Monthly Archives: August 2016

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.

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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.

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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!

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