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.
It is almost embarrassing to be posting a new pen review, quite so early into the new year and so recently after totting up how many pens I acquired last year. But hey ho. This is not even my first pen purchase of the year. I purchased a Kaweco Dia2 from a friend at the London Pen Club on Saturday, as I like mine so much and wanted another for my Kaweco extra fine nib.
Today I received the new PenBBS 355. I first came to hear of this, at the same pen club meet just last Saturday and ordered one from Ebay seller Ross Cooper, (Rossco pens) of Bristol. Coming from the UK there was no long wait for the pen to arrive.
Meanwhile I had watched a few YouTube reviews, particularly about the intriguing filling system. Put very simply, you push a plunger down and then draw it back up again to fill the pen. It is the perfect pen for someone who wants a huge ink capacity, and/or who finds a typical twist converter too easy.
First impressions were favourable. It is a very clear acrylic demonstrator, feeling solid, a decent size and with a screw cap. There is an attractive clear finial at each end, rather like on the Opus 88 demonstrator, but smaller.
There is no inner cap but instead the cap is molded so as to seal off the nib when the cap is screwed on fully, with a ledge which meets the rim of the section precisely.
The metal clip is an attractive shape and usefully tight but flexible. There is a broad shiny cap ring, with the brand name PenBBS at the front and the model number 355 on the back.
The nib is a steel bi-colour design with some gold colour plating over most of the exposed part. Through the clear grip section, you can see just how much of the nib lies beneath the grip. I checked my nib with a loupe and was pleased to find that the tines appeared level, the tipping symmetrical and the nib slit slightly tapering from breather hole to tip, just as it should. Mine has Fine nib but a Medium is also available.
The pen is about 147mm long when capped and 130mm uncapped, which happens to be my ideal pen length (anything more is a bonus).
Now to that filling system. I had been rehearsing this in my head for a couple of days whilst waiting for the pen to arrive. The pen is not called a Bulkfiller officially but appears to be similar to the esteemed Belgian Conid system (although I have never owned one). The idea is that it has a plunger, filling the barrel with ink, rather like a piston filler but without needing so much space for a piston mechanism and thus leaving more room for ink.
The pen comes with no filling instructions or papers. Here, in simple steps is what you do:
Unscrew the blind cap (about five twists, anti-clockwise);
Pull up the piston rod, to meet the plunger;
Continue turning the shaft anti-clockwise, gently, for about three twists, to screw it into the plunger; screw it in only loosely;
Push the plunger down; this might be quite stiff the first time, as the plunger will have “clicked” onto the black end piece.
Draw back the plunger, filling with ink; click the plunger back on to the end piece. (On a YouTube video, the reviewer’s pen made quite an audible click but mine has very little resistance);
Now turn the shaft clockwise, (disengaging the piston rod from the plunger) and then push the rod back down to its resting position;
Finally screw the blind cap back down again (about five twists clockwise).
There are variants on this if you wish to draw ink up and down more than once, or if you wish to release some ink before you finish. I have not yet experimented with this.
A little word of caution: do not screw the rod into the plunger too tightly or else you may find that it will not unscrew again when you want to push the rod back down and instead, the whole plunger rotates inside the barrel. Needless to say, this happened to me at my first attempt (luckily without ink) and I had to remove the plunger mechanism in order to unscrew the rod. To do this you will need a wrench to fit the flat sides of the end piece. No, the TWSBI wrench does not quite fit. I ended up using a ridiculously large adjustable wrench to grip the end piece, whilst carefully rotating the barrel. It then came out quite easily and is a fairly simple mechanism.
The nib writes smoothly and is fairly firm but having a little line variation. But the Fine nib is perhaps closer to a western extra fine. With its voluminous ink capacity I can see one fill lasting many months, so chose your ink with care.
Update, 11 January 2019.
In the caption to one of the photos above, I said that unlike the TWSBI Vac 700, the shaft does not seal off the ink supply to the feed, once screwed down. I think I may have been wrong on this. Having inked the pen, it does appear on closer inspection that the end of the shaft does form a plug, in a clear acrylic ring at the bottom end of the ink reservoir. When inked, you can see that the ink does not swill around below a certain point. This is quite a useful feature, as it should reduce the chances of “burping” or blobbing or of ink leakage from pressure changes when flying. It would mean that you need to unscrew the blind cap a little and raise the metal rod, to refill the feed from time to time.As I said, the pen came with no instructions and so it is a case of finding out for yourself.
It is that time of year again, when we reflect on the year that has passed; the highs and lows, the lessons learned and the resolutions for the future. This is now my third such annual round-up on this blog.
My enthusiasm for fountain pens, inks and journals has continued unabated. Depending upon your point of view, this could be seen as an unhealthy obsession or on the other hand, a harmless source of joy and relaxation. The discussion of whether a fountain pen addiction is a blessing or a curse is one for another day.
I continued to keep a simple database of my pen acquisitions – whether they were purchases or gifts. A brief review of this today tells me that I have acquired 61 fountain pens over the year with a total spend of around £3,300. Some of you may be comparing this now with your own tally and finding my figure either shockingly high or low depending upon your own budgets and sense of proportion. Happily, in my experience the fountain pen community is not judgmental and we take people as we find them.
As in previous years, the number of pens incoming, is inflated by quite a large number of inexpensive pens, which you might class as school pens. For example, I was so pleased when some clear plastic demonstrator cartridge-converter pens re-appeared in our local Tesco supermarket after a two year absence, that I bought one of each of the four colours, in blue, black, red and green. They are only £2.00 each but write very well with a smooth, fine line. They are undeniably cheap and plasticky and yet I am capable of getting almost as much pleasure from these as one of my high end pens. “I know it’s crazy, but it’s true.” (Arthur’s Theme).
Also, some of my pen purchases were gifts for others. So impressed was I with the Italix Captain’s Commission, that my wife and I bought two more during the year, as gifts for friends. My pen tally includes five pens bought as gifts.
The list included eight pens given to me by friends or family and which are therefore of special importance to me. These included a new Pelikan M120 in green and black, kindly sent by a fellow blogger in Sweden and some pre-owned Pilots and a Montblanc from another generous reader of my blog.
Browsing in pen shops is a regular habit of mine, in particular our local John Lewis department store or Rymans, Paperchase and WH Smith for more workaday pens. Occasionally when in central London I take a look at the fountain pen departments of Selfridges or Harrods. If visiting other towns and cities here and abroad, it is great to seek out the pen shop if there is one. In the summer we took a holiday in Italy. The pen shop in Verona (called Manella) where I bought an Aurora Ipsilon, was a delight.
In Cardiff recently, I was pleased to find not only a John Lewis but also a branch of The Pen Shop and an independent stationer called Pen & Paper which was a treasure trove of fountain pens not commonly found in bricks and mortar shops. They had a good selection of Visconti pens including the range of Visconti Van Goghs.
As in previous years, the London Pen Show in early October is a highlight of the year. I bought five pens and met lots of friends there. It can be a bit of a frenzy with so much to see and it is good to take some breaks from going around the tables, to catch up with friends and compare notes on our respective purchases. At the end of a pen show, it can be shocking to add up what you have spent in total. A pen which looked way over budget at the beginning of a pen show, could have been purchased after all, if you had not bought all the others which added up to a similar amount! Much the same thinking can be applied to the year-end count-up.
This year, as well as the London show, I also attended the Cambridge Pen Show in March, for the first time. I had a very memorable and enjoyable day, travelling out to Cambridge on the train from London, making some purchases and making some new friends from the online pen community. Sadly it may also be the last time as I have heard that it is being disbanded next year and that instead there will be an extra show in London.
The London UK Pen Club.
I was first invited to come along to the London UK Fountain Pen Club, by Marisa whom I met at the London Pelikan Hub in September 2017. I have since been to almost all of their monthly meet ups. We meet at Bierschenke, a German restaurant and beer hall near Liverpool Street Station to talk pens and enjoy food and drink and each other’s company. Typically we will have around a dozen people who all bring along some pens for others to try. These might be currently available pens, or obscure limited editions or vintage pens and with a host of different nibs, filling systems and characteristics. There are pens for all tastes, whether your preference is for colourful pens in exotic materials or minimalist, understated functional designs. We try them out in our own journals and note any particular inks or pens that we like. It can be very useful to try pens and hear other people’s opinions on them, before committing to a purchase. There is a vast amount of knowledge and experience in the room.
The online community.
There is a vast friendly community of fountain pen users and enthusiasts out there, from the thousands who use FPN, to bloggers and instagrammers. I have enjoyed keeping up this blog and following a number of others, as well as interacting daily with enthusiasts on Instagram, here and abroad.
The successes and failures.
Looking at my list of pens acquired this year, there have been a few which turned out to be less successful. A vintage Sheaffer with a tubular nib wrote dry despite my efforts at flossing and adjusting the nib. It could benefit from some expert help. The Pilot Falcon with soft fine nib was interesting but ultimately not suited to my lefty overwriter style of writing and I passed it on to my neice who writes beautifully with it. I bought a Lamy Dialog 3, which is also unsuited to my writing style, since the pocket clip only caters for people who hold the pen symmetrically and not for those who rotate it one way or the other. It is a pity as I like the look, the weight and the retractable nib. The Lamy gold nib is also very pleasant. I can still write with it if I hold it underwriter style, but it has sat unused since I cleaned it and put it away, in favour of many other easier pens.
My Aurora Ipsilon suffered from a leaky converter, but I was pleased to find that Parker cartridges fit. I have not warmed to the pen as I usually do. Perhaps it is the fine feedbacky nib. Perhaps it just needs more getting used to, but it has been cast aside in favour of other pens which require less effort to like. Finally, the Lamy CP1 is a design classic and impressive for containing a Safari sized nib and cartridge or converter inside such a slim body, but in use it us just too skinny for me to hold comfortably.
The favourite pens of 2018.
On the other hand there have been far more pens that I have really enjoyed. I list just a few of my year’s favourites below:-
Faber Castell Loom, shiny gun-metal version: This has been my EDC pen for the whole year with a superb steel nib, comfortable handling (when posted) and used with a box of Cobalt blue cartridges.
Lamy Studio, brushed metal version with black grip: Another inexpensive pen but a comfortable and reliable work horse which has served me well as a work pen. Unfortunately it did roll off the table once but I was able to replace the nib from a spare Safari.
Pineider Avatar: This brand was new to me this year and I loved the look and the writing experience of theLipstick Red version, with its long elegant steel nib.
Wing Sung 601: These are inexpensive steel nib versions modelled on the Parker 51 and offer great looks, comfortable handling and a large ink capacity from the push-button filler. I have one which is still on its first fill from six months ago. I have since bought a couple of the 601A versions, which are the same but with a tubular nib like a vintage Sheaffer Triumph.
Parker Duofold International, Big Red. Medium nib, 18k gold: This pen needs little introduction. I got mine at a great price in a John Lewis sale and after a little wearing in, the pen writes superbly for me and looks and feels great in the hand. Previously I had a Kaweco Dia 2, which was similarly styled. I realise now that one of the reasons why I liked the Kaweco so much was that it looked a bit like the Duofold, when the cap was posted. I have since bought a previously owned Duofold in black from a friend who found the nib too firm for his liking.
Opus 88, clear demonstrator, eye-dropper pen: This was one of my purchases at the London pen show and has one of the smoothest broad steel nibs that I have ever used. It holds a massive 3ml of ink and is large and chunky but very comfortable.
Delta Fantasia Vintage, limited edition in dark green celluloid, Medium steel nib: This was another buy at the London pen show and also my most costly single pen of the year at £230.00. The celluloid body is wonderful to hold and to look at. As I write this I am itching to re-ink it with Graf von Faber-Castell Moss Green ink.
Cross Townsend, quartz blue: Another well known pen. I reviewed it not long ago here and am enjoying the writing experience, with Montblanc Royal blue. I have tried a number of Cross pens over the years, including the Apogee, Aventura, Bailey, Calais and Century II but find this Townsend to be the best of these.
Waterman Carene, Marine Amber, 18k gold inlaid nib (Medium): This was my final pen purchase of the year and probably the best. It is supremely comfortable. It looks stunning and it writes like a dream. I now have to think very carefully if buying another pen, “Will it be better than my Carene?” If only I had found it in January!
Apart from the buying, the researching of pens online and in shops, the pen shows and club meets and the social media rabbit hole, what this hobby is all about is the enjoyment of owning, using and caring for fountain pens. Not necessarily expensive ones but pens which write nicely. Every pen is different. And they behave differently depending upon the inks and paper used. Currently, I have 26 fountain pens inked, which I feel is a bit too many even for me. Part of me craves the simplicity of having just one pen. But I also enjoy the variety of having several to chose from. As in previous years I will aim (again!) to cut back on the buying.
At the end of the day, I am thankful to have a hobby that has given and continues to give me so much pleasure, enjoyment and relaxation and friends to enjoy it with. Thanks for reading and best wishes for the New Year.
This handy gadget is a travelling inkwell, introduced in 2018 by Italian company Pineider. A friend arranged a group buy for our London UK Fountain Pen Club although they are now available from Cult Pens at £20.00.
What’s in the box.
The pen filler comes in a simple cardboard box, about the size of a cigarette packet. One side of the box has two holes, one of 9.5mm, one of 13.5.mm diameter, being the minimum and maximum size grip sections that can be used. The idea is to use these holes to check that your pen is neither smaller than the small hole, nor larger than the large hole.
Inside the box, was the pen filler together with a small pipette or eye-dropper (although I am not sure these are always included) plus a sheet of instructions. If no pipette is included, use your own or a syringe to fill the pen filler.
The pen filler is comprised of four parts: the clear plastic ink holder with a measuring scale in 1ml units, up to 10ml (or 10 cubic centilitres), a black plastic knurled collar and a black plastic stopper. Hidden by the collar is a blue rubbery sleeve, part of which fits into the ink holder.
How to use.
Preparation: It is recommended that you first check that your pen is not too big or small for the pen filler, using the holes in the box if in doubt. Next practice with water first. Fill the ink holder with water, up to the 10cc mark. If you have a number of pens that you might wish to use with the pen filler, then it might be convenient to flush them all and try each of them in turn with the filler and make a note of which pens you have tried. According to the instructions, “you can use the pen filler to fill lever pens, piston pens, plunger pens, converter pens and even the old eyedropper pens.”
Filling the pen: It is recommended that the pen be emptied first. If it had last been filled with the same ink, you could discharge it into the pen filler if you are not too fussy about only using fresh ink. If using a converter or piston fill pen, then wind the plunger down first, before locking the pen into the pen filler. This is to avoid over-pressurising the ink holder and causing leaks.
So, you are ready to fill your pen.
remove barrel of pen (if using a converter) and wind down the plunger;
pull out the stopper from the pen filler; unscrew the knurled black collar (which gradually increases the opening) until you can insert your pen;
tighten the collar; (as you screw the collar down, the blue rubber sleeve tightens around the grip section of the pen); continue until the pen is held firmly. This stage is a little awkward as you are holding the pen in one hand with the barrel removed and so take care not to dislodge the converter from the pen);
Now the fun/risky part. Turn the bottle upside down, allowing the ink to cover the nib. Wind the converter or operate the piston to fill the pen, by a combination of suction and gravity;
Once filled; turn the pen and bottle the right way up again; unscrew the collar a little until the pen comes free; remove pen; screw the collar back down fully and insert stopper.
Replace the barrel on your pen, wipe off any ink from the section and nib. And you are ready to go.
There are some limitations to the use of the pen filler, for those pens which are too wide or too narrow for it. For oversized pens you may have to fill these direct from a bottle. For pens too narrow to use the pen filler system, you may still be able to fill from the travelling ink well, just by removing the stopper and dipping the pen into the ink (if the ink level is deep enough).
The pen filler is a very convenient size for travelling, being small and light weight, when you do not want to travel with a typical 50ml glass bottle.
A 10ml supply of ink is enough to fill a typical converter around 12 – 15 times I found, although I confess that I lost count while attempting this exercise, filling a pen repeatedly with water until empty.
If used correctly and carefully, it is possible to get a good fill with minimum inky mess.
You can still fill a pen even from your last 1ml of ink! This would be difficult for most pens, if filling from a conventional bottle.
You do not need to be too anxious about the pen not being perfectly clean from a previous ink, as you will not contaminate a whole bottle, but only a few millilitres.
You can experiment by mixing compatible inks, just a millilitre or two at a time, in your pen filler. (I made a blend of Robert Oster Aqua and Pilot Iroshizuku Shin-kai, about 50/50, although this carries some risk that certain inks will not be compatible and will combine to make a sticky goo). It is prudent to test out any such blends in a separate receptacle and leave to stand for a day or so, before filling your pen.
If going away for a few days, it can be very handy to have a little supply of ink with you just in case you buy a pen (!), or as happened to me recently while visiting an elderly aunt over the holidays, I was asked to see if I could get her old Parker Slimfold working again and she could not find any ink in the house. In this situation it is little consolation to know that you have an entire drawer-full of fountain pen inks back at base camp.
I am impressed with the simplicity of the design. If used correctly and with care, it works well. It is not entirely fool proof and it is a good idea to practice first with any given pen, using water until confident. When I first got mine, I picked a fairly large sized cartridge converter pen and was interested to see how many times it could be filled, from 10ml of water and using even the last drop. I have been using it successfully for a few weeks now. However, in trying it last night newly filled with Conway Stewart Tavy to photograph for this post, I must have done something wrong and ink leaked over my hands. This could be due to me forgetting to wind down the plunger prior to locking the pen into the holder, or not tightening the screw-down collar sufficiently before inverting the bottle, or perhaps dislodging the converter slightly. Like I said, it is not fool proof.
As for durability, it remains to be seen whether the plastic ink holder may crack eventually from the repeated stress of tightening and loosening the collar but I would expect it to last for a few years at least and would be happy with this. As for value, when looking at the four individual components of the pen filler, each of which looks mass-produced costing only a few pence each, it is questionable whether the sum of the parts amounts to £20.00. I sometimes feel like this when looking at the disassembled parts of a fountain pen. Obviously the company needs to make a profit and the initial costs of designing the parts and manufacturing them all need to be taken into account.
Overall, for the usefulness of the pen filler I would be happy to spend £20.00. And for the question of what to give a fountain pen enthusiast, who has everything except a Pineider Pen Filler, this is a good answer.
Regular readers may recall that I was fortunate enough to find a new Parker Duofold International, Big Red on sale at half price, in John Lewis, Oxford Street branch in October. I wrote a post about it here.
I have been very much enjoying the pen, these past two months. What had aroused my interest in the pen, just before I bought mine, was a post by Anthony on UK fountain pens blog entitled A Day with a Duofold.
Fast forwarding two months, Anthony advertised his Duofold for sale, as he was not getting along with the very firm nib. I pondered buying it myself and, after sleeping on it, was sure that this was the right thing to do. (“There is a Duofold out there and it needs my help!”). At 07:42am the next day, I sent Anthony a DM offering to buy it, if it had not already gone. Within moments, he had replied that the pen was mine. He kindly sent it out to me that day and it arrived the next day.
I felt like I knew the pen already. It is not often that you get a chance to own a pen not just of a type that you have read about online, but that very one.
This differed from mine sufficiently to make it a very worthwhile addition. First, it is black, and a gleaming glossy black at that. Secondly it is a 2006 model and had a few subtle differences from my 2016 model. And also the metal furniture on it is gold coloured as opposed to silver on mine.
They both have 18k gold, bi-colour medium nibs, but the silver and gold colours are reversed in the two versions:-
I knew already that I would like the size, shape and weight of the pen. I use it with the cap posted, holding near the cap threads (which are not sharp) and find it very comfortable like this.
The nibs ought to feel similar. My Big Red had been a bit skippy at first but, like my Pelikan M800 nib, I had written it in, a few pages a day and within a week or so, the skipping subsided until it was all but gone completely. It is now a joy to write with and has a distinctively pencil-like feedback. I use it with Conway Stewart Tavy, a blue black ink now made by Diamine.
Anthony had commented in his post about how the nib drooped or dips downwards, which it does. The nib of my Big Red has a more level profile. Perhaps this is what contributes to the nib on Anthony’s being quite so stiff. I recall hearing Stephen Brown say in an old YouTube review that the Duofold nibs were reputedly stiff in order to make carbon copies, through two layers of paper (back in the day) and hence the name “Duofold”. Also the tipping material, at least on the old vintage model Duofolds, was advertised by Parker as being harder than others. Perhaps the gold is thicker too than on other pen nibs and this is no bad thing.
I do not mind the stiff nib. I have spent some time each day writing with Anthony’s Duofold (I must stop calling it that now) and am thrilled to have it. The tines are aligned. The tipping material is huge and so there is a lot of mileage in this nib yet. The nib is smooth, provided that you hold it level; if I rotate it clockwise a little, it starts to scrape the paper, which suggests that the outer edge of the tipping needs smoothing. I do not think this is such a problem as an inner edge being prominent (which causes not only scratchiness but a build up of paper fibres in the nib slit). I have a sense that the tipping material is shaped slightly like a garden roller with flat sides, rather than rounded like a ball. I am exaggerating but you get the idea. I am wary of doing any harm to the nib by my ham-fisted grinding and so for now I will continue to use it with nib angled the way it likes.
Notwithstanding the stiffness of the nib, there is some very pleasant shading apparent, just from writing quite normally with no pressure. Looked at this under the loupe, the shading from this blue black ink has a lovely vintagey iron-gall look which is in keeping with the whole 1920’s vibe of the pen. Thank you Anthony for passing this one on. I am delighted with it.
Does anyone remember the Cross pen billboard advertisement, late 1990’s, which featured a Cross fountain pen, with cap posted, against a plain white background? The slogan went something like “Twelve jobs; five homes; three marriages; one pen.” I cannot recall the wording exactly but the message was that, for this owner, through life’s changes, a Cross fountain pen had been the one constant.
I guess that message appealed to me, the thought of having the ideal pen and not needing any others.
I notice that we do not see very many Cross fountain pen reviews online, at least not many in proportion to the availability of Cross pens almost everywhere. I have visited department stores with hardly any fountain pens at all except for a display of Cross. And for those stores that do stock a range of brands, the Cross displays seem to dominate. Perhaps we just see too many of them.
My local shopping centre, with its large John Lewis department store, is a typical example, with glass counters displaying Cross, Sheaffer, Waterman and Parker plus a couple of other brands such as Hugo Boss and Ted Baker. Lamy Safaris and AL-Stars hang in their blister packs on a shelf behind with the inks and refills, with a few calligraphy pens from Manuscript and Sheaffer. I practically know them by heart.
To buy a fountain pen with a gold nib from here, your only options are a Cross Townsend or a Waterman Carene, both priced around £235.00 usually. For a year or more I had been glancing at these whenever I passed by, but had not been sufficiently tempted by either at this price.
However, a recent promotion around the time of the Black Friday sales, offering 30% off almost all fountain pens on display, was enough to melt my resolve and I took a closer look at the Cross Townsend. There was a choice of black or quartz blue, both with rhodium plated fittings. Both were appealing but I chose blue as a more interesting and unusual finish and with less presidential associations.
Appearance and construction.
This is a sturdy, brass lacquered pen, long and sleek, with a slip on cap and an interesting patterned blue finish. If you look down the length of the pen it appears almost black. But in good light, the finish is a lovely glossy gleaming blue. If under bright lights, you see thousands of tiny pinpricks of light. Also the combination of the blue lacquer with the rhodium trim is very pleasing.
The elegant shape of the cap, cylindrical with a torpedo shaped top and a shiny metal finial is classic Cross, smart and elegant. Aside from the unmistakable iconic cap, the name CROSS appears on the clip and, less obviously, on the back of the cap (if you look closely) just above the two cap rings. The clip is usefully strong and springy and works well if pinched between finger and thumb, to lift it as you slide the pen into a pocket, although I usually carry mine in a pen case.
The cap closure is very firm and secure, (thankfully not so tight as a Cross Bailey medalist that I have, which is almost impossible to uncap without violence and expletives). The inner cap fastens with the metal lip at the nib end of the section, but as you push the cap on you feel the gradual increase of resistance , until it clicks over this lip.
The cap can also be posted deeply and securely, where a black plastic ring located between the blue barrel and rhodium end piece, serves the same function of fastening the cap on.
The pen comes in quite a nice large box somewhere between the usual size pen box and the extra large one for the top-of-the-range Cross Peerless. It is a hinged box, with a black velvety bed for the pen, which can flap up to reveal a compartment below, where you find a cardboard envelope containing two black proprietary cartridges. The box also contains the guarantee brochure and the whole box is protected in a cardboard sleeve. All in all a very presentable package.
The nib, filling and writing performance.
The nib is 18k gold, bi-colour with rhodium plating. Mine is a medium. I examined it as best I could in the shop and all looked well, which indeed it was. The nib is long and rather narrow, in keeping with the rest of the pen, making for an aesthetically pleasing look. It bears the Cross name and logo, 18k – 750, and the letters ACT, a reference to Alfonzo Townsend Cross, from whom the pen takes its name, being the son of founder Richard Cross. The nib also has the name Sté which I have not yet deciphered – perhaps a form of gold hallmark.
The lovely gold nib is smooth, with a very pleasant softness and a good wet flow. This was a relief as I have sometimes found Cross steel nibs to be dry and difficult to correct.
The pen takes Cross cartridges or a Cross converter. None was included in the box but the sales assistant kindly gave one to me. The Townsend, along with the Aventura, takes the push-in converters whereas the Apogee, Bailey, and Century take the screw-in converters.
Size and weight.
The pen is long, at 150mm capped. Uncapped it measures 131mm, which I am very happy with, although I still prefer the feel of it posted, at 157mm. As I hold the pen quite high up (with my thumb at the barrel, just before the section) I do not find it back heavy.
It weighs around 39.5g (freshly inked) or 22g uncapped. The cap alone is around 17.5g.
Likes and dislikes.
I have been using this pen for three weeks now, with Montblanc Royal blue bottled ink. Personally I have not found any serious dislikes. But trying to be objective, I list a few points that might bother some people.
Some may find the pen slightly slender, if accustomed to modern oversized pens; but it is a good bit wider than a Cross Century II;
Some may find the pen a little unbalanced if posting the cap and gripping the pen low on the section. However I think anyone who wishes to grip the pen low, would probably find it long enough without posting;
If you stroke the finial with your thumb, the join with the blue lacquered cap feels slightly rough, but this is not a big point and I mention it only for those expecting Rolls Royce perfection. Likewise, at the other end, you feel the slight prominence of the black plastic ring which secures the cap when posted;
The worry of whether the slip on cap will wear loose in time. Happily all Cross pens carry a lifetime guarantee so no worries there.
There are far more factors to like than to dislike, thankfully.
The smooth, soft, wet nib with a hint of feedback. The generous flow means that I, as left hander, also have the option of writing in my slanting “lefty overwriter” style which demands better flow and nib lubrication than some pens allow;
Comfort! Total absence of step or cap threads where I grip the pen;
The attractive blue lacquer finish next to rhodium accents;
Generous long barrel; pen can be used unposted for shorter notes;
Tall pen, stands out in the pen cup yet the pocket clip starts a little way down the cap so that the pen is not too long to clip in a pocket;
A date code. Mine was 0917;
Reassuringly secure cap mechanism.
This is a sturdy, durable and attractive pen that is comfortable and reliable and which writes extremely well. And so it could become the only pen you will ever need, if you are the sort of person envisaged by that billboard ad. Personally, I love mine but I am not yet ready to forsake all others.