2019: some of my fountain pen highlights.

As another year draws to a close, it is an opportunity to take stock on where the fountain pen hobby has taken me and what has been achieved over the year. Once again, the hobby has provided me with a real, absorbing source of relaxation. I spend a lot of my free time in journaling, letter writing, trying out pens, ink and paper combinations, and other pen-related activities.

Acquisitions.

Again, I have kept a record of pens added to my accumulation. This year there were 44 new arrivals. Of these, seven were received as gifts (including a Sailor Pro Gear Slim that I won in a competition!) which leaves a balance of 37 pens that I bought for myself over the year at a total cost of £2,013.91. However a lot of these were inexpensive pens, such as Faber Castell Grips, Kaweco Perkeos and Cross Bailey Lights, that I was unable to resist for various reasons.

If I just extract those pens for which I spent more than £100.00, there are in fact only six significant buys:

  • Montblanc Meisterstuck 145, Classique, 14k gold nib Medium: £414.00;
  • Leonardo Furore, steel nib, Fine: £155.00
  • Diplomat Excellence Marrakech, 14k gold nib, Fine: £150.00;
  • Waterman Carene, in red, 18k gold nib, Medium, £151.20;
  • Visconti Van Gogh, Starry Night, steel nib, Fine: £120.00;
  • Aurora 88, black resin with gold plated cap, 14k gold nib, Medium:£344.50.

I have not included the Montegrappa Monte Grappa, that I bought in Harrods but then returned.

Thus, two thirds of my annual spend was on just six significant pens, which is not a huge number for the whole year. Also, my total pen expenditure was down on 2018’s total of £3,303.73, which is a reduction of around 39%.

Part of the reason for this is that I was fortunate to be given several very desirable previously owned pens as gifts from a friend and fellow fountain pen enthusiast during the year, including a Pilot Custom 823, a Montblanc Heritage 1912, a 1970’s Montblanc Meisterstuck 146 (with a soft broad nib) and a Graf von Faber-Castell Guilloche in black with a broad 18k gold nib.

Then in November, I was thrilled to win the Sailor Pro Gear Slim, with a music nib in a generous giveaway/competition from John Hall of Write Here in Shrewsbury. This is a delightful pen, one that I had not owned before and which I am much enjoying, not only for its performance but also for the happy associations that it has for me.

Other highlights.

Apart from the enjoyment of new pens, the year has been punctuated with monthly gatherings of the London fountain pen club, although the group became fragmented with a move to a different location and so numbers have been down and it is not what it used to be. Still, it has still been nice to meet up, to enthuse over each other’s pens and have a chat for a couple of hours once a month.

In March, I attended the London Pen Show and came away with a very restrained total of two pens – the Diplomat Excellence with a gold nib and the Leonardo Furore, in vibrant orange and bearing serial number 001 for this colour.

I enjoyed taking a few pens on holidays for journaling during the year – to Dubai, Italy and Menorca. I have established a new tradition of bringing my Montblanc Classique as a travel pen for any overseas trips. Keeping an eye open for pen shops whilst abroad, is another of my habits.

In September the Pelikan Hub came round once again and was a rather expanded version of our pen club meets, but with a few extra visitors from further afield. We all got to take home a bottle of Pelikan Edelstein Star Ruby, a Pelikan magazine a writing pad and reignited our appreciation of all things Pelikan. Reading the write ups aftewards on social media, of Hubs all over the world was fun.

I have enjoyed putting out the occasional post to this blog, for another year. These are not planned very far in advance and depend upon (a) having something to say and (b) the time and energy to write it! This has not come together as much as I would have liked.

When the energy is not there, it is easier to relax and read other blogs and be inspired and entertained by posts on WordPress, Instagram and YouTube. It is all too easy to allow hours to pass in this way, which makes it all the more valuable to have some real human contact with the monthly pen meets.

I do appreciate the time and effort that others put in to creating new content for their blogs. I was sorry to see in November that Anthony had decided to call time on his blog, UK Fountain Pens after three prolific years but fully understood his reasons for doing so.

As for inks, I have not been very adventurous this year and have bought very little. My most used bottled inks are probably Conway Stewart Tavy, (a blue black now made by Diamine), Waterman Serenity Blue and Montblanc Royal Blue. At the pen show I bought a bottle of Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red, which I have settled on for use exclusively with my Montblanc Classique.

I also discovered Montblanc Permanent Blue. I have been using this with a Platinum Procyon, as it has a good slip-and-seal inner cap that resists drying out. I have also put it in one of my Cross Bailey Lights.

I am impressed with the Permanent Blue. At Christmas my neice gave me an A5 soft cover journal, from “Agenzio by Paperchase.” As is my custom, I first tried out a range of different inks (from my currently inked pen cups) on the back page, to see which were best suited. The paper is pleasant to write on but is prone to bleedthrough with many of my inks. However I found that with Montblanc Permanent Blue, there was no bleedthrough and also hardly any show through, or ghosting. Likewise with Sailor Kiwa-guro permanent black and so these will be my choices for this note book.

Pen favourites of 2019.

I really have spoilt myself with pens this year and have had some great additions. I also count myself as very fortunate, among the pen community, to be capable of getting just as excited with an inexpensive pen if it is comfortable, well made and good looking and writes well, as an expensive one. But that is not to say that I do not appreciate great pens as having special value. A few of the stand-out pens for me in 2019 were the following:-

Montblanc Heritage 1912: this is the special edition, retractable nib, piston filling pen that came out a few years ago but is no longer made. It has a unique Montblanc nib that is softer than those on the current Meisterstuck range and is a pen to cherish and enjoy.

Montblanc Heritage 1912

The Aurora 88: this was bought online from Iguanasell of Spain, when a particularly attractive price was available back in the summer. It is a piston filling pen, in black resin with gold plated cap and has a real presence. The 14k gold nib is supposedly a Medium but writes more like a Fine in my view and is very comfortable and enjoyable, paired currently with Tavy.

Aurora 88 in black resin with gold plated cap.

The Sailor Pro Gear Slim, with 14k music nib: The music nib provides a very pleasing italic line for general writing, when held at a consistent angle and when you keep it at the sweet spot. I think the “Slim” name is rather a misnomer and could be off-putting for some. The girth is not particularly slim, although it is smaller than the classic or the King of Pen, which are progressively larger. However it is a short pen at around 124mm capped, almost pocket-pen size, yet makes a very comfortable length when the cap is posted. This pen has won a special place in my heart.

Sailor Pro Gear Slim with a 14k gold music nib. Next to a Kaweco Sport, for scale.

The year’s best cheap pens.

I have enjoyed discovering plenty of very affordable and well-performing pens over the year. There is the Faber-Castell Grip, now sold in Paperchase at £15.00 with a smooth steel nib. In Dubai I came across a Pilot cartridge or eye-dropper pen called the AMS 86 G3 ASTD, sold on a blister pack for about £6.00 which was fun, although I made a mistake to start with in trying to force in the cartridge the wrong way round.

Towards the end of the year I was introduced to the new Cross Bailey Light, by Patrick, of John Lewis’ pen department. Over the following few weeks I went on to buy six of these, one in each of the available colours and now have them each inked in different inks. Patrick joked that he would have to send me on to the furniture department, to have somewhere to put all these pens.

Cross Bailey Light. In all their colours.

Perhaps the greatest value though, has to be the Wing Sung 699, a vac filler and homage to the Pilot Custom 823 but with a steel nib and costing around £16 to £20 on ebay. I learned of these from Daniel at our pen club and now have two of them, one with a fine nib and one with a medium.

Conclusions.

Sitting down to write with a fountain pen, is one of life’s pleasures. Finding combinations of pen, ink and paper that go togther well, is part of the enjoyment. The act of “thinking with a pen”, remembering, reflecting and organising your thoughts on pen and paper is immensely satisfying.

I now find myself owning a large selection of excellent pens in a wide variety of brands and at all price levels up to around £400.00. I do not have a strong desire to go above that ceiling, although if I did, the ones that tempt me are the Scribo 3 , Pelikan M1000 or the Montblanc 149. At a lower level, I could easily be tempted to try other pens and nibs from Sailor, perhaps a Pro Gear Classic or a 1911 Large. If I can stop myself from buying quite so many pens next year, I could aim for a select few special pens and still come under my total spend figure for this year.

For all this talk of pens, the hobby would be rather shallow but for the people who make up the fountain pen community of enthusiasts, users, collectors, reviewers, bloggers and Instagrammers and YouTubers, plus the manufacturers, dealers, the friendly sales staff I have dealt with in shops over the year and those who run all the enticing sites such as Cult Pens, The Writing Desk, Iguanasell and the like. A big thank you to them too and for all who read and support this blog. I wish you a Happy New Year!

Early thoughts on the Wing Sung 699 fountain pen.

I have a friend at our London UK Fountain Pen Club, Daniel, to thank for introducing me to this exciting pen. At our November meet up, he brought his along. I was so impressed with it, that I promptly ordered one. I found a UK seller on ebay and it arrived within about four days.
This is a large, vacuum filling fountain pen, from Chinese brand Wing Sung, presumably based upon the renowned Japanese Pilot Custom 823, but with a steel nib and at a fraction of the price. Wing Sung 699 fountain pen.

Appearance and construction.

I ordered the amber demonstrator version, with gold coloured fittings. There is a finial (which unscrews if you wish to disassemble the cap for cleaning) and a pocket clip, which is firm and springy and has the Wing Sung logo. The cap ring bears the inscription WING SUNG 699 MADE IN CHINA.

Cap disassembled. (Unscrew finial, remove pocket clip, use clip to push out the inner cap).
The cap unscrews, in one full rotation. The section, on mine is of the matching amber demonstrator, clear plastic but there is an option to purchase an opaque section if preferred. The nib, which appears to be a size 6, is steel and bicoloured. I believe it is friction fit but I have not tried to remove it for fear of causing damage.  Mine is a Fine nib, (0.5mm) which is what most of the sellers were selling on ebay. This bears the Wing Sung logo and the name “WING S” followed by F for fine.Bicolour steel nib in a Fine.
The section is separated from the barrel by a gold ring. Be careful not to lose this when the section is unscrewed for cleaning. At the other end of the barrel, is the turning knob which unscrews to operate the filling plunger. There is another gold ring at this point.

Dimensions.

The pen when capped measures 150mm making it one of the tallest in my pen cup. Uncapped, it is around 133mm which is a good, generous length to use unposted, in comfort. The cap can be posted but not very securely and also it makes the pen very long, at around 170mm.Wing Sung 699 (right), alongside a Pilot Custom 823.

Filling the pen.

This is the fun part. You unscrew the end button and draw back the plunger which is at the end of a metal rod. Immerse the nib in ink. Then, whilst supporting the pen to protect the nib, push down on the plunger. You feel the resistance, as the air is pushed out of the barrel and a vacuum builds behind the plunger. Then, as the plunger reaches the end of its travel, the ink chamber widens, the vacuum is broken and ink whooshes in. It is fast and thrilling. One attempt is usually enough to get a good quantity of ink, provided that the nib was sufficiently immersed. You then screw the plunger knob back down again, wipe off any ink residue on the nib and you are ready to go. Being a demonstrator, you get to see the pen filling, although the amber finish also means that the ink sloshing around in the barrel is not distracting in use.
The pen holds a large quantity of ink, even allowing for the fact that it might come only half way up the barrel on one attempt. For anyone brave enough who wants a bigger fill and thrill, you can go back for seconds. To do this, hold the pen, nib uppermost, and, very carefully  pull back your plunger again and then slowly push it inwards, (and I emphasize, VERY CAREFULLY) to expel some air from the barrel, and push the plunger and the ink, upwards until it reaches close to the top of the ink chamber. Then, while still holding the plunger in the same position, invert the pen, immerse the nib in the ink bottle again and push the plunger down the rest of the way. This should result in a near complete fill of the barrel capacity and keep you writing for probably 100 pages or so!
The plunger, when screwed down, seals off the ink reservoir from the nib and feed. Therefore, if writing more than a page or two you may need to unscrew the end button just enough to raise the plunger a little and allow ink to replenish the feed. You may leave it unscrewed if writing a lot or else allow it to recharge the feed and then screw it back down again if preferred. This handy feature helps avoid leaks when travelling.

The nib and writing performance.

As mentioned, I chose the fine nib. This proved to be nicely set up, right out of the box and needed no adjustment. The tines were nicely even and there was a narrow nib slit visible under the loupe, to indicate the prospect of good ink flow and effortless writing which I appreciate, especially as a lefty overwriter. The nib has a slight bit of bounce, sufficient to allow some shading when a little downward pressure is applied but being a fine, steel nib, there is not a lot of noticeable line width variation. The nib is not overly wet. Indeed it may feel dry but bear in mind that this is a fine nib. When viewed under an illuminated loupe whilst writing, you see that it is wet enough and that the fresh ink emerges, wet and gleaming. It has a distinctive toothy feedback which I very much enjoy and which helps enable the pen to cope with very smooth writing paper.Nib and feed.

Conclusions.

I am very excited with this pen. I do now have an original Pilot Custom 823, which had been on my wish list for a long time but hard to come by in the UK. Earlier this year I received one as a gift from a very generous pen friend in Melbourne, in black with a beautifully buttery smooth 14k gold nib, in Pilot’s size 15. That is a fantastic pen and a wonderful thing to have.
The Wing Sung 699 gives you the same advantages, in size, comfort and filling mechanism. In some respects the Wing Sung even scores more highly as:

  • the nib is toothy, whereas some people find the Pilot nibs too smooth;
  • the section can be unscrewed easily making cleaning easy
  • the Wing Sung costs only around 16.00 pounds (as opposed to over 200.00 pounds for the Pilot).
Wing Sung 699 (right) alongside a Pilot Custom 823, uncapped.

At our December get together of the pen club, I brought my new Wing Sung along. History repeated itself and a friend John had the same reaction to it that I had and promptly ordered one for himself. Meanwhile I have ordered another, in blue this time and with a medium (0.7mm)nib. It is coming from China this time and I will look forward to receiving it in a few more weeks.A lovely specimen and unbelievably great value.