Monthly Archives: April 2016

Pelikan M120 fountain pen review

A little bit of history  This special edition harks back half a century, apparently to a school pen originally.  It won’t be around for too long, we suspect…

How it looks  It looks distinctly vintage, which is probably the intention.  One for those who prefer understated class rather than in-your-face bling, for sure, but it does stand out from modern designs.Pelikan M120 profile

How it feels  Based on the M200 (from which it borrows its mechanicals and proportions), this is a very light pen, even when full of ink.  It still feels fairly robustly constructed, nevertheless.  This is a small pen in terms of length, which also has an unusually narrow section; whether that’s desirable is very much a matter of personal taste.

How it fills  This is fitted with Pelikan’s rightly famed piston mechanism, which shouldn’t raise any concerns.  In an emergency, you can also unscrew the nib and pour in some ink from syringe or pipette, eyedropper-style.  The barrel holds enough for everyday purposes, and includes an ink window so there’s adequate warning when you’re running low.


Crucially, how it writes…  Well enough, for most.  This is a gold-plated steel nib with some rather nice engraved squiggles on it, and it has a bit of ‘bounce’ as well as the usual Pelikan smoothness.  The unit we tested doesn’t always work happily with all inks, and even some of Pelikan’s own ink was a bit dry.

Pen! What is it good for?   Vintage enthusiasts, we imagine, and especially those who aren’t concerned about getting a gold nib and want something which looks distinctly different from many modern pens.M120 RuthVFM  £120 is not too bad for an unusual and well-made pen like this, we think.  It’s possible to get a piston-filling fountain pen with a gold nib for the same sort of money, it’s true, but it’s unlikely to have quite these distinctive looks.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Buy it anyway – there’s very little immediate competition, other than vintage Pelikans.Pelikan M120 writing sampleOur overall recommendation  If this floats your boat, don’t delay – it looks unlikely to be around for ever.  But if you just want a small Pelikan and would rather not pay quite so much, a standard M200 is also worth considering.

Where to get hold of one  Pelikan specials go to Pelikan specialists.  As Pure Pens lent us this test unit, naturally enough we’d suggest that as a first port of call.  We know that The Writing Desk, Cult Pens and Andy’s Pens also have M120s in too – although at the time of writing one of these retailers had already run out stock!Pelikan-M120-nibThis meta-review references:

Thanks to  Pure Pens for lending us the M120 – they still have just a few left.

Flipping our lids

Diamine 30ml sample bottles are brilliant; a huge range of good-quality inks, at very reasonable prices, and they’re even British too.  There’s just one catch – those bottles.  The plastic is fairly robust, but so many pens just can’t get their sections through that tiny neck – and the bottom seems such a long way down.  That’s fine if you’re filling an eye-dropper, but there’s more to nibbage than that filling system, after all.

There is another way and that’s to buy one of Diamine’s remarkable box sets; both flowers and composers come in rather nice glass cubes with a sufficiently wide neck to accommodate most pens.  But they don’t sell them individually!So we needed another other way and our newest United Inkdom member has found it. Rob has explored the arcane websites of various pharmaceutical and catering suppliers and assembled a fascinating test-pack of alternative glass and plastic bottles along with the pipettes to fill them up.  Scribble and Ian have been trying them out too – and you can win one of these experimenting kits as well (see below)!Filling pens fron bottlesThe results are impressive; for just a few pennies you can get all sorts of hardy alternatives. Admittedly one of the ‘biological sample’ bottles acquired a rather suspicious crack in the post, but all the glass bottles survived and Ian tested the full set for leakage without any tell-tale dribbles appearing. Our team consensus is that alternative glassware is probably the way forward.  For further details and links to suppliers, see Rob’s extensive blog article.

These alternative bottles make for handy mixing kits too – all you need is a syringe or pipette and you’re ready to roll.  There’s even likely to be a new purple on the scene soon as a result…Alternative ink bottlesYou can win one of these kits too, along with a fine 30ml Diamine sample to decant into the bottle of your choice and a dip pen for testing your inky cocktail creations. Just leave a comment below telling us which colour you’d like to be able to dip a big fat nib into  – we’ll pick a winner at random but we’re genuinely curious to know! NB this competition has now closed and the kit is winging its way over the Atlantic, but comments are still welcome!Labelled bottles




Noodler’s V-mail inks

A little bit of history Maintaining morale has always been important for an army in the field, but when the ‘theatre’ is thousands of miles away, proper hand-written letters just weigh too much.  The Allied side in the second world war got around this through a system of photographing letters, shrinking the images down to microfiche, flying these out in bombers and then printing back to readable size.  Us Brits had a version of this system too, but the Yanks had the best name for it; V-mail.  Noodler’s V-mail inks are all named after more-or-less WW2-related themes, and the four featured here (all provided by Pure Pens in the UK) are complemented in the range by memorable names such as Overlord Orange – we’ll see if we can get that one too some day!Mandalay Maroon sample copyMandalay Maroon is a really 1940s shade of dark burgundy purple, and we all love purple, right?  Well, Scribble does, and this one of course featured in the never-ending Too Many Purples collectionMidway Blue sample copyMidway Blue commemorates the interminable Pacific naval battle and the film of the same name, which is almost as long.  This might just be the colour of the ocean in the shallower bits of the Midway Atoll, at a pinch – but it’s certainly a rather nice turquoise-blue.GIGreen sample copyG.I. Green is of course named after the uniforms of the original G.I.s, or general infantry. the difference between light and dark in the shading is just about enough to make for distraction pattern markings if you go really carefully, but we don’t recommend it – it’s rather good for writing with, though.  Ian’s even turned it into a full-blown inkling.North African Violet sample copyNorth African Violet hits a celebratory note at the end of this brief campaign, and was also an earlier candidate in the long competition for ‘Best Purple’.  There is such a flower as African Violet, and the ‘North’ bit is presumably a coded reference to all that slogging-away in the desert between Rommel and Montgomery.  It’s a bit of a belter.Ruth's V-mail samples

Where to get hold of them This range of four is available straight from Pure Pens, who kindly provided us with test samples – you can buy their sample pots too, and it’s a great way of trying out some more of the Noodler’s range before diving-in to a full bottle.  If you want that Overlord Orange, or the less appealingly-named Burma Road Brown, you’ll have to send out an Atlantic convoy…

Also see Scribble’s fuller written review, and Ruth’s video review of these four V-mail inks.







Noodler’s Ahab fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Back in the heyday of the flex nib, one that flexed as readily as a slice of soggy pasta was known as a ‘wet noodle’ (whereas non-flex piston-fillers were, of course, dry fusilli).  Then, many years later, a nice chap by the name of Nathan Tardiff started making inks designed to work well in a flex nib, and decided to claim all the enterprise as one for Noodler’s everywhere.  Well, fair enough – we’ll feature some of those inks next week.  But one thing led to another and sooner or later a few pens to accompany those inks were, surely, inevitable. There’s quite a range of these Noodler’s pens now, but the model we’ve all tried is the Moby-Dick themed Ahab.Ahab blue2How it looks  A large rounded-end pen with a clip which faintly resembles a whale floating on the sea’s surface, about to dive.  The demonstrator versions are translucent rather than transparent, and there are some marbled opaque versions available now too.

How it feels  Big, but not uncomfortably so, and the resin is usually warm to the touch. For flexing purposes the grip is about right, even if the body is perhaps a little light; all the down-force is going have come from your own muscles.Ahab writing sample blueHow it smells This is admittedly an unusual category for a United Inkdom meta-review to consider, but in this case we’d probably be ignoring the elephant in the room if we didn’t mention the Ahab’s distinctive olfactory appeal.  Actually, it’s not so much an elephant in the room as a goose – it honks.  There is just no ignoring the distinctive whiff of the vegetal resin used to make the Ahab (and several other of the Noodler’s pens), and it seems to be one of those love-it-or-hate-it things.  Ross at Pure pens has got used to it, but tells us he always knows which part of his stock-room he’s in because the Ahab draw is detectable even with his eyes shut.  Ian finds it so objectionable that he’d be embarrassed to turn up with such malodorous matter at meetings.  It’s a hard aroma to describe but imagine, if you will, a rubber sack of forest fruits that’s been left out in the sun for a couple of days.  It does fade over time, and inexplicably some of us actually rather like it.  There is also the odd distinction that, alongside the recycle-ready steel fitments, the rest of the pen is biodegradable – although why you’d want to do that to a pen we can’t imagine.  Still, it’s not a plume-perfume for everyone, it’s fair to say.

How it fills  The Ahab comes fitted with a proprietary syringe-style piston.  This is simple to use and has an impressive capacity, so it’s a good way to get started.  Once you find an ink you want to write with all the time, it’s a fairly straightforward job to convert the barrel to an ‘eye-dropper’; Pure Pens also sell the o-rings recommended to make the seal watertight, and the ink capacity which results is huge, even if – like all eye-droppers – the price to pay is the occasional ink-burp on the page.Ruth's Ahab

Crucially, how it writes…  The best reason – and honestly, probably the only reason – to reach for an Ahab is in order to try your hand at flex writing without the experiment costing you a fortune.  This it achieves quite comfortably.  The nib is semi-flex really, but it’s a good introduction to the process of generating line variation with differential pressure, and unlike exotic gold flex nibs it’s cheap enough that you can afford to give it some abuse while you’re putting it through its paces.  The results can be rather impressive, once you get used to it!  These days a lot of Ahabs are despatched with a non-flex nib included too, which is a considerate touch even if it’s a bit pointless really; if you want a non-flex nib, there are plenty of other choices out there in this price range.

Pen! What is it good for?  It’s great for trying a flex nib for the first time.  Once you’ve got the bug and started moving on to posher flex nibs, as is quite likely (be warned!), it’s good for jotting shopping lists and the like.Ahab honeyVFM  Even if it should really come with a free nose-peg, this is impressively inexpensive for what it does. Only FPR flex options really compete.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Then have a look at the many flex-nibbed models available from FountainPenRevolution.  Some of those are a little ‘aromatic’ too, but starting flex the affordable way makes good sense.Ahab writing sample purpleOur overall recommendation  If you’ve always wondered what the flex fuss is all about, don’t want to spend a fortune, and aren’t too particular about your choice of cologne, go for it.

Where to get hold of one  Naturally we’d recommend heading to Pure Pens, the sole ‘proper’ UK stockist – if for some reason they don’t have the colour you’re after, they’re happy to order in more stock too.  Ebay is also a useful import source at times, but the waiting times can drag rather.Ahab purple2

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Pure Pens for lending Ruth an Ahab and selling Scribble one too.