All posts by Scribble

Blackstone blue inks

A little bit of history  Filling a fountain pen used to be difficult for folk Down Under. Sending a glass bottle full of rather heavy water half-way around the globe was an expensive business, and there were few local alternatives. Then Aussie dye-makers Toucan realised that one of their hues worked well enough in a fountain pen, and that was a start. Before too long the specialist ink-wrangler Robert Oster followed suit (almost certainly more about him to follow on this site soon), and then up popped a third Antipodean pen-filler: Blackstone. We found ourselves drawn to the blues.

How it looks  The two blues offer a lighter and a darker option, and both are charmers. There’s decent shading on offer, and quite a bit of sheen if you lay it on thickly. In short, if you like blues you’ll like these.

Crucially, how it writes…  Like standard fountain pen ink, really. Adequate flow, good saturation, reasonable drying times and no problems to report. All very encouraging.Ink! What is it good for?  It’s multi-purpose ink, this; it would be perfectly nice for writing a diary with, but you could probably get away with taking it to the office too. The plastic bottle is also hardy enough for travelling with, if you want to avoid glassware on the move.

VFM  Tolerable. £6.95 for 30ml is thrice the price of the same amount of Diamine, but this has come all way from the other side of the planet. It’s certainly not going to break the bank.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Then Blackstone’s new set of scented inks might be worth a look instead. Or there’s Robert Oster’s range, of course.

Our overall recommendation  Well worth a try if you’re after something a bit different without blowing the ink budget all in one go.

Where to get hold of one  The best bet in this hemisphere is straight from Bureau Direct.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Blackstone and Bureau Direct for some of the samples.

Kaweco Steel Sport fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Every serious fountain pen fan has a Kaweco Sport somewhere; small, pocketable – and in their simple plastic form eminently affordable – they are often starter pens, and frequently stay in use as emergency back-up pens even when owners have developed more exotic tastes. For quite a while, though Kaweco has been developing a ‘premium’ line of robust, refined, reassuringly expensive Sports in interesting materials ranging from carbon fibre to industrial metals. The very first United Inkdom meta-review tested the brass version of the Sport, a pen so popular that not a single reviewer sent it back, and we really thought that would never be beaten. But now there is heavyweight competition, from a slightly surprising direction: stainless steel.

How it looks  The design is almost exactly the same as any Sport, with its small-until-posted form factor and that famous octagonal cap. What makes the Steel Sport look immediately different from even the aluminium version is the milled/brushed effect on the surface of the steel itself, which is reminiscent of classic cameras or draughtsman’s tools. If any pen were to make a statement, it would probably be this one – and the statement is something like “I don’t do bling; I’m just here to write”.

How it feels  Solid, unbreakable, built to last a lifetime and, of course, fairly hefty. But this is not ridiculously heavy, and writing with it for a prolonged period is no more tiring than with any other Sport.

How it fills  This is a perennial subject of concern as the Sport’s barrel is not long enough for a traditional converter. However, Kaweco now offer a short and simple push-rod piston converter which works fairly well. Most users simply syringe-fill a standard ‘short international’ cartridge, though, and that seems to be quite easy to live with for most users.Crucially, how it writes…  As always, that depends on what nib you choose. Like all the more expensive Sport bodies (and indeed most of the Kaweco fountain pen range) this version uses screw-in small#5 Bock assemblies, which are available in a wide range of both round and italic tips. For the round tipped-nibs, many of us find that EF, F and M tend to be safest of the steel options, although any flow or smoothness issues, which can be variable in steel, vanish if you upgrade to gold. For this meta-review, though, we put the Steel Sport in the hands of two professional calligraphers (in Kent and Austria, respectively) who put the italic options through their paces – and found the narrower 1.1mm and 1.5mm nibs worked well even for fast writing, while a little more care was required for the wider tips where the same flow of ink has to stretch further. But as long as you choose the right nib for you and your own writing style, this is a reliable performer.Pen! What is it good for?  With a round-tipped nib this is probably the pocket pen par excellence; it looks the business, works well and will probably outlast most owners. Our calligraphers thought it was good for having some fun with italic lettering too, even if not quite the thing for fee-earning studio work (which is not what it is really designed for, to be fair).VFM  This is not a cheap pen – indeed, apart from the carbon-fibre version this is the most expensive Sport so far. Retailing for either €85 or £84.99 (which says something interesting about current exchange rates), it’s a significant purchase, but still not in luxury price-tag territory in our view. It looks a lot more expensive, though, and it’s tough enough that you would have to try very hard before you damaged it – nothing short of a diamond-tipped angle grinder is going to break this!If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Then there’s the shinier, lighter and more affordable aluminium version, or the steampunk splendour of the Brass Sport, either of which are sound choices. We have also seen the prototype of the solid silver version – but expect that one to break the £100 barrier, as the materials alone are likely to add around £15 to production costs at current prices.

Our overall recommendation  If you’ve been putting off buying a grown-up Sport until the time was right, that moment has come. Try a Steel or Brass version at a bricks-and-mortar shop if you can, or borrow them from a friend; if one or the other doesn’t appeal to you, we will eat our collective hats.Where to get hold of one  From all the usual sources. Some pens take lots of research to track down, but this shouldn’t be one of them, and it’s currently available from almost all the places you’d expect to look. At the time of publication, The Writing Desk were selling these for £5 less than most other UK retailers, but we don’t expect their stock to last too long!This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Kaweco for sending temptation our way again.

 

 

Beaufort Inks

A little bit of history Some time during the Caledonian Orogeny, around 490–390 million years ago, the Great Glen Fault formed. Wind forward a few aeons and the trench this left cuts a swathe across Scotland, including the very well-known Loch Ness and, just to the south, the rather tautologous Loch Lochy, near which is the home of Beaufort Ink. Despite the name, Beaufort Ink have made their way in the world selling nibs and pen-turning parts rather than ink – until now. Now they’re making up for lost time, and then some!

How it looks As an ensemble, this is a set of inks which immediately conjure up visual memories of the Highlands – which the creator insists is entirely accidental, but we’re not complaining! They deserve a brief review one by one, and they shall jolly well have it too.

Peacock This is where the whole range started, as the Beaufort supremo is a confirmed teal-head. A deep, rich and very dark turquoise, this is somewhat reminiscent of Sheaffer’s long-lamented Peacock Blue – and has won plenty of fans in the United Inkdom ranks.

Zodiac Blue nicely echoes the blue of Arctic waters, as viewed from a Zodiac boat. It’s a long way from boring old ‘school’ blue, that’s for sure.

Blue Black is not often a label which gets people excited; usually, that’s the ink you use at work and then set aside in favour of something more exciting as soon as you get home. Somehow, though, this recipe manages to capture the dark blue of a loch without being dull.

Obsidian is a refined grey-black with a spot of sheen too – not a jet-black ink, but a nicely saturated sort of black nevertheless.

Scots Pine is an earthy, dark green which could be as valuable to artists as to writers. Not so many testers found this one their favourite, but it’s certainly distinctive.

Roasted Red convincingly summons-up the hue of roasted red peppers with a sprinkling of paprika. A sophisticated shade to complete the collection.

Crucially, how it writes…  Smoothly! The formulation was selected for good flow as well as reliable saturation, and it shows.

Ink! What is it good for?  Most of these inks could actually be sneaked into the office without too much risk, but they also look just the thing for getting a vintage pen back into action.

VFM At £8.35 for 45ml, this is twice the farthings-per-millilitres that standard Diamine would cost, but that’s still not stratospherically expensive – and arguably good value because it works well and you’ll actually want to write with it enough to get to the end of the bottle.If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost… Beaufort have indicated that other colours may join the collection if there’s sufficient demand. Unsubtle hints about the urgent need for Purple Heather have already been lodged. The case for Made In Scotland From Girders Orange, meanwhile, awaits a longer label as well as copyright permission!

Where to get hold of some Straight from Beaufort Ink.This meta-review references:

Thanks to Beaufort Ink for kindly providing samples of the whole range.

Berlin Notebook

A little bit of history  A handful of trading posts in Brandenburg gradually became the capital of Prussia, and thus the command post of the more-or-less unified Germany that Bismarck brought about, until things crashed to a halt in 1918 for obvious reasons. After that, Berlin had a brief flowering as a centre of the liberal arts and alternative lifestyles (think Cabaret), then very bad things happened from the 1930s until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Now it’s back to its Bohemian (OK, that was technically a different Germanic state, but like Prussia no longer exists) best, and producing art, thought, and alternative lifestyles galore. Just where you’d expect a recycled notebook fit for nib-twiddling hipsters to come from, of course.

How it looks  Rough, ready, lo-fi and under-stated – but really cool. The attention paid to the typeface has paid off, and at only a touch larger than A6 size it will fit in most pockets.

How it feels  Now here’s the surprise – that paper is smooth. This is a bit of a shock!

Crucially, how it handles a fountain pen…  The surprise continues as you break out your wettest nibs and test the thing. The off-grey paper feels smooth to write on too, bleed-through is respectably limited, and the whole package is pretty much indestructible.

Pulp! What is it good for?  Travel notes, preliminary sketches, brainstorming and the like. This is the ‘rough draft’ notebook par excellence.

VFM  At £11.50 for a pack of three this is good value which competes well with other pocket notebooks, and it works with real pens so it won’t end up abandonned at the back of a cupboard.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  That’s a toughy, as there’s not much else out there quite like this just yet. Hopefully it will start a trend!

Our overall recommendation  If you like being a bit eco-friendly and don’t mind the paper not being the absolute whitest white, this is a bit of a marvel. Give ’em a go!

Where to get hold of one  Direct from Nero’s Notebooks 

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Nero for asking one of his biped assistants to send a few handy samples our way.

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We’ve survived the Valentine’s Day web-promotion fandango! Phew – congratulations all ’round. Amidst all the rosy-hued retreads there was probably a decent fountain pen or two somewhere, but for a bit of variety we’ll just mention Lamy’s ‘Vibrant Pink’ ink. Another of their limited-edition offerings, it follows hard on the heels of the well-received but infuriatingly unobtainable Dark Lilac and the widely remaindered Petrol. So, good for obsessive pink fans, but the question remains; if there’s no chance of buying it again when you run out, why buy it once? Available at all the usual emporia while you ponder that conundrum.If you want to make your inks work harder, you can do remarkable things with a squirt of bleach. If that sounds like the sort of thing best left to professionals, now you can get some professional training – for the Inkdom’s very own master of the art is running a workshop on the 17th of March! Click poster below for more details.

If you’re looking for something to put future ink purchases in, some of us are already rather excited about the forthcoming offering from Ensso. One of their exotic Piumas is doing the rounds of United Inkdom reviewers as we speak, but the ‘XS’ pocket pen in the works looks even more temptingly portable – and the Kickstarter price is more tempting still (link on the pic).

While the XS will be coming all the way from California, sadly there’s no sign yet of Robert Oster’s new pearlescent Shake’n’Shimmy inks making it here from Australia. Nevertheless, here are some depressingly sparkly images of what we can’t have. We’re never short of cheer!

Finally, as increasingly customary here’s something you won’t want. Yes, it looks colourful, thanks to using the same technique as Kaweco’s famous ‘fireblue’ pens. Yes, it’s named after a very naughty drink which is going to compete with even your finest inks for interestingness [not actually a word]. But no, Montegrappa, a steel nib is really not OK on a pen which costs over £300. What were they thinking?

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It’s been another busy week of ups and downs – but which is which, you have to choose for yourself!

First, let’s start with some unalloyed good news. The company formerly known as Pocket Notebooks still sells pocket notebooks but is now branded in honour of its honorary canine CEO, so a huge bark of approval please for Nero’s Notes! It’s hard not to feel that Nero’s designated biped feeding unit has been awfully clever.

Less cleverly, the Kickstarter of Doom has started to grind to a messy end with the trickled dispatch of the benighted Namisu Ixion. Some United Inkdom readers (and contributors) have it in their hands now, and early reports suggest that, in the end, a jolly decent fountain pen turned up. We’ll publish a meta-review here if we can. The customer service experience, sadly, has left some vocal disgruntlement in its wake.

Surprisingly, another retailer we know and love has been making moves this week, with Cult Pens announcing that it has been bought out by WHSmith. For international readers, WHSmith is a long-established general stationer, which used to be as ubiquitous as Woolworth on every high street and still sells newspapers and snacks at most railway stations and airports. It does stock a few basic fountain pens, but combining this broad offer with the USP of a specialist pen boutique is, well, an ‘interesting development’. The move’s raised a few eyebrows amongst enthusiasts, but fingers crossed that it works out.

Finally, we have been completely baffled this week by a Korean ink which costs three times as much as a good fountain pen. We have plenty of time for the retailers, who know their stuff and sell some cracking gear, but seriously – £45? Shiver me timbers! Colorverse is  offering an 80ml package for that handsome sum, with some of the sets featuring two different hues. This one is highly unlikely to end up on a United Inkdom meta-review, though, for the simple reason that none of us can afford it. Can you?

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It’s cold out there, but it’s still busy in the never-stationary world of stationery! Firstly, we have responded to some vigorous nagging from our supportive readers and finally installed a subscription box. It’s immediately to the right of this post, so please do put your email address in. As well as ensuring that you never miss a thing, you’ll be helping to show potential sponsors the size of audience they can expect when they send anything to us for review – we get to see the stats, so we know there’s a loyal readership, but this sort of public sign-up is a big help too.

Back in real life, there’s an actual physical pen show to kick off the year’s retail penthusiasm, in Bristol this Sunday. To whet your appetite, here’s a picture of some of the mouth-watering pens that the great John Twiss has made for the occasion, including more of that funky green lizard action:

Meanwhile, the mighty Pocket Notebooks are apparently considering all sort of shenanigans, up to and including a change of name apparently, a spot of podcasting and, perhaps most excitingly of all, the dipping of a toe into the world of bricks-and-mortar pen shopping. All thoroughly attention-grabbing… but not quite so visual just yet, so instead here’s a pic of an interesting product that CEO Nero and his biped assistants are sending us to play with; a recycled notebook from Berlin which claims to be able to handle fountain pens. Now there’s bravery for you!

In the social media whirl, debate has raged on the Fountain Pens UK Facebook group about where Beaufort Ink gets their actual ink from. Research has so far been technically inconclusive – in that we think we know, but can’t say for absolutely certain – but nevertheless full marks go to the proprietor who responded by volunteering to put test samples in the hands of the ‘usual suspects’ amongst United Inkdom’s contributors. Cue a meta-review before too long!

Finally, if you’re finding winter’s greyness a bit disappointing, there is relief from a couple of new special editions in colours so bold as to be positively, erm, brave. Platinum’s new venomous bile (sorry, ‘Bali Citrus’) Plaisir and the eyeball-searing Vibrant Pink Safari. Well, they are presumably someone’s cup of tea…

For those who’ve been following us for a while, you might like to know that the usual profile pieces and meta-reviews are coming back soon. We’ve been talking to the splendid Pen Chalet (and they’ve sent us some interesting pens to review too), and we have review projects under way for products from Start Bay, Scrikss, Karas Kustoms, Italix, and Kaweco to name just a few. Hold on to your hats!

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Time flies like an arrow (and yes, fruit flies like a banana), and a lot has happened in just a week! Here’s more interesting news to whet your appetites for another fix of inky goodness.

First up, the unique aesthetics of Jake Lazzari, who continues to turn out remarkable functional eye-candy. Using feedback from United Inkdom readers, Jake has tweaked the style recipe of the classic Streamline and added a roll-stopper which appears to flow organically from the cap. There’s more eye-popping exotica like this at Jake’s Etsy site, and if you still have Christmas money burning a hole in your pocket it’s definitely worth a look.

For something to put in one, The Pen Shop has an interesting-looking range of inks from Campo Marzio, with a special offer on at the moment: anyone buying two bottles of ink gets the second at half price. There seem to have been very few tests just yet, but rumour has it that the purple one will be experimented upon with gusto rather shortly…

If you’re looking for something interesting to write on, Leuchtturm have an interesting twist on the dot-grid concept – red dots! How much difference that makes to writing is debatable, perhaps, but it certainly looks cool.

If you prefer the classic exercise book format, then Start Bay have something new; they’ve added a softer, thinner leather to their range, calling it ‘vintage lite‘, and it looks rather splendid. But better still, for this weekend there’s 10% of anything on the site if you enter this code: WHATIREALLYREALLYWANT.

Finally, and thrillingly, an affordable new fountain pen from a British firm. OK, so the bodies are made in ‘Asia’, but the nibs are fettled by Italix here and they’re almost legendary for working well. Justly renowned for a range of churchily-titled pens like the Parson’s Essential and indeed the English Curate (which we reviewed back in 2015), ‘Mr Pen’ has added a modelwhich slots right into the ‘budget’ category in price – but wipes the floor with most other pens you can get for £15. Available with a good medium nib, a rather lovely italic nib or even a ballpoint (well, someone has to love them), the solid metal-bodied Deacons’s Doodle is already shaping up to be the bargain of the year – and we’ll put together a meta-review of it here as soon as we can.

 

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Well, the year has well and truly got going, all that festive palaver is right behind us and creative new things are popping up all over the place. Here we have the genius, the dubious, the even more genius and the splendidly unobtainable – surely the perfect mix!

Genius first, then. Ever since United Inkdom’s most popular post so far there have been calls for an affordable disc-bound notebook with fountain pen friendly paper. Now, partly in response to those many requests, that product exists! Rutland-based Personalised Stationery have just released their first batch of A6, A5 and A4 disc-bound notebooks. Made with paper which has survived every sort of nib we’ve been able to throw at it so far (like this), they’re also available in an impressively wide variety of rulings – and more individual specifications can be accommodated too. To get in on the first wave, click through here.

Then on to dubiosity. Last year many of us enjoyed the Jinhao 992, also known as the Spiral – a playfully unsubtle ‘homage’ to  a Sailor design, available for 99p. They’re pretty basic and they tend to leak if you try an eye-dropper conversion, but the included converter isn’t bad, the nibs are decent and for a quid you certainly can’t complain. What’s so dubious about that? Not much, to be fair. But then Monteverde decided to rebrand the already, ahem, unoriginal design as the ‘Monza’, inexplicably suggesting a link with an Italian city. Other than replacing the Jinhao cap band engraving with a Monteverde logo, nothing appears to have changed – except the price. You can compare the simply  Chinese, and still-Chinese-but-despatched-from-the-US-with-an-Italian-name, versions in the composite photo below. Of course, if you really want to pay another £19 to get this cheap pen in a plastic box, rather than a plastic bag, then this is absolutely the badge-engineered product for you… but we’ll spare the blushes of the handful of retailers who fell for the hustle.

But there is more genius to rectify the sorry tale above, because one of our readers has been using dip pens and drawing inks to bring appalling puns to life on the page, and the book is now out! The Anomalous Animals Mostly Great Animals of History is a little tricky to describe in words, which is part of the reason you need to buy a copy really, but as a sneak preview of the format Emmy has prepared an exclusive companion to the likes of Amelia Bearheart and Isambard Kingdom Brunowl, in the shape of a hat-tip to, err, well we couldn’t possibly imagine.  Head to Etsy for your slice of majestically hand-tooled hilarity.

Finally, The Pen Shop has rootled around in their vaults and found a whole stash of limited edition pens, and they’re worth ogling even if not too many of us will be in a position to buy one – they all have four-figure price tags! There’s a surprisingly military note to several of these special editions, including pieces of melted-down AK47, recycled Spitfire parts, and both X-wings and TIE fighters for those cognoscenti who are aware that, all things being equal, a light sabre is nothing compared to a serious fountain pen. Have an admiring look for yourself here

 

Online Newood calligraphy fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Online may be a bit of an unlikely name for a company which sells analogue tools digitally, but it’s working well enough for this German brand to be all over the schools and hobbyist market – in German-speaking countries, at least. As well as fountain pens for pupils who want to write properly, they’ve been branching-out to the calligraphy world for a couple of years – and as is often the case calligraphy is a synonym for ‘italic’. They handed a calligraphy kit to each blogger attending the Insights-X stationery fair in Nuremberg back in October, and since one of the United Inkdom team was there and a couple of locals (relatively speaking) wanted to join in, it was always going to be tempting to give it the full treatment. So, thanks to Natascha and Christian, it’s time for United Inkdom’s first pan-European meta-review!

How it looks  The first thing you see is a rather handsome bamboo box, which looks hardy enough to store the pen and spare nibs for a good few years. The pen itself looks like it’s largely made of wood; whether that’s solid wood or a composite, we couldn’t really tell, but either way there’s certainly some lignin in there. The cap and barrel both flare at the ends, so it’s the diametrical opposite to the over-used ‘cigar’ shape, and that makes a refreshing change too.

How it feels  Warm and comfortable, for the most part, as you’d expect from a wood finish. As a professional calligrapher, Natascha did find that the metal section was a little too short for total comfort in long writing sessions. Overall it’s a sensible size, though.

How it fills  It’s a standard cartridge/converter job, and impressively the kit comes with both. The small blue international cartridge may not get much of a look-in once you notice that there’s also a decent converter and even a bottle of brown ink included.

Crucially, how it writes…  There are three italic nibs of varying sizes; 0.8, 1.4 and 1.8mm, and they all write well, with a nice bit of bounce. The shape creates fairly crisp lines without having sharp corners which can tear up the paper, which is a good balance of attributes. The 0.8mm nib in particular can be used for every-day writing if you are an italic enthusiast, while the two wider nibs can do impressive things in the hands of an ambitious experimenter.

Pen! What is it good for?  This one’s for amateur calligraphers rather than professional, but it’s a promising way to get started. With the 0.8mm nib fitted, it wouldn’t be too outré to sneak this into a business meeting – depending upon the nature of your business, of course.

VFM  At around £50 this is not the cheapest calligraphy starter set out there, by any means. Nevertheless, it’s not bad value; the pen itself is well-made , those are surprisingly good nibs and the storage box is a desirable accessory itself.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Online make a lot of other calligraphy sets, and there are comparable offerings from Sheaffer, Lamy, Kaweco and even Shropshire’s own Manuscript. Most of the cheaper alternatives are plastic, though.

Our overall recommendation  If you know someone who wants to get into italics and likes a kit which is well-presented, this is a good bet. It’s a pen for enthusiasts rather than professionals, but only a few of us can really aspire to earning our living from calligraphy anyway!

Where to get hold of one  This is easy enough on the continent, but surprisingly tricky in the UK. The surest method is probably to buy from Online, ermm, on-line.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Online for donating the review samples – and of course Natascha and Christian for being our international correspondents!