Inky Pursuits: October 2021 round-up.

Whilst work has been quite busy recently, it has been particularly good to have my stationery hobby as a backdrop for some much needed R & R. This has also been eventful, including some unexpected gifts and a satisfying bit of pen-tinkery. It is time for another round-up.

Frogmore Paper Mill, Hemel Hempstead.

This working paper mill is home to two Fourdrinier paper machines, over a hundred years old. Named after the brothers Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier, the world’s first successful machine for making a continuous reel of paper was operated at the mill in 1803. My wife visited their museum and gift shop and brought me back an A4 sample pad of their various heritage papers that are made there, of various colours, weights and textures, some quite fibrous. It occurred to me that they would make good backgrounds for some pen photography with my lightbox. (See photo of Opus 88 nib and cap further below as an example). I hope to visit there myself in a little while. The shop is open only on weekdays.

Sailor multi-pen.

A new gadget. “Now pay attention 007.”

Another surprise was this lovely Japanese Sailor multi-pen in metal, featuring artwork by Katsushika Hokusai (1760 – 1849), his famous images of Mt Fuji and waves off the coast of Kanagawa, depicted in silver and gold colour against a matt black background. The pen comprises a black and a red ballpoint refill plus a 0.5mm mechanical pencil, each selected by a twist of the barrel. I do love a gadget and operating this one is very enjoyable. The pen ball-point refills are D1. It has a pencil eraser under the finial cone. But what is so touching is the fact that it was an unexpected gift picked out for me at the Tokyo National Museum, by Yoshino, a charming Japanese music student in London, whose parents have been friends of our family for many years. As a Japanese gift, this is as authentic as it gets!

Sailor multi-pen (black and red ball points and pencil).

Agenzio Notebook, Paperchase.

I am aware that I have a tendency to buy stationery items for myself as a souvenir of an enjoyable day out. There was my Lamy 2000 fountain pen for example, which will forever remind me of a day trip to Brighton in May 2014. Recently my wife and I spent a happy day in Henley, enjoying a walk along the riverside in the autumn sunshine, a pub lunch at The Angel and then a browse around the shops.

I found a branch of Paperchase, and was drawn to an enticing and colourful display of new notebooks. The slightly odd thing is that I have found their Agenzio notebook paper to be not fountain pen friendly and to have a line width spacing a little narrower than I prefer. Yet despite knowing this I found myself purchasing one, half-eager for a challenge of finding an ink which it would like. Sometimes you can get away with using iron gall or permanent inks. Then, paying for the notebook, the young lady on the till informed me that if you buy two, you get 20% off the total price. So I chose a second one, in a different colour and with plain paper rather than ruled.

Agenzio hard cover notebook.

It is not all bad. The ruled version gives you 240 pages of very smooth and pleasant Champagne paper, with 33 rows to a page and with a row height of 6.9mm. The book is nicely bound with a stiff card cover, rounded corners, a single ribbon bookmark, an expandable pocket in the back cover, and an elastic closure. The binding is neatly sewn and the book opens flat, without risk of pages popping out. Interestingly, the pages are about 7″ wide by 10″ long, making the book a handy compromise between the usual A5 and A4 sizes:-

Agenzio notebook in blue, sandwiched between A4 and A5 notebooks.

The paper is pleasant to write on but (and I knew to expect this) almost every pen and ink combination I have tried so far, results in bleed-through, the line width, whilst roomier than some, is rather restricting for wider nibs. Also the book smells of glue.

Nevertheless I had an enjoyable time testing out the back sheet with my currently inked and then numbering the pages in pencil (yes there were the correct 240 pages). It IS pleasant to write on and with some trial and error you can find a combination of tools to use with it. For example my Sailor Procolor 500 with a fine steel nib and Noodler’s Bulletproof black does not bleed through, and you can even highlight over this if you are careful and do not overdo it.

A new notebook. Yes please. Homeward Bound as Paul Simon might say.

Update on the Opus 88 fitted with titanium nib.

Readers will recall that I bought a size 6, fine, Jowo-fit nib in titanium with an ebonite feed and housing, at the London Pen Show earlier this month. It is very enjoyable to use. I have had it in my Opus 88 Demonstrator, eye-dropper pen, whose original Broad nib was super smooth, great for laid papers but proved a little bland and lacking feedback. The titanium nib has injected a new lease of life into the pen which I was not using much. It is feedbacky, fine and wet, with just a little bounce but pretty firm, as I like. It never skips or hard-starts. Paired with the large Opus it is a wonderful pen, perhaps a poor-man’s Conid bulkfiller, but a great long-haul writing tool.

Opus 88 now fitted with titanium nib and ebonite feed.

The only issue which stood in the way of my total happiness, was that the titanium nib, when seated as deep as it would go into the section, still managed to touch the end of the cap in the final twists of the four-and-a-quarter turns to cap the pen (not for the impatient). I could see the tip of the nib actually writing a little arc of ink on the inside of the clear acrylic cap.

Titanium nib. Tell-tale ink arc inside cap. Also, heritage paper background from Frogmore Paper Mill!

Obviously I did not want to risk damage to the nib but was always a bit worried when capping the pen. I thought that it would be good to drill out the acrylic cap, just by about half a millimetre to get a little more headroom for my new nib. This would be a precision job. Alternatively I thought that it may be possible to grind the inside acrylic of the cap, with a Dremel or similar electric tool (if I had one, which I don’t). But then a breakthrough came unexpectedly late last night when I realised that the cap finial may be removable. There appeared to be screw threads there. I tried to unscrew it. At first it would not budge but when I tried again with some grippy material, it began to move and I was soon able to get it off. Inside the acrylic finial, I could more clearly see and reach the conical recess at the end. It looked to be quite simple to grind this deeper, very minimally, to accommodate a longer nib.

But in the absence of the right tools, I decided to try adding an O ring between the finial and the rest of cap, just to make it sit a little higher. This worked well, although I did not have an O ring of the ideal size but it does the job for now. I removed the pocket clip whilst I was at it, since I do not use it and the O ring alone still gave the necessary added height clearance. So now I can screw the cap on safe in the knowledge that it will not crush my nib.

An O ring below the cap finial gives a bit more clearance for a long nib.

Throughout the year I have been changing fountain pens each month for my daily journal. In October I used a white, Cross Bailey Light with Noodler’s Bulletproof black. It writes well but I found some flow issues and the pen has needed to have the feed re-charged with the converter, then all is well again. Next month I may switch to the Opus with its titanium and ebonite goodness.

Fine titanium nib writing sample.

Handbound letter.

This week I received a letter from a good friend in Sweden. To my surprise and delight it was carefully hand-sewn into a card stock cover to make a little booklet. I learned that it was written on Clairfontaine 120gsm paper, with a Sailor Pro Gear Realo with Naginata Togi nib and Rohrer & Klingner Salix iron gall blue black ink. Together with the news that the letter brought of my friend and his family, this was a wonderful and thoughtful piece of mail to receive.

An impressive hand-sewn letter. Being a doctor must help.

This reminds me that I am a little behind in replying to my correspondence. I will relish an opportunity to sit with a fountain pen of my choice, for an hour or so when the energy and inspiration levels are both favourable.

My current dream-team: Opus 88, titanium fine nib, ebonite feed, Cobalt Blue ink and a Leuchtturm journal.

The Post Pen Show Post: London Autumn 2021.

Last week I wrote The Pre Pen Show Post, in anticipation of the show on Sunday 10 October 2021. Now that it has passed, it is time to reflect on the day.

In short, it was wonderful and I had a great time. My wife was to have come, but changed her mind on the day and so I was left to make decisions unaided. I set off cheerfully, taking the London Overground train to Kensington Olympia and enjoyed a stroll to the venue, at the Novotel, Hammersmith.

The venue, Novotel London West.

With UK Pen Shows in new but very capable ownership, membership of the Writing Equipment Society no longer gets you free admission but I heard that this might change. However, visitors were given a free tote bag with the handsome UK Pen Shows logo and names of sponsors, which came in handy for my subsequent haul.

I soon found there to be a special ink for the show, namely a bottle of Beefeater Red from KWZ Ink of Poland. I purchased a bottle immediately without pausing to check what colour red it was. It turned out to be a very pleasing one, a rich dark beetroot tone which strangely reminded me of my favourite wax crayon in the colouring box at primary school.

Beefeater Red, the new show Ink from our friends in Poland, KWZ Ink.

Also within minutes of arriving, I spotted an enticing table of Diplomat fountain pens at generously discounted prices and pounced on a couple of Diplomat Excellences, being one of my favourite steel nib pens of all time. I will not dwell on them here as I have reviewed them previously in this blog.

Two Diplomat Excellences. The one at the front has a nifty quick release screw cap.

Having come through a period of 18 months with very little social interaction, it was a treat to catch up with friends, about a dozen from our London Pen Club, over the course of the day, as well as to chat to the friendly vendors. The venue was bright, spacious and airy and this all made for a very pleasant and enjoyable atmosphere.

The main hall.

Others have written about how to prepare for a pen show, to get the most out of the day and some good tips are to (a) have a budget, (b) make a list of anything in particular that you want to look for. I like to bring a loupe to inspect nibs. You might want to bring a bottle of ink, a notebook, a little bottle of water to clean pens that are dipped, and some paper towels.

This time, I had not got any particular fountain pens in mind to hunt down and was aiming to “be good” and not get carried away in a spending spree, but to keep an open mind and see what was available.

Of the pens that I acquired at the London Spring Show earlier this year, the one that I had enjoyed picking up and using the most, turned out to be a Sailor Procolor 500, a steel nibbed pen about the same size as a standard 1911 and with a Fine (very fine) nib. It has been filled ever since with Noodlers’ bullet proof black. I had found this pen for sale on John Twiss’s table. I asked John if he had any more of these. Sure enough he had a few and I chose a nice sparkly dark red one, (now called the Shikiori), perhaps a good pairing for the Beefeater red ink.

Sailor Shikiori in burgundy with sparkles.
An exquisite steel nib on a Sailor Shikiori.

As for inks, I also bought a bottle of Aurora blue in the nice special edition bottle, from Kirit Dal’s Aurora table. I have become a fan of Aurora’s lovely fountain pens, since finally owning an 88 and an Optima.

I also picked up an extra bottle of Diamine’s Conway Stewart Tavy, a blue black ink that I am keen on, having bought and emptied previous bottles from pen shows.

My ink haul.

It is not the pens but the people that make a pen show: I enjoyed visiting so many tables, in particular John Hall of Write Here, John Foye (whose pen photos I enjoy daily on Instagram), John Twiss, Derek of Stonecott Fine Writing Supplies Limited who was selling pens from Narwal, Benu and Venvstas (pronounced Ven-oost-as), the Onoto table and Den’s Pens.

There were some tables that were new to me this time. Scrittura Elegante from the Netherlands, had a good display, where I handled an Edison Collier in the lovely burnished gold finish and saw some Opus 88 eye-dropper demonstrators that I had not come across before, as well as some Laban pens from Taiwan with German nibs in some attractive colours.

I spoke to William Shakour who showed me his impressive Titan fountain pen, made by 3D printing (which I do not understand). He had some rough grey, unpolished examples for people to test four different nib sizes, with Titanium nibs. I was intrigued. The pens are piston fillers with a huge reservoir. He had been working on making a slightly slimmer version but this meant having thinner walls on the ink reservoir, which he was able to show me.

At The Good Blue, I tried their unique design of flex nib pen, with a metal body and one flat side to stop it from rolling.

By late morning I was glad of a coffee break with friends Jon of Pensharing.com and Vijay – both of whom are on Instagram, where we had a catch up and tried a few of each other’s pens.

Vijay and I then went to find the nib units, being sold at John Twiss and Vincent’s table with titanium nibs and ebonite feeds in various widths and with a choice of Jowo or Bock fittings and even a choice of colours for the feeds! I chose a Titanium fine nib, with red feed and Jowo fitting, hoping to fit it in a large Opus 88 Demonstrator that I had bought three years earlier with a steel broad.

A Titanium nib in an ebonite feed and housing, Jowo fit. Very popular at the show.

After making several more circuits of the tables and testing my self restraint to its limits, it was time to go home. My final tally was three new pens (two Diplomats and a Sailor at irresistible prices), three bottles of ink (KWZ Beefeater red, Diamine Conway Stewart Tavy and Aurora Blue in the fancy bottle) and one Titanium nib.

Overall I was very content with my purchases. The choice is phenomenal and easily overwhelming, particularly if you are more used to a quick browse at the pen shelf in Rymans or WH Smiths! There are pens to suit all budgets. I came away feeling that I had got the balance about right and had not gone mad. You cannot go to a restaurant and not eat.

At home I tried out the Titanium nib in my Opus 88. I was a good match and the clear acrylic grip section allows the dark red ebonite feed to be seen and appreciated. I inked up the pen with Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue (you need a colour that you will not get bored of in this pen) and the nib is a nice, feedbacky firm Fine. This was my first ever experience of having a Titanium nib so that is a novelty.

The new nib in my Opus 88, eye-dropper demonstrator. You must remember to put the pen’s rubber O ring on the back end of the housing.

Thanks as always to the organisers and vendors and fellow visitors who make these events so enjoyable. See you all again next year, if not before.

A clear look at the Opus 88 Demonstrator fountain pen.

Opus 88 is a fountain pen brand from Taiwan. Whereas TWSBI is known for its piston fill demonstrator pens, Opus 88 is for eyedropper pens, where ink is transferred to the barrel by a pipette. Some cartridge-converter pens can be adapted for eyedropper filling but the Opus 88 range are “true” eyedroppers, having no other filling options.

The expanding range now includes such models as the Koloro, Omar, Picnic, Fantasia and a recent model called the Flora shaped like a tall narrow vase. My model is simply called the Demonstrator and is the clear version, although also available in translucent smoke, red or orange. I bought mine from John Hall of Write Here at the London Pen Show in October 2018 and first mentioned this in my post My haul from the London Pen Show, 2018.

Opus 88 Demonstrator.

I have since enjoyed using it from time to time in my rotation. Recently, I was inspired to ink it up again after seeing a post on Instagram from Kimberly of @allthehobbies showing extracts of her transcription of Marcus Aurelius in a print style like a type face. She had used a pretty purple Opus 88 Picnic with a steel medium nib and the ink was Kobe #57 Himeajisai “Hydrangea”. Whilst I did not have that precise pen or ink, I went for my Waterman Tender Purple, (or Encre Violet Tendresse for added glamour).

The pen really comes into its own with a striking ink colour on board.

Description.

This is a large pen, by usual standards, cylindrical with flat ends in a clear acrylic. The cap finial and the piston turning knob (more of which later) are particularly clear and create an interesting distortion of your lined paper or writing below when the pen is put down. The lower half of the cap is frosted. The cap has a matte black metal pocket clip which is firm and springy with a ball at the end. There is no cap ring but the name Opus 88 is on the cap in black lettering.

Unscrewing the cap requires four complete revolutions, which is off-putting for some. The grip section, also clear, tapers slightly but has a generous girth of around 13mm towards the top end near the cap threads.

The barrel unscrews from the section for filling. At the end of the barrel, the 14mm long turning knob can be unscrewed to lift a piston rod which runs down the centre of the ink reservoir, to open the channel between the reservoir and the feed. Screwing this down again, cuts off the ink supply, converting your pen to a travelling ink well, to protect from leaks when the pen is carried around. The ink remaining in the feed may be enough to enable you to write for a few more pages but if more is needed, the cut off valve can simply be opened to recharge the feed, or left open if preferred, for a long uninterrupted writing session.

Filling.

To fill the pen, remove the barrel and drop ink directly into the reservoir. An eyedropper is included in the box for this purpose although I use longer ones, from an art shop. A syringe could instead be used. The reservoir holds a massive amount of ink. I have not measured the capacity but Goulet Pens describe it as 3.56ml. This would be equivalent to around 4 standard international short cartridges!

The nib.

My pen came with a Broad nib. I believe it to be a Jowo No. 6 steel nib. My nib was extremely smooth and wrote like a western broad. I found it great for laid paper, as it would glide over the ridges with ease. However, I found the lack of feedback from the nib to be disconcerting.

Original Broad nib. Note the O-ring which needs to be included.

However, I had a suitable donor for a nib transplant, namely a Manuscript ML 1856 fountain pen which had an identical nib and feed unit but in a Medium. The nib and feed units are easily unscrewed. Just remember that in the Opus 88, the small chubby O-ring must be placed over the nipple of the feed, before it is screwed into the section. Be careful not to lose this when removing the nib and feed unit for washing, since it is not attached.

Now with Medium nib installed, from a Manuscript ML 1856.

When re-assembling the pen, I took the opportunity to apply a little silicone grease at various points, being the threads of the nib and feed housing, the threads between section and barrel, the threads of the piston knob and the piston shaft itself. This should keep everything working nicely.

Disassembled.

Size and weight.

This is one of my largest pens, at 147mm closed and 137mm uncapped. (A Lamy Safari is around 130mm uncapped). The cap does not post but the length is ample.

My pen, currently around half full, weighs 29g, of which 19g is the pen uncapped and 10g for the cap alone. The weight is enough to feel substantial without being burdensome.

Likes, dislikes and conclusion.

I find little to dislike about this pen. I have mentioned that the original broad nib was a bit too smooth and lacking in feedback for me although it wrote very well and was good for laid paper. Also I know that some people dislike caps that require more than one or two turns to be unscrewed.

On the plus side, this is a big comfortable pen. There is a certain joy to be had in using a pen which is unashamedly a pure eyedropper, and with a massive ink capacity. I know that access to ink is not an issue for most of us but it is nice to be able to go travelling without needing to bring a bottle of ink, because basically your pen is one. The demonstrator body means there is no risk of being taken by surprise by your pen running dry. The pen looks great with a bright colour ink inside. Also an eyedropper pen is well suited to using up random small ink samples: just pour one in!

The piston rod with its shut-off mechanism is a very useful feature, so that the pen can be carried around with less risk of leaking. Also it reduces the risk of blobbing or burping.

I have a long way to go before I can come near to Kimberly’s neat printing. But with this ink capacity I am ready for a long haul.

Enjoying some ink-sloshing action.