2017: Some of my fountain pen highlights.

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Cleo Skribent Classic Metal piston filler. Gorgeous.

As the year draws to a close, it is time to reflect on some of the year’s highlights of my fountain pen hobby.  In what was a busy and eventful year, this is a continuing source of relaxation and enjoyment. I include in this, not only using fountain pens but all the related activity of filling, cleaning and general tinkering with pens; hours of pen, ink and paper sampling; reading and writing about new pens, photographing them and shopping for pens and supplies.

Before writing this, I looked at my end of year review from 2016. During that year I had bought 40 new pens for myself and concluded that in 2017, I expected to buy a lot less. Oh dear. Let me admit right away that this did not happen.

I have kept a record of pen acquisitions. In 2017, the gross number acquired, was 52 (gasp). That sounds like one every week. I can imagine detectives in an incident room, huddled around a map and predicting when and where I am likely to strike next.

Well, it wasn’t quite like that. Two were for bought for other people. Another, a Visconti, I returned the following day as I decided that I was not suited to it, and so that doesn’t count. Then towards the end of the year, while on holiday in China I was given two pens by a cousin and eight, mostly Heroes, from an uncle who was a retired teacher, who insisted that he did not need them anymore.   So that brings it down to 39.

And of these, only three (the ones with gold nibs) cost over £100.00 and the most expensive was £159. These were the vintage Pelikan M400, Sailor Magellan Lapis Lazuli and the Cleo Skribent Classic Gold.  My total pen spend came to around £1,300.00. Many of the pens cost little more than a trip to a cinema or a meal out and have given me hours of enjoyment. Some were in sales at irresistible prices.

Anyway, without further excuses, here are some highlights, in no particular order.

New Pens

In view of the number, I am not going to post one photograph showing them all. It would be a bit like seeing all the food I have eaten in a year.

To summarise the main acquisitions by brand, these are:

  • Cleo Skribent: (2) – Classic Metal and Classic Gold. I am delighted with them both. The nibs, whether steel or gold, are wonderful.
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    Cleo Skribent Classic Metal piston filler.
  • Conklin: (2) – Mark Twain Crescent Fillers, in coral chase and red chase, from the London pen show. Lovely to use and to fill.
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    Conklin Mark Twain crescent filler, in red chase.
  • Faber Castell: (2) a pair of cheap school pens, one red and one blue, with good nibs.
  • Hero (9): either bought or given to me while in China.
  • Kaweco (5): I bought the Allrounder, the Dia2, two of the newly released Perkeos and one Sport Skyline Mint. Of these, the Dia2 is my favourite and one of the most comfortable and reliable pens I have, at any price. The Perkeos have grown on me, as I like the length and the slightly bouncy nibs. The aluminium Allrounder is well made and solid, but for just slightly more money, I would still prefer the Dia2.
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    Kaweco Dia2. Pretty much the ideal pen for me and a firm favourite of 2017.
  • Lamy (5): I picked up the new 2017 special edition Safari in Petrol and AL-Star in Pacific Blue. Both came with a pack of matching cartridges. I was more thrilled with the Petrol (dark teal) with its lovely shading and closely matched pen and ink, although in practice, I did not use it very much. The Aion was a journey; I read and watched lots of online reviews, deliberated over the grip and then succumbed. I posted some thoughts on it at the time. I do like it but find that it needs a different way of writing; you need to “let go” and not grip too firmly as the surface won’t let you.
  • Parker (4): I bought three Sonnets, because they were greatly reduced in a Rymans sale. I got one in red and gold, one in black and one in brushed stainless steel. I rather like using the black one with the cap from the brushed stainless steel one. Then in November I picked up a simple, blue plastic Parker Reflex which writes effortlessly. I read that the caps are prone to cracking in time but I am not worried as I have already found several other pen caps which would fit if need be (such as a Kaweco Sport).
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    Black Parker Sonnet, with the cap from the brushed stainless steel model. “Let me not to the marriage of two pens, admit impediments.”
  • Sheaffer (4): I bought a Sheaffer 100 with Translucent Blue barrel and steel cap, which I think looks stunning and has a good nib. It looks more attractive than its modest £35.00 cost would suggest. I also bought another Sagaris (medium) in black, since I like my burgundy one so much. Then I spotted the Sheaffer Pop in blister packs, reduced to half price and bought two.
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    Sheaffer 100 translucent blue. That nib though!
  • TWSBI (2): I bought an Eco with a fine nib and a new Classic in white with medium nib. These are both great, as low-cost, high-capacity piston fillers and both perform well. I now have four different TWSBIs in all.

So, in number, Hero were the pens that I got the most of this year, although many were gifts. Of my purchases, Kaweco and Lamy were the brands that I bought the most of (with five of each) closely followed by Parker and Sheaffer both on four.

New old pens

I bought a vintage Pelikan M400 tortoise at auction, with a fine and rather flexy 14k gold Rover nib. I enjoyed cleaning this and was thrilled when after a night’s soaking in water, I was able to unscrew the nib and ebonite feed. At the same auction, buoyed by my newfound bidding success, I went on rather impulsively to bid for a Sailor Magellan Lapis Lazuli, limited edition, with a 21k zoom nib.

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Pelikan M400 vintage, tortoise. My first auction purchase.

Writing

I have kept a diary for years. This year, I used an A5 page a day diary from Rymans. I find that the best time for me to write is early in the morning, to write up my record of the previous day. I used my Pelikan M800, with Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue, a favourite combination.  I also finished writing up a volume of memories, purely for my own amusement, of being at boarding school in England in the 1970’s. For this I used a selection of different pens and inks over the year, really as a writing exercise and at the same time, to try out pens and inks for longer writing sessions with some sort of purpose, rather than writing “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”   I also enjoy writing letters and picking up whatever pen I fancy from the pen cup.

One pen, one ink, one hour

I have struggled all year with the dilemma of having too many fountain pens inked at once. Do you keep them all in use until you write them dry, or strive for an impressively minimal number of pens in the cup at the expense of flushing away good ink ? I am now less fussy than I was, about washing pens half full of ink but even so, I think my pen cup occupancy peaked at around thirty at one point.  Part of me longed for the days when I possessed only one pen and one ink. As a break from having too many pens to hand, I made up an activity which I cleverly named “One pen, one ink, one hour” which involves retreating, generally to a coffee shop and then writing more or less continuously in a notebook for an hour, with one pen. It is a good test of how a pen feels, whether the shape or the weight make your hand ache, how the feed keeps up and how you like the nib and the ink. You can write about anything, the pen itself, the fellow customers or whatever you like. No one is going to read it, thankfully.

Giving pens and advice

I mentioned that I bought a couple of pens for other people. One was a Kaweco Dia2, for my neice’s birthday. I had bought one for myself earlier and was so utterly delighted with it that I wanted to spread the joy. It is one of my favourite new pens of the year, along with the two Cleo Skribents and Conklin Crescent fillers. Another pen bought for someone else, was a Manuscript Clarity, requested by a reader of my blog, living in Vietnam.

In the summer I was flattered to be asked secretly by a cousin, to advise her on buying a fountain pen for her husband on their wedding anniversary. That would be my dream question in an exam. I sent back rather a long reply but narrowed it down to about three suggestions, based on the budget. In the end, she ordered a Pelikan M600 in blue with a fine nib. Later she sent me the most beautifully written thank you note, in her cursive italic handwriting, written with the pen that she had chosen and which was a great success.

Fountain pen blog

This blog celebrated its first birthday on 5 November 2017. Born in a few hours of playing on the WordPress web site, it was a bold step into the unknown. I had aimed loosely to post about once a week, just writing about whatever pen-related topic interested me. Now, I have just passed 50 posts. The number of followers gradually grew, roughly in tandem with the number of posts. I find the whole experience, of writing and publishing posts and getting feedback from readers, most enjoyable. This week the total views nudged past 7,000 and from over 80 countries, which I find astonishing.  I am not trying to boast here as I am sure many reading this have far higher numbers, but I am genuinely amazed at this exposure. In the summer, I published two posts about the newly released Kaweco Perkeo and these have between them been viewed over 900 times, largely because someone on FPN kindly put a link to my post in his.

Meeting people

It is easy to spend too long online reading about pens, what with WordPress, Instagram, YouTube and various online pen shops, such as Cult Pens and The Writing Desk. So it is particularly nice when the opportunity arises to meet pen people. This year, I attended my first Pelikan Hub event in September, which I enjoyed, closely followed by the London Writing Equipment Show in October when I came away with five new pens. Then in November, I met some of the same people at the monthly gathering of the London UK Fountain Pen Club.

Travelling with ink

When the opportunity arises, I enjoy looking in stationery shops overseas to see a different range of pens. I was interested to shop in China while on a holiday earlier this month, as covered in my most recent posts.

Conclusions

For me, this is the continuation and escalation of a hobby that began when I was about ten years old. The fountain pen community, I find, are very decent and not judgmental of others. Perhaps we are our own fiercest critics and there is a lot of self-guilt which goes with buying too many pens. Our favourite pen, when asked, is often “the next one”. It is addictively enjoyable, when it goes well. But I am reminded of lines in the song Beauty for brokenness (Graham Kendrick), which read “Lord end our madness, carelessness, greed;  make us content with the things that we need.” I am aware that my accumulation of pens (I haven’t mentioned the thirty or more new notebooks that I have “in stock” and the drawer full of ink) is hard to justify, even to myself. Indeed there are times when I would prefer to have fewer and appreciate them more, as in my coffee shop exercise. For 2018, I will simply repeat 2017’s resolution, to aim to buy a lot less pens and use and appreciate those that I have, all the more. Wish me luck, everybody.

Happy New Year to all and thanks for reading.

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Tinkering with the tortoise.

 

 

 

Pelikan M400 vintage tortoise, update.

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Pelikan M400 vintage tortoise, with a Voigtlander Vito IIa

This week I performed my first successful transplant on an elderly tortoise. Or was it a pelikan?

That is to say, I have given my recently acquired and much prized, Pelikan M400 vintage tortoise, a new nib. The one that it arrived with was a Rover, 14k gold, extra fine, which had wonderful flex to it and was great fun to experiment and doodle with. On removing this, the full inscription on the nib could be seen as Rover 585 EXTRA PO.45. I had wrongly assumed that the concealed lettering beneath the “EXTRA” would say “FINE” and had not guessed that it would say PO.45.

I do not have any information on Rover nibs and would be interested to know when and where they were made. I believe my pen dates from the early 1950’s and it has not yet yielded up all its secrets, nor is it likely to. It would be fascinating to know who had owned it and where it has been all my life. All I know is that it arrived at Hampstead Auctions, had been well cared for and had vestiges of a blue ink from its last use.

Much as I enjoyed this nib, it was not well suited to my way of writing. I found that I could write in an upright hand, quite smoothly, but if writing in my more usual slanting style and with any speed, the soft extra fine nib was rather scratchy. Not a pen to be rushed.

As I wanted to use the pen at home for letter writing and journaling and so forth, it seemed a good idea to acquire an additional nib and I ordered a modern Pelikan Fine, M200 stainless steel nib in the gold-coloured finish, from The Writing Desk. Yes, I know this sounds like a downgrade, but it is a Pelikan nib, it is the right colour, Pelikan stainless steel nibs are excellent (in my limited experience and from what I have read), plus it was an economical way of adapting the pen for regular practical use.

The new nib arrived within three working days and I was impressed and grateful that it had been checked and tested. A test card was signed and dated – a great service for a modest order and really helpful when buying online.

This time, my pen was already inked, with Conway Stewart Tavy from Diamine  as I unscrewed the nib with its fragile ebonite feed unit and replaced it with the Fine nib with its modern plastic feed, carefully keeping the pen upright. It is more accurate to say that I held the nib and feed still, firmly gripped in tissue paper, while unscrewing the barrel from the nib.  Having done this once already, it came out easily and the new stainless steel nib went in perfectly. Both pen and nib are doing well.

I am delighted with my choice. The Pelikan Fine seems to be nicely proportioned to my size of writing. I have generally thought of myself as a Medium nib person, but over the years as my writing has become faster and less legible, all the loops tend to get inked in and it is a treat to see some white space back in them again.

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Writing sample from Pelikan M400 with stainless steel Fine nib and Tavy ink

Admittedly the pen is still new to me, but at present I get a buzz at every opportunity to pick it up and write something with it.

My only other Pelikan stainless steel nib is on my M205 blue demonstrator from 2016 with which I chose a Broad which is beautifully smooth and one of the nicest nibs that I have ever used.

With its capacity of around 2ml, I expect one fill of ink to last me ages. Even in the M205 with its Broad nib, I got over 50 pages of an A5 notebook to one fill and so with a fine nib, I can expect a fair bit more than that. The extra fine nib might give double that mileage, so long as I do not get carried away with the broad wet flourishes that are readily available on applying a little pressure.

I did find that on the vintage M400, the cap did not post firmly. It rests on the back of the barrel quite deeply, to over half its length but did not grip and so tended to slide about. This was very easily remedied, simply by tucking a scrap of paper in the cap when posting, about half the size of a postage stamp and the problem is solved instantly. As I said, the pen is elderly. One has to make some allowances and treat it with care and respect.

 

Studying the classics – the Pelikan M400 vintage tortoise.

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Just over a week ago, a friend emailed me a link to a forthcoming local auction and mentioned that there were some fountain pens included. I had a browse at the online catalogue and began to get moderately excited at the prospect of acquiring a vintage  Pelikan M400 tortoise.

Still a newbie to the process, it was a novelty to log in to the sale room web site and submit  a bid. The auction was due to take place on Tuesday at 10:30am. With around 500 lots to get through and the fountain pen lots all coming towards the end of the sale, it was likely to be late afternoon before the Pelikan came up. On my only previous  experience with this auction, I had been hopeful of buying a burgundy Parker Duofold Centennial but was unprepared when the bidding sped past the estimate and I let it go.

I was quite expecting to be unsuccessful again and so had a back-up plan of bidding on one or two other pens, in the event that the Pelikan went to someone else.

In the event, when the Pelikan came up, as I listened online to the auctioneer, there were no higher bids placed and it went to me. (I should have walked away from the computer at that point content with my success. However I lingered online to see how the other pens sold. When a blue resin limited edition Sailor came up, I found my mouse hovering over the “Bid” button and, seeing off some half-hearted opposition, I found myself owning this pen as well, more of which another time).

I had been reading up online about the vintage Pelikan. On the following morning, I received the invoice for my two pens, by email from the auction rooms, which I thought was very speedy and efficient of them. I arranged to collect my pens later that day.

The Pelikan was fitted with a Rover 14k gold nib, extra fine, as the catalogue had stated. The pen was apparently an export model. I do not know the history of Rover nibs and am not sure whether the pen was first sold with this nib option (the piston turning knob does have the letters EF printed) or whether it might have been a later replacement of a Pelikan nib.

At home that evening, I was able to have a closer look at my purchase. The pen looked to be in a reasonably good condition for its age, which I believe dates from the early 1950’s.

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On the barrel, barely legible unless with a loupe, are the words EXPORT and PELIKAN GUNTHER WAGNER.  The nib reads ROVER 585 EXTRA. (Presumably the word FINE is concealed by the section).(Update: No, on later removing the nib, I was surprised to see that below the word EXTRA, it reads “PO.45”)

Looking at the cap, there is no inscription on the cap band. I have read that this puts it as being an early model. There were plenty of shallow scratches on the cap, signs of general use, but these are not visible to the naked eye and are only cosmetic and do not worry me at all. There are a couple of tiny cracks no more than 2mm long just below the pocket clip ring, possibly due to shrinkage but again, of no concern.

The nib looks to be in good condition with some wear, as a smooth, rounded foot can be seen to the tipping material. I was excited to try the extra fine nib but had to be patient.

The feed is an ebonite one, with “longitudinal fins” which all looked intact. These can become brittle with age and are easily cracked. I had read up on the informative “The Pelikan’s Perch” blog, how to go about removing the nib and feed, taking great care not to damage the feed.

First I wished to establish whether the nib and feed were screw fit or friction fit. Again, I learned this week that some rare early models were friction fit and that this design was briefly repeated later when the model was re-introduced.

I tried operating the piston. This was very promising. The piston traveled up and down and still felt reasonably stiff. The attractive tortoise-shell coloured, striped resin barrel gave a good view of the piston, when held up to the light.

I wanted to measure the take up into the reservoir. I have contrived my own simple device for this, being a syringe, with the plunger removed and with the nozzle plugged with a match stick. This I attach to a vertical object (the bathroom clock!) with an elastic band, and fill the syringe with water using a pipette, up to the 5ml mark.

I then held the Pelikan nib down in the syringe, and filled it with water, as you would with ink. I was pleasantly surprised to see the water level drop down to 3ml, indicating a good 2ml capacity in the Pelikan.

Ejecting this first lot of water, produced some old blue ink residue from the pen and I flushed it a couple more times, before then leaving the pen filled with water and standing in a jar of water up over the nib to have a good soak.I left it for 24 hours.

The following evening, flushing the pen a few more times, I then tried for the first time to remove the nib.Gripping the nib and feed firmly, wrapped in several layers of tissue paper, I held these still while attempting to rotate the barrel towards me, thus unscrewing the nib anti-clockwise. I was delighted when the nib began to unscrew, with no difficulty at all and I was able to remove and wash the nib and feed unit. I gather that these are interchangeable with modern nib and feed units for the M200 and M400 series pens, so that I could try the 14k gold EF in my modern M205 blue demonstrator, or the steel broad from the M205 in the vintage tortoise.

Before I filled the pen for the first time, I had to make the choice of a suitable ink. I decided to go either for Waterman Serenity Blue, or Diamine’s Conway Stewart Tavy, for this first fill. Dipping the pen in each of these ink in turn, I settled upon the Tavy, as a darker more legible line in the extra fine nib. I also like the dark blue-black tones of this ink which seemed fitting for the vintage pen, such that you might find on a letter from the 1950’s.

I was concerned as to how well the old cork piston seal might work, on a pen of perhaps over 65 years of age. The piston had drawn up water to a very satisfactory capacity, but I did not know whether it might leak from the back once filled with ink. I had spent an evening reading about removing piston assemblies from these pens, by means of a dowling rod inserted through the nib end and this sounded much too advanced and risky for me to attempt.  I very much hoped that the piston would be usable. If not, then I had an attractive and rather expensive dip pen or a nib unit that I could use in other pens.

And so that night, the pen suffered the indignity of being stood in a glass jar to check for any accidents overnight. Happily (and this really has been a lucky story so far) there were no signs of any leakage.

So how does it write? Well, the nib is far softer than any I had experienced. A little pressure spreads the narrow tines to produce a lovely characterful broad wet stroke. Without pressure the pen writes a very fine line. I was pleased with my ink choice. The nib wrote smoothly when writing with my left elbow tucked in to my side (I am left handed) but when writing in my ungainly, overhand slanting style, with paper tilted and my left hand above the line (a bad habit from childhood to avoid smudging wet ink), then the nib was a bit scratchy. So I will go with what it likes best.

I amused myself trying the pen on every available type of paper. It suits smooth papers best. And I discovered a new source of amusement, in writing with the reverse side of a vintage extra fine nib, to give an extra extra fine line! This enables you to write in such miniscule letters, aided by a magnifying glass as you go, that you can achieve up to six lines of writing in one row of an exercise book. I then attempted the Lord’s Prayer which I managed to fit into three rows,  which is less than one inch deep. This is of limited application I know, but fun to try nevertheless.

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