Another look at the Faber-Castell School pen.

Almost two years ago now, in May 2017, I wrote a post: Faber-Castell School fountain pen; initial impressions. I was quite taken with these inexpensive pens and had bought one each in blue and red. Then, as now, I like to visit stationery shops when travelling to see if there are any bargains.

A reader, Mike Jurist commented that the pen was also available in carbon black and that he had been using one as his everyday fountain pen for three months, and loved it. That sounded awesome and I kept a lookout for the carbon black version for months but with no success. I had bought my red and blue in a Waterstones book shop, from a revolving rack and so I continued to give these racks a spin whenever I found myself in one.

And then at last, while in Dubai earlier this year and having a browse in a gigantic Carrefour supermarket in The Mall of the Emirates, I spotted the elusive black version for the first time! I put a couple in my basket. The price was similar to what I had paid before, around £4.00 each, including a box of six royal blue cartridges.

The elusive Faber-Castell school pen, in carbon black.

Essentially the pen is the same as the one I described in my earlier post. But this one is not just a plain black plastic, but a rather nice carbon-fibre effect.

Obviously the pen is crying out to be filled with black ink. At home I inked it up with a black WH Smith cartridge – continuing with the theme of budget ink for a budget pen. The nib was smooth and wrote well.

A pleasing carbon-fibre effect for under a fiver.

My only complaint is that the nib has a very pronounced droop, which is unusual and disconcerting and makes for a rather firm writing experience. This was the same on both of the carbon black pens that I bought and was in keeping with the nibs of my older red and blue models.

Three examples, all with pronounced nib droop.

Despite this, they represent good value and perform well, in terms of nib smoothness and ink flow.

However for a step up, if you do not like the angled-down nib, there is the Faber-Castell Grip, which is a little larger all round and with a distinctive barrel featuring rows of raised coloured dots, which make for an interesting and unusual texture. These can be found for around £15.00 but for the level nib and the slightly larger dimensions and a few other improvements, this too is a great bargain.

A comparison of the Faber-Castell school pen (top) and the Faber-Castell Grip.
But just look at the carbon-fibre finish!

A look at the Diplomat Excellence A2 fountain pen.

I am getting better at not buying more pens. I am not saying I have given up completely, but I am trying to think more carefully about whether I would really use that new pen and whether it would be any better or different from those I already own. But one that I did buy recently was the Diplomat Excellence.

A pen club friend asked me today to send him a writing sample from this pen. I took a few pictures and then thought that a brief review on here might not be amiss.

Diplomat Excellence A2 Marrakesh

I bought my Diplomat Excellence at the London spring pen show, in March 2019. The rational was that I already had its smaller brother, the Diplomat Esteem, (which I reviewed here) which I use at work to enliven my notes and calculations, (currently with Garnet red ink) and which I have always felt is a remarkably good pen, with a superb steel nib. But whilst the Esteem is a medium sized pen, I had always hankered to get the larger Excellence, for its broader girth.

The opportunity came when I found that John Twiss was selling the Excellence at the pen show. What’s more, he had some with 14k gold nibs, which I had not seen before.

Packaging.

The pen comes in a white cardboard box, inside which is a black cardboard tray with an aluminium sliding cover. When you slide this off, a white card flap is raised to reveal the pen on a soft padded white cushion with the black petal logo of Diplomat.

The flap reads “Diplomat, since 1922” and can be slotted into the box either behind the cushion with the text face down, to be read when raised (like a shop display) or in front of the cushion to have the text face up.

Unboxing.

Appearance and Construction.

The Excellence is a metal bodied pen, in lacquer finish. The model I chose is the Excellence A2, Marrakesh with chrome fittings. “Marrakesh” denotes the metallic mid-brown colouring (actually a more complex mix of sparkly gold and orange if viewed with a loupe) whilst “A2” I think may identify it as having the push on cap (rather than screw on, available on some models) and a sprung pocket clip.

The finial has the distinctive Diplomat logo, easy to spot in a pen cup. The silver coloured cap ring has the text DIPLOMAT, SINCE 1922 and on the reverse “made in germany” in lower case.

Cap finial. Tough metal barrel threads.

At the other end of the barrel, there is a silver coloured foot piece for the pen to rest on in a pen cup with a lip to secure the cap when posted.

The section is of tapering black plastic. At the nib end, there is a chrome ring which secures the cap with a satisfying click. Having a push on cap of course means instant access and no rough threads where you hold the pen. The cap is designed to fit flush with the barrel, (apart from a slightly bulging chrome cap ring) and to allow for this, there is a slight step down from barrel to section, but it is minimal and smooth.

Removing the barrel, on long metal threads (complete with rubber O ring), there is the supplied Diplomat converter.

The nib and feed.

This is a bi-colour, size 6 nib, in 14k gold but partly plated, and with the Diplomat petal logo picked out in gold. There is no breather hole. The nib is stamped with Diplomat, since 1922, 14k – 585, F. The nib has a little bit of spring to it but is not as soft as you might expect from a gold nib.

Size 6 nib in 14k gold.

The black plastic feed is of slim profile, with a slight wave shape and quite thick, sturdy fins. On my model, the nib was well finished with nice level tines.

Give the feed a wave.

Filling type.

It is a cartridge-converter pen, supplied with a Diplomat converter but also accepting standard international cartridges.

Diplomat converter, Note the O ring on the section threads.

Size and weight.

This is a large pen, although not over-size. But it is also heavy. Closed, it measures approximately 138mm; uncapped 129mm and posted, 153mm.

The whole pen weighs around 47g, comprised as to 29g uncapped and 18g for the cap alone. (For comparison, my metal Waterman Carene weighs around 33g, with the body at 23g and cap at 10g, and so the Excellence is about 42% heavier). Nevertheless, I still use the Excellence posted, as I just seem to find a better angle of pen to paper that way.

Likes and Dislikes.

I already liked the Diplomat Esteem and was expecting the Excellence to be much the same but bigger and better. In fact it is not quite that simple. The pen is certainly bigger and heavier and feels very dense and solid in the hand. The nib too is bigger than on the Esteem. Yet I did not find the Excellence’s gold Fine nib to be so joyously soft as the Esteem’s steel Medium nib, which surprised me. But it is a great nib, responsive and reliable and pleasant to use. Here are some Likes:-

  • robust and reassuringly solid; the pen feels indestructible;
  • wide comfortable girth with no cap threads;
  • large nib, smooth and responsive and with a pleasant feed-back;
  • rubber O ring on the section threads, to stop barrel working loose or to stop leaks;
  • attractive gift box;
  • mine was great value at £150.00.
Writing sample, with Conway Stewart Tavy, by Diamine.

Dislikes:

As with the Esteem, I found very little to say here. I was a bit un-wowed by the brown finish but this is due to personal preference and not a valid criticism. There are other colours and finishes available.

Compared to the mottled amber coloured finish of my Waterman Carene, the Marrakesh colour is slightly dull. It is a heavy pen, particularly if like me you post your caps. But apart from this I cannot find any fault with it.

Conclusion.

I have been using the Excellence daily, for seven weeks now, and enjoy picking it up for my daily journal ritual. I am glad to have bought it. My local John Lewis used to sell them but they are hard to find in shops now. They are available on Cult Pens. It writes well, feels comfortable and is very solidly built.

It seems a common opinion in fountain pen circles, that Diplomat pens are under-rated. For anyone wanting a great quality, good-sized, metal bodied pen and who will not mind the weight, this one gets my recommendation.

Marrakesh and Tavy on Leuchtturm.

Inky Pursuits round-up.

Here is a brief round-up of some of my recent fountain pen related activities.

Currently inked.

If you had met me when I was aged 11, and asked me then about my ink pens and accessories, the sum total would have looked something like this.

A single Parker pen and bottle of Quink. “Can it be that it was all so simple then, or has time rewritten every line?”

Somehow in the intervening years, (but particularly in the last few) the pen accumulation has mushroomed and I have an entire drawer full of inks, the use and enjoyment of which has become a major hobby.

However, my number of “currently inked” pens at home, in a neat array of pen cups, has grown to an all-time high at 31, (not counting a couple of others kept at my place of work and another in my jacket pocket). Here is what 31 pens looks like.

The 31 currently inked, bunched roughly according to ink colour

This is due to a combination of factors: a number of new arrivals; an eagerness to try out new pen and ink combination ideas without waiting for another pen to run dry, and a general reluctance to flush away good ink.

The currently inked list. Note, five all inked with Tavy blue black, three with Pilot Iroshizuku Shin-kai, three with Graf Cobalt blue and two with Montblanc Royal blue.

I do not really see this as a problem. (Perhaps THAT is my problem!) I could go and flush them all this evening, but this would mean wasting the equivalent of almost one entire bottle of ink. Whilst I could cut down, I do enjoy having the choice of all these pens at my finger tips. And the joy is that each and every one feels different.

Recent purchases.

At the end of January, I bought a Montblanc Meisterstuck 145 Classique with platinum trim. As usual it came fitted with a Medium nib but I had six weeks in which to request a free nib exchange. I did visit a Montblanc store in London where I was able to try out the various nib options. I was very tempted by the Broad, which would have been my choice if I were to have swapped. But in the end I did not want to part with my Medium nib that I had grown to enjoy. The nib had taken a few weeks to run in and in short, we had “bonded”.

In the early weeks since buying this pen, I tried a different ink on every fill but have now settled on the lovely Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red, for the time being.

Another purchase, made at the London pen show in March, was the new Leonardo Officina Italiana, “Furore”, in a vibrant orange with gold colour trim and a Fine nib. In a rare stroke of genius, I have paired this with Waterman Tender Purple – a fun ink for a fun pen and am loving the combo. Also the feel of this nib on Leuchtturm journal paper makes me want to exclaim “Ooh, that’s lovely!” every time I write with it.

The artificial light does not do this justice.

My only other pen purchase from the show was my Diplomat Excellence A, Marrakesh, with a Fine nib in 14k gold. This has been inked with Tavy and I have been using it happily for my daily journal. The first fill had been with Diamine Cherry Sunburst, which I did not enjoy so much with this pen; perhaps it was just too matchy matchy for the metallic brown pen.

Unexpected gifts.

In February I received a wonderful surprise gift from a pen friend in Australia, who sent me his Pilot Custom 823 and Graf von Faber-Castell black Guilloche, both with Broad nibs and both fantastic pens. The 823 had been a grail pen for me and difficult to find in the UK. On my last visit to Hong Kong in 2017 I had hoped to have a chance to do some pen foraging and perhaps bag an 823 but my shopping plans were cut short by a bout of Sciatica and so the 823 had remained on my wish list. So I was extremely happy when one arrived on my doormat out of the blue.

Then in March, having read of my new Classique and my dilemma over whether to go for a nib exchange, my friend sent me a superb, 1970’s Montblanc 146 with a broad nib, which unlike the modern versions is an all gold finish and rather softer too. The pen also had a solid clear ink window instead of the small rectangular windows that the modern piston fillers have. This was an extremely generous and unexpected gift and you can imagine how thrilled I was on opening this package.

Montblanc Meisterstuck 146, with Broad nib. Believed to date from the 1970’s.

London Pen Club.

Our pen club met on 6 April, with a good turnout of around 15 people. Being the first gathering since the London pen show, a few of us had some new goodies from the show for others to try. My orange Leonardo Furore drew some admiring comments.

John had brought along his Montblanc 146 and 149. I was interested to compare these alongside my 145 and 146 and got a photo of them all in a row.

The first and third are mine…the 145 and 146.

Cameron had brought a recently acquired Pelikan M815 shiny stripes Stresemann, which was impressive, being heavier than the normal M800’s due to the metal in the barrel.

Penultimate Dave brought along an entire pen case of Arco beauties from his collection and some lovely Conway Stewarts which felt good in the hand.

However, I am pleased to report that I was feeling very content with my lot and did not feel the need to acquire anything else. Whilst it is always great to try other people’s pens, and many of brands that you just do not see in pen shops, I was happy in the end just to know that they exist. I felt, for the moment at least, cured of the need to acquire any more pens!

Harrods and Selfridges.

To put this to the test, I took the opportunity after the pen club meet, to visit both Harrods and Selfridges, to have a browse around their fountain pen departments and see what was new.

In Harrods, there is a particularly good range of Montegrappa pens. I had a second look at the “Monte Grappa” models, a recent range of retro style piston fillers, in black, navy blue, lavender or coral. They are available with either steel nibs or 14k gold nibs, the latter version being £445.00 in Harrods.

I was pleased to discover a very quick route to Harrods’ pen department currently located on the third floor, as “Pens, Books and Games” rather than the “Great Writing Room” of the past. (If you walk round to the back of Harrods, in the Basil Street entrance, take the escalator to the third floor, go left through Stationery, you will get straight to the fountain pens. You’re welcome).

A few tube stops later I was at Selfridges, where the pens are on basement level. I had a good look around the displays, with a good selection of the high end brands, including Yard O Led, Graf von Faber-Castell, Caran d’Ache, Chopard, SJ Dupont, Montegrappa, Pelikan and a few Viscontis, as well as Parker, Cross, Sheaffer and Waterman. As with Harrods, there is a separate booth for Montblanc.

I noticed Pineider there for the first time, with La Grande Bellazza models in Malachite and various other colours and two demonstrator models, one being the Honeycomb, which I had not seen before. The other with a gold coloured spring inside appeared at first glance like a posh TWSBI Go.

I was able to leave both Harrods and Selfridges without parting with any money. This time.

My (restrained) haul from the London Pen Show, Spring 2019

This year for the first time, London has two pen shows. In addition to the usual one in October, a second London date in March was added to replace the show in Cambridge.

I had been looking forward to it, albeit with conflicting ideals of (a) trying to be sensible and not buy more pens unless there was some good reason and (b) having a look at the new Leonardo Furore, the Opus 88 Omar or Koloro, the new Scribo in blue and perhaps a Sailor Pro Gear Ocean, (although I was still undecided on nib choice). My preparations for the day included bringing cash, a bigger shoulder bag, dressing lighter, and bringing some ink plus a pen that I had agreed to lend to a friend Gary. My wife was also joining me for her first pen show.

We arrived soon after 9am and had time for a chat with some friends from my pen club before the early bird admissions at 9.30am.

Once inside, the temptations came thick and fast. At the first table I realised I had forgotten to bring my loupe to look at nibs. I handled a modern Conklin Mark Twain Crescent Filler in black carbon fibre for £100.00 which was likely to sell fast. I have two of these pens in the red and the coral resin and managed to resist.

Next, with my powers of resistance already depleted I found Stefano’s table. I first met Stefano at last October’s show, when I bought a new limited edition Delta Fantasia Vintage from him, in beautiful dark green celluloid. This time his table included a prominent display rack of brightly coloured Leonardo Officina Italiana Furore pens. Last year, the Leonardo Momento Zero fountain pen was very well received. I had bought one in an attractive burgundy resin. The new model, the Furore was introduced late last year and I had not yet seen one in the flesh. Like the Momento Zero, it is a resin pen, cartridge converter filler, with a good quality stainless steel nib. A blind cap unscrews to access the converter without removing the barrel if you wish. Whilst the Momento Zero had flattened ends, the Furore goes for bullet shaped ends and looks very appealing in photos on social media.

Leonardo Furore Arancio

it is a good sized pen, wide and chunky but sleek. I liked the look of the turquoise model and the bright red, both very vibrant, but it was the orange one that most took my fancy. It had an Extra Fine nib but Stefano kindly swapped it for a Fine. They are friction fit although this involved a bit of a wrestle.

The new Furore, from Leonardo Officina Italiana

These pens, whilst not limited editions, are individually numbered on the barrel. Perhaps the orange (“Arancio”) edition was introduced after the first run. Stefano told me that he had only just received these from the manufacturers, just in time for the London show. The serial number of the orange pen was 001! I was already smitten but the serial number was a special bonus. I felt like David Gilmour owning the first Fender Stratocaster. This sort of thing does not normally happen to me. (Coincidentally I had been listening a lot to Brit Floyd on YouTube recently, the highly accomplished Pink Floyd tribute band).

Numero uno!

I had been attracted to the idea of having a bright orange pen since seeing the Pineider Avatar, saffron, in Harrods last year and perhaps seeing the Pelikan M600 in vibrant orange had also put ideas in my head.

Next I met John Hall of Write Here and had a look at the new Opus 88 pens on his table. He had brought the Koloro eye-dropper pens and also had one which had been fitted with a Titanium nib, which was quite flexy. I also liked the look and the size of the new larger, Omar pens. He had them in all colours except the green which was the colour that I might have bought, but there is always the online option. I later met a friend Vijay in the coffee lounge who had just bought an Omar in grey and it looked very nice. They hold a massive amount of ink but unlike my Opus 88 Demonstrator, it is more discretely hidden in the Omar.

At John Twiss’ table, in addition to his own range of pens, he had a few Diplomat Excellence pens at irresistible prices. I saw a smart silver grey model and also the metallic brown Marrakesh. Both were fitted with 14k gold Diplomat nibs and were for sale at £150.00 , which as John pointed out was less than Cult Pens’ price for the steel nib version. I have a Diplomat Esteem, which is the mid sized model, with a steel nib which is fabulous, very smooth and a little springy. I had thought about buying an Excellence, (the large size model) as the nibs are so good but had never seen a gold nib version for sale. I chose the Marrakesh, with a 14k gold nib in a Fine.

The Diplomat Excellence A2 Marrakesh with a Fine nib in 14k gold.

John Twiss also had an unusual Diplomat Excellence in a beautiful geometric pattern of dark blue and black rectangles for £70.00, which looked stunning under the lights. I persuaded my wife to buy it, telling her how great Diplomat pens are and how you do not see them for sale here, even in Harrods or Selfridges. She also liked a ball point pen in a retro design with metal latticework. John offered her a price of £10.00 for these if bought with the Excellence. She bought two of them.

Wife’s haul. A Diplomat Excellence, with a steel nib (Fine) and a screw cap. Also two ball point pens. Not bad for a first timer.

It was good to see so many friends from our monthly pen club meet ups, about 12 of them, and to introduce my wife. Jon and his wife Deb had a table, to promote Pensharing, Jon’s online scheme to enable people to hire pens from each other. We also spoke to the vendors, many of whom I know by name now from previous pens shows.

We stopped by the Armando Simoni Club table, to talk to Europe Sales Manager Cristina Guida. I looked at a really gorgeous Wahl Eversharp in turquoise with a massive gold nib. which looked like a grail pen, if not a daily carry.

Cristina from Armando Simoni Club

We met Sarj Minhas and had a look at his extensive displays, living up to the name of the one man pen show. We stopped to talk to KWZ Ink, over from Poland. I had met Konrad Zurawski and Agnieszka when they visited our London pen club meet up in June last year. Their table had a well organised ink testing station with colourful samples of their expanding range of inks.

Agnieszka and Konrad Zurawski of KWZ Ink. Also Konrad’s homemade chocolate brownie!

After going round a couple of times, we took a break in the coffee lounge. Many of our pen club had gathered and it was fun to hear what others had bought. We had some lunch and a cup of tea, chatting to friends. My wife was happy to sit out the next round while I went back in for another lap. There was so much to see and I could very easily have got carried away if money had been no object. I had a look at a Sailor pen on The Writing Desk’s table (Martin and Anna Roberts). I have bought a several pens from them in the past. I held off this time but bought a bottle of Diamine Cherry Sunburst (in the Gibson Les Paul guitar series).

Ink stash from the show. Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red, Diamine Tavy, a Diamine Conway Stewart mystery ink (green) bought because of the cute bottle and a Diamine Cherry Sunburst.

The aftermath

The pen show experience does not end when you leave the hall. Back home in the evening, I caught up on the many photos of the day on Instagram and enjoyed Anthony’s excellent blog on UK fountain pens.

It had been a wonderful day. I inked up both of my new pens, after rinsing the nibs which had been dipped at the show. I chose to put the Diamine Cherry Sunburst in both. The brown ink looked quite nice on cream paper, although I was tired by then and with hindsight it was a mistake to ink up two new pens at once, particularly with the same new ink. The ink is more suggestive of the natural wood colour than the red and gold sunburst paint job of a Les Paul. I also noticed that the Furore resin is semi translucent and that when inked, the dark ink is visible through the section and slightly spoils the effect of the bright orange. Both of my new pens had Fine nibs.

Leonardo Furore, Fine nib (gold colour plating)

During the week I had the opportunity to spend time using the Diplomat Excellence taking notes at a day of CPD lectures. By then I had refilled it with my favourite blue black, Diamine’s Conway Stewart Tavy which suits it better. The pen writes reliably and well although the nib feels a bit firmer than I had expected. Perhaps I was remembering the Scribo Extra Flex nib that I had tried at the show which makes normal nibs feel like nails. The Diplomat has a pleasant feedback. I expect the nib will feel smoother once it has been written in. It is also a heavy pen at 47g posted, or 29g unposted.

There were lots of other pens that I resisted. I could have bought another Wancher Crystal Emerald (clear demonstrator with lovely dark green section and ends) but reminded myself that I already have three of these eye-dropper, cartridge converter pens. They are the perfect size and shape for me and the Jowo steel nibs are generally very good. I also looked at some old Parker Duofold Big Reds, as seen in the advertisements of the 1920’s but without knowing more about them and their prices I would need some help to find one.  There were countless other vintage Parkers and other pens at affordable prices, with coloured stickers indicating the price group but I passed these by.

As always, the pen show makes for a great day out. My only regrets are of not spending more time at certain tables, such as Onoto for example and that I took hardly any photos during the show but with the limitations of time and energy and with so much to see, it is difficult to make the most of the day. I did not do too badly and there is always the next one in October.

On attempting to score the currently inked.

Today’s post is inspired by a recent piece by Anthony at UK Fountain pens, A grand new methodology: scoring my pen collection. The idea was to give pens a score, by awarding marks in four categories, namely Practicality, Writing Experience, Comfort and Visual Appeal. Two other categories, namely Rarity and Sentimental Value were discarded for reasons which he explains.

Having made a currently inked list today, of no less than 27 fountain pens in the pen cups at home, I thought to revisit Anthony’s post and try the exercise for myself, applying it to the pens that I have in use.

And so I made a list of the pens. I ignored duplicates. For example I have two Wing Sung 601s and another two Wing Sung 601As all inked. I included one of each in my table. I added four columns to insert my score plus a fifth column for the total. The pens were listed in no particular order.

I found it easiest to complete one column at a time, awarding marks to all the pens for Practicality first, and then moving on to score them all for Writing Experience and so on. Within a short time, I had all four columns done and was able to insert the totals at the end of each row, out of a possible maximum score of 12.

This exercise does produce some pretty bizarre results. First, no consideration was given to the value of the pen, so you might get a very expensive pen sharing the same score as a cheap one. Secondly a pen might score highly in one category but do poorly in another, for example having a wonderful nib and writing experience but being awkward to hold. I tried to be reasonable in my scoring but the method is very subjective. I seldom gave a zero but did so for the Platinum Procyon for comfort, (sharp metal threads just where I grip the pen) the Lamy CP1 for comfort (very narrow and slippy even though the pen is a marvel and a design classic) and to the Kaweco Perkeo for (lack of) visual appeal. But they all have other attributes which go to balance their bad points.

At the end of the exercise, I wrote up the list again, in descending order of total scores. I went one step further and converted their marks out of 12 into percentages.

The three winners, in joint first place with 92% were my Parker Duofold International, Waterman Carene and Kaweco Dia 2. These are all pens which should stop me wanting other pens.

Waterman Carene. One of my all time favourites.

Next came the Pilot Custom 823 and Italix Captain’s Commission in equal 2nd place, with 83%. The Pilot is a recent acquisition which had long been on my wish list. I love how it feels but it just loses a mark for ease of cleaning.

In third position, with 75%. were the Wing Sung 601 and 601A, a Waterman Expert and a Pilot Custom Heritage 92.

The biggest group were tied in fourth place, with 67% comprising six pens ranging from Montblancs to a Chinese Duke Dreamworld (re-branded as an Autograph) and so you can see how the rankings get shaken up when you take cost out of the equation.

I had more groups of pens, tied closely in fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth places but looking back over the results, I am not sure that the outcomes fairly reflect how I feel about the pens overall. Perhaps if you add more categories, the end results might start to look more fair.

This was an interesting exercise. I agree with Anthony’s opening comment that any attempt at objectively scoring fountain pens is doomed to failure. In my case, I like all of the pens in my pen cups, some more than others and for a host of different reasons.

I think I probably knew that my Duofold and Carene would come out as favourites. Of more surprise was the Kaweco Dia which is a steel nib pen and of much lower cost. I was surprised that the Wing Sungs tied with the Pilot Custom Heritage 92 and Waterman Expert for total marks, although I gave the Wing Sungs full marks for comfort and a 2 for all the other categories. Since I smoothed the nibs a little with some micromesh there is little to fault them. The later model, 601A comes with a plastic wrench to remove the piston mechanism for cleaning and greasing. They are lightweight, reliable and effortless writers and fun to own.

Wing Sung 601 vacumatic fountain pen, in Lake Blue.

I have not tried yet to rank any other pens in my collection. I am very fortunate to own some excellent pens and also fortunate to find joy in many low and mid-range pens when they perform well.

Perhaps like being able to drive different types of car, it is good to be able to use and enjoy pens of all shapes and sizes. I am still discovering my own preferences but sometimes the reasons why I seem to write more neatly with one pen than another, can be elusive. Is it the weight, the balance, the width of the section, the length of the nib, the materials or some combination of all of these? In all, it is a question of whether you feel relaxed with the pen.

Certainly it is useful to evaluate pens in some way, to think about what we like and why. With the London Pen Show tomorrow I will do well to remember the many favourites that I already own and to try to think whether any new pens on sale are really going to add anything. Thinking in terms of specific categories of attributes might help with this but I suspect that in the heat of the moment the heart will rule the head as usual!

Waterman Carene marine amber fountain pen review.

This was my last pen purchase of 2018 and I mentioned it at the end of my 2018 round up.

Background.

This is not a new model. The Carene has been around for a while but I have not had one before and am late to the party. It is made of brass, with an attractive lacquer finish, an inlaid nib in 18k gold and gold coloured fittings.

Inlaid nib of the Waterman Carene, in 18k gold.

I remember looking at a number of reviews of the pen, a few years ago. These were mixed, with many commenting on the smoothness of the nib but a few reporting problems such as leaks or a barrel end finial which did not line up with the nib. One particularly enticing review recently was by Paul Godden in his blog Writing For Pain and Pleasure, in September 2018.

They are available in our local John Lewis, Brent Cross in north west London and I continued to keep an eye on them. I once handled a gorgeous black version with a handsome Palladium cap but stopped short of buying it. Currently the marine amber model is still at John Lewis at around £235.00, which is the maximum damage you can do to your wallet in their fountain pen department (not counting the Parker Fifth Generation which I would not class as fountain pens). A Cross Townsend in quartz blue is about the same price. In November, John Lewis offered a generous 30% off most fountain pens but at the time, I chose to buy a Cross Townsend instead. A week or two later, when I was still hankering after a Waterman Carene, the offer had ended.

But as luck would have it, Cult Pens then offered the Carene for sale at £149.00 and had a promotion, giving a further 10% off. The bad news was that they were waiting for stock, but you could register your interest to receive an email when they were back in stock. I did so and about a week later, got the notification. Without a moment’s hesitation I put in my order.

Waterman Carene, Marine Amber fountain pen.

Description.

The main feature of the pen is its inlaid nib, which is uncommon these days. Also the profile of the pen with its sweeping prow and corresponding slope of the barrel end finial, is said to evoke the contours of a luxury yacht. It is a medium sized pen, elegant rather than flashy and the lacquered finish adds appeal. Other finishes are available, including black, blue or red but only the marine amber finish offers this mottled effect.

The snap on cap is bullet shaped and no bigger than it needs to be, to fit the contours of the tapering grip section and nib within. The pocket clip is simple but with a gentle wave form and is sprung. A gold plated cap ring bears the name Waterman and (on the reverse side), France.

The cap can be posted on the barrel. You do not need to and many will find the pen long enough without posting. Personally I prefer to post and grip the pen higher up, although the cap then hides the gold plated end button and you lose part of your “boat”.

The boat waits patiently whilst a decision is made on ink choice.

The barrel unscrews with nice metal threads. Two rubber o-rings give a reassuring hold as you tighten it in place. This prevents the barrel from coming loose but also deters me from undoing the barrel too often as the o-rings may perish eventually.

The pen came with a Waterman converter although you may also use Waterman cartridges. (I believe standard international cartridges may also fit but have not tried). One slight mystery is that the housing for the cartridge or converter has a separate, smooth surfaced gold plated collar which can be unscrewed and removed. I am not sure of the purpose of this.

Two rubber o-rings on the threads. Not sure what the removable gold ring is for.

Weights and measurements (approximate).

  • Closed: 144mm
  • Open: 128mm
  • Posted: 148mm
  • Grip section, max: 11mm.
  • Weight uncapped: 23g
  • Weight cap only: 10g
  • Weight posted: 33g

These figures all look close to ideal, for me. The weight has some heft but is not burdensome. The grip section is very comfortable, having no cap threads and only a minimal step down from the barrel. There are two tiny lugs to secure the cap but these are less noticeable than those of the Lamy 2000. The section tapers and so the grip is slightly narrower if you hold closer to the nib.

The nib and writing performance.

As almost every reviewer says, the nib is very smooth. Mine is a Medium although writes on the broader side of a medium. It also writes a little stub-like having narrow side strokes and wider down strokes. And it has a luxurious softness to it. It is not stingy with the ink and the flow is on the generous side but not gushy. The smoothness of the nib, the lubrication from the ample ink flow and the softness of the gold nib all make for a wonderful writing experience. I have been using Pilot Iroshizuku Shin-kai ink.

Writing sample with Pilot Iroshizuku Shin-kai on Leuchtturm A5 journal paper.

Likes and dislikes.

This pen seems to have it all: beautiful looks, (uncapped), exceptionally comfortable to hold and with an impressively enjoyable writing experience. And it does not have the disadvantage of being overly expensive.

I have only my one example to go on but I have not had any of the issues that some have complained of. There have been no leaks. I did worry for a moment that the barrel end would not align with the nib but soon realised that I had not tightened the barrel enough. Once you get to the very end of the threads, it all lines up perfectly.

Conclusion.

For some reason, this pen does not seem to get a lot of attention from fountain pen reviewers. Perhaps it is considered too mainstream or not exotic enough. Perhaps some examples do have issues and I have been lucky to get a good one. Personally, I think it is great pen and I struggle to find anything bad to say about it. Yes, there are plenty of more expensive fountain pens on the market but I doubt they would offer a significantly better writing experience. Mine has ticked all the boxes and it just remains to be seen how it stands up over time. I strongly recommend it.

First impressions of the PenBBS 355.

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

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

PenBBS 355 fountain pen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update, 11 January 2019.

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

2018: Some of my fountain pen highlights.

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

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

The reckoning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pen Shows.

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

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

Cambridge Pen Show, March 2018.

The London UK Pen Club.

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

The London UK Fountain Pen Club.

The online community.

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

The successes and failures.

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

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

The favourite pens of 2018.

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

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

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

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

Pineider Avatar, Lipstick Red.

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

Wing Sung 601 in Lake Blue.

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

My Duofold duo.

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

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

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

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

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

Concluding thoughts.

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

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

First impressions of the new Platinum Procyon fountain pen.

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

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

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

Unboxing.

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

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What’s in the box.

Construction and appearance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nib and Feed.

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

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

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The nib, section and threads of the Procyon.

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

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

Filling system.

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

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Some cartridges included, but no converter.

Sizes and weights.

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

Likes and dislikes.

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

Dislikes:

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

Likes:

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

Conclusion.

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

 

 

 

 

My haul from the London Pen Show, 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delta Fantasia Vintage.

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

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

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

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

Opus 88 Demonstrator.

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

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

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

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

Wancher Crystal flat top.

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

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

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

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

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

Leonado Officina Italia, Momento Zero Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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The team photo. Three Taiwanese flanked by two Italians.

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