The London Spring Pen Show: my haul.

Well, what a lovely day this has been. Sunday 25 July 2021 and the first pen show since March 2020, before our first lockdown.

Instead of the Holiday Inn near Russell Square, the event had moved to a new venue: the Novotel London West, at 1, Shortlands, Hammersmith, London W6 8DR. This provided many advantages, being four times larger than the previous room, 150 nicely spaced out tables and all vendors in the same room. Most importantly, it felt roomy and safe, with ample space between the aisles, cool and airy, less crowded, and generally more relaxed, notwithstanding the face coverings and hand sanitisers.

Having seen a short video of the hall being set up, from Penultimate Dave on Instagram the night before, I was looking forward to the new venue. I had got out some spending money – although for the most part, dealers were taking card payments to avoid handling money.

Very soon, I started to see familiar faces. Most of these friends, from pen meets and pen shows as well as some from Instagram I had not met in 16 months and so there was an air of reunion on top of the usual buzz of excitement for the pen show itself.

It was a real joy to see all these folk again, as we emerge from a series of lockdowns and there was much to catch up on, in how life had treated everyone as well as sharing pen news and comparing notes on our shopping priorities for the day.

One thing was plain to me before today: I did not need any more fountain pens – or ink or notebooks for that matter. I brought along a few of my lesser used pens to re-home with Jon of Pensharing.com where they can be put to better use than by me in recent years.

I have been largely successful in fighting the constant temptation to acquire more fountain pens this year, aside from a few modestly priced acquisitions such as the Moonman S5 (I have three now) and another Cross Bailey Light in dark green. I am slowly realising that adding more pens will only reduce the use that I can make of my current hoard, plus I tell myself that I am unlikely to find any pens, within my budget, that provide a more suitable writing experience than many of those that I already have.

In my armoury against temptation, I brought along a pen-roll of 8 of my currently inked favourites which included my Aurora 88, Montegrappa Fortuna, Cross Peerless 125, blue Diplomat Excellence A plus and the humble Moonman S5 with its oblique broad nib which works so well for my lefty overwriting.

My other weapon was to remind myself of just how difficult it had been to maintain an earned income over the past year and how much chargeable time I needed to expend to receive the percentage that ends up in my pay packet! With these thoughts in mind I hardly needed to go to step three which was going to be writing an essay entitled “I do not need a new pen because….”

Having said all of that, I was still excited to see the tables and in particular the luxurious editions from Onoto, whose Magna Classic range has been on my grail pen radar for a while. I also had a good browse at the Aurora table, and at John Hall’s table, from Write Here of Shrewsbury and admired his Scribo pens. These included the latest colour called the Mariana: swirly dark blue, green and black tones representing the ocean trench. I am still yet to pull the trigger on a Scribo, which, although obviously desirable and gorgeous, is priced at the outer reaches of my comfort zone. Also, even with the less soft of the two nib options, I fear that the nib may be a bit too delicate and flexy for work and my day to day writing sessions. Maybe one day.

John Hall also had some of the lovely new Sailor Pro-Gears on display in the blue with translucent orange ends called “Sunset over the ocean” and I was tempted to buy a second PG slim with music nib as I so much enjoy my black and gold model.

In between making several laps of the hall, stopping for numerous conversations with friends and friendly dealers and a break for lunch, the outcome was that I still came home with four new and very useful fountain pens, coincidentally equalling the number that I gave away and so remaining “pen neutral” without increasing my fountain pen footprint (if that is a thing). Here they are:-

Jinhao 100

This, a little guilty pleasure, is an homage to the Parker Duofold Centennial, in the classic “big red” body colour and silver coloured nib and fittings. In my defence, I do own two “real” modern Parker Duofolds although of the “International” size, slightly slimmer than the Centennial and so this Jinhao will scratch the itch of having a full size version. It is a cartridge converter pen (unlike the early button fillers of the 1920’s) and aside from lacking the Parker’s current 18k gold nib, otherwise offers a similar shape and size. Jinhao steel nibs have, in my experience, been smooth and enjoyable and I am hoping that ink flow will be consistent in this one. I have not yet inked it up.

A Jinhao 100
An attractive and nicely set-up Jinhao nib.

Narwhal Schuylkill, Marlin Blue (fine).

This is my second Narwhal, also from Derek of Stonecott Fine Writing, the first being the limited edition one year anniversary model in red stripe ebonite with a gold coloured medium nib. In contrast, today’s purchase, has an irresistible, blue swirly body with silver coloured fittings and a fine nib. Their nibs come a little wider than their stated grade (my medium being more like a broad) and so I went for a fine this time.

Narwhal Schuylkill Blue Marlin. A stunningly pretty and fascinating material.

I was thrilled to find that on rotating the pen, the patterns revealed what with a little imagination, could be a leaping bright blue Marlin in the resin! Given that this is large size, piston filling pen at £55.00 you get a lot of pen for your money.

Watch for the blue Marlin, just below the ink window!

Diplomat Excellence A2, chrome plated fountain pen (steel medium) and ball pen set.

The Diplomat Excellence is one of my all time favourite pens. I have a Marrakesh and a rather less common blue and black harlequin edition and now today picked up a handsome shiny chromium plated guilloche patterned model. As my previous Excellences are both fine nibs, this medium will be a useful addition and was on sale from John Twiss with a matching ball pen for a very favourable price.

The underrated Diplomat…this time in chrome guilloche stripe pattern.
Diplomat Excellence A2, chrome plated.
Superbly comfortable, with heft, girth and no step.

Sailor Procolor 500, blue demonstrator, fine.

Finally, also spotted on John Twiss’s table, was this Sailor. Sailor nibs are a grade finer than their western equivalents and hence a Sailor fine is like a western extra fine. I was keen to try one – being firm and precise and toothy- but had always hesitated at buying a gold nibbed Pro Gear just to see if I like such a fine nib. However, this steel nibbed pen, in an attractive blue demonstrator version, seemed a perfect opportunity to experience some Sailor fine nibbage at an entry-level price of £35 (and John kindly reduced this as I bought the Diplomat too).

Sailor Procolor 500, blue demo, fine steel nib.
That deliciously crisp fine Sailor nib.

So, those are my purchases. So far I have only inked the Sailor and am thrilled with it. I first dipped and then filled it with Noodlers bullet proof black ink, which was my only other purchase of the day. I had heard good things about its water proof qualities for highlighting or water-colour painting over.

The Sailor again.

I do not want to ink up all four new pens in one day. That would seem like opening all one’s Christmas presents at once. I have flushed them all with water and had a good look at their nibs with a loupe. All look promising and I have no concerns. I am very happy with my purchases, even though my resolve was not as bullet proof as my Noodlers ink.

An extremely full bottle of inky black goodness from the Pure Pens table.

But today was not just about the purchases but about seeing friends again after a long absence, with a palpable sense of thankfulness at coming through the pandemic (so far!) and the renewal of hope in this step towards normality.

Today’s haul, group photo.

Early thoughts on the Narwhal Schuylkill 365 fountain pen.

Narwhal Pens are a relatively new brand in the fountain pen world. Founded less than two years ago in California, the company was launched and made its debut at the DC Supershow on 1 August 2019. The original series was of large, swirly vibrant acrylic, piston fillers in Poseidon blue, Angelfish yellow, Merman green or Hippocampus purple.

From what I can gather, the website went live on 7 August 2019, at narwhalpens.com. An Instagram account was launched, which had attracted 300 followers by 16 October 2019, growing to 500 by 18 January 2020 and to 1,500 by 8 October 2020. Today it has close to 2,000 followers.

Other options were added: a classic black fountain pen and also a clear demonstrator version.

The Schuylkill model was launched at the Philly Pen Show of 17- 19 January 2020. The name Schuylkill comes from the name of a river in Pennsylvania. Google tells me that it is pronounced “skool-kl” and so I suppose it sounds a bit like snorkel. It was named by Dutch settlers and means “hidden river.” A Narwhal is a type of whale, with a distinctive single tusk (well worth googling for images) and forms the logo of the brand.

The Schuylkill model was later available in some exciting new colour options – Asfur Bronze, Chromis Teal, Rockfish Red and Marlin Blue from 22 September 2020.

Also, to mark the company’s first year anniversary, a special limited edition of the Schuylkill was announced, to be made in red swirl ebonite and limited to 365 pieces worldwide. It was available from 22 September 2020. And it is this pen that I am looking at today.

The Unboxing.

This limited edition pen is supplied in a wooden box, with the name NARWHAL etched in capital letters on the sliding lid. Inside the unlined box, was a soft black and burgundy pen-pouch (which I think is imitation leather), featuring the Narwhal logo, a one year warranty card with filling instructions, and the fountain pen itself in a polythene sleeve. I will not keep the pen in the box but it was a nice presentation and useful for storing bits and pieces.

Limited edition set includes a wooden box and a pen pouch.

Design and appearance.

This is a large pen, generously proportioned. The colour of the ebonite is a lovely dark burgundy, smooth and polished, with a dark pinky-red wood-grain effect which is more evident under bright lighting. There is no brand name or any other text at all on the pen body, pocket clip, or nib. The only clue to its origins is the Narwhal logo on the nib.

Narwhal Schuylkill 365 limited edition fountain pen, in red swirl ebonite.

The cap has a gold coloured, slightly domed disk for a finial and a sturdy metal clip in the same finish. There is no cap band. The cap screws off in about one and three quarter turns. The section is of the same red swirl ebonite and tapers slightly towards the nib, with a raised lip at the end. There is no step from barrel to section, but there are cap threads, not at all uncomfortable. A clear ink window gives a good view of the ink remaining and makes it obvious when the pen needs refilling.

The barrel is long and wide, ending with a piston knob, where you will find the limited edition serial number. Mine is 312/365. A gold plated ring separates the piston knob from the rest of the barrel.

Limited edition number, on piston turning knob.

The nib and filling system.

The steel nib was available in fine or medium. I went for a medium. On visual inspection, this looked to be nicely set up, with a slender gap between the tines until meeting the very large and very rounded blob of tipping material. The tines were level and the tipping was extremely smooth.

Filling the pen (after a few flushes with water, to clear any residual oils and to measure ink capacity), I tried Waterman Serenity blue, but changed my mind a couple of times, switching to Diamine’s Conway Stewart Tavy and then to Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt blue, which is in the pen now. I thought of going for an Oxblood or Burgundy ink to suit its colouring but was a little nervous that reddish inks were more likely to stain the inside of the ink window. Perhaps next time. Filling was very smooth and easy. The plunger stops short of the ink window and so you do not actually see it when you lower it for filling. I believe the filling system can be unscrewed for cleaning or adjustment but there was no wrench included with the set. I would be wary of getting involved in piston removal. I dabbled in this with a TWSBI Classic once and had a bit of struggle to get it back in right.

Steel nib, Medium, with Narwhal logo. Tines slightly opened by me.

Writing performance.

The key thing to say here, is that the nib was extremely, glassy smooth. I cannot recall ever having a pen that wrote quite this smoothly. Having said that, it was a little dry for my particular taste (since I am a lefty and mostly use an overwriter style, which needs a wetter flow to lubricate the nib) but I was able to floss the tines and widen the gap just minimally until I could just see daylight between the tines at the tipping material. This adjustment was made without knocking the tines out of alignment. The result was that the pen now writes not only super-smoothly but is also well-lubricated, needing no downward pressure to write. The overall effect is like ice-skating, which might not be to everyone’s taste if you like a bit of feedback.

The medium nib is also, in my view, closer to a typical broad, particularly after my tine-gap widening mentioned above. This is not a bad thing but if you prefer a finer line, for smaller handwriting, then the fine nib may be a better option.

Size and weight.

The pen measures about 145mm capped, and a very commendable 130mm uncapped (this being my personal favourite dimension for an uncapped pen). The cap can be posted, very securely but not deeply, making the pen about 177mm long and so I think most people will find it preferable to use unposted. Weightwise, it is around 28g in all, being about 15g for the pen uncapped and 13g for the cap. The pen does feel light for its size. Presumably the piston mechanism is plastic.

A size comparison of the Narwhal Schuylkill, with a Pelikan M800 below.

Likes and dislikes.

This pen has a lot to commend it, especially at its very reasonable price. In particular:-

  • large size body;
  • piston filler;
  • exceptionally smooth nib;
  • ebonite material with a classic, vintagey appeal;
  • rarity value, with only 365 available worldwide (that is one school-hall!);
  • competitive price, kept modest by use of steel nib rather than gold.

Dislikes: There is little to say against this pen, for its price. Some might find the nib overly smooth to their tastes, or the medium nib too broad. But this had advantages too. If using laid paper, the nib rides the bumps with ease. I have tried very smooth papers too and have yet to experience any skipping.

Perhaps from a design point of view, it might have looked neater if the cap covered the ink window, but conversely it is useful to see the ink level without having to uncap the pen. The designers have chosen function over style, which is a good thing. Some may wish the cap posted deeper, but then the pen is long enough for most people without posting. A wrench for the piston would have been nice, as one is included with some other Narwhal models.

Conclusion.

I am delighted with the pen and very glad to have been able to buy one while still available. I was curious as to how an ebonite pen would feel (smooth) and smell (no smell, to speak of). How to sum up this pen? Like a steel nibbed Pelikan M800? Or an ebonite TWSBI Diamond 580? There is nothing quite like it and most people reading the specification would be surprised that it sells in the UK for £75.00. Narwhal have just introduced another new model of the Schuylkill range, the Porpita Navy, limited to 800 pieces. That looks very tempting too. This young brand is on an upward trajectory. Narwhal pens are available in the UK from Stonecott Fine Writing or in the USA from Goldspot Pens. The pen in this review was purchased with my own funds.

In sunlight, the red swirls really stand out.