Divine Design Eyedropper fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Before there were pistons, vacuums, pneumatic blast-poppers or funky crescent levers, there was but one filling system – the humble eye-dropper. Like its fellow Taiwanese offering from Opus 88, the Divine Design Eyedropper goes back to the  roots, albeit with a syringe rather than a pipette in the box. It is apparently only distributed within the Iberian peninsula at present (for reasons we can’t quite fathom, but there it is), but of course that geography neatly includes the marvellous fpnibs.com, and they know a thing or two about interesting pens.

How it looks  Very plain and straightforward: black cap and ends, transparent barrel, undistinguished clip. This is either helpfully minimalist, or a bit boring, according to taste – but we all agreed that this much ink sloshing around inside was a pleasant view.

How it feels  Unposted, it’s a fairly big pen, but not oversized – so comfortable for most hands. That cap does post, but this makes it a bit top-heavy in our opinion(s).

How it fills  Here is this pen’s first party trick – no less than three filling options. Why you’d put a puny cartridge in a beast like this is hard to imagine, but it’s nice to know that the capability is there for real emergencies. The box comes with a decent converter, which is considerate, but also somewhat redundant – because this thing is made to be filled to the brim. Open the barrel, which has nice long threads and an o-ring already fitted – and you can get a whopping 4ml of ink in there, which is enough to write for days.

Crucially, how it writes…  Here is the pen’s second party trick; it takes a JoWo #6, and fpnibs stock a lot of those. For fun, and to make interesting photographs, we went for one of their colour-lacquered offerings, but any of their steel options would do – or you could even push the boat out and choose a gold upgrade. We’ve yet to encounter the JoWo #6 which  writes badly. The purple lacquer did start to wear off once it reached its fourth reviewer, but the tip carried on writing just as well.

Pen! What is it good for?  It’s probably just the thing for when you don’t need to show off, but do need to write for a long stint without refilling. There are other ways to achieve that aim, but let’s face it  – this solution is a tenth of the price of a Conid.

VFM  With the nib and a bit of VAT inside the EU (for the time being, at least) this comes to about £45. Not dirt cheap, but pretty fair value for a useful pen, if not the glitziest. The box includes a syringe, converter, and instrucciones (in Español), so it covers all the bases and  even provides a diverting translation challenge if, for some inexplicable reason, you’re the sort of fountain pen enthusiast who knows everything apart from where the ink goes.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Have a shop-around for eye-droppers. They are making a gradual comeback – take the Opus 88, for instance.

Our overall recommendation  We like the way it works, for the most part, even if we’re not all blown-away by its plain looks. A safe choice as long as you don’t insist upon posting all your caps.

Where to get hold of one  Direct from fpnibs.com is probably the simplest route.

This meta-review references:

Cleo ‘Skribent’ fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Cleo Skribent is the company which kept fountain pen manufacturing going behind the iron curtain, and now make affordable daily drivers like the capable Classic which we tested last year. Their most enthusiastic retailers in the UK, the aptly named Write Here, were determined to persuade us to try one of their more exotic offerings.  Well, we didn’t take THAT much persuading…How it looks  Quite distinctive, with a tapered barrel which is reminiscent of a desk pen, and that impressively over-engineered clip. The gold finish wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but a chrome trim alternative and a nicely blue version are also available.

How it feels  Light but well-poised and ready to write. It’s hard to resist the urge to try a few squiggles when you pick this up, even if you have nothing in particular to write – but as Skribent roughly translates as ‘scribble’ that’s perhaps appropriate.

How it fills  Somewhat disappointingly, given the piston option of the reasonably priced Classic, the Skribent is a cartridge/converter number. However, the converter does screw in for greater security, which is a smart move.

Crucially, how it writes…  Ah, here is where the Skribent changes opinions quite quickly. The looks might not win everyone over, but that nib does! It’s small but perfectly formed, with a gentle bounce usually only encountered on a Japanese ‘soft’ nib, and although it offers only modest line variation it is a real joy to write with.Pen! What is it good for?  This is a proper ‘writer’s pen’, this one; it is well-built and could cope with whole reams of text. ‘Just the thing for writing that novel you’ve been meaning to get around to…

VFM  This is the one area where the Skribent struggles a bit, at the moment. It’s a nice pen with a really excellent nib, and deserves a premium price, but £300 is an awful lot of money. For that kind of cash one could buy a piston-filler, with a bigger nib, from a famous name, and it’s hard to escape the sense that Cleo have been a little over-ambitious with the RRP. If this was closer to the £220 mark we’d be recommending it with enthusiasm, though.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Cleo makes a wide range of fountain pens, and we do aim to review more of them over the next couple of years. But probably the nearest writing experience to that available from the Skribent would be a Platinum #3776 with an SM nib – if you can find one.Our overall recommendation  If you do have a yearning to write a book long-hand, and you can afford a luxury ‘daily driver’, you could do a lot worse than the Skribent – and you’re sure to fall in love with the nib. We think that Cleo would be wise to reconsider the price positioning, however.

Where to get hold of one  There are few Cleo stockists in the UK so, review samples not withstanding, it does make sense to go straight to a specialist.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Write Here for lending us the Skribent to play with!

 

Summer Solstice give-away

It’s time for us to announce another give-away here at the United Inkdom Citadel!

Today it’s the Scrikss pen that’s up for grabs – procured in person by our very own Scribble from a trip to Nuremberg’s Insights-X trade fair at the end of last year. This is the Noble 35 that we’re offering up here, and it’s rather lovely to use!

 

As usual, all the answers are found on the blogs of the United Inkdom bloggers or on the Scrikss website.

 

Gillian at Pens, Paper, Plans

Scribble at Too Many Pens

Alison at Her Nibs

 

If you are based in the UK and as fountain-pen-mad as the rest of us at United Inkdom, why don’t you take part?

 

You just need to answer the following questions:

1) How long is the warranty on a Scrikss pen?

2) What is the finish of the Noble 35 pen that we’re giving away?

3) Which country are Scrikss based?

4) What year was Scrikss founded?

5) Our pen is from the ‘Noble’ range of fountain pens. How many ranges of fountain pens do Scrikss have in total?

 

Send your answers to unitedinkdomprizes@gmail.com   The closing date for this give-away will be 21 July. Good luck everybody!

Ensso Piuma fountain pen review

A little bit of history  You’ve probably heard of the ‘architect nib’, as favoured by Frank Lloyd Wright, but have you ever wondered what would happen if an architect started making actual pens?  Well, here’s the answer. The same designer responsible for the remarkable parabola chair has been making pens for a couple of years now – and it was high time that we took a look.

How it looks  The first pen that Ensso have sent us is the brass version of the Piuma, named after the Italian for feather – the earliest sort of nib, of course. It looks like a classic cigar-shaped pen, albeit without summoning-up the toxicity that a cigar might suggest. It’s not a complex or even surprising shape, by any means, but it’s easy on the eye. The branding is subtle, and the whole thing looks classy and understated.

How it feels  Now here it’s a matter of personal taste and preference. A brass pen is always going to be heavier than its aluminium equivalent, and this is no exception to that iron (woops, wrong metal) rule. Whether that’s a good thing depends upon what you like. Scribble has a lot of big heavy brass pens and finds this one of the lighter ones, while Rob likes the look of brass but found the Piuma a bit too heavy. As Ian points out, naming it after a feather was perhaps a bit ironic given the heft. But if you can handle the weight, the grip is comfortable and the size just right for large-ish hands.

How it fills  It’s a straightforward cartridge/converter job, but that’s no problem.

Crucially, how it writes…  The Piuma takes a #6 nib in the screw-in Bock housing, as is often the case with relatively small-batch production runs. The steel nib we tried was competent rather than special, but that’s not so bad a place to start – and upgrading to something a bit more interesting should be quite straightforward.

Pen! What is it good for?  If you can take the weight, this is probably a good pen to travel with. You can enjoy watching it take on a handsome brass patina, or polishing it in between expeditions, as your prefer.

VFM  $99, (about £75/€85) looks like pretty good value for an unusual, classy and well-made pen like this.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  This is the only brass pen we know of with a shape quite like this, but if you want something hefty with a #6 Bock nib then brass versions of the Karas Kustoms Ink, the Tactile Turn Gist, the Namisu Nova and the Kaweco Supra are all worth a look. Ensso is also working on a much smaller pen which will also be available in brass, and can currently be located on Kickstarter.

Our overall recommendation  Check whether the weight is really for you first – but if you like the design and can manage the mass, get one while stocks last.

Where to get hold of one  Straight from the maker.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Ensso for kindly sending a sample our way.

 

Pure Pens ‘Celtic Collection’ fountain pen inks

A little bit of history  The tribes living at the edges of the old Empire (the Roman one) may or may not have ever referred to themselves as the Keltoi, but the name rather stuck nevertheless. Successive waves of invasion and colonisation (by Romans, Saxons, Vikings, and Normans) pushed these Gaelic and Brythonic language groups to the north and to the west, in the areas we know today as Ireland, the western isles of Scotland, much of Wales and Cornwall – and since Pure Pens is based in one of those areas (just about), it was a natural inspiration for naming their new ink collection.  We couldn’t wait to get our pens loaded…How it looks  Cadwaladr is a rich red, with plenty of character.Celtic Sea is a pleasing blue, with lots of maritime presence.

Somewhere between mustard yellow and light brown, Pendine Sands takes the shading trophy.

Porthcurno summons up the water of a Cornish bay, if you’re lucky with the weather.

Llanberis Slate is a civilised grey with the teeniest hint of purple.

Saltire Blue is the shade of the Scottish flag, of course.

From the second wave of these inks, Glens of Antrim is a light bright green.

There needed to be a teal in there somewhere, and Cwm Idwal gives a good dark turquoise.

Flower of Scotland, finally, contributes the essential purple.

Crucially, how it writes…  It does the job well, with no dryness issues reported – and we put it in an awful lot of different pens, between us.

Ink! What is it good for?  These are fun inks, and fun is probably what they’re best for. But Saltire and Llanberis could probably be sneaked into the office if you’re feeling naughty, and maybe even Flower of Scotland too.

VFM  £6.99 for 60ml – no complaints there.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Take a look at the ranges from Beaufort Inks and Mabie Todd, which have a not wildly dissimilar provenance,  shall we say.

Our overall recommendation  This is a good range of inks from a serious niche fountain pen retailer, at a decent price, and most tastes are catered for somewhere in the range. What’s not to like?

Where to get hold of some  Direct from the source!

This meta-review references:

Thanks to Pure Pens for kindly sending us a whole heap of samples.

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.