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Paper Republic Grand Voyageur XL

A little bit of history  While the whole “traveller’s notebook” craze was getting very fashionable – and let’s face it, very expensive – some enterprising folks in Austria thought that they could probably do better if they took the concept and started again from scratch. We caught up with their take on the format at the London Stationery Show, and tempted by the rather lovely-looking Grand Voyageur XL version (partly because it looked like it was A5), we immediately volunteered to put a few of them to the test.  Three of us have taken these out and about, pour voyages grands et petits, and here’s how they fared.

How it looks  Like a traveller’s notebook made by professionals for serious writers, which is a good image to start with.  The leather is available in a range of colours all the way from understated to bright and bold, and the availability of contrasting elastic closures (if preferred by the user) can make it look smarter still.  The Paper Republic logo is neatly debossed on the back, and buyers can have their initials on the front for a modest extra charge.  Only the frayed ends of the knotted retaining bands detracts from the professional appearance, but this may be something the makers look into improving in subsequent models.

How it feels  Smooth, supple, flexible and generally luxurious; if you’re a bit of a stationery leather fetishist you’re going to be pretty happy with this material.  Thanks to vegetable-derived tanning processes it even smells good, and it seems to hold up well after vigorous use.

How it fills  With Paper Republic’s Swedish-made refills, available in plain, lined and grid versions.  This is where we encountered the one major fly in the ointment; the paper is OK, but the paper size is not as we had expected.  These are not, in fact, A5 (which is 148mmX210mm), but a proprietary size of around 135mmX200mm, and that greatly limits the usefulness of the design.  If you have pages of notes made in the Grand Voyageur XL which you wish to remove and file with A5 notes, it’s going to be messy. Worse still, if you wish to source your own A5 refills, perhaps because you are actually travelling and can’t arrange a Paper Republic delivery, you can’t; a full A5 refill hangs out of the cover in a thoroughly ungainly fashion.  This is such a serious limitation that it is only really going to work for the sort of writer who is so disciplined that they know exactly how much writing they will do on any given expedition, and that’s a pity; other than this shortfall, we all thought it was a great product.Crucially, how it handles fountain pens…  Quite well, fortunately!  The manufacturer’s claim to use the best paper in the world was a bit of an exaggeration – we have certainly all used better – but that’s not say it’s bad at all.  It was quite pleasant to write on and coped with every nib we threw at it with aplomb.

Pulp! What is it good for?  Well, given the issue with size, it’s hard to think of what these are best used for at present.  But Laura’s adaptation of one into an ink journal looks like a good place to begin.

VFM  These covers retail for €60 direct from Paper Republic, or £54 from Cult Pens in the UK; which is most affordable will depend upon how much of a mess the Pound is in on the day you wish to make a purchase, but it’s always worth checking the exchange rates first. Our view is that the quality justifies that price, but the actual value to you the consumer may depend upon whether the eccentric paper size is a help or a hindrance.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  There is also a not-quite-A5 notebook format from Germany, the X17, but while this has even more colour options, it shares the drawback of falling short in a dimension or two.  The only true A5 notebook cover we have come across is from Devon; the Start Bay is only available in shades of brown but is more competitively priced and definitely does the job well.  Meanwhile Paper Republic do also make a passport-sized notebook, and another which doubles as a mobile ‘phone cover, which may have wider appeal.

Our overall recommendation  This is a really well-made, impressive product which we would like to recommend without reservations.  Unfortunately we do have one serious reservation, but we have already shared this with Paper Republic and they’ve told us they’re considering how to proceed.  If they go ahead and produce a true A5 version – perhaps the Plus Grand Voyageur XXL – we’ll be first in the queue to buy a few.

Where to get hold of one If you like the format it makes a lot of sense to support the manufacturer by buying direct. However, if the consequences of foreign policy eccentricities have knocked your own currency out of kilter, Cult Pens also sell them.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Paper Republic  for donating no less then three notebooks in return for honest reviews.

Streamline fountain pen review

A little bit of history   As the twentieth century grew more confident in its own artistic milieu and Art Deco architecture collided with aeronautical design, the blended lines of ‘Streamline Moderne’ emerged. It bore all sorts of results, from Morecambe’s Midland Hotel (where everyday is like Sunday, according to Mr. Morrissey), to the passenger accommodation of The Hindenburg (itself inspiration for the Diplomat Aero), and, of course, the Airstream caravan (as slow as all other caravans but at least nicer to look at). Several decades later, Jake Lazzari of Applied Pens spotted the missing category; fountain pens.

How it looks  Like a pocket version of the Schienenzeppelin with a nib inside the engine bay, or a rapidly-extruded Airsteam, or, inevitably an alien mind-probe.  It rather defies easy description, frankly, and it’s probably better to let the pictures do the talking on this occasion; suffice it to say that there is nothing else out there quite like it.

How it feels  It’s big – really extraordinarily big. So much so that you might wonder if your hands are big enough.  Three-quarters of our reviewing panel were, however, pleasantly surprised to find that it nevertheless felt about right in the hand, and the lightness of the materials ensures that it’s not as heavy as it looks either.  The ebonite makes it warm to the touch immediately, which is also rather pleasant.  But it will be just a bit too big for some.

How it fills  With a simple Schmidt converter, and that’s perfectly reasonable.  The lack of metal inside then barrel and the close threads probably means that eye-dropper conversion is also possible, if you don’t mind a few ink-burps as a result.

Crucially, how it writes…  As ever with hand-made pens, that depends upon the nib you choose to add.  Jake uses the Bock #6 steel nib as standard, and although the review unit we sampled had been bashed about a bit, to the detriment of writing performance in this case, Jake does test all nibs before dispatch to customers and will rectify any issues which arise after delivery. The writing position is comfortable and, with a #6 nib of your choice, this should be a very nice long-term scribbler.

Pen! What is it good for?  Let’s keep it clean, folks. It’s for writing – really, it is. Most of us would probably keep a pen this extravagantly outré for use at home, but it would certainly look the part signing big contracts… or peace treaties with extraterrestrial civilisations.

VFM  Most versions of the Streamline are available at around the £150 mark, which we think is fair for a hand-made pen with unique design and plenty of customisation options. Installing a nib which is more exotic than the steel standard will naturally add to that, but it’s still a tempting proposition for most of us who reviewed it.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  The acrylic used in the section of this review sample wasn’t quite as popular as the ebonite of the main body, but that’s no real problem as there are copious alternative options – have a look at Jake’s Etsy page (link below) for a few ideas if you need them.  If you like the unique design but just can’t handle something quite this huge, Jake does make some smaller pens too.  We can’t think of any other pen maker turning out anything remotely comparable, though.

Our overall recommendation  If you like big pens and you cannot lie, then make like Sir Inkalot to the website and order one; we were mightily impressed and several of us have started to muse about our own choice of materials one day.  We’d like to see a version with a bigger #8 nib in the future too, but this is a pretty special pen which looks out of this world but is also very nice to wield.

Where to get hold of one  From Jake’s Etsy page, or the outer rings of Saturn, whichever is closer to you.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Jake for supplying this extraordinary test sample, and offering one lucky reader the chance to take it home!  The competition entailed ideas for favourite Welsh designers, with a very broad brief as to what ‘designer’ means. There were some wonderfully creative responses but the most surprising had to be the humble equals= sign.  The prize is winging its way by flying saucer…

Jake Lazzari of Applied Pens

So why ‘Applied Pens’, Jake?  Well, I trained in applied arts, which is essentially about the overlap between three-dimensional sculpture and actually making beautiful things you can use. I’ve always liked the combination of aesthetic and utilitarian and that set the pattern for my career.

What moved you into making pens?  One thing led to another!  I was already making sculpted items for display at home – candlesticks, vases, etc. – and one of the dealers who sold them for me was based in Hay-on-Wye, a very literary town as you know. He pointed out that writers and their readers often like a good fountain pen, and that there’s a demand for something a bit out of the ordinary.  It took some serious research to find the right mix of materials and equipment, much of which I had to source abroad, but Applied Pens soon took off.  That was two years ago and I haven’t looked back.

How does a Lazzari design take shape?  Here’s my little secret – I’m really a mechanical pencil fan.  I’m told that’s safe enough to admit to in the stationery world, and I enjoy putting my original art skills to use.  Looking at the preliminary sketches, you can see how the Streamline pen took shape.  I do take commissions from customers too, but I’m always full of ideas anyway.

How are you finding working with us pen fans? It’s fun talking to such a well-informed audience.  Fountain pen cognoscenti can spot a ‘kit pen’ at fifty paces and I’ve never been much impressed either, so making something truly original is good news for all of us. Going for a comfortably big pen with a large #6 nib seems to be really popular, and the Etsy site has been going well.

What are the materials you like working with best?  I started out working with metals, and actually may return to this for some future pens if all goes according to plan.  But for now, my material of choice is often food-grade ebonite; that ‘burnt rubber’ smell takes a bit of getting used to in the workshop, but it works well and makes for a pen which is really nice to hold. I also use acrylic quite a lot for the sections, and I’ve just invested in some remaindered Conway Stewart blanks which look amazing.

Some of your designs look like props from The Eagle – is there a bit of a sci-fi influence? You guessed it – ‘always been one of my big inspirations. Expect to see more…

What’s coming next? I’m working on some promising polygonal bodies right now, which do present a few challenges in getting the caps to line up with the barrels – I might have to make a video demonstrating how to get it right!  Plus there could be some more materials on the way, so keep watching.

Coming up next for us a is a meta-review of one of Jake’s Streamline pens – you’ll probably want one – but in the meantime you can see all he’s making right now on his Etsy page.

Kaweco Lilliput fountain pen meta-review

A little bit of history  Are you sitting comfortably? The history here is a quite a long one. When Padraig was kidnapped by pirates and taken to slavery in Ireland – prior to his subsequent visit which, in the long run, elevated him as Saint Patrick – some accounts record that his sister Lupita was carried away with him.  Her life story is obscure indeed, but somehow legends ascribed to or connected with her found their home at the edge of Lough Ennell.  What may have been an isolated area of the now-drained bog at the edge could conceivably been named in shaky Norman French as L’Isle de Lupita, but this too is conjecture; somehow, nevertheless, the name was corrupted to Lilliput.  Many centuries later the Dean of a cathedral – St.Patrick’s Cathedral, as it happens, for in our world all things are connected – was staying by the lake when he looked across and saw tiny figures, diminished by perspective, on the far side of the shore.  According to literary legend, there an idea was born; for that Dean was none other than Jonathan Swift.A little bit more history Jonathan Swift was a rapier-sharp satirist in his time (see ‘A Modest Proposal‘ for his critique of the way some governments behave towards the poor), but his best-known work these days is a rather subtler satire on tribal folly, Gulliver’s Travels.  Lemuel Gulliver’s first port of call, of course, is Lilliput, where the people are astonishingly diminutive – around six inches in height, typically.  If the fountain pen had been available at this point, a good century and a half before its invention, the proportionate writing implement for a true Lilliputian would have been about 1cm in length.  In setting out to make an exceptionally minuscule fountain pen it is greatly to the relief of all diligent scribes that Messrs Koch, Weber and Company of Nuremberg, late of Heidelberg, aspired to virtues beyond mere portability…How it looks  Oh alright, it’s still tiny – just not quite as tiny as that! This simple metal tube (well, simple in most versions, at least) is the smallest serious fountain pen currently in production.  It looks small and, at least in basic black, inconspicuous.  Unscrew the cap, screw it onto the back to extend to the pen’s full length, and it looks a bit more like the pen concept we’re all familiar with.  Then different finishes separate the subtle from the unsubtle; the plain black aluminium gives way to flashy pink and purple versions, encounters with flame-throwers turn the stainless steel version into ‘fireblue’, and the rippled finish of the ‘brass wave’ turns a basic pipe into something which looks like it just fell out of a grandfather clock.  There’s a lot of visual variety for such a small pen.  Oddly, a typographical error misses the third ‘L’ in Lilliput from the barrel imprint, but Swift’s own spelling was so haphazard that he probably wouldn’t mind too much.

How it feels  Did we mention this thing is small?  It really feels it!  For most of our reviewers, the Lilliput is ideal for a light, unobtrusive pocket pen which does a good job of taking quick notes. One of our reviewers found it too small to do anything much with, while another actually wrote an entire examination paper with one.  This is certainly a size and shape which divides opinion quite sharply.

How it fills  There is room for a small international cartridge in the barrel, and that’s all. Kaweco’s new small converter does fit into the section, but with little free space in the barrel the piston cannot be safely pulled far enough to get more than about 0.1ml drawn up, so that’s unlikely to be helpful. Thankfully, a wide range of decent tints are available in cartridge form these days, including all ten of Kaweco’s own inks, and refilling an empty cartridge from a bottle with a syringe is fairly straightforward.

Crucially, how it writes…   As ever, that depends upon the nib you choose.  The Lilliput uses the same nib as most other small-ish Kaweco fountain pens including the Sport, Student, Special and Dia, and the whole nib, feed and collar assembly is a simple screw-fit so you can swap and change to your heart’s content.  The standard steel units are usually pretty good, and if the quality consistency is perhaps not quite as stellar as that achieved by Diplomat and Faber-Castell, the enthusiastic and friendly customer service more than makes up for it; no Kaweco pen owner is left for long without a pen they can use, in our experience. The gold-coloured nibs work similarly well, while the black-painted nibs tend to run a little drier but can be coaxed back into life by refilling with a very wet ink, such as KWZ.  If you really want to go crazy and spend more on a nib than you did on the pen, you can even fit one of the excellent gold nibs – and those are indeed not cheap, but Bock gold is very reliable.

Pen! What is it good for?  For most people, this is a trusty little  stand-by pen to write quick notes with. True eccentrics (sorry, Jam) will write reams with the thing, but it’s a free world and we love the variety!

VFM  This depends upon the finish you go for, and how far it fits your writing style.  The brass wave and ‘fireblue’ versions do take considerable expertise and time to make, and are priced quite reasonably for what they are – but perhaps only represent good value if you are actually going to use them.  The more basic aluminium  versions are incontestably good value as robust but real pocket fountain pens.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…   Buy a bigger pen.  Seriously, there is very little of comparable size and quality in the current market. There are some tiny vintage pens, which you may find if you’re lucky, and some other cheap and rather less durable pocket pens from a few other manufacturers are still around, but if you want an ultra-small pocket fountain pen which will last the distance this is probably the best option.  If you like the minimalist shape of the Lilliput and just want it scaled-up for comfort in the hand, however, you might consider its larger sibling, the Brobdingnag*.

Our overall recommendation  If you have a need for a pocket pen and are determined to avoid the wretched Ballpoints of Blefuscu, Lilliput is the destination for you.  One contributor to this meta-review’s team is returning their sample as too small for their needs, but probably a good half of our bloggers have a Lilliput tucked into a pocket somewhere.  Pick up a friend’s before you buy, test-drive one at a shop, or purchase one from a dealer you can trust to take it back if it’s just too, errm, Lilliputian for you.

Where to get hold of one  Any number of fountain pen specialist sellers – in fact, nearly all of them – carry the Lilliput. However, the purple, pink and champagne versions are only available from Mostwanted Pens.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Kaweco for helping with access to several of the Lilliputs we reviewed – some of which we couldn’t let go of.

*The Brobdingnag is now marketed as the Supra, the original Swiftian soubriquet having proved a little long even for this barrel. ‘Cracking pen, though.

Pocket Notebooks subscription box meta-review

A little bit of history  Pocket Notebooks, as covered in last week’s quick profile piece, specialise in, well, pocket notebooks.  These have been making quite a resurgence in recent years and there’s ample competition.  But which is going to work best with your juiciest fountain pen? Our team set out to investigate…

How they look  Apart from the slight variations in size, they do range from the wild to the very subtle in cover artwork. Clairefontaine have gone to town with retro geometry, while right at the other end of the scale Darkstar are understated to the point of nearly anonymous – but not quite! Of course this isn’t so important if you’re planning to put the notebook into a cover for added durability, but it does add to the visual experience of that ‘unboxing’ moment.

How they feel  Stuart was wise to send our reviewers smooth enough paper to handle the rigours of proper nibs, and most of the paper stocks felt pleasant to write on – but this can be quite the opposite experience with the similarly-sized Field Notes, so beware.  Thanks to stitched spines, the Clairefontaine and Silvine offerings felt a bit more robust to use too. Due to an apparent lack of size standardisation (none seem to be quite proper A6) some feel distinctly smaller than others, particularly the Silvine pocket book. But they don’t feel cheap, despite their impressive affordability.

Crucially, how they work with a fountain pen…  On the whole, very well.  The overall winner looks like the Clairefontaine Retro Nova, with the Silvine coming a close second and honourable mentions going to the California notebook using Tomoe River paper and feisty upstart Darkstar. None can quite survive the Clumsy Penman’s atomic-standard Baystate Blue test, but no-one in their right mind uses that ink for everyday writing anyway.  The key point is that these are good enough to write on and let your thoughts wander, without having to resort to a wretched ballpoint (or ‘Biro of Beelzebub’ as it’s known amongst discriminating audiences).

John, our chief paper-pusher for this exercise, reports the following results from individual tests: 

California Journals  These come in two different styles, the Tomoe River paper version and the ‘Backpocket Journal’.  Mateusz, Gillian and John received these to have a look through, and our conclusions were very similar.  Tomoe River is Tomoe River, and there’s little more to be said about it; it’s excellent paper for writing on but does occasionally need a blotter to make sure you’re not smudging with the wetter inks.  On the other hand, the Backpocket Journal could occasionally be used as a blotter, such is the density and absorbency of the paper in question.Story Supply notebook  An interesting one this, with the attention to detail that many notebooks just don’t concern themselves with, such as a section in the front for all your details, resilient paper, and a hard wearing cover.  Laura, Mateusz and John all received these to work with, and it has to be said that all were pleased with this Journal, so much so in Laura’s case that marriage may be on the cards… You saw it here first.So what’s so good about it?  It’s got fine lines, which is a must when you write small, but even in broader hands, proves to be a good choice for those who enjoy writing copiously.  It wouldn’t be so good for those who write with stub nibs or italics, but for everyone who uses it as an everyday note book, the lines (0.5 from 0.7 standard) were very popular.  It’s a thirsty notebook (by which we mean that if you leave your pen on it, it may take a drink…), but the paper is excellent quality and writes well, just so long as you remember to keep going rather than taking a break.

Clairefontaine 1951 Retro nova Notebook  Coming from a brand with the history of Clairefontaine, anything new has both the recommendation of past excellence to chivvy it along, but also the weight of ensuring that it passes muster in the face of the old guard.  Laura, Gillian, Mateusz and John all got this one, and while the new stylings were interesting, what you have here is another quality product from Clairefontaine, the paper is what we’ve come to expect, equally the binding and the cover.  It doesn’t distinguish itself from the other notebooks that Clairefontaine produce though, merely adding a spin on the style of an already classic notebook.

Inky fingers Journal  Something of an oddity when compared to the other Journals with its shiny cover, both Gillian and John received one of these and while it’s a reasonable book to write in, it didn’t fire the imagination in the way that the others had done, and the price was not conducive towards considering it essential. That said, it’s an interesting journal and the paper has the feel of being recycled without having the usual associated bleed through that goes with it.  Worth taking a look at, but it wasn’t our favourite of the bunch.

Dark Star Nomad Journal  Aside from having the most epic name of the journals we looked at, the Nomad also had good reactions from Gillian, Mateusz and John, although Mateusz was more circumspect about the quality of the paper.  At 100gsm, the paper is some of the thickest that we looked at in the journals, with all the attendant ease of writing that provides whilst not being absorbent like many thicker papers are.  John uses a Darkstar as an ink journal, so his own proclivities are well known on the matter, but Gillian had similar thoughts too.

Word, Calepino, Moleskine, and Whitelines.  Fewer of our team received these, so the simplest summary is to report that Moleskine was actually not as bad as feared, and refer readers to Laura’s excellent summary (see links below).  It has to be said though, she still wants to marry the Story Supply…

And that brings us to the Pale Horse of this particular meta-review…

Silvine Pocket notebook.  This little journal took many of us by surprise.  From the classic brand of Silvine, the pocket notebook was not only the smallest of the books offered us to take a look at, but also the one that for many of us left the strongest impression.

Gillian, Mateusz and John received one of these, and to be honest none had expected it to be anything all that special.  First contact soon put that assumption to the test.  The Silvine Pocket is a utilitarian notebook, every page perforated, sewn bindings (not just bound in, properly sewn), and a paper that resisted every type of feathering that we tried on it, then came back for more, all the while holding the colours perfectly.  The paper had a slight texture to it, and doesn’t quite compare to papers such as Tomoe (what does…?) when it comes to smoothness, but the textured feel encouraged writing upon it for all those who got it, and it emerged as a surprise success story for all three reviewers.

Pulp! What is it good for?  Well, as the retailer’s own slogan has it “forget the app; there’s a notebook for that”.  Twinned with a decent little fountain pen, these are great for a quick digital-free creative moment when you’re out and about. You probably wouldn’t want to write a whole novel in one, but for a bit of travel diary-writing they’re not bad either.  Plus, they signal your inherent taste and savoir-faire to any of other member of the stationery cognoscenti who you happen to encounter. Generally, a good pocket notebook is going to become a staple (even the stitched variety!).

VFM  Terrific; some of these are sold individually, others in packs of three, but you can certainly get a pocket notebook for pocket money.  The stand-out product from this meta-review, the ‘Retro Nova’, is available at Pocket Notebooks at a substantially lower price than that offered by most of our otherwise favoured stationery retailers.  The equivalent retail value of the subscription box, too, is often rather more than subscribers actually pay, and that’s not to be sneezed at.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Then you could do a lot worse than to try the subscription box concept – there’ll be new notebooks coming along on as regular a basis as you like, and one of them will probably suit your style.  Alternatively, if it’s just the size that’s the issue, there are rumours that A5 may be on the cards for similar treatment some time soon.

Our overall recommendation  If you’re a notebook floozy who flits from one paper stock to another with gay abandon, then a hand-selected box set like this can be a great way of working out which one to settle down with eventually.  For those more inclined to the stationery equivalent of the ‘silver ring thing’, read some detailed reviews of potential suitors (like Laura has provided) before taking the plunge.

Where to get hold of a box set like this  www.pocketnotebooks.co.uk

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Stuart at Pocket Notebooks for getting a great selection of his wares out to our team!

 

Pocket Notebooks profile

They say you should never meet your heroes – but they’re talking through their hats. While last year’s London Stationery Show introduced us to Tony, the founder of Pocket Notebooks, this year was an opportunity to meet Stuart, who has just staged a friendly takeover.  We’ll be covering some of Pocket Notebooks’ pocket notebooks in more detail next week – but before then, here’s a little bit more about the company itself.

The whole shebang was started by IT people who needed a bit of a ‘digital detox’, hence the rather wonderful brand motto: “Forget the app – there’s a notebook for that”. It gradually grew an online following, selling analogue wares by digital means, and the usefulness of a nicely-crafted old-fashioned notebook in the pocket evidently still has quite a following – possibly even a growing one, as the mobile ‘phone becomes ubiquitous and writing with a proper pen (or pencil) becomes a way of quietly rebelling.  The format includes some real gems, like the retro-styled Clairefontaine below.

Stuart came to Pocket Notebooks in true Victor Kiam fashion; he was a happy customer, and liked the products so much that, when Tony felt it was time to move on to new projects, he bought the company.  Moving operations from the North East down to Hampshire has proved an opportunity to set up a proper stripped-back scaffold-rack hipster warehouse, with a vinyl record player and all retro conveniences – and with all those displacement activities now completed, the company is swinging into business.

Pocket Notebooks is now carrying an impressive range of handy A6 (or thereabouts) notebooks, most of them quite friendly to fountain pens, and our adventurous team of reviewers will be putting some of them to the test next week.  To manage all the demand, Stuart has also employed a capable warehouse manager to sniff out the goodies…

There is a novel twist, too – as well as every-day customer-led retail, Stuart’s developing a neat line in subscription boxes to keep the discriminating scribbler inspired and, occasionally, surprised.  Our very own Laura reviews one of the subscription boxes below, to give you a bit of flavour.

What this brief profile piece can’t really convey is quite what a personal relationship Stuart is building up with customers.  In our experience that’s something only a true fan of the products can provide – there’s just no faking it – and that’s part of what grabs us too. There’s more to come next week on how some of the current product selections fare in the hands of our keen scribblers and scrawlers, but until then, here’s the website itself.

 

London Stationery Show report

Your dogged correspondent trekked down to the London Stationery Show for a second year, and as previously there was an embarrassment of riches.  Many of this year’s ‘finds’ are ones we’ll come back to, so here’s a quick report to whet your appetite.

There is no escape from Noris; resistance is futile

Highlights included:

  1. The Manuscript stand, with hands-on calligraphy area and of course the rather splendid new ML1856 – which we’re hoping to review before too long.

  2. Kaweco – having now seen the brass version of the Special it’s obvious why it immediately sold out, but we’ll be back to review it when we can get our hands on a few.

  3. Meeting Stuart, who now runs the excellent Pocket Notebooks site – a great guy to talk to, and we’ll be reviewing his wares very soon.

  4. Encountering the revamped Silvine red notebooks; pictures don’t really do them justice.

  5. Playing with the very nice brass pens and pencils from Ystudio.  We’ll get some to review if we can.

  6. Flipping through the new Rhodia Heritage Collection; they really do look the business and we are endeavouring to acquire some to test.

  7. Discovering that Fabriano notebooks are coming back to our high streets soon; good-quality dot grids which you don’t have to go online for sound like they could be very handy.

  8. Meeting the owner of the new bricks-and-mortar shop in lovely Hexham, Penfax.

  9. Admiring the refillable notebooks for people who know that ‘traveller’ has two Ls, from Paper Republic – and yes, we’re aiming to review those too.

  10. Discovering that Sheaffer still make some proper posh pens.  We can’t be so certain of getting some of those to play with, but we’ll see.

  11. Wading through a veritable forest of shiny new Leuchtturm notebooks, with a lot of understandable fuss about how 1917 was, y’know, a whole century ago and everything, and watching their portable embossing machine and old-school Gutenberg lettering rack in progress (see below for more on how to bag the results).

Lowlights included:

  1. Heating which threatened to boil all exhibitors alive, until a merciful cool-down after lunch.

  2. A certain rather well-known manufacturer whose representatives didn’t recognise one of their own pens, got confused about how flex nibs worked and had to be given a brief lecture on model numbers and the difference between push-button converters and piston filling systems.  We shall leave them unidentified to spare their blushes… don’t mess with penthusiasts, people!

Win the notebook

Leuchtturm kindly embossed our name in a silver on a unique United Inkdom A6 notebook, and with only one of them in the whole world we couldn’t possibly divide it between our team so we decide to hand it over to you!  We asked for comments with weird and wonderful ideas about what you’d do with such notebook in your pocket (or indeed in your hand), and the winning answer was, well, world domination.  How could we argue?

 

 

 

 

Super5 pens and inks

A little bit of history  Last year we made contact (via Matthias) with the remarkable Super5 in Germany, and a select band of bloggers got to grips with their novel range of pens and inks.  It’s such a distinctive collection that just this once we’re reviewing a whole brand, rather than just one product. The range includes fountain pens, rollerballs, and FP-friendly permanent inks – you can see why we couldn’t resist!newandoldSuper5s

How it looks  The Super5 pen, in all its variants, looks a lot like the Kingsley Dex and the Manuscript Master, which is hardly surprising as it shares its basic Helit body with both. Like the Master, it has a nice metal sections too, and the useless but fun screw-off blind cap which could, just about, allow access to the turning knob of a converter if you wanted it to (but you won’t want it to, honestly).  This is a comfortable, appealing shape and there’s a decent range of colour schemes too.  The inks looks like they come in Rohrer&Klingner bottles, because that’s precisely what they are.orangeonblack

How it feels  The pen’s body is a combination of warm plastic and firm but comfortable metal (in the section).  ‘Nothing to complain about there.Super 5 FP

How it fills  Pop in a cartridge, or if you want to make the most of the Super5 ink range, a normal ‘international’ converter.  It’s all very straightforward.Super5 07FP

Crucially, how it writes…  Very well, and quite differently from many other affordable fountain pens.  The round nib has iridium tipping but the italic versions have none – just polished steel.  Of course, that’s just fine if calligraphy is your style. If you really can’t handle fountain pens, which seems unlikely if you’re reading this but let’s roll with it anyway, there’s also a rollerball version which accepts the same cartridges or converters so you can use fountain pen ink.orangeonwhite

Pen! What is it good for?  The italic nibs (0.5mm and 0.7mm respectively) are particularly good for fast semi-calligraphic writing.  They work with the Super5 permanent inks, too, so they’re pretty handy.Atlantic

Ink! What is it good for?  While the names of some of the inks baffled us a bit, we all thought they worked very well in the Super5 pens, flowing impressively well for such a thick ink.  So, it’s good stuff for calligraphy – as long as you give your pen an occasional flush-through afterwards.Australia

VFM  These have to be imported, and they are only procured in relatively small batches, so the pens are inevitably not going to be quite as affordable as the humble Dex – indeed, they’re about twice the price.  That’s still not ridiculous money for pens which work well and can handle some punishment, though.  The ink is a little steeper, but still fair value if a coloured permanent ink is just what you need.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  The Dex and Manuscript Master are pens worth a look instead.  KWZ are working on some permanent inks which could prove competition in the refill department.Super5 Rollerball

Our overall recommendation  It’s all worth a look – and if you want something no-one else in the office is likely to have, this is a sure-fire bet.

Where to get hold of one  Direct from ‘Papierlabor‘ is the only way.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to Super5 for the generous set of test samples.

 

Namisu Nova fountain pen meta-review

01 Brass at the castleA little bit of history  Glaciers, weathering and tectonic plates were all involved to a greater or lesser extent in separating the Lothian volcanoes from the kingdom of Fife, but ever since the Forth Bridge became the world’s largest project management metaphor, both sides of the firth have been part of an on-and-off industrial heartland.  That engineering heritage was recently sparked in to life in one local business unit by the Kickstarter project which brought Namisu into being, and they’re now producing a couple of models in an increasingly diverse range of materials.  Some of us have been interested since those heady Kickstarter days, but the word is spreading fast…01 Alu goes Forth

How it looks  Like a streamlined version of the Nakaya-esque ‘bullet’ shape, polished-up for use as a prop in 1950s sci-fi B-movies – which is a long way round to saying that it’s minimalist, and we like that very much.  It looks exceedingly cool, whatever the material it’s cast in. The only catch is that said minimalist tube does rather like to roll off any surface you place it on!ClumsyPenmanship

How it feels  Large but really rather comfortable.  Obviously, the different materials available make a quite a difference; the aluminium version is sturdy and light, the ebonite version is very warm to the touch, and the brass version is satisfyingly heavy – probably too heavy for many writers, but marvellous if you like a weightier pen.02 Laura's Alu

How it smells  This criterion doesn’t feature in every meta-review, but appears here thanks to the ebonite version which Namisu kindly lent several of us to test.  Ebonite is a rather old-school material for a fountain pen, and it’s essentially just very hard rubber. That makes it tactile, light and warm to hold, which are all good things, but for those with sensitive noses there is also the detectable whiff of burnt tyres on a warm summer’s day. Of course, whether that’s a noxious pong or a nostalgic aroma is very much a matter of olfactory taste.03 Scribble's alu

How it fills  Cartridge/converter.  There should be space in there for a longer international cartridge, and Namisu often provide a good Schmitt converter with the Nova too.04 Rob's Back in black

Crucially, how it writes…  This is very much dependent upon whether you go for one of Namisu’s nibs or fit your own.  Namisu stocks Bock nibs, usually either the standard steel (occasionally black-coated, as above) or titanium.  The Bock #6 steel nibs are firm but quite pleasant to use, while the titanium option offers a bit of flex – although we had mixed feelings as to how smooth they were on the paper.  The feed and collar unscrew, and any other Bock #6 assembly will screw back in, so if you happen to have spare nibs from the larger Kaweco or Diplomat pens, for example, they’ll be easy to swap.  It’s also possible to buy unbranded Bock replacement nibs from sources such as Beaufort, although the gold option is as pricey as you might expect.  Helpfully, the actual metal is a standard shape, so other #6 nibs, for instance those made by JoWo, can be transplanted into the Bock feed and collar assembly without too much difficulty; these can be acquired more affordably from FPnibs.com.08 Ruth's ebonite

Pen! What is it good for?  The aluminium and ebonite versions are both good for longer writing sessions or quick note-taking  – as long as you put the cap somewhere safe!  The brass version could probably double up as some form of defensive weapon, but we wouldn’t recommend doing that with it.05 Ian's Alu&Ebonite

VFM  At £45 the aluminium version is really very good value for a distinctive British-built fountain pen.  The brass and titanium versions get pricier, but are both still quite competitive for enthusiasts of those metals.  Ebonite nudges the ticket into three figures, which seemed a little steep to us for a pen which only has a basic steel nib, but it’s an unusual material, and while rather expensive this is hardly daylight robbery.  Match a Nova with a really good nib of your choice and you get something truly splendid for the outlay.06 Dan's Ebonite

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Namisu also make the Orion, a fairly similar shape but one which hasn’t appealed so much to us.  Or, if you like the look of the titanium Nova and want to spend ten times as much, there’s a Nakaya made from the same material.  Hmm.nib again

Our overall recommendation  Go ahead and get one while you can!  The aluminium version is an affordable design classic, and you can always upgrade to other materials later on.  If you covet the brass version, though, move fast; Namisu took some persuading to make it at all and we understand that it is intended as a one-off at the moment (you could prove them wrong, of course).cap endWhere to get hold of one  Right now, buying from Namisu directly is the only way.10 Scribble's brass

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Namisu for lending several of us an ebonite Nova to play with.  The rest we bought with our own money!07 Nova-nib

Robert Oster fountain pen ink review

Here in the United Inkdom, us poms and near neighbours are sometimes lucky enough to receive some bonzer gear to play with – sometimes pens, sometimes paper, and sometimes…  sometimes ink!

Bottles

And here’s the thing about that; a pen will convey the message, the paper will carry the message, but it’s the ink that brings the message to life.  So when we get inks to play with, all of us tend to get a bit over-excited.

Robert Oster Signature inks are fairly new to Blighty, but an Australian brand that’s quickly developing a strong following over here, and it’s easy to see why.

They’re not the fastest drying of inks, averaging between ten and fifteen seconds for full dryness on good paper.  As you might expect from an ink that wet the flow on them is superb, coverage on the page is complete, there’s no stutter, even from very fine nibs, but when you have an ink as rich and fulsome as these, you want something a little thicker to enjoy the tones upon the paper.

It’s also rare that all of us agree on the nature and quality of an ink – we’re an eclectic bunch with a wide variety of tastes – but universally, these colours have us inspired.  The inks have interesting names which give a nod to the inspiration of the creator, and as you’ll see in the many individual reviews linked below, they don’t disappoint.

But as a little teaser…

Direct Sun

Direct Sun

Barossa Grape

Barossa Grape

Emerald

Emerald

Claret

Claret

Summer Storm

Summer Storm

Grün Schwarz

Grun Schwarz

Blue-black

Blue Black

Deep Sea

Deep Sea

Blue SeaBlue Sea

 

The full range isn’t available in the UK yet, but it will be soon, and we’re both anticipating that (because these really are to die for), and dreading it (because we all have to eat sometime…) in equal measure.  They’re not the cheapest of inks, retailing at £14.50 for a single bottle, but with the viscosity of the ink in question, that bottle will last some time.  They can be found at iZods, who kindly donated some samples for this review exercise (thanks again Roy), and we gather other suppliers are also coming on-stream as we speak.

So without further ado, we present the combined reviews of United Inkdom for the Robert Oster Signature inks…

Gillian Jack’s review of Claret and Emerald

Daniel Oakey’s maritime meanderings in Blue Sea and Deep Sea

Sarah Goodall’s test of Emerald and Summer Storm

James Lake’s bathe in Direct Sun with a dash of Grün-Schwarz

Scribble’s bejiggering with the whole flamin’ lot

The Clumsy Penman’s barby in Direct Sun with a tinny of Barossa Grape

The Pen and Inkwell’s billabongful of Summer Storm, Blue Black, Blue Denim, Bondi Blue, Fire & Ice, Blue Sea and Deep Sea too.