the words “Made in Italy” etched here.

Piston knob. Made in Italy on the trim ring. Stainless steel disc in the base.

Another feature, new to me, is the ratchet-sounding piston turning knob, which emits a sound akin to winding a mechanical watch. This is intended to emulate that very task, for those of us who miss wearing hand-wound watches. Also the piston knob does not extend outwards as you lower the plunger, as it would on a Pelikan, Montblanc or other typical piston filler. It simply rotates, and clicks, without going up and down. You cannot see the operation of the plunger within. A few practice runs soon tell you that you turn the plunger anti-clockwise to lower the plunger and then clockwise to raise it again, filling the pen. Unusually, it takes a lot of twists to operate the plunger, perhaps 12 or so (depending upon how far you go with each twist), before it reaches the end of its travel. This is not really a problem. But you cannot tell from looking at the pen, how much ink it contains.

The nib is an attractive, traditional shape with the Montegrappa filigree pattern, and the inscription “Montegrappa ITALIA, 14k, 585” and finally “2670VI” the significance of which I do not know. The rep told me that the feed was ebonite although I wonder if he might have been mistaken on that. It looks like a plastic Jowo feed to me.

14k gold nib, Medium. Comfortable section. Metal cap threads.

At home, I watched some YouTube reviews to find out more about my new pen. A short video from Guiseppe Aquila of Montegrappa, talks of the pens being available with either stainless steel or 14k gold nibs, but all fitted with the same special, international patented filling mechanism. This is comprised of parts made of five different materials: the clear plastic reservoir, rubber plunger, brass piston, an aluminium body and a stainless steel fitting.

I was keen to see how much ink it would draw up. Having to flush the pen anyway after its dip in fuchsia ink, I tried filling it with water and then ejecting it into a vial to see how much came out. This gave me a shock as the volume of water looked rather feeble, although admittedly it was in a larger diameter container than the pen’s own reservoir. I tried the same experiment with an Aurora 88 and found that even the contents of the Aurora did not look very much although it was considerably more than the Monte Grappa held.

Attempting to measure the ink capacity. The ejected contents after filling.

I then found another video on the OdE (Objectos de Escrita) YouTube channel which showed the same exercise to measure the ink capacity of the Monte Grappa. The ink ejected amounted to about 0.6ml. Arguably it may be that there is some residue left in the feed which is not being expelled. However this volume would be similar to the contents of a standard international cartridge and only around half of what you might expect of a piston filler.

This bugged me as I had hoped that a fill would be around a similar volume to a Pelikan M800, Aurora 88 or Montblanc 146. Why can the Montegrappa not carry as much as these, or even a TWSBI Eco?

Montegrappa Monte Grappa. Cap posted. Next to an Aurora 88.

On delving into Fountain Pen Network, I found opinions from various threads, that this filling system is not a “true” piston filler but a “captive converter.” This means it is like a cartridge converter reservoir, albeit permanently fixed inside pen, which draws the ink into a reservoir rather than directly into the pen’s barrel, which would be a larger diameter. This also explains why the piston turning knob did not rise.

I found this a little disappointing. I appreciate that even 0.6ml of ink is sufficient to write a good number of pages with a medium nib and that refilling the pen is no hardship (actually quite pleasurable) yet this discovery, combined with the feed probably being plastic and not ebonite, made me question the wisdom of my purchase.

Size and weight

The pen does have a lovely tactile shape and finish. It is heavier than you might expect for a resin pen, probably due to the metal components in the filling mechanism. The pen measures around 137mm closed, 125mm uncapped and 158mm posted. Uncapped, it weighs around 30.5g, or 40.5g posted (with the cap alone weighing 10g).

The cap posts well and to me, did not seem to unbalance the pen although I hold my pens quite far back. The cap ring might feel rough against your hand, depending on where you chose to grip the pen. If you grip the pen lower, you may find it to be too back heavy. But then if you hold your pens low, you probably will not need to post the cap anyway.

Likes and dislikes

I liked the pen, for its brand history, its shape, comfort and heft and the solid, high quality feel. The medium nib wrote well. The self-contained ratchet-sound filling mechanism is a novelty but not necessarily an advantage and I have no complaints about filling my Pelikan, Aurora and Montblanc pens in silence. I liked the vintage look, the barrel text and the fact that this aligned with the nib and pocket clip.

On the downside, you need to accept that this is a mystery filler with no ink window, and as I suspect, not a large ink capacity and (unless I am mistaken) a plastic feed. This, I felt, made the cost rather on the high side.

The feed.

All in all, whilst I much enjoyed writing with the pen, I found myself suffering from “buyer’s remorse.” A decision had to be made quickly of whether to continue with the bonding process and accept the pen as it is or else to return it promptly for a refund.

I am sad to say that I decided to take the pen back to Harrods. After flushing it out I took it back to the store where I saw a different Montegrappa rep this time. I said that there was nothing wrong with the pen, but that I had changed my mind about it and that it was not quite what I had expected. He took a look at the nib and joked “It looks better than when it left the store!” I had certainly cherished it in those few days whilst it was in my ownership.

We talked about the feed and about the ink capacity. He explained that it should be around 1.2ml and that the plastic ink reservoir was to protect the body of the pen from the ink, which is alkaline. This sounded reasonable enough. However, to Harrods credit, they took the pen back and gave me a full refund without any fuss.

The story should end there, except that I found myself feeling rather bereft in the following days, with a case of the “refunder’s remorse.” I missed my lavender pen with its superb nib. My decision could quite easily have gone the other way. The pen had got under my skin. Montegrappas can do that to you.

Goodbye pen. Sorry that I gave you up.

Early thoughts on the Cross Bailey Light fountain pen.

I am always on the look-out for anything new in fountain pens on the high street. Today in John Lewis Brent Cross, my friendly pen-pusher showed me a new Cross pen and took a few off the rack in different colours.

This is a new version of the familiar Cross Bailey, but in plastic, rather than lacquered metal, to save weight and costs. It is £20.00 as opposed to about £50 for the full fat version.

Cross Bailey Light, in plastic.

I do not need any more fountain pens, particularly cartridge-converter pens, with medium, steel nibs. I have got that covered in my accumulation. Nevertheless, I was intrigued and excited at the prospect of a Cross pen for £20.00, with lifetime guarantee. I was also feeling a little virtuous having flushed and cleaned three of my eighteen currently inked pens in my pen cups earlier this morning.

The store had these in grey, white, turquoise and pink. I gather that there are also black and blue versions available. I liked the grey best and bought one. It is a lovely classic, battleship grey and a nice neutral colour which would suit a range of ink colours.

Bailey Light uncapped.

Leaving the shop, I couldn’t wait to open the packaging, have a closer look at the pen and ink it up. The nib looked to be in good shape. I have had mixed experiences with Cross steel nibs. Sometimes they are great, with even tines, and a good well-lubricated smooth ink flow; but at other times, you get a dry one and it can be hard to work on these stiff, steel nibs to improve flow. Another issue that I have had with Cross Baileys, is the stiffness of the caps. I have a shiny chrome Medalist, which was all but unusable because of the slipperiness of the finish and the difficulty in pulling the cap off.

Happily, today’s experience was entirely satisfactory. First impressions are that the pen appears to be the same size as a standard Bailey. There are no obvious shortcuts on the furnishings and you have a metal cap finial and a strong metal pocket clip. There is a wide cap band, for decoration and strength. The cap pulls off easily, with a sensible amount of force.

With cap removed, there are three metals rings on the pen. Particularly welcome in the Bailey, is the wide barrel and wide grip section, compared to, say the Cross Century II. There are no cap threads and no step from barrel to section.

Bailey standard and Bailey Light (below)

Unscrewing the barrel, there was one Cross black cartridge included. The pen will require Cross’s proprietary cartridges or a Cross converter (not included). I found that the Bailey Light accepts the non-threaded converter (whereas the standard Bailey is threaded, to take Cross’s screw-in converters but accepts both types). Another difference from the standard Bailey, is that the Light has no production date code, a slight disappointment but hardly a problem. My standard Bailey is dated 0315 and the slippery Medalist, 1014.

Bailey Light, with a non-threaded converter (not included in price).

Inserting the supplied black cartridge, I am glad to report that the pen soon started up and wrote smoothly, out of the box. A pleasant relief.

Size and weight.

The Bailey Light measures around 137mm closed, or 125mm open. Posted, it is around 152mm. The pen weighs a total of around 20g, comprised as to 13g for the uncapped pen and 7g for the cap.

Comparing the standard Bailey, at 30.5g, the Light is about one third lighter. The dimensions, capped or uncapped are about the same except that, when the cap is posted, the standard Bailey is 142mm and the Light is a centimetre longer, at 152mm.

Likes and dislikes.

Accepting that I have owned this pen for only a few hours, I am favourably impressed with it so far. I like the classic, vintagey grey colour. I like that it is a good sized pen and so comfortable in the hand. No annoying facets (Ah-hem, Lamy Safari). It is long enough for a quick note unposted but generally I prefer to use it posted. The cap posts deeply and securely. Being so light, but having a strong pocket clip, it is an ideal shirt pocket pen. The lifetime guarantee is a good thing, a sign that Cross is confident in its product. I don’t envisage having to make any claims under this and for £20.00 it would probably not be worth it, but it is nice to have.

The cap shuts snuggly, with minimal wobble. It looks to have some sort of inner cap or lining at the far end but I have not had the pen long enough to test for hard starts.

My only minor negatives are the absence of a production date code and the fact that threaded converters do not fit.

I prefer the feel of this pen to my old Cross Aventura, which had a shiny chrome section. I think I may find myself using it more than the standard Bailey, as a lightweight, pocket pen.

At the moment I am using the black cartridge and I have a few of these in stock but am looking forward to perhaps pairing the grey pen with a nice Burgundy, green or brown ink. At a pound a gram, I think this pen represents excellent value.

Comfortable, stepless, threadless, facetless section.

Travelling with ink: pen shopping in Menorca.

It is nice to travel and to be on holiday. Having a passion for fountain pens gives the trip an extra dimension.

I have just spent a very enjoyable family holiday in Menorca. Leaving behind the rain and relentless political news in the UK, we stayed in a hotel with a sea view, in the small town of Es Castell, situated on the harbour which serves the capital, Mao (or Mahon).

As usual, part of the preparation for me is choosing which fountain pens to bring. This time I settled on the superb Aurora 88 (freshly filled with Conway Stewart Tavy, blue black ink by Diamine) and my Montblanc Meisterstuck 145 Classique, (now on its third foreign trip of the year) as a reserve. After buying the Classique in January, it took me a couple of months to settle upon an ink. I tried several before discovering Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red, which both looks and sounds wonderful! For some holiday journaling I took a Leuchtturm A5 hardback notebook. At 18 rows per page, at say 10 words per line, I was interested to see how many pages I could write on one fill of the Aurora. Its so-called medium nib and Ebonite feed, delivers a fine line with a beautifully consistent flow and the pen is very comfortable.

Es Castell proved to be a very peaceful town, with a grid of residential streets and its own harbour, lined with shops and restaurants. I discovered a couple of local stationery and newsagent shops. In one, I bought an inexpensive but satisfying mechanical pencil and box of spare 2B leads, in the unusual size of 1.3mm.

A “Plus + 1.3” mechanical pencil and small nameless illuminated magnifying glass, with five LEDs on the back.

Another shop had a glass fronted display of pens featuring a giant sized Waterman and a vintage (possibly 1960’s) gold Parker pen and a pen pot of other assorted used pens. However it seemed that these were for ornament only and not for sale.

Enticing Waterman display. A stationery shop in Es Castell, Menorca.

Before visiting the capital city of Mao, I had searched Google for fountain pen shops and had discovered a couple listed. On foot, having been dropped off at the main square, it was not so easy to find my chosen shop using Google Maps, but my wife, who is more accustomed to using this while on foot, took over the navigator role and we set off, in the opposite direction from most tourists who were heading for the pedestrian shopping streets leading to the waterfront. However we succeeded in finding “Clips Papeleria” at 16, Carrer de Sant Esteve, on a corner of a quiet residential street. This was a general stationery shop but did have a glass cabinet of Inoxcrom fountain pens, a Spanish brand. Not having one of these yet, or indeed any Spanish fountain pens, I was keen to try one.

Clips Papeleria, Mahon.

I handled a couple of these before settling on a third model, in a pretty mauve metal finish with a shiny chrome section. I have not yet identified the model name. I was not sure about the chrome section at first, expecting it to be slippery, which it was and also of a rather odd shape with a wide part nearest the barrel but then tapering down to a narrower area near the nib. However, in the hand it was quite usable as the chrome section rested comfortably on my second finger, whilst my thumb held the barrel, the texture of which was not slippery, to keep the pen from turning. I preferred the mauve version to the grey. I think it was about 30 euros and so made a pleasing souvenir.

Inoxcrom, steel nib cartridge – converter fountain pen.

A few minutes later in the centre of the city I came across an art supplies shop which had a few fountain pens for sale, including one Pilot Metropolitan in orange with a purple wave design on the barrel and found myself buying this as well, with visions of pairing it with a nice orange ink.

Inoxcrom pen with Pilot Metropolitan.

On another day, in another city, of Cuitadella, with its delightful old part centred around the cathedral and harbour, I spotted another stationery / art supplies shop but with little by way of fountain pens.

A typical street scene in Cuitadella

However, after a few relaxing days at various beaches and exploring the wonderful island in our rented car, I settled into a happy contentment, realising that the pens that I was carrying with me were more than adequate for my needs and better than any that I was likely to find on the island.

A Menorca beach scene.

Besides, there were also other items to enjoy in the shops apart from pens. For instance, the ubiquitous simple Menorcan sandals called Avarcas, with rubber sole and leather uppers, originally worn by the rural population but now popular with tourists and available in a wide range of colours. They seemed to be unisex, save only that the men’s were in larger sizes and in more conservative colours.

Not many fountain pens but plenty of Menorcan sandals for sale.

My holiday haul also included a portable, rechargeable LED light, pumping out 500 lumens, which I found in a yachting supplies shop. Well, you never know when you might need one.

Equipment wise, I was very satisfied with the performance of my trusty old Tilley sun hat, Karrimor Spectre Supercool 20 litre ruck sack, Nikon 10×30 binoculars and indeed the Opel Corsa that we hired for a few days. It was good to be using these and my pens, rather than reviewing them.

As for my Aurora, I much enjoyed keeping my journal each day, in our room with its view of the sea. I was expecting to know by now how many A5 pages it would write on one fill of the pen, but after 52 pages, it is still going strong and looks from the ink window to be still over one third full!

Aurora 88 in a beach cafe, Sant Tomas, Menorca. With Montblanc Classique.

Update on 26.10.2019. I have since identified the Inoxcrom fountain pen. It is the Inoxcrom Mistral. I also learned that the company has its origins in Barcelona from 1946. Their steel nibs were given a shiny finish by applying a thin layer of galvanised chrome. The words Inoxidable and Chrome were then combined to give the name Inoxcrom. An online catalogue, product list and company history is on http://www.inoxcrom.es.

A Pelikan Hub round-up, London 2019

I was excited in the summer, when online registration opened for the Pelikan Hub. The date of 20 September 2019 was entered in the diary and the event was eagerly anticipated.

This was my third time attending, although this year we had a new Hubmaster and venue. I gather that around 40 registered for the London hub and that finding a suitable venue to accommodate that number of people, in London on a Friday night, for no charge, was challenging.

Signing in.

We were to meet in The Euston Flyer, a pub and restaurant on the Euston Road not far from King’s Cross station, who could have us from 7.30pm to allow time for the after-work crowd to disperse.

I still arrived well before the allotted time. I was pleased to find a friend from last year’s hub, Roger, who had travelled from Leicester. He had grown up around Pelikan products, as his father had been an importer of their pens. Last year he brought along some unusual vintage memorabilia, including Pelikan tape measures to show us. This year he brought along his impressive collection of vintage pens from The Wyvern Pen Company, a former pen manufacturer from his home city of Leicester. We sat at a table outside, enjoying the last of the daylight before darkness descended and the air grew cool.

The pens out, amidst the condiments.

It is always a joy to talk to people who are passionate about their subject. Perhaps we who attend a regular pen club meet up, may take this for granted but having conversations with other pen enthusiasts about each other’s pens and sharing knowledge, opinions and experiences is very enjoyable. For many who attend the Pelikan Hub, the event might be the only such opportunity in the year.

For anyone whose brain was frazzled from a week of work stresses and in need of a calm and soothing place, The Euston Flyer at 7.30pm on a Friday night is not that place. The din of countless rowdy conversations in large echoey surroundings, was a bit too much for some. However, I enjoyed a plate of fish and chips and a beer and began to feel human again.

More pen talk. The gentleman on the far left had a huge number of pens in his shirt pocket.

As the regulars thinned out, conversation became easier and we were able to spread to other tables. Of the 40 or so registered, I can now recall talking to almost half of them during the evening, several of whom were our pen club members. The consequence of this is that I took very few photographs.

The pub interior, now quieter as it grew late.

In preparation for the evening, it seemed appropriate to gather up my entire flock of eight Pelikan pens which conveniently filled a pen wrap. I had surprised myself in finding that I had this many. These include my blue stripe M800, a vintage tortoise 400 bought at auction and a blue demonstrator 205 which has known only Waterman Serenity blue and has one of the smoothest steel broad nibs I have ever encountered.

I have never owned an M1000 although I am always impressed when I try one. Heather from our pen club had her pen case of Pelikan pens, inviting us to try any. She had the classic green stripe M1000, inked with a Jade green ink and a supposedly “Fine” nib which for the M1000, typically writes like a bouncy medium or even a broad. Once again I was very enamoured with the comfort of the M1000 and could easily see one of these in my future, (perhaps to thank Pelikan for the free Pelikan Edelstein Star Ruby ink, the pad of writing paper and in-house magazine that all participants reeceived).

Philip, whom I had met at a previous hub and at the London pen show and once or twice at our pen club, had quite a few high-end Pelikans including the Renaissance Brown and Stone Garden M800 and the vibrant orange M600.

Sharing a meal and a common interest in fountain pens.

As well as bringing my Pelikans, I had also gathered up a second pen wrap of currently inked pens to show off. I enjoyed showing people my Montblanc Heritage 1912 and seeing their surprise on uncapping the pen to find it apparently nib-less. The German engineering, on twisting out the retractable nib, never fails to impress. Its soft broad stubby nib is also unlike any other pen that I own.

I always enjoy seeing my pens in other people’s hands. The Montblanc Heritage 1912.

My other current pride and joy is my Aurora 88, in black resin with a gold plated cap which I also flaunted shamelessly to very favourable reactions.

Now it is almost over for another year. Thank you, to Pelikan for facilitating this unique event for fountain pen enthusiasts all over the world and for your generous gifts. Thank you to Daniel our hubmaster, assisted by Dylan. Now it remains only to enjoy all the photographs from hub events in other cities and countries that appear on Instagram and other social media.

A few of the London Pelikan Hub class of 2019

An evening with The Other Favorites.

This week I had the pleasure of seeing The Other Favorites play a gig in London, as part of their current USA, Europe and UK tour. So as an off-topic warning, this post is not about fountain pens but is to tell you about this remarkable duo, for the benefit of any yet to discover them.

The stage is set. Bush Hall, Shepherd’s Bush, London 20 August 2019.

The Other Favorites are the American folk and bluegrass guitar duo, Josh Turner and Carson McKee. Currently both based in New York, they were friends in school and have been putting out music videos on YouTube since 2007. These, even the very early ones, show an astonishingly high standard of musicianship and include a wide range of pop and rock classic covers as well as some of their original songs.

I first stumbled across them on YouTube, about five months ago, where I had been watching finger-style guitarists Jerry Reed and Chet Atkins, Tommy Emmanuel and Richard Smith. Josh Turner, not to be confused with the country/gospel singer of the same name, has to date produced over 300 videos and attracted some 77 million views.

As happens with YouTube, it keeps plying me with more of their videos to watch. I have watched well over a hundred, many of them several times over.

Of course, there are plenty of good guitarists out there but what I find unique about Josh is his versatility. He is a multi-instrumentalist playing various types of guitars (folk, classical, electric, gypsy-jazz), banjo, mandolin, a lute, electric bass, drums and keyboard.

Secondly, he seems equally at home in a wide range of musical styles, from folk, pop, bluegrass, classic rock, Latin pop, jazz and swing, plus classical music for guitar. His videos feature many other musicians and singers too. And he has a very pleasant singing voice and a wide vocal range, such as on a cover of The Beach Boys’ Auld Lang Syne, where he sings all the parts. Other good examples of his video work are David Bowie’s Starman and Pink Floyd’s See Emily Play, on which he plays almost all the parts.

Combine all this virtuosity with a high technical ability at performing, recording, mixing, editing and producing and his natural ease and likeability on camera and you have a rare combination of talent and ability.

Carson McKee too has a great singing voice and is a superb acoustic rhythm guitar player and occasionally can be found on percussion. Josh and Carson’s voices blend really well together and their harmonies sometimes put me in mind of The Everley Brothers among others.

In May I discovered that The Other Favorites were playing in London, on 20 August at Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush. I jumped on the tickets and was greatly looking forward to seeing them live, as I continued catching up on the videos. They are currently touring with Reina del Cid, a 31 year old American singer-songwriter guitar player and Toni Lindgren, guitarist who also have a huge following on YouTube for their regular videos on Sundays, called “Sunday Mornings with Reina del Cid.”

The concert did not disappoint. Bush Hall is a former dance hall dating from 1904 and made an ideal, intimate venue. I am guessing that the audience was of about 300. Sound levels were just right and I was sitting about six rows back, close enough to see their facial expressions.

Carson McKee, Reina del Cid, Josh Turner and Toni Lindgren

The show began with a set of nine songs from Reina del Cid and Toni Lindgren, joined on stage by Josh Turner for one song, to play electric bass, on Woolf. This was her song about Virginia Woolf of whom she was a big fan having read all her books and diaries.

Next Josh and Carson took to the stage. Their first song, “Angelina”, put down a marker of just what a high standard of guitar work we were in for. This was followed by “Solid Ground” memorable in their video for being recorded at the coast with surf crashing on the rocks right behind them. Next, Carson introduced “The ballad of John McCrae”, a murder ballad that he had written, explaining that the tradition for such songs had come to the States from the UK and that the juxtaposition of dark lyrics with jaunty melodies “tickled his funny bone”.

They then played another original, one of their earliest songs made together in 2007 called “Flawed recording”, the tune and lyrics of which stay with you.

Next they shifted gear to give a blistering performance of Richard Thompson’s “Vincent Black Lightning 1952” equalling in my view, Richard Thompson’s own rendition when I saw him in London a year or so ago.

Then they played another of their originals, “The Levee”, another one which is enjoyable to watch on their videos on guitar and banjo with great playing and vocal harmonies.

Carson had learned to play guitar from his father and jammed at family get togethers with his father and uncles. Bob Dylan had been a big influence. They then played one of their favourite Dylan songs “Don’t think twice it’s alright”.

This was followed by a beautifully pure vocal harmony for the Irish song “The Parting Glass” with no instruments. Then, in another change of pace they followed this with a rousing performance of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”, another of their covers which is a must-see on YouTube, for Carson’s spirited vocal delivery, Josh’s guitar solo and for the way they fall about laughing at the end.

At this point, they were joined on stage for the rest of the evening by Reina del Cid and Toni Lindgren to play as a foursome, adding two more acoustic guitars and female vocals which was a joy to behold. They sang “Morse Code”, a rather delicate and sad song that Reina and Josh had also recorded together for a YouTube video.

Josh released his first solo album, in April 2019 called As Good a Place as Any, with all songs written, produced, mixed and mastered by himself, at home. (Just pause, and take that in). The next piece was “Nineteen and Aimless” which is the first track on his album.

The foursome then played Patsy Cline’s “Tennessee Waltz” followed by “The Weight” by The Band – making good use of the four voices for the cumulative rising harmonies in the chorus.

It was then almost time to end. They were brought back on stage to enthusiastic applause for an encore and played “Dooley”, which can also be seen on their videos followed by “Stuck in the middle with you” from Stealers Wheel.

It was a very impressive show. Given that they were well into an extensive tour, the show still seemed fresh and intimate and they were genuinely glad of their supporters here in London. I got to meet them all at the merch desk!

If you missed them this time, then Josh hopes to tour another show later in the year when he will perform the entirety of Paul Simon’s Graceland album. And meanwhile there are plentiful videos to catch up on as well as his solo album which can be heard on his web site.

Edit.25 August 2019: for a handy list of songs they played with links to each song in their videos, visit setlist.fm and see their Paris show of 18 August which had much the same content.

Some early thoughts on the Aurora 88 fountain pen.

The origins of this, my latest pen purchase, probably go back a few years to when I first started to hear about Aurora pens, particularly the Optima, in other people’s blogs. It was not a brand that I had come across before. I also met an Aurora rep at the London pen show and picked up a couple of glossy catalogues of their then current collection of writing instruments. I learned that their gold nibs were all made in-house by their own craftsmen and women which is rare and admirable.

14k gold nib, Medium.

And then whilst visiting Italy on holiday in June, I found a pen shop selling Auroras, in the centre of Brescia. There I handled an Aurora Talentum in black resin, which was a good sized pen and felt very comfortable. However, my wife helped me to resist the urge to buy it on the spot.

Back story: the buying journey.

Back home I found myself browsing the internet for Aurora pens and I looked at several different Talentum models and watched a few reviews. I was pondering over which colour to go for and which nib.

And then came a summer sale on Iguanasell. It so happened that the Talentum models were not reduced but I found the Aurora 88, a well regarded and much longer-established model than the Talentum, dating back to the late 1940’s, with a generous discount of 35%. I particularly liked the black resin version with gold plated cap.

I shared this information with my wife, hoping that it would be a mere formality to obtain her approval that such a large saving represented good stewardship of our joint financial resources. However, she was not so enthusiastic as I and made a compelling argument that I had “so many pens” and did not have time to use them all. True. But it is an Aurora 88, with a gold plated cap! It is a piston filler, with a 14k gold nib, an Ebonite feed, an ink window and everything. And a hidden ink reserve! On paper, its size and weight called to me that this was an ideal pen that might have been designed with my preferences in mind.

However, by the next day, her position had softened to “Oh well, it’s up to you” which I took as a yes. I then leapt on the Iguanasell website again. The discount offer was available only whilst the pen remained in stock. It was still there. Free shipping from Spain and despatched within 24 hours. I deliberated briefly over which nib to chose and went for a Medium. Click. Proceed to Checkout!

The following day I received an email from Iguanasell that my order had been shipped and providing a tracking reference. There followed an anxious wait. First, I worried whether the Aurora nib, known for its feedback which is not to everyone’s taste, would suit me. I had not had an opportunity to test it out. What if it does not write as well as my Faber-Castell Grip? Secondly, over the coming three days I was a bit perturbed that the tracking reference (34 digits long!) gave the status “not yet received” by the couriers. This went on for three working days. Some doubts began to creep in about the veracity of Iquanasell’s fast delivery claims.

But then on the fourth day, the doorbell rang at 7.30am. I hurtled down to get the door, scattering furniture in my haste. It was the next door neighbour who had taken in the parcel for me, the previous day.

The unboxing.

I enjoyed peeling back the layers to get to my new toy. Inside the white polythene outer packaging, was a large brown cardboard box. Inside this, padded with bubble wrap, was the large glossy black cardboard Aurora box with the Aurora logo and my pen model details on the end, “88 BIG” (yes please!), “Gold plated cap and resin barrel.”

Inside this, was the actual gift box, a handsome black leatherette type with creamy coloured padded interior. And there was my pen, gleaming black resin and a luxurious gold plated cap with subtle guilloche design. Though I say so myself it looked absolutely gorgeous.

Aurora 88 (large) in black resin with gold plated cap.

Picking it up, it was lighter than expected. (It weighs 27g; around 15.5g uncapped plus 11.5g for the cap). I unscrewed the cap, (about one and a quarter turns) to reveal the 14kt gold nib. This looked to be superbly finished. There was a glimpse of daylight between the tines until the tipping material, which was generous, symmetrical and even. Looking head on, the tines were perfectly level. However I did note that the tipping was narrow where it met the paper. Turning it over, I got my first sight of the Ebonite feed.

Ebonite feed. This pen ticks all my boxes.

I got out a bottle of Aurora Blue and a Leuchtturm note book. The pent up anticipation in that first dip was immense. It wrote, smoothly and effortlessly. No skips. The pleasure and relief was all the more intense for having been anxious for a few days. No toothiness or drag as I had feared. However the line was more fine than I had expected, although I was perfectly happy with it. I enjoy having pens with all sorts of nibs. Perhaps, had I known that the medium would be this fine, I might have chosen a broad but I like it as it is. It does mean that with my usual style and size of writing, there is less filling in of my loops and this helps with neatness and legibility. The nib is sufficiently wet for my lefty-overwriting as well as underwriting styles.

I then tried the piston, which was smooth and easy. It took about 10 twists to lower the piston fully. I then filled the pen, following the recommendation in the supplied instruction booklet, to release about 4 drops at the end before turning the pen nib upwards and tightening the piston knob.

My new bundle of joy.

As you can imagine I greatly enjoyed trying the new pen and writing a few pages in my notebook. It is about 130mm long when uncapped but I still preferred to post it. The cap is light and does not upset balance when posted. The cap threads are plastic and so should not mark the barrel, but this would not bother me anyway. The grip, when the pen is posted feels very natural and comfortable with my thumb over the ink window. It is so comfortable that you want to go on and on writing. And it looks so classy and elegant. It is a good generous size, without being huge and without being too heavy either.

There is also a smaller version of Aurora 88 which has similar styling but no ink window and is a cartridge-converter pen. I have since seen from YouTube reviews, that the Aurora 88 range was first introduced in about 1947. I have a lot to learn about Aurora and its history. It celebrates its centenary this year and so this seems like another good excuse to join the club of happy Aurora users.

So how does it write? What about the Aurora feedback? Well, mine writes very nicely indeed. Straight out of the box. On Leuchtturm paper, it feels smooth and well lubricated but not a gusher. I would say that the flow is spot on. I have now covered about fifteen pages and so any saturation in the feed from filling will have settled down. The sensation of nib on paper is very pleasant and pencil-like, neither too glassy smooth nor toothy and draggy. Together with the comfort and ergonomics of the pen, it makes you want to write more.

First inking with Aurora Blue.

It is also a design classic. Parker had its 51, Montblanc its 146 and Lamy its 2000. I learned from a video by Grandmia pens that the Aurora 88 was introduced as a competitor to the Parker 51.

I looked for the Aurora 88 in my old Aurora catalogue. At first I could not find it in the index, in the list of the Collezioni Prestigio, the prestige collections. And then I spotted the name Ottantotto, which I now know is Italian for Eighty Eight.

My wife likes the pen too. And I gave my whole-hearted support and encouragement to her purchase of some summer dresses in the sales and would never dream of saying “You have so many dresses.” What sort of a husband would say that?