A little bit ofhistoryEsther and Pablo at FPnibs evidently delight in bringing something usefully unusual to the market, and Fosfor pens are no exception. We’ve covered the affordable-but-quite-nice end of Indian fountain pen production in our previous Fountain Pen Revolution article, but Fosfor is quite a different proposition; the brand is essentially one man, Manoj, hand-making pens from scratch in Pune.How it looksLike a work of art, which is what it is – or, at the very least, the product of expert craftsmanship and painstaking care. The material (polyester, in this case) supports some wildly contrasting colours, and every one is essentially unique.How it feelsWarm, light… and large. This isn’t one for grabbing in a hurry to jot notes; for one thing, it takes a while to unscrew (somewhat to Ruth’s frustration!), and that big #6 nib lends itself to calm composed writing rather than hasty scribbles. Despite the generous proportions, it doesn’t feel overbalanced, and those who like their pens on the big side will find it handles very well.
How it fillsThis is a straightforward cartridge/converter model, and none the worse for that.
Crucially, how it writes…Of course that depends upon the nib, but the #6 JoWo steel nib which this test unit was fitted with was impressively smooth. Pablo will happily fit a gold alternative if you prefer, including one of his hand-finished semi-flex nibs – indeed, the video demonstrating the semi-flex nib was filmed with this very pen.
Pen! What is it good for?There’s no clip, and the vivid colour-schemes perhaps don’t naturally lend themselves to the office, so this is perhaps ideal for journalling, note-taking or doodling at home.
VFMIt’s not cheap, but it’s far from exorbitant either; prices compare well with hand-made pens from John Twiss or Edison, for example – and so does the quality, we think.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…Well, Manoj takes on personal commissions, if your budget will stretch to bespoke design. His triangular pen, for example, is quite something to behold.
Our overall recommendationIf large pens in vibrant hues are your thing, Fosfor pens are worth checking out.
Where to get hold of oneNow that’s a little tougher, as rather inconveniently FPnibs have just sold out of Fosfor stock! But you can contact Esther and Pablo directly via their site if you’d like to ask them to get some more in, or you could head straight to Fosfor’s own site of course.
Thanks to Esther and Pablo at FPnibs.com for supplying the Bangalore we reviewed – and letting us give it away! To enter, we asked readers for their ideas for what Manoj should consider having a crack at next – whether that was new colours, new shapes, or a return of something old but good. There’s more on that in the comments below…
A little bit ofhistoryThose unfamiliar with British cuisine (stop sniggering at the back!) may not have come across the strange substance that is Marmite – a ‘yeast extract’, (a brewing by-product, in other words) with a pungent flavour when spread on toast which divides opinion straight down the line; people either love it or hate it. Platinum, a Japanese brand whose attempts to bring affordable quality to the market have already met with our attention a couple of times, tried to produce a budget gold nibbed-pen, and it’s fair to say that the result is, well, a Marmite proposition.
How it looksThis is built down to a price, and the impression given is that looks were not a high priority. It’s boring and black, frankly – although those unassuming looks do mean that no-one’s likely to think there’s a gold nib worth pilfering hidden in there.
How it feels Light and small. Again, making a gold nib affordable was the overriding consideration so no more material has been expended on the body than the minimum required to make a functional pen. This is something of a disappointment when you’ve picked up a Plaisir and know that Platinum can make good metal bodies on a budget too, but if you like a slender pen which doesn’t take much effort to wield it should be ideal.
How it fillsPlatinum cartridges or their sturdy converter – no problems there.
Crucially, how it writes…Now this all depends on whether you like Marmite! If you’re an enthusiast for all things gold in the nib department and like a bit of tooth with a just a touch of springiness, you’ll love it. But if you’re used to the smoothness of a ‘premium’ Platinum nib and prefer nibs to be either definitely stiff or definitely flexy, you’ll possibly hate it. There really is no in-between; Scribble likes his so much that it’s become one of this ‘everyday carry’ pens, and Ian was so unimpressed that he tried to send it back whence it came.
Pen! What is it good for?Obviously this too depends upon your stance vis-a-vis the aforementioned yeast extract, but if you like it, it’s great for jotting notes when out and about. If you don’t like it, it’s probably not a lot of use for anything in particular, to be honest.
VFMAs this was the point of the exercise, value for money is rather good; there are, let’s be fair, no other ready-to-write pens with a gold nib which can be bought new for as little as £45. Whether it presents good value to you personally depends… well, we’re back to the Marmite thing again here.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…If you just want to experience a really good gold nib from Platinum, our advice is to save up a bit more cash and go for a #3776. If you desire a new Japanese pen with a gold nib and can stretch the budget to just £10 more, some of Pilot’s Capless and Custom 74 models can usually be picked up for about that sum via ‘grey import’ channels (you know the ones we mean). Alternatively, if you want a really good gold nib and have a TWSBI to hand (which you surely do!), you can spend your £45 on JoWo gold replacement from FPnibs, and that will probably impress you far more than the PTL’s variable love-it-or-hate-it performance.
Our overall recommendationWe think this has been designed and finished to fit a tight budget, and while that’s a fine example of what Japanese lean production methods can achieve, the limitations of the design (and perhaps some inconsistent quality control) mean that it won’t be everyone’s dream choice. So if you can, try one before you commit to buying it; there is just a chance, of course, that you’ll love it!
Where to get hold of oneThere are relatively few UK purveyors of this particular delicacy, and the only fountain pen specialist retailer we know who stocks it is Cult Pens; because of the risk of you loving it or hating it, we’d recommend a retailer with their good customer service if you do want to take the plunge.
A little bit ofhistoryOnce upon a time there was a little birdy, and it flew away. We refer of course to the Pilot Birdie fountain pen, which by all accounts positively flew off the shelves, and which has sadly now flapped off into oblivion. But that missing link in the fountain pen family tree has now been filled, thanks to a remarkable collaborative effort by Cult Pens and Kaweco. With two names we know and love already involved, we naturally had to check it out.
How it looksThe current version has a brushed grey aluminium finish which, as Ian points out, is more than faintly reminiscent of 1970s design, but in a good way. If it wouldn’t look out of place clipped into a boiler-suit pocket donned by one of Blake’s Seven, well who are we to complain?
How it feelsSolid, and well-screwed-together – but small. There’s no getting away from that issue; it is big enough for scribbling quick notes, but most people will find it just a bit too petite for extended writing sessions. That suits its function, though; this is a pocket back-up pen, and it does that supremely well.
How it fillsA small international cartridge is the most sensible option. In principle, the short Kaweco squeeze converter also fits, but we recommend syringe-filling cartridges rather than bothering with the latter option – the diminutive ink capacity doesn’t justify the inconvenience.
Crucially, how it writes…That depends upon the nib, and there’s quite a choice; all of the smaller Kaweco units screw in (or out) as suits your requirements. The wider italics have a habit of running rather dry, but the standard round nibs are usually pretty good. You could even go crazy and bolt on a gold nib, if you want to!
Pen! What is it good for?Keeping in the pocket as a back-up, of course. Oh, and looking cool – although of course that’s never a consideration for us deadly-serious fountain pen connoisseurs, ‘honest Guv.
VFM Pretty good. It’s not dirt-cheap, but the components are well-engineered and it will take a good bit of knocking-about – so decent value, in our view.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…One of Kaweco’s own small models may be worthy of consideration; this is somewhere between the Lilliput and the Sport in size.
Our overall recommendationIf you need a metal pocket pen and don’t want to spend a fortune, give this a try!
Where to get hold of oneCult Pens, obviously – and until the end of March, you can get 10% off with this code: CULT10 (make sure you enter it in capitals). Incidentally, that code also works for Cult Pens’ other ‘own-brand’ specials, including the Deep Dark inks which we’ll be turning our attention to next week.
A little bit ofhistoryKaweco got the United Inkdom meta-reviews started last year with the brilliant brass version of their timeless Sport, an instant classic if ever there was one. So the temptation came upon several of us, one by one, to try out Kaweco’s ‘premium’ offering, the Elite – and although we all played with it at different points, we had sufficient comparable (and contrasting) views to make a fresh meta-review of a Kaweco a good way to start the year too.
Kaweco tell us that this design is based on the Kaweco Special of 1940, the designs for which had been kept in the company archive and then rejuvenated by Horst Gutberlet in 1996. The modern Kaweco range also includes a pen called the Special, which is a lot slimmer and less imposing although there continue to be some shared details, such as the milled end to the barrel. Materials are, it’s probably fair to say, available in more ready supply now than they would may have been in 1940, so the Elite is composed in a number of staged processes – but the nib and feed, being Bock, remain definitely German.
How it looksOctagonal, which is quite cool. With the chrome cap it has a passing resemblance to the Faber-Castell Ondoro (which came later than the Elite), although the Ondoro uses a much smaller nib. Unlike the minuscule nib employed by most Kawecos from Lilliput to Allrounder, the Elite sports a nice big #6 which really looks the part.
How it feelsA tiny bit like a TWSBI 580, and that’s a good thing; it’s ergonomically thought-through and very comfortable to wield, as long as you leave the cap on the table – posting is possible, but it rather knocks the balance off.
How it fillsThis is a fairly standard cartridge/converter number, although in a nice touch Kaweco supply not only a a good converter, but a spring to hold it firmly in place and stop any rattling-about in the pocket. We like those thoughtful details.
Crucially, how it writes…As ever, much depends upon which nib you go for. The standard Bock steel nib is perfectly decent, if not really special – competent, rather than elite. The gold nib is 14k so has plenty of spring to it, and it feels much more luxurious (if you like that sort of thing).
Pen! What is it good for?This has got to be one for flashing about in the office, hasn’t it? Certain other highly-prized (and highly-priced) German brands don’t look nearly as cool…
VFMNow this one’s a bit tougher. With the standard steel nib, it’s a fairly expensive proposition for what is a well-made and handsome but not exactly extraordinary pen. With the gold nib, which comes at a rather inflated RRP (close to £140), the overall package would comes to over £200 – and even for a pen as lovely as this is, that’s a rather challenging proposition. In future we think it ought to be possible – perhaps by trimming retail margins a little and switching to JoWo for the nibs – to sell the Elite with a gold nib fitted for quite a bit less than that, and we’re talking that over with Kaweco and see what can be done.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…As noted above, the body does have some stylistic similarities with the Faber-Castell Ondoro, although that is fitted with a smaller nib. Alternatively, if you just want a well-made plastic pen with a good German steel nib, you could do a lot worse than a TWSBI 580AL; the current retail price of the Elite would cover two of those plus a couple of bottles of decent ink. If you love the looks of the Elite, want a gold nib, and can’t justify the price of the Bock, you could just pick up an alternative #6 gold JoWo from FPnibs.com – which as well as being more affordable is available in a wider range of point/tip size options.
Our overall recommendationThis is a handsome, well-made pen which looks good on the desk and does the job competently with a steel nib, although we think the recommended retail price is a getting a bit high. With a gold nib, it’s a really lovely writer, but that’s harder to obtain at the moment, so our advice would be to buy one direct from the Kaweco-run direct-selling site Mostwanted (the one place where you can buy the Elite with a gold nib fitted, at the moment) or transplant a third-party #6 .
Where to get hold of oneSome of the UK specialist retailers, e.g. Cult Pens and Andy’s Pens, stock the Elite, although it’s certainly harder to find than the famous Sport. If you want the ‘official’ gold nib then Mostwanted is your only option at present, but suitable #6 alternatives are available from a number of sources.
This meta-reviews references:
Scribble Monboddo’s hand-written review of the steel and gold nibs
A little bit ofhistoryIt’s Winter Solstice today, so Happy Saturnalia/Yule/etcetera to all our readers. One of the traditions on both solstices is to climb a tall hill in order to watch the sun come up, and if you were doing this in Japan the tallest available would be Mount Fuji, standing at 3776 metres high, which seems a perfectly reasonable excuse to review the Japanese pen named after it. They’ve been making a whole series of models named the #3776 since 1978, so it’s about time we got around to it!
How it looksThat all depends upon what edition you opt for! The original version had one of those sci-fi style ribbed bodies supposedly intended to avoid sweat building up on your hand as you write, but we haven’t managed to bag one of those yet. More recent versions, labelled as part of the ‘Century’ series, have an inner slip cap to prevent the feed drying out but also have much more visible differences in the colour and transparency of the plastic (and, more recently the trim). But all of them look professionally-executed and are certainly not going to shame a posh fountain pen collection – we’re a bit split over which looks most gorgeous, but one of the Francophone Chartres or Bourgogne numbers is probably going to claim the prize.
How it feelsNot enormous, but not too small either- this is just about the right size of pen for everyday writing, for most of us. As a mostly plastic pen it’s not too heavy, and what weight there is pulls down where you want it to, at the business end.
How it fillsEither Platinum’s own cartridges (also available with pigment ink, which you can use fairly safely in the Century versions), or a simple and reliable converter.
Crucially, how it writes…That all depends on which nib you aim for – and there’s quite a range. The standard F, M and B gold nibs are all pretty good as long as your luck holds; it is not completely unknown for a scratchy one to get past quality control, but as long as you buy from a Platinum-recognised dealer replacements are usually handled swiftly. If you have a taste for the more exotic, the SF and SM nibs are nicely springy (and offer a little bit of line variation too), and the #3776 offers what is by common consent the best Music nib there is, its three tines supplying enough ink to scribble all over the place with – or even compose that symphony you’ve been meaning to get around to if only you could find the right pen, presumably.
Pen! What is it good for?The nib and trim options are so extensive that the uses range all the way from artistic accoutrements to business-friendly ‘daily drivers’. Despite looking positively dainty in some guises, the #3776 is quite robust and will survive the travails of popping in and out of the briefcase if you want something a bit fun at work.
VFMReasonable, given the interesting range of nibs and thoughtful execution of the cap and body. These are not the cheapest pens out there, and declining to provide any non-gold nib options does limit the potential to provide a more affordable way in – but then again, at least one major Japanese manufacturer will try to charge you twice as much for a pen of the same quality when it comes to putting nib to paper.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…Then it may be worth a look at the #3776’s slightly bigger sibling, the President, which offers the same robust quality, even if the nib range appears more limited at present. Or, if you like this size and just want to consider other Japanese pens, you could do a lot worse to consider the Pilot Custom 74.
Our overall recommendationIf you’re a fairly serious fountain pen enthusiast, your collection is arguably incomplete without one of these (although four is a bit excessive, naming no names!). Explore the range of nib options carefully and then go for it; we’ve got seven or eight of them between us… that ought to give you a clue.
Where to get hold of oneThere are some decent discounts from Japanese direct sellers, but if you’re unlucky and get one of the scratchy nibs you may not have much recourse. The Platinum officially-recognised retailer in the UK is Cult Pens, and on this occasion we’d honestly advise starting your search with them.
A little bit ofhistoryBy now most of us have come across or used a Platinum Preppy – it has that smooth nib and a well-earned reputation for great value for money. There is, however, no getting away from the cheap feel that the pen has, particularly due to the printed barrel. The Plaisir is the natural next step up, and it’s been recently updated by removing the matching coloured nibs, giving it a more professional look.
How it looksThere is a wide choice of colours available and we were each sent a different one to take a look at. The cap and barrel has a nice sheen to it, and the grip section is translucent allowing you to see the ink flowing through to the nib. Whether you like this combination or not is a matter of taste, but there are definitely members of each of our households that have a keen eye on this pen.
How it feelsFor an inexpensive pen we all felt it was well built. It’s a very lightweight pen with a secure seal on the cap.
How it fillsThis can either be used with dedicated Platinum cartridges or with a Platinum converter which needs to be purchased separately.
Crucially, how it writes…The Plaisir is available with either a 0.5mm or 0.3mm nib. Great writing experiences were had by us all with both nib sizes. It wrote very, very smoothly. This pen costs less than £10 … for this price we haven’t had a better writing experience.
Pen! What is it good for?A great starter fountain pen which will give users a pleasurable experience, and an everyday workhorse for daily duties.
VFMWell … the question almost doesn’t need answering. It’s fantastic value for money.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…You won’t find better for the bucks! If it’s a little too ‘sparkly’ for your tastes you could look at the Lamy Safari range or the Faber Castell Basic, but you will have to part with a few more Pounds for these two. It is Christmas soon, however, and for that reason sparkle should always be welcomed!
Our overall recommendationGo for it. Whether you are looking to buy a gift for a friend at Christmas who is starting out, or just looking for a good writing experience in a pen you wouldn’t worry too much about if it was ‘accidentally’ picked up by a colleague or family member.
Where to get hold of oneWe got our models from Cult Pens, who are one of a few on-line retailers here in the UK offering this model.
A little bit ofhistoryWar, according the the Prussian theorist Carl von Clausewitz, is the continuation of diplomacy by other means – and it’s just as well that he created that memorable quote or the idea of a German brand named Diplomat launching a pen shaped like a Zeppelin would seem awfully ironic. Maybe it’s a just a very subtle joke. But the design does make for a highly desirable pen, and when Diplomat tipped us off that they were making a gold nib available, and launching a third colour-scheme for the pen too, we had to fire up the engines.
How it looksLike an iconic Teutonic dirigible with a payload of serious nibbage – and in this case, appearances do not deceive. Seriously though, this is an instantly recognisable design, but still a huge departure from Diplomat’s usual clean, sober business lines. At least one of these has sauntered down the Thames during the test period (without being shot at this time), but it’s probably still fair to say that you’ll either love the design or loathe it. Having said that, we’ve yet to encounter anyone who thinks it’s anything other than massively cool, and that goes for the handsome aluminium box it comes in, too. That matt finish does make it hard to take a decent snap of, though!
How it feelsSturdy, and solid; the body is aluminium all the way. That cap can take a bit of effort to lift off, but then again it does make it less likely to come loose in your pocket. But the grip is quite tactile and the weight is not extreme, by any means. Long writing sessions are comfortable, and despite the showy looks this is still a pen built for real writing. ‘Just the thing for recording notes during those long flights over the Atlantic, then.
How it fillsWith a cartridge or a converter. The supplied converter is well-made and holds enough ink for a typical day in the office.
Crucially, how it writes…This is what Diplomat are famous for; their steel nibs are an advert for steel nibs! We tried every size going and found them all splendiferously smooth. The gold nib (no prizes for guessing which of us bagged that) is a different proposition altogether; it’s still smooth, but it sings while it slides and produces a modest amount of line variation too. All four options came out well in our tests.
Pen! What is it good for?Come on, you have to take this to work, don’t you? Next time some bore is banging on about their new mobile phone, put an Aero into action and watch everyone’s attention wander over to some old-tech. It may be shaped like a bomber but it’s not one for, erm, stealth…
VFMWell, it’s not cheap, and for most of us this will be a pen to save up for. On the strength of this four-person review, we think you’re unlikely to feel disappointed, even if the prices tend to be right at the upper end of what it would be reasonable to pay for a steel nib – usually £100 to £120 (although some very competitive deals are available on-line). We don’t have official UK retail prices for the gold nibbed Aero yet, but our recommendation to retailers would be to avoid a big mark-up; if the price can be kept down to around £150 for the gold nib these ought to fly off the shelves while still making a fair return.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…Then perhaps you shouldn’t don’t buy a fountain pen shaped like a hydrogen-filled balloon. The alternative options include… every other fountain pen ever made! But if you like the Diplomat style generally and those very smooth steel nibs, they do have less airborne designs, some of them for prices down at ground level, too. There is also a pencil variant of the Aero, which they really should have called the Lead Zeppelin, but someone didn’t get the memo (communication breakdown – it’s always the same).
Our overall recommendationHappy Christmas, war is over – spend the peace dividend on one of these! Put it this way; we all purchased one (admittedly with a much-appreciated discount) to carry out this meta-review, and none of us are surrendering ours. If you’ve lusted after one of these for ages and were just waiting the white and brown finishes to be joined by a black version, your wait is over.
Where to get hold of oneCardington Sheds 1 and 2, or failing that, any good pen retailer. Many of our favourite UK pen shops already carry the steel-tipped Aero, and we hope some will start selling the gold-nibbed version soon.
Thanks to The very helpful team at Helit (the company which owns the Diplomat brand) for getting a sample of every nib and every colour to us, just as the black finish was released – and for a little assistance in making the review affordable too.
A little bit ofhistoryIn the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a succession of European countries established footholds in the East Indies, and eventually consolidated to the point that a small island off the coast of one continent ‘owned’ a whole sub-continent half way around the globe. Dark deeds were done. Eventually the mists cleared, and India was left with the aftermath of the old Empire, and there were one or two advantages; the railways, English language, the civil service…. OK, maybe not the civil service, but you get the point – it wasn’t all bad. Then a few decades later, a nice chap from Arkansas was travelling in India and found another curious carry-over; people were still using fountain pens – and making them, too. Kevin was so impressed he set up a business to bring these craftily-created pens to an international audience, and so the Fountain Pen Revolution was fomented. The Jaipur is the latest in the line of FPR specials, and when United Inkdom was asked to put them through their paces we gladly took delivery of several different colours and nibs so that we could test the whole range.
How it looksThe Jaipur is available in two main costumes; business suit or party frock. The plain-coloured version looks suitably formal, and includes an ink window which gives a functional view of what’s in the fuel tank. The demonstrator comes in a range of finishes, all of which shout ‘this is a pen for having fun with’. The two-tone nib pulls off the clever trick of fitting in with either message.
How it feelsThe natural resin is warm and comfortable to the touch – and, like the Noodlers pens, ever so slightly fruity to the nose (but you get used to that pretty quickly). It’s a fairly light pen of a comfortable size for the majority of users.
How it fillsNow here’s a novel thing; these are hand-made piston-fillers. They look like nothing else, and the workings visible in the demonstrator body in particular appear almost organic. If the famed Pelikan is a CD, this is the 78rpm vinyl alternative. But it all works, can be dismantled for cleaning, and holds plenty enough ink. Being made by humans rather than laser-guided robots, the Jaipur can experience the occasional minor leak, so it’s perhaps not going to be our top choice for a pen to take to work – but when used at home, a quick wipe with a tissue is all that’s ever required before getting down to writing.
Crucially, how it writes…Extraordinarily well. The standard round-ended nibs are firm and impressively smooth, and would be a good introduction to the difference a fountain pen makes, should you need to convert anyone languishing in the slough of ballpoint despond. The flex nibs are justly famous as the most affordable flex that money can buy; they produce line variation without enormous effort and no special expertise is required to get started; even some of our reviewers who are not usually flex fans were almost won over!
Pen! What is it good for?This is a seriously affordable pen, so it’s fairly good for beginners (occasional dribbles notwithstanding), and the ink capacity makes it a strong contender for an artist’s pen too. As a low-risk way of trying out a flex nib, it’s unbeatable; the cost is so low that there’s really nothing to lose, and if you’re at all unsure about whether you’ll like it you can ask for a standard firm nib to be included in the package – the feed is a simple friction-fit affair so swapping them is a straightforward operation.
VFMThese pens give you a chance to play, tinker and experiment, to have fun writing and to support sustainable employment in a developing economy, all for about £16. There is really just no reason to quibble – all our reviewers consider the Jaipur brilliant value.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…Have a mooch around the FPR website and size up a few of their other models; there is quite a range, and most offer the same options as regards nibs. With the possible exception of the Noodlers Ahab, for flex enthusiasts, there is little on offer elsewhere which really competes.
Our overall recommendationJust buy one already! If you enjoy getting to know how a fountain pen works, want to give flex a try, or just want something a bit different in the pen-pot, there’s just no reason not to. These are not hi-tech over-produced pens, certainly, but if something does go wrong FPR’s customer service is fast and friendly. Aside from preparing you for a minor ink leak here and there, we really have no reservations!
Thanks to Kevin and the whole family at Fountain Pen Revolution.
Giveaway! Two lucky readers were given a chance to win a Jaipur in the colour of their choice (with their preferred nib, too) in this week’s piston-powered bonus bonanza (is that a tautology?). We asked entrants to drop us a line in the comments box with their wildest ideas about what the next clever product from FPR should be called, and some of them were very creative indeed! We picked two winners – Mike Church and Rai Toffoletto – via random.org on 15 November, and Kevin will get the booty winging its way as soon as we have their delivery details.
A little bit of history One day in the 1920s, Hungarian journalist László József Bíró was musing on the strange properties of newspaper printing ink, which could adhere to any sort of paper and dried quickly. Naturally enough, he tried putting some in a fountain pen, but it gummed up the feed and he got nowhere. So, he tinkered and tweaked and redesigned the old ink pencil with a rotating sphere applicator, and thus the ballpoint was born… and generations of children didn’t learn to write properly. Hey ho, these things happen. Now though, thanks to a bit of a breakthrough from Platinum, we know that Bíró just exercised his admirable creativity in the wrong direction, opting for mechanical engineering when chemical engineering would have done just fine. The Carbon Ink is permanent, fast-drying and writes on almost anything, and Platinum have produced a pen to go with it – which can supposedly withstand any propensity to carboniferously pigmentoid agglomerations (or ‘sticky stuff’ as we call it technically). Three of us decided to put the Carbon Pen to the test.How it looks It’s long; very, very, long. ‘Slim, too. It looks classy with its shiny black barrel and gold accents. Sat in the desk holder (an optional extra) it looks very sophisticated and is, perhaps intentionally, reminiscent of a quill. The included temporary cap, though, is an ugly hexagonal thing which is best disposed of quickly – the best thing that can be said about it is that it’s very functional.
How it feels The Carbon Pen is light and the length makes it sit nicely in the hand. It’s easy enough to hold for long periods of time. You can often feel the nib tackling the texture of the paper too – which can be a mixed blessing, depending upon the purpose you acquire the pen for.
How it fills It’s a proprietary cartridge/converter filler. Although designed with Platinum’s Carbon Ink in mind, get a syringe and there’s nothing to prevent you from using any ink you like.
Crucially, how it writes… We found it a little tricky to actually write with as the extremely fine and very stiff steel nib does provide a lot of ‘feedback’ – which some people like, but wasn’t so much to our tastes. It was a different matter when it came to drawing, though, as the ultra thin line it gives, using waterproof ink, is perfect for ink and watercolour sketching.
Pen! What is it good for? The Platinum Carbon Pen is very good for drawing, but probably not so good for writing a novel. It would be useful for making notes, maybe working out some maths, or other tasks where small writing or precision is important (such as designing fonts, we’ve discovered!). Because it writes on just about anything it can also come in handy in situations where submitting to Mr. Biro’s invention would otherwise be necessary; for example, it writes on glossy wall calendars and can even handle a newspaper crossword.
VFM Oddly, the stand costs more than the pen itself – perhaps on the understanding that the pen unit can be affordably replaced if it does ‘gum up’. But to buy both together shouldn’t set you back much more than £20, and for a pen this unique (and useful) we think that’s quite decent value.
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost… There is not much to compete with this really, at least at this price point. Some of Platinum’s gold-nibbed fountain pens like the #3776 can handle permanent inks, but these cost ten times as much and need very thorough rinsing-through afterwards. If it’s an affordable ultra-fine nib you’re after, the Pilot Penmanship is also worth a look.
Our overall recommendation We feel this is a pen that’s absolutely great for one purpose (sketching and drawing) but not so good for another (writing). It’s a fantastic price, though, and definitely worth considering if you’re after something a little different to add to your artistic arsenal.
Where to get hold of oneCult Pens sent us these review samples and they are one of just a few places in the UK where they can be found. They’re much more commonly available overseas.
A little bit ofhistoryBack in the early twentieth century, there were several great British fountain pen manufacturers, and although debate will rage ad infinitum about who was the greatest, Conway Stewart is usually in most people’s top five or so brands from the period. Like so many famous names of the era, it died a death at least in part due to the ghastly machinations of László Bíró, only to be reborn earlier this century. The reanimated Conway Stewart, based in Devon, could no longer claim to make the ‘all-British pen’ (the nibs were made on the continent), but they certainly turned out a decent range of very attractive writing equipment – ironically including some bodies adapted for the dreaded alternative to a proper pen, but we’ll have to overlook that. The new CS pens were made of a fine range of materials, and this caught the attention of many a fan, but may also have been part of its undoing; lacking an affordable end to its range it was always a high-margin but low-volume business, depending heavily upon exports, and it only took a fluctuation in currency exchange rates for feast to turn to famine. When the reborn brand was wound up last year, a number of enterprising firms bought up machinery, rod stock, and parts for partially-assembled pens, and one of these operators, Bespoke British Pens, has been trickling out a modest but interesting line of cannibalised Conways for the last few months. We couldn’t resist trying one out.
How it looksBig, shiny, solid and posh. Those resins are hard to capture in the camera, but they do reflect the light nicely and that Conway Stewart nib really sets it off to perfection. The only slight drawback may be the simplicity of the nib presentation, which some of our reviewers felt was a little under-ornamented. The union jack etched onto the nib would have pleased Winston, of course, although he may have raised a wry smile to find that (being a Bock) it was made in Germany. Overall, it looks expensive – which it is, really, but we’ll come on to that later.
How it feelsAgain, big – and fairly hefty. Neither was a problem as far as any of our reviewers were concerned; indeed we all found it sat very comfortably in the hand and felt ready for a good long writing session. Some of these pens – but not all – still have Conway Stewart imprints and limited-edition numbers engraved into the barrel.
How it fillsIt’s a piston-filler. The piston in question is essentially a decent captive converter, so the ink capacity is perhaps not as great as that in one of the bigger TWSBIs, for instance, but it takes on enough ink to keep going for a fair while. The piston screw is hidden under a blind cap, which would be all too easy to lose – but it does keep the lines of the pen nicely rounded.
Crucially, how it writes…Not all the spare parts were available in the same quantities, so Bespoke British Pens soon found themselves running out of an essential component – nibs! They seem to have made a virtue out of a crisis here by getting in touch with the original nib suppliers and procuring a unit with longer tines, which makes for a civilised semi-flex performance. It’s not as noodle-soft as the likes of the Pilot FA nib, so it can be used for everyday writing but there’s a decent degree of line variation available when you want it, without requiring too much effort.
Pen! What is it good for?Now, flex isn’t everyone’s favourite thing, and even a rather civilised flex nib like this won’t be too everyone’s taste – indeed, some of our reviewers felt this was a nice pen to play with but really not their bag for keeps. But one of us thought that it deserved a new category: ‘everyday flex’. A serious, big pen with a nib which offers flex but behaves well enough to use for ordinary note-taking and writing is not so easy to find – even if, at this price, you probably won’t want to take it out and about with you often.
VFMThis is a tougher question. At a ticket price of £450 there’s no getting away from it; this is a very expensive pen. We think the materials, the quality of workmanship and the relative scarcity of materials do justify a premium price, although probably more at the £350 level really. Whether you feel it’s worth such a lot of money is, as always, very much a personal matter; it could be good value if it’s your dream pen, but if it’s not all that then you could get two or three good pens for the same money. Of our test panel, two were happy to play with it and pass it on… and one of us smashed the piggy-bank and bought one!
If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…There’s no point splashing out this much if it isn’t absolutely right for you, of course. In truth, the Winston seems to be one of the most popular CS models amongst fountain pen aficionados, but the similarly large Churchill brings a flat-top cap to the collection, and there are several smaller models still available for those who find this a bit unwieldy – all the way down to the diminutive Dandy. If a big, expensive, British pen is on your bucket list but for some reason Conway Stewart doesn’t cut the mustard, Onoto and Yard-o-Led are also still out there – and we’ll get on to reviewing their competing offers in the months ahead if we can find a way to do it.
Our overall recommendationThink before you press the button, as ever. Unfortunately there are few opportunities to try this before purchase, so an honest calculation about your own needs and resources is the order of the day. If you like flex nibs and can sensibly afford one of these (preferably without triggering marital disharmony), go for it; this is quite a pen! If flex isn’t really your thing, or you have any doubts about whether you’ll get enough mileage out of this to justify the cost, be careful.
Where to get hold of oneOther by-products made from salvaged CS components are also available, and if we get our hands on them we’ll review those too. But in the meantime, if you’re after this particular combination with the ‘flag’ flex nib, you’ll need to go directly to Bespoke British Pens.