Tag Archives: fountain pen

Streamline fountain pen review

A little bit of history   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 looks  Like 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 feels  It’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 fills  With 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.

VFM  Most 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 recommendation  If 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 one  From Jake’s Etsy page, or the outer rings of Saturn, whichever is closer to you.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Jake for supplying this extraordinary test sample, which you can win!  To enter, give us a line or two below about your favourite Welsh designer.  By Welsh we mean anyone from the vaguely Brythonic to the ardently Gymraeg, and by design we mean anything from Excalibur to Aneurin Bevan’s underthings – be creative.  The weirdest and most wonderful will be placed in a strangely-shaped hat on the 25th of June, and the prize will then be loaded onto a flying saucer.

 

Kaweco Lilliput fountain pen meta-review

A little bit of history  Are you sitting comfortably? The history here is a quite a long one. When Padraig was kidnapped by pirates and taken to slavery in Ireland – prior to his subsequent visit which, in the long run, elevated him as Saint Patrick – some accounts record that his sister Lupita was carried away with him.  Her life story is obscure indeed, but somehow legends ascribed to or connected with her found their home at the edge of Lough Ennell.  What may have been an isolated area of the now-drained bog at the edge could conceivably been named in shaky Norman French as L’Isle de Lupita, but this too is conjecture; somehow, nevertheless, the name was corrupted to Lilliput.  Many centuries later the Dean of a cathedral – St.Patrick’s Cathedral, as it happens, for in our world all things are connected – was staying by the lake when he looked across and saw tiny figures, diminished by perspective, on the far side of the shore.  According to literary legend, there an idea was born; for that Dean was none other than Jonathan Swift.A little bit more history Jonathan Swift was a rapier-sharp satirist in his time (see ‘A Modest Proposal‘ for his critique of the way some governments behave towards the poor), but his best-known work these days is a rather subtler satire on tribal folly, Gulliver’s Travels.  Lemuel Gulliver’s first port of call, of course, is Lilliput, where the people are astonishingly diminutive – around six inches in height, typically.  If the fountain pen had been available at this point, a good century and a half before its invention, the proportionate writing implement for a true Lilliputian would have been about 1cm in length.  In setting out to make an exceptionally minuscule fountain pen it is greatly to the relief of all diligent scribes that Messrs Koch, Weber and Company of Nuremberg, late of Heidelberg, aspired to virtues beyond mere portability…How it looks  Oh alright, it’s still tiny – just not quite as tiny as that! This simple metal tube (well, simple in most versions, at least) is the smallest serious fountain pen currently in production.  It looks small and, at least in basic black, inconspicuous.  Unscrew the cap, screw it onto the back to extend to the pen’s full length, and it looks a bit more like the pen concept we’re all familiar with.  Then different finishes separate the subtle from the unsubtle; the plain black aluminium gives way to flashy pink and purple versions, encounters with flame-throwers turn the stainless steel version into ‘fireblue’, and the rippled finish of the ‘brass wave’ turns a basic pipe into something which looks like it just fell out of a grandfather clock.  There’s a lot of visual variety for such a small pen.  Oddly, a typographical error misses the third ‘L’ in Lilliput from the barrel imprint, but Swift’s own spelling was so haphazard that he probably wouldn’t mind too much.

How it feels  Did we mention this thing is small?  It really feels it!  For most of our reviewers, the Lilliput is ideal for a light, unobtrusive pocket pen which does a good job of taking quick notes. One of our reviewers found it too small to do anything much with, while another actually wrote an entire examination paper with one.  This is certainly a size and shape which divides opinion quite sharply.

How it fills  There is room for a small international cartridge in the barrel, and that’s all. Kaweco’s new small converter does fit into the section, but with little free space in the barrel the piston cannot be safely pulled far enough to get more than about 0.1ml drawn up, so that’s unlikely to be helpful. Thankfully, a wide range of decent tints are available in cartridge form these days, including all ten of Kaweco’s own inks, and refilling an empty cartridge from a bottle with a syringe is fairly straightforward.

Crucially, how it writes…   As ever, that depends upon the nib you choose.  The Lilliput uses the same nib as most other small-ish Kaweco fountain pens including the Sport, Student, Special and Dia, and the whole nib, feed and collar assembly is a simple screw-fit so you can swap and change to your heart’s content.  The standard steel units are usually pretty good, and if the quality consistency is perhaps not quite as stellar as that achieved by Diplomat and Faber-Castell, the enthusiastic and friendly customer service more than makes up for it; no Kaweco pen owner is left for long without a pen they can use, in our experience. The gold-coloured nibs work similarly well, while the black-painted nibs tend to run a little drier but can be coaxed back into life by refilling with a very wet ink, such as KWZ.  If you really want to go crazy and spend more on a nib than you did on the pen, you can even fit one of the excellent gold nibs – and those are indeed not cheap, but Bock gold is very reliable.

Pen! What is it good for?  For most people, this is a trusty little  stand-by pen to write quick notes with. True eccentrics (sorry, Jam) will write reams with the thing, but it’s a free world and we love the variety!

VFM  This depends upon the finish you go for, and how far it fits your writing style.  The brass wave and ‘fireblue’ versions do take considerable expertise and time to make, and are priced quite reasonably for what they are – but perhaps only represent good value if you are actually going to use them.  The more basic aluminium  versions are incontestably good value as robust but real pocket fountain pens.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…   Buy a bigger pen.  Seriously, there is very little of comparable size and quality in the current market. There are some tiny vintage pens, which you may find if you’re lucky, and some other cheap and rather less durable pocket pens from a few other manufacturers are still around, but if you want an ultra-small pocket fountain pen which will last the distance this is probably the best option.  If you like the minimalist shape of the Lilliput and just want it scaled-up for comfort in the hand, however, you might consider its larger sibling, the Brobdingnag*.

Our overall recommendation  If you have a need for a pocket pen and are determined to avoid the wretched Ballpoints of Blefuscu, Lilliput is the destination for you.  One contributor to this meta-review’s team is returning their sample as too small for their needs, but probably a good half of our bloggers have a Lilliput tucked into a pocket somewhere.  Pick up a friend’s before you buy, test-drive one at a shop, or purchase one from a dealer you can trust to take it back if it’s just too, errm, Lilliputian for you.

Where to get hold of one  Any number of fountain pen specialist sellers – in fact, nearly all of them – carry the Lilliput. However, the purple, pink and champagne versions are only available from Mostwanted Pens.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Kaweco for helping with access to several of the Lilliputs we reviewed – some of which we couldn’t let go of.

*The Brobdingnag is now marketed as the Supra, the original Swiftian soubriquet having proved a little long even for this barrel. ‘Cracking pen, though.

Profile of John Twiss

Meeting-Mr-Twiss

A couple of years after taking early retirement, in search of something to do, John Twiss splurged out on an ancient lathe and some firewood, spent a week “producing some smaller bits of … round firewood”, came across a video of someone making a pen and decided to give it a go himself. That was five years ago and I think it’s safe to say that John is now the UK’s premier maker of handmade custom pens.

John’s based at Sherwood Forest Art and Craft Centre on the edge of that famous and ancient woodland. His studio is full of beautiful pens in every stage of completeness, from blocks of resin, wood or casein to the finished article. He can make pens from almost anything… although he did once turn down a request to create a pen from someone’s brother’s ashes.

Twiss-Patriotic-Acrylic-fountain-pen-cap

John doesn’t use any computer-aided machinery, making all his pens by hand on manual lathes. An individual pen can take up to a few days to make. If you’re interested, and in the Nottinghamshire area, you can stop by to see how it’s done.

Workshop

Although many pre-made pens are available through the website you really need to take advantage of John’s ability to make a pen to your exact requirements, using (almost, see above) any material you like, including Irish Bog Oak or custom-cast resin, in any shape, with or with a clip, using a range of nibs . . . well, you can see how this can get addictive.

 

Twiss-Marmalade-capped

None of this would matter if the finished product wasn’t good but the quality is in fact outstanding. Between us, your United Inkdom correspondents have bought or reviewed upwards of ten Twiss pens and they have all been exceptional.

You can follow John on https://twitter.com/twisspens and browse his  website here.

We will soon be reviewing, and then giving away, a very special handmade Twiss pen, so check back soon for details!

Twiss-Green-Lizard-clip-and-cap

Edison Collier

Edison-Collier-review

A little bit of history Edison Pens is based in Milan, Ohio and was founded in 2007 by Brian and Andrea Gray, in their garage. The company is named after Thomas Edison who was also born in Milan, Ohio and some of their pen models are named after people or locations related to him. They produce a range of ‘Signature Line’ pens which are completely custom made and cover a large range of models, including some unusual and fascinating filling mechanisms. The Collier is part of their ‘Production Line’ range, available in the UK exclusively from The Writing Desk. Production Line pens are more affordable than the Signature Line range but come without customisation options.

How it looks This is a fine-looking pen. Between us we were able to look at the Persimmon Swirl (bought by Rob with his very own money) and the Blue Steel (loaned to us by The Writing Desk). Both acrylics are gorgeous. The shape is both original and classic – a tough combination to pull off.

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How it feels The barrel is quite wide but tapers to a much slimmer section. This makes for a pen that’s very comfortable in the hand, particularly as it combines both a light weight and good length. It doesn’t really post. (It’s possible but a little precarious.)

How it fills It’s a standard cartridge/converter pen but it’s possible to use it as an eye-dropper too. If you choose the latter option you can fill it with enough ink to last a lifetime.

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Crucially, how it writes… The Collier uses a JoWo nib engraved with Edison’s bulb/nib logo. We were able to try out a few different steel nibs and they were all lovely (although one needed a little adjustment first). JoWo make great steel nibs but if gold is your thing, then that’s an option on the Collier too.

Edison-Collier-nib-and-shaped-section

Pen! What is it good for? Whatever you want, really. It’s a pen that would look great adorning your desk but it’s a pen that’s been made to be used.

VFM This isn’t a cheap pen but it’s been made to a high standard. You’re getting a pen that’s been made to custom-pen quality but at a much-reduced cost, which in our eyes makes the Collier good value.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost… If the Collier is almost your perfect pen but not quite then it might be worth looking into Edison’s ‘Signature Line’ and customising the basic model to make it exactly what you want. Alternatively Edison have a couple of other models available in the ‘Production Line’ range.

Our overall recommendation We love this pen! It writes well, looks beautiful and is made with obvious care and attention to detail.

Where to get hold of one If you’re in the UK then The Writing Desk is the only place you can get one. If you’re elsewhere then Edison has a list of distributors on their website.

This meta-reviews references:

136 Edison Collier

Thanks to The Writing Desk for giving us the opportunity to try out this pen. None of us wanted to send it back!

Yard-O-Led Viceory Grand Victorian Fountain Pen

nib and cap 2

A little bit of history  Yard-O-Led have been making writing instruments, primarily of the mechanical pencil persuasion, since 1822. Although fountain pens are a relatively recent development, all that experience and craftsmanship counts for a lot. We wrote a profile of Yard-O-Led quite recently.

The pen, and the box it comes in

How it looks  Oh my goodness this is a fine looking pen. All of the almost 200 years of knowledge has gone into the designing and the crafting of this pen. The cap and barrel are made from hallmarked sterling silver and the pattern is painstakingly applied by hand. The effect is one of the utmost quality that celebrates the heritage of the company. This is a pen that looks as if it has been around for a hundred years and feels as if it will be around for a hundred more.

Yard-O-Led-Grand-Viceroy-Victorian-hallmark

How it feels  This is not a light pen; it’s made from solid silver after all. However the balance is such that it doesn’t feel too heavy in the hand. Silver is quite a warm metal, too. There’s more than comfort though – when you hold this pen, the size (it’s big) and the weight combine to the overall feeling of quality. The section is metal, of course, which doesn’t suit everyone, but its contour aids grip and reduces the likelihood of slipperiness.

Yard-O-Led-Grand-Viceroy-Victorian-cap

How it fills  It’s a standard international cartridge/converter affair. The supplied converter isn’t anything special but is perfectly functional.

nib and cap

Crucially, how it writes…  The rhodium-plated 18k nib is firm and very smooth. Between us we’ve been able to try all three of the available options (fine, medium and broad) and have enjoyed them all.

Yard-O-Led screenshot

Pen! What is it good for?   This is not a pen for throwing in your pocket when you’re off to the beach. It is a pen to keep and cherish and use and pass on to your favourite child to keep and cherish and use and pass on again. It’s a pen to appreciate and admire.

VFM  This is a very expensive pen. It’s impossible to say definitively whether it offers value for money or not. The important question is: is this pen worth it to you? We all feel the same: we would buy this pen in a moment, if we had the money.hallmarks2

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Yard-O-Led make two smaller (the pocket and the standard) pens too, if you love this design but would prefer something less…grand… (and a little more affordable, relatively speaking).  There are also one or two other purveyors of silver fountain pens starting to come onto the market which we hope to explore in coming months.

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Our overall recommendation  This is a gorgeous pen. It’s a work of art  which is also wonderful to write with. If you are in the market for a pen to last for generations, this is a pen you should seriously consider.

Where to get hold of one  From some of your favourite online stockists or direct from Yard-O-Led themselves.

whole pen

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to Yard-O-Led for giving us the opportunity to try out this pen. None of us wanted to send it back, so we’re glad they trusted us!

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Dex big ‘soft’ pens

A little bit of history  The Pen Shop have been going since 1858 or thereabouts, but it didn’t quite take that long to produce this meta-review.  In fact, we’ve already reviewed the younger sibling of the Dex and it passed with flying colours, so to follow-up the Pen Shop profile from last week it was the natural place to go next.

How it looks  Nicely rounded.  It’s a straightforward, simple and pretty classic shape.  So it immediately competes with the styling of many popular pens, and that’s a good thing – it looks like a fountain pen ought to.    The body is made by Helit, who own the Diplomat brand – so they know their stuff.

Dex acid green

How it feels  Warm and nicely textured; it’s light plastic, and not especially squishy but it does indeed feel fairly ‘soft’.Ruth's pink Dex

How it fills  This is one of those designs which takes two small ‘international’ cartridges, and indeed two are provided with each pen – but it will also thandle a converter quite comfortably.  NB long Waterman cartridges have a bit of a habit of getting stuck.

Crucially, how it writes…  Tucked-away into that plain black section is a Bock nib, and the standard M is a real treat, as you’d expect from the same stable as Diplomat really.  It readily competes with any other similarly-priced starter pen, and at least two of our reviewing team have had one ‘borrowed’ by our better halves because it wrote so nicely.  F, B italic and left-handed nibs are also available, but at the moment only in person at Pen Shop branches – a bit less convenient, but it does make it easier to make sure you get a nice smooth one again.  A prototype purple nib also came our way; there’s no word yet on whether that’s joining the range, but it’s getting lots of attention already.  There’s also a left-handed nib (presumably known as the Sin).

F and M nibs side-by-side

Pen! What is it good for?   We’re often asked (particularly via the Fountain Pens UK Facebook group) for starter pen recommendations, and usually the same two stand-by solutions come up; the Lamy Safari and the Pilot MR (or Metropolitan, in some markets). But this as Rob pointed out in his comprehensive review (link below), that’s a hotly-contested niche, and to it we now need to add the Dex.  The standard Dex M nib is impressively smooth, it looks good and is uncomplicated to use, it’s cheaper by far than the MR, and unlike the Safari uses cartridges which are available everywhere.  That’s not to say that the other two are bad pens – far from it – but this is arguably a safer, and more interesting, place to start.  The Dex is robust enough to put up with some demanding professional purposes, too – and has been seen marking huge piles of homework, for instance.

VFM  The big Dex is extremely good value for money at £12, and exceeds in quality anything you’re likely to find in a high street stationery shop for that sort of money. It’s not a luxury pen, of course, and you may find the odd bit of extruded plastic which needs smoothing-off or even, very occasionally, a less than perfect nib, but the key strength is that despite being a budget pen it’s backed up by strong customer service; if you’re unlucky and a duffer gets through, The Pen Shop just whizz into action and replace it without further ado.  The range of colours has something for all tastes, and to get a good Bock nib at this price is definitely not to be sneezed at.

A prototype Uber-Dex with metal section (borrowed from the Manuscript Master) and experimental purple nib

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Well, if the medium-sized proportions of the Dex by Kingsley Plum Smooth Soft Fountain Pen don’t appeal – even if it takes the best part of a week to say the name out loud – you could try the shorter Dex by Kingsley Purple Compact Soft Fountain Pen.  The names could perhaps do with some shortening too, but essentially it’s the same proposition in a slightly more compact body.  If you like either size of Dex but fancy a different nib, work is under way to make that possible, we’re told; it’s a pity that swaps can only be carried-out at Pen Shop shops at the moment, but on the plus side at least there’s no extra charge for the service.

Our overall recommendation  For this money, you can’t go wrong really.  For the person in your life who finds your interest in fountain pens hard to understand, this is a simple way to reel them in.

Where to get hold of one  From a branch of The Pen Shop, their website or the new Penwrite project, where there’s an introductory 10% discount offer at the moment.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to Hannah and Louise at The Pen Shop for getting some Dex samples out to us.

If you’d like to win one then Ian put together a tempting ‘starter kit’ including both sizes of Dex, with double the chance of winning by leaving comments before here and there. That competition has now closed, but Ruth is also giving one away  via her Instagram channel!

Pelikan M120 fountain pen review

A little bit of history  This special edition harks back half a century, apparently to a school pen originally.  It won’t be around for too long, we suspect…

How it looks  It looks distinctly vintage, which is probably the intention.  One for those who prefer understated class rather than in-your-face bling, for sure, but it does stand out from modern designs.Pelikan M120 profile

How it feels  Based on the M200 (from which it borrows its mechanicals and proportions), this is a very light pen, even when full of ink.  It still feels fairly robustly constructed, nevertheless.  This is a small pen in terms of length, which also has an unusually narrow section; whether that’s desirable is very much a matter of personal taste.

How it fills  This is fitted with Pelikan’s rightly famed piston mechanism, which shouldn’t raise any concerns.  In an emergency, you can also unscrew the nib and pour in some ink from syringe or pipette, eyedropper-style.  The barrel holds enough for everyday purposes, and includes an ink window so there’s adequate warning when you’re running low.

Pelikan-M120-ink-window

Crucially, how it writes…  Well enough, for most.  This is a gold-plated steel nib with some rather nice engraved squiggles on it, and it has a bit of ‘bounce’ as well as the usual Pelikan smoothness.  The unit we tested doesn’t always work happily with all inks, and even some of Pelikan’s own ink was a bit dry.

Pen! What is it good for?   Vintage enthusiasts, we imagine, and especially those who aren’t concerned about getting a gold nib and want something which looks distinctly different from many modern pens.M120 RuthVFM  £120 is not too bad for an unusual and well-made pen like this, we think.  It’s possible to get a piston-filling fountain pen with a gold nib for the same sort of money, it’s true, but it’s unlikely to have quite these distinctive looks.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Buy it anyway – there’s very little immediate competition, other than vintage Pelikans.Pelikan M120 writing sampleOur overall recommendation  If this floats your boat, don’t delay – it looks unlikely to be around for ever.  But if you just want a small Pelikan and would rather not pay quite so much, a standard M200 is also worth considering.

Where to get hold of one  Pelikan specials go to Pelikan specialists.  As Pure Pens lent us this test unit, naturally enough we’d suggest that as a first port of call.  We know that The Writing Desk, Cult Pens and Andy’s Pens also have M120s in too – although at the time of writing one of these retailers had already run out stock!Pelikan-M120-nibThis meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Pure Pens for lending us the M120 – they still have just a few left.