Six quality fountain pens for beginners, under 30 euros.

Recently I was asked in an email, what fountain pen I would recommend for a beginner. She mentioned that she had traditional taste, enjoyed good quality and style and wished to start with a cheaper pen, costing no more than say 20 to 30 euros. She wished to use it with a Leuchtturm 1917 notebook. “Is it possible to get a good quality pen for that price?”, she asked.

Happily, the answer to the last question is yes. There are numerous fountain pens on the market in this price bracket, from a wide range of brands and with a host of different attributes.

Ideally, before making recommendations, I would find out a little more such as her previous experience of fountain pens, how she holds her pens, her writing size and style, whether she has any preferences as between brands, materials (plastic or metal), filling systems and the pen’s size and weight, and so on.

In the absence of such information to narrow down the field, I made a number of assumptions and the following can be general advice only and is based upon my own experience, likes and dislikes.

From the mention of the Leuchtturm notebook, I assume that the pen may be used for journaling but may also be enjoyed for letter writing, occasional notes and other general tasks: in short, a general purpose pen.

Also, the suggestion of “starting with a cheaper pen”, implies that she wishes to try an entry-level pen first and then later progress to the next level. This is sensible to ensure that she likes using a fountain pen before investing too much money and secondly, to spend some time with a beginner’s pen and so appreciate the improvements when moving on.

A beginner’s pen will have a stainless steel nib. I suggest a medium nib to start with (assuming average sized handwriting). As for filling systems, the pens in the following selection are almost all cartridge-converter pens. That is, they are filled by inserting a plastic cartridge of ink but can also be adapted for filling from a bottle, by inserting a “converter,” typically an ink reservoir with a twist mechanism for drawing up ink.

Cartridges are quick, clean and convenient for refilling on the go. The downside is that it is generally more expensive to buy ink in cartridges, (especially if the pen accepts only its own branded cartridges, as with Lamy and Cross for example). There is also the plastic waste. Bottled ink gives the benefit of being available from a variety of brands and in a huge number of colours.

The one other filling system represented in my list, is the piston filler (TWSBI Eco) which draws ink directly into the barrel and can be filled only from a bottle.

If possible, it is best to visit a shop to see the pen before buying but this is not always practical, not least because of the current lockdown and so buying online may be the only option.

With all these caveats in mind, here is my personal selection, in no particular order, with a few thoughts on each:-

Lamy Safari

Lamy Safari. This is still the best colour in my view.

Perhaps the most obvious choice, the Lamy Safari is widely available, in a range of colours with new special edition colours coming out every year. These are tough, plastic pens with quick, snap-on caps and are a decent size even for larger hands. Thanks to state of the art engineering, good quality control and testing, the nibs are well finished and write smoothly, straight out of the box. Replacement nibs are available in various widths and are easy and inexpensive to replace. The pens cost around £18.00 in the UK

The downside for some is that the grip section has two facets, pushing you to adopt a symmetrical grip between finger and thumb, centred above the nib which is not so comfortable if you prefer to rotate your nib inwards as you write (as I do). This puts some pen enthusiasts off, although most whom I know, probably own or have owned at least one. Also you are restricted to Lamy cartridges. A Lamy converter can be bought separately.

An aluminium version of the pen, in a range of colours, is available at around £25.00.

Cross Bailey Light

Cross Bailey Light

This new pen from Cross appeared in 2019, as a plastic version of the popular, heavier lacquered metal Cross Bailey. This is a cartridge-converter pen, taking Cross proprietary cartridges or else a Cross converter (the push-fit version, model 8751). It is a simple, traditional style pen of a good, medium size and proportions. The plastic cap can be “posted” (pushed on the back of the pen) for added length and weight. This looks a more adult pen than the Safari, having no facets on the grip. The pens are sold in sealed packs, with medium nibs. These offer a firm writing experience, good for note-taking and faster writing. Personally I try to pick out pens with nib tines with a slight glimpse of daylight between them, which mean good ink flow and effortless fast writing.

The downside is that Cross cartridges are rather expensive. But with the pen costing £20.00 in the UK plus a converter for £7.00, you are still under £30.00 in our currency. I am a big fan of these pens finding them very comfortable and reliable.

Faber-Castell Grip

Faber-Castell Grip. Interesting raised bobbles on the barrel.

This is another fairly traditional syle pen, perhaps rather under-rated here and certainly less prevalent in the shops than Lamy and Cross brands. However, this pen has a delightful smooth, steel nib. If bought online, from Cult Pens for example, there is a choice of nib in extra fine, fine, medium and broad widths. I have only tried the medium nibs but imagine that a broad would be silky smooth. The pen features a rubber ergonomic grip with subtle, smooth edged facets for your thumb and forefinger to rest on. At around £15.00 these are excellent value. They also have the advantage of accepting standard international cartridges, which are readily available from numerous brands and in a vast array of colours.

For the price there is little to say against this pen. It is a good size, light in weight and the cap can be posted if desired but this makes it rather too long at 17.5cm.

Lamy Nexx

Lamy Nexx

The Nexx seems to be rather overlooked here, being over-shadowed by the ubiquitous Safari. However, it is a tough workhorse pen. It has the same nib as the Safari and AL-Star, but features a wider, rubber grip and an aluminium barrel which blends gradually from being cylindrical to a rounded triangular shape at the end. It has a tough plastic cap in a variety of bold colours. Again, like the Safari, it will need Lamy cartridges or the appropriate Lamy converter. The price here is around £19.00, similar to a Safari.

The downside of this pen for me is that the rubber grip makes it slightly harder to make small adjustments to the angle of rotation of the pen as you write: you need to lift the pen off your fingers before you can twist it in your hands. Secondly, there is an unusual clash of materials, as between the plastic cap, rubber grip section and aluminium barrel. This, plus the unusual shape of the barrel makes for an interesting tactile experience. Personally, I am not keen on rubber grips or triangular barrels and yet inexplicably, taken as a whole I am impressed by the pen. I have had mine for only a few months. It could not be described as traditional in style.

Kaweco Perkeo

Kaweco Perkeo

The Perkeo is another cartridge-converter pen, in a range of colour options and an All Black in tough plastic and multi faceted cap and barrel. The grip does have some facets for your finger positions but it is not rubber and these are less obtrusive than on the Lamy Safari. Personally I grip the pen higher than the facets and so they do not interfere with my grip. The pen is a good size, whether posted or not. I enjoy the Kaweco nibs which are slightly softer than the Lamy Safari nibs. The pens are sold in clear plastic packs with either a medium or fine nib. I have bought quite a few of these in both widths. The medium nibs are great for general use but I also like the fine nib version to use with black ink which is very precise with a pleasant feedback. The pens cost around £16.00 here. They take standard international cartridges and are supplied with four blue cartridges of the lovely vibrant Kaweco blue.

The downside perhaps is that the pen is not traditional in style and looks like a whiteboard marker pen. There is no pocket clip. Also, the build quality can be a bit variable and some people have had complaints with the nibs. Aside from such quality control issues I think they are great value and provided you get a good one, the writing experience can be delightful.

TWSBI Eco

TWSBI Eco. Still with a little ink inside.

My final suggestion is different from all the above in that it is a “piston filler” (bottle only) pen, which means a much larger ink capacity than any cartridge. Secondly, it is a “demonstrator” pen meaning that it is made of a clear plastic so that you can see the nib and feed and filling mechanism. Once filled, you can also see the ink sloshing around. Nibs are available in a range of widths. The pens start from around £28.00 here increasing for some of the different colour options. It is also the only pen in this selection with a screw on cap.

TWSBI pens are appreciated by enthusiasts, not only for their quality and value but also because they can be disassembled for cleaning. TWSBI supplies its pens with a wrench to unscrew the piston. The nib and feed can be pulled out and are “friction fit” for ease of changing, cleaning or maintenance, although none of this is strictly necessary if you prefer not to tinker with it. TWSBI even supplies each pen with a small container of silicone grease to lubricate the piston.

Conclusion

There are numerous other pens that I could have included but have left out to keep the list managable. As it is, I have already stretched the brief rather beyond the traditional. Any pen enthusiast would have his own opinions and this is clearly subjective and tastes differ.

I have not included Parker pens at this price level. A Parker Vector is well within the budget but rather too slender in my view and not one of my favourites. Many people might recommend the Pilot Metropolitan as a starter pen, also within budget, but I do not find them very comfortable and the nibs are very fine. Then there are Chinese pens such as the Wing Sung 601 or the Wing Sung 699, both well inside this price range and of traditional design but although great value, I think that they are not everyone’s idea of a beginner’s pen.

My own preference, would be for the Cross Bailey Light with medium nib and converter which is a good, traditional pen of quality and style. Although having said that, everybody should have at least one Lamy Safari, preferably yellow.

The entire cast takes a final bow.

A quick look at the Kaweco Perkeo, All Black fountain pen.

There has been a recent flurry of matte-black fountain pens, with black nibs and furniture, known to enthusiasts as stealth pens. These have come from the likes of Aurora, Lamy and Sailor. Now there is also a new All Black version of the Kaweco Perkeo. I bring this to your attention in case it has slipped in under the radar.

Kaweco Perkeo, All Black

The Kaweco Perkeo has been around for a couple of years now and is a decent, affordable, entry level pen, of comfortable proportions. Initially this was available in four colour combinations. Somehow I ended up buying them all plus a few extra of the mustard and black “Indian Summer” version which I liked the most and which came with a black, Fine nib. I have one in my pen cup at the office and another at home, filled with a black cartridge. I must confess that I had experimented, in swapping the caps around to pair a black barrel with a black cap, but you still end up with a coloured band in the centre. Thus, when I first laid eyes on the new All Black edition, I bought one instantly without a moment’s thought.

Packaging. There are three cartridges shown, plus one included in the barrel.

The Perkeo, which I have reviewed previously in this blog, is made of a tough plastic with a sixteen sided barrel and an eight sided, pull-off cap. There is no pocket clip, but there is a black, metal finial. It takes standard international cartridges, with room to carry a spare.

Cap and barrel ends.

I know that some people are critical of Kaweco for poor quality control. My own experience with the Perkeo has been ok. The nibs generally write well in my limited experience. However it is worth examining the nib through the packaging if you can, as your enjoyment of this pen (and any in this price range, for that matter) will depend much upon whether you get a good nib or not. What I look for is a little bit of light between the tines, to indicate that the nib will not be a dry writer. Perhaps being a left hander, I am more sensitive to having a nib on the wet side, particularly for lefty overwriting.

A glimpse of light between the tines, bodes well.

The pen comes with four cartridges of lovely, rich dark Kaweco blue ink. I keep my stash of Kaweco cartridges separate from other unbranded ones. Kaweco cartridges have Kaweco on the side.

Chunky plastic barrel threads. Kaweco cartridge.

Talking of quality control, I did have an issue with one of my Perkeos, in that the inner cap was defective. Basically, you could cap the pen but it took two distinct clicks to cap it, rather than just one, which was a bit disconcerting. Something was catching inside. Aside from this, I have another on which the barrel does not screw on to the section tightly and seamlessly and ends up with a little bit of play and a slight gap.

Overall however, I have been pleased enough with the Perkeos to buy several. The nibs are the key. The great thing is that they seem to be a bit softer than the nibs of the Kaweco Sport pens. Also, I have found that the Fine versions have a delightful feedback to them which I enjoy, on smooth paper. They also resist hard starts, very well.

I sometimes find myself pondering that if I arrived in an unfamiliar town, in need of a pen but had forgotten to bring one, and had a budget of only £20.00, what would be a good stand-by. Aside from the ubiquitous Lamy Safari, and depending upon where you go, there is now the new Cross Bailey Light and the Faber-Castell Grip, as well as the Kaweco Perkeo which costs around £16.00. The Lamy and the Cross will each need their own proprietary cartridges or converters, whereas the Kaweco and the Faber-Castell accept standard international cartridges. Chosen with a little care, the Kaweco Perkeo makes a good option.

A year with the Kaweco Perkeo.

In June of last year, I stumbled across the new Kaweco Perkeo fountain pen, in Paperchase in St Peter Port, Guernsey. I bought one in each of the two available colours. My subsequent blog posts about them (A peek at the Perkeo and Kaweco Perkeo, a brief update.) attracted more views than any of my other posts, (after being mentioned on FPN) and so there has evidently been much interest in this model.

For almost a year, it seemed that only those two colours (Old Chambray and Cotton Candy) were stocked in the shops, although two more colour combinations were available online. But in May 2018 I first spotted the “Indian Summer” version, again at a branch of Paperchase (this time, in London’s Brent Cross shopping centre) and bought one on the spot. This is the mustard coloured barrel with the black cap. However it also differed from my previous two models, in having a black nib (or rather a stealthy gun-metal blue-black) in a Fine.

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Kaweco Perkeo Indian Summer, with Fine nib.

I have heard it said that Kaweco’s nibs are not always correctly aligned out of the box, but mine was perfect with an ideal flow and I really enjoy its smooth, fine line. Admittedly, the mustard colour is unusual but actually I rather like it.  I have been using it with black ink cartridges, of the sort that you buy in a bag of thirty and the pen loves them!

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Writing sample from Kaweco Perkeo Indian Summer, provided by my cousin Becca during a family day at the beach.

And then just a month ago, I found the fourth colour also in a Paperchase, (Swiss Cottage, London branch), the aptly named “Bad Taste” which has a black barrel and a bubble-gum pink cap. Again, this came with a black nib in a Fine. This one seems to write a little broader than the Indian Summer nib but again, flow was good and it needed no adjustment.

Quality wise, there was some issue with my Perkeo Bad Taste, in that the inner cap has a slight obstruction. It will still snap on and off, but there is a distinct resistance to overcome, before you reach the second ridge for the cap to click onto. I pondered whether to exchange it but haven’t bothered and it might improve with use.

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Kaweco Perkeo Bad Taste. I wouldn’t argue with that.

Looking back at my previous Perkeo posts, I mentioned the three facets on the grip section. In fact they no longer bother me at all as I always grip the pen around the coloured ring, with the section resting on my second finger. I hold my pens quite high up from the nib, which I suppose is why I like longer pens, or pens that can be used with caps posted. In the case of the Perkeo, it is about 128mm long unposted and long enough to use that way, although the cap will post securely if you want extra length and weight.

I also mentioned that the nib and feed can be pulled out (they are friction fit) from the section. However, I since learned that whilst there is no obvious flat edge requiring you to realign them when replacing them in the section, I believe that there is a flat step right at the far end once you have pushed the feed almost all the way back, so that it may not be possible to push the feed in fully unless the feed is aligned symmetrically with the grip facets. Sorry about that.

Conclusion

I have been lucky that all four of my Perkeos write very nicely. They are great for not drying out. The inner cap does a good job at avoiding hard starts. My first two Perkeos have remained inked pretty much constantly since I bought them in June 2017. I have kept one of them at work and it is an easy pen to grab for a quick signature or for making notes. For blue ink, I mostly used it with Kaweco’s own royal blue cartridges which are excellent.

The fact that I have now acquired all four colour options is the best testament I can provide of my enjoyment of this pen. It is great value and a good alternative to the similarly priced Lamy Safari.

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The Perkeo squad: Old Chambray, Cotton Candy, Indian Summer and Bad Taste. You can mix and match the caps if you like.

 

 

 

 

Kaweco Perkeo, a brief update.

Following my recent post A peek at the Perkeo; first impressions of the new Kaweco cartridge pen. I wished to add a few comments after my first week of ownership.

The good news and the main message to take away, is that the performance of the Bock, stainless steel medium nibs on both of the pens that I bought is quite superb, with a lovely smooth writing experience far beyond what you might expect at this price level. Yes, perhaps the size 5 nib is a little more firm than a larger, size 6 might have been but overall I am delighted with it.

My biggest gripe had been with the faceted grip section. After all it is probably targeted by its price tag as being a beginner’s pen or close to it. But having medium to large hands myself, I have very quickly found that I automatically grip the pen higher up the body than the facets (save for the third facet on the underside, where the pen conveniently rests on my second finger) and so the facets were not an issue for me in practice. Within a few days of use, I barely noticed them.

On the downside, I have received one comment from a work colleague, who saw my Old Chambray coloured Perkeo on my desk, and said that it looked like an insulin pen. Admittedly, the colour scheme, size, shape and material of this pen do give it a slightly clinical look.

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This week I did try removing the nib and feed. I had expected them to unscrew, as a unit (as on the Kaweco Al sport). However this is not the case. The nib and feed of the Perkeo are friction fit and push directly into the coloured section.

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As I tried in vain the unscrew them, I was simply rotating them in the section.

There is no flattened edge of the circular opening, to give any guide to locating the nib and feed. To replace them you just seat the nib on top of the feed, align them with a centre line between two facets and then push them home.

For the benefit of anyone new to the art of nib removal, (a noble and relaxing pass-time which I whole-heartedly recommend) then there are few rules which I have gleaned online and from experience:

  • take care to grip the nib and feed together firmly, between thumb and the first joint of your finger (with thumb over the nib) using some grippy material or else a tissue or cloth;
  • for nib and feeds which are friction-fit (as with the Perkeo), grip firmly and then pull in a straight line, taking care not to bend or distort the nib or damage the delicate fins on the feed;
  • if doing this over a basin, do have the plug in place, in case the small nib or feed drop down the plug hole;
  • once removed, it is very easy and satisfying to rinse the nib and feed and the section in water and dry them, before reassembling;
  • the nib can be examined under a magnifying glass or loupe to check that the tines are aligned and adjustments can be made (very gently and by hand) before reassembling;
  • for nib units which unscrew, (such as the Kaweco Al-sport, or Pelikan M series, for example) then grip the nib and feed as described above but rotate the barrel, not the nib, to unscrew;
  • It is good practice to clean a nib and feed from time to time, particularly before changing inks. A short cut, rather than removing the nib and feed, is to leave the entire nib section to soak in water overnight and then rinse under a tap or use a rubber squeezy blower to squirt water through it, until it runs clear.

Coming back to the Perkeo, since there is no set position to align the nib and feed in the section, this means that you are free to align them how you wish, in relation to the facets. You can offset the nib if you wish.  There is no need to feel that you are forced to have the nib centred between two facets. With trial and error, if the centred nib does not conform to your preferred grip, you can customise your pen – rather than feeling that you have to adjust your grip to suit the pen.

In conclusion, I think that the Perkeo is a pen that I shall use and enjoy, for its excellent stainless steel nib and writing performance, if not for its looks.

 

A peek at the Perkeo; first impressions of the new Kaweco cartridge pen.

A cruise ship holiday offers a wonderful opportunity for the fountain pen enthusiast, to spend a little time away, in new surroundings with a few select pens for journaling on the trip.

Our recent one-week cruise departed from Southampton, with visits to La Rochelle in France, Bilboa in Spain and finally, St Peter Port, Guernsey.  Being a novice at the modern cruise ship experience, I had not prepared myself much beyond planning which pens to bring.  While my wife was happily picking out which evening dresses to pack, I was looking forward particularly to sitting in our balcony cabin, with notebook and pen, to “unpack” a few thoughts and impressions of our travels.

Choosing which pens to bring from the “currently inked” selection in my pen cups, was a challenge, but an enjoyable one. I settled on the following:

  1. Lamy AL-star, Pacific Blue (with Lamy turquoise ink cartridges);
  2. Lamy AL-star, Charged Green (with syringe-filled cartridge of Graf von Faber-Castell Moss Green ink);
  3. Cleo Skribent, Classic Gold piston filler, with Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue ink); the ink colour reminds me of a Guernsey pullover;
  4. Cleo Skribent, Classic Metal piston filler, with Graf von Faber-Castell Moss Green ink);
  5. Faber-Castell School pen, with blue ink cartridge. A light-weight and reliable shirt pocket pen for the hasty note.

Admittedly, any one of these would have been sufficient on its own to use for a week, but I enjoyed each of them in turn.

I had hoped that the shore excursions might afford an opportunity to stumble across a charming local pen shop and browse among some unfamiliar brands of fountain pens and inks. However, having chosen to join guided tours for our visits to La Rochelle and Bilbao, there was limited time available for shopping.

It was not until day six, when spending a day wandering on our own at St Peter Port, that I spotted the familiar “Paperchase” shop sign and found a stationery shop looking just like any of their other branches in London. Nevertheless, starved of pen shops for almost a week I was interested to check whether their stock was any different from ours at home.

The glass cabinets displays of Cross, Kaweco and Parker pens and the hanging displays of Lamy Safaris and AL-stars were all very familiar. But then I had my first sighting of a Kaweco Perkeo, a recently released model, news of which had not yet reached me.

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Displayed in a clear plastic clam-shell style pack, I first noticed the “Cotton Candy” version, with a contrasting taupe coloured cap. I understand that cotton candy is the spun sugar confection that in the UK is known as candy floss. To me however, the colour of this pen puts me more in mind of salmon which would be a truer although perhaps less appealing description.

Beside this on the rack, there was another version called “Old Chambray” which denotes a blue-grey colour for the cap, with white barrel and section.

The pen has a stainless steel nib (made by Bock) familiar from the Kaweco Sport pocket pens. Indeed the pen is similar to the Kaweco Sport but larger all round and with a broader cap. The cap is eight sided whilst the barrel is sixteen sided. I have read that it is based upon another old Kaweco fountain pen.

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The main and most obvious difference is the length, with the Perkeo having a length, opened and unposted, of about 128mm (or 160mm posted), whilst the Kaweco Sport measures just around 100mm opened and unposted, (or around 133mm posted, as it is intended to be used). Thus the Perkeo is almost as long unposted, as the Sport is posted. Other differences are that the Perkeo section has three flat surfaces, or facets, intended to improve correct grip and that the cap of the Perkeo is broader and shorter than on the Sport and snaps on rather than being threaded.

The packaging shows three cartridges included although there are in fact four, since you find one more in the barrel, plus a blank, dummy cartridge already fitted in the section.

Deciding to buy one of each colour, I was keen to have a closer look at home and to ink them up. The nibs on both proved to be very smooth, with tines well-adjusted “out of the box” with a good ink flow thus giving a very pleasing, well lubricated writing experience. No complaints there.

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I have since read online that there are two other colour options, namely “Indian Summer” which is yellow and black, or “Bad Taste” which is coral pink and black.

I inked the Old Chambray model with one of the supplied cartridges of Kaweco blue ink. This is an excellent ink, a rich, dark royal blue. As for the Cotton Candy model, as I have rather too many pens already inked with blue, I inserted a dark blood-orange cartridge from an old bag of standard international cartridges in assorted colours from Paperchase that I had at home. (At £2.50 for a bag of 50, these are great value and give your pens a low running cost for high mileage writing).

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In summary my initial impressions are:-

Likes

  • good length, comfortable to use posted or unposted;
  • barrel has room for a spare cartridge;
  • strong resin material; a tough pen to use and carry around every day, such as for school use;
  • excellent stainless steel nib; smooth, optimum flow (wet but not overly so);
  • four Kaweco ink cartridges included with the pen;
  • firm snap on cap, with good inner cap fitted and an attractive metal Kaweco badge for the finial;
  • reasonable price; similar to the Lamy Safari.

Dislikes

  • three facets in the section; I would have preferred the section without these; however they are shorter than those on the Lamy Safari or AL-star and the pen barrel is sufficiently long, to avoid the facets and grip the pen higher up with thumb and forefinger over the contrasting coloured band at the end of the section and still have the barrel resting in the crook of your hand; or you may post the cap for even greater length;
  • colours are a bit garish and weird, unlike the more standard colours available for the Safari;
  • tough resin material and the snap-on cap (with no pocket clip) combine to give a functional but rather charmless, clunky, white board marker-pen feel.

Conclusions

Overall, this is a pen that writes very well, with a good quality German stainless steel nib. If you like the Kaweco Sport but wish it was a full sized pen that you could use unposted, then this may be the answer, being bigger and longer than the little Sport. For me, I would have preferred it without the facets on the grip section. As there are three of them they do narrow the grip and also do not quite coincide with the angle at which I like to hold the nib to the page. However I liked the pen despite this feature.

Finally, the irony of choosing a German pen as a souvenir from Guernsey, has not escaped me. Guernsey was occupied by Germany during the war and was not liberated until 9 May 1945, a date commemorated on several monuments around the pretty harbour area of St Peter Port.  The pens will still remind me of a brief and pleasant visit to the island. I did also buy some Guernsey Cream Fudge.

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