All posts by Daniel Oakey

Fa Vo notebooks

A little bit of history  Fa Vo is a brand that is new to the scene and originates from Portugal (the name means “honeycomb” in Portuguese). The company’s stated mission is to produce simplistic designs that are not just well priced but also environmentally friendly, and we first came across them at the London Stationery Show last April.

How it looks  This is very much a plain, no-nonsense presentation. From a distance the notebooks look fairly standard and plain, but the real magic is when you get up close to them and notice the minute details, like the lie-flat sewn binding. It’s also been noted that the small grains you see in the notebook (we’ve been sent the “vanilla” flavour colour) gives the notebook character.

How it feels  Initially it would appear that the notebook would have a slight rough texture to it, but the cover is very smooth. Oddly enough, even though made from recycled paper, the pages themselves are smooth – definitely more textured than the likes of Rhodia, but smoother than is typical for recycled paper.

Crucially, how it handles a fountain pen…  As previously mentioned, the notebook uses recycled paper – so what you’re getting isn’t going to be akin to the great writing experience of, say, Clairefontaine. However, it was pleasantly surprising, because for recycled paper this did quite well. We noticed some bleed and minor show-through, but we could also see some shading and a slight amount of sheen on certain tests. So it’s reassuring that the writing won’t look ‘flat’ and without dimension on the page.

Pulp! What is it good for?  This is the perfect notebook for throwing in a bag and using on the go. Great if you want something bigger than a pocket notebook, but without breaking the bank or getting something too fancy that you would be worried about getting scuffed up. It also handles graphite very well indeed, so it has plenty of potential as a small portable sketchbook or design workbook.

VFM You can pick this up for £11, which isn’t bad. You get a well-made notebook that handles ink well, looks good and doesn’t break the bank. Further to this, you get 140 pages (front and back, so 70 individual), which makes it come in at under £0.08 a page (a Leuchtturm 1917 would be £0.06, for reference).

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  It depends what you’d like more or less of.  If it’s the design aspect then Paperblanks might be what you want, if it’s paper quality then it’s probably Clairefontaine, Tomoe River or the Madefor.ink range that we’d point you to first.

Our overall recommendation  Thumbs-up from us; a good book for working in.

Where to get hold of one  We got ours from Nero’s Notes, and they’re also available direct from FaVo, on Etsy and more recently from Cult Pens too.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Nero’s Notes for the review samples

Lamy Aion fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Lamy is a staple name in the pen community. They have the entry-level fountain pen market well-covered with the Al-Star and Safari, bringing out annual releases of those in different colours (as well as some highly coveted inks). They also have the starter gold nib niche covered with the Lamy 2000, a Bauhaus design from the 1960s which has barely changed since its conception; a real workhorse of a pen. Now we are graced with a mid-level offering from the German giants…but how does it compare?

Aion writing sample2

How it looks Daniel sees this as a “budget Lamy 2000”, while Scribble describes it as “modern – in a Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 sense”. However you see it, this pen is a sleek, business-appropriate pen while still remaining attractive enough that you’d be tempted to use it even at home. The pen currently comes in two options of black and silver, but Lamy are shaking things up in the not-too-distant future by adding dark blue and red flavours to the Aion line-up, which will give it the feeling of something a bit more fun and not as serious (or business-y), as is the case with the Lamy Al-Star and Safari pens.

How it feels This pen seemed to be quite polarising for our pool of reviewers. Scribble wasn’t too taken by the way the pen feels in the hand and had an issue with the grip section, pointing out nevertheless that how one grips a pen is a very personal thing. The pen has a coating on it that gives it a really interesting texture. Perhaps this is one you might want to try in the flesh, or certainly from a reputable retailer who’ll accept returns (make sure not to ink the pen, however!).

How it fills This is a cartridge/converter pen. Lamy have their own range of cartridges, and Monteverde also make cartridges that fit Lamy pens. You will have to use brand-specific as the filling mechanism is proprietary (so you can’t use standard international converters either). This is an irritation which we think Lamy could easily rectify by supplying a converter as a standard part of the package.

Crucially, how it writes…  While the feel of the barrel was polarising, we all agreed that this pen wrote well. The nib itself may not offer all that much in terms of aesthetic, but it does its job, and it does it well. Sometimes Lamy nibs can be hit-or-miss, but we were able to sample more than one of these pens and none of us ran into any problems (even with the finer nib grades). The nibs can also be swapped with Lamy Safari/Al-Star nibs if you prefer their more angular design to the Aion nib’s rounded profile.

Pen! What is it good for? This certainly has a business feel to it. Created by British designer Jasper Morrison, the aesthetic is something to be admired. As mentioned earlier, with the new colours that are finding their way into the market (and hopefully more in the future) this could be an interesting pen to collect, as well as giving it a more light-hearted feel. For now, though, this is a pen to take to work.

Aion writing sample3

VFM This pen comes in at £47 – so it could be seen as either a “budget 2000” or, perhaps, an “upmarket Safari”. Our view is that this is a fair price for a well-built, functional pen, although we do think it would be reasonable to expect a converter to be included at this point.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost… Lamy already have pens in the ‘affordable’ niche. This pen comes in at £47, which makes it trickier to evaluate because not too many pens are in this range. There is of course the TWSBI Eco which will save you £20 and gives you a piston filler and demonstrator design, or for the same price you could get a TWSBI 580. If you want something a bit more “fun” then you could always go for the Lamy Al-Star/Safari range and find something more suited to you there.

Our overall recommendation A thumbs-up from the United Inkdom crew, generally! Initially several of us were rather sceptical about the pen; Ant even thought it a boring offering until he tried it. But it writes well, looks distinctive and feels good if you have big hands. While this might be one that you want to try in the flesh, it may be worth the risk by pulling the trigger anyway.

Where to get hold of one Any of your favourite pen retailers are likely to have this, especially if they’re already supplying the lower-end Lamy pens.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Lamy HQ for providing an Aion for three of us to test (the other two bought their own).

TWSBI Precision fountain pen & mechanical pencil review

A little bit of history  It’s probably safe to say that TWSBI is a Marmite brand; you either love ’em or you hate ’em. However, the Precision line is one that those who love TWSBI will warm to, but also something that those who currently don’t indulge in TWSBIfication (mainly due to their reported quality control issues) may want to give a chance, as this pen and pencil set are rather robust in their build and look likely to be reliable. We quite enjoyed them!

How it looks Some of us had our initial reservations about the fountain pen design, but it grows on you. The shape could be described as an “inverse hourglass” with a chunky middle section and thinner grip section and piston knob which almost gives it a “kit pen” aesthetic. The pencil design has more than a hint of Rotring about it, but this is in no sense a bad thing.

Currently the pen is only available in one finish, which is a matte grey brushed look. It is very smooth to the touch, however. The pencil is available in both silver and black but has a more metallic finish than its fountain pen counterpart, and also comes with a rather nice knurled grip. Those who really insist can also obtain a ballpoint in a similar body to that of the pencil, although we can’t imagine why you’d want to. The barrel on both the pen and pencil are faceted, which is a distinct design feature. Here it is compared to Daniel’s Montegrappa NeroUno Linea to show the facets:

How it feels  Because of the materials used to make these instruments, they can feel reassuringly heavy in the hand once wielded. Both the pen and the pencil are nicely balanced, however, and this gives for a nice writing experience. The fountain pen cap does post, with a firm push, but this may not be the wisest move, partly for the obvious reason of making the pen top-heavy, but also because an accidental pumping of the piston may occur – and that can get very messy (Scribble’s carpet is reportedly still recovering).It’s quite easy to write with both the pen and pencil for a long time without any sort of fatigue. This is especially pleasing considering that fountain pen is a piston filler, which leads nicely on to…

How it fills  Segues! The fountain pen is, in typical TWSBI fashion, a piston filler. This gives you plenty of ink and allows you to write for quite a while. Some people do have their reservations about piston fillers as they can require a bit more maintenance when cleaning, though it isn’t too much hassle truth be told – and as is the case for all TWSBI pens, the tools required are all in the box.

TWSBI Precision

The pencil refills are standard leads that you can buy from your favourite stationer – be it online or on the high street.

Crucially, how it writes  Both the fountain pen and the pencil both write very well. In part, the pencil performance is dependent upon what lead you have in it (partly the case with inks in the pen, though not to such an extent). Because both are well balanced, you do get a nice writing experience coupled with the nib/lead. The pen is available in all the normal TWSBI steel offerings, including stub nibs. We found no problems in terms of hard starts or skips with the pen. Our bleistift expert did notice, however, that the test pencil pushed-through rather more lead than is normal beyond the sleeve, which can increase the risk of snapping.

Pen(cil)! What is it good for?  This set would find itself fitting-in nicely in a business context, as well at one’s own table for personal use. The pen design aesthetic is somewhat similar to that of the famed Lamy 2000, but without the price tag (and gold nib, of course). The pencil’s echoing of (and in some senses improvement upon) the Rotring tradition would fit it for a design studio – if you can find one which still uses pencils.

Value For Money  Coming in at around £70-80 for the pen and mid £20s for the pencil, this may be an investment for some. But it’s a reliable pen, and a piston filler too, so it has the makings of a ‘workhorse’ pen which could end up paying for itself if used enough; no overpriced cartridges here, and less plastic waste too. The pencil is decent value, especially compared to the Rotring models it is apparently pitched against.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea  There’s a lot going for this pen. If you’re looking for recommendations for something similar to this, first you’d have to consider which aspect(s) you’re most put off by. If it’s the piston fill, then look for a cartridge/converter pen (this could possibly push you into gold nib territory if you’re willing to spend a little bit extra – Platinum #3776 comes to mind, which is a fantastic pen). If you enjoy the design, the Lamy 2000, as mentioned above, may be worth looking into; this would set you back an extra ~£50 (almost twice the price of the Precision), though as is the case with the Precision, you’re looking at a reliable workhorse that is worth (to most) the investment and so you can find comfort in that fact – it also comes with a gold nib and is more streamlined if you enjoy the matte grey brushed look on the Precision that you also get on the 2000 but not the “inverse hourglass” shape. If the pencil doesn’t quite float your boat, Rotring really is the obvious place to look.

There are, of course, other pen models within the TWSBI line-up that may tickle your fancy…Our overall recommendation  The Precision FP is a good, reliable pen, which has the potential to become a trusty workhorse without breaking the bank. None of us had any problems in terms of the writing experience, and the only cause for concern were our own personal preferences when it comes to design. All in all, a thumbs up! The pencil is a slightly more mixed offering given the issue Matthias identified with excessive lead protrusion, but still great value for the price demanded.

Where to get one  TWSBI have plenty of retailers in the UK now, and they are not difficult to find on the whole, although new models can sell out quickly. Our test pen was contributed by the marvellous Write Here of Shrewsbury (who, at time of writing, have this pen on special offer!) while the pencil was procured in this case from the equally splendid Writing Desk of Bury St. Edmunds.

This meta review references:

Thanks to Write Here for sending a pen our way before their initial stock sold out!

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.

 

Choosing Keeping Notebooks

A little bit of history: Choosing Keeping is a shop found in London that can be reached through the Central Line or the many lines that serve London Liverpool Street. They are open Wednesday through to Sunday (which means they’ll be open on the weekend, if you plan on spending a weekend in Central London!). Choosing Keeping sell fountain pens, rollerballs, ballpoints, mechanical pencils, art & office supplies, desk objects and many more. What we have for you today is from their paper offerings: some very beautiful notebooks in three different sizes.

How it looks & feels: Those within the Inkdom were very impressed by the presentation of these notebooks. There’s a very retro look to them, which is further enhanced by the string keeping them together when they were delivered.

The personal touch and retro look is further enhanced through the envelope that the notebooks are stored in, inside the parcel package.

Hand-made in Italy with leather-looking paper, these seriously look the part! The covers do throw you a bit because you expect them to be leather, but they definitely don’t feel it. You can tear them with a bit of force, but it shouldn’t be a problem for normal carry. The covers come in three flavours, depending on the size you want: green (A5), red (11x15cm) and blue (9×13.5cm).

The pages are lined with red edges, which is a bit different. Another thing that is lined is the off-white pages themselves, though you do have the option for plain layouts too. On the inside page you have space for a weekly planner overview and on the final page is a multiplication table. Could be useful? It’s written in Italian as these are Italian-made notebooks – you can still understand the numbers though!

The paper has a bit of tooth and texture, but nothing overly noticeable or anything that would give a bad writing experience.

Crucially, how does it handle fountain pen ink?: Coming in at around 70gsm, we may have been a bit sceptical as to whether the paper would hold up, but it handled fountain pens very well. Even with wide italic nibs sporting Noodler’s inks in Daniel’s tests.

A close up of said italic with Noodler’s

They even held up to Nick’s tests!

However, it wasn’t enough to hold up to Noodler’s Baystate Blue, as Mateusz discovered, though with all due respect this is a very difficult test to pass! We also discovered some sheen, which would appeal to some of us.

To show how the notebooks react with the infamous Noodler’s Baystate Blue

Pulp! What is it good for?: Coming in different sizes, you can use these for different applications. But you have the options, from a pocket notebook to scribble down quick notes up to an A5 size for those more in-depth thoughts. They complement each other quite well as you have the different sizes which will allow you to transfer and expand on thoughts when moving to the larger sizes; it would be quite interesting to view your own thought processes expand in that respect!

VFM, and what else is there on offer if it isn’t quite your cup of tea?: £18 for three notebooks does sound like quite a lot. Especially when you consider that Rhodia A5 notebooks are around the £2 mark. Overall you get 186 pages when considering all three notebooks, which leaves you paying a fraction under 10p per page. Leuchtturm notebooks, with 249 pages, for reference will be 6p per page. Leuchtturm also come with more options, such as colour, options for planning and numbered pages, though the paper quality is often contested. However, you don’t get the same personal touch or feeling when using other notebooks and that is something you definitely get with these. They are also very easy to slip into a bag and don’t take up too much space due to their covers, but remain very stylish and looking the part.

Our overall recommendation: The personality, the way the pages keep up with fountain pens.. It’s difficult to give these a miss.

Where to get hold of one: Direct from Choosing Keeping

This meta-review references:

 

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.

How it looks  Hotttttttttttttttttttt. The Clumsy penman tested 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. 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 by everyone.  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 put 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. Being made of the Italian resin, we felt confident that the pen would hold up. 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.Most of our reviewers found the steel nibs satisfactory, albeit a little bit dry at first in one case. Overall, the writing experience was rated as pleasant by the reviewing team. The only thing that the italic nibs aren’t great for are reverse writing, as Daniel discovered. The #6 JoWo nibs write a fairly wet line and the feeds keep up well. 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 italic nibs means that you can get a little stylistic 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 plain round ‘handwriting’ nib, which is more conventional.

VFM   While the majority of our findings are quite positive, we did have concerns here when the pen was first released; simply put, this is a good a pen, but it wasn’t £125 good, and there were custom-designed pens from John Twiss and Edison available at similar price points. We felt that it should have gone to market at £75 – and eventually, two years later, that’s where it ended up. At the £75 ‘street price’, it’s great value. 

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 close to the original ‘official’ 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; close to the ‘street’ price.  For the original £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 in 2016, 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 didn’t justify it until that was reviewed; there were too many alternatives which were similar to the ML1856 but better quality/feel for the same price or others that might sacrifice ever so slightly on the feel but were much more affordable. We like the direction Manuscript is heading in, but our recommendation was to wait until the value issue had been rectified before pulling the trigger.

Where to get hold of one  There were few stockists of the pen at the original official price (La Couronne du Comte and Cult Pens being first out of the blocks), but the ML1856 is now available at a sensible price direct from the manufacturer.

This meta-review references: 

Northern Lights

Thanks to: Manuscript for providing three of these 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 were still keen for us to give one away; a great attitude, we think.

Give-away (Now closed!)  To bag one of these, we asked readers to let us know what they thought 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 the aid of such serious nibbage?  Answers in the comments box…

 

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-review references:

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