Tag Archives: meta-review

Robert Oster fountain pen ink review

Here in the United Inkdom, us poms and near neighbours are sometimes lucky enough to receive some bonzer gear to play with – sometimes pens, sometimes paper, and sometimes…  sometimes ink!

Bottles

And here’s the thing about that; a pen will convey the message, the paper will carry the message, but it’s the ink that brings the message to life.  So when we get inks to play with, all of us tend to get a bit over-excited.

Robert Oster Signature inks are fairly new to Blighty, but an Australian brand that’s quickly developing a strong following over here, and it’s easy to see why.

They’re not the fastest drying of inks, averaging between ten and fifteen seconds for full dryness on good paper.  As you might expect from an ink that wet the flow on them is superb, coverage on the page is complete, there’s no stutter, even from very fine nibs, but when you have an ink as rich and fulsome as these, you want something a little thicker to enjoy the tones upon the paper.

It’s also rare that all of us agree on the nature and quality of an ink – we’re an eclectic bunch with a wide variety of tastes – but universally, these colours have us inspired.  The inks have interesting names which give a nod to the inspiration of the creator, and as you’ll see in the many individual reviews linked below, they don’t disappoint.

But as a little teaser…

Direct Sun

Direct Sun

Barossa Grape

Barossa Grape

Emerald

Emerald

Claret

Claret

Summer Storm

Summer Storm

Grün Schwarz

Grun Schwarz

Blue-black

Blue Black

Deep Sea

Deep Sea

Blue SeaBlue Sea

 

The full range isn’t available in the UK yet, but it will be soon, and we’re both anticipating that (because these really are to die for), and dreading it (because we all have to eat sometime…) in equal measure.  They’re not the cheapest of inks, retailing at £14.50 for a single bottle, but with the viscosity of the ink in question, that bottle will last some time.  They can be found at iZods, who kindly donated some samples for this review exercise (thanks again Roy), and we gather other suppliers are also coming on-stream as we speak.

So without further ado, we present the combined reviews of United Inkdom for the Robert Oster Signature inks…

Gillian Jack’s review of Claret and Emerald

Daniel Oakey’s maritime meanderings in Blue Sea and Deep Sea

Sarah Goodall’s test of Emerald and Summer Storm

James Lake’s bathe in Direct Sun with a dash of Grün-Schwarz

Scribble’s bejiggering with the whole flamin’ lot

The Clumsy Penman’s barby in Direct Sun with a tinny of Barossa Grape

The Pen and Inkwell’s billabongful of Summer Storm, Blue Black, Blue Denim, Bondi Blue, Fire & Ice, Blue Sea and Deep Sea too.

 

Nib&Ink book review

When we first heard about this book from the excellent All Things Stationery blog, we knew we had to take a look – and thankfully the publishers (part of Penguin) were kind enough to send some review copies our way.  Here’s what we made of it…

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New Year’s Resolutions can involve all sorts of horrid self-denying ordinances and temporary punishments, but a rather better promise to yourself is to take the time to develop handwriting that you’re happy with, and maybe even a little bit proud of!  Dipping a toe into the world of ‘modern calligraphy’ is not a bad way to get started, and Chiara Perano has been offering direct assistance through the day courses she runs at her base, mysteriously entitled ‘Lamplighter’, in London. This book sprang from those courses, apparently, and like them aims to offer a user-friendly and accessible way in to going beyond hasty squiggle to mastery of the mystic curve.

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Modern calligraphy is a little hard to define exactly, but broadly speaking it’s calligraphy which you can use in the here and now, without the hours and hours of tiresome exercises that stylistic dictators like Spencer would require, and with results that look a bit less like an obscure nineteenth-century legal text.  This book assumes that readers will attempt to follow Chiara’s letter-forms with a dip pen, and provides plenty of practical advice on how to do so.  Alternatively,  it’s perfectly possible to play along using a flex-nibbed fountain pen (as Sarah and Scribble did with their Heritage 912s),nibink-writing-sample

This is fun to work with, and the encouragement to write directly in the book feels nicely transgressive.  The number of letter-form options doesn’t become overwhelming, and the examples map out just what route the nib should take – it’s easy to follow, and there is lots of encouragement to practice, experiment, practice some more, and arrive at a style which is very much your own.sarahs

There are a few improvements which we’d like to see in the next edition including more FP-friendly paper (we’re told this is in hand already), a better proportion of content to filler (there are a rather cheeky number of practice pages), and perhaps a move to a loose-leaf format (maybe bound with Atoma discs?) so that it can properly fold-flat for writing in.  But these are relatively minor quibbles in what we felt was, overall, a…great-book

Getting hold of a copy for yourself is easy enough either straight from the author’s own website or via your book retailer of choice; the ‘street price’ is around £9, which looks like decent value to us.  You can download the handy guide sheets to print here.guidesheettop

For more detail see:

Thanks to Ebury Publishing for sending some review copies to us in time for Christmas experimentation!

 

Diamine Shimmertastic inks review

shimmerdrops2A little bit of history

A couple of years ago there was a lot of buzz about another brand (you all know which one) putting shiny sparkles into a handful of their inks. It looked fun, but it was expensive, and Diamine don’t do things by halves.  They brought out a whole set of ten, then followed it up this year with twelve more shimmering inks, each sporting a healthy dose of gold or silver coloured glitter.  What could be more fitting for our Christmas meta-review?

Ink! What is it good for?

Well let’s be honest, this isn’t one you’re likely to take to work, unless your job involves writing Christmas cards (it’s absolutely brilliant for that).  This is ink for having fun with!  If you treat it wisely, it will work in ordinary fountain pens and there are only two modest caveats.  Firstly, always give the bottle a very thorough shake before filling the pen, and ideally use a pen which can stand a gentle perturbation before writing too; the glitter is in suspension, not in solution, and will laze on the bottom unless stirred into life.  Secondly, any particulate matter can gum-up pen parts in time, so pick a pen which you can thoroughly dismantle for the occasional clean, including the converter or piston (TWSBIs and most Platinums are therefore a good choice).  Other than that, you can sparkly-scribble to your heart’s content.

VFM

The going rate is about £9 for 50ml, which makes this noticeably more expensive than the standard fountain pen inks from Diamine, but still very good value compared to some of the more ‘exotic’ inks around.  The base colours are for the most part very nice inks in their own right, and other than occasionally bleeding-through with very wet nibs, or feathering on cheap paper, they’re pretty well-behaved too.  You really can’t go too far wrong.

 OK now, that’s enough chat – show me the shiny!

The bright blueslight-blues

We start with a couple of absolute crackers.  Blue Lightning, a very bright blue with silver sparkles, has a loyal following from the original collection, while Tropical Glow has become an immediate favourite with almost everyone who’s tried it, even making the ‘Too Many Peacocks‘ Christmas Day hit list.  ‘Not a bad way to start, eh?tropicalglow2

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The dark bluesrich-blues

Blue Flame and Blue Pearl are fairly traditional royal blues, with gold or silver sparkles respectively; the effect is predictable but pleasing.blueflame2bluepearl2Enchanted Ocean and Shimmering Seas are a little harder to categorise – like the sea, they keep changing colour as the light shifts. But both are broadly blue-black with either green or purple hints, with a spot of iridescence from bioluminescent plankton at the surface.

shimmeringsea2

The reds

reds

Pink Glitz is, unusually for a pink, so riotously butch that you could put it in a PFM and get away with it, while Red Lustre could safely be spilled all over the Christmas tablecloth without anyone noticing.  Firestorm Red and Inferno Orange look a lot like the open fire you’re meant to be roasting some chestnuts on right now (but thanks for taking a break to read this instead).pink1 redlustre3 firestorm1infernoorange2

The browns

browns

This civilised set of browns goes all the way from molten chocolate to wet beach, and the sparkles really add something to what can otherwise be a somewhat drab colour for inks. They really do work surprisingly well on the page.brandydazzle2 caramel3

The greens

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Green ink has its devoted fans, and here are a couple of splendid stocking fillers for any you encounter.  Magical Forest is almost perfect for writing the price list in  your neighbourhood crystal healing emporium, while the lime green with golden sparkles of Golden Oasis looks for all the world like a gecko flitting by.golden-oasis2

magicalforest3 magicalforest2

The greys

greys2

moondust2

While not everyone feels that grey is quite the colour for the festive season, re-brand it as silver and everything’s fine.  So here we have dark silver with bright silver sparkles (hmm, subtle) darker silver with golden sparkles (less subtle), and silver with the lights off (OK, OK, it’s black).  The dark base ink does show the sparkles up quite effectively.nightsky2

The purples

purples

Of course we’ve saved the best for last – for those into a spot of purple action at least!  Two of these have already featured on Too Many Purples and the third will follow soon.  Purple Pazzazz is a warm purple which is quite reminiscent of Lamy’s much-trumpeted dark lilac, but easier to get hold of and with golden sparkles to boot; what’s not to like?  Lilac Satin is not unlike Diamine’s earlier Iris from the flowers box set, with added silvery shine, and that’s a rather splendid finish too. Finally, Magenta Flash is a very purpley sort of magenta for a change (no pinks in disguise here), and looks rather spectacular in a wet-nibbed pen of your choice.

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pazzazz2

Come and get it!

You can get hold of your own Shimmertastic supplies in all of the usual favourite online sources, or direct from Diamine themselves.  Easy peasy.

This meta-review draws upon:

Thanks to:

Pure Pens for samples of the original ten flavours, Diamine themselves for samples of the new twelve colours, and Cult Pens for sponsorship-in-kind to get big bottles of some of the best for sharing-around.

 

Tactile Turn Gist meta-review

A little bit of history  Once upon a time there was a nice chap from Texas called Will Hodges, who had amassed a rather spiffing collection of lathes and was wondering just what sort of toys to make for good boys and girls all over the world – not necessarily just for Christmas, you understand, but the sort of thing that you’d definitely have to be on your very best behaviour to deserve.  Flirting with the seductive magic mirror, or ‘Kickstarter’ as it is known to all the elves, he had immediate success with dark ballpoint doings which shall not be spoken of here – and then stepped into the light and started making proper pens!  Will’s first fountain pen, the Gist, is now available in a truly legendary array of materials including pretty much everything bar kryptonite, and has become a hit on both sides of the Pond.  Several of us had initially obtained one through aforementioned conjuring device, and then a wise stallholder in ye olde Ipswich Bazaar started selling them to passing scribblers here too…

polybrassfinialHow it looks  As the brand name suggests (just for once, it’s entirely relevant and accurate) the whole pen has been precision-turned to make it a tactile pleasure to use – but we’ll come on to how it feels in a moment.  How it looks is, frankly, pretty much like the stereotypical alien mind-probe; with those eerily-accurate ripples and space-age materials, it wouldn’t look out place in Captain Kirk’s hands (its uses are far less sinister, though, unless you write left-handed of course). The very sharp-eyed may be able to spot some light marks from the lathe chuck on the barrel of the polycarbonate version (as depicted below), but it doesn’t greatly detract from the overall effect.

barrelHow it feels  Those ripples and ridges provide a good grip without discomfort, and most users have found this a pleasure to pick up and get writing with.  The weight varies considerably depending upon the materials chosen; the all-brass version is without doubt a nicely weighty pen, the all-polycarbonate version is feather-light, and the combinations of polycarbonate barrel and metal section concentrate the weight just where you most want it, near the nib.  Which feels best for you depends largely upon personal taste.  The only catch we detected was that the copper grip can be a little slippery on a warm day.

How it fills  This fills with a straightforward Schmidt converter (provided as standard), or international cartridges if you prefer.  For everyday practicality there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

Crucially, how it writes…  The Gist employs a big #6 Bock nib, available from Tactile Turn in steel, titanium and gold versions.  Bock’s steel nibs are firm but widely admired, and we’ve had no reports of any problems there.  The titanium nib is a bit more of an acquired taste as there is flex, but not always as much smoothness as flex fans generally like. The #6 Bock gold nib writes beautifully (as also seen on the Diplomat Aero and Kaweco Elite/Supra, for instance), albeit following quite an outlay.  If that range of options doesn’t suit, it is also possible to transplant a JoWo #6 into the Bock feed, as seen in the modified example below (displaying rhodium, ruthenium and zirconium from left to right).gistpolycarbonitezirconium

Pen! What is it good for?  This is a well thought-through ‘every-day carry’ pen which can be comfortably used for long writing sessions and will serve as a sturdy workhorse.  Some of the all-metal versions are probably great for exhibitionist bling, too, but we’re not going to admit to being interested in that around here, oh no…

gistbrass1VFM  The Gist has to cope with transatlantic tariffs and the buffeting of currency exchange rates, so competing on price with European offerings is not always going to be easy. With a simple steel nib, the all-polycarbonate looks to us like fair, albeit perhaps not stellar, value at £70 – whereas just £30 more will get you the all-copper version which seems an absolute steal.

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  There’s nothing quite like the Gist, really, although there other pens which bear some comparison on the basis of the materials.  If you love the polycarbonate finish then the Lamy 2000 employs similar material, albeit with a much less visible nib. If you really want the brass Gist but are struggling with the import logistics, Kaweco’s Supra has a similar heft and also uses the Bock #6 nib. There are no other Tactile Turn fountain pen designs yet – although just imagine this shape scaled-up to fit JoWo’s #8 nib… hmm, maybe next Christmas.

Our overall recommendation  Try a friend’s Gist first – it’s a bit of a ‘Marmite proposition’ in some guises – but if you like it, buy one.  Individual pen-makers who connect with writers and adapt to their needs like Will does deserve their success – and maybe, just maybe, you’ve been good enough to deserve one of his pens.

gistbrass2Where to get hold of one  Newcomer e-tailer iZods is stocking a broad sample of the Gist range in the UK, including the titanium and copper versions here.  If you want the full range including all the stock options, you can also buy direct from Will here, although beware of those import taxes.

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  Roy at iZods for lending John a Gist to play with.

Kaweco fountain pen inks review

clumsydroplets

We’re joined by the Clumsy Penman himself for this week’s review, so what better way to start than with a collection of his underwater ink pics?

It’s off to Nuremberg we must go next, though, for this is where the marvellous Kaweco are based.  A small name which packs a big punch in the fountain pen world, we all have a Sport or two from Kaweco tucked-away in a pocket somewhere. They actually have their own range of inks made in Austria (as does Montblanc, curiously enough), but wherever they hail from it was high time that we put their own range of inks to the test too!  An adventurous band of United Inkdom reviewers new and old (hey, less of the old) broke out the nibs and got busy.

sunriseorange04 sunriseorange03 sunrise-orange-02

Sunrise Orange is one of the newer additions to the range, and reactions from our testers suggest that it was a very welcome one.  Mateusz found this not only a worthy rival to the well-know Apache Sunset, but in many respects rather better, and Scribble liked the orange-tinged sunrise so much that a bottle of tequila is back on the shopping list, while Ian was soon lusting for a spot of caramel. Either way, it’s tasty – and just look at that shading.

paradise02paradise05paradise04

Paradise Blue has quite a fan base, as a good sturdy (or ‘solid’ as James says) turquoise/teal.  Scribble likes it a lot, and Ian can live with the modest shading too. The flow is good but, as Mateusz points out, there is a price to pay in this particular ink’s tendency to sink rapidly into paper, which is only really useful if you want to read your genius-like thoughts back-to-front from the reverse page.

royalblue02royalblue01Royal Blue is perhaps not the most original colour, and Ian and Scribble were both reminded of school-room days.  Matthias set out to find what mystical qualities might have put this in the same class as the now-deceased Rotring ink, without definite result – although he did like it.  James, though, found something others hadn’t spotted; a sheen. Now you’ve done it, James – that’ll open the floodgates.

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Midnight Blue is a fairly standard dark blue or blue-black.  Honestly, there’s not a lot to say about this as a colour, although as Ian points out it does still have reliably good flow.

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Pearl Black, similarly, is a rather everyday black.  Any self-respecting ink range does have to have a black, and there is a limit to what anyone can do to make it interesting, although Ian thought this one was on a par with Aurora black, which sounds like a compliment at least.

caramel02 caramel01Caramel Brown seems to be one of the least popular colours.  There’s nothing especially wrong with it as an ink, if you like browns – but if you’re not a fan of brown inks in the first place, then this may not tempt you to the earthy side.  Ian even found it ‘sludgy‘ (in colour rather than consistency), and it’s hard to hear that as a good thing.

summer05summer02 summer04 Summer Purple returns the Kaweco ink range to popularity, with a juicy flow and a juicy colour to boot.  Mateusz found it a good performer, James enjoyed the subtle sheen, Scribble added it to the never-ending collection of Too Many Purples.  Even Ian, who is not  the world’s biggest fan of purples, thought this a good one.

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rubyred03 rubyred04Ruby Red seems to have impressed people just as much as Montblanc’s Corn-poppy Red did (we’re back to wondering about that Austrian factory again). Ian felt it had a good bit of character, while both James and Mateusz noted more than a hint of rosy magenta in the mix.

palmgreen02 palmgreen01

Palm Green looks like a forest green to James or a ‘textbook’ green to Mateusz, which just goes to show the benefit of taking more than one opinion.  Ian spotted potential for quite pronounced shading, too.

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Smoky Grey is last, and probably on this occasion least, given that only two reviewers have put it to the test.  Grey is not everyone’s cup of tea, to be fair, but this one does seem to behave quite well and offer more shading interest than the average.

scribblesquaresVFM Can be something of  a challenge with this collection, to  be honest.  The bottles contain only 30ml, and are sold at ‘premium’ prices in the UK – although this is at least in part a self-inflicted exchange rate problem for us Brits to deal with. Price competition looks particularly tough when compared with our home-grown Diamine, who provide 80ml bottles of ink for little more than half the price.  Few retailers stock both brands at present, but to cite the example of one with the lowest prices for both, at the time of publication The Writing Desk were charging  a little over 7 pence per millilitre for Diamine, and 35p/ml for Kaweco ink.  That effectively knocks Kaweco inks out of consideration for everyday colours like Royal Blue, which both brands provide; even if you like the look of that sheen, it’s unlikely that many fountain pen users would consider the Kaweco version five times better than the Diamine.  But some of the highly distinctive shades such as Sunrise Orange, Paradise Blue and Smoky Grey have qualities which really make them worth seeking out, in our opinion – and they’re hardly going to break the bank!jameslakepanoramaOur overall recommendation is to choose carefully and invest in one or two of these which particularly take your fancy.  If you like purple, Summer Purple is warm and user-friendly. If you’re a turquoise fan and can stand the ink sinking-in to the paper rather enthusiastically, Paradise Blue is a lovely colour.  Ruby Red and Palm Green beat any teacher’s homework-marking ballpoint any day… and Sunrise Orange eats Apache Sunset for breakfast.  If you just want a well-behaved Austrian everyday black or royal blue, you don’t really need to spend so much; even Montblanc will provide you with twice as much ink for the same money.  But we like this collection; suffice it to say that there are several Sports, Lilliputs and at least one Supra which will now be filled with ink from the same stable for quite some time.

Thanks to Kaweco for kindly providing generous samples for this meta-review exercise.

For more reviews of the whole range see:

The Missing Ink book review

While United Inkdom was having some down time in October, Nathan Weston suggested that we consider the occasional book review – and named our first review subject while he was at it.  There will be more in the pipeline, but we’re going to start with Nathan’s suggestion, The Missing Ink by Philip Hensher.  As usual with our meta-reviews, three of us have read and reviewed the book and compared notes – and they do vary, rather…the-curates-eggPunch cartoons pop up in many a history textbook, but the sketch above is probably the one that got most into everyday language.  Our readings of The Missing Ink suggest a similarly ‘balanced’ view; Daniel enjoyed it, John found it not much to his taste, and Scribble found it, well, a bit of a curate’s egg.

The opening premise of the book is an unfortunate one for us proper-pen users, in that Hensher posits that handwriting is on its way out.  In taxonomising the species before extinction, however, the book goes into considerable detail investigating the roots of handwriting teaching, from Spencer’s military-style pen drill sessions to Marion Richardson’s over-simplified ‘children’s hand’.  Although further detail is often sacrificed to what the author presumably sees as readability, there is a useful introduction to the evolution of handwriting which that could be a good launching-off point for a fuller study another day. Reassuringly, there is little pressure to conform to the strictures of Spencer or other nib authoritarians, which is just as well.  You wouldn’t want to have to go through exercises like this every day, would you?spencerSo where did it go wrong?  Well, the author is a professor of creative writing, and goodness do readers get to see all his craft in action.  The endless whimsical footnotes, and diversions into irrelevances like Hitler’s handwriting and the Bic ballpoint, will either be very much your cup of tea, or very much not.  In short, he goes on a bit – and not about pens and handwriting, much of the time.missing-ink-cover

There are a couple of saving graces.  The first is that this fairly jolly romp through handwriting history and various unrelated matters also concludes with a positive message about the benefits of continuing to write something by hand every day – so our old-fashioned habits aren’t perhaps about to die out after all.  The second is that pre-read copies of the book are now available for such trifling prices (£3 for a hardback, even) that the ‘excellent’ parts of the egg justify the very modest expense.

For further mullings-over over of the book, see:

 

 

Edison Collier

Edison-Collier-review

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

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

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

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

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

Edison-Collier-nib-and-shaped-section

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

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

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

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

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

This meta-reviews references:

136 Edison Collier

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

The Yard-o-Led propelling pencil

A little bit of history  Back in the early Twentieth Century, there were all sorts of experimental designs for mechanical pencils.  Eversharp, as the name suggests, started with a perennially-pointed design (or so the adverts would have you believe), and the Japanese spin-off even became an electronics company in the end – that’s how Sharp got its name.  After a few mergers (including the assimilation of Edward Baker, one of whose pencils Matthias reviewed), and a few factories either being re-purposed for war production or flattened by someone else’s materiel, there was just the one brand left – the masters of the propelling pencil, Yard-o-Led.

A vintage Universal

How it looks  The Yard-o-Led pencil has a variety of finishes, all of them looking carefully hand-engineered, and very shiny.  Sometimes, as in the example below, that has been achieved with interesting alloys (in this case ‘platinine’, probably an copper/nickel/zinc mix), but these days only Sterling silver makes the grade.

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A vintage Mascot – we’re not sure if the box is original.

How it feels  Obviously that depends upon the size and shape to some extent – the new Diplomat below has a square barrel! But generally, these are lighter than they look, and nicely balanced, so really rather pleasant to write or draw with.

Diplomat 4
This is where the leads are stored.

How it fills  With twelve three-inch graphite sections, which if placed end-to-end would constitute a Yard of Lead (geddit?).  One is in the chamber and ready to fire, while eleven spares lie in wait spaced around the sides of the barrel.  It’s a clever system and you’re highly unlikely to run out of lead while out on a job with one of these.  The only downside to the now rather unusual gauge (1.18mm) of lead is that it’s now rather hard to find refills in any hardness other than HB or B – which is a pity, as with a softer lead these would make excellent sketching tools.Mascot-6

How it writes…  Tolerably well, although the lead may be a bit thick to write with if you’re used to the now more familiar 0.5mm standard width.Diplomat 3

What is the propelling pencil good for?  It’s good for drawing and doodling, and looking like a vintage hipster while you’re doing it.  Because of the limited range of lead types available in 1.18mm, it’s perhaps not brilliant as a sketching tool, but it definitely wins points for being cool.Mascot-8

VFM  Today’s Yard-o-Led pencil is a silver item made by the same specialist jewellers who make the excellent pens which we reviewed last week, and they are similarly priced at the ‘luxury’ end of the price scale.  They are real works of art, and worth saving up for as an heirloom if you like the thought of passing on something both very beautiful and somewhat practical.  If you just want one to doodle with and don’t mind a few dings, there’s about a century’s worth of second-hand stock out there on the auction sites and the like, and they can sell for a lot less.  A bit of research is certainly worthwhile.Diplomat 2

If this isn’t quite your cup of tea, but almost…  There’s not much direct competition these days!  Your main choice here is between new and ‘pre-loved’ propelling pencils.YoL leaflet outside

Our overall recommendation  If your cherished descendants can’t be trusted with a fountain pen but might just get some mileage from a pencil, this is as good as it gets.  The mechanism is very robust, so if you just fancy one to play with then a second-hand (or possibly third-hand) one will probably also still be working when the time comes to kick the shiny, hallmarked, delicately hand-tooled bucket.YoL leaflet inside

Where to get hold of one  The Writing Desk (coming up soon!) were YoL’s first online retailers, although the Yard-o-Led website now sell directly too, and you could also do a lot worse than check out Pure Pens or The Pen Shop.  Alternatively, if you happen to be strolling through St.James’s and fancy popping into Fortnum’s, their pen desk offers ample hands-on testing opportunities, albeit at prices which make the posh scones look relatively affordable.Diplomat 1

This meta-reviews references:

Thanks to  The Imperial Yard team for hosting our inquisitive visits and lending us the Diplomat to review!

 

 

Yard-O-Led Viceory Grand Victorian Fountain Pen

nib and cap 2

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

The pen, and the box it comes in

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

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

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

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

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

nib and cap

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

Yard-O-Led screenshot

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

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

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

mirror 2

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

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

whole pen

This meta-reviews references:

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

mirror 4

Montblanc inks

To complete our series of articles about The Pen Shop and its wares, we really needed to foray into the world of Montblanc at least briefly.  This presented a bit of a challenge as, for various reasons, none of us have their pens and there was no way to borrow one either. But the canny folk at Pen Shop HQ found a Montblanc product that we could put through its paces and is perhaps of wider interest too – the MB ink range.  It’s a bigger range than many fountain European pen manufacturers promote, so the big set of cartridges (and one or two bottles) which turned up presented us all with a few challenges – and Ruth gets the prize for being the only one of us who has tested every single colour so far, as you can see on  the illustration below.MB swabsTrying to be all things to all people is a hard trick to pull off, and on balance our collective assessment was that Montblanc only partially succeeded – but with a few modest gems in the mix.  Perhaps the biggest achievement is to put out something under the Montblanc brand which is both good-quality and quite reasonably priced.  The black, like that famed ‘precious resin’ is consistent (if nothing to write home about), and only the grey seemed to be a real disappointment.  The standard blue divided opinion, but more because it reminded some of us of school days than the ink’s own properties – and to be fair, it’s safe in almost any pen you can find.Royal Blue

Three inks seemed to stand out as winning a fair share of approval.  Lavender Purple, firstly, isn’t the lightly pinkish-blue that most of us expect from an ink of that name, but is a rather pleasing dark purple which works well in fat nibs.  Scribble had a bottle already, which will surprise no-one – speaking of which, the bottle is quite impressively over-engineered and eye-catching, in a look-at-me-in-my-BMW sort of way.Lavender Purple

Ian likes a bit of green, and this one went down rather well; not too bright to be usable, and not so dark as to be dingy, it’s a good balance.Irish Green

While none of the inks have quite caused uproar and outrage of Lamy Dark Lilac proportions, the overall pick of the bunch for us was probably Corn-Poppy Red, which both Rob and Scribble find themselves using in ‘regular rotation’ pens now.  So there you are – there is a Montblanc product we can recommend.Corn Poppy RedFor more on the range, see:

Thanks to Hannah and the team at The Pen Shop!