A London walk in a time of national mourning.

Today there was a special atmosphere in London. With blue skies and warm sunshine, thousands came to central London to see Buckingham Palace and The Mall, Green Park or St James’s Park, some to lay flowers in memory of HM The Queen. Others have come to queue to see her coffin lying in state at Westminster Hall, ahead of the state funeral at Westminster Abbey on Monday 19 September 2022. It is a moving sight, even on television, with guards in splendid uniforms standing in silent vigil, 24 hours a day, whilst members of the public pay their respects.

For those wishing to see the lying in state, there is a huge queue stretching back to Southwark Park. The authorities are prepared for this to reach 10 miles long. There are constant updates online but at one time today there was an estimated queuing time of 24 hours, and as I write this the current estimate is 13 hours. A colleague of mine at work joined the queue on Thursday evening and reached Westminster Hall at around 7am on Friday. Total estimates were of 400,000 people filing past the coffin, over four days, some travelling from great distances to do so.

I did not wish to visit Westminster Hall but wanted to come to London to mark this rare occasion and experience the atmosphere. I began at Trafalgar Square and joined the many people walking along The Mall. There were a lot of families with young children, and many bringing flowers. Much of the area was closed to traffic. In the quiet without the usual traffic noise, I found myself noticing the architecture of so many grand buildings and it was poignant to see so many flags flying at half-mast.

The police were doing a good job of controlling the crowds. You could not simply wander about where you liked and could only cross some roads at special crossing points, and there were some one-way systems in place for pedestrians. People accepted this and cooperated, chatting to the police. There was a sense that we were all there for the same reason, united by our common loss.

We paused to watch a group of mounted guardsmen ride past, with a police escort. Often helicopters could be heard high overhead. There were tv cameras and reporters everywhere and it seemed as if the attention of the world was focussed on London at this time.

The Mall: preparations for the state funeral.

Because of the volume of people, we could not walk directly up the Mall to Buckingham Palace but had to cross St James’s Park and join long queues down one side of the road and back up the other for those wishing to go to the Palace. With even this queue likely to take a few hours I was feeling a little bit hemmed in by the sheer number of visitors, although there was no pushing and shoving. I decided to change direction and take a path of less resistance away from the main attractions.

Buckingham Palace from St James’s Park.

From Birdcage Walk, I continued on to Buckingham Gate passing the Rubens hotel (where I had enjoyed a weekend break a few months ago) opposite The Royal Mews. Souvenir shops had portraits of the Queen in the window with her dates. There were mugs with the Queen’s picture and dates 1926 to 2022 and messages such as “Forever in our hearts.”

I cut through to Victoria Street, where there was more space to walk normally and headed towards Parliament Square. I was sorry to note that the landmark department store, House of Fraser on Victoria Street had closed down. I ventured down Artillery Row and came to Horseferry Road and found a cafe for some lunch. A man at the next table had just been to Westminster Hall after queuing for 14 hours. A group of police came in for coffee and takeaway lunches, taking these back to their minibus.

At Lambeth Bridge I saw sections of the epic queue heading for Westminster, like a pilgrimage. Not being a part of this, I could walk freely along Millbank and see the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben as I neared Parliament Square.

Houses of Parliament.

It was extraordinary to see and hear Parliament Square without any traffic. I passed Westminster Abbey where all eyes will be on the proceedings in two days’ time. There are already stands erected for tv camera crews.

Big Ben in the autumn sunshine.

Once inside Parliament Square, there was a pedestrian one-way system again and so it was necessary to go with the flow. First though, I enjoyed sitting in the sun to write down some impressions of the day, with my new Tibaldi fountain pen and the “traveller” style notebooks from Flying Tiger. I like the Tibaldi more and more and appreciate everything about it, particularly the retro zest green colours, its generous size, firm nib and the ebonite feed.

My journaling companion today, the Tibaldi N.60.

A young woman busker named Harmonie London set up a keyboard and began to sing the national anthem and soon drew a big audience. Without the traffic noise, her beautiful voice and playing could be heard from quite a distance and her set captured the collective mood perfectly. Many videoed her with their phones.

I made my way up Great George Street, passing the impressive Treasury building, and along Horse Guards Road, before cutting across Horse Guards Parade to emerge in Whitehall and back to where I had started.

Whitehall at entrance to Horse Guards Parade.

Before returning home, I headed up to Leicester Square to visit Choosing Keeping at Tower Street, surely one of London’s most delightful stationery shops. I browsed the Japanese pencils, Tomoe River paper notebooks, and a display case of fountain pens including Sailor, Pilot, Lamy, Kaweco and Pelikan. Resisting these I still found myself buying a bottle of Rohrer & Klingner ink in a dark blue or blue black called Isatis tinctoria, their limited edition of 2021. In my relaxed state I had forgotten all the golden rules of ink buying, which are to ask yourself “Do I actually need any ink at the moment?”; “Do I need this colour?”; “Is this sufficiently different from all the other inks that I already have?” and “Would my spouse approve?” and “What is WRONG with me?!” However, it is lovely ink, and it is important to support such wonderful shops.

All in all it had been a remarkable and memorable day. And my phone tells me I walked 7.87 miles so that’s good.

Early thoughts on the Tibaldi N.60 fountain pen.

I do not buy an expensive pen so often now. This has been only my third in 2022, the others being my Esterbrook Estie and then an Aurora Talentum, both of which proved successful purchases.

Purchase backstory

I first saw a Tibaldi N.60 in the flesh, whilst browsing in Selfridges some months ago. They had the Ruby red edition on display. It was a little too pricey for an impulse buy, and felt too similar in specification to my marbled red Leonardo Momento Zero. But the memory of it stayed with me. I read some reviews online which further whetted my appetite. I found that the pen was also available in Emerald green, Amber yellow, Samarkand blue or Rich black, with Palladium trim.

And then came the tempting Iguanasell summer sales. I had already bought three Aurora fountain pens online from Iguanasell. Their keen prices and fast service are hard to resist and receiving the parcel from FedEx is exciting. It was whilst scrolling through their sale pens, that I spotted the Tibaldi N.60, but not in any of the versions I knew of: this was called Retro Zest green and featured an 18k gold plated nib and trim, instead of the Palladium. I was immediately taken with this edition. In the photos the cap looked a lighter green than the body. After a few days I eventually and inevitably caved in and pulled the trigger. I opted for a medium nib.

The history

Tibaldi was founded in Italy in 1916 by Guiseppi Tibaldi, being amongst Italy’s earliest pen manufacturers. I believe it continued in business until 1965. I found images of a vintage Tibaldi online, which my pen closely resembles, save that the original was made of celluloid, had a solid gold nib and was a piston filler. Like many pen companies, for example Esterbrook, the company brand was later reborn. The headquarters was moved from Florence to Bassana del Grappa in 2004, which readers may recognise as the home of Montegrappa fountain pens. I gather that Tibaldi shares the same management as Montegrappa, in the Aquila family. Other models in the Tibaldi line are the Bononia, the Infrangible and the Perfecta.

Unboxing

The pen comes in a simple but sturdy black cardboard box, with a tray sliding out from an outer black sleeve, all within an orange paper outer sleeve. The pen cushion lifts out, to reveal a 2 year warranty card and a sealed pack containing two Tibaldi branded cartridges.

Tibaldi N.60 Retro Zest fountain pen.

Description

The Retro Zest green material was far more spectacular in real life than in the photos. On my model, the cap was not a lighter green than the barrel, but there are stripes of light and dark tones, from a very light green-gold to a dark green that is almost black. The colours look stunning as you rotate the pen in your hands. The pen body has the appearance of being faceted, yet is not and is entirely rounded and polished.

Catching the chatoyance in the cap.

It is a large pen. There is a distinctive, pointed finial in the same green acrylic material as the body, surrounded by a gold trim ring; a very stiff, tie-shaped pocket clip; three gold plated cap bands; Tibaldi on the front and Made in Italy on the back. The cap unscrews in one full rotation.

Uncapped

The section is of the same coloured material as the cap and barrel on this edition, whereas on the other colours mentioned earlier there is a black section. The section is rather short, before meeting the cap threads on the barrel but these are not sharp or uncomfortable if you grip the pen there. The section and barrel are very girthy however at around 12mm at its widest point.

The barrel unscrews and there is a gold-plated metal mount for a cartridge or converter. A Tibaldi branded converter is supplied, which is screw fit, a feature which I always enjoy. The other end of the barrel ends with another finial with a green acrylic “jewel” matching that on the cap.

Tibaldi screw-fit converter included.

Nib and feed

The stainless steel nib is gold plated and has the name Tibaldi, the bird’s wing logo and an M for medium. A particularly welcome feature at this price point, is the ebonite feed rather than plastic. This is semi-porous and partly absorbs ink, helping the flow of ink between nib and feed and also helps to ensure that the nib stays ready to write, even if the pen is unused for a few days.

Nib and the cap finial.

On my model, the nib was smooth and wrote right out of the box. It is a very firm nib. My early trials with the nib found it to be rather on the dry side. This may suit the majority of right-handed under-writers but I prefer a slightly wetter nib for greater lubrication and a darker line even when writing without any downward pressure, this being my usual lefty over-writer syle. I therefore set about easing the tines apart just minimally, first with brass shims and then with a gentle wiggle of a craft knife. This had the desired effect and I am now enjoying good flow and effortless writing.

Size and Weight

The pen measures 148mm end to end, including the raised finials. Uncapped it remains a generous 132mm which is plenty long enough to use unposted. The cap can be posted but brings the length to 173mm. It weighs aground 27.5g, 17g uncapped and 10g for the cap alone.

Size comparison with the Montblanc Meisterstuck 146.

Likes and dislikes

On the plus side, the colour and finish of this pen’s material has a big appeal for me. To a casual glance in poor light it might look like a black or very dark green, but on closer inspection as you turn the pen in the hand the polished feel and the strips of different shades of green reveal themselves having the appearance of an exotic vintage celluloid of pens of old. The pen is of a generous length and girth, without being unduly heavy. The ebonite feed (as found on my Aurora Talentum, Optima, and 88) is a rare delight in a steel nibbed pen at this price. Having a steel nib keeps the cost down.

On the negative side, the section is short. Some may find it too wide. The pocket clip is very stiff which means it grips securely but is not so easy to use. I would have liked to see “Tibaldi Model 60, Made in Italy” engraved on the barrel, in the manner of an Aurora Optima or Parker Duofold but I am probably asking too much now. Finally, one could argue that the pen is pretending to be something it is not, with a body which looks like celluloid and a nib which looks like gold. I do not see it that way and think that even without comparison to the pre-1965 model which it resembles, the pen stands up well in its own right for a modern, safe and convenient equivalent.

I recently saw a review by SBRE Brown of the Tibaldi N.60 in Emerald green. His only complaint was that the grip section was black, not of the same colour as the rest of the body. That is not an issue on the Retro Zest edition.

Size comparison with a (dusty) Montegrappa Fortuna

Conclusions

It is sometimes said (at least, in fountain pen circles) that if you find a pen you like and in a finish that you like, then buy it! Tibaldi pens are not very easy to find in the UK. Cult Pens sells them, including the N.60 but not currently the Retro Zest edition. Iguanasell has served me well now on several occasions even including a surprise free gift with this order and I would recommend them.

Perhaps some comparables below £200.00 might be an Edison Collier, a Conklin All American, Leonardo Momento Zero or a Montegrappa Fortuna. In terms of size and girth, the N.60 could be a good test of whether you will get along with such a large pen, before splashing out on a Pelikan M1000 or Montblanc 149.

Some final thoughts. This has been a momentous and sombre week in the UK: HM Queen Elizabeth II died on 8 September 2022 at the age of 96, after serving as monarch for over 70 years and just two days after greeting our new Prime Minister Liz Truss and inviting her to form a new government. The Queen was of my parents’ generation and hugely loved and respected. She had been the Queen for all of my life and so there is a sense of loss here. The N.60 was the last pen I bought whilst our Queen was alive. We are in period of mourning, which I will record in my journal. We have a new King and a new Prime Minister. Amidst all this change the N.60 Retro Zest is a good tool for such reflections and an echo of another age.