Twiss Pens ‘Green Lizard’ fountain pen review

A little bit of history The process of making cellulose acetate (the barrel and cap material of this pen) dates back to 1865.  Whilst not quite as old, this pen is made from materials rescued from a château in Le Mans that were made in the 1930s-40s. The pen has been expertly crafted by John Twiss of Twiss Pens (see the recent profile piece on United Inkdom) from a mixture of this material, ebonite for the grip and a black acrylic for the finials.Lizard posted

How it looks Like a reptile all dressed up for a night out at a 1970s-themed nightclub, the spiral pattern is sure to impress even those who don’t take to green in general. The black finials give a modern look & complement the pen nicely, and the clip is short & functional giving the pen a retro vintage feel (although this pen could definitely pull off something fancier). The striped ebonite grip section complements the lizard skin nicely and stops it from being overpowering. It is finished beautifully and whilst the pen is branded it is very subtle.Green-Lizard-acrylic-join

How it feels This is a very light pen, only 17g capped and filled but the balance on the pen is excellent. Despite being rather thin, it is comfortable in hand and is long enough to remain suitably usable even though it doesn’t post. The slightly shaped ebonite grip section is comfortable to hold and all the materials feel superb. We couldn’t figure out exactly how many times you needed to turn the cap to remove it, but it’s unlikely to swivel-off without a deliberate effort.

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Polymers explained, using the 1.1mm nib

How it fills The pen takes a standard international cartridge or the supplied Schmidt converter – just be careful not to pull too hard, as it screws-in to the grip section. The converter isn’t going to come loose in a hurry either.Green-Lizard-clip-and-cap

Crucially, how it writes… The pen fits a #6 JoWo nib, and it was supplied with a fine nib which was buttery smooth, a medium nib which was great, if a bit broader than expected and a 1.1mm nib that gave plenty of line variation and a smooth writing experience. JoWo nibs tend to be consistently good and if you want something special then it is always possible to fit a gold nib, something this pen probably deserves.

RuthWritingFnib
Putting the F nib through its paces

Pen! What is it good for? Possibly not the best pen if you need to grab it quickly for jotting down a quick note, but for long writing sessions this is a gem. Definitely not a pen to be kept in the dark, this is a fancy pen but with an air of sophistication so it needs to be used.

The M nib, busy looking reptilian

VFM This is a one-of-a-kind pen.  John lovingly crafts each pen by hand, and based on the quality of finish this one is up to his usual high standards. You can buy cheaper pens, or even get pens at this price with a gold nib, but nothing that looks quite this special – so it still ticks our good-value-for-money box!

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost… Just pop John an email and discuss what you like and don’t like in a pen.  The waiting list is long, but it’s for a good reason.

Green-Lizard-nib
The 1.1mm italic nib, about to snap-up a passing dragonfly for supper

Our overall recommendation Twiss pens are admired by all of us due to the high level of craftsmanship and attention to detail. This pen is excellent to use and looks very special, it even has a bit of history attached. No-one wanted to give this one away however…

Where to get hold of one This is a one-of-a-kind pen, but it’s also one which you can soon win! We’ll publish the details of a rather special competition this weekend. Alternatively, if you’re not lucky enough to bag this beauty in the competition, of course the place to go is John’s  website.

Rarely seen in the wild, this green lizard requires a special licence to be kept as a domestic pen.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to John Twiss for making us, and one lucky winner, this amazing pen. We may well be hoping no-one enters the competition so we get to keep it. Drop John a line and we are sure that he will be more than happy to craft you your own Twiss gem.

Profile of John Twiss

Meeting-Mr-Twiss

A couple of years after taking early retirement, in search of something to do, John Twiss splurged out on an ancient lathe and some firewood, spent a week “producing some smaller bits of … round firewood”, came across a video of someone making a pen and decided to give it a go himself. That was five years ago and I think it’s safe to say that John is now the UK’s premier maker of handmade custom pens.

John’s based at Sherwood Forest Art and Craft Centre on the edge of that famous and ancient woodland. His studio is full of beautiful pens in every stage of completeness, from blocks of resin, wood or casein to the finished article. He can make pens from almost anything… although he did once turn down a request to create a pen from someone’s brother’s ashes.

Twiss-Patriotic-Acrylic-fountain-pen-cap

John doesn’t use any computer-aided machinery, making all his pens by hand on manual lathes. An individual pen can take up to a few days to make. If you’re interested, and in the Nottinghamshire area, you can stop by to see how it’s done.

Workshop

Although many pre-made pens are available through the website you really need to take advantage of John’s ability to make a pen to your exact requirements, using (almost, see above) any material you like, including Irish Bog Oak or custom-cast resin, in any shape, with or with a clip, using a range of nibs . . . well, you can see how this can get addictive.

 

Twiss-Marmalade-capped

None of this would matter if the finished product wasn’t good but the quality is in fact outstanding. Between us, your United Inkdom correspondents have bought or reviewed upwards of ten Twiss pens and they have all been exceptional.

You can follow John on https://twitter.com/twisspens and browse his  website here.

We will soon be reviewing, and then giving away, a very special handmade Twiss pen, so check back soon for details!

Twiss-Green-Lizard-clip-and-cap

Edison Collier

Edison-Collier-review

A little bit of history Edison Pens is based in Milan, Ohio and was founded in 2007 by Brian and Andrea Gray, in their garage. The company is named after Thomas Edison who was also born in Milan, Ohio and some of their pen models are named after people or locations related to him. They produce a range of ‘Signature Line’ pens which are completely custom made and cover a large range of models, including some unusual and fascinating filling mechanisms. The Collier is part of their ‘Production Line’ range, available in the UK exclusively from The Writing Desk. Production Line pens are more affordable than the Signature Line range but come without customisation options.

How it looks This is a fine-looking pen. Between us we were able to look at the Persimmon Swirl (bought by Rob with his very own money) and the Blue Steel (loaned to us by The Writing Desk). Both acrylics are gorgeous. The shape is both original and classic – a tough combination to pull off.

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How it feels The barrel is quite wide but tapers to a much slimmer section. This makes for a pen that’s very comfortable in the hand, particularly as it combines both a light weight and good length. It doesn’t really post. (It’s possible but a little precarious.)

How it fills It’s a standard cartridge/converter pen but it’s possible to use it as an eye-dropper too. If you choose the latter option you can fill it with enough ink to last a lifetime.

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Crucially, how it writes… The Collier uses a JoWo nib engraved with Edison’s bulb/nib logo. We were able to try out a few different steel nibs and they were all lovely (although one needed a little adjustment first). JoWo make great steel nibs but if gold is your thing, then that’s an option on the Collier too.

Edison-Collier-nib-and-shaped-section

Pen! What is it good for? Whatever you want, really. It’s a pen that would look great adorning your desk but it’s a pen that’s been made to be used.

VFM This isn’t a cheap pen but it’s been made to a high standard. You’re getting a pen that’s been made to custom-pen quality but at a much-reduced cost, which in our eyes makes the Collier good value.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost… If the Collier is almost your perfect pen but not quite then it might be worth looking into Edison’s ‘Signature Line’ and customising the basic model to make it exactly what you want. Alternatively Edison have a couple of other models available in the ‘Production Line’ range.

Our overall recommendation We love this pen! It writes well, looks beautiful and is made with obvious care and attention to detail.

Where to get hold of one If you’re in the UK then The Writing Desk is the only place you can get one. If you’re elsewhere then Edison has a list of distributors on their website.

This meta-reviews references:

136 Edison Collier

Thanks to The Writing Desk for giving us the opportunity to try out this pen. None of us wanted to send it back!

The Writing Desk profile

So, rumour has it that the search for the perfect purple ink was behind the birth of The Writing Desk (which got Scribble rather excited) – is that true?

Well, almost! For a while it was difficult to get hold of Waterman purple, for reasons which were never explained, then we were on holiday in France and came across some lovely alternatives by J.Herbin. They had no UK retailers at that point, so we stepped into the breach.  We already had some experience of trading a few vintage pens online, and when Anna decided not to return to work as a solicitor after we had a daughter, one thing led to another.  Soon we were selling Pelikan too, then Conway Stewart.  The rest, as they say, is history.  We soon took on Private Reserve as the sole UK suppliers too, then Martin stepped back from his old job as an audio engineer and The Writing Desk became a full-time occupation.  We do sell quite a lot of purple ink, as it happens, but one or two other shades too…

How has life as a pen ‘etailer’ developed?

Pretty fast. When we launched our first website in 2001 there were few competitors, but also not so much in the way of ready-made platforms – we had to do our own technology development as well as sourcing the merchandise.  The web element has become a little more straightforward since, and we now find we have a healthy combination of appearances at pen shows and links with customers all over the world, from Keynsham to Kazakhstan.  Many of our customers, and suppliers, are in the EU so there could be further developments around the corner.

Anna and Martin at the London Writing Equipment Show 2009

What works best for you in staying in touch with customers, new and old?

We do contribute to some ‘hard copy’ publications, like the WES journal, but of course a lot of our contacts are formed and developed online too.  Answering questions on forums like FPN has been mutually helpful in the past.

So, tell us about TWD’s favourite pen brands…

Yard-o-Led, to follow on from United Inkdom’s recent articles, has been a big success; we were the first online retailers, and people really love the pens.  Edison remains unique to The Writing Desk in the UK, after John Serowka recommended us to Brian Gray; they’re a lovely company to work with and they’ve benefitted from working directly with customers via social media too. We loved selling Conway Stewart and were sorry to see the brand go, but Sailor is still going splendidly; their pens may look fancy, but those nibs are excellent – the ‘King Eagle’, in particular, is really something special. As one of the few TWSBI dealers in the UK we find their special editions fly off the shelves rather rapidly, too. Finally, we have to mention Kaweco; we’re big fans of the Sport and the new Supra is so well put-together, too.

…and inks?

Of course! Private Reserve, and Rohrer and Klingner, remain exclusive to us in the UK, and they both have sterling reputations.  Naturally we’re Diamine fans too, and our big 100ml refills have been popular ever since we started selling them – indeed, we’re thinking of refreshing the range soon, so ideas for inks which you writers need in high volumes are welcome!

How’s the workshop coming on?

That side of the operation is something we’ve always done but not really advertised previously, but we do quite a bit of pen servicing and repairs now, and are getting into nib tuning.  Italic regrinds and even nib width reductions are quite popular, along with the occasional TWSBI repair – those are user-serviceable but not everyone finds it a walk in the park.  It’s a part of the business we quite enjoy and, while it’s maybe not a big money-spinner, a lot of customers find it makes a big difference to their enjoyment too.

Thankfully only one ‘doctor’s pen’ in the workshop has a history quite as dark as this Parker’s.

So, the big question – what are you both writing with today?

Martin is using a vintage Pelikan M730/D730 set and a venerable Lamy 2000, while Anna is sporting a black Kaweco Sport and a TWSBI 530 – the first TWSBI the company acquired, and it’s still going strong.

Keep watching for meta-reviews of a pen, and an ink range, that only The Writing Desk stock in the UK…

The Yard-o-Led propelling pencil

A little bit of history  Back in the early Twentieth Century, there were all sorts of experimental designs for mechanical pencils.  Eversharp, as the name suggests, started with a perennially-pointed design (or so the adverts would have you believe), and the Japanese spin-off even became an electronics company in the end – that’s how Sharp got its name.  After a few mergers (including the assimilation of Edward Baker, one of whose pencils Matthias reviewed), and a few factories either being re-purposed for war production or flattened by someone else’s materiel, there was just the one brand left – the masters of the propelling pencil, Yard-o-Led.

A vintage Universal

How it looks  The Yard-o-Led pencil has a variety of finishes, all of them looking carefully hand-engineered, and very shiny.  Sometimes, as in the example below, that has been achieved with interesting alloys (in this case ‘platinine’, probably an copper/nickel/zinc mix), but these days only Sterling silver makes the grade.

Mascot-9
A vintage Mascot – we’re not sure if the box is original.

How it feels  Obviously that depends upon the size and shape to some extent – the new Diplomat below has a square barrel! But generally, these are lighter than they look, and nicely balanced, so really rather pleasant to write or draw with.

Diplomat 4
This is where the leads are stored.

How it fills  With twelve three-inch graphite sections, which if placed end-to-end would constitute a Yard of Lead (geddit?).  One is in the chamber and ready to fire, while eleven spares lie in wait spaced around the sides of the barrel.  It’s a clever system and you’re highly unlikely to run out of lead while out on a job with one of these.  The only downside to the now rather unusual gauge (1.18mm) of lead is that it’s now rather hard to find refills in any hardness other than HB or B – which is a pity, as with a softer lead these would make excellent sketching tools.Mascot-6

How it writes…  Tolerably well, although the lead may be a bit thick to write with if you’re used to the now more familiar 0.5mm standard width.Diplomat 3

What is the propelling pencil good for?  It’s good for drawing and doodling, and looking like a vintage hipster while you’re doing it.  Because of the limited range of lead types available in 1.18mm, it’s perhaps not brilliant as a sketching tool, but it definitely wins points for being cool.Mascot-8

VFM  Today’s Yard-o-Led pencil is a silver item made by the same specialist jewellers who make the excellent pens which we reviewed last week, and they are similarly priced at the ‘luxury’ end of the price scale.  They are real works of art, and worth saving up for as an heirloom if you like the thought of passing on something both very beautiful and somewhat practical.  If you just want one to doodle with and don’t mind a few dings, there’s about a century’s worth of second-hand stock out there on the auction sites and the like, and they can sell for a lot less.  A bit of research is certainly worthwhile.Diplomat 2

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  There’s not much direct competition these days!  Your main choice here is between new and ‘pre-loved’ propelling pencils.YoL leaflet outside

Our overall recommendation  If your cherished descendants can’t be trusted with a fountain pen but might just get some mileage from a pencil, this is as good as it gets.  The mechanism is very robust, so if you just fancy one to play with then a second-hand (or possibly third-hand) one will probably also still be working when the time comes to kick the shiny, hallmarked, delicately hand-tooled bucket.YoL leaflet inside

Where to get hold of one  The Writing Desk (coming up soon!) were YoL’s first online retailers, although the Yard-o-Led website now sell directly too, and you could also do a lot worse than check out Pure Pens or The Pen Shop.  Alternatively, if you happen to be strolling through St.James’s and fancy popping into Fortnum’s, their pen desk offers ample hands-on testing opportunities, albeit at prices which make the posh scones look relatively affordable.Diplomat 1

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  The Imperial Yard team for hosting our inquisitive visits and lending us the Diplomat to review!

 

 

Yard-O-Led Viceory Grand Victorian Fountain Pen

nib and cap 2

A little bit of history  Yard-O-Led have been making writing instruments, primarily of the mechanical pencil persuasion, since 1822. Although fountain pens are a relatively recent development, all that experience and craftsmanship counts for a lot. We wrote a profile of Yard-O-Led quite recently.

The pen, and the box it comes in

How it looks  Oh my goodness this is a fine looking pen. All of the almost 200 years of knowledge has gone into the designing and the crafting of this pen. The cap and barrel are made from hallmarked sterling silver and the pattern is painstakingly applied by hand. The effect is one of the utmost quality that celebrates the heritage of the company. This is a pen that looks as if it has been around for a hundred years and feels as if it will be around for a hundred more.

Yard-O-Led-Grand-Viceroy-Victorian-hallmark

How it feels  This is not a light pen; it’s made from solid silver after all. However the balance is such that it doesn’t feel too heavy in the hand. Silver is quite a warm metal, too. There’s more than comfort though – when you hold this pen, the size (it’s big) and the weight combine to the overall feeling of quality. The section is metal, of course, which doesn’t suit everyone, but its contour aids grip and reduces the likelihood of slipperiness.

Yard-O-Led-Grand-Viceroy-Victorian-cap

How it fills  It’s a standard international cartridge/converter affair. The supplied converter isn’t anything special but is perfectly functional.

nib and cap

Crucially, how it writes…  The rhodium-plated 18k nib is firm and very smooth. Between us we’ve been able to try all three of the available options (fine, medium and broad) and have enjoyed them all.

Yard-O-Led screenshot

Pen! What is it good for?   This is not a pen for throwing in your pocket when you’re off to the beach. It is a pen to keep and cherish and use and pass on to your favourite child to keep and cherish and use and pass on again. It’s a pen to appreciate and admire.

VFM  This is a very expensive pen. It’s impossible to say definitively whether it offers value for money or not. The important question is: is this pen worth it to you? We all feel the same: we would buy this pen in a moment, if we had the money.hallmarks2

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Yard-O-Led make two smaller (the pocket and the standard) pens too, if you love this design but would prefer something less…grand… (and a little more affordable, relatively speaking).  There are also one or two other purveyors of silver fountain pens starting to come onto the market which we hope to explore in coming months.

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Our overall recommendation  This is a gorgeous pen. It’s a work of art  which is also wonderful to write with. If you are in the market for a pen to last for generations, this is a pen you should seriously consider.

Where to get hold of one  From some of your favourite online stockists or direct from Yard-O-Led themselves.

whole pen

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to Yard-O-Led for giving us the opportunity to try out this pen. None of us wanted to send it back, so we’re glad they trusted us!

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Yard-o-Led profile

Once upon a time, Birmingham was the engineering design capital of the world.  Products imagined by nineteenth-century draughtsmen in Brum can still be seen all over the planet, from tea-packing machines in the Azores to boats on Lake Titicaca.  With the gradual demise of heavy engineering, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all in the past, but a part of that heritage lives on in the city’s Jewellery Quarter, which has been making pens and pencils since the days when they kept the bureaucracy of the British Empire running. There dip-pen enthusiasts can visit the pen museum and try for themselves the hand-pulled stamps that made steel nibs by the thousands to ship all over the world – and just up the road, there’s something even more fascinating going on…

Victorian and Edwardian machine-tooling was evidently built to last, and Yard-o-Led are still using it to impressive effect.  The name comes, of course from the pre-metric measuring system that all the machinery and designs still employ; each of their original propelling pencils still comes with twelve three-inch leads, which when lined up constitute a while imperial yard of lead.  It’s for that reason that the company responsible is now called Imperial Yard, reasonably enough!

There have been a few experiments with different alloys over the years, but these days each pen or pencil is made from scratch of silver.  ‘Scratch’ in this case means silver tubes, which head over to the Assay Office for those mystical hallmarks, and then return for a range of fascinating time-honoured processes.  Stretched and squeezed to form points, the resulting blanks are than patterned either by hand, or by hand-powered machinery.  The hand-powered machinery  is the number-controlled mill which you can see two examples of in the background of the photograph below – they are not CNC because, of course, in the days these were built a computer was a human being with a slide-rule (and, quite probably, a pencil).

Alex in the workshop

The number-control mill makes the lovely barley-corn patterns, whereas the distinctive comma-and-apostrophe patterns are hammered-out by hand.  One of two current experts, Alex, is doing just that in the picture above.  The red cable serves as a clamp, to hold the blank in place without marking the surface.  Other than that, and a soft cloth, the equipment consists of a range of vintage specialist chisels, a light hammer, and one very patient operator; each pen takes hours to complete.  The harmonious result of these ministrations is a remarkably organic-looking surface (in some lights, more vegetable than mineral), and each pen or pencil produced this way is inherently unique. Naturally, we’ll be reviewing examples of both processes in the next couple of articles.

Yard-o-Led as a brand, and as a team, has inevitably been through some ups and downs. The brand has recently been released from ownership by Filofax – another great British name, of course, but in retrospect perhaps not the most obvious combination (a Filofax you take to work and bash around, but you probably wouldn’t want to do that to an all-silver YoL). The workshop, too, has moved, but given the irreplaceable nature of many of the vintage tools and machines in use, that’s unlikely to happen again in a hurry.  These days, it’s a hive of activity which is a real treat to visit if you get the chance – a place where proper craftsmen still produce labours of love which also happen to work as tools themselves. When you see the fountain pen and propelling pencil the company has lent us to review over the next few weeks, we’re pretty sure you’ll fall in love too.

 

Montblanc inks

To complete our series of articles about The Pen Shop and its wares, we really needed to foray into the world of Montblanc at least briefly.  This presented a bit of a challenge as, for various reasons, none of us have their pens and there was no way to borrow one either. But the canny folk at Pen Shop HQ found a Montblanc product that we could put through its paces and is perhaps of wider interest too – the MB ink range.  It’s a bigger range than many fountain European pen manufacturers promote, so the big set of cartridges (and one or two bottles) which turned up presented us all with a few challenges – and Ruth gets the prize for being the only one of us who has tested every single colour so far, as you can see on  the illustration below.MB swabsTrying to be all things to all people is a hard trick to pull off, and on balance our collective assessment was that Montblanc only partially succeeded – but with a few modest gems in the mix.  Perhaps the biggest achievement is to put out something under the Montblanc brand which is both good-quality and quite reasonably priced.  The black, like that famed ‘precious resin’ is consistent (if nothing to write home about), and only the grey seemed to be a real disappointment.  The standard blue divided opinion, but more because it reminded some of us of school days than the ink’s own properties – and to be fair, it’s safe in almost any pen you can find.Royal Blue

Three inks seemed to stand out as winning a fair share of approval.  Lavender Purple, firstly, isn’t the lightly pinkish-blue that most of us expect from an ink of that name, but is a rather pleasing dark purple which works well in fat nibs.  Scribble had a bottle already, which will surprise no-one – speaking of which, the bottle is quite impressively over-engineered and eye-catching, in a look-at-me-in-my-BMW sort of way.Lavender Purple

Ian likes a bit of green, and this one went down rather well; not too bright to be usable, and not so dark as to be dingy, it’s a good balance.Irish Green

While none of the inks have quite caused uproar and outrage of Lamy Dark Lilac proportions, the overall pick of the bunch for us was probably Corn-Poppy Red, which both Rob and Scribble find themselves using in ‘regular rotation’ pens now.  So there you are – there is a Montblanc product we can recommend.Corn Poppy RedFor more on the range, see:

Thanks to Hannah and the team at The Pen Shop!

Dex big ‘soft’ pens

A little bit of history  The Pen Shop have been going since 1858 or thereabouts, but it didn’t quite take that long to produce this meta-review.  In fact, we’ve already reviewed the younger sibling of the Dex and it passed with flying colours, so to follow-up the Pen Shop profile from last week it was the natural place to go next.

How it looks  Nicely rounded.  It’s a straightforward, simple and pretty classic shape.  So it immediately competes with the styling of many popular pens, and that’s a good thing – it looks like a fountain pen ought to.    The body is made by Helit, who own the Diplomat brand – so they know their stuff.

Dex acid green

How it feels  Warm and nicely textured; it’s light plastic, and not especially squishy but it does indeed feel fairly ‘soft’.Ruth's pink Dex

How it fills  This is one of those designs which takes two small ‘international’ cartridges, and indeed two are provided with each pen – but it will also thandle a converter quite comfortably.  NB long Waterman cartridges have a bit of a habit of getting stuck.

Crucially, how it writes…  Tucked-away into that plain black section is a Bock nib, and the standard M is a real treat, as you’d expect from the same stable as Diplomat really.  It readily competes with any other similarly-priced starter pen, and at least two of our reviewing team have had one ‘borrowed’ by our better halves because it wrote so nicely.  F, B italic and left-handed nibs are also available, but at the moment only in person at Pen Shop branches – a bit less convenient, but it does make it easier to make sure you get a nice smooth one again.  A prototype purple nib also came our way; there’s no word yet on whether that’s joining the range, but it’s getting lots of attention already.  There’s also a left-handed nib (presumably known as the Sin).

F and M nibs side-by-side

Pen! What is it good for?   We’re often asked (particularly via the Fountain Pens UK Facebook group) for starter pen recommendations, and usually the same two stand-by solutions come up; the Lamy Safari and the Pilot MR (or Metropolitan, in some markets). But this as Rob pointed out in his comprehensive review (link below), that’s a hotly-contested niche, and to it we now need to add the Dex.  The standard Dex M nib is impressively smooth, it looks good and is uncomplicated to use, it’s cheaper by far than the MR, and unlike the Safari uses cartridges which are available everywhere.  That’s not to say that the other two are bad pens – far from it – but this is arguably a safer, and more interesting, place to start.  The Dex is robust enough to put up with some demanding professional purposes, too – and has been seen marking huge piles of homework, for instance.

VFM  The big Dex is extremely good value for money at £12, and exceeds in quality anything you’re likely to find in a high street stationery shop for that sort of money. It’s not a luxury pen, of course, and you may find the odd bit of extruded plastic which needs smoothing-off or even, very occasionally, a less than perfect nib, but the key strength is that despite being a budget pen it’s backed up by strong customer service; if you’re unlucky and a duffer gets through, The Pen Shop just whizz into action and replace it without further ado.  The range of colours has something for all tastes, and to get a good Bock nib at this price is definitely not to be sneezed at.

A prototype Uber-Dex with metal section (borrowed from the Manuscript Master) and experimental purple nib

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Well, if the medium-sized proportions of the Dex by Kingsley Plum Smooth Soft Fountain Pen don’t appeal – even if it takes the best part of a week to say the name out loud – you could try the shorter Dex by Kingsley Purple Compact Soft Fountain Pen.  The names could perhaps do with some shortening too, but essentially it’s the same proposition in a slightly more compact body.  If you like either size of Dex but fancy a different nib, work is under way to make that possible, we’re told; it’s a pity that swaps can only be carried-out at Pen Shop shops at the moment, but on the plus side at least there’s no extra charge for the service.

Our overall recommendation  For this money, you can’t go wrong really.  For the person in your life who finds your interest in fountain pens hard to understand, this is a simple way to reel them in.

Where to get hold of one  From a branch of The Pen Shop, their website or the new Penwrite project, where there’s an introductory 10% discount offer at the moment.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to Hannah and Louise at The Pen Shop for getting some Dex samples out to us.

If you’d like to win one then Ian put together a tempting ‘starter kit’ including both sizes of Dex, with double the chance of winning by leaving comments before here and there. That competition has now closed, but Ruth is also giving one away  via her Instagram channel!

The Pen Shop profile

The Pen Shop is, well, a chain of shops which sell pens.  We caught up with Hannah, who handles awkward questions from fountain pen obsessives with great aplomb – as you’ll see:

So what’s the Pen Shop story?  How did one or two shops become the ‘chain’ of outlets The Pen Shop has today?

Believe it or not we have been around since the mid nineteenth century! The company started as T & G Allan in 1858 when the first store was set up on Collingwood Street in Newcastle by local brothers Thomas and George Allan. They then started opening stores around the North East’s high streets: the stores had numerous different departments including stationery, books, gifts, pens, toys and greeting cards. People in the North East tend to have very fond memories of the T & G Allan branches and we still actually have a popular T & G Allan store up in Morpeth. Due to the stationery departments doing so well in these shops the company first opened a dedicated Pen Shop in Newcastle in 1946 which was the first specialist writing instrument shop in Britain. Since then we have opened stores all across the UK, our latest addition being at St.Pancras station in London.

A brand new Pen Shop, looking pristine

There aren’t so many proper fountain pen specialists based in North East England.  Is having an HQ within smiting distance of the Angel of the North a help or hindrance?

For the most part I don’t think people always realise we are a North East company. Our directors do some travelling to and from London for meetings but with the power of email, conference calls and the occasional Skype everywhere’s pretty well connected – as we have stores all over the UK for people to visit I don’t think it matters too much if our Head Office is a little out of the way (although Tyneside is the centre of the universe, of course). As we were founded in Newcastle I think it is lovely that over 150 years later we are still based here.  We like the human touch though, so we always encourage enthusiasts nearby to arrange a visit.

…still looking amazingly shiny….

A lot of competitors have moved online-only, but you’re gradually growing the bricks-and-mortar business.  What makes that work for you?

We are very proud of our physical stores as it gives customers the chance to go in, pick up a pen and try it for themselves. There is something special about that which you can’t always experience on-line. In our shops you can try the various pens on offer, test the nibs to see which one is best for your own individual style of writing, and bend the ear of our staff too. Our staff are an enthusiastic bunch, and making sure they can get out to see the pens being made too seems to pay off; the majority of our managers have been here for 10+ years, our Manchester King Street manager has been here 30+ years – the one to beat however is our office manager at HQ who is on 38 years with the company. Once people come into The Pen Shop ‘family’ they don’t tend to leave, and that feel seems to get reflected when customers visit our stores.  Running in parallel with our bricks-and-mortar business, though, is our on-line presence, an area of the business that we are investing heavily in – so expect to see more on the way!

Before opening 1 (2)
…and now with added customers!

Us fountain pen enthusiasts can be a demanding crowd.  What brands sell best to the cognoscenti – and what are they sometimes missing out on at the moment?

Montblanc is actually our best-selling brand, both on-line and in our stores. They seem to appeal to quite a wide cross-section of people.  On the other end of the pricing scale our Dex pens are becoming a big hit with people starting out with fountain pens, which we’re always pleased to see. We do also find there’s a loyal fan-base for Yard-O-Led; they are one of the few British ‘big brands’ still going and with genuinely beautiful products we’re very proud to stock them.

The pen is mightier than the… ah, no, too late.

Finally the key question – and be honest now – what pen is in your pocket today?

A bright purple Dex with a left-handed nib, which is surprisingly comfortable to use – and I’ve certainly tried my best to break it with my dreadful handwriting! I have even used purple ink and started using my special flowery Ted Baker notebook this week. Our Managing Director reckons the pen and ink you use is an extension of your own personality – so bright purple floral probably sums me up quite well…