Just occasionally I manage to find myself in the right place at the right time. On passing Rymans stationery shop in Hampstead recently, I noticed the large red “SALE” sign and returned a couple of days later to investigate.
The pen display cabinet showed some very generous discounts. I could not resist a Waterman Hemisphere and Parker Urban fountain pen, and a Sheaffer Prelude ball point pen in Cobalt blue with rose gold trim (for which I have the accompanying fountain pen) all heavily discounted. The helpful lady shop assistant, somehow sensing my appetite for pens, told me that she had more pens at the back which they did not have room to put out on display. Would I like her to get them out to show me? Yes please!
She reappeared with a few Diplomat Traveller fountain pens, in a pastel turquoise or purple which I now know to be called Lapis raspberry. On checking the current price at the till, she told me that the raspberry one, usually around £20.00, was now just £5.00, putting it firmly into the “no brainer” category of purchases.
I have not had one of these before. I recall being shown them in John Lewis, some years ago when they used to sell Diplomat pens, and being told that they were popular with business people as they could be slipped into a suit pocket without disturbing the line of the cloth. There are merits to slender pens.
The Traveller is the smallest of a series of three pens, its larger brothers being the Esteem and then the Excellence. I had acquired the other two. The Excellence A Plus, with its smooth steel nib, heft, wide girth and twist cap ranks as one of my GOAT fountain pens.
The Traveller, in contrast is much smaller and slimmer pen, with a smaller nib. The barrel is only around 10mm at its widest, and the plastic grip section tapers from 9mm down to 7mm. The length is 135mm capped, or 117mm uncapped. The cap does not post securely.
However, the metal body feels robust. The matte finish is pretty. I like the distinctive Diplomat finial of black petals on a white background. There is a strong metal pocket clip. It comes in a metal gift box.
The cap is a snap-on one but is reassuringly firm, fits flush with the barrel with no wobble and has a plastic inner cap.
Filling is by standard international cartridge or a converter (not included, although I borrowed one from another of my Diplomats).
Diplomat were established in 1922 (as the nib reminds us). The brand is commonly described in the pen community as being much under-rated. It is rare to find them advertised or for sale in shops in the UK yet everyone who has one appreciates the quality and excellent nibs. There is a five year guarantee and the booklet tells us that the nib of every fountain pen is tested and professionally run or “written in” by hand. We can all think of a few brands that could benefit from this example.
At home, still glowing from my good fortune, I held a gathering of my Diplomats, to compare their dimensions and have some group photos. I had planned to ink the newcomer with Waterman Tender Purple but at the last minute spotted a bottle of Yama-budo and went with that instead. It is a good match.
Conclusion: likes and dislikes.
The Diplomat Traveller is undeniably a small and slender pen. Over the years, I have discovered that I generally prefer larger pens, like the Diplomat Excellence, Cross Peerless, Aurora 88 or Montegrappa Fortuna (to name a few from a brief glance at my pen cups). However, to criticise the Traveller for being small misses the point of the pen, which is to be a small and lightweight, convenient and portable pen when on the move. Still, it is slightly disappointing that the cap does not post.
On the plus side, you get a sturdy and well made pen, with a very smooth steel nib, the convenience of using standard international cartridges or a converter and some fun colours to chose from. It is ideal to carry in a bag or shirt pocket. You would be hard pressed to do any better for £5.00 (while stocks last at Rymans in store or online).
One of the things I hope for when travelling, is a desk by a window, with natural light and preferably a nice view. Perhaps this desire comes from spending my working days in an office with no natural light.
Having come through a particularly busy few months at work, I was looking forward to a long weekend break in a forest cabin. Set in the heart of Blackwood Forest, Hampshire I am not sure if this still counts as part of the New Forest, but I am on holiday so who cares?
Picking some fountain pens for the trip is one of the pleasures. However this time I found myself a bit torn between (a) the usual urge to bring a selection of pens to enjoy, with different nibs, different inks, different sizes, weights and materials or (b) to go minimal, travel light and just pick one pen, perhaps even one that I did not like very much, to get more use from it. In the event, the usual option of bringing a selection was the winning one.
This was my first experience of a forest cabin holiday and I had not expected our cabin to have such a “Wow” factor on arrival. Imagine my delight on finding it to have such a spacious living room/ kitchen/ dining room with an entire wall of windows, looking onto the beech tree forest, beyond the decking (with table and chairs, and even our own outdoor hot tub).
I am a morning person and enjoy my writing most in the morning when my brain is fresh and rested. That tends to be the time I find best for journaling, usually off-loading the events of the previous day. One of the ironies of journaling is that when life is at its most busy and eventful you have the least time and energy to write about it, but if you are freed from the pressure to get through endless to-do lists of tasks, you have plenty of time to write about very little. I then like to refer to my lists of writing prompts, neatly and alphabetically saved on a notepad app on my phone called Colornote – often comprising a few words or phrases which I can come back to and write up when I feel like it.
I set my alarm early, hoping for some time when the household (that is my wife and mother in law who was holidaying with us) had not yet risen and I could sit at my window and pour out thousands of words like an imagined Ernest Hemingway, the creative juices running at full throttle. Obviously that did not happen. But I did enjoy some light tinkering with the pens, reminding myself which ones I had brought along, which inks they had and then having just enough time to summarise each day in a few brief headings. Sitting out at the table on the decking, enjoying the tranquility was restful and restorative.
A short drive from our base, was the city of Winchester, which we visited for a sunny afternoon’s excursion. My wife spotted a stall at the outdoor market with leather goods including some lovely notebook covers, for A5 or A4 notebooks. I use both sizes but have been looking unsuccessfully for about five years for a nice leather A5 size cover, after passing up a chance to buy one once in the Cotswolds. I did once buy a cover which did not work for me as it featured a pen loop which got in my way and had bulky and unnecessary credit card slots which meant that pages would not lay flat. In short it was unusable and was returned.
In contrast these market ones from “redleathers”, an ethically sound business run by Kirk Newton, (@redleathershandmade) were attractive, simple and functional. Unable to narrow down my choice between a dark green and a cherry colour, I opted for both.
Another pleasure for the stationery enthusiast in Winchester, is Warren & Co, a stationery shop at 85 High Street, selling a good selection of stationery and pens mostly from Lamy and Cross, plus inks from Parker, Waterman, Cross, Pelikan and J Herbin. The display of Lamy pens was comprehensive, with racks of Safari and Al-Stars, Vistas, Nexx and then glass cabinets of Studios, 2000s, CP1s and even a few Imporiums. I toyed with the idea of buying the Aion again as the dark green edition looked so appealing, with either M, F or EFnibs, but I had found the black one too slippery to grip and gave mine away. I resisted and told myself that I had been down that road before. As it was almost time for the shop to close for the day, I left without buying anything this time but it is a wonderful shop to visit and was a real joy to see so many pens in the flesh rather than just online for a change and to chat with the charming proprietor.
Back in the secluded forest, it was fun to put notebooks in the new leather covers. The Leuchtturm 1917 A5 books fit in very well and I shall enjoy using them.
We enjoyed a very restful weekend stay – with good food and walks and let the forest work its magic in sending us home rested and refreshed.
And as for that desk by the window, the truth is that I did not sit there writing all that much. Sometimes it is nicer just to lift up your eyes to what is around you. Perhaps it is one of those things where the anticipation is better than the reality. There will be time to reflect and to write when the holiday is over.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:-
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:
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.
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.
Here is a little writing sample, my first jottings with the glass nib:-
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.
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:-
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I have already raved about this pen in two posts, in November 2020. However, for an inexpensive pen it has been giving me a disproportionate amount of enjoyment. I really like it.
Readers may remember, that this is an eye-dropper pen, in a clear acrylic demonstrator body, except for the rather mis-matched grip section in a multicoloured but predominantly green, crazy-paving patterned plastic. It came with three nib units, of which the largest was an unmarked Oblique Broad. That nib proved to be such a smooth writer, with almost magical powers to bring out the best in my lefty overwriter handwriting, that I have used that nib exclusively. It is wonderful for writing letters. I posted the cap at first but have got used to it unposted now. Also, I have kept to Waterman Serenity Blue ink.
Often at work I need to sign forms which then get scanned and up-loaded. Seeing the scanned blue ink on my computer screen always lifts my spirits, in the course of a busy working day: I enjoy the effortless, automatic line width variation which comes from the stubby OB nib.
If the search for fountain pens is a journey, then it is not surprising that once in a while you may reach a destination where you want to stop and linger. For me at the moment, that’s the Moonman S5.
I would not say it is a perfect pen: I worry that the cap feels quite brittle like it could crack (although there is no hint of any weakness at all after 4 months’ use). Also, when picking up the pen for a quick signature, in the course of the busy working day as aforesaid, it does break your stride to uncap the pen which requires six separate twists. But I do still prefer screw caps to snap caps and also the Moonman does not ever suffer from hard starts or ink evaporation.
I was so taken with the pen that I decided to order a second one, so that I could keep one at my work and one at home. Again I was interested chiefly in that lovely OB nib.
My second Moonman duly arrived. I eagerly examined the nib which was fitted (extra fine) and two extra nib units, expecting a medium and an OB again. However, it so happened that in the box this time, there were two medium nibs. No oblique broad.
I could have sent it back I suppose, but I tried the two medium nibs out – and I really liked them. I kept one of them in the pen and the other one in the tin, for a spare. Once again, I have filled the pen with Waterman Serenity Blue.
I have been using my second S5 all this month for my daily journal. (I am changing pen and ink combinations monthly and so far this year have had the Cross Peerless and then my Aurora 88). So, the second S5 (medium nib) now lives at home whilst the first one (oblique broad) lives in my pen cup at work, coming home for weekends. Both have Waterman Serenity Blue. The OB nib is best for overwriting and the medium nib best for underwriting, for me.
I am pondering whether to ink one of them with Rohrer and Klingner Salix, blue black iron gall ink. As it is, the S5 impresses me for its design, its comfort, its writing performance, its fun filling system and huge capacity, and its modest price. If I added Salix into the list, you could add to these benefits, a permanent ink, which darkens as it dries, is rarely subject to bleed-through and which can be written over with a highlighter pen without smudging. That would make an impressive feature list for one cheap pen!
I might try this when I next fill one of them. I have used Salix successfully with the Cross Bailey Light and have not had any blockages or corrosion but there does seem to be some blue staining to the silver coloured steel nib and to the inside of the converter. The S5 nibs are gold coloured and it may be that their plating might be better at coping with the Salix.
It will be a while before either of the pens needs filling again, such is the huge ink capacity. If I try one with Salix, I shall only fill it partially to start with while I monitor for side effects. If it turns to disaster, I do have some spare nib units – but I do not expect there to be any issues. It is recommended that pens with iron gall ink be flushed out every few weeks and so it would be best not to fill the S5 to its gills but just put in enough ink for a two to three week trial. Watch this space!
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).
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.
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.
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.