Thursday, 25 December 2014

Orange and Wood: Faber Castell Ondoro

I've just received two lovely Faber Castell pens as a Christmas present: the Ondoro, the regular version in orange, and the smoked oak version.

Two Ondoro pens along with some other presents. Santa outdid himself this year!
They're stunning pens, and really unusual, with the simple but dramatic lines that are characteristic of Faber Castell's range. First of all; they're not round. The Ondoro is hexagonal. It won't roll when you put it on the desk.

Secondly, the pen has a bright chrome finished cap.  Very, very shiny, and also quite heavy. (I don't mind that as I very rarely write with a pen posted, but I imagine it could make the pens a bit top-heavy if you do post.)

Both these pens also stand out for the material of which they're made. The orange pen is not neon orange or acid drop orange but the kind of orange that was popular in the 1950s and 1960s,a really strong, saturated colour in a solid, hard resin. And the smoked oak version is solid wood, nicely finished with a metal tassie on the end; the oak is dark, with a coarse, almost black grain that gives it depth and interest. The surface is not waxed and polished; it's sanded smooth but the grain still opens the wood up in tiny fissures, again giving it depth and a really natural feeling. (I detest over-finished wood; if you've got wood, why make it feel like plastic?)

Both pens feel weighty (the oak is heavier, I suspect mainly due to the need for metal inserts and the metal section) and they feel very satisfying in the hand.

Faber Castell has the same German design vibes as Lamy or Kaweco - strong, simple, well engineered. For instance the transition from hexagonal to round just above the section is handled with great simplicity not by rounding it off, but by cutting darts into the hexagon, leaving a series of boldly defined arches that remind me of the pendentives of a dome.  The clip is a strong geometrical form, one great curve with a crimp at the end, in the same chrome as the cap.

I like the nibs - strong, simple steel nibs with no breather holes, and an almost invisible ink slit, spattered with a grid of tiny dots that reminds me oddly of Rhodia paper, and the nib size prominent. They're more conventional in shape than a Lamy nib, but the treatment is sufficiently unusual that they still stand out.
An unusual nib reflected in the mirror finish of the cap (sorry for my grubby fingerprints)
The section is concave, and small compared to the size of the pen, but I find it very comfortable (unlike some of FC's other pens that I've tried). It's also very elegant - a nice curvy touch on a pen that otherwise is dominated by straight lines. This is quite a fat pen, but the section is relatively slim, which I like a lot - it seems to deliver the controllability for the fingers of a smaller pen, but with the nice feel in the hand of an oversize. (Figures on this; just using the ruler, I reckon Lamy Joy has a section width of 10mm while the Ondoro just shades down to 9mm at its narrowest point. I might revisit that with a Vernier gauge some time.)

On the oak pen, the section is in chrome: normally I don't go much for metal sections, but here it works nicely.

Things I don't like? The little Faber Castell knights on the nib are too small and fiddly, and don't quite integrate with the rest of the design. The orange pen (though not the oak) has a tiny bit of sharpness left on the line of transition between hex and round on the barrel. And I find the clip cap quite hard to push on; it's far more positive than other clip caps I have, and you need to match it up to the pen just right or it won't push on.

(I should also say if you want to put this pen in a shirt pocket, you might want to know that the clip is not spring loaded like the Lamy 2000. As these are going to be desk pens for me, I'm not bothered.)

What does the nib deliver? No flex, a little bit of line variation, but these broad nibs wrote nice and smooth and wet right out of the box. A teensy bit of feedback but no scratchiness, no hesitation or dry starting, and as for the line variation, a trip to a nibmeister might be indicated at some point. I'm impressed. I have never tried a FC nib that's been less than 100%.

So let's cut to the chase. A pen with really different looks and a spot on nib, really decently engineered, and great slightly industrial, slightly retro design. You might hate it, if you find the section too small or don't like hexagonal pens. But I love it, in both versions.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Cats and fountain pens

Cats and pens seem to go together. I know so many collectors with cats, and they even turn up in pictures every so often.

So I adored this advert from French manufacturer Gold Starry, featuring a very smug and happy white cat. (She is, I think, the alter ego of the famous Le Chat Noir.)

"Je n'ecris plus comme un chat," she says. For those who don't speak French, you describe someone as 'writing like a cat' when they have completely illegibile writing that looks as if a spider took a swim in the ink and then crawled speedily about the page. This cat, on the other hand, is able to write a beautifully modulated hand (or perhaps paw) with her beautiful new fountain pen.

Naturally, she has a gold star hung from her collar - the same star that's found on the Gol Starry nib. And she's writing what I suppose can only be her letter to Santa - "un Gold Sta..."

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Gift guides - pens for her

It's that time of year again: what do you want for Christmas?

I know I will get one badly-knitted jumper in a colour I detest. I know that although I'm trying to lose weight, half the people I know will buy me chocolates. And I'm pretty sure that one of my French relatives will buy me foie gras... to which I'm allergic. (If I'm lucky I will get a couple of nice fountain pens too. Life isn't all bad.)

And I know I will see lots and lots of adverts saying "gifts for him" (all the stuff I want, like Nakaya black decapod and Lie-Nielsen woodworking tools) and "gifts for her" (boring stuff like bath salts and frilly underwear). Worse, in the pen trade, I will see lots of pink pens, slim pens, pens with Hello Kitty... (I don't like pink, unless it's qualified by the term 'fuchsia', slim pens make my hands ache, and... actually I do like Hello Kitty pens very much, particularly this one.) Even worse, in some publications, 'he' gets fountain pens and 'she' gets rollerballs.

Okay, rant over. My purpose with this post is to be helpful to those who'd like to buy a fountain for an acquaintance of the female persuasion.

Don't assume she wants it pink!

Look at what she wears; what colours and what kind of jewellery, and what kind of handbag. That's your best steer to what kind of fountain pen she might like.
  • Tribal jewellery. Lots of bright colour. Big tote bag or bright coloured leather holdall. Perhaps a bit Bohemian in style. What about a bright acrylic - Laban Mento, one of the Edison Colliers (Persimmon swirl for instance?) or a Bexley Jitterbug?
  • Understated elegance, 'black is the new black', one or two pieces of good gold or silver jewellery, black shiny clutch bag. Someone like this will appreciate classical values - maybe a Pelikan Souverän, maybe an MB146 or 149, maybe the Japanese black-and-gold pens (Sailor, Platinum). Or maybe a Waterman Expert or Carene - very French elegant looks in a large number of colour and finish options. Or maybe the Faber Castell Ambition series, with wood barrels and chrome trim.
  • Dainty - she wears pastels, whimsical jewellery, likes soft colours and fabrics, might have a Cath Kidston flowery bag or a little drawstring pouch. Again Japanese pens present some good options - Sailor LeCoule comes in Rose Quartz or Pearl, and there are some lovely Platinum celluloid pens such as Sakura (cherry blossom) and Koi (goldfish orange and white). Kaweco Sport Art is another option, tiny handbag-size pens in delightful swirly acrylics.
  • Fashion, glitz, sequins, high heels and patent leather. She's easy to help! She will love Italian pens like Visconti and Montegrappa with their wonderful celluloid colours and shiny metal furnishings. Those come at a fairly high price point so the Platinum Cool in ice blue or fuchsia pink might be another option.
  • Slightly Gothy - dark eyeliner, dark clothes, quirky jewellery, and who needs a handbag when you have such big pockets? Get her a skeleton pen or a demonstrator - the Platinum 3776 Nice for instance. She might even like the much maligned Montegrappa Chaos!

What kind of interests does she have? That's another way to find the right pen present.
  • Steampunk, tech, urban girl - will probably like something like Lamy Dialog, or maybe Pilot Capless, retractable nib pens where the cleverness and precision of the retraction mechanism is part of the enjoyment. Or she might appreciate the funky design of the Faber Castell School Pen.
  • Design-led. Someone who has a minimalist flat, visits galleries to look at Mondrian, Rothko, Warhol, likes modern architecture, is probably going to fall in love with a Lamy. Lamy 2000, or perhaps to bring a bit of Pop Art colour to her life, the Lamy Studio Wild Rubin edition. (Really, it's the antithesis of Hello Kitty pink - or perhaps its Nemesis.)
  • Rough stuff - outdoorsy girls who like a tramp in the woods or a hike up a mountain are still possible fountain pen nuts, but will appreciate something robust like a Kaweco Al-Sport or Lamy Al-Star that can bungee-jump off a bridge, climb a couple of cliffs, run 5k and still have a bit of ink left when they get home. Or perhaps at a higher price level, might appreciate the wooden pens made by the Japanese pen makers.
  • Very much a homemaker - cooking, baking, always in her kitchen. That might not seem like a fountain pen recipient but I can't help noticing Bexley Corona comes in Blueberry Cream and Lemon Meringue options, and there's also a Bexley BX802 in Cappuccino!

And do remember to ask what style of nib she prefers! Those of us who love fountain pens quite often have very decided preferences, and 'medium' is nearly always the wrong answer.

Of course the best and simplest way is simply to ask her what she'd like. If you want to keep a little surprise, why not ask her to create a 'wish list' at Goulet Pens - and choose one of them. (Though the best surprise of all might be to buy the whole darn lot. If you have an unlimited budget...)

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Visi Inks and Auto Tanks

Every so often you come across a theme in any collection which grabs you. I know some pen collectors who love a particular material, or a type of nib, or capless pens like the Pilot Vanishing Point and Lamy Dialog. For me, it's Visi Inks and Auto Tanks, and other bulb fillers with clear midsections.
The photo shows three Visi Inks - two Platignums and a Mentmore. Other than the slight difference in clip treatment, the only real difference is the size of the nib; Platignum being the Mentmore sub-brand, their nibs, though gold, are half the size - ridiculously small for the size of pen.

But there is also the National Security Auto Tank. I don't have one of those yet and really should get one, though these pens seem to crop up on eBay only once in every so many blue moons. One of the delightful things about bulb fillers is that they've comparatively easy to restore, since you don't have to remove the section to replace the sac. That appeals to me, as a total amateur at pen restoration!

Now I've found that the American brand Drexel also produced quite a lot of these transparent barrel pens, though personally I find the transparent barrel doesn't go well with the streamlined ends - there's a clash between the straightness of the band and the pointiness of the ends that I don't find very attractive.

I've also found a delightful pen with similarly beautiful marbled ends (in acrylic) and a clear barrel being made by Astra pens of Aurangabad, and on sale in Abhay Pens in that city. One of the things I like about this company is the way it goes back to the golden age for many of its pen designs; and these are lovely little pens, eyedroppers rather than bulb fillers. (More details about these pens in my FPN Indian Pen Odyssey.) They have very similar shapes to the Platignum/Mentmore pens I own, and I find them extremely attractive.

To my delight I find that Edison can make nearly all its pen models as bulb fillers, though at $350 these are considerably more expensive than any of my small collection! (I only have one Edison at the moment, a Herald I acquired on eBay, and by coincidence that's the one pen that Brian Gray can't make bulb-fill).

Of course my photos don't show you the chief attraction of these pens - the fact that their translucent barrels allow you to see the ink, just as you would with a demonstrator. Never mind having an 'ink window', these pens are all ink window! - or pretty close.

Stylochap and Old Chap pens

My latest acquisition, Old Chap
I have fallen in love with French celluloid pens. French pens from the glory days of celluloid, the 1930s and 40s. They're glorious. Italian celluloids would beat them in a shoot-out, with greater depth and translucency, but the French celluloids have a particular appeal for me.

It's not a much collected field even in France. There are a few Bayard fans out there, fewer collectors of Edacoto, and very few who have ever heard of Old Chap. But I've managed over the last year to capture three Old Chaps and I have to say that while they're not quite up to Waterman's standards, I'm very pleased with them.

The one above is my latest, a tiny little pen, just over ten centimetres, which shows the medals won by Old Chap on the barrel. Such a grandiose imprint for such a tiny pen! The celluloid is bronze, white, and black, as if a tortoise Pelikan had mated with a Friesian cow. It has remarkable character.

The next pen is a Stylochap 'Snakeskin'. It's not quite snakeskin in effect, more like the Necker Cube, an optical illusion in which cubes appear to shift as you look at them.

Finally, a gorgeous Old Chap pen with the x-ray celluloid best known from the Waterman Ink-Vue, which I was fortunately able to set side by side with an Ink-Vue.

I don't know if I just happen to have struck lucky, but these pens seem to be relatively free from the celluloid crazing and deformation very common on French pens. I've seen many Bayards, for instance, in which the caps are very noticeably deformed (perhaps having shrunk around the inner cap), and in which the celluloid has also swollen up around the lever pin. It may be poor quality celluloid; on the other hand it may be the case that French people just love leaving their pens on the back shelf of a 2CV...

Stylochap 'snakeskin'    

Waterman and Old Chap

I Think therefore I Write

I'm not really a lover of the black-and-chrome school of pens. Yes, there's a certain style to, say, a whole tray full of black Onoto plunger-fillers, or black-and-gold Osmias. But I get rather bored with those colour choices, which are, let's face it, all that most department stores' pen departments want to give us.

(Oh, and if you're female, they sometimes condescend to allow you to buy a pink ballpoint.)

I far prefer colour. So this lovely Think pen (Tigerlily, if my memory is correct) drew my attention right away. If Rothko had made fountain pens, this is what his fountain pens would have looked like.Vibrant yellow and orange, colours of autumn leaves and sunshine, set off with a dark, almost black accent. Dramatic. All the colours merge and blend into each other, and there's a sort of translucence too, taking the merging into the depth of the material.

It's a biggish pen, 14 cm long and with quite substantial girth; it sits well beside a Noodler's Ahab, for instance. The section is in the same material as the rest of the pen, and appears actually to match the barrel stripe for stripe, though the cap doesn't. I like that - a black or solid colour section would spoil the looks. The lip at the cap of the section stops the fingers sliding off, and there's a very small rounded step between barrel and section, but otherwise the lines of the pen are really smooth.

The furniture is simple, which I like. No metal on the section at all. A simple, rounded cap ring with 'THINK' (highlighting the letters INK, an amusing conceit and not overdone) - the roundness echoes that of the rest of the pen. A very plain clip. A rounded inset disk with the letter T in a circle forming the tassie on top of the cap; the letter and the outside circle are in shiny metal, the rest frosted, so again there's a real simplicity in the methods used. All in good taste.

The only thing I don't particularly like is the nib. First of all it's only available in medium, which takes a lot of the fun out of things. Secondly, it's a generic Iridium Point Germany, with rather fussy scrollwork that seems to contradict the aesthetic values of the pen. And thirdly, it's rather a dry writer without much bounce or edge; really rather anodyne. But at least it isn't scratchy. It's okay. Just I would have liked something better than okay.

(Come to think of it, if this is a Schmidt nib, I should be able to replace it with another Schmidt nib of the right size...)

I should also be a tad picky and say I wish the cap walls were just a bit thicker; there's a dark show-through where the threads run. That may not be an issue with darker colours in the series. And the converter, a sort of syringe-style job, works, but it's not exciting.

Still, if you can pick these up for $40-50 on eBay, they're decent pens. And while the nib isn't great, the pen itself balances well, fits my hand nicely, and brings a little bit of sunshine to days which, like today, are a bit grey and mizzling.

Friday, 14 November 2014

A little red dot

I am a sucker for this 'Vacumatic' style of celluloid. I am also a lover of 'fantasy' 51s. This little pen ticked both buttons with its 51 style looks and variegated orangey brown celluloid barrel.
It's not quite a Parker 51 but it's obviously got a family resemblance, with a gold filled cap and streamlined body. Open it up and it has the same hooded nib. An incredibly good-looking little pen.

What you can't see in the photo is the top of the cap. Instead of a Parker jewel, it has a grey roundel with a little red dot in the middle - the eponymous punto rosso. (Punto Rosso was an Italian pen company based in Settimo Torinese. I've not been able to find out much more about it.)

It doesn't quite have the Parker 51 insides. No collector, no aerometric squeeze filler. Instead it has a clear syringe filler, something I'm used to seeing on Italian and sometimes French pens. This is a nice quality filling system, with a metal collar; I'm used to seeing cheap and nasty ones but this is nicely made and pushes down very positively.

The one thing that is intensely annoying about the pen, though - and you can see this in the photo if you look closely - is the metal clutch ring (very similar to the Parker 51, as are the 'fingers' inside the cap). It's not attached to the pen, so every time I unscrew the section to refill with ink, it falls off. It's a pity such a nice pen is let down by such a small fault.

I also have to say the steel nib is rather disappointing. It looks as if it's folded steel rather than iridium tipped, and I've had to open up the tines a bit to get it writing properly as it was so dry to start with. It is not a joy. Compared to my inexpensive Dollar demonstrators, this pen has much greater pretensions, but isn't nearly so much a pleasure to write with. I wonder if I can get the nib swapped....

A surprising cheap find

I wasn't hoping for much when I bought two Dollar demonstrators from seller syedht45 for a little short of three quid. I like demonstrators, they were cheap, I thought I'd have a bit of fun.

They came in a little clear plastic wrap. Not a particularly inspiring packaging, but when a pen is this cheap, what do you expect?

They were quite light. The pistons (yes, that's right, two piston filling fountain pens for three quid) seem a little loose and fiddly. But they work. The caps twist on and off with just about half a turn, three quarters at the most, to get them nicely tight. The machining is pretty decent, the clip is robust, the tolerances are tight - these are not scrappy pens with sloppy workmanship. The inside of the cap on the black section pen is just a little blurry, but otherwise, they are good little pens.

I filled up one with Pelikan Brilliant-Gruen and one with Diamine Pumpkin.

Goodness. I'd expected an experience like the dreadful Montex Handy, my worst ever fountain pen. What I got was the smoothest nib I've tried since I got my hands on a Sailor zoom nib to try out. I'm not exaggerating; even the gorgeous Waterman broad gold nib on my Lady Elsa has a teensy bit of edge to it, and my favourite Lamy 2k has just a bit of feedback, but these nibs were smooth, smooth, smooth.

I suspect the plastic may, like that on the Pilot Crystal, be prone to cracking; it feels a little thin and brittle. But frankly these pens are a steal. At this price I could afford a new one each month and still have spent less by the end of the year than I'd need to buy a new Carene or a new Edison. Crikey.

**** After a month's use: They're still going strong. But I have to say they are not demonstrators for OCD people; for some reason the caps have become disgustingly dirty, far more so than on other demonstrators that I use. The piston mechanism on the other hand is leak-proof and efficient. 

Friday, 7 November 2014

Six months on Ebay ... and a giveaway

I let my father take delivery of pens for me, as I'm never around when the postman calls. And for the last six months, I've been zooming around like a mad thing (including a trip to Iceland, one to Cambodia, a couple of trips to Andorra...) and besides, last time I visited, my father forgot to give me the pens that he had in his kitchen cupboard, so this time I got a double dose of about six months' worth of auction wins.

And here they are.
That beautiful big bright orange pen in the middle is an Edison Collier in Persimmon swirl. I'd set my heart on one ages ago, and wasthe underbidder on not just one but two ebay auctions. Third time lucky! Even better, it has a broad nib that writes like a dream, really wet. The size of the pen compared with the vintage pens in the photo rather illustrates the fact that we seem to like our pens larger these days, but it's quite light as unlike so many modern manufacturers, Edison doesn't use metal inserts in these acrylic pens.

On the right are two Waterman 'ladies', a Waterman Lady Agathe in violet and green galalith - vintage materials but a modern pen - and a Lady Elsa in lovely swirly grey celluloid. The Lady Agathe has lost its matching pen case, which is why I was able to snaffle it on the cheap! The photo doesn't really do them justice; the material is wonderfully shimmery and pearlescent. I am keeping an eye out for more of these Lady pens. They are tiny, but just on the edge of what I can actually write with rather than treating as a curiosity. Both came with gold nibs - though the Lady Elsa apparently came with a steel nib as standard.

The pair of pens on the left are a Lincoln oversize and a Sheaffer lifetime, both in jade green. I'm very partial to jade, so I was happy to get these two, though the Sheaffer has bad discoloration on the barrel. They almost match, which is a piece of luck. The white dot on this Sheaffer is in the centre of the cap end, not above the clip, which is something I hadn't noticed before, and it has a nice big 18 carat nib. I think it cost me just over a tenner!

I have two pens with the Vacumatic style 'brickwork' celluloid. The first is an Emerald Pearl Vacumatic, with a rather nibbled-away cap that will need a bit of restoration, but with its original nib. Nine quid! The other combines Vac-style celluloid with a 51- style hooded nib and gold filled cap, and is by Italian manufacturer Punto Rosso, as shown by the big red dot on the end of the cap (which like the white dot on the Sheaffer, you can't see in the picture). I simply could not resist it though I don't really collect 1950s/1960s pens. or Italian pens.

Then there's a Sheaffer balance set in striated grey celluloid, a facetted black and pearl pen, and two golden Parkers, a Lady and a Parker 51. The latter is very highly beaten up with dents all over and the clip and jewel missing (never mind, I have a spare clip for it so I just need to find a jewel for it somewhere), but it has a gorgeous broad nib. I've fired it up already with some Herbin 'Violette Pensée' and I'm enjoying it, though it may want to take a trip to the nibmeister to get a cursive italic edge put on it.

What else? Two little Watermans, a teensy 12 1/2 with gold bands, and a Hundred Year Pen with a lovely nib, horrible wrong clip, and crystallised ends, which I'll have to do a lot of restoration on. And for light relief, two Dollar demonstrators - made in Pakistan, and delivered to my door (or rather my father's) for rather less than three pounds the pair. I'm looking forwards to filling them up with some ridiculously outré ink like Diamine Pumpkin or Herbin Orange indien. And two leather cases which came with the purchases.
There are two marvellous things about getting all my ebay purchases in one big lump, like this. First of all, of course, it made the day into an unofficial birthday as I unwrapped all my presents. But secondly, it also let me revisit my purchases and think about whether I've made good or bad purchases. On the whole I'm very happy with this lot, particularly as the Edison is the only pen I've paid more than about £20 for, and some of them (particularly the Sheaffer balance set) were absolute steals.

Actually there are three marvellous things about getting all my ebay purchases put away in the kitchen cupboard by my father. The third: it was like a family Christmas all over again as I unpacked them, because I was able to share my enjoyment with him. (This is the man I bought a Parker 51 set for his last 'big' birthday, because he had always wanted one; but he's not a collector. Well, not of fountain pens. Just books, boat models, old woodworking tools, railwayana... The hoarding instinct runs in the family.) He hates the Edison, but I had serious difficulty getting the Parker 51 away from his covetous inky fingers!

And it's Fountain Pen Day today! Which is why SBRE Brown and Gourmet Pens are having a giveaway. Very generous, with lots of goodies, and as you might be able to guess, I've already had a go... you can too, till November 14th.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Kickstarter and pens

There's a lot of excitement over Kickstarter pens at the moment. There's a fascinating competition right now being run by Gourmet Pens to win a pen from the Custom Handmade Pen Kickstarter campaign. It features some lovely materials options - antler, spalted tamarind wood, buckeye burl - and yes, it has fountain pens.

Which is quite surprising, really. One of my frustrations with the pen offers usually found on Kickstarter is that they're almost all (one) metal, and (two) rollerballs or ballpoints. For someone whose collection is 90 percent ebonite and celluloid, and 90 percent nibbed (and a lot of the remaining ten percent is pencils), that's a big limitation. I can't get excited about something that looks like a bullet and writes like a nail.

So why are there so few fountain pens on Kickstarter? Of course it could just be that fountain pens are a niche market. But then I thought Kickstarter was supposed to be quite good at addressing niche markets.

Maybe it's because Kickstarter attracts a lot of very blokey blokes, who want 'tactical' pens, pens that look like weapons, pens that weigh half a ton, and who aren't overly concerned with matters like laying down a wet line, maximum flex-without-railroading, or the availability of cursive italic or quadruple broad nib options.

Whatever the reason, I'm really glad at least one maker is offering a fountain pen option on Kickstarter!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

A comparison of calligraphy pens

Calligraphy pens are a special subset of fountain pens. Some manufacturers simply create calligraphy versions of their regular pens; for instance there's a Visconti Rembrandt calligraphy set (reviewed on FPN), there's a Parker Vector calligraphy set, and there's a Kaweco Sport calligraphy set for calligraphers who need a pocket pen.

Other manufacturers create pens dedicated to calligraphic use, and generally based on the style of the desk pen or dip pen nibholder, with a long tapering barrel. The Rotring Artpen is probably the best known, but I've managed to collect quite a few others over the years. So in this review I have been able to compare:
  • Rotring Artpen.1.1mm and 1.5mm.
  • Reform Calligraphy 1.5mm.
  • Lamy Joy 
  • Pilot Parallel 2.4mm, 3.8mm, 6.0mm.
  • Lamy Joy 1.5mm.
  • Reform calligraph 1.1mm (not to be confused with the Reform Calligraphy)
  • Online 'nuwood' calligraphy set.
  • Pelikan graphos 
  • Sheaffer No-Nonsense** (see the note at the end of the post)
 Just looking at them, there are a few odd pens out. The Reform Calligraph - these two pens came in a set, in a rather nice black stained wood box - is a really stunning little pen, looking a little like a Pelikan in its general shape, with the 'beaky' clip, prominent tassie, and black-and-gold starkness. It's a piston filler, too.  The Online pen has the same curves and katana-shape as the Waterman Serenité; it's in a very stripy wood, and the shape of the pen brings out the figure in the wood in a way that very (very) distantly reminds me of an Omas 'arco' celluloid.

The Sheaffer No-Nonsense is a calligraphy version of a standard pen, modelled on the 1920s Sheaffer flat-tops. So this one too stands out from the dip-pen look-alikes.

The Pilot Parallel., closed, looks very similar to the other 'dip pen' styles. Open it, though, and you see a big difference; instead of a conventional nib, with a slit to draw the ink towards the tip, it has two plates of metal, sandwiching the ink between them. This lets it cover much larger sizes than the other nibs and it's my go-to pen for big initials - and also for practising new scripts, since when you're working in that large a size, you can really see the faults in your writing.

The Pelikan Graphos is an amazing thing. It's really a technical pen, not a calligraphy pen, but some of the nibs are useful for calligraphy, particularly the 'N' nibs which aren't that different from the Pilot Parallel's. It's not a fountain pen but a sort of slightly-larger-reservoir dip pen, with nibs that clip on rather than push in. 

I've  used them all with the same practice piece, in the French style of écriture ronde, working on 'a Christmas Carol' - mainly, since everyone else in my class was working on menus, the descriptions of food. Except for Pelikan Graphos. It just would not do the job.

Rotring Artpen

This pen looks very, very simple, but it's quite cunningly made when you look closely. (Compare the Reform Calligraphy, coming up, which really is a simple pen, in manufacturing terms, and not such an attractive one.) There's a white finial at each end of the pen, the famous red ring (Rot-ring) between barrel and section, and a washer clip that springs nicely out; in the depressed centre of the cap end, white letters on a black insert show the size of nib. That's really handy if like me you want to have two or three different sizes on hand at the same time. With most of the other pens (except the Reforms, which have the nib size written on the barrel, and the Pilot Parallel which has a similar - though not so well made - sticker on the top of the cap) you have open the pens up to look and see what you've got in the way of nibbage.

First off, a fault that makes me absolutely mad every time I fill it up. The ribbed section is great to hold, and the converter is robust with a piston that's always positive and smooth in its action. But the ribs hold ink, and however much I wipe and blot with a piece of cloth or tissue, there's always a bit of ink that manages to hide between the ribs and then get all over my fingers.

Okay, now I have dirty fingers. But the Artpen is great to write with. It's got an incredibly wet flow, almost too much - there's a bit of feathering on the paper I'm using - and the nib is smooth. Enjoyable writing experience. Very good variation between the strokes, too, with the upwards diagonal strokes that join the letters coming out nicely thin.

You get one choice of colour with this pen - black. I've been told they did come in yellow and red; I don't know if there are any other colours (I'm not counting the Millennium limited editions, which I have four of, as they come with F and M nibs, not calligraphy nibs). If anyone knows where I can get the yellow and red ones, please let me know!

Reform Calligraphy

This is the cheapest looking of the pens, with a soft injection-moulded blue plastic cap (and section in the same blue plastic) on a rather spindly black plastic body. The lines from the mould still protrude on the section, though not enough to be felt when you're using the pen.

It's comfortable in the hand, like the ArtPen - the section is about the same diameter, though not as long and without texture - but the nib is the big disappointment here. It's scratchy, it digs in, and it wrote extremely dry, and kept picking up lint from the paper. I found that while I was writing, on the diagonal curves, like the ascender of the 'd', or the descenders of 'g', 'j', and on the swash caps, it kept trying to veer off at a tangent, that is, into a straight line. It didn't feel fluid at all.

There may be a case for my getting the Micromesh out. But the Rotring, for instance, wrote fine just as it was. In fact every one of the four Rotrings I have has written fine just as it was - one was new, three were second hand - so either (1) Reform quality control was all over the place, (2) someone trashed this pen before I picked it up, or (3) it wasn't that good to begin with.

Lamy Joy

This is one of my favourite pens. Like the Rotring, it's not quite as simple as it looks. There's a little red insert at the end of the barrel to complement the bright red 'paperclip', and the end of the cap is also red. There's an ink window, as there is on the Safari, with which the Joy shares a lot of its styling, and the triangular grip of the section will be familiar to any Safari owner.

The biggest joy of the Joy, for me, is the shiny black plastic (against which 'Lamy' on one side, and 'Germany' on the other, are impressed crisply), and the stylish contrast of red and black. The Artpen, with its matt black, just can't compete.

Its biggest failing? The cap feels a trifle insecure - it is meant to snap on and off, but it's lost its snappiness.  And the fact that I don't have a converter for it, and it only uses Lamy cartridges. Where are my Lamy cartridges when I want them? Okay. I'll have to swap the converter out of one of my favourite Lamys, the briarwood Accent.

As for writing; this pen has a lovely wet flow, a little bit less so perhaps than the Rotring Artpen, and the nib gives a bit more feedback, too; it's quite noisy. But it's a joy (sorry!) to use. I love the grip, which prevents the pen turning in the hand and spoiling the angle of the writing. Line variation, again, is good, giving me some nice crisp writing.

Pilot Parallel

This pen does well in the looks department, with a vivid coloured cap on a slivery grey barrel. As the 'clip' is there to stop the pen rolling, not to put it in your pocket, it's simply a nub, or rather a fin, of plastic. (Alas, that means when I put the pen in my pen wrap, it doesn't clip on to the flap like my other pens; so it stays in the pen mug all the time.) A little icon on the cap shows that it's a twist cap, it takes quite a few full turns to remove it, but that's okay - you're hardly going to be using this pen for notetaking.

The nib consists of two plates of metal between which the ink flows. That delivers a very wet and even flow of ink even at the remarkable width of 6mm. It's also a very tolerant nib - I don't find it scratchy, it doesn't dig in, and it seems to float nicely on a cushion of ink like a little calligraphic hovercraft.

However there is one issue with the pen and it's that of the converter; opinions vary on whether you can use the converter which comes with the pen for ink, since it's only intended for flushing the pen. I've not had any mishaps so far... And a second issue is that the larger sizes of nib seem to get very dirty very quickly, leaking quite a bit of ink into their caps.

Reform calligraph 

Looks like a Pelikan. Eats like a Pelikan (with a piston). Light in the hand, glossy black plastic and 'gold' accents. This is a calligraphy pen? Apparently so.

I really enjoy using this pen. First of all, as we know from the poem -
A wonderful bird is the Pelican,
His beak can hold more than his belly can -
Pelikans can hold a whole lot of ink. So can this Reform. Being a piston-filler it uses bottled ink, happily swallowing it down, no proprietary cartridge. It fills nicely, wipes down nice and clean, is ready to use good and fast. Secondly, it's light, it's not weighty, it doesn't draw attention to itself. I find for a good small italic hand, this pen really works delightfully well. And it works beautifully in Ronde, too. A little more edge than some, but not scratchy. It's one heck of a big jump up in quality from the Reform 'calligraphy' pen, not just in looks but in writing experience.

It did however perform slightly patchily with regard to ink flow, possibly because I'd just refilled it after leaving it some time unused. Once it got going, having started rather hard, it did quite well. I found the 1.1mm a bit small for the script after using so many 1.5mm nibs, though.

If you find the Lamy Joy and Rotring Artpen a bit large for your hand, you might want to look around for this vintage experience. I found mine in a car boot sale, but I do see them from time to time on eBay.

Online 'Nuwood'

This pen looks lovely. But it feels a bit cheap in use; the clip isn't very sturdy, the section unscrews from the barrel far too easily, sometimes when I'm uncapping it, and the converter has a rather fragile feeling transparent plastic piston.While the metal section is matt, not shiny, so my fingers don't slip, the section is very thin, and there's quite a sharp edge between the barrel and the section, which isn't comfortable to write with.

The nib is good; wet, and crisp, delivering good strong lettering. But the pen as a whole feels as if it has pretensions to quality that it doesn't quite attain. I found my hand cramping up a bit after a while. And the pen is quite heavy, which together with the thin section, resulted in my maintaining a death grip on the pen and eventually getting cramp in my fingers.

One great thing about this pen, though. It doesn't roll about on the desk; even uncapped, the roughly triangular section and the curve of the body prevent it moving. 

Pelikan Graphos

This pen has stunning simple looks - cylindrical, shiny black ebonite (in the oldest ones, I think, and celluloid later), with a simple steel formed wire clip that seems to prefigure the Lamy Safari/Lamy Joy clip. I particularly admire one lovely piece of functionality; the cap screws firmly on to the back of the barrel, rather than 'posting' conventionally. Considering it's a technical drawing instrument, aesthetically it scores ten out of ten on the Bauhaus scale.And apparently, the body of the pen works as an ink reservoir, but because of theway the nibs clip on to the feed, you can swap nibs without having to empty the ink out - now that's great thinking.

The nibs on the other hand are incredibly ugly. They're the kind of thing doctors and dentists whip out in my worst nightmares.

And it's difficult to fill, unless you have an original Pelikan bottle with a teensy tiny spout, a bit like the tube that comes with 3-in-1 oil aerosol cans, to poke into the hole in the feed. I suppose at a pinch you could use a syringe. I had to use it as a dip pen.

So: how does it work?

Um. It's pretty crap, actually. I really wanted to like it, but the nibs are incredibly finicky. They are very crisp, and with practice, would be good for blackletter or a very, very sharp italic. But the thick one kept springing off - you can't apply any pressure at all, and the moment you inadvertently do, ping! off the nib flies across the desk, leaving a spoor of spilt ink - and the thin nib kept biting into the paper. This Pelikan is not house trained.

I might try the 'freehand drawing' nibs (S nibs). But then, they don't have the line variation. So regretfully, this one is consigned back to its box.

Sheaffer No-Nonsense
This pen is quite chunky in the hand, and has a rubbery, textured section that makes it very easy to keep a grip on. It's transparent, in various colours - I have red, green, blue - and comes with various widths of nib. I have a small collection of No-Nonsense pens, ranging from cheap advertising pens I've picked up at sales to a rather lovely chased black one with vintage style trim, modelled after the black hard rubber pens of the 1920s. My favourite is a marbled mauve-and-pink one which looks almost like one of the more colourful celluloids of the 1920s and 1930s - it wouldn't be a Sheaffer but perhaps a Burnham or a Swan. These pens are all cartridge/converter pens.

The nib is much wider than the Artpen and Lamy nibs, both in the centre, and at the business end, though it doesn't seem to write any wider than the others. The section, I think, while it's functionally fine, is rather lacking in the design department - it's a sort of truncated cylinder, with no taper at all. And the NoNonsense has proprietary cartridges, though I found generic Parker or Waterman style cartridges would work in it. No converter came with the pen.

I find the Sheaffer very easy to write with. A good line, not quite as wet as the Pilot Parallel or the Online, but very crisp and regular. The nibs don't seem to catch the paper with their corners. But the slight dryness does seem to make the pen harder to push across the paper. On the other hand the section is one of the most comfortable for me, together with the Lamy.


For looks, Lamy Joy, Pilot Parallel, and the Reform Calligraph are very nearly level pegging - I think the Joy, for the quality of its finish and the precision of its design, just edges the others out. (The Graphos also looks delightful, with its severe cylindrical form and glittering black, but unless I can get a nib that works in it, I'm going to disqualify it from the competition here.) The loser, in the design stakes, is the Reform Calligraphy. Horribly cheap looking and undistinguished.

It's the loser in the writing stakes, too. The outright winners there are the Pilot Parallel, the Rotring, and the Lamy Joy, with the Reform Calligraphy coming very close. Sheaffer No-Nonsense and Online I can use happily, but they each have issues - the small section and abrupt transition of the Online pen, and the slight dryness of the Sheaffer.

It's worth pointing out that there are three pens in here that might make it into an EDC. The 'dip pen' styling makes pens almost ineligible for every day carry status, since they are too long for most pen cases. But the Reform Calligraph, Sheaffer No-Nonsense, and Online Nuwood, will all fit a regular size pen case or wrap. Out of those, I'd pick the Sheaffer. (Why not the Reform? I just don't want it to take the hard knocks. The Sheaffer is cheap enough to risk it.)

It's been fun doing these reviews. I just hope my calligraphy teacher doesn't find out. He keeps telling me I have to use a dip pen...

** I've just had it pointed out to me that the Sheaffer in question is actually a Viewpoint, not a No-Nonsense. It does belong broadly to the same family of pens, but the No-Nonsense is earlier, and writes better - I'm not the only one to prefer the original No-Nonsense, apparently.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Why I loathe the Wyvern 303

Fountain pen aesthetics are funny things. Some people love the MB 149, some find it boring. Some people love Chinese bling pens, as much abalone and gold plate and shiny glittery blingy razzmatazz as you can load on a five inch stick, other hate them.

Me, I loathe the Wyvern 303.

Actually from the outside, this pen doesn't look bad. It looks a bit like some of the Waterman Taperite, Crusader, Dauntless, Garland - well, most, like the Taperite Citation, with its great big cap band. That's really striking, and I rather like it. The torpedo shape and the simple clip are classical. I could quite like this pen, which is why when I saw one on a stall at a London antiques market, I took a closer look.

But as soon as I took the cap off - oh, yuk.

I don't like pens with convex sections, for a start. A section should either be straight, or concave, that is, gently flared, or it should have a lip, like the early Parker Duofolds, to prevent your fingers sliding into the inky zone or off the pen completely. Convex section - wrong. And though it has a little rolled lip, it's so small that it's completely useless.

I don't like meanness. The Wyvern 303 is not a small pen, but it has a itsy bitsy teeny weeny absolutely bloody minuscule nib. Just economising on the amount of gold. Such a big, positive, butch pen, and when it comes to the business end ... I know they say "size isn't important", but in this case it is. Or as Horace says, Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. (JFGI.) This is a Superman pen with a Walter Mitty nib.

And then that step between the section and the barrel. No need for that at all in a torpedo shaped pen with a metal cap. Look at the Parker 51 - smooth, smooth lines hardly disturbed by the gleam of the clutch ring. Waterman Taperite - stubbier, less elegant, but still with those smooth lines. ~Aerodynamic, streamlined, modern, like a decent sports car. The 303_ Oh dear. Wants to be a Jaguar and ends up more of a Trabant.

Which is why I hastily put the pen back without enquiring about its price. Even for a quid, I didn't want it. I positively loathed it. And that's why there's no photo on this blog post, though if you want to see a picture, I can point you to a post on that excellent blog, Goodwriterspens

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

A pair of oddities

I recently managed to acquire a pair of oddities at a car boot sale. They're two Kenzo fountain pens, one in red and one in green,both with gold trim. They're quite charming pens, fairly slim but not too small (13cm in length), and apparently dating from the early 1990s, made for the Kenzo fashion house. My experience has been that most fountain pens made for fashion brands aren't terribly good, but in this case I was surprised to find I'd acquired a pair of decent writers. (According to GoPens they were made for Kenzo by Stypen. I have a few reliable and nicely made Stypens, so that's perhaps not as much of a surprise as it could be.)

The design is a little quirky. The rings at the top of the cap and end of the barrel are indented, and there's also an indent in the cap ring and section ring, breaking up the contour of the pen. The ends are quite pointed, and there's a red transparent jewel at the top of the cap.

Open up the pen and you see its most notable oddness - a jewelled overfeed. The red pen has a glowing red overfeed, but that on the green pen is darker (it appears to be the same red, but discoloured by ink), and this has caused me a few problems as I have to look quite closely to see which way up I've got the nib. The true feed is also elongated and quite plain, though a little larger than the overfeed.

The section is very slender, tapering down to 7mm. I don't have any problem writing with it though. And though the pen's relatively heavy for its size, due to the (I think) brass construction under lacquer, I can write continuously for some time without my hand becoming tired.

I'm not sure the red jewel goes with the green. It's the one thing that spoils my pleasure in that pen. It's a bit sinister, like a crocodile with bloodshot eyes or a green idol with ruby eyes... if Cthulhu had a pen, this would be it.

And on one level I suppose I do find the design rather hideous. But then a lot of the things in my wardrobe in the early 90s were equally hideous. (A search for 'Kenzo 1990s' found a remarkable purple and green paisley suit... which, objectively, was rather lovely, but not very street cred. I think it will take a while for this decade to come back in fashion.) It's certainly original. This pen doesn't look like anything else I've got. It doesn't look like a knockoff of a Duofold, a Montblanc 149, a Faber Castell Ambition or a Lamy Safari. It looks unique.

The surprise for me was that these designer label pens are truly delightful writers. The nibs don't flex but they have a bit of bounce, a little softness that makes writing with them easy and extremely smooth. No scratchiness at all, unless I turn them over by mistake or by design, in which case they still write, but a thinner line, and with a bit too much feedback. I wonder if these are actually gold nibs? They certainly write as if they are.

I understand these pens are also available in yellow, black (or possibly dark blue) and fuchsia (unless that's just someone's way of describing the red) - all, oddly, with the red jewel. I'd love to put together the whole collection.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Hero 325: a Chinese cheapie that works

Chinese pens - love 'em or hate 'em?

Well, I have to say I'm not a lover of the heavy machined brass pens we often see on eBay. Particularly not when they have thin lacquer pretending to be celluloid, which starts flaking off after a couple of months' use. I'm not a lover of fake Montblancs - the real thing has far too much bling for my likeing anyway - and the nibs are never anything special.

Add to which that it's the Japanese who make really good cheap pens - the Pilot 78g for instance, which can be found with a formidable broad nib if you look in the right places.

But I have a Hero 325, a little flighter that I picked up in a stationery shop in Bhopal, and I'm rather pleased with it. It's very light, very streamlined, with an extremely simple clip, metal tassies at each end, and a black plastic section - more slender than the P51 and without any clutch ring to disturb the extremely plain look of the pen.

I was slightly surprised to find it such a simple pen. Really, no Chinese bling nonsense. No dragons, horses, extra bits of glitter. It's a slender pen too; not quite 14 cm long, but only 9mm round, whereas my Jinhaos are much chubbier (and heavier).

What really surprised me, though, was the ease of writing with the little hooded nib. I haven't tweaked it a bit. It gives a little feedback but it's not scratchy, and it writes nice and wetly with Cross black ink.(None of your fancy Iroshizuku cherry blossom viewing ink here - cheap pen, cheap ink, functional stuff.) It's springy enough to be pleasant, and writes fast when I'm taking notes without skipping at all. No hard starts either. I've had pens I paid many times more for that aren't half as much fun.

The weak point? A squeeze filler that doesn't seem to draw in much ink and feels very cheap indeed compared to the P51 aerometric filler (a piece of engineering that is really top class).

I have no idea whether all Hero 325s are as nice. I hear that Hero has quality problems. But if this is the usual standard of their pens, I'd be happy buying another one.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Bring me my pen, would you, Oldchap!

How could you not love a pen called Old Chap! (or Oldchap, strictly, without the space). It sounds as if it wears a tweed suit and a pair of brogues, and has an addiction to stiff upper lip and the art of understatement.

In fact, it's a French brand, so it would say 'litote' and not 'understatement'. And certainly the accommodation clip on this pen is anything but understated. It's in that rather overdone French art-nouveau meets Cthulhu vein that I'm never quite sure whether I love or hate. (Hate, probably.)

And here it is, photographed together with a Waterman Inkvue, because the material is almost, not quite, the same celluloid, with striking 'x-rays' in black and marbled grey (the Waterman is green). The effect of iridescence in the coloured rays is lovely. (Not so the brassing of the cap rings.) Its measurements are 12.3 cm long capped, 11.5 cm uncapped - just a bit shorter than the Waterman.


The ends of the pen, and the section, appear to be in ebonite which has gone somewhat olive. I removed the accommodation clip to see if originally the Oldchap had a different clip which had broken or been removed, but there's no sign that there was every anything there. 

The Oldchap is a lever filler. The lever is rather boring, particularly compared to the beautifully precise lever box and articulated lever of the Waterman. But it's well made, the end slightly bent to recess it into the shallow scooped end of the slot. There's no imprint  anywhere on the barrel. And this is a traditional lever filler, as far as I can see, with a traditional lever, not trying any of the advanced engineering tricks of the Inkvue with its lever-actuated bulb-filling mechanism and backwards-fitted lever.

Now, as for the nib. It's quite big - nearly 22mm long, almost exactly the same length as the Waterman, as it turns out, but a good bit wider. 18 carats, which is correct for a French made pen (14 carats/585 didn't qualify as 'or massif' according to the French assay regulations, so I'm told). And on dipping it I find that it writes, quite fine, and with a little flex. A little bit of feedback when I flex it hard, otherwise, it's quite smooth. 


I'm really quite impressed by this pen. It's a stunning looking beast, nicely made, and now sits in a box together with the Ink-Vue looking, if not quite a million dollars, at least worthy of its companion pen. I will be looking out for moreof the same: Tally-Ho, Oldchaps!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

In praise of Indian ebonite

I love ebonite. It's a wonderful material. I particularly love those pens that are sometimes called 'woodgrain', with mottled red and black ebonite - in fact I've several times been sold a vintage Waterman or Bayard at a car boot sales as an interesting "wooden pen". While vintage pens often look faded and dull (and the black is often faded to a sort of olive green or brown), once they're polished they gleam beautifully, with the kind of soft glow you get from well polished wood.

Ebonite weighs right in the hand, too. Some plastic (acrylic, precious resin, lucite) pens feel just a little too light to me. Ebonite never does.

Ebonite is basically rubber, treated with heat and chemicals; it's plastic avant la lettre. It was what they made pens of up until the 1920s, when the advent of celluloid with its translucent patterns and brilliant colours changed the industry overnight. (Later on celluloid was replaced in its turn by plastics such as lucite.) If you collect pens you get into the whole business of acronyms - BHR, CBHR, and so on. (For the non-initiate, black hard rubber - that meaning ebonite - and chased black hard rubber - with patterns engraved on it.)

Problem. Unless you buy breakers or have lucky finds in junk shops, or grab third tier stuff, vintage ebonite will cost you dearly. Onoto and Waterman black ebonite pens for instance are quite dear - I particularly love the very slender lines of the early, straight pens, which have a sort of reverse bling to them, utterly austere and functional but their huge gleaming gold nibs a single point of focus - and if you want to collect early Waterman 'ripples', you will need a job at Goldman Sachs or a wealthy sugar daddy.

Then there are modern ebonite pens by manufacturers such as Bexley, Platinum,and Edison. The Platinum is over $600. Again, expensive. (I won't say ridiculously expensive, because Platinum are fantastic pens. But beyond my means, other than for a 'grail pen'. And I think a Hakase is on my list first.) The Edison, I have to say, is affordable, and a good pen at the price. But generally, modern ebonite comes dear.*

(Ebonite was still being used for some pens much later than the 1920s. But those pens, for me, don't have such a great appeal.)

Fortunately, several manufacturers in India are still producing ebonite pens, and I've had the opportunity to collect several during my travels. I even managed to locate some vintage ones for the exorbitant sum of 90 rupees each (about £1) in a stationer's shop in Vidisha, MP. Those are rather small ones. The modern pens are bigger - Guider and Ranga make jumbo pens if you want a really huge one - but in many other ways adhere to vintage design, with the torpedo/cigar being the most common. (I wish there were more flat-tops.)
Vintage ebonite pens - one has a Parker-style arrow clip

Fountain Pen Network's classified section is also a good place to trawl for modern Indian ebonite. I've acquired some Deccans and Ratnams from there; I haven't yet visited Hyderabad or had a chance to visit the Tamil pen-makers. On another trip perhaps.

  • Deccan I love very much. These pens are classics, beautifully made and enjoyable to use. Deccan is the Lamy of Indian pens - I'm sure they would be surprised to be described that way, but they seem to love monochromatic designs, in brushed black (ebonite-pretends-to-be-Makrolon) or a wonderfully warm white (but that's not ebonite, to be fair). I have two in brushed ebonite; just lovely. You can get the other ebonite varieties too... but the black seems, somehow, their forte.
  • Guider make classical ebonites. I have three matching pens, in black, brown, green - the 'traffic lights' colours of Indian ebonite.Very satisfying. I think I paid about £4 each for these pens, in a tiny, cluttered pen shop in the wholesale market in Mumbai.
    Guider pens
  • Ranga (also sold as Varuna by Andy's Pens in the UK) seems to have the widest range of colours, including a yellow ebonite that's fairly mustardy - I must see if they can get a Colman's Mustard ripple, red and yellow, that would be really something! - as well as lighter blues and greens, and three-colour mixes. I'm not sure I love all of them equally; there's something about the standard two-colour marbling that is both austere and rich at the same time, the classic look, and the multicolours don't have that classic feel. But I do like their 'bamboo' pens. I think Ranga has the most extensive and adventurous range. Times of India had an interesting article on them. I must visit!
  • Astra in Aurangabad makes ebonite pens of some distinction. You can only get these from Abhay Pens in the same city, its sister business, as it turns out, so I'm rather glad I had time to kill before taking the night bus for Ahmedabad. I particularly like the light fawn ripple. This business seems to have access to some very nicely rippled ebonite - these pens have a far bolder pattern than most Indian pens, though some of that may be down to my selection. (The ripple patterns of cap and pen don't always match. But I was allowed to swap a couple of caps around in the shop. These pens are machined, not hand-made, so you can do that.)
    Wonderful ripples from Aurangabad
  • Ratnam and Ratnamson are, as the names suggest, related. I have a couple of each.
  • Kim & Co of Kozhikode make good looking ebonites, but I don't have one - yet.
I'm sure I have missed some manufacturers out. Please correct me!

 The one weak spot with Indian pens is the nibs. First, you won't get broad and italic nibs - the Indian market is one for fine nibs, generally. And secondly, you'll quite often get the sort of steel nib where the point is made by folding the steel over, rather than being tipped with iridium. Those can be quite scratchy. And thirdly, India is not Japan. There are no nibmeisters making Cross Emperors or grinding customised nibs for you.

There are ways round that. Many of the manufacturers now offer German nibs (Bock or Jowo) or can accommodate them. And because the pens are hand made, you can even send a nib you want a pen made for; I haven't done this, but I know people who have.

 There's another thing to note, which could be a dealbreaker for some. These pens are nearly all eyedroppers. Now that can be a plus. The larger pens will take a truly impressive amount of ink! But you also get the regular eyedropper problems; burping when getting towards three-quarters empty, NSIP (Not Safe In Pocket), and a filling process that isn't quite as easy as sticking your favourite piston-filler in a pot and letting it slurp. Personally, I don't mind.

So: Indian ebonites. A cheap way to collect ebonite pens. But also a marvellous insight into Indian life, and a way to support small businesses in the subcontinent...The human aspect of my collecting has been a wonderful surprise; pen shops like Fountain Pen Hospital in Calcutta, Apsara Pens in Mumbai, and Pen & Co in Varanasi, manufacturers like Astra, who let me visit their factory, collectors and users of fountain pens, have all impressed me with their enthusiasm and friendliness. India can be a difficult country for westerners to get to know, but my entrée to this little subculture gave me many happy days and not a few friends.

* One big exception to the 'modern ebonite comes dear' rule is the Noodler Konrad, in ebonite. I don't have one - though my experience of the Ahab and Nib Creaper has been that they're fun pens, but a bit like 2CVs - fun to drive, but you have to do a lot of minor fixes, which fortunately they're designed for you to be able to do.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Kaweco sport luxury variants

I was amazed when I looked closely at my black-and-white (think a fountain pen made out of Licorice Allsort) Kaweco Sport Art that it actually does have a gold nib. I thought they all came with gold plated steel, but this one clearly states 14k / 585. That got me doing a little bit of work to find out the history of the luxury variants of the Sport.

The Sport itself, by the way, was first issued in its modern form in 1934. Kaweco closed down in 1980, and the 'new' Kaweco company opened for business in 1995 with a range of Sports in 'outdoors' colours - camouflage grey-green, brown and dark blue. Brighter Sports followed the year after, but it wasn't till 2000 that Kaweco decided to produce a luxury version.

In 2000, Visconti made a limited edition of green celluloid Sports for Kaweco. Only 883 were made, which means I may never get my hands on one of these delightful gold-nibbed pens. (They combine Italian wickedly glowing celluloid with Germanic austerity of form, which hits two of my fountain pen sweet spots bang on. A bit like the glowing red Lamy 2000 auctioned a while back - Bauhaus, but in vivid colour!) And it's a piston-filler, too.

My black-and-white Sport's proper name is the Tango, and it was part of a four pen range that included also the Blues, Samba (purple and dark indigo), and Mamba (gold and brown marbling), issued in 2003 with the intention of bringing in new colours every two or three years. The pens were turned, not injection moulded like the basic range, and the colourful acrylics really make a splash.

I haven't found out when the current Sport Art range was first produced. These are:
  • Amber
  • Amethyst
  • Lapis lazuli
  • Amecitrin - a lovely yellow
  • Aksehir - black and white, with Arab-calligraphy style loops
  • Alabaster - pearly white
  • Granit - white and grey, with an interesting ghost-like effect of grey showthrough
  • Rosit - bright pinkish red, with soft stripes of two slightly different hues
Again, they are produced by turning from solid acrylic. The amber, amethyst and lapis are perhaps the most stunning, with their transparency and glittering effect, but I rather want to get my hands on an Aksehir, for the striking pattern.

I make that twelve pens to collect, if I stick only to the fountain pens, and excluding the Visconti version. Four down so far!

Martini Auctions sometimes have interesting prototypes of different Sport versions. At the moment there are some with silver pens and coloured caps; I must admit, they're not my favourites.

Sweet Joy befall thee!

Lamy Joy.
Photo from Lamy Twothousand on Flickr. I only have the black and red one.

What a beauty this pen is. Sleek shiny black. Cylindrical top. Tapered barrel.

Accents in red. Big red paperclip clip. Red disk closing the cap. Tiny red insert right at the end of the barrel, neatly balancing the clip.

Simple geometrical forms. Cylinder cap. Triangle section. Triangular nib. Flattened cone taper. An elegant oscillation between rounded and flat, circles and angles.

At work; 1.5mm of sharp italic, flowing wet.A section that feels as if it's part of my hand.

Doesn't post. Obviously.

Practicalities. Nibs swap in, swap out. £7 or so for a new one. Swaps with Safari and Vista. Swaps with Studio, Al-Star, Accent, CP-1, Logo. Up to 1.9mm, down to extra fine.

This is a lot of joy.