2021: Some of my fountain pen highlights.

It is time for a look back over my last 12 months as a fountain pen enthusiast (a euphemism for addict, perhaps). It has been rather solitary without the monthly social contact of the London pen club meets. However, with letter writing, a couple of pen shows and the constant online interaction of social media, it hasn’t felt lonely. Anyhow, using and tinkering with pens and stationery are good activities to pursue on your own.

The acquisitions.

First, the reckoning. I still keep a tally of pens acquired with their dates and cost, although I had not reviewed 2021’s figures until now. I see that I had a total of 25 pens incoming. My total spend on these amounted to £1,026, which does not seem too excessive, as hobbies or addictions go. However, a large chunk of this was on my Aurora Optima, at £396 from Iguanasell. If you deduct this, the remaining £630 was for 24 pens, an average of only £26 each. This is a bit misleading as I have not included the value of a few pens received as gifts, but it gives you a rough picture.

None of these was part of a plan. They were pens that I spotted online, or at pen shows or whilst browsing the shops during the summer sales.

The Aurora Optima was my most significant purchase. The rationale was that I am delighted with my Aurora 88, also from Iguanasell. I was keen to try an Optima, with an oblique broad having found these to be well suited to my writing style from buying a Moonman S5 demonstrator. Also, the price looked favourable, although at the limits of my comfort zone. (I have never spent more than £450 on a pen). It was a bit of a risk, buying a pen with a specialist nib unseen, but it was excellent and I enjoy using it very much and have been encouraged by good feedback about my writing, from my correspondents.

Aurora Optima with oblique broad nib.

A few of the other arrivals this year have included three Diplomat Excellences, two more of the Moonman S5 (they are so good!), two more Cross Bailey Lights (I could not resist the green and the burgundy versions with gold coloured trim); two steel nibbed Sailors: a blue demo Procolor 500 and a sparkly dark red Shikiori, which seems to be its successor. Both of these have fine nibs which, in Sailor terms, means an extra fine.

A handsome Cross Bailey Light.

I bought two Narwhal Schuylkills – one being the 365, limited edition red swirl ebonite version released to celebrate the company’s first year of trading and the other being a blue marlin, both from Stonecott Fine Writing Supplies Ltd.

Finally, I ended the year with the purchase of a pair of Online Bachelors, a lightweight comfortable plastic demonstrator, cartridge converter pen but, unusually, fitted with a 0.8mm stub which I greatly enjoy and just reviewed in my previous post. I have had these only a few days but am happy with them both.

A few of the highlights.

Aside from these fairly regular but low-dosage New Pen Days, I enjoyed completing the challenge of copying out the book Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius. This combined reading some philosophy with practising my handwriting. The idea was to write in a print-style, typewriter font and to use a different pen and ink combination for each two page spread. The whole idea was brazenly copied from Kimberly of @allthehobbies on Instagram whose own immaculate pages (as well as her “currently inked”posts) are most inspiring. I did this over a period of about seven months.

I attended the London Spring Pen Show (postponed until July) and Autumn Pen Show in October. Both took place at the Novotel in Hammersmith. The spacious, airy venue proved a big improvement on the previous events held at Holiday Inn, near Russell Square in recent years. It was good to see so many pen club friends again. Seven of my pen purchases came from these two events. Also, not included in the total, was a new titanium nib unit with an ebonite feed in Jowo fit housing, also purchased at the show. They were available in Jowo or Bock fittings and in a selection of widths. Mine went in an Opus 88 clear demonstrator and gives the pen a whole new character. The nib was just a tad longer than the original and I needed to make a little more space in the cap. This proved easy without major surgery, as the finial unscrews and I just added an O ring.

London Pen Show, Novotel, Hammersmith.

Aside from the pen show, I picked up a few bargains in the summer sales, at Rymans. These included a Sheaffer Prelude ball pen in Cobalt blue and rose gold, to match my fountain pen. This was a great find, reduced from £50 to £10. In John Lewis I snapped up another Sheaffer Prelude fountain pen, but in the brushed copper and black finish. And equally fortuitous was a Diplomat Traveller fountain pen, a rare find in our shops at the best of times, but reduced in Rymans to just £5.00. I sent one to a friend overseas who was so taken by it that he gave away several of his pens of much higher value, to another pen friend: a nice example of the “pay it forward” principle.

When out and about or exploring new places, it is nice to come home with a new notebook or pen, or both. Finding a new yellow Lamy Safari reduced in a sale was enough to see me pick one up with an accompanying Leuchtturm A5 journal.

Leuchtturm journals. Still my favourite.

The urge to buy a new notebook can be so irresistible sometimes that I buy one even when I know that most inks will bleed through the paper or that the line spacing is narrower than I would like. One such purchase was an Agenzio journal from Paperchase. I was attracted to the unusual size, being between A4 and A5. It was neatly bound, with 240 pages of lined paper with 33 rows per page. I enjoyed testing it out with various inks. I also found that one way to compensate for narrow line spaces (these were 6.9mm), is to rule the page into two columns. Somehow the rows look bigger then.

Trying out a new Agenzio notebook from Paperchase.

As for the blog, I have enjoyed putting out posts, although only 31 this year. The blog is now five years old and has received some 225,000 views. Occasionally my posts are picked up and linked by Fountain Pen Quest or the Pen Addict which greatly increases the number of views and lets me feel that “I have made it in America!” Thank you to Ray and to Brad for your support and to all who follow, like and comment on my posts.

This year I bought a new lightbox, a simple 9 inch box with two rings of bright LEDs in the top and powered by a USB cable. It is great to have a quick and convenient means of photographing pens in good light, at any time of the day or year.

With social gatherings and overseas travel largely on hold this year, I have spent a lot of time at home. I find it very relaxing to tinker with some fountain pens, filling or cleaning them, trying them with different inks on different papers and occasionally, attempting a little bit of nib adjustment. Most recently I tackled a pair of Cleo Skribent piston fillers, beautiful resin pens that I had not used very much in recent years on account of them both writing rather drier than I would like. Now, armed with a few simple tools, (a powerful loupe, a set of brass shims, some micromesh pads and a craft knife) I eased the tines apart just a fraction, which made a world of difference in improved ink flow and lubrication. These pens are both now back in circulation. This is a good argument for hanging on to your pens: you might improve them one day.

A pair of Cleo Skribent Classic fountain pens.

I have enjoyed keeping my journal for another year. My habit is to write this each morning after breakfast and before leaving for work. I hate to miss it. This year I decided to pick a different fountain pen for each month. I think I will do this again next year.

Favourite pens of 2021.

As mentioned my most significant purchase of the year by far, was the Aurora Optima, which has proved a success with its oblique broad nib. But, cost aside, I have somehow been just as pleased with my new Diplomat Excellence fountain pens from the London Pen Show, or even the Moonman S5 or Cross Bailey Light. I know that they are all in different leagues. But when you find great combinations of pen, ink and paper and the ink is flowing well, the fact that the pens might be of different classes seems to melt away.

Conclusions.

I have not made any new plans for the hobby for 2022. As for resolutions, I do not need any more pens although it would be unrealistic to expect that I will not be tempted enough to buy some. I would like to buy less and use more. My aim is to continue finding enjoyment and relaxation and a bit of escapism in the hobby. It has been another challenging year. Who knows what the next year will bring? Everyone needs some way to unwind from the day-to-day stresses of life and work. As long as I can still find this in my pen cups I shall continue to do so and wish the same to you. Thanks for reading and a Happy New Year to all.

Early thoughts on the Aurora Optima Rossa fountain pen.

This week a new Italian beauty came into my life. Was this sensible? How did this happen? Does it end well? Read on to find out.

It was exactly one week ago today, that I placed an order for an Aurora Optima. This was rather sudden but not entirely without reason. The splendid Aurora 88 that I bought two years ago became one of my favourite pens. I had been curious to try an Optima which has the same range of nibs, same piston filling system but housed in a body with rather more of that Italian flair. I knew it to be a favourite of Laura, whose blog fountain pen follies I greatly admired. (See her review here). But the triggering factors were (a) I noticed that it was available with an Oblique Broad nib and (b) it was in the Iguanasell summer sale with 20% off.

The wait was an anxious time. I fretted over whether I had made the right nib choice. Would it be suitable? Would it be to my liking? Would it be too broad, too firm, too feedbacky, too dry? I know of only a handful of pen companies offering pens with oblique nibs now, including Montblanc and Lamy. Aurora pens are not readily found in shops in the UK. It is therefore necessary to take a chance on ordering online and to hope that you pick a suitable nib from the 11 options. Iguanasell do offer easy returns if you change your mind.

The pen arrived, from Spain via FedEx, in just four days which was impressive. My order, placed on a Saturday, was despatched on Monday and with me by Wednesday.

The unboxing.

Once the pen arrives the anxieties of the wait are soon forgotten. The package was in a sturdy brown cardboard box, protected in bubble wrap. Inside this, was the glossy black Aurora cardboard box, with a fold-down flap at the front. Finally, inside this is the large, black gift box with a hinged lid and a padded black interior. The pen rests on a black padded tray, in a cellophone sleeve. A little metal badge proclaims 14K solid gold nib. Under the tray is the booklet, comprising the instructions for use, care guide and guarantee (two years against any defective materials and workmanship). It is certainly a very impressive and presentable package and gives confidence that you have bought a top quality item.

The Aurora Optima rossa in its gift box.

Design and construction.

The model I chose features a barrel and cap made of red “Auroloide” which is Aurora’s name for its modern celluloid material, cellulose acetate. Some more information about this can be found in Pen Review: Aurora Optima Auroloide by Matt Armstrong of The Pen Habit . It has a marbled or variegated pattern which looks very pretty as you turn it in your hand to see the different tones. It is also slightly translucent so that, when held against the light, you can make out the shape of the nib inside the cap. There is a darker area in the barrel when the pen is inked although it is not so obvious as to be unsightly.

The cap has a glossy black plain finial. There is a sturdy and firm metal pocket clip ending in smooth hollow ball of folded metal. It is very functional but I would worry about letting it spring back violently against the cap in case of cracking the material.

The red temptress.

The cap band is a feature of the pen, with two rows of Greek key pattern filled in black, between which are the names AURORA at the front and ITALY on the back, in smooth and shiny relief against a lined, textured background. The cap ring blends very smoothly with the cap.

The cap unscrews in about one and a quarter turns. The threads of the Auroloide cap meet the threads of the black resin grip section.

Removing the cap, you find Aurora’s famously in-house made 14k gold nib, (Rhodium plated on my model), an ebonite feed and a long comfortable grip section. This ends in a large clear ink window, with chrome rings either side. The ink window is concealed by the cap when the pen is closed, which I find tidier than having the ink window visible when the pen is capped.

The barrel, in red Auroloide, has some text engraved, a feature that I like very much. This has the Aurora logo with “AURORA ITALIA inside and the words “FABBRICA ITALIANA, DI PENNE A SERBATOIO. This last slogan can be found on advertising images of old and translates, I think, to something like “the tank pen” or “the pen with a reservoir.” As an added bonus, the words can be read with the pen in the left hand! This is a rare and joyous thing. (Good luck finding any left handed pencils).

The barrel engraving for lefties!

At the end of the barrel, is a black resin piston knob, separated from the Auroloide by another chrome ring.

The Auroloide is produced from coloured pellets. I am not certain whether it is then injection moulded to make the barrels and caps or whether it is formed into solid rods which are turned on a lathe. I expect someone can help me out on this. In any event, there are no discernible seams in the barrel, cap or section and the finished product is beautifully smooth and polished.

Filling system.

The pen is filled from a bottle by turning the piston knob, to expel the air and then draw up ink. The piston operates very smoothly.

The instructions advise letting go of three drops of ink at the end of filling, turning the pen upright and then turning the piston back to the home position to draw up any surplus ink. This will help if you do not want the feed too saturated after filling. Personally I do not find this essential as the feed seems to do an excellent job of regulating the flow of ink to the paper.

The Aurora piston filler has another feature, a hidden reservoir or reserve to use if you “run out” of ink. Simply operate the piston up and down again and the reserve is released into the feed and you have enough ink for another page or so, to keep you writing until you can get to your ink bottle.

This reminds me of the feature in Parker Quink cartridges, called “tap tank” whereby you were to give the cartridge a gentle flick to dislodge the ink reserve and let it run down into the section. In the Aurora, with its large ink window, a reserve seems a bit unnecessary as you are unlikely to get caught out with no ink when you have an ink window. Unless changing ink colour, you do not need to wait until it is empty and can refill before a trip. I worry that the hidden reservoir means a trap for ink when you are flushing the pen, although operating the piston a few times, with the nib immersed in warm water should be enough. For a quicker clean, you can unscrew the nib and feed unit and wash them separately or leave them to soak overnight, but you need to take great care not to grip them too tightly to alter the alignment or tine gap, or damage the delicate ebonite feed, when doing this.

According to Aurora the pen needs no special maintenance, other than to flush the pen with warm water if you are to change ink colour or if the ink should stop flowing. They advise that the pen be kept with nib pointing up if travelling by car or aeroplane but “If you bear this little advice in mind your Aurora will be your faithful writing companion throughout your life,” a very appealing sentiment.

Size and weight.

I measured the pen to be around 127mm long when capped, or 123mm uncapped. The cap posts very nicely to bring the length up to around 152mm. The girth is about 14mm maximum at the barrel.

The pen is light, at around 15g uncapped (including about half a tank of ink in my case), plus 7g for the cap or 22g in total.

At 123mm, the pen is longer than it looks.

In Matt Armstrong’s review, he mentions his initial disappointment at finding the pen “so short”. The pen does appear short but I think that, to some extent at least, this is an optical illusion, caused by the coloured Auroloide being sandwiched between a very long black section and black piston knob. The girth is quite wide, which might also make the pen look short and chubby. On paper, an uncapped length of 123mm is not unduly short. I have been using the pen unposted, very comfortably. When compared with other pens, it is interesting to see that that the uncapped length is not so different from a Montblanc 146 or a Montegrappa Fortuna, and these are not usually accused of being short pens. In any event, Matt’s pen “grew” to become one of his top five pens.

Size comparison with the Pineider Avatar. See how the Opitima’s black ends and wider girth exaggerate the shortness.
Some more size comparisons: with Diplomat Excellence, Montegrappa Fortuna, Cross Peerless 125, Montblanc 146 and Pelikan M800.

The nib and writing performance.

One of the main draws of this pen for me, was the option to choose an oblique broad nib. For the past 9 months, I have been enjoying an OB nib on a humble Moonman S5, a Taiwanese eye-dropper pen costing just £27.50 (including two other nib units!) and have found it to be wonderfully suited to my way of writing. I have been curious to try another OB from Montblanc or Lamy although with some trepidation in case these might not prove as great for me as the Moonman! Finally the opportunity to buy the pretty Optima came along and I took the plunge.

The Aurora OB nib is a left-foot oblique, a stub with the tip cut at a slant of about 15 degrees. Aurora nibs are known to be firm (except the flex nib) and to have a distinctive feedback, which is not to everyone’s taste.

Aurora 14k gold, Rhodium plated, OB nib.

My last experience, of the 14k gold medium nib on my Aurora 88 was that it was smooth but a little on the dry side and not as wide as I had expected. However I had been able to adjust it myself to widen the tine gap marginally, which made just enough difference and now it writes wonderfully. Filled with Aurora Blue, the ebonite feed keeps the nib in a permanent state of readiness.

Ebonite feed, a rare luxury.

The OB nib on my new Optima was great, right out of the box and has not needed any such tinkering from me. Under the loupe, there was a very slender gap between the tines, even at the tip which promised good flow with no pressure required. The line it produces varies according to the angle of rotation: the principle is that you hold the pen at a constant angle, with the tip of the nib flat on the paper (the “sweet spot”) and then enjoy effortless line width variation according to the direction of the stroke. If you make a cross stroke, left or right then you get the thinnest possible line. If you move directly down, you get the widest. There are degrees of thickness to be had between these extremes according to the angle. I found that I could produce about 5 different thicknesses, from 1 to 5. In ordinary writing you might not see the extremes of this range 1 to 5 but more likely a more subtle range from about 2 to 4.

Range of line widths available from OB nib.

The edges of the nib are a bit sharp, as an italic nib. Care is needed to keep the nib on the sweet spot for smooth writing and so the corners do not dig into the paper. As the nib is Rhodium plated, it is hard to tell where the gold nib ends and the Iridium tipping material begins, but I hope that the nib will hold up well and last me a good long time.

The nib was chosen for my specific needs when writing in my “lefty overwriter” mode, a rather awkward habit which involves rotating the paper 90 degrees anti-clockwise and then writing with my pen over (above) the line, rather than below it. This style evolved for me as an alternative to bending my wrist to avoid smudging and has been called by some people, “writing up-hill”.

A few favourite stubby nibs: Sailor Pro-Gear slim music nib, Aurora Optima OB, Moonman S5 OB, and Italix Captain’s Commission Italic Fine.

I have practised writing in an underwriter style too when occasion requires but experience tells me (including copying out Marcus Aurelius’ book Meditations) that I cannot write very uniformly in this style and my ascenders and descenders tend to lean all over the place.

Conclusion.

I am enjoying my new toy. I am happy with my choice of OB nib. It may be that an OM or even an OF (both of which were available) might have suited me too and it would have been good to try them all in a bricks and mortar shop, as you can with Montblanc’s range at their boutiques. Compared to my Moonman, I am glad to say that that the Aurora stands up well in comparison (with its 14k nib, ebonite feed, piston filler and Auroloide body and exquisite finish and elegance) but I love them both.

New pen, with some old Aurora catalogues.