Category Archives: Meta-review

Online Newood calligraphy fountain pen review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This meta-reviews references:

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

Cleo Skribent Classic fountain pen meta-review

A little bit of history: While other German manufacturers such as Pelikan and Kaweco have been around since the 19th century, Cleo Skribent is a company that found itself established in the 20th century, shortly after the Second World War. The pens were made in Germany, initially in the founder’s garage “behind the iron curtain”. Once the curtain had been lifted, Cleo Skribent saw a booming business and the company continues to manufacture pens to this day. The name Cleo refers to the Egyptian pharaoh, Cleopatra, with whom the company identifies with due to the innovation and design of the Egyptian pyramids (though Daniel does point out Cleopatra lived closer to the launch of the iPhone than she did the pyramids).

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

How it looks: The Classic measures 134mm uncapped and 163mm posted. Some of us found the pen to be large, while others considered it small. The pen is also slim, which gives it a refined and sleek look, though this may not be to everyone’s tastes. The pens come in a range of colours of white, black or red and each come with their own option of gold or chrome furniture which means there’s something for everyone. The design, depending on who it is you’re asking, could be described as “understated”, or just simply “boring”. Though, the white and gold option does offer something “the same but different” as it’s still a conservative looking design but going about it in a different way. If you want something a bit more “out there” and unconventional, perhaps the red would tickle your fancy. The various options that you get are a fantastic selling point. For example, Daniel enjoyed the white and gold aesthetic, while Sarah thought the gold and silver looked better. There’s choice for everyone (that is, so long as you like white, black or red pens).

On the top of the cap is the Cleo Skribent logo.

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

The piston filler versions of the pen come with an ink window, which is very handy.

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

How it feels: The Classic weighs 18g capped, so this is an extremely lightweight pen. For some of us, that put us off a little bit. However, it is certainly well balanced and if you wish to post the pen, it does so very well. The cap screws off, but the step up to the section is minimal and due to the long section, you can bet on having a very nice grip on the pen.

How it fills: You have the option of a cartridge/converter pen or a ‘piston’ filling pen. The cartridge/converter is compatible with standard international fittings.

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

The piston is essentially a captured converter. You unscrew the blind cap at the end of the pen to get to the converter inside and you then twist it like a normal converter. However, the piston filler does hold more ink than the standard international converter (which screws in, by the way, so you avoid any ink spillages by the converter coming loose!). By using the piston filler, it does make it harder to clean out (though not impossible or by any means tedious).

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Crucially, how it writes: Not all of us got on with the nib initially. Several of us noticed hard starts and skips at first, which perhaps isn’t something you would expect from a pen in this price range. The nib is also on the dry side when first ‘out of the box’ – but Scribble reports much wetter, softer action after the 14k nib has written a few thousand words.

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Because we were testing the gold nib options, we did find a bit of spring and bounce which is characteristic of gold nibs, however this fell short in early use when we found the feed didn’t keep up with the flow. However, a super-wet ink helped a little – and in at least one case prolonged use fixed it completely.

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Pen! What is it good for? The Classic is, simply put, a classic design. It’s slightly more streamlined than other pens, so you get a slightly different aesthetic to the typical cigar shaped pen. This is certainly something you could take into a business or more professional setting. Because of the wide number of choices that you can have, you can choose the exact specifications that suit your needs and would also make it a very good journalling pen or something that you carry around with you due to the lightweight characteristic (also makes it good for extended writing sessions).

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

Cleo Skribent fountain pen review classic

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost: The price of this range goes from £75 with a steel nib and cartridge converter filling system to £155 with a 14k gold nib and a piston filler, so it occupies a range in the market. For a gold nib, you can’t go too far wrong with the Platinum #3776, which you can pick up for £99 if you look in the right places (even cheaper, if you’re on the grey market) which comes with a  gold nib and is a pen known for fantastic quality. This is, however, a cartridge converter. The TWSBI Vac 700R is also an option, which has a larger ink capacity, though with a steel nib. If a good, reliable gold nib pen is something you’re after then the #3776 is a very good pen to consider. If the ink capacity is more your concern and you’re looking around this price point, you can’t really beat the Vac 700R at this level. Of course, Cleo make all sorts of other interesting models too, like the Ebonite.

Our overall recommendation: This is a pen which wants to work for its living, and a potentially promising choice if you’re looking for a work-horse; it responds best after a good wearing-in. That can be an unusual experience if you’re used to pens working perfectly right away, though, so this probably won’t be a pen to everyone’s tastes. If you want to use and abuse an old-fashioned pen which will probably last for life, this is the Trabant of the fountain pen world. If you know you don’t have the patience to tinker under the bonnet, though, this might not be the perfect vehicle for your pearls of wisdom.

Where to get hold of one: You can view the Classic line Write Here (see what we did there?), which is also where these pens were kindly donated to the United Inkdom reviewers for review purposes. There are also other pens offered by Cleo Skribent that may tickle your fancy, such as the ebonite version which you can also find a review of below.

This meta review references: 

Start Bay Navigator A5 notebook cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This meta-reviews references:

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

Modern Calligraphy book review

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

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

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

This meta-review draws upon brief reviews by:

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

 

Diamine Shimmertastic new colours

A little bit of history  Diamine were the first manufacturer to produce a range of affordable shimmering inks following J. Herbin’s innovation of introducing tiny sparkling particles to their inks. They launched with a range of 10 different colours, added another 12 later (reviewed here), and the new ones take that up to an impressive 32 colours.

How it looks  Diamine are well-versed in shimmering inks by now. They could do this in their sleep. However, they’ve not rested on their laurels here. Rather than just adding more sparkle to more ink, they’ve upped their game. What makes these new inks stand out is not only their strong, saturated colours, but the sheen many of them display. This adds a new dimension to the inks. The sparkle itself is subtle yet visible.

The blues and greens  The new range features four blue and green inks.

Arctic Blue is a bright, cool blue with a frosty silver shimmer. It also has a pinkish-red sheen.

Spearmint Diva is a bluish-green with silver shimmer. It’s similar to Tropical Glow from the same range, though the latter is more of a greenish-blue. It’s good to see that Diamine have those of us who love a good teal covered! However, Spearmint Diva also has a bit of a red sheen on some papers.

Golden Ivy is a traditional deep green with, again, a reddish sheen, set off with gold shimmer. This would make a lovely Christmas ink.

Cobalt Jazz is a saturated cobalt blue with a red sheen and gold shimmer. This is a gorgeous colour that looks pretty spectacular.

The reds  There are three new red inks in the range.

First off, there’s Electric Pink. This is no cute Barbie pink. This is take-no-prisoners pink: it’s rich and saturated, with silver sparkle.

Citrus Ice is a warm, saturated orange with a contrasting cool silver sparkle.

Firefly is an orange-toned red with gold sparkle. Another festive ink.

The purples  The three new additions at the purple end of the spectrum are a real treat.

Arabian Nights is a deep purple-black with silver shimmer. It’s probably the most usable of the inks for everyday writing. The shimmer is subtle and the dark ink is readable and utilitarian while retaining a lot of character.

Frosted Orchid is a slightly lighter purple ink with red tones and silver sparkle. This will be popular.

The last of the new inks is Wine Divine. This is a lovely addition to Diamine’s already well-stocked wine cellar (with Merlot, Syrah, and Claret). The ink is a rich burgundy with gold shimmer.

 

Crucially, how it writes…  Diamine have been on the go for over 150 years. The quality of their ink is sound, and these are no exceptions. They flow well and benefit from a wider nib to show off both sheen and shimmer. 

Ink! What is it good for?  These are unusual inks, and the sparkle makes it unlikely you’ll want to use these for business documents. They’re great for cards and letters, especially with Christmas fast approaching. As usual with shimmering inks, be sure to give the bottle a gentle shake before filling a pen. Similarly, gently agitate a pen that’s had the ink in it a while to mix up the settled shimmer particles. There’s also a caveat: any ink with particles like this has the potential to clog up a pen, so use this ink in pens that you can disassemble relatively easily to clean out properly.

VFM  Although more expensive than Diamine’s standard inks, the Shimmertastic range is an affordable way to get some seriously interesting inks. In the UK, a 50ml bottle retails for around £9-10.If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  J. Herbin make a variety of premium shimmering inks. De Atramentis also offer a new line of shimmering inks, with each ink available with gold, silver, or copper shimmer. Robert Oster are soon to launch their own sparkles, too.

Our overall recommendation  These are great, fun inks with some unusual and interesting properties, available at a good price. Where to get hold of some  The usual suspects have these inks in stock (or soon will!). You can also purchase from Diamine directly.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Diamine for kindly providing samples as the newly expanded range was launched.

De Atramentis pearlescent inks meta-review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This meta-reviews references:

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

Personalised Stationery A5 notebooks review

A little bit of history  The old-school (but not specifically for use in educational environments) exercise book has been making a big come-back over the last year or so, proving both a handy way to try different paper out, and a means of taking something a bit different into meetings.  With the advent of full-size A5 covers like those offered by Start Bay, they’ve started attracting a following amongst people writing travel journals and the like, too.  So it’s good to see a small, bespoke operation in the heart of little old Blighty making some really distinctive offerings to add to the selection out there. We could hardly wait to get started in putting them to test…

How it looks  Each of the Personalised Stationery creations is a bit of portable art in its own right, so we picked two to get us started – and so that enough of us could try them to put together a meta-review, of course. The company’s main product is customised writing paper, as the name suggests, so they have come up with some creative designs one that looks remarkably like a pair of jeans, and another which resembles the secret dossier for the D-Day landings. We thought they looked very cool indeed.

How it feels  Smooth, and this is going to turn out to be important!

How it fills  These are pre-stapled notebooks, so there’s not too much scope for alteration once delivered.  However, looped staples may be in the offing sometime soon, and the books come with a decent quantity of paper for most people’s uses.

Crucially, how it handles a fountain pen…  Excellently. The Fedrigoni paper selected for these notebooks is a delight to write on with a real nib, and tough enough to take a bit of abuse too. After experiencing the indifferent performance of many of the mass-market expensive alternatives, it’s something of a revelation.

Pulp! What is it good for?  It’s good for taking to work, using as a planner, keeping a diary, or even writing poetry – anything which you’d only really want to do with a proper fountain pen, really. ‘Can’t think of anything you’d do without one?  Don’t worry, you’re in good company on this site…

VFM  These represent pretty solid value in our view. At £5.95 they are not the cheapest A5 notebook available, but for the quality of the product they compete well with comparable offerings from Clairefontaine – which can offer nice paper for that sort of price, but not the line/dot options or the interesting cover artwork. It’s also an absolute steal for a product which is hand-made in the UK.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Contact Rob at Personalised Stationery and he’ll most likely be able to knock up something exactly tailored to your needs.  This is an offer we have already tested and the response was impressive.

Our overall recommendation  This is the sort of product that most fountain pen fans will love, at a price which is a bargain, from the type of specialist maker we all like to support.  ‘Bit of a no-brainer, really: get one.

Where to get hold of one  Direct from the source is the simplest way.  But there may also be one or two interesting collaborations in the pipeline very soon…

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Rob at Personalised Stationery for product samples.

 

Taroko Design A5 stapled notebook

A little bit of history  There are various theories about where the Austronesian family of languages sprang from, but one of the more popular has the roots on the island of Formosa, or Taiwan as we know it today.  One of these indigenous tribes, the Truku, also gave their name to an area known as Taroko, now a national park. Rather curiously, but entirely suitably for our purposes, this notebook brand therefore indirectly translates as ‘human’.  So we sent samples to a few more humans to put that rather splendid heritage to  the test.

How it looks  It looks like a basic school text book, and a pretty cheap one if truth be told. Appearances are deceptive on both counts; underneath those dull brown covers lies a rather sophisticated offer – at a price to match.

How it feels  Gossamer-thin, unnervingly light and smooooooooooooth.  This is all thanks to the famous/infamous Tomoe River, which like the Taroko national park was a Japanese innovation but is evidently configured a whole lot more usefully in the ROC.

How it fills  This is a stapled notebook, so it’s pretty much pre-filled and the thin nature of the paper makes it difficult to alter that.  But for most purposes there are enough sheets to make use of.

Crucially, how it handles a fountain pen…  This is where the investment pays off. The Tomoe River paper is thick enough to handle a fountain pen nib without wrinkling (albeit it only just), and the smooth surface is a pleasure to write on.  Like other very smooth paper surfaces (Clairefontaine Triomphe, for instance) it shows the sheen well, too. It may be flimsy, but you’re unlikely to be disappointed.

Pulp! What is it good for?  It seems to be very popular for ink journals, thanks to the sheen, although it is perhaps a bit expensive just for leaking dribbly nibs on.  The low profile and featherweight qualities mark it out as an ideal travel journal, however.

VFM  These are not the cheapest notebooks out there, by any stretch of the imagination. But if you are travelling and don’t want to be without some truly fountain-pen friendly paper, or if you want sneak some inconspicuous exotica which looks like a school exercise book into work, it’s not going to break the bank.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  There’s nothing quite as thin and light as this on the market which we could recommend, but if it’s just the smoothness and sheen-loving finish you’re after then Clairefontaine’s A5 ‘age bag’ notebook does a similar job at about half the price.

Our overall recommendation  If you’re travelling or have a need for a genuinely nib-loving exercise book which you can squeeze into even the bulgingest briefcase, give it a go.

Where to get hold of one  It is sometimes possible to buy directly from Taroko studio in Taiwan, but it’s not especially straightforward.  Several of us have bought one from Bureau Direct in the UK and had no problems doing so, and the price is no greater so that looks like the smarter option in this case.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to Bureau Direct for kindly donating the samples.

Platinum Classic inks

A little bit of history  For anyone who’s just survived the British summer, it can be hard to believe that wasps do anything useful at all; the big ones ruin picnics and the tiny ones kill bees. But as it happens, some of those very small wasps inadvertently serve a human purpose by making nests on the surface of the sturdy oak tree – because those ‘iron galls’ in turn provide the source material for a permanent ink formula recipe used since Pliny the Elder. Pliny Senior unfortunately failed to describe the formula in sufficient detail before the eruption of Vesuvius did for him, but patient scribes have been perfecting it ever since. When it works well, it can preserve documents for millennia.  When it goes wrong and the ink gets too acidic, it can eat the writing surface – and it has form for eating fountain pens too, so it’s a brave manufacturer who ventures into this market.  But Diamine, KWZ and Rohrer and Klingner have found ways to make the recipe safe, and now Platinum have come along with no less than six shades of iron gall ink to get creative with. The United Inkdom team set out to put it to the test – said team including a chemist, a calligrapher and two historians, so there was no fear of punches being pulled.

How it looks  This changes in the first minute that it spends on the paper – it goes on quite bright, especially the Citrus and Cassis varieties, then quickly darkens as it oxidises.  None of the shades darken all the way to black, so the naming convention (Lavender Black, Forest Black, etc.) is a little misleading, but the transformation from light to dark is impressive – and rather fascinating to watch.

How it smells  Now let’s be honest, not all specialist inks are terribly pleasant to the nose . This one requires a chemical reaction to work, which you can actually see in front of your eyes, as the video below demonstrates – and as this ink is not pigment-based, it’s not technically watching paint dry.  But despite all that exciting stuff going on, there’s nothing malodorous to report.  Phew.

Crucially, how it writes…  Perfectly well! It’s perhaps just a touch drier than some ‘standard’ fountain pen inks, but a decent fountain pen can handle it with ease.  Given that this is still a permanent ink and even the new, gentler, formula has some acidity to it, a fountain pen which doesn’t dry out too easily is a wise choice (one of Platinum’s own #3776 models is a good place to start), and of course it’s worth giving it a good flush out after a few days with iron gall ink in there.  But you can pop it into the barrel of your ‘serious nibbage’ without too much fear of damage.

Ink! What is it good for?  As Nick capably demonstrates, it’s great for calligraphy.  Since it’s an iron gall ink it should be acceptable if you’re signing a marriage register, and as it’s permanent it should do for addressing the wedding invitations too (the ink is partially washable, but even if it gets rained on the text will still be legible).  Lavender Black, which seems to be the consensus pick of the bunch, could be good for one’s secret diary (you have one of those, right?). Or you could just have fun with them, like we did!VFM  These are not cheap inks, it has to be admitted; £22 will buy you a fairly respectable fountain pen these days, after all. But some of Platinum’s ‘Classic’ colours are really easy on the eye – and if you are using this for a special event, it’s not going to be that big a dent in the stationery budget.

The ink is partially washable, but the text remains legible

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  If you just need an iron gall ink and aren’t too concerned by the traditional blue-grey shade, then standard registrar’s ink will inevitably be quite a bit less expensive, and there’s plenty of that about (try Diamine). There are also other coloured iron gall inks available, usually at a lower price, from KWZ and Rohrer & Klingner.  Alternatively, if you’re a Platinum fan and just need something permanent, some of their pigment-based inks aren’t bad and their carbon ink is amongst the blackest of the black.Our overall recommendation  We think these are pretty impressive inks, and conjure up a wider and more interesting palette than iron gall formulae can usually manage. If you have a sensible use for a permanent ink and fancy something a bit different, a 60ml bottle will do the job well.  Given the significant cost our tip is to pick one or two which really take your fancy rather than going straight for the whole set.Where to get hold of some  We got ours direct from Cult Pens, and that’s a good place to start – they are the official Platinum dealers for the UK, and as it happens it’s where many of us have acquired our #3776s from too.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Cult Pens for donating the review samples.

Pelikan Stola III fountain pen meta-review

A little bit of history The first incarnation of Pelikan began in Germany in 1832, so it’s safe to say they’be been around a while. Over the course of time its gone bankrupt and restarted, and its headquarters have moved to Switzerland, but its pens haven’t changed much at all. Many of Pelikan’s designs are almost unchanged from 1929, the year the company released its first fountain pen, and they’re still made in Germany.How it looks Pelikan is a company famous for making lots of very similar (and beautiful) looking pens but the Stola III is a little different. The clip maintains the pelican-beak motif but is a simple wire loop. The cap and barrel are finished in a silver-grey enamel which is modern looking but rather plain. The section is black plastic. It’s unlikely to set any hearts racing, but Pelikan have done a good job for a low price-point.

How it feels The barrel is brass which gives the pen some heft, which went down well with some reviewers but not with others. It’s fairly well-balanced, but rather short. Some of our large-handed reviewers struggled a little with holding it comfortably and, critically, the cap doesn’t post properly (you can kind-of balance it on the end, if you don’t move it too quickly, but it’s tricky). It’s a small pen that insists on staying that way.

How it fills Standard international cartridges and some (e.g. Schmidt) converters. Not every converter will fit but this still gives you a lot of choice.Crucially, how it writes… The stainless steel nib is very good for a pen that costs £20. It’s smooth and has a good flow. It’s great… as long as you want a medium nib. Unfortunately, Pelikan have only released the Stola III with one size of nib, which is silly when so many other pens at similar prices are available with a full range of widths. It’s doubly silly when the nib itself writes so well.Pen! What is it good for? The Stola III is a lovely pen for extended writing, if it isn’t too short for you. You can pick a colour to get your thoughts flowing and journal or plan away to your heart’s content.

VFM This is very much a case of: if your requirements happen to coincide with what the Stola III offers, it’s a good value pen.If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost… then you have a huge number of options. If you want a small, pocketable pen then the Kaweco Classic Sport is a little cheaper and has lots of nib sizes. The Lamy Safari is easily obtainable, a fantastic pen and also a little cheaper. If you’d prefer a more classic looking pen then the Pilot MR (also known as the Metropolitan) is worth a look, as is the Faber-Castell Basic. Then for funky looking pens you could look at the Pilot Kakuno or the Faber-Castell Loom. Finally, if you’d like an enamelled metal-barrelled pen with a cap that’ll post, the excellent but often overlooked Sheaffer VFM is a good choice. We could go on but you get the idea… this is a crowded price point, which can only be a good thing.

Our overall recommendation The Stola III is a pen that writes well, takes a wide range of cartridges, and has a certain aura of quality about it. However, it is very much a one-trick pony. If you like the metallic grey look, enjoy medium nibs, don’t like to post and find short pens comfortable, then it’s definitely worth considering the Stola III. However, with so much choice available, you can almost certainly find a different pen that’s at least as good, for a similar amount of money, that fits your tastes and needs more closely.

Where to get hold of one If you’re in the UK then Niche Pens is always a good place to start for all things Pelikan. Elsewhere, we can recommend Pen Chalet, who were kind enough to send us this sample (for which we are very grateful).This meta-review references reviews by: