A New Year party conversation.

Back in early January, I found myself in a party situation at a flat in London overlooking the River Thames, near Tower Bridge. It so happened that my wife was unable to make it and I went alone.

Like the hosts, many of the guests had six-year old children and so the general ambience was on the noisy side.

Seeing me on my own at one point, a young woman about half my age engaged me in conversation. Her name was Esther. Breaking the ice, she asked me if I had any hobbies. Caught off guard, I ‘fessed up to having a guilty pleasure, which was collecting fountain pens. I didn’t go into the distinction between collecting and accumulating but spared her this detail.

“Are those the pens with a separate capsule for the ink, that you puncture?” asked Esther, grimacing at the memory from her school days. “Yes, cartridges” I said, nerdishly adding that people generally refer to cartridge pens as fountain pens although technically a fountain pen is one which does not have a cartridge but has its own system of filling from an ink bottle, such as a piston, or lever or vac filling plunger.

“What is the attraction?” she asked. I tried to explain about finding the ideal combinations of pen, nib, ink and paper and the joy of effortless writing with no downward pressure and letting the words flow, with glistening wet ink and a comfortable pen. I babbled on about the joys of going back to analogue, like wearing a mechanical wristwatch instead of a battery one.

“So what do you write with these pens?” I said that I liked to keep a journal, a habit that I had continued for decades and also to write travelogues and to write letters. Also, I liked to write up memories. For example I had enjoyed reflecting on memories of my parents, listing key words as writing prompts and then going back to write up these memories in notebooks.

A vintage Parker 51 and bottle of Quink.

“But isn’t it easier to amend, edit and correct on a computer?” she asked, quite reasonably. Fair comment. “Yes it is” I replied. I said that perhaps writing with a pen made you more careful, rather like taking photographs on film, especially if you are shooting on medium format and have only 12 frames on a roll which makes you a better photographer. I thought back to letter writing sessions at boarding school when picking up a fountain pen and starting to write seemed to help ideas flow.

“What’s your favourite pen?” I said that many addicts would answer “My next one” which is only partly a joke. It seems that no matter how many fountain pens you have, you are always after the next one, a sign of obsession. I did then try to answer, but said it was difficult to say which was the favourite. I could perhaps try to list the favourite from each brand that I own, to narrow it down. I told Esther that lately I had discovered a pen called the Cross Bailey Light, which was inexpensive, comfortable and wrote well and had gone on to buy six of these, one in each of the available colours.

“Perhaps what you need to do is think which you like best and want to keep and then give all the rest to someone who will sell them for you on ebay.” I think I may have blacked out for a moment at this point as my mind digested this trauma. I might have said in my defence that most of my pens were not expensive ones and so it was not worth selling them. What’s more, I was rather attached to them (which is a bit silly if they are not being used regularly).

“What does your wife think about all this?” I had the answer to this one. “She thinks I am storing up problems for her for when I die.” I know that she is bothered about matching up pens with their boxes in the event of my untimely demise.

The moral of this little tale is that it can be difficult to describe and justify your hobby to a normal person. How do you explain that after a stressful day, you take pleasure in picking up a fountain pen and putting pen to paper, or even just thinking about which inks to try next in a certain pen? When fountain pen enthusiasts are together, all of this goes without saying.

The reality is that taking a disproportionate amount of pleasure from a pen, or any other day-to-day object is a bit of escapism. It is something that we do to make the bad stuff go away, to find happiness and which is cheaper than therapy.

On reflection, I did not handle the conversation with this charming young woman as well as I might. It is shameful that even on my chosen subject, when unprepared I led myself down a one way street, rather than perhaps winning another convert to join the pen club. Next time, I’ll say “I enjoy fountain pens. Now tell me about your hobbies, which no doubt will be far more interesting.” Another drink anyone?

Radley A5 notebook. A mini review.

As fountain pen users know, finding another dream combination of pen, ink and paper is one of life’s pleasures. And we could all use some of those now.

A month ago, whilst spending a weekend away in Cambridge my wife was browsing the sales in Radley, the handbag shop, when I came across a display of A5 notebooks. These were reduced from a rather ambitious £28.00, to £6.00 and so I cheerfully added a couple to our purchases.

It turned out that the notebook was remarkably good and I wished I had bought a few more to keep in stock. Many reading this post may not have access to a Radley shop, but nevertheless I hope some comments about my approach to notebooks may be of interest.

Description.

This is an A5, soft cover journal, with 160 ruled pages (80 sheets). The pages provide 21 rows at 8mm line spacing, which I find ideal. The lines are dotted, in grey, on a cream paper and so not obtrusive. Each page features the little Radley dog logo at the foot of the page, which is not in the way.

Radley A5, 160 page notebook. With Cross Bailey Light fountain pen.

The cover is a vibrant red with rounded corners and a pleasing texture that feels like leather but is not. “Radley, London” is stamped elegantly in gold letters on the front. The cover can be flexed although it offers some support and protection. Of particular benefit, the pages are stitched, so that the book can be opened flat without risk of pages popping out. There are two page markers, in matching red ribbon. However there is no elastic band or expandable pocket that you would find with a Leuchtturm notebook.

Neatly sewn pages with lined, cream paper.

Paper quality.

Trying a different notebook can be a risk, if you intend to use a fountain pen. Those first few strokes will tell you whether the paper is “fountain pen friendly” or not. Does the ink bleed through? Is there feathering? Is there show-through at levels which mean you can use only one side of the paper? How does the pen feel on the paper surface? Is it too rough, or too smooth, or is there a squeaky coating and feeling of resistance?

Happily, I was delighted with the paper in all of these respects. I tried first with my recently bought Platinum Curidas, with a Japanese medium nib and Platinum blue black ink. The paper surface felt silky smooth. There was no feathering, no bleed through and although some show-through, this was perfectly acceptable. The nib is on the fine side for a medium.

The one point to note however, was that the line width was slightly wider on the Radley paper, than with the same nib on my customary Leuchtturm journal paper. This implies that the paper is perhaps more absorbent, or less or differently coated than Leuchtturm. Yet when I looked with the loupe, there was no feathering to give the tell-tale woolly edges as if writing on blotting paper.

Saturday morning activity.

I do enjoy buying a new notebook. For the last few years I have been using Leuchtturm journals a lot, which are paginated and available with plain paper, ruled (rather too narrow for me) or dotted or square grid. For unpaginated notebooks, I often paginate them, measure the line spacing, and test out the paper on the back page with a variety of inks and pens from my “currently inked” pen cups to see what works and what does not.

I tried the Radley notebook paper with various other pen and ink combinations. There was no bleedthrough with Waterman Serenity blue. Monblack Irish Green did bleed through quite badly in places where pressure was applied. Some roller-ball pens also did not do so well: the Uniball Air micro black ink did bleed through, whereas the Uniball Signo 307 retractable gel pen did not.

Rohrer & Klingner, Salix iron gall blue black ink.

So, what was that dream team combination that I mentioned? I recently discovered Rohrer & Klingner’s Salix, an iron gall blue black ink, sold in London at Choosing Keeping, in Covent Garden. I have been using it at work recently, in one of my Cross Bailey Light cartridge pens. (Ahem, confession: I bought six of these pens, a few months ago as soon as I heard about them!)

The Cross Bailey Light is a fairly humble entry level Cross cartridge- converter fountain pen with a steel medium nib. I have been careful to check the nibs on all those I bought and they have all been smooth, wet writers. This works particularly nicely with Rohrer & Klingner’s Salix ink, a classic blue-black which darkens as it oxidises, as the blue turns to a grey-blue black.

Random poem selection, from William Wordworth. Cross Bailey Light with Rohrer & Klingner Salix, iron gall blue black in.

The Salix ink is also water resistant, a useful quality when addressing envelopes but also giving some protection against spills or other liquid related incidents.

A water resistant ink will often perform well on papers which at first do not seem fountain pen friendly due to bleedthrough and so it is worth trying this before giving up on the notebook for fountain pen use. Another advantage of R&K Salix is that you can go over it with a highlighter pen, which is great for study notes. It also flows well, looks nice and gives a lovely shading and performs well on the Radley notebook paper.

Discovering that you can go over R&K Salix ink with a Sharpie highlighter, without smudging.

Finally, I went back to the Cambridge Radley shop another day but they were out of these notebooks. But then I later came across another Radley store in London’s O2 Arena shopping centre (a brand outlet mall) where, not only did they have plenty in stock but they were discounted even further to £4.00. Let’s just say I bought a reasonable number.

Early thoughts on the Pilot Synergy Point 0.5 rollerball.

The Paperchase store near my office no longer has a glass display cabinet of fountain pens. Its fountain pen offerings are now limited to a good selection of Lamy Safaris and Al-Stars, Kaweco Perkeos and Faber-Castell Grips, although it is good that these are still available. I enjoy browsing around the shop and often buy notebooks there.

Whilst visiting the shop one lunchtime recently, I came across a cup full of Pilot retractable pens, in a mix of blue or black, called the Synergy Point. These are not new pens but were new to me. I now gather that in other places they are called the Pilot Juice Up.

The Pilot Synergy Point.

To my naked eye, the writing tip looked so fine that I thought it was a fineliner, although it is in fact a tiny rollerball and one of Pilot’s gel pens. I liked the look of the pen, with its rubber grip section and rather superior metal nose cone. I bought one each in blue and black.

Features.

So, this is an inexpensive, retractable, gel pen, with a fine point. It delivers a smooth line (depending upon the type of paper you are using) with minimal pressure. Pilot’s catalogue entry states “A unique pen which, thanks to the innovative “Synergy tip”, combines a fine line with a very smooth writing experience.” Although labelled as 0.5mm, this is the tip size. The line width is said to be 0.25mm. It is also refillable, (using Pilot’s BLS-SNP5 refill).

Synergy Point, 0.5mm tip gives a 0.25mm line.

The gel ink in the blue version, is a pleasing shade of blue, which dries almost instantly and is also waterproof and so does not smudge.

When the tip is retracted, the push-button does not rattle, but it goes slack once the tip is deployed, which means that the button will rattle if you shake or turn the pen up and down. Also, there is an indicator window at the top of the barrel, just below the clip, comprised of five square dots, arranged like on a dice. If you look closely these are white when the nib is retracted and then go dark when the button is pressed down. As an indicator of whether the tip is out or not, you are better off looking at the tip itself or even the position of the button.

The pocket clip is plastic and rather soft and bendy and so not very secure and best not relied upon.

Size and weight.

The pen is about 140mm long when in writing mode. It weights about 12g. The girth is about 9mm. However the rubbery grip section and stepless barrel design make this a comfortable pen to use. The metal nose cone also places the centre of gravity further down towards the tip.

The writing experience.

The comfortable rubber grip, combined with the weighty metal nose cone and the lack of any wobble from the very narrow writing tip, all make for a feeling of precision when you are writing. Also, very little downward pressure is needed, although you do need a little to avoid skipping.

Some writing comparisons.

I have tried the pen on about half a dozen different notebooks. It is best suited to smooth papers without much texture as you do not have a large tip area to ride the bumps. However the ink flowed well. On all the papers I tried, any showthrough was minimal and there was no bleedthrough, even on papers which often struggle with ink. For example an Agenzio notebook (from Paperchase) has paper which suffers bleedthrough even with Waterman Serenity blue, but not with Montblanc Permanent Blue, Sailor Kiwa-guro or Platinum blue black, all of which are waterproof inks. The Synergy Point now gives me another bleed-free option for this brand of notebook.

A new option for bleed-prone papers. The Synergy Point on an Agenzio by Paperchase soft cover A5 notebook.

Disassembly and refilling.

At first, before checking online, I tried to unscrew the nose cone. However I later learned that the pen unscrews at the barrel, and you just hold the grip section in one hand and the smooth plastic barrel in the other. It was tight the first time and I was worried about destroying the pen, but was encouraged by seeing photos online of the two parts separated. I anticipate that the refill will last for ages but it is good to know that refills can be purchased.

Unscrews at the barrel, not the nose.

Likes and dislikes.

Plus points are the attractive design, sturdy build (aside from the flimsy clip and the rattling button) and the unusually fine writing tip for fine work. Having a waterproof ink is also useful. The familiar retractable design is obviously convenient and practical.

On the negative side, there is the feeble pocket clip and the rattling buttton. Also I would have preferred not to have a permanent bar code and a 13 digit number on the barrel but these are minor issues.

Pricewise, the blue model registered £4.25 on the cash till but then the black one registered as £5.00 which was slightly annoying. I would expect them to be the same price, whichever figure is correct, but it seemed fruitless to pursue this.

Conclusion.

I use ballpoint pens a lot for notes at work and a gel pen makes a pleasant alternative. The writing looks nicer and there is typically less pressure required yet you have all the convenience of a ballpoint pen. It is not a substitute for a fountain pen, which is still far ahead for line variation, shading and general writing pleasure. But the gel pen is a very useful writing tool to have and has its own merits.

2019: some of my fountain pen highlights.

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

Acquisitions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other highlights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pen favourites of 2019.

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

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

Montblanc Heritage 1912

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

Aurora 88 in black resin with gold plated cap.

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

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

The year’s best cheap pens.

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

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

Cross Bailey Light. In all their colours.

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

Conclusions.

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

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

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

Early thoughts on the Wing Sung 699 fountain pen.

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

Appearance and construction.

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

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

Dimensions.

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

Filling the pen.

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

The nib and writing performance.

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

Conclusions.

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

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

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

The slops bucket experiment.

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

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

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

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

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

Two ink blend. Tavy and Oyster Grey.

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

Cross Bailey Light, teal edition.

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

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

Three ink blend. Tavy, Oyster Grey and Aqua.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pindeider Travelling Inkwell. Where the magic happens.

A tribute to UKfountainpens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A brief encounter with the Montegrappa Monte Grappa fountain pen.

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

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

The Montegrappa Monte Grappa in Lavender resin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The unique cap band.

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

Cap and finial with the year of founding.

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

Barrel engraving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Size and weight

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

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

Likes and dislikes

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

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

The feed.

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

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

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

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

Goodbye pen. Sorry that I gave you up.

Early thoughts on the Cross Bailey Light fountain pen.

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

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

Cross Bailey Light, in plastic.

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

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

Bailey Light uncapped.

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

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

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

Bailey standard and Bailey Light (below)

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

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

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

Size and weight.

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

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

Likes and dislikes.

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

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

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

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

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

Comfortable, stepless, threadless, facetless section.

Travelling with ink: pen shopping in Menorca.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clips Papeleria, Mahon.

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

Inoxcrom, steel nib cartridge – converter fountain pen.

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

Inoxcrom pen with Pilot Metropolitan.

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

A typical street scene in Cuitadella

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

A Menorca beach scene.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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