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Diamine Shimmertastic inks review

shimmerdrops2A little bit of history

A couple of years ago there was a lot of buzz about another brand (you all know which one) putting shiny sparkles into a handful of their inks. It looked fun, but it was expensive, and Diamine don’t do things by halves.  They brought out a whole set of ten, then followed it up this year with twelve more shimmering inks, each sporting a healthy dose of gold or silver coloured glitter.  What could be more fitting for our Christmas meta-review?

Ink! What is it good for?

Well let’s be honest, this isn’t one you’re likely to take to work, unless your job involves writing Christmas cards (it’s absolutely brilliant for that).  This is ink for having fun with!  If you treat it wisely, it will work in ordinary fountain pens and there are only two modest caveats.  Firstly, always give the bottle a very thorough shake before filling the pen, and ideally use a pen which can stand a gentle perturbation before writing too; the glitter is in suspension, not in solution, and will laze on the bottom unless stirred into life.  Secondly, any particulate matter can gum-up pen parts in time, so pick a pen which you can thoroughly dismantle for the occasional clean, including the converter or piston (TWSBIs and most Platinums are therefore a good choice).  Other than that, you can sparkly-scribble to your heart’s content.

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The going rate is about £9 for 50ml, which makes this noticeably more expensive than the standard fountain pen inks from Diamine, but still very good value compared to some of the more ‘exotic’ inks around.  The base colours are for the most part very nice inks in their own right, and other than occasionally bleeding-through with very wet nibs, or feathering on cheap paper, they’re pretty well-behaved too.  You really can’t go too far wrong.

 OK now, that’s enough chat – show me the shiny!

The bright blueslight-blues

We start with a couple of absolute crackers.  Blue Lightning, a very bright blue with silver sparkles, has a loyal following from the original collection, while Tropical Glow has become an immediate favourite with almost everyone who’s tried it, even making the ‘Too Many Peacocks‘ Christmas Day hit list.  ‘Not a bad way to start, eh?tropicalglow2

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The dark bluesrich-blues

Blue Flame and Blue Pearl are fairly traditional royal blues, with gold or silver sparkles respectively; the effect is predictable but pleasing.blueflame2bluepearl2Enchanted Ocean and Shimmering Seas are a little harder to categorise – like the sea, they keep changing colour as the light shifts. But both are broadly blue-black with either green or purple hints, with a spot of iridescence from bioluminescent plankton at the surface.

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The reds

reds

Pink Glitz is, unusually for a pink, so riotously butch that you could put it in a PFM and get away with it, while Red Lustre could safely be spilled all over the Christmas tablecloth without anyone noticing.  Firestorm Red and Inferno Orange look a lot like the open fire you’re meant to be roasting some chestnuts on right now (but thanks for taking a break to read this instead).pink1 redlustre3 firestorm1infernoorange2

The browns

browns

This civilised set of browns goes all the way from molten chocolate to wet beach, and the sparkles really add something to what can otherwise be a somewhat drab colour for inks. They really do work surprisingly well on the page.brandydazzle2 caramel3

The greens

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Green ink has its devoted fans, and here are a couple of splendid stocking fillers for any you encounter.  Magical Forest is almost perfect for writing the price list in  your neighbourhood crystal healing emporium, while the lime green with golden sparkles of Golden Oasis looks for all the world like a gecko flitting by.golden-oasis2

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The greys

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While not everyone feels that grey is quite the colour for the festive season, re-brand it as silver and everything’s fine.  So here we have dark silver with bright silver sparkles (hmm, subtle) darker silver with golden sparkles (less subtle), and silver with the lights off (OK, OK, it’s black).  The dark base ink does show the sparkles up quite effectively.nightsky2

The purples

purples

Of course we’ve saved the best for last – for those into a spot of purple action at least!  Two of these have already featured on Too Many Purples and the third will follow soon.  Purple Pazzazz is a warm purple which is quite reminiscent of Lamy’s much-trumpeted dark lilac, but easier to get hold of and with golden sparkles to boot; what’s not to like?  Lilac Satin is not unlike Diamine’s earlier Iris from the flowers box set, with added silvery shine, and that’s a rather splendid finish too. Finally, Magenta Flash is a very purpley sort of magenta for a change (no pinks in disguise here), and looks rather spectacular in a wet-nibbed pen of your choice.

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Come and get it!

You can get hold of your own Shimmertastic supplies in all of the usual favourite online sources, or direct from Diamine themselves.  Easy peasy.

This meta-review draws upon:

Thanks to:

Pure Pens for samples of the original ten flavours, Diamine themselves for samples of the new twelve colours, and Cult Pens for sponsorship-in-kind to get big bottles of some of the best for sharing-around.

 

Tactile Turn Gist meta-review

A little bit of history  Once upon a time there was a nice chap from Texas called Will Hodges, who had amassed a rather spiffing collection of lathes and was wondering just what sort of toys to make for good boys and girls all over the world – not necessarily just for Christmas, you understand, but the sort of thing that you’d definitely have to be on your very best behaviour to deserve.  Flirting with the seductive magic mirror, or ‘Kickstarter’ as it is known to all the elves, he had immediate success with dark ballpoint doings which shall not be spoken of here – and then stepped into the light and started making proper pens!  Will’s first fountain pen, the Gist, is now available in a truly legendary array of materials including pretty much everything bar kryptonite, and has become a hit on both sides of the Pond.  Several of us had initially obtained one through aforementioned conjuring device, and then a wise stallholder in ye olde Ipswich Bazaar started selling them to passing scribblers here too…

polybrassfinialHow it looks  As the brand name suggests (just for once, it’s entirely relevant and accurate) the whole pen has been precision-turned to make it a tactile pleasure to use – but we’ll come on to how it feels in a moment.  How it looks is, frankly, pretty much like the stereotypical alien mind-probe; with those eerily-accurate ripples and space-age materials, it wouldn’t look out place in Captain Kirk’s hands (its uses are far less sinister, though, unless you write left-handed of course). The very sharp-eyed may be able to spot some light marks from the lathe chuck on the barrel of the polycarbonate version (as depicted below), but it doesn’t greatly detract from the overall effect.

barrelHow it feels  Those ripples and ridges provide a good grip without discomfort, and most users have found this a pleasure to pick up and get writing with.  The weight varies considerably depending upon the materials chosen; the all-brass version is without doubt a nicely weighty pen, the all-polycarbonate version is feather-light, and the combinations of polycarbonate barrel and metal section concentrate the weight just where you most want it, near the nib.  Which feels best for you depends largely upon personal taste.  The only catch we detected was that the copper grip can be a little slippery on a warm day.

How it fills  This fills with a straightforward Schmidt converter (provided as standard), or international cartridges if you prefer.  For everyday practicality there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

Crucially, how it writes…  The Gist employs a big #6 Bock nib, available from Tactile Turn in steel, titanium and gold versions.  Bock’s steel nibs are firm but widely admired, and we’ve had no reports of any problems there.  The titanium nib is a bit more of an acquired taste as there is flex, but not always as much smoothness as flex fans generally like. The #6 Bock gold nib writes beautifully (as also seen on the Diplomat Aero and Kaweco Elite/Supra, for instance), albeit following quite an outlay.  If that range of options doesn’t suit, it is also possible to transplant a JoWo #6 into the Bock feed, as seen in the modified example below (displaying rhodium, ruthenium and zirconium from left to right).gistpolycarbonitezirconium

Pen! What is it good for?  This is a well thought-through ‘every-day carry’ pen which can be comfortably used for long writing sessions and will serve as a sturdy workhorse.  Some of the all-metal versions are probably great for exhibitionist bling, too, but we’re not going to admit to being interested in that around here, oh no…

gistbrass1VFM  The Gist has to cope with transatlantic tariffs and the buffeting of currency exchange rates, so competing on price with European offerings is not always going to be easy. With a simple steel nib, the all-polycarbonate looks to us like fair, albeit perhaps not stellar, value at £70 – whereas just £30 more will get you the all-copper version which seems an absolute steal.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  There’s nothing quite like the Gist, really, although there other pens which bear some comparison on the basis of the materials.  If you love the polycarbonate finish then the Lamy 2000 employs similar material, albeit with a much less visible nib. If you really want the brass Gist but are struggling with the import logistics, Kaweco’s Supra has a similar heft and also uses the Bock #6 nib. There are no other Tactile Turn fountain pen designs yet – although just imagine this shape scaled-up to fit JoWo’s #8 nib… hmm, maybe next Christmas.

Our overall recommendation  Try a friend’s Gist first – it’s a bit of a ‘Marmite proposition’ in some guises – but if you like it, buy one.  Individual pen-makers who connect with writers and adapt to their needs like Will does deserve their success – and maybe, just maybe, you’ve been good enough to deserve one of his pens.

gistbrass2Where to get hold of one  Newcomer e-tailer iZods is stocking a broad sample of the Gist range in the UK, including the titanium and copper versions here.  If you want the full range including all the stock options, you can also buy direct from Will here, although beware of those import taxes.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Roy at iZods for lending John a Gist to play with.

Saturnalia Shopping

OK, it’s not the C-word quite yet, but it’s creeping up fast, and it’s handy to have a few fountain pen options up your sleeve!  Thanks to Nikki and John  we have a handy set of ideas below, divided into products available at less than £25 (handy for family who want to know what to get for you) and products priced under £125 (in case the Elves leave you some pocket money to spend on yourself!), so read on and break out the wrapping paper…

Under £25

Pens

sport-metallic-purpleKaweco Sport A pen which looks like no other – and which no self-respecting fountain pen fan’s collection is complete without – and all for under £20.  Available very widely, including at The Writing DeskCult Pens (including the special edition in metallic purple above), and Bureau Direct.

Lamy Safari Back to School Bundle  While it’s perhaps a little cruel to remind the kids that the yuletide break will be over all too soon, this is a great-value job-lot including the ubiquitous Lamy Safari fountain pen, a box of five matching ink cartridges and an ink eradicator for £15.71 – £17.45 from The Writing Desk) – and yes, there’s Dark Lilac option.

Dex by Kingsley Smooth Fountain Pen  An extraordinarily good fountain pen available at a bargain entry-level price in a wide range of colours – and our budget would stretch to a converter and a nice bottle of ink to go with one!  A nice little introduction to the world of fountain pens. (£9.60 at Penwrite or £12 at The Pen Shop).

J.Herbin Glass Pen & Ink Set  This set is great for anyone who would like to try a glass dip-pen! The glass pen comes with your choice of two J.Herbin inks. There’s no need to fiddle about with loading your pen with ink, you simply dip and write away! (£25 from Bureau Direct).

Inks

new-shimmersDiamine Shimmer Inks  Diamine are many people’s favourite brand when it comes to inks, being both easy on the pocket and on the eye – but their Shimmer inks are something special. These delightful inks have gold or silver coloured particles suspended in the ink, leaving a wonderful shimmer on the paper when you write. A new batch of colours have recently been released, so look out for a review on them here soon! (from £8.95 at Bureau DirectCult PensThe Writing DeskPure Pens).

Diamine Inks  Don’t want the Shimmer? Then check out Diamine’s standard inks, available in pretty much any colour imaginable! It’s a bargain at £2.35 for 30ml bottles and £5.50 – £7 for 80ml bottles (from Bureau DirectCult PensThe Writing Desk, Pure Pens or Diamine directly).

kwzisKWZ Ink  Konrad Żurawski has been creating fountain pen inks since 2013. The inks are handmade in Poland, but despite being made on a small scale, there are already quite a number of colours to choose from. With excellent flow properties, they do a great job with flex nibs (and we hope to review a handful next year!), although be warned that the smell is not to absolutely everyone’s taste. (From £12.95 at Bureau Direct)

Ink Samples  Not sure what ink to buy someone? Why not choose a handful of ink samples?! This handy service means you can get 2.5ml samples of ink to try (plenty to fill a pen) and they make great stocking fillers. There are so many brands and colours to choose from that it’s hard to go wrong, and both The Writing Desk and Pure Pens are on hand to help.

Paper

archivesetWilliam Hannah binder + refills  William Hannah paper seems to be universally admired by fountain pen users and is available in plain, lined, grid, dotted, to-do list, planner and weekly diary format – plus our budget will just about stretch to an A5 ‘archive set’ so there’s something to put it in! Available direct from William Hannah.

Pocket Notebooks  Perfect for putting in a pocket (hence the name!) or for slotting into a traveller’s notebook. Buy a set of 3 or a subscription, there’s plenty to choose from! (From £8.95)

Rhodiarama Notebook (A5 – Dot Grid)  Available in a range of colours, these notebooks are perfect for using as a bullet journal. The soft leatherette cover comes in a range of colours, it has a ribbon marker and a pocket at the back for keeping mementos in. The Rhodia 90gsm brushed vellum lined paper works great with fountain pens. (From £11.69 at Bureau Direct , The Writing Desk, or Pure Pens).

Clairefontaine 1951 Vintage-style Pocket Exercise Books  These lovely little pocket exercise books (90x140mm) are perfect stocking fillers. The Clairefontaine Satin-smooth 90gsm paper works well with fountain pens and small notebooks always come in handy when out and about. (From £1.25 at Bureau Direct or Cult Pens).

Books etc.

Nib + Ink: The New Art of Modern Calligraphy Book by Chiara Perano  Modern calligraphy has taken off this year, so why not treat a loved one to this book to help them on their way to learning how to do it themselves?! Written by the founder of Lamplighter London studio, specialising in modern and decorative calligraphy and illustration.  We’re aiming to review this book here on United Inkdom soon, too! (£9.09).

Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy Book by Elizabeth Winters  An easy-to-follow, practical manual for those wanting to learn how to write in copperplate calligraphy. Who doesn’t want to write so beautifully?! (£9.99).

startbaya7The Start Bay Compass A7 Notebook – a handmade leather notebook cover with two A7 notebook inserts (Rhodiarama A7 lined notebooks) and including an option free charm (all packages in an unbleached cotton bag).  A great introduction to the world of traveller’s notebooks (£25).

Under £125

The Pro Gear Slim is the most affordable introduction to Sailor’s much-admired gold nibs. They tend to be fairly firm, so not for flex fans, but they write smoothly with just a touch of spring.  The price is only just below our price limit, but fortunately The Writing Desk offer free postage on them.

Pilot’s Capless/Vanishing Point is the original clickable fountain pen, and although a bit soulless it is also clever and really rather useful. Official UK prices tend to be too inflated to meet our budget challenge, but there are often plenty at much more sensible prices on Amazon or the current £/$ exchange rate may even warrant popping over to Goulet Pens

l2kThe LAMY 2000 is widely heralded as a design classic, and WHSmith have become wildly popular for offering these for £100 recently.  Inevitably, they’ve just sold out at this time of year (although watch this space), but Amazon has some for just 30p over our limit so let’s sneak it in to the collection.

Edison Colliers are popular with fans of big pens, and although the UK prices are just above our limit, the currency conversion again makes a treat from Goulet Pens possible.   Mind you, with the £25 customs fee and the £8 handling charge added on, you might prefer to stump up an extra £4 and buy one from The Writing Desk instead.

aeroThe Diplomat Aero is, of course, the fountain pen that looks like a Zeppelin, and very nice it is too.  Official UK prices exceed our limit, but Amazon has a promising selection at more sensible levels.

3776Platinum’s 3776 is rightly famed as a brilliant gold-nibbed everyday writer, and although the more exotic tips like the ‘Music’ variant exceed our limit, the Bourgogne or Chartres finishes with the excellent Soft Fine nib are certainly accessible within our budget.  Quality control can be a little variable, so this is one worth buying from a reputable dealer rather than talking your chances on Amazon – we’d recommend trying Cult Pens if you’d like the classic Fuji-topping stylus in your pocket.

gistcopperThe Tactile Turn Gist will be a subject of a meta-review here soon, but the signs so far are that it’s a future classic in the making, and a Kickstarter project that has gone mainstream for all the right reasons.  Some of the finishes inevitably go well over our budget, but if you’re happy with a steel nib then both the poly-carbonate and, amazingly, all-copper versions are available within our price range from UK distributor Izods.

William Hannah notebooks are a properly British contribution to this collection, and absolutely the nicest thing you’ll ever write in.  Yes, they’re not cheap, but they don’t feel cheap either – owners universally rate them as worth every penny.  There are copious customisation options, and the budget here will even stretch to a fully bespoke notebook if you order one right away!

The TWSBI 580 AL probably needs no introduction – an affordable, reliable piston-filler which comes with the required tools to strip it down, service it and get it back on the road in next yourself.  But now you can buy one from fpnibs.com, who will also sell you a #5 gold JoWo nib and fit it for you, too – making for a well-engineered, gold-nibbed pen of Pelikan quality but still within our budget.  This is the combination used to produce the Too Many Purples project, if you’re curious.  You’ll need to drop them an email after purchasing pen and nib to ask them to fit one to the other, but you’ll be glad you did… it’ll be like all your Christmases came at once.

 

 

 

Izods profile

title-barThis week, we profile a brand new name in the fountain pen retail firmament – the exotically-monikered Izods, of exotic (OK, we’re stretching a point here) Ipswich.  Izods has come to many readers’ attention as a result of the growing interest in Robert Oster inks, which we’ll come on to below.  But we start by catching up with Roy, the founder of the company.osterpalette2

So, where does that curious name come from?  Well, I wanted a name which was short and snappy, and my grandfather had a yard in Birmingham called Izods – somehow it just seemed to fit!  I got into selling vintage pens the way many people do in this world; I like fixing things, and after preparing a few fountain pens for my own use found I had rather more on my hands than I’d planned, then one thing led to another.

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You’re obviously fond of Montblanc, a brand which not everyone in the fountain pen world has kind words for – so what does it for you?  MB is a big conglomerate selling all sorts of things these days, and that’s perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea of course.  But many of the vintage pens were made of really good-quality materials which hold their value and usability for a long time, and even people who aren’t fountain pen fans say they have something of an ‘aura’ about them.  The trouble is, buying vintage Montblancs on the internet can be a fraught business, with some in variable condition and even counterfeits to trap the unwary.  That’s where I come in; I check everything properly, including the provenance, and carry out any cleaning, minor repairs etc. if needed so that I can be sure that anything I put on sale is in top-notch condition.  My favourites are the special editions like the Agatha Christie pen (pictured above), but they all seem to have their fans.

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How did Australia’s Robert Oster inks come your way?  After selling pens for a while, ink seemed the logical next step – but I wanted to offer something a little different.  There was already quite a bit of interest in Robert’s range of inks on this side of the planet, and few outlets, so that seemed a niche which needed filling.  Robert was great to talk to and we got on immediately – he even found himself buying a couple of pens from me! We’ve just picked nine inks so far – there are plenty more colours where they came from – but they do seem to be selling like hot cakes already.

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How did Tactile Turn join the collection?  Again, like Robert this was a personal connection as much as anything; Will from Tactile Turn is a real enthusiast who takes such a pride in being hands-on, and the Gist is a lovely pen – it looks and feels different, in a good way! We’re stocking most of the materials Will makes the Gist in at present and may well broaden out to a wider selection of nib options, and perhaps even some of Will’s other models, if demand is as strong as we expect it to be.

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United Inkdom will be reviewing the Tactile Turn Gist and a selection of Robert Oster inks soon. Meanwhile, you can see all of Roy’s wares, including the Darkstar notebooks above, at the Izods website.

Kaweco fountain pen inks review

clumsydroplets

We’re joined by the Clumsy Penman himself for this week’s review, so what better way to start than with a collection of his underwater ink pics?

It’s off to Nuremberg we must go next, though, for this is where the marvellous Kaweco are based.  A small name which packs a big punch in the fountain pen world, we all have a Sport or two from Kaweco tucked-away in a pocket somewhere. They actually have their own range of inks made in Austria (as does Montblanc, curiously enough), but wherever they hail from it was high time that we put their own range of inks to the test too!  An adventurous band of United Inkdom reviewers new and old (hey, less of the old) broke out the nibs and got busy.

sunriseorange04 sunriseorange03 sunrise-orange-02

Sunrise Orange is one of the newer additions to the range, and reactions from our testers suggest that it was a very welcome one.  Mateusz found this not only a worthy rival to the well-know Apache Sunset, but in many respects rather better, and Scribble liked the orange-tinged sunrise so much that a bottle of tequila is back on the shopping list, while Ian was soon lusting for a spot of caramel. Either way, it’s tasty – and just look at that shading.

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Paradise Blue has quite a fan base, as a good sturdy (or ‘solid’ as James says) turquoise/teal.  Scribble likes it a lot, and Ian can live with the modest shading too. The flow is good but, as Mateusz points out, there is a price to pay in this particular ink’s tendency to sink rapidly into paper, which is only really useful if you want to read your genius-like thoughts back-to-front from the reverse page.

royalblue02royalblue01Royal Blue is perhaps not the most original colour, and Ian and Scribble were both reminded of school-room days.  Matthias set out to find what mystical qualities might have put this in the same class as the now-deceased Rotring ink, without definite result – although he did like it.  James, though, found something others hadn’t spotted; a sheen. Now you’ve done it, James – that’ll open the floodgates.

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Midnight Blue is a fairly standard dark blue or blue-black.  Honestly, there’s not a lot to say about this as a colour, although as Ian points out it does still have reliably good flow.

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Pearl Black, similarly, is a rather everyday black.  Any self-respecting ink range does have to have a black, and there is a limit to what anyone can do to make it interesting, although Ian thought this one was on a par with Aurora black, which sounds like a compliment at least.

caramel02 caramel01Caramel Brown seems to be one of the least popular colours.  There’s nothing especially wrong with it as an ink, if you like browns – but if you’re not a fan of brown inks in the first place, then this may not tempt you to the earthy side.  Ian even found it ‘sludgy‘ (in colour rather than consistency), and it’s hard to hear that as a good thing.

summer05summer02 summer04 Summer Purple returns the Kaweco ink range to popularity, with a juicy flow and a juicy colour to boot.  Mateusz found it a good performer, James enjoyed the subtle sheen, Scribble added it to the never-ending collection of Too Many Purples.  Even Ian, who is not  the world’s biggest fan of purples, thought this a good one.

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rubyred03 rubyred04Ruby Red seems to have impressed people just as much as Montblanc’s Corn-poppy Red did (we’re back to wondering about that Austrian factory again). Ian felt it had a good bit of character, while both James and Mateusz noted more than a hint of rosy magenta in the mix.

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Palm Green looks like a forest green to James or a ‘textbook’ green to Mateusz, which just goes to show the benefit of taking more than one opinion.  Ian spotted potential for quite pronounced shading, too.

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Smoky Grey is last, and probably on this occasion least, given that only two reviewers have put it to the test.  Grey is not everyone’s cup of tea, to be fair, but this one does seem to behave quite well and offer more shading interest than the average.

scribblesquaresVFM Can be something of  a challenge with this collection, to  be honest.  The bottles contain only 30ml, and are sold at ‘premium’ prices in the UK – although this is at least in part a self-inflicted exchange rate problem for us Brits to deal with. Price competition looks particularly tough when compared with our home-grown Diamine, who provide 80ml bottles of ink for little more than half the price.  Few retailers stock both brands at present, but to cite the example of one with the lowest prices for both, at the time of publication The Writing Desk were charging  a little over 7 pence per millilitre for Diamine, and 35p/ml for Kaweco ink.  That effectively knocks Kaweco inks out of consideration for everyday colours like Royal Blue, which both brands provide; even if you like the look of that sheen, it’s unlikely that many fountain pen users would consider the Kaweco version five times better than the Diamine.  But some of the highly distinctive shades such as Sunrise Orange, Paradise Blue and Smoky Grey have qualities which really make them worth seeking out, in our opinion – and they’re hardly going to break the bank!jameslakepanoramaOur overall recommendation is to choose carefully and invest in one or two of these which particularly take your fancy.  If you like purple, Summer Purple is warm and user-friendly. If you’re a turquoise fan and can stand the ink sinking-in to the paper rather enthusiastically, Paradise Blue is a lovely colour.  Ruby Red and Palm Green beat any teacher’s homework-marking ballpoint any day… and Sunrise Orange eats Apache Sunset for breakfast.  If you just want a well-behaved Austrian everyday black or royal blue, you don’t really need to spend so much; even Montblanc will provide you with twice as much ink for the same money.  But we like this collection; suffice it to say that there are several Sports, Lilliputs and at least one Supra which will now be filled with ink from the same stable for quite some time.

Thanks to Kaweco for kindly providing generous samples for this meta-review exercise.

For more reviews of the whole range see:

The Missing Ink book review

While United Inkdom was having some down time in October, Nathan Weston suggested that we consider the occasional book review – and named our first review subject while he was at it.  There will be more in the pipeline, but we’re going to start with Nathan’s suggestion, The Missing Ink by Philip Hensher.  As usual with our meta-reviews, three of us have read and reviewed the book and compared notes – and they do vary, rather…the-curates-eggPunch cartoons pop up in many a history textbook, but the sketch above is probably the one that got most into everyday language.  Our readings of The Missing Ink suggest a similarly ‘balanced’ view; Daniel enjoyed it, John found it not much to his taste, and Scribble found it, well, a bit of a curate’s egg.

The opening premise of the book is an unfortunate one for us proper-pen users, in that Hensher posits that handwriting is on its way out.  In taxonomising the species before extinction, however, the book goes into considerable detail investigating the roots of handwriting teaching, from Spencer’s military-style pen drill sessions to Marion Richardson’s over-simplified ‘children’s hand’.  Although further detail is often sacrificed to what the author presumably sees as readability, there is a useful introduction to the evolution of handwriting which that could be a good launching-off point for a fuller study another day. Reassuringly, there is little pressure to conform to the strictures of Spencer or other nib authoritarians, which is just as well.  You wouldn’t want to have to go through exercises like this every day, would you?spencerSo where did it go wrong?  Well, the author is a professor of creative writing, and goodness do readers get to see all his craft in action.  The endless whimsical footnotes, and diversions into irrelevances like Hitler’s handwriting and the Bic ballpoint, will either be very much your cup of tea, or very much not.  In short, he goes on a bit – and not about pens and handwriting, much of the time.missing-ink-cover

There are a couple of saving graces.  The first is that this fairly jolly romp through handwriting history and various unrelated matters also concludes with a positive message about the benefits of continuing to write something by hand every day – so our old-fashioned habits aren’t perhaps about to die out after all.  The second is that pre-read copies of the book are now available for such trifling prices (£3 for a hardback, even) that the ‘excellent’ parts of the egg justify the very modest expense.

For further mullings-over over of the book, see:

 

 

Coming soon to a screen near you…

United Inkdom has been going for just over a year, and now we’ve got through our initial publication schedule we’re having a little pause for breath, taking stock and figuring out what to do next.  Which is where you come in, dear reader – we’d like your thoughts and ideas!

The right stuff  Are we featuring or reviewing the products, companies or events which interest you, as well as us?  Is there anything ‘stellar’ that we’re missing?

Join our club Obviously we welcome all readers, but perhaps we should be welcoming more contributors too!  We’ve got this far with a core of three, plus some friendly ‘guest stars’ who we’re hoping will stay on board for longer.  But real life intervenes, so we need to expand the team.  Who should we recruit?  Is it you?

Private Reserve inks

A bit of history Private Reserve suggests a fine wine, rather than an ink, but it’s a brand that has had a loyal following in its native North America for many years. Here in Blighty, it’s a little harder to find, but several of our reviewers were kindly provided with samples by The Writing Desk following our recent couple of articles about their ways. The three reviewers all got different samples, so a meta-review has been a bit more challenging than usual – but Ian had reviewed many Private Reserve inks in the past and Scribble had tested all the purples, so we have quite a range covered!  Between us, there are five Private Reserve inks that at least two of us have tried, comprising two greens, a greenish blue and a pair of purples.  Are you inking comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

Don’t step on my blue suede shoes  Blue Suede is a good place to start because it’s a tricky colour to pin down.  It IS blue, but then again it’s really rather green.  Our newest reviewer, Daniel, points out that this is actually a teal, if anything – and a jolly decent one too. blue-suedeIt’s so saturated that there is no shading to speak of, but it’s not going to look insipid either.  Ian was a big fan too, adding that drying times may not be the fastest but they were also far from terrible.blue-suede-inkling

Ebony and burgundy go together in perfect harmony Those of us who like to sneak a purple to work are often in search of a purple-black ink, and this certainly fits the bill – plus, it has quite a noticeable sheen if you lay it on thick.  Ruth got a sample of this as part of her trial assortment and was suitably impressed.ebony-purple-swab

Scribble has been busy trying to review every purple there is, and still liked Ebony Purple so much that he’s got on to The Writing Desk and bought a big bottle of the stuff.ebony-purple-scribble

You say avacado, I say avocoda, oh let’s call the whole thing off Now, the good people at Private Reserve may not be able to spell avocado, but they certainly know how to make an ink that looks like the flesh of said fruit. avacado-inklingIan found the colour impressively rich, and Ruth was quite taken with it too.avacado-swab

Down-there-in-the-ink, sha-la-la-la-laa, it looks like the inkling of a plum Plum is a fruity shade which seems to do different things in different pens, unless of course we got some labels mixed-up!plum-inkling

Ian found Plum to be a fairly standard purple, whereas Scribble had it down as a deep magenta. But it’s rich and tasty, either way.plum-scribble

Yes, we have no rhinoceros Spearmint was quite a bit darker than the mention of mint appeared to suggest.  spearmint-dotcross

Rob found that there was more shading with this colour, but that the saturated nature of the ink could pose clogging challenges with some pens – albeit nothing that good rinse of the feed wouldn’t sort out. Ian enjoyed the shading that showed-up in his ‘inkling’ illustration too.spearmint-inkling

Somewhere over the rainbow Private Reserve has its origins in Indiana, which is quite a way from Kansas, but Dorothy probably wouldn’t be disappointed – plenty of other colours are available too!  Thanks to The Writing Desk, Daniel enjoyed another two greens; Ebony Green and the possibly mislabelled Ebony Blue, while Rob sampled Electric DC Blue and the nicely dark Chocolat, and Ruth enjoyed a sip of Orange Crush.  Private Reserve sent Scribble a set of samples directly to support his search for the perfect purple, so he’s also had fun with Purple Mojo, Purple Haze and Super Violet. Ian gets the prize for the broadest reach with reviews of Tanzanite, Buttercup, Ebony Brown, Black Cherry, and Shoreline Gold.

It’s the End of The World As We Know It But you’ll at least feel fine in the ink department with some of these – ‘well worth checking-out, in our assessment, and the simplest way of getting hold of them in the UK is to head to The Writing Desk.  Let us know about the colours we missed!

 

The William Hannah A5 notebook

A little bit of history  The disc-binding concept has been around for so long that the copyright lapsed long ago, as we covered in our previous article about the system.  But, despite the binder design being out there for all to use for quite a while, until recently there were few really smart-looking notebooks which employed it.  Then we discovered that a new brand had been born, right in the heart of little Britain – and in a trice, our band of hardened critics had all bought one!  So, what makes this disc-binder so thoroughly irresistible?

FrontButton

How it looks  Well, how it looks is certainly part of the magic, coming as it does in a very tasteful array of colours. The outer leather is tough enough to knock about in most bags and come up looking handsome, whereas the inner suede-style leather can be selected in a range of rather groovier shades like purple and turquoise. It looks seriously classy.  For a little extra, you can also specify the colour of threads and get a monogram embossed onto the front as well.

How it feels  It feels pretty classy too. The outer leather is nicely tactile, and the inners are hard to resist stroking. The pages turn easily, and of course they pop in and out quite easily when you need to re-arrange them, too. Writing in one of these feels rather luxurious, which may sound an odd thing to claim from the humble act of putting nib to paper – but everyone who has tried finds themselves reporting the same experience. It also feels pretty good pitching up to a meeting knowing that you have the coolest notebook in the room, honestly.TanWHHow it fills  Now this is where life can get quite interesting for those who wish to have something very custom-made. The first thing that has to be mentioned is the impressive refill service available from William Hannah directly; the brand’s own paper (recently upgraded) came out very favourably in our tests, and as well as coming pre-punched for the disc-binder (naturally enough), it can be printed with dots, lines or grids in an ink which complements or contrasts with the colour of your notebook. There are also rather neat subject dividers available from the manufacturer now, so it’s perfectly possible to keep the whole thing ‘in house’ and have it working very well indeed.

WhiskyWH

Come on now, that’s not the only way to fill it  Well, naturally enough we were also tempted to try out the alternatives, which anyone with a guillotine and a punch can do (the Atoma punch works perfectly but is shockingly overpriced, whereas the Arc punch just about works but is much more affordable).  Our testing panel came up with some surprising conclusions, as well as one or two entirely predictable ones!  For fountain pen obsessives, it’s perhaps no great shock that Clairefontaine Triomphe still rocks many scribbler’s worlds.  Slightly more surprisingly, competitor Atoma’s paper, while not notably fountain pen friendly, fares much better in tests with a pencil carried out by Matthias.  Rob introduced us to the splendidly-smooth British Advocate Xtreme, and the impressively multi-purpose German Gmund Tactile paper. Fabriano’s Italian offering seemed one of the most effective for dot-grid paper, while despite the impressive range of colours available, even apricot could not convince our contributing classical musician that Swiss Artoz1001 was quite the best thing since sliced bread when it comes to finding a surface which you can actually write on!  For anyone wanting a good wallow in the dizzying range of options (and pointers on a few to avoid), Rob has a very detailed blog post and Scribble has set up a complete new blog on the subject.WHrings-from-the-end

Crucially, how it works…  You open it up, slide a pen out of the optional pen-holder, and write!  Of course, the really handy thing is that you can re-arrange the pages to your heart’s content without the annoying clicking and grinding of ‘traditional’ ring binders.  When you have filled it up, you can decant your notes into one of the excellent archive packs which William Hannah has just started selling, featuring some of the largest aluminium discs available (they have holes in them, so technically they’re rings, but let’s go with standard nomenclature for now).  The whole system has clearly been properly thought-through and does just what it should do.

Book! What is it good for?  Plenty of owners take one to work, and in most professions that’s probably a great idea; it looks the part, and you can smuggle in some personal notes without embarrassment. But it’s also great for journal-writing or, as Ruth often demonstrates, reviewing fountain pens!

VFM  Value is a subjective thing with this as with all products, of course. £95 sounds like quite a lot of money – until you pick one of these up and see what you’re getting. This is a seriously high-quality product which will last for years and years, and apart from the Italian leather the whole thing comes from Britain; the metalwork is custom-made in Leicester, and the covers are sewn in Melton Mowbray.  Bear in mind the development and production costs, and it becomes more of a surprise that this is available for anything less than a three-figure sum. To put it in context, a rather prominent international stationery brand (yes, you know who) makes a boring black A5 leather organiser which retails for more than four times as much, and that doesn’t even feature the disc-binding system – so isn’t half as useful.  The William Hannah notebook is perhaps something of a luxury, but it’s one that really works for its living.Discs (or rings)

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  We respectfully invite you to reconsider! Seriously, this is lovely, it works brilliantly and there’s not much out there to compare with it.  Atoma and Arc both sell leather covers for their versions of the disc-binding system, and in the US Discbound Marketplace offer custom-made binders using Arc-style plastic discs, although it’s probably fair to say that many of these would struggle to compete with William Hannah’s form and function.  If you like the look of the notebook but would just like it in different size, there may be hope on the horizon; an A6 version is in the pipeline (probably as a custom offer initially) and there may even be an A4 version to follow one day.

The archive binder’s rings, doing their impression of Newcastle central station

Our overall recommendation  You have probably guessed by now; we recommend saving up for one of these and treating yourself, if you can.

The new subject dividers work well in the archive binder too.

Where to get hold of one  This is only sold ‘direct’, and the customer service is so good that we really don’t think that’s a bad thing.  You can catch the maker himself at numerous pen shows, or just head straight to the user-friendly website. Be prepared to be tempted if you do. By the way, if you do give in to that temptation any time in the next couple of months, mention United Inkdom in the comments/requests box and you’ll get an extra pack of paper included in the deal.

As well as the hyperlinks above (thanks to ‘James’ and Matthias for you contributions too), this meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  William Hannah for helping some of us reviewers get hold of the notebook (and various add-ons) early for reviewing purposes.

The Writing Desk profile

So, rumour has it that the search for the perfect purple ink was behind the birth of The Writing Desk (which got Scribble rather excited) – is that true?

Well, almost! For a while it was difficult to get hold of Waterman purple, for reasons which were never explained, then we were on holiday in France and came across some lovely alternatives by J.Herbin. They had no UK retailers at that point, so we stepped into the breach.  We already had some experience of trading a few vintage pens online, and when Anna decided not to return to work as a solicitor after we had a daughter, one thing led to another.  Soon we were selling Pelikan too, then Conway Stewart.  The rest, as they say, is history.  We soon took on Private Reserve as the sole UK suppliers too, then Martin stepped back from his old job as an audio engineer and The Writing Desk became a full-time occupation.  We do sell quite a lot of purple ink, as it happens, but one or two other shades too…

How has life as a pen ‘etailer’ developed?

Pretty fast. When we launched our first website in 2001 there were few competitors, but also not so much in the way of ready-made platforms – we had to do our own technology development as well as sourcing the merchandise.  The web element has become a little more straightforward since, and we now find we have a healthy combination of appearances at pen shows and links with customers all over the world, from Keynsham to Kazakhstan.  Many of our customers, and suppliers, are in the EU so there could be further developments around the corner.

Anna and Martin at the London Writing Equipment Show 2009

What works best for you in staying in touch with customers, new and old?

We do contribute to some ‘hard copy’ publications, like the WES journal, but of course a lot of our contacts are formed and developed online too.  Answering questions on forums like FPN has been mutually helpful in the past.

So, tell us about TWD’s favourite pen brands…

Yard-o-Led, to follow on from United Inkdom’s recent articles, has been a big success; we were the first online retailers, and people really love the pens.  Edison remains unique to The Writing Desk in the UK, after John Serowka recommended us to Brian Gray; they’re a lovely company to work with and they’ve benefitted from working directly with customers via social media too. We loved selling Conway Stewart and were sorry to see the brand go, but Sailor is still going splendidly; their pens may look fancy, but those nibs are excellent – the ‘King Eagle’, in particular, is really something special. As one of the few TWSBI dealers in the UK we find their special editions fly off the shelves rather rapidly, too. Finally, we have to mention Kaweco; we’re big fans of the Sport and the new Supra is so well put-together, too.

…and inks?

Of course! Private Reserve, and Rohrer and Klingner, remain exclusive to us in the UK, and they both have sterling reputations.  Naturally we’re Diamine fans too, and our big 100ml refills have been popular ever since we started selling them – indeed, we’re thinking of refreshing the range soon, so ideas for inks which you writers need in high volumes are welcome!

How’s the workshop coming on?

That side of the operation is something we’ve always done but not really advertised previously, but we do quite a bit of pen servicing and repairs now, and are getting into nib tuning.  Italic regrinds and even nib width reductions are quite popular, along with the occasional TWSBI repair – those are user-serviceable but not everyone finds it a walk in the park.  It’s a part of the business we quite enjoy and, while it’s maybe not a big money-spinner, a lot of customers find it makes a big difference to their enjoyment too.

Thankfully only one ‘doctor’s pen’ in the workshop has a history quite as dark as this Parker’s.

So, the big question – what are you both writing with today?

Martin is using a vintage Pelikan M730/D730 set and a venerable Lamy 2000, while Anna is sporting a black Kaweco Sport and a TWSBI 530 – the first TWSBI the company acquired, and it’s still going strong.

Keep watching for meta-reviews of a pen, and an ink range, that only The Writing Desk stock in the UK…