Almost two years ago now, in May 2017, I wrote a post: Faber-Castell School fountain pen; initial impressions. I was quite taken with these inexpensive pens and had bought one each in blue and red. Then, as now, I like to visit stationery shops when travelling to see if there are any bargains.
A reader, Mike Jurist commented that the pen was also available in carbon black and that he had been using one as his everyday fountain pen for three months, and loved it. That sounded awesome and I kept a lookout for the carbon black version for months but with no success. I had bought my red and blue in a Waterstones book shop, from a revolving rack and so I continued to give these racks a spin whenever I found myself in one.
And then at last, while in Dubai earlier this year and having a browse in a gigantic Carrefour supermarket in The Mall of the Emirates, I spotted the elusive black version for the first time! I put a couple in my basket. The price was similar to what I had paid before, around £4.00 each, including a box of six royal blue cartridges.
Essentially the pen is the same as the one I described in my earlier post. But this one is not just a plain black plastic, but a rather nice carbon-fibre effect.
Obviously the pen is crying out to be filled with black ink. At home I inked it up with a black WH Smith cartridge – continuing with the theme of budget ink for a budget pen. The nib was smooth and wrote well.
My only complaint is that the nib has a very pronounced droop, which is unusual and disconcerting and makes for a rather firm writing experience. This was the same on both of the carbon black pens that I bought and was in keeping with the nibs of my older red and blue models.
Despite this, they represent good value and perform well, in terms of nib smoothness and ink flow.
However for a step up, if you do not like the angled-down nib, there is the Faber-Castell Grip, which is a little larger all round and with a distinctive barrel featuring rows of raised coloured dots, which make for an interesting and unusual texture. These can be found for around £15.00 but for the level nib and the slightly larger dimensions and a few other improvements, this too is a great bargain.
I am getting better at not buying more pens. I am not saying I have given up completely, but I am trying to think more carefully about whether I would really use that new pen and whether it would be any better or different from those I already own. But one that I did buy recently was the Diplomat Excellence.
A pen club friend asked me today to send him a writing sample from this pen. I took a few pictures and then thought that a brief review on here might not be amiss.
I bought my Diplomat Excellence at the London spring pen show, in March 2019. The rational was that I already had its smaller brother, the Diplomat Esteem, (which I reviewed here) which I use at work to enliven my notes and calculations, (currently with Garnet red ink) and which I have always felt is a remarkably good pen, with a superb steel nib. But whilst the Esteem is a medium sized pen, I had always hankered to get the larger Excellence, for its broader girth.
The opportunity came when I found that John Twiss was selling the Excellence at the pen show. What’s more, he had some with 14k gold nibs, which I had not seen before.
The pen comes in a white cardboard box, inside which is a black cardboard tray with an aluminium sliding cover. When you slide this off, a white card flap is raised to reveal the pen on a soft padded white cushion with the black petal logo of Diplomat.
The flap reads “Diplomat, since 1922” and can be slotted into the box either behind the cushion with the text face down, to be read when raised (like a shop display) or in front of the cushion to have the text face up.
Appearance and Construction.
The Excellence is a metal bodied pen, in lacquer finish. The model I chose is the Excellence A2, Marrakesh with chrome fittings. “Marrakesh” denotes the metallic mid-brown colouring (actually a more complex mix of sparkly gold and orange if viewed with a loupe) whilst “A2” I think may identify it as having the push on cap (rather than screw on, available on some models) and a sprung pocket clip.
The finial has the distinctive Diplomat logo, easy to spot in a pen cup. The silver coloured cap ring has the text DIPLOMAT, SINCE 1922 and on the reverse “made in germany” in lower case.
At the other end of the barrel, there is a silver coloured foot piece for the pen to rest on in a pen cup with a lip to secure the cap when posted.
The section is of tapering black plastic. At the nib end, there is a chrome ring which secures the cap with a satisfying click. Having a push on cap of course means instant access and no rough threads where you hold the pen. The cap is designed to fit flush with the barrel, (apart from a slightly bulging chrome cap ring) and to allow for this, there is a slight step down from barrel to section, but it is minimal and smooth.
Removing the barrel, on long metal threads (complete with rubber O ring), there is the supplied Diplomat converter.
The nib and feed.
This is a bi-colour, size 6 nib, in 14k gold but partly plated, and with the Diplomat petal logo picked out in gold. There is no breather hole. The nib is stamped with Diplomat, since 1922, 14k – 585, F. The nib has a little bit of spring to it but is not as soft as you might expect from a gold nib.
The black plastic feed is of slim profile, with a slight wave shape and quite thick, sturdy fins. On my model, the nib was well finished with nice level tines.
It is a cartridge-converter pen, supplied with a Diplomat converter but also accepting standard international cartridges.
Size and weight.
This is a large pen, although not over-size. But it is also heavy. Closed, it measures approximately 138mm; uncapped 129mm and posted, 153mm.
The whole pen weighs around 47g, comprised as to 29g uncapped and 18g for the cap alone. (For comparison, my metal Waterman Carene weighs around 33g, with the body at 23g and cap at 10g, and so the Excellence is about 42% heavier). Nevertheless, I still use the Excellence posted, as I just seem to find a better angle of pen to paper that way.
Likes and Dislikes.
I already liked the Diplomat Esteem and was expecting the Excellence to be much the same but bigger and better. In fact it is not quite that simple. The pen is certainly bigger and heavier and feels very dense and solid in the hand. The nib too is bigger than on the Esteem. Yet I did not find the Excellence’s gold Fine nib to be so joyously soft as the Esteem’s steel Medium nib, which surprised me. But it is a great nib, responsive and reliable and pleasant to use. Here are some Likes:-
robust and reassuringly solid; the pen feels indestructible;
wide comfortable girth with no cap threads;
large nib, smooth and responsive and with a pleasant feed-back;
rubber O ring on the section threads, to stop barrel working loose or to stop leaks;
attractive gift box;
mine was great value at £150.00.
As with the Esteem, I found very little to say here. I was a bit un-wowed by the brown finish but this is due to personal preference and not a valid criticism. There are other colours and finishes available.
Compared to the mottled amber coloured finish of my Waterman Carene, the Marrakesh colour is slightly dull. It is a heavy pen, particularly if like me you post your caps. But apart from this I cannot find any fault with it.
I have been using the Excellence daily, for seven weeks now, and enjoy picking it up for my daily journal ritual. I am glad to have bought it. My local John Lewis used to sell them but they are hard to find in shops now. They are available on Cult Pens. It writes well, feels comfortable and is very solidly built.
It seems a common opinion in fountain pen circles, that Diplomat pens are under-rated. For anyone wanting a great quality, good-sized, metal bodied pen and who will not mind the weight, this one gets my recommendation.
Here is a brief round-up of some of my recent fountain pen related activities.
If you had met me when I was aged 11, and asked me then about my ink pens and accessories, the sum total would have looked something like this.
Somehow in the intervening years, (but particularly in the last few) the pen accumulation has mushroomed and I have an entire drawer full of inks, the use and enjoyment of which has become a major hobby.
However, my number of “currently inked” pens at home, in a neat array of pen cups, has grown to an all-time high at 31, (not counting a couple of others kept at my place of work and another in my jacket pocket). Here is what 31 pens looks like.
This is due to a combination of factors: a number of new arrivals; an eagerness to try out new pen and ink combination ideas without waiting for another pen to run dry, and a general reluctance to flush away good ink.
I do not really see this as a problem. (Perhaps THAT is my problem!) I could go and flush them all this evening, but this would mean wasting the equivalent of almost one entire bottle of ink. Whilst I could cut down, I do enjoy having the choice of all these pens at my finger tips. And the joy is that each and every one feels different.
At the end of January, I bought a Montblanc Meisterstuck 145 Classique with platinum trim. As usual it came fitted with a Medium nib but I had six weeks in which to request a free nib exchange. I did visit a Montblanc store in London where I was able to try out the various nib options. I was very tempted by the Broad, which would have been my choice if I were to have swapped. But in the end I did not want to part with my Medium nib that I had grown to enjoy. The nib had taken a few weeks to run in and in short, we had “bonded”.
In the early weeks since buying this pen, I tried a different ink on every fill but have now settled on the lovely Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red, for the time being.
Another purchase, made at the London pen show in March, was the new Leonardo Officina Italiana, “Furore”, in a vibrant orange with gold colour trim and a Fine nib. In a rare stroke of genius, I have paired this with Waterman Tender Purple – a fun ink for a fun pen and am loving the combo. Also the feel of this nib on Leuchtturm journal paper makes me want to exclaim “Ooh, that’s lovely!” every time I write with it.
My only other pen purchase from the show was my Diplomat Excellence A, Marrakesh, with a Fine nib in 14k gold. This has been inked with Tavy and I have been using it happily for my daily journal. The first fill had been with Diamine Cherry Sunburst, which I did not enjoy so much with this pen; perhaps it was just too matchy matchy for the metallic brown pen.
In February I received a wonderful surprise gift from a pen friend in Australia, who sent me his Pilot Custom 823 and Graf von Faber-Castell black Guilloche, both with Broad nibs and both fantastic pens. The 823 had been a grail pen for me and difficult to find in the UK. On my last visit to Hong Kong in 2017 I had hoped to have a chance to do some pen foraging and perhaps bag an 823 but my shopping plans were cut short by a bout of Sciatica and so the 823 had remained on my wish list. So I was extremely happy when one arrived on my doormat out of the blue.
Then in March, having read of my new Classique and my dilemma over whether to go for a nib exchange, my friend sent me a superb, 1970’s Montblanc 146 with a broad nib, which unlike the modern versions is an all gold finish and rather softer too. The pen also had a solid clear ink window instead of the small rectangular windows that the modern piston fillers have. This was an extremely generous and unexpected gift and you can imagine how thrilled I was on opening this package.
London Pen Club.
Our pen club met on 6 April, with a good turnout of around 15 people. Being the first gathering since the London pen show, a few of us had some new goodies from the show for others to try. My orange Leonardo Furore drew some admiring comments.
John had brought along his Montblanc 146 and 149. I was interested to compare these alongside my 145 and 146 and got a photo of them all in a row.
Cameron had brought a recently acquired Pelikan M815 shiny stripes Stresemann, which was impressive, being heavier than the normal M800’s due to the metal in the barrel.
Penultimate Dave brought along an entire pen case of Arco beauties from his collection and some lovely Conway Stewarts which felt good in the hand.
However, I am pleased to report that I was feeling very content with my lot and did not feel the need to acquire anything else. Whilst it is always great to try other people’s pens, and many of brands that you just do not see in pen shops, I was happy in the end just to know that they exist. I felt, for the moment at least, cured of the need to acquire any more pens!
Harrods and Selfridges.
To put this to the test, I took the opportunity after the pen club meet, to visit both Harrods and Selfridges, to have a browse around their fountain pen departments and see what was new.
In Harrods, there is a particularly good range of Montegrappa pens. I had a second look at the “Monte Grappa” models, a recent range of retro style piston fillers, in black, navy blue, lavender or coral. They are available with either steel nibs or 14k gold nibs, the latter version being £445.00 in Harrods.
I was pleased to discover a very quick route to Harrods’ pen department currently located on the third floor, as “Pens, Books and Games” rather than the “Great Writing Room” of the past. (If you walk round to the back of Harrods, in the Basil Street entrance, take the escalator to the third floor, go left through Stationery, you will get straight to the fountain pens. You’re welcome).
A few tube stops later I was at Selfridges, where the pens are on basement level. I had a good look around the displays, with a good selection of the high end brands, including Yard O Led, Graf von Faber-Castell, Caran d’Ache, Chopard, SJ Dupont, Montegrappa, Pelikan and a few Viscontis, as well as Parker, Cross, Sheaffer and Waterman. As with Harrods, there is a separate booth for Montblanc.
I noticed Pineider there for the first time, with La Grande Bellazza models in Malachite and various other colours and two demonstrator models, one being the Honeycomb, which I had not seen before. The other with a gold coloured spring inside appeared at first glance like a posh TWSBI Go.
I was able to leave both Harrods and Selfridges without parting with any money. This time.
I suppose like many other people, I had become addicted to my mobile phone. Not for phone calls, but for all the other features, particularly looking at Instagram, WordPress and for music, comedy and fountain pen stuff on YouTube.
Since July 2015, I had been using the same Samsung Galaxy S6, purchased on a 2 year contract. When that ended, I took out a SIM Only contract for 12 months and then another. So for almost four years, I had accumulated a lot of stuff on this device.
The end, when it came, was swift. On Friday evening, the last thing I remember watching on the phone was a video, which YouTube had thoughtfully suggested would be of interest to me, of a a man called Luca playing U2’s With or Without You, all by himself on an acoustic guitar with three necks (the guitar, not Luca). But when I next looked at my phone, it had become very hot and would not switch on. I tried to restart it, holding down the on/off button plus the volume down button simultaneously, for over 12 seconds. Nothing. I tried recharging it. Still nothing. There was no indication that it was even charging.
On Saturday morning, after several more unsuccessful attempts to revive my phone, I took it to the local EE shop. The phone shop guy was unable to revive it either. As the phone was out of warranty, the option of sending it away, for an expensive repair and replacement battery, given the age of the phone was not recommended and it looked like time to buy a new phone.
I asked about Samsung’s new Galaxy S10. I had heard of this, from seeing it on a poster the size of a house, while travelling in Dubai recently. They had these in stock but deciding that you want an S10 is only the beginning. First, there were three different versions – the S10e, the S10 nothing and the S10 plus. Being a novice I opted for the middle one. Next there was the decision about what contract to choose. This meant deciding how much data download you want per month (up to a possible 100GB I think) and then, whether you want to make a big upfront payment and have 24 small monthly payments, or a small upfront payment and have 24 big monthly payments (or a million options in between). To decide this, the phone shop guy and I gather around his tablet screen while I try to do the mental arithmetic to work out the total cost over 24 months of the dozen or so options.
In the end, I go for a 10GB monthly allowance and opt for somewhere in the mid range for the down payment and instalments.
I was asked if I would like a Samsung smart watch for a small extra monthly payment. I declined this. In lieu of this, they were able to bring down both my down payment and instalments considerably, as a reward for my loyalty to EE.
Finally I had to chose the colour of the phone. They had black, white, hi-viz yellow (not that one) or “prism green” which looked interesting and seemed like a good idea at the time. And off I went with my new phone.
I spent much of the remainder of the day in setting it up, sorting out email, installing Apps, clicking an endless round of consents to End User Licence Agreements, putting in passwords and then trying to input my contacts from my old-school paper address book. Given that my old phone was dead, it was not possible to transfer the data direct.
All of these chores take your mind off what is a bit like a bereavement. It takes time to sink in that some of the photos on my phone, screen shots captured from Instagram stories and such like, which I had not backed up, have gone.
Another thing that’s gone is my database of my fountain pen accumulation. I had used a handy App called Memento where you can create and edit a database for anything you like. I had one for my classic cameras and another for pens purchased, with fields for the make and model, date of purchase, price paid, ink used (with dates of ink changes) and then notes for miscellaneous comments. I was up to 244 entries (although a few of the pens had since been moved on).
It was useful to look back and see what I had bought over a particular year. Also, I enjoyed having a record of the inks that I had tried. This was sometimes helpful if I had forgotten quite which ink was in a pen last and whether I could just refill it or clean it first. And the database could easily be sorted by date or alphabetically by pen name. All gone.
You might say that anyone who has so many pens that he needs a database, has too many pens. Yes, you could say that. Fountain pen enthusiasts often talk about the fact that pens (and associated accessories of inks and journals) are addictive, just as mobile phones are addictive. And if we are spending all our time addictively collecting pens and addictively looking at pens on a mobile phone screen, then we are in double trouble.
In my mobile phone Gallery I had moved all my photos of fountain pens into a separate “Album” which had probably around 2,000 images in it. This sounds dangerously like the sort of fact that we hear on the news, when police are involved.
So what is the good news? I haven’t yet bonded with my new phone and do not yet feel like picking it up constantly to check for Instagram posts or new posts on WordPress. Perhaps wiping the slate clean with my pen database and mobile phone pen photo library, will help me in some way back to normality.
On the other hand, the new Galaxy S10 has, I have discovered, an amazing camera with three separate lenses, for normal, wide angle and telephoto images. It is also rather good at macro photography. And it comes with a whopping 128GB of storage space for those new fountain pen images. Also the screen size is 6.1 inches as opposed to 5.1 inches for my old S6.
So it is not all bad news. I have only had the new phone for two days and I am sure we will bond gradually. I have 30 fountain pens currently inked but I have made a list of them not so long ago in one of my journals and can just about remember which ones had had a change of ink since then. I think I had better make a new start with a database, to give my mind something to do.
The moral of the tale is to back up your stuff from your mobile, if it is important and you do not want to suddenly lose it. And for what we do lose, sometimes it is not so bad as it seems and we awake to new opportunities. I am looking forward to giving those three camera lenses a try.
This year for the first time, London has two pen shows. In addition to the usual one in October, a second London date in March was added to replace the show in Cambridge.
I had been looking forward to it, albeit with conflicting ideals of (a) trying to be sensible and not buy more pens unless there was some good reason and (b) having a look at the new Leonardo Furore, the Opus 88 Omar or Koloro, the new Scribo in blue and perhaps a Sailor Pro Gear Ocean, (although I was still undecided on nib choice). My preparations for the day included bringing cash, a bigger shoulder bag, dressing lighter, and bringing some ink plus a pen that I had agreed to lend to a friend Gary. My wife was also joining me for her first pen show.
We arrived soon after 9am and had time for a chat with some friends from my pen club before the early bird admissions at 9.30am.
Once inside, the temptations came thick and fast. At the first table I realised I had forgotten to bring my loupe to look at nibs. I handled a modern Conklin Mark Twain Crescent Filler in black carbon fibre for £100.00 which was likely to sell fast. I have two of these pens in the red and the coral resin and managed to resist.
Next, with my powers of resistance already depleted I found Stefano’s table. I first met Stefano at last October’s show, when I bought a new limited edition Delta Fantasia Vintage from him, in beautiful dark green celluloid. This time his table included a prominent display rack of brightly coloured Leonardo Officina Italiana Furore pens. Last year, the Leonardo Momento Zero fountain pen was very well received. I had bought one in an attractive burgundy resin. The new model, the Furore was introduced late last year and I had not yet seen one in the flesh. Like the Momento Zero, it is a resin pen, cartridge converter filler, with a good quality stainless steel nib. A blind cap unscrews to access the converter without removing the barrel if you wish. Whilst the Momento Zero had flattened ends, the Furore goes for bullet shaped ends and looks very appealing in photos on social media.
it is a good sized pen, wide and chunky but sleek. I liked the look of the turquoise model and the bright red, both very vibrant, but it was the orange one that most took my fancy. It had an Extra Fine nib but Stefano kindly swapped it for a Fine. They are friction fit although this involved a bit of a wrestle.
These pens, whilst not limited editions, are individually numbered on the barrel. Perhaps the orange (“Arancio”) edition was introduced after the first run. Stefano told me that he had only just received these from the manufacturers, just in time for the London show. The serial number of the orange pen was 001! I was already smitten but the serial number was a special bonus. I felt like David Gilmour owning the first Fender Stratocaster. This sort of thing does not normally happen to me. (Coincidentally I had been listening a lot to Brit Floyd on YouTube recently, the highly accomplished Pink Floyd tribute band).
I had been attracted to the idea of having a bright orange pen since seeing the Pineider Avatar, saffron, in Harrods last year and perhaps seeing the Pelikan M600 in vibrant orange had also put ideas in my head.
Next I met John Hall of Write Here and had a look at the new Opus 88 pens on his table. He had brought the Koloro eye-dropper pens and also had one which had been fitted with a Titanium nib, which was quite flexy. I also liked the look and the size of the new larger, Omar pens. He had them in all colours except the green which was the colour that I might have bought, but there is always the online option. I later met a friend Vijay in the coffee lounge who had just bought an Omar in grey and it looked very nice. They hold a massive amount of ink but unlike my Opus 88 Demonstrator, it is more discretely hidden in the Omar.
At John Twiss’ table, in addition to his own range of pens, he had a few Diplomat Excellence pens at irresistible prices. I saw a smart silver grey model and also the metallic brown Marrakesh. Both were fitted with 14k gold Diplomat nibs and were for sale at £150.00 , which as John pointed out was less than Cult Pens’ price for the steel nib version. I have a Diplomat Esteem, which is the mid sized model, with a steel nib which is fabulous, very smooth and a little springy. I had thought about buying an Excellence, (the large size model) as the nibs are so good but had never seen a gold nib version for sale. I chose the Marrakesh, with a 14k gold nib in a Fine.
John Twiss also had an unusual Diplomat Excellence in a beautiful geometric pattern of dark blue and black rectangles for £70.00, which looked stunning under the lights. I persuaded my wife to buy it, telling her how great Diplomat pens are and how you do not see them for sale here, even in Harrods or Selfridges. She also liked a ball point pen in a retro design with metal latticework. John offered her a price of £10.00 for these if bought with the Excellence. She bought two of them.
It was good to see so many friends from our monthly pen club meet ups, about 12 of them, and to introduce my wife. Jon and his wife Deb had a table, to promote Pensharing, Jon’s online scheme to enable people to hire pens from each other. We also spoke to the vendors, many of whom I know by name now from previous pens shows.
We stopped by the Armando Simoni Club table, to talk to Europe Sales Manager Cristina Guida. I looked at a really gorgeous Wahl Eversharp in turquoise with a massive gold nib. which looked like a grail pen, if not a daily carry.
We met Sarj Minhas and had a look at his extensive displays, living up to the name of the one man pen show. We stopped to talk to KWZ Ink, over from Poland. I had met Konrad Zurawski and Agnieszka when they visited our London pen club meet up in June last year. Their table had a well organised ink testing station with colourful samples of their expanding range of inks.
After going round a couple of times, we took a break in the coffee lounge. Many of our pen club had gathered and it was fun to hear what others had bought. We had some lunch and a cup of tea, chatting to friends. My wife was happy to sit out the next round while I went back in for another lap. There was so much to see and I could very easily have got carried away if money had been no object. I had a look at a Sailor pen on The Writing Desk’s table (Martin and Anna Roberts). I have bought a several pens from them in the past. I held off this time but bought a bottle of Diamine Cherry Sunburst (in the Gibson Les Paul guitar series).
It had been a wonderful day. I inked up both of my new pens, after rinsing the nibs which had been dipped at the show. I chose to put the Diamine Cherry Sunburst in both. The brown ink looked quite nice on cream paper, although I was tired by then and with hindsight it was a mistake to ink up two new pens at once, particularly with the same new ink. The ink is more suggestive of the natural wood colour than the red and gold sunburst paint job of a Les Paul. I also noticed that the Furore resin is semi translucent and that when inked, the dark ink is visible through the section and slightly spoils the effect of the bright orange. Both of my new pens had Fine nibs.
During the week I had the opportunity to spend time using the Diplomat Excellence taking notes at a day of CPD lectures. By then I had refilled it with my favourite blue black, Diamine’s Conway Stewart Tavy which suits it better. The pen writes reliably and well although the nib feels a bit firmer than I had expected. Perhaps I was remembering the Scribo Extra Flex nib that I had tried at the show which makes normal nibs feel like nails. The Diplomat has a pleasant feedback. I expect the nib will feel smoother once it has been written in. It is also a heavy pen at 47g posted, or 29g unposted.
There were lots of other pens that I resisted. I could have bought another Wancher Crystal Emerald (clear demonstrator with lovely dark green section and ends) but reminded myself that I already have three of these eye-dropper, cartridge converter pens. They are the perfect size and shape for me and the Jowo steel nibs are generally very good. I also looked at some old Parker Duofold Big Reds, as seen in the advertisements of the 1920’s but without knowing more about them and their prices I would need some help to find one. There were countless other vintage Parkers and other pens at affordable prices, with coloured stickers indicating the price group but I passed these by.
As always, the pen show makes for a great day out. My only regrets are of not spending more time at certain tables, such as Onoto for example and that I took hardly any photos during the show but with the limitations of time and energy and with so much to see, it is difficult to make the most of the day. I did not do too badly and there is always the next one in October.
Today’s post is inspired by a recent piece by Anthony at UK Fountain pens, A grand new methodology: scoring my pen collection. The idea was to give pens a score, by awarding marks in four categories, namely Practicality, Writing Experience, Comfort and Visual Appeal. Two other categories, namely Rarity and Sentimental Value were discarded for reasons which he explains.
Having made a currently inked list today, of no less than 27 fountain pens in the pen cups at home, I thought to revisit Anthony’s post and try the exercise for myself, applying it to the pens that I have in use.
And so I made a list of the pens. I ignored duplicates. For example I have two Wing Sung 601s and another two Wing Sung 601As all inked. I included one of each in my table. I added four columns to insert my score plus a fifth column for the total. The pens were listed in no particular order.
I found it easiest to complete one column at a time, awarding marks to all the pens for Practicality first, and then moving on to score them all for Writing Experience and so on. Within a short time, I had all four columns done and was able to insert the totals at the end of each row, out of a possible maximum score of 12.
This exercise does produce some pretty bizarre results. First, no consideration was given to the value of the pen, so you might get a very expensive pen sharing the same score as a cheap one. Secondly a pen might score highly in one category but do poorly in another, for example having a wonderful nib and writing experience but being awkward to hold. I tried to be reasonable in my scoring but the method is very subjective. I seldom gave a zero but did so for the Platinum Procyon for comfort, (sharp metal threads just where I grip the pen) the Lamy CP1 for comfort (very narrow and slippy even though the pen is a marvel and a design classic) and to the Kaweco Perkeo for (lack of) visual appeal. But they all have other attributes which go to balance their bad points.
At the end of the exercise, I wrote up the list again, in descending order of total scores. I went one step further and converted their marks out of 12 into percentages.
The three winners, in joint first place with 92% were my Parker Duofold International, Waterman Carene and Kaweco Dia 2. These are all pens which should stop me wanting other pens.
Next came the Pilot Custom 823 and Italix Captain’s Commission in equal 2nd place, with 83%. The Pilot is a recent acquisition which had long been on my wish list. I love how it feels but it just loses a mark for ease of cleaning.
In third position, with 75%. were the Wing Sung 601 and 601A, a Waterman Expert and a Pilot Custom Heritage 92.
The biggest group were tied in fourth place, with 67% comprising six pens ranging from Montblancs to a Chinese Duke Dreamworld (re-branded as an Autograph) and so you can see how the rankings get shaken up when you take cost out of the equation.
I had more groups of pens, tied closely in fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth places but looking back over the results, I am not sure that the outcomes fairly reflect how I feel about the pens overall. Perhaps if you add more categories, the end results might start to look more fair.
This was an interesting exercise. I agree with Anthony’s opening comment that any attempt at objectively scoring fountain pens is doomed to failure. In my case, I like all of the pens in my pen cups, some more than others and for a host of different reasons.
I think I probably knew that my Duofold and Carene would come out as favourites. Of more surprise was the Kaweco Dia which is a steel nib pen and of much lower cost. I was surprised that the Wing Sungs tied with the Pilot Custom Heritage 92 and Waterman Expert for total marks, although I gave the Wing Sungs full marks for comfort and a 2 for all the other categories. Since I smoothed the nibs a little with some micromesh there is little to fault them. The later model, 601A comes with a plastic wrench to remove the piston mechanism for cleaning and greasing. They are lightweight, reliable and effortless writers and fun to own.
I have not tried yet to rank any other pens in my collection. I am very fortunate to own some excellent pens and also fortunate to find joy in many low and mid-range pens when they perform well.
Perhaps like being able to drive different types of car, it is good to be able to use and enjoy pens of all shapes and sizes. I am still discovering my own preferences but sometimes the reasons why I seem to write more neatly with one pen than another, can be elusive. Is it the weight, the balance, the width of the section, the length of the nib, the materials or some combination of all of these? In all, it is a question of whether you feel relaxed with the pen.
Certainly it is useful to evaluate pens in some way, to think about what we like and why. With the London Pen Show tomorrow I will do well to remember the many favourites that I already own and to try to think whether any new pens on sale are really going to add anything. Thinking in terms of specific categories of attributes might help with this but I suspect that in the heat of the moment the heart will rule the head as usual!
I recently spent a very enjoyable mini-break in Dubai, enjoying some winter warmth and sunshine. Dubai is famed for its world class shopping and so I was hoping to come across some exciting pen shops.
I gather that Dubai has some specialist pen shops but being such a large city and with limitations of time, I did not get to them and my pen foraging was limited to a couple of vast shopping malls, plus the airport departure hall.
The Dubai Mall and The Mall of the Emirates both had large Montblanc stores although the prices were no less than at home. At the other extreme, the latter had a vast Carrefour supermarket with an aisle of stationery, including some school pens.
To my delight I spotted, low on the rack almost at knee level, a peg of Pilot fountain pens in blister packs and stooped to have a closer look. This was the unattractively named Pilot AMS-86G3-ASTD. Under the artificial lights it appeared to be a nice forest green with a gold coloured cap although it later proved to be more of a teal. There were no other colours. They all had a Fine nib.
While my wife bought bags of delicious dried figs and dates as gifts, I bagged a few of the Pilot fountain pens.
Appearance and construction
This is a smallish, plastic pen with a snap-on, gold coloured metal cap, a sturdy, flexible pocket clip, a traditional steel nib with gold coloured plating, a slim but textured grip section and all plastic barrel threads and innards.
This is a cartridge pen, also designed to be eye-droppered, using the pipette supplied. There is also one Pilot Namiki prorietary blue cartridge.
Here I must tell you two important things, so that you may not make the same mistakes that I made. I make no apology if these sound like stating the obvious. I am supposed to know a bit about fountain pens but was still baffled as to how to fit the cartridge.
On unscrewing the barrel, there is a clear plastic tubular insert fitted inside the section, where the cartridge goes. This has to be pulled out before you can insert a cartridge. I read later online that it is a seal to help avoid leaks when the pen is to be eye-droppered.
The Pilot Namiki cartridges go in blunt end first.
Needless to say, in the absence of any instructions, I did not remove the plastic insert and also tried to force a cartridge into the pen, the wrong way round. As it would not go in, I thought it may help to try screwing the barrel on. This did not work and when I unscrewed the barrel, the cartridge was tightly wedged inside. I tried to pull it out with some tweezers from my Swiss Army knife but they just slipped off. I then used a blade to spear the cartridge and hook it out, which worked, but at the expense of puncturing the side of the cartridge which was therefore wasted.
After this stupid but memorable experience of learning the hard way, I removed the plastic insert, popped in a new cartridge (the correct way around this time) and all was well.
Apart from the above teething problems, this is a truly delightful little pen. The Japanese Fine nib equates to a western Extra Fine but is smooth and with a lovely optimal ink flow. It has a slight bit of bounce but no significant flex. Yet it is a real joy to write with.
Size and weight
It is a smallish pen, measuring approximately 134mm closed, 124mm open or 148mm posted. It posts very well. The pen weighs around 11.0 grams closed or posted comprised as to 6.5g for the pen and 4.5g for the thin metal cap.
Likes and dislikes
My only gripes are:
The absence of filling instructions on the blister pack which led to my wasting half an hour and one ink cartridge. It is not only me. I have since given one to a friend and highly experienced fountain pen collector Penultimate Dave who was also foxed by this pen and its supplied accessories at first, which made me feel slightly better.
The absence of a name. Why call a pen the AMS-86G3-ASTD? I would have liked it to include a word, such as Custom, or Heritage, or Legacy or anything, or even just “the Pilot 86” would do me.
I would have liked some more colours. There may be others but the store where I got mine had only this teal.
As for Likes, I think it is a great little pen. It is comfortable to hold. My preference is to post the cap. It writes really nicely on smooth paper, with an even, extra fine line with no skips or hard starts as yet. And it is fantastic value. The price was 27 United Arab Emirates’ Dirhams, which equates to around £6.00, including a pipette and one blue cartridge. I bought a couple of spare boxes of blue cartridges.
I am very pleased with this little pen and wish I had bought more of them when I had the chance. They make great giveaways to pen users. I am thankful for my ability to enjoy cheap pens just as much as expensive ones.
At Dubai airport on the way home, my wife and I browsed at another display of Montblancs. We both liked the look of a blue “The Little Prince” special edition 146. My wife offered to buy one for me, for my next birthday. I declined. The fact that she had offered such a generous gift was enough and melted my heart and I was reminded that it is our loved ones that we have to be thankful for, not our fountain pens.
Also I am at last coming to realise that accumulating more and more fountain pens dilutes the use and enjoyment that we get from them. Now, can I hold onto that thought, until the London Pen Show next Sunday?
Buying a Montblanc fountain pen should be one of the happiest day of your life. You are choosing a lifetime companion. Our hopes and expectations for quality, materials and finish, are sky high. The brand occupies a special place in our psyche, along with the likes of Rolex and Rolls Royce. Those who own one speak highly of them and it would be rare to hear anyone say “Aaargh, my Montblanc has let me down again.”
If you plan to buy one, my advice would be to start by looking at the Montblanc official web site. There, for the Meisterstuck (Masterpiece) series, you can view the whole current range, with their specifications and prices. Broadly speaking there are three main sizes, the 145 (Classique), the 146 (LeGrand) and the 149 (which seems to be just called the 149) plus the extra small, Mozart size. Filtering down to display only the fountain pens, there are still 31 models to chose from and that is only the Meisterstuck series. Then you can reflect calmly and at your leisure, on which one best suits your preferences and budget before visiting a shop.
Or you can do it the way I did. This involves less planning and forethought and is more serendipitous. I sauntered into a local jewellery shop to have a browse at the watches. There I came across a glass counter display of Montblanc writing instruments and paused to have a look at the prices. This was rather hopeless because all of the pens were capped and there were few clues as to whether there might be a nib or a rollerball inside the cap. This gave an opening for a conversation with the assistant, who was happy to show me the fountain pens.
One that she showed me, and with which I was very taken, was the Montblanc Model 145, Meisterstuck Classique, platinum coated version. This is slightly slimmer than the 146 and has a smaller nib. Also it is a cartridge-converter pen, rather than a piston filler. The platinum plated fittings looked really smart against the black resin.
Handling the pen, the body did not feel too slender for me. Uncapped, at around 122mm it was a bit short for me to use unposted but this is not an issue as it posts beautifully, coming up to around 153mm, making for a very comfortable and balanced unit. All in all, it weighs 21.7g. I do mostly post my pens and grip them quite far back from the nib.
Ill-prepared as I was, I did at least have a loupe with me and took a close look at the nib. This is what clinched it for me. I saw a perfectly formed, 14k beautifully polished gold nib, bi-colour with rhodium plating and with just a glimpse of daylight between the tines as the gap narrowed from the breather hole to the tip. And the tipping material was a work of art. Perfectly symmetrical, the top face of the tipping was cut down to a circle and the two sides were cut and smoothed perfectly to blend in to the tines. The tines were of course perfectly aligned. It was a joy to behold and all the indications were that it would write very smoothly and effortlessly. The nib was a medium.
The shop did not seem to be geared towards allowing customers to try pens before buying. To be fair, it was a jewellery shop but it was almost as if they did not understand that a fountain pen needs ink. Never mind. I was confident to buy the pen having looked at the nib. I asked to have the one that I had inspected and not another one from stock.
Happily, the shop gave me a 10% discount on the list price of £460.00. It was still a sizeable outlay by my standards, particularly when totally unplanned.
The pen comes in a simple, black hinged gift box, not overly big. This is protected in a white cardboard outer box with a sticker confirming the model type, nib grade and the serial number. There is a Service Guide which looks like a mini cheque book, which also contains the Guarantee.
Materials and construction.
The pen is made of precious resin. This looks black although when held up to the light, you may see that it is a translucent dark red. The cap unscrews in about one full rotation. The grip section tapers slightly towards the nib and ends in a raised lip of a black material, and not with a metal “rust-ring” of the type that can cast reflections on your paper if writing in sunlight. The pocket clip and three barrel rings are platinum plated. The inscription on the cap ring reads Montblanc Meisterstuck. A nice touch is that there are metal threads on the inside of the barrel.
Each pen has its individual serial number around the ring of the pocket clip. What you might not notice is that the underside of the clip reads “Made in Germany. METAL”.
This is a size 5 bi-colour nib, in 14k gold with rhodium plating. The feed is plastic. I don’t think DIY removal of the nib and feed is encouraged. Montblanc say that each nib requires over 30 separate operations, each carried out by hand.
Unlike its larger 146 and 149 brothers, this model takes standard international cartridges or a cartridge-converter. It is supplied with a very decent looking Montblanc converter, with a smoky grey plastic ink reservoir and a metal collar of what looks to be brass. There is a black plastic turning knob, but without any knurling to assist grip. The converter is screw fit. Along the side it states “Use Montblanc Ink Only.” This, they say in their promotional material, is because Montblanc ink is specially formulated to ensure that the flow keeps up with your thoughts.
My pen came with a medium nib. However if you go to Montblanc’s website, you will see that a nib exhange is available within six weeks of purchase. There are eight options: EF, F, M, B, BB, OM, OB and OBB.
A medium nib is a useful one to have, provided that your handwriting is not particularly small or large. It is easy and pleasant to use. However it will not of itself do anything to make your handwriting look any more attractive or expressive. Yes, the pen does make for a very consistent and reliable writing experience with good flow but the writing itself might not look distinguishable from something written with a £15 medium nibbed Faber-Castell Grip.
The Montblanc nib does however have a bit of tooth to it, not exactly a roughness, but a certain feedback so that you do feel the paper. It is not a buttery smooth writer. This tooth gives it the ability to perform on very glossy paper.
Also, although gold nibs may be thought of generally as softer than steel nibs, the Montblanc nib is fairly firm. It is possible to achieve some line width variation by applying pressure on your down strokes. It is certainly not a flex nib and although it is probably capable of being driven harder, I tend to write without pressure and enjoy the effortlessness that this nib offers.
This is not a pen to jump up and down about. Rather it has an elegance and subtlety and a reputation for excellence. This was actually the first time that I have ever bought a Montblanc. I do have two others already, one a 146 piston filler which was a present from my wife over 20 years ago and one a 1960’s Meisterstuck No 12, also a gift and which still looks and writes like new.
These are built to last and with care should certainly last a lifetime. Yes, they are pricey. My Classique is not quite the least expensive Montblanc Meisterstuck fountain pen but is still “entry level.” I have decided that it is best not to beat myself up too much about the cost and to look upon it not as money spent, but merely converted into something of quiet beauty and service. The medium nib will not work miracles on my handwriting but I am minded not to switch nibs as it is such a useful general purpose nib and its set up was such a factor in my falling for this pen.
This was my last pen purchase of 2018 and I mentioned it at the end of my 2018 round up.
This is not a new model. The Carene has been around for a while but I have not had one before and am late to the party. It is made of brass, with an attractive lacquer finish, an inlaid nib in 18k gold and gold coloured fittings.
I remember looking at a number of reviews of the pen, a few years ago. These were mixed, with many commenting on the smoothness of the nib but a few reporting problems such as leaks or a barrel end finial which did not line up with the nib. One particularly enticing review recently was by Paul Godden in his blog Writing For Pain and Pleasure, in September 2018.
They are available in our local John Lewis, Brent Cross in north west London and I continued to keep an eye on them. I once handled a gorgeous black version with a handsome Palladium cap but stopped short of buying it. Currently the marine amber model is still at John Lewis at around £235.00, which is the maximum damage you can do to your wallet in their fountain pen department (not counting the Parker Fifth Generation which I would not class as fountain pens). A Cross Townsend in quartz blue is about the same price. In November, John Lewis offered a generous 30% off most fountain pens but at the time, I chose to buy a Cross Townsend instead. A week or two later, when I was still hankering after a Waterman Carene, the offer had ended.
But as luck would have it, Cult Pens then offered the Carene for sale at £149.00 and had a promotion, giving a further 10% off. The bad news was that they were waiting for stock, but you could register your interest to receive an email when they were back in stock. I did so and about a week later, got the notification. Without a moment’s hesitation I put in my order.
The main feature of the pen is its inlaid nib, which is uncommon these days. Also the profile of the pen with its sweeping prow and corresponding slope of the barrel end finial, is said to evoke the contours of a luxury yacht. It is a medium sized pen, elegant rather than flashy and the lacquered finish adds appeal. Other finishes are available, including black, blue or red but only the marine amber finish offers this mottled effect.
The snap on cap is bullet shaped and no bigger than it needs to be, to fit the contours of the tapering grip section and nib within. The pocket clip is simple but with a gentle wave form and is sprung. A gold plated cap ring bears the name Waterman and (on the reverse side), France.
The cap can be posted on the barrel. You do not need to and many will find the pen long enough without posting. Personally I prefer to post and grip the pen higher up, although the cap then hides the gold plated end button and you lose part of your “boat”.
The barrel unscrews with nice metal threads. Two rubber o-rings give a reassuring hold as you tighten it in place. This prevents the barrel from coming loose but also deters me from undoing the barrel too often as the o-rings may perish eventually.
The pen came with a Waterman converter although you may also use Waterman cartridges. (I believe standard international cartridges may also fit but have not tried). One slight mystery is that the housing for the cartridge or converter has a separate, smooth surfaced gold plated collar which can be unscrewed and removed. I am not sure of the purpose of this.
Weights and measurements (approximate).
Grip section, max: 11mm.
Weight uncapped: 23g
Weight cap only: 10g
Weight posted: 33g
These figures all look close to ideal, for me. The weight has some heft but is not burdensome. The grip section is very comfortable, having no cap threads and only a minimal step down from the barrel. There are two tiny lugs to secure the cap but these are less noticeable than those of the Lamy 2000. The section tapers and so the grip is slightly narrower if you hold closer to the nib.
The nib and writing performance.
As almost every reviewer says, the nib is very smooth. Mine is a Medium although writes on the broader side of a medium. It also writes a little stub-like having narrow side strokes and wider down strokes. And it has a luxurious softness to it. It is not stingy with the ink and the flow is on the generous side but not gushy. The smoothness of the nib, the lubrication from the ample ink flow and the softness of the gold nib all make for a wonderful writing experience. I have been using Pilot Iroshizuku Shin-kai ink.
Likes and dislikes.
This pen seems to have it all: beautiful looks, (uncapped), exceptionally comfortable to hold and with an impressively enjoyable writing experience. And it does not have the disadvantage of being overly expensive.
I have only my one example to go on but I have not had any of the issues that some have complained of. There have been no leaks. I did worry for a moment that the barrel end would not align with the nib but soon realised that I had not tightened the barrel enough. Once you get to the very end of the threads, it all lines up perfectly.
For some reason, this pen does not seem to get a lot of attention from fountain pen reviewers. Perhaps it is considered too mainstream or not exotic enough. Perhaps some examples do have issues and I have been lucky to get a good one. Personally, I think it is great pen and I struggle to find anything bad to say about it. Yes, there are plenty of more expensive fountain pens on the market but I doubt they would offer a significantly better writing experience. Mine has ticked all the boxes and it just remains to be seen how it stands up over time. I strongly recommend it.
It has been a habit of mine since I was 18, to keep a diary. For the last few years my preferred format has been an A5 book, with a page a day. A daily ritual is to write this, using a fountain pen, typically straight after breakfast, recounting the events of the previous day. This little ten minute appointment for myself, is really valuable.
However it is not always easy to find a suitable diary. Last year I used one from Rymans but was disappointed to discover that the line spacing had been reduced to 6.5mm in 2018, from 7.91mm in 2017. Also, with the new diaries sometimes sealed in clingfilm, you do not have an opportunity to see what the line spacing will be before buying. For 2019, with Rymans’ diaries still being sold in clingfilm, I looked eslewhere. In WHSmith, there were A5 page a day diaries but the line spacing looked far too narrow for my liking.
And then in Paperchase, I found a few 2019 diaries left on the shelf, in A5 page a day format. The cover with its pattern of blue and yellow flowers and rainbows of blue, yellow and light green was not my ideal, but was undeniably cheery. The price was £14.00 but turned out to be reduced in a sale, to £9.75. I was set up for the year.
Happily, the line spacing is a wonderfully generous 8.4mm per row (10 rows = 84mm) which suits me fine. This give 21 rows per page. The book feels nice in the hand, with a sort of linen cover. I am not sure whether it really is linen, but it feels pleasantly textured and grippy. The covers are flexible but protective. It is well bound, with stitched binding, dark blue endpapers and one blue ribbon page marker.
It turns out that it is not quite a day to a page. On Saturdays and Sundays you get only half a page. Thus, for two out of every seven days the description ‘Day to a Page’ is untrue and misleading. It is almost as if Paperchase is saying ‘What you do in your leisure time is of no consequence.’ However, I forgive them on this occasion as the book is so nicely made plus it was generously discounted in the sale.
The real joy is the paper: 100gsm off-white paper that my fountain pens love. It is smooth, but if examined under a loupe, there is some texture there which gives purchase to well polished nibs and provides a lovely feedback. I have been using the diary with a Parker Reflex (pictured), medium nib and Conway Stewart Tavy blue black ink. This inexpensive pen is a light weight and effortless writer. The writing experience of this combination of pen, ink and paper is such a joy, that it is a great way to start the day.