All posts by Scribble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Online Newood calligraphy fountain pen review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This meta-review references:

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

Start Bay Navigator A5 notebook cover

A little bit of history  Notebook covers, also often referred to as traveller’s notebooks, have become first a fashion, then an enduring feature of the portable stationery scene. Start Bay notebooks started out as one man working from his home in, naturally enough, Start bay, a scenic cove in Devon, and people like the results so much that the range has  grown since then.  There is room for a bit of confusion, as Traveller’s Notebook is misspelt as a sub-brand by another manufacturer, while TN is used to denote a particular size of Start Bay notebook – but not the one we’re reviewing today. Just for clarity, this is the A5-size notebook cover, referred to by the makers as the Navigator.

How it looks  In many ways this is a fairly simply constructed product, which looks similar to other notebook covers like the Paper Republic alternative we reviewed a few months ago. It’s a sheet of folded leather, with four elastic threads inside the spine to hold notebooks in and one closure band to keep the whole thing together. The range of ‘charms’ which Start Bay also sells are optional, but quite tasteful. Those of us who have had one in use for quite a while find the leather attracts a few minor marks, but they add character – and the cover also comes in a rather nice canvas back should any extra protection be required.How it feels  Supple but solid, essentially; this is a pleasant cover to use and a good platform to write on, while giving the impression that it will take quite a bit of use and abuse if you need it to. Exactly what one wants from such a product, really.

How it fills  This is the detail which sets this product head and shoulders above its competitors. Unlike all the other ready-to-buy alternatives which claim to be A5, this one actually is; it’s big enough to accommodate up to four proper A5 notebooks without any of the edges poking out beyond the cover, meaning that  your writing is always protected – and you’re not limited to proprietary paper sizes when the time comes to buy a refill.  Several other manufacturers fail on this criterion.

Crucially, how it handles fountain pens…  Naturally that depends upon what notebooks you choose to put in it! Start Bay sell FP-friendly Clairefontaine notebooks at extremely reasonable prices from their own website, and there’s a range of British alternatives available from Personalised Stationery, to name just one of many sources. You’re unlikely to have much difficulty finding something which both fits this, and which loves your favourite fountain pen.

Bay! What is it good for?  Whatever you want to use it for, really. Having room for notebooks of different types means that it’s quite possible to accommodate a dot-grid to-do list book, a diary, a ruled journal and a plain sketch book, for instance.  As the name Navigator suggests, it also travels well.

VFM  Surprisingly competitive – this is a hand-made, well-thought-through product which you can get for less than £50.  That’s pretty impressive, really.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Start Bay offer a different ‘duo’ arrangement which allows for the fourth noteboook to be a top-hinged A5 pad (like the Rhodia n.16, for instance). They also have some limited-edition finishes, including some splendid-looking paisley patterns and, more recently, a special all-black edition. For those who can wait, a number of readers have pointed-out that there are several specialists who will custom-make a similar notebook cover to order – and we’ll try to review some of those next year.

Our overall recommendation  We think this is a well-constructed, useful product which we would have very little hesitation in recommending.

Where to get hold of one  Start Bay initially sold through a number of retailers, including many of our favourites, but the operation is increasingly focused on direct sales. Given the high standard of customer support we’ve observed, we think that’s probably a good thing – so if you want one, head straight to Start Bay itself.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Peter at Start Bay for lending us an A5 notebook cover for this review. Gillian will be hanging on to to it for a little while longer to assess how it fares during longer-term use.

Modern Calligraphy book review

Modern Calligraphy, it appears, is an actual thing. Whether it is the sort of thing that it sounds like is possibly another matter.  Calligraphy (‘beautiful writing’, for all the classical etymology fans out there), can mean anything from zen masterworks to that nineteenth-century business hand which looks like copperplate but was seriously intended for everyday use. So a book featuring just those two words as its title could relate to any point within that wide spectrum – but we were pretty sure it was going to be something which would interest us.The author is owner of Quill London, a combined design studio and stationery shop. What becomes clear on an introductory perusal is that the definition of calligraphy in use here is very much at the ornamentally decorative end of the scale. Bluntly, if you’re looking for a calligraphic hand which you can practise, perfect, and incorporate into your daily note-taking to the amazement of colleagues this probably isn’t the book you need. But if you’re called on to label floral arrangements, wedding place settings and hipster chocolates, it might be exactly what you want – as long as the style suits you.Lucy refers to letter-forming, not writing, and that’s a useful indicator to the type of art-form expounded here, which perhaps owes as much to sign-writing as traditional pen calligraphy.  The advantage of this is that the approach recommended offers lots of scope for variety, from reminding readers that brush pens are a legitimate tool, to actively encouraging us to ‘fake it’ when large features such as drop-capitals are required and a two-inch ginormoflex nib isn’t readily to hand. The disadvantage is that the book’s main dependence upon dip pens overlooks the range of flex nibs available in modern fountain pens – indeed, the text gets this factually wrong by suggesting that the only flex FP is the Noodler’s Nib Creaper, but this is the only complete howler and we can hopefully help if there’s a reprint.

The book features a range of practice exercises and ample space to rehearse your moves. That may not be so comfortable for anyone raised to avoid ever writing in a text-book, and it also means paying full price for a book which is only half composed of actual text, but it also makes it is easy to get started. Importantly, the publishers have wisely chosen to use fountain-pen-friendly paper, so the exercises are accessible and give a quick feel for whether this is a hand which suits you. The verdict from our test panel was it may or may not be quite everyone’s favourite lettering style, but that it is at least fun finding out.

So, we’d perhaps like to see something like this book covering a hand which could be tackled with a flex fountain pen, but that’s for another day.  In the meantime this is a good example of how a lot of ideas and experience can be conveyed quickly by a well-designed manual, a great advert for Lucy’s in-house training courses, and a pretty good stocking filler for anyone you know who is more into the eye-catching end result than the rarefied details of ‘serious nibbage’.

This meta-review draws upon brief reviews by:

Thanks to Lucy and her publishers for sending a few review copies our way.

 

The Writing Desk update

Loyal readers will already be familiar with our slow but committed campaign to profile all the boutique stationery retailers we can find, to which end we have of course interviewed The Writing Desk  already.  But it seemed a good time for a quick update, for the simple reason that they now have an actual stationery boutique – yes, TWD has gone bricks-and-mortar!  The online operation is still going strong too, of course, but we all love a little shop, and one of the team was in Bury St. Edmunds for an afternoon, so the inevitable happened…

Be prepared for temptation.  There is so much sought-after kit here, and combining online expertise with a physical presence on the High Street (well, Risbygate) has allowed The Writing Desk to complement their traditional offer (already distinguished by some rare brands such as Private Reserve) with a handful of rescued Conway Stewarts from Bespoke British Pens, a crop of genuine Traveller’s Notebooks, and posh Pilots actually branded as Namiki.  It’s a fine mix of ancient and modern, much like the town itself; home to the fourth largest Benedectine monastery in Europe before the Dissolution, the medieval-design cathedral was only finished in 2005.

It’s well worth a visit if you’re passing through Suffolk; as well as pens that will invite rash abuses of your credit card, there are some well-chosen notebooks (with very good deals on Clairefontaine in particular), the opportunity to try pens which wouldn’t be accessible any other way, and of course Martin’s sage advice on care and repair of naughty nibs.

Having blown a bit of pocket money in the best way possible, your reporter repaired to The Nutshell, which has a justifiable claim to be England’s smallest pub – and where the customers immediately recognised the logo, acknowledged that it was a great shop and enthusiastically inhaled from the scented J.Herbin as it was passed around (it smells even better than Greene King’s finest, apparently).  That’s fountain pens, you see; a hit with ink nerds, defrocked monks, beardy beer-men and purple-haired punk poets everywhere.  Drop in and see for yourself!

 

 

De Atramentis pearlescent inks meta-review

A little bit of history  The ancient Romans did all sorts of rum things in barrels; polluting wine with lead to sweeten it, fermenting the pungent rotted-fish sauce garum, and brewing-up the hard-wearing ink atramentum.  German ink-makers De Atramentis continue this tradition in their name and some of their production methods (albeit hopefully without the aroma of decomposing marine life), and recently they have got on the sparkly ink bandwagon.  Everybody’s doing it these days, it seems – J.Herbin, Diamine and Robert Oster too.  So we set out to find out what De Atramentis is bringing to the party…

How it looks  The base inks are seven colours, plus black.  What makes the collection stand out is the availability of these inks in three different pearlescent finishes; gold, silver and, uniquely, copper. There’s a higher volume of sparkly particles than are typically found in pearlescent inks so how it looks is shiny – very, very, shiny!Crucially, how it writes…  Much like standard fountain open ink, and De Atramentis certainly make plenty of that.  There can be the occasional hold-up due to the high proportion of particulates (the sparkly bits), which eventually silt-up the feed and stem the flow, but this is easily rectified with a thorough clean.  With this in mind it’s advisable to stick to fountain pens which can be completely dismantled for a quick scrub, but these inks are otherwise suitable for use with most of the nibbage you own.

Ink! What is it good for?  It’s very shiny indeed, but those sparkicles can brush off once the ink is dry – so it’s probably not one for the office, but anything from journalling to labelling presents would be good ways to put it to work.

VFM  Not bad at all; Pure Pens sell some of these at £10.50 a bottle,  which is only a little more than comparable inks from Diamine, and about half the price that J.Herbin charge for a sparkly.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Then De Atramentis do face some pretty stiff competition from Diamine. No-one else has quite the range of shimmer choices that De Atramentis does, though, and their copper option appears to be otherwise unheard of in the pearlescent market.

Our overall recommendation  If masses of glitter appeals, or the unusual copper finish does it for you, give this a go.  If you prefer a slightly more nuanced range of base colours beneath your glitter, check out the newly-expanded Diamine Shimmer range (which we’ll also cover again here soon).

Where to get hold of some  Pure Pens sell a partial range of these, or you can buy the full collection direct from source if you don’t mind covering a bit more postage.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  De Atramentis themselves for generously sending us a sparkling set of these inks for testing.