Monthly Archives: October 2017

The Writing Desk update

Loyal readers will already be familiar with our slow but committed campaign to profile all the boutique stationery retailers we can find, to which end we have of course interviewed The Writing Desk  already.  But it seemed a good time for a quick update, for the simple reason that they now have an actual stationery boutique – yes, TWD has gone bricks-and-mortar!  The online operation is still going strong too, of course, but we all love a little shop, and one of the team was in Bury St. Edmunds for an afternoon, so the inevitable happened…

Be prepared for temptation.  There is so much sought-after kit here, and combining online expertise with a physical presence on the High Street (well, Risbygate) has allowed The Writing Desk to complement their traditional offer (already distinguished by some rare brands such as Private Reserve) with a handful of rescued Conway Stewarts from Bespoke British Pens, a crop of genuine Traveller’s Notebooks, and posh Pilots actually branded as Namiki.  It’s a fine mix of ancient and modern, much like the town itself; home to the fourth largest Benedectine monastery in Europe before the Dissolution, the medieval-design cathedral was only finished in 2005.

It’s well worth a visit if you’re passing through Suffolk; as well as pens that will invite rash abuses of your credit card, there are some well-chosen notebooks (with very good deals on Clairefontaine in particular), the opportunity to try pens which wouldn’t be accessible any other way, and of course Martin’s sage advice on care and repair of naughty nibs.

Having blown a bit of pocket money in the best way possible, your reporter repaired to The Nutshell, which has a justifiable claim to be England’s smallest pub – and where the customers immediately recognised the logo, acknowledged that it was a great shop and enthusiastically inhaled from the scented J.Herbin as it was passed around (it smells even better than Greene King’s finest, apparently).  That’s fountain pens, you see; a hit with ink nerds, defrocked monks, beardy beer-men and purple-haired punk poets everywhere.  Drop in and see for yourself!

 

 

De Atramentis pearlescent inks meta-review

A little bit of history  The ancient Romans did all sorts of rum things in barrels; polluting wine with lead to sweeten it, fermenting the pungent rotted-fish sauce garum, and brewing-up the hard-wearing ink atramentum.  German ink-makers De Atramentis continue this tradition in their name and some of their production methods (albeit hopefully without the aroma of decomposing marine life), and recently they have got on the sparkly ink bandwagon.  Everybody’s doing it these days, it seems – J.Herbin, Diamine and Robert Oster too.  So we set out to find out what De Atramentis is bringing to the party…

How it looks  The base inks are seven colours, plus black.  What makes the collection stand out is the availability of these inks in three different pearlescent finishes; gold, silver and, uniquely, copper. There’s a higher volume of sparkly particles than are typically found in pearlescent inks so how it looks is shiny – very, very, shiny!Crucially, how it writes…  Much like standard fountain open ink, and De Atramentis certainly make plenty of that.  There can be the occasional hold-up due to the high proportion of particulates (the sparkly bits), which eventually silt-up the feed and stem the flow, but this is easily rectified with a thorough clean.  With this in mind it’s advisable to stick to fountain pens which can be completely dismantled for a quick scrub, but these inks are otherwise suitable for use with most of the nibbage you own.

Ink! What is it good for?  It’s very shiny indeed, but those sparkicles can brush off once the ink is dry – so it’s probably not one for the office, but anything from journalling to labelling presents would be good ways to put it to work.

VFM  Not bad at all; Pure Pens sell some of these at £10.50 a bottle,  which is only a little more than comparable inks from Diamine, and about half the price that J.Herbin charge for a sparkly.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Then De Atramentis do face some pretty stiff competition from Diamine. No-one else has quite the range of shimmer choices that De Atramentis does, though, and their copper option appears to be otherwise unheard of in the pearlescent market.

Our overall recommendation  If masses of glitter appeals, or the unusual copper finish does it for you, give this a go.  If you prefer a slightly more nuanced range of base colours beneath your glitter, check out the newly-expanded Diamine Shimmer range (which we’ll also cover again here soon).

Where to get hold of some  Pure Pens sell a partial range of these, or you can buy the full collection direct from source if you don’t mind covering a bit more postage.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  De Atramentis themselves for generously sending us a sparkling set of these inks for testing.

Nuremberg pen show report

It’s traditional for our meta-reviews to start with a little bit of history, and it’s just as well that this isn’t one of those, as Nuremberg is quite incapable of delivering history in little bits; it provides it in great big monumental slabs.  So, let’s get the architectural introductions over with; from the Sinwell Tower, a remarkable medieval survival, you can look at pre-war and post-war photographs of the city landscape then admire the rebuilding job in front of your very own eyes. The one area which nobody was in a much of a hurry to rebuild was the parade-ground used for those 1930s rallies, but thankfully some much more positive uses have been found for that space – and last weekend your dogged United Inkdom correspondent dropped-in on two of them.

First up, of course, was a visit to Kaweco, who really have their ducks in a row – and we’re not just talking pocket ink flasks there. Michael Gutberlet, head honcho himself, gave a guided tour of facilities at Thomas Mann Strasse and Max Brod Strasse (all the roads are named after liberal German-language literary figures), and this could happily have occupied most fountain pen fans for a whole day.  Seeing the assembly and dispatch operations was interesting in itself, but the highlight was inevitably Michael’s own collection of Kaweco antiques, some stretching as far back as the 1880s.  The tray below, charting the morphology of the Sport model from 1911 onwards, is a good example of the ‘design DNA’ evolving over a century.  The solid silver prototype of the Sport which may follow next was impressively heavy too!

Raiding the pen archive also helped to solve another mystery which had plagued those of us more acquainted with English-language literature, viz why the Lilliput model is missing its second letter L.  How the mistake happened is lost to history, but just visible on the original version of this model pictured below is the engraving which shows the spelling as LILIPUT – so retaining the error is at least staying true to tradition.

A short walk north through Hans Fallada Strasse (referring to an author who has only recently been translated into English – a tragic but riveting read) was the Exhibition Centre, our main destination.  Also home to Spielwarenmesse, the annual Nuremberg toy fair, for the last few years it has hosted the marvellously-named Insights-X.  This is a diverse stationery show rather than just a pen-focused event, but there was going to be plenty to see and, just as importantly, the organisers help to get a few bloggers there too.

Part of the blogger experience is a guided tour (with translator, if needed) of a number of stands for which exhibitors wanted a brief captive audience.  For the German and Austrian calligraphers (and one British scribbler) present the relevance of wares varied, with slightly more which was aimed at the children-and-schools market than we quite knew what to do with.  But let’s be honest, who can really object to being introduced to parrot knapsacks and flamingo pencils?

Some of the big names were there in force but with displays which left one wondering quite why they had bothered; Faber-Castell had a stand big enough to contain a working café but brought nothing from the ‘Graf’ range, and Pilot showed-up with the usual glut of VPs but no FA nibs (again).  However, the guided tour included a chance to visit Online, the inconveniently-named but rather prolific German fountain pen makers.  They distributed calligraphy sets to bloggers (there may be a special meta-review of those soon, if all goes according to plan) and even had another purple ink which will feature on a certain obsessive’s blog before too long…

After the guided tour, there was just time to meet up with a few more firms who will interest United Inkdom readers.  We made further introductions to the splendid Super 5, got in touch with Turkish pen company Scrikks for the first time (reviews to follow), and got a sneaky early view of Cleo Skribent’s forthcoming Optima model – which will replace its current ebonite piston-filler next year (we will try to cover that here too, if we can get our hands on a sample).

So, there are lots of pens and products which we’ll probably be reviewing over coming months, and you’ll be seeing plenty more blog items and articles flowing as a result of the trip.  The other really good thing about this sort of experience, though, is meeting fellow enthusiasts – a real delight, even with a few language challenges to overcome.  Stand by for laboured pun… Rather like Nuremberg’s castle, the pen blogging community evidently has a deep well of talent to draw from!

Personalised Stationery profile

This is going to be a fairly short profile, for the simple reason that Personalised Stationery is such a prolific product creator that we’re highly likely to come back to them again and again.  But since we’ve just meta-reviewed a couple of fine A5 notebooks from this stable, it’s time to provide a bit of background.

The stable in question is in fact a smithy, but where hammer and tongs once rung out different equipment now reigns supreme; printing rollers, staplers and guillotines.  The owner, Rob, has already carved out a promising niche providing name-plated writing paper (as the company’s title suggests), and in contact with pen fans and journal-writers has started to develop a mightily impressive range of notebooks and other stationery items.

One of the reasons that the Personalised Stationery marque is proving a big hit with fountain pen fans is the quality of the paper.  Now, we’re not going to give away every one of Rob’s trade secrets, but it helps to understand how this all works if you know that Lamy, Kaweco and Diamine inks are always visible on his desk – along with a few pens to put them in, of course.  Testing every paper sample the hard way seems to be paying off.

A second appeal, not unreasonably, is the visual design ideas which Rob borrows and adapts from all sorts of sources.  The Operation Neptune notebook which we reviewed last week proved such a hit that a complementary range of 1940s-themed A6 pocket notebooks has become rather popular too. 

An even bigger hit was a homage to the period just after the war, as Amazon television series The Collection needed notebooks for the front row of fashion critics seated at the foot of the catwalk – and Personalised Stationery provided them, of course.

The really ‘killer’ asset is probably the genuinely personalised nature of the product collection – simply put, if no-one else is making what you want, Rob probably will. Bringing back the old double-sided postcard (remember them?) is a good example.

Even more gratifyingly, the increased interest in disc-bound notebooks (which we like to think we’ve played a modest part in paving the way for) has led to Rob experimenting in making his own, with line options as wide, or indeed narrow, as customers require. John was especially impressed by the one which came his way – and it could well lead to a more permanent stock line before too long, it seems. So, overused as this phrase may be, watch this space!

You may already know Rob from online conversations – he answers every query himself –  but if you haven’t already seen the company site it’s certainly worth a look.