Cleo Skribent Series fountain pen meta-review

A little bit of history: While other German manufacturers such as Pelikan and Kaweco have been around since the 19th century, Cleo Skribent is a company that found itself established in the 20th century, shortly after the Second World War. The pens were made in Germany, initially in the founder’s garage “behind the iron curtain”. Once the curtain had been lifted, Cleo Skribent saw a booming business and the company continues to manufacture pens to this day. The name Cleo refers to the Egyptian pharaoh, Cleopatra, with whom the company identifies with due to the innovation and design of the Egyptian pyramids (though Daniel does point out Cleopatra lived closer to the launch of the iPhone than she did the pyramids).

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

How it looks: This pen measures 134mm uncapped and 163mm posted. Some of us found the pen to be large, while others considered it small. The pen is also slim, which gives it a refined and sleek look, though this may not be to everyone’s tastes. The pens come in a range of colours of white, black or red and each come with their own option of gold or chrome furniture which means there’s something for everyone. The design, depending on who it is you’re asking, could be described as “understated”, or just simply “boring”. Though, the white and gold option does offer something “the same but different” as it’s still a conservative looking design but going about it in a different way. If you want something a bit more “out there” and unconventional, perhaps the red would tickle your fancy. The various options that you get are a fantastic selling point. For example, Daniel enjoyed the white and gold aesthetic, while Sarah thought the gold and silver looked better. There’s choice for everyone (that is, so long as you like white, black or red pens).

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

On the top of the cap is the Cleo Skribent logo.

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

The piston filler versions of the pen come with an ink window, which is very handy.

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

How it feels: The pen weighs 18g capped, so this is an extremely lightweight pen. For some of us, that put us off a little bit. However, it is certainly well balanced and if you wish to post the pen, you can find it to post very well. The cap screws off, but the step up to the section is minimal and due to the long section, you can bet on having a very nice grip on the pen.

How it fills: You have the option of a cartridge/converter pen or a ‘piston’ filling pen. The cartridge/converter is compatible with standard international fittings.

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

The piston is essentially a captured converter. You unscrew the blind cap at the end of the pen to get to the converter inside and you then twist it like a normal converter. However, the piston filler does hold more ink than the regular standard international converter (which screws in by the way so you avoid any ink spillages by the converter coming loose!). By using the piston filler, it does make it harder to clean out (though not impossible or by any means tedious).

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Crucially, how it writes: Not all of us got on with the nib. We noticed hard starts and skips, which isn’t something you would expect from a pen in this price range. The nib is also on the dry side.

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Because we were testing the gold nib options, we did find a bit of spring and bounce which is characteristic of gold nibs, however this fell short when we found the feed didn’t keep up with the flow and you had to go very slowly in order to prevent railroading. Though, you can use a super wet ink to potentially fix this.

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Pen! What is it good for? The Classic is, simply put, a classic design. It’s slightly more streamlined than other pens, so you get a slightly different aesthetic to the typical cigar shaped pen. This is certainly something you could take into a business or more professional setting. Because of the wide number of choices that you can have, you can choose the exact specifications that suit your needs and would also make it a very good journalling pen or something that you carry around with you due to the lightweight characteristic (also makes it good for extended writing sessions).

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost: The price of this range goes from £75 with a steel nib and cartridge converter filling system to £155 with a 14k gold nib and a piston filler, so it occupies a range in the market. For a gold nib, you can’t go wrong with the Platinum #3776, which you can pick up for £99 if you look in the right places (even cheaper, if you’re on the grey market) which comes with a  gold nib and is a pen known for fantastic quality. This is, however, a cartridge converter. The TWSBI Vac 700R is also an option, which has a larger ink capacity, though with a steel nib. If a good, reliable gold nib pen is something you’re after then the #3776 is a very good pen to consider. If the ink capacity is more your concern and you’re looking around this price point, you can’t really beat the Vac 700R at this level.

Our overall recommendation: The gold nibs are pricey for what they offer. There’s something about the pens that just don’t click with some of us, and a lot of that does come down to the nib. On the drier side, skips and hard starts and that’s not something you would expect for a pen that nears the £100 range. Perhaps the steel nib versions are something that’s worth looking into as it’ll be less of an investment. If we had £100 to play with, this might be a consideration but by no means the first priority.

Where to get hold of one: You can view the range Write Here (see what I did there?), which is also where these pens were kindly donated to the United Inkdom reviewers for review purposes. There are also other pens offered by Cleo Skribent that may tickle your fancy, such as the ebonite version which you can also find a review of below.

This meta review references: 

Start Bay Navigator A5 notebook cover

A little bit of history  Notebook covers, also often referred to as traveller’s notebooks, have become first a fashion, then an enduring feature of the portable stationery scene. Start Bay notebooks started out as one man working from his home in, naturally enough, Start bay, a scenic cove in Devon, and people like the results so much that the range has  grown since then.  There is room for a bit of confusion, as Traveller’s Notebook is misspelt as a sub-brand by another manufacturer, while TN is used to denote a particular size of Start Bay notebook – but not the one we’re reviewing today. Just for clarity, this is the A5-size notebook cover, referred to by the makers as the Navigator.

How it looks  In many ways this is a fairly simply constructed product, which looks similar to other notebook covers like the Paper Republic alternative we reviewed a few months ago. It’s a sheet of folded leather, with four elastic threads inside the spine to hold notebooks in and one closure band to keep the whole thing together. The range of ‘charms’ which Start Bay also sells are optional, but quite tasteful. Those of us who have had one in use for quite a while find the leather attracts a few minor marks, but they add character – and the cover also comes in a rather nice canvas back should any extra protection be required.How it feels  Supple but solid, essentially; this is a pleasant cover to use and a good platform to write on, while giving the impression that it will take quite a bit of use and abuse if you need it to. Exactly what one wants from such a product, really.

How it fills  This is the detail which sets this product head and shoulders above its competitors. Unlike all the other ready-to-buy alternatives which claim to be A5, this one actually is; it’s big enough to accommodate up to four proper A5 notebooks without any of the edges poking out beyond the cover, meaning that  your writing is always protected – and you’re not limited to proprietary paper sizes when the time comes to buy a refill.  Several other manufacturers fail on this criterion.

Crucially, how it handles fountain pens…  Naturally that depends upon what notebooks you choose to put in it! Start Bay sell FP-friendly Clairefontaine notebooks at extremely reasonable prices from their own website, and there’s a range of British alternatives available from Personalised Stationery, to name just one of many sources. You’re unlikely to have much difficulty finding something which both fits this, and which loves your favourite fountain pen.

Bay! What is it good for?  Whatever you want to use it for, really. Having room for notebooks of different types means that it’s quite possible to accommodate a dot-grid to-do list book, a diary, a ruled journal and a plain sketch book, for instance.  As the name Navigator suggests, it also travels well.

VFM  Surprisingly competitive – this is a hand-made, well-thought-through product which you can get for less than £50.  That’s pretty impressive, really.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Start Bay offer a different ‘duo’ arrangement which allows for the fourth noteboook to be a top-hinged A5 pad (like the Rhodia n.16, for instance). They also have some limited-edition finishes, including some splendid-looking paisley patterns and, more recently, a special all-black edition. For those who can wait, a number of readers have pointed-out that there are several specialists who will custom-make a similar notebook cover to order – and we’ll try to review some of those next year.

Our overall recommendation  We think this is a well-constructed, useful product which we would have very little hesitation in recommending.

Where to get hold of one  Start Bay initially sold through a number of retailers, including many of our favourites, but the operation is increasingly focused on direct sales. Given the high standard of customer support we’ve observed, we think that’s probably a good thing – so if you want one, head straight to Start Bay itself.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Peter at Start Bay for lending us an A5 notebook cover for this review. Gillian will be hanging on to to it for a little while longer to assess how it fares during longer-term use.

Modern Calligraphy book review

Modern Calligraphy, it appears, is an actual thing. Whether it is the sort of thing that it sounds like is possibly another matter.  Calligraphy (‘beautiful writing’, for all the classical etymology fans out there), can mean anything from zen masterworks to that nineteenth-century business hand which looks like copperplate but was seriously intended for everyday use. So a book featuring just those two words as its title could relate to any point within that wide spectrum – but we were pretty sure it was going to be something which would interest us.The author is owner of Quill London, a combined design studio and stationery shop. What becomes clear on an introductory perusal is that the definition of calligraphy in use here is very much at the ornamentally decorative end of the scale. Bluntly, if you’re looking for a calligraphic hand which you can practise, perfect, and incorporate into your daily note-taking to the amazement of colleagues this probably isn’t the book you need. But if you’re called on to label floral arrangements, wedding place settings and hipster chocolates, it might be exactly what you want – as long as the style suits you.Lucy refers to letter-forming, not writing, and that’s a useful indicator to the type of art-form expounded here, which perhaps owes as much to sign-writing as traditional pen calligraphy.  The advantage of this is that the approach recommended offers lots of scope for variety, from reminding readers that brush pens are a legitimate tool, to actively encouraging us to ‘fake it’ when large features such as drop-capitals are required and a two-inch ginormoflex nib isn’t readily to hand. The disadvantage is that the book’s main dependence upon dip pens overlooks the range of flex nibs available in modern fountain pens – indeed, the text gets this factually wrong by suggesting that the only flex FP is the Noodler’s Nib Creaper, but this is the only complete howler and we can hopefully help if there’s a reprint.

The book features a range of practice exercises and ample space to rehearse your moves. That may not be so comfortable for anyone raised to avoid ever writing in a text-book, and it also means paying full price for a book which is only half composed of actual text, but it also makes it is easy to get started. Importantly, the publishers have wisely chosen to use fountain-pen-friendly paper, so the exercises are accessible and give a quick feel for whether this is a hand which suits you. The verdict from our test panel was it may or may not be quite everyone’s favourite lettering style, but that it is at least fun finding out.

So, we’d perhaps like to see something like this book covering a hand which could be tackled with a flex fountain pen, but that’s for another day.  In the meantime this is a good example of how a lot of ideas and experience can be conveyed quickly by a well-designed manual, a great advert for Lucy’s in-house training courses, and a pretty good stocking filler for anyone you know who is more into the eye-catching end result than the rarefied details of ‘serious nibbage’.

This meta-review draws upon brief reviews by:

Thanks to Lucy and her publishers for sending a few review copies our way.

 

Diamine Shimmertastic new colours

A little bit of history  Diamine were the first manufacturer to produce a range of affordable shimmering inks following J. Herbin’s innovation of introducing tiny sparkling particles to their inks. They launched with a range of 10 different colours, added another 12 later (reviewed here), and the new ones take that up to an impressive 32 colours.

How it looks  Diamine are well-versed in shimmering inks by now. They could do this in their sleep. However, they’ve not rested on their laurels here. Rather than just adding more sparkle to more ink, they’ve upped their game. What makes these new inks stand out is not only their strong, saturated colours, but the sheen many of them display. This adds a new dimension to the inks. The sparkle itself is subtle yet visible.

The blues and greens  The new range features four blue and green inks.

Arctic Blue is a bright, cool blue with a frosty silver shimmer. It also has a pinkish-red sheen.

Spearmint Diva is a bluish-green with silver shimmer. It’s similar to Tropical Glow from the same range, though the latter is more of a greenish-blue. It’s good to see that Diamine have those of us who love a good teal covered! However, Spearmint Diva also has a bit of a red sheen on some papers.

Golden Ivy is a traditional deep green with, again, a reddish sheen, set off with gold shimmer. This would make a lovely Christmas ink.

Cobalt Jazz is a saturated cobalt blue with a red sheen and gold shimmer. This is a gorgeous colour that looks pretty spectacular.

The reds  There are three new red inks in the range.

First off, there’s Electric Pink. This is no cute Barbie pink. This is take-no-prisoners pink: it’s rich and saturated, with silver sparkle.

Citrus Ice is a warm, saturated orange with a contrasting cool silver sparkle.

Firefly is an orange-toned red with gold sparkle. Another festive ink.

The purples  The three new additions at the purple end of the spectrum are a real treat.

Arabian Nights is a deep purple-black with silver shimmer. It’s probably the most usable of the inks for everyday writing. The shimmer is subtle and the dark ink is readable and utilitarian while retaining a lot of character.

Frosted Orchid is a slightly lighter purple ink with red tones and silver sparkle. This will be popular.

The last of the new inks is Wine Divine. This is a lovely addition to Diamine’s already well-stocked wine cellar (with Merlot, Syrah, and Claret). The ink is a rich burgundy with gold shimmer.

 

Crucially, how it writes…  Diamine have been on the go for over 150 years. The quality of their ink is sound, and these are no exceptions. They flow well and benefit from a wider nib to show off both sheen and shimmer. 

Ink! What is it good for?  These are unusual inks, and the sparkle makes it unlikely you’ll want to use these for business documents. They’re great for cards and letters, especially with Christmas fast approaching. As usual with shimmering inks, be sure to give the bottle a gentle shake before filling a pen. Similarly, gently agitate a pen that’s had the ink in it a while to mix up the settled shimmer particles. There’s also a caveat: any ink with particles like this has the potential to clog up a pen, so use this ink in pens that you can disassemble relatively easily to clean out properly.

VFM  Although more expensive than Diamine’s standard inks, the Shimmertastic range is an affordable way to get some seriously interesting inks. In the UK, a 50ml bottle retails for around £9-10.If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  J. Herbin make a variety of premium shimmering inks. De Atramentis also offer a new line of shimmering inks, with each ink available with gold, silver, or copper shimmer. Robert Oster are soon to launch their own sparkles, too.

Our overall recommendation  These are great, fun inks with some unusual and interesting properties, available at a good price. Where to get hold of some  The usual suspects have these inks in stock (or soon will!). You can also purchase from Diamine directly.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Diamine for kindly providing samples as the newly expanded range was launched.

The Writing Desk update

Loyal readers will already be familiar with our slow but committed campaign to profile all the boutique stationery retailers we can find, to which end we have of course interviewed The Writing Desk  already.  But it seemed a good time for a quick update, for the simple reason that they now have an actual stationery boutique – yes, TWD has gone bricks-and-mortar!  The online operation is still going strong too, of course, but we all love a little shop, and one of the team was in Bury St. Edmunds for an afternoon, so the inevitable happened…

Be prepared for temptation.  There is so much sought-after kit here, and combining online expertise with a physical presence on the High Street (well, Risbygate) has allowed The Writing Desk to complement their traditional offer (already distinguished by some rare brands such as Private Reserve) with a handful of rescued Conway Stewarts from Bespoke British Pens, a crop of genuine Traveller’s Notebooks, and posh Pilots actually branded as Namiki.  It’s a fine mix of ancient and modern, much like the town itself; home to the fourth largest Benedectine monastery in Europe before the Dissolution, the medieval-design cathedral was only finished in 2005.

It’s well worth a visit if you’re passing through Suffolk; as well as pens that will invite rash abuses of your credit card, there are some well-chosen notebooks (with very good deals on Clairefontaine in particular), the opportunity to try pens which wouldn’t be accessible any other way, and of course Martin’s sage advice on care and repair of naughty nibs.

Having blown a bit of pocket money in the best way possible, your reporter repaired to The Nutshell, which has a justifiable claim to be England’s smallest pub – and where the customers immediately recognised the logo, acknowledged that it was a great shop and enthusiastically inhaled from the scented J.Herbin as it was passed around (it smells even better than Greene King’s finest, apparently).  That’s fountain pens, you see; a hit with ink nerds, defrocked monks, beardy beer-men and purple-haired punk poets everywhere.  Drop in and see for yourself!

 

 

De Atramentis pearlescent inks meta-review

A little bit of history  The ancient Romans did all sorts of rum things in barrels; polluting wine with lead to sweeten it, fermenting the pungent rotted-fish sauce garum, and brewing-up the hard-wearing ink atramentum.  German ink-makers De Atramentis continue this tradition in their name and some of their production methods (albeit hopefully without the aroma of decomposing marine life), and recently they have got on the sparkly ink bandwagon.  Everybody’s doing it these days, it seems – J.Herbin, Diamine and Robert Oster too.  So we set out to find out what De Atramentis is bringing to the party…

How it looks  The base inks are seven colours, plus black.  What makes the collection stand out is the availability of these inks in three different pearlescent finishes; gold, silver and, uniquely, copper. There’s a higher volume of sparkly particles than are typically found in pearlescent inks so how it looks is shiny – very, very, shiny!Crucially, how it writes…  Much like standard fountain open ink, and De Atramentis certainly make plenty of that.  There can be the occasional hold-up due to the high proportion of particulates (the sparkly bits), which eventually silt-up the feed and stem the flow, but this is easily rectified with a thorough clean.  With this in mind it’s advisable to stick to fountain pens which can be completely dismantled for a quick scrub, but these inks are otherwise suitable for use with most of the nibbage you own.

Ink! What is it good for?  It’s very shiny indeed, but those sparkicles can brush off once the ink is dry – so it’s probably not one for the office, but anything from journalling to labelling presents would be good ways to put it to work.

VFM  Not bad at all; Pure Pens sell some of these at £10.50 a bottle,  which is only a little more than comparable inks from Diamine, and about half the price that J.Herbin charge for a sparkly.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Then De Atramentis do face some pretty stiff competition from Diamine. No-one else has quite the range of shimmer choices that De Atramentis does, though, and their copper option appears to be otherwise unheard of in the pearlescent market.

Our overall recommendation  If masses of glitter appeals, or the unusual copper finish does it for you, give this a go.  If you prefer a slightly more nuanced range of base colours beneath your glitter, check out the newly-expanded Diamine Shimmer range (which we’ll also cover again here soon).

Where to get hold of some  Pure Pens sell a partial range of these, or you can buy the full collection direct from source if you don’t mind covering a bit more postage.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  De Atramentis themselves for generously sending us a sparkling set of these inks for testing.

Nuremberg pen show report

It’s traditional for our meta-reviews to start with a little bit of history, and it’s just as well that this isn’t one of those, as Nuremberg is quite incapable of delivering history in little bits; it provides it in great big monumental slabs.  So, let’s get the architectural introductions over with; from the Sinwell Tower, a remarkable medieval survival, you can look at pre-war and post-war photographs of the city landscape then admire the rebuilding job in front of your very own eyes. The one area which nobody was in a much of a hurry to rebuild was the parade-ground used for those 1930s rallies, but thankfully some much more positive uses have been found for that space – and last weekend your dogged United Inkdom correspondent dropped-in on two of them.

First up, of course, was a visit to Kaweco, who really have their ducks in a row – and we’re not just talking pocket ink flasks there. Michael Gutberlet, head honcho himself, gave a guided tour of facilities at Thomas Mann Strasse and Max Brod Strasse (all the roads are named after liberal German-language literary figures), and this could happily have occupied most fountain pen fans for a whole day.  Seeing the assembly and dispatch operations was interesting in itself, but the highlight was inevitably Michael’s own collection of Kaweco antiques, some stretching as far back as the 1880s.  The tray below, charting the morphology of the Sport model from 1911 onwards, is a good example of the ‘design DNA’ evolving over a century.  The solid silver prototype of the Sport which may follow next was impressively heavy too!

Raiding the pen archive also helped to solve another mystery which had plagued those of us more acquainted with English-language literature, viz why the Lilliput model is missing its second letter L.  How the mistake happened is lost to history, but just visible on the original version of this model pictured below is the engraving which shows the spelling as LILIPUT – so retaining the error is at least staying true to tradition.

A short walk north through Hans Fallada Strasse (referring to an author who has only recently been translated into English – a tragic but riveting read) was the Exhibition Centre, our main destination.  Also home to Spielwarenmesse, the annual Nuremberg toy fair, for the last few years it has hosted the marvellously-named Insights-X.  This is a diverse stationery show rather than just a pen-focused event, but there was going to be plenty to see and, just as importantly, the organisers help to get a few bloggers there too.

Part of the blogger experience is a guided tour (with translator, if needed) of a number of stands for which exhibitors wanted a brief captive audience.  For the German and Austrian calligraphers (and one British scribbler) present the relevance of wares varied, with slightly more which was aimed at the children-and-schools market than we quite knew what to do with.  But let’s be honest, who can really object to being introduced to parrot knapsacks and flamingo pencils?

Some of the big names were there in force but with displays which left one wondering quite why they had bothered; Faber-Castell had a stand big enough to contain a working café but brought nothing from the ‘Graf’ range, and Pilot showed-up with the usual glut of VPs but no FA nibs (again).  However, the guided tour included a chance to visit Online, the inconveniently-named but rather prolific German fountain pen makers.  They distributed calligraphy sets to bloggers (there may be a special meta-review of those soon, if all goes according to plan) and even had another purple ink which will feature on a certain obsessive’s blog before too long…

After the guided tour, there was just time to meet up with a few more firms who will interest United Inkdom readers.  We made further introductions to the splendid Super 5, got in touch with Turkish pen company Scrikks for the first time (reviews to follow), and got a sneaky early view of Cleo Skribent’s forthcoming Optima model – which will replace its current ebonite piston-filler next year (we will try to cover that here too, if we can get our hands on a sample).

So, there are lots of pens and products which we’ll probably be reviewing over coming months, and you’ll be seeing plenty more blog items and articles flowing as a result of the trip.  The other really good thing about this sort of experience, though, is meeting fellow enthusiasts – a real delight, even with a few language challenges to overcome.  Stand by for laboured pun… Rather like Nuremberg’s castle, the pen blogging community evidently has a deep well of talent to draw from!

Personalised Stationery profile

This is going to be a fairly short profile, for the simple reason that Personalised Stationery is such a prolific product creator that we’re highly likely to come back to them again and again.  But since we’ve just meta-reviewed a couple of fine A5 notebooks from this stable, it’s time to provide a bit of background.

The stable in question is in fact a smithy, but where hammer and tongs once rung out different equipment now reigns supreme; printing rollers, staplers and guillotines.  The owner, Rob, has already carved out a promising niche providing name-plated writing paper (as the company’s title suggests), and in contact with pen fans and journal-writers has started to develop a mightily impressive range of notebooks and other stationery items.

One of the reasons that the Personalised Stationery marque is proving a big hit with fountain pen fans is the quality of the paper.  Now, we’re not going to give away every one of Rob’s trade secrets, but it helps to understand how this all works if you know that Lamy, Kaweco and Diamine inks are always visible on his desk – along with a few pens to put them in, of course.  Testing every paper sample the hard way seems to be paying off.

A second appeal, not unreasonably, is the visual design ideas which Rob borrows and adapts from all sorts of sources.  The Operation Neptune notebook which we reviewed last week proved such a hit that a complementary range of 1940s-themed A6 pocket notebooks has become rather popular too. 

An even bigger hit was a homage to the period just after the war, as Amazon television series The Collection needed notebooks for the front row of fashion critics seated at the foot of the catwalk – and Personalised Stationery provided them, of course.

The really ‘killer’ asset is probably the genuinely personalised nature of the product collection – simply put, if no-one else is making what you want, Rob probably will. Bringing back the old double-sided postcard (remember them?) is a good example.

Even more gratifyingly, the increased interest in disc-bound notebooks (which we like to think we’ve played a modest part in paving the way for) has led to Rob experimenting in making his own, with line options as wide, or indeed narrow, as customers require. John was especially impressed by the one which came his way – and it could well lead to a more permanent stock line before too long, it seems. So, overused as this phrase may be, watch this space!

You may already know Rob from online conversations – he answers every query himself –  but if you haven’t already seen the company site it’s certainly worth a look.

 

 

Personalised Stationery A5 notebooks review

A little bit of history  The old-school (but not specifically for use in educational environments) exercise book has been making a big come-back over the last year or so, proving both a handy way to try different paper out, and a means of taking something a bit different into meetings.  With the advent of full-size A5 covers like those offered by Start Bay, they’ve started attracting a following amongst people writing travel journals and the like, too.  So it’s good to see a small, bespoke operation in the heart of little old Blighty making some really distinctive offerings to add to the selection out there. We could hardly wait to get started in putting them to test…

How it looks  Each of the Personalised Stationery creations is a bit of portable art in its own right, so we picked two to get us started – and so that enough of us could try them to put together a meta-review, of course. The company’s main product is customised writing paper, as the name suggests, so they have come up with some creative designs one that looks remarkably like a pair of jeans, and another which resembles the secret dossier for the D-Day landings. We thought they looked very cool indeed.

How it feels  Smooth, and this is going to turn out to be important!

How it fills  These are pre-stapled notebooks, so there’s not too much scope for alteration once delivered.  However, looped staples may be in the offing sometime soon, and the books come with a decent quantity of paper for most people’s uses.

Crucially, how it handles a fountain pen…  Excellently. The Fedrigoni paper selected for these notebooks is a delight to write on with a real nib, and tough enough to take a bit of abuse too. After experiencing the indifferent performance of many of the mass-market expensive alternatives, it’s something of a revelation.

Pulp! What is it good for?  It’s good for taking to work, using as a planner, keeping a diary, or even writing poetry – anything which you’d only really want to do with a proper fountain pen, really. ‘Can’t think of anything you’d do without one?  Don’t worry, you’re in good company on this site…

VFM  These represent pretty solid value in our view. At £5.95 they are not the cheapest A5 notebook available, but for the quality of the product they compete well with comparable offerings from Clairefontaine – which can offer nice paper for that sort of price, but not the line/dot options or the interesting cover artwork. It’s also an absolute steal for a product which is hand-made in the UK.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Contact Rob at Personalised Stationery and he’ll most likely be able to knock up something exactly tailored to your needs.  This is an offer we have already tested and the response was impressive.

Our overall recommendation  This is the sort of product that most fountain pen fans will love, at a price which is a bargain, from the type of specialist maker we all like to support.  ‘Bit of a no-brainer, really: get one.

Where to get hold of one  Direct from the source is the simplest way.  But there may also be one or two interesting collaborations in the pipeline very soon…

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Rob at Personalised Stationery for product samples.

 

Bureau Direct profile

Selling fountain pens, inks and good paper is a niche business, clearly – but it’s also a fast-growing niche, inhabited by splendid people with refined tastes.  So it’s always good to encounter a small firm thriving by doing the right thing, and if you’re a stationery fan then you probably already know Bureau Direct is one of those!

Still run by siblings Jo and Dominic, the team is now around nine in total (it varies at peak demand times), and thanks to Mishka there’s a good chance you’ll already have encountered them via social media.  As a big deal in the online world, it’s interesting to discover that they started out with a bricks-and-mortar shop – in Covent Garden, no less. But as the internet shopping boom started, well, booming, the rents for such premises rose and the opportunities in cyber-space grew proportionately.  So the team now has a spacious base to the west of London, with racks of exotic stationery aplenty.

Fountain-pen friendly paper is a big deal for this company, and the array of black and red Rhodia items on the shelves of the warehouse are quite an impressive site.  What will grab many fountain pen fans is that there’s enough of a customer base to engage in the occasional spot of innovation too.  We ran a meta-review of one of their popular lines last week, the stapled Tomoe River notebook from Taroko Design. That’s proved so popular that Taroko have collaborated with Bureau Direct to make an even more sophisticated sewn-bound notebook, the Breeze, which we suspect is going to be a big hit too.

The team have been doing well bringing some interesting niche inks into the UK market, too, especially as one of the original trail-blazers for the impressive KWZ inks – and the news is that more colours, and possibly a few more iron-gall inks too, are on the way. Bureau Direct is the sole importer of Australia’s Blackstone inks on these shores, too; and hard as it may be to convince readers of this by text, our visiting reporter can vouch for their claim to be some of the most aromatically delightful inks you’re likely to come across.

Bureau Direct sell pencils and other paraphernalia too, of course, and one of the best ways to keep up to date with incoming temptations is to sign up for their email newsletters, which come with some very handy discounts too. But what you might not know unless you happen to be passing the warehouse is that they have gone back to their roots and set up an in-house testing area, so if you want to try out one of their range of fountain pens (Kaweco, TWSBI and Lamy are all on hand) or see how some of that rare ink behaves on some exotic paper, there’s a very tempting desk surrounded by very cool gear, and yes – you can just arrange to drop in! Expect to hear from this lovely bunch; we reckon we’ve clocked them as fellow enthusiasts. In the meantime, in the very unlikely event of you not having seen their website already, take a peek