Travelling with ink: pen shopping in Menorca.

It is nice to travel and to be on holiday. Having a passion for fountain pens gives the trip an extra dimension.

I have just spent a very enjoyable family holiday in Menorca. Leaving behind the rain and relentless political news in the UK, we stayed in a hotel with a sea view, in the small town of Es Castell, situated on the harbour which serves the capital, Mao (or Mahon).

As usual, part of the preparation for me is choosing which fountain pens to bring. This time I settled on the superb Aurora 88 (freshly filled with Conway Stewart Tavy, blue black ink by Diamine) and my Montblanc Meisterstuck 145 Classique, (now on its third foreign trip of the year) as a reserve. After buying the Classique in January, it took me a couple of months to settle upon an ink. I tried several before discovering Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red, which both looks and sounds wonderful! For some holiday journaling I took a Leuchtturm A5 hardback notebook. At 18 rows per page, at say 10 words per line, I was interested to see how many pages I could write on one fill of the Aurora. Its so-called medium nib and Ebonite feed, delivers a fine line with a beautifully consistent flow and the pen is very comfortable.

Es Castell proved to be a very peaceful town, with a grid of residential streets and its own harbour, lined with shops and restaurants. I discovered a couple of local stationery and newsagent shops. In one, I bought an inexpensive but satisfying mechanical pencil and box of spare 2B leads, in the unusual size of 1.3mm.

A “Plus + 1.3” mechanical pencil and small nameless illuminated magnifying glass, with five LEDs on the back.

Another shop had a glass fronted display of pens featuring a giant sized Waterman and a vintage (possibly 1960’s) gold Parker pen and a pen pot of other assorted used pens. However it seemed that these were for ornament only and not for sale.

Enticing Waterman display. A stationery shop in Es Castell, Menorca.

Before visiting the capital city of Mao, I had searched Google for fountain pen shops and had discovered a couple listed. On foot, having been dropped off at the main square, it was not so easy to find my chosen shop using Google Maps, but my wife, who is more accustomed to using this while on foot, took over the navigator role and we set off, in the opposite direction from most tourists who were heading for the pedestrian shopping streets leading to the waterfront. However we succeeded in finding “Clips Papeleria” at 16, Carrer de Sant Esteve, on a corner of a quiet residential street. This was a general stationery shop but did have a glass cabinet of Inoxcrom fountain pens, a Spanish brand. Not having one of these yet, or indeed any Spanish fountain pens, I was keen to try one.

Clips Papeleria, Mahon.

I handled a couple of these before settling on a third model, in a pretty mauve metal finish with a shiny chrome section. I have not yet identified the model name. I was not sure about the chrome section at first, expecting it to be slippery, which it was and also of a rather odd shape with a wide part nearest the barrel but then tapering down to a narrower area near the nib. However, in the hand it was quite usable as the chrome section rested comfortably on my second finger, whilst my thumb held the barrel, the texture of which was not slippery, to keep the pen from turning. I preferred the mauve version to the grey. I think it was about 30 euros and so made a pleasing souvenir.

Inoxcrom, steel nib cartridge – converter fountain pen.

A few minutes later in the centre of the city I came across an art supplies shop which had a few fountain pens for sale, including one Pilot Metropolitan in orange with a purple wave design on the barrel and found myself buying this as well, with visions of pairing it with a nice orange ink.

Inoxcrom pen with Pilot Metropolitan.

On another day, in another city, of Cuitadella, with its delightful old part centred around the cathedral and harbour, I spotted another stationery / art supplies shop but with little by way of fountain pens.

A typical street scene in Cuitadella

However, after a few relaxing days at various beaches and exploring the wonderful island in our rented car, I settled into a happy contentment, realising that the pens that I was carrying with me were more than adequate for my needs and better than any that I was likely to find on the island.

A Menorca beach scene.

Besides, there were also other items to enjoy in the shops apart from pens. For instance, the ubiquitous simple Menorcan sandals called Avarcas, with rubber sole and leather uppers, originally worn by the rural population but now popular with tourists and available in a wide range of colours. They seemed to be unisex, save only that the men’s were in larger sizes and in more conservative colours.

Not many fountain pens but plenty of Menorcan sandals for sale.

My holiday haul also included a portable, rechargeable LED light, pumping out 500 lumens, which I found in a yachting supplies shop. Well, you never know when you might need one.

Equipment wise, I was very satisfied with the performance of my trusty old Tilley sun hat, Karrimor Spectre Supercool 20 litre ruck sack, Nikon 10×30 binoculars and indeed the Opel Corsa that we hired for a few days. It was good to be using these and my pens, rather than reviewing them.

As for my Aurora, I much enjoyed keeping my journal each day, in our room with its view of the sea. I was expecting to know by now how many A5 pages it would write on one fill of the pen, but after 52 pages, it is still going strong and looks from the ink window to be still over one third full!

Aurora 88 in a beach cafe, Sant Tomas, Menorca. With Montblanc Classique.

Update on 26.10.2019. I have since identified the Inoxcrom fountain pen. It is the Inoxcrom Mistral. I also learned that the company has its origins in Barcelona from 1946. Their steel nibs were given a shiny finish by applying a thin layer of galvanised chrome. The words Inoxidable and Chrome were then combined to give the name Inoxcrom. An online catalogue, product list and company history is on http://www.inoxcrom.es.

Some early thoughts on the Aurora 88 fountain pen.

The origins of this, my latest pen purchase, probably go back a few years to when I first started to hear about Aurora pens, particularly the Optima, in other people’s blogs. It was not a brand that I had come across before. I also met an Aurora rep at the London pen show and picked up a couple of glossy catalogues of their then current collection of writing instruments. I learned that their gold nibs were all made in-house by their own craftsmen and women which is rare and admirable.

14k gold nib, Medium.

And then whilst visiting Italy on holiday in June, I found a pen shop selling Auroras, in the centre of Brescia. There I handled an Aurora Talentum in black resin, which was a good sized pen and felt very comfortable. However, my wife helped me to resist the urge to buy it on the spot.

Back story: the buying journey.

Back home I found myself browsing the internet for Aurora pens and I looked at several different Talentum models and watched a few reviews. I was pondering over which colour to go for and which nib.

And then came a summer sale on Iguanasell. It so happened that the Talentum models were not reduced but I found the Aurora 88, a well regarded and much longer-established model than the Talentum, dating back to the late 1940’s, with a generous discount of 35%. I particularly liked the black resin version with gold plated cap.

I shared this information with my wife, hoping that it would be a mere formality to obtain her approval that such a large saving represented good stewardship of our joint financial resources. However, she was not so enthusiastic as I and made a compelling argument that I had “so many pens” and did not have time to use them all. True. But it is an Aurora 88, with a gold plated cap! It is a piston filler, with a 14k gold nib, an Ebonite feed, an ink window and everything. And a hidden ink reserve! On paper, its size and weight called to me that this was an ideal pen that might have been designed with my preferences in mind.

However, by the next day, her position had softened to “Oh well, it’s up to you” which I took as a yes. I then leapt on the Iguanasell website again. The discount offer was available only whilst the pen remained in stock. It was still there. Free shipping from Spain and despatched within 24 hours. I deliberated briefly over which nib to chose and went for a Medium. Click. Proceed to Checkout!

The following day I received an email from Iguanasell that my order had been shipped and providing a tracking reference. There followed an anxious wait. First, I worried whether the Aurora nib, known for its feedback which is not to everyone’s taste, would suit me. I had not had an opportunity to test it out. What if it does not write as well as my Faber-Castell Grip? Secondly, over the coming three days I was a bit perturbed that the tracking reference (34 digits long!) gave the status “not yet received” by the couriers. This went on for three working days. Some doubts began to creep in about the veracity of Iquanasell’s fast delivery claims.

But then on the fourth day, the doorbell rang at 7.30am. I hurtled down to get the door, scattering furniture in my haste. It was the next door neighbour who had taken in the parcel for me, the previous day.

The unboxing.

I enjoyed peeling back the layers to get to my new toy. Inside the white polythene outer packaging, was a large brown cardboard box. Inside this, padded with bubble wrap, was the large glossy black cardboard Aurora box with the Aurora logo and my pen model details on the end, “88 BIG” (yes please!), “Gold plated cap and resin barrel.”

Inside this, was the actual gift box, a handsome black leatherette type with creamy coloured padded interior. And there was my pen, gleaming black resin and a luxurious gold plated cap with subtle guilloche design. Though I say so myself it looked absolutely gorgeous.

Aurora 88 (large) in black resin with gold plated cap.

Picking it up, it was lighter than expected. (It weighs 27g; around 15.5g uncapped plus 11.5g for the cap). I unscrewed the cap, (about one and a quarter turns) to reveal the 14kt gold nib. This looked to be superbly finished. There was a glimpse of daylight between the tines until the tipping material, which was generous, symmetrical and even. Looking head on, the tines were perfectly level. However I did note that the tipping was narrow where it met the paper. Turning it over, I got my first sight of the Ebonite feed.

Ebonite feed. This pen ticks all my boxes.

I got out a bottle of Aurora Blue and a Leuchtturm note book. The pent up anticipation in that first dip was immense. It wrote, smoothly and effortlessly. No skips. The pleasure and relief was all the more intense for having been anxious for a few days. No toothiness or drag as I had feared. However the line was more fine than I had expected, although I was perfectly happy with it. I enjoy having pens with all sorts of nibs. Perhaps, had I known that the medium would be this fine, I might have chosen a broad but I like it as it is. It does mean that with my usual style and size of writing, there is less filling in of my loops and this helps with neatness and legibility. The nib is sufficiently wet for my lefty-overwriting as well as underwriting styles.

I then tried the piston, which was smooth and easy. It took about 10 twists to lower the piston fully. I then filled the pen, following the recommendation in the supplied instruction booklet, to release about 4 drops at the end before turning the pen nib upwards and tightening the piston knob.

My new bundle of joy.

As you can imagine I greatly enjoyed trying the new pen and writing a few pages in my notebook. It is about 130mm long when uncapped but I still preferred to post it. The cap is light and does not upset balance when posted. The cap threads are plastic and so should not mark the barrel, but this would not bother me anyway. The grip, when the pen is posted feels very natural and comfortable with my thumb over the ink window. It is so comfortable that you want to go on and on writing. And it looks so classy and elegant. It is a good generous size, without being huge and without being too heavy either.

There is also a smaller version of Aurora 88 which has similar styling but no ink window and is a cartridge-converter pen. I have since seen from YouTube reviews, that the Aurora 88 range was first introduced in about 1947. I have a lot to learn about Aurora and its history. It celebrates its centenary this year and so this seems like another good excuse to join the club of happy Aurora users.

So how does it write? What about the Aurora feedback? Well, mine writes very nicely indeed. Straight out of the box. On Leuchtturm paper, it feels smooth and well lubricated but not a gusher. I would say that the flow is spot on. I have now covered about fifteen pages and so any saturation in the feed from filling will have settled down. The sensation of nib on paper is very pleasant and pencil-like, neither too glassy smooth nor toothy and draggy. Together with the comfort and ergonomics of the pen, it makes you want to write more.

First inking with Aurora Blue.

It is also a design classic. Parker had its 51, Montblanc its 146 and Lamy its 2000. I learned from a video by Grandmia pens that the Aurora 88 was introduced as a competitor to the Parker 51.

I looked for the Aurora 88 in my old Aurora catalogue. At first I could not find it in the index, in the list of the Collezioni Prestigio, the prestige collections. And then I spotted the name Ottantotto, which I now know is Italian for Eighty Eight.

My wife likes the pen too. And I gave my whole-hearted support and encouragement to her purchase of some summer dresses in the sales and would never dream of saying “You have so many dresses.” What sort of a husband would say that?