A look at the Visconti Van Gogh Starry Night fountain pen.

Not so much a review today, but rather an excuse to air some photos of this lovely pen, that would otherwise remain buried in my computer.

The Visconti Van Gogh Starry Night.

Last summer seems a long time ago now, in the care-free days before the coronavirus pandemic. Now, at home in partial lockdown, I took the opportunity to look back through my hundreds of pen photos to try to tidy up the folders a bit.

It was at a meet up of the London fountain pen club, last June, that I acquired this pen. Its provenance is that it belonged to Penultimate Dave, the pen collector, prolific Instagrammer and YouTube pen reviewer formerly known as Visconti Dave. He was offering this pen and a few others from his collection, for sale. I did not have a Van Gogh. I had admired them in Selfridges and thought that the Starry Night was the one to have but had not stretched to buying one. This was the perfect time to rectify that.

The Van Gogh pens come in a variety of colours, each based upon the palette of a different famous painting, named on the cap ring. Hence, Starry Night is predominantly a rich dark blue, with splashes of yellow and whisps of white. Each pen is unique as the distribution of colours comes out slightly differently. There are over a dozen different paintings to choose from and some enthusiasts collect the whole set.

Beautiful swirls of rich dark blue, yellow and white, set off by silver coloured furniture.

The pen has a sprung metal pocket clip, (bow shaped, like the arches of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence) and a removable magnetic metal cap finial that can be replaced with a jeweled one or with your initials, although I have not done so.

The Visconti curved and laser etched pocket clip.

The cap and barrel are multi faceted. The cap snaps shut by means of a magnet inside the cap and so there are no cap threads to interfere with your grip. Nor is there any significant step from the barrel to the section, where you might grip the pen and so it is smooth to hold. Fun fact: the magnetic cap can be used to pick up spent staples from your desk.

The faceted cap and barrel. A Leuchtturm A5 plain paper journal, with pencil lines ruled by me. My notebook, my rules.

The grip section is metal with shiny plating. This looks attractive, and photogenic, particularly in contrast to the dark blue swirls of the barrel. It also gives the pen some heft at the front end. The down side, for some, is that it makes for rather a slippy surface to grip but I hold the pen just above this and am therefore able to anchor the pen with my thumb and forefinger on the barrel to keep the nib at the sweet spot. I find the pen very comfortable and balanced whether unposted (for short notes) or posted, for longer writing sessions.

Weighty metal section but slippery to hold.

The nib is steel, (mine is a fine), plated and with some fancy scroll work, rather more elaborate than on my Visconti Rembrandt. It is firm nib but beautifully smooth and with good flow and lubrication. I should add that it was not quite as wet when I first got it. After using it for a few days I decided to open up the tines just a little to improve flow (which I had also done on my Visconti Rembrandt, to good effect), to better suit my lefty-overwriter style.

Gorgeous scroll work on this steel nib, now with a hint of light between the tines.

I employed a trick learned from an SBRE Brown video, whereby you place your thumb on the middle of the nib, place the tip of the nib on the nail of your other thumb, then push downwards on the nib, very carefully, but just enough to start bending the tines upwards away from the feed. As you do this, it has the effect of widening the gap between the tines and increasing ink flow. You should go very carefully when bending this, or any nib. The aim is only to open up the tines a fraction and not to leave the nib looking like a ski jump. Check the results constantly with a loupe and by writing with the pen and do not overdo it. Also, as Stephen Brown said, “You will get ink on your fingers, but that is ok because you’re helping your pen.”

The pen takes standard international cartridges, or a converter. There are metal threads on the inside of the barrel.

Metal to metal for the barrel threads.

When I received the pen, Dave had it inked with a dark blue ink with an amazing red sheen. Once this was exhausted, I flushed it and refilled it with Waterman Serenity blue, which I like to use when getting to know a new pen and also to chase away any residue from more persistent inks. (This is another trick I have learned, this time from Laura of Fountain Pen Follies).

Penultimate Dave’s sheeny ink. I forgot to note down what it was.

Looking back at my notebook from that time, I filled about twelve pages with the Van Gogh, in conversation with myself (Van Gogh would approve) as to how the pen wrote and whether or not to tamper with the nib. I felt that my Rembrandt was smoother, but then that was a medium nib, not a fine.

Enjoying the Visconti nib on Leuchtturm paper.

Later that summer, I travelled to northern Italy for a holiday on Lake Garda. I brought the Van Gogh with me. I thought it would like that. I paired it with Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt blue cartridges. In the event, I did not use it all that much as I got distracted by another pen that I bought on holiday. This is often the way of things when you keep buying more pens.

Recently I inked it up, with Conway Stewart Tavy, by Diamine which is an old favourite blue black. This suits it very well. After this I tried the pen on a handful of different notebooks. It was particularly enjoyable on a thick, 100gsm paper from an A4 wire-bound notepad called Concord, premium writing paper.

The Van Gogh feels rather superior to the Rembrandt, as is reflected in the higher price tag. It is faceted, whereas the Rembrandt is not but otherwise the size and features are very similar. They compliment each other well. Both are probably regarded as near entry level Viscontis, in comparison to the various Homo Sapiens, Divinas and Opera Masters of the Visconti catalogue, none of which I own. But they are still very commendable pens in their own right with Italian flair and lofty artistic associations, albeit that the nib might need tweaking.

Visconti Van Gogh (left) beside a Visconti Rembrandt for comparison.

My Italian fountain pen line-up.

If you were to ask me about my experience of Italian fountain pens, I could tell you a bit about the ones that I own. In real life however, as fountain pen enthusiasts know, such a question never comes up around the office water cooler. Perhaps just as well. So I will resort to giving my response here.

A quick scroll through my pen accumulation database today, identified 12 fountain pens of Italian origin. This surprised me. I had not realised that I had so many.

I remember once watching a reviewer on YouTube, make a sweeping generalisation that Italian pens were a bit like Italian cars, by which he meant that they were flashy looking and fantastic when they worked but perhaps not the most reliable. This is probably unfair to both pen and car.

For my part, within the last four years or so, I have amassed this small sample. It is fair to say that these are all in the lower echelons of the price range. Of my twelve only one has a gold nib. This is the Aurora Ipsilon blue lacquer, with a 14k gold nib, rhodium plated. And that has not been my favourite of the bunch.

From left to right: 1. Aurora Ipsilon blue lacquer; 2. Campo Marzio Ambassador; 3. Campo Marzio Acropolis; 4. Delta Fantasia Vintage; 5. La Kaligrafica; 6. Leonardo Furore; 7. Leonardo Momento Zero; 8. Montegrappa Fortuna; 9. Pineider Avatar, lipstick red; 10. Visconti Rembrandt twilight; 11. Visconti Van Gogh Starry Night and 12. Vittorio Martini Col Disore.

Here again, capped:-

If I were to see this tray of pens at a pen show, the one to jump out at me the most would be the orange one: the Leonardo Officina Italiana, Furore “Arancio”. It is the brightest, the longest, the most flamboyant and also one of the most enjoyable to use. Oh, and the serial number of mine is number 001.

So here is a brief run down of my thoughts on these:

Aurora Ipsilon, blue lacquer.

This is the lacquered metal and gold nibbed version. It is on the small side but posts deeply and with a secure click. I enjoyed buying it whilst visiting Verona but for some reason did not take to it and it has not had much use. The black and blue marbled finish is nice. The fine nib, I recall, was not the most enjoyable.

Campo Marzio Ambassador.

Campo Marzio hails from Rome. They have a small but delightful shop in Piccadilly and sell their own range of fountain pens from around £20 up to £80. They are colourful, good value, standard international cartridge or converter pens with steel nibs. The Ambassador was, when I bought it, at the higher end of their price range. I enjoyed being able to swap out the number 6 nibs easily. It was a big comfortable pen, posted well but could have done with being just slightly longer to be as comfortable un-posted. I think it was the first Italian pen that I had owned. I have a suspicion that it may share a common heritage with the Conklin All American as they seem to have very similar dimensions.

Campo Marzio Ambassador.

Campo Marzio Acropolis.

I later added this blue marbled resin Acropolis, which was similar to the Ambassador but a bit slimmer and with a black section and with metal cap threads on the barrel. My only gripe was that the cap did not post as well as I would have liked. I was afraid of pushing it on too hard and cracking it.

Delta Fantasia Vintage.

This was bought at the London Pen Show and is my only celluloid pen. The steel nib keeps the cost down. It has a lovely swirly dark green finish and I have since learned how to cap the pen such that the patterns of the cap and barrel align. Hold it with nib facing you; place the cap on; turn cap two clicks “the wrong way” and then screw it down. Hey presto. The benefits of attending a pen club. It is a beautiful pen and the steel medium nib works well.

La Kaligrafica.

This is included for completeness but is not one to dwell on. It has a vibrant red acrylic body, some metal lattice work on the cap and a medium Iridium point, Germany, nib. It was a spontaneous and inexpensive purchase on holiday last year. Cap does not post securely. Too short without posting.

Leonardo Officina Italiana, Momento Zero.

This is an excellent pen and excellent value. New on the scene a year or two ago, I found mine for sale by Izods at the London Pen Show. Mine had some slight teething trouble, a tiny crack in the section, which Leonardos, via Roy of Izods promptly replaced for me, sending me a complete front section with nib and feed. The replacement section had no such problem although this time, the nib tines tended to click together a little. Another issue which I and others have noted, is that the converter rattles against the barrel unless you put some tape around it. But the size of the pen and the colours are great.

Leonardo Officina Italiana, Furore.

This is a very similar pen to the Momento Zero, but with bullet shaped ends. I love mine. I took to using it with Waterman Tender Purple ink. The pen really stands out in the pen cup, for its size and orangeness.

Montegrappa Fortuna.

This is standard black resin version. It is big, girthy, comfortable and posts nicely. I felt at first that the shiny plated threads were a bit of a distraction when you hold the pen, but I think with use you forget this or position your fingers to avoid the threads. The nib is smooth although very firm but that makes for a good pen for fast note-taking. It is a little pricey for a steel nib pen, but similar in price I suppose, to the Visconti Van Gogh.

Montegrappa Fortuna, meets Waterman Audacious Red.

Pineider Avatar, Lipstick Red.

Aah. Seldom have I enjoyed buying a new pen so much. I bought mine in Harrods, although they were no longer selling Pineider pens the last time I was there. I loved the vibrant red, mottled velvet-like pattern in the glossy red cap and barrel, the magnetic cap closure, the elegant clip, the Florence sky line on the cap ring and above all, the smooth soft nib. Everyone who tried it said it felt like a gold nib. I enjoyed basking in its reflected glory at our pen club meet ups.

The Pineider Avator, in lipstick red. And one of the nicest pen boxes I have ever received, with some welcome free Pineider stationery.

Visconti Rembrandt, Twilight.

This was my first Visconti, (if I do not count a Homo Sapiens Elegance Oversize, which I bought and promptly returned as the nib was unacceptably dry and too expensive to adjust myself). The Visconti Rembrandt also wrote on the dry side but I was able to adjust the nib by using a simple technique learned from SBRE Brown’s videos, whereby you put your thumb on the middle of the nib and then push the nib down against a hard surface, (such as your other thumbnail) and so bend the tines upwards very slightly, opening up the tine spacing. This made a great improvement and now it writes beautifully.

Visconti Van Gogh, Starry Night.

I had fancied getting a Van Gogh to go with my Rembrandt, (you get the picture?). This one was was being sold by my friend Penultimate Dave at our June pen club meet. When I had seen the full range in a shop in Cardiff once, the Starry Night was my favourite. I may have had to do the same trick with this Fine nib but now it writes superbly, smooth and wet.

Visconti Van Gogh, Starry Night.
The faceted cap and body, in the palette of Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

Vittorio Martini (established 1866), the Col Disore.

This was spotted in the window of a stationery shop in Sirmione, on Lake Garda, for 56 euros. I was attracted by the unusual fluted Maple wood barrel, which I felt looked a bit like the Diplomat Aero. It was a holiday purchase and a nice souvenir. I used it throughout my stay in Italy, with a black cartridge and the cap posted. However, with more comfortable and better-performing pens at my disposal, I have not used it so much since then but it is well made and it is nice to have a shiny, chrome, screw-on cap at this modest price.

Maple wood and chrome.
Vittorio Martini Col Disore fountain pen, next to Daniel’s Diplomat Aero at our July pen meet.

So that has been my experience of owning Italian pens, so far. I still have the urge one day to acquire a superior Montegrappa something, in blue celluloid and sterling silver. And the Aurora Talentum is still on my wish list, notwithstanding the lacklustre experience with the Ipsilon. The Italian allure lives on.

Finally, this has been my 100th post and it seems a fitting milestone at which to say a big Thank you for reading, liking, commenting and following this blog.