All posts by Scribble

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…

 

Mabie Todd ‘Blackbird’ fountain pen inks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This meta-review references:

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

London Stationery Show 2018

A modest gaggle of us hit the second day of the show this year, and found it quiet enough to make contact with a quite a few firms we’d like to work with in the months ahead – so here’s a quick summary.

Starting with well-known brands, Sheaffer / Cross have some pens which are more impressive in the hand than you might have expected, and we’re going to see if we can test some out soon. Similarly, Montegrappa’s nibs turn out to be better writers than we’d realised and we might be trying some of them too. Oh, and Lamy are astonished that we’ve not reviewed the Safari yet so we shall what happens…

Meanwhile, those Ystudio pens are still looking quite tempting, the new rose gold version of the aluminium Kaweco Sport is really rather impressive, and the limited edition colours of the Silvine Originals are quite classy too.

The Manuscript stand was a joy as ever, complete with Joyce’s ‘Artsynibs’ calligraphy tutorials and the interesting site of Bock nibs making an appearance in the Helit-bodies Clarity fountain pen (very similar to the Dex we have reviewed in the past). But more outrageous than any pen was their latest remarkable breakthrough – yes, they’ve only gone and invented the italic mechanical pencil! We’ll be putting that to the test as soon as we can get our hands on one.

Finally, we encountered some rather delectable paper too.  Ludlow Bookbinders had made some really cute leather-bound pocket notebooks – expect to see more of those – and another Italian paper-maker were launching their PuntoRiga brand in search of a UK distributor, which surely can’t be hard to find with such a good writing surface and some very interesting binding  ideas too.

As ever, a good opportunity to meet some old friends and make some new ones!

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.