Early thoughts on the Pilot Capless, matt black.

A month ago, in A new pen deliberation, I mentioned that I was wrestling with a desire to buy a Pilot Capless.

Not for the first time, temptation got the better of me and I placed an order with The Writing Desk, in time for my birthday. A birthday present to myself. Or should I say, from the UK government, as I was on furlough at the time? (Actually, I resented those news announcements that said “The government is now paying the wages of 9.5 million employees”, because I am and have been for decades, a UK tax payer and it was my own money).

Anyhow, this was a slightly odd purchase for me because I had long ago formed the view that this was not a pen that I would like. This is because I am left handed and generally write in an “overwriter” style, with the nib rotated inwards slightly. This means that I do not grip my pens in a perfectly symmetrical alignment around the centre (as required of Lamy Safari users) but a little off centre. As you might imagine, this means that the pocket clip of a Pilot Capless would get in my way.

Pilot Capless, matt black.

Earlier in the year, I bought a Platinum Curidas, which proved to be a very successful purchase. However, I very quickly removed its detachable pocket clip and then filed down the fin which, for me made my pen a whole lot more comfortable.

This is not an option on the Pilot Capless. Nevertheless, I had convinced myself that it was a worthwhile purchase, even if I might be restricted to using it in underwriter mode.

I had always thought that, if I did ever buy a Capless, it would be the lovely yellow one with rhodium plated fittings. However, this preference changed once I saw the matt black version, with black fittings. A stealth pen, except for the nib which is still rhodium plated, over 18k gold. I thought that this looked very nice indeed, and had the advantage of making the upside down clip less obvious when the pen is in writing mode.

The matt black finish is very pleasant to hold, as well as to look at.

First impressions of the pen were very favourable. All looked perfect. In particular the medium nib that I had chosen, was superb – soft and smooth and juicy. What’s more, it was quite forgiving in even allowing me to write in my customary overwriter style without needing to roll the nib inwards to find a sweet spot. The generous round tipping and the soft gold tines enabled the pen to write well at a wide range of angles.

My nib was born in July 2018.

The offer at The Writing Desk included a box of 12 Pilot cartridges. There was no option to select the ink colour (or if there was, I missed it), but the pen arrived with blue black ink – which is exactly what I would have chosen. There was also a converter. I christened the pen with a blue black cartridge and enjoyed every drop. When that finished, I tried a blue cartridge but decided that I prefer the blue black and will stick to those in future.

Not my car. I do not have the car to match my stealth pen, but if I did…. That is my bike though!

Well, I can report that I have been thrilled to bits with my Capless! Happier even than I had hoped to be. I still enjoy the Platinum Curidas immensely and the experience is different, as the Pilot Capless is a metal pen and with a gold nib. I must be one of the last fountain pen enthusiasts on the planet to buy one, but better late than never.

Simply gorgeous.

My new approach to notebooks.

I have always enjoyed buying a new notebook. Like many fountain pen enthusiasts, I have a several notebooks on the go as well as a stash of new ones of various types waiting to be used.

My used notebooks could be divided into two broad categories: those which I have used for a specific purpose and would want to keep, or those which I have just filled for the joy of writing, consisting mostly of pen and ink samples or note taking.

When I buy a new notebook, I often paginate it first, except of course for those when this task has been done for you, such as the Leuchtturm A5 or Taroko Design Breeze. Next I try out my currently inked pens on the last page. This has two purposes. First, it is a useful exercise to see which inks are suited to the paper and write without bleedthrough, feathering or excessive amounts of show through. I can also see how different nibs feel on the paper. It is about establishing the right tools for the job.

Secondly, it breaks the ice of starting a new book, without having to dive straight into the blank first page and risk spoiling it.

However, I have found that on some occasions I have started a notebook at the back and continued happily, with random pen and ink samples all the way to the front of the book!

It occurred to me that my stash of old notebooks from the last few years, even if they contain little writing of any significance, are at least an accumulation of pen and ink tests which I have not followed through in any methodical, let alone scientific manner.

Many hundreds of hours have been whiled away, in picking up a pen from my pen cups and writing a few lines or paragraphs, purely for relaxation and the momentary enjoyment of feeling the nib glide along the paper.

Paper types in notebooks are very variable. If you use only the best, such as Tomoe River, there may be no need to test for bleedthrough as this will not be an issue, nor will there be a feeling of draggy resistance from an overly coated surface. For other types of untried notebooks, it is useful to find out which inks can be used and which are best avoided – unless you are happy to write on one side only.

Although I do try out pens and inks and try to keep a mental note of the outcomes, I have not recorded the findings in a consistent way. Perhaps there are just too many variables of pens, nibs and inks and papers that I have accumulated.

However today I decided to try a slightly new format for recording my little experiments. Starting with a Radley A5 notebook, I set up a double page spread, with one side with columns for the ink and the pen: the facing page to show the degree of showthrough and bleedthrough (if any) – written from the other side of that page – and a column for comments, such as my subjective impressions of the sensation of the nib on the paper, the feedback and so on and whether the combination is successful. There is one constant in the test, namely the paper of that particular notebook.

A selection of my currently inked, now paired with findings on the facing page. The column for bleedthrough is written from the other side.

I do not want to turn a relaxing enjoyable hobby into an onerous project of recording a vast combination of variables and test results. But on the other hand it seems useful to me to record the simplest of conclusions, to avoid having to repeat the same tests and reinvent the wheel. Once we settle on a favourite type of notebook and stick to it, we can also pick a palette of coloured inks to use in it.

The third page of the pen and ink test – the column to demonstrate bleedthrough.

In conclusion, some preliminary lessons for the Radley notebook are to avoid Waterman Tender Purple, Pure Pens Cadwaladr Red and Pelikan Edelstein Star Ruby due to bleedthrough. Good choices are Waterman Serenity Blue, Pilot Blue Black and Montblanc Velvet Red. In the case of the Radley, I have three more bought in a sale and so it is well worth knowing which inks it prefers.

A look at the discontinued Waterman Phileas fountain pen.

Buying a new fountain pen is tempting and exciting. However, during the past few months of lockdown, I have also enjoyed looking back over my accumulation and, in a few cases, making some simple nib adjustments. So having an old fountain pen is nice too. Some benefits are (1) saving your money; (2) reducing waste; (3) avoiding additional clutter in the home from stored pen boxes; (4) using and appreciating what you have and (5) connecting with some memories and associations from the past.

Today I am looking at my old Waterman Phileas. I remember buying it, a long time ago in a department store in Shantou, China, chosing it from the selection in the glass display counter. I cannot now recall what year it was. It could have been late 1990’s or early 2000’s. It was not very expensive by UK standards, possibly around the same price as a Lamy Safari at home but, as my wife pointed out, quite expensive for the locals.

Waterman Phileas

Description.

This is a plastic pen, taking Waterman cartridges or a converter. It has a vintage look from its red marbled patterns on the cap and barrel and gold coloured furniture. The cap has a rounded black top, with a sprung metal clip bearing the Waterman logo. There are two gold coloured rings on the cap which add to the elegance. It is a snap cap. The black band next to the gold ring, is stamped with the name Waterman and (on the back), France.

The section is black plastic, tapering slightly towards the nib but with a combination of a smooth area near the nib and a ribbed grip area higher up, which has a comfortable girth of approximately 12mm. I noticed that although the Phileas is discontinued, this section appears to have resurfaced for the new Waterman Embleme fountain pens.

Showing black plastic section with ribbed grip area.

The barrel has two more gold coloured rings but the most elaborate part is an inlaid gold coloured badge with some decorative engraving. This seems to echo the golden area of the bi-colour nib.

Decorative badge on the barrel.

Unscrewing the barrel, on plastic threads, it can be seen that there is a metal liner inside the barrel, for about the rear two thirds of its length, presumably for added weight, strength and to help with balance. There is still room for a converter inside the barrel.

Disassembled.

The cap can be posted, both deeply and securely which I appreciate.

The nib.

The bicolour nib is stainless steel but with a large area of gold coloured plating. It bears the logo and name Waterman, Paris, M, for medium. The nib and the plastic feed are friction fit.

Bi-colour nib.

Size and weight (approximate).

This is a medium sized pen and relatively light weight which should be comfortable for most people. Closed, the pen measures about 136mm; open 126mm and posted 146mm. Weights are about 21g in all (not including a cartridge or converter) comprised as to 14g for the pen and 7g for the cap.

Conclusions.

My vague recollections of the pen when I bought it, are that it was a little disappointing, a bit plasticky and not the best of writers as the nib was smooth but on the dry side. Whatever the reason, I did not make much use of it.

I am glad that I kept it. Recently I got out an old Waterman Kultur, blue demonstrator, which is very similar to the Phileas but with a simpler, less ornamented cap and barrel and an all-silver coloured nib. I was able to tweak the nib of the Kultur to open up the tines and improve ink flow. The result was to rediscover a very enjoyable pen.

And so with the Phileas I performed the same trick, (once again with thanks for SBRE Brown for the old instruction video “How to make a nib wetter in seconds”) bending up the nib just a little to widen the tines and to introduce a glimpse of daylight between them at the tip, for an easier flow of ink without pressure for my lefty overwriting preferences.

Just a little tine-gap widening work.

Perhaps, around 20 years ago, I had looked down on this pen for trying to appear vintage and of better materials than it was made of. But with older eyes and a little more experience to perform some easy nib work, I now appreciate the pen for what it is. Waterman succeeded in producing a pen which had timeless, classic looks (even recalling the decoration of old Waterman Ideal pens) and some elements of feel-good luxury in the gold coloured fittings, but at a modest cost. The metal liner inside the barrel is a particularly nice touch and marks this pen out as a quality tool in its own right. And so whilst I still enjoy buying a new pen, it sometimes pays to keep the old ones too.

The adjusted nib in profile. The upward bend is barely noticeable.

Going inside the Wing Sung 601 fountain pen.

Since buying this pen two years ago, it has stayed inked in my pen cup. There seemed no point in taking it out of service. It has been paired with Pilot Iroshizuku Tsuki-yo ink. It is always ready and never skips or hard-starts. It does not seem to lose any ink to evaporation. With its large ink capacity and light use, it can easily stay inked for six months or more.

The hooded nib of the Wing Sung 601, in Lake Blue.

Yesterday, on finding it almost empty I decided to give it a clean. As it had been so long since since the last clean, I had forgotten the detail of how to do it, although I had a recollection of there being a few points to bear in mind. I had to recall these as I went along. So while the sequence is now fresh, it seems a good time to describe the process. Actually I found it very satisfying.

The Wing Sung 601 in nine pieces.

The Wing Sung 601 is a Chinese homage to the classic but long- discontinued Parker 51 vacumatic but with a few differences such as a stainless steel nib, ink windows and a price tag (in this instance) of around £7.50. It came with a small container of silicone grease, (the container being based, confusingly, on a cartridge- converter which has no place in this pen). I prefer to use a thicker silicone grease, which I purchased from a diving shop. My pen did not come with the necessary wrench to unscrew the plunger, but I received one later with the Wing Sung 601A and it also fits the 601.

Here are the steps to disassemble and reassemble this pen:-

1. Remove the cap…

2. Unscrew the front shell, to expose the ink collector, nib and feed. Put the metal cap-retaining ring aside safely. It does not matter which way round it goes back.

Under the hood.

3. Pull the ink collector out from the barrel. The nib and feed are still inside the ink collector, with a clear plastic breather tube at the back.

Shell, ink collector, nib and feed.

4. Grip the tiny, tubular nib (and the black plastic feed inside) firmly and pull them out of the ink collector. They might be tight and difficult to grip. Be careful not to distort the nib or damage the ink collector. Note: to reduce risk of damage, this stage could be skipped and the assembled nib, feed and ink collector instead be placed in water to soak.

Tiny tubular nib.

5. Now, for the other end: unscrew the blind cap.

6. Use the wrench to unscrew the plunger mechanism and withdraw it from the barrel, which can then be rinsed. Mine has the soft rubber diaphragm but I have a later version too with a hard plunger instead.

Using the wrench to unscrew the plunger mechanism.

When the parts have been rinsed and it is time to reassemble the pen, proceed as follows:-

7. Replace the black plastic feed (and breather tube) back inside the tubular nib, checking that it is centred symmetrically under the nib. It may be loose, until the nib goes back in the ink collector.

8. Apply some silicone grease to the barrel threads if desired and then replace the metal ring. But before pushing the ink collector back into the barrel, first screw on the front shell, to see where the protruding lip (for the hooded nib) finishes up: this is then the top, or 12 o’clock position. Then, keeping the barrel with the 12 c’clock position at the top, remove the shell again and then push the ink collector back into the barrel, with the nib in line with your 12 o’clock position.

9. Now screw the shell back on, over the ink collector. Hopefully, the lip will now line up over the hooded nib. If it is not quite right, just make a mental note of which way to make the adjustment; remove the shell, turn the ink collector a little to one side or the other as necessary and replace shell. Repeat until symmetrical.

10. Replace plunger. First apply a little silicone grease to the threads if you wish. Tighten with wrench but avoid over tightening.

11. Cap pen and you are done.

In between washing the pen parts I took the photos for this post. It was only on looking closely at these after refilling, that I noticed the gap all along one side of the ink collector. I feared that I had damaged it, perhaps by squeezing too hard to pull out the nib. However, I checked my other model 601, (a demonstrator version and so I did not even need to remove the section). I could see the same gap all the way down the ink collector and was relieved that it is meant to be like this and not some damage of my doing.

Oh no! Did I cause that split? No, I think it is meant to be like that.

I have inked my pen up once again with Tsuki-yo. I expect it to keep writing until Christmas. It is a great little pen. It has proved to be a very reliable writer and exceptionally good value, especially once you include the pleasure of cleaning it.

Filling is not required very often.

A new pen deliberation. And a Safari gets a deep clean.

I am thinking of buying a Pilot Capless. I have not had one before and am attracted to the matte black version with black trim, particularly after watching a review by Scrively on YouTube. I hover over the pictures of it on The Writing Desk and add it to my wish list.

This would be a significant decision for me, for two reasons. First, it would break a four month pen no-buy, about which I am feeling slightly proud and self-righteous. Secondly it would be a purchase of a pen that I have deliberately resisted until now, as I believed that the pocket clip would interfere with my natural grip of the pen. As a lefty over-writer, I tend to rotate my pens inwards a little, which means that my thumb then rests right on the centre of the grip, just where the clip is.

However, I have, since the age of 18 or so, also practiced a lefty under-writer style, with left elbow tucked into my side and in an upright style. For this, I do hold my pens in the customary fashion.

I am encouraged by Scrively (himself a lefty side-writer) who stated in his review that although initially put off by the pocket clip, he has since grown to like it, although it is not perfect. He encouraged people to try holding a Lamy Safari by the facets, to see how this feels.

I do have a box of Safaris and AL-Stars. In a typical pen-pottering diversion today, I had a look through them all and chose one to ink up. I picked my familiar old charcoal Safari, my first and oldest model.

Nib and feed pulled.

I was surprised to see that that the nib showed signs of having been put away without a thorough clean last time. I took it up to the bathroom to flush the section, and give it a few squirts through of tepid water with a bulb-blower, as is my custom. I then thought to remove the nib, to clean beneath it. I wrapped a piece of Selotape over it and pulled. To my surprise and excitement, the entire feed came out of the section, with the nib still attached. I cannot remember ever having succeeded in pulling a Lamy Safari feed out before; generally I remove the nib only and leave the feed in place, but I seldom do even that.

Lamy Safari disassembled.

I was therefore able to wash the nib, feed and section separately, have a quick photo-session and then put them back together. The feed went back in the section with a satisfying click. I had put the nib back on first but on reflection it would have been preferable to put it on last, to avoid any risk of distorting the nib.

A well worn-in nib.

The other benefit of this exercise is that, following a pen friend’s good example, I am trying to use up some of my accumulated stash of ink cartridges. This is a daunting task but sounds easier one brand at a time. For example I am now down to my last nine Cross cartridges. And so I took one of my loose blue Lamy cartridges and popped it in.

Putting pen to paper, the ink flowed immediately. I was thrilled at just how smoothly my old Safari writes, having been my work pen for a few years. I also liked the Lamy blue ink very much.

Writing sample in Lamy blue. Paper is Concord notebook, premium writing paper, 100gsm.

I have since written a few pages in underwriter style, obeying the Lamy’s call to place my finger and thumb on the facets. I cannot write as fast or uniformly but am happy writing this way for some purposes.

This old Lamy Safari, well worn in to my writing angle, and after its bath today, writes as smoothly as I could wish for. It has a nice medium nib and is matched perfectly with Lamy blue ink.

And yes, I can manage to hold the Safari by the facets, for lefty under-writing. This bodes well for a Pilot Capless. But do I really need the Pilot Capless when my Lamy Safari writes so smoothly, not to mention the rest of the pens currently inked and those resting? I have to accept that the answer is no. I think I may write to the end of this Lamy cartridge and see whether the temptation to go Capless is still there or has gone away.

A clear look at the Opus 88 Demonstrator fountain pen.

Opus 88 is a fountain pen brand from Taiwan. Whereas TWSBI is known for its piston fill demonstrator pens, Opus 88 is for eyedropper pens, where ink is transferred to the barrel by a pipette. Some cartridge-converter pens can be adapted for eyedropper filling but the Opus 88 range are “true” eyedroppers, having no other filling options.

The expanding range now includes such models as the Koloro, Omar, Picnic, Fantasia and a recent model called the Flora shaped like a tall narrow vase. My model is simply called the Demonstrator and is the clear version, although also available in translucent smoke, red or orange. I bought mine from John Hall of Write Here at the London Pen Show in October 2018 and first mentioned this in my post My haul from the London Pen Show, 2018.

Opus 88 Demonstrator.

I have since enjoyed using it from time to time in my rotation. Recently, I was inspired to ink it up again after seeing a post on Instagram from Kimberly of @allthehobbies showing extracts of her transcription of Marcus Aurelius in a print style like a type face. She had used a pretty purple Opus 88 Picnic with a steel medium nib and the ink was Kobe #57 Himeajisai “Hydrangea”. Whilst I did not have that precise pen or ink, I went for my Waterman Tender Purple, (or Encre Violet Tendresse for added glamour).

The pen really comes into its own with a striking ink colour on board.

Description.

This is a large pen, by usual standards, cylindrical with flat ends in a clear acrylic. The cap finial and the piston turning knob (more of which later) are particularly clear and create an interesting distortion of your lined paper or writing below when the pen is put down. The lower half of the cap is frosted. The cap has a matte black metal pocket clip which is firm and springy with a ball at the end. There is no cap ring but the name Opus 88 is on the cap in black lettering.

Unscrewing the cap requires four complete revolutions, which is off-putting for some. The grip section, also clear, tapers slightly but has a generous girth of around 13mm towards the top end near the cap threads.

The barrel unscrews from the section for filling. At the end of the barrel, the 14mm long turning knob can be unscrewed to lift a piston rod which runs down the centre of the ink reservoir, to open the channel between the reservoir and the feed. Screwing this down again, cuts off the ink supply, converting your pen to a travelling ink well, to protect from leaks when the pen is carried around. The ink remaining in the feed may be enough to enable you to write for a few more pages but if more is needed, the cut off valve can simply be opened to recharge the feed, or left open if preferred, for a long uninterrupted writing session.

Filling.

To fill the pen, remove the barrel and drop ink directly into the reservoir. An eyedropper is included in the box for this purpose although I use longer ones, from an art shop. A syringe could instead be used. The reservoir holds a massive amount of ink. I have not measured the capacity but Goulet Pens describe it as 3.56ml. This would be equivalent to around 4 standard international short cartridges!

The nib.

My pen came with a Broad nib. I believe it to be a Jowo No. 6 steel nib. My nib was extremely smooth and wrote like a western broad. I found it great for laid paper, as it would glide over the ridges with ease. However, I found the lack of feedback from the nib to be disconcerting.

Original Broad nib. Note the O-ring which needs to be included.

However, I had a suitable donor for a nib transplant, namely a Manuscript ML 1856 fountain pen which had an identical nib and feed unit but in a Medium. The nib and feed units are easily unscrewed. Just remember that in the Opus 88, the small chubby O-ring must be placed over the nipple of the feed, before it is screwed into the section. Be careful not to lose this when removing the nib and feed unit for washing, since it is not attached.

Now with Medium nib installed, from a Manuscript ML 1856.

When re-assembling the pen, I took the opportunity to apply a little silicone grease at various points, being the threads of the nib and feed housing, the threads between section and barrel, the threads of the piston knob and the piston shaft itself. This should keep everything working nicely.

Disassembled.

Size and weight.

This is one of my largest pens, at 147mm closed and 137mm uncapped. (A Lamy Safari is around 130mm uncapped). The cap does not post but the length is ample.

My pen, currently around half full, weighs 29g, of which 19g is the pen uncapped and 10g for the cap alone. The weight is enough to feel substantial without being burdensome.

Likes, dislikes and conclusion.

I find little to dislike about this pen. I have mentioned that the original broad nib was a bit too smooth and lacking in feedback for me although it wrote very well and was good for laid paper. Also I know that some people dislike caps that require more than one or two turns to be unscrewed.

On the plus side, this is a big comfortable pen. There is a certain joy to be had in using a pen which is unashamedly a pure eyedropper, and with a massive ink capacity. I know that access to ink is not an issue for most of us but it is nice to be able to go travelling without needing to bring a bottle of ink, because basically your pen is one. The demonstrator body means there is no risk of being taken by surprise by your pen running dry. The pen looks great with a bright colour ink inside. Also an eyedropper pen is well suited to using up random small ink samples: just pour one in!

The piston rod with its shut-off mechanism is a very useful feature, so that the pen can be carried around with less risk of leaking. Also it reduces the risk of blobbing or burping.

I have a long way to go before I can come near to Kimberly’s neat printing. But with this ink capacity I am ready for a long haul.

Enjoying some ink-sloshing action.

An overdue look at the Sheaffer 300 fountain pen.

Since I began this blog over three years ago, the banner photo has featured my black Sheaffer 300 fountain pen, poised on a Ryman’s A5 notebook on a park bench. Yet until now, this pen had not enjoyed a post of its own.

I recall that I bought the pen at the John Lewis department store in Brent Cross and that the price then was about £45.00. Not super cheap but not expensive either.

Description.

This is a lacquered metal pen, heavy and robust, in a glossy black finish. The cap fits flush with the barrel. The cap features a sprung pocket clip with the Sheaffer white dot. The broad shiny chrome cap band bears the name, Sheaffer.

Sheaffer 300.

The cap pulls off silently but makes a click as it goes back on and needs only a modicum of effort. It also posts very securely, designed to click onto a ridge on the barrel finial.

The grip section is black plastic, tapering but free of any facets telling you where to put your fingers. There is a slight step down from the barrel to the section (enabling the cap to fit flush as mentioned) but this does not feel rough or uncomfortable.

The nib.

The steel nib has some attractive scroll work and states Sheaffers, with an M for medium. The tines are nicely aligned and there is just a minimal gap visible between them, which is to say that the nib is tuned just as I like. It writes smoothly with a good flow, on the fine side of medium. If you need a fine/extra fine line occasionally, you can turn it over to write with the other side of the nib. It is a firm nib, which I find more practical as a left hander.

Attractive steel nib.

Filling is by Sheaffer Skrip cartridges or else a Sheaffer converter.

Cartridge converter filler.

Weights and measures.

The pen has a generous girth, for those who like larger pens. However, uncapped it measures only 120mm. The cap can be posted, which brings the length up to 155mm, but it then becomes back heavy, unless (like me) you hold it fairly high. Closed, the pen measures 141mm.

If used unposted the pen weighs around 19g, which is quite substantial. However, the cap alone weighs in at 23g making a total of 42g if you wish to write with the cap posted.

Later, I was persuaded to buy a Sheaffer 300 ball pen when half price, but at 49g this is even heavier than the fountain pen.

Fountain pen next to a Sheaffer 300 ball pen.

Likes and Dislikes.

On the plus side, the pen feels solid, well made and indestructible. It has a good sizeable girth, (broader than the Sheaffer Sagaris) and the nib on mine writes very nicely. The pen seems built to last, of sober design and good value for money. Other colours or a chrome cap version are available.

Writing sample from medium nib.

On the negative side, the section can feel a little plasticky, in comparison to the glossy lacquered metal finish of the cap and barrel. Also I would have preferred the barrel to be another 10mm longer so that I could use it more comfortably unposted. But this is just my preference and others who grip their pens lower may find the length no problem. Also, the threads to unscrew the barrel seem to go on forever.

Posting the cap does make for a very heavy unit and the pen can feel unbalanced unless you then grip quite far back from the nib.

The nib cannot easily be removed. I did once try to pull it out of the section but it would not budge and I did not want to use any greater force, for fear of damaging the plastic feed. Having used Pelikans with their easily unscrewable nib units, I am rather disappointed when other pens do not have this feature.

Plastic feed.

Conclusion.

All things considered, this is a decent pen for the money. Pricewise it could be a rival to the Cross Bailey, but now Cross and Sheaffer are both under the same umbrella. For a steel nibbed, lacquered metal pen there is a lot to commend it. Mine has been rather neglected in recent years but I am glad to still have it, to enjoy from time to time and to use for my stock of Sheaffer Skrip cartridges.

A look at the Online College fountain pen.

Once in a while, I come across a fountain pen which writes so smoothly and well, that I almost want to put all my others away. If it happens to be inexpensive, so much the better. Such discoveries are partly what make the hobby so enjoyable and addictive.

Last August, I met up in London with a pen friend now living in Australia. We went for a coffee and got talking about pens. He showed me one that he was carrying, which he called his “melon pen.” It was an Online College. I was immediately struck by how smoothly it wrote and what an attractive line it produced. When I remarked upon this, he kindly said that I could keep it as he could easily pick up another, having bought it for a few euros from a German department store or pharmacy.

Online College cartridge pen, with melon and pineapple design.

Online is a German pen brand, established in 1991. Whilst this does not seem long ago to me, it pre-dated internet shopping. However they do now sell online (see website http://www.online-pen.de), as well as in shops.

To put this pen in context, the website shows various categories of pens. Under “Young Line” we see that the College is one of six different models geared towards children and the young at heart. Clicking on the College, you are taken to a large number of different patterns with brightly coloured graphics and with various nib options too. This particular model, to give it its full title, is the “Online Best Writer College 0.8mm Pineapple” and currently sells for 9.99 euros.

The extraordinary thing about this, is that there are so many nib options at this price point, from Medium, Fine, Extra Fine, Left handed to calligraphy nibs of 0.8mm, 1.4mm and 1.8mm.

Description.

This is a plastic pen, with a snap cap that can be posted. It has a steel nib. The grip section is soft touch and ergonomic, that is, rubberised and tapering but with two flattened facets for finger placement. There is a clear plastic ink window from which you can see if your cartridge is running low, when held up to the light. The barrel unscrews on plastic threads but with a distinct click at the end when tightened back on again.

The cap and barrel are pink with a pattern of a pineapple and slices of watermelon and some yellow shapes. The clip is plastic and quite flexible but not very tight and secure.

More melon than pineapple.

The nib and writing performance.

This particular one has the 0.8mm stub nib, imprinted with the words Online, Germany and 0.8. As I have said, it is very smooth. It is hard to tell whether it has a small amount of tipping material or is just very well polished but the effect is delightful and belies its low price. Personally I find this tip size very useful, being somewhat finer than the more common 1.1mm stub size from other brands. It is very flattering to one’s handwriting, whilst still being forgiving and without sharp edges to dig into the paper.

The Online 0.8mm stub nib.

The nib and feed are friction fit. I have tried transplanting this nib into a TWSBI Eco, which partly worked but was not entirely successful as the nib did not fit snuggly against the Eco’s feed and so eventually I returned it to its own pink melon and pineapple body.

Writing sample from 0.8mm stub nib. With Kaweco blue cartridge and Concord 100gsm A4 premium writing paper notebook.

Filling system.

This is a cartridge pen, which takes standard international cartridges. When I received it, it was inked with an Online branded cartridge. The interesting thing is that these are “combination cartridges”, that are double ended: one end is the standard international fit (for this pen) whilst the other end has the Lamy fitting, thus enabling people to use their Online ink cartridges to fit in their Online or Lamy pens.

Online cartridge (empty) with standard international fitting on the left and Lamy fitting on the right.

Size and weight.

Being all plastic, this is a very lightweight pen. Inked, it weighs around 12g in all, of which 4g is the cap, and so only around 8g if used un-posted.

Capped, the pen measures around 139mm, and uncapped, a respectable 126mm. It is designed to be posted (the cap fitting over a recess in the barrel) but then measures a whopping 172mm, although still very comfortable and light. I prefer to use it posted and to grip high up, over the ink window.

Likes and dislikes.

For its modest price, this is a great buy and the smooth 0.8mm stub nib punches well above its weight. The pen is comfortable to use posted or unposted although very light. The cartridge filling system is very convenient although presumably, a converter could be used for bottle filling. The website states “The design contains fun and joy and lots of vitamins!”

With standard international cartridge fitted.

As for dislikes, it is lightweight and plasticky, but that is the point. I would have preferred a more boring plain colour or pattern, but that is a reflection on me and not the pen, which is obviously meant for young people. The fruit is refreshing and distinctive. There is no risk of me mistaking this for another pen. If melons and pineapples do not work for you, there are dozens of other designs to chose from.

Conclusion.

It is good to know that such a pleasant writing experience can be enjoyed for such little cost. It would be fun to visit a shop selling these in Germany and to rummage through the many patterns and nib options. I have not found them for sale in the UK either in shops or my usual online stores and so you may need to order your Online direct. But if you do not mind the lightweight plastic body and the lively design, you will be rewarded with a surprisingly good writing performance.

The nib is recessed in a clear plastic collar.

Another evening with The Other Favorites (this time it’s virtual).

On 23rd May 2020, I joined a live stream concert given by The Other Favorites, the duo Carson McKee and Josh Turner. This was their third such venture and was streamed from Josh’s apartment in Brooklyn, New York, conveniently timed at 2.00pm eastern time, being 7.00pm for us watching in the UK.

The Other Favorites: Carson McKee and Josh Turner.

This was available to anyone who signed up via Crowdcast with a voluntary contribution, who then received a link to join the stream.

Some readers may recall that I was highly impressed with The Other Favorites, having found them on YouTube last year. I then got to see them at Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush last August and wrote a review here.

I saw Josh Turner in London again in October in Graceland Live at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, with a band and The South African Cultural Choir UK. The first half was given to performances of selected Paul Simon songs up to the 1986 Graceland album interspersed with lively pieces from the choir. In the second half, the company performed the entire Graceland album with Josh on guitars and vocals. It was truly special to hear this classic album brought to life so vividly, 33 years after its release.

The Other Favorites were to have been touring again this year but this was not possible in view of the pandemic. Performing a livestream session from home enables musicians to generate some revenue during these times and also provides welcome “live” entertainment for fans also in lockdown.

I continue to be amazed by this duo. From a rainy afternoon in Brooklyn, with the sound of an occasional car horn from the street below, they gave a very professional performance. Carson McKee played acoustic guitar and seemed the more relaxed of the pair, giving such a steady rhythm guitar and warm vocal performance that it looked effortless. Josh meanwhile began on his Martin acoustic for the first five songs before switching to a Fender Telecaster for the next five and then a banjo.

Josh now on banjo.

They played for an hour with a good mix of original material and covers, then gave a Q&A session for another half hour, answering questions from the chat messages. The original pieces spanned their ten years of playing and writing together. “Flawed recording” was one of their earlier songs, whilst “Nineteen and Aimless” was the opening track from Josh’s 2019 album As Good A Place As Any.

Once again, their performance demonstrated their genre-hopping versatility which takes in singer- songwriter styles such as James Taylor, jazz, bluegrass and Americana murder ballads and, with equal gusto, Abba’s Mama Mia. Josh’s guitar and banjo work on these is sublime, but never over-the-top. Listening to these young men, it is not unreasonable to compare their talents to a young Paul Simon or James Taylor.

The songs that they played are listed below (not including the rendition of Happy Birthday for Josh’s mother), to which I have added links to some of the YouTube videos. I am not sure if I have the title correct for number 7 but it was one of the standout pieces of the night and is one to watch out for.

Setlist:

  1. Angelina (original)
  2. Sixteen tons (Tennessee Ernie Ford)
  3. Little Sadie (Crooked Still)
  4. The Ballad of John McCrae (original)
  5. Table for One (original)
  6. Nineteen and aimless (original)
  7. I feel a certain change comin’ round (original)
  8. Hey Good Lookin’ (Hank Williams)
  9. Low Country (original)
  10. Moonlight in Vermont (Frank Sinatra)
  11. Nine Pound Hammer (Merle Travis)
  12. Mama Mia (Abba)
  13. 1952 Vincent Black Lightning (Richard Thompson)
  14. Flawed recording (original)
  15. Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash).

What we learned in the Q&A.

Asked whether they ever heard from artists they covered, they mentioned Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes. They had also performed with the Backstreet Boys. However, Josh had never met Paul Simon or interacted with him in any way, which was surprising given Josh’s involvement in the Graceland show last year as well as the Simon & Garfunkel story, theatre show.

Asked when they had started in music full time, Josh had worked in retail for three or four years after college, building up some revenue from Youtube and Patreon but it was not until it became feasible for him to tour repeatedly that he gave up his day job, in late 2018. For Carson, it was as recently as late 2019 that he stopped work in an Apple Store.

Josh clearly is keen on the technical aspects of recording and streaming to the web. Asked about their set-up for this show, Josh turned the camera on some of their gear, showing the mics all going into a Zoom L-8 mixing/recording board (given by Zoom after they had appeared in an advertisement) but I then got lost as he explained the signal path through the compressor and computer software, for the audio and video.

As for their dream venues to perform in, Carson named the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and the Troubadour in LA, as the most iconic for him, to which Josh added Clowes Memorial Hall in Indianapolis, Indiana, being at his old alma mater.

Josh had studied music theory at high school and at college. We did not see his classical guitar work this evening (or the mandolin, lute, keyboards or percussion instruments that he sometimes plays in his videos). Asked about artists he admired, he listed Glen Campbell and Chet Atkins. However, in answer to a suggestion about appearing with mandolinist Chris Thile on his show Live From Here, Josh dismissed this as being way too intimidating as Chris Thile and his approach to music “is on such another level.” So even our heroes have heroes.

The Other Favorites do plan to host another livestream towards the end of June. They also mentioned a planned comedy project in the pipeline, where we would get to see Carson exercise his acting chops. Their long history of playing together has produced a great body of work on YouTube and they keep getting better and better. Just as I finished re-watching the livestream, YouTube brought up a song that they had recorded, singing in Japanese!

Six reasons to like Rohrer and Klingner Salix ink.

Whatever else I have in my pen cup, I like to keep one pen inked with a waterproof ink. For a few years, it was Sailor Kiwa-guro; then I tried Montblanc Permanent Blue. For the past three months, I have been using Rohrer & Klingner’s Salix in a Cross Bailey Light.

Cross Bailey Light with a medium stainless steel nib and a bottle of Rohrer & Klingner Salix, iron gall ink. I chose the white pen as it is suggestive of weddings and marriage registers.

This is an ink from Germany, sold in glass 50ml bottles without a cardboard box. The label on the bottle states “For fountain pens, steel nibbed pens, dip pens and individual writing utensils for calligraphy.”

Some benefits of this ink are as follows:-

1. It is an iron gall ink.

As such it has greater permanence than regular inks and should be suitable for documents which need to be kept for many years. It goes on like a pale royal blue when wet but darkens as it dries and oxidises over time, to a darker blue black. This change can be seen in both the light and dark tones:

Salix iron gall ink. This photo was taken immediately after writing the second line. The top line was written about 15 hours earlier. Basildon Bond letter writing paper.

2. It shades well.

Salix has an attractive, pronounced shading in blue black tones, which has a pleasing, vintage style.

Ink journal entry, on Radley A5 notebook paper.

3. It is waterproof.

It is useful to have a waterproof ink when addressing envelopes but also to protect against spillages and smudges.

4. Less bleed through.

It can often be used on types of paper that would otherwise be subject to bleed through and feathering with normal inks, such as photocopying paper. Thus some notebooks that might have been put aside for being not fountain pen friendly, can be used for double-sided writing after all.

5. You can highlight over it!

Being waterproof once dry, it does not smudge if you go over it with a highlighter pen. Ink is not transferred to the tip of the highlighter. I was excited to discover this. Being able to highlight sections of your own handwritten notes opens up new possibilities, for example for use in a work diary.

Testing out my Sharpie highlighters over some handwriting with Salix. Note the absence of any smudging of the Salix ink. Tomoe River paper.

6. It is good value.

The ink is not expensive. I bought mine at Choosing Keeping, a stationery shop in London. According to their web site, their current price is £8.00 for a 50ml bottle.

The downside is that iron gall inks are regarded as being higher-maintenance than normal inks. They are more acidic and may cause staining and corrosion of steel nibs. Rohrer & Kingner recommend that you clean your pen once a week. This advice is also given by Goulet Pens on their web site. Jet Pens recommend cleaning every four weeks or so.

For this reason I have been using it in an inexpensive pen so far but I am encouraged that I have not yet noticed any ill effects. Cleaning of the pen has been quick and easy. Also, the ink flows back and forth freely in the converter, leaving a nice even film on the sides and does not get stuck at the far end. Because of concerns over corrosion and staining of the nib, the natural response is to use it in an inexpensive pen with a steel nib. However, a gold nib will actually be more suitable as gold does not corrode. I plan to try it in my Sailor Pro-Gear slim, for its next fill.

My only prior experience of iron gall ink has been with the registrar’s ink from Ecclesiastical Stationery Supplies prescribed for use on marriage registers. I learned that once opened, their ink needed to be used up within around 18 months or so. Certainly, if kept for years after opening, the ink loses its colour and turns to a pale grey. Once that happens it is time to throw it out and order a fresh bottle. I do not know whether Salix also does this but will try to make regular use of my bottle.

Rohrer & Klingner also have one other iron gall ink in their range, called Scabiosa, which is a dusty purple. I believe that it will have similar properties to the blue black Salix. I am keen to try it when I can get my hands on a bottle.