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.
Narwhal Pens are a relatively new brand in the fountain pen world. Founded less than two years ago in California, the company was launched and made its debut at the DC Supershow on 1 August 2019. The original series was of large, swirly vibrant acrylic, piston fillers in Poseidon blue, Angelfish yellow, Merman green or Hippocampus purple.
From what I can gather, the website went live on 7 August 2019, at narwhalpens.com. An Instagram account was launched, which had attracted 300 followers by 16 October 2019, growing to 500 by 18 January 2020 and to 1,500 by 8 October 2020. Today it has close to 2,000 followers.
Other options were added: a classic black fountain pen and also a clear demonstrator version.
The Schuylkill model was launched at the Philly Pen Show of 17- 19 January 2020. The name Schuylkill comes from the name of a river in Pennsylvania. Google tells me that it is pronounced “skool-kl” and so I suppose it sounds a bit like snorkel. It was named by Dutch settlers and means “hidden river.” A Narwhal is a type of whale, with a distinctive single tusk (well worth googling for images) and forms the logo of the brand.
The Schuylkill model was later available in some exciting new colour options – Asfur Bronze, Chromis Teal, Rockfish Red and Marlin Blue from 22 September 2020.
Also, to mark the company’s first year anniversary, a special limited edition of the Schuylkill was announced, to be made in red swirl ebonite and limited to 365 pieces worldwide. It was available from 22 September 2020. And it is this pen that I am looking at today.
This limited edition pen is supplied in a wooden box, with the name NARWHAL etched in capital letters on the sliding lid. Inside the unlined box, was a soft black and burgundy pen-pouch (which I think is imitation leather), featuring the Narwhal logo, a one year warranty card with filling instructions, and the fountain pen itself in a polythene sleeve. I will not keep the pen in the box but it was a nice presentation and useful for storing bits and pieces.
Design and appearance.
This is a large pen, generously proportioned. The colour of the ebonite is a lovely dark burgundy, smooth and polished, with a dark pinky-red wood-grain effect which is more evident under bright lighting. There is no brand name or any other text at all on the pen body, pocket clip, or nib. The only clue to its origins is the Narwhal logo on the nib.
The cap has a gold coloured, slightly domed disk for a finial and a sturdy metal clip in the same finish. There is no cap band. The cap screws off in about one and three quarter turns. The section is of the same red swirl ebonite and tapers slightly towards the nib, with a raised lip at the end. There is no step from barrel to section, but there are cap threads, not at all uncomfortable. A clear ink window gives a good view of the ink remaining and makes it obvious when the pen needs refilling.
The barrel is long and wide, ending with a piston knob, where you will find the limited edition serial number. Mine is 312/365. A gold plated ring separates the piston knob from the rest of the barrel.
The nib and filling system.
The steel nib was available in fine or medium. I went for a medium. On visual inspection, this looked to be nicely set up, with a slender gap between the tines until meeting the very large and very rounded blob of tipping material. The tines were level and the tipping was extremely smooth.
Filling the pen (after a few flushes with water, to clear any residual oils and to measure ink capacity), I tried Waterman Serenity blue, but changed my mind a couple of times, switching to Diamine’s Conway Stewart Tavy and then to Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt blue, which is in the pen now. I thought of going for an Oxblood or Burgundy ink to suit its colouring but was a little nervous that reddish inks were more likely to stain the inside of the ink window. Perhaps next time. Filling was very smooth and easy. The plunger stops short of the ink window and so you do not actually see it when you lower it for filling. I believe the filling system can be unscrewed for cleaning or adjustment but there was no wrench included with the set. I would be wary of getting involved in piston removal. I dabbled in this with a TWSBI Classic once and had a bit of struggle to get it back in right.
The key thing to say here, is that the nib was extremely, glassy smooth. I cannot recall ever having a pen that wrote quite this smoothly. Having said that, it was a little dry for my particular taste (since I am a lefty and mostly use an overwriter style, which needs a wetter flow to lubricate the nib) but I was able to floss the tines and widen the gap just minimally until I could just see daylight between the tines at the tipping material. This adjustment was made without knocking the tines out of alignment. The result was that the pen now writes not only super-smoothly but is also well-lubricated, needing no downward pressure to write. The overall effect is like ice-skating, which might not be to everyone’s taste if you like a bit of feedback.
The medium nib is also, in my view, closer to a typical broad, particularly after my tine-gap widening mentioned above. This is not a bad thing but if you prefer a finer line, for smaller handwriting, then the fine nib may be a better option.
Size and weight.
The pen measures about 145mm capped, and a very commendable 130mm uncapped (this being my personal favourite dimension for an uncapped pen). The cap can be posted, very securely but not deeply, making the pen about 177mm long and so I think most people will find it preferable to use unposted. Weightwise, it is around 28g in all, being about 15g for the pen uncapped and 13g for the cap. The pen does feel light for its size. Presumably the piston mechanism is plastic.
Likes and dislikes.
This pen has a lot to commend it, especially at its very reasonable price. In particular:-
large size body;
exceptionally smooth nib;
ebonite material with a classic, vintagey appeal;
rarity value, with only 365 available worldwide (that is one school-hall!);
competitive price, kept modest by use of steel nib rather than gold.
Dislikes: There is little to say against this pen, for its price. Some might find the nib overly smooth to their tastes, or the medium nib too broad. But this had advantages too. If using laid paper, the nib rides the bumps with ease. I have tried very smooth papers too and have yet to experience any skipping.
Perhaps from a design point of view, it might have looked neater if the cap covered the ink window, but conversely it is useful to see the ink level without having to uncap the pen. The designers have chosen function over style, which is a good thing. Some may wish the cap posted deeper, but then the pen is long enough for most people without posting. A wrench for the piston would have been nice, as one is included with some other Narwhal models.
I am delighted with the pen and very glad to have been able to buy one while still available. I was curious as to how an ebonite pen would feel (smooth) and smell (no smell, to speak of). How to sum up this pen? Like a steel nibbed Pelikan M800? Or an ebonite TWSBI Diamond 580? There is nothing quite like it and most people reading the specification would be surprised that it sells in the UK for £75.00. Narwhal have just introduced another new model of the Schuylkill range, the Porpita Navy, limited to 800 pieces. That looks very tempting too. This young brand is on an upward trajectory. Narwhal pens are available in the UK from Stonecott Fine Writing or in the USA from Goldspot Pens. The pen in this review was purchased with my own funds.
About a year ago, a pen friend overseas asked if I could help him to find a replacement Lamy Nexx, with a yellow cap. I knew very little about the Nexx but read that the yellow (“Citron”) was an edition from 2015.
Our local WH Smiths at London’s Brent Cross shopping centre sells the Lamy Nexx but I have seen only the lime green cap version there, in contrast to their wide selection of Safari and Al-Stars. However, as luck would have it, finding a yellow one online was a piece of cake as they were available from the Hamilton Pen Company. I took the opportunity of ordering two, to try one for myself.
I had seen the Nexx for sale many times, hanging on blister packs beside the Lamy Safari and Al-Star range, but had never bought one, dismissing them as a bit childish. Also, although I have bought plenty of Safaris and Al-Stars over the years, I did so despite the faceted grip, not because of it. As a lefty over-writer, who rotates his fountain pen nibs inwards a few degrees, the facets do not align with my fingers and consequently I am left with thumb and forefinger resting on uncomfortable ridges rather than the intended facets. I can hold them if using my under-writer style but this is not so natural for me and therefore limits my use of the pens.
There is a big difference with the Nexx: the grip area is of a black rubber and the edges of the facets are not so pronounced and the edges are not at all sharp.
Design and construction.
The Nexx is a robust, workhorse of a pen, if ever there was one. The barrel is made of a aluminium with a silvery, satin finish and blends from being round, next to the grip, to being triangular (but rounded off) at the back end. The grip section is of black rubber and of generous girth. The cap is of a tough plastic with an integral plastic pocket clip (on my version) with a hole should you wish to attach a lanyard to carry it around your neck.
The nib is the same as found on the Lamy Safari and Al-star and various other Lamys, available in a range of widths and easy to swap out.
The Nexx takes the Lamy proprietary cartridges or else a Lamy converter.
The familiar nib is reliable, firm but very smooth as I have come to expect from having used many such Lamy nibs. Ink flow on my particular model is not overly wet but about right. For those needing a wetter flow, it is possible, with care, to open up the tine gap very slightly.
Size and weight.
The Nexx at 133mm is very slightly shorter than a Safari when capped. It measures about 128mm when uncapped, long enough to use unposted, but the cap can be posted quite well, even though the round cap sits on a triangular barrel. Posting brings the length up to about 153mm and is very comfortable. Any worries that you might have about having a flattened edge of the barrel resting in the web of your hand and upsetting your preferred rotation of the nib, are resolved by posting. You can also align the pocket clip with the nib for a visual aid to keeping the nib at your desired angle to the paper.
The pen weighs about 16.5g in all, capped or posted, 10.5g uncapped and 6g for the cap alone.
Likes and dislikes.
Perhaps the most distinctive design elements of the Nexx are its big clunky coloured cap, its rubber grip section and the contrasting aluminium tapering barrel. It seems inappropriate to cite any of those as dislikes. Some might prefer the pen without any facets on the grip and a barrel that did not taper and merge from cylindrical to triangular but these features are the heart of the pen. However, as it is, the pen is very usable even for my left handed writing style.
A big plus point for the Lamy Nexx, like the Safari, is that it is modestly priced and one of the least expensive “proper” pens available. The price means that you could collect a few different colours if you wish without spending a fortune. It feels strong and almost indestructible and is well suited to being carried around. Above all, it is surprisingly comfortable for long writing sessions. Once you have the pen in your hand, it will not slip. On the contrary, in order to adjust your grip, you have to first separate it from you fingers and then re-position it. It is not a pen that can be rolled around in the fingers.
Whether you find a pen comfortable may depend upon what you have just been using. If that happens to be a pen which has a grip which is too narrow or too slippery, or both, then the Lamy Nexx will feel like a breath of fresh air. It is robust, light weight, and good for long writing sessions. It was a mistake to think of it as childish. Anyone who has avoided the pen for that reason would be well advised to give it a try.
Feeling a little tired from the week’s work, I began this Saturday morning sampling a few different fountain pens on a pad of A4 paper, to see which would give the best writing experience for a forthcoming letter writing session. After writing a paragraph with each of six different pens, I thought to try to a few rollerball and fibre-tip pens, to see how they compared.
The Mitsubishi uni-ball AIR.
The Mitsubishi uni-ball AIR, with a Broad tip, claims on the packaging to write like a fountain pen. It does allow effortless writing with no pressure and provides a thicker line when a little pressure is applied to the tip, so you benefit from some line variation. It also writes smoothly even when held at a lower angle to the paper, in contrast to some other rollerballs that I have tried. Also, at about 131mm uncapped, it is a good length to use unposted. The clear plastic cap can be posted deeply and securely and provides a roll-stop. The grip section looks opaque to the casual glance, but in fact is translucent giving a view of the feed system if lit from behind. Also, in the Broad tip version (the one with the white barrel) the dark stripes are ink windows although again, need to be held against a light.
The fine tip version is called the Micro and has a black barrel, with nice geometric patterns but no ink viewing window. But whilst appearing rather plain, the uni-ball AIR pens are brimming with technology and worthy of respect.
Pilot V Sign pen.
A few months ago, in a newsagent’s/ stationer’s in St John’s Wood, I found a display of Pilot pens and picked up a couple of their “V Sign” pens. These look similar to their single use fountain pen, the V Pen, but instead have a fibre tip. This is quite broad, like a Sharpie marker pen, good for labelling but could be used for normal writing if you like the extra bold look. The black part of the barrel is actually translucent and gives a good view of the ink level, when held up to the light. I had not seen these pens before and bought one in blue and one in red.
After using a few different lightweight disposable pens, holding the Parker Ingenuity fibre-tip pen felt luxurious, with its wide girth and hefty metal body and PVD gold plated grip section. I am now on my second refill, since buying the pen just over a year ago. My preference is for the blue refills, in medium. I had been rather dismissive of the Ingenuity for several years until the chance presented itself to pick one up for about half price at my local John Lewis and I am very glad that I did. Once the fibre tip starts to wear in, it forms a nice chisel edge at your writing angle which always stays constant as the refill will fit in only one way. The benefit of this is super-smooth writing at your normal angle and the option of extra fine lines if you turn the pen over.
With certain types of paper, particular those which feel coated and too smooth for fountain pens, the Ingenuity can sometimes be the best tool for the job. And being housed in the handsome black and gold body, it is still an attractive pen to grow old with.
Looking at my Parker Ingenuity, it occurred to me that it would make a nice set with the Parker IM ball pen which is also black and gold. They are not quite from the same family, but are both roughly the same age with Y (2016) production date codes. They make a good travelling pair.
The Parker IM in this black and gold version, makes a very comfortable vehicle for the Parker ball pen refill, having a noticeably wider girth than the Parker Jotter. And the refills seem to last forever.
I have always enjoyed getting a new notebook. I start on the back page with a range of pens to test the paper, primarily for bleed through. I also like to paginate my notebooks, if they are not paginated already.
Lately I have also taken to paginating new pads of A4 paper. I use this all day for work notes and sometimes find when gathering up a pile of loose sheets, it helps me assemble them back in order. It is also handy for seeing how many pages you have used and therefore, how many remain – a bit like an ink window on a pen.
My notebooks fall into two broad categories: those that are expendable, filled up with pen and ink sampling, handwriting practice and writing for its own sake, and those that I want to keep, filled with more purposeful writing such as collected memories or other writing projects.
Finding your palette.
The logical consequence of testing a new notebook for which inks it likes, is to arrive at a list of those which can be used without bleed through or excessive show through or feathering and those which cannot. This is useful, particularly if you buy the same type of notebook regularly or if you have bought a few spares to keep “in stock”.
Taking this a step further, I thought it may be useful to arrive, for a given notebook, at a core palette of say four colours – a blue, red, green and brown, which not only behave well individually on the paper but also look good together, and compliment each other, as if part of the same range. For example, for a Radley A5 notebook that I bought last February, I made at the back, a list of inks that could be used and a list of those which could not. For my core four, I have almost got this down to (1) Rohrer & Klingner Salix; (2) Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red; (3) Graf von Faber-Castell Moss Green: and (4) Pelikan Edelstein Smoky Quartz.
This is not quite as simple as it sounds. I found that I had entered Smoky Quartz in both the “can use” and “cannot use” columns. This might suggest that the paper is not consistent throughout the notebook but more likely, is because the paper’s ability to resist bleed through with a given ink, depends also upon how wet the pen writes.
I had hoped to be able to use Conway Stewart Tavy, my go-to blue black in the Radley notebooks but this ink bleeds through on some papers – Radley included. Honing my palette is a work in progress and constantly evolving. But since I picked up three spares of the Radley red notebook whilst they were in a sale, it is worth pursuing – before I fill them all!
The notebook stash.
Buying more notebooks than you immediately need, might sound a bit crazy. I seem to have accumulated a whole drawer full of mainly A5 size journals. When you find one you like, it is best not to buy too many spares in case you later find one you prefer.
However, with the UK now in lockdown again, with non-essential shops closed, I am now unable to roam through Rymans or Paperchase for supplies. Suddenly my drawers of journals and inks are not so crazy after all. Although I still have far too many to sit out any conceivable period of lockdown, to be fair.
The telephone table diary.
One thing that I had not bought before lockdown, was a 2021 diary to keep next to the home telephone. For the past few years, I have used a Letts Royal tablet diary from Rymans, with a week to a page, spiral bound A5 size and with the spiral at the top. Instead, for this year, I made my own from one of the spiral side-bound notebooks in my stash. I ruled pencil lines at three row intervals and then spent a merry few hours writing Monday to Sunday on each page and inserting the dates. I broke this up over two evenings as the process was a bit monotonous to be honest but it was satisfying to reach Week 52 eventually and put away my Cross Bailey Light, with its black ink cartridge. The Letts diary cost £8.49. My notebook was £2.00. A saving of £6.49 if you do not factor in my time.
The daily diary.
Writing my page-a-day diary is a routine which I honestly could not be without, such is the satisfaction of recalling the previous day and condensing it into note form. For working days, I now find that balloon diagrams work best. It is very easy to stress oneself with “to do” lists for work but healthy to pause sometimes and reflect on what daily progress was achieved… a sort of “done” list.
There was a time when I would settle upon a fountain pen and use it for my diary for the entire year. My current plan is to change over at the start of each new month. For January I used my lovely new Cross Peerless 125, with Tavy ink. For February I am using my Aurora 88, with Aurora blue. I am very fortunate to have gathered a collection of fountain pens, of which so many are wonderfully enjoyable.
This is not a new acquisition but a pen that I bought, gleefully, at the London Pen Show in March 2019. The Furore was then a fairly new model, which followed Leonardo’s Momento Zero and was very similar except for having bullet shaped ends.
With a range of vibrant colours, said to celebrate the natural colours of the Amalfi coast, it is hard not to be drawn to a display of these stunning Italian pens at a pen show. Shiny, smooth, tactile and colourful, with a lovely chatoyance as you turn the pen in your hand, I found the pen irresistible. Each pen is numbered on the barrel. Having chosen this refreshingly bright orange pen, it was an added bonus to learn that mine bore the serial No. 001 for this colour. I opted for a fine nib. There are both gold coloured or silver coloured nibs and fittings available.
This is quite a large pen but not overly heavy. The cap features a sturdy metal clip with a rolling wheel at the end and two gold coloured cap bands. The cap unscrews in one full turn. The section shape will be familiar from the Momento Zero, having the same generous girth at the barrel but then tapering to a narrower girth lower down. This looks a little odd at first but makes for a comfortable grip with a natural dip where I rest the pen on my second finger.
The barrel unscrews on resin threads. It is a cartridge converter pen, taking standard international cartridges but comes with a handsome, screw in, branded converter. Like the Momento Zero, there is also the option to access the converter by unscrewing the end of the barrel only, so keeping your fingers away from the ink bottle. The downside is that you do not get the same instant visual confirmation that you have filled your pen.
Nib and writing performance.
The steel fine nib works well, with a deliciously pencil-like feedback. The nib and feed are friction fit but very tight and I have not attempted to remove them since the fine nib was fitted for me when I bought the pen.
Size and weight.
The pen measures 145mm closed, 130mm open and 165mm if posted. The cap does post, quite deeply and securely and without upsetting balance, to make for a very comfortable unit if you do not mind the length.
Despite its large size, the pen weighs only 25g in all, of which 18g is the pen uncapped and 7g for the cap alone.
Likes and dislikes.
As pens go, this is a gorgeous specimen. Imagine seeing this in a tray of black pens: it would be hard not to pick it up. It has a host of nice attributes, such as the vibrant colour, attractive shape, chatoyance, comfortable grip and the smart, screw-fit converter, as well as being an enjoyable writer. On the down side, the translucence of the material does mean some discolouration at the section once the pen is inked. Also, personally, I am not so keen on the rolling wheel pocket clip feature, largely because I have seen other clips where the wheel has been lost, leaving an unsightly fork. But the wheel does help in sliding the clip over a pocket, if you want to carry the pen that way although I prefer to use a pen case.
Having reflected on my positive views on this pen, I am embarrassed to say that I have not made more use of the pen, in what is almost two years since I bought it. But in the pen’s defence I admit that this is not through any fault of the pen but rather its misfortune in landing in a household whose owner was already awash in good pens, competing for attention. And it is for this reason that I must get a grip on my appetite for shiny new pens and bring this one back into my rotation.
It is a tradition of mine at Christmas, to convince myself that I need no more fountain pens for a while. And it is also my custom, in about the second week of January, to cave in and buy my first new pen of the year.
A few weeks ago, I spotted this Duke Bamboo fountain pen, while surfing on the Amazon. I was intrigued by the photos in particular one showing a cross section through the Bamboo which is comprised of lots of tiny hollow tubes. The description stated that the entire barrel was made of a unique, high grade, Golden Stripe Bamboo, with a high sheen finish which was super durable.
However I was in my no-buy mode and was able to put it out of my mind. Until today that is, when Amazon sent me a message asking if I was still interested in this item and mentioned that if I ordered it within the next 1 hour and 48 minutes, it would be delivered free by 10pm today. I needed only the first two of those minutes.
It ships in a simple padded envelope, inside which is a little black velvety draw-string pouch, and the pen itself in a cellophane sleeve. There is no box.
It is a good sized pen, about the same length as a Lamy Safari when uncapped but about a centimetre longer when capped. First impressions are very favourable. The Bamboo barrel is a beautiful stripy brown and is very smooth to the touch. It contrasts nicely with the black lacquered cap, like a black jacket with pinstripe trousers. The shiny silver coloured fittings look elegant. The barrel is flush with the cap meaning that there is a step which might be where you grip the pen.
The cap unscrews, in just over one full turn. The nib looks to be a size five which some might consider a bit small for a pen of this size, but this does not bother me. It has the name Duke and the Crown emblem and some decoration. The nib looked in good shape although lacking a tine gap at the tip.
The section is a rather unusual design, tapering with another step half way down. There appeared to be some white patches which I at first took to be glue residues and tried to scrape away, before realising that they are swirls of colour in the marbled plastic. They are described as blue and white pearlized inclusions.
This is a cartridge-converter pen, taking standard international cartridges. A cartridge converter is included, with a metal coil ink agitator inside which is a nice touch. You can just hear it move when you turn the pen up and down.
I enjoyed examining the pen and taking a few photos of it. I flushed the nib and feed and then filled it with Cult Pens Deep Dark Red to suit the Bamboo. The section only just fits through the narrow rim of my 30ml bottle.
Nib and writing performance.
The steel nib is a medium-fine. The first strokes were a bit disappointing: the nib wrote, with some pressure but was otherwise rather dry. I had already filled it and so was resigned to getting inky fingers in adjusting the nib but didn’t mind this, so long as it did not transfer to the barrel. I spent a merry half hour, employing a few different techniques to open up the tines just marginally, to increase flow. I used some brass shims first, then a blade and then finally tried very gently pressing and bouncing the nib tines against my thumb nail – all the time being careful not to overdo it. This had the desired effect in getting a nice easy wet flow and it then just remained to ensure that the tines were level once more.
Having a wetter nib is necessary for us lefty-overwriters and means that the pen lays down ink effortlessly, without downward pressure.
Size and weight.
This is a large pen, at 149mm capped and a comfortable 130mm uncapped. Posting is not needed but makes the pen 182mm long and back heavy. It weighs a decent 41g, around 23g uncapped and 18g for the cap alone.
Likes and dislikes.
Having thus tweaked the nib I can give a few first impressions:
Attractive and unusual Bamboo barrel;
Warm, natural, tactile satin finish;
Duke branded converter included, with an ink agitator;
“Mother of pearl” effect insert in the finial;
Generous length and girth;
White plastic inner cap.
Rather lumpy step near to where I commonly grip the pen;
Pocket clip is extremely firm; better regarded as a roll stop;
Cap posts securely on the recessed area but pen becomes too long and back heavy.
I have not included in my dislikes, the need to fine-tune the nib as this was to make the pen write to my preferred wetness and is also an issue with pens across all price brackets.
I particularly like the Bamboo finish and the fact that it has a screw cap – so much nicer than a snap cap. Also the cap, barrel and section all seem to screw together firmly. I have not yet had the pen long enough to test for hard starts but I am hopeful that the presence of a plastic inner cap will mean that this is not an issue.
The flush cap has resulted in a pronounced step down from the barrel ring to the cap threads, which I find less comfortable than a stepless pen but preferable to a pen that is too slippery to hold firmly.
It is very early days (or hours) to be giving a review but the pen seems very promising and I am happy so far to have added it to my accumulation. This is now my third model from Duke and all have been designs which are interesting and unusual.
I feel very fortunate, to have derived so much enjoyment from my fountain pen hobby for another year. It has been a different year in many ways – no pen shows or pen club meets since March, no journaling on foreign holidays or discovering interesting pen shops overseas – but there have been plenty of other compensations.
I spent far less money on fountain pens this year. I acquired 16 pens of which six were given to me leaving 10 which I bought for myself. I began the year with a hope of becoming “fountain pen neutral” – selling or giving away as many pens as I bought. This did not happen although I did give away five and sell one. The sale was of my Delta Fantasia Vintage in dark green celluloid, one of only 25 made in that colour. The sale came about as a fortuitous bit of matchmaking by my friend Jon, of pensharing.com who saw on Instagram that someone was looking for this model. Knowing I had one, he put us in touch. My Delta has now been rehomed to Taiwan.
Taking account of this sale, my total net spend on fountains this year was a comparatively frugal £499, a healthy reduction on last year’s £2,000.
Pen favourites of 2020.
It was the same Jon who alerted me to an event in February at the delightful London stationery shop, Choosing Keeping, for the launch of the Platinum Curidas, an exciting new retractable fountain pen from Japan, before they were available from other dealers here. I bought one. I loved how it wrote and the rather intricate way of filling the pen, but found it more comfortable with the metal pocket clip removed. The clip was detachable but this left a keel-like bump of acrylic, making it impossible for me to grip the pen comfortably. After a few days, I filed it off. This act and my blog post about it brought me to the attention of The Pen Addict podcast and I got a surprise mention in Episode 399. I think it is a terrific pen although I am aware that some people had problems of the feed cracking beneath the nib.
After buying the Curidas I bought my first Pilot Capless in the stealthy matte black finish with a medium nib. The nib is a joy. It is a remarkable pen but again, for my lefty overwriter style the clip is in my way. I can use it in underwriter mode. In overwriter mode, I cannot rotate the nib to the paper as I normally would to find the sweet spot, but the 18k nib is so soft and forgiving that it writes almost as well. I would still prefer it without the clip. I have read up on the “clipectomy” procedure but this requires tools and is rather more tricky than I can do myself.
I am still discovering what I like and what I do not like in a fountain pen. I have said before, that it is nice to be able to use and experience pens of all shapes and types. But this year I was given a Diplomat Excellence A Plus by my wife for my birthday and it is one of those pens that feels just the right size, shape and weight for me and also has a superb steel nib (a fine) which is smooth and firm. I enjoy picking it up every day for my diary.
Another pen which is similar to the Diplomat and equally comfortable is the Cross Peerless 125 but with an 18k gold nib made by Sailor. The quartz blue model is both gorgeous to look at and to hold! This year I also bought my first Sailor Pro-Gear classic and later, a 1911 standard, having been so impressed by the Pro-Gear Slim that I acquired last year.
Favourite inexpensive pens of 2020.
I still have a weakness and optimism for inexpensive pens. This year’s intake included a Lamy Nexx, Waterman Allure, Faber-Castell Hexo and a Jinhao 159. I was given a Platinum Prefounte and converter, with a fine 0.3mm nib which is a very useful addition. My most successful find was the Moonman S5, clear demonstrator eyedropper pen which comes with three nib units. One of these was an oblique which I found beautifully smooth and enjoyable and flattering to my handwriting. I have learned this year that for me, (speaking as a lefty overwriter), pens fall into two categories: there are those that make you adjust your grip and your handwriting to conform to them: the Pilot Capless and the Lamy Safari are examples. Then there are other pens that conform to the way I write and bring out the best in my writing: the Moonman S5 with oblique nib is an example of this. It has nothing to do with price.
Having additional time at home during the lockdown allowed me more time for pen-related activities. I acquired a set of brass shims and set about trying to improve a few problem nibs. The most notable success was with my Aurora 88, a stunning pen which should be the pride and joy of my accumulation but which wrote rather more fine and dry than I liked. With a few minutes of tweaking and a fortuitous bit of controlled recklessness (which included wriggling a craft knife blade between the 14k gold tines) I was able to transform the nib into a slightly wetter and more truly “medium” but still smooth writer, which I now love using.
During this strange time I was able to be a bit more productive with the blog. Whilst on furlough from work from April to June inclusive, I published 16 posts. The blog has been a lifeline – a source of satisfaction, relaxation and enjoyment and a bit of escapism I suppose, during the troubling year. I enjoy receiving comments and am always glad and flattered to be asked for help from readers on their pen-related issues. Two separate readers both had the same problem of being unable to fit a converter in the barrel of a new Cross Bailey Light: the solution was to remove the supplied second cartridge which gets wedged tight in the back! Questions about the best starter fountain pen, or a suitable good fountain pen for a Christmas gift are often harder to answer than you might think but I do my best.
With pen club meets disbanded, there have been a few Zoom meetings to catch up and to talk pens, although of course without being able to try each other’s. It has been good to keep in touch in this way, with a few pen friends from Instagram as well.
Personally though, I feel better able to marshal my thoughts in a letter and I have enjoyed some old fashioned pen and ink correspondence with pen friends here and abroad over the year. For the latter, I write the letter by hand and then scan and send it by email.
Another writing project has seen me copying out Marcus Aurelius’ book “Meditations” in my pseudo-typewriter font style of underwriting. I enjoy reading and copying the text and changing pens after every two page spread. I am about three quarters of the way through.
So, that was my year in pens. Thanks once again to my fellow bloggers, correspondents and instagrammers for their friendship. My year ended as it began with surprise gifts from my pen friend in Australia. In January I received two lesser-spotted Pelikans: a “P55 Future” and a “Go!” neither of which I knew about and I have enjoyed trying them. Then a few days ago, I was given the pre-loved Graf von Faber-Castell Classic Anello, which I had been keeping until such a time as he could get over to collect it. I am yet to match such feats of generosity. But I am learning that the pursuit of even more pens for oneself, as a path to happiness, is destined to be endless and doomed to failure. The real trick is to learn contentment with, and to enjoy using fully, what you have.
For those new to the hobby, some of the terminology encountered on fountain pen blogs and forums may seem confusing. Here in a brief introduction, is a bluffer’s guide to get you started or to toss in to conversations with pen enthusiasts over the holiday period. Doubtless there are many others that I have omitted.
Acrylic A transparent thermoplastic often used in pen making. Short for Polymethyl methacrylate. So, plastic then.
Architect A type of nib grind to produce narrow down-strokes and wide cross-strokes, so named as used reputedly by architects in those elegant annotations of technical drawings and plans. The opposite of a stub nib.
Baby’s bottom The shaping and over-polishing of a nib’s tipping material which results in the pen failing to write or skipping.
Barrel Usually the long bit of the pen, that screws onto the section.
Bleedthrough An annoying tendency of ink to soak right through a sheet of paper to the other side, when unfortunate combinations of pen, ink and paper are used.
Bounce A certain softness to a nib, which writes with a spring in its step. Opposite of a nail.
Bricks and mortar A shop/store that you can physically walk into and talk to a human being, as opposed to online shopping.
Broad The next size of nib width after fine and medium.
Bullet proof A term applied to inks that have a high level or water resistance.
Buttery A term applied to certain nibs which are extremely smooth, as in “like a knife through butter.”
Buyer’s remorse An unpleasant sense of regret at having bought a pen, often when expensive and bought in haste and/or when found to be less satisfactory than one you already own costing one tenth of the price.
Currently inked The term conventionally used when providing a list of those of one’s fountain pens which contain ink, at a given time.
Cursive Joined up writing.
Demonstrator A pen which is comprised of a transparent or semi-transparent material through which you may observe the ink sloshing around and the inner workings of your pen.
Dry time The length of time taken for ink to dry on paper to avoid smudging. May also be used to describe a period of abstinence from purchasing additional pens.
Ebonite A brand name for a hard rubber, made from vulcanizing natural rubber, for prolonged periods.
EDC Every Day Carry. A pen that is carried on a daily basis.
Eyedropper A device comprising a tube with a squeezable rubber bulb on the end used to lift ink from a bottle and deposit it into the barrel of a pen. Term also applied to describe pens that fill in this way.
Facets Flat surfaces on a pen, sometimes found on the grip sections of pens intended for novices to aid “correct” placement of the fingers symmetrically either side of the nib. Loathed by those who do not conform to this way of holding a pen, as their fingers rest on uncomfortable sharp ridges. For example, Lamy Safari.
Feed The part of the pen that regulates the supply of ink from the barrel (ink reservoir or cartridge) to the nib. Usually plastic but sometimes Ebonite in older or a few high end fountain pens if you are lucky.
Feedback The sensation of feeling, and sometimes hearing, your nib on the paper surface as you write. Too much of this or too little can be a bad thing. A particular feature of some nibs from Aurora, Montblanc and Sailor.
Finial A decorative feature at the top of a pen cap. Serves to help identify a pen in a Pen cup.
Fire hose A metaphor applied to nibs which write with an over enthusiastic flow of ink.
Forgiving A nib which will still allow you to write when the nib is at less than the ideal angle to the paper.
Fountain pen friendly Paper which can be used enjoyably for fountain pens, having a pleasant writing surface and a resistance to bleedthrough. Not paper which is too shiny or coated, or which is too rough textured.
Ghosting When you can see one page of writing from the opposite side. Also called showthrough. Not as bad as bleedthrough but may sometimes be bad enough to limit use to one side of the paper.
Girthy Having a wide diameter. Typically applied to the grip section or barrel of a pen.
Grail Term used to describe, typically, an extremely desirable high end pen that owing to its price or rarity is almost unobtainable.
Grind A reshaping of a nib to create a different writing experience and line from its original design.
Gusher A nib that emits an excessive amount of ink; see also Fire hose.
Hard start The frustrating tendency of some pens not to write immediately when required, after an interval in use of a few days.
Homage A polite term for a pen that is a blatant copy of a respected pen design from a different manufacturer. A euphemism.
In the wild The natural habitat of fountain pens not yet in your own household. Where you might hope to encounter a pen, hitherto seen only on the internet.
Inner cap Usually plastic; an interior layer inside the pen cap to create an air tight seal around the nib when the pen is capped, to prevent ink evaporation, nib dry out and hard starts.
Italic A slanting style of writing.
Lefty A person who is left handed.
Line variation The attractive quality of writing which exhibits both narrow and broad strokes, achieved either by using a flex nib and applying pressure on the down strokes or by using a stub or architect grind nib and keeping the nib at a constant angle as you form the letters.
Loupe A magnifying lens, usually of higher magnification than a typical magnifying glass and sometimes illuminated, used by jewellers and watchmakers but also essential for inspecting the nib.
Medium A good comprise between a fine and a broad nib. Suits average writing size. Note that in some Japanese pens, a medium nib may equate to a western fine.
Micromeshe Abrasive pads for smoothing nibs.
Nail A metaphor for a very stiff nib with no bounce or flex.
New Pen Day A term often used to announce an additional fountain pen acquisition on social media.
Nibliography A term believed to be first attributed to Jon of Pensharing.com to describe a list of pens and inks used in a handwritten letter.
Nibmeister A person highly revered in the fountain pen community who is skilled in the craft of altering or repairing a nib.
Oblique A nib in which the tip is cut at an angle, usually at 15 degrees, typically from top right to lower left.
Overwriter One who writes with a pen held above the line on which he is writing, with the nib pointing towards himself.
Pen cup A receptacle to hold the “Currently inked” fountain pens in a vertical position with nibs upwards.
Pen loop A device to hold a pen attached to a notebook or notebook cover, usually made of elastic or leather.
Piston A type of filling mechanism. A plunger which is lowered to expel air from the ink reservoir and then raised to draw ink up from a bottle by vacuum. Most converters also work in this way.
Post Verb, to attach the pen cap to the back end of the barrel, to add length and weight to a pen whilst writing and for safe stowage. Noun: an article written on a blog or verb, to publish such an article.
Precious resin: The material from which many Montblanc fountain pens are made.
PVD Physical Vapour Deposition: a type of coating applied to nibs or other furnishings of a pen.
Rhodium A silver coloured metallic element, highly reflective and resistant to corrosion. Sometimes used to coat nibs and furnishings of a pen.
Roll stop A protrusion on a cylindrical pen to prevent it from rolling off a surface.
Safari A model of fountain pen made by Lamy and often used for size comparison photographs of other pens.
Saturation A quality used to describe ink. Highly saturated inks have a high purity of colour.
Section The part of the pen that you grip. Also called the grip section.
Shading A pleasing quality in an ink, to produce light and dark tones, caused by ink pooling in the indentations formed by applying pressure to the paper.
Sheen A quality of some inks to appear a different colour from different angles. For example a blue ink might exhibit a red sheen.
Shellac A natural resin, which was used to form a glued seal in the making of some fountain pens.
Shimmer A sparkling quality in ink.
Shims Brass sheets of various thickness which are very useful for cleaning and adjusting nibs.
Showthrough When the writing on one side of a page is obtrusively visible on the other side. See also ghosting.
Sidewriter A person, typically left handed, who writes with his hand moving along from the side of the page rather than from below the line of writing (Underwriter) or above it (Overwriter).
Silicone grease A lubricant and seal against ink leakage. Also used by scuba divers and hence available in diving shops. Particularly useful for eyedropper pens.
Skip The frustrating tendency of a pen to move across paper without laying down ink.
Stealth Term applied to an all black pen with a matte finish, after the aircraft designed to evade detection by radar.
Step The difference between the level of the barrel and the section of a pen, sometimes creating a sharp ridge which may be uncomfortable.
Stingy Mean or ungenerous. Term used to refer to nibs which write on the dry side, causing reduced lubrication of the nib on the paper and a less enjoyable writing experience.
Stub A nib shape which produces broad down strokes and narrow side strokes. Often expressed in millimetres for the broadest strokes, such as 1.1mm, 1.4mm etc.
Sumgai The unknown person who gets the best deals at a pen show.
Sweetspot The part of the nib which when held to the paper at the optimum angle provides the smoothest writing experience.
Tine gap The narrow space between the tines of a nib. Usually narrowing from the breather hole towards the tip. The gap down which ink is drawn as the pen writes.
Tines The two sides of a nib, separated by the nib slit or tine gap.
Tipping A pellet of hardwearing material applied to the end of the tines and then shaped and polished to form the writing surface.
Tomoe River A brand of fountain pen friendly paper from Japan, a favourite of many fountain pen users.
Tooth An ability of a pen to provide a degree of feedback from the paper surface and to write even on shiny coated papers.
Underwriter One who writes with his pen below the line of writing and with the nib pointing away from himself. A fortunate person for whom fountain pens behave better and exhibit smoother writing.
Wish list A list of pens that one is thinking of buying and craves, instead of focusing on those which he already owns. An aid to deciding whether to splurge on one particular pen or another.
Workhorse An unglamorous pen that is used day in day out for general purposes and menial tasks.
So there you have it. There are probably lots of terms that I missed, as I only thought of this today. Any errors are purely my own and may be corrected in future editions.