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.
Well, this is a bit sudden. This attractive pen has just arrived today, but as it was ordered and received all within 21 hours, it seems fitting to continue the momentum with some initial impressions.
I have had my eye on a Peerless 125 since they were first introduced a few years ago. I saw them first in Fortnum & Mason, where the gold plated guilloche version was on display under the bright lights. I looked at a black resin version in Harrods once. A few years passed. I acquired my Cross Townsend in quartz blue and wished that a Peerless would be made in that finish.
Seeing on a friend’s Instagram post this weekend that there is now a quartz blue option, my interest was reawakened. I wrestled with the usual conflicts. Did I need it? No. Would it be better than, say my Aurora 88? Probably not. But it had enough differences from my Townsend to make it a worthwhile purchase, namely a wider more comfortable girth, a screw on cap, a Sailor nib, the top-of-the-range kudos and a sparkly blue Swarovski jewel in the finial! Also, on offer at £235 it seemed good value at half the price of a Montblanc Classique, always a dangerous line of argument.
The pen arrives in a large, clamshell type cardboard box with a cardboard outer sleeve. First impressions seen in real life and natural light, are favourable with the beautiful rich blue glossy finish looking very handsome against the polished silver coloured fittings. Unscrewing the cap I was eager to examine the medium nib. It looked nicely tuned with a narrow tine gap visible under the loupe and the customary Sailor tipping which was flattened to form facets on the face of the nib and at the sides where the tipping is pointed like a spear head.
Beneath the pen tray, was a little foam compartment with a Cross, screw-fit converter, two black cartridges and a little velvet draw-string pouch for the pen. The pen no longer comes with an acrylic block display stand.
Although the cap and barrel feel smoothly lacquered at first, there is actually a texture from the striations beneath the lacquer which run down the length of the blue barrel, all the way round. On the cap, they do not quite go all the way round; there is a gap, of about one sixth of the diameter on one side of the cap where the lines are absent, not that you would notice unless you looked hard. If you put your finger nail against the barrel or cap and rotate the pen, you can feel the little grooves, which make for an interesting finish.
The cap finial has a little crater, like a volcano with a blue Swarovski faceted crystal set inside, which is quite lovely. I also found a serial number laser etched around the finial. Mine was ATX46987. I take it that the ATX stands for A. T. Cross Company LLC. Alonzo Townsend Cross was the son of Richard Cross who had founded the business in 1846. The truncated, bullet shaped cap top is unmistakably Cross. The pocket clip has CROSS in a black enamel background and is very firm. This makes it very secure for a shirt pocket although rather hard to use easily if you wish to show off that crystal. I am more likely to use a pen case.
The cap unscrews in just over two full turns, a much nicer experience than uncapping the Townsend, although taking a moment longer.
The section is smooth and quite broad, where the pen rests on your middle finger. I find it very comfortable to hold although I have yet to try a long writing session. You may find yourself gripping near the cap threads but these are not sharp or uncomfortable. The barrel has a band saying “CROSS PEERLESS 125” on a black enamel background which is still visible even when the pen is capped although mostly hidden when held for writing. At the other end of the barrel, there is an impressive shiny ferrule, with a black groove near the end which I think secures the cap when posted.
The cap, despite its large size, is thin and feels lighter than expected and posts well, to a depth of about 35mm, more than half of the cap’s length. Early tests show that I can write comfortably with the cap posted or unposted. I rather like the added length and girth at the back end, particularly with barrels that taper like this. When posted, the pen lays back nicely in the web of the hand.
To my delight, there is a date code around the metal collar for the cartridge or converter. Mine reads 1219.
The nib and writing performance.
I flushed the nib and feed with water a few times, before filling with Cross blue bottled ink and then tried the pen on Leuchtturm paper. This is an 18k nib, marked as a medium but writes rather more like a medium – fine by usual western standards. It is a firm nib. The Sailor feedback is there. I found that as a lefty-overwriter, the pen is smoother in underwriter style since the nib soon moves from the sweet spot when in my overwriter mode and you feel the edges of the faceted tipping. Ink flow was good, neither too wet nor too dry. I tried the Cross blue ink for the first fill, although paler than say a Montblanc royal blue.
Likes and dislikes.
I do appreciate the extra girth of this pen and the screw cap. It is very attractive and tactile and the weight is substantial without being burdensome. I was intrigued to get one and try it for myself after reading good reports online. The nib made by Sailor feels very different from the Townsend’s nib made by Pelikan which was smoother and more forgiving, but the Sailor feedback is distinctive and special and, paired with the Peerless’s more girthy barrel, makes a comfortable and luxurious writing instrument.
For dislikes, I would only suggest that the pocket clip could be improved if sprung and a little easier to operate, but having said that, I never took to the Cross Apogee style of sprung clip, which slipped around from side to side. The Peerless clip will at least grip your clothing like its life depended on it.
I had little hope of resisting the charms of this beautiful stately pen and will look forward to trying some longer writing sessions and different inks, in the months to come, God willing.
Since it arrived, only five days ago, I have been hugely pleased with this pen. It continues to behave well and to write beautifully. All indications are that we will be well suited to each other. Just a few items to report, by way of update:-
Having established that this eyedropper pen showed no signs of blobbing ink whilst only a third full, I topped it up to test whether that would invite any trouble. Still there has been no blobbing, despite the added pressure of a full tank of ink. The feed does a good job of holding back the tide.
I took another look at the other two nibs, the extra fine and the medium included in the set. I had been reluctant to take out the lovely oblique broad nib in case of spoiling the magic, but it is simple enough to unscrew one nib unit and insert another. I tried the extra fine first. Once the ink had made its way down, it was still a very fine line and the nib was firm too. It may have its uses but in terms of enjoyment it fell far short of oblique broad. I have flossed it with brass shims to ease the gap between the tines a little.
The medium nib was somewhat better. I found that it wrote reasonably well in my occasional lefty-underwriter mode, but for overwriting it was not very pleasant. Having confirmed this, I was pleased to get back to using the oblique broad.
The nib units can be disassembled. The nib and feed are friction fit in the housing and can be pulled out if necessary. However they will only go back in one way, so my suggestion of rotating them in the housing to offset the nib in relation to the roll stop jewel on the barrel, is not possible.
Luckily with the oblique broad fitted, the multi-faceted jewel roll stop was well out of the way of my grip. However, I still decided to file it down a little, so that my fingers would not keep finding it. The jewel is not particularly effective as a roll stop anyway and it is much safer to put the pen down on a pen rest so that it will not go anywhere.
I use the pen with the cap posted as this is the most comfortable. There is no metal on the cap at all – it is a piece of clear acrylic. The absence of a cap band to give it some strength does worry me slightly and I fear that it could crack if forced onto the barrel. I will be careful not to overdo it when posting but a little shove and a twist is enough to fix it on securely.
All in all I remain delighted with the pen and especially its oblique nib, even though the other two nibs are rather surplus to my requirements.
Occasionally a pen comes along that looks so enticing, full of potential and such good value that I am unable to resist buying it. Well, quite often, tbh. In this case, it was the Moonman S5, a clear acrylic demonstrator, eye-dropper pen which comes with an eye-dropper and three different nibs all for under £24.00.
What interested me particularly was the statement that it had an Extra Fine nib and two additional nibs in Medium and Broad. After watching one YouTube review, I gathered that the Broad nib was a stub of about 1mm width. But subsequently, from examining the nib and watching some more reviews, it transpires that the Broad nib is in fact an Oblique, which for me as a lefty overwriter, turns out to be brilliant news.
The pen comes in a nice black tin with gold lettering, held shut by a cardboard sleeve, with a nib motif and an M for Moonman.
Inside the tin, in sturdy cushioned recesses, are the pen (in a polythene sleeve), the eye-dropper and the two additional nibs. There is a folding sheet of diagrams for filling various types of fountain pen, including eye-droppered pens.
This is a clear, acrylic pen, with a screw on cap (taking three complete turns), no pocket clip but a jewel-like roll stop set in a metal band on the barrel. The band has the name MOONMAN laser-etched against the shiny background. The grip section is comfortably shaped with a very slight hour-glass contour and is in a patterned acrylic with a crazy-paving effect, in a mixture of colours – green, blue, purple, white and brown against a black background. I thought it looked a bit incongruous at first, as though it was for a different pen but I quite like it now. It comes alive and sparkles under the bright light of a loupe.
The barrel has a distinctive taper to it before flaring out at the end like a fishtail, into a flat base, on which the pen can be stood up. It looks a bit like a lava lamp when upright. The cap also has a flat top, which is useful if you wish to stand the pen upside down for a minute or two, to allow ink to make its way to the feed after filling.
The barrel shape actually makes the pen very comfortable to hold unposted but for me, I prefer to post the cap whereupon the slight extra weight, length and girth at the back end, make it supremely comfortable. The cap posts very deeply and securely, if given a little twist.
Size and weight.
I would call this a medium sized pen. It measures approximately 136mm closed, 123mm uncapped and 136mm posted. Weight (when about one third full of ink) is around 18g, as to 14g for the pen uncapped and 4g for the cap.
The three nibs.
I tried the Extra Fine nib first, dipped but not filled. This one has gold coloured plating, some scroll work and logo and the words MOONMAN SUPER QUALITY.E I am not sure what the E is for. On a brief dip test, the nib wrote smoothly but with an extremely fine line. I wrote about four lines with it but did not leave it on for very long and in hindsight, did not push it to try for any line variation, before unscrewing it and fitting the Medium nib.
The Medium nib had rather less markings on the nib – just a pattern within a circle but no text or width designation. It wrote well – significantly darker than the Extra Fine and with a typical medium-fine width. Again, in my excitement to try them all, I wrote only about four lines before switching to the widest of the three nibs.
The Broad nib (again with only the floral pattern in a circle and no markings) is an Oblique. Looking at the face of the nib, tip upwards, the tip slants downwards to the left about 15 degrees and is what I believe is called a Left Foot Oblque, looking like a left foot. It produces a line of roughly 0.6 – 0.8mm maximum width, which is lovely.
This was for me, the best of the three nibs and I liked it so much that I have not taken if off since. It was like Goldilocks finding the bed that suited her best, or the glass slipper finding Cinderella.
For me, the Oblique nib writes super-smoothly, with a nice flow. I inked the pen (as I ink most of my pens the first time), with Waterman Serenity Blue. It provides a broad line with some subtle line variation. It takes just a little practice to find its sweet spot and then to keep it at the same angle as you write.
Filling is simplicity itself. You just unscrew the barrel and drop some ink into it with an eye-dropper or a syringe if you prefer. I use large soft plastic pipettes bought from an art shop. I put a little silicone grease on the threads before re-attaching the barrel although there is a O ring there and the grease might not be necessary. Then leave the pen to stand, nib down for a minute or so while the ink fills the feed. I have not yet measured the capacity.
Likes and dislikes.
The only negative I found so far, is the jewel roll-stop. It is not that I have anything against the jewel itself, but I found that it gets in the way of my grip. When the pen arrived, it was aligned with the nib but once I started fitting different nibs into the section, and then screwing the section back on to the barrel, it was “jewel roulette” to see where the jewel would end up, in relation to the top of the nib: not that being in the 12 o’clock position would necessarily be the best position for me. But, by good fortune, I found that when the oblique nib is screwed in, the jewel finishes up at about the nine o’clock position (viewed facing the nib head-on) which for me is perfect and the jewel is completely out of the way.
If this does not work for you, I hope it may be possible to prise the jewel out of the cap band, or even to file it flat. Alernatively perhaps with the preferred nib unit screwed in, the nib and feed could be pulled out of the housing and replaced in different alignment to the jewel. I have not tried this yet.
This is my first foray into the Moonman brand. I seem to have struck gold first time. I am thrilled with the pen and its Oblique nib. Writing with this, with Waterman Serenity Blue and my Leuchtturm A5 journal is a dream combination.
I have not filled the pen completely as I will try some more adventurous colours next. It is easy enough to swap out the nibs too and I need to give the others a proper go at some stage. Having found that the Oblique nib is capable of such smooth and pleasurable writing it just remains to test longer term for hard starts and for possible burping of ink, which eye-dropper pens sometimes suffer from. I hope I have not spoken too soon but so far all is looking good. At £23.99 I think this represents great value. If any bad behaviour occurs to take this grin off my face, I shall add an update.
Well, that wasn’t too terrible. Being confronted with my own greed and folly was never going to be comfortable. But it was not as bad as I feared.
During the week I took part in Anthony’s online survey of the pen community, on UK Fountain pens. One of the multiple choice questions was how many bottles of ink you have. I honestly did not know and had not counted but suspected it might be nudging past the hundred mark. I resolved to find out.
I used to own only a few bottles of ink, Parker Quink generally. Getting through a whole bottle of ink takes time, particularly if you often use cartridges instead. Assuming, very roughly, that a 50ml bottle might give you fifty fills and that each fill would last you for, say 20 pages of A4 writing, that is 1,000 pages. Fortunately most bottled ink keeps well. The exception, ironically, is iron gall ink which needs to be used up within around 18 months of opening the bottle, or else it loses its colour and darkening properties.
I have a couple of old bottles of Monbtblanc ink, still in their boxes with a price sticker saying £4.95. Now they cost about £18.00 I think.
It was perhaps around 2014 that things escalated with my fountain pen hobby getting hooked on pen reviews on the internet. That was the first year in which I attended the London Pen Show, coming away with a TSWBI Vac 700 and a bottle of Omas blue ink. Should I have stopped there? In November 2016 this blog was launched to share the journey.
Since then I have been adding steadily to the fountain pen stash and accumulating a fair amount of ink along the way. I was curious to see quite how bad it had become.
A couple of years back I bought a plastic storage unit, with four nice deep drawers for my stationery stash. The top drawer has some accessories, like pen wraps and pouches, micromesh kit, some dip pens and a few boxed pens. The second drawer is my stock of unused journals, mostly A5 size but with a few smaller ones. And then the third and fourth drawer down are for ink. That is not to say that all of my ink is in these drawers: some frequently used bottles are on my desk (AKA the dining table) and others on the book shelves behind me.
It was not difficult to do a stock take. They are all in one room, (except for an emergency bottle of Cross black which lives in my desk drawer at work).
I created a spreadsheet, with columns for the Brand, the Colour or name, and finally, a simple name for the group which that colour falls into (for example Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue, Waterman Serenity Blue and KWZ Azure number 4 all come under “Blue”).
It was interesting (to me at least) to see them sorted by brands too and which were the most represented brands in my stash. It turns out to be Montblanc with nine bottles, closely followed by Waterman with eight and then Pelikan Edelstein with five (mostly gleaned from the annual Pelikan Hub events).
My final tally came to 65 bottles. As I was expecting it to be around one hundred I was pleasantly surprised. So I have enough ink for 65 years and not 100! Phew!
By colour group, it came as no surprise to me that I had 16 bottles of blue ink plus another 11 of blue black, almost enough to form a Democrat government. Next were 8 browns, 7 blacks and 7 greens, 6 reds, 3 pinks (What?!) 2 Burgundies, 2 green-blacks, and finally 1 each of Magenta, Purple and Orange.
What lessons can I learn from this?
I need no more ink for a while;
It is good to know what you have;
I have been buying ink faster than I have been using it.
I have not included a stash of ink cartridges in this count. Nor have I included a half dozen or so ink samples which are not in original bottles.
It is satisfying to finish a bottle ink. Last week I came to the end of a very enjoyable bottle of Pilot Iroshizuku Shin-kai blue black which I had been given by a friend. Once it got down to the last 5ml or so, I decanted it to my Pineider Travelling Inkwell, so that I could go on filling my Diplomat Excellence easily, without wasting a drop.
For anyone in a similar boat who has put off counting, I recommend it. It might not be as bad as you think.