2017: Some of my fountain pen highlights.

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Cleo Skribent Classic Metal piston filler. Gorgeous.

As the year draws to a close, it is time to reflect on some of the year’s highlights of my fountain pen hobby.  In what was a busy and eventful year, this is a continuing source of relaxation and enjoyment. I include in this, not only using fountain pens but all the related activity of filling, cleaning and general tinkering with pens; hours of pen, ink and paper sampling; reading and writing about new pens, photographing them and shopping for pens and supplies.

Before writing this, I looked at my end of year review from 2016. During that year I had bought 40 new pens for myself and concluded that in 2017, I expected to buy a lot less. Oh dear. Let me admit right away that this did not happen.

I have kept a record of pen acquisitions. In 2017, the gross number acquired, was 52 (gasp). That sounds like one every week. I can imagine detectives in an incident room, huddled around a map and predicting when and where I am likely to strike next.

Well, it wasn’t quite like that. Two were for bought for other people. Another, a Visconti, I returned the following day as I decided that I was not suited to it, and so that doesn’t count. Then towards the end of the year, while on holiday in China I was given two pens by a cousin and eight, mostly Heroes, from an uncle who was a retired teacher, who insisted that he did not need them anymore.   So that brings it down to 39.

And of these, only three (the ones with gold nibs) cost over £100.00 and the most expensive was £159. These were the vintage Pelikan M400, Sailor Magellan Lapis Lazuli and the Cleo Skribent Classic Gold.  My total pen spend came to around £1,300.00. Many of the pens cost little more than a trip to a cinema or a meal out and have given me hours of enjoyment. Some were in sales at irresistible prices.

Anyway, without further excuses, here are some highlights, in no particular order.

New Pens

In view of the number, I am not going to post one photograph showing them all. It would be a bit like seeing all the food I have eaten in a year.

To summarise the main acquisitions by brand, these are:

  • Cleo Skribent: (2) – Classic Metal and Classic Gold. I am delighted with them both. The nibs, whether steel or gold, are wonderful.
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    Cleo Skribent Classic Metal piston filler.
  • Conklin: (2) – Mark Twain Crescent Fillers, in coral chase and red chase, from the London pen show. Lovely to use and to fill.
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    Conklin Mark Twain crescent filler, in red chase.
  • Faber Castell: (2) a pair of cheap school pens, one red and one blue, with good nibs.
  • Hero (9): either bought or given to me while in China.
  • Kaweco (5): I bought the Allrounder, the Dia2, two of the newly released Perkeos and one Sport Skyline Mint. Of these, the Dia2 is my favourite and one of the most comfortable and reliable pens I have, at any price. The Perkeos have grown on me, as I like the length and the slightly bouncy nibs. The aluminium Allrounder is well made and solid, but for just slightly more money, I would still prefer the Dia2.
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    Kaweco Dia2. Pretty much the ideal pen for me and a firm favourite of 2017.
  • Lamy (5): I picked up the new 2017 special edition Safari in Petrol and AL-Star in Pacific Blue. Both came with a pack of matching cartridges. I was more thrilled with the Petrol (dark teal) with its lovely shading and closely matched pen and ink, although in practice, I did not use it very much. The Aion was a journey; I read and watched lots of online reviews, deliberated over the grip and then succumbed. I posted some thoughts on it at the time. I do like it but find that it needs a different way of writing; you need to “let go” and not grip too firmly as the surface won’t let you.
  • Parker (4): I bought three Sonnets, because they were greatly reduced in a Rymans sale. I got one in red and gold, one in black and one in brushed stainless steel. I rather like using the black one with the cap from the brushed stainless steel one. Then in November I picked up a simple, blue plastic Parker Reflex which writes effortlessly. I read that the caps are prone to cracking in time but I am not worried as I have already found several other pen caps which would fit if need be (such as a Kaweco Sport).
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    Black Parker Sonnet, with the cap from the brushed stainless steel model. “Let me not to the marriage of two pens, admit impediments.”
  • Sheaffer (4): I bought a Sheaffer 100 with Translucent Blue barrel and steel cap, which I think looks stunning and has a good nib. It looks more attractive than its modest £35.00 cost would suggest. I also bought another Sagaris (medium) in black, since I like my burgundy one so much. Then I spotted the Sheaffer Pop in blister packs, reduced to half price and bought two.
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    Sheaffer 100 translucent blue. That nib though!
  • TWSBI (2): I bought an Eco with a fine nib and a new Classic in white with medium nib. These are both great, as low-cost, high-capacity piston fillers and both perform well. I now have four different TWSBIs in all.

So, in number, Hero were the pens that I got the most of this year, although many were gifts. Of my purchases, Kaweco and Lamy were the brands that I bought the most of (with five of each) closely followed by Parker and Sheaffer both on four.

New old pens

I bought a vintage Pelikan M400 tortoise at auction, with a fine and rather flexy 14k gold Rover nib. I enjoyed cleaning this and was thrilled when after a night’s soaking in water, I was able to unscrew the nib and ebonite feed. At the same auction, buoyed by my newfound bidding success, I went on rather impulsively to bid for a Sailor Magellan Lapis Lazuli, limited edition, with a 21k zoom nib.

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Pelikan M400 vintage, tortoise. My first auction purchase.

Writing

I have kept a diary for years. This year, I used an A5 page a day diary from Rymans. I find that the best time for me to write is early in the morning, to write up my record of the previous day. I used my Pelikan M800, with Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue, a favourite combination.  I also finished writing up a volume of memories, purely for my own amusement, of being at boarding school in England in the 1970’s. For this I used a selection of different pens and inks over the year, really as a writing exercise and at the same time, to try out pens and inks for longer writing sessions with some sort of purpose, rather than writing “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”   I also enjoy writing letters and picking up whatever pen I fancy from the pen cup.

One pen, one ink, one hour

I have struggled all year with the dilemma of having too many fountain pens inked at once. Do you keep them all in use until you write them dry, or strive for an impressively minimal number of pens in the cup at the expense of flushing away good ink ? I am now less fussy than I was, about washing pens half full of ink but even so, I think my pen cup occupancy peaked at around thirty at one point.  Part of me longed for the days when I possessed only one pen and one ink. As a break from having too many pens to hand, I made up an activity which I cleverly named “One pen, one ink, one hour” which involves retreating, generally to a coffee shop and then writing more or less continuously in a notebook for an hour, with one pen. It is a good test of how a pen feels, whether the shape or the weight make your hand ache, how the feed keeps up and how you like the nib and the ink. You can write about anything, the pen itself, the fellow customers or whatever you like. No one is going to read it, thankfully.

Giving pens and advice

I mentioned that I bought a couple of pens for other people. One was a Kaweco Dia2, for my neice’s birthday. I had bought one for myself earlier and was so utterly delighted with it that I wanted to spread the joy. It is one of my favourite new pens of the year, along with the two Cleo Skribents and Conklin Crescent fillers. Another pen bought for someone else, was a Manuscript Clarity, requested by a reader of my blog, living in Vietnam.

In the summer I was flattered to be asked secretly by a cousin, to advise her on buying a fountain pen for her husband on their wedding anniversary. That would be my dream question in an exam. I sent back rather a long reply but narrowed it down to about three suggestions, based on the budget. In the end, she ordered a Pelikan M600 in blue with a fine nib. Later she sent me the most beautifully written thank you note, in her cursive italic handwriting, written with the pen that she had chosen and which was a great success.

Fountain pen blog

This blog celebrated its first birthday on 5 November 2017. Born in a few hours of playing on the WordPress web site, it was a bold step into the unknown. I had aimed loosely to post about once a week, just writing about whatever pen-related topic interested me. Now, I have just passed 50 posts. The number of followers gradually grew, roughly in tandem with the number of posts. I find the whole experience, of writing and publishing posts and getting feedback from readers, most enjoyable. This week the total views nudged past 7,000 and from over 80 countries, which I find astonishing.  I am not trying to boast here as I am sure many reading this have far higher numbers, but I am genuinely amazed at this exposure. In the summer, I published two posts about the newly released Kaweco Perkeo and these have between them been viewed over 900 times, largely because someone on FPN kindly put a link to my post in his.

Meeting people

It is easy to spend too long online reading about pens, what with WordPress, Instagram, YouTube and various online pen shops, such as Cult Pens and The Writing Desk. So it is particularly nice when the opportunity arises to meet pen people. This year, I attended my first Pelikan Hub event in September, which I enjoyed, closely followed by the London Writing Equipment Show in October when I came away with five new pens. Then in November, I met some of the same people at the monthly gathering of the London UK Fountain Pen Club.

Travelling with ink

When the opportunity arises, I enjoy looking in stationery shops overseas to see a different range of pens. I was interested to shop in China while on a holiday earlier this month, as covered in my most recent posts.

Conclusions

For me, this is the continuation and escalation of a hobby that began when I was about ten years old. The fountain pen community, I find, are very decent and not judgmental of others. Perhaps we are our own fiercest critics and there is a lot of self-guilt which goes with buying too many pens. Our favourite pen, when asked, is often “the next one”. It is addictively enjoyable, when it goes well. But I am reminded of lines in the song Beauty for brokenness (Graham Kendrick), which read “Lord end our madness, carelessness, greed;  make us content with the things that we need.” I am aware that my accumulation of pens (I haven’t mentioned the thirty or more new notebooks that I have “in stock” and the drawer full of ink) is hard to justify, even to myself. Indeed there are times when I would prefer to have fewer and appreciate them more, as in my coffee shop exercise. For 2018, I will simply repeat 2017’s resolution, to aim to buy a lot less pens and use and appreciate those that I have, all the more. Wish me luck, everybody.

Happy New Year to all and thanks for reading.

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Tinkering with the tortoise.

 

 

 

Happy Fountain Pen Day

In recognition of today being Fountain Pen Day, I thought to do a short post about one of the pens that I have with me today.

This is the Conklin Mark Twain Crescent Filler, red chase. This was one of my happy purchases from the London Pen Show last month.

I had long been interested in the Crescent Filler and enjoyed reading of its associations with Mark Twain. The current model is not quite the same as the one from the original Conklin pen company that he would have used. I did spot a vintage black Conklin crescent filler at the same pen show and noticed how much thinner it was than the modern one.

At a very attractive show price, I came away with two of these, one in orange (or coral chase) and one red chase.

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Conklin Mark Twain Crescent Fillers, in coral chase and red chase finish.

The beauty of these pens is the lovely nostalgic feel of dipping into a bottle of ink, squeezing the crescent-shaped filler button slowly a few times and allowing the sack to fill, before locking the button again by twisting the collar back again.

The only downside is that you cannot see how much ink the pen has. There is no ink window. Also the barrel is glued to the section and so you cannot unscrew it to gauge the ink remaining. (Actually, on one of my models, the glue seal had been broken and so I was able to open it, but even then you cannot see through the dark rubber material of the ink bladder).

One thing to remember when washing these pens, is to avoid allowing water in to the barrel, through the slot where the crescent filler sits. This is because the bladder has a dusting of talcum powder to stop it sticking or rubbing on the filler bar.

If you do unscrew the barrel, then the metal filler bar can be removed. I was impressed at how long a bar there is, to press on the ink bladder and so this helps to get a good fill. To put it back again, with the crescent pushing out through the slot, you will need some tweezers. A Swiss army knife came in useful here.

Quite how much ink it draws up, I have not yet measured. However, I did find that, with a medium nib, I wrote 37 pages of an A5 size journal on the first fill, which I was very happy with. That was the coral chase model, with Diamine Oxblood ink.

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My red chase Crescent Filler, prior to nib swap with a Jinhao X450.

On the red model, this came with a Conklin Fine stainless steel nib. This turned out to be slightly catchy. On close inspection, it seems that the left tine was fractionally longer than the right so that in normal writing, on side strokes from left to right, the proud edge was snagging on the paper. I need to have a go at it with my handy micro-mesh kit, also bought at the same show.

Meanwhile however, I was delighted to read that the nibs of the crescent filler are easily swapped. The nib, feed and housing can simply be unscrewed from the section. Alternatively you can extract the nib and feed, which are friction fit, by pulling them out carefully, taking care to avoid damaging the fins of the feed, or distorting the nib itself.

Yesterday evening I swapped the nib with one from a Jinhao x450. I have not swapped the feeds, but just the nibs.

I now have the red crescent filler, with a lovely Chinese Jinhao x450 medium nib and filled with Aurora Blue-Black ink (same pen show as well), which I am enjoying.

Coincidentally, I had to visit the China Visa Application Service Centre in London today, to pick up my visa for a trip to China later this month, so it was good to have my red crescent Jinhao-nibbed Conklin for company.

My haul from the London Pen Show 2017.

This was my fourth time, attending the annual London Writing Equipment Show (LWES).  It was held on 1 October 2017, at the Holiday Inn, Coram Street, near Russell Square. Knowing broadly what to expect, I had been much looking forward to it.

Oh my, what a treat for the fountain pen obsessed  enthusiast! The venue comprises one large main function room at the hotel, plus the adjacent corridors, all filled with lines of tables, covered with enticing displays of fountain pens old and new, inks, spare parts, accessories and other paraphernalia. There is something for everyone, whatever your level of interest in this addictive hobby.

This year, for me there was an added bonus, of finding several familiar new friends from the recent Pelikan Hub, just over a week earlier. It was good to see them again and to have a chat and share the excitement.

It was very warm inside and rather too crowded, until it thinned out in the afternoon. It is a good idea to find a coat rack and leave your jacket somewhere. I had brought along some cash but not quite a big enough bag, as it turned out, for the purchases I made. I had not come with any firm ideas of what to look at. Last year I bought a vintage Parker 51 from Graham Jasper’s table. I had a vague plan to pick up another, but did not in the end. I had also planned to have another look at the Conid Bulkfillers, the Belgian made, precision-engineered masterpieces that I eye up every year, although I still came short of buying one.

Thus browsing, with an eager eye and an open mind, I managed to limit myself to just five new pens, (all new, but all stainless steel nibbed, modestly priced pieces), three bottles of ink and a craft box of assorted grades of micro-mesh for those occasional attempts at nib adjustments.

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My day’s shopping: Kaweco Allrounder, Conklin Mark Twain crescent fillers in red and coral, TWSBI Classic and a mystery pen. Plus three bottles of ink and a micro-mesh kit.

My first catch was the Conklin Mark Twain Crescent Filler. I had been attracted to these from seeing them online, but thought them to be rather over-priced for a stainless steel nib pen. However, at a very attractive price at the Show, I picked up both a Red Chase and a Coral Chase model, with fine and medium nibs, respectively.

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Next, and still before reaching the main hall, I lingered at the Kawecos. I have been using a Kaweco Dia 2 in recent months, which I have been delighted with and find super comfortable. At the Show, I saw the Kaweco Student and the Kaweco Allrounder, for the first time in the flesh. I was drawn to the Allrounder in a vibrant red aluminium (I think) body. It takes the same nib and feed unit as the Dia 2 or Al-Sport. I bought the pen with an Extra Fine nib, plus a Fine as a spare. These nib units are only about £8.00 and can often be fantastic, if well made.

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Kaweco Allrounder, with Extra Fine nib.

Next I bought a spare bottle of ink, the Conway Stewart Tavy, by Diamine. I bought a bottle of this two shows ago and have used it a lot, as an attractive blue black. It is sometimes out of stock on web-sites and so I was pleased to get a spare.

A few tables on, I met the gentleman selling Aurora pens and inks, who remembered me from previous years. It was wonderful to see these stunning beauties on display, including the Optima in what I presume was the burgundy auroloide resin, a grail pen for the wish list although surprisingly light to pick up. However I did buy a bottle of Aurora Blue Black ink, only available since April which I had been keen to try.

I had a look at the Onoto pens. Again, very desirable, but quite an expensive outlay for an unplanned purchase.

Now – the main hall! It can be a bit overwhelming, the sight of so many pens and people all in one place. A prominent display of Pelikans with a giant plastic Souveran model, indicates Niche Pens’ table, with a good range of Pelikan pens to handle, including the M120 and the entry level Pelikano.  Next there were Noodlers and TWSBIs. At the vast vintage Parker table, (Graham Jasper) I was impressed to see an open, 80-pen case display of Parker Duofolds, grouped with about six of each colour. Another grail pen.

Several tables had nostalgic fountain pen branded signage of a bygone era and I regret not taking some photos of these lovely displays.

Another pen purchase, was an unbranded, large clear demonstrator pen with a black cap, displayed in gift box with a syringe included for eye-dropper filling, as an alternative option to the included converter. There were several colours and I chose one with nice blue end-cap, section and strikingly bullet-shaped barrel end. The nib looked to be a very smart, stainless steel Medium with some scroll work but with an empty space where you might normally expect to see the words Iridium Point, Germany. This I call my mystery pen. I also found a stack of Micro-mesh craft kits and added that to my stash, thinking it would be useful to have the means to do some very rudimentary nib-smoothing if the need arose.

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A mystery pen. No noticeable branding on nib, pen or packaging. But it is a beauty!

Several fascinating laps later, I was nearly ready to go but paused again at the TWSBI’s. It was at this same show in 2014 that I bought my first TWSBI, a clear Vac 700 that I love and use regularly at work.  I have since added a Diamond 580 and an Eco. Now, someone next to me was trying the TWSBI Classic in a cute Robin egg blue. I had not handled one before and rather liked the faceted cap and barrel, the shiny metal piston knob and the small clear ink window (picture your favourite ink here!). I bought one, in white. Not exactly an Aurora but it has an ink window. They also had a few KWZ inks for sale (of which I have read great reviews) and I bought a 60ml bottle of Azure #4.

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Oh, go on then. A TWSBI Classic, new model with postable cap. Now inked with Sailor kiwa-guro.

Having a New Pen Day x 5 was rather indulgent, admittedly. I therefore decided to ink only one more pen a day, throughout the week, to prolong the enjoyment. And it has been enjoyable. Each one has been a success and I am thrilled with my purchases.

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Conklin Mark Twain Crescent Filler. Currently inked with Diamine Oxblood and going nicely.