Category Archives: Meta-review

Faber-Castell E-Motion fountain pen review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Executive Pens Direct for the sample.

Divine Design Eyedropper fountain pen review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This meta-review references:

Cleo ‘Skribent’ fountain pen review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This meta-review references:

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

 

Ensso Piuma fountain pen review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to get hold of one  Straight from the maker.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Ensso for kindly sending a sample our way.

 

Pure Pens ‘Celtic Collection’ fountain pen inks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flower of Scotland, finally, contributes the essential purple.

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

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

VFM  £6.99 for 60ml – no complaints there.

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

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

Where to get hold of some  Direct from the source!

This meta-review references:

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

Taccia Spectrum fountain pen review

A little bit of history   You may not have heard of Taccia, but it’s been around as a brand since 2003, and today has a rather diverse range of fountain pens, ballpoints and accessories. I say diverse because as well as exotic but proven finishes like Maki-e and raden, Taccia uses frankly weird materials and construction — ever seen a barrel wrapped in woven leather? A hexagonal metal pen with wooden inlays? Or buffalo horn shaped to look like a stick?

How it looks  In this experimental portfolio, the Spectrum ironically stands out because it looks so… normal. Sure, it’s a bright (even garish) blue demonstrator, but it’s pen-shaped, and we can work with that. Our Inkdom reviewers felt the silkscreened Taccia logo on the cap seemed a bit cheap, and weren’t convinced by the design of the silver-coloured clip, but generally speaking there’s little here to complain about. A sign of good things to come is the steel nib — a rather pretty little thing that (spoiler alert) resembles a Sailor nib more than a little, and is paired with a Sailor-design feed, too.

How it feels  The Spectrum’s cap takes a good couple of turns to remove, and doing so exposes a block of shiny threads and a section that might be just a little narrower than you hoped. But in the hand it’s got a good weight, and feels solid enough.

How it fills  Our reviewers agreed that the filling mechanism is the Spectrum’s Achilles’ heel. It uses a proprietary Sailor converter, which simultaneously held very little ink and leaked like a sieve. Luckily the worst of the leaks are contained by an o-ring between barrel and section, but one reviewer still ended up with inky fingers.

Crucially, how it writes…  All three reviewers enjoyed the Spectrum’s broad steel nib on paper, noting the generous flow and smoothness, the ease of reverse writing, and — most distinctively — the similarity to Sailor’s ‘Zoom’ nib. If you’re not familiar with the term, a zoom nib writes a different line depending on the angle between the pen and the paper. Lay the pen down and you get a wide line; stand it up and the line narrows. The nib is really the best bit of the Taccia, and would you want it any other way?

Pen! What is it good for?  A good pen to keep at home (given the risk of leaks, at least in our review sample), and to play around with new inks — the broad nib and zoom effect really shows off the best of a colour.

VFM  At $127+ from its US dealer Pen Chalet, or £115 from EU-based Iguanasell, the Taccia Spectrum is not a cheap pen. Despite the lovely (steel) nib, our reviewers weren’t completely convinced that the Spectrum stacked up against rivals like the Platinum #3776, which is a pretty even match, except with a gold nib and no leaks. But the lovely packaging is not to be sniffed at — the Spectrum would make an impressive gift.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  As we noted above, the Platinum #3776 is a good alternative. But if you want a steel-nibbed, interesting demonstrator at around $125, you could also try stretching to a Franklin-Christoph, or take a look at the Opus 88 Koloro, previously reviewed here.

Our overall recommendation  Divisive design, great and interesting nib, unfortunate filling mechanism — the Spectrum is a real head-scratcher. On balance, two of our three reviewers decided they wouldn’t choose to purchase one with their own funds. Probably the best reason to buy a Spectrum is if you really like the colours (the Teal version is very pretty, for starter’s), and want a Sailor nib (the Spectrum even comes in a Music nib variant) but can’t stretch to a Pro Gear.

Where to get hold of one  Right now, US-based Pen Chalet is a good bet.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Pen Chalet for lending us the pen to test.

 

Opus 88 Koloro fountain pen review

A little bit of history: Opus 88 is a newer brand to have found its way into our pencil cases. While the likes of Pelikan have celebrated their 175th anniversary this year, Opus 88 is still on its way to reach its 50th birthday. Hailing from Taiwan, the brand has made its mark with a pen that has become quite popular and sought after, particularly within the internet pen community.

How it looks: There are a number of different flavours to choose from with this pen. There’s blueberry; a slightly greyer blueberry, orange and strawbe.. I mean, blue, bluish-grey, orange and red as well as an oversize clear demonstrator version (available at a slight premium). Besides the clear demo’, all the pens follow the same design scheme which is a rather vibrant acrylic main body with ebonite accents in a slightly duller (though certainly not to say this is a bad thing, as it compliments the pen very well) colour of the acrylic.

How it feels: The pen is on the larger side, and of course the ‘oversize’ version will be even larger still. It sits nicely in the hand, however, and is nicely balanced. The cap screws off but there are no sharp threads and the section is quite long anyway, so it’s not uncomfortable to hold. The acrylic is very smooth and even when it’s capped it’s quite nice to run your fingers over the ebonite.

How it fills: Not something that’s often found in the majority of modern pens, but the Opus is an eyedropper pen. This is a rather easy system to use (though its convenience may be debated), as you just fill an eyedropper (or syringe) with your ink, expel it into the barrel of the pen and you are able to use the entire barrel-full (if you so desire) giving a fuller fill than if you were to have a piston system, for example. Slightly confusingly, there is what looks like a plunger arm within the body of the pen, but this is actually used as a shut-off valve like those found in pens such as the TWSBI Vac 700 and the Pilot Custom 823, as eyedroppers are prone to “burping” out ink. A very useful system!

The pen arrives with an eyedropper pipette so all you need is to supply the ink from a bottle and you’re ‘good to go’.

Crucially, how it writes…  The nib is a steel JoWo – typically very reliable.

Pen! What is it good for?  If you need a large ink capacity and something fun to show off, this is a great pen to consider. Though, while precautions have been taken to prevent any leakage, it may still be prone to typical eyedropper problems and so therefore care should be taken when carrying this around.

VFM  This pen comes in at $93 for the regular ‘normal size’ models and $120 for the ‘oversize’ demonstrator – that’s upper £60 and lower £80 respectively. That doesn’t break the bank and you get a nice looking pen with an interesting filling system that also feels great. While the occasional dryness was experienced with the nib of the test unit, this is usually fairly simple to fix (of course, at one’s own risk) and the pen writes reliably, bar the flow.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Many early vintage pens were eyedropper -filled – Mabie Todd, for example, made several. Other pens can sometimes be converted into an eyedropper though this requires a bit of work and maintenance on the user’s end. If you’re interested in converting a pen into an eyedropper, make sure you know how to do it properly and research whether or not the materials of the pen mean you can (metal parts, for example, are a no-no) – as well as ensuring the pen is actually convertible (such as there being no holes in the barrel, such as with a Lamy, or that it’s not all one piece). Some piston-filler pens can be used as an eyedropper as well, but some of the barrel is taken up by the piston mechanism. A TWSBI may also be considered which would run to about the same cost, if not cheaper (certainly when considering buying from within the UK as you’re not going to pay as high a shipping cost or potential customs). Or if you fancy just this pen but with a gold nib, a screw-in JoWo #5 is available as an after-market upgrade.

Our overall recommendation: A pretty decent pen from a company relatively new on the scene. There’s a lot of potential with these pens, and some interesting colour choices that should appeal to most people.

Where to get hold of one: These are available at Pen Chalet, where you will find both the regular Koloro and the oversized demonstrator model.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Pen Chalet for lending us the pen to test.

 

Mabie Todd ‘Blackbird’ fountain pen inks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This meta-review references:

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

Namisu Ixion fountain pen review

 

A little bit of history  Namisu is a small Scottish design house that’s been turning out metal (and more recently ebonite) pens for around five years, with names like the Nexus, Nova, Orion… and here, the Ixion. Namisu has launched several of its pens via Kickstarter, and in June 2017 the Ixion appeared. It promptly smashed its goals and — after some drama — landed in our reviewers’ hands in early 2018.

We’ll get this out of the way: all of our reviewers (and many other backers) were disappointed with the purchase experience. Namisu delivered four months later than promised, which is not unusual for Kickstarter, but its communication and customer service along the way was poor. Caveat emptor and all that.

How it looks  The Ixion is a full-size metal pen, available in titanium, brass and aluminium, with optional contrasting metal section and finials. Like the other Namisu models, the Ixion is clipless, but it won’t roll away due to the distinctive dodecagonal cap.

Our reviewers between them had brass, black alu and blue alu versions, and universally agreed that this is a good-looking design. The ability to change the colour schemes by swapping over parts is a great way to make the Ixion yours.

204-Namisu-Ixion.jpg

How it feels  As you’d expect, the brass version is weighty; the aluminium less so. Either way, it feels good in the hand, and should you choose you can put on a steel or brass section to change the weight balance. The section is long and comfortable. The cap posts securely and deeply. Nothing to complain about here.

How it fills  With a generic converter, or a standard international cartridge. Move along, nothing to see here…

 

Crucially, how it writes…  And here’s the bone of contention. Two of our three reviewers had a wonderful experience with fine and extra fine steel nibs writing perfectly out of the box.204-Namisu-Ixion-1.jpg

However, one unlucky reviewer suffered from two duff nibs, one Ti and one steel. The nibs are #6 Bock units that screw simply into the section, so you’ve got complete flexibility to swap nibs around with other pens or buy replacements quite inexpensively. Just as well, as a number of other buyers we’ve chatted with on social media have suffered from quality control issues (including nib problems and premature wear on the barrel anodising) and found Namisu’s customer service somewhat lacking.

Pen! What is it good for?  The Ixion would make a great daily writer for someone out and about. With a metal body and an inexpensive, easily replaced nib, you don’t have to worry about damage.

VFM  The Ixion is actually very keenly priced, with the “standard” Kickstarter price for an aluminium version coming in at £33. For a full-size metal pen that’s pretty competitive. The price is likely to be higher at retail, of course.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  You might want to look at the metal pens from Karas Kustoms, which also use Bock nibs and give you a huge range of customisation options.

Our overall recommendation  If you like metal pens and value the ability to swap nibs and customise components, you’ll enjoy the Ixion a lot. Just make sure you know what you’re getting into; there’s a risk of QC issues and you may not get the kind of support you’d expect.

Where to get hold of one  Right now, it’s the used market only. The Kickstarter has closed and the Ixion isn’t yet up on Namisu’s website for retail purchase.

This meta-review references:

Start Bay TN-size notebook cover

A little bit of history Start Bay, as the name suggests, is a wide arcing sea front, in this case on Devon’s south coast. The long beach of Slapton Sands is so expansive (despite actually being composed mostly of pebbles) that it even stood-in for Utah beach during D-Day landings rehearsals, tragically with the loss of three times more men than were taken by the real thing. These days, it’s a much calmer place, and home amongst other things to the Start Bay Notebook. The brand made its name with A5 notebook covers (which we reviewed in 2017), and similar products for the popular 90x140mm pocket notebook, but then they came up with a third format – the ‘TN’ size. We had to investigate, naturally…

How it looks Like an A5 notebook /cover with 38mm missing on the horizontal, which is precisely what it is. Whether this is attractive or unattractive is very much a personal choice, but if you like the trend for the ‘traveller’s notebook’ then this is a fine-looking competitor, with tactile leather and a cloth bag to put it all in (which feels like it could take a bit of punishment out on the road).

How it feels Warm, slightly textured, and supple but not greasy. All the boxes ticked, then.

How it fills With 110 x 210 mm inserts (confusingly labelled ‘A5 slim’, which isn’t really a thing), made for Start Bay by Rutland-based Personalised Stationery. Or there’s a Japanese analogue which will also fit, if you prefer. If your requirements are more specialist, as it is a standard size, you will probably be able to find inserts which meet your exact specifications on Etsy.

How it handles fountain pens The standard inserts are made by a fountain pen enthusiast, and it shows. There’s a little bit of tooth, and it can handle wet nibs without falling apart.

Bay! What is it good for? It’s probably pretty good for travelling – it fits into the pocket of cargo trousers or the top flap of most rucksacks, for starters.  As Alison discovered, it also works rather well for bullet-journalling.

VFM At £45 this is exactly the same price as Midori’s popular, if typographically-challenged, ‘Traveler’s Notebook’, and that’s fair competition. This is a well-made product which will last for years and probably looks even better once it’s been around the block a few times – and it even comes with one of those hand-made ‘Notable Reference’ fillers as standard. Good value, we think.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost… There are two other sizes of Start Bay notebook which have a wider range of inserts available – or if for some reason you don’t want a distinctive product hand-made in Britain, you could opt for the Midori (which is probably perfectly good, but our reviewers prefer the Start Bay ).

Our overall recommendation is to think hard about what you’re going to use the notebook cover for, then take your pick. If the TN or ‘A5 slim’ size really does it for you, go for it. If not, the proper A5 size might be easier to fill and the 90x140mm size easier to carry. But if you want a simple notebook cover which is well-made and looks the part then Start Bay generally take some beating.

Where to get hold of one Start Bay now mostly sell direct, so the best option is to go straight to the source.

This meta-review references: