A little bit of history Karas Kustoms first dipped their toes into the world of pens via Kickstarter back in 2011. That pen was a machined aluminium affair that used the Hi-Tec-C refill. In the following years they branched out into different styles, including fountain pens, but nearly always using metal. The Decograph, therefore, is unusual in being a Karas Kustoms pen made from a different material: thermoplastic, no less.
How it looks This particular model is called ‘Sleeping Beauty’, after a kind of turquoise found in Karas Kustoms’ home state of Arizona. The stone has a reputation for being very beautiful and Karas have done it justice, with a stunning cap and barrel of blue with black swirls. It’s complemented well with metal finials and clip. In short, it’s a stunner.
How it feels The Decograph is a light pen but doesn’t feel flimsy. Being so light, balance isn’t an issue whether posted or not. It’s a good length, too. It’s comfortable to hold.
How it fills A standard international converter or cartridge.
Crucially, how it writes… The Decograph uses a stainless steel #6 Bock nib. The one in our pen was great. It was smooth and had excellent flow. It was a real pleasure to use.
Pen! What is it good for? The Decograph is a pen that will make you want to pick it up and write. It’s perhaps a little too jolly for a staid business meeting but it will surely bring out the poet in you.
VFM At $165 this isn’t a cheap pen, particularly if buying from the UK, with exchange rates and shipping and the potential for import charges. There’s a case to be made for it having a gold nib at this price. However, it’s beautiful, writes well, is made by a company that really cares about what it does, and is a limited edition, too.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost… If you’re in the UK then, once you’ve taken into account the cost of getting this pen into the country, you’re in the same price bracket as a custom made Twiss pen, with all the interesting barrel options available there. Alternatively, there are dozens of pens at this price or lower that use steel nibs and are made with lovely acrylics, as well as Platinum (in the UK) or Pilot (in the USA) that have gold nibs but (often) less inspiring designs.
Our overall recommendation Despite being made from plastic, this is a pen that still manages to be a Karas Kustoms pen. It’s expensive, especially this side of the pond, but it’s well made and lovely.
A little bit ofhistoryOnline may be a bit of an unlikely name for a company which sells analogue tools digitally, but it’s working well enough for this German brand to be all over the schools and hobbyist market – in German-speaking countries, at least. As well as fountain pens for pupils who want to write properly, they’ve been branching-out to the calligraphy world for a couple of years – and as is often the case calligraphy is a synonym for ‘italic’. They handed a calligraphy kit to each blogger attending the Insights-X stationery fair in Nuremberg back in October, and since one of the United Inkdom team was there and a couple of locals (relatively speaking) wanted to join in, it was always going to be tempting to give it the full treatment. So, thanks to Natascha and Christian, it’s time for United Inkdom’s first pan-European meta-review!
How it looksThe first thing you see is a rather handsome bamboo box, which looks hardy enough to store the pen and spare nibs for a good few years. The pen itself looks like it’s largely made of wood; whether that’s solid wood or a composite, we couldn’t really tell, but either way there’s certainly some lignin in there. The cap and barrel both flare at the ends, so it’s the diametrical opposite to the over-used ‘cigar’ shape, and that makes a refreshing change too.
How it feelsWarm and comfortable, for the most part, as you’d expect from a wood finish. As a professional calligrapher, Natascha did find that the metal section was a little too short for total comfort in long writing sessions. Overall it’s a sensible size, though.
How it fillsIt’s a standard cartridge/converter job, and impressively the kit comes with both. The small blue international cartridge may not get much of a look-in once you notice that there’s also a decent converter and even a bottle of brown ink included.
Crucially, how it writes…There are three italic nibs of varying sizes; 0.8, 1.4 and 1.8mm, and they all write well, with a nice bit of bounce. The shape creates fairly crisp lines without having sharp corners which can tear up the paper, which is a good balance of attributes. The 0.8mm nib in particular can be used for every-day writing if you are an italic enthusiast, while the two wider nibs can do impressive things in the hands of an ambitious experimenter.
Pen! What is it good for?This one’s for amateur calligraphers rather than professional, but it’s a promising way to get started. With the 0.8mm nib fitted, it wouldn’t be too outré to sneak this into a business meeting – depending upon the nature of your business, of course.
VFMAt around £50 this is not the cheapest calligraphy starter set out there, by any means. Nevertheless, it’s not bad value; the pen itself is well-made , those are surprisingly good nibs and the storage box is a desirable accessory itself.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…Online make a lot of other calligraphy sets, and there are comparable offerings from Sheaffer, Lamy, Kaweco and even Shropshire’s own Manuscript. Most of the cheaper alternatives are plastic, though.
Our overall recommendationIf you know someone who wants to get into italics and likes a kit which is well-presented, this is a good bet. It’s a pen for enthusiasts rather than professionals, but only a few of us can really aspire to earning our living from calligraphy anyway!
Where to get hold of oneThis is easy enough on the continent, but surprisingly tricky in the UK. The surest method is probably to buy from Online, ermm, on-line.
A little bit of history: While other German manufacturers such as Pelikan and Kaweco have been around since the 19th century, Cleo Skribent is a company that found itself established in the 20th century, shortly after the Second World War. The pens were made in Germany, initially in the founder’s garage “behind the iron curtain”. Once the curtain had been lifted, Cleo Skribent saw a booming business and the company continues to manufacture pens to this day. The name Cleo refers to the Egyptian pharaoh, Cleopatra, with whom the company identifies with due to the innovation and design of the Egyptian pyramids (though Daniel does point out Cleopatra lived closer to the launch of the iPhone than she did the pyramids).
How it looks: The Classic measures 134mm uncapped and 163mm posted. Some of us found the pen to be large, while others considered it small. The pen is also slim, which gives it a refined and sleek look, though this may not be to everyone’s tastes. The pens come in a range of colours of white, black or red and each come with their own option of gold or chrome furniture which means there’s something for everyone. The design, depending on who it is you’re asking, could be described as “understated”, or just simply “boring”. Though, the white and gold option does offer something “the same but different” as it’s still a conservative looking design but going about it in a different way. If you want something a bit more “out there” and unconventional, perhaps the red would tickle your fancy. The various options that you get are a fantastic selling point. For example, Daniel enjoyed the white and gold aesthetic, while Sarah thought the gold and silver looked better. There’s choice for everyone (that is, so long as you like white, black or red pens).
On the top of the cap is the Cleo Skribent logo.
The piston filler versions of the pen come with an ink window, which is very handy.
How it feels: The Classic weighs 18g capped, so this is an extremely lightweight pen. For some of us, that put us off a little bit. However, it is certainly well balanced and if you wish to post the pen, it does so very well. The cap screws off, but the step up to the section is minimal and due to the long section, you can bet on having a very nice grip on the pen.
How it fills: You have the option of a cartridge/converter pen or a ‘piston’ filling pen. The cartridge/converter is compatible with standard international fittings.
The piston is essentially a captured converter. You unscrew the blind cap at the end of the pen to get to the converter inside and you then twist it like a normal converter. However, the piston filler does hold more ink than the standard international converter (which screws in, by the way, so you avoid any ink spillages by the converter coming loose!). By using the piston filler, it does make it harder to clean out (though not impossible or by any means tedious).
Crucially, how it writes: Not all of us got on with the nib initially. Several of us noticed hard starts and skips at first, which perhaps isn’t something you would expect from a pen in this price range. The nib is also on the dry side when first ‘out of the box’ – but Scribble reports much wetter, softer action after the 14k nib has written a few thousand words.
Because we were testing the gold nib options, we did find a bit of spring and bounce which is characteristic of gold nibs, however this fell short in early use when we found the feed didn’t keep up with the flow. However, a super-wet ink helped a little – and in at least one case prolonged use fixed it completely.
Pen! What is it good for? The Classic is, simply put, a classic design. It’s slightly more streamlined than other pens, so you get a slightly different aesthetic to the typical cigar shaped pen. This is certainly something you could take into a business or more professional setting. Because of the wide number of choices that you can have, you can choose the exact specifications that suit your needs and would also make it a very good journalling pen or something that you carry around with you due to the lightweight characteristic (also makes it good for extended writing sessions).
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost: The price of this range goes from £75 with a steel nib and cartridge converter filling system to £155 with a 14k gold nib and a piston filler, so it occupies a range in the market. For a gold nib, you can’t go too far wrong with the Platinum #3776, which you can pick up for £99 if you look in the right places (even cheaper, if you’re on the grey market) which comes with a gold nib and is a pen known for fantastic quality. This is, however, a cartridge converter. The TWSBI Vac 700R is also an option, which has a larger ink capacity, though with a steel nib. If a good, reliable gold nib pen is something you’re after then the #3776 is a very good pen to consider. If the ink capacity is more your concern and you’re looking around this price point, you can’t really beat the Vac 700R at this level. Of course, Cleo make all sorts of other interesting models too, like the Ebonite.
Our overall recommendation: This is a pen which wants to work for its living, and a potentially promising choice if you’re looking for a work-horse; it responds best after a good wearing-in. That can be an unusual experience if you’re used to pens working perfectly right away, though, so this probably won’t be a pen to everyone’s tastes. If you want to use and abuse an old-fashioned pen which will probably last for life, this is the Trabant of the fountain pen world. If you know you don’t have the patience to tinker under the bonnet, though, this might not be the perfect vehicle for your pearls of wisdom.
Where to get hold of one: You can view the Classic line Write Here (see what we did there?), which is also where these pens were kindly donated to the United Inkdom reviewers for review purposes. There are also other pens offered by Cleo Skribent that may tickle your fancy, such as the ebonite version which you can also find a review of below.
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 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…
A little bit ofhistoryLast year we made contact (via Matthias) with the remarkable Super5 in Germany, and a select band of bloggers got to grips with their novel range of pens and inks. It’s such a distinctive collection that just this once we’re reviewing a whole brand, rather than just one product. The range includes fountain pens, rollerballs, and FP-friendly permanent inks – you can see why we couldn’t resist!
How it looksThe Super5 pen, in all its variants, looks a lot like the Kingsley Dex and the Manuscript Master, which is hardly surprising as it shares its basic Helit body with both. Like the Master, it has a nice metal sections too, and the useless but fun screw-off blind cap which could, just about, allow access to the turning knob of a converter if you wanted it to (but you won’t want it to, honestly). This is a comfortable, appealing shape and there’s a decent range of colour schemes too. The inks looks like they come in Rohrer&Klingner bottles, because that’s precisely what they are.
How it feelsThe pen’s body is a combination of warm plastic and firm but comfortable metal (in the section). ‘Nothing to complain about there.
How it fillsPop in a cartridge, or if you want to make the most of the Super5 ink range, a normal ‘international’ converter. It’s all very straightforward.
Crucially, how it writes…Very well, and quite differently from many other affordable fountain pens. The round nib has iridium tipping but the italic versions have none – just polished steel. Of course, that’s just fine if calligraphy is your style. If you really can’t handle fountain pens, which seems unlikely if you’re reading this but let’s roll with it anyway, there’s also a rollerball version which accepts the same cartridges or converters so you can use fountain pen ink.
Pen! What is it good for?The italic nibs (0.5mm and 0.7mm respectively) are particularly good for fast semi-calligraphic writing. They work with the Super5 permanent inks, too, so they’re pretty handy.
Ink! What is it good for?While the names of some of the inks baffled us a bit, we all thought they worked very well in the Super5 pens, flowing impressively well for such a thick ink. So, it’s good stuff for calligraphy – as long as you give your pen an occasional flush-through afterwards.
VFMThese have to be imported, and they are only procured in relatively small batches, so the pens are inevitably not going to be quite as affordable as the humble Dex – indeed, they’re about twice the price. That’s still not ridiculous money for pens which work well and can handle some punishment, though. The ink is a little steeper, but still fair value if a coloured permanent ink is just what you need.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…The Dex and Manuscript Master are pens worth a look instead. KWZ are working on some permanent inks which could prove competition in the refill department.
Our overall recommendationIt’s all worth a look – and if you want something no-one else in the office is likely to have, this is a sure-fire bet.
Where to get hold of oneDirect from ‘Papierlabor‘ is the only way.
A little bit ofhistoryGlaciers, weathering and tectonic plates were all involved to a greater or lesser extent in separating the Lothian volcanoes from the kingdom of Fife, but ever since the Forth Bridge became the world’s largest project management metaphor, both sides of the firth have been part of an on-and-off industrial heartland. That engineering heritage was recently sparked in to life in one local business unit by the Kickstarter project which brought Namisu into being, and they’re now producing a couple of models in an increasingly diverse range of materials. Some of us have been interested since those heady Kickstarter days, but the word is spreading fast…
How it looksLike a streamlined version of the Nakaya-esque ‘bullet’ shape, polished-up for use as a prop in 1950s sci-fi B-movies – which is a long way round to saying that it’s minimalist, and we like that very much. It looks exceedingly cool, whatever the material it’s cast in. The only catch is that said minimalist tube does rather like to roll off any surface you place it on!
How it feelsLarge but really rather comfortable. Obviously, the different materials available make a quite a difference; the aluminium version is sturdy and light, the ebonite version is very warm to the touch, and the brass version is satisfyingly heavy – probably too heavy for many writers, but marvellous if you like a weightier pen.
How it smellsThis criterion doesn’t feature in every meta-review, but appears here thanks to the ebonite version which Namisu kindly lent several of us to test. Ebonite is a rather old-school material for a fountain pen, and it’s essentially just very hard rubber. That makes it tactile, light and warm to hold, which are all good things, but for those with sensitive noses there is also the detectable whiff of burnt tyres on a warm summer’s day. Of course, whether that’s a noxious pong or a nostalgic aroma is very much a matter of olfactory taste.
How it fillsCartridge/converter. There should be space in there for a longer international cartridge, and Namisu often provide a good Schmitt converter with the Nova too.
Crucially, how it writes…This is very much dependent upon whether you go for one of Namisu’s nibs or fit your own. Namisu stocks Bock nibs, usually either the standard steel (occasionally black-coated, as above) or titanium. The Bock #6 steel nibs are firm but quite pleasant to use, while the titanium option offers a bit of flex – although we had mixed feelings as to how smooth they were on the paper. The feed and collar unscrew, and any other Bock #6 assembly will screw back in, so if you happen to have spare nibs from the larger Kaweco or Diplomat pens, for example, they’ll be easy to swap. It’s also possible to buy unbranded Bock replacement nibs from sources such as Beaufort, although the gold option is as pricey as you might expect. Helpfully, the actual metal is a standard shape, so other #6 nibs, for instance those made by JoWo, can be transplanted into the Bock feed and collar assembly without too much difficulty; these can be acquired more affordably from FPnibs.com.
Pen! What is it good for?The aluminium and ebonite versions are both good for longer writing sessions or quick note-taking – as long as you put the cap somewhere safe! The brass version could probably double up as some form of defensive weapon, but we wouldn’t recommend doing that with it.
VFMAt £45 the aluminium version is really very good value for a distinctive British-built fountain pen. The brass and titanium versions get pricier, but are both still quite competitive for enthusiasts of those metals. Ebonite nudges the ticket into three figures, which seemed a little steep to us for a pen which only has a basic steel nib, but it’s an unusual material, and while rather expensive this is hardly daylight robbery. Match a Nova with a really good nib of your choice and you get something truly splendid for the outlay.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…Namisu also make the Orion, a fairly similar shape but one which hasn’t appealed so much to us. Or, if you like the look of the titanium Nova and want to spend ten times as much, there’s a Nakaya made from the same material. Hmm.
Our overall recommendationGo ahead and get one while you can! The aluminium version is an affordable design classic, and you can always upgrade to other materials later on. If you covet the brass version, though, move fast; Namisu took some persuading to make it at all and we understand that it is intended as a one-off at the moment (you could prove them wrong, of course).Where to get hold of oneRight now, buying from Namisu directly is the only way.
A little bit ofhistoryOnce upon a time there was a nice chap from Texas called Will Hodges, who had amassed a rather spiffing collection of lathes and was wondering just what sort of toys to make for good boys and girls all over the world – not necessarily just for Christmas, you understand, but the sort of thing that you’d definitely have to be on your very best behaviour to deserve. Flirting with the seductive magic mirror, or ‘Kickstarter’ as it is known to all the elves, he had immediate success with dark ballpoint doings which shall not be spoken of here – and then stepped into the light and started making proper pens! Will’s first fountain pen, the Gist, is now available in a truly legendary array of materials including pretty much everything bar kryptonite, and has become a hit on both sides of the Pond. Several of us had initially obtained one through aforementioned conjuring device, and then a wise stallholder in ye olde Ipswich Bazaar started selling them to passing scribblers here too…
How it looksAs the brand name suggests (just for once, it’s entirely relevant and accurate) the whole pen has been precision-turned to make it a tactile pleasure to use – but we’ll come on to how it feels in a moment. How it looks is, frankly, pretty much like the stereotypical alien mind-probe; with those eerily-accurate ripples and space-age materials, it wouldn’t look out place in Captain Kirk’s hands (its uses are far less sinister, though, unless you write left-handed of course). The very sharp-eyed may be able to spot some light marks from the lathe chuck on the barrel of the polycarbonate version (as depicted below), but it doesn’t greatly detract from the overall effect.
How it feelsThose ripples and ridges provide a good grip without discomfort, and most users have found this a pleasure to pick up and get writing with. The weight varies considerably depending upon the materials chosen; the all-brass version is without doubt a nicely weighty pen, the all-polycarbonate version is feather-light, and the combinations of polycarbonate barrel and metal section concentrate the weight just where you most want it, near the nib. Which feels best for you depends largely upon personal taste. The only catch we detected was that the copper grip can be a little slippery on a warm day.
How it fillsThis fills with a straightforward Schmidt converter (provided as standard), or international cartridges if you prefer. For everyday practicality there’s nothing wrong with that at all.
Crucially, how it writes…The Gist employs a big #6 Bock nib, available from Tactile Turn in steel, titanium and gold versions. Bock’s steel nibs are firm but widely admired, and we’ve had no reports of any problems there. The titanium nib is a bit more of an acquired taste as there is flex, but not always as much smoothness as flex fans generally like. The #6 Bock gold nib writes beautifully (as also seen on the Diplomat Aero and Kaweco Elite/Supra, for instance), albeit following quite an outlay. If that range of options doesn’t suit, it is also possible to transplant a JoWo #6 into the Bock feed, as seen in the modified example below (displaying rhodium, ruthenium and zirconium from left to right).
Pen! What is it good for?This is a well thought-through ‘every-day carry’ pen which can be comfortably used for long writing sessions and will serve as a sturdy workhorse. Some of the all-metal versions are probably great for exhibitionist bling, too, but we’re not going to admit to being interested in that around here, oh no…
VFMThe Gist has to cope with transatlantic tariffs and the buffeting of currency exchange rates, so competing on price with European offerings is not always going to be easy. With a simple steel nib, the all-polycarbonate looks to us like fair, albeit perhaps not stellar, value at £70 – whereas just £30 more will get you the all-copper version which seems an absolute steal.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…There’s nothing quite like the Gist, really, although there other pens which bear some comparison on the basis of the materials. If you love the polycarbonate finish then the Lamy 2000 employs similar material, albeit with a much less visible nib. If you really want the brass Gist but are struggling with the import logistics, Kaweco’s Supra has a similar heft and also uses the Bock #6 nib. There are no other Tactile Turn fountain pen designs yet – although just imagine this shape scaled-up to fit JoWo’s #8 nib… hmm, maybe next Christmas.
Our overall recommendationTry a friend’s Gist first – it’s a bit of a ‘Marmite proposition’ in some guises – but if you like it, buy one. Individual pen-makers who connect with writers and adapt to their needs like Will does deserve their success – and maybe, just maybe, you’ve been good enough to deserve one of his pens.
Where to get hold of oneNewcomer e-tailer iZods is stocking a broad sample of the Gist range in the UK, including the titanium and copper versions here. If you want the full range including all the stock options, you can also buy direct from Will here, although beware of those import taxes.
A little bit of history The process of making cellulose acetate (the barrel and cap material of this pen) dates back to 1865. Whilst not quite as old, this pen is made from materials rescued from a château in Le Mans that were made in the 1930s-40s. The pen has been expertly crafted by John Twiss of Twiss Pens (see the recent profile piece on United Inkdom) from a mixture of this material, ebonite for the grip and a black acrylic for the finials.
How it looks Like a reptile all dressed up for a night out at a 1970s-themed nightclub, the spiral pattern is sure to impress even those who don’t take to green in general. The black finials give a modern look & complement the pen nicely, and the clip is short & functional giving the pen a retro vintage feel (although this pen could definitely pull off something fancier). The striped ebonite grip section complements the lizard skin nicely and stops it from being overpowering. It is finished beautifully and whilst the pen is branded it is very subtle.
How it feels This is a very light pen, only 17g capped and filled but the balance on the pen is excellent. Despite being rather thin, it is comfortable in hand and is long enough to remain suitably usable even though it doesn’t post. The slightly shaped ebonite grip section is comfortable to hold and all the materials feel superb. We couldn’t figure out exactly how many times you needed to turn the cap to remove it, but it’s unlikely to swivel-off without a deliberate effort.
How it fills The pen takes a standard international cartridge or the supplied Schmidt converter – just be careful not to pull too hard, as it screws-in to the grip section. The converter isn’t going to come loose in a hurry either.
Crucially, how it writes… The pen fits a #6 JoWo nib, and it was supplied with a fine nib which was buttery smooth, a medium nib which was great, if a bit broader than expected and a 1.1mm nib that gave plenty of line variation and a smooth writing experience. JoWo nibs tend to be consistently good and if you want something special then it is always possible to fit a gold nib, something this pen probably deserves.
Pen! What is it good for? Possibly not the best pen if you need to grab it quickly for jotting down a quick note, but for long writing sessions this is a gem. Definitely not a pen to be kept in the dark, this is a fancy pen but with an air of sophistication so it needs to be used.
VFM This is a one-of-a-kind pen. John lovingly crafts each pen by hand, and based on the quality of finish this one is up to his usual high standards. You can buy cheaper pens, or even get pens at this price with a gold nib, but nothing that looks quite this special – so it still ticks our good-value-for-money box!
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost… Just pop John an email and discuss what you like and don’t like in a pen. The waiting list is long, but it’s for a good reason.
Our overall recommendation Twiss pens are admired by all of us due to the high level of craftsmanship and attention to detail. This pen is excellent to use and looks very special, it even has a bit of history attached. No-one wanted to give this one away however…
Where to get hold of one This is a one-of-a-kind pen, but if you want to commission something like it, the place to go is John’s website.
Thanks to John Twiss for making us (and one lucky winner) this amazing pen. Drop John a line and we are sure that he will be more than happy to craft you your own Twiss gem.
Giveaway We did something a little special for this very special pen, asking would-be owners to leave here on this review as well as visiting our individual sites. The competition has now closed and we’ve identified a winner! Eric, we’ll be in touch to get your delivery details…