Private Reserve inks

A bit of history Private Reserve suggests a fine wine, rather than an ink, but it’s a brand that has had a loyal following in its native North America for many years. Here in Blighty, it’s a little harder to find, but several of our reviewers were kindly provided with samples by The Writing Desk following our recent couple of articles about their ways. The three reviewers all got different samples, so a meta-review has been a bit more challenging than usual – but Ian had reviewed many Private Reserve inks in the past and Scribble had tested all the purples, so we have quite a range covered!  Between us, there are five Private Reserve inks that at least two of us have tried, comprising two greens, a greenish blue and a pair of purples.  Are you inking comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

Don’t step on my blue suede shoes  Blue Suede is a good place to start because it’s a tricky colour to pin down.  It IS blue, but then again it’s really rather green.  Our newest reviewer, Daniel, points out that this is actually a teal, if anything – and a jolly decent one too. blue-suedeIt’s so saturated that there is no shading to speak of, but it’s not going to look insipid either.  Ian was a big fan too, adding that drying times may not be the fastest but they were also far from terrible.blue-suede-inkling

Ebony and burgundy go together in perfect harmony Those of us who like to sneak a purple to work are often in search of a purple-black ink, and this certainly fits the bill – plus, it has quite a noticeable sheen if you lay it on thick.  Ruth got a sample of this as part of her trial assortment and was suitably impressed.ebony-purple-swab

Scribble has been busy trying to review every purple there is, and still liked Ebony Purple so much that he’s got on to The Writing Desk and bought a big bottle of the stuff.ebony-purple-scribble

You say avacado, I say avocoda, oh let’s call the whole thing off Now, the good people at Private Reserve may not be able to spell avocado, but they certainly know how to make an ink that looks like the flesh of said fruit. avacado-inklingIan found the colour impressively rich, and Ruth was quite taken with it too.avacado-swab

Down-there-in-the-ink, sha-la-la-la-laa, it looks like the inkling of a plum Plum is a fruity shade which seems to do different things in different pens, unless of course we got some labels mixed-up!plum-inkling

Ian found Plum to be a fairly standard purple, whereas Scribble had it down as a deep magenta. But it’s rich and tasty, either way.plum-scribble

Yes, we have no rhinoceros Spearmint was quite a bit darker than the mention of mint appeared to suggest.  spearmint-dotcross

Rob found that there was more shading with this colour, but that the saturated nature of the ink could pose clogging challenges with some pens – albeit nothing that good rinse of the feed wouldn’t sort out. Ian enjoyed the shading that showed-up in his ‘inkling’ illustration too.spearmint-inkling

Somewhere over the rainbow Private Reserve has its origins in Indiana, which is quite a way from Kansas, but Dorothy probably wouldn’t be disappointed – plenty of other colours are available too!  Thanks to The Writing Desk, Daniel enjoyed another two greens; Ebony Green and the possibly mislabelled Ebony Blue, while Rob sampled Electric DC Blue and the nicely dark Chocolat, and Ruth enjoyed a sip of Orange Crush.  Private Reserve sent Scribble a set of samples directly to support his search for the perfect purple, so he’s also had fun with Purple Mojo, Purple Haze and Super Violet. Ian gets the prize for the broadest reach with reviews of Tanzanite, Buttercup, Ebony Brown, Black Cherry, and Shoreline Gold.

It’s the End of The World As We Know It But you’ll at least feel fine in the ink department with some of these – ‘well worth checking-out, in our assessment, and the simplest way of getting hold of them in the UK is to head to The Writing Desk.  Let us know about the colours we missed!

 

The William Hannah A5 notebook

A little bit of history  The disc-binding concept has been around for so long that the copyright lapsed long ago, as we covered in our previous article about the system.  But, despite the binder design being out there for all to use for quite a while, until recently there were few really smart-looking notebooks which employed it.  Then we discovered that a new brand had been born, right in the heart of little Britain – and in a trice, our band of hardened critics had all bought one!  So, what makes this disc-binder so thoroughly irresistible?

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How it looks  Well, how it looks is certainly part of the magic, coming as it does in a very tasteful array of colours. The outer leather is tough enough to knock about in most bags and come up looking handsome, whereas the inner suede-style leather can be selected in a range of rather groovier shades like purple and turquoise. It looks seriously classy.  For a little extra, you can also specify the colour of threads and get a monogram embossed onto the front as well.

How it feels  It feels pretty classy too. The outer leather is nicely tactile, and the inners are hard to resist stroking. The pages turn easily, and of course they pop in and out quite easily when you need to re-arrange them, too. Writing in one of these feels rather luxurious, which may sound an odd thing to claim from the humble act of putting nib to paper – but everyone who has tried finds themselves reporting the same experience. It also feels pretty good pitching up to a meeting knowing that you have the coolest notebook in the room, honestly.TanWHHow it fills  Now this is where life can get quite interesting for those who wish to have something very custom-made. The first thing that has to be mentioned is the impressive refill service available from William Hannah directly; the brand’s own paper (recently upgraded) came out very favourably in our tests, and as well as coming pre-punched for the disc-binder (naturally enough), it can be printed with dots, lines or grids in an ink which complements or contrasts with the colour of your notebook. There are also rather neat subject dividers available from the manufacturer now, so it’s perfectly possible to keep the whole thing ‘in house’ and have it working very well indeed.

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Come on now, that’s not the only way to fill it  Well, naturally enough we were also tempted to try out the alternatives, which anyone with a guillotine and a punch can do (the Atoma punch works perfectly but is shockingly overpriced, whereas the Arc punch just about works but is much more affordable).  Our testing panel came up with some surprising conclusions, as well as one or two entirely predictable ones!  For fountain pen obsessives, it’s perhaps no great shock that Clairefontaine Triomphe still rocks many scribbler’s worlds.  Slightly more surprisingly, competitor Atoma’s paper, while not notably fountain pen friendly, fares much better in tests with a pencil carried out by Matthias.  Rob introduced us to the splendidly-smooth British Advocate Xtreme, and the impressively multi-purpose German Gmund Tactile paper. Fabriano’s Italian offering seemed one of the most effective for dot-grid paper, while despite the impressive range of colours available, even apricot could not convince our contributing classical musician that Swiss Artoz1001 was quite the best thing since sliced bread when it comes to finding a surface which you can actually write on!  For anyone wanting a good wallow in the dizzying range of options (and pointers on a few to avoid), Rob has a very detailed blog post and Scribble has set up a complete new blog on the subject.WHrings-from-the-end

Crucially, how it works…  You open it up, slide a pen out of the optional pen-holder, and write!  Of course, the really handy thing is that you can re-arrange the pages to your heart’s content without the annoying clicking and grinding of ‘traditional’ ring binders.  When you have filled it up, you can decant your notes into one of the excellent archive packs which William Hannah has just started selling, featuring some of the largest aluminium discs available (they have holes in them, so technically they’re rings, but let’s go with standard nomenclature for now).  The whole system has clearly been properly thought-through and does just what it should do.

Book! What is it good for?  Plenty of owners take one to work, and in most professions that’s probably a great idea; it looks the part, and you can smuggle in some personal notes without embarrassment. But it’s also great for journal-writing or, as Ruth often demonstrates, reviewing fountain pens!

VFM  Value is a subjective thing with this as with all products, of course. £95 sounds like quite a lot of money – until you pick one of these up and see what you’re getting. This is a seriously high-quality product which will last for years and years, and apart from the Italian leather the whole thing comes from Britain; the metalwork is custom-made in Leicester, and the covers are sewn in Melton Mowbray.  Bear in mind the development and production costs, and it becomes more of a surprise that this is available for anything less than a three-figure sum. To put it in context, a rather prominent international stationery brand (yes, you know who) makes a boring black A5 leather organiser which retails for more than four times as much, and that doesn’t even feature the disc-binding system – so isn’t half as useful.  The William Hannah notebook is perhaps something of a luxury, but it’s one that really works for its living.Discs (or rings)

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  We respectfully invite you to reconsider! Seriously, this is lovely, it works brilliantly and there’s not much out there to compare with it.  Atoma and Arc both sell leather covers for their versions of the disc-binding system, and in the US Discbound Marketplace offer custom-made binders using Arc-style plastic discs, although it’s probably fair to say that many of these would struggle to compete with William Hannah’s form and function.  If you like the look of the notebook but would just like it in different size, there may be hope on the horizon; an A6 version is in the pipeline (probably as a custom offer initially) and there may even be an A4 version to follow one day.

The archive binder’s rings, doing their impression of Newcastle central station

Our overall recommendation  You have probably guessed by now; we recommend saving up for one of these and treating yourself, if you can.

The new subject dividers work well in the archive binder too.

Where to get hold of one  This is only sold ‘direct’, and the customer service is so good that we really don’t think that’s a bad thing.  You can catch the maker himself at numerous pen shows, or just head straight to the user-friendly website. Be prepared to be tempted if you do. By the way, if you do give in to that temptation any time in the next couple of months, mention United Inkdom in the comments/requests box and you’ll get an extra pack of paper included in the deal.

As well as the hyperlinks above (thanks to ‘James’ and Matthias for you contributions too), this meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  William Hannah for helping some of us reviewers get hold of the notebook (and various add-ons) early for reviewing purposes.

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 if you want to commission something like it, 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. Drop John a line and we are sure that he will be more than happy to craft you your own Twiss gem.

Giveaway  We did something a little special for this very special pen, asking would-be owners to leave here on this review as well as visiting our individual sites.  The competition has now closed and we’ve identified a winner!  Eric, we’ll be in touch to get your delivery details…

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!