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.

 

 

 

A look at the Sheaffer 100 Translucent blue and chrome fountain pen

What is it about the combination of electric blue and chrome which makes it so captivating and (to me) irresistible?

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This year marks the 225th anniversary of WH Smith, the high street  book shop, newsagent and stationer chain that is a familiar sight in our towns and cities. Our local branch, at Brent Cross shopping centre, North London has reinvigorated its fountain pen display cabinets. This was a welcome find, when I visited recently. I enjoy looking around for anything new. This time I was rewarded with their dedicated self contained glass display cabinet showing a range of fountain pens from Parker, Cross, Waterman and Sheaffer each arranged in a fan shape although closer inspection revealed that the brands were intermixed.

It was there that I spotted what I now know to be the Sheaffer 100, in translucent blue, with polished chrome section and a brushed stainless steel cap, featuring the trademark Sheaffer white dot. The pen, with cap posted, looked stunning with its vibrant blue barrel and contrasting silver coloured section and cap. The nib, with its decorative scroll work, harks back to the glory days of Sheaffer when they were made in Fort Madison, Iowa.

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Sheaffer 100 Translucent blue and chrome

The pen looked to be good value, particularly in comparison with some of the other offerings on display with similar specification. With its striking good looks, needless to say, I succumbed to buying another pen.

The pen comes in a decently made and typical, black gift box with a removable padded tray, underneath which is a Use and Care Guide and 1 year warranty leaflet. Whilst this is for a Sheaffer pen, the name on the back of the leaflet nowadays reads A.T.Cross Company. You also get two Sheaffer Skrip cartridges, one blue and one black but no converter.

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A feature of this pen is the shiny grip section. But there we have a contradiction in terms. Shiny sections are difficult for me to grip. I know this. I have a Cross Aventura with the same issue. The section looks pretty and photogenic but slips around in my hand.

Why is this important? We look at writing samples to see how nibs perform, how wide the line is, how dry or wet the ink flow is, whether it skips and so on. But there is another factor at work here. Is the pen comfortable to hold? And part of feeling comfortable with a pen, means being able to hold it securely and confidently so that you can exercise sufficient control of the pen as you write. At the same time, you do not want to be overly aware of how you are holding the pen, which you will be if you are gripping too tight as your hand will tell you after a little while.

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A pen which cannot be gripped securely will manifest itself in shaky and erratic writing. Happiness does not shine through.

In the case of the Sheaffer 100, I have been writing with it for a few weeks now and have become accustomed to holding the pen just above the join of the section and the barrel. In this way, I can hold the blue barrel between finger and thumb, whilst the cool and shiny section rests on my second finger. This works for me. It feels slightly higher than I would normally hold a pen, but not too much higher like chopsticks.

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Holding the pen further back from the nib also means that you still need sufficient length for the back of the pen to rest in the crook of your hand. The pen unposted measures 120mm (4 3/4 inches) but happily, the cap posts securely (if you give it a firm push) and brings the pen up to 149mm (about 5 7/8ths inches) which is a very comfortable length, for me. The pen weighs 28g capped or posted. Uncapped it is 18g, with the cap weighing 10g.  I like to use it posted and this is not too heavy.

As for the writing experience, I tried the pen first with the supplied blue Sheaffer Skrip cartridge. The medium nib wrote a nice wet line, on the fine side of medium. The nib looks very attractive. However, seen under a loupe, the tipping on my nib looked just a little off, with the nib slit at the tip being not quite perpendicular when viewed head on, but leaning towards a 1 o’clock to 7 o’clock line. I decided to leave it to wear in naturally and I think it will wear smooth as I use the pen.

Whilst having a lovely ink flow, the blue Skrip did bleed through quite badly on a particular Paperchase notebook that was using such that when I finished the first cartridge I syringe-filled it with Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt blue, which I am using now and without the bleedthrough.

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Sheaffer 100 with Medium stainless steel nib and Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt blue ink on Rhodia 90gsm paper. Words by William Wordsworth.

I have adapted to holding the pen a little higher than I might otherwise, in view of the slippy no-go area of chrome section. But it is good to adapt and be comfortable with using different pens, rather like being able to drive different types of car.

If I had not liked the look of the pen I would not have persevered with it but I am fond of Sheaffers and it has been worth the effort.

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My grandmother had a sugar bowl like this one.