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

 

Taroko Design A5 stapled notebook

A little bit of history  There are various theories about where the Austronesian family of languages sprang from, but one of the more popular has the roots on the island of Formosa, or Taiwan as we know it today.  One of these indigenous tribes, the Truku, also gave their name to an area known as Taroko, now a national park. Rather curiously, but entirely suitably for our purposes, this notebook brand therefore indirectly translates as ‘human’.  So we sent samples to a few more humans to put that rather splendid heritage to  the test.

How it looks  It looks like a basic school text book, and a pretty cheap one if truth be told. Appearances are deceptive on both counts; underneath those dull brown covers lies a rather sophisticated offer – at a price to match.

How it feels  Gossamer-thin, unnervingly light and smooooooooooooth.  This is all thanks to the famous/infamous Tomoe River, which like the Taroko national park was a Japanese innovation but is evidently configured a whole lot more usefully in the ROC.

How it fills  This is a stapled notebook, so it’s pretty much pre-filled and the thin nature of the paper makes it difficult to alter that.  But for most purposes there are enough sheets to make use of.

Crucially, how it handles a fountain pen…  This is where the investment pays off. The Tomoe River paper is thick enough to handle a fountain pen nib without wrinkling (albeit it only just), and the smooth surface is a pleasure to write on.  Like other very smooth paper surfaces (Clairefontaine Triomphe, for instance) it shows the sheen well, too. It may be flimsy, but you’re unlikely to be disappointed.

Pulp! What is it good for?  It seems to be very popular for ink journals, thanks to the sheen, although it is perhaps a bit expensive just for leaking dribbly nibs on.  The low profile and featherweight qualities mark it out as an ideal travel journal, however.

VFM  These are not the cheapest notebooks out there, by any stretch of the imagination. But if you are travelling and don’t want to be without some truly fountain-pen friendly paper, or if you want sneak some inconspicuous exotica which looks like a school exercise book into work, it’s not going to break the bank.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  There’s nothing quite as thin and light as this on the market which we could recommend, but if it’s just the smoothness and sheen-loving finish you’re after then Clairefontaine’s A5 ‘age bag’ notebook does a similar job at about half the price.

Our overall recommendation  If you’re travelling or have a need for a genuinely nib-loving exercise book which you can squeeze into even the bulgingest briefcase, give it a go.

Where to get hold of one  It is sometimes possible to buy directly from Taroko studio in Taiwan, but it’s not especially straightforward.  Several of us have bought one from Bureau Direct in the UK and had no problems doing so, and the price is no greater so that looks like the smarter option in this case.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to Bureau Direct for kindly donating the samples.

Platinum Classic inks

A little bit of history  For anyone who’s just survived the British summer, it can be hard to believe that wasps do anything useful at all; the big ones ruin picnics and the tiny ones kill bees. But as it happens, some of those very small wasps inadvertently serve a human purpose by making nests on the surface of the sturdy oak tree – because those ‘iron galls’ in turn provide the source material for a permanent ink formula recipe used since Pliny the Elder. Pliny Senior unfortunately failed to describe the formula in sufficient detail before the eruption of Vesuvius did for him, but patient scribes have been perfecting it ever since. When it works well, it can preserve documents for millennia.  When it goes wrong and the ink gets too acidic, it can eat the writing surface – and it has form for eating fountain pens too, so it’s a brave manufacturer who ventures into this market.  But Diamine, KWZ and Rohrer and Klingner have found ways to make the recipe safe, and now Platinum have come along with no less than six shades of iron gall ink to get creative with. The United Inkdom team set out to put it to the test – said team including a chemist, a calligrapher and two historians, so there was no fear of punches being pulled.

How it looks  This changes in the first minute that it spends on the paper – it goes on quite bright, especially the Citrus and Cassis varieties, then quickly darkens as it oxidises.  None of the shades darken all the way to black, so the naming convention (Lavender Black, Forest Black, etc.) is a little misleading, but the transformation from light to dark is impressive – and rather fascinating to watch.

How it smells  Now let’s be honest, not all specialist inks are terribly pleasant to the nose . This one requires a chemical reaction to work, which you can actually see in front of your eyes, as the video below demonstrates – and as this ink is not pigment-based, it’s not technically watching paint dry.  But despite all that exciting stuff going on, there’s nothing malodorous to report.  Phew.

Crucially, how it writes…  Perfectly well! It’s perhaps just a touch drier than some ‘standard’ fountain pen inks, but a decent fountain pen can handle it with ease.  Given that this is still a permanent ink and even the new, gentler, formula has some acidity to it, a fountain pen which doesn’t dry out too easily is a wise choice (one of Platinum’s own #3776 models is a good place to start), and of course it’s worth giving it a good flush out after a few days with iron gall ink in there.  But you can pop it into the barrel of your ‘serious nibbage’ without too much fear of damage.

Ink! What is it good for?  As Nick capably demonstrates, it’s great for calligraphy.  Since it’s an iron gall ink it should be acceptable if you’re signing a marriage register, and as it’s permanent it should do for addressing the wedding invitations too (the ink is partially washable, but even if it gets rained on the text will still be legible).  Lavender Black, which seems to be the consensus pick of the bunch, could be good for one’s secret diary (you have one of those, right?). Or you could just have fun with them, like we did!VFM  These are not cheap inks, it has to be admitted; £22 will buy you a fairly respectable fountain pen these days, after all. But some of Platinum’s ‘Classic’ colours are really easy on the eye – and if you are using this for a special event, it’s not going to be that big a dent in the stationery budget.

The ink is partially washable, but the text remains legible

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  If you just need an iron gall ink and aren’t too concerned by the traditional blue-grey shade, then standard registrar’s ink will inevitably be quite a bit less expensive, and there’s plenty of that about (try Diamine). There are also other coloured iron gall inks available, usually at a lower price, from KWZ and Rohrer & Klingner.  Alternatively, if you’re a Platinum fan and just need something permanent, some of their pigment-based inks aren’t bad and their carbon ink is amongst the blackest of the black.Our overall recommendation  We think these are pretty impressive inks, and conjure up a wider and more interesting palette than iron gall formulae can usually manage. If you have a sensible use for a permanent ink and fancy something a bit different, a 60ml bottle will do the job well.  Given the significant cost our tip is to pick one or two which really take your fancy rather than going straight for the whole set.Where to get hold of some  We got ours direct from Cult Pens, and that’s a good place to start – they are the official Platinum dealers for the UK, and as it happens it’s where many of us have acquired our #3776s from too.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Cult Pens for donating the review samples.

Pelikan Stola III fountain pen meta-review

A little bit of history The first incarnation of Pelikan began in Germany in 1832, so it’s safe to say they’be been around a while. Over the course of time its gone bankrupt and restarted, and its headquarters have moved to Switzerland, but its pens haven’t changed much at all. Many of Pelikan’s designs are almost unchanged from 1929, the year the company released its first fountain pen, and they’re still made in Germany.How it looks Pelikan is a company famous for making lots of very similar (and beautiful) looking pens but the Stola III is a little different. The clip maintains the pelican-beak motif but is a simple wire loop. The cap and barrel are finished in a silver-grey enamel which is modern looking but rather plain. The section is black plastic. It’s unlikely to set any hearts racing, but Pelikan have done a good job for a low price-point.

How it feels The barrel is brass which gives the pen some heft, which went down well with some reviewers but not with others. It’s fairly well-balanced, but rather short. Some of our large-handed reviewers struggled a little with holding it comfortably and, critically, the cap doesn’t post properly (you can kind-of balance it on the end, if you don’t move it too quickly, but it’s tricky). It’s a small pen that insists on staying that way.

How it fills Standard international cartridges and some (e.g. Schmidt) converters. Not every converter will fit but this still gives you a lot of choice.Crucially, how it writes… The stainless steel nib is very good for a pen that costs £20. It’s smooth and has a good flow. It’s great… as long as you want a medium nib. Unfortunately, Pelikan have only released the Stola III with one size of nib, which is silly when so many other pens at similar prices are available with a full range of widths. It’s doubly silly when the nib itself writes so well.Pen! What is it good for? The Stola III is a lovely pen for extended writing, if it isn’t too short for you. You can pick a colour to get your thoughts flowing and journal or plan away to your heart’s content.

VFM This is very much a case of: if your requirements happen to coincide with what the Stola III offers, it’s a good value pen.If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost… then you have a huge number of options. If you want a small, pocketable pen then the Kaweco Classic Sport is a little cheaper and has lots of nib sizes. The Lamy Safari is easily obtainable, a fantastic pen and also a little cheaper. If you’d prefer a more classic looking pen then the Pilot MR (also known as the Metropolitan) is worth a look, as is the Faber-Castell Basic. Then for funky looking pens you could look at the Pilot Kakuno or the Faber-Castell Loom. Finally, if you’d like an enamelled metal-barrelled pen with a cap that’ll post, the excellent but often overlooked Sheaffer VFM is a good choice. We could go on but you get the idea… this is a crowded price point, which can only be a good thing.

Our overall recommendation The Stola III is a pen that writes well, takes a wide range of cartridges, and has a certain aura of quality about it. However, it is very much a one-trick pony. If you like the metallic grey look, enjoy medium nibs, don’t like to post and find short pens comfortable, then it’s definitely worth considering the Stola III. However, with so much choice available, you can almost certainly find a different pen that’s at least as good, for a similar amount of money, that fits your tastes and needs more closely.

Where to get hold of one If you’re in the UK then Niche Pens is always a good place to start for all things Pelikan. Elsewhere, we can recommend Pen Chalet, who were kind enough to send us this sample (for which we are very grateful).This meta-review references reviews by:

Manuscript ML1856 fountain pen meta-review

A little bit of history  Manuscript is a British company which has been around for over 160 years – since 1856, in fact, which is where this pen gets its name. As with our Silvine samples recently we found ourselves reminiscing about Manuscript products of the past. Thankfully, the ML1856 is a big step up from the cheap shrink-wrapped products that we’re used to seeing in high-street shops here in the UK.

How it looks  Hotttttttttttttttttttt. Mateusz’s design is the ‘Molten Lava’., as you can see below – but we think these these pens look hotter than molten lava. Manuscript pulled the boat out when designing these. In John’s review he observes that the designs can be a little bit different every time due to the setting process, which gives every pen its own individual personality.  We have been fortunate enough to review the Purple Mist, Molten Lava, Turquoise Ocean & Northern Lights pens. In addition to this, there are three other colour-ways available: Red Storm, Oyster Mist and Midnight.

However, not every aspect of the aesthetic was loved.  The clip has two circles, echoing the dual crown of the cap’s top (which is a reminder that Manuscript has been going so long that they used to supply the kings of both Spain and Portugal), but the shape of the clip itself seemed a little gimmicky.  As Laura puts it, “don’t dress a model in Primark clothes.”

How it feels  Across the Inkdom we all agreed that the pen was lightweight but strong. While being made of the Italian resin, we felt confident that the pen would hold up. However, John did comment on the threads when screwing the barrel onto the section, and had concerns about breaking or otherwise damaging the pen – which he said was out of character for the otherwise strong feel. Daniel with his “weird grip” was still able to use the pen, despite his fingers touching the threads; thankfully they’re not sharp and are comfortable (as far as threads go). However, some concerns remained as regards the clip which seems rather stiff, albeit usable. The pen sits in the hand very well; posting is just about possible, but awkward, and doing so will make the pen too long for most tastes. The size of the pen allows Manuscript to appeal to most writers as it isn’t too large, but it isn’t a pocket pen either.

Right from the get-go with the packaging of the pen you get the impression of a ‘premium product’. It’s not a conventional pen box, with the pen standing up as opposed to laying flat, but still wonderfully presented.

How it fills  Cartridge/converter. This makes it easy for the user to change inks if need be, but it’s also not difficult to refill every so often (though does make it a little bit more tedious than, say, a piston for constant ink usage, but easier for maintenance and cleaning). Daniel did question the possibility of it being converted into an eyedropper as he tested the pen with water and it seemed to be sealed, but we’re not advocating this unless Manuscript advise it!

Crucially, how it writes…  There are both flat and round nib options for the Manuscript 1856: two stubs (1.1mm & 1.5mm) and a handwriting nib. All nibs are steel and are from JoWo in Germany.Laura, Daniel & John all thought that their nibs wrote fantastically – Laura put it the best when she said that her 1.1mm nib wrote “wetter than England in autumn.” Mateusz however, felt that his nib was a little dry for his liking, although the flow improved over time. Overall, the writing experience was rated as pleasant by the reviewing team. The only thing that the stub nibs aren’t great for are reverse writing, as Daniel discovered. The nibs write wet and the feeds keep up well, which is what makes it great for the purpose of the pen.Pen! What is it good for?  Manuscript seems to be, as a brand, synonymous with calligraphy, certainly for beginners here in the UK anyway. The 1.1mm and 1.5mm stub nibs means that you can get a little calligraphic with your writing, particularly when considering scripts such as gothic.

Of course, if calligraphy isn’t your thing then you can always opt for the ‘handwriting’ nib which will give you the writing experience of nibs you might be more used to. The handwriting nib won’t be as thick and perhaps a little more conventional for everyday writing.

VFM   While the majority of our findings are quite positive, we do have concerns here; simply put, this is a good a pen, but it isn’t £125 good. As Daniel pointed out, his custom John Twiss pen was only £10 more expensive than this. Laura notes that the Edison Collier and Pearlette are similar in design, similar in price but better as regards value for money. Twiss and Edison alternatives also use JoWo nibs, so there is serious competition.

Bottom-top: Laban Mento, Manuscript ML1856 & John Twiss custom pen

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…   The Edison Pearlette and Collier are similar in both aesthetic and price. Another option might be a Laban pen; these pop up at pen shows (here in the UK at least) with a similar design but run to about £60; less than half the price.  As John points out, for £125 you could also get a Platinum #3776, and while these lack the hand-made aesthetic the gold nib goes a long way to make up for it. Mr Pen’s English Curate, which we reviewed last year, is made in the same workshop (formerly of Sigma fame) but a lot more reasonably priced.Our overall recommendation  While we loved using the pen, the price point just doesn’t justify it for us, unfortunately. There are too many alternatives which are similar to the ML1856 but better quality/feel for the same price or others that might sacrifice ever so slightly on the feel but are much more affordable. We like the direction Manuscript is heading in, but our recommendation would be to wait until the value issue has been rectified before pulling the trigger; to put it politely, it looks to us as if the RRP is rather too ambitious at present.

Where to get hold of one  There are few stockists as yet – La Couronne du Comte was the first we know of – but Cult Pens has just started stocking them too.

This meta-review references: 

Northern Lights

Thanks to: Manuscript for providing the pens for review purposes. All views expressed here are our own both within the meta-review and in our own individual reviews that we have provided; the pens were sent to us in exchange for an honest review. Manuscript, to their credit, were completely fine with that, and not withstanding our reservations about some elements of the package are still keen for us to give one away; a great attitude, we think.

Give-away!  Would you like to win one of these test pens?  If your name pops out of the hat, you can – and better still, you get to choose which one it is.  To bag one of these, let us know what you think the crowned heads of the Iberian peninsula would have used an ML1856 for, if they’d been available before the revolution – what sort of correspondence would be flying between Lisbon and Madrid with aid of such serious nibbage?  Answers in the comments box please, by 16 July.  We’ll task the reviewers with deciding which ideas they find the most hilarious, mind-bending or imaginatively splendid, so thinking caps on…

 

Paper Republic Grand Voyageur XL

A little bit of history  While the whole “traveller’s notebook” craze was getting very fashionable – and let’s face it, very expensive – some enterprising folks in Austria thought that they could probably do better if they took the concept and started again from scratch. We caught up with their take on the format at the London Stationery Show, and tempted by the rather lovely-looking Grand Voyageur XL version (partly because it looked like it was A5), we immediately volunteered to put a few of them to the test.  Three of us have taken these out and about, pour voyages grands et petits, and here’s how they fared.

How it looks  Like a traveller’s notebook made by professionals for serious writers, which is a good image to start with.  The leather is available in a range of colours all the way from understated to bright and bold, and the availability of contrasting elastic closures (if preferred by the user) can make it look smarter still.  The Paper Republic logo is neatly debossed on the back, and buyers can have their initials on the front for a modest extra charge.  Only the frayed ends of the knotted retaining bands detracts from the professional appearance, but this may be something the makers look into improving in subsequent models.

How it feels  Smooth, supple, flexible and generally luxurious; if you’re a bit of a stationery leather fetishist you’re going to be pretty happy with this material.  Thanks to vegetable-derived tanning processes it even smells good, and it seems to hold up well after vigorous use.

How it fills  With Paper Republic’s Swedish-made refills, available in plain, lined and grid versions.  This is where we encountered the one major fly in the ointment; the paper is OK, but the paper size is not as we had expected.  These are not, in fact, A5 (which is 148mmX210mm), but a proprietary size of around 135mmX200mm, and that greatly limits the usefulness of the design.  If you have pages of notes made in the Grand Voyageur XL which you wish to remove and file with A5 notes, it’s going to be messy. Worse still, if you wish to source your own A5 refills, perhaps because you are actually travelling and can’t arrange a Paper Republic delivery, you can’t; a full A5 refill hangs out of the cover in a thoroughly ungainly fashion.  This is such a serious limitation that it is only really going to work for the sort of writer who is so disciplined that they know exactly how much writing they will do on any given expedition, and that’s a pity; other than this shortfall, we all thought it was a great product.Crucially, how it handles fountain pens…  Quite well, fortunately!  The manufacturer’s claim to use the best paper in the world was a bit of an exaggeration – we have certainly all used better – but that’s not say it’s bad at all.  It was quite pleasant to write on and coped with every nib we threw at it with aplomb.

Pulp! What is it good for?  Well, given the issue with size, it’s hard to think of what these are best used for at present.  But Laura’s adaptation of one into an ink journal looks like a good place to begin.

VFM  These covers retail for €60 direct from Paper Republic, or £54 from Cult Pens in the UK; which is most affordable will depend upon how much of a mess the Pound is in on the day you wish to make a purchase, but it’s always worth checking the exchange rates first. Our view is that the quality justifies that price, but the actual value to you the consumer may depend upon whether the eccentric paper size is a help or a hindrance.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  There is also a not-quite-A5 notebook format from Germany, the X17, but while this has even more colour options, it shares the drawback of falling short in a dimension or two.  The only true A5 notebook cover we have come across is from Devon; the Start Bay is only available in shades of brown but is more competitively priced and definitely does the job well.  Meanwhile Paper Republic do also make a passport-sized notebook, and another which doubles as a mobile ‘phone cover, which may have wider appeal.

Our overall recommendation  This is a really well-made, impressive product which we would like to recommend without reservations.  Unfortunately we do have one serious reservation, but we have already shared this with Paper Republic and they’ve told us they’re considering how to proceed.  If they go ahead and produce a true A5 version – perhaps the Plus Grand Voyageur XXL – we’ll be first in the queue to buy a few.

Where to get hold of one If you like the format it makes a lot of sense to support the manufacturer by buying direct. However, if the consequences of foreign policy eccentricities have knocked your own currency out of kilter, Cult Pens also sell them.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Paper Republic  for donating no less then three notebooks in return for honest reviews.

Streamline fountain pen review

A little bit of history   As the twentieth century grew more confident in its own artistic milieu and Art Deco architecture collided with aeronautical design, the blended lines of ‘Streamline Moderne’ emerged. It bore all sorts of results, from Morecambe’s Midland Hotel (where everyday is like Sunday, according to Mr. Morrissey), to the passenger accommodation of The Hindenburg (itself inspiration for the Diplomat Aero), and, of course, the Airstream caravan (as slow as all other caravans but at least nicer to look at). Several decades later, Jake Lazzari of Applied Pens spotted the missing category; fountain pens.

How it looks  Like a pocket version of the Schienenzeppelin with a nib inside the engine bay, or a rapidly-extruded Airsteam, or, inevitably an alien mind-probe.  It rather defies easy description, frankly, and it’s probably better to let the pictures do the talking on this occasion; suffice it to say that there is nothing else out there quite like it.

How it feels  It’s big – really extraordinarily big. So much so that you might wonder if your hands are big enough.  Three-quarters of our reviewing panel were, however, pleasantly surprised to find that it nevertheless felt about right in the hand, and the lightness of the materials ensures that it’s not as heavy as it looks either.  The ebonite makes it warm to the touch immediately, which is also rather pleasant.  But it will be just a bit too big for some.

How it fills  With a simple Schmidt converter, and that’s perfectly reasonable.  The lack of metal inside then barrel and the close threads probably means that eye-dropper conversion is also possible, if you don’t mind a few ink-burps as a result.

Crucially, how it writes…  As ever with hand-made pens, that depends upon the nib you choose to add.  Jake uses the Bock #6 steel nib as standard, and although the review unit we sampled had been bashed about a bit, to the detriment of writing performance in this case, Jake does test all nibs before dispatch to customers and will rectify any issues which arise after delivery. The writing position is comfortable and, with a #6 nib of your choice, this should be a very nice long-term scribbler.

Pen! What is it good for?  Let’s keep it clean, folks. It’s for writing – really, it is. Most of us would probably keep a pen this extravagantly outré for use at home, but it would certainly look the part signing big contracts… or peace treaties with extraterrestrial civilisations.

VFM  Most versions of the Streamline are available at around the £150 mark, which we think is fair for a hand-made pen with unique design and plenty of customisation options. Installing a nib which is more exotic than the steel standard will naturally add to that, but it’s still a tempting proposition for most of us who reviewed it.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  The acrylic used in the section of this review sample wasn’t quite as popular as the ebonite of the main body, but that’s no real problem as there are copious alternative options – have a look at Jake’s Etsy page (link below) for a few ideas if you need them.  If you like the unique design but just can’t handle something quite this huge, Jake does make some smaller pens too.  We can’t think of any other pen maker turning out anything remotely comparable, though.

Our overall recommendation  If you like big pens and you cannot lie, then make like Sir Inkalot to the website and order one; we were mightily impressed and several of us have started to muse about our own choice of materials one day.  We’d like to see a version with a bigger #8 nib in the future too, but this is a pretty special pen which looks out of this world but is also very nice to wield.

Where to get hold of one  From Jake’s Etsy page, or the outer rings of Saturn, whichever is closer to you.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Jake for supplying this extraordinary test sample, and offering one lucky reader the chance to take it home!  The competition entailed ideas for favourite Welsh designers, with a very broad brief as to what ‘designer’ means. There were some wonderfully creative responses but the most surprising had to be the humble equals= sign.  The prize is winging its way by flying saucer…