I bless the rains down in…

A little bit of history  When OMAS collapsed, many a tear was shed – and many a huckster worked hard to purloin the brand. Some have occasionally claimed success in doing so, although it never seems to amounts to much more than a lacklustre product with a familiar logo. But the core values of well-turned pens made from classy materials sporting positively aphrodisiacal nibs live on in Scrittura Bolognese. Write Here, in Shrewsbury, have been commissioning special editions from them for a few years now, and this is the first to feature a translucent barrel so that some of the magic is on view. Inevitably, we all wanted to put it through its paces.

How it looks  It looks a lot like a distilled leopard, in short – at which point we should add that this is a vegetarian sort of pen (even if it inspired Dappr to nibble a zebra) and the image really is just that. But our panel were all struck by how much prettier this pen is in the, err, flesh. Even for those of us not given to favour brown pens all that much, it’s won fans wherever it has travelled.

How it feels  Light, warm, and springy – the latter being a lot to do with the Extra-Flex nib, about which more in just a moment.

How it fills  This is a piston-filer, as is the norm with most Scribo models (apart from the Piuma), and it fills fairly easily with a decent quantity of ink which, unusually, is visible within the workings. The temptation to fill it with a complementary shade has proved very strong; even Mr Teal didn’t put turquoise in this one, and another contributor bucked the trend with a disturbing absence of purple. If you like orange ink, though, this is the bee’s knees – and looks like them, too. Crucially, how it writes…  The Fine Flex nib is a joy, and by general consensus the nearest thing to a vintage wet noodle on the market today – even to the point, shockingly, that some of our reviewers prefer it to the Pilot FA nib. So how it writes is curvaceously, and wet. This is not a pen which scratches and blots on the page so much as one which aesthetically drools all over it.

Pen! What is it good for?  Unlike the popular Lamy, you won’t want to take this on safari; it’s a lovely, lovely pen, but the elephant in the room is that this is categorically unsuited to the rigours of the Serengeti. The Africa is made of somewhat delicate materials and the nib needs careful handling, so it is strictly one for enjoying in the library at home, possibly with a glass of Amarula in the other hand and Toto on the stereo, although the ambience is optional.

VFM  Bologna doesn’t make cheap pens, and this is no exception. Half a grand is a heap of dough for a writing implement and we probably wouldn’t suggest that anyone completely new to proper pens starts here; it helps to have a bit of experience before taking on a nib this flexible, for a start. But if you want something really special, this is arguably a decent bargain given that a certain well-known German brand will charge you twice as much just for the honour of turning a fairly boring black pen a slightly less boring red. If this is the perfect pen for you, it will probably be worth raiding the piggy-bank.

The only way is ethics  It’s made in the European Union, so we’re confident about labour practices, and it hasn’t travelled too far to get here either. Subjectively, we very much doubt it will break your heart.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Realistically, the only nib anything like this comes in a different Scribo. The Write Here special editions change material roughly once a year, so you don’t have to wait too long for something visually different (although, conversely, if you love the Africa you’d better get your skates on). Or, of course, there are other, less cylindrical, Scribo shapes.

Our overall recommendation  Try one in the hand if you can, save up for a while if you need to – and whatever you do, don’t Google that Toto video.

Where to get hold of one  Write Here is the only place you’ll find this, but if you can’t get to Shrewsbury it’s also available online.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Write Here for the review sample

The crafty fox is back!

A little bit of history  We’ve been tracking the development of Ruth’s Japanese-influenced Tyneside pen project Shibui-North pretty much since its inception, and the results keep tempting us to try things out for ourselves. So when the little Kitsune’s big sibling came along, we had to give it a run!

How it looks  Like a medium-sized long-ish pocket pen, which is pretty much what it is. Several hallmarks make it stand out, however: the cut-out ink window, the Hokusai wave inscription on the nib and the geometrically etched barrel imprint. Bland and everyday it certainly ain’t.

How it feels  Solid, grippy and, thanks to aluminium construction, fairly light. That said, balance is a personal thing and this seems to suit those who particularly like medium-length pens best. Fans of small pocket pens may find it a touch over-long for perfect balance and, conversely, full-size pen afficionados may feel it’s a bit on the short side. Much comes down to personal preference, with this one.

How it fills  This is the converter version of the Kitsune, which tells you most of what you need to know. There’s space for a full size converter, and a blind cap which twists off at the back end to make refilling a touch simpler. The resulting ink capacity is a bit of a step up from the tiny converters which fit small pocket pens, too.

Crucially, how it writes…  It’s a Bock steel nib, so writes just as expected; fairly smoothly, with reliable flow and the slightest hint of bounce.

Pen! What is it good for?  To our minds this is still a pocket pen, albeit for people with relatively large pockets – if only in the literal sense. It could even be an everyday note-taker – although with a robust set of threads undoing that cap does involve a few seconds of rotation in between jottings.

VFM  It took us a little while to test this design, and the exact model is no longer on sale. But the Pocket Fox is similar, with a shorter international cartridge, for around £100 to £110 usually – not bad for a hand-made pen with an interesting finish and Geordie bragging rights.

The only way is ethics  It’s made by a human being who you can contact and have a chat with first, right here in Blighty, and packaged responsibly. What’s not to like?

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Go shorter or go longer, in, err, short. The cut-down version is now known as the ‘Pocket Fox’ and looks the business in all sorts of finishes. Fans of longer pens may prefer the gracefully curved Tombo, meanwhile.

Our overall recommendation  Find the right balance for you, then take the plunge.

Where to get hold of one  Direct from Ruth, the maker, either in person at a pen show or via her website.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Ruth for the review sample

Collection Fever

A little bit of history  Every fountain pen fan tries a Sport eventually, often fairly on, and for many of us the convenience of the venerable pocket performer reels us in to the point where different flavours start to appeal too – and Kaweco does a fine job of feeding the frenzy, with colour-matched limited editions like this. The Kaweco Collection serves up both an affordable plastic Sport and a posher aluminium version this time, and luckily we got to try both!

How it looks  It looks much like any other Sport but in a pair of rather sophisticated colours, and with ‘Kaweco Collection’ proudly displayed on the side of the barrel. No complaints there; if you’re a Sport fan, you probably want already simply after looking at these pictures – and that’s rather the brand’s plan.

How it feels  Small, and light. As usual, the aluminium version feels a touch more robust, but far from heavy. Like you’d expect a Sport to feel, really; the difference is all visual.

How it fills  As ever, syringe-filling a small international cartridge would be our tip. There is a tiny push-rod converter, but the ink runs out so quickly that scope for frustration is considerable.

Crucially, how it writes…  Generally, pretty well. The quality control on the steel nibs has improved in recent years, and for the pricier aluminium version any Bock 060 nib can be screwed in if you fancy a change. There’s even a gold option, should pushing the boat out that far be on the agenda. We stuck with the standard steel M, probably the most popular option, for this test and the results were encouraging.

Pen! What is it good for?  The Sport’s natural home is in your pocket, of course, but these two specials were also made for showing off, so it’s up to you. Generally we’d suggest these are for leisure use rather than business, but who are we to dictate?

VFM  The plastic Mellow Blue will set you back about £25, which is quite fair value, and the swisher aluminium Iguana Blue more like £70 – not crazy money at all, but it makes sense to try an ‘entry level’ Sport to check out whether the format works for you first.

The only way is ethics  These are made in Germany with decent labour conditions, and Kaweco haven’t gone crazy with the packaging, so things look healthy on the ethical front.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  There are plenty of other Sports to try if you prefer a different colour or a heavier metal, for instance. Or, if that modest-sized nib irks you but the octagonal barrel is just your cup of tea, try the larger, #6-nibbed Original.

Our overall recommendation  These will sell like the proverbial hot cakes; if either takes your fancy, get it quickly!

Where to get hold of one  All your favourite fountain pen specialists are likely to have these in stock – as long as they last.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Kaweco for the samples.

Original Nibster

A little bit of history  The Kaweco brand has been going for a long old while, and many of their models hark back to designs of a hundred years ago. But just this once, they have echoed familiar themes whilst coming up with something, well, original. Naturally, we had to put it to the test. How it looks  Actually, they came up with two Originals, with very different nib sizes. The smaller version uses the diminutive short #5 060 Bock nib familiar from the Sport and Lilliput models, which unfortunately looks a little stunted in a long pen like this. The larger Original, though, uses a nice big #6 250 nib which looks in proper proportion – a bit like a scaled-up Sport, keeping the distinctive octagonal profile which is something of a Kaweco calling card. How it feels  Both Originals feel solid yet, thanks to aluminium construction, not terribly heavy. On the whole, robust but usable. How it fills  An obvious advantage over the Sport is that the Originals have room for a full-size converter, and Kaweco have maximised that gain by threading the inside collar of the section to allow for a screw-in converter, helpfully also available from Kaweco in a range of colours. For reasons which remain a mystery, we chose purple for our test units, but retailers might be well advised to provide a converter as standard; it’s a much more ‘premium’ experience filling up with ink from a proper bottle, and being able to prime a feed with a quick twist of the converter can help when inks prove to be a little on the dry side. Crucially, how it writes…  As ever that depends upon the nib fitted and the ink too, but we had a varied experience with our test units. The tiny 060 had an EF nib which struggled to lay enough ink down really, but as we’d probably elect to upgrade to a more fitting Bock 076 (sadly not yet available in Kaweco branding) anyway, perhaps that’s not the end of the world. The larger 250 had a B tip which surprised several of our reviewers with how well it performed as a ‘daily driver’, so that looks like the winner. Pen! What is it good for?  These might be a bit pricy for a school pen, but they are robust enough to serve as a daily driver for a more grown-up writer. VFM  At a ‘street price’ close to £100 for the #6 version these are not cheap, to be honest, so our tip would be to buy from a bricks-and-mortar shop where you can try a number of nibs and get the one which really works for you. It needs to be usable to be worth the money, at this price point. The only way is ethics  Made in the EU, and packaged sensibly, there’s little to worry about on this front. If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  If the 060 nib just looks a bit short, fitting an after-market 076 will probably help. If you like the 250 version but for some reason just don’t dig a polygonal cross-section, Kaweco’s smoothly cylindrical Supra may be more your thing. Our overall recommendation  For people who enjoy brief scribbles with a Sport but want something similar but a bit larger for extended writing sessions – and that might be rather a lot of us – one of the Originals could well be the answer. But given that the right nib makes a big difference, we’d recommend trying them out in the flesh first. Where to get hold of one  It’s a fairly new model at present but most fountain pen shops are likely to consider this soon. Buying in person looks less hassle than online purchasing given the possibility of a bit of nibular trial-and-error.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Kaweco for the review samples.

Notorie A5

A little bit of history  Designer Donna dreamed, during decidedly difficult Decembers deprived of company, of a new sort of notebook. Our kind of musing, that – and as she had already achieved full mastery of the strange beast known as the spiral binding press and was ready with more than a few ideas about the ideal cover art, it seemed a good time to launch a new stationery brand upon the world. So it proved – and here is the evidence.

How it looks  Every edition looks a bit different, but that’s the intention; these are hand-made, not churned out by the hundred in an automated factory. The result is organic, classy, and tastefully colourful. The mustard-coloured ruling is a distinctive touch, and it really works.

How it feels  The paper has a wee bit of texture, so it pulls ink off even cheap nibs and offers just enough friction to grind graphite from a pencil tip too. Spot on, in this respect.

Crucially, how it handles ink…  For recycled paper, very well indeed. Sure, it’s not quite as ridiculously slick as Tomoe River, but how often does anyone actually use that stuff in real life? This is good enough to use for everyday purposes, and posh enough for a bit of reflective diary-writing too, if the mood takes you.

Pulp! What is it good for?  It’s good paper for fountain pens, but the bold and groovy covers perhaps suggest an off-duty use for most customers. So, travel diaries, extreme shopping lists, or notes for the next blockbuster novella / feature film seem just the ticket.VFM  At £16.99 (including delivery factored in), these aren’t cheap – but then again, they’re hardly ridiculous money either. Certain brands we won’t mention would charge you three times as much for something only half as interesting! Subscribers to Donna’s newsletter tend to get discounts and special editions, too. It’s perhaps a bit too special to take to school, but for many other purposes just posh enough…

The only way is ethics  It’s recycled paper from Italy, put together by someone who is presumably paying herself appropriately too. ‘Not much to complain about there! Oh, and given where they are assembled, on this occasion the only way is actually, err, Kent. But pretty close 😉

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Special editions of many hues are mooted – watch this space.

Our overall recommendation  If you want something a bit special in A5, without breaking the bank, you really could do a lot worse.

Where to get hold of one  For now, the trick is to go straight to the source.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Donna for kindly sending samples our way, and telling us (some of) the secrets to the process.

Stipulate Honey

A little bit of history  Classics fans know that Latin pops up everywhere, and perhaps even more appropriately so when the brand in question is Italian. Stipulae originally sprung from the same root as ‘stubble’, perhaps denoting thin reeds for writing or perhaps, as Mick suggests, the custom of breaking a twig to indicate consent to all the terms of a contract – the stipulations. The third Renaissance was in love with all those retro references, and nowhere more so than Florence, home to this day to a fountain pen brand called Stipula. But its output is hardly ever seen in Blighty; so we wanted to find what such a pen was like in the flesh.

How it looks  This one looks seriously classy, we think. There’s a touch of bling on the clip, but it gets away with it, and the dark honeyed tones of the material would contrast beautifully with a gold nib if it had one – which it doesn’t, but more of that later. The Etruria Magnifica Miele Selvatico, to give it the full title, is most certainly a beauty – as one would expect with any objet d’art which shares its name with a suburb of Stoke-on-Trent (surely the Etruria they had in mind).How it feels  Girthy but nicely balanced; unless you have a very strong preference for slender pens, this should do you just fine.

How it fills  This is a straightforward cartridge/converter job, and none the worse for that.

Crucially, how it writes…  But here’s the rub. A pen of this provenance deserves a really great nib, preferably one with a bit of life in it – which often requires gold. This is a steel nib, without much bounce, and it’s paired with a feed which could do with the services of a good urologist. The 1.1mm italic tip lends a bit of character, and with a very wet ink it can make an interesting mark on the page, but a nib this broad does take a bit of fuelling and with standard ink this can struggle to keep up. Sadly, our reviewers were less than entirely bowled over.

Pen! What is it good for?  It’s good for admiring at a distance, and grand for waving around and looking artsy. Sadly, it’s not always so brilliant for writing with.

VFM  If you can find this pen on sale at all, it will set you back at least €195. That seems quite a bit for a steel-nibbed pen, and as the writing performance was less than universally acclaimed the claim on your pocket money might not be the strongest.

The only way is ethics  There isn’t much to go on here, but as far as we can gather the pen’s made in an EU location with adequate labour rights, and the packaging is a bit bulky but hardly over-the-top in terms of materials. Not bad.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  There are plenty of other Stipula designs, which are perhaps worth tracking down on continental retail sites. For a modern Italian brand which can be sourced easily in the UK, try Leonardo.

Our overall recommendation  Try before you buy; the looks are terrific, but performance may not be exactly to your taste.

Where to get hold of one  The other side of the Channel, in short; UK retailers have largely opted not to carry Stipula at present. This meta-review references:

Thanks to Manuscript, Stipula’s UK distributor, for the well-travelled sample.

Scribo Write Here Tropea

A little bit of history  If you’re a fountain pen fan, you’ll know about OMAS – and you’re probably also still missing that venerable Italian brand. But by now you might also know that some of its staff stayed on in the home city and set up Scrittura Bolognese, or Scribo for short. They make the curvaceously pulchritudinous Feel, but they are also up for making ‘private label’ pens for other stationery brands – an offer Write Here were the first to take up. Their ‘WH special’ has been available in various hues for half a decade now, so we have been meaning to get around to this meta-review for erm, quite a while. Eventually the Tropea finish looked impossible to resist.

How it looks  The shape of the pen is fairly unremarkable, albeit nicely executed with a sturdy clip. The colouring, though, conjures up a red onion skin very well indeed – which is what the town of Tropea is famous for, after all. We could venture off on a diversion into Italian food here, but you get the gist. It’s tasty. Unfortunately for us bloggers, it’s also nigh-on impossible to do justice to with a camera; you really have to see this in the flesh to get a proper sense of the material.

How it feels  Sturdy, but not overly heavy. Large, but not uncomfortably so. Just right, actually; it’s a pen made for people who really want to write – which might sound obvious, but we do come across a few pens which seem to have been produced more as eye candy than writing implements. This, though, is a serious pen for serious pen people (with, admittedly, serious pen budgets). The Scribo nib makes it a more tactile experience to write with, too; this thing really bounces.

How it fills  This is a proper piston-filler, which works smoothly and holds enough ink to keep going even with a big wet nib – which is just as well…

Crucially, how it writes…  This particular Tropea is fitted with a big 18k ‘standard’ broad italic. It’s standard only inasmuch as it is not the extra-flessibile 14k which Scribo (and OMAS) devotees prize so highly – but there’s certainly nothing ordinary about it. This is not stiff gold, by any stretch of the imagination, so there is plenty of natural line variation and bounce. Astonishingly, the feed can keep up, too! Writing with this is quite the experience, and puts a LOT of ink down on the page. Great if you have a rather extrovert style of writing, although it can be a bit of a handful if small, neat lettering is more your thing.

Pen! What is it good for?  The Scribo WH special is designed as a practical every-day writer’s pen, although this particular italic nib makes such a bold mark on the page that it’s hard to imagine many business uses. This is probably just too much fun for the office, but for funky correspondence, audacious recipes, daring diaries, trenchant critiques of the imminent demise of western civilisation and such-like it’s probably just the ticket.

VFM  Well, it’s not cheap, it must be acknowledged; the configuration we tested retails at £590, which is a fair bit of cash for a writing utensil. But a soft italic nib is a rare thing, and this is such a treat to write with that if you do have such sums to hand, there are certainly far worse ways to spend it. The ‘mainstream’ alternative options at this price point won’t win you as many admiring glances from penthusiasts and hot pangs of jealousy from disappointed ballpoint-wielders, that’s for sure.

The only way is ethics  Hand-made in Italy, by people you can email and get a reply from, this is looking like a pretty sound choice on the ethical front too. The packaging doesn’t include too much disposable content, either; you’ll probably want to put the admirable Scribo pen wrap into use.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  The Scribo Feel is worth a look if you prefer a less cylindrical sort of experience but still want one of these extraordinary nibs – or if you want even more curves, try La Dotta.

Our overall recommendation  Try one in the flesh – and if you like it (which, be warned, you probably will), start saving!

Where to get hold of one  Write Here in Shrewsbury – or via their website.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Write Here for sending the Tropea our way.

Diamine new Flowers box set

A little bit of history  OK, relax, we’re not going to relate the whole natural history of flora. Let’s stick to the inks. Diamine released a box set of inks inspired by flowers a few years back, and it was a hit, with shades like Pansy and Cornflower continuing to find new fans even now. So, quite reasonably, Cult Pens thought it would be a good idea to commission a sequel.

How it looks  These are packaged in ten square-ish bottles.

How it arrives  In a box, naturally enough. This is perhaps a bit predictable, but it’s easier to manage than a flower-pot.

Crucially, how it writes…  Not too wet, not too dry – but some of this set are a bit low on saturation, so be warned.

Ink! What is it good for?  Drawing, we think; given the pallor of several of these inks they look better suited to illustration than correspondence.

VFM  £60 for ten small pots of ink is a fair bit, so the full set is probably one for hard-core floristry fans. Others may prefer to await individual refill pots and pick just the colours which really do it for them.

The only way is ethics  Made near Liverpool by a firm we can trust to behave, and packaged in old-school materials, this scores highly.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Go for the original Flowers box set, which has a rather more robust range of colours.

Our overall recommendation  If you find yourself lusting after the pale and mysterious inks which many Japanese brands indulge in, without the instant penury a large collection of those might inflict, you could do a lot worse than try a few horticultural doodles with this box set.

Where to get hold of some  Only from Cult Pens

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Diamine for the samples

Scribo fountain pen inks

A little bit of history  Much as we all mourn OMAS, ink wasn’t their strong point. Their spiritual heirs, Scribo, have apparently set out to correct that. We put the whole range to the test.

How it arrives Packaging isn’t everything, but my goodness do Scribo make an event of it. The cubic cardboard boxes slide out like drawers to reveal stackable square-based bottles which positively shout “we’re special!” – and so they are.How it looks  This is a big range, and the different components deserve detailed attention:

The inktelligentsia The orange and purple offerings immediately won many fans, the purple dark enough to take to work and the orange stiff competition for any similar shade. If you have only the pocket money for the one bottle, either would be a good place to start.

The patricians Some sturdy blues and very black black here, with an empirical link; Capri was the childhood home of Caligula, uncle of Nero.

The communards Should you wish to raise the red flag, you can do so with a juicy pomegranate, or, err, with a nice Chianti.

The ecologists That’s a lot of green for a modest range, but there’s a shade here for everyone – with a civilised teal probably taking the prize.

The dullards It’s a little harder to get excited about browns and greys, but they do have an audience – and these at least do it with a bit of class.

Crucially, how it writes…  Actually, that varies: some were found to be a touch dry for our testing panel. However, as Scribo pens themselves tend to run very wet, it’s a good match for the right nibbage.

Ink! What is it good for?  If you work in design or fashion, perhaps you can take one of these inks to the office. For the rest of us, this is probably best for writing a diary, making private notes or correspondence with friends – and none the worse for that, of course.

VFM  These aren’t cheap, by any stretch of the imagination, and are priced comparably with Iroshizuku inks. As a result we would hesitate to advise rushing out and buying the whole range, as the outlay would be equivalent to the price of a very good pen. But if you have treated yourself to a nice Scribo pen and want something which complements it, a bottle of your favourite shade might not be too crazy an indulgence.

The only way is ethics  The inks are made in the EU (we think) and the packaging is eminently re-usable, so it scores fairly highly on this front.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  You could try some KWZ – although be prepared that a Scribo pen thus equipped may double as a small fire-extinguisher in emergencies. In terms of the colour palette, Italy may have little to compete with this but over in Japan Sailor and Pilot both have ink ranges which cover similar ground, at similarly ‘premium’ prices.

Our overall recommendation  Scribo have done their pens justice with some grown-up inks in really impressive packaging, but they do cost accordingly. Our tip would be to choose just the one which which matches your pen.

Where to get hold of some  Our samples were donated by Write Here, the only UK stockist we’re aware of thus far. If you happen to be in Bologna, Scribo may also sell direct.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Write Here for the samples

Visconti Homo Sapiens x2

A little bit of history Our species are not the first terrestrial hominids to make art, and therefore conceivably not the first to use a device like a pen for making marks. But we are, in all probability, the first on this planet to invent copperplate, so it’s perhaps not too bold for Visconti to name a pen design after us. Sed – ecce! – inter homi sapientes, de gustibus non est disputandum. We therefore did our best not to argue too much. Quite a mountain of history, actually Back in the 1970s, steady-state Luddites fought against two intellectual movements and lost twice, first to the constant expansion of the universe and then, down here on Earth, to plate tectonics. But our story starts about half a million years ago when the slow-motion collision of the African and Eurasian plates caused the growth and repeated eruptions of a stratovolcano known to successive civilisations as Etna. It’s held a place in myth and legend ever since, including as the prison of the monstrous Typhon, and as the source of much of Sicily’s soil has been ruled over by Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, the offspring of King Rollo (no, really) and, for a brief but toothsome interval, a revolutionary squashed-fly biscuit. Etna also chucks out plenty of lava, of course, and Visconti gamely set out to make something of it. How it looks  The classic Homo Sapiens look is a black basaltic tube with a few metal rings and the signature Visconti bowed clip. If it’s under-stated in its usual dress it can be a lot more exotic as a special edition, and we were lucky enough to get our hands on a curious ‘special’ indeed, the Evolution – which looks like a Klingon tool for signing instantly broken peace treaties. How it feels  Sizeable, fairly hefty but not ridiculously heavy, for most of our reviewers. Most is not all, mind; at least one of our panel put the pen on the scales and declared it too weighty to live with. The clever bayonet closure (NB, not present on the Evolution) makes for a comfortable grip, though, and the weight is well-distributed. Visconti makes bold claims about the barrel material being hydroscopic, so that it still has a grip in sweaty hands, and although this is perhaps better tested in the summer it does seem to work quite well in practice. How it fills  This is a vacuum-filler, and it sucks in a voluminous gulp of scribbling juice without much effort on the user’s part. There’s no way to use cartridges, of course, but if you’re in the market for a pen this pricey a bottle of decent ink is unlikely to exceed the budget. Crucially, how it writes…  Now here hangs a tale. Originally, the Homo Sapiens employed palladium nibs which proved notoriously difficult to tune (and harder still to keep in trim). Our duo exemplifies recent alternatives; a usually well-behaved and slightly bouncy gold nib or, for the Evolution, a tubular steel nib which is firm but smooth. A pleasure on either count, although they are very different beasts. The gold nib on our test pen afforded some hard starts to a couple of reviewers, but not to the degree that made writing impossible – and as it flowed adequately for others ink choice may be a critical factor there. Another vital Homo Sapiens tip, which we wish Visconti would tell people directly, is to undo the blind cap a couple of turns before staring to write; this seems to reduce the risk of drying-up considerably.

Pen! What is it good for?  In standard trim it’s probably sober enough for the office – although some of the special editions might frighten the horses! The new gold nibs are lovely to write with, though, so this is also ideal for writing a diary or personal correspondence. It’s for keeps either way, though. VFM  These are very good pens, no doubt, but compared to other premium Italian offerings the value proposition is sometimes perhaps a little dicey. The Evolution tipped over into four figures, and that’s hard to justify for a steel-nibbed pen, however artistically assembled. Choose with care. The only way is ethics  These are made in Italy and (unless someone gets a really harsh cut of the fee) no-one’s being under-remunerated at this price. If you can afford one, enjoy it with a clear conscience!If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  There are new special editions of the Homo Sapiens out most years. Bide your time, save up, and pounce as soon as you see one you like. Or, if you want a posh pen from a different part of Italy, Scribo and Pineider may have a competing claim upon your attention. Our overall recommendation  Try one in the hand, if you can – but if you love it, that’s your pocket money spent for a while!

Where to get hold of one  Your fountain pen emporium of choice; Visconti is widely stocked. This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Manuscript, who as welling making great calligraphy kit themselves are also Visconti’s UK distributor – and sent these pens our way to put to the test.