A few bloggiversary thoughts.

Today, Fountain pen blog turns six! It seems like a good moment to take stock, share a few statistics and to reflect on where I am at on this journey.

Born on 5 November 2016, there have now been 218 posts, which makes an average of around 36 per year. There have been 360,000 views, 212,000 visitors and 1,761 comments.

The posts have for the most part been a record of my personal journey through the world of fountain pens, inks and paper. They provide a snapshot of what was on my mind at the time they were written. The blog is an outlet to share my thoughts on recent purchases. I do not plan these posts very far in advance (in case that was not obvious). I have not so far received items for review. Just this week, after some consideration, I declined a friendly and flattering invitation from a well-respected notebook company to feature a product in the blog. It has been my preference, to write reviews only on items that I have bought. Naturally I would have been only too happy to receive a free journal to try but I worry about feeling some obligation to write favourably about a product in those circumstances. Perhaps this will change. I know many others have overcome such reservations.

Meanwhile, the journey of discovering and learning about different makes and types of pen is a long and interesting one. There is a risk that you are constantly tempted to buy ever more expensive pens and that the amount that you feel reasonable to spend on a pen will escalate. I do not think I have fallen too far into that trap. I can think of only three occasions when I spent over £400.00 on a pen: one was a Visconti which I promptly returned a couple of days later. Another, a Montegrappa Monte Grappa I also returned. Finally, a Montblanc 145 Classique, I have had for three years now was an impulse buy but outside my usual comfort zone.

My annual expenditure on fountain pens and the number of pens bought, did rise for a time but is under better control now. Looking back on 2022, I have had 22 pens incoming. Of these, five were gifted to me, which leaves 17 purchases. But of my purchases, four were gifted to other people. Total spent: £931.60.

I am still learning about what pens and nibs best suit me and my writing styles. I am left-handed and for the most part, an overwriter at that. This means writing with little or no downward pressure. Without that downward pressure the nib still needs to have a good ink flow. In recent years, I have found that oblique nibs work well for me and I have enjoyed nibs on a Moonman S5 eyedropper, an Aurora Optima (oblique broad), an Aurora Talentum (oblique medium) and some vintage Montblanc and Geha models that were kindly given to me by a friend knowing of my liking for such nibs.

I do also write in a lefty-underwriter mode sometimes, particularly for short notes since this is less comfortable and natural for me. I am usually not happy with how my writing looks in this style, chiefly because it is so hard to keep the upstrokes vertical. The good news is that fountain pens are much happier in this mode and the natural pressure that you apply in a downstroke, opens the tines, enhances ink flow and lubrication and you get a silky, smooth writing experience (assuming you have a smooth nib and suitable paper).

For underwriting style, I am happy to use standard nibs with fine, medium or broad rounded tipping. I have learned that Sailor’s standard nibs, with the tipping flattened at the sides, have a sharp and unforgiving edge and are not the best option for my style. This year, I have discovered the “bent” (fude) nibs of the Delike/Majohn New Moon fountain pens. As told in my last piece, I have three of them now and am very pleased with their flattering influence on my handwriting, particularly in my lefty-underwriter style.

My three Delike New Moon, fude nib pens. Currently my most-reached for pens!

Over the years I have learned that you do not need to spend more than a certain amount, to enjoy a really pleasant writing experience. You need to spend a bit, of course, to get something which is of decent quality, well made and appealing. The great news, in my opinion, is that the amount you need to spend is probably no more than £30.00. I am thinking here of the Moonman S5, the Cross Bailey Light or the Delike/Majohn New Moon, for example, which make up my most oft-used pens.

I realise that I am probably getting “off message” here for a fountain pen blog and risk not being taken seriously. Well, I do also enjoy my slightly more valuable pens. This year, my four most costly pen purchases were an Aurora Talentum at £240.00 (possibly one of the best value gold nib pens that I know of), an Esterbrook Estie (£140.00), a Tibaldi N.60 (£157.25) and, most recently the entry level Onoto Scholar (£150.00 pen show price). Of these, only the Aurora has a gold nib.

This year’s “big four” purchases: Esterbrook Estie, Aurora Talentum, Tibaldi N.60 and Onoto Scholar.

My fountain pen hobby did not begin with the blog but has always been there since I was a child. I remember cleaning my Parker pens, twisting tissue paper tightly to dry the inside of the cap. I still do this. I once (aged about 10) sent a letter to Parker, to ask about a Leonardo da Vinci drawing used in their advert (what I now know to be the Vitruvian man).

My fountain pen, ink and notebook obsession shows no signs of going anywhere. I still derive a lot of pleasure from using them or even just thinking about using them! And this blog has been a joy, as a platform to share some thoughts and pictures. I enjoy the interaction that it brings with this wonderful fountain pen community. I have made many lasting friends, both at home and abroad through the blog.

Whilst I still get excited about a new bottle of ink, I am now at an age when I also get excited about finishing one. It takes a long time to get to the end of a bottle, when you are using multiple pens and inks simultaneously. This year I have got through my stash of Kaweco blue cartridges and am now working through my Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt blue cartridges, in my Onoto Scholar (an excellent match for the navy blue body).

Although I do not get to do it very often, a favourite occupation is to take a break from the abundant choice of pens, inks and notebooks that surrounds me at home and to focus on one of each for a while in a writing session, say in a coffee shop somewhere. Perhaps this need for simplicity is to balance the modern-day problem of too much choice, or else is a yearning to return to simpler times when we had only one pen. The wish to buy more, whilst also wishing to have less, are clearly conflicting aims. The journey continues.

The tale of the Lady and the Scholar: my London Autumn Pen Show 2022.

Here in London, our Pen Show took place on Sunday, 9 October 2022, held again at the spacious Novotel London West, Hammersmith. I have been attending pen shows now for 9 years and still find them a bit overwhelming and a challenge to make the most of the day.

What makes for a good pen show experience? It helps to go with a list of anything in particular that you want to buy and cash for your budgeted spending, although it is equally enjoyable to go with an open mind and to see what catches your eye. This year I hoped to find another Titanium nib unit with ebonite feed, in a Bock fitting. Previously I had bought one with a Jowo fitting, which I had installed in my Opus 88 Demonstrator to good effect. I also hoped to take a look at an Onoto Scholar in the flesh. I hoped that the Semikolon Grand Voyage journals would again be available. Finally, I planned to take a look at some vintage Parkers. Spending enough, but not too much money, and wisely, helps avoid being left with regrets.

My mini-haul: Titanium nib unit, Parker 17 Lady, Onoto Scholar and case, plus a Semikolon journal.

Of course, it is the wonderful people of the fountain pen community that make the day special. This year I met in real life for the first time, Pamela of pamalisonknits.com attending her first pen show. Also, from Instagram, @amuse.bouch8 was here with her family, and Phil of @theinkscribe. There were the regulars, penultimatedave, Gary of dapprman https://dappr.net/ and Jon of https://www.pensharing.com/ with his Pensharing table, signing up new members. I met many of the well-known dealers – John Foye, John Hall of Write Here, John Twiss, Vince Coates, Dennis (of Den’s Pens) and Kirit Dal at whose Aurora table I tried a Talentum with a medium nib.

My wife came too. She made her purchases early, finding a handsome Diplomat (Excellence, brown guilloche rollerball), plus a Troika fineliner and a few Troika tool pens (ballpoint pens with screw drivers, ruler and spirit level) that she chose for gifts. Soon after, she discovered some colourful Semikolon twist action ball pens in matching colour plastic boxes and chose a selection of them, telling me excitedly “I have spent £80.00!” The game was on!

From wife’s haul: Diplomat Excellence rollerball.
And some Semikolon ball pens for gifts.

I went to find Vince, to ask about a Titanium nib unit. I bought one, in a Medium with red feed. It did not fit in the Campo Marzio Ambassador which I had planned to put it in, but I hoped it might fit in something else at home.

Magna Carta Pens, titanium nib unit.

We went to see the Onoto table, manned by Feng Li and James Boddy, Shirley and Emma. I was yet to own an Onoto pen but had long admired the Magna Classic, reputed to have one of the best stainless steel nibs around (or a gold nib if you wish to upgrade). I was able to handle both the Magna and the recently introduced Scholar, which is similar in shape but slightly smaller but which comes with the same number 7, bicolour stainless steel nib that you would receive on the Magna. Onoto were offering the Scholar at a tempting show price of £150.00 reduced from the usual £195.00. I was hooked. With a choice of red, yellow, navy blue or black, I chose navy blue and with a medium nib. Rather stupidly, I passed up the splendid, sumptuous leather Onoto pen roll pouch included in the price, to have a simpler flat leather pen case which I could more see myself using.

Happily, I was able to buy another Semikolon journal (reviewed here in my last post) which I will greatly enjoy using.

During the day I had many interesting conversations with the friendly dealers. I saw some lovely Conway Stewart pens from Bespoke British Pens, of Emsworth. I saw the 20mm square rods from which their pens are turned, on a lathe. The Churchill is the most popular. I wondered if in years to come, people would buy pens called the Johnson, or the Truss. Don’t answer that.

Derek at Stonecott Fine Writing showed me the Venustas carbon fibre pen with a Titanium nib. It looked like no other pen. I met, for the first time, Emy of Pen Venture. At his table I handled a marvellous Leonardo Mosaico with a size 8 gold nib, exclusive to the show and for £500.00 I think, but well outside my comfort zone for an impulse purchase. A lady at Sparks Nibs had a table of pieces showing me the various stages in making a fountain pen nib.

I browsed at Graham Jasper’s table of vintage Parker pens. I was tempted by the elegant Parker 51 in black with a gold cap, of which there were half a dozen or so examples, with prices not shown but ranging from £60.00 to £200.00, he said. I would have needed to inspect them all to check the nib and the aerometric filler, as well as the general condition of the caps and barrel, which showed differing degrees of wear as expected from these elderly pens. There was a bit too much choice and I could foresee that after this exercise, I would have chosen the one that was the highest price and so I moved on, this time.

After a very enjoyable day of meeting friends and browsing the tables, it was time to go. On a last walk round the tables, I found more trays of vintage Parker pens, but marked as either £40.00, £20.00 or finally, a miscellaneous box in which every item was £10.00. Here, I bought a little Parker 17 Lady, with a hooded nib, in dark green with gold furniture. The nib looked promising, and I could see myself enjoying it.

Parker 17 Lady, made in England.

The aftermath.

Back at home, I tried the Titanium nib in a succession of pens but could not find any that it would fit, so far. I will enjoy paginating the Semikolon journal. I knew that the Onoto Scholar fountain pen would be perfect and left that to try last. Surprisingly I found that it was the Parker 17 Lady that I was most eager to examine and which was to dominate my evening.

I soon spotted a large chip in the cap, just below the finial. However, when unscrewing the green plastic finial, I found that I could position the pocket clip in front of this, and also that when the finial was screwed in, there was no daylight showing from the chip and so hopefully it would still be reasonably airtight (not counting the deliberate hole found in the side of the cap). There were scratches on the barrel and cap. I then found that some of these were actually cracks, but I still clung to the hope that these were cosmetic only. The nib unit and aerometric, squeeze-bar filler were in good usable condition. I filled and wrote with the pen. The nib was a smooth, soft juicy broad.

Uncapped. The cracks start to appear.
But the 14k gold nib is lovely.

Using the pen, I noticed an increasing amount of ink on my fingers. It transpired that the section, or shell over the nib unit was not only scratched but cracked and that ink was leaking out from the shell. By this time, I had already had my £10.00 worth of enjoyment and education from the pen. My wife suggested putting it in the bin. I could not bring myself to do so. No one can bear to see a broken Lady. I pondered filling the pen by first unscrewing the nib and filler unit from the shell. This did not seem very practical but I decided to keep the pen and perhaps find another Lady or some spare components at a pen show to rebuild her some day.

Nib and aerometric filler unit unscrewed from the section and reusable.
Chip to the cap.

And so finally to the Scholar. This was predictably excellent. The steel nib was faultless and the pen felt very comfortable. You even get a brass tubing liner to add weight to the barrel, which is an optional extra on the Magna. Yes, the Magna at double the price would have been a little bit longer and broader, but then I have that size covered already by my recent Tibaldi N.60. I was no scholar myself but coincidentally the silver and the gold colours of the steel nib, and the gold coloured finial, clip and cap ring, next to the navy blue are reminiscent of my school uniform colours at the Reading Blue Coat School in the 1970s. I am thrilled with this beauty.

Onoto Scholar. An exquisite steel nib.

A few days after the show, I learned from Onoto that I was one of several lucky runner-up winners of a Coffee Dusting Stencil with the Onoto logo, so that was good!

With hindsight, I should have taken a little more care in choosing the Parker and spent a bit more money there to buy a pen without so many issues. I could also have passed up the Titanium nib after finding that it was not the right fit for my Campo Marzio. At least I stopped myself from buying any more ink. It takes years of practice to make the best use of a pen show and I am not quite there yet.