Taccia Spectrum fountain pen review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This meta-review references:

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

 

Opus 88 Koloro fountain pen review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This meta-review references:

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

 

Pen Chalet profile

This week, our roving eye takes a little way out of the world of quaint market towns with nice pen shops in the corner and all the way to… Arizona. If that seems a bit of a leap, it will soon make sense.  We caught up with founder Ron Manwaring, ably assisted by marketing supremo Zach Jolley.

So Ron, how did you end up opening a pen shop in a chalet in Mesa?

Well, I actually moved here at first to work in software! Then I got interested in the potential of online retailing, and while I searched for an underserved niche a lot of my friends started telling me that I should take a look at fountain pens. It’s been quite a learning curve since then – but now I can see what fuss is about.

There isn’t really a chalet, though?

Sorry to disappoint you! It’s more of a warehouse, although a warehouse with some pretty cool stuff in it, it’s got to be said.

You said it was quite a learning curve. What drew you in?

Well, the pen community is very well-connected – everyone knows everyone, and everyone seems to have an opinion. That keeps us honest; you have to treat people with respect and customers really know what they’re doing! It’s great dealing with people who are so enthusiastic, and it’s nice to hear good things in return. We try to go the extra mile when we can and that seems to be appreciated.

So this probably isn’t going to be the first time you’ve talked to pen bloggers.

Oh no, we talk to bloggers all the time! We get to see a lot of the US bloggers at pen shows and the like, and we’ve already worked with a couple of United Inkdom members (Ian and Stuart) so you were never going to escape.

The chalet itself, complete with big dumpster for rejected ballpoints.

So let us in the secret – what sells?

It’s not such a big secret. Everyone loves big exciting gold nibs, right? But the other thing that really gets people interested is interesting design, and there are a couple of unusual brands which are doing that for us. One is Opus 88, who are doing a great job of reinventing the eye-dropper, and the other brand which leaps to mind is Taccia, who are the only company we can think who get to re-badge Sailor nibs. Actually, we’re going to see if we can United Inkdom to try both of those out.

So, here’s the killer question; what are you both writing with today?

Ron: I love the Pilot Custom 823, which is a serious fountain pen, but a Retro 51 roller can be useful too – I hope the nib fans will forgive me!

Zach: I’ve taken to an Opus88 – that smooth nib takes some beating!

OK, you’ve sold it to us! We’ll have to put those pens through the review mill…

 

Newsnibs 007

The name’s Monb, Scribble Monb.  No it doesn’t work, really, does it? But this is edition 007, nevertheless! A break from meta-reviews, this weekend as we regroup on a few pens which merit further scrutiny. But of course the world doesn’t stand still and there are interesting things out there to tell you about. So, in no particular order….

The darkness rises once more as the Lamy Safari gets a new Umbra special edition. Umbra is Latin for shadow or shade, as you knew already of course (a little shade is an umbrella, but let’s not talk of such things indoors), and this does seem to be rocking the stealth look with some determination. The matt surface will deter fingerprints, reflections from bright lights and, presumably, surface-to-air radar detection systems if one fits the optional wings and propulsion system. The nib, of course, comes from a workshop that did a Jagger and decided to Paint It Black – so it looks the part, although what it does to ink flow may be up for debate. Yours for a mere £17.02, though, which is not be sneezed at.

If that all looks a bit threatening, how about something nice and floral and soothing but still rather cool? British notebook maker Esmie has that covered, by the looks of it. The size is a bit unusual (10mm wider than the standard 90X140mm), and we’ve no word yet as to whether the paper is FP-friendly, but we’ll try to find out. In the meantime, feast your eyes and, if you want some, take a peek at the full range.

Now, since we’re back on the brighter side of the palette, prepare to don sunglasses. TWSBI are at it again. Firstly, the humble ECO is coming out soon in eyeball-walloping pink, which is someone’s cup of tea, erm, somewhere.

Slightly confusingly, there’s also a ‘training’ version of the Eco, which eschews the hexagonal ends and veers towards the triangular. Apparently this is easier for small hands, which does seem plausible. Small eyes are not spared the full terror of neon, however.

OK, let’s calm down now. Or try to. For lo, the war for the congested market that is the traveller’s notebook is getting ever more heated. We already have the excellent Start Bay, and numerous indie producers on Etsy (some of whom may yet feature here), but now Cult Pens is getting in on the action too. Not cheap, but the Ruitertassen offerings do look rather nice.

Finally, speculation rages about what William Hannah is up to. All we have seen so far is a glimpse of a third, smaller packaging box, which seems to fit the 90x140mm format. Could it be Leicestershire’s very own contribution to the traveller’s notebook contest? If so, bring it on – we shall report back as soon as we can get our hands on them. Muse over those mysterious boxes meanwhile…

 

Mabie Todd ‘Blackbird’ fountain pen inks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This meta-review references:

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

Namisu Ixion fountain pen review

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This meta-review references:

London Stationery Show 2018

A modest gaggle of us hit the second day of the show this year, and found it quiet enough to make contact with a quite a few firms we’d like to work with in the months ahead – so here’s a quick summary.

Starting with well-known brands, Sheaffer / Cross have some pens which are more impressive in the hand than you might have expected, and we’re going to see if we can test some out soon. Similarly, Montegrappa’s nibs turn out to be better writers than we’d realised and we might be trying some of them too. Oh, and Lamy are astonished that we’ve not reviewed the Safari yet so we shall what happens…

Meanwhile, those Ystudio pens are still looking quite tempting, the new rose gold version of the aluminium Kaweco Sport is really rather impressive, and the limited edition colours of the Silvine Originals are quite classy too.

The Manuscript stand was a joy as ever, complete with Joyce’s ‘Artsynibs’ calligraphy tutorials and the interesting site of Bock nibs making an appearance in the Helit-bodies Clarity fountain pen (very similar to the Dex we have reviewed in the past). But more outrageous than any pen was their latest remarkable breakthrough – yes, they’ve only gone and invented the italic mechanical pencil! We’ll be putting that to the test as soon as we can get our hands on one.

Finally, we encountered some rather delectable paper too.  Ludlow Bookbinders had made some really cute leather-bound pocket notebooks – expect to see more of those – and another Italian paper-maker were launching their PuntoRiga brand in search of a UK distributor, which surely can’t be hard to find with such a good writing surface and some very interesting binding  ideas too.

As ever, a good opportunity to meet some old friends and make some new ones!

Start Bay TN-size notebook cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This meta-review references:

Blackstone blue inks

A little bit of history  Filling a fountain pen used to be difficult for folk Down Under. Sending a glass bottle full of rather heavy water half-way around the globe was an expensive business, and there were few local alternatives. Then Aussie dye-makers Toucan realised that one of their hues worked well enough in a fountain pen, and that was a start. Before too long the specialist ink-wrangler Robert Oster followed suit (almost certainly more about him to follow on this site soon), and then up popped a third Antipodean pen-filler: Blackstone. We found ourselves drawn to the blues.

How it looks  The two blues offer a lighter and a darker option, and both are charmers. There’s decent shading on offer, and quite a bit of sheen if you lay it on thickly. In short, if you like blues you’ll like these.

Crucially, how it writes…  Like standard fountain pen ink, really. Adequate flow, good saturation, reasonable drying times and no problems to report. All very encouraging.Ink! What is it good for?  It’s multi-purpose ink, this; it would be perfectly nice for writing a diary with, but you could probably get away with taking it to the office too. The plastic bottle is also hardy enough for travelling with, if you want to avoid glassware on the move.

VFM  Tolerable. £6.95 for 30ml is thrice the price of the same amount of Diamine, but this has come all way from the other side of the planet. It’s certainly not going to break the bank.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Then Blackstone’s new set of scented inks might be worth a look instead. Or there’s Robert Oster’s range, of course.

Our overall recommendation  Well worth a try if you’re after something a bit different without blowing the ink budget all in one go.

Where to get hold of one  The best bet in this hemisphere is straight from Bureau Direct.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Blackstone and Bureau Direct for some of the samples.

Italix Deacon’s Doodle fountain pen review

A little bit of history: ‘Mr Pen’ is one of a number of business ventures owned by Ruislip-based company P. J. Ford & Associates Ltd, set up 1989. Their in-house Italix range of pens is already well-known thanks to the famous Parson’s Essential and, as we’ve already reviewed, the English Curate. Italix has now entered the budget end of the market with the Deacon’s Doodle – and of course, we had to put it to the test.

How it looks and feels: It’s a classic look in brushed stainless steel and it comes with a choice of nibs AND a converter. One might be concerned that a stainless steel pen could feel a little heavy, but this is not the case – the Deacon’s Doodle is pleasantly ‘there’ in the hand, but it’s no dead weight.

How it fills This one’s a straightforward universal cartridge-filler, but amazingly at this price point it comes with a good converter as standard.

Crucially, how does it handle? All our reviewers report that it performs well, offering a smooth writing experience and a fairly wet nib worthy of a much more expensive pen.

Pen! What is it good for? The Deacon’s Doodle looks and feels expensive, but – and you might want to sit down for this one – it costs LESS than £15.00!

There are gift set options which include engraving, intelligently aimed at the gift market; nobody would ever guess from its looks and performance that it is a budget pen.

VFM Frankly astonishing. If this pen cost £30 you would be delighted, but for £15.00 it’s a bargain.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  The Faber-Castell Basic is available in a stainless steel version of similar quality, but that’ll probably cost you a fiver more.

Our overall recommendation  For a budget pen which actually writes rather well and looks a lot posher than it really is, this is pretty much unbeatable. Try one.

Where to get hold of one Straight from Mr Pen

This meta-review references:

Thanks to Mr.Pen himself for sending some review samples our way.

DEACON’S DOODLE GIVEAWAY!

If you are based in the UK and you would like to win the gift set or the fountain pen on its own, all you have to do is answer these three easy peasy questions about the Deacon’s Doodle – all info found on the Mr Pen site.

1 How many nib options are there for the Deacon’s Doodle fountain pen?
2 How much does the fountain pen/ballpoint pen gift set retail for?
3 How much does the Deacon’s Doodle fountain pen weigh?

Two winners will be chosen at random after the closing date 27 April.

Send your answers to: unitedinkdomprizes@gmail.com