Sunday, 31 January 2016

2016: Year of the custom pen?

I have a ridiculous sized collection of fountain pens by now. Plenty of vintage, plenty of 1980s and 1990s Watermans, little sub-collections of Kaweco Sports, Lamy 2000s, and Platinum 3776s, and my first few Pelikans. (A big shout-out to Dominic Rothemel whose Pelikan colllectibles site is an amazing resource for collectors and window-shoppers alike. Not just the special and limited editions, but also a fantastic timeline for the first Pelikan I ever collected, the Pelikano.)

But what I don't have much of is the custom pen. That's something I probably ought to sort out some time soon, as it seems over the past few years the number of artisan pen makers has increased markedly, and the quality of work is really admirable.

I already have one custom Edison, though it wasn't made for me: I managed to win it on eBay. It's a black and ivory bulb filler, and very nice it is. (Not real ivory, obviously.)

I also have a custom pen from Fosfor Pens of India. Manoj was talking about a Pelikan M1000 look-alike he had made from wood, and I decided to order one in sandalwood. It was a great experience: I got emails showing the 'exploded' pen as the parts were made, and I was also given a choice of section styles and nib options. I'm seriously thinking about ordering a companion pen in a darker wood. Prices are eminently reasonable.

So where next? Shaun Newton's pens are getting a wide following these days. Shaun seems to be quite an innovative thinker, with double-ended pens a bit of a speciality. Some of the pens are really colourful.

Renee Meeks of Scriptorium Pens offers what look to me rather more classical designs, and in some amazingly colourful materials. Stupidly, I didn't order a pen in Tibaldi Impero celluloid when I could have done, and I've been kicking myself ever since. (That would have been a marvellous opportunity given my taste in pens - beautiful Italian celluloid without the blingy Italian furnishings that I so hate.) Dip pens are also available, an unusual addition but one that as a calligrapher I appreciate.

Another calligraphy-related purchase might, if I can ever get to his Etsy page when he's got stock on the books, be one of Pierre Miller's Desiderata flex pens. These are fountain pens built to suit flex dip nibs like the Zebra G nib. Again I really missed a good chance to get one of the exotic wood pens before he stopped making them (sustainability is an issue with some of those woods)... People keep asking why modern pens don't have flex - in Desiderata's case, they do! (Though admittedly, you're going to have to keep changing nib every few months, as dip pen nibs are not made to last, while Waterman's vintage flex nibs were indeed made to last and many are still going strong. But at $3 a throw or so, it's easier to replace a dip nib than to fix a sprung Waterman Pink Nib.)

I should also mention Ken Cavers' pens. He's made some very garish pens recently, which I don't mean as derogatory - in a market where major pen manufacturers want to push tasteful and conservative on us (or pink, if you're female), rainforest and candy crush come as a great boon. He  makes lovely bamboo style pens, too, including bamboo style in bamboo colours of brown and green.

The problem with all these lovely chaps is that they're in the USA. So I would end up having to pay quite a bit for shipping, plus customs duty plus VAT plus anything between eight quid and a bit more for the privilege of being allowed to pay that customs and VAT, which makes these pens rather expensive by the time I'm finished. On the other hand, if I go over to the US and happen to visit a pen show or two...

I'll leave that thought there for the moment.

In Europe there are also a number of options. In the UK, Worcester Pens offers vintage celluloids among other options (I think I would have to call them artisan production rather than custom, as I don't see custom options on the website: I've seen some of their pens at pen shows and been quite impressed), while Twiss Pens has some stylish custom options.

Matthieu Faivet doesn't seem to be well known outside France, but his pens are lovely - Nucifera, for instance, just black, black and black in a simple form, elegant and beautifully put together. He has some gorgeous wooden pens, something I'm very partial to (as long as they're not the dreadful wooden kit pens that seem to have flooded the market a few years ago, with metal sections and far too thin for comfort). Fred Faggionato is another French pen maker, offering urushi options - seriously beautiful pens, but not in my price range, alas - and there's Andre Mora at Mora Stylo with his Oldwin brand.

That's where alas Europe loses out to the US. US makers are many of them coming in around $200, making nice, interesting pens. Most of the European makers seem to be aiming at the higher end of the market with prices, for example, of over $1000 equivalent at Romillo, and and EUR 400 up at Gimena, both Spanish makers. (There's also Clavijo pens with some nice, simple and stylish pens around EUR 300-350, I'm told.)  I really like Gimena's wooden pens, and particularly the spectacularly understated Pinna, which is almost as simple as a dip pen in its shape and has just a roll stop and a metal ring round the bottom of the barrel to offset the superb wood of which it's made (three choices, but for me it could only be the marvellous dark wenge. There's never anything wrong with black and silver as a combination). Now, at Romillo, you do get a handmade nib for your money, whereas nearly everywhere else you'll get Bock, so in terms of value, I have no quibble - just I can't manage that budget.

Another European artisan pen maker is Martin Pauli of Manu Propria, and I'm lucky enough to have one of his urushi pens. I won it in an internet raffle! (And I daren't use it. I just look at it every so often. Sometimes I do rather wonder if I'm completely sane...) Thanks to Maybelline at On Fountain Pens! I'm always impressed by Martin's amazing creativity. He's a guy who knows Japanese aesthetic and technique but often comes out with an innovative approach like a 'bumble bee' pen with brown and yellow urushi rings, quite unlike anything I've seen from Japanese pen makers. He's also very generous with his time and willing to explain just how he creates his pens, which I really appreciate.

I'm sure I've missed a few out. And of course, in India, many of the small makers also create custom orders. Some of the companies are tricky to get in touch with (or arrange shipping and payment) if you're outside the country, but Mr Subramaniam at ASA Pens and MP Kandan at Ranga are always easy to deal with via website and email and are also welcome presences on Fountain Pen Network's Indian forum.

So... maybe I will be getting a few custom pens this year.

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