Tag Archives: meta-review

Scribo fountain pen inks

A little bit of history  Much as we all mourn OMAS, ink wasn’t their strong point. Their spiritual heirs, Scribo, have apparently set out to correct that. We put the whole range to the test.

How it arrives Packaging isn’t everything, but my goodness do Scribo make an event of it. The cubic cardboard boxes slide out like drawers to reveal stackable square-based bottles which positively shout “we’re special!” – and so they are.How it looks  This is a big range, and the different components deserve detailed attention:

The inktelligentsia The orange and purple offerings immediately won many fans, the purple dark enough to take to work and the orange stiff competition for any similar shade. If you have only the pocket money for the one bottle, either would be a good place to start.

The patricians Some sturdy blues and very black black here, with an empirical link; Capri was the childhood home of Caligula, uncle of Nero.

The communards Should you wish to raise the red flag, you can do so with a juicy pomegranate, or, err, with a nice Chianti.

The ecologists That’s a lot of green for a modest range, but there’s a shade here for everyone – with a civilised teal probably taking the prize.

The dullards It’s a little harder to get excited about browns and greys, but they do have an audience – and these at least do it with a bit of class.

Crucially, how it writes…  Actually, that varies: some were found to be a touch dry for our testing panel. However, as Scribo pens themselves tend to run very wet, it’s a good match for the right nibbage.

Ink! What is it good for?  If you work in design or fashion, perhaps you can take one of these inks to the office. For the rest of us, this is probably best for writing a diary, making private notes or correspondence with friends – and none the worse for that, of course.

VFM  These aren’t cheap, by any stretch of the imagination, and are priced comparably with Iroshizuku inks. As a result we would hesitate to advise rushing out and buying the whole range, as the outlay would be equivalent to the price of a very good pen. But if you have treated yourself to a nice Scribo pen and want something which complements it, a bottle of your favourite shade might not be too crazy an indulgence.

The only way is ethics  The inks are made in the EU (we think) and the packaging is eminently re-usable, so it scores fairly highly on this front.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  You could try some KWZ – although be prepared that a Scribo pen thus equipped may double as a small fire-extinguisher in emergencies. In terms of the colour palette, Italy may have little to compete with this but over in Japan Sailor and Pilot both have ink ranges which cover similar ground, at similarly ‘premium’ prices.

Our overall recommendation  Scribo have done their pens justice with some grown-up inks in really impressive packaging, but they do cost accordingly. Our tip would be to choose just the one which which matches your pen.

Where to get hold of some  Our samples were donated by Write Here, the only UK stockist we’re aware of thus far. If you happen to be in Bologna, Scribo may also sell direct.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Write Here for the samples

Visconti Homo Sapiens x2

A little bit of history Our species are not the first terrestrial hominids to make art, and therefore conceivably not the first to use a device like a pen for making marks. But we are, in all probability, the first on this planet to invent copperplate, so it’s perhaps not too bold for Visconti to name a pen design after us. Sed – ecce! – inter homi sapientes, de gustibus non est disputandum. We therefore did our best not to argue too much. Quite a mountain of history, actually Back in the 1970s, steady-state Luddites fought against two intellectual movements and lost twice, first to the constant expansion of the universe and then, down here on Earth, to plate tectonics. But our story starts about half a million years ago when the slow-motion collision of the African and Eurasian plates caused the growth and repeated eruptions of a stratovolcano known to successive civilisations as Etna. It’s held a place in myth and legend ever since, including as the prison of the monstrous Typhon, and as the source of much of Sicily’s soil has been ruled over by Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, the offspring of King Rollo (no, really) and, for a brief but toothsome interval, a revolutionary squashed-fly biscuit. Etna also chucks out plenty of lava, of course, and Visconti gamely set out to make something of it. How it looks  The classic Homo Sapiens look is a black basaltic tube with a few metal rings and the signature Visconti bowed clip. If it’s under-stated in its usual dress it can be a lot more exotic as a special edition, and we were lucky enough to get our hands on a curious ‘special’ indeed, the Evolution – which looks like a Klingon tool for signing instantly broken peace treaties. How it feels  Sizeable, fairly hefty but not ridiculously heavy, for most of our reviewers. Most is not all, mind; at least one of our panel put the pen on the scales and declared it too weighty to live with. The clever bayonet closure (NB, not present on the Evolution) makes for a comfortable grip, though, and the weight is well-distributed. Visconti makes bold claims about the barrel material being hydroscopic, so that it still has a grip in sweaty hands, and although this is perhaps better tested in the summer it does seem to work quite well in practice. How it fills  This is a vacuum-filler, and it sucks in a voluminous gulp of scribbling juice without much effort on the user’s part. There’s no way to use cartridges, of course, but if you’re in the market for a pen this pricey a bottle of decent ink is unlikely to exceed the budget. Crucially, how it writes…  Now here hangs a tale. Originally, the Homo Sapiens employed palladium nibs which proved notoriously difficult to tune (and harder still to keep in trim). Our duo exemplifies recent alternatives; a usually well-behaved and slightly bouncy gold nib or, for the Evolution, a tubular steel nib which is firm but smooth. A pleasure on either count, although they are very different beasts. The gold nib on our test pen afforded some hard starts to a couple of reviewers, but not to the degree that made writing impossible – and as it flowed adequately for others ink choice may be a critical factor there. Another vital Homo Sapiens tip, which we wish Visconti would tell people directly, is to undo the blind cap a couple of turns before staring to write; this seems to reduce the risk of drying-up considerably.

Pen! What is it good for?  In standard trim it’s probably sober enough for the office – although some of the special editions might frighten the horses! The new gold nibs are lovely to write with, though, so this is also ideal for writing a diary or personal correspondence. It’s for keeps either way, though. VFM  These are very good pens, no doubt, but compared to other premium Italian offerings the value proposition is sometimes perhaps a little dicey. The Evolution tipped over into four figures, and that’s hard to justify for a steel-nibbed pen, however artistically assembled. Choose with care. The only way is ethics  These are made in Italy and (unless someone gets a really harsh cut of the fee) no-one’s being under-remunerated at this price. If you can afford one, enjoy it with a clear conscience!If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  There are new special editions of the Homo Sapiens out most years. Bide your time, save up, and pounce as soon as you see one you like. Or, if you want a posh pen from a different part of Italy, Scribo and Pineider may have a competing claim upon your attention. Our overall recommendation  Try one in the hand, if you can – but if you love it, that’s your pocket money spent for a while!

Where to get hold of one  Your fountain pen emporium of choice; Visconti is widely stocked. This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Manuscript, who as welling making great calligraphy kit themselves are also Visconti’s UK distributor – and sent these pens our way to put to the test.

Exorcise Books

A little bit of history  Rob de la Porte at Made for Ink very kindly sent the United Inkdom review team samples of these notebooks just in time for Hallowe’en. Rob is a real craftsman with a well-deserved reputation for producing limited print runs of affordable, good quality, fun-themed, hand-made notebooks that are ideal for journal keepers of all persuasions. These notebooks are no exception – and they include more than a little bit of history themselves.

How they look The notebooks came beautifully packaged, raising expectations that something good and of quality would be within. We weren’t disappointed.

The Exorcise Books initially look quite unprepossessing, like something that you would have used in school, but they are very definitely a league or two up from that and reveal attention to detail and quality that sets them apart. The B5 paper is 100 gsm uncoated extra white in a smooth finish and hails from Scotland, but no mention of that play please, despite the subject matter. The four designs come in red, pale blue, orange and buff covers.  

The inside covers back and front distinguish the notebooks, which have a theme which suits the title. The research for the woodcut images (on the flyleaf) and text (on the back cover) was carried out by our very own Scribble Monboddo, who is also a historian on the quiet; they really add to the notebooks.

The light blue one we saw featured reproductions of woodcuts of the infamous torturer and murderer of unusual and wise women, Matthew Hopkins. In the red Exorcise Book lurked the 15th century’s malodorous Malleus Maleficarum, a manual for interrogating witches. The orange book featured the strange Elizabethan Doctor Dee, and eruditely swept through the even stranger HP Lovecraft, the mad bad Aleister Crowley, and Joseph Smith of Mormon fame too.

Finally, the inside buff-coloured front cover had a reproduction of a book made by the 11th Duke of Rutland in 1619 recording the lamentable putting to death of two women for witchcraft on 11th March 1618. In the fraught times of the war between the new religion (Protestantism) and the old religions (Catholicism and even older folk beliefs) women were the constant losers and victims. The victimisation of the so-called Belvoir witches is recounted briefly in Scribble’s text, noting that there is a unique ecclesiastical monument to the supposed victims of witchcraft in a local church, but no marker to, or even records of the trial of the poor women themselves. The pithy motto of the final sentence is a worthy axiom for these times and for filling these notebooks; “Remember to write what you see and what you hope for, not what you fear.”

One of our number risked a Latin inscription in her notebook but no incubi seemed to appear; so, no Inkdom reviewers were harmed or alarmed in this meta-review.  

How it feels The Exorcise Books consist of 60 pages of beautiful, high-quality 100gsm paper which absorbs fountain pen ink like a strolling minstrel wandering over the page. So nice is the paper that you might be tempted to try water colour on the plain paper, but that won’t end well – charcoal, graphite, or coloured pencils work just fine, though.  

One of our number did push the wetness of ink considerably and went full on with Diamine Winter Miracle, a very heavy sheening purple ink with a shimmer, and applied with an automatic pen. It showed through on the 100gsm where the ink puddled, and there was some bleed through but that is to be expected with such a payload of ink. The shimmer and sheen both worked but if it’s just for handwriting then this paper will work very well with a fountain pen.

Another reviewer tried a range of different pen-ink combinations including a Sailor Naginata Togi equipped with Robert Oster Opal Mauve, a Waterman Carene 18k gold Fine nib filled with Rohrer and Klinger Verdegris, a John Garnham JG6 with a titanium fine nib and powered by Diamine Inkvent Midnight Hour. All of these, including the very wet JG6 permutation, were quickly absorbed by the paper. Only a very wet ink showed a bit of, err, ghosting.

How it fills Starting to fill a notebook is often one of those rituals of delay and procrastination for fountain pen users and the quality of the paper in these may compound such deferment misery. But the messages and pithy adages on the inside back covers should surely make you want to fearlessly learn more, read more and reflect and wonder on the power of scribing information on paper. Exorcise any fear and record your thoughts and considerations of what you have read, found out, and want to be known.

Crucially, how it handles ink… These notebooks cope beautifully with fountain pen writing. One reviewer blitzed them with super-saturated pen and ink combinations and did a little bleed-through. Another reviewer reported some ghosting. A third found the Exorcise paper behaved perfectly; no feathering, no bleed and only slight show-through with very wet ink, and inks seemed to show very true to their colours and characteristics with the super-saturated combo of double broad nib and purple blue of the Troublemaker Lam-ang and the subtle shading of the Robert Oster Opal Mauve. Neither the blitz of the former, nor the subtly of the latter were missed out on this paper.

The quality of the paper shows through on every level. We were aided by award-winning microscopist Mike Smith, the secretary of the Leeds Microscopical Society, to examine the paper closer. Mike’s equipment yielded a series of images that he said clearly showed the superior quality of the paper compared to 100gsm standard print paper, a 90 gsm French brushed vellum and a ‘certain’ 68gsm Japanese paper.

Kon-peki ink on Exorcise MfI Notebook Paper at 100X

In brief, the heavier paper from Made for Ink seems to absorb more of the ink in the fibres, and their interstices, across the path it was scribed on the paper and in a more consistent manner.

Pulp! What is it good for? Notebooks and scrapbooks have been the go-to tools for collating and organising information for many hundreds of years. Medieval and Renaissance scribes were typically systematic indexers and bullet-pointers of their commonplace books. These are just as versatile; write Latin, Gaelic or sketch in them and they can cope.

VFM These are high-quality, hand-made products selling at very reasonable prices – no malice there!

The only way is ethics  The Exorcise Books are handmade in Rutland from materials made in the UK. Enough said?

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost… The reviewers unanimously loved these notebooks. They look good, feel of quality and work consistently with a range of ink and nibs. The chances are that you will like them too – but if you really need something in a different size, Made for Ink also stock very good A5 alternatives.

Our overall recommendation The Exorcise Books are made with paper you can trust to handle any pen and ink combination consistently, and they tell a story. They are handmade by an ethical UK-based penthusiast, and they are good value for money too. They get an unequivocal thumbs-up from us.

Where to get hold of one  The Exorcise Books retail for £6.95, and can be ordered direct from: https://madefor.ink/

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Rob de la Porte for the notebooks – and Joan, Margaret and Philippa Flowers for what they taught us.

Kaweco Perkeo new flavours

A little bit of history  We’ve reviewed the Perkeo before, so the basics have already been covered. To recap briefly; this is a Kaweco’s entry-level offering for those who find the budget version of the Sport a little too diminutive. The model has served well enough in the market for 2021 to bring some interesting new colours and a three-nib calligraphy set to the market.

How it looks  Like a Sport cap with a full-sized barrel on the back, essentially. ‘Nout wrong with that! But the new colour-schemes really add something, especially the splendid ‘breezy teal’ and the icily cool demonstrator version with its unusual clear feed.

How it feels  Light and comfortable, with the three-sided grip section gently guiding pen posture.How it fills  There’s space for a brace of small international cartridges in the barrel, or a full-sized converter, which really looks the business in the demonstrator version.

Crucially, how it writes…  These take Kaweco’s rebranded Bock 060, a small #5 nib with plenty of options. The standard M and F nibs write well (and rather better than when the Perkeo was first released, we think), and the range of italic nibs in the calligraphy set impressed our favourite calligrapher, so no complaints there.

Pen! What is it good for?  The Perkeo is essentially aimed at the entry-level market, and fits there very well, but plenty of grown-up, seasoned fountain pen fans seem to rather like it too.

VFM  Generally retailing at £12 to £15 at the time of writing, this isn’t dirt-cheap but certainly isn’t highly-priced either.

The only way is ethics  Kaweco manufactures primarily in Germany so we have no concerns around labour conditions. Some of the packaging is plastic, but it’s not excessive.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  If you like the Kaweco look but want something pocket-sized, of course there’s the trusty Sport – while if you want an entry-level German fountain pen but can’t find a Perkeo, the Pelikano occupies similar territory.

Our overall recommendation  If you’re penabling a member of the family who’ll prefer to pick up something which looks cool, you could do a lot worse than the pulchritudinous Perkeo.

Where to get hold of one  Almost any fountain pen retailer you choose; these aren’t hard to find at all.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Kaweco for providing samples for this meta-review

Shibui.North Kibo metal/urushi fountain pen

A little bit of history  The history of urushi pen-making is probably beyond a quick piece on United Inkdom – but Mick has had a go at covering it in his review below! Our focus is perhaps more on the remarkable person trying to bring that tradition to new life on Tyneside. Ruth has studied in Japan and can read the manuals in the original, but she is determined to make something in her own style – and the results are truly extraordinary.

How it looks  The Kibo resembles… nothing else on earth. It’s a big hunk of hand-turned metal with urushi finishing which looks like it grew there over decades on another planet. Picking it up for a closer inspection is irresistibly tempting.

How it feels  The copper prototype we tested feels darned heavy, no doubt about it. If you like very substantial pens, this is splendid news. If that sounds a little intimidating, opt for aluminium – which looks just as remarkable. The urushi-derived finish also has a pleasantly tactile quality and lends a bit of extra grip, too.

How it fills  There’s room for a long international cartridge or a standard converter there, which should suit most needs.

Crucially, how it writes…  The Kibo takes a Bock #6, so how it writes is up to you! We popped a red lacquered steel unit on for this test, but if you prefer something less garish, the options are extensive. The weight of the pen is actually just right for writing.

Pen! What is it good for?  Signing weighty contracts, writing journals on robust paper (don’t use Tomoe!) – or, in extremis, defending yourself from marauders. In between, you might just find yourself staring at it in wonder.

VFM  The current Kickstarter has this individually-made artisan product for the ludicrously modest price of £120 for bare metal, or £150 for the yaketsuki finish. That’s a bargain, in our books. Everyone who has tested the prototype so far has found themselves putting in an order for a Shibui pen, which probably tells you all you need to know.

The only way is ethics  Ruth’s the real deal and we’ve got no qualms about materials, pricing or packaging here.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Talk to Ruth and work out a custom design. There are plenty of variations possible on the theme.

Our overall recommendation  If you like the idea of a Japanese pen-maker plying here trade on these shores, now might be the time to back this new brand. The Kibo is a remarkable writing tool at an extraordinarily reasonable price point, and it should be start of great things to come, too.

Where to get hold of one  Right now, Kickstarter is the place to be if you want one of these.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Ruth for letting us take part in the birth of a beauty!

John Sanderson pens

 

 

 

 

 

A little bit of history  John Sanderson might not yet be a name widely known in pen circles, but he has been turning pens for more than forty  years, combining extensive knowledge of engineering (as a former metal and print press engineer) and a life long passion for working with wood, with impressive results.

For this meta-review, he supplied seven pens in total:  three ‘oversize’, and four more traditional sizes, in a wide breadth of materials, nibs, trims and designs.

A custom pen maker, John can pretty much design whatever you want: from a tiny clipless pocket midget to a huge heavily adorned behemoth, and anything in between. Reviewing such a broad range could be risky, but John was up for putting his designs to the test!

How they look These are beautiful to gaze at, with clean lines, interesting combinations of materials and colours and high quality, handmade argentium silver trim.  Designs we sampled included a huge diamondcast oversize pen with a mid-century modern “sci-fi” theme clip, through to slender combinations of wood burls (including one made of pine cone hearts suspended in resin) with complementary acrylic resin sections.

 

How it feels  John’s pens were all well balanced, light (often in spite of their size), and comfortable to hold for long writing periods.  There was a broad range of barrel diameters, from slender 10mm right up to jumbo 14-15mm sections, but most were felt to be comfortable and sections were ergonomically designed.

The threads were, for the most part, smooth and unobtrusive, and the one grip section which a reviewer found a touch uncomfortable could doubtless have been returned for a bit of smoothing-out if needed.

How it fills  All the pens were supplied with standard international Schmidt K2 style cartridge converters.  These are easy and convenient – and of course there are also cartridges available, for barbarians.

Crucially, how it writes…  These pens were supplied with either Bock or Jowo steel nibs for demonstration purposes, but being customisable, gold, titanium, platinum etc. would all be options (at a price) and John can also accommodate Pelikan nibs and the like into his section designs.

This means all the pens we tried were smooth, comfortable writers with ink flow that is typical of standard Bock and Jowo nibs.  As we expect to use pens, not just look at then, this is all good news.

VFM  Prices for a custom pen by John start at around £100 and go up from there towards £220 – depending on design, choice of material, trim features and nib choice.  This means these are an ‘investment’, but with such an experienced maker, if the end product isn’t quite what you wanted, it can be adjusted and rebuilt until it is.

Value on a custom pen is hard to judge, but these ooze quality and the reviewers all like the very bright, shiny, tarnish-resistant argentium silver which really sets the trim levels apart from others.

The only way is ethics  John is open and transparent to deal with.  There are no upfront costs and pens are only paid for once received and tested by the customer; this is fair and straightforward and makes procuring a custom pen through John an enjoyable and guilt-free process.

 

Our overall recommendation  All our reviewers felt these pens oozed quality, showed a huge breadth of skill with materials, metalwork and design and were very tempting – at least one of us has independently purchased a Silver Burl since reviewing.

Where to get hold of one : Direct from the maker at https://silverburlpens.com/

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  John himself for lending us such a special set of his creations.

Schon DSGN insert-laboured-pun-here Brass in Pocket 6

A little bit of history  The pocket pen used to be a veritable institution, albeit a sexist one. The assumption was that a big ‘manly’ pen would not fit into the small, unaccommodating sort of pocket with which ladies’ attire was furnished, and so in the early twentieth century many a manufacturer competed to fulfil this niche demand, in a manner which was, infuriatingly, both aesthetically pleasing and massively patronising. Nowadays such nonsense no long prevails and a pocket pen is a handy thing for anyone who likes pens and has, err, pockets. But slung into the side pocket of a pair of jeans, for instance, it’s going to take some punishment  – so Ian Schon, an enterprising Philadelphian, set out to engineer a durable solution.How it looks  It’s a short featureless tube, basically. If you’re still stuck in gender discrimination mode, it could conceivably be mistaken for a portable mascara applicator, or an emergency Spitfire cockpit canopy removal tool. Obviously these are both foolish misperceptions, but such is the fate of the common-or-garden dinosaur. The rest of us can either polish the brass or let it elegantly corrode (‘patina’ is a lovely euphemism for brass rust, isn’t it?), while wondering what lurks within.

How it feels  Heavy, obviously – it’s made of brass. No messing (k-bmm, tssk!). But when the Pocket 6 is fully assembled, which is easy enough with the screw-in cap posting arrangement, it both looks and feels like a fairly full-sized pen. If the weight is a bother, which it seemed to be for some of our reviewers, then lighter aluminium versions are also available – with some eye-popping paint jobs.

How it fills  This is a straightforward ‘short international cartridge’ affair – although there is always the trusty syringe for added variety.

Crucially, how it writes…  Pretty well, for this has a nice big #6 steel JoWo nib. Very few pocket pens house a full #6, and indeed only the Kaweco Supra comes close, so this is the essential MacGuffin which makes the Pocket 6 so unusual – and, obviously, which provides its name.Pen! What is it good for?  Errm, putting in your pocket, maybe? It will take some bashing-about and still write well when you need it to – although the time involved in reassembling the pen before writing might not make this the ideal jotter for very quick notes.

VFM  Reasonably competitive. in our view. With price tags usually well into triple figures this is certainly not cheap, but for a well-engineered and meticulously produced pen which is likely to outlast most purchasers, it’s certainly no rip-off either.

The only way is ethics  These are made by Ian Schon himself, without masses of added packaging  and with no obvious risk of poor labour conditions.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  The Kaweco Supra, without the extension tube, does a similar job – albeit with a Bock nib instead.

Our overall recommendation  If you want a pocket pen which last for a century and has a ‘proper’ nib on the front, this does the job in style. Just beware that the brass version is hefty, and the aluminium version seems to be very popular too, quite possibly for that reason.

Where to get hold of one  Ours came from Nero’s Notes, but in the UK Izods also stocks them.  Alternatively, you could go straight to the source.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Nero’s Notes for furnishing us with this remarkable pocket pen.

One’s Estie-mable Friend

A little bit of history  Cornwall has exported many a mining engineer to the world beyond, and many a Davy lamp too, but Richard Esterbrook left the peninsula with a rather smaller and more refined form of engineering in mind. Relocating to the US in 1856, he founded a long-running pen brand, supposedly even making a pen for Abraham Lincoln himself. The marque went from strength to strength for much of the following century, and is still well-respected in vintage pen circles for its dizzying range of specialist nibs. As was the case for most US-made pens, though, by the end of the twentieth century cheaper manufacturing elsewhere marked the end of the line. The reborn Esterbrook brand is just that – a brand, owned by firm called Kenro. But the products, largely unrelated to the old Esterbrook as they may be, look good enough to eat… or at least to write with. We thought we ought to give the flagship Estie a try.

How it looks  The Estie, in any size, is a classic ogive-ended cylinder, with a plain clip and subtle branding on the cap. What really distinguishes one from another is the colouring of the material; the plain black is plain indeed, but the lilac is spectacular in either chrome or gold trim, and occasional special editions like the ‘evergreen’ really look the business.

 

How it feels  About the right size in the hand, as long as you go for the shape best for you. Most of us eschewed the ‘slim’ version (with its humble #5 nib) for the standard edition, which is a happy medium. If you like a pen which is just a bit fatter without being unwieldy, though, the ‘oversize’ version delivers without looking disproportionate, at least by modern standards. As Mick found, however, the new Estie looks quite formidable compared to the more modest dimensions of many a vintage Esterbrook, so brand afficionados might be in for a bit of a surprise.

How it fills  The Estie is a straightforward cartridge/converter number, and as customary there’s a basic cartridge in the excellent packaging (along with a rather terrific red cleaning cloth) – but you’ll probably prefer to fit the included adapter and employ whatever ink you please.

 

Crucially, how it writes…  Esties are fitted with a JoWo #6 nib, which makes for ample adaptability. The Esterbrook-branded steel nibs work well in all the usual point sizes, as well as a good 1.1mm italic option. If spoiling your Estie rotten is on the agenda, you could even screw-in a gold nib unit instead. But the really clever party piece is the retro-compatible alternative section, sold as a ‘nib connector’, into which you can fit a vintage Esterbrook nib which was actually, ya know, made by Esterbrook. It’s only available in black, but it works, and that nod to the brand’s roots is to be applauded.

Pen! What is it good for?  The black version could certainly be carried to an office, if any of us ever set foot in one again, while the very colourful cracked-ice variants would look good at home or, as Ania rightly points out, on the Orient Express. Thanks to the internal sprung cap this won’t dry out in a hurry, so it’s a good choice for infrequent or occasional use too.

VFM  Here’s where the Estie struggles a bit at the moment, in our view. It’s a good pen which looks the part and feels well put together too, but a custom instrument hand-made by an artisan this ain’t. At the moment Esties are promoted at £150 for the standard size and £185 for the ‘oversize’ version, which is quite a big ask; at those prices, a gold nib really wouldn’t be too much to expect in return. With a steel nib, we think that around £85 and £95 respectively would have been reasonable price tags.

The only way is ethics  The packaging delights in trumpeting Esterbrook as ‘America’s original’, but as far as we can discern the nib is made in Germany and the rest of the pen in China. That doesn’t necessarily indicate a major problem, and we have no immediate evidence of poor labour conditions in the factory, but then again neither do we have much in the way of reassurance. This is perhaps an area in which the brand owner would be wise to be a little more proactive.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  We really like the Estie a lot, but if for some reason you can’t find one in exactly the colour you want it shouldn’t be difficult to find alternatives; this is not a complicated or unusual shape, and #6-nibbed pens are available from almost every manufacturer. Most custom pen-turners will be delighted to run a similar-shaped pen off the lathe, while The Writing Desk’s range of Edison Colliers are US-made pens taking a #6 at a very similar price to what the born again Esterbrook are asking for. It’s fair to say that the pen fan has plenty of options here.

Our overall recommendation  If there’s a material you really love the look of, and you can justify paying a little over the odds for it, you’re not going to be disappointed. If you have an old Esterbrook nib fitted to a pen which has seen better days, the ‘nib connector’ is a clever way to give it new life. Should the shape alone appeal, it’s not unreasonable to shop around or, possibly, wait for the price to regulate downwards somewhat.

Where to get hold of one  Most of your favourite online sellers have the Estie in stock – and in the far distant future, we may even dream of visiting shops which display them, in the flesh, there in front of our eyes.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Studio Pens, Esterbrook’s distributor, for easing access to test pens for four of our penthusiasts.

Supra Dupra Steel

A little bit of history  Kaweco’s Lilliput is beautifully minimalist but, as we’ve mentioned before, tiny. A scaled-up version with a #6 nib would be more like the thing for adult hands, surely? Kaweco agreed, and so the Supra was born, with a twist we’ll come on to in a moment. At first it was only available in brass, which looks great but isn’t absolutely everyone’s olfactory cup of tea. Then the steel version was born, and we just had to have a play!

How it looks  The Supra appears, from a distance, to be a Lilliput with a cinched waist. Up close, it’s evident that, if anything, it’s a Lilliput which has been to sumo training camp and bulked-up mightily; this thing has a nice big #6 nib, for starters! Then, if you remove the extension tube, it suddenly looks like a tiddler again. Hmm.

How it feels  That extension is the Supra MacGuffin. Fit it between barrel and section, and the result is a standard-length pen which feels about right in the hand, albeit a little long with the cap posted. Omit the extension tube, and the Supra is a pocket pen which feels about right with the cap posted, even if the large #6 nib can be a bit of a surprise to anyone more used to the dainty 060 (small #5) of the Lilliput and Sport models. Once you’ve worked out which length works for you, this feels solid and well-balanced, although the somewhat short grip section might not suit everyone.

How it fills  In short form, one can either syringe-fill a standard ‘international’ cartridge or use one of Kaweco’s tiny plunger converters. In long form, a normal converter fits perfectly. There’s little drama either way, and thankfully this is not a leak-prone pen either.

Crucially, how it writes…  As is usual for the more ‘premium’ Kaweco models these days, the Supra is equipped with a screw-fit Bock nib, so how it writes depends largely upon what hardware you choose to install. Our test unit was equipped with a Kaweco-branded steel M, which complemented the material of the pen itself and wrote without fault for our testers. So, nothing to complain about there, and there are ample options for upgrading too, not least the Kaweco-branded two-tone gold nib – or any Bock 250 unit, actually.

Pen! What is it good for?  The full-length Supra has no clip, so it is perhaps best carried in pen sling attached to a book – as one of our reviewers did with the brass version for a year. The shortened Supra is perfect as a pocket pen. In either incarnation, once you get the right posted or unposted length for you, it can serve for extended writing sessions should you need it to – as long as you get on OK with that short section and those exposed screw threads.

VFM  This isn’t cheap, with current retail prices getting dangerously near three figures. It’s a good, solid, reliable fountain pen which will probably outlast most purchasers, but that’s still quite a lot of money for a moderately stylised length of plumbing. Whether the value proposition adds up largely depends upon whether the feel of the pen works for you so well that you want to pick it up again and again. We’d really like to see Kaweco sell the unadorned short-form Supra for those who just want this, with the extension tube available as an optional secondary purchase, both to reduce waste and get that price down a little. In the mean-time, while half of our testers found the pen a bit too heavy and ‘industrial’ for their tastes, the other half loved it and two are now proud owners.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  That largely depends upon what it is that doesn’t quite float your boat. If the pocket configuration still feels a bit bulky but you like the looks, Kaweco’s own Lilliput might suit you better. If you warm to the full-length configuration but find the extension tube a bit fiddly, then there are other metal pen makers we can introduce you to, even if they are perhaps best not named here following some mutterings of potential litigious unpleasantness (which all involved have hopefully now stepped smartly aside from). If you just want a pen this shape but made of plastic, though, the options are almost endless.

Our overall recommendation  As is so often the case, try before you by. As a heavy, uncompromising and essentially indestructible pen it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But if you’re the sort of rugged EDC fan who likes to be able to smash your way out of a burning car using the same pen that you deploy to write a note to the insurers immediately afterwards, a Bauhaus-toting art-school grad with strong hands, or just a sniper with literary aspirations, this is absolutely the pen for you.

Where to get hold of one  All your favourite fountain pen specialists are likely to stock this. You won’t have trouble finding one if you want it – indeed, the only challenge is likely to be in deciding between the steel you see here and the equally splendid brass version.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Kaweco for the kind review sample – which has travelled well!

It’s the most colourful time of the year

A little bit of history  Advent calendars started in Germany, or possibly Austria, but at any rate fairly close to one of the great homes of nibmeisters then and now. Beloved of Lutherans in particular, the versions with pretty pictures cheered up the home in winter, and the versions with sweets made up for that monotonous Diet of Worms. But it took Scousers to come up with a version of the advent calendar which would brighten your life for the rest of the year without threatening one’s waistline, and thus in 2019 the Inkvent calendar was born. Twenty-five little bottles of ink, all of them new, behind cardboard doors. Some of us gave in immediately. Some of us waited until we could buy full bottles individually. But all of us wanted to share the results.

How it looks  It looks much like an ordinary advent calendar with something boring like chocolate inside, but that’s just a cunning disguise. There’s a jolly snowman design printed in blue, which might be why the inks are now labelled as ‘Blue Edition’… but that’s probably not what you wanted to know about. The new bottles are amazing four-legged contraptions which look like they could canter away at any moment if you don’t put down that wretched ballpoint and play with a real pen. But perhaps that’s not what you’re after either? Oh – the inks!! Well they look amazing as a range, don’t they? We were a little surprised to find quite so many browns and dark greens, but the whole palette of midwinter hues is here. There are also plenty of traditionally festive reds, some very groovy blues, a gold, a silver, two cracking purples and a terrific turquoise. Unusually for a set released together, some are ‘solid colours’ but many feature sheen, shimmer or both, which is showing off really, but if you can’t do that on special days when can you?

Crucially, how it writes…  These all seemed to be fairly well-behaved inks for our expanded testing team (these are very popular inks), although the usual caveat about shimmering inks applies; i.e. use these only in pens which can be readily dismantled for full cleaning (and, preferably, reassembled without consulting a Haynes manual).

Ink! What is it good for?  These aren’t inks for taking to the office, to be honest, but as those are all closed at the time of writing perhaps that’s no bad thing. They’re inks for having fun with – and they’re just right for it!

VFM  These are not the cheapest inks Diamine has ever produced, but they’re nevertheless admirably affordable by international standards. The prices are variable depending upon complexity, too, so the standard inks are about £8 , and the shimmery sheen monsters about £11, depending as ever upon where you shop. For 50ml that’s not bad value, especially when the results look this snazzy.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Seriously? Come on, there a lot of really interesting inks here. If there isn’t a single thing which takes your fancy, we’re probably not going to be friends. But if you want a second chance, there’s a fair bet that another one is on the cards for this Yule, when we’ll all need some more cheering-up after all.

Our overall recommendation  Have a meander around the detailed reviews which this article draws upon – links below – and see what grabs you. Something will! Top tips from our gang include sheeny blue Polar Glow, teal/red sheen monster Season’s Greetings, robust red Fire Embers, tinsel-turquoise Blue Peppermint and shiny dark Winter Miracle, which looks like Scribble Purple with bright blue glitter and is none the worse for it.

Where to get hold of some  These are new, but they’re not limited editions; available then, at any good stationery shop – and until those are open, on all decent fountain pen retail websites.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Diamine for inundating us with a postcard from quite near North Wales, actually, and an awful lot of sample pots.