Radley A5 notebook. A mini review.

As fountain pen users know, finding another dream combination of pen, ink and paper is one of life’s pleasures. And we could all use some of those now.

A month ago, whilst spending a weekend away in Cambridge my wife was browsing the sales in Radley, the handbag shop, when I came across a display of A5 notebooks. These were reduced from a rather ambitious £28.00, to £6.00 and so I cheerfully added a couple to our purchases.

It turned out that the notebook was remarkably good and I wished I had bought a few more to keep in stock. Many reading this post may not have access to a Radley shop, but nevertheless I hope some comments about my approach to notebooks may be of interest.

Description.

This is an A5, soft cover journal, with 160 ruled pages (80 sheets). The pages provide 21 rows at 8mm line spacing, which I find ideal. The lines are dotted, in grey, on a cream paper and so not obtrusive. Each page features the little Radley dog logo at the foot of the page, which is not in the way.

Radley A5, 160 page notebook. With Cross Bailey Light fountain pen.

The cover is a vibrant red with rounded corners and a pleasing texture that feels like leather but is not. “Radley, London” is stamped elegantly in gold letters on the front. The cover can be flexed although it offers some support and protection. Of particular benefit, the pages are stitched, so that the book can be opened flat without risk of pages popping out. There are two page markers, in matching red ribbon. However there is no elastic band or expandable pocket that you would find with a Leuchtturm notebook.

Neatly sewn pages with lined, cream paper.

Paper quality.

Trying a different notebook can be a risk, if you intend to use a fountain pen. Those first few strokes will tell you whether the paper is “fountain pen friendly” or not. Does the ink bleed through? Is there feathering? Is there show-through at levels which mean you can use only one side of the paper? How does the pen feel on the paper surface? Is it too rough, or too smooth, or is there a squeaky coating and feeling of resistance?

Happily, I was delighted with the paper in all of these respects. I tried first with my recently bought Platinum Curidas, with a Japanese medium nib and Platinum blue black ink. The paper surface felt silky smooth. There was no feathering, no bleed through and although some show-through, this was perfectly acceptable. The nib is on the fine side for a medium.

The one point to note however, was that the line width was slightly wider on the Radley paper, than with the same nib on my customary Leuchtturm journal paper. This implies that the paper is perhaps more absorbent, or less or differently coated than Leuchtturm. Yet when I looked with the loupe, there was no feathering to give the tell-tale woolly edges as if writing on blotting paper.

Saturday morning activity.

I do enjoy buying a new notebook. For the last few years I have been using Leuchtturm journals a lot, which are paginated and available with plain paper, ruled (rather too narrow for me) or dotted or square grid. For unpaginated notebooks, I often paginate them, measure the line spacing, and test out the paper on the back page with a variety of inks and pens from my “currently inked” pen cups to see what works and what does not.

I tried the Radley notebook paper with various other pen and ink combinations. There was no bleedthrough with Waterman Serenity blue. Monblack Irish Green did bleed through quite badly in places where pressure was applied. Some roller-ball pens also did not do so well: the Uniball Air micro black ink did bleed through, whereas the Uniball Signo 307 retractable gel pen did not.

Rohrer & Klingner, Salix iron gall blue black ink.

So, what was that dream team combination that I mentioned? I recently discovered Rohrer & Klingner’s Salix, an iron gall blue black ink, sold in London at Choosing Keeping, in Covent Garden. I have been using it at work recently, in one of my Cross Bailey Light cartridge pens. (Ahem, confession: I bought six of these pens, a few months ago as soon as I heard about them!)

The Cross Bailey Light is a fairly humble entry level Cross cartridge- converter fountain pen with a steel medium nib. I have been careful to check the nibs on all those I bought and they have all been smooth, wet writers. This works particularly nicely with Rohrer & Klingner’s Salix ink, a classic blue-black which darkens as it oxidises, as the blue turns to a grey-blue black.

Random poem selection, from William Wordworth. Cross Bailey Light with Rohrer & Klingner Salix, iron gall blue black in.

The Salix ink is also water resistant, a useful quality when addressing envelopes but also giving some protection against spills or other liquid related incidents.

A water resistant ink will often perform well on papers which at first do not seem fountain pen friendly due to bleedthrough and so it is worth trying this before giving up on the notebook for fountain pen use. Another advantage of R&K Salix is that you can go over it with a highlighter pen, which is great for study notes. It also flows well, looks nice and gives a lovely shading and performs well on the Radley notebook paper.

Discovering that you can go over R&K Salix ink with a Sharpie highlighter, without smudging.

Finally, I went back to the Cambridge Radley shop another day but they were out of these notebooks. But then I later came across another Radley store in London’s O2 Arena shopping centre (a brand outlet mall) where, not only did they have plenty in stock but they were discounted even further to £4.00. Let’s just say I bought a reasonable number.

2019: some of my fountain pen highlights.

As another year draws to a close, it is an opportunity to take stock on where the fountain pen hobby has taken me and what has been achieved over the year. Once again, the hobby has provided me with a real, absorbing source of relaxation. I spend a lot of my free time in journaling, letter writing, trying out pens, ink and paper combinations, and other pen-related activities.

Acquisitions.

Again, I have kept a record of pens added to my accumulation. This year there were 44 new arrivals. Of these, seven were received as gifts (including a Sailor Pro Gear Slim that I won in a competition!) which leaves a balance of 37 pens that I bought for myself over the year at a total cost of £2,013.91. However a lot of these were inexpensive pens, such as Faber Castell Grips, Kaweco Perkeos and Cross Bailey Lights, that I was unable to resist for various reasons.

If I just extract those pens for which I spent more than £100.00, there are in fact only six significant buys:

  • Montblanc Meisterstuck 145, Classique, 14k gold nib Medium: £414.00;
  • Leonardo Furore, steel nib, Fine: £155.00
  • Diplomat Excellence Marrakech, 14k gold nib, Fine: £150.00;
  • Waterman Carene, in red, 18k gold nib, Medium, £151.20;
  • Visconti Van Gogh, Starry Night, steel nib, Fine: £120.00;
  • Aurora 88, black resin with gold plated cap, 14k gold nib, Medium:£344.50.

I have not included the Montegrappa Monte Grappa, that I bought in Harrods but then returned.

Thus, two thirds of my annual spend was on just six significant pens, which is not a huge number for the whole year. Also, my total pen expenditure was down on 2018’s total of £3,303.73, which is a reduction of around 39%.

Part of the reason for this is that I was fortunate to be given several very desirable previously owned pens as gifts from a friend and fellow fountain pen enthusiast during the year, including a Pilot Custom 823, a Montblanc Heritage 1912, a 1970’s Montblanc Meisterstuck 146 (with a soft broad nib) and a Graf von Faber-Castell Guilloche in black with a broad 18k gold nib.

Then in November, I was thrilled to win the Sailor Pro Gear Slim, with a music nib in a generous giveaway/competition from John Hall of Write Here in Shrewsbury. This is a delightful pen, one that I had not owned before and which I am much enjoying, not only for its performance but also for the happy associations that it has for me.

Other highlights.

Apart from the enjoyment of new pens, the year has been punctuated with monthly gatherings of the London fountain pen club, although the group became fragmented with a move to a different location and so numbers have been down and it is not what it used to be. Still, it has still been nice to meet up, to enthuse over each other’s pens and have a chat for a couple of hours once a month.

In March, I attended the London Pen Show and came away with a very restrained total of two pens – the Diplomat Excellence with a gold nib and the Leonardo Furore, in vibrant orange and bearing serial number 001 for this colour.

I enjoyed taking a few pens on holidays for journaling during the year – to Dubai, Italy and Menorca. I have established a new tradition of bringing my Montblanc Classique as a travel pen for any overseas trips. Keeping an eye open for pen shops whilst abroad, is another of my habits.

In September the Pelikan Hub came round once again and was a rather expanded version of our pen club meets, but with a few extra visitors from further afield. We all got to take home a bottle of Pelikan Edelstein Star Ruby, a Pelikan magazine a writing pad and reignited our appreciation of all things Pelikan. Reading the write ups aftewards on social media, of Hubs all over the world was fun.

I have enjoyed putting out the occasional post to this blog, for another year. These are not planned very far in advance and depend upon (a) having something to say and (b) the time and energy to write it! This has not come together as much as I would have liked.

When the energy is not there, it is easier to relax and read other blogs and be inspired and entertained by posts on WordPress, Instagram and YouTube. It is all too easy to allow hours to pass in this way, which makes it all the more valuable to have some real human contact with the monthly pen meets.

I do appreciate the time and effort that others put in to creating new content for their blogs. I was sorry to see in November that Anthony had decided to call time on his blog, UK Fountain Pens after three prolific years but fully understood his reasons for doing so.

As for inks, I have not been very adventurous this year and have bought very little. My most used bottled inks are probably Conway Stewart Tavy, (a blue black now made by Diamine), Waterman Serenity Blue and Montblanc Royal Blue. At the pen show I bought a bottle of Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red, which I have settled on for use exclusively with my Montblanc Classique.

I also discovered Montblanc Permanent Blue. I have been using this with a Platinum Procyon, as it has a good slip-and-seal inner cap that resists drying out. I have also put it in one of my Cross Bailey Lights.

I am impressed with the Permanent Blue. At Christmas my neice gave me an A5 soft cover journal, from “Agenzio by Paperchase.” As is my custom, I first tried out a range of different inks (from my currently inked pen cups) on the back page, to see which were best suited. The paper is pleasant to write on but is prone to bleedthrough with many of my inks. However I found that with Montblanc Permanent Blue, there was no bleedthrough and also hardly any show through, or ghosting. Likewise with Sailor Kiwa-guro permanent black and so these will be my choices for this note book.

Pen favourites of 2019.

I really have spoilt myself with pens this year and have had some great additions. I also count myself as very fortunate, among the pen community, to be capable of getting just as excited with an inexpensive pen if it is comfortable, well made and good looking and writes well, as an expensive one. But that is not to say that I do not appreciate great pens as having special value. A few of the stand-out pens for me in 2019 were the following:-

Montblanc Heritage 1912: this is the special edition, retractable nib, piston filling pen that came out a few years ago but is no longer made. It has a unique Montblanc nib that is softer than those on the current Meisterstuck range and is a pen to cherish and enjoy.

Montblanc Heritage 1912

The Aurora 88: this was bought online from Iguanasell of Spain, when a particularly attractive price was available back in the summer. It is a piston filling pen, in black resin with gold plated cap and has a real presence. The 14k gold nib is supposedly a Medium but writes more like a Fine in my view and is very comfortable and enjoyable, paired currently with Tavy.

Aurora 88 in black resin with gold plated cap.

The Sailor Pro Gear Slim, with 14k music nib: The music nib provides a very pleasing italic line for general writing, when held at a consistent angle and when you keep it at the sweet spot. I think the “Slim” name is rather a misnomer and could be off-putting for some. The girth is not particularly slim, although it is smaller than the classic or the King of Pen, which are progressively larger. However it is a short pen at around 124mm capped, almost pocket-pen size, yet makes a very comfortable length when the cap is posted. This pen has won a special place in my heart.

Sailor Pro Gear Slim with a 14k gold music nib. Next to a Kaweco Sport, for scale.

The year’s best cheap pens.

I have enjoyed discovering plenty of very affordable and well-performing pens over the year. There is the Faber-Castell Grip, now sold in Paperchase at £15.00 with a smooth steel nib. In Dubai I came across a Pilot cartridge or eye-dropper pen called the AMS 86 G3 ASTD, sold on a blister pack for about £6.00 which was fun, although I made a mistake to start with in trying to force in the cartridge the wrong way round.

Towards the end of the year I was introduced to the new Cross Bailey Light, by Patrick, of John Lewis’ pen department. Over the following few weeks I went on to buy six of these, one in each of the available colours and now have them each inked in different inks. Patrick joked that he would have to send me on to the furniture department, to have somewhere to put all these pens.

Cross Bailey Light. In all their colours.

Perhaps the greatest value though, has to be the Wing Sung 699, a vac filler and homage to the Pilot Custom 823 but with a steel nib and costing around £16 to £20 on ebay. I learned of these from Daniel at our pen club and now have two of them, one with a fine nib and one with a medium.

Conclusions.

Sitting down to write with a fountain pen, is one of life’s pleasures. Finding combinations of pen, ink and paper that go togther well, is part of the enjoyment. The act of “thinking with a pen”, remembering, reflecting and organising your thoughts on pen and paper is immensely satisfying.

I now find myself owning a large selection of excellent pens in a wide variety of brands and at all price levels up to around £400.00. I do not have a strong desire to go above that ceiling, although if I did, the ones that tempt me are the Scribo 3 , Pelikan M1000 or the Montblanc 149. At a lower level, I could easily be tempted to try other pens and nibs from Sailor, perhaps a Pro Gear Classic or a 1911 Large. If I can stop myself from buying quite so many pens next year, I could aim for a select few special pens and still come under my total spend figure for this year.

For all this talk of pens, the hobby would be rather shallow but for the people who make up the fountain pen community of enthusiasts, users, collectors, reviewers, bloggers and Instagrammers and YouTubers, plus the manufacturers, dealers, the friendly sales staff I have dealt with in shops over the year and those who run all the enticing sites such as Cult Pens, The Writing Desk, Iguanasell and the like. A big thank you to them too and for all who read and support this blog. I wish you a Happy New Year!

The slops bucket experiment.

I have been tinkering with blending my own inks lately with quite pleasing results.

Its funny how one thing leads to another. Things started when I was impressed by a lovely writing sample on Instagram from a TWSBI Diamond 580 with a 1.1 stub nib and a grey ink. I got out my own TWSBI with a 1.1 stub and inked it with the closest equivalent ink that I had, being Montblanc Oyster Grey. However, aside from not having such accomplished handwriting, the ink didn’t appeal to me and almost instantly I wanted to flush it out.

I happened to have a Pineider Travelling Inkwell to hand, in which I had put the last one or two mililitres from a bottle of Conway Stewart Tavy. It occurred to me to flush the Oyster Grey into this and mix them together.

I posted a review of the Pineider Travelling Inkwell in December 2018 and commented that one of the advantages is that you can combine inks in it without contaminating a whole bottle. Also if you flush your pen into this, you may create something useful and also avoid wasting ink. It is a win win situation. You can happily clean out a pen, put it away and not feel guilty about wasting half a converter of good ink.

So, I flushed the Oyster Grey into the inkwell with the existing Tavy and shook up the contents. I then refilled the TWSBI from this new brew and found that I had a pleasant blue black. 

Two ink blend. Tavy and Oyster Grey.

Recently I have been enjoying the new Cross Bailey Light fountain pen. I was so pleased with my first one of these, in grey, that I went back to buy another and picked up the turquoise version. I had envisaged it filled with a matching turquoise or teal ink.

Cross Bailey Light, teal edition.

I filled the pen with Robert Oster Signature Aqua. However there was something about the combination of this ink and the colour of the pen that made me a bit queasy. Perhaps it was too matchy matchy, or maybe the clash of not-quite-matching colours was jarring.

So, I decided to flush the Aqua into the inkwell of Tavy and Oyster Grey, shook it around and then immediately refilled the Cross pen. This produced a much darker teal ink, easier on the eye than the neat Aqua. I temporarily named this TavOyAq.

Three ink blend. Tavy, Oyster Grey and Aqua.

This fill was rather shortlived though, as a few days later, I decided to flush out a few more pens. One was a Wing Sung 601 clear demonstrator, which had been inked for months with Graf von Faber-Castell Garnet Red, but little used and still contained a good quantity of ink. I also had a couple of pens in the pen cup with the residue of a standard international cartridge, one of blue ink and one of black.

The temptation to live dangerously got the better of me and I flushed the Garnet Red, the anonymous blue and black, all into my travelling inkwell.

Miraculously, this gave rise to a very dark blue black which I liked very much. The black ink had been minimal, otherwise this would have overpowered everything else. The bright aqua was well subdued. There was no trace of the red. But I had half expected to get a dark brown and was delighted to find that I had a blue black instead. It was so dark as to be almost like an iron gall, registrar’s ink. I do not have a name for this six ink blend. The best I can suggest is dark inky blue-black.

My six ink concoction, (Tavy, Oyster Grey, Aqua, Garnet red plus some blue and black cartridge ink).

I immediately filled my Cross pen back up again with the new brew. I have been using this mix happily for a week at work now and still have about 3 ml left, probably enough for another 4 – 5 fills for a Cross converter. It flows and shades well and seems well behaved.

It is a bit of a gamble, I know. You need to decide when to stop. You could go too far and blow it all, in an ugly mess. There is a risk that the inks will be incompatible and congeal into something horrible. The smarter thing to do would be to leave the ink overnight or longer in the inkwell, checking it once in a while for any signs of solidifying, before putting the mix in your pen. However I was too excited and impatient for this approach and also figured that the Cross Bailey Light was an inexpensive and simple pen on which to experiment. If anything went wrong, I could flush it out and leave the nib section to soak. This pen is also ideally suited for use with the Pineider Travelling Inkwell, having just the sort of section that the inkwell likes, namely fairly wide, smooth, tapering and not faceted.

Of course I have not been at all scientific about measurements and keeping records. I have some samples from looking back at my Leuchtturm notebook which gets used for tinkering with pens and inks. But as for quantities, I do not have any precise details of the amounts or proportions that went into my mix.

It is satisfying to create a unique and very limited edition blend of ink, especially if the colour is pleasing. Everyone’s creations will be different.

To summarise, the advantages of the Pineider Inkwell are, being able to use your last 1ml of ink; providing a receptacle for emptying pens of unwanted ink; avoiding waste; and potentially coming up with some new and satisfying inky blends. The moral of the tale is that you do not need to be overly cautious about fears of incompatible inks having a bad reaction. Perhaps some do but I have been ok in my limited experience so far and this is something that you can try out on your cheap pens first.  Happy mixing!

Pindeider Travelling Inkwell. Where the magic happens.

Early thoughts on the Cross Bailey Light fountain pen.

I am always on the look-out for anything new in fountain pens on the high street. Today in John Lewis Brent Cross, my friendly pen-pusher showed me a new Cross pen and took a few off the rack in different colours.

This is a new version of the familiar Cross Bailey, but in plastic, rather than lacquered metal, to save weight and costs. It is £20.00 as opposed to about £50 for the full fat version.

Cross Bailey Light, in plastic.

I do not need any more fountain pens, particularly cartridge-converter pens, with medium, steel nibs. I have got that covered in my accumulation. Nevertheless, I was intrigued and excited at the prospect of a Cross pen for £20.00, with lifetime guarantee. I was also feeling a little virtuous having flushed and cleaned three of my eighteen currently inked pens in my pen cups earlier this morning.

The store had these in grey, white, turquoise and pink. I gather that there are also black and blue versions available. I liked the grey best and bought one. It is a lovely classic, battleship grey and a nice neutral colour which would suit a range of ink colours.

Bailey Light uncapped.

Leaving the shop, I couldn’t wait to open the packaging, have a closer look at the pen and ink it up. The nib looked to be in good shape. I have had mixed experiences with Cross steel nibs. Sometimes they are great, with even tines, and a good well-lubricated smooth ink flow; but at other times, you get a dry one and it can be hard to work on these stiff, steel nibs to improve flow. Another issue that I have had with Cross Baileys, is the stiffness of the caps. I have a shiny chrome Medalist, which was all but unusable because of the slipperiness of the finish and the difficulty in pulling the cap off.

Happily, today’s experience was entirely satisfactory. First impressions are that the pen appears to be the same size as a standard Bailey. There are no obvious shortcuts on the furnishings and you have a metal cap finial and a strong metal pocket clip. There is a wide cap band, for decoration and strength. The cap pulls off easily, with a sensible amount of force.

With cap removed, there are three metals rings on the pen. Particularly welcome in the Bailey, is the wide barrel and wide grip section, compared to, say the Cross Century II. There are no cap threads and no step from barrel to section.

Bailey standard and Bailey Light (below)

Unscrewing the barrel, there was one Cross black cartridge included. The pen will require Cross’s proprietary cartridges or a Cross converter (not included). I found that the Bailey Light accepts the non-threaded converter (whereas the standard Bailey is threaded, to take Cross’s screw-in converters but accepts both types). Another difference from the standard Bailey, is that the Light has no production date code, a slight disappointment but hardly a problem. My standard Bailey is dated 0315 and the slippery Medalist, 1014.

Bailey Light, with a non-threaded converter (not included in price).

Inserting the supplied black cartridge, I am glad to report that the pen soon started up and wrote smoothly, out of the box. A pleasant relief.

Size and weight.

The Bailey Light measures around 137mm closed, or 125mm open. Posted, it is around 152mm. The pen weighs a total of around 20g, comprised as to 13g for the uncapped pen and 7g for the cap.

Comparing the standard Bailey, at 30.5g, the Light is about one third lighter. The dimensions, capped or uncapped are about the same except that, when the cap is posted, the standard Bailey is 142mm and the Light is a centimetre longer, at 152mm.

Likes and dislikes.

Accepting that I have owned this pen for only a few hours, I am favourably impressed with it so far. I like the classic, vintagey grey colour. I like that it is a good sized pen and so comfortable in the hand. No annoying facets (Ah-hem, Lamy Safari). It is long enough for a quick note unposted but generally I prefer to use it posted. The cap posts deeply and securely. Being so light, but having a strong pocket clip, it is an ideal shirt pocket pen. The lifetime guarantee is a good thing, a sign that Cross is confident in its product. I don’t envisage having to make any claims under this and for £20.00 it would probably not be worth it, but it is nice to have.

The cap shuts snuggly, with minimal wobble. It looks to have some sort of inner cap or lining at the far end but I have not had the pen long enough to test for hard starts.

My only minor negatives are the absence of a production date code and the fact that threaded converters do not fit.

I prefer the feel of this pen to my old Cross Aventura, which had a shiny chrome section. I think I may find myself using it more than the standard Bailey, as a lightweight, pocket pen.

At the moment I am using the black cartridge and I have a few of these in stock but am looking forward to perhaps pairing the grey pen with a nice Burgundy, green or brown ink. At a pound a gram, I think this pen represents excellent value.

Comfortable, stepless, threadless, facetless section.