All posts by Scribble

Elrohir notebook covers

A little bit of history  Tolkien left more entertainment for etymologists than anthropologists in his writings, and the latter would probably not be wildly impressed at the idea of a being who was half knight, and half elf. Such, however, was supposedly the provenance of Elrohir, and it’s a fitting name to borrow for a product made in a stable, using saddle-making techniques – although we can confirm that no elves were employed in the making of this review.  The Elrohir operation is in fact run by a very nice human called Mischa, based in Wales rather than Rivendell, and we were encouraged to find out more about what she does by one of our regular readers from Middle Earth (well, Melton Mowbray, but it’s near enough). What came our way were two remarkable notebook covers; an A6 steampunk number and a blue A5 mandala affair, complete with multiple interesting refills.

How they look  Frankly astonishing. Everyone we show these to responds with some variety of ‘wow’. The designs are embossed, so they’re quite tactile too.  The range is quite a challenge to describe, so a quick look at Elrohir’s Etsy page is worthwhile now. No, seriously, right now!

How it feels  Weighty, rugged, and ready to last a life-time – and yet remarkably refined. Like the sort of saddle you’d put on a thoroughbred, probably.

How it fills  With as many simple cahier-style exercise book refills as you care to thread in. The A5 version we tested could take five or six, which did make it a bit tough to hold flat and write in – but of course thinner versions can be made available with a swift email to Mischa. Customisation is very much encouraged.

Crucially, how it copes with a fountain pen…  Mischa’s own inserts come in a variety  of plain and coloured papers, and all we’ve tested so far seem happy making friends with a proper nib. They look the part next to a real pen, too.

Book! What is it good for?  These are built to last, but we think maybe a little too lovely to take to work (unless you work with elves, of course). For a travel journal, recipe collection or grimoire-in-development, though, it’s almost certainly exactly the thing.

VFM  These cost about 30% more than the equivalent standard product from Start Bay – so not cheap, but nevertheless remarkably reasonable for such an unusual product. We certainly couldn’t complain.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  These are two very fine examples of Mischa’s craft, but if you prefer something a bit different – a cover depicting bats flitting through the night sky, perhaps – it’s worth having a look at the Elrohir range. We’ve yet to come across anything quite comparable from another maker.

Our overall recommendation  Have a browse, save a few pennies, and get one. If you’re after a robustly decorative notebook cover, these will take some beating.

Where to get hold of one  Go straight to the source and talk to Mischa! Her Etsy page is a good place to start.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Mischa for getting a couple of amazing samples our way. Most of us didn’t want to let them go, and that’s a recommendation!

Sheeny blue inks shoot-out

A little bit of history  Once upon a time in the west, or the western hemisphere at least, there were fine upstanding fountain pen makers like Parker, whose Penmanship Blue had a nice, subtle, red sheen on it, which made handwriting shimmer gently in the right light and, thirty years later, made otherwise sensible shoppers absolutely do a nut-job and blow staggering piles of cash on half-empty bottles just to dip their nibs in this apparently magical writing elixir. It got a bit silly, frankly. Then ink specialists here in this century started making their own, and things became calm and sensible once more. Well, mostly. Here are three of the new contenders, from Amurrka, Oz and Blighty, slugging it out head-to-head – as if civilised ink would stoop to anything of the sort! Tsk.

How it looks  Our three selected inks all look like high-quality, but ordinary, blue inks as they go on to the page. Robert Oster’s Fire & Ice is a light blue verging on turquoise, Diamine’s Germany-only Skull & Roses is a richer ‘royal’ blue, and Organics Studio’s Nitrogen Blue is somewhere in between. Then, once dried, they exhibit a red sheen when you twist them in oblique light. It’s a neat trick.

How it behaves on the paper Perfectly well; these all come from serious ink manufacturers with reputations to protect, so there are no major problems. Drying times can occasionally be longer than expected, however, particularity for Nitrogen.How it behaves in the pen  Again, pretty much as standard fountain pen ink does, although sheen inks can lead to a build-up of sediment eventually – and several of us have found ebonite feeds turning a fetching shade of red! Fortunately, it’s nothing that a good rinse won’t fix.

Ink! What is it good for?  The art of correspondence may be dying fast, but if anything’s going to bring it back it must surely be the excuse to use inks as alluring as these. It makes boring blue interesting again, after all.

VFM  Good quality sheening ink is generally a ‘premium’ product at present so you may have to pay a little more – but if you enjoy the effect, you’re unlikely to find the modest uplift a major penalty.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  There are more ink makers jumping on this band-wagon all the time – for instance, we’re hearing good things about Krishna Moonview. Or you could mortgage your home, sell a couple of major organs and buy some Parker Penmanship, of course…

Our overall recommendation  Give it a go. The effect is very pleasing and the ink is easy to live with, even in fussy thoroughbred pens. Skull & Roses is the trickiest to get hold of despite being made here in the UK, but that’s just the result of an exclusive deal – and Diamine could undoubtedly come up with something even better for full global distribution in due course. In the meantime, Fire &Ice if you like Turquoise, or Nitrogen if you like full-on royal blue with all the trimmings, are well worth a try.

Where to get hold of some  For Skull & Roses, you have to buy from Germany – but there are numerous tintenshoppingspecialisten (Nein, das ist kein Neologismus!) on the web, or even Amazon if you really get stuck. Executive Pens Direct stocks Fire & Ice, while The Writing Desk carries Nitrogen amongst a a fairly wide range of Organics inks. A bit of internet research will produce the goods without too much heavy trawling.

This shoot-out meta-review references:

Thanks to  Diamine for the rare sample of Skull & Roses, Executive Pens Direct for the sample of Robert Oster’s Fire & Ice, and The Writing Desk for shipping some Nitrogen this side of the pond.

Randall fountain pen ink review

A little bit of history  Randall Reeves, who generally doesn’t bother much with his last name, is a buccaneering fellow who likes a nautical challenge and half, and not content with mere global circumnavigation has created a new problem to solve; getting around the Americas, and then around Antarctica, in a figure of eight pattern. North-west passage, roaring forties, Bermuda Triangle and all. It’s a lot of effort just to see both polar bears and penguins on the same voyage, but it’s hard not admire the chutzpah. As it happens, our friend Nick Stewart, calligrapher extraordinaire, is distantly related and decided to dedicate to Randall the best sort of tribute  he could imagine – an ink, of course!

How it looks  Diamine are capable of making really interesting inks when asked nicely, and Nick clearly knew what he wanted to achieve in collaborating with them to mix up something a bit special. The result is as changeable as the sea itself; lots of blues of varying depth, with a red sheen at sunset and/or shiny paper – which is where the maritime analogies break down a bit, but you get the gist. We were favourably impressed, to say the least!

How it writes  This is quite saturated stuff and may present one or two challenges when it comes to rinsing out demonstrators after use, but the flow is much like any other Diamine – which is to say not the absolute wettest one can get (that’s KWZ), but fine for almost all fountain pens.

Ink! What is it good for?  You could probably take it to work if you wanted, or save it for your private journal. But this is made for art, calligraphy and big messy doodles. Have fun with it – it’s what it’s for.

VFM  Pretty good considering that it’s a limited edition, and early buyers get a piece of art created with the ink itself as a sweetener.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  There, are, to be fair, new blue-with-red-sheen inks coming on to the market all the time. It’s a tintenzeitgeist sort of thing. But few of the alternatives come with the imprimatur of an actual proper calligrapher and a link to round-several-continents yachtsman, if that’s what really, erm, floats your boat.

Our overall recommendation  Some bias has to be admitted here. Nick is a regular contributor to United Inkdom and, naturally, we like what he does. But this honestly looks like a limited edition worth grabbing while it lasts, if multi-tonal marine inks are your bag.

Where to get hold of some  The only way is to ask Nick Stewart nicely, right here. You might even get one of these nice artworks to boot – all created with the same ink, of course.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Nick for the samples, and of course Randall for the inspiration

Faber-Castell E-Motion fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Faber-Castell is a well-known brand, but their mid-range fountain pens are too often overlooked. Many of us are already fans of the E-Motion, and when Executive Pens Direct offered a rather attractively-finished parquet black version to test we certainly weren’t going to miss the chance.

How it looks  It’s a tricky finish to capture on camera, but it looks decidedly smart. The pen itself is as sturdy-looking and ergonomically-shaped as ever. There’s no mistaking it for any other pen, really.

How it feels  Well weighted, and poised to write. That shiny section offer more grip than you might expect, too.

How it fills  This a straightforward cartridge/converter number, and that seems to work well.

Crucially, how it writes…  The pen looks great, but writing performance is what really seals the deal as far as we’re concerned. Faber-Castell use #5 Bock steel nibs in many models including this one, and that’s a promising starting point but their quality control and fitting are second to none. We find these nibs write reliably, and smoothly, without exception – this is as good as a steel nib can get, essentially!

Pen! What is it good for?  This pen would definitely not look out of place in a board-room, but there’s nothing to stop you using it anywhere else. Some of us already own an E-Motion of our own and have found the design robust and reliable – including that big spring clip.

VFM  Very good indeed; around £80 is typical for this handsome, well-made pen. The nibs are excellent, and the body is likely to last for a few decades with normal use too. ‘Nothing to complaint about there.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Then there are plenty of options. If you like the sound of that smooth steel nib but this material doesn’t quite do it for you, then the pure black or wood-finish versions of the E-Motion are worth a look. If the shape doesn’t quite float your boat, there are several other Faber-Castell fountain pens which use the same nib – even down to the super-affordable Basic. If you love the shape but would prefer a gold nib this is a little trickier, as the company saves gold for its up-market Graf von Faber-Castell range, presumably upon the numerical advice of neighbouring aristocrat Count von Count. But a Bock #5 from Beaufort Ink should fit, and even a JoWo #5 can be made to play nicely with a bit of careful fettling.

Our overall recommendation  This gets a unanimous thumbs-up from all our reviewers; a nice to pen to use, attractive to look at, and great to write with. We think the price is about right too.

Where to get hold of one  This is not the most difficult pen to find, but since ours was donated by Executive Pens Direct, and they’re selling it for a rather reasonable £78, we’ll include a link to their page here.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Executive Pens Direct for the sample.

Divine Design Eyedropper fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Before there were pistons, vacuums, pneumatic blast-poppers or funky crescent levers, there was but one filling system – the humble eye-dropper. Like its fellow Taiwanese offering from Opus 88, the Divine Design Eyedropper goes back to the  roots, albeit with a syringe rather than a pipette in the box. It is apparently only distributed within the Iberian peninsula at present (for reasons we can’t quite fathom, but there it is), but of course that geography neatly includes the marvellous fpnibs.com, and they know a thing or two about interesting pens.

How it looks  Very plain and straightforward: black cap and ends, transparent barrel, undistinguished clip. This is either helpfully minimalist, or a bit boring, according to taste – but we all agreed that this much ink sloshing around inside was a pleasant view.

How it feels  Unposted, it’s a fairly big pen, but not oversized – so comfortable for most hands. That cap does post, but this makes it a bit top-heavy in our opinion(s).

How it fills  Here is this pen’s first party trick – no less than three filling options. Why you’d put a puny cartridge in a beast like this is hard to imagine, but it’s nice to know that the capability is there for real emergencies. The box comes with a decent converter, which is considerate, but also somewhat redundant – because this thing is made to be filled to the brim. Open the barrel, which has nice long threads and an o-ring already fitted – and you can get a whopping 4ml of ink in there, which is enough to write for days.

Crucially, how it writes…  Here is the pen’s second party trick; it takes a JoWo #6, and fpnibs stock a lot of those. For fun, and to make interesting photographs, we went for one of their colour-lacquered offerings, but any of their steel options would do – or you could even push the boat out and choose a gold upgrade. We’ve yet to encounter the JoWo #6 which  writes badly. The purple lacquer did start to wear off once it reached its fourth reviewer, but the tip carried on writing just as well.

Pen! What is it good for?  It’s probably just the thing for when you don’t need to show off, but do need to write for a long stint without refilling. There are other ways to achieve that aim, but let’s face it  – this solution is a tenth of the price of a Conid.

VFM  With the nib and a bit of VAT inside the EU (for the time being, at least) this comes to about £45. Not dirt cheap, but pretty fair value for a useful pen, if not the glitziest. The box includes a syringe, converter, and instrucciones (in Español), so it covers all the bases and  even provides a diverting translation challenge if, for some inexplicable reason, you’re the sort of fountain pen enthusiast who knows everything apart from where the ink goes.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Have a shop-around for eye-droppers. They are making a gradual comeback – take the Opus 88, for instance.

Our overall recommendation  We like the way it works, for the most part, even if we’re not all blown-away by its plain looks. A safe choice as long as you don’t insist upon posting all your caps.

Where to get hold of one  Direct from fpnibs.com is probably the simplest route.

This meta-review references:

Cleo ‘Skribent’ fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Cleo Skribent is the company which kept fountain pen manufacturing going behind the iron curtain, and now make affordable daily drivers like the capable Classic which we tested last year. Their most enthusiastic retailers in the UK, the aptly named Write Here, were determined to persuade us to try one of their more exotic offerings.  Well, we didn’t take THAT much persuading…How it looks  Quite distinctive, with a tapered barrel which is reminiscent of a desk pen, and that impressively over-engineered clip. The gold finish wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but a chrome trim alternative and a nicely blue version are also available.

How it feels  Light but well-poised and ready to write. It’s hard to resist the urge to try a few squiggles when you pick this up, even if you have nothing in particular to write – but as Skribent roughly translates as ‘scribble’ that’s perhaps appropriate.

How it fills  Somewhat disappointingly, given the piston option of the reasonably priced Classic, the Skribent is a cartridge/converter number. However, the converter does screw in for greater security, which is a smart move.

Crucially, how it writes…  Ah, here is where the Skribent changes opinions quite quickly. The looks might not win everyone over, but that nib does! It’s small but perfectly formed, with a gentle bounce usually only encountered on a Japanese ‘soft’ nib, and although it offers only modest line variation it is a real joy to write with.Pen! What is it good for?  This is a proper ‘writer’s pen’, this one; it is well-built and could cope with whole reams of text. ‘Just the thing for writing that novel you’ve been meaning to get around to…

VFM  This is the one area where the Skribent struggles a bit, at the moment. It’s a nice pen with a really excellent nib, and deserves a premium price, but £300 is an awful lot of money. For that kind of cash one could buy a piston-filler, with a bigger nib, from a famous name, and it’s hard to escape the sense that Cleo have been a little over-ambitious with the RRP. If this was closer to the £220 mark we’d be recommending it with enthusiasm, though.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Cleo makes a wide range of fountain pens, and we do aim to review more of them over the next couple of years. But probably the nearest writing experience to that available from the Skribent would be a Platinum #3776 with an SM nib – if you can find one.Our overall recommendation  If you do have a yearning to write a book long-hand, and you can afford a luxury ‘daily driver’, you could do a lot worse than the Skribent – and you’re sure to fall in love with the nib. We think that Cleo would be wise to reconsider the price positioning, however.

Where to get hold of one  There are few Cleo stockists in the UK so, review samples not withstanding, it does make sense to go straight to a specialist.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Write Here for lending us the Skribent to play with!

 

Ensso Piuma fountain pen review

A little bit of history  You’ve probably heard of the ‘architect nib’, as favoured by Frank Lloyd Wright, but have you ever wondered what would happen if an architect started making actual pens?  Well, here’s the answer. The same designer responsible for the remarkable parabola chair has been making pens for a couple of years now – and it was high time that we took a look.

How it looks  The first pen that Ensso have sent us is the brass version of the Piuma, named after the Italian for feather – the earliest sort of nib, of course. It looks like a classic cigar-shaped pen, albeit without summoning-up the toxicity that a cigar might suggest. It’s not a complex or even surprising shape, by any means, but it’s easy on the eye. The branding is subtle, and the whole thing looks classy and understated.

How it feels  Now here it’s a matter of personal taste and preference. A brass pen is always going to be heavier than its aluminium equivalent, and this is no exception to that iron (woops, wrong metal) rule. Whether that’s a good thing depends upon what you like. Scribble has a lot of big heavy brass pens and finds this one of the lighter ones, while Rob likes the look of brass but found the Piuma a bit too heavy. As Ian points out, naming it after a feather was perhaps a bit ironic given the heft. But if you can handle the weight, the grip is comfortable and the size just right for large-ish hands.

How it fills  It’s a straightforward cartridge/converter job, but that’s no problem.

Crucially, how it writes…  The Piuma takes a #6 nib in the screw-in Bock housing, as is often the case with relatively small-batch production runs. The steel nib we tried was competent rather than special, but that’s not so bad a place to start – and upgrading to something a bit more interesting should be quite straightforward.

Pen! What is it good for?  If you can take the weight, this is probably a good pen to travel with. You can enjoy watching it take on a handsome brass patina, or polishing it in between expeditions, as your prefer.

VFM  $99, (about £75/€85) looks like pretty good value for an unusual, classy and well-made pen like this.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  This is the only brass pen we know of with a shape quite like this, but if you want something hefty with a #6 Bock nib then brass versions of the Karas Kustoms Ink, the Tactile Turn Gist, the Namisu Nova and the Kaweco Supra are all worth a look. Ensso is also working on a much smaller pen which will also be available in brass, and can currently be located on Kickstarter.

Our overall recommendation  Check whether the weight is really for you first – but if you like the design and can manage the mass, get one while stocks last.

Where to get hold of one  Straight from the maker.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Ensso for kindly sending a sample our way.

 

Pure Pens ‘Celtic Collection’ fountain pen inks

A little bit of history  The tribes living at the edges of the old Empire (the Roman one) may or may not have ever referred to themselves as the Keltoi, but the name rather stuck nevertheless. Successive waves of invasion and colonisation (by Romans, Saxons, Vikings, and Normans) pushed these Gaelic and Brythonic language groups to the north and to the west, in the areas we know today as Ireland, the western isles of Scotland, much of Wales and Cornwall – and since Pure Pens is based in one of those areas (just about), it was a natural inspiration for naming their new ink collection.  We couldn’t wait to get our pens loaded…How it looks  Cadwaladr is a rich red, with plenty of character.Celtic Sea is a pleasing blue, with lots of maritime presence.

Somewhere between mustard yellow and light brown, Pendine Sands takes the shading trophy.

Porthcurno summons up the water of a Cornish bay, if you’re lucky with the weather.

Llanberis Slate is a civilised grey with the teeniest hint of purple.

Saltire Blue is the shade of the Scottish flag, of course.

From the second wave of these inks, Glens of Antrim is a light bright green.

There needed to be a teal in there somewhere, and Cwm Idwal gives a good dark turquoise.

Flower of Scotland, finally, contributes the essential purple.

Crucially, how it writes…  It does the job well, with no dryness issues reported – and we put it in an awful lot of different pens, between us.

Ink! What is it good for?  These are fun inks, and fun is probably what they’re best for. But Saltire and Llanberis could probably be sneaked into the office if you’re feeling naughty, and maybe even Flower of Scotland too.

VFM  £6.99 for 60ml – no complaints there.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Take a look at the ranges from Beaufort Inks and Mabie Todd, which have a not wildly dissimilar provenance,  shall we say.

Our overall recommendation  This is a good range of inks from a serious niche fountain pen retailer, at a decent price, and most tastes are catered for somewhere in the range. What’s not to like?

Where to get hold of some  Direct from the source!

This meta-review references:

Thanks to Pure Pens for kindly sending us a whole heap of samples.

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…