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:
A little bit ofhistory Manuscript is a British company which has been around for over 160 years – since 1856, in fact, which is where this pen gets its name. As with our Silvine samples recently we found ourselves reminiscing about Manuscript products of the past. Thankfully, the ML1856 is a big step up from the cheap shrink-wrapped products that we’re used to seeing in high-street shops here in the UK.
How it looks Hotttttttttttttttttttt. Mateusz’s design is the ‘Molten Lava’., as you can see below – but we think these these pens look hotter than molten lava. Manuscript pulled the boat out when designing these. In John’s review he observes that the designs can be a little bit different every time due to the setting process, which gives every pen its own individual personality. We have been fortunate enough to review the Purple Mist, Molten Lava, Turquoise Ocean & Northern Lights pens. In addition to this, there are three other colour-ways available: Red Storm, Oyster Mist and Midnight.
However, not every aspect of the aesthetic was loved. The clip has two circles, echoing the dual crown of the cap’s top (which is a reminder that Manuscript has been going so long that they used to supply the kings of both Spain and Portugal), but the shape of the clip itself seemed a little gimmicky. As Laura puts it, “don’t dress a model in Primark clothes.”
How it feels Across the Inkdom we all agreed that the pen was lightweight but strong. While being made of the Italian resin, we felt confident that the pen would hold up. However, John did comment on the threads when screwing the barrel onto the section, and had concerns about breaking or otherwise damaging the pen – which he said was out of character for the otherwise strong feel. Daniel with his “weird grip” was still able to use the pen, despite his fingers touching the threads; thankfully they’re not sharp and are comfortable (as far as threads go). However, some concerns remained as regards the clip which seems rather stiff, albeit usable. The pen sits in the hand very well; posting is just about possible, but awkward, and doing so will make the pen too long for most tastes. The size of the pen allows Manuscript to appeal to most writers as it isn’t too large, but it isn’t a pocket pen either.
Right from the get-go with the packaging of the pen you get the impression of a ‘premium product’. It’s not a conventional pen box, with the pen standing up as opposed to laying flat, but still wonderfully presented.
How it fillsCartridge/converter. This makes it easy for the user to change inks if need be, but it’s also not difficult to refill every so often (though does make it a little bit more tedious than, say, a piston for constant ink usage, but easier for maintenance and cleaning). Daniel did question the possibility of it being converted into an eyedropper as he tested the pen with water and it seemed to be sealed, but we’re not advocating this unless Manuscript advise it!
Crucially, how it writes…There are both flat and round nib options for the Manuscript 1856: two stubs (1.1mm & 1.5mm) and a handwriting nib. All nibs are steel and are from JoWo in Germany.Laura, Daniel & John all thought that their nibs wrote fantastically – Lauraput it the best when she said that her 1.1mm nib wrote “wetter than England in autumn.” Mateuszhowever, felt that his nib was a little dry for his liking, although the flow improved over time. Overall, the writing experience was rated as pleasant by the reviewing team. The only thing that the stub nibs aren’t great for are reverse writing, as Daniel discovered. The nibs write wet and the feeds keep up well, which is what makes it great for the purpose of the pen.Pen! What is it good for?Manuscript seems to be, as a brand, synonymous with calligraphy, certainly for beginners here in the UK anyway. The 1.1mm and 1.5mm stub nibs means that you can get a little calligraphic with your writing, particularly when considering scripts such as gothic.
Of course, if calligraphy isn’t your thing then you can always opt for the ‘handwriting’ nib which will give you the writing experience of nibs you might be more used to. The handwriting nib won’t be as thick and perhaps a little more conventional for everyday writing.
VFMWhile the majority of our findings are quite positive, we do have concerns here; simply put, this is a good a pen, but it isn’t £125 good. As Daniel pointed out, his custom John Twiss pen was only £10 more expensive than this. Lauranotes that the Edison Collier and Pearlette are similar in design, similar in price but better as regards value for money. Twiss and Edison alternatives also use JoWo nibs, so there is serious competition.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…The Edison Pearlette and Collier are similar in both aesthetic and price. Another option might be a Laban pen; these pop up at pen shows (here in the UK at least) with a similar design but run to about £60; less than half the price. As John points out, for £125 you could also get a Platinum #3776, and while these lack the hand-made aesthetic the gold nib goes a long way to make up for it. Mr Pen’s English Curate, which we reviewed last year, is made in the same workshop (formerly of Sigma fame) but a lot more reasonably priced.Our overall recommendationWhile we loved using the pen, the price point just doesn’t justify it for us, unfortunately. There are too many alternatives which are similar to the ML1856 but better quality/feel for the same price or others that might sacrifice ever so slightly on the feel but are much more affordable. We like the direction Manuscript is heading in, but our recommendation would be to wait until the value issue has been rectified before pulling the trigger; to put it politely, it looks to us as if the RRP is rather too ambitious at present.
Where to get hold of one There are few stockists as yet – La Couronne du Comte was the first we know of – but Cult Pens has just started stocking them too.
Thanks to: Manuscript for providing the pens for review purposes. All views expressed here are our own both within the meta-review and in our own individual reviews that we have provided; the pens were sent to us in exchange for an honest review. Manuscript, to their credit, were completely fine with that, and not withstanding our reservations about some elements of the package are still keen for us to give one away; a great attitude, we think.
Give-away! Would you like to win one of these test pens? If your name pops out of the hat, you can – and better still, you get to choose which one it is. To bag one of these, let us know what you think the crowned heads of the Iberian peninsula would have used an ML1856 for, if they’d been available before the revolution – what sort of correspondence would be flying between Lisbon and Madrid with aid of such serious nibbage? Answers in the comments box please, by 16 July. We’ll task the reviewers with deciding which ideas they find the most hilarious, mind-bending or imaginatively splendid, so thinking caps on…
A little bit ofhistoryWhile the whole “traveller’s notebook” craze was getting very fashionable – and let’s face it, very expensive – some enterprising folks in Austria thought that they could probably do better if they took the concept and started again from scratch. We caught up with their take on the format at the London Stationery Show, and tempted by the rather lovely-looking Grand Voyageur XL version (partly because it looked like it was A5), we immediately volunteered to put a few of them to the test. Three of us have taken these out and about, pour voyages grands et petits, and here’s how they fared.
How it looksLike a traveller’s notebook made by professionals for serious writers, which is a good image to start with. The leather is available in a range of colours all the way from understated to bright and bold, and the availability of contrasting elastic closures (if preferred by the user) can make it look smarter still. The Paper Republic logo is neatly debossed on the back, and buyers can have their initials on the front for a modest extra charge. Only the frayed ends of the knotted retaining bands detracts from the professional appearance, but this may be something the makers look into improving in subsequent models.
How it feelsSmooth, supple, flexible and generally luxurious; if you’re a bit of a stationery leather fetishist you’re going to be pretty happy with this material. Thanks to vegetable-derived tanning processes it even smells good, and it seems to hold up well after vigorous use.
How it fillsWith Paper Republic’s Swedish-made refills, available in plain, lined and grid versions. This is where we encountered the one major fly in the ointment; the paper is OK, but the paper size is not as we had expected. These are not, in fact, A5 (which is 148mmX210mm), but a proprietary size of around 135mmX200mm, and that greatly limits the usefulness of the design. If you have pages of notes made in the Grand Voyageur XL which you wish to remove and file with A5 notes, it’s going to be messy. Worse still, if you wish to source your own A5 refills, perhaps because you are actually travelling and can’t arrange a Paper Republic delivery, you can’t; a full A5 refill hangs out of the cover in a thoroughly ungainly fashion. This is such a serious limitation that it is only really going to work for the sort of writer who is so disciplined that they know exactly how much writing they will do on any given expedition, and that’s a pity; other than this shortfall, we all thought it was a great product.Crucially, how it handles fountain pens…Quite well, fortunately! The manufacturer’s claim to use the best paper in the world was a bit of an exaggeration – we have certainly all used better – but that’s not say it’s bad at all. It was quite pleasant to write on and coped with every nib we threw at it with aplomb.
Pulp! What is it good for?Well, given the issue with size, it’s hard to think of what these are best used for at present. But Laura’s adaptation of one into an ink journal looks like a good place to begin.
VFMThese covers retail for €60 direct from Paper Republic, or £54 from Cult Pens in the UK; which is most affordable will depend upon how much of a mess the Pound is in on the day you wish to make a purchase, but it’s always worth checking the exchange rates first. Our view is that the quality justifies that price, but the actual value to you the consumer may depend upon whether the eccentric paper size is a help or a hindrance.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…There is also a not-quite-A5 notebook format from Germany, the X17, but while this has even more colour options, it shares the drawback of falling short in a dimension or two. The only true A5 notebook cover we have come across is from Devon; the Start Bay is only available in shades of brown but is more competitively priced and definitely does the job well. Meanwhile Paper Republic do also make a passport-sized notebook, and another which doubles as a mobile ‘phone cover, which may have wider appeal.
Our overall recommendationThis is a really well-made, impressive product which we would like to recommend without reservations. Unfortunately we do have one serious reservation, but we have already shared this with Paper Republic and they’ve told us they’re considering how to proceed. If they go ahead and produce a true A5 version – perhaps the Plus Grand Voyageur XXL – we’ll be first in the queue to buy a few.
Where to get hold of oneIf you like the format it makes a lot of sense to support the manufacturer by buying direct. However, if the consequences of foreign policy eccentricities have knocked your own currency out of kilter, Cult Pens also sell them.
A little bit ofhistory As the twentieth century grew more confident in its own artistic milieu and Art Deco architecture collided with aeronautical design, the blended lines of ‘Streamline Moderne’ emerged. It bore all sorts of results, from Morecambe’s Midland Hotel (where everyday is like Sunday, according to Mr. Morrissey), to the passenger accommodation of The Hindenburg (itself inspiration for the Diplomat Aero), and, of course, the Airstream caravan (as slow as all other caravans but at least nicer to look at). Several decades later, Jake Lazzari of Applied Pens spotted the missing category; fountain pens.
How it looksLike a pocket version of the Schienenzeppelin with a nib inside the engine bay, or a rapidly-extruded Airsteam, or, inevitably an alien mind-probe. It rather defies easy description, frankly, and it’s probably better to let the pictures do the talking on this occasion; suffice it to say that there is nothing else out there quite like it.
How it feelsIt’s big – really extraordinarily big. So much so that you might wonder if your hands are big enough. Three-quarters of our reviewing panel were, however, pleasantly surprised to find that it nevertheless felt about right in the hand, and the lightness of the materials ensures that it’s not as heavy as it looks either. The ebonite makes it warm to the touch immediately, which is also rather pleasant. But it will be just a bit too big for some.
How it fillsWith a simple Schmidt converter, and that’s perfectly reasonable. The lack of metal inside then barrel and the close threads probably means that eye-dropper conversion is also possible, if you don’t mind a few ink-burps as a result.
Crucially, how it writes…As ever with hand-made pens, that depends upon the nib you choose to add. Jake uses the Bock #6 steel nib as standard, and although the review unit we sampled had been bashed about a bit, to the detriment of writing performance in this case, Jake does test all nibs before dispatch to customers and will rectify any issues which arise after delivery. The writing position is comfortable and, with a #6 nib of your choice, this should be a very nice long-term scribbler.
Pen! What is it good for?Let’s keep it clean, folks. It’s for writing – really, it is. Most of us would probably keep a pen this extravagantly outré for use at home, but it would certainly look the part signing big contracts… or peace treaties with extraterrestrial civilisations.
VFMMost versions of the Streamline are available at around the £150 mark, which we think is fair for a hand-made pen with unique design and plenty of customisation options. Installing a nib which is more exotic than the steel standard will naturally add to that, but it’s still a tempting proposition for most of us who reviewed it.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…The acrylic used in the section of this review sample wasn’t quite as popular as the ebonite of the main body, but that’s no real problem as there are copious alternative options – have a look at Jake’s Etsy page (link below) for a few ideas if you need them. If you like the unique design but just can’t handle something quite this huge, Jake does make some smaller pens too. We can’t think of any other pen maker turning out anything remotely comparable, though.
Our overall recommendationIf you like big pens and you cannot lie, then make like Sir Inkalot to the website and order one; we were mightily impressed and several of us have started to muse about our own choice of materials one day. We’d like to see a version with a bigger #8 nib in the future too, but this is a pretty special pen which looks out of this world but is also very nice to wield.
Where to get hold of oneFrom Jake’s Etsy page, or the outer rings of Saturn, whichever is closer to you.
Thanks to Jake for supplying this extraordinary test sample, and offering one lucky reader the chance to take it home! The competition entailed ideas for favourite Welsh designers, with a very broad brief as to what ‘designer’ means. There were some wonderfully creative responses but the most surprising had to be the humble equals= sign. The prize is winging its way by flying saucer…
So why ‘Applied Pens’, Jake? Well, I trained in applied arts, which is essentially about the overlap between three-dimensional sculpture and actually making beautiful things you can use. I’ve always liked the combination of aesthetic and utilitarian and that set the pattern for my career.
What moved you into making pens? One thing led to another! I was already making sculpted items for display at home – candlesticks, vases, etc. – and one of the dealers who sold them for me was based in Hay-on-Wye, a very literary town as you know. He pointed out that writers and their readers often like a good fountain pen, and that there’s a demand for something a bit out of the ordinary. It took some serious research to find the right mix of materials and equipment, much of which I had to source abroad, but Applied Pens soon took off. That was two years ago and I haven’t looked back.
How does a Lazzari design take shape? Here’s my little secret – I’m really a mechanical pencil fan. I’m told that’s safe enough to admit to in the stationery world, and I enjoy putting my original art skills to use. Looking at the preliminary sketches, you can see how the Streamline pen took shape. I do take commissions from customers too, but I’m always full of ideas anyway.
How are you finding working with us pen fans? It’s fun talking to such a well-informed audience. Fountain pen cognoscenti can spot a ‘kit pen’ at fifty paces and I’ve never been much impressed either, so making something truly original is good news for all of us. Going for a comfortably big pen with a large #6 nib seems to be really popular, and the Etsy site has been going well.
What are the materials you like working with best? I started out working with metals, and actually may return to this for some future pens if all goes according to plan. But for now, my material of choice is often food-grade ebonite; that ‘burnt rubber’ smell takes a bit of getting used to in the workshop, but it works well and makes for a pen which is really nice to hold. I also use acrylic quite a lot for the sections, and I’ve just invested in some remaindered Conway Stewart blanks which look amazing.
Some of your designs look like props from The Eagle – is there a bit of a sci-fi influence? You guessed it – ‘always been one of my big inspirations. Expect to see more…
What’s coming next? I’m working on some promising polygonal bodies right now, which do present a few challenges in getting the caps to line up with the barrels – I might have to make a video demonstrating how to get it right! Plus there could be some more materials on the way, so keep watching.
Coming up next for us a is a meta-review of one of Jake’s Streamline pens – you’ll probably want one – but in the meantime you can see all he’s making right now on his Etsy page.
A little bit ofhistorySilvine Originals: A British icon, reinvented. Silvine has been a staple (pardon the pun) within British homes for generations. We all felt a sense of nostalgia as we opened the packages that Silvine sent to us. But Silvine’s heritage runs longer than a generation or two; their notebooks are being made by the same machines that have been in use for decades. So, how do they shape up for writing in?
How it looksThe Silvine notebooks have been dye-matched to the 1960s bold red cover that we’ve all grown to love. With 300gsm front and back covers, the notebooks feel strong and durable; far more than many other softcover notebooks out there. There are several different sizes of notebooks, each with their own particular little niche. However, the one that stood out immediately to many of us is the Exercise as it is very similar to the wririting books familiar from school. However, not every aspect of the notebooks was loved across the Inkdom. In particular, Gillian felt the blue lines within the Exercise notebook as being a little over the top. While the red margin in the Exercise book was able to calm it down a little and provide a little bit of contrast, unfortunately the Memo notebook didn’t have that cover and wasn’t so easy on the eyes.
How it feelsEveryone within the Inkdom commented on how textured the paper is. The paper is 90gsm Natural White Wave paper and you can definitely feel it on your pen. We actually rather liked this; it’s certainly not as smooth as Clairefontaine, but you can feel what you;’re doing as you move the nib across the paper. What’s more, this paper handles anything thrown at it. Gillian even mentioned that the paper might be able to hold up to watercolours! Dabiel and Scribble found that it was able to handle all the nibs that they threw at it and The Clumsy Penman also commented on how well the paper copes with inks.
Crucially, how it handles…Pages in the Silvine notebooks are hand-stitched, which gives the notebooks a very personal feel and also means that they lay flat which makes the writing experience even more pleasurable. Some of us weren’t too keen on how the stitching looked, however, as it wasn’t always clean and could look a tad messy. The exception to this is the Project notebook, which has a little bit of extra protection because of how big and heavy it is (speaking in relative terms to the other sizes, such as the itty-bitty Pocket). All the notebooks have perforated pages and they work very well as you can easily tear out the pages if you need to, but you needn’t worry about the perforations becoming weak when flipping pages in the notebook – the pages will only come out if you want them to come out.
Pulp! What is it good for?As mentioned above, each notebook fills its own little niche. You can read our individual reviews to get a better sense for what you could use them for. Daniel was was able to use the Project notebook for drawing graphs for biology illustrations, but Gillian pointed out that it doesn’t have to just be for applications like drawing out scientific apparatus. You’re bound to find the right notebook for you amongst this selection; John has even made the Pocket part of his every day carry. Some of us did identify other limitations; there is no grid option and the notebooks are all a non-standard size.
VFMTypically, the cheapest of these notebooks is the Memo, at around £4.50, with the most expensive around £14.00. However, if you consider the Pocket notebooks, which come in packs of three, the cost of each individual notebook is £2.17. John says that the notebooks are “expensive but worth it,” and that sums up the consensus view – you do pay a of a premium, but it’s worth it.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…This is a tricky one. As stated above, these notebooks aren’t really a standard size. For the smaller sizes (Pocket, Memo & Note) you could look at pocket-sized notebooks such as those from Field Notes, Word and Calepino. The Exercise notebook is a little easier to recommend an alternative to, as some of us have used Rhino notebooks previously – the lines might be a little easier on the eyes if you’re not a fan of bright blue. As for the Project, you could look at the Field Notes Arts & Sciences edition (specifically the Sciences). There are two disadvantages to this, however, the first and perhaps most annoying is that they’re no longer in production so you’ll have to be lucky enough to find one second-hand (they pop up on eBay every so often, but far pricier than the Project). The other is that the notebooks are smaller so if it’s page count and size that makes the project great for you, sadly the Arts & Sciences won’t cut it.
Our overall recommendationWe love writing in these notebooks and, as long as the non-standard size isn’t a problem for you, would recommend giving them a try.
A little bit ofhistoryAre you sitting comfortably? The history here is a quite a long one. When Padraig was kidnapped by pirates and taken to slavery in Ireland – prior to his subsequent visit which, in the long run, elevated him as Saint Patrick – some accounts record that his sister Lupita was carried away with him. Her life story is obscure indeed, but somehow legends ascribed to or connected with her found their home at the edge of Lough Ennell. What may have been an isolated area of the now-drained bog at the edge could conceivably been named in shaky Norman French as L’Isle de Lupita, but this too is conjecture; somehow, nevertheless, the name was corrupted to Lilliput. Many centuries later the Dean of a cathedral – St.Patrick’s Cathedral, as it happens, for in our world all things are connected – was staying by the lake when he looked across and saw tiny figures, diminished by perspective, on the far side of the shore. According to literary legend, there an idea was born; for that Dean was none other than Jonathan Swift.A little bit more history Jonathan Swift was a rapier-sharp satirist in his time (see ‘A Modest Proposal‘ for his critique of the way some governments behave towards the poor), but his best-known work these days is a rather subtler satire on tribal folly, Gulliver’s Travels. Lemuel Gulliver’s first port of call, of course, is Lilliput, where the people are astonishingly diminutive – around six inches in height, typically. If the fountain pen had been available at this point, a good century and a half before its invention, the proportionate writing implement for a true Lilliputian would have been about 1cm in length. In setting out to make an exceptionally minuscule fountain pen it is greatly to the relief of all diligent scribes that Messrs Koch, Weber and Company of Nuremberg, late of Heidelberg, aspired to virtues beyond mere portability…How it looksOh alright, it’s still tiny – just not quite as tiny as that! This simple metal tube (well, simple in most versions, at least) is the smallest serious fountain pen currently in production. It looks small and, at least in basic black, inconspicuous. Unscrew the cap, screw it onto the back to extend to the pen’s full length, and it looks a bit more like the pen concept we’re all familiar with. Then different finishes separate the subtle from the unsubtle; the plain black aluminium gives way to flashy pink and purple versions, encounters with flame-throwers turn the stainless steel version into ‘fireblue’, and the rippled finish of the ‘brass wave’ turns a basic pipe into something which looks like it just fell out of a grandfather clock. There’s a lot of visual variety for such a small pen. Oddly, a typographical error misses the third ‘L’ in Lilliput from the barrel imprint, but Swift’s own spelling was so haphazard that he probably wouldn’t mind too much.
How it feelsDid we mention this thing is small? It really feels it! For most of our reviewers, the Lilliput is ideal for a light, unobtrusive pocket pen which does a good job of taking quick notes. One of our reviewers found it too small to do anything much with, while another actually wrote an entire examination paper with one. This is certainly a size and shape which divides opinion quite sharply.
How it fillsThere is room for a small international cartridge in the barrel, and that’s all. Kaweco’s new small converter does fit into the section, but with little free space in the barrel the piston cannot be safely pulled far enough to get more than about 0.1ml drawn up, so that’s unlikely to be helpful. Thankfully, a wide range of decent tints are available in cartridge form these days, including all ten of Kaweco’s own inks, and refilling an empty cartridge from a bottle with a syringe is fairly straightforward.
Crucially, how it writes… As ever, that depends upon the nib you choose. The Lilliput uses the same nib as most other small-ish Kaweco fountain pens including the Sport, Student, Special and Dia, and the whole nib, feed and collar assembly is a simple screw-fit so you can swap and change to your heart’s content. The standard steel units are usually pretty good, and if the quality consistency is perhaps not quite as stellar as that achieved by Diplomat and Faber-Castell, the enthusiastic and friendly customer service more than makes up for it; no Kaweco pen owner is left for long without a pen they can use, in our experience. The gold-coloured nibs work similarly well, while the black-painted nibs tend to run a little drier but can be coaxed back into life by refilling with a very wet ink, such as KWZ. If you really want to go crazy and spend more on a nib than you did on the pen, you can even fit one of the excellent gold nibs – and those are indeed not cheap, but Bock gold is very reliable.
Pen! What is it good for?For most people, this is a trusty little stand-by pen to write quick notes with. True eccentrics (sorry, Jam) will write reams with the thing, but it’s a free world and we love the variety!
VFMThis depends upon the finish you go for, and how far it fits your writing style. The brass wave and ‘fireblue’ versions do take considerable expertise and time to make, and are priced quite reasonably for what they are – but perhaps only represent good value if you are actually going to use them. The more basic aluminium versions are incontestably good value as robust but real pocket fountain pens.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost… Buy a bigger pen. Seriously, there is very little of comparable size and quality in the current market. There are some tiny vintage pens, which you may find if you’re lucky, and some other cheap and rather less durable pocket pens from a few other manufacturers are still around, but if you want an ultra-small pocket fountain pen which will last the distance this is probably the best option. If you like the minimalist shape of the Lilliput and just want it scaled-up for comfort in the hand, however, you might consider its larger sibling, the Brobdingnag*.
Our overall recommendationIf you have a need for a pocket pen and are determined to avoid the wretched Ballpoints of Blefuscu, Lilliput is the destination for you. One contributor to this meta-review’s team is returning their sample as too small for their needs, but probably a good half of our bloggers have a Lilliput tucked into a pocket somewhere. Pick up a friend’s before you buy, test-drive one at a shop, or purchase one from a dealer you can trust to take it back if it’s just too, errm, Lilliputian for you.
Where to get hold of oneAny number of fountain pen specialist sellers – in fact, nearly all of them – carry the Lilliput. However, the purple, pink and champagne versions are only available from Mostwanted Pens.
A little bit ofhistoryPocket Notebooks, as covered in last week’s quick profile piece, specialise in, well, pocket notebooks. These have been making quite a resurgence in recent years and there’s ample competition. But which is going to work best with your juiciest fountain pen? Our team set out to investigate…
How they lookApart from the slight variations in size, they do range from the wild to the very subtle in cover artwork. Clairefontaine have gone to town with retro geometry, while right at the other end of the scale Darkstar are understated to the point of nearly anonymous – but not quite! Of course this isn’t so important if you’re planning to put the notebook into a cover for added durability, but it does add to the visual experience of that ‘unboxing’ moment.
How they feelStuart was wise to send our reviewers smooth enough paper to handle the rigours of proper nibs, and most of the paper stocks felt pleasant to write on – but this can be quite the opposite experience with the similarly-sized Field Notes, so beware. Thanks to stitched spines, the Clairefontaine and Silvine offerings felt a bit more robust to use too. Due to an apparent lack of size standardisation (none seem to be quite proper A6) some feel distinctly smaller than others, particularly the Silvine pocket book. But they don’t feel cheap, despite their impressive affordability.
Crucially, how they work with a fountain pen…On the whole, very well. The overall winner looks like the Clairefontaine Retro Nova, with the Silvine coming a close second and honourable mentions going to the California notebook using Tomoe River paper and feisty upstart Darkstar. None can quite survive the Clumsy Penman’s atomic-standard Baystate Blue test, but no-one in their right mind uses that ink for everyday writing anyway. The key point is that these are good enough to write on and let your thoughts wander, without having to resort to a wretched ballpoint (or ‘Biro of Beelzebub’ as it’s known amongst discriminating audiences).
John, our chief paper-pusher for this exercise, reports the following results from individual tests:
California Journals These come in two different styles, the Tomoe River paper version and the ‘Backpocket Journal’. Mateusz, Gillian and John received these to have a look through, and our conclusions were very similar. Tomoe River is Tomoe River, and there’s little more to be said about it; it’s excellent paper for writing on but does occasionally need a blotter to make sure you’re not smudging with the wetter inks. On the other hand, the Backpocket Journal could occasionally be used as a blotter, such is the density and absorbency of the paper in question.Story Supply notebook An interesting one this, with the attention to detail that many notebooks just don’t concern themselves with, such as a section in the front for all your details, resilient paper, and a hard wearing cover. Laura, Mateusz and John all received these to work with, and it has to be said that all were pleased with this Journal, so much so in Laura’s case that marriage may be on the cards… You saw it here first.So what’s so good about it? It’s got fine lines, which is a must when you write small, but even in broader hands, proves to be a good choice for those who enjoy writing copiously. It wouldn’t be so good for those who write with stub nibs or italics, but for everyone who uses it as an everyday note book, the lines (0.5 from 0.7 standard) were very popular. It’s a thirsty notebook (by which we mean that if you leave your pen on it, it may take a drink…), but the paper is excellent quality and writes well, just so long as you remember to keep going rather than taking a break.
Clairefontaine 1951 Retro nova Notebook Coming from a brand with the history of Clairefontaine, anything new has both the recommendation of past excellence to chivvy it along, but also the weight of ensuring that it passes muster in the face of the old guard. Laura, Gillian, Mateusz and John all got this one, and while the new stylings were interesting, what you have here is another quality product from Clairefontaine, the paper is what we’ve come to expect, equally the binding and the cover. It doesn’t distinguish itself from the other notebooks that Clairefontaine produce though, merely adding a spin on the style of an already classic notebook.
Inky fingers Journal Something of an oddity when compared to the other Journals with its shiny cover, both Gillian and John received one of these and while it’s a reasonable book to write in, it didn’t fire the imagination in the way that the others had done, and the price was not conducive towards considering it essential. That said, it’s an interesting journal and the paper has the feel of being recycled without having the usual associated bleed through that goes with it. Worth taking a look at, but it wasn’t our favourite of the bunch.
Dark Star Nomad Journal Aside from having the most epic name of the journals we looked at, the Nomad also had good reactions from Gillian, Mateusz and John, although Mateusz was more circumspect about the quality of the paper. At 100gsm, the paper is some of the thickest that we looked at in the journals, with all the attendant ease of writing that provides whilst not being absorbent like many thicker papers are. John uses a Darkstar as an ink journal, so his own proclivities are well known on the matter, but Gillian had similar thoughts too.
Word, Calepino, Moleskine, and Whitelines. Fewer of our team received these, so the simplest summary is to report that Moleskine was actually not as bad as feared, and refer readers to Laura’s excellent summary (see links below). It has to be said though, she still wants to marry the Story Supply…
And that brings us to the Pale Horse of this particular meta-review…
Silvine Pocket notebook. This little journal took many of us by surprise. From the classic brand of Silvine, the pocket notebook was not only the smallest of the books offered us to take a look at, but also the one that for many of us left the strongest impression.
Gillian, Mateusz and John received one of these, and to be honest none had expected it to be anything all that special. First contact soon put that assumption to the test. The Silvine Pocket is a utilitarian notebook, every page perforated, sewn bindings (not just bound in, properly sewn), and a paper that resisted every type of feathering that we tried on it, then came back for more, all the while holding the colours perfectly. The paper had a slight texture to it, and doesn’t quite compare to papers such as Tomoe (what does…?) when it comes to smoothness, but the textured feel encouraged writing upon it for all those who got it, and it emerged as a surprise success story for all three reviewers.
Pulp! What is it good for?Well, as the retailer’s own slogan has it “forget the app; there’s a notebook for that”. Twinned with a decent little fountain pen, these are great for a quick digital-free creative moment when you’re out and about. You probably wouldn’t want to write a whole novel in one, but for a bit of travel diary-writing they’re not bad either. Plus, they signal your inherent taste and savoir-faire to any of other member of the stationery cognoscenti who you happen to encounter. Generally, a good pocket notebook is going to become a staple (even the stitched variety!).
VFMTerrific; some of these are sold individually, others in packs of three, but you can certainly get a pocket notebook for pocket money. The stand-out product from this meta-review, the ‘Retro Nova’, is available at Pocket Notebooks at a substantially lower price than that offered by most of our otherwise favoured stationery retailers. The equivalent retail value of the subscription box, too, is often rather more than subscribers actually pay, and that’s not to be sneezed at.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…Then you could do a lot worse than to try the subscription box concept – there’ll be new notebooks coming along on as regular a basis as you like, and one of them will probably suit your style. Alternatively, if it’s just the size that’s the issue, there are rumours that A5 may be on the cards for similar treatment some time soon.
Our overall recommendationIf you’re a notebook floozy who flits from one paper stock to another with gay abandon, then a hand-selected box set like this can be a great way of working out which one to settle down with eventually. For those more inclined to the stationery equivalent of the ‘silver ring thing’, read some detailed reviews of potential suitors (like Laura has provided) before taking the plunge.
They say you should never meet your heroes – but they’re talking through their hats. While last year’s London Stationery Show introduced us to Tony, the founder of Pocket Notebooks, this year was an opportunity to meet Stuart, who has just staged a friendly takeover. We’ll be covering some of Pocket Notebooks’ pocket notebooks in more detail next week – but before then, here’s a little bit more about the company itself.
The whole shebang was started by IT people who needed a bit of a ‘digital detox’, hence the rather wonderful brand motto: “Forget the app – there’s a notebook for that”. It gradually grew an online following, selling analogue wares by digital means, and the usefulness of a nicely-crafted old-fashioned notebook in the pocket evidently still has quite a following – possibly even a growing one, as the mobile ‘phone becomes ubiquitous and writing with a proper pen (or pencil) becomes a way of quietly rebelling. The format includes some real gems, like the retro-styled Clairefontaine below.
Stuart came to Pocket Notebooks in true Victor Kiam fashion; he was a happy customer, and liked the products so much that, when Tony felt it was time to move on to new projects, he bought the company. Moving operations from the North East down to Hampshire has proved an opportunity to set up a proper stripped-back scaffold-rack hipster warehouse, with a vinyl record player and all retro conveniences – and with all those displacement activities now completed, the company is swinging into business.
Pocket Notebooks is now carrying an impressive range of handy A6 (or thereabouts) notebooks, most of them quite friendly to fountain pens, and our adventurous team of reviewers will be putting some of them to the test next week. To manage all the demand, Stuart has also employed a capable warehouse manager to sniff out the goodies…
There is a novel twist, too – as well as every-day customer-led retail, Stuart’s developing a neat line in subscription boxes to keep the discriminating scribbler inspired and, occasionally, surprised. Our very own Laura reviews one of the subscription boxes below, to give you a bit of flavour.
What this brief profile piece can’t really convey is quite what a personal relationship Stuart is building up with customers. In our experience that’s something only a true fan of the products can provide – there’s just no faking it – and that’s part of what grabs us too. There’s more to come next week on how some of the current product selections fare in the hands of our keen scribblers and scrawlers, but until then, here’s the website itself.
A little bit ofhistoryAs a still fairly new ink brand, KWZ has received a lot of attention in the last two years as it took the fountain pen world by storm. KWZ is operated by a lovely couple of professionally-trained chemists from Poland, Konrad Żurawski and his wife Agnieszka. That enigmatic name, KWZ, is simply Konrad’s initials. Konrad’s journey with ink manufacturing started as a hobby few years ago and quickly became his and his wife’s passion. Being a synthetic chemist specialising in polymers and organic chemistry, Konrad decided to experiment (which is not unusual for chemists) with formulae and reactions to create his own unique inks from scratch. Initially, he was mainly interested in making permanent iron gall (‘IG’) inks, which due to specific chemical reactions occurring over time have fascinating properties and behaviour, but he soon extended his laboratory’s range to ‘standard’ dye-based inks too. After many trials and tests Konrad came up with several inks which he and his wife decided to take to the Polish market first, then further afield. Agnieszka tells us that on the first outing to the Polish Pen Show, they were literally cutting-out KWZ Ink bottle labels while they were still on the train. During next few months KWZ inks started to get rave reviews on various fountain pen websites, blogs and social media channels, and with anticipation and demand growing quickly, the KWZ brand was formally registered in 2015. The range grew fast, even as Konrad and Agnieszka continued their scientific careers, and at the time of writing they have created an impressive range of 62 unique colours including 41 standard dye-based inks and 21 iron gall inks.
How it looksand How it writesKonrad is a fountain pen user as a well as a chemist, so understands how physical properties like surface tension, appropriate viscosity, flow, etc. are important for a satisfying writing experience. There is nothing worse than beautiful ink which is completely unusable, and when the flow or capillary action is limited one can struggle to write even on the best-quality paper. Konrad goes to great lengths in selecting, testing and applying ingredients and in this respect the KWZ brand has raised the bar for ink manufacturing more widely.The United Inkdom reviewers all found that aside from the impressively broad colour palette the crucial difference for KWZ ink is its flow properties. Of course writing experience depends on many things like paper, pen, nib, how the feed keeps up with the ink and also one’s writing style itself. People who have very a light touch need ink which flows well to keep up, otherwise pen will skip – but interestingly, heavy-handed writers also require a ‘wet’ ink in order to produce thicker and uniform line. This is especially true for those who use semi-flexible or flexible nibs; pens like Noodler’s Ahab or Konrad (fittingly) tend to tramline/railroad massively if a dry ink is selected. In this respect we found that KWZ inks are some of the best available; the flow is excellent, and in even the most gushing of flex-nib feeds it can keep up. We found the writing experience very pleasant with all types of pens all we tried the ink in, including those with particularly fine nibs as well as broad and flexible ones. On good-quality paper KWZ inks behave very well, tending not to feather and bleed through. This may not be the case with cheap absorbent alternatives such as photocopy/printer paper, but of course all fountain pen inks struggle on those surfaces. Because KWZ inks are highly saturated some ‘ghosting’ may occur especially on very thin paper, such as that made by Tomoe River. We found that many inks from KWZ we tested gave a decent amount gradual shading, but in some cases shading is very impressive, although in general KWZ inks do not exhibit a sheen. They are fairly wet inks, so drying time is not the strongest feature, but once they do dry completely there is not smudging.
Let’s have a look at some of the particular colours we tested. Obviously we have not tried all the inks KWZ offers, but we picked a few which are good representatives of this broad and diverse palette.
This is one of the KWZ inks that Mateusz and Laura enjoyed the most. A beautiful combination of red-purple with hint of bright light blue makes this ink quite unique. If you like aubergine, plum or beetroot like colours, this KWZ ink will please you. When it dries on the paper it looks less vibrant and flattened, but with this subtle gradual shading Brown Pink is a ‘must have’ in any ink collection – and its popularity already reflects this.
Compared to Brown Pink, Grey Plum is darker and more purple. The blend of purple, dark grey and bright blue gives a very interesting and pleasing result. With wet juicy nibs it looks almost black.
Honey is probably one of the most popular KWZ inks and for a while it was not easy to obtain it, because it kept selling out. Honey is a warm looking golden-brown ink, which gained its popularity because of the lovely shading it produces. This is particularly pronounced on smooth, good-quality paper, where the greatest colour gradation happens. Daniel, Ruth and Mateusz love it, but interestingly Laura doesn’t believe the hype.
This is a nice warm-looking brown which also gives nice shading. Daniel was very impressed with how KWZ Cappuccino looks next to blue inks.
El Dorado is an another example of a great shading ink. The colour varies between darker yellow and orange. This may be a good alternative to Noodler’s Apache Sunset, and Scribble describes it as a nice blend of caramel and honey.
This is very interesting ink. Out of the bottle it looks like a warm orange, but being an iron gall ink it undergoes drastic metamorphosis and quickly becomes a darker brown…pure magic.
If you like military, camouflage colours similar to Diamine Safari, than Green Gold may be for you. This is a wonderful blend of earthy, almost olive green with yellow.
This is a blue/green or green/blue ink which verges upon teal. Daniel thinks that this is one of this inks you should ‘just get’. Of course, if you are not into fountain pen inks, go and get a bottle of Absinthe instead!
Green #3 and Foggy Green
Green#3 may be easily classified as a ‘standard’ green which according to Gillian give some nice shading too.
Foggy Green is rather difficult to describe; a murky, faded dark green with a significant amount of grey. It could be best to use this only in drier pens as it otherwise comes out very dark. This may be an interesting option for those who do not like flashy inks which stand out from the paper.
If you like deep cerulean blue/turquoise inks which remind one of blue lagoons, Azure#3 is absolutely a must. Ruth loves slightly darker brother Azure #4 too.
This is a gorgeous deep blue which offers some pretty shading. This may be a perfect day-to-day ink. Both Laura and Scribble were delighted how this well-lubricated ink performs with picky Sailor pens.
Turquoise (standard and IG)
Love magic? Iron Gall Turquoise will help you to trick people. This fresh deep turquoise blue ink dries to a wonderfully dark teal. This is definitely one for Daniel to try; he hasn’t yet, but he would love it…for sure.
However, if you are not so adventurous then the beautiful standard turquoise is a safer option. Moreover, it has been proven that it is happy in flexible nibs, and
Gummiberry juice gives the ability to bounce at unusual heights. Like the idea? Us too! This is wild and crazy name for such a pretty purple ink. Ruth definitely loves it – no surprises there. John loves it too. The big surprise is that Laura, who is generally is that not much into ‘girly’ colours enjoyed it too. It works very well with Scribble’s Pilot Custom 742 FA. John was also very pleased by flawless performance of his Sailor EF pen.
There’s an iron gall version of this in development, too:
Thief’s Red and Flame Red
Many of us love red and red orange inks – the more disturbing the better! Be careful if you decide to work in the office or anywhere public these two. Thief’s Red is more red-towards-pink:
…while Flame Red is definitely red/orange:
KWZ Grapefruit is a bold and vibrant orange with light touch of pink – we thought it a very appropriate name.
Last but not least is the rich and saturated Maroon, which even gives a hint of sheen, uncommon among KWZ inks. This is a very pretty colour indeed.
How it smells Well, in general KWZ inks have very a distinctive and recognisable scent which for some is reminiscent of vanilla, whereas for other it reminds them of thyme. The smell will eventually disappear (at least form the paper). The characteristic aroma of a KWZ ink comes from the antifungal/anti-mould agent which KWZ uses in the formulation. In contrast to the phenols used as a preservative by some manufacturers, the anti-fungal chemical used in KWZ inks is not toxic. This is great news, but not all of us have been enamoured of the pungent smell, especially during longer writing sessions. Despite problems with staining TWSBI pens (especially the ECO model) as reported by Daniel, it is generally relatively easy to clean pens from KWZ inks, but at the same time is also very difficult to eliminate the smell. Agnieszka and Konrad are certainly aware of this issue and they are continuously working on better, more satisfying formulation. We have been told recently, that since September 2016 all KWZ inks have different component which gives rather sweet and less irritating ‘chemical’ scent compared to as it was before.
Our observation regarding the KWZ ‘perfume’ is in line what we have seen reported and discussed by other users elsewhere; responses are sharply divided between those actually quite like this this smell and those who can barely stand it all. It is worth mentioning that the KWZ inks we were testing came from both ‘old’ and ‘new’ batches respectively, so it is not surprising that our experiences are different. Interestingly, within our team of reviewers Ruth found this smell pleasant, whereas Laura and Gillian have completely opposite experiences, and while Scribble can handle it, his other half will only let him use it outdoors. Daniel was able to compare side-by-side the aroma of old and new batches of Honey, and reports that the new formula does not have characteristic ‘KWZ smell’ anymore, which in his opinion is disappointing because he enjoys it (that shows how olfactory perception can vary from person to person). Our assessment is that as soon as Konrad and Agnieszka standardise the new ‘neutral’ formula, KWZ will become a solid brand for the wider market – but until then, writers may be well-advised to try a sample before committing to a full bottle.
Regarding problems related to the TWSBI ECO line, where several issues with permanent staining were reported, we have been told that the KWZ team has investigated this and have already switched an ingredient which was unfortunately reacting with the polymer used in these pens.
Ink! What is it good for? This really is a very subjective matter. Because the colour range KWZ offers is so broad, picking the right colour for your needs should not be too difficult. All those who likes classic colours for office/businesses will be satisfied as well as those who are adventurous enough to use more exotic colours. Again, the only concern is that characteristic smell, which is not to everyone’s taste and may not be appreciated by all around you. Apart from that, this is ink fit for just about any every-day fountain pen purpose.
VFMKWZ inks are not the cheapest. In the UK you may get a 60ml bottle of KWZ Ink for around £12-13, depending which retailer you pick. This is almost double what you will spent on 80 ml bottle of standard Diamine ink, so it is not easy to justify on colour grounds alone, but for users of flex nibs or drier feeds the flow properties may make the investment worth it.
Our overall recommendation Our reviewers all agreed that KWZ Inks are very interesting and even have potential to be market leaders in the future. KWZ inks are generally wet and well lubricating. All the inks we tested flow nicely and gave us a good writing experience, even with pens which normally tend to run dry – and that viscosity helps to maintain a fast flow which is particularly noticeable with more demanding flexible or semi-flexible nibs. Colours are saturated and many exhibit great shading (e.g. Honey). However, if you are sensitive to the rather powerful pong of the current KWZ ink formula, getting cheaper Diamine ink or investing slightly more for Robert Oster’s Signature inks may be a wise alternative.
Where to get hold of someKWZ inks are not yet as widely available as some other popular brands. However, several specialist online retailers do stock them, and in the UK a wide selection of colours (including Iron Gall inks) is available exclusively from Pure Pens and Bureau Direct.
Thanks to Pure Pens, Bureau Direct and KWZ Ink themselves for providing inks to several of our bloggers previously – and big thanks to Pure Pens for furnishing even more of us with samples specifically for this meta-review exercise.