Tag Archives: meta-review

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.

FPUK special inks

A little bit of history When the jurist Lord Monboddo – who we perhaps have to admit was a bit of an eccentric – was in London for one of his yearly visits in 1787, he attended a hearing of the Court of King’s Bench which he, trained in Roman-based law, had relatively little to contribute to. According to legend, the structure started to collapse, plaster rained from the ceiling and everyone rushed from the building, wigs flying, only to realise their esteemed guest had been left behind. Monboddo was entreated to stir himself and asked why he had not already done so; his response was simply that he had assumed this was “an annual ceremony, with which, as an alien, he had nothing to do”.

Perhaps he may have had a point; bubbles come, and bubbles go.  When the investment bubble of the Darien Gap scheme bankrupted Scotland in the late seventeenth century, it either sought aid from, or was forced to go cap-in-hand to (depending upon your interpretation) England, and the 1707 Act of Union followed. That Union soon fell prey to its own difficulties with the South Sea Bubble, generating debts so massive that they were only finally paid off in 2015, just in time for a new have-cake-and-eat-it bubble to arise in its place the next year. The latter looks likely to put paid to the local market for luxury writing equipment, and indeed those united kingdoms that this site was named in tribute to. But, thanks to a similarly endangered enterprise entitled ‘Fountain Pens UK’ on social media, we can perhaps at least have one last inky hurrah.

Earlier in 2019, the members of FPUK starting collaborating with Diamine, a brand which has itself been around long enough to have been formally set in a few different countries without actually relocating. The collaboration was fulsome and detailed, with Nick Stewart testing no less than ten prototypes and Scribble then trying the three which made the shortlist. The FPUK group voted on the final formula for production and, in an example of what can happen in properly regulated democracy (perhaps we’d best steer clear of that one here), decided that two should share the winner’s podium. The administrators insisted that one should be named in honour of a certain purple ink enthusiast, and the other as a tribute to his hat, which is somewhat embarrassing for the author of this piece but we’ve got this far using first person plural and it’s too late to come over all gushing now. Lord Monboddo didn’t have a purple hat, because both the millinery style in question and synthesised aniline purple dye came about in the mid nineteenth century, a good fifty years or more after his demise, but the extremely distantly related (probably) Scribble Monboddo does – and is wearing it whilst writing this piece. Pictures or it didn’t happen, eh? 

Bubbles come, and bubbles go. Let’s waft this one around for a bit before it pops…

How it looks  Purple, astonishingly enough! Scribble Purple, which started life as prototype #765, is a rich, dark purple with, rather unusually, a golden sheen when it is laid on especially thickly. Prototype #768x became Monboddo’s Hat, a brighter pinkish-red (but not wishy-washy) purple with more of a green sheen. 

How it smells  Nothing to sniff here – move along benodorously now.

How it travels  These inks are available in both of Diamine’s standard carriers, the 30ml plastic Bradgate bottle (incidentally named after the birthplace of Lady Jane Grey, if you fancy another little bit of history) and the 80ml ‘chicken pox’ glass flask. Both are practical conveyances for the ink, and the larger 80ml size also come with collectable cards designed by Nick Stewart himself.

Crucially, how it writes…  Now, there are some differences here, which may helpfully justify buying both.  Scribble Purple is saturated but nevertheless flows as well as standard fountain pen ink usually does, with no sin to report. Monboddo’s Hat is noticeably drier, so perhaps not so ideal for everyday purposes – but excellent if you have an overly-wet feed to tame, or if you are working on slowly-written calligraphic masterpieces.

Ink! What is it good for?  If you’re lucky enough to find work in the lean years ahead, Scribble Purple is probably an ink which you can take with you; it’s so dark that the uninitiated probably won’t distinguish the difference from boring blue-black from a distance, while cognoscenti will be quietly impressed. Monboddo’s Hat is an ink for creative purposes, as writers of doodle-laden journals and the like are already discovering.

VFM  Diamine have a reputation as one of best-value manufacturers of ink anywhere, and these two special editions are no exception. Writers in what is left of Britain once Scotland departs and the borders go up should be able to enjoy access as long as funds allow. Moderate stockpiling may be wise elsewhere, but don’t go overboard – it may look delicious, but you really shouldn’t drink it.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Then buy the other one!

Our overall recommendation  If you want a purple ink which you can use for writing with any fountain pen, without interruptions other than refilling, bag some Scribble Purple. If you enjoy experimenting with calligraphy or have an absolute fire-hose of a vintage pen and wish to, erm, take back control (oh dear) then Monboddo’s Hat is a great choice too.

Where to get hold of some  All of your favourite fountain pen retailers and etailers sell these inks, which have now made it to the standard Diamine range internationally. It’s also possible to buy from Diamine directly.

This meta-review references:

Thanks to  Bernardo and all the members of the FPUK group for the initiative, Diamine for the enthusiastic collaboration – and all our readers and contributors for making the Inkdom, while it lasted, a kinder, gentler and more creative place.

Kaweco Ice Sport Glow highlighter fountain pen review

A little bit of history  On the other side of the Atlantic, different religious sects still have their own universities; you can, if you so wish, attend seats of learning gathered under the sway of belief systems not even recognised by the rest of the world, but we shall name no names. A Jesuit university is a relatively mainstream concept compared with some of the more outré outliers, albeit perhaps a surprising place to train as an industrial chemist – but Frank Honn graduated from one such, and went on to discover a novel use for the fluorescent dye pyranine as the first highlighting ink. It was a success, by any standards, and generations of pupils have grown up with felt-tip pens full of the stuff ever since. But felt-tips are horrible, and fountain pens are not, so Kaweco set out to make a highlighter that persons of taste might actually be able to contemplate using.How it looks  Did we say this was tasteful? Well, maybe it depends upon your own taste! It’s certainly rather loud – but there’s no mistaking what it’s for.

How it feels  Light and comfortable, like one of the more affordable plastic variants of the extensive Sport range – which is what it is, really.How it fills  Via  cartridges specially filled with unworldly glowing fluids.

Crucially, how it writes…  It writes like a fountain pen with a 1.9mm italic nib. For anyone who already has a calligraphy Sport this will be familiar enough, but if you’re used to the old felt-tip highlighters then switching to a steel tip can take a little getting used to.Pen! What is it good for?  It’s good for making up documents for editing or review, of course. It would probably also be good for baffling pen thieves in the work place; this is one pen which the ballpoint brigade won’t know where to even start with!VFM  Shop around a bit and you can get this set, complete with a box of cartridges, for less than £30.  Admittedly that would buy a lot of nasty cheap disposable highlighters, but you’d hate them – and this will probably last for decades. Fair value, then.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  Pelikan make a special M205 which does a similar job, albeit at about five times the price. Alternatively, if you like the concept but would just like a more conservatively-hued Kaweco, any wide-nibbed Sport Calligraphy will suffice; the highlighter ink cartridges are available separately.Our overall recommendation  Think about whether you really do all that much highlighting, and perhaps invest in a pack of the highlighter ink cartridges first to see if you take to using an italic fountain pen for this purpose – but if the answer to both is yes then this is, like pyranine, a ready solution.

Where to get hold of one  Most of your usual favourite retailers have this one in stock, and you won’t find it difficult to locate. The best price we’ve seen in the UK is at The Writing Desk.This meta-review references:

Thanks to Kaweco for the review sample.

 

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.

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: