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.

204-Namisu-Ixion.jpg

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

Choosing Keeping Notebooks

A little bit of history: Choosing Keeping is a shop found in London that can be reached through the Central Line or the many lines that serve London Liverpool Street. They are open Wednesday through to Sunday (which means they’ll be open on the weekend, if you plan on spending a weekend in Central London!). Choosing Keeping sell fountain pens, rollerballs, ballpoints, mechanical pencils, art & office supplies, desk objects and many more. What we have for you today is from their paper offerings: some very beautiful notebooks in three different sizes.

How it looks & feels: Those within the Inkdom were very impressed by the presentation of these notebooks. There’s a very retro look to them, which is further enhanced by the string keeping them together when they were delivered.

The personal touch and retro look is further enhanced through the envelope that the notebooks are stored in, inside the parcel package.

Hand-made in Italy with leather-looking paper, these seriously look the part! The covers do throw you a bit because you expect them to be leather, but they definitely don’t feel it. You can tear them with a bit of force, but it shouldn’t be a problem for normal carry. The covers come in three flavours, depending on the size you want: green (A5), red (11x15cm) and blue (9×13.5cm).

The pages are lined with red edges, which is a bit different. Another thing that is lined is the off-white pages themselves, though you do have the option for plain layouts too. On the inside page you have space for a weekly planner overview and on the final page is a multiplication table. Could be useful? It’s written in Italian as these are Italian-made notebooks – you can still understand the numbers though!

The paper has a bit of tooth and texture, but nothing overly noticeable or anything that would give a bad writing experience.

Crucially, how does it handle fountain pen ink?: Coming in at around 70gsm, we may have been a bit sceptical as to whether the paper would hold up, but it handled fountain pens very well. Even with wide italic nibs sporting Noodler’s inks in Daniel’s tests.

A close up of said italic with Noodler’s

They even held up to Nick’s tests!

However, it wasn’t enough to hold up to Noodler’s Baystate Blue, as Mateusz discovered, though with all due respect this is a very difficult test to pass! We also discovered some sheen, which would appeal to some of us.

To show how the notebooks react with the infamous Noodler’s Baystate Blue

Pulp! What is it good for?: Coming in different sizes, you can use these for different applications. But you have the options, from a pocket notebook to scribble down quick notes up to an A5 size for those more in-depth thoughts. They complement each other quite well as you have the different sizes which will allow you to transfer and expand on thoughts when moving to the larger sizes; it would be quite interesting to view your own thought processes expand in that respect!

VFM, and what else is there on offer if it isn’t quite your cup of tea?: £18 for three notebooks does sound like quite a lot. Especially when you consider that Rhodia A5 notebooks are around the £2 mark. Overall you get 186 pages when considering all three notebooks, which leaves you paying a fraction under 10p per page. Leuchtturm notebooks, with 249 pages, for reference will be 6p per page. Leuchtturm also come with more options, such as colour, options for planning and numbered pages, though the paper quality is often contested. However, you don’t get the same personal touch or feeling when using other notebooks and that is something you definitely get with these. They are also very easy to slip into a bag and don’t take up too much space due to their covers, but remain very stylish and looking the part.

Our overall recommendation: The personality, the way the pages keep up with fountain pens.. It’s difficult to give these a miss.

Where to get hold of one: Direct from Choosing Keeping

This meta-review references:

 

Kaweco Steel Sport fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Every serious fountain pen fan has a Kaweco Sport somewhere; small, pocketable – and in their simple plastic form eminently affordable – they are often starter pens, and frequently stay in use as emergency back-up pens even when owners have developed more exotic tastes. For quite a while, though Kaweco has been developing a ‘premium’ line of robust, refined, reassuringly expensive Sports in interesting materials ranging from carbon fibre to industrial metals. The very first United Inkdom meta-review tested the brass version of the Sport, a pen so popular that not a single reviewer sent it back, and we really thought that would never be beaten. But now there is heavyweight competition, from a slightly surprising direction: stainless steel.

How it looks  The design is almost exactly the same as any Sport, with its small-until-posted form factor and that famous octagonal cap. What makes the Steel Sport look immediately different from even the aluminium version is the milled/brushed effect on the surface of the steel itself, which is reminiscent of classic cameras or draughtsman’s tools. If any pen were to make a statement, it would probably be this one – and the statement is something like “I don’t do bling; I’m just here to write”.

How it feels  Solid, unbreakable, built to last a lifetime and, of course, fairly hefty. But this is not ridiculously heavy, and writing with it for a prolonged period is no more tiring than with any other Sport.

How it fills  This is a perennial subject of concern as the Sport’s barrel is not long enough for a traditional converter. However, Kaweco now offer a short and simple push-rod piston converter which works fairly well. Most users simply syringe-fill a standard ‘short international’ cartridge, though, and that seems to be quite easy to live with for most users.Crucially, how it writes…  As always, that depends on what nib you choose. Like all the more expensive Sport bodies (and indeed most of the Kaweco fountain pen range) this version uses screw-in small#5 Bock assemblies, which are available in a wide range of both round and italic tips. For the round tipped-nibs, many of us find that EF, F and M tend to be safest of the steel options, although any flow or smoothness issues, which can be variable in steel, vanish if you upgrade to gold. For this meta-review, though, we put the Steel Sport in the hands of two professional calligraphers (in Kent and Austria, respectively) who put the italic options through their paces – and found the narrower 1.1mm and 1.5mm nibs worked well even for fast writing, while a little more care was required for the wider tips where the same flow of ink has to stretch further. But as long as you choose the right nib for you and your own writing style, this is a reliable performer.Pen! What is it good for?  With a round-tipped nib this is probably the pocket pen par excellence; it looks the business, works well and will probably outlast most owners. Our calligraphers thought it was good for having some fun with italic lettering too, even if not quite the thing for fee-earning studio work (which is not what it is really designed for, to be fair).VFM  This is not a cheap pen – indeed, apart from the carbon-fibre version this is the most expensive Sport so far. Retailing for either €85 or £84.99 (which says something interesting about current exchange rates), it’s a significant purchase, but still not in luxury price-tag territory in our view. It looks a lot more expensive, though, and it’s tough enough that you would have to try very hard before you damaged it – nothing short of a diamond-tipped angle grinder is going to break this!If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Then there’s the shinier, lighter and more affordable aluminium version, or the steampunk splendour of the Brass Sport, either of which are sound choices. We have also seen the prototype of the solid silver version – but expect that one to break the £100 barrier, as the materials alone are likely to add around £15 to production costs at current prices.

Our overall recommendation  If you’ve been putting off buying a grown-up Sport until the time was right, that moment has come. Try a Steel or Brass version at a bricks-and-mortar shop if you can, or borrow them from a friend; if one or the other doesn’t appeal to you, we will eat our collective hats.Where to get hold of one  From all the usual sources. Some pens take lots of research to track down, but this shouldn’t be one of them, and it’s currently available from almost all the places you’d expect to look. At the time of publication, The Writing Desk were selling these for £5 less than most other UK retailers, but we don’t expect their stock to last too long!This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Kaweco for sending temptation our way again.

 

 

Perkeo Give-away

DSC00478It’s time for another United Inkdom give-away! You’ve seen these attached to meta-reviews, but we thought it would be fun to run them as a stand-alone exercise every now and then to share some of the gorgeous items that we have been sent to review.

To take part, all you have to do is be based in the UK and correctly answer some questions about the prizes.  All the information will be found on either the company’s website or in one or more of the United Inkdom blog review posts.  Check out the United Inkdom meta-review for the a quick start!

We kick off today with a competition to win a pair of PERKEO pens in a smart Kaweco presentation tin.

Continue reading Perkeo Give-away