All posts by Daniel Oakey

Cleo Skribent Classic fountain pen meta-review

A little bit of history: While other German manufacturers such as Pelikan and Kaweco have been around since the 19th century, Cleo Skribent is a company that found itself established in the 20th century, shortly after the Second World War. The pens were made in Germany, initially in the founder’s garage “behind the iron curtain”. Once the curtain had been lifted, Cleo Skribent saw a booming business and the company continues to manufacture pens to this day. The name Cleo refers to the Egyptian pharaoh, Cleopatra, with whom the company identifies with due to the innovation and design of the Egyptian pyramids (though Daniel does point out Cleopatra lived closer to the launch of the iPhone than she did the pyramids).

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

How it looks: The Classic measures 134mm uncapped and 163mm posted. Some of us found the pen to be large, while others considered it small. The pen is also slim, which gives it a refined and sleek look, though this may not be to everyone’s tastes. The pens come in a range of colours of white, black or red and each come with their own option of gold or chrome furniture which means there’s something for everyone. The design, depending on who it is you’re asking, could be described as “understated”, or just simply “boring”. Though, the white and gold option does offer something “the same but different” as it’s still a conservative looking design but going about it in a different way. If you want something a bit more “out there” and unconventional, perhaps the red would tickle your fancy. The various options that you get are a fantastic selling point. For example, Daniel enjoyed the white and gold aesthetic, while Sarah thought the gold and silver looked better. There’s choice for everyone (that is, so long as you like white, black or red pens).

On the top of the cap is the Cleo Skribent logo.

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

The piston filler versions of the pen come with an ink window, which is very handy.

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

How it feels: The Classic weighs 18g capped, so this is an extremely lightweight pen. For some of us, that put us off a little bit. However, it is certainly well balanced and if you wish to post the pen, it does so very well. The cap screws off, but the step up to the section is minimal and due to the long section, you can bet on having a very nice grip on the pen.

How it fills: You have the option of a cartridge/converter pen or a ‘piston’ filling pen. The cartridge/converter is compatible with standard international fittings.

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

The piston is essentially a captured converter. You unscrew the blind cap at the end of the pen to get to the converter inside and you then twist it like a normal converter. However, the piston filler does hold more ink than the standard international converter (which screws in, by the way, so you avoid any ink spillages by the converter coming loose!). By using the piston filler, it does make it harder to clean out (though not impossible or by any means tedious).

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Crucially, how it writes: Not all of us got on with the nib initially. Several of us noticed hard starts and skips at first, which perhaps isn’t something you would expect from a pen in this price range. The nib is also on the dry side when first ‘out of the box’ – but Scribble reports much wetter, softer action after the 14k nib has written a few thousand words.

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Because we were testing the gold nib options, we did find a bit of spring and bounce which is characteristic of gold nibs, however this fell short in early use when we found the feed didn’t keep up with the flow. However, a super-wet ink helped a little – and in at least one case prolonged use fixed it completely.

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Pen! What is it good for? The Classic is, simply put, a classic design. It’s slightly more streamlined than other pens, so you get a slightly different aesthetic to the typical cigar shaped pen. This is certainly something you could take into a business or more professional setting. Because of the wide number of choices that you can have, you can choose the exact specifications that suit your needs and would also make it a very good journalling pen or something that you carry around with you due to the lightweight characteristic (also makes it good for extended writing sessions).

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost: The price of this range goes from £75 with a steel nib and cartridge converter filling system to £155 with a 14k gold nib and a piston filler, so it occupies a range in the market. For a gold nib, you can’t go too far wrong with the Platinum #3776, which you can pick up for £99 if you look in the right places (even cheaper, if you’re on the grey market) which comes with a  gold nib and is a pen known for fantastic quality. This is, however, a cartridge converter. The TWSBI Vac 700R is also an option, which has a larger ink capacity, though with a steel nib. If a good, reliable gold nib pen is something you’re after then the #3776 is a very good pen to consider. If the ink capacity is more your concern and you’re looking around this price point, you can’t really beat the Vac 700R at this level. Of course, Cleo make all sorts of other interesting models too, like the Ebonite.

Our overall recommendation: This is a pen which wants to work for its living, and a potentially promising choice if you’re looking for a work-horse; it responds best after a good wearing-in. That can be an unusual experience if you’re used to pens working perfectly right away, though, so this probably won’t be a pen to everyone’s tastes. If you want to use and abuse an old-fashioned pen which will probably last for life, this is the Trabant of the fountain pen world. If you know you don’t have the patience to tinker under the bonnet, though, this might not be the perfect vehicle for your pearls of wisdom.

Where to get hold of one: You can view the Classic line Write Here (see what we did there?), which is also where these pens were kindly donated to the United Inkdom reviewers for review purposes. There are also other pens offered by Cleo Skribent that may tickle your fancy, such as the ebonite version which you can also find a review of below.

This meta review references: 

Manuscript ML1856 fountain pen meta-review

A little bit of history  Manuscript is a British company which has been around for over 160 years – since 1856, in fact, which is where this pen gets its name. As with our Silvine samples recently we found ourselves reminiscing about Manuscript products of the past. Thankfully, the ML1856 is a big step up from the cheap shrink-wrapped products that we’re used to seeing in high-street shops here in the UK.

How it looks  Hotttttttttttttttttttt. Mateusz’s design is the ‘Molten Lava’., as you can see below – but we think these these pens look hotter than molten lava. Manuscript pulled the boat out when designing these. In John’s review he observes that the designs can be a little bit different every time due to the setting process, which gives every pen its own individual personality.  We have been fortunate enough to review the Purple Mist, Molten Lava, Turquoise Ocean & Northern Lights pens. In addition to this, there are three other colour-ways available: Red Storm, Oyster Mist and Midnight.

However, not every aspect of the aesthetic was loved.  The clip has two circles, echoing the dual crown of the cap’s top (which is a reminder that Manuscript has been going so long that they used to supply the kings of both Spain and Portugal), but the shape of the clip itself seemed a little gimmicky.  As Laura puts it, “don’t dress a model in Primark clothes.”

How it feels  Across the Inkdom we all agreed that the pen was lightweight but strong. While being made of the Italian resin, we felt confident that the pen would hold up. However, John did comment on the threads when screwing the barrel onto the section, and had concerns about breaking or otherwise damaging the pen – which he said was out of character for the otherwise strong feel. Daniel with his “weird grip” was still able to use the pen, despite his fingers touching the threads; thankfully they’re not sharp and are comfortable (as far as threads go). However, some concerns remained as regards the clip which seems rather stiff, albeit usable. The pen sits in the hand very well; posting is just about possible, but awkward, and doing so will make the pen too long for most tastes. The size of the pen allows Manuscript to appeal to most writers as it isn’t too large, but it isn’t a pocket pen either.

Right from the get-go with the packaging of the pen you get the impression of a ‘premium product’. It’s not a conventional pen box, with the pen standing up as opposed to laying flat, but still wonderfully presented.

How it fills  Cartridge/converter. This makes it easy for the user to change inks if need be, but it’s also not difficult to refill every so often (though does make it a little bit more tedious than, say, a piston for constant ink usage, but easier for maintenance and cleaning). Daniel did question the possibility of it being converted into an eyedropper as he tested the pen with water and it seemed to be sealed, but we’re not advocating this unless Manuscript advise it!

Crucially, how it writes…  There are both flat and round nib options for the Manuscript 1856: two stubs (1.1mm & 1.5mm) and a handwriting nib. All nibs are steel and are from JoWo in Germany.Laura, Daniel & John all thought that their nibs wrote fantastically – Laura put it the best when she said that her 1.1mm nib wrote “wetter than England in autumn.” Mateusz however, felt that his nib was a little dry for his liking, although the flow improved over time. Overall, the writing experience was rated as pleasant by the reviewing team. The only thing that the stub nibs aren’t great for are reverse writing, as Daniel discovered. The nibs write wet and the feeds keep up well, which is what makes it great for the purpose of the pen.Pen! What is it good for?  Manuscript seems to be, as a brand, synonymous with calligraphy, certainly for beginners here in the UK anyway. The 1.1mm and 1.5mm stub nibs means that you can get a little calligraphic with your writing, particularly when considering scripts such as gothic.

Of course, if calligraphy isn’t your thing then you can always opt for the ‘handwriting’ nib which will give you the writing experience of nibs you might be more used to. The handwriting nib won’t be as thick and perhaps a little more conventional for everyday writing.

VFM   While the majority of our findings are quite positive, we do have concerns here; simply put, this is a good a pen, but it isn’t £125 good. As Daniel pointed out, his custom John Twiss pen was only £10 more expensive than this. Laura notes that the Edison Collier and Pearlette are similar in design, similar in price but better as regards value for money. Twiss and Edison alternatives also use JoWo nibs, so there is serious competition.

Bottom-top: Laban Mento, Manuscript ML1856 & John Twiss custom pen

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…   The Edison Pearlette and Collier are similar in both aesthetic and price. Another option might be a Laban pen; these pop up at pen shows (here in the UK at least) with a similar design but run to about £60; less than half the price.  As John points out, for £125 you could also get a Platinum #3776, and while these lack the hand-made aesthetic the gold nib goes a long way to make up for it. Mr Pen’s English Curate, which we reviewed last year, is made in the same workshop (formerly of Sigma fame) but a lot more reasonably priced.Our overall recommendation  While we loved using the pen, the price point just doesn’t justify it for us, unfortunately. There are too many alternatives which are similar to the ML1856 but better quality/feel for the same price or others that might sacrifice ever so slightly on the feel but are much more affordable. We like the direction Manuscript is heading in, but our recommendation would be to wait until the value issue has been rectified before pulling the trigger; to put it politely, it looks to us as if the RRP is rather too ambitious at present.

Where to get hold of one  There are few stockists as yet – La Couronne du Comte was the first we know of – but Cult Pens has just started stocking them too.

This meta-review references: 

Northern Lights

Thanks to: Manuscript for providing the pens for review purposes. All views expressed here are our own both within the meta-review and in our own individual reviews that we have provided; the pens were sent to us in exchange for an honest review. Manuscript, to their credit, were completely fine with that, and not withstanding our reservations about some elements of the package are still keen for us to give one away; a great attitude, we think.

Give-away!  Would you like to win one of these test pens?  If your name pops out of the hat, you can – and better still, you get to choose which one it is.  To bag one of these, let us know what you think the crowned heads of the Iberian peninsula would have used an ML1856 for, if they’d been available before the revolution – what sort of correspondence would be flying between Lisbon and Madrid with aid of such serious nibbage?  Answers in the comments box please, by 16 July.  We’ll task the reviewers with deciding which ideas they find the most hilarious, mind-bending or imaginatively splendid, so thinking caps on…

 

Silvine Originals

A little bit of history  Silvine Originals: A British icon, reinvented. Silvine has been a staple (pardon the pun) within British homes for generations. We all felt a sense of nostalgia as we opened the packages that Silvine sent to us.  But Silvine’s heritage runs longer than a generation or two; their notebooks are being made by the same machines that have been in use for decades. So, how do they shape up for writing in?

How it looks  The Silvine notebooks have been dye-matched to the 1960s bold red cover that we’ve all grown to love. With 300gsm front and back covers, the notebooks feel strong and durable; far more than many other softcover notebooks out there. There are several different sizes of notebooks, each with their own particular little niche. However, the one that stood out immediately to many of us is the Exercise as it is very similar to the wririting books familiar from school. However, not every aspect of the notebooks was loved across the Inkdom. In particular, Gillian felt the blue lines within the Exercise notebook as being a little over the top. While the red margin in the Exercise book was able to calm it down a little and provide a little bit of contrast, unfortunately the Memo notebook didn’t have that cover and wasn’t so easy on the eyes.

How it feels  Everyone within the Inkdom commented on how textured the paper is. The paper is 90gsm Natural White Wave paper and you can definitely feel it on your pen. We actually rather liked this; it’s certainly not as smooth as Clairefontaine, but you can feel what you;’re doing as you move the nib across the paper. What’s more, this paper handles anything thrown at it. Gillian even mentioned that the paper might be able to hold up to watercolours! Dabiel and Scribble found that it was able to handle all the nibs that they threw at it and The Clumsy Penman also commented on how well the paper copes with inks.

Crucially, how it handles…  Pages in the Silvine notebooks are hand-stitched, which gives the notebooks a very personal feel and also means that they lay flat which makes the writing experience even more pleasurable. Some of us weren’t too keen on how the stitching looked, however, as it wasn’t always clean and could look a tad messy. The exception to this is the Project notebook, which has a little bit of extra protection because of how big and heavy it is (speaking in relative terms to the other sizes, such as the itty-bitty Pocket). All the notebooks have perforated pages and they work very well as you can easily tear out the pages if you need to, but you needn’t worry about the perforations becoming weak when flipping pages in the notebook – the pages will only come out if you want them to come out.

Pulp! What is it good for?  As mentioned above, each notebook fills its own little niche. You can read our individual reviews to get a better sense for what you could use them for. Daniel was was able to use the Project notebook for drawing graphs for biology illustrations, but Gillian pointed out that it doesn’t have to just be for applications like drawing out scientific apparatus. You’re bound to find the right notebook for you amongst this selection; John has even made the Pocket part of his every day carry. Some of us did identify other limitations; there is no grid option and the notebooks are all a non-standard size.

VFM  Typically, the cheapest of these notebooks is the Memo, at around £4.50, with the most expensive around £14.00. However, if you consider the Pocket notebooks, which come in packs of three, the cost of each individual notebook is £2.17. John says that the notebooks are “expensive but worth it,” and that sums up the consensus view – you do pay a of a premium, but it’s worth it.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  This is a tricky one. As stated above, these notebooks aren’t really a standard size. For the smaller sizes (Pocket, Memo & Note) you could look at pocket-sized notebooks such as those from Field Notes, Word and Calepino. The Exercise notebook is a little easier to recommend an alternative to, as some of us have used Rhino notebooks previously – the lines might be a little easier on the eyes if you’re not a fan of bright blue. As for the Project, you could look at the Field Notes Arts & Sciences edition (specifically the Sciences). There are two disadvantages to this, however, the first and perhaps most annoying is that they’re no longer in production so you’ll have to be lucky enough to find one second-hand (they pop up on eBay every so often, but far pricier than the Project). The other is that the notebooks are smaller so if it’s page count and size that makes the project great for you, sadly the Arts & Sciences won’t cut it.

Our overall recommendation  We love writing in these notebooks and, as long as the non-standard size isn’t a problem for you, would recommend giving them a try.

Where to get hold of one  From Silvine’s own distributors, Stone, from good old Cult Pens or, for the smaller sizes, Pocket Notebooks.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to Silvine for providing these notebooks in exchange for an honest and fair review.