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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A little bit ofhistoryYard-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.
How it looksOh 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.
How it feelsThis 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.
How it fillsIt’s a standard international cartridge/converter affair. The supplied converter isn’t anything special but is perfectly functional.
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.
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.
VFMThis 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.
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.
Our overall recommendationThis 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.
A little bit ofhistoryThe 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 looksNicely 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.
How it feelsWarm and nicely textured; it’s light plastic, and not especially squishy but it does indeed feel fairly ‘soft’.
How it fillsThis 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).
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.
VFMThe 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.
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 recommendationFor 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 oneFrom a branch of The Pen Shop, their website or the new Penwrite project, where there’s an introductory 10% discount offer at the moment.
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!
A little bit ofhistoryThis 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 looksIt 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.
How it feelsBased 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 fillsThis 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.
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.VFM£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.Our overall recommendationIf 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 onePelikan 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!This meta-reviews references: