Inky pursuits: November 2021 round-up.

It has been a quiet month for the blog, but leafing back through my current notebook reminds me that there has been no shortage of stationery-related activity. So here are a few glimpses into what has been happening.

The 5th of November 2021 marked the fifth anniversary of this blog. I spent the day at a school reunion lunch in Reading, where I enjoyed catching up with several of my near contemporaries, some of whom I had not seen in 44 years. It was quite extraordinary: it seemed like no time at all since we were all at school together and now suddenly the topic of conversation is retirement. I think about my old school often and being back in its familiar buildings brought back so many memories.

Perhaps another sign of my advancing years, is that I do appreciate a good magnifying glass. Recently, I bought myself a new jumbo-sized illuminated magnifier, with a huge main lens of more than 13cm diameter. It is a x2 lens, with a small area of x4 inset at the 9 o’clock position. There is even a x10 loupe inset in the handle which is useful occasionally, although it needs to be held very close to the eye. The main lens is comfortable and enjoyable to use. Being a plastic lens, it is not too heavy and unbalanced. The sight of my writing emerging in glossy-wet Serenity Blue ink on my Leuchtturm journal paper, enlarged and under the three bright LEDs, always lifts my spirits.

Fancii illuminated reading glass

In a stationery shop not far from home, I came across some Pentel mechanical pencils recently that I had not seen before. I am a big fan of the P200 series, using them daily at home and in the office, but had not seen their cheaper “120 A3” series. Available in the same four lead sizes, 0.3, 0.5, 0.7 and 0.9mm as the P200, you still get a sturdy metal nose cone, but with a comfortable grippy rubber section. I bought a couple of them and have been enjoying them a lot.

Pentel 120 A3 mechanical pencils. About half the price of the P200 series.

As for most of us, there has been little in the way of travel this year, but we did recently spend a weekend in Reigate, visiting my Godmother, “aunty” Mary, (not my real aunt) and then staying over at the Reigate Manor Hotel to make a weekend break of it. Even such a modest trip provided an excuse to plan a few pens to bring.

Ready for an overnighter: Opus 88, Waterman Expert, Lamy 2000 multipen, Pentel mechanical pencil and a Diplomat Excellence.

I have written before about my late Godfather, uncle Brian, whose old Montblanc Mary once showed me on a previous visit. This time, she gave me Brian’s last bottle of Cross royal blue ink to use up, with the date 1-3-10 written inside the box lid. Mary hates waste and I shall try to use it wisely.

My late Godfather’s last bottle of ink.

Later exploring Reigate’s town centre, I found a stationery shop with an attractive glass display counter of brightly lit fountain pens. These included a good selection of Sheaffer and Cross pens. I was almost tempted to support them by purchasing another Sheaffer 300 or a Sagaris as there were some attractive versions on display, but I already have almost identical models and managed to stop myself.

I did however succumb to purchasing a Companion notebook in the post-office, (as you can never have too many notebooks) with 240 pages of 80gsm paper. The texture of the cover was particularly pleasing and they were available in red, blue or yellow. I got a blue one but later kicked myself for not getting the red and yellow as well. The paper turned out to be very pleasant to write on with ink, although a bit prone to bleed through and so you need to chose your inks carefully. I am still yet to beat my Leuchtturm notebooks as the best all rounder, from what is readily available on the High Street. I use the Companion notebook with a humble Bic Easy-Clic cartridge pen, (which never hard starts!) as a bedside jotter.

An A5 (ish) journal with plain paper and an elastic closure, seen here with a Bic Easy-Clic cartridge pen.

Then, having a Sunday morning free in Surrey, with lovely autumn sunshine, we decided to drive to Box Hill in the Surrey Hills, and walk up to enjoy the view. Box Hill is immortalised in the Richard Thompson song “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” and is a favourite spot for bikers. We found ourselves in the Ryka’s Cafe Car Park, full of motorcyles, while their owners stood or sat around at the picnic tables, chatting in their leathers. I was reminded of happy times spent in the London Fountain Pen Club meets, but guessed that my latest pen and ink combination might not have been of much interest to these leather-clad gents (and a few ladies). Each to his own. I wrote in my notebook “We do not choose our addictions.” I am not a biker, to say the least, but if I was, then a Triumph Thruxton that I spotted in the car park stood out from the crowd.

Triumph Thruxton. (Not my bike!)

Now the Black Friday feeding frenzy has subsided. I can report that I did not buy anything this time despite some attractive fountain pen bargains being there to tempt us. I was quite tempted by some of the Auroras on Iguanasell’s Black Friday offers, but am already as happy as can be with my Aurora 88 (Medium) and Aurora Optima (Oblique Broad), and buying any more would just mean using these two less.

Finally, this past weekend I found myself in just the right frame of mind to attempt some nib adjustments. I find that, for me, this needs a delicate balance of boldness and caution, of recklessness and restraint, of caring versus not caring. Just as I had transformed my Aurora 88 by easing the tine gap slightly with a craft knife blade, I tried the same technique with a pair of Cleo Skribents, taking a bit of a risk but going carefully. I was thrilled at the success in improving the flow a little and enjoyed inking both of these pens with Waterman Serenity Blue and bringing them back into circulation. I then had a fruitful afternoon of letter writing. Much as I would have enjoyed being at Sunday’s Birmingham Pen Show, I would undoubtedly have returned with yet more new pens. As it was, my Cleo Skribents were rejuvenated and there was satisfaction in using what I have. My aunty Mary would have approved.

Cleo Skribent Classics, piston fillers, one with a14k gold medium nib, the other a steel fine.
Families enjoying the Surrey Hills on a Sunday morning.

Cleo Skribent Classic Gold, Piston fountain pen; first impressions.

Cleo Skribent is a German manufacturer of writing instruments, based at Bad Wilsnack, which is between Berlin and Hamburg. It was founded immediately after the Second World War, from small beginnings in a backyard car park. The first collection of writing instruments was called Cleopatra, which later became Cleo. Today, it is one of the few remaining companies to manufacture exclusively in Germany.

Readers of this blog may recall my review in February 2017 of the Cleo Skribent Classic Metal piston fountain pen, (click here: Cleo Skribent Classic Metal Piston fountain pen) a sleek, black resin pen with a brushed metal cap and a stainless steel nib. My fine nib model continues to be a delight.

So, what do you do when you find a pen that is near perfect for you? Do you stop looking for pens? No, it turns out you buy another one the same. Well, not quite the same. The differences (a.k.a. justifications) this time are (1) that it has a 14k gold nib; (2) the nib is a Medium; (3) it is all black resin, with gold coloured fittings and (4) lighter than the metal cap version.  So, totally different. Yet retaining the design and feel which I loved in the metal cap version.

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Once again I bought through Cult Pens, one of the handful of UK dealers of Cleo Skribent instruments. The company is much less well known here than Mont Blanc, Pelikan, Lamy or Faber Castell, but prides itself in making high quality writing instruments, with emphasis on quality rather than quantity and (as their booklet says) “instead of fully automatic machines, we employ people who understand their craft.”

Cult Pens refers to this model as being astonishingly light, for fatigue-free writing and ease of handling. Newly filled with ink, mine weighs around 19g capped, or 12g uncapped. It measures 145mm capped or 135mm uncapped, which I have found to be a comfortable length to use un-posted. However, you could post the resin cap, quite deeply and securely to add some weight without making the pen back heavy, but just bear in mind that it grips on the blind cap (not the barrel) and so be careful not to rotate the cap whilst posted in case you over-tighten and damage the blind cap.

The body and cap are of a beautiful, glossy black resin. I opted for the version with gold coloured fittings. There is also a version with palladium fittings which costs less, (why,  I do not know, as the pen is otherwise identical, with both having a 14k gold nib). I am not particularly averse to mixing my metals, when it comes to pen finishes. It is purely cosmetic, I know, but on this occasion, I decided on the gold coloured furniture as being indicative of the gold nib within.

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The nib is the heart of a pen. I have been delighted with the Fine stainless steel nib in my metal capped version, which is superbly set up, being responsive to the slightest touch and having a marvelous feed back. A joy to use.

I had read in reviews that their gold nibs were even better, with some flex. So when mine arrived, I was eager to examine it and give it a try. First, under the x7 loupe, the gold nib had everything that you look and hope for in a new nib. It looked to be set up perfectly, with the nib slit narrowing just so, the tipping material being even and the tines level. Admittedly I have only two Cleo Skribent pens to go on, but I believe the brochure and can imagine that they take care in sending out well finished products, which as we know, is not always the case these days.

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Whilst waiting for the pen to arrive (which was not very long, less than 24 hours) I enjoyed pondering what ink to use. I tend to use blues mostly for work. I love to see the blue ink on scanned signed documents on my computer screen. I narrowed it down to Waterman Serenity Blue, Caran d’Ache Idyllic Blue or Aurora Blue and went for the latter.

At first, dipping the pen, the writing experience was so smooth and pleasant and so pleased was I at the Medium nib width for this gold nib, that I happily continued writing for a full page on the first dip. I then inked it properly with the piston filler, one of life’s simple pleasures. I was using a spiral-bound pad of smooth, white, lined paper from Cherry Press, an independent stationer and print shop in Chipping Campden, in the Cotswolds. This showed off the blue ink beautifully. The ink flow, on this paper, is pretty much ideal being neither too wet nor too dry. The nib does have a little bit of flex, to allow for some line variation but it is certainly not too soft. As a left hander, I fare better with a firm nib.

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To summarise what I like about this pen (at the risk of sounding too gushing):-

  • Attractive, long and sleek design;
  • Handsome, glossy black resin body;
  • Piston filler, with blind cap covering the turning knob;
  • Large clear ink window;
  • Large ink capacity;
  • Superb 14k gold nib;
  • “Reverse writing” also smooth, for extra fine writing or drawing;
  • Nib and feed are friction fit and can be removed if desired for cleaning;
  • Comfortable length to use unposted (but can post cap if desired);
  • Good value for a high quality pen, in comparison with well-known German brands;
  • Lifetime warranty.

What about dislikes? Well, I have not found any major failings. Rather, I would mention the following points:-

  • Remember that this is a screw-cap pen; do not forget (as I did at first) and try to pull the cap off or hand it to someone who might do so, as this will exert force on the glued joints around the clear ink window. (The cap threads are located on the nib-side of the ink window);
  • Be careful not to inadvertently over-tighten the blind cap by posting the cap and then rotating it;
  • The piston mechanism works well but feels less smooth in operation than my Pelikans; it is too soon to say how this will perform in the long term, but there is a lifetime warranty;
  • The glossy black body does show up dust, as I have tried to demonstrate on my photos 🙂

Although I have no affiliation with Cleo Skribent, or Cult Pens, I am pleased to recommend them both.

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