A new era for marriage registrations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other colours are available.

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

The pens above, from left to right are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

A rather fetching pencil.

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

Lamy Azurite, Crystal Ink.

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

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

Going for a dip with the Moonman glass nib pen.

One risk you take in the fountain pen hobby, is splashing out a large sum of money only to find that it is a disappointment and poor value. On the other hand, occasionally you can buy an inexpensive pen and be genuinely delighted with it exceeding your expectations.

Fortunately this is the case with my newest arrival, a Moonman glass nib pen. This story began when I read a review of the Moonman n6 by Anne on her blog Weirdoforest Pens, a few weeks ago. I was thrilled at the potential of a glass nib housed in a conventional fountain pen body, with a cap, that could be easily transported. I promptly set about finding and ordering one from ebay.

I thought that what I ordered was the same model as Anne’s pen, but evidently I had not paid close enough attention. If hers is the n6, then mine must be something else! Anyway, I will show you what I bought:-

Moonman glass nib dip pen, in Autumn Leaf acrylic.

When ordering the pen, there was a choice of four colours: the names of the colours differ somewhat depending where you order but the choices were Black Ice Flowers, Red Ice Flowers (both of which looked like Koi fish colours), New Rose (the pink version like the colour of the pen in Anne’s review) or the one I chose, called Aurora or Autumn Leaf or Gradient Green. I have since learned that the same acrylic can be found on some Pen BBS models too. It is gorgeous blend of colours and in one of the marketing photos, the pen can be can be seen against an avenue of trees in their autumn colours.

Secondly, apart from chosing your colour, you also have the option to chose a steel nib unit too. There were a few choices but I opted for the “bent nib” or what I would call a fude nib, as something a bit different. Whilst the glass nib has to be dipped in ink, it can easily be unscrewed from the section and replaced with a steel nib, and inked by a cartridge or converter or (although I have not tried), as an eyedropper.

When my pen arrived, it came in a box marked Delike. The glass nib was fitted in the pen, but there was a separate little cellophane sleeve containing my fude nib and a simple converter, with a sliding plunger and a coiled spring ink agitator inside.

It was not until revisiting Anne’s review, that I realised that our pens were not quite the same. Her n6 was 125mm long, or under 120mm uncapped and not postable.

My pen, on the other hand was just 102mm long when capped, a tiny 95mm when uncapped but a super generous 140mm long when posted. As can be seen in my photo, there are screw threads at the end of the barrel, to screw the cap onto the back, where is sits flush with the barrel:

Now with cap posted to make a 140mm beauty!

I was excited to try the glass nib. I dipped it in a nearby bottle of Waterman Serenity blue and tried it on a pad of file paper. For a glass nib pen, the result was very pleasing! It wrote with a fine line and a bit of audible feedback but not scratchiness. The ink flowed evenly and I found that I was able to get a good ten lines of A4 paper on one dip!

I tried a few other inks. That is the beauty of a glass nib pen: you just dip it in water, swish it around a bit and then dry it on a tissue and you are ready to dip again! It is great for sampling a few different inks.

I found that some inks worked better than others with the dip nib. I think it depends on the viscosity and how well the ink sits in the channels in the nib but it is fun to try a few different inks and see how it goes.

When I looked at the steel nib, my first thought was that they had made a mistake or else run out of bent nibs and had given me a standard fine nib instead. However, on closer inspection, I saw that it was I who was mistaken and that the nib was indeed bent.

Dlike EF bent nib. Interchangeable with the glass dip nib. Spelt “Dlike” on the nib but is “Delike” on the box.

I was a little wary of unscrewing the glass nib as I did not want to snap the lovely bulbous nib off. However, it came out quite easily.

Dlike steel bent EF nib and converter, in front of the glass dip nib.

Here is a little writing sample, my first jottings with the glass nib:-

Writing sample, Glass nib and Waterman Serenity Blue. One one dip!

I also had a quick dip with the bent nib but have not yet inked it with the converter. Once it started, it was pleasant to use just writing normally as the bent tip gives narrow down strokes and broad cross strokes, like an architect grind. I will experiment some more with this shortly when I am done with testing the glass nib.

What you get in total, for a modest £21.00.

I am very excited at the possibilities of the cap-able glass dip nib. It is great to be able to sample lots of inks with minimal fuss, without having to ink up a pen and then wash it out thoroughly. Secondly, this one is so easily transportable, unlike my previous all-glass dip pen which is rather delicate and lives in its cardboard box and is anchored inside with elastic loops at both ends.

This pen is about the same size when capped, as a Kaweco Sport and as such, it fits nicely into a Kaweco Sport sleeve. Once our pen club re-convenes, I shall make a nuisance of myself dipping into inks that I have not tried before. A dip nib gives you the option to sample an ink, write for a few lines, or a few pages and then carry on or else try a different ink: no big decisions on whether to ink up a pen and to have to get through 20 or more pages before you can have a change.

Also, it is great for trying a little bit of mixing, without any fears of the inks being incompatible and gumming up your feed. Or you can re-discover inks that had been put aside due to causing nib creep: I can think of an orange ink and a yellow-green that I enjoy but do not use, because of that.

Finally a size comparison of the posted pen against the ubiquitous Safari:-

Moonman glass nib dip pen next to a Lamy Safari. The Moonman is about 10mm longer.

As you can see, the Moonman is a good comfortable length yet not heavy and the section is a good size for comfort while not too big for some ink bottles. I am a happy customer.

Another look at the Hero 912 fountain pen.

This weekend my fountain pen-related activities have included a typical mix of journaling, letter-writing, cleaning four pens that were empty or near empty, inking some others and a little nib tinkering. I unzipped a case of 24 lesser-used pens and pulled out a steel nibbed Parker Sonnet to help it write a bit wetter. This proved quite satisfying and I filled it with Quink blue black and added it to my currently inked.

Whilst looking through those 24 pens, I came across my Hero 912. This is not a particularly heralded model but has sentimental value as it was a gift from our cousins in China, on a holiday there in December 2017. I included a picture of it in my post of 14 December 2017, Travelling with ink, China 2017. Part 1: Meeting the Heroes. I do not know where they bought the pen: probably a department store in Shantou, their nearest big city and I suspect that it may have been the largest, most statesman-like and expensive of the pens available. It is always touching to receive a fountain pen as a gift, particularly if the givers are not particularly fountain pen people.

Hero 912 fountain pen

This particular trip to China, with its sensory overload of wonderful people, places, landscapes and impressions, catching up with as many friends and relatives as possible in a few crammed weeks, was later overshadowed for me by being hospitalised in Guilin with what I later discovered to be sciatica – a rather disabling bout of back pain radiating into the leg. Still, it was a memorable experience, I was very well looked after and where else could you get an MRI scan immediately and for £20?

I mention all this as I had not given the Hero the attention it deserved at the time. It is not a very common pen. There do not seem to be many mentions of it online, apart from me.

It is metal pen, with a glossy black lacquer finish and silver coloured fittings at both ends. The cap pulls off and looks, from the shape of the barrel, as though it is meant to be posted. It will post but makes the pen very back heavy and overly long.

The nib is stainless steel, bi-colour and rather small for the size of the pen. The nib grade was not shown but I would call it a fine. It was smooth, with the tines and tipping material nicely level but very firm and with a rather dry flow.

I was quite pleased with the texture of the paper showing here.

Under the barrel, removed by metal-to-metal threads, there is a collar to fit a standard international cartridge but a Hero branded, plastic slide converter was included.

The pen weighs a fairly substantial 41g capped, or 24.5g uncapped. The cap alone weighs 16.5g. Capped, the pen measures around 142m. Uncapped it is 118mm, and a massive 168mm if you dare to post it.

There is a white plastic inner cap. The cap is quite tight to pull off and so you would probably not want to use this for intermittent note taking. I find it reasonably comfortable to hold, with a tapering grip section (also lacquered metal) and a minimal step from section to barrel.

However I found the length at less than 12cm, to be a bit on the short side, unless holding the pen very low near the nib. Posting the metal cap is not ideal. Fortunately an easy solution lies in posting a light weight cap from another pen, to give you extra length without adding much weight or upsetting the balance. I found that a Lamy Safari cap posts quite well.

The barrel end, shaped for posting. Best not though.

The other issue for me, had been the dry nib. Today, after my recent success with the Parker Sonnet, I had a go at opening up the gap between the tines just a little to get the ink flowing, to write darker and with better lubrication. Before doing this I examined the nib under my x7 loupe and could see that, whilst there was a little gap between the tines at the breather hole, the tines were pretty tight at the tipping. This might suit someone with a heavy touch who writes in the under-writer style. However I am the opposite, mostly using an over-writer style and without using pressure.

Fortunately, this is not too hard to fix, with a little patience and the minimum of tools. One way to make the nib wetter in seconds, advocated by an old SBRE Brown video, is to bend the nib upwards very slightly as this will also have the effect of opening the tine gap a little. But a preferable way, I think, is to separate the tines without bending them upwards, if you can, by using brass shims to floss the tine gap.

My trusty Eschenbach x7 loupe, used almost daily.

With a little trial and error, this is done by starting with a very thin grade of brass shim and inserting a corner of the sheet into the breather hole, and then drawing it downwards and out through the tip. As it loosens, you may work the brass back and forth a little, up and down though the nib slit. The brass shim can also be inserted between the tines from the tipping end. Once you feel that it can move freely between the tines, you may stop or repeat with a slightly thicker grade if you want to go further. It is a good idea to stop frequently, blow away any metal residue or rinse in water and examine the results under the loupe again and test the writing experience with a dip in the ink.

Just a little light now between the tines, makes a big difference.

I did not go too far with this nib but just got the barest glimpse of daylight between the tines at the tipping material, which means that I can lay down ink without pressing down on the nib. You do not want to go too far with this, as it is harder to undo an overly wet nib.

I am pleased that the pen is now more usable, as a result of a little nib wrangling and the application of a handy Lamy Safari cap on the back. It now writes well with a smooth, fine line and joins my pen cups, newly inked with a cartridge of Kaweco royal blue. Given the right paper (something fairly smooth like Basildon Bond letter writing paper) this can be used and enjoyed as well as being a fond reminder of the kind and generous cousins in China.

Writing sample after easing the nib a bit.

The Pilot Capless: how to turn a pocket clip into a roll-stop.

I had avoided the Pilot Capless (or Vanishing Point) for a long time, as I could foresee the pocket clip being in the way. Eventually I succumbed to the temptation, unable to resist the all matt black version and bought one in June 2020.

Although I had heard good reports of the nibs on these pens, the 18k gold, medium nib on my pen was wonderful and exceeded my expectations. The writing experience was smooth, with a lovely degree of softness. Also, because of the generous ball of tipping material and an ample ink flow, lubricating the nib well, I found that I could hold the pen at less than the optimum “sweet spot” and it would still write almost as well.

Pilot Capless in the matt black finish.

If you are a lefty-overwriter, as I am, there is no escaping the fact that the clip on the Pilot Capless may be just where you would like to rest your thumb, in order to rotate the nib slightly inwards. To get the best flow from a nib, the two tines need to be held evenly to the paper, not one touching the paper before the other (although a soft nib compensates and adjusts itself to your grip, like the independent suspension on a car).

As I do not have a perfectly symmetrical grip, with finger and thumb either side of the pocket clip, I found that the Capless was best suited to my lefty-underwriting style, but this does not feel natural to me and I still find it difficult to write vertical lines which do not lean, either backwards or forwards.

I read an article online about how to perform a Pilot Capless “clipectomy”. This is not as easy as you might hope. It involves warming the nose cap to soften the adhesive that holds it on, and then pulling it away from the pen, so that you can get at the underside of the clip fastening, to prise open the folded metal wings of the clip that hold it on. You then replace the nose cone, and need to glue it in place again. You are left with unsightly holes in the nose cone where the clip used to be fixed (although they do not affect the air-tightness of the nib chamber). Some people like to paint the inside with lacquer or nail varnish before replacing the nose cone, to have some contrasting colour show through the holes, like the eyes of a little robot.

I did once make a tentative effort to perform this operation, first removing the nib unit from the pen and then warming the nose cone carefully over a flame. Once it was hot, I tried pulling it away but it would not move at all and I gave up, planning at some point to ask someone with more expertise.

In recent days, seeing the pen in my pen cup and rather unfulfilled, I decided to have a go at removing just the lower part of clip, since this is the part that obstructs my grip. I thought it may be possible to saw it off, near the top and then file the jagged edge smooth.

I prepared myself, with a metal hacksaw and slid a piece of cardboard under the clip to protect the black coating of the barrel. This proved more difficult than expected: the saw would not stay in the same grove and would slide left and right, scratching the coating of the clip wherever it went.

Giving up on this method, I then decided to bend the clip upwards, away from the barrel. This was very quick and easy and once it reached about 90 degrees, it simply broke off. This literally takes a few seconds.

Problem solved. Almost.

However, what takes longer is then trying to file the jagged edges smooth so as not to cause injury or discomfort. I slid cardboard under the remains of clip and used the metal file on my Leatherman, holding this in one hand and the pen in the other, braced against the table. Care is needed to avoid the file slipping and scratching the pen.

Using cardboard to protect the pen while filing the sharp edges.

I spent a bit of time on this stage, checking the results and blowing away the residue. It would have been nice to bend down the broken end of the clip to meet the barrel but I could not figure out a way to do this with pliers whilst still protecting the pen from marks, so I decided against it.

The result is far from perfect and obviously not expertly done. However, leaving aesthetics aside, the pen is now very much more usable and I have the freedom at last to hold it any way I want. It would still be preferable to remove it completely but as a quick fix, it has solved this lefty’s problem.

The former clip is now a roll-stop (before puffing away the filings).

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

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

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

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

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

Available in a wide range of colours.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nib and feed disassembled

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

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

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

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

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

That red though!

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

Some thoughts on copying Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius was Roman Emperor, from 161 until his death in 180AD, aged 58. He kept a book of his personal reflections and ideas, intended for his own encouragement and guidance. It was not meant for publication, but was to become Meditations, one of the greatest of all works of philosophy. Written in Greek, it was comprised of 12 books, or chapters. I recently completed a writing project, to copy out the text from an English translation, in pen and ink. I thought I would share a few thoughts on this exercise.

I. The Inspiration

One of the good things to come out of 2020, for me, was finding a post on Instagram by Kimberly (@allthehobbies) who was copying out the entire text of Meditations using fountain pens, writing in a print style like a typewriter font. She changes pens and inks every two pages, recording the combination used at the end of each spread, at the foot of the right hand page and would occasionally post pictures of these spreads on Instagram. The page that I first noticed was on 15 June 2020, when she had used a purple Opus 88 Picnic, with Kobe 57 Himeajisai/Hydrangea ink. She was using a journal of Tomoe River, 52gsm paper.

I was impressed at how neat and uniform her lettering was, as though it had been printed. But as well as that, the text itself jumped out at me: I read a few lines and found the content so direct and engaging that I wanted to read more. The thought that she was to copy out an entire book, seemed too daunting to contemplate. And yet gradually, I resolved to copy her idea and do the very same thing. I liked the thought that I could read some philosophy whilst at the same time, improve my penmanship, create some colourful spreads of writing and get some added use from my accumulated fountain pens and inks in the process. I love to write with a fountain pen and thought that this sounded an enjoyable and worthwhile challenge.

II. The Preparation.

Naturally, I already had plenty of different pens and inks to use. I had to track down a copy of Meditations and found it in our local Waterstones, at the Brent Cross shopping centre. I bought the Penguin Classics paperback edition, translated with notes by Martin Hammond and first published in 2006. For a notebook to write it in, I wanted something which would not run out before I reached the end. I decided on an A4 format. I found a nice hard cover A4 Notebook, Ruled, with 192 pages, and what looked like a pleasant paper surface for fountain pens. It had stitched binding and so could be opened flat. It was from “5 Star Office” and I bought it in a delightful shop, the Eton Stationers, in High Street, Eton, Windsor. (This is also a great place for fountain pen ink, mechanical pencils and all manner of stationery goodies).

My notebook on the bookstand with my copy of Marcus Aurelius’ work, “Meditations”.

One issue for me with A4 notebooks, is that as a lefty overwriter, I would turn the book about 60 degrees anticlockwise to write in it (“uphill”) and almost always dog-ear the left hand side whilst writing on the right hand page. However, the plan for this project was to write in a print style, (like Kimberly’s) which would require me to use my left-handed underwriting style, with elbow tucked in and with the notebook straight like a normal person.

I paginated the notebook and tried out the paper with a number of different pens and inks from my pen cups. I was encouraged that the paper surface was smooth but not unpleasantly coated and that it resisted bleedthrough for all the pens that I tried, with one exception, a Pilot V pen, single use fountain pen whose black ink seems to be specially formulated not to dry out for years but makes it very runny so that it soaks through paper. It had 32 rows per page with a sensible 8mm row height which I like.

One other essential purchase was a book stand. I found a good selection online and ordered a wooden one, which could be adjusted easily for the viewing angle and which could also be folded flat for storage. It had a fold down wooden ledge for the book to rest on and two strong metal flexible arms to hold the pages open. I wrote out the alphabet at the back of my notebook in both upper and lower case, to practice the shapes. I was all set.

III. The Execution.

Having gathered together all the ingredients, I was eager to get started on page 1. Deciding that there would be plenty of time to improve, I waded straight in. It was a novelty to write in a print style rather than cursive and to use a type-writer style font, which I loosely called “Times New Roman” perhaps because of the word association with Marcus’s job. It soon became apparent that this is not as easy as it sounds. First, I had not really practised enough to decide upon a consistent relative height of my letters. There is something called the x height, which is the height of the letter x and other lower case letters which do not have bits sticking up or down. (See how I have learned the terminology?) I always struggled with the lower case h, for example and was not sure where I stood with the letter t. Then there are the serifs. I usually tried to include these, but would sometimes add them at the end of a word, or do them all together at the end of a line (when I could get my arm ready for a series of cross-strokes) or even do a few lines together. Occasionally with some of the pens I used, I skipped the serifs on the basis that if they were not horizontal, they just made the writing look messy. Sometimes I would put a serif on one leg of an m, or an h, but not the other.

Zooming in on the Diplomat Esteem with Diamine Tyrian Purple.

Another difficulty that I discovered is that lefty-underwriting is not natural for me and I have a difficulty even in making a perpendicular line, say for a letter L or K. Instead, it would lean a little bit backwards or forwards, turning my page into something more like a ransom note, than a work of philosophy.

I learned that pace is important: go too fast and the writing becomes scrappy. But go too slow and it can look too laboured and shaky. Rather like learning to touch-type, the best course is to find a steady rate at which you can keep going, accurately and carefully but not too fast or slow. Write at a speed at which you can think ahead, not in fast bursts.

It soon becomes apparent that copying out a text in this way, is very different from reading a book. I would look at the line of text and hold the next group of words in my head, or try to, in order to write the next three or four words. It is slow going, because there is often a little delay in finding your place again in the book when you look back up at it.

Perhaps the worst danger was of tackling this when I was too sleepy. I do like to relax after work by sitting down with a notebook and a few fountain pens, but there is a risk of nodding off to sleep and slipping out of consciousness whilst still writing. This is not good if Marcus is expounding on a theme with long sentences, or lots of Greek or Roman names which are unfamiliar to me and sometimes sentences which go on for line after line.

A page of my A4 notebook could take me about an hour. I did not write against the clock but would like to finish a page or a two page spread in one sitting, as I looked forward to finishing it off with the name of the ink and the pen. I did not map out in advance, which pens and ink I would use but just flicked back a few pages to see which I had not used lately and would then choose something out of my pen cup.

I put up a few photos of my efforts on Instagram . I was encouraged by Kimberly who commented “It doesn’t take too long to see improvements, just don’t beat yourself up over every letter that doesn’t look like what you want it to. Celebrate the ones that do.” She remains modest over her excellent calligraphy (which is far neater than mine) and cites @itsrainingpens as one of her inspirations.

Like Kimberly, I really loved having this project to pick up from time to time. I did not come to it every day and would sometimes leave it a week or more, or at other times I would have several long sessions on consecutive days. You can make your own rules.

An example page from the Moonman S5 with Waterman Serenity Blue.

At times, I was pleasantly surprised at how a paragraph of text looked on my page. At other times, when the letter sizes were too erratic and sloping back and forth, I wondered at the point of it all. But there is always the thought that each new page, even each new word, is a chance to do better, literally to turn over a new leaf.

Gradually, I found myself advancing through the book. I did some calculations occasionally, cross-multiplying, to estimate on what page of my notebook I would reach the end (e.g. if page 86 of the book is page 103 of my notebook, then the end (page 122) of the book will be 146. Sure enough I was to finish half way down my page 145.

IV. The completion.

It was nice and strangely momentous to get to the last page. I had started in August 2020 and finished in February 2021, after 7 months. It is pleasing to sit back and leaf back through my notebook to see all the different pens and inks that I employed. I added up a total of 44 different inks and 46 different pens used overall.

It is nice to finish something that you have started. The project saw me through the autumn and winter months. Was it the best use of my time? I think it was a worthwhile exercise, in time that I would otherwise have spent resting, watching television, listening to music or writing and tinkering with my pens and inks for the simple joy of writing.

This is not to pay a dis-service to Marcus for taking me on an incredible journey through his thoughts and reasoning in such a special and unique book. It is amazing to think that this was written almost 2,000 years ago. How often do we get to hear the innermost thoughts of a man grappling with the big universal questions that have taxed philosophers for centuries? How often can we sit and listen to a Roman Emperor? To say he was a thinker is an understatement. It is an inspiring book to read and makes me want to explore and write down my own thoughts. Now that really would be a challenge.

Reaching the end, with the Pineider Avatar and a cartridge of unknown purple ink. “Go then in peace: the god who lets you go is at peace with you.”

Early thoughts on the Narwhal Schuylkill 365 fountain pen.

Narwhal Pens are a relatively new brand in the fountain pen world. Founded less than two years ago in California, the company was launched and made its debut at the DC Supershow on 1 August 2019. The original series was of large, swirly vibrant acrylic, piston fillers in Poseidon blue, Angelfish yellow, Merman green or Hippocampus purple.

From what I can gather, the website went live on 7 August 2019, at narwhalpens.com. An Instagram account was launched, which had attracted 300 followers by 16 October 2019, growing to 500 by 18 January 2020 and to 1,500 by 8 October 2020. Today it has close to 2,000 followers.

Other options were added: a classic black fountain pen and also a clear demonstrator version.

The Schuylkill model was launched at the Philly Pen Show of 17- 19 January 2020. The name Schuylkill comes from the name of a river in Pennsylvania. Google tells me that it is pronounced “skool-kl” and so I suppose it sounds a bit like snorkel. It was named by Dutch settlers and means “hidden river.” A Narwhal is a type of whale, with a distinctive single tusk (well worth googling for images) and forms the logo of the brand.

The Schuylkill model was later available in some exciting new colour options – Asfur Bronze, Chromis Teal, Rockfish Red and Marlin Blue from 22 September 2020.

Also, to mark the company’s first year anniversary, a special limited edition of the Schuylkill was announced, to be made in red swirl ebonite and limited to 365 pieces worldwide. It was available from 22 September 2020. And it is this pen that I am looking at today.

The Unboxing.

This limited edition pen is supplied in a wooden box, with the name NARWHAL etched in capital letters on the sliding lid. Inside the unlined box, was a soft black and burgundy pen-pouch (which I think is imitation leather), featuring the Narwhal logo, a one year warranty card with filling instructions, and the fountain pen itself in a polythene sleeve. I will not keep the pen in the box but it was a nice presentation and useful for storing bits and pieces.

Limited edition set includes a wooden box and a pen pouch.

Design and appearance.

This is a large pen, generously proportioned. The colour of the ebonite is a lovely dark burgundy, smooth and polished, with a dark pinky-red wood-grain effect which is more evident under bright lighting. There is no brand name or any other text at all on the pen body, pocket clip, or nib. The only clue to its origins is the Narwhal logo on the nib.

Narwhal Schuylkill 365 limited edition fountain pen, in red swirl ebonite.

The cap has a gold coloured, slightly domed disk for a finial and a sturdy metal clip in the same finish. There is no cap band. The cap screws off in about one and three quarter turns. The section is of the same red swirl ebonite and tapers slightly towards the nib, with a raised lip at the end. There is no step from barrel to section, but there are cap threads, not at all uncomfortable. A clear ink window gives a good view of the ink remaining and makes it obvious when the pen needs refilling.

The barrel is long and wide, ending with a piston knob, where you will find the limited edition serial number. Mine is 312/365. A gold plated ring separates the piston knob from the rest of the barrel.

Limited edition number, on piston turning knob.

The nib and filling system.

The steel nib was available in fine or medium. I went for a medium. On visual inspection, this looked to be nicely set up, with a slender gap between the tines until meeting the very large and very rounded blob of tipping material. The tines were level and the tipping was extremely smooth.

Filling the pen (after a few flushes with water, to clear any residual oils and to measure ink capacity), I tried Waterman Serenity blue, but changed my mind a couple of times, switching to Diamine’s Conway Stewart Tavy and then to Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt blue, which is in the pen now. I thought of going for an Oxblood or Burgundy ink to suit its colouring but was a little nervous that reddish inks were more likely to stain the inside of the ink window. Perhaps next time. Filling was very smooth and easy. The plunger stops short of the ink window and so you do not actually see it when you lower it for filling. I believe the filling system can be unscrewed for cleaning or adjustment but there was no wrench included with the set. I would be wary of getting involved in piston removal. I dabbled in this with a TWSBI Classic once and had a bit of struggle to get it back in right.

Steel nib, Medium, with Narwhal logo. Tines slightly opened by me.

Writing performance.

The key thing to say here, is that the nib was extremely, glassy smooth. I cannot recall ever having a pen that wrote quite this smoothly. Having said that, it was a little dry for my particular taste (since I am a lefty and mostly use an overwriter style, which needs a wetter flow to lubricate the nib) but I was able to floss the tines and widen the gap just minimally until I could just see daylight between the tines at the tipping material. This adjustment was made without knocking the tines out of alignment. The result was that the pen now writes not only super-smoothly but is also well-lubricated, needing no downward pressure to write. The overall effect is like ice-skating, which might not be to everyone’s taste if you like a bit of feedback.

The medium nib is also, in my view, closer to a typical broad, particularly after my tine-gap widening mentioned above. This is not a bad thing but if you prefer a finer line, for smaller handwriting, then the fine nib may be a better option.

Size and weight.

The pen measures about 145mm capped, and a very commendable 130mm uncapped (this being my personal favourite dimension for an uncapped pen). The cap can be posted, very securely but not deeply, making the pen about 177mm long and so I think most people will find it preferable to use unposted. Weightwise, it is around 28g in all, being about 15g for the pen uncapped and 13g for the cap. The pen does feel light for its size. Presumably the piston mechanism is plastic.

A size comparison of the Narwhal Schuylkill, with a Pelikan M800 below.

Likes and dislikes.

This pen has a lot to commend it, especially at its very reasonable price. In particular:-

  • large size body;
  • piston filler;
  • exceptionally smooth nib;
  • ebonite material with a classic, vintagey appeal;
  • rarity value, with only 365 available worldwide (that is one school-hall!);
  • competitive price, kept modest by use of steel nib rather than gold.

Dislikes: There is little to say against this pen, for its price. Some might find the nib overly smooth to their tastes, or the medium nib too broad. But this had advantages too. If using laid paper, the nib rides the bumps with ease. I have tried very smooth papers too and have yet to experience any skipping.

Perhaps from a design point of view, it might have looked neater if the cap covered the ink window, but conversely it is useful to see the ink level without having to uncap the pen. The designers have chosen function over style, which is a good thing. Some may wish the cap posted deeper, but then the pen is long enough for most people without posting. A wrench for the piston would have been nice, as one is included with some other Narwhal models.

Conclusion.

I am delighted with the pen and very glad to have been able to buy one while still available. I was curious as to how an ebonite pen would feel (smooth) and smell (no smell, to speak of). How to sum up this pen? Like a steel nibbed Pelikan M800? Or an ebonite TWSBI Diamond 580? There is nothing quite like it and most people reading the specification would be surprised that it sells in the UK for £75.00. Narwhal have just introduced another new model of the Schuylkill range, the Porpita Navy, limited to 800 pieces. That looks very tempting too. This young brand is on an upward trajectory. Narwhal pens are available in the UK from Stonecott Fine Writing or in the USA from Goldspot Pens. The pen in this review was purchased with my own funds.

In sunlight, the red swirls really stand out.

Some thoughts on the Lamy Nexx fountain pen.

About a year ago, a pen friend overseas asked if I could help him to find a replacement Lamy Nexx, with a yellow cap. I knew very little about the Nexx but read that the yellow (“Citron”) was an edition from 2015.

Our local WH Smiths at London’s Brent Cross shopping centre sells the Lamy Nexx but I have seen only the lime green cap version there, in contrast to their wide selection of Safari and Al-Stars. However, as luck would have it, finding a yellow one online was a piece of cake as they were available from the Hamilton Pen Company. I took the opportunity of ordering two, to try one for myself.

Lamy Nexx, Citron (2015 edition).

I had seen the Nexx for sale many times, hanging on blister packs beside the Lamy Safari and Al-Star range, but had never bought one, dismissing them as a bit childish. Also, although I have bought plenty of Safaris and Al-Stars over the years, I did so despite the faceted grip, not because of it. As a lefty over-writer, who rotates his fountain pen nibs inwards a few degrees, the facets do not align with my fingers and consequently I am left with thumb and forefinger resting on uncomfortable ridges rather than the intended facets. I can hold them if using my under-writer style but this is not so natural for me and therefore limits my use of the pens.

There is a big difference with the Nexx: the grip area is of a black rubber and the edges of the facets are not so pronounced and the edges are not at all sharp.

Design and construction.

The Nexx is a robust, workhorse of a pen, if ever there was one. The barrel is made of a aluminium with a silvery, satin finish and blends from being round, next to the grip, to being triangular (but rounded off) at the back end. The grip section is of black rubber and of generous girth. The cap is of a tough plastic with an integral plastic pocket clip (on my version) with a hole should you wish to attach a lanyard to carry it around your neck.

The Nexx uncapped with a girthy rubber grip. Facet edges softer than on the Safari or Al-Star.

The nib is the same as found on the Lamy Safari and Al-star and various other Lamys, available in a range of widths and easy to swap out.

Filling system.

The Nexx takes the Lamy proprietary cartridges or else a Lamy converter.

The Nexx with an almost spent cartridge.

Writing performance.

The familiar nib is reliable, firm but very smooth as I have come to expect from having used many such Lamy nibs. Ink flow on my particular model is not overly wet but about right. For those needing a wetter flow, it is possible, with care, to open up the tine gap very slightly.

Writing sample, Lamy Nexx, medium nib with Lamy Petrol cartridge. Paper is a “5staroffice” 192 page A4 ruled notebook.

Size and weight.

The Nexx at 133mm is very slightly shorter than a Safari when capped. It measures about 128mm when uncapped, long enough to use unposted, but the cap can be posted quite well, even though the round cap sits on a triangular barrel. Posting brings the length up to about 153mm and is very comfortable. Any worries that you might have about having a flattened edge of the barrel resting in the web of your hand and upsetting your preferred rotation of the nib, are resolved by posting. You can also align the pocket clip with the nib for a visual aid to keeping the nib at your desired angle to the paper.

The pen weighs about 16.5g in all, capped or posted, 10.5g uncapped and 6g for the cap alone.

Likes and dislikes.

Perhaps the most distinctive design elements of the Nexx are its big clunky coloured cap, its rubber grip section and the contrasting aluminium tapering barrel. It seems inappropriate to cite any of those as dislikes. Some might prefer the pen without any facets on the grip and a barrel that did not taper and merge from cylindrical to triangular but these features are the heart of the pen. However, as it is, the pen is very usable even for my left handed writing style.

Conclusion.

A big plus point for the Lamy Nexx, like the Safari, is that it is modestly priced and one of the least expensive “proper” pens available. The price means that you could collect a few different colours if you wish without spending a fortune. It feels strong and almost indestructible and is well suited to being carried around. Above all, it is surprisingly comfortable for long writing sessions. Once you have the pen in your hand, it will not slip. On the contrary, in order to adjust your grip, you have to first separate it from you fingers and then re-position it. It is not a pen that can be rolled around in the fingers.

A display of Lamy Nexx fountain pens in Daniels, department store, Windsor.

Whether you find a pen comfortable may depend upon what you have just been using. If that happens to be a pen which has a grip which is too narrow or too slippery, or both, then the Lamy Nexx will feel like a breath of fresh air. It is robust, light weight, and good for long writing sessions. It was a mistake to think of it as childish. Anyone who has avoided the pen for that reason would be well advised to give it a try.

Inky pursuits: some non-fountain pen tinkerings.

Feeling a little tired from the week’s work, I began this Saturday morning sampling a few different fountain pens on a pad of A4 paper, to see which would give the best writing experience for a forthcoming letter writing session. After writing a paragraph with each of six different pens, I thought to try to a few rollerball and fibre-tip pens, to see how they compared.

The Mitsubishi uni-ball AIR.

Mitsubishi uni-ball AIR, Broad.

The Mitsubishi uni-ball AIR, with a Broad tip, claims on the packaging to write like a fountain pen. It does allow effortless writing with no pressure and provides a thicker line when a little pressure is applied to the tip, so you benefit from some line variation. It also writes smoothly even when held at a lower angle to the paper, in contrast to some other rollerballs that I have tried. Also, at about 131mm uncapped, it is a good length to use unposted. The clear plastic cap can be posted deeply and securely and provides a roll-stop. The grip section looks opaque to the casual glance, but in fact is translucent giving a view of the feed system if lit from behind. Also, in the Broad tip version (the one with the white barrel) the dark stripes are ink windows although again, need to be held against a light.

Checking your ink level, lit from behind.

The fine tip version is called the Micro and has a black barrel, with nice geometric patterns but no ink viewing window. But whilst appearing rather plain, the uni-ball AIR pens are brimming with technology and worthy of respect.

Mitsubishi uni-ball AIR, Micro.

Pilot V Sign pen.

A few months ago, in a newsagent’s/ stationer’s in St John’s Wood, I found a display of Pilot pens and picked up a couple of their “V Sign” pens. These look similar to their single use fountain pen, the V Pen, but instead have a fibre tip. This is quite broad, like a Sharpie marker pen, good for labelling but could be used for normal writing if you like the extra bold look. The black part of the barrel is actually translucent and gives a good view of the ink level, when held up to the light. I had not seen these pens before and bought one in blue and one in red.

The Pilot V Sign pen. A liquid ink, fibre tip pen.

Parker Ingenuity.

After using a few different lightweight disposable pens, holding the Parker Ingenuity fibre-tip pen felt luxurious, with its wide girth and hefty metal body and PVD gold plated grip section. I am now on my second refill, since buying the pen just over a year ago. My preference is for the blue refills, in medium. I had been rather dismissive of the Ingenuity for several years until the chance presented itself to pick one up for about half price at my local John Lewis and I am very glad that I did. Once the fibre tip starts to wear in, it forms a nice chisel edge at your writing angle which always stays constant as the refill will fit in only one way. The benefit of this is super-smooth writing at your normal angle and the option of extra fine lines if you turn the pen over.

The Parker Ingenuity. A fine liner in a heavy, durable body.

With certain types of paper, particular those which feel coated and too smooth for fountain pens, the Ingenuity can sometimes be the best tool for the job. And being housed in the handsome black and gold body, it is still an attractive pen to grow old with.

Looking at my Parker Ingenuity, it occurred to me that it would make a nice set with the Parker IM ball pen which is also black and gold. They are not quite from the same family, but are both roughly the same age with Y (2016) production date codes. They make a good travelling pair.

These are not a couple but could be. The Parker Ingenuity with the Parker IM ball pen.

The Parker IM in this black and gold version, makes a very comfortable vehicle for the Parker ball pen refill, having a noticeably wider girth than the Parker Jotter. And the refills seem to last forever.

Writing samples. On WH Smith A4 file paper