Monthly Archives: May 2018

Opus 88 Koloro fountain pen review

A little bit of history: Opus 88 is a newer brand to have found its way into our pencil cases. While the likes of Pelikan have celebrated their 175th anniversary this year, Opus 88 is still on its way to reach its 50th birthday. Hailing from Taiwan, the brand has made its mark with a pen that has become quite popular and sought after, particularly within the internet pen community.

How it looks: There are a number of different flavours to choose from with this pen. There’s blueberry; a slightly greyer blueberry, orange and strawbe.. I mean, blue, bluish-grey, orange and red as well as an oversize clear demonstrator version (available at a slight premium). Besides the clear demo’, all the pens follow the same design scheme which is a rather vibrant acrylic main body with ebonite accents in a slightly duller (though certainly not to say this is a bad thing, as it compliments the pen very well) colour of the acrylic.

How it feels: The pen is on the larger side, and of course the ‘oversize’ version will be even larger still. It sits nicely in the hand, however, and is nicely balanced. The cap screws off but there are no sharp threads and the section is quite long anyway, so it’s not uncomfortable to hold. The acrylic is very smooth and even when it’s capped it’s quite nice to run your fingers over the ebonite.

How it fills: Not something that’s often found in the majority of modern pens, but the Opus is an eyedropper pen. This is a rather easy system to use (though its convenience may be debated), as you just fill an eyedropper (or syringe) with your ink, expel it into the barrel of the pen and you are able to use the entire barrel-full (if you so desire) giving a fuller fill than if you were to have a piston system, for example. Slightly confusingly, there is what looks like a plunger arm within the body of the pen, but this is actually used as a shut-off valve like those found in pens such as the TWSBI Vac 700 and the Pilot Custom 823, as eyedroppers are prone to “burping” out ink. A very useful system!

The pen arrives with an eyedropper pipette so all you need is to supply the ink from a bottle and you’re ‘good to go’.

Crucially, how it writes…  The nib is a steel JoWo – typically very reliable.

Pen! What is it good for?  If you need a large ink capacity and something fun to show off, this is a great pen to consider. Though, while precautions have been taken to prevent any leakage, it may still be prone to typical eyedropper problems and so therefore care should be taken when carrying this around.

VFM  This pen comes in at $93 for the regular ‘normal size’ models and $120 for the ‘oversize’ demonstrator – that’s upper £60 and lower £80 respectively. That doesn’t break the bank and you get a nice looking pen with an interesting filling system that also feels great. While the occasional dryness was experienced with the nib of the test unit, this is usually fairly simple to fix (of course, at one’s own risk) and the pen writes reliably, bar the flow.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Many early vintage pens were eyedropper -filled – Mabie Todd, for example, made several. Other pens can sometimes be converted into an eyedropper though this requires a bit of work and maintenance on the user’s end. If you’re interested in converting a pen into an eyedropper, make sure you know how to do it properly and research whether or not the materials of the pen mean you can (metal parts, for example, are a no-no) – as well as ensuring the pen is actually convertible (such as there being no holes in the barrel, such as with a Lamy, or that it’s not all one piece). Some piston-filler pens can be used as an eyedropper as well, but some of the barrel is taken up by the piston mechanism. A TWSBI may also be considered which would run to about the same cost, if not cheaper (certainly when considering buying from within the UK as you’re not going to pay as high a shipping cost or potential customs). Or if you fancy just this pen but with a gold nib, a screw-in JoWo #5 is available as an after-market upgrade.

Our overall recommendation: A pretty decent pen from a company relatively new on the scene. There’s a lot of potential with these pens, and some interesting colour choices that should appeal to most people.

Where to get hold of one: These are available at Pen Chalet, where you will find both the regular Koloro and the oversized demonstrator model.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Pen Chalet for lending us the pen to test.

 

Pen Chalet profile

This week, our roving eye takes a little way out of the world of quaint market towns with nice pen shops in the corner and all the way to… Arizona. If that seems a bit of a leap, it will soon make sense.  We caught up with founder Ron Manwaring, ably assisted by marketing supremo Zach Jolley.

So Ron, how did you end up opening a pen shop in a chalet in Mesa?

Well, I actually moved here at first to work in software! Then I got interested in the potential of online retailing, and while I searched for an underserved niche a lot of my friends started telling me that I should take a look at fountain pens. It’s been quite a learning curve since then – but now I can see what fuss is about.

There isn’t really a chalet, though?

Sorry to disappoint you! It’s more of a warehouse, although a warehouse with some pretty cool stuff in it, it’s got to be said.

You said it was quite a learning curve. What drew you in?

Well, the pen community is very well-connected – everyone knows everyone, and everyone seems to have an opinion. That keeps us honest; you have to treat people with respect and customers really know what they’re doing! It’s great dealing with people who are so enthusiastic, and it’s nice to hear good things in return. We try to go the extra mile when we can and that seems to be appreciated.

So this probably isn’t going to be the first time you’ve talked to pen bloggers.

Oh no, we talk to bloggers all the time! We get to see a lot of the US bloggers at pen shows and the like, and we’ve already worked with a couple of United Inkdom members (Ian and Stuart) so you were never going to escape.

The chalet itself, complete with big dumpster for rejected ballpoints.

So let us in the secret – what sells?

It’s not such a big secret. Everyone loves big exciting gold nibs, right? But the other thing that really gets people interested is interesting design, and there are a couple of unusual brands which are doing that for us. One is Opus 88, who are doing a great job of reinventing the eye-dropper, and the other brand which leaps to mind is Taccia, who are the only company we can think who get to re-badge Sailor nibs. Actually, we’re going to see if we can United Inkdom to try both of those out.

So, here’s the killer question; what are you both writing with today?

Ron: I love the Pilot Custom 823, which is a serious fountain pen, but a Retro 51 roller can be useful too – I hope the nib fans will forgive me!

Zach: I’ve taken to an Opus88 – that smooth nib takes some beating!

OK, you’ve sold it to us! We’ll have to put those pens through the review mill…

 

Newsnibs 007

The name’s Monb, Scribble Monb.  No it doesn’t work, really, does it? But this is edition 007, nevertheless! A break from meta-reviews, this weekend as we regroup on a few pens which merit further scrutiny. But of course the world doesn’t stand still and there are interesting things out there to tell you about. So, in no particular order….

The darkness rises once more as the Lamy Safari gets a new Umbra special edition. Umbra is Latin for shadow or shade, as you knew already of course (a little shade is an umbrella, but let’s not talk of such things indoors), and this does seem to be rocking the stealth look with some determination. The matt surface will deter fingerprints, reflections from bright lights and, presumably, surface-to-air radar detection systems if one fits the optional wings and propulsion system. The nib, of course, comes from a workshop that did a Jagger and decided to Paint It Black – so it looks the part, although what it does to ink flow may be up for debate. Yours for a mere £17.02, though, which is not be sneezed at.

If that all looks a bit threatening, how about something nice and floral and soothing but still rather cool? British notebook maker Esmie has that covered, by the looks of it. The size is a bit unusual (10mm wider than the standard 90X140mm), and we’ve no word yet as to whether the paper is FP-friendly, but we’ll try to find out. In the meantime, feast your eyes and, if you want some, take a peek at the full range.

Now, since we’re back on the brighter side of the palette, prepare to don sunglasses. TWSBI are at it again. Firstly, the humble ECO is coming out soon in eyeball-walloping pink, which is someone’s cup of tea, erm, somewhere.

Slightly confusingly, there’s also a ‘training’ version of the Eco, which eschews the hexagonal ends and veers towards the triangular. Apparently this is easier for small hands, which does seem plausible. Small eyes are not spared the full terror of neon, however.

OK, let’s calm down now. Or try to. For lo, the war for the congested market that is the traveller’s notebook is getting ever more heated. We already have the excellent Start Bay, and numerous indie producers on Etsy (some of whom may yet feature here), but now Cult Pens is getting in on the action too. Not cheap, but the Ruitertassen offerings do look rather nice.

Finally, speculation rages about what William Hannah is up to. All we have seen so far is a glimpse of a third, smaller packaging box, which seems to fit the 90x140mm format. Could it be Leicestershire’s very own contribution to the traveller’s notebook contest? If so, bring it on – we shall report back as soon as we can get our hands on them. Muse over those mysterious boxes meanwhile…

 

Mabie Todd ‘Blackbird’ fountain pen inks

A little bit of history  Mabie Todd is one of the great British fountain pen brands of the early twentieth century, and there are plenty of vintage models still around in the hands of penthusiasts. Now the brand is back – almost. The logo and trading rights came first, inevitably, but equally normally it’s going to take a while to actually make pens, and a worthwhile fund-raising strategy is required in the meantime. Selling bespoke ink is a great way to do it.

How it looks  They are all new inks, made here in Britain, but they have a real retro look about them. They’re not over-saturated, but that makes for more pronounced shading. Startling Purple resembles Montblanc Laveneder Purple a little, Mallard Green is an effective ‘tastefully murky’ number, and Kingfisher Blue grows on one rather.

How it flows  The wetness/flow is similar to most Diamine inks, which may or may not be a coincidence (nudge, wink). For most pens, that’s just fine.

Crucially, how it writes…  Well enough in standard fountain pens, although one or two shades may be a little on the dry side if you’re using a flex nib or need the feed to gush enthusiastically. Ant even found ways to turn it into ersatz stained glass…

Ink! What is it good for?   Appropriately enough, it’s probably just the thing for resurrecting that much-loved old classic you’ve had at the back of the pen drawer – whether or not it’s a vintage Mabie Todd.

VFM  £6 for 30ml is not the cheapest ticket – a bit more than twice price of standard Diamine, as it happens – but this is a legitimate fund-raising effort, and even at this price it’s far from extortionate. It also comes in a proper glass bottle with rather splendid retro packaging. In a nutshell, not bad at all.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  The Beaufort Inks range (recently reviewed here) or the new Pure Pens inks (meta-review also on the way soon) could be worth a look.

Our overall recommendation  If you have a vintage pen which needs filling, several of these are worth a look. We all had our favourite birds, but the starling, mallard and kingfisher seem to be consensus front-runners, or front-flyers at least.

Where to get hold of some  Either direct from the source or via Andy’s Pens.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Phillip at at the reborn Mabie Todd for the samples.