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.