Tag Archives: meta-review

Montegrappa Fortuna Rainbow fountain pen review

A little bit of history  The ancient Italian art of distilling pomace brandy is so deeply ingrained in the culture of the Veneto that there is even a town named after it, Bassano del Grappa, and here in 1912 a pen firm was founded. Montegrappa has been through interesting times since, including a period under dubious corporate parentage (which they now seem to have escaped from) and an unintentionally hilarious collaboration with Sylvester Stallone, but is now one of a number of European ‘luxury’ manufacturers. We’ve been meaning to get around to reviewing one of their fountain pens for a while, but they didn’t want to help so we had to wait until someone bought one. Then this happened:

How it looks  Yes, that is rather colourful, isn’t it? ‘Terrifically well-packaged, too.

How it feels  Large-ish, but still comfortable enough.

How it fills  With a cartridge, or a converter, one of which was provided with this pen – but it was broken. Lose a mark, Monty.

Crucially, how it writes…  Here we had rather different views, ranging from ‘OK’ to outright damnation. It just goes to show how individual our writing experience can be.

Pen! What is it good for?  Staring at lovingly, brandishing on a Pride march, or pointing admiringly at rainbows. It’s not, honestly, the absolute tops for writing though – at least not in its standard form.

VFM Even if you really love the material, £230 for a mass-produced pen with a steel nib is pretty much indefensible. If you can find it on special offer, as the owner of this very pen did at TK Maxx, then you might be more tempted at around £130 – still a lot for a pen without even a trace of gold dust, but moderately less absurd.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Get one as cheaply as you can and fit a better nib – it’s a #6, so there are plenty of options. Alternatively, ask a custom pen maker to find you some similarly full-spectrum material.

Our overall recommendation  If you love the look, and can find it on special offer, go for it – then switch to a JoWo or Bock business end.

Where to get hold of one  If you want to spend £230 on this steel-nibbed pen – and, admittedly, get a pashmina thrown-in to the deal – then try Andy’s Pens.

This meta-review references:

 

 

Kaweco Deep Red AL Sport fountain pen review

A little bit of history  If you’re a regular reader, you probably already know that we’re quite keen on the Kaweco Sport. It’s a classic design, and works well in a bewilderingly wide range of different materials. Between the mighty heft of the steel and brass versions, and the featherweight lightness of the plastic entry-level models, the pen is also available in sturdy, solid yet far from unwieldy aluminium – and when this Deep Red version hit the shops, we had to give it a go. Kaweco very kindly let us play with the fountain pen along with its mechanical pencil cousin.

How it looks  Very deep red, matt, lustrous and slightly shiny. Paired with the pencil and popped into a ‘chilli red’ sleeve, it looks irresistibly good.

How it feels  Light but tactile. Unless you specifically prefer heavier pens like the brass Sport (as some of us do!), this is a good mid-point on the mass spectrum.

How it fills  As with all Sports this is a straightforward short international cartridge number. There is a converter, and it does work, but the fluid capacity is so limited that investing in a syringe is often the best tactic for long-term cohabitation with this petite performer. The pencil takes 0.7mm lead, and there’s plenty of that around.Crucially, how it writes…  We rather decadently dropped a gold nib into the test pen, and it wrote very nicely; not much springiness, but just a touch of softness. The standard nibs are getting better these days, too!

Pen! What is it good for?  This is one for showing off with, and why not? It gets a lot of envious looks …

VFM  Middling, honestly.  At around £60 this is not a cheap pen, and it will probably cost you more than that on top to get the gold nib. Having said that, this is not a crazily overpriced pen either.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  One of the hundred or so other Sport finishes might well be. Have a browse…

Our overall recommendation  If you’re taken with this finish, get one while you can; although we think it’s excellent, it was a special edition so it may not be available forever.

Where to get hold of one  Kaweco has a good dealership network and the pen and pencil aren’t too difficult to find from your retailer of choice. To get the whole set, with pouch and gold nib, may take a more specialist seller, and for that our tip is to try Most Wanted.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Kaweco for the rather tempting review sample pack; our calligrapher couldn’t bear to let it go!

Fa Vo notebooks

A little bit of history  Fa Vo is a brand that is new to the scene and originates from Portugal (the name means “honeycomb” in Portuguese). The company’s stated mission is to produce simplistic designs that are not just well priced but also environmentally friendly, and we first came across them at the London Stationery Show last April.

How it looks  This is very much a plain, no-nonsense presentation. From a distance the notebooks look fairly standard and plain, but the real magic is when you get up close to them and notice the minute details, like the lie-flat sewn binding. It’s also been noted that the small grains you see in the notebook (we’ve been sent the “vanilla” flavour colour) gives the notebook character.

How it feels  Initially it would appear that the notebook would have a slight rough texture to it, but the cover is very smooth. Oddly enough, even though made from recycled paper, the pages themselves are smooth – definitely more textured than the likes of Rhodia, but smoother than is typical for recycled paper.

Crucially, how it handles a fountain pen…  As previously mentioned, the notebook uses recycled paper – so what you’re getting isn’t going to be akin to the great writing experience of, say, Clairefontaine. However, it was pleasantly surprising, because for recycled paper this did quite well. We noticed some bleed and minor show-through, but we could also see some shading and a slight amount of sheen on certain tests. So it’s reassuring that the writing won’t look ‘flat’ and without dimension on the page.

Pulp! What is it good for?  This is the perfect notebook for throwing in a bag and using on the go. Great if you want something bigger than a pocket notebook, but without breaking the bank or getting something too fancy that you would be worried about getting scuffed up. It also handles graphite very well indeed, so it has plenty of potential as a small portable sketchbook or design workbook.

VFM You can pick this up for £11, which isn’t bad. You get a well-made notebook that handles ink well, looks good and doesn’t break the bank. Further to this, you get 140 pages (front and back, so 70 individual), which makes it come in at under £0.08 a page (a Leuchtturm 1917 would be £0.06, for reference).

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  It depends what you’d like more or less of.  If it’s the design aspect then Paperblanks might be what you want, if it’s paper quality then it’s probably Clairefontaine, Tomoe River or the Madefor.ink range that we’d point you to first.

Our overall recommendation  Thumbs-up from us; a good book for working in.

Where to get hold of one  We got ours from Nero’s Notes, and they’re also available direct from FaVo, on Etsy and more recently from Cult Pens too.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Nero’s Notes for the review samples

Lamy Aion fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Lamy is a staple name in the pen community. They have the entry-level fountain pen market well-covered with the Al-Star and Safari, bringing out annual releases of those in different colours (as well as some highly coveted inks). They also have the starter gold nib niche covered with the Lamy 2000, a Bauhaus design from the 1960s which has barely changed since its conception; a real workhorse of a pen. Now we are graced with a mid-level offering from the German giants…but how does it compare?

Aion writing sample2

How it looks Daniel sees this as a “budget Lamy 2000”, while Scribble describes it as “modern – in a Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 sense”. However you see it, this pen is a sleek, business-appropriate pen while still remaining attractive enough that you’d be tempted to use it even at home. The pen currently comes in two options of black and silver, but Lamy are shaking things up in the not-too-distant future by adding dark blue and red flavours to the Aion line-up, which will give it the feeling of something a bit more fun and not as serious (or business-y), as is the case with the Lamy Al-Star and Safari pens.

How it feels This pen seemed to be quite polarising for our pool of reviewers. Scribble wasn’t too taken by the way the pen feels in the hand and had an issue with the grip section, pointing out nevertheless that how one grips a pen is a very personal thing. The pen has a coating on it that gives it a really interesting texture. Perhaps this is one you might want to try in the flesh, or certainly from a reputable retailer who’ll accept returns (make sure not to ink the pen, however!).

How it fills This is a cartridge/converter pen. Lamy have their own range of cartridges, and Monteverde also make cartridges that fit Lamy pens. You will have to use brand-specific as the filling mechanism is proprietary (so you can’t use standard international converters either). This is an irritation which we think Lamy could easily rectify by supplying a converter as a standard part of the package.

Crucially, how it writes…  While the feel of the barrel was polarising, we all agreed that this pen wrote well. The nib itself may not offer all that much in terms of aesthetic, but it does its job, and it does it well. Sometimes Lamy nibs can be hit-or-miss, but we were able to sample more than one of these pens and none of us ran into any problems (even with the finer nib grades). The nibs can also be swapped with Lamy Safari/Al-Star nibs if you prefer their more angular design to the Aion nib’s rounded profile.

Pen! What is it good for? This certainly has a business feel to it. Created by British designer Jasper Morrison, the aesthetic is something to be admired. As mentioned earlier, with the new colours that are finding their way into the market (and hopefully more in the future) this could be an interesting pen to collect, as well as giving it a more light-hearted feel. For now, though, this is a pen to take to work.

Aion writing sample3

VFM This pen comes in at £47 – so it could be seen as either a “budget 2000” or, perhaps, an “upmarket Safari”. Our view is that this is a fair price for a well-built, functional pen, although we do think it would be reasonable to expect a converter to be included at this point.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost… Lamy already have pens in the ‘affordable’ niche. This pen comes in at £47, which makes it trickier to evaluate because not too many pens are in this range. There is of course the TWSBI Eco which will save you £20 and gives you a piston filler and demonstrator design, or for the same price you could get a TWSBI 580. If you want something a bit more “fun” then you could always go for the Lamy Al-Star/Safari range and find something more suited to you there.

Our overall recommendation A thumbs-up from the United Inkdom crew, generally! Initially several of us were rather sceptical about the pen; Ant even thought it a boring offering until he tried it. But it writes well, looks distinctive and feels good if you have big hands. While this might be one that you want to try in the flesh, it may be worth the risk by pulling the trigger anyway.

Where to get hold of one Any of your favourite pen retailers are likely to have this, especially if they’re already supplying the lower-end Lamy pens.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Lamy HQ for providing an Aion for three of us to test (the other two bought their own).

Nettuno 1911

A little bit of history Nettuno 1911 (named after Neptune – a God of the Sea) are beautifully hand-crafted Itanian fountain pens, made in Bologna under the supervision of Nino Marino – a former president of the famous Delta Pen Company. Nettuno pens have a very long history originating  in the last century and perhaps Nettuno as a brand was one of the first (if not the first) fountain pen companies established in Italy.  One of their advertisements from 1911 showed Neptune holding the fountain pens as if they were his iconic trident; the model for the company’s logo was based on a famous statue of Neptune in Bologna. The 1911 series celebrates the Italian heritage of the reborn Nettuno brand.

How it looks  The finish of the Nettuno 1911 models we tested is called Tritone. It features a pearlescent shimmering silvery grey resin body with grip section and finials made from dark blue resin. These are complemented with rhodium accents. On the cap there are three polished bands whereas the barrel contains two wider rings, with the relief patterns of arched windows referring to ancient Roman architecture. These bands are made from the same metal as the clip and have a matte texture. The finial on the cap has a metal ring with a wave pattern. The pen is equipped with a rhodium-plated steel nib.

The ornaments on the nib are rather minimalist, but effective. There is a large stylised capital ‘N’ from the Nettuno logo left on the etched, matte-textured surface, which matches nicely with the other trims present on the barrel. All parts are very well-made, with real attention to detail; the resin elements, for instance, are nicely smooth with a glossy finish.  The Nettuno 1911 Tritone is a very elegant fountain pen indeed. 

The Nettuno 1911 comes in a black cardboard sleeve and aesthetically pleasing presentation box. The box is rather unusual; a beautifully printed cover lid has to be rotated around a pin to open it, while an elastic band keeps lid and the box tightly closed . Each pen is numbered but not limited. The Netunno 1911 collection consista of ten different models currently available . The type of resin, finish and trim colour and nib coating vary from one model to another.

How it fills The Nettuno 1911 uses a threaded converter, which can be accessed via the ‘blind cap’ on the barrel (which gives access to the converter knob). Because the cartridge converter is screwed into the section, it stays in place during refilling. This is a simple but quite effective solution which effectively produces a captured converter filling solution – much like a piston mechanism, in use.

How it feels Despite its fair weight (36g capped), the Netunno 1911 feels comfortable in the hand. We found its weight to be balanced, but if you lean more towards light-weight Japanese pens (e.g. Sailor or Pilot) then the Nettuno 1911 may feel a little on the heavy side.  The step on the barrel/section as well as the threads are rather smooth, but the deeply-etched trim may became noticeable during longer writing sessions, especially to those who tend to hold pens on the upper part of the grip section. Theoretically the pen can be used with the cap posted, although this makes it too heavy and unbalanced in our view.

Crucially, how it writes…  The fitted steel nib writes well, and the writing experience we all had was positive. This nib is not quite as rigid as might often be expected from steel. There is a decent amount of springiness which enhances the overall writing experience. The model we tested was equipped withe a medium nib. If pressed gently,  some line variation may be achieved but with regular pressure the line width is rather consistent. Interestingly,  we have noticed some small problems with the ink flow which manifested as occasional ‘skipping’, which may be attributable to many things including ink properties, paper quality, etc. It may be just this unit, too. Overall, the Nettuno 1911 writes well, but on the other hand there is nothing really special and exciting about this nib either.

Pen! What is it good for?The Netunno 1911 is definitely a pen to have on the table during important business meetings. It looks elegant and shows its class. It is definitely a good ‘general use’ fountain pen, including for note taking, but perhaps not ideal as a daily, ‘all task work-horse’ pen. For those purposes it should have exceptionally good ink flow, be very ergonomic and perhaps lightweight too – and here the emphasis is a bit more upon show. There is, however, plenty that owners will want to show.

VFM £219.00 feels quite expensive for a pen with a humble steel nib; for this price many customers would expect either a full piston-filling mechanism and/or a gold nib. The nib size is unfortunately limited to western medium (M) and fine (F) only. However, the Nettuno 1911 Tritone is very well-built and the materials used are great quality too. The overall design is quite distinctive with great attention to detail, especially as regards trims.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  If this particular design is not not to your taste but you still fancy a beautiful Italian pen which performs well albeit for significantly less money, then the Leonardo Officina Italiana Momento Zero or Furore may be worth a look.

Our overall recommendation  If you are looking for an interesting well-made pen with a characteristic themed design then the Nettuno 1911 could be a good choice. The craftsmanship and choice of materials are excellent, giving this pen a premium feel.  Beautiful and somehow unique presentation enhances its ‘high street’ appearance. However, if writing experience is more important to you than the aesthetics then there are many significantly less expensive pens equipped with good quality steel nibs out there. 

Where to get hold of one Nettuno 1911 is available in the UK from iZods Ink who are the official Nettuno 1911 official retailer. The price tag on this pen and other models in the series is £219.99.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Roy at Izods for sending us this pen to play with.

Manuscript Lettering Pencil

A little bit of history:  The Manuscript Pen Co Ltd are based in Shropshire, where they have been producing nibs and calligraphy pens since 1856. Despite their vintage they evidently love coming up with new products and this holder with interchangeable leads set is one of their latest.

manuscript pack

How it looks:  The big pack arrives in one of those tricksy-to-open plastic blisters, packed with everything that you need to get cracking on your pencil calligraphy; a lead-holder, five different lead colours (including graphite) for you to play with and a nifty glass ‘sharpener’ to help you keep a good edge on your leads. There’s also a more select pack for those who just want a lead-holder and some italic graphite.

Crucially, how it writes:  Uniquely! When have you ever seen big wide italic lead before? It takes some getting used to, and perhaps as a factor of the rectangular manufacturing  process the graphite/crayon is remarkably hard. While our reviewers had fun with it and it DOES work, some felt that their own calligraphy skills were not good enough to show the product off to its best advantage. The coloured lines produced were quite faint. So, while it could be fun for kids, a concern might be whether the results will look smart enough to encourage them to take calligraphy further. However, a good calligrapher could create something special with this.

scribble.jpg

Lead! What is it good for? It’s an innovative product that offers a less messy way for beginners to try their hand at calligraphy. It could be especially fun for children and using the coloured leads instead of inks means that parents can relax without worrying about their soft furnishings being ruined.  In the hands of a good calligrapher, the results from this pack could be a contemporary blend of the rustic and the stylish.

manuscript colour

VFM: At the moment, a version of this product can be purchased from John Lewis for £20.00. We think that’s quite steep for a pencil, but also not crazy money for a product as unusual as this.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost: then why not try calligraphy with an ordinary pencil? Any pencil that is blacker, rather than harder (ie B rather than H) will be fun to try calligraphy with. Try anything from 2B to 5B or maybe 6B. But watch out for smudges! The softer the lead, the more smudges you can make, so protect your paper as you work. Or just let the kids go crazy – the choice is yours!

Alternatively, it is possible to buy the italic leads on their own from Manuscript direct, and they should work with any 5.6mm lead-holder you already have.

Our overall recommendation:  The Manuscript Calligraphy Lettering Pencil is a fun and innovative product for a style of writing that has remained popular for hundreds of years.  In the hands of a good calligrapher it could perform marvels – but we think caution is advised for beginners, as if your lettering skills aren’t that wonderful, the initial results may leave you less than enthusiastic to pursue calligraphy further.

See our reviewers’ individual reviews:

Nick Stewart’s CMYK fountain pen ink blending kit

A little bit of history  Nick Stewart is a creative designer, artist, calligrapher and educator from historic Rochester, on the Thames estuary in Kent. Nick also actively contributes to United Inkdom. As an artist he is very passionate about inks, especially their chromatic properties, breaking down all possible hues and tonal ranges present in any ink he works with. He has tested hundreds and hundreds of inks which allowed him to understand how they are made and what factors are affecting specific properties. There is a hint of alchemy in his work, especially when Nick experiments with bleach to test how the destructive process which results can create something new and exciting.

Nick has been working closely with Britain’s best-known fountain pen ink manufacturer to design his own custom-made inks, and we have already reviewed the first result, the beautiful Randall Blue-Black ink. Recently, he also came up with set of four mixable inks which mimic the CMYK colour model which many of us know better from printers. By blending them together, with specific ratios, the whole range of secondary and tertiary colours can be obtained. The idea was to create inks which generate a wide enough palette of colours that anyone can simply take them for a journey in a rucksack along with an art journal or watercolour paper pad. In principle it works in the same way as the simple watercolour sets you can find in any art shop and blend together using water. Because the majority of inks are made using dyes, the properties and final effects are different from those which pigment-based paints generate and are an interesting alternative to them.

How it looks  Nick’s set contains four independent 30ml inks. The intended purpose is to blend them together to obtain new colours, but each ink can be used separately as a stand-alone fountain pen ink. The colours available in the set are: Berber Blue (C), Desert Rose (M), Yellow Dune (Y) and Twilight Black (K). These are not ‘pure’ CMYK colours, and each ink has its own unique characteristics. However, when mixed together they still create a full range of secondary and tertiary colours.

How it mixes For drawing, probably the best way to mix and blend inks together would be to use small portable paint trays, as  employed by artists for watercolour or acrylic paints. The only problem is to figure out the best way of taking small amounts (or even drops) of each ink from the set bottles and transferring these to the mixing tray. With watercolour and acrylic paints it’s easy enough, since these are often available in small tubes or as solid blocks. Picking the ink directly from the bottle using a brush might not be the best idea; it would be very easy to cross-contaminate (unless you use several brushes).  Pouring inks directly from the bottle may be risky, and cause splattery surprises. Plastic pipettes (or little eyedroppers) seem to be ideal for this, although you’ll need to carry a few of them. In future, we think it might be a good idea to make the set available with small eyedroppers mounted directly on the cap.

All four inks mix nicely together, and if necessary they can be easily diluted with water. For watercolour paper it’s helpful to apply thin layer of water as a medium, so the inks will flow better on the paper. Water brushes are also good for blending and washes.

Crucially, how it writes…  All four inks are very good quality. They flow well in fountain pens and the overall writing experience is pleasant. We have not noticed any unnecessary bleeding through, ghosting or feathering. As expected, the same observations apply for custom-mixed inks made with this set.

Ink! What is it good for?  These are multi-purpose inks. The primary purpose of any fountain pen ink is writing, of course; all four base colours are nice on their own, but why not to create your unique combination of colours simply by experimenting and mixing base inks together as you like? However, the secret trick this set has appears as soon as they are diverted to use in painting and illustration – they blend well and the resulting colours are well-saturated and vivid. These inks are also water-soluble, so can be used for washes too.

VFM  The set is available for £20, which looks like decent value to us. You get four 30ml inks which are high quality in their own right and work very well with fountain pens, brushes and almost any other media you can find. Once you figure out how to mix them to obtain your preferred custom colours, this much ink should last quite a while.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Blending colours is great fun and even if you don’t feel you have bags of artistic skill or unsure about the theory of colour mixing, you should definitely give it a go.  Experimenting with colours is fascinating and maybe accidentally (magically) you will create the favourite ink colour you have always been searching for. Who knows? Try it and let the magic happen!

Our overall recommendation If you are illustrating, journalling or drawing when travelling and if you like different mixed-media to create art, then Nick’s ‘CMYK’ set is designed for you. If mixing colours doesn’t immediately sound like your cup of tea, we’d say you’re missing out. Take a leap and try it!

Where to get hold of some  The set of CMYK inks is available directly from Nick Stewart’s website where you can find all the details. 

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Nick himself for getting some samples out to us.

Inventery modular fountain pen review

A little bit of history  No-one’s quite sure when and where the concept of modular design first arose. Architecture has a fairly strong claim to being the founding school, and Brunel’s prefabricated hospitals created for despatch to the Crimea get frequent mentions, but the Norman prefabricated castles shipped over the Channel in 1066 shared many characteristics and, as you won’t be surprised to hear that the Romans had thought of something similar, the essentials of the concept are there in Vitruvius too. What perhaps is surprising is that it’s taken this long to take hold in the fountain pen world. So American firm The Inventery got on with making up for lost time, and sent us one or two to check out.

How it looks  Like a short plain tube or a slightly longer plain tube, depending upon whether you choose to install the extender section. The shape is otherwise fairly featureless, but there’s a fair range of materials and finishes, from plain aluminium and matt black to shiny brass.

How it feels  Small, to be direct about it.  Unextended, it’s just about long enough for brief use as long as the cap is posted. With the extender fitted, it’s long enough to use like a standard pen, but a little top-heavy with the cap posted.How it fills The ‘pocket’ configuration will fit only a small international cartridge, but the extended version has space for a proper twist converter.

Crucially, how it writes…  Tolerably. The small steel Schmidt nib is nothing fancy, but does the job adequately enough as long as you’re not after flex or flair. There is also a rollerball tip in the pack, if you’re into that sort of thing –  which, seeing as you’re reading a fountain pen website, is less than guaranteed, but moving swiftly on…Pen! What is it good for?  It’s good for, depending upon your point of view, customisers who like to regularly reconfigure and re-invent their pocket pen, or for terminally indecisive fidgets!

VFM  This is probably not Inventery’s strongest point, at least when it comes to fountain pens. There are plenty of surplus attachments in the kit to play with, but once you have found the formula which works for you the chances are that you’ll stick with it – and that inevitably means that there will be waste. Waste can be expensive, too; for what this admittedly curious and interesting combo costs, you could get one of the solid metal versions of Kaweco’s proven Sport and be most of the way to acquiring a high-quality gold nib for it too.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Try some different shapes and sizes of fountain pen and, when you find one which you like enough to put it in your pocket straight away, buy that.

Our overall recommendation Is to think carefully about why you’re contemplating buying this. If it’s a present for someone who perhaps isn’t a huge pen addict but really enjoys dismantling and rebuilding things, it might go down very well. If you’re a fountain pen aficionado, though, we’d say that this is fun and interesting, but maybe not a high-priority purchase.

Where to get hold of one  Direct from Inventery is simplest. Alternatively, we’ll be giving away one of the kits we tested as part of our Yule frenzy, which is only a few months away after all – so keep watching!

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Inventery for sending us some samples to test.

 

 

BeNu Friendly Chameleon fountain pen review

A little bit of history  Based in Moscow, Benu burst into the pen scene last year with a range of striking designs. When they offered us one to try, we said да!

 

How it looks  The Friendly Chameleon itself is indeed very striking. The barrel is a squared off triangle, with a matching cap. The resin is beautiful with a whole lot of shimmer and sparkle. It truly is chameleon-like, changing appearance as it catches the light at different angles. All our reviewers loved this resin but some felt the overall appearance was let down slightly by the black plastic centre and grip sections. It’s all a matter of taste and a pen with these kinds of looks is bound to provoke a wide range of reactions.

How it feels  Surprisingly comfortable. There’s quite a step down from the barrel to the section but the section’s long and so your fingers are safely out of the way. The pen’s width and light weight mean it’s comfortable to hold for extended periods. The cap is light and so doesn’t throw off the balance when posted. The shape also means the pen won’t roll away – always a plus with a clipless pen.

How it fills  Benu very sensibly use an international standard cartridge or converter.

Crucially, how it writes…  The nib is a generic steel Schmidt #5. The one on our review unit had good flow and behaved itself very well with no skipping or hard starts. It had some feedback which we felt was just the right side of acceptable but might not be for everyone. It isn’t the greatest nib but it works well and is easily replaced.

Pen! What is it good for?  The Friendly Chameleon writes well and is comfortable in the hand and so, fortunately, is an excellent pen for doing lots of writing! It’s also good for just gazing into, while waiting for inspiration to strike.

VFM  At $90 (plus another $5 for a converter) this isn’t a cheap pen but it’s unique in shape and colour. It would be good to see a higher quality nib but if you like the design (and, let’s be honest, you’re going to either love it or hate it!) then a pen that works well and is this unusual is good value at this price.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  It’s hard to find a pen with these kinds of looks at this price. You’d usually be looking at something bespoke, for a lot more money. So if you almost like this pen but aren’t quite sure then you might be best off looking at the rest of Benu’s range.

Our overall recommendation  The Benu Friendly Chameleon is a good pen and all our reviewers would recommend it, if you’re seduced by its looks!

Where to get hold of one  Benu sell internationally direct from their website.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Kate in Moscow for sending us the pen to try out.

Elrohir notebook covers

A little bit of history  Tolkien left more entertainment for etymologists than anthropologists in his writings, and the latter would probably not be wildly impressed at the idea of a being who was half knight, and half elf. Such, however, was supposedly the provenance of Elrohir, and it’s a fitting name to borrow for a product made in a stable, using saddle-making techniques – although we can confirm that no elves were employed in the making of this review.  The Elrohir operation is in fact run by a very nice human called Mischa, based in Wales rather than Rivendell, and we were encouraged to find out more about what she does by one of our regular readers from Middle Earth (well, Melton Mowbray, but it’s near enough). What came our way were two remarkable notebook covers; an A6 steampunk number and a blue A5 mandala affair, complete with multiple interesting refills.

How they look  Frankly astonishing. Everyone we show these to responds with some variety of ‘wow’. The designs are embossed, so they’re quite tactile too.  The range is quite a challenge to describe, so a quick look at Elrohir’s Etsy page is worthwhile now. No, seriously, right now!

How it feels  Weighty, rugged, and ready to last a life-time – and yet remarkably refined. Like the sort of saddle you’d put on a thoroughbred, probably.

How it fills  With as many simple cahier-style exercise book refills as you care to thread in. The A5 version we tested could take five or six, which did make it a bit tough to hold flat and write in – but of course thinner versions can be made available with a swift email to Mischa. Customisation is very much encouraged.

Crucially, how it copes with a fountain pen…  Mischa’s own inserts come in a variety  of plain and coloured papers, and all we’ve tested so far seem happy making friends with a proper nib. They look the part next to a real pen, too.

Book! What is it good for?  These are built to last, but we think maybe a little too lovely to take to work (unless you work with elves, of course). For a travel journal, recipe collection or grimoire-in-development, though, it’s almost certainly exactly the thing.

VFM  These cost about 30% more than the equivalent standard product from Start Bay – so not cheap, but nevertheless remarkably reasonable for such an unusual product. We certainly couldn’t complain.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  These are two very fine examples of Mischa’s craft, but if you prefer something a bit different – a cover depicting bats flitting through the night sky, perhaps – it’s worth having a look at the Elrohir range. We’ve yet to come across anything quite comparable from another maker.

Our overall recommendation  Have a browse, save a few pennies, and get one. If you’re after a robustly decorative notebook cover, these will take some beating.

Where to get hold of one  Go straight to the source and talk to Mischa! Her Etsy page is a good place to start.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Mischa for getting a couple of amazing samples our way. Most of us didn’t want to let them go, and that’s a recommendation!