Inky Pursuits round-up.

Here is a brief round-up of some of my recent fountain pen related activities.

Currently inked.

If you had met me when I was aged 11, and asked me then about my ink pens and accessories, the sum total would have looked something like this.

A single Parker pen and bottle of Quink. “Can it be that it was all so simple then, or has time rewritten every line?”

Somehow in the intervening years, (but particularly in the last few) the pen accumulation has mushroomed and I have an entire drawer full of inks, the use and enjoyment of which has become a major hobby.

However, my number of “currently inked” pens at home, in a neat array of pen cups, has grown to an all-time high at 31, (not counting a couple of others kept at my place of work and another in my jacket pocket). Here is what 31 pens looks like.

The 31 currently inked, bunched roughly according to ink colour

This is due to a combination of factors: a number of new arrivals; an eagerness to try out new pen and ink combination ideas without waiting for another pen to run dry, and a general reluctance to flush away good ink.

The currently inked list. Note, five all inked with Tavy blue black, three with Pilot Iroshizuku Shin-kai, three with Graf Cobalt blue and two with Montblanc Royal blue.

I do not really see this as a problem. (Perhaps THAT is my problem!) I could go and flush them all this evening, but this would mean wasting the equivalent of almost one entire bottle of ink. Whilst I could cut down, I do enjoy having the choice of all these pens at my finger tips. And the joy is that each and every one feels different.

Recent purchases.

At the end of January, I bought a Montblanc Meisterstuck 145 Classique with platinum trim. As usual it came fitted with a Medium nib but I had six weeks in which to request a free nib exchange. I did visit a Montblanc store in London where I was able to try out the various nib options. I was very tempted by the Broad, which would have been my choice if I were to have swapped. But in the end I did not want to part with my Medium nib that I had grown to enjoy. The nib had taken a few weeks to run in and in short, we had “bonded”.

In the early weeks since buying this pen, I tried a different ink on every fill but have now settled on the lovely Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red, for the time being.

Another purchase, made at the London pen show in March, was the new Leonardo Officina Italiana, “Furore”, in a vibrant orange with gold colour trim and a Fine nib. In a rare stroke of genius, I have paired this with Waterman Tender Purple – a fun ink for a fun pen and am loving the combo. Also the feel of this nib on Leuchtturm journal paper makes me want to exclaim “Ooh, that’s lovely!” every time I write with it.

The artificial light does not do this justice.

My only other pen purchase from the show was my Diplomat Excellence A, Marrakesh, with a Fine nib in 14k gold. This has been inked with Tavy and I have been using it happily for my daily journal. The first fill had been with Diamine Cherry Sunburst, which I did not enjoy so much with this pen; perhaps it was just too matchy matchy for the metallic brown pen.

Unexpected gifts.

In February I received a wonderful surprise gift from a pen friend in Australia, who sent me his Pilot Custom 823 and Graf von Faber-Castell black Guilloche, both with Broad nibs and both fantastic pens. The 823 had been a grail pen for me and difficult to find in the UK. On my last visit to Hong Kong in 2017 I had hoped to have a chance to do some pen foraging and perhaps bag an 823 but my shopping plans were cut short by a bout of Sciatica and so the 823 had remained on my wish list. So I was extremely happy when one arrived on my doormat out of the blue.

Then in March, having read of my new Classique and my dilemma over whether to go for a nib exchange, my friend sent me a superb, 1970’s Montblanc 146 with a broad nib, which unlike the modern versions is an all gold finish and rather softer too. The pen also had a solid clear ink window instead of the small rectangular windows that the modern piston fillers have. This was an extremely generous and unexpected gift and you can imagine how thrilled I was on opening this package.

Montblanc Meisterstuck 146, with Broad nib. Believed to date from the 1970’s.

London Pen Club.

Our pen club met on 6 April, with a good turnout of around 15 people. Being the first gathering since the London pen show, a few of us had some new goodies from the show for others to try. My orange Leonardo Furore drew some admiring comments.

John had brought along his Montblanc 146 and 149. I was interested to compare these alongside my 145 and 146 and got a photo of them all in a row.

The first and third are mine…the 145 and 146.

Cameron had brought a recently acquired Pelikan M815 shiny stripes Stresemann, which was impressive, being heavier than the normal M800’s due to the metal in the barrel.

Penultimate Dave brought along an entire pen case of Arco beauties from his collection and some lovely Conway Stewarts which felt good in the hand.

However, I am pleased to report that I was feeling very content with my lot and did not feel the need to acquire anything else. Whilst it is always great to try other people’s pens, and many of brands that you just do not see in pen shops, I was happy in the end just to know that they exist. I felt, for the moment at least, cured of the need to acquire any more pens!

Harrods and Selfridges.

To put this to the test, I took the opportunity after the pen club meet, to visit both Harrods and Selfridges, to have a browse around their fountain pen departments and see what was new.

In Harrods, there is a particularly good range of Montegrappa pens. I had a second look at the “Monte Grappa” models, a recent range of retro style piston fillers, in black, navy blue, lavender or coral. They are available with either steel nibs or 14k gold nibs, the latter version being £445.00 in Harrods.

I was pleased to discover a very quick route to Harrods’ pen department currently located on the third floor, as “Pens, Books and Games” rather than the “Great Writing Room” of the past. (If you walk round to the back of Harrods, in the Basil Street entrance, take the escalator to the third floor, go left through Stationery, you will get straight to the fountain pens. You’re welcome).

A few tube stops later I was at Selfridges, where the pens are on basement level. I had a good look around the displays, with a good selection of the high end brands, including Yard O Led, Graf von Faber-Castell, Caran d’Ache, Chopard, SJ Dupont, Montegrappa, Pelikan and a few Viscontis, as well as Parker, Cross, Sheaffer and Waterman. As with Harrods, there is a separate booth for Montblanc.

I noticed Pineider there for the first time, with La Grande Bellazza models in Malachite and various other colours and two demonstrator models, one being the Honeycomb, which I had not seen before. The other with a gold coloured spring inside appeared at first glance like a posh TWSBI Go.

I was able to leave both Harrods and Selfridges without parting with any money. This time.

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.

A look at the Montblanc Meisterstuck No. 12 fountain pen.

I have been very fortunate this year, to have been given some superb fountain pens by generous friends in the fountain pen community. The most recent of these was a 1960’s Montblanc Meisterstuck No.12, given by a pen pal who was leaving London to work in Melbourne. I have been using it for a few weeks now and the pen is truly delightful. 

Showing the distinctive semi-hooded nib and the bishop’s mitre cap band.

I knew very little about vintage Montblancs. I had seen one or two at our monthly pen club gatherings in London. Coincidentally, back in the summer, I was shown one whilst visiting my late godfather’s wife, Mary.  She said “You might be interested in Brian’s old pen” and went to find it from a writing desk drawer.

First, a few words about my “Uncle Brian.” He had been my father’s best friend and cycling companion at school and later his Best Man. Brian was a tall man, hale and hearty with a bellowing loud voice. He was a surveyor and was probably one of Vespa scooter’s most loyal customers and had ridden over a million kilometres on them over the years. 

I was therefore a little surprised initially, to see that his chosen fountain pen was a rather small and unassuming black pen. However it was a Montblanc. I established that it was a cartridge-converter pen, with a semi-hooded nib. I told Mary that she ought to keep it in the family and took a few photos of it before handing it back. 

Uncle Brian’s 1960’s Montblanc

I think it was a 22x series although I am not sure which. It had a shiny black body, a single cap ring and a was a cartridge-converter filler:

A cartridge converter version.

After seeing this, I thought of looking for one at a pen show in memory of Uncle Brian but had not yet done so. Imagine my delight then, when last month over a coffee, my friend offered me his Meisterstuck No. 12 adding that I had remarked upon what a nice line it produced when he had used it to write to me. 

Appearance and Design

I gather that the No.12 formed part of a range, introduced in around 1959, with model numbers identifying where they sat in the hierarchy, their size and their filling type. For an authoritative account, visit FPN and “A thorough report on Montblanc 12/14/22/24/32/34 Series.”

Model numbers beginning with a figure 3 were the economy range. Model numbers beginning with a 2 were the medium range. Those beginning with a 1 were the superior range, the Meisterstuck, or masterpiece, the flagship range.

This is a piston filler, with a black resin body and the trademark white star at both ends. There is a gold coloured pocket clip (which can be removed by unscrewing the finial) and a distinctive cap band known as the bishop’s mitre. This has a chamfered edge around which are the words  “MONTBLANC MEISTERSTUCK No.12.”

Montblanc Meistestuck No.12

The cap pulls off, is reassuringly firm and secures with a click. There is an amber coloured ink window, with some decorative striations and a metal ring either side, a long tapering section and a semi-hooded 18k gold nib. 

At the other end, the the barrel tapers gently, to a flat base with a decorative gold coloured ring and a white star, so that you can enjoy the Montblanc emblem whilst writing with the pen, whether the cap is posted or not. 

The Montblanc white star, or snow peak.

Hardly noticeable in the barrel, is the join where the piston turning knob blends in to the barrel. It is all very subtle and understated. 

Weights and measurements

Capped, the pen is 129mm long. Uncapped it is 117mm and so quite usable unposted for those who hold their pens low down near the nib. However I prefer to add a little length and weight and to hold it higher up, with my thumb on the ink window. The cap posts deeply and securely to give a length of 144mm.

The whole pens weighs only around 15g, of which 6g is the cap, so the pen weighs just 9g if you are using it unposted.

Disassembly

My friend had mentioned that the section could be unscrewed and also that the piston was a bit stiff. At home, I watched a YouTube video by Peter Unbehauen on cleaning the section of a Monblanc No.12. I was happy to learn that it is quite easy. You simply unscrew the section, being careful with the delicate plastic amber ring that forms the ink window and the two metal rings, one each side of the window. Then, the nib unit (comprising the gold nib, the feed and a surrounding plastic housing) can simply be pushed out through the back of the section, rather like removing the nib of a Lamy 2000. 

Disassembled and after a clean.

Once the nib unit is removed, you can see that the grip section, or shell, is very thin and translucent. It is rather fragile when separated. 

From the video, I saw that you can disassemble the nib unit quite easily, by sliding the clear plastic housing back off nib and then separate the nib and feed. When you put it all back together you just need to align everything correctly and then screw the section back in place and not over-tighten it. It is great to know that the pen can be stripped for cleaning so easily, unlike the modern Meisterstuck 146 where such DIY exploits are discouraged. 

I did not completely disassemble the nib unit but left it to soak in water overnight. But while the section was off, with access to the ink reservoir, I took the opportunity, after flushing with water a few times, to introduce a little silicone grease on the end of a plastic stick, to the inner walls of the ink chamber and then operated the piston up and down a few times. Within moments the piston was gliding up and down, silky smooth again. The pen is like new! I got this tip from an old Brian Goulet video. 

Nib and writing performance 

As I mentioned, the nib is 18k gold. I think it is a medium but it has a wonderful stub-like quality to it and a very pleasant softness. I filled the pen with Montblanc Royal Blue, an excellent combination which I will stick with.

A perfect combination, unsurprisingly. You cannot go wrong with this, for business or pleasure.

The ink flow is sufficiently generous to make for a very pleasing smooth writing experience. It is not too wet but does have ample lubrication for the nib to cope with my lefty-overwriter handwriting style, (which requires a wetter nib than if writing in the more conventional “underwriter” style). I have tried a few longer writing sessions with it and am extremely pleased with its performance. It is comfortable and light in the hand. It certainly makes for more characterful writing than a standard round medium nib as you get a subtle variation of line width between your down strokes and cross strokes. 

Conclusion 

I am thrilled to own this pen and love using it. It shows no signs of being nearly 60 years old. It is a superb writer, with a large ink capacity and a really enjoyable soft gold nib. It is interesting to observe that there are elements in the design which were to appear in the Lamy 2000.

I would recommend trying one, if you get a chance to pick one up at a pen show. For those who find it too slender, there was the Meisterstuck No.14 offering slightly more girth. But my No.12 is the same size as my Uncle Brian’s and if it was big enough for him, it is big enough for me.