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.

Some early thoughts on the Cross Townsend, quartz blue fountain pen.

Does anyone remember the Cross pen billboard advertisement, late 1990’s, which featured a Cross fountain pen, with cap posted, against a plain white background? The slogan went something like “Twelve jobs; five homes; three marriages; one pen.”  I cannot recall the wording exactly but the message was that, for this owner, through life’s changes, a Cross fountain pen had been the one constant. 

I guess that message appealed to me, the thought of having the ideal pen and not needing any others. 

I notice that we do not see very many Cross fountain pen reviews online, at least not many in proportion to the availability of Cross pens almost everywhere. I have visited department stores with hardly any fountain pens at all except for a display of Cross. And for those stores that do stock a range of brands, the Cross displays seem to dominate. Perhaps we just see too many of them.  

My local shopping centre, with its large John Lewis department store, is a typical example, with glass counters displaying Cross, Sheaffer, Waterman and Parker plus a couple of other brands such as Hugo Boss and Ted Baker.  Lamy Safaris and AL-Stars hang in their blister packs on a shelf behind with the inks and refills, with a few calligraphy pens from Manuscript and Sheaffer. I practically know them by heart. 

To buy a fountain pen with a gold nib from here, your only options are a Cross Townsend or a Waterman Carene, both priced around £235.00 usually. For a year or more I had been glancing at these whenever I passed by,  but had not been sufficiently tempted by either at this price.

However, a recent promotion around the time of the Black Friday sales, offering 30% off almost all fountain pens on display, was enough to melt my resolve and I took a closer look at the Cross Townsend. There was a choice of black or quartz blue, both with rhodium plated fittings. Both were appealing but I chose blue as a more interesting and unusual finish and with less presidential associations. 

Cross Townsend, quartz blue. 

Appearance and construction.

This is a sturdy, brass lacquered pen, long and sleek, with a slip on cap and an interesting patterned blue finish. If you look down the length of the pen it appears almost black. But in good light, the finish is a lovely glossy gleaming blue. If under bright lights, you see thousands of tiny pinpricks of light. Also the combination of the blue lacquer with the rhodium trim is very pleasing. 

The elegant shape of the cap, cylindrical with a torpedo shaped top and a shiny metal finial is classic Cross, smart and elegant.  Aside from the unmistakable iconic cap, the name CROSS appears on the clip and, less obviously, on the back of the cap (if you look closely) just above the two cap rings. The clip is usefully strong and springy and works well if pinched between finger and thumb, to lift it as you slide the pen into a pocket, although I usually carry mine in a pen case. 

Unusual blue lacquer finish.

The cap closure is very firm and secure, (thankfully not so tight as a Cross Bailey medalist that I have, which is almost impossible to uncap without violence and expletives). The inner cap fastens with the metal lip at the nib end of the section, but as you push the cap on you feel the gradual increase of resistance , until it clicks over this lip. 

The cap can also be posted deeply and securely, where a black plastic ring located between the blue barrel and rhodium end piece, serves the same function of fastening the cap on. 

Packaging.

The pen comes in quite a nice large box somewhere between the usual size pen box and the extra large one for the top-of-the-range Cross Peerless. It is a hinged box, with a black velvety bed for the pen, which can flap up to reveal a compartment below, where you find a cardboard envelope containing two black proprietary cartridges. The box also contains the guarantee brochure and the whole box is protected in a cardboard sleeve.  All in all a very presentable package. 

Unboxing the Townsend. 

The nib, filling and writing performance.

The nib is 18k gold, bi-colour with rhodium plating. Mine is a medium. I examined it as best I could in the shop and all looked well, which indeed it was. The nib is long and rather narrow, in keeping with the rest of the pen, making for an aesthetically pleasing look. It bears the Cross name and logo, 18k – 750, and the letters ACT, a reference to Alfonzo Townsend Cross, from whom the pen takes its name, being the son of founder Richard Cross. The nib also has the name Sté which I have not yet deciphered – perhaps a form of gold hallmark.  

18k gold nib, bi-colour. Soft and juicy. 

The lovely gold nib is smooth, with a very pleasant softness and a good wet flow. This was a relief as I have sometimes found Cross steel nibs to be dry and difficult to correct. 

Writing sample. Some words from William Wordsworth, (opened at random but strangely topical).

The pen takes Cross cartridges or a Cross converter. None was included in the box but the sales assistant kindly gave one to me. The Townsend, along with the Aventura,  takes the push-in converters whereas the Apogee, Bailey, and Century take the screw-in converters. 

The Townsend takes the Cross push in converter. 

Size and weight.

The pen is long, at 150mm capped. Uncapped it measures 131mm, which I am very happy with, although I still prefer the feel of it posted, at 157mm. As I hold the pen quite high up (with my thumb at the barrel, just before the section) I do not find it back heavy.

It weighs around 39.5g (freshly inked) or 22g uncapped. The cap alone is around 17.5g.

Likes and dislikes.

I have been using this pen for three weeks now, with Montblanc Royal blue bottled ink. Personally I have not found any serious dislikes. But trying to be objective, I list a few points that might bother some people.

Dislikes:-

  • Some may find the pen slightly slender, if accustomed to modern oversized pens; but it is a good bit wider than a Cross Century II;
  • Some may find the pen a little unbalanced if posting the cap and gripping the pen low on the section. However I think anyone who wishes to grip the pen low, would probably find it long enough without posting; 
  • If you stroke the finial with your thumb, the join with the blue lacquered cap feels slightly rough, but this is not a big point and I mention it only for those expecting Rolls Royce perfection. Likewise, at the other end, you feel the slight prominence of the black plastic ring which secures the cap when posted;
  • The worry of whether the slip on cap will wear loose in time. Happily all Cross pens carry a lifetime guarantee so no worries there. 

Likes:- 

There are far more factors to like than to dislike, thankfully. 

  • The smooth, soft, wet nib with a hint of feedback. The generous flow means that I, as left hander, also have the option of writing in my slanting “lefty overwriter” style which demands better flow and nib lubrication than some pens allow;
  • Comfort! Total absence of step or cap threads where I grip the pen;
  • The attractive blue lacquer finish next to rhodium accents;
  • Generous long barrel; pen can be used unposted for shorter notes;
  • Tall pen, stands out in the pen cup yet the pocket clip starts a little way down the cap so that the pen is not too long to clip in a pocket;
  • A date code. Mine was 0917;
  • Reassuringly secure cap mechanism. 
Date code, September 2017.

Conclusion.

This is a sturdy, durable and attractive pen that is comfortable and reliable and which writes extremely well. And so it could become the only pen you will ever need, if you are the sort of person envisaged by that billboard ad. Personally, I love mine but I am not yet ready to forsake all others.

Resistance is futile.

 

Cross Century II, black lacquer and chrome

wp-1480514661650.jpgI have not always been very lucky with Cross pens. I find that the nibs can be a bit hit and miss. Some years ago I bought the Apogee, in black, thinking that it would be “the one”, the lifetime companion. Perhaps this was unrealistic, but I became a bit irritated by the amount of sideways play in the sprung clip. Then when unscrewing the barrel, instead of the barrel coming off, the collar of the section rotated loosely instead. Finally, it suffered from “ink starvation” and would not make it to the end of a page. I gave up. I know that they have a lifetime guarantee but I didn’t bother and just wrote with something else.

I have the Aventura (black again) which came with a wonderful steel medium nib – the sort that just works beautifully without any aggravation within seconds of having a cartridge inserted. But for me, I was not a fan of the chrome finish grip section nor the oddly and pointlessly truncated design of the barrel end, which put me in mind of a passport that has expired and had a corner cut off.

I have since had a nice Bailey, also in black, which I prefer although I had to work on the nib a bit at first, to get a wetter, more lubricated flow. The thick steel nibs are difficult to bend. If anything, it is a little too wet now, but good for more challenging surfaces such as thick sketch book paper.

I had seen the Cross Century II on special offer a few times, in a set with a ball-point pen, in matching black lacquer and chrome outfits. I had handled the fountain pen but initially been put off by the thin section.

However, when I saw a fountain pen for sale on its own recently, in gleaming black lacquer with chrome cap, I gave in and bought one. Certainly the metal cap, with fine guilloche scrollwork is very appealing, especially under the spot lamps in a shop display case. Then the medium nib, in stainless steel but long and slender, again with fancy scrollwork is also very attractive.

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Yes, the section is narrow, although it has ridges to help with grip and it is of a resin or plastic material and not slippery chrome. The Century II has a wider section than the Century classic.

Examining the section more closely, I was very surprised to find that it is actually translucent, with a dark blue tint, when seen with an illuminated x7 loupe (as you do).

One great thing, for me at least, with Cross pens is that the date of production is stamped on the metal ring, where the cartridge goes. Mine, although purchased in November 2016, bore the date 0415. I love it when pens are dated.

The cap is a pull-off type, and with a good firm grip, but without being too hard to remove, (as I found with a Bailey Medallist rendering it almost unusable). Having a secure cap is great for an EDC pen, so it won’t come loose in your jacket pocket. The cap also seals the nib well and I have had no problems with hard starts.

The pen measures 123mm open, which even for my medium to large hands, is ok to use without posting, but I do prefer to post for the extra length, weight and sheer beauty of the combination of black lacquer and chrome. The cap posts nice and deep and grips the barrel well and gives an overall length of 155mm.

Another plus, is the fact that it takes the screw-fit type of Cross Converter, which fits very snugly and securely into the section. At present mine is filled with Parker Quink, black ink, which although has been hanging around the house for several years, still performs beautifully in the Century II with a nice dark line, wet flow, good lubrication but not too slow a drying time and a little bit of shading.

But perhaps best of all, as I am noticing as I become more discerning in my fountain pen journey, is the lovely feedback from the nib. This is hard to put into words. It is smooth, but it delivers a lovely sensation of nib-on-paper as you write, a faint sound, not a scratchy sound but a gentle play of well-designed metal on the page. This is what fountain pen use is all about and is what sets the fountain pen apart from a ball point pen – this effortless gliding of pen on paper and the glossy trail of freshly laid ink in its wake.

The pen is a joy both to use and to look at. It is smart enough for business use without being showy but dainty and elegant for social use too. Perhaps the narrow section might not be well suited to lengthy writing sessions for people with larger hands and I have yet to put this to the test. But there is something about the narrow section and slender barrel which creates a feeling of using a precision instrument.

Rumour has it that HM The Queen uses a Cross Century.

Perhaps this could be “the one”.

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