Travelling with ink: pen shopping in Menorca.

It is nice to travel and to be on holiday. Having a passion for fountain pens gives the trip an extra dimension.

I have just spent a very enjoyable family holiday in Menorca. Leaving behind the rain and relentless political news in the UK, we stayed in a hotel with a sea view, in the small town of Es Castell, situated on the harbour which serves the capital, Mao (or Mahon).

As usual, part of the preparation for me is choosing which fountain pens to bring. This time I settled on the superb Aurora 88 (freshly filled with Conway Stewart Tavy, blue black ink by Diamine) and my Montblanc Meisterstuck 145 Classique, (now on its third foreign trip of the year) as a reserve. After buying the Classique in January, it took me a couple of months to settle upon an ink. I tried several before discovering Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red, which both looks and sounds wonderful! For some holiday journaling I took a Leuchtturm A5 hardback notebook. At 18 rows per page, at say 10 words per line, I was interested to see how many pages I could write on one fill of the Aurora. Its so-called medium nib and Ebonite feed, delivers a fine line with a beautifully consistent flow and the pen is very comfortable.

Es Castell proved to be a very peaceful town, with a grid of residential streets and its own harbour, lined with shops and restaurants. I discovered a couple of local stationery and newsagent shops. In one, I bought an inexpensive but satisfying mechanical pencil and box of spare 2B leads, in the unusual size of 1.3mm.

A “Plus + 1.3” mechanical pencil and small nameless illuminated magnifying glass, with five LEDs on the back.

Another shop had a glass fronted display of pens featuring a giant sized Waterman and a vintage (possibly 1960’s) gold Parker pen and a pen pot of other assorted used pens. However it seemed that these were for ornament only and not for sale.

Enticing Waterman display. A stationery shop in Es Castell, Menorca.

Before visiting the capital city of Mao, I had searched Google for fountain pen shops and had discovered a couple listed. On foot, having been dropped off at the main square, it was not so easy to find my chosen shop using Google Maps, but my wife, who is more accustomed to using this while on foot, took over the navigator role and we set off, in the opposite direction from most tourists who were heading for the pedestrian shopping streets leading to the waterfront. However we succeeded in finding “Clips Papeleria” at 16, Carrer de Sant Esteve, on a corner of a quiet residential street. This was a general stationery shop but did have a glass cabinet of Inoxcrom fountain pens, a Spanish brand. Not having one of these yet, or indeed any Spanish fountain pens, I was keen to try one.

Clips Papeleria, Mahon.

I handled a couple of these before settling on a third model, in a pretty mauve metal finish with a shiny chrome section. I have not yet identified the model name. I was not sure about the chrome section at first, expecting it to be slippery, which it was and also of a rather odd shape with a wide part nearest the barrel but then tapering down to a narrower area near the nib. However, in the hand it was quite usable as the chrome section rested comfortably on my second finger, whilst my thumb held the barrel, the texture of which was not slippery, to keep the pen from turning. I preferred the mauve version to the grey. I think it was about 30 euros and so made a pleasing souvenir.

Inoxcrom, steel nib cartridge – converter fountain pen.

A few minutes later in the centre of the city I came across an art supplies shop which had a few fountain pens for sale, including one Pilot Metropolitan in orange with a purple wave design on the barrel and found myself buying this as well, with visions of pairing it with a nice orange ink.

Inoxcrom pen with Pilot Metropolitan.

On another day, in another city, of Cuitadella, with its delightful old part centred around the cathedral and harbour, I spotted another stationery / art supplies shop but with little by way of fountain pens.

A typical street scene in Cuitadella

However, after a few relaxing days at various beaches and exploring the wonderful island in our rented car, I settled into a happy contentment, realising that the pens that I was carrying with me were more than adequate for my needs and better than any that I was likely to find on the island.

A Menorca beach scene.

Besides, there were also other items to enjoy in the shops apart from pens. For instance, the ubiquitous simple Menorcan sandals called Avarcas, with rubber sole and leather uppers, originally worn by the rural population but now popular with tourists and available in a wide range of colours. They seemed to be unisex, save only that the men’s were in larger sizes and in more conservative colours.

Not many fountain pens but plenty of Menorcan sandals for sale.

My holiday haul also included a portable, rechargeable LED light, pumping out 500 lumens, which I found in a yachting supplies shop. Well, you never know when you might need one.

Equipment wise, I was very satisfied with the performance of my trusty old Tilley sun hat, Karrimor Spectre Supercool 20 litre ruck sack, Nikon 10×30 binoculars and indeed the Opel Corsa that we hired for a few days. It was good to be using these and my pens, rather than reviewing them.

As for my Aurora, I much enjoyed keeping my journal each day, in our room with its view of the sea. I was expecting to know by now how many A5 pages it would write on one fill of the pen, but after 52 pages, it is still going strong and looks from the ink window to be still over one third full!

Aurora 88 in a beach cafe, Sant Tomas, Menorca. With Montblanc Classique.

Update on 26.10.2019. I have since identified the Inoxcrom fountain pen. It is the Inoxcrom Mistral. I also learned that the company has its origins in Barcelona from 1946. Their steel nibs were given a shiny finish by applying a thin layer of galvanised chrome. The words Inoxidable and Chrome were then combined to give the name Inoxcrom. An online catalogue, product list and company history is on http://www.inoxcrom.es.

Some early thoughts on a modern Montblanc Meisterstuck Classique.

Buying a Montblanc fountain pen should be one of the happiest day of your life. You are choosing a lifetime companion. Our hopes and expectations for quality, materials and finish, are sky high. The brand occupies a special place in our psyche, along with the likes of Rolex and Rolls Royce. Those who own one speak highly of them and it would be rare to hear anyone say “Aaargh, my Montblanc has let me down again.”

Montblanc Meisterstuck Classique.

If you plan to buy one, my advice would be to start by looking at the Montblanc official web site. There, for the Meisterstuck (Masterpiece) series, you can view the whole current range, with their specifications and prices. Broadly speaking there are three main sizes, the 145 (Classique), the 146 (LeGrand) and the 149 (which seems to be just called the 149) plus the extra small, Mozart size. Filtering down to display only the fountain pens, there are still 31 models to chose from and that is only the Meisterstuck series. Then you can reflect calmly and at your leisure, on which one best suits your preferences and budget before visiting a shop.

Or you can do it the way I did. This involves less planning and forethought and is more serendipitous. I sauntered into a local jewellery shop to have a browse at the watches. There I came across a glass counter display of Montblanc writing instruments and paused to have a look at the prices. This was rather hopeless because all of the pens were capped and there were few clues as to whether there might be a nib or a rollerball inside the cap. This gave an opening for a conversation with the assistant, who was happy to show me the fountain pens.

One that she showed me, and with which I was very taken, was the Montblanc Model 145, Meisterstuck Classique, platinum coated version. This is slightly slimmer than the 146 and has a smaller nib. Also it is a cartridge-converter pen, rather than a piston filler. The platinum plated fittings looked really smart against the black resin.

Handling the pen, the body did not feel too slender for me. Uncapped, at around 122mm it was a bit short for me to use unposted but this is not an issue as it posts beautifully, coming up to around 153mm, making for a very comfortable and balanced unit. All in all, it weighs 21.7g. I do mostly post my pens and grip them quite far back from the nib.

Ill-prepared as I was, I did at least have a loupe with me and took a close look at the nib. This is what clinched it for me. I saw a perfectly formed, 14k beautifully polished gold nib, bi-colour with rhodium plating and with just a glimpse of daylight between the tines as the gap narrowed from the breather hole to the tip. And the tipping material was a work of art. Perfectly symmetrical, the top face of the tipping was cut down to a circle and the two sides were cut and smoothed perfectly to blend in to the tines. The tines were of course perfectly aligned. It was a joy to behold and all the indications were that it would write very smoothly and effortlessly. The nib was a medium.

The exquisite size 5 nib.

The shop did not seem to be geared towards allowing customers to try pens before buying. To be fair, it was a jewellery shop but it was almost as if they did not understand that a fountain pen needs ink. Never mind. I was confident to buy the pen having looked at the nib. I asked to have the one that I had inspected and not another one from stock.

Happily, the shop gave me a 10% discount on the list price of £460.00. It was still a sizeable outlay by my standards, particularly when totally unplanned.

Packaging.

The pen comes in a simple, black hinged gift box, not overly big. This is protected in a white cardboard outer box with a sticker confirming the model type, nib grade and the serial number. There is a Service Guide which looks like a mini cheque book, which also contains the Guarantee.

Materials and construction.

The pen is made of precious resin. This looks black although when held up to the light, you may see that it is a translucent dark red. The cap unscrews in about one full rotation. The grip section tapers slightly towards the nib and ends in a raised lip of a black material, and not with a metal “rust-ring” of the type that can cast reflections on your paper if writing in sunlight. The pocket clip and three barrel rings are platinum plated. The inscription on the cap ring reads Montblanc Meisterstuck. A nice touch is that there are metal threads on the inside of the barrel.

Each pen has its individual serial number around the ring of the pocket clip. What you might not notice is that the underside of the clip reads “Made in Germany. METAL”.

The nib.

This is a size 5 bi-colour nib, in 14k gold with rhodium plating. The feed is plastic. I don’t think DIY removal of the nib and feed is encouraged. Montblanc say that each nib requires over 30 separate operations, each carried out by hand.

Filling system.

Unlike its larger 146 and 149 brothers, this model takes standard international cartridges or a cartridge-converter. It is supplied with a very decent looking Montblanc converter, with a smoky grey plastic ink reservoir and a metal collar of what looks to be brass. There is a black plastic turning knob, but without any knurling to assist grip. The converter is screw fit. Along the side it states “Use Montblanc Ink Only.” This, they say in their promotional material, is because Montblanc ink is specially formulated to ensure that the flow keeps up with your thoughts.

The screw-fit Montblanc converter.

Writing performance.

My pen came with a medium nib. However if you go to Montblanc’s website, you will see that a nib exhange is available within six weeks of purchase. There are eight options: EF, F, M, B, BB, OM, OB and OBB.

A medium nib is a useful one to have, provided that your handwriting is not particularly small or large. It is easy and pleasant to use. However it will not of itself do anything to make your handwriting look any more attractive or expressive. Yes, the pen does make for a very consistent and reliable writing experience with good flow but the writing itself might not look distinguishable from something written with a £15 medium nibbed Faber-Castell Grip.

The Montblanc nib does however have a bit of tooth to it, not exactly a roughness, but a certain feedback so that you do feel the paper. It is not a buttery smooth writer. This tooth gives it the ability to perform on very glossy paper.

Also, although gold nibs may be thought of generally as softer than steel nibs, the Montblanc nib is fairly firm. It is possible to achieve some line width variation by applying pressure on your down strokes. It is certainly not a flex nib and although it is probably capable of being driven harder, I tend to write without pressure and enjoy the effortlessness that this nib offers.

Trying the Classique, with Montblanc Royal blue ink.

Conclusions.

This is not a pen to jump up and down about. Rather it has an elegance and subtlety and a reputation for excellence. This was actually the first time that I have ever bought a Montblanc. I do have two others already, one a 146 piston filler which was a present from my wife over 20 years ago and one a 1960’s Meisterstuck No 12, also a gift and which still looks and writes like new.

Size camparison: The 1960’s Montblanc Meisterstuck 12, the 145 Classique and a 1990’s 146.

These are built to last and with care should certainly last a lifetime. Yes, they are pricey. My Classique is not quite the least expensive Montblanc Meisterstuck fountain pen but is still “entry level.” I have decided that it is best not to beat myself up too much about the cost and to look upon it not as money spent, but merely converted into something of quiet beauty and service. The medium nib will not work miracles on my handwriting but I am minded not to switch nibs as it is such a useful general purpose nib and its set up was such a factor in my falling for this pen.