Category Archives: Profile

Pure Pens profile

A little bit of history  Around in 1136, or thereabouts, Geoffrey of Monmouth – who couldn’t use a fountain pen due to the woeful misfortune of being born eight centuries too early – picked up a quill and wrote a wildly imaginative ‘history’ of the kings of Britain. This slightly rambling narrative included much detail about the headquarters of King Arthur “located in a delightful spot in Glamorgan, on the River Usk, not far from the Severn Sea. Abounding in wealth more than other cities, it was suited for such a ceremony. For the noble river I have named flows along it on one side, upon which the kings and princes who would be coming from overseas could be carried by ship. But on the other side, protected by meadow and woods, it was remarkable for royal palaces, so that it imitated Rome in the golden roofs of its buildings…”  So from golden roofs to golden nibs now, for a couple of miles down the river stands the new headquarters not of Arthur and his court, but Ross and his colleagues at Pure Pens (incorporating the fiefdoms of Niche Pens and Pelikan Pens UK).  We caught up with Ross by telephone before he escaped for some ski therapy…

Usk
Fast flows the Usk…

So how did you get started in the fountain pen retail world?  Well, that’s a bit of a tale, it’s true!  When I was still at school I saw a well-known fountain pen shown-off in an episode of an American sit-com and liked the look of it, so I was given one for doing well in my exams, but it really wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be.  So I and my family did some research on-line and found that another German fountain pen brand, Pelikan, came far more highly recommended by the experts.  But it was so hard to get hold of Pelikans in those days that when we got in touch with the company and suggested we become their UK retailer, they were up for it – we’ve owned the pelikanpens.co.uk URL ever since. This was before ready-to-roll retail sites were available, so we were using email and cheques at first, but we soon evolved.

What really grabs you about Pelikans?  Well the Pelikan quality control is much better than average, for a start, and the adaptability of the screw-in nib units is great.  We offer nib exchanges on all the higher-spec Pelikan fountain pens we sell and, because we can keep all the spare nibs in stock, customers do make use of the option too.  It’s one of the things which makes the brand so popular; using our advice writers can be sure of getting a fountain pen which they can really live with.  The other really nice thing is that Pelikan do listen to the customer feedback we’re able to take to them; for instance, so many people wanted a silver version of their Toledo special edition that they starting making them!

PP stockroom
Camelot?

What led you to start grinding your own Pelikan italic nibs?  People asked for them. Pelikan didn’t want to start providing them directly, so we started experimenting with grinding them ourselves.  My father was a toolmaker and metal-turner, which helped a lot, and we learnt by trial and error at first – although we took a bit of time to get really fluent at it with steel nibs before letting loose on the gold!  Our customers seem to love them.

Having started out with Pelikan, what got you into being the main UK distributor for Noodler’s?  Again it was initially in response to customer requests; people kept asking us if we could get hold of the ink, so we put put out some feelers and Nathan [Tardiff] responded personally.  As he’s a one-man-band, what we can get our hands on varies quite a bit – but it all seems to sell like hot cakes!  That even goes for the controversial Bay State Blue – maybe because it’s controversial; who knows?  We’ve visited Nathan and seen his workshop in action, which is fascinating.  This seems to work so well because we’re enthusiasts buying from enthusiasts (like Nathan) and selling to enthusiasts – and that goes for the Noodler’s pens too, which sell well as a good way into trying flex nibs for many first-timers.  I prefer the ‘Nib Creaper’ as it’s a piston-filler.

Pelikan nest
Desirable Pelikan fountain pens, cunningly guarded by untouchable ballpoints.

What are the other ‘brand successes’ for you?  Diamine has a really great British brand story and is always popular.  We enjoyed visiting the factory in Merseyside, and timed it just right to see the Shimmertastic range in development – and it has to be said those inks have been flying off the shelves ever since.

So what are you writing with at the moment, Ross?  My guilty pleasure is an M800 Grand Place – which Pelikan actually declined to sell in the UK, but I just couldn’t resist.  My TWSBIs are looking great with Blue Lightning in the barrel, and the Pelikan-made Porsche fountain pen is still doing heavy duty too.  I love my Visconti Homo Sapiens as well, and if it isn’t getting so much use just yet that’s probably because it’s got a bit more flex than I’m used to…

There we had to leave it, as Ross needed to escape to the slopes – but we’ll be reviewing some of the more intriguing products that Pure Pens stock over the next few weeks!

PP ink stash
Now that’s quite an ink stash!

 

 

 

FPnibs.com profile

How does a dynamic nib-swapping duo based near Cadiz come to the attention of United Inkdom?  Well, they were based here in Blighty for a while, for starters – but they also provide an increasingly well-known source of rather splendid replacement nibs, while growing the specialist Gimena pen brand too.  We caught up with Esther and Pablo over the internet…

So, how did living in the Forest of Dean lead on to setting-up shop near Cadiz?

Well actually the Gimena pen project started when we were based in Spain, but as the Spanish economy got into trouble earlier this decade we relocated to Coleford in the Forest of Dean, when Pablo found a job as a cabinet maker there in 2011.  At first, that put a stop to the Gimena project, but via the Writing Equipment Society Pablo involved in a pen repairing course and made some good contacts along the way. That introduction to the vintage world soon led him to start repairing pens.

About a year later we returned to Marbella, Pablo brought his tools and lathes from Ronda where he’d stashed them so he could continue working on Gimena pens, and we developed the Ebenus and Amaranthus models.  We also kept going with pen repairs and started selling nibs then too.

In early 2015 we moved from Marbella to a new workshop in Jimena de la Frontera, near Cádiz; we were very lucky because it was a bargain in a great location that many Brit’s people know well. From that moment too we started working on both Gimena and FPnibs.com full time.

Esther & Pablo at the Bristol pen show
Esther and Pablo at the Bristol pen show

What got you both started in fountain pens?

In 2008 we had a shop in Ronda where we sold hand made wooden products that we made by ourselves. Someone who came to the shop talked to us about kit pens, so we started to make some, but many people asked for fountain pens and that was the beginning. Then we realised that pen collectors and users prefer non-kit pens, so Pablo started designing whole pens.

Tell us more about the Gimena brand; what inspired the choice of materials and what’s coming next?

As you now know, Pablo has loved wood since he was a child so there was no other material his pens could be made of! Then we thought that, as a hand made product, all the other parts should be of high grade and quality – there’s no sense to working for hours with bad materials, so bronze, silver and gold were selected. The Gimena project is very exciting to be part of; from the design to the finished pen it is a beautiful procedure that makes us very happy and proud. We still enjoy innovating, too, so there are new designs in the pipeline.

We would like to offer cheaper pens than the Gimena range, but maintaining the same quality and is a challenge.  Some customers have asked us to make oblique dip pens, and we have made some and we enjoyed making them so much we are planning to offer some other models too. Via FPnibs.com we have started offering dip pen nibs as well as pen holders as calligraphy is a world that we would like very much to get into.Gimena sample

How did you move into selling replacement nibs – and which is the most popular?

For the Gimena pens we needed nib units as that is the only part we do not make, so JoWo asked us for a minimum quantity order. That was very high so we ended up with a lot of nibs, more than we could sell with hand-made Gimena pens. That is why we thought we could sell some and get a little bit of money to help start the Gimena project. The size 6 is the king of the nibs – both solid gold and steel ones sell very well and the most ordered finished is two-tone. People tell us they perform perfectly!

Your gold replacement nibs for TWSBIs are becoming very popular – are there other types of pens you’ll be providing gold nibs to fit soon?

That was something we were asked continuously – does any of your nibs fit in a TWSBI model? There was some information on the net about pens that claimed to do so, but we preferred to try by ourselves and bought the 700, 580, Mini and Eco models, and once we tested each JoWo nib we could offered them sure that they will fit properly.  If you look at Pablo’s videos on YouTube you’ll see there are other pen makes we’re testing nibs for too.

So now the big question: what pens do you write with yourselves?

Esther uses an Onoto de la Rue with a purple ink, which is quite ‘dirty’ but a nice colour. Pablo normally uses a Gimena prototype in Ebony wood untreated, so he can test the longevity of this kind of pen. And we both have inked a Pilot 74 with a fude style nib and an unbranded jeweller’s vintage fountain pen with a very nice flex nib that sit on our desks, and we use those randomly.

If that’s whetted your appetite, it’s worth look at the Gimena pen site and, of course, the very handy replacements at FPnibs.  Next week, we’ll be reviewing one of the other rather special pens which Esther and Pablo also sell!

 

 

Cult Pens profile

Cult Pens are one of the best-known names in fountain pen retail (and various other goodies) in the UK – and, as it happens, one of the earliest supporters of this site, although we were all customers already.  So when we decided to broaden the format of the United Inkdom to include the occasional company profile piece, they were a natural choice to get us started with that too.  We caught up with one of the company’s founders, Simon Walker, for a very light grilling.

How did it all get started, and how has it changed?

Well that’s been pretty well covered elsewhere, but it was the classic evolution from a small shop to early e-merchandise, and on to today.  Getting the software to work well is a lot easier these days, and it’s grown from a couple to eighteen people – and a dog, of course!

Herbie the Cult Pens despatch hound, hunting the famous Dartmoor tiger.

What brands have been the big hits – whether or not they were expected to be?

Kaweco stand out as fellow stationery fans, and they’ve been great to work with – their success has really come from listening to customers and shaping their offer accordingly, which fits well with works for us too.  The other big brand that stands out is Platinum; they too have really listened to customer feedback and put time and effort into understanding what writers are looking for – when you see the chief executive of international big name like that making it all the way to Devon to meet us, you know they’re serious!

How is the humble fountain pen holding up against its competitors?

The biggest competitor these days isn’t really another writing device, but the smart phone and the tablet.  It sometimes seems like hand-writing implements as a whole are a declining market, so enthusiast markets are the key.  That’s fine by us though – the enthusiasts are really nice people to work with, and it all drives innovation.

So, what should we look out for next?

Oh, now there’s a trade secret!  Actually the big new releases should be starting to crystallise fairly soon; it’s the big trade show coming up soon in Frankfurt where the latest models and designs start to get shared.  We’re hearing rumours about some significant new products from some very well-known names, but ‘watch this space’, as they say.

What do you write with every day?

Honestly, I’m more of a mechanical pencil obsessive!  But the rest of the team are all keen on putting the latest opens through their paces; the Decimo is putting in some miles at the moment, for instance.

How is your Cult Pens ‘own brand’ line developing?

The Deep Dark inks are going very well – Diamine did a really great job there, and the feedback has been very positive too; they sell almost as fast as the Shimmertastic range! The CP mini fountain pen has been a very successful project, designed for us by Kaweco and filling a need we saw for a small, affordable pocket pen.  We’ll be interested to hear United Inkdom’s ideas for a ‘maxi’ pen but you haven’t quite persuaded us yet!  Our own mechanical pencil is doing well too – I gather Ian was suitably impressed…

We had to leave Simon to get back to running the ship at this point, but not before setting up exactly the follow-on you’d expect – so look out next week for a United Inkdom meta-review of the Cult Pens mini fountain pen.