Pocket Notebooks subscription box meta-review

A little bit of history  Pocket Notebooks, as covered in last week’s quick profile piece, specialise in, well, pocket notebooks.  These have been making quite a resurgence in recent years and there’s ample competition.  But which is going to work best with your juiciest fountain pen? Our team set out to investigate…

How they look  Apart from the slight variations in size, they do range from the wild to the very subtle in cover artwork. Clairefontaine have gone to town with retro geometry, while right at the other end of the scale Darkstar are understated to the point of nearly anonymous – but not quite! Of course this isn’t so important if you’re planning to put the notebook into a cover for added durability, but it does add to the visual experience of that ‘unboxing’ moment.

How they feel  Stuart was wise to send our reviewers smooth enough paper to handle the rigours of proper nibs, and most of the paper stocks felt pleasant to write on – but this can be quite the opposite experience with the similarly-sized Field Notes, so beware.  Thanks to stitched spines, the Clairefontaine and Silvine offerings felt a bit more robust to use too. Due to an apparent lack of size standardisation (none seem to be quite proper A6) some feel distinctly smaller than others, particularly the Silvine pocket book. But they don’t feel cheap, despite their impressive affordability.

Crucially, how they work with a fountain pen…  On the whole, very well.  The overall winner looks like the Clairefontaine Retro Nova, with the Silvine coming a close second and honourable mentions going to the California notebook using Tomoe River paper and feisty upstart Darkstar. None can quite survive the Clumsy Penman’s atomic-standard Baystate Blue test, but no-one in their right mind uses that ink for everyday writing anyway.  The key point is that these are good enough to write on and let your thoughts wander, without having to resort to a wretched ballpoint (or ‘Biro of Beelzebub’ as it’s known amongst discriminating audiences).

John, our chief paper-pusher for this exercise, reports the following results from individual tests: 

California Journals  These come in two different styles, the Tomoe River paper version and the ‘Backpocket Journal’.  Mateusz, Gillian and John received these to have a look through, and our conclusions were very similar.  Tomoe River is Tomoe River, and there’s little more to be said about it; it’s excellent paper for writing on but does occasionally need a blotter to make sure you’re not smudging with the wetter inks.  On the other hand, the Backpocket Journal could occasionally be used as a blotter, such is the density and absorbency of the paper in question.Story Supply notebook  An interesting one this, with the attention to detail that many notebooks just don’t concern themselves with, such as a section in the front for all your details, resilient paper, and a hard wearing cover.  Laura, Mateusz and John all received these to work with, and it has to be said that all were pleased with this Journal, so much so in Laura’s case that marriage may be on the cards… You saw it here first.So what’s so good about it?  It’s got fine lines, which is a must when you write small, but even in broader hands, proves to be a good choice for those who enjoy writing copiously.  It wouldn’t be so good for those who write with stub nibs or italics, but for everyone who uses it as an everyday note book, the lines (0.5 from 0.7 standard) were very popular.  It’s a thirsty notebook (by which we mean that if you leave your pen on it, it may take a drink…), but the paper is excellent quality and writes well, just so long as you remember to keep going rather than taking a break.

Clairefontaine 1951 Retro nova Notebook  Coming from a brand with the history of Clairefontaine, anything new has both the recommendation of past excellence to chivvy it along, but also the weight of ensuring that it passes muster in the face of the old guard.  Laura, Gillian, Mateusz and John all got this one, and while the new stylings were interesting, what you have here is another quality product from Clairefontaine, the paper is what we’ve come to expect, equally the binding and the cover.  It doesn’t distinguish itself from the other notebooks that Clairefontaine produce though, merely adding a spin on the style of an already classic notebook.

Inky fingers Journal  Something of an oddity when compared to the other Journals with its shiny cover, both Gillian and John received one of these and while it’s a reasonable book to write in, it didn’t fire the imagination in the way that the others had done, and the price was not conducive towards considering it essential. That said, it’s an interesting journal and the paper has the feel of being recycled without having the usual associated bleed through that goes with it.  Worth taking a look at, but it wasn’t our favourite of the bunch.

Dark Star Nomad Journal  Aside from having the most epic name of the journals we looked at, the Nomad also had good reactions from Gillian, Mateusz and John, although Mateusz was more circumspect about the quality of the paper.  At 100gsm, the paper is some of the thickest that we looked at in the journals, with all the attendant ease of writing that provides whilst not being absorbent like many thicker papers are.  John uses a Darkstar as an ink journal, so his own proclivities are well known on the matter, but Gillian had similar thoughts too.

Word, Calepino, Moleskine, and Whitelines.  Fewer of our team received these, so the simplest summary is to report that Moleskine was actually not as bad as feared, and refer readers to Laura’s excellent summary (see links below).  It has to be said though, she still wants to marry the Story Supply…

And that brings us to the Pale Horse of this particular meta-review…

Silvine Pocket notebook.  This little journal took many of us by surprise.  From the classic brand of Silvine, the pocket notebook was not only the smallest of the books offered us to take a look at, but also the one that for many of us left the strongest impression.

Gillian, Mateusz and John received one of these, and to be honest none had expected it to be anything all that special.  First contact soon put that assumption to the test.  The Silvine Pocket is a utilitarian notebook, every page perforated, sewn bindings (not just bound in, properly sewn), and a paper that resisted every type of feathering that we tried on it, then came back for more, all the while holding the colours perfectly.  The paper had a slight texture to it, and doesn’t quite compare to papers such as Tomoe (what does…?) when it comes to smoothness, but the textured feel encouraged writing upon it for all those who got it, and it emerged as a surprise success story for all three reviewers.

Pulp! What is it good for?  Well, as the retailer’s own slogan has it “forget the app; there’s a notebook for that”.  Twinned with a decent little fountain pen, these are great for a quick digital-free creative moment when you’re out and about. You probably wouldn’t want to write a whole novel in one, but for a bit of travel diary-writing they’re not bad either.  Plus, they signal your inherent taste and savoir-faire to any of other member of the stationery cognoscenti who you happen to encounter. Generally, a good pocket notebook is going to become a staple (even the stitched variety!).

VFM  Terrific; some of these are sold individually, others in packs of three, but you can certainly get a pocket notebook for pocket money.  The stand-out product from this meta-review, the ‘Retro Nova’, is available at Pocket Notebooks at a substantially lower price than that offered by most of our otherwise favoured stationery retailers.  The equivalent retail value of the subscription box, too, is often rather more than subscribers actually pay, and that’s not to be sneezed at.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Then you could do a lot worse than to try the subscription box concept – there’ll be new notebooks coming along on as regular a basis as you like, and one of them will probably suit your style.  Alternatively, if it’s just the size that’s the issue, there are rumours that A5 may be on the cards for similar treatment some time soon.

Our overall recommendation  If you’re a notebook floozy who flits from one paper stock to another with gay abandon, then a hand-selected box set like this can be a great way of working out which one to settle down with eventually.  For those more inclined to the stationery equivalent of the ‘silver ring thing’, read some detailed reviews of potential suitors (like Laura has provided) before taking the plunge.

Where to get hold of a box set like this  www.pocketnotebooks.co.uk

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Stuart at Pocket Notebooks for getting a great selection of his wares out to our team!

 

Pocket Notebooks profile

They say you should never meet your heroes – but they’re talking through their hats. While last year’s London Stationery Show introduced us to Tony, the founder of Pocket Notebooks, this year was an opportunity to meet Stuart, who has just staged a friendly takeover.  We’ll be covering some of Pocket Notebooks’ pocket notebooks in more detail next week – but before then, here’s a little bit more about the company itself.

The whole shebang was started by IT people who needed a bit of a ‘digital detox’, hence the rather wonderful brand motto: “Forget the app – there’s a notebook for that”. It gradually grew an online following, selling analogue wares by digital means, and the usefulness of a nicely-crafted old-fashioned notebook in the pocket evidently still has quite a following – possibly even a growing one, as the mobile ‘phone becomes ubiquitous and writing with a proper pen (or pencil) becomes a way of quietly rebelling.  The format includes some real gems, like the retro-styled Clairefontaine below.

Stuart came to Pocket Notebooks in true Victor Kiam fashion; he was a happy customer, and liked the products so much that, when Tony felt it was time to move on to new projects, he bought the company.  Moving operations from the North East down to Hampshire has proved an opportunity to set up a proper stripped-back scaffold-rack hipster warehouse, with a vinyl record player and all retro conveniences – and with all those displacement activities now completed, the company is swinging into business.

Pocket Notebooks is now carrying an impressive range of handy A6 (or thereabouts) notebooks, most of them quite friendly to fountain pens, and our adventurous team of reviewers will be putting some of them to the test next week.  To manage all the demand, Stuart has also employed a capable warehouse manager to sniff out the goodies…

There is a novel twist, too – as well as every-day customer-led retail, Stuart’s developing a neat line in subscription boxes to keep the discriminating scribbler inspired and, occasionally, surprised.  Our very own Laura reviews one of the subscription boxes below, to give you a bit of flavour.

What this brief profile piece can’t really convey is quite what a personal relationship Stuart is building up with customers.  In our experience that’s something only a true fan of the products can provide – there’s just no faking it – and that’s part of what grabs us too. There’s more to come next week on how some of the current product selections fare in the hands of our keen scribblers and scrawlers, but until then, here’s the website itself.

 

KWZ inks meta-review

A little bit of history  As a still fairly new ink brand, KWZ has received a lot of attention in the last two years as it took the fountain pen world by storm. KWZ is operated by a lovely couple of professionally-trained chemists from Poland, Konrad Żurawski and his wife Agnieszka. That enigmatic name, KWZis simply Konrad’s initials. Konrad’s journey with ink manufacturing started as a hobby few years ago and quickly became his and his wife’s passion. Being a synthetic chemist specialising in polymers and organic chemistry, Konrad decided to experiment (which is not unusual for chemists) with formulae and reactions to create his own unique inks from scratch. Initially, he was mainly interested in making permanent iron gall (‘IG’) inks, which due to specific chemical reactions occurring over time have fascinating properties and behaviour, but he soon extended his laboratory’s range to ‘standard’ dye-based inks too. After many trials and tests Konrad came up with several inks which he and his wife decided to take to the Polish market first, then further afield. Agnieszka tells us that on the first outing to the Polish Pen Show, they were literally cutting-out KWZ Ink bottle labels while they were still on the train. During next few months KWZ inks started to get rave reviews on various fountain pen websites, blogs and social media channels, and with anticipation and demand growing quickly, the KWZ brand was formally registered in 2015. The range grew fast, even as Konrad and Agnieszka continued their scientific careers, and at the time of writing  they have created an impressive range of 62 unique colours including 41 standard dye-based inks and 21 iron gall inks.

How it looks and How it writes  Konrad is a fountain pen user as a well as a chemist, so understands how physical properties like surface tension, appropriate viscosity, flow, etc. are important for a satisfying writing experience. There is nothing worse than beautiful ink which is completely unusable, and when the flow or capillary action is limited one can struggle to write even on the best-quality paper. Konrad goes to great lengths in selecting, testing and applying ingredients and in this respect the KWZ brand has raised the bar for ink manufacturing more widely.The United Inkdom reviewers all found that aside from the impressively broad colour palette the crucial difference for KWZ ink is its flow properties. Of course writing experience depends on many things like paper, pen, nib, how the feed keeps up with the ink and also one’s writing style itself. People who have very a light touch need ink which flows well to keep up, otherwise pen will skip – but interestingly, heavy-handed writers also require a ‘wet’ ink in order to produce thicker and uniform line. This is especially true for those who use semi-flexible or flexible nibs; pens like Noodler’s Ahab or Konrad (fittingly) tend to tramline/railroad massively if a dry ink is selected. In this respect we found that KWZ inks are some of the best available; the flow is excellent, and in even the most gushing of flex-nib feeds it can keep up.  We found the writing experience very pleasant with all types of pens all we tried the ink in, including those with particularly fine nibs as well as broad and flexible ones. On good-quality paper KWZ inks behave very well, tending not to feather and bleed through. This may not be the case with cheap absorbent alternatives such as photocopy/printer paper, but of course all fountain pen inks struggle on those surfaces. Because KWZ inks are highly saturated some ‘ghosting’ may occur especially on very thin paper, such as that made by Tomoe River. We found that many inks from KWZ we tested gave a decent amount gradual shading, but in some cases shading is very impressive, although in general KWZ inks do not exhibit a sheen. They are fairly wet inks, so drying time is not the strongest feature, but once they do dry completely there is not smudging.

Let’s have a look at some of the particular colours we tested. Obviously we have not tried all the inks KWZ offers, but we picked a few which are good representatives of this broad and diverse palette.

Brown Pink

This is one of the KWZ inks that Mateusz and Laura enjoyed the most. A beautiful combination of red-purple with hint of bright light blue makes this ink quite unique. If you like aubergine, plum or beetroot like colours, this KWZ ink will please you. When it dries on the paper it looks less vibrant and flattened, but with this subtle gradual shading Brown Pink is a ‘must have’ in any ink collection – and its popularity already reflects this.

Grey Plum

Compared to Brown Pink, Grey Plum is darker and more purple. The blend of purple,  dark grey and bright blue gives a very interesting and pleasing result. With wet juicy nibs it looks almost black.

Honey

Honey is probably one of the most popular KWZ inks and for a while it was not easy to obtain it, because it kept selling out. Honey is a warm looking golden-brown ink, which gained its popularity because of the lovely shading it produces.  This is particularly pronounced on smooth, good-quality paper, where the greatest colour gradation happens. Daniel, Ruth and Mateusz love it, but interestingly Laura doesn’t believe the hype.

Cappuccino

This is a nice warm-looking brown which also gives nice shading. Daniel was very impressed with how KWZ Cappuccino looks next to blue inks.

 

El Dorado

El Dorado is an another example of a great shading ink. The colour varies between darker yellow and orange. This may be a good alternative to Noodler’s Apache Sunset, and Scribble describes it as a nice blend of caramel and honey.

Orange (IG)

This is very interesting ink. Out of the bottle it looks like a warm orange, but being an iron gall ink it undergoes drastic metamorphosis and quickly becomes a darker brown…pure magic.

Green Gold

If you like military, camouflage colours similar to Diamine Safari, than Green Gold may be for you.  This is a wonderful blend of earthy, almost olive green with yellow.

 

Menthol Green

This is a blue/green or green/blue ink which verges upon teal.  Daniel thinks that this is one of this inks you should ‘just get’.  Of course, if you are not into fountain pen inks, go and get a bottle of Absinthe instead!

Green #3 and Foggy Green

Green#3 may be easily classified as a ‘standard’ green which according to Gillian give some nice shading too.

Foggy Green is rather difficult to describe; a murky, faded dark green with a significant amount of grey. It could be best to use this only in drier pens as it otherwise comes out very dark. This may be an interesting option for those who do not like flashy inks which stand out from the paper.

 

Azure #3

If you like deep cerulean blue/turquoise inks which remind one of blue lagoons, Azure#3 is absolutely a must. Ruth loves slightly darker brother Azure #4 too.

 

Azure #5

This is a gorgeous deep blue which offers some pretty shading. This may be a perfect day-to-day ink.  Both Laura and Scribble were delighted how this well-lubricated ink performs with picky Sailor pens.

 

Turquoise (standard and IG)

Love magic? Iron Gall Turquoise will help you to trick people. This fresh deep turquoise blue ink dries to a wonderfully dark teal. This is definitely one for Daniel to try; he hasn’t yet, but he would love it…for sure.

before…
…and after

However, if you are not so adventurous then the beautiful standard turquoise is a safer option. Moreover, it has been proven that it is happy in flexible nibs, and

Gummiberry

Gummiberry juice gives the ability to bounce at unusual heights. Like the idea? Us too! This is wild and crazy name for such a pretty purple ink. Ruth definitely loves it – no surprises there. John loves it too. The big surprise is that Laura, who is generally is that not much into ‘girly’ colours enjoyed it too. It works very well with Scribble’s Pilot Custom 742 FA. John was also very pleased by flawless performance of his Sailor EF pen. 

There’s an iron gall version of this in development, too:

Thief’s Red and Flame Red

Many of us love red and red orange inks – the more disturbing the better!  Be careful if you decide to work in the office or anywhere public these two.  Thief’s Red is more red-towards-pink:

…while Flame Red is definitely red/orange:

Grapefruit

KWZ Grapefruit is a bold and vibrant orange with light touch of pink – we thought it a very appropriate name.

Maroon

Last but not least is the rich and saturated Maroon, which even gives a hint of sheen, uncommon among KWZ inks. This is a very pretty colour indeed.

 

How it smells  Well, in general KWZ inks have very a distinctive and recognisable scent which for some is reminiscent of vanilla, whereas for other it reminds them of thyme.  The smell will eventually disappear (at least form the paper).  The characteristic aroma of a KWZ ink comes from the antifungal/anti-mould agent which KWZ uses in the formulation. In contrast to the phenols used as a preservative by some manufacturers, the anti-fungal chemical used in KWZ inks is not toxic. This is great news, but not all of us have been enamoured of the pungent smell, especially during longer writing sessions. Despite problems with staining TWSBI pens (especially the ECO model) as reported by Daniel, it is generally relatively easy to clean pens from KWZ inks, but at the same time is also very difficult to eliminate the smell. Agnieszka and Konrad are certainly aware of this issue and they are continuously working on better, more satisfying formulation. We have been told recently, that since September 2016 all KWZ inks have different component which gives rather sweet and less irritating ‘chemical’ scent compared to as it was before.

Our observation regarding the KWZ ‘perfume’ is in line what we have seen reported and discussed by other users elsewhere; responses are sharply divided between those actually quite like this this smell and those who can barely stand it all. It is worth mentioning that the KWZ inks we were testing came from both ‘old’ and ‘new’ batches respectively, so it is not surprising that our experiences are different. Interestingly, within our team of reviewers Ruth found this smell pleasant, whereas Laura and Gillian have completely opposite experiences, and while Scribble can handle it, his other half will only let him use it outdoors. Daniel was able to compare side-by-side the aroma of old and new batches  of Honey, and reports that the new formula does not have characteristic ‘KWZ smell’ anymore, which in his opinion is disappointing because he enjoys it (that shows how olfactory perception can vary from person to person). Our assessment is that as soon as Konrad and Agnieszka standardise the new ‘neutral’ formula, KWZ will become a solid brand for the wider market – but until then, writers may be well-advised to try a sample before committing to a full bottle.

Regarding problems related to the TWSBI ECO line, where several issues with permanent staining were reported, we have been told that the KWZ team has investigated this and have already switched an ingredient which was unfortunately reacting with the polymer used in these pens.

Ink! What is it good for?  This really is a very subjective matter. Because the colour range KWZ offers is so broad, picking the right colour for your needs should not be too difficult. All those who likes classic colours for office/businesses will be satisfied as well as those who are adventurous enough to use more exotic colours.  Again, the only concern is that characteristic smell, which is not to everyone’s taste and may not be appreciated by all around you. Apart from that, this is ink fit for just about any every-day fountain pen purpose.

VFM  KWZ inks are not the cheapest.  In the UK you may get a 60ml bottle of KWZ Ink for around £12-13, depending which retailer you pick. This is almost double what you will spent on 80 ml bottle of standard Diamine ink, so it is not easy to justify on colour grounds alone, but for users of flex nibs or drier feeds the flow properties may make the investment worth it.

Our overall recommendation  Our reviewers all agreed that KWZ Inks are very interesting and even have potential to be market leaders in the future. KWZ inks are generally wet and well lubricating. All the inks we tested flow nicely and gave us a good writing experience, even with pens which normally tend to run dry – and that viscosity helps to maintain a fast flow which is particularly noticeable with more demanding flexible or semi-flexible nibs. Colours are saturated and many exhibit great shading (e.g. Honey). However, if you are sensitive to the rather powerful pong of the current KWZ ink formula, getting cheaper Diamine ink or investing slightly more for Robert Oster’s Signature inks may be a wise alternative.

Where to get hold of some  KWZ inks are not yet as widely available as some other popular brands. However, several specialist online retailers do stock them, and in the UK a wide selection of colours (including Iron Gall inks) is available exclusively from Pure Pens and Bureau Direct.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Pure Pens, Bureau Direct and KWZ Ink themselves for providing inks to several of our bloggers previously – and big thanks to Pure Pens for furnishing even more of us with samples specifically for this meta-review exercise.

 

London Stationery Show report

Your dogged correspondent trekked down to the London Stationery Show for a second year, and as previously there was an embarrassment of riches.  Many of this year’s ‘finds’ are ones we’ll come back to, so here’s a quick report to whet your appetite.

There is no escape from Noris; resistance is futile

Highlights included:

  1. The Manuscript stand, with hands-on calligraphy area and of course the rather splendid new ML1856 – which we’re hoping to review before too long.

  2. Kaweco – having now seen the brass version of the Special it’s obvious why it immediately sold out, but we’ll be back to review it when we can get our hands on a few.

  3. Meeting Stuart, who now runs the excellent Pocket Notebooks site – a great guy to talk to, and we’ll be reviewing his wares very soon.

  4. Encountering the revamped Silvine red notebooks; pictures don’t really do them justice.

  5. Playing with the very nice brass pens and pencils from Ystudio.  We’ll get some to review if we can.

  6. Flipping through the new Rhodia Heritage Collection; they really do look the business and we are endeavouring to acquire some to test.

  7. Discovering that Fabriano notebooks are coming back to our high streets soon; good-quality dot grids which you don’t have to go online for sound like they could be very handy.

  8. Meeting the owner of the new bricks-and-mortar shop in lovely Hexham, Penfax.

  9. Admiring the refillable notebooks for people who know that ‘traveller’ has two Ls, from Paper Republic – and yes, we’re aiming to review those too.

  10. Discovering that Sheaffer still make some proper posh pens.  We can’t be so certain of getting some of those to play with, but we’ll see.

  11. Wading through a veritable forest of shiny new Leuchtturm notebooks, with a lot of understandable fuss about how 1917 was, y’know, a whole century ago and everything, and watching their portable embossing machine and old-school Gutenberg lettering rack in progress (see below for more on how to bag the results).

Lowlights included:

  1. Heating which threatened to boil all exhibitors alive, until a merciful cool-down after lunch.

  2. A certain rather well-known manufacturer whose representatives didn’t recognise one of their own pens, got confused about how flex nibs worked and had to be given a brief lecture on model numbers and the difference between push-button converters and piston filling systems.  We shall leave them unidentified to spare their blushes… don’t mess with penthusiasts, people!

Win the notebook

Leuchtturm kindly embossed our name in a silver on a unique United Inkdom A6 notebook, and with only one of them in the whole world we couldn’t possibly divide it between our team so we decide to hand it over to you!  We asked for comments with weird and wonderful ideas about what you’d do with such notebook in your pocket (or indeed in your hand), and the winning answer was, well, world domination.  How could we argue?

 

 

 

 

Super5 pens and inks

A little bit of history  Last year we made contact (via Matthias) with the remarkable Super5 in Germany, and a select band of bloggers got to grips with their novel range of pens and inks.  It’s such a distinctive collection that just this once we’re reviewing a whole brand, rather than just one product. The range includes fountain pens, rollerballs, and FP-friendly permanent inks – you can see why we couldn’t resist!newandoldSuper5s

How it looks  The Super5 pen, in all its variants, looks a lot like the Kingsley Dex and the Manuscript Master, which is hardly surprising as it shares its basic Helit body with both. Like the Master, it has a nice metal sections too, and the useless but fun screw-off blind cap which could, just about, allow access to the turning knob of a converter if you wanted it to (but you won’t want it to, honestly).  This is a comfortable, appealing shape and there’s a decent range of colour schemes too.  The inks looks like they come in Rohrer&Klingner bottles, because that’s precisely what they are.orangeonblack

How it feels  The pen’s body is a combination of warm plastic and firm but comfortable metal (in the section).  ‘Nothing to complain about there.Super 5 FP

How it fills  Pop in a cartridge, or if you want to make the most of the Super5 ink range, a normal ‘international’ converter.  It’s all very straightforward.Super5 07FP

Crucially, how it writes…  Very well, and quite differently from many other affordable fountain pens.  The round nib has iridium tipping but the italic versions have none – just polished steel.  Of course, that’s just fine if calligraphy is your style. If you really can’t handle fountain pens, which seems unlikely if you’re reading this but let’s roll with it anyway, there’s also a rollerball version which accepts the same cartridges or converters so you can use fountain pen ink.orangeonwhite

Pen! What is it good for?  The italic nibs (0.5mm and 0.7mm respectively) are particularly good for fast semi-calligraphic writing.  They work with the Super5 permanent inks, too, so they’re pretty handy.Atlantic

Ink! What is it good for?  While the names of some of the inks baffled us a bit, we all thought they worked very well in the Super5 pens, flowing impressively well for such a thick ink.  So, it’s good stuff for calligraphy – as long as you give your pen an occasional flush-through afterwards.Australia

VFM  These have to be imported, and they are only procured in relatively small batches, so the pens are inevitably not going to be quite as affordable as the humble Dex – indeed, they’re about twice the price.  That’s still not ridiculous money for pens which work well and can handle some punishment, though.  The ink is a little steeper, but still fair value if a coloured permanent ink is just what you need.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  The Dex and Manuscript Master are pens worth a look instead.  KWZ are working on some permanent inks which could prove competition in the refill department.Super5 Rollerball

Our overall recommendation  It’s all worth a look – and if you want something no-one else in the office is likely to have, this is a sure-fire bet.

Where to get hold of one  Direct from ‘Papierlabor‘ is the only way.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to Super5 for the generous set of test samples.

 

Namisu Nova fountain pen meta-review

01 Brass at the castleA little bit of history  Glaciers, weathering and tectonic plates were all involved to a greater or lesser extent in separating the Lothian volcanoes from the kingdom of Fife, but ever since the Forth Bridge became the world’s largest project management metaphor, both sides of the firth have been part of an on-and-off industrial heartland.  That engineering heritage was recently sparked in to life in one local business unit by the Kickstarter project which brought Namisu into being, and they’re now producing a couple of models in an increasingly diverse range of materials.  Some of us have been interested since those heady Kickstarter days, but the word is spreading fast…01 Alu goes Forth

How it looks  Like a streamlined version of the Nakaya-esque ‘bullet’ shape, polished-up for use as a prop in 1950s sci-fi B-movies – which is a long way round to saying that it’s minimalist, and we like that very much.  It looks exceedingly cool, whatever the material it’s cast in. The only catch is that said minimalist tube does rather like to roll off any surface you place it on!ClumsyPenmanship

How it feels  Large but really rather comfortable.  Obviously, the different materials available make a quite a difference; the aluminium version is sturdy and light, the ebonite version is very warm to the touch, and the brass version is satisfyingly heavy – probably too heavy for many writers, but marvellous if you like a weightier pen.02 Laura's Alu

How it smells  This criterion doesn’t feature in every meta-review, but appears here thanks to the ebonite version which Namisu kindly lent several of us to test.  Ebonite is a rather old-school material for a fountain pen, and it’s essentially just very hard rubber. That makes it tactile, light and warm to hold, which are all good things, but for those with sensitive noses there is also the detectable whiff of burnt tyres on a warm summer’s day. Of course, whether that’s a noxious pong or a nostalgic aroma is very much a matter of olfactory taste.03 Scribble's alu

How it fills  Cartridge/converter.  There should be space in there for a longer international cartridge, and Namisu often provide a good Schmitt converter with the Nova too.04 Rob's Back in black

Crucially, how it writes…  This is very much dependent upon whether you go for one of Namisu’s nibs or fit your own.  Namisu stocks Bock nibs, usually either the standard steel (occasionally black-coated, as above) or titanium.  The Bock #6 steel nibs are firm but quite pleasant to use, while the titanium option offers a bit of flex – although we had mixed feelings as to how smooth they were on the paper.  The feed and collar unscrew, and any other Bock #6 assembly will screw back in, so if you happen to have spare nibs from the larger Kaweco or Diplomat pens, for example, they’ll be easy to swap.  It’s also possible to buy unbranded Bock replacement nibs from sources such as Beaufort, although the gold option is as pricey as you might expect.  Helpfully, the actual metal is a standard shape, so other #6 nibs, for instance those made by JoWo, can be transplanted into the Bock feed and collar assembly without too much difficulty; these can be acquired more affordably from FPnibs.com.08 Ruth's ebonite

Pen! What is it good for?  The aluminium and ebonite versions are both good for longer writing sessions or quick note-taking  – as long as you put the cap somewhere safe!  The brass version could probably double up as some form of defensive weapon, but we wouldn’t recommend doing that with it.05 Ian's Alu&Ebonite

VFM  At £45 the aluminium version is really very good value for a distinctive British-built fountain pen.  The brass and titanium versions get pricier, but are both still quite competitive for enthusiasts of those metals.  Ebonite nudges the ticket into three figures, which seemed a little steep to us for a pen which only has a basic steel nib, but it’s an unusual material, and while rather expensive this is hardly daylight robbery.  Match a Nova with a really good nib of your choice and you get something truly splendid for the outlay.06 Dan's Ebonite

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Namisu also make the Orion, a fairly similar shape but one which hasn’t appealed so much to us.  Or, if you like the look of the titanium Nova and want to spend ten times as much, there’s a Nakaya made from the same material.  Hmm.nib again

Our overall recommendation  Go ahead and get one while you can!  The aluminium version is an affordable design classic, and you can always upgrade to other materials later on.  If you covet the brass version, though, move fast; Namisu took some persuading to make it at all and we understand that it is intended as a one-off at the moment (you could prove them wrong, of course).cap endWhere to get hold of one  Right now, buying from Namisu directly is the only way.10 Scribble's brass

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Namisu for lending several of us an ebonite Nova to play with.  The rest we bought with our own money!07 Nova-nib

Robert Oster fountain pen ink review

Here in the United Inkdom, us poms and near neighbours are sometimes lucky enough to receive some bonzer gear to play with – sometimes pens, sometimes paper, and sometimes…  sometimes ink!

Bottles

And here’s the thing about that; a pen will convey the message, the paper will carry the message, but it’s the ink that brings the message to life.  So when we get inks to play with, all of us tend to get a bit over-excited.

Robert Oster Signature inks are fairly new to Blighty, but an Australian brand that’s quickly developing a strong following over here, and it’s easy to see why.

They’re not the fastest drying of inks, averaging between ten and fifteen seconds for full dryness on good paper.  As you might expect from an ink that wet the flow on them is superb, coverage on the page is complete, there’s no stutter, even from very fine nibs, but when you have an ink as rich and fulsome as these, you want something a little thicker to enjoy the tones upon the paper.

It’s also rare that all of us agree on the nature and quality of an ink – we’re an eclectic bunch with a wide variety of tastes – but universally, these colours have us inspired.  The inks have interesting names which give a nod to the inspiration of the creator, and as you’ll see in the many individual reviews linked below, they don’t disappoint.

But as a little teaser…

Direct Sun

Direct Sun

Barossa Grape

Barossa Grape

Emerald

Emerald

Claret

Claret

Summer Storm

Summer Storm

Grün Schwarz

Grun Schwarz

Blue-black

Blue Black

Deep Sea

Deep Sea

Blue SeaBlue Sea

 

The full range isn’t available in the UK yet, but it will be soon, and we’re both anticipating that (because these really are to die for), and dreading it (because we all have to eat sometime…) in equal measure.  They’re not the cheapest of inks, retailing at £14.50 for a single bottle, but with the viscosity of the ink in question, that bottle will last some time.  They can be found at iZods, who kindly donated some samples for this review exercise (thanks again Roy), and we gather other suppliers are also coming on-stream as we speak.

So without further ado, we present the combined reviews of United Inkdom for the Robert Oster Signature inks…

Gillian Jack’s review of Claret and Emerald

Daniel Oakey’s maritime meanderings in Blue Sea and Deep Sea

Sarah Goodall’s test of Emerald and Summer Storm

James Lake’s bathe in Direct Sun with a dash of Grün-Schwarz

Scribble’s bejiggering with the whole flamin’ lot

The Clumsy Penman’s barby in Direct Sun with a tinny of Barossa Grape

The Pen and Inkwell’s billabongful of Summer Storm, Blue Black, Blue Denim, Bondi Blue, Fire & Ice, Blue Sea and Deep Sea too.

 

Nib&Ink book review

When we first heard about this book from the excellent All Things Stationery blog, we knew we had to take a look – and thankfully the publishers (part of Penguin) were kind enough to send some review copies our way.  Here’s what we made of it…

nibinkpublicityshots

New Year’s Resolutions can involve all sorts of horrid self-denying ordinances and temporary punishments, but a rather better promise to yourself is to take the time to develop handwriting that you’re happy with, and maybe even a little bit proud of!  Dipping a toe into the world of ‘modern calligraphy’ is not a bad way to get started, and Chiara Perano has been offering direct assistance through the day courses she runs at her base, mysteriously entitled ‘Lamplighter’, in London. This book sprang from those courses, apparently, and like them aims to offer a user-friendly and accessible way in to going beyond hasty squiggle to mastery of the mystic curve.

how-to-hold-the-pen

Modern calligraphy is a little hard to define exactly, but broadly speaking it’s calligraphy which you can use in the here and now, without the hours and hours of tiresome exercises that stylistic dictators like Spencer would require, and with results that look a bit less like an obscure nineteenth-century legal text.  This book assumes that readers will attempt to follow Chiara’s letter-forms with a dip pen, and provides plenty of practical advice on how to do so.  Alternatively,  it’s perfectly possible to play along using a flex-nibbed fountain pen (as Sarah and Scribble did with their Heritage 912s),nibink-writing-sample

This is fun to work with, and the encouragement to write directly in the book feels nicely transgressive.  The number of letter-form options doesn’t become overwhelming, and the examples map out just what route the nib should take – it’s easy to follow, and there is lots of encouragement to practice, experiment, practice some more, and arrive at a style which is very much your own.sarahs

There are a few improvements which we’d like to see in the next edition including more FP-friendly paper (we’re told this is in hand already), a better proportion of content to filler (there are a rather cheeky number of practice pages), and perhaps a move to a loose-leaf format (maybe bound with Atoma discs?) so that it can properly fold-flat for writing in.  But these are relatively minor quibbles in what we felt was, overall, a…great-book

Getting hold of a copy for yourself is easy enough either straight from the author’s own website or via your book retailer of choice; the ‘street price’ is around £9, which looks like decent value to us.  You can download the handy guide sheets to print here.guidesheettop

For more detail see:

Thanks to Ebury Publishing for sending some review copies to us in time for Christmas experimentation!

 

Diamine Shimmertastic inks review

shimmerdrops2A little bit of history

A couple of years ago there was a lot of buzz about another brand (you all know which one) putting shiny sparkles into a handful of their inks. It looked fun, but it was expensive, and Diamine don’t do things by halves.  They brought out a whole set of ten, then followed it up this year with twelve more shimmering inks, each sporting a healthy dose of gold or silver coloured glitter.  What could be more fitting for our Christmas meta-review?

Ink! What is it good for?

Well let’s be honest, this isn’t one you’re likely to take to work, unless your job involves writing Christmas cards (it’s absolutely brilliant for that).  This is ink for having fun with!  If you treat it wisely, it will work in ordinary fountain pens and there are only two modest caveats.  Firstly, always give the bottle a very thorough shake before filling the pen, and ideally use a pen which can stand a gentle perturbation before writing too; the glitter is in suspension, not in solution, and will laze on the bottom unless stirred into life.  Secondly, any particulate matter can gum-up pen parts in time, so pick a pen which you can thoroughly dismantle for the occasional clean, including the converter or piston (TWSBIs and most Platinums are therefore a good choice).  Other than that, you can sparkly-scribble to your heart’s content.

VFM

The going rate is about £9 for 50ml, which makes this noticeably more expensive than the standard fountain pen inks from Diamine, but still very good value compared to some of the more ‘exotic’ inks around.  The base colours are for the most part very nice inks in their own right, and other than occasionally bleeding-through with very wet nibs, or feathering on cheap paper, they’re pretty well-behaved too.  You really can’t go too far wrong.

 OK now, that’s enough chat – show me the shiny!

The bright blueslight-blues

We start with a couple of absolute crackers.  Blue Lightning, a very bright blue with silver sparkles, has a loyal following from the original collection, while Tropical Glow has become an immediate favourite with almost everyone who’s tried it, even making the ‘Too Many Peacocks‘ Christmas Day hit list.  ‘Not a bad way to start, eh?tropicalglow2

lightning2

The dark bluesrich-blues

Blue Flame and Blue Pearl are fairly traditional royal blues, with gold or silver sparkles respectively; the effect is predictable but pleasing.blueflame2bluepearl2Enchanted Ocean and Shimmering Seas are a little harder to categorise – like the sea, they keep changing colour as the light shifts. But both are broadly blue-black with either green or purple hints, with a spot of iridescence from bioluminescent plankton at the surface.

shimmeringsea2

The reds

reds

Pink Glitz is, unusually for a pink, so riotously butch that you could put it in a PFM and get away with it, while Red Lustre could safely be spilled all over the Christmas tablecloth without anyone noticing.  Firestorm Red and Inferno Orange look a lot like the open fire you’re meant to be roasting some chestnuts on right now (but thanks for taking a break to read this instead).pink1 redlustre3 firestorm1infernoorange2

The browns

browns

This civilised set of browns goes all the way from molten chocolate to wet beach, and the sparkles really add something to what can otherwise be a somewhat drab colour for inks. They really do work surprisingly well on the page.brandydazzle2 caramel3

The greens

greens2

Green ink has its devoted fans, and here are a couple of splendid stocking fillers for any you encounter.  Magical Forest is almost perfect for writing the price list in  your neighbourhood crystal healing emporium, while the lime green with golden sparkles of Golden Oasis looks for all the world like a gecko flitting by.golden-oasis2

magicalforest3 magicalforest2

The greys

greys2

moondust2

While not everyone feels that grey is quite the colour for the festive season, re-brand it as silver and everything’s fine.  So here we have dark silver with bright silver sparkles (hmm, subtle) darker silver with golden sparkles (less subtle), and silver with the lights off (OK, OK, it’s black).  The dark base ink does show the sparkles up quite effectively.nightsky2

The purples

purples

Of course we’ve saved the best for last – for those into a spot of purple action at least!  Two of these have already featured on Too Many Purples and the third will follow soon.  Purple Pazzazz is a warm purple which is quite reminiscent of Lamy’s much-trumpeted dark lilac, but easier to get hold of and with golden sparkles to boot; what’s not to like?  Lilac Satin is not unlike Diamine’s earlier Iris from the flowers box set, with added silvery shine, and that’s a rather splendid finish too. Finally, Magenta Flash is a very purpley sort of magenta for a change (no pinks in disguise here), and looks rather spectacular in a wet-nibbed pen of your choice.

magenta3

pazzazz2

Come and get it!

You can get hold of your own Shimmertastic supplies in all of the usual favourite online sources, or direct from Diamine themselves.  Easy peasy.

This meta-review draws upon:

Thanks to:

Pure Pens for samples of the original ten flavours, Diamine themselves for samples of the new twelve colours, and Cult Pens for sponsorship-in-kind to get big bottles of some of the best for sharing-around.

 

Tactile Turn Gist meta-review

A little bit of history  Once upon a time there was a nice chap from Texas called Will Hodges, who had amassed a rather spiffing collection of lathes and was wondering just what sort of toys to make for good boys and girls all over the world – not necessarily just for Christmas, you understand, but the sort of thing that you’d definitely have to be on your very best behaviour to deserve.  Flirting with the seductive magic mirror, or ‘Kickstarter’ as it is known to all the elves, he had immediate success with dark ballpoint doings which shall not be spoken of here – and then stepped into the light and started making proper pens!  Will’s first fountain pen, the Gist, is now available in a truly legendary array of materials including pretty much everything bar kryptonite, and has become a hit on both sides of the Pond.  Several of us had initially obtained one through aforementioned conjuring device, and then a wise stallholder in ye olde Ipswich Bazaar started selling them to passing scribblers here too…

polybrassfinialHow it looks  As the brand name suggests (just for once, it’s entirely relevant and accurate) the whole pen has been precision-turned to make it a tactile pleasure to use – but we’ll come on to how it feels in a moment.  How it looks is, frankly, pretty much like the stereotypical alien mind-probe; with those eerily-accurate ripples and space-age materials, it wouldn’t look out place in Captain Kirk’s hands (its uses are far less sinister, though, unless you write left-handed of course). The very sharp-eyed may be able to spot some light marks from the lathe chuck on the barrel of the polycarbonate version (as depicted below), but it doesn’t greatly detract from the overall effect.

barrelHow it feels  Those ripples and ridges provide a good grip without discomfort, and most users have found this a pleasure to pick up and get writing with.  The weight varies considerably depending upon the materials chosen; the all-brass version is without doubt a nicely weighty pen, the all-polycarbonate version is feather-light, and the combinations of polycarbonate barrel and metal section concentrate the weight just where you most want it, near the nib.  Which feels best for you depends largely upon personal taste.  The only catch we detected was that the copper grip can be a little slippery on a warm day.

How it fills  This fills with a straightforward Schmidt converter (provided as standard), or international cartridges if you prefer.  For everyday practicality there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

Crucially, how it writes…  The Gist employs a big #6 Bock nib, available from Tactile Turn in steel, titanium and gold versions.  Bock’s steel nibs are firm but widely admired, and we’ve had no reports of any problems there.  The titanium nib is a bit more of an acquired taste as there is flex, but not always as much smoothness as flex fans generally like. The #6 Bock gold nib writes beautifully (as also seen on the Diplomat Aero and Kaweco Elite/Supra, for instance), albeit following quite an outlay.  If that range of options doesn’t suit, it is also possible to transplant a JoWo #6 into the Bock feed, as seen in the modified example below (displaying rhodium, ruthenium and zirconium from left to right).gistpolycarbonitezirconium

Pen! What is it good for?  This is a well thought-through ‘every-day carry’ pen which can be comfortably used for long writing sessions and will serve as a sturdy workhorse.  Some of the all-metal versions are probably great for exhibitionist bling, too, but we’re not going to admit to being interested in that around here, oh no…

gistbrass1VFM  The Gist has to cope with transatlantic tariffs and the buffeting of currency exchange rates, so competing on price with European offerings is not always going to be easy. With a simple steel nib, the all-polycarbonate looks to us like fair, albeit perhaps not stellar, value at £70 – whereas just £30 more will get you the all-copper version which seems an absolute steal.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  There’s nothing quite like the Gist, really, although there other pens which bear some comparison on the basis of the materials.  If you love the polycarbonate finish then the Lamy 2000 employs similar material, albeit with a much less visible nib. If you really want the brass Gist but are struggling with the import logistics, Kaweco’s Supra has a similar heft and also uses the Bock #6 nib. There are no other Tactile Turn fountain pen designs yet – although just imagine this shape scaled-up to fit JoWo’s #8 nib… hmm, maybe next Christmas.

Our overall recommendation  Try a friend’s Gist first – it’s a bit of a ‘Marmite proposition’ in some guises – but if you like it, buy one.  Individual pen-makers who connect with writers and adapt to their needs like Will does deserve their success – and maybe, just maybe, you’ve been good enough to deserve one of his pens.

gistbrass2Where to get hold of one  Newcomer e-tailer iZods is stocking a broad sample of the Gist range in the UK, including the titanium and copper versions here.  If you want the full range including all the stock options, you can also buy direct from Will here, although beware of those import taxes.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Roy at iZods for lending John a Gist to play with.