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.

 

 

 

A few early thoughts on the Lamy aion fountain pen.

I had intended, before the month is out, to write a post or two about the pens that attached themselves to me at the London Pen Show on 1 October 2017. However, normal business has been interrupted by the arrival of the Lamy aion and so today I am instead writing about what is currently on my mind, which is this new beast.

Having come away from the pen show very happily, with five extra fountain pens, the last thing I needed was another pen. Furthermore, I have been using a Kaweco Dia2 a lot lately (which was not one of my pen show pens) and have found myself thinking how super-comfortable and enjoyable it is, such that further pen acquisitions are not necessary.

When the new Lamy aion first came to my attention, I took little interest. But after hearing more about it, I sought out some reviews and spent an entertaining evening in watching several YouTube reviews which sparked further interest.

The anticipation.

I had still not seen one in the flesh. My only concern was that it was an aluminium pen and that in general I am not a fan of metal grip sections. For that reason I had stayed away from the Lamy Studio. After assimilating multiple reviews, I found myself assured that the grip problem had been addressed and decided that the aion was a must have item.

I will not recite what has been said, on Lamy’s official web site and in several online reviews. Suffice it to say that this is a new design, by Jasper Morrison, a modern and un-flashy cartridge-converter pen with strong leanings towards minimalism. Promotional videos showed immaculate, sparsely furnished offices with architects’ drawing boards and angle-poise lighting, into which the modern, minimalist aion blends effortlessly.

Whilst this is good aspirational stuff, I could not help thinking that if my aion is to find itself in a crowded pen cup (or silo of pen cups) with currently well over twenty other inked fountain pens then this is not proper minimalism. But never mind that.

After a few days mulling it all over, I went ahead and ordered one, in black, with a fine nib. I chose to order through The Writing Desk, as their price included the Z27 converter and they test the nibs before despatch.

Waiting for the pen was exciting. I enjoyed thinking what ink to put in and settled on a safe Waterman Serenity blue to start with.

First impressions.

First impressions when it arrived were good. It is a stealthy matte black finish, and feels very robust and a nice weight (32g capped or 22g uncapped). The finish of the cap and barrel is slightly textured, like a very fine grade of micro-mesh. Lamy’s description is “Brushed and blasted surfaces are refined with a brilliant silk-matt anodic coating finish.” (Anodised, means coated electrolytically with a protective or decorative, oxide surface). I particularly like the length, a generous 137mm opened and unposted. It is a comfortable length to use unposted, even for my fairly large hands. I also very much liked the sprung pocket clip; just press the top of the clip and it opens to allow you to slip the pen in or out of a jacket pocket one handed. My Lamy logo clip does this too.

The nib is a slightly different shape from the usual Safari Z50 nibs. The outside edges have a different contour, the shoulders being more rounded, yet the the new nibs are still interchangeable with them.

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Lamy aion with new shaped nib

There are similarities with the Lamy Studio, in the shape of the section. Also, the plainness of the design, an air of undertstatedness, reflects the much admired Lamy 2000 of 1966.

The cap snaps on and off firmly. I think it is secured by the flange at the nib-end of the section, clipping into slots in the inner cap. When capped, the pen can rotate in the cap and there is just a little movement of the pen which can be wobbled from side to side in the cap, but not such as to be a problem. With cap removed, the section blends almost seamlessly into the barrel, with no threads, no step, no slightly tickly cap-fitting lugs. You can hardly see the join, except for the difference in texture.

So, what of the section? Again, it is aluminium. It looks stunning. But what is it like to hold? It has some texture to it but different from the cap and barrel and less grippable. Personally I would have preferred it to have at least the same amount of roughness as the barrel. But I am not a designer, just a user.

The writing experience.

Here, I have had differing experiences. As we know, a pen is held between finger and thumb and rests on your second finger under the section. The nib must be held to the paper at the optimum angle (finding the sweet spot for your nib) and then held consistently as you write. We rely upon being able to anchor the pen with finger and thumb to stop it from slipping and rotating left or right away from the sweet spot.

So, if your thumb cannot get a grip on the barrel or section where it is placed, the pen will slither around. Writing becomes frustrating. You will need frequently to release your grip (such as it is), rotate the pen back to where you want it, and then grip again.

In my case, (remembering that I have had the pen for only a few days) I have found marked differences in how I get on with the pen. This is all down to the moistness of the skin, which seems to vary at different times of the day. If your skin is dry then this pen is hard to hold steady. It feels a bit like the inside of a Teflon saucepan.

But when your skin has a slight amount of moisture, (and it only needs a very little to make all the difference) then the pen can be held steady and writes like a dream. It is nicely weighted towards the front end. The nib needs no pressure at all. The pen writes effortlessly under its own weight and you just guide it along.

I should mention that I tried Serenity blue ink at first but later flushed this out, gave the pen a good rinse and then refilled with Conway Stewart Tavy, by Diamine which is a nice blue black, that I like. I have noticed that sometimes ink starvation occurs a couple of paragraphs in which is just due to the ink staying at the far end of the converter and this is easily remedied by a light shake and then all is well.

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Note the slight difference in finish between the barrel and the secion

I think the pen likes to be held with a light touch. I keep having to stop myself from gripping it too tightly. Once you learn to let go a little and let the pen do its thing, then it is a joy to use. But it all depends on the degree of moisture in the finger and thumb!

If all this sounds too much trouble then it is wise to get some hands-on experience of the pen before buying. Or some moisturiser.

As a final thought, after just a couple of days use, when picking up my super-comfy, perfectly sized Kaweco Dia2, I felt that the latter was a little narrow in the grip. So how the aion feels will also depend on what you are used to. Here they are together.

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Lamy aion (right) next to the Kaweco Dia2