Category Archives: Meta-review

Scribo Write Here Tropea

A little bit of history  If you’re a fountain pen fan, you’ll know about OMAS – and you’re probably also still missing that venerable Italian brand. But by now you might also know that some of its staff stayed on in the home city and set up Scrittura Bolognese, or Scribo for short. They make the curvaceously pulchritudinous Feel, but they are also up for making ‘private label’ pens for other stationery brands – an offer Write Here were the first to take up. Their ‘WH special’ has been available in various hues for half a decade now, so we have been meaning to get around to this meta-review for erm, quite a while. Eventually the Tropea finish looked impossible to resist.

How it looks  The shape of the pen is fairly unremarkable, albeit nicely executed with a sturdy clip. The colouring, though, conjures up a red onion skin very well indeed – which is what the town of Tropea is famous for, after all. We could venture off on a diversion into Italian food here, but you get the gist. It’s tasty. Unfortunately for us bloggers, it’s also nigh-on impossible to do justice to with a camera; you really have to see this in the flesh to get a proper sense of the material.

How it feels  Sturdy, but not overly heavy. Large, but not uncomfortably so. Just right, actually; it’s a pen made for people who really want to write – which might sound obvious, but we do come across a few pens which seem to have been produced more as eye candy than writing implements. This, though, is a serious pen for serious pen people (with, admittedly, serious pen budgets). The Scribo nib makes it a more tactile experience to write with, too; this thing really bounces.

How it fills  This is a proper piston-filler, which works smoothly and holds enough ink to keep going even with a big wet nib – which is just as well…

Crucially, how it writes…  This particular Tropea is fitted with a big 18k ‘standard’ broad italic. It’s standard only inasmuch as it is not the extra-flessibile 14k which Scribo (and OMAS) devotees prize so highly – but there’s certainly nothing ordinary about it. This is not stiff gold, by any stretch of the imagination, so there is plenty of natural line variation and bounce. Astonishingly, the feed can keep up, too! Writing with this is quite the experience, and puts a LOT of ink down on the page. Great if you have a rather extrovert style of writing, although it can be a bit of a handful if small, neat lettering is more your thing.

Pen! What is it good for?  The Scribo WH special is designed as a practical every-day writer’s pen, although this particular italic nib makes such a bold mark on the page that it’s hard to imagine many business uses. This is probably just too much fun for the office, but for funky correspondence, audacious recipes, daring diaries, trenchant critiques of the imminent demise of western civilisation and such-like it’s probably just the ticket.

VFM  Well, it’s not cheap, it must be acknowledged; the configuration we tested retails at £590, which is a fair bit of cash for a writing utensil. But a soft italic nib is a rare thing, and this is such a treat to write with that if you do have such sums to hand, there are certainly far worse ways to spend it. The ‘mainstream’ alternative options at this price point won’t win you as many admiring glances from penthusiasts and hot pangs of jealousy from disappointed ballpoint-wielders, that’s for sure.

The only way is ethics  Hand-made in Italy, by people you can email and get a reply from, this is looking like a pretty sound choice on the ethical front too. The packaging doesn’t include too much disposable content, either; you’ll probably want to put the admirable Scribo pen wrap into use.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  The Scribo Feel is worth a look if you prefer a less cylindrical sort of experience but still want one of these extraordinary nibs – or if you want even more curves, try La Dotta.

Our overall recommendation  Try one in the flesh – and if you like it (which, be warned, you probably will), start saving!

Where to get hold of one  Write Here in Shrewsbury – or via their website.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Write Here for sending the Tropea our way.

Diamine new Flowers box set

A little bit of history  OK, relax, we’re not going to relate the whole natural history of flora. Let’s stick to the inks. Diamine released a box set of inks inspired by flowers a few years back, and it was a hit, with shades like Pansy and Cornflower continuing to find new fans even now. So, quite reasonably, Cult Pens thought it would be a good idea to commission a sequel.

How it looks  These are packaged in ten square-ish bottles.

How it arrives  In a box, naturally enough. This is perhaps a bit predictable, but it’s easier to manage than a flower-pot.

Crucially, how it writes…  Not too wet, not too dry – but some of this set are a bit low on saturation, so be warned.

Ink! What is it good for?  Drawing, we think; given the pallor of several of these inks they look better suited to illustration than correspondence.

VFM  £60 for ten small pots of ink is a fair bit, so the full set is probably one for hard-core floristry fans. Others may prefer to await individual refill pots and pick just the colours which really do it for them.

The only way is ethics  Made near Liverpool by a firm we can trust to behave, and packaged in old-school materials, this scores highly.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Go for the original Flowers box set, which has a rather more robust range of colours.

Our overall recommendation  If you find yourself lusting after the pale and mysterious inks which many Japanese brands indulge in, without the instant penury a large collection of those might inflict, you could do a lot worse than try a few horticultural doodles with this box set.

Where to get hold of some  Only from Cult Pens

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Diamine for the samples

Scribo fountain pen inks

A little bit of history  Much as we all mourn OMAS, ink wasn’t their strong point. Their spiritual heirs, Scribo, have apparently set out to correct that. We put the whole range to the test.

How it arrives Packaging isn’t everything, but my goodness do Scribo make an event of it. The cubic cardboard boxes slide out like drawers to reveal stackable square-based bottles which positively shout “we’re special!” – and so they are.How it looks  This is a big range, and the different components deserve detailed attention:

The inktelligentsia The orange and purple offerings immediately won many fans, the purple dark enough to take to work and the orange stiff competition for any similar shade. If you have only the pocket money for the one bottle, either would be a good place to start.

The patricians Some sturdy blues and very black black here, with an empirical link; Capri was the childhood home of Caligula, uncle of Nero.

The communards Should you wish to raise the red flag, you can do so with a juicy pomegranate, or, err, with a nice Chianti.

The ecologists That’s a lot of green for a modest range, but there’s a shade here for everyone – with a civilised teal probably taking the prize.

The dullards It’s a little harder to get excited about browns and greys, but they do have an audience – and these at least do it with a bit of class.

Crucially, how it writes…  Actually, that varies: some were found to be a touch dry for our testing panel. However, as Scribo pens themselves tend to run very wet, it’s a good match for the right nibbage.

Ink! What is it good for?  If you work in design or fashion, perhaps you can take one of these inks to the office. For the rest of us, this is probably best for writing a diary, making private notes or correspondence with friends – and none the worse for that, of course.

VFM  These aren’t cheap, by any stretch of the imagination, and are priced comparably with Iroshizuku inks. As a result we would hesitate to advise rushing out and buying the whole range, as the outlay would be equivalent to the price of a very good pen. But if you have treated yourself to a nice Scribo pen and want something which complements it, a bottle of your favourite shade might not be too crazy an indulgence.

The only way is ethics  The inks are made in the EU (we think) and the packaging is eminently re-usable, so it scores fairly highly on this front.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  You could try some KWZ – although be prepared that a Scribo pen thus equipped may double as a small fire-extinguisher in emergencies. In terms of the colour palette, Italy may have little to compete with this but over in Japan Sailor and Pilot both have ink ranges which cover similar ground, at similarly ‘premium’ prices.

Our overall recommendation  Scribo have done their pens justice with some grown-up inks in really impressive packaging, but they do cost accordingly. Our tip would be to choose just the one which which matches your pen.

Where to get hold of some  Our samples were donated by Write Here, the only UK stockist we’re aware of thus far. If you happen to be in Bologna, Scribo may also sell direct.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Write Here for the samples

Visconti Homo Sapiens x2

A little bit of history Our species are not the first terrestrial hominids to make art, and therefore conceivably not the first to use a device like a pen for making marks. But we are, in all probability, the first on this planet to invent copperplate, so it’s perhaps not too bold for Visconti to name a pen design after us. Sed – ecce! – inter homi sapientes, de gustibus non est disputandum. We therefore did our best not to argue too much. Quite a mountain of history, actually Back in the 1970s, steady-state Luddites fought against two intellectual movements and lost twice, first to the constant expansion of the universe and then, down here on Earth, to plate tectonics. But our story starts about half a million years ago when the slow-motion collision of the African and Eurasian plates caused the growth and repeated eruptions of a stratovolcano known to successive civilisations as Etna. It’s held a place in myth and legend ever since, including as the prison of the monstrous Typhon, and as the source of much of Sicily’s soil has been ruled over by Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, the offspring of King Rollo (no, really) and, for a brief but toothsome interval, a revolutionary squashed-fly biscuit. Etna also chucks out plenty of lava, of course, and Visconti gamely set out to make something of it. How it looks  The classic Homo Sapiens look is a black basaltic tube with a few metal rings and the signature Visconti bowed clip. If it’s under-stated in its usual dress it can be a lot more exotic as a special edition, and we were lucky enough to get our hands on a curious ‘special’ indeed, the Evolution – which looks like a Klingon tool for signing instantly broken peace treaties. How it feels  Sizeable, fairly hefty but not ridiculously heavy, for most of our reviewers. Most is not all, mind; at least one of our panel put the pen on the scales and declared it too weighty to live with. The clever bayonet closure (NB, not present on the Evolution) makes for a comfortable grip, though, and the weight is well-distributed. Visconti makes bold claims about the barrel material being hydroscopic, so that it still has a grip in sweaty hands, and although this is perhaps better tested in the summer it does seem to work quite well in practice. How it fills  This is a vacuum-filler, and it sucks in a voluminous gulp of scribbling juice without much effort on the user’s part. There’s no way to use cartridges, of course, but if you’re in the market for a pen this pricey a bottle of decent ink is unlikely to exceed the budget. Crucially, how it writes…  Now here hangs a tale. Originally, the Homo Sapiens employed palladium nibs which proved notoriously difficult to tune (and harder still to keep in trim). Our duo exemplifies recent alternatives; a usually well-behaved and slightly bouncy gold nib or, for the Evolution, a tubular steel nib which is firm but smooth. A pleasure on either count, although they are very different beasts. The gold nib on our test pen afforded some hard starts to a couple of reviewers, but not to the degree that made writing impossible – and as it flowed adequately for others ink choice may be a critical factor there. Another vital Homo Sapiens tip, which we wish Visconti would tell people directly, is to undo the blind cap a couple of turns before staring to write; this seems to reduce the risk of drying-up considerably.

Pen! What is it good for?  In standard trim it’s probably sober enough for the office – although some of the special editions might frighten the horses! The new gold nibs are lovely to write with, though, so this is also ideal for writing a diary or personal correspondence. It’s for keeps either way, though. VFM  These are very good pens, no doubt, but compared to other premium Italian offerings the value proposition is sometimes perhaps a little dicey. The Evolution tipped over into four figures, and that’s hard to justify for a steel-nibbed pen, however artistically assembled. Choose with care. The only way is ethics  These are made in Italy and (unless someone gets a really harsh cut of the fee) no-one’s being under-remunerated at this price. If you can afford one, enjoy it with a clear conscience!If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  There are new special editions of the Homo Sapiens out most years. Bide your time, save up, and pounce as soon as you see one you like. Or, if you want a posh pen from a different part of Italy, Scribo and Pineider may have a competing claim upon your attention. Our overall recommendation  Try one in the hand, if you can – but if you love it, that’s your pocket money spent for a while!

Where to get hold of one  Your fountain pen emporium of choice; Visconti is widely stocked. This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Manuscript, who as welling making great calligraphy kit themselves are also Visconti’s UK distributor – and sent these pens our way to put to the test.

Aratrum Calamus Fountain Pen

A little bit of history  The Calamus fountain pen is part of a three-piece writing instrument set also featuring a ballpoint pen and a rollerball pen. This very distinctive pen set has been put together by the German distributor Aratrum as a leaving gesture from their outgoing head of operations, Mr Pflug.

Aratrum is apparently one of Germany’s biggest writing product distributors and their list of prestigious companies include: Kaweco, Platinum, Recife and ACME to name but a few. So yes, this was always going to be a proper bit of kit! The look and feel of this range is the result of two decades of handling and selling pens, and it looks like Herr Pflug has tried to incorporate all his favourite details.

The term CALAMVS is a nod to the Roman reed pen, made from a leaf of Acorus calamus; an intriguiing plant also known as beewort in English, which apparently has psychoactive properties and was even supposedly used by Walt Whitman as a metaphor for ‘forbidden love’ between gentlemen. Golly.

How it looks The Calamus comes in a slick matt black cardboard tube with minimal tasteful graphics in white. The pen is made from brass with a black chromium finish and is piston filled from the back end with the twister hidden under a small screw-closure section. The main barrel features two ink windows, one on each side, with three engraved decorative rings. The clipless cap seamlessly pops on and off and features two engraved rings, a shallow engraved logo and a small steel stud to prevent roll on the opposite side. The Schmidt nib unit features a smoky grey medium nib with an iridium point.

How it feels The pen is made of brass and has a nice heft to it. Uncapped, the balance point is in the middle of the ink window – if that’s by design, it’s a nice touch. In the hand when writing the balance is towards the nib, which many of us prefer but maybe a slight issue for left-handed ‘over writers’ who seem to prefer the weight towards the rear, possibly as a counter to the angle they have to rotate their hand when writing. Another possible issue is the two ink window cutaways; one of our reviewers thought they felt a little sharp.

How it fills At the back of the barrel you have a blind cap, which once removed reveals the end of a captive piston filler. To fill, carefully twist anti-clockwise until fully down, put the nib into the ink source and twist clockwise to fill. One of the design features is the two long and prominent ink windows sitting opposite each other. It is very easy to see the ink level through these when filling the pen.

Crucially, how it writes…  The nib is a ruthenium-plated Schmidt size #5. The pen was tested on Tomoe River paper and in a Rhodia Webby with no issues whatsoever. It feels comfortable in the hand and is very smooth to write with. Interestingly there was a tiny bit of squeaking audible from the iridium point for the first sentence or two.

Pen! What is it good for? This is unquestionably a good quality pen with a unique look; it works for handwriting, and also as a fashion accessory.  

VFM  Remembering this is a limited edition pen, made of brass, and with visual/tactile features that require work, well it may surprise you that at present the pen is just €59. Unfortunately, postage to the UK is another €25, which is a pity, but if you happen to be in Deutschland…

Our overall recommendation  For this money the Calamus is a great-looking pen for both writing and accessorising. If you have contacts in Germany, bag one!

Where to get hold of one  The Calamus was provided by Papier und Stift, where you can also buy the devil-stick or gel alternatives, presumably for the Muggles in your life.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to Anja at Papier und Stift for providing the pen to test.

Exorcise Books

A little bit of history  Rob de la Porte at Made for Ink very kindly sent the United Inkdom review team samples of these notebooks just in time for Hallowe’en. Rob is a real craftsman with a well-deserved reputation for producing limited print runs of affordable, good quality, fun-themed, hand-made notebooks that are ideal for journal keepers of all persuasions. These notebooks are no exception – and they include more than a little bit of history themselves.

How they look The notebooks came beautifully packaged, raising expectations that something good and of quality would be within. We weren’t disappointed.

The Exorcise Books initially look quite unprepossessing, like something that you would have used in school, but they are very definitely a league or two up from that and reveal attention to detail and quality that sets them apart. The B5 paper is 100 gsm uncoated extra white in a smooth finish and hails from Scotland, but no mention of that play please, despite the subject matter. The four designs come in red, pale blue, orange and buff covers.  

The inside covers back and front distinguish the notebooks, which have a theme which suits the title. The research for the woodcut images (on the flyleaf) and text (on the back cover) was carried out by our very own Scribble Monboddo, who is also a historian on the quiet; they really add to the notebooks.

The light blue one we saw featured reproductions of woodcuts of the infamous torturer and murderer of unusual and wise women, Matthew Hopkins. In the red Exorcise Book lurked the 15th century’s malodorous Malleus Maleficarum, a manual for interrogating witches. The orange book featured the strange Elizabethan Doctor Dee, and eruditely swept through the even stranger HP Lovecraft, the mad bad Aleister Crowley, and Joseph Smith of Mormon fame too.

Finally, the inside buff-coloured front cover had a reproduction of a book made by the 11th Duke of Rutland in 1619 recording the lamentable putting to death of two women for witchcraft on 11th March 1618. In the fraught times of the war between the new religion (Protestantism) and the old religions (Catholicism and even older folk beliefs) women were the constant losers and victims. The victimisation of the so-called Belvoir witches is recounted briefly in Scribble’s text, noting that there is a unique ecclesiastical monument to the supposed victims of witchcraft in a local church, but no marker to, or even records of the trial of the poor women themselves. The pithy motto of the final sentence is a worthy axiom for these times and for filling these notebooks; “Remember to write what you see and what you hope for, not what you fear.”

One of our number risked a Latin inscription in her notebook but no incubi seemed to appear; so, no Inkdom reviewers were harmed or alarmed in this meta-review.  

How it feels The Exorcise Books consist of 60 pages of beautiful, high-quality 100gsm paper which absorbs fountain pen ink like a strolling minstrel wandering over the page. So nice is the paper that you might be tempted to try water colour on the plain paper, but that won’t end well – charcoal, graphite, or coloured pencils work just fine, though.  

One of our number did push the wetness of ink considerably and went full on with Diamine Winter Miracle, a very heavy sheening purple ink with a shimmer, and applied with an automatic pen. It showed through on the 100gsm where the ink puddled, and there was some bleed through but that is to be expected with such a payload of ink. The shimmer and sheen both worked but if it’s just for handwriting then this paper will work very well with a fountain pen.

Another reviewer tried a range of different pen-ink combinations including a Sailor Naginata Togi equipped with Robert Oster Opal Mauve, a Waterman Carene 18k gold Fine nib filled with Rohrer and Klinger Verdegris, a John Garnham JG6 with a titanium fine nib and powered by Diamine Inkvent Midnight Hour. All of these, including the very wet JG6 permutation, were quickly absorbed by the paper. Only a very wet ink showed a bit of, err, ghosting.

How it fills Starting to fill a notebook is often one of those rituals of delay and procrastination for fountain pen users and the quality of the paper in these may compound such deferment misery. But the messages and pithy adages on the inside back covers should surely make you want to fearlessly learn more, read more and reflect and wonder on the power of scribing information on paper. Exorcise any fear and record your thoughts and considerations of what you have read, found out, and want to be known.

Crucially, how it handles ink… These notebooks cope beautifully with fountain pen writing. One reviewer blitzed them with super-saturated pen and ink combinations and did a little bleed-through. Another reviewer reported some ghosting. A third found the Exorcise paper behaved perfectly; no feathering, no bleed and only slight show-through with very wet ink, and inks seemed to show very true to their colours and characteristics with the super-saturated combo of double broad nib and purple blue of the Troublemaker Lam-ang and the subtle shading of the Robert Oster Opal Mauve. Neither the blitz of the former, nor the subtly of the latter were missed out on this paper.

The quality of the paper shows through on every level. We were aided by award-winning microscopist Mike Smith, the secretary of the Leeds Microscopical Society, to examine the paper closer. Mike’s equipment yielded a series of images that he said clearly showed the superior quality of the paper compared to 100gsm standard print paper, a 90 gsm French brushed vellum and a ‘certain’ 68gsm Japanese paper.

Kon-peki ink on Exorcise MfI Notebook Paper at 100X

In brief, the heavier paper from Made for Ink seems to absorb more of the ink in the fibres, and their interstices, across the path it was scribed on the paper and in a more consistent manner.

Pulp! What is it good for? Notebooks and scrapbooks have been the go-to tools for collating and organising information for many hundreds of years. Medieval and Renaissance scribes were typically systematic indexers and bullet-pointers of their commonplace books. These are just as versatile; write Latin, Gaelic or sketch in them and they can cope.

VFM These are high-quality, hand-made products selling at very reasonable prices – no malice there!

The only way is ethics  The Exorcise Books are handmade in Rutland from materials made in the UK. Enough said?

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost… The reviewers unanimously loved these notebooks. They look good, feel of quality and work consistently with a range of ink and nibs. The chances are that you will like them too – but if you really need something in a different size, Made for Ink also stock very good A5 alternatives.

Our overall recommendation The Exorcise Books are made with paper you can trust to handle any pen and ink combination consistently, and they tell a story. They are handmade by an ethical UK-based penthusiast, and they are good value for money too. They get an unequivocal thumbs-up from us.

Where to get hold of one  The Exorcise Books retail for £6.95, and can be ordered direct from: https://madefor.ink/

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Rob de la Porte for the notebooks – and Joan, Margaret and Philippa Flowers for what they taught us.

Kaweco Perkeo new flavours

A little bit of history  We’ve reviewed the Perkeo before, so the basics have already been covered. To recap briefly; this is a Kaweco’s entry-level offering for those who find the budget version of the Sport a little too diminutive. The model has served well enough in the market for 2021 to bring some interesting new colours and a three-nib calligraphy set to the market.

How it looks  Like a Sport cap with a full-sized barrel on the back, essentially. ‘Nout wrong with that! But the new colour-schemes really add something, especially the splendid ‘breezy teal’ and the icily cool demonstrator version with its unusual clear feed.

How it feels  Light and comfortable, with the three-sided grip section gently guiding pen posture.How it fills  There’s space for a brace of small international cartridges in the barrel, or a full-sized converter, which really looks the business in the demonstrator version.

Crucially, how it writes…  These take Kaweco’s rebranded Bock 060, a small #5 nib with plenty of options. The standard M and F nibs write well (and rather better than when the Perkeo was first released, we think), and the range of italic nibs in the calligraphy set impressed our favourite calligrapher, so no complaints there.

Pen! What is it good for?  The Perkeo is essentially aimed at the entry-level market, and fits there very well, but plenty of grown-up, seasoned fountain pen fans seem to rather like it too.

VFM  Generally retailing at £12 to £15 at the time of writing, this isn’t dirt-cheap but certainly isn’t highly-priced either.

The only way is ethics  Kaweco manufactures primarily in Germany so we have no concerns around labour conditions. Some of the packaging is plastic, but it’s not excessive.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  If you like the Kaweco look but want something pocket-sized, of course there’s the trusty Sport – while if you want an entry-level German fountain pen but can’t find a Perkeo, the Pelikano occupies similar territory.

Our overall recommendation  If you’re penabling a member of the family who’ll prefer to pick up something which looks cool, you could do a lot worse than the pulchritudinous Perkeo.

Where to get hold of one  Almost any fountain pen retailer you choose; these aren’t hard to find at all.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Kaweco for providing samples for this meta-review

Suitable Gravitas for the Position

A little bit of history  Ireland doesn’t have much of a tradition of fountain pen making. That has all changed, changed utterly, as Ben Walsh’s Gravitas has brought a clutch of innovative metal-based designs to the market. They are typified by modern design, attention to detail, interesting material and eye-catching (and smelling) packaging.

Gravitas’ production base is in the port town of Drogheda, some 50 kilometres north of Dublin, in a region which is home to the 5,000-year-old Neolithic stone-age Newgrange (a UNESCO world heritage site). There’s also a strong Irish cultural dimension with the use of Ogham symbols on the packaging and heraldic escutcheon similar to the ermine of Breton coats of arms or the fleurs de lys from the family crest being branded on the pens and the packaging (although not on the bronze pen). Walsh, by the way, is a Norman family name from Breathnach, the Gaelic for Breton, foreigner or Welshman. The Normans invaded Ireland in the 12th century and fairly quickly became completely Hibernicised. As it happens, the logo is also rather reminiscent of the benchmarks left around these islands by the Ordnance Survey to ascertain how the ground rises or falls by, well, gravity. Choose the influence you prefer, but either way it looks good.

Ben Walsh had previously made pens in concrete before developing some prototype fountain pens as a Kick-starter project. It did not reach its initial target and he opted to execute the project himself. He asked many people in the pen community for their thoughts and feedback, and the results show him to be a good listener. In late 2020 Gravitas pens hit the market with a series of products in different materials and nib widths. Fountain Pen UK Facebook group members were offered a 10% discount and many took the plunge, including quite a few United Inkdom bloggers; a meta-review was inevitable.

How they look  These Gravitas fountain pens are cigar-shaped and made of metal (aluminium, steel and bronze) and come in a variety of finishes. Four models are considered here; a bronze, a stainless steel, a stunning eye-catching rainbow finished Skittles and a beautiful Celtic knotwork pen.

The Gravitas bronze model came well-packed inside a jiffy bag in a cardboard tube. The pen was wrapped in Gravitas-brand grey-black tissue paper and tightly plugged into the tube’s base, which keeps it safe in transit. The tissue paper comes powerfully perfumed, a touch which delights some and appals others, but attention from those now ubiquitous surface wipes removes the worst if that’s not to your taste. The exterior of the tube sports Ogham alphabetic runes translating to: Gravitas Pens and “May your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow and trouble avoid you wherever you go”.

The bronze material is a nickel-free Ampco 18 alloy of aluminium (10.5%), iron (3.5%), and the rest copper, and heat treated to provide a high strength, ductile and unusually tough metal typically used for aircraft parts (gears, bearings, etc). The finials are silicon nitride embedded in cap end and barrel end matching the toughness of the pen body. At 147.5mm long (capped), 15mm width and 97.15g capped (70g uncapped) this is a big, heavy pen, even compared to other metal-bodied fountain pens such as the Kaweco Supra (48g in stainless steel), aluminium-based Diplomat Aero (a substantial 41g), and four and a half times heavier than the ubiquitous Lamy Al-Star yardstick (a lightweight 21.7g).

At 74g capped (49g uncapped) the stainless-steel model is lighter than the bronze version but the design and dimensions are identical. The model we reviewed had a distinctive textured finish which extended to the section and which eliminated any of the typical slipperiness that many experience with metal sections.

If Ben Walsh impresses as the serious mind behind Gravitas, you can see he has a sense of fun in his design of the Gravitas Skittles fountain pen. It is a stand-out ‘wow’ model which is quite hard to describe without sounding like a complete hippy. There is nothing subtle about it, be it the weight, the size, or the rainbow colours. If Jim Morrison were to grab a fountain pen, it would be this one, and he would quite probably stare into it for hours.

This psychedelia is reflected in the packaging, a very attractive tube, which gives you a sense of the colours of the pen even before you open it. Ben’s sense of fun carries through in the packaging because he infused it with a violet scent which persists for months after the pen is opened. The pen is made from 304 stainless steel with a precision machine finish, lightly brushed with a titanium nitride rainbow physical vapor deposition (PVD) coating, also known as thin-film coating. The attention to detail is seen in the continuation of the PVD coating inside the pen cap and body. This hefty pen is 74g capped and 49g uncapped but again feels comfortable in the hand. It is available in matt or polished finishes.

Ben Walsh’s father is a graphic designer and friend of Ireland’s foremost Celtic artist: Jim Fitzpatrick who is renowned for a series of Celtic mythology artworks and this prompted Ben to make a pen sporting Celtic knotwork decoration for his father. From these prototypes Gravitas offered the model to the fountain pen public. Celtic knotwork is famous in designs in Ireland and an echo of the traditions that monks scribed in the 8th century Book of Kells. In Celtic iconography the starting point is the square King Solomon (the reference of ‘Divine Inscrutability’ and wisdom) and foundation knots which are then extended to a plait structure of the Josephine knot. This is perfectly executed on the pen, showing as a silver laser-etched pattern on the anodised black aluminium or on 304 stainless steel precision machine finish and bead-blasted with a black PVD coating. Our reviewer with the steel version partnered the pen with a gold Jowo nib, a near perfect match of a stiff body with a more flexible and versatile nib. 

How they feel  These are wonderfully tactile, beautiful and stylish pens that are a genuine pleasure to hold and use, not least because of the balance. All the models had the same triple-start square threads that meant the cap came off in one turn to reveal a generous some 30mm length section. The threads feel unobtrusive and comfy on the fingers. There is a 60-degree bevelled drop from the 15mm diameter body to 12mm of the section at the top, which then gently tapers down to 11.5mm at the bottom of the section.

Universally the reviewers felt the pens were well-balanced; their heft snug and comfortable, with even the weightier models not too tiring for normal use. The bronze beast at 70.7g uncapped still felt ergonomic and stable in the hand. The bronze body has a very fine micro-texture to it that makes the surface easier to hold, while the stainless-steel model has a textured pattern which extends to the section which allows for a firm grip too. The steel-based Skittles model looks stunning in the hand and feels balanced and firm for writing. The weight is mainly in the barrel and thus is supported in the crook of your hand rather than by your fingers. Consequently, it doesn’t strain your finger joints in the same way that some heavier pens do. There’s no clip to get in the way, and this model doesn’t post either; it has been kept simple.

How they fill   Gravitas’ models are all cartridge/converter types, coming with a packet of small international cartridges in blue or black as well as the robust Schmidt K5 converter.

Crucially, how they write…  There was universal consensus on the comfort of the balance and feel of the different pens in the hand and how the #6 Jowo nibs performed. One reviewer wrote several long letters and others tested their pens at length with notes, letters and EDC tasks. One even attempted to copy some Uncial script and Celtic knot-work. With a variety of different steel nibs tested and one experimental gold nib fitted too, these pens all wrote faultlessly.

Pens! What are they good for?   These pens are a pleasure to use and the overall look and feel incite you to pick them up. For one reviewer, simply picking up the psychedelic Skittles model and turning it in the light was pleasure enough. They are versatile, easy to use, and the aesthetics of the different models makes this a ‘go to’ pen for many owners.

VFM   The Gravitas fountain pens are good value for money and compare favourably against other metal-bodied fountain pens. Depending on the finish and patterning the standard Gravitas pen ranges from €70 to €105 (£60-£90, or $85-$125). Postage to the UK is about €10-€15.

The only way is ethics  The pens are designed, prototyped, finished and packaged in Ireland by a micro-business (less than 10 employees). You can talk directly and easily with the owner Ben Walsh, which as many remarked makes the experience it all the more attractive. 

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Metal pens often divide opinion, especially where they include metal sections whose lack of easy tactile connection can let the whole package slip. However, all reviewers noted how easy to use these pens felt. If the main Gravitas design is nevertheless a bit too big for your hands, the more recent ‘entry-level’ design may be more to your taste.

Our overall recommendation  Even reviewers with long-standing aversions to metal found Ben Walsh’s fountain pens striking a welcome chord. For a pen with such precise and determined design they represent great value for money. Buy one and watch the brand grow!

Where to get hold of one  Gravitas is purely an on-line operation, but our view is that you can buy with confidence. Bag yours at: www.gravitaspens.com

This meta-review references:

Pineider Arco Blue Bee

A little bit of history  Florence is not as well-known as Bologna for pen production, at least on these shores, but Pineider have been in the game for a century or two. The venerable Florentine brand has, since 1774, supplied popes, princes and heads of state with paper and envelopes for correspondence, as well as the luxury leather cases to carry such materials. Earlier this century the brand went through some torrid times under a new owner, which did not really understand the stationery and related products market, and it nearly closed completely. However, in 2017 new investment and leadership from the Rovagnati family saved the business and sparked new life into Pineider. They have other, perhaps slightly more modestly-styled fountain pens too, but their UK distributor was keen to go straight for the dandy of the bunch – and as you can see, they delivered in full.

How it looks  OK, you’d have to squint pretty hard to mistake it for an actual bee, but you can see what they mean. The layers of gold and blue resin look organic in origin, and they’re polished to perfection. You may, quite reasonably, spend a day or two staring at the Arco Bee while it does its big glinting iridescence shtick before even attempting to write with it!  The 10mm cap also bears the company logo and the legend: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”.

How it feels  You will want to try writing with it, though, as soon as you see that nib. More on that in a moment. Out of the box, the pen looks and feels good in the hand; comfortable and ergonomic with no threads to irritate or distract the fingers. Measurement and comparison-wise the “Arco” Blue Bee has the classic medium-sized fountain pen dimensions: its length of 142mm and width of 12.7 mm and mm in the hand, so it measures up to pen reviewers’ typical Lamy Safari or Al-Star yardstick. It is quite a light pen: 32g in total, 16g uncapped. So in the hand this is a surprisingly light pen: robust, but not too hefty to wield lightly. ‘Just as well…

How it fills  There’s a proper, fully-fledged piston here – no cut-price captured converter nonsense. Pineider do it properly, and even throw a usable travelling inkwell into the package. The zoetrope ink window works, too. This really is intended for use, not just ornament. One of our reviewers wrote an eight-page letter (on A5 90 gsm vellum) without making much, if any, impression on the ink capacity and found it a pleasure to write with the pen for sustained periods.

Crucially, how it writes…  Like nothing else, honestly. This is the softest nib many of us can remember encountering! Perhaps because the tip on our test pen started at M, the line variation was actually quite modest, so this might not be a flex nib in the standard sense, but it’s certainly the very opposite of stiff. It’s for writing steadily with, while enjoying your evening off with some Slow Food, perhaps even in a Slow City. You get the picture; Italians know how to live, and it extends to stationery.

Some of our reviewers found that the nib appeared to perform better with less wet inks, and one detected some elements of ‘baby’s bottom’ and a sweet spot in the nib. With wetter inks the nib gushed. The pen’s documentation advises a lighter touch with the nib and its medium nib certainly did not need much pressure to leave a luxuriously wet line on standard Rhodia and Clairefontaine papers. Most loved the nib. A number of us used a drier indigo ink (Taccia Hokusai Koiai Blue) and it delivered a consistently wet flow. Those that played to the nib’s strengths found it wrote wet and smooth, and that it merited investing time to get familiar with.

Pen! What is it good for?  It would just be cruel to inflict an office environment on this fontoplumistic starlet. Take it your boudoir, your scriptorium in a secluded castle, to the best al fresco ristorante table you can find – but not, purlease, to work. *Shudders*

VFM  Oh golly, this isn’t cheap. Retailing at £680, few of us felt we could justify the price easily. But then again, two of the reviewers now own one, so…

The only way is ethics  This is made by proper artisans, and it shows. We have no qualms.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  The Full Metal Jacket, one of Pineider’s slightly more affordable pens, is based upon essentially the same design – albeit with less gaudy materials.

Our overall recommendation  If it floats your boat and you can afford it, go for it. Unlike some bling, this also serves a genuine functional purpose; it’s lovely to write with.

Where to get hold of one  Bespoke fountain pen emporia of your acquaintance. It’s a limited edition, so Boolean logic is your friend!

This meta-review references:

Thanks to Pineider’s wholesaler in the UK for lending us this remarkable pen.

Shibui.North Kibo metal/urushi fountain pen

A little bit of history  The history of urushi pen-making is probably beyond a quick piece on United Inkdom – but Mick has had a go at covering it in his review below! Our focus is perhaps more on the remarkable person trying to bring that tradition to new life on Tyneside. Ruth has studied in Japan and can read the manuals in the original, but she is determined to make something in her own style – and the results are truly extraordinary.

How it looks  The Kibo resembles… nothing else on earth. It’s a big hunk of hand-turned metal with urushi finishing which looks like it grew there over decades on another planet. Picking it up for a closer inspection is irresistibly tempting.

How it feels  The copper prototype we tested feels darned heavy, no doubt about it. If you like very substantial pens, this is splendid news. If that sounds a little intimidating, opt for aluminium – which looks just as remarkable. The urushi-derived finish also has a pleasantly tactile quality and lends a bit of extra grip, too.

How it fills  There’s room for a long international cartridge or a standard converter there, which should suit most needs.

Crucially, how it writes…  The Kibo takes a Bock #6, so how it writes is up to you! We popped a red lacquered steel unit on for this test, but if you prefer something less garish, the options are extensive. The weight of the pen is actually just right for writing.

Pen! What is it good for?  Signing weighty contracts, writing journals on robust paper (don’t use Tomoe!) – or, in extremis, defending yourself from marauders. In between, you might just find yourself staring at it in wonder.

VFM  The current Kickstarter has this individually-made artisan product for the ludicrously modest price of £120 for bare metal, or £150 for the yaketsuki finish. That’s a bargain, in our books. Everyone who has tested the prototype so far has found themselves putting in an order for a Shibui pen, which probably tells you all you need to know.

The only way is ethics  Ruth’s the real deal and we’ve got no qualms about materials, pricing or packaging here.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Talk to Ruth and work out a custom design. There are plenty of variations possible on the theme.

Our overall recommendation  If you like the idea of a Japanese pen-maker plying here trade on these shores, now might be the time to back this new brand. The Kibo is a remarkable writing tool at an extraordinarily reasonable price point, and it should be start of great things to come, too.

Where to get hold of one  Right now, Kickstarter is the place to be if you want one of these.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Ruth for letting us take part in the birth of a beauty!