Anyone who follows me on Instagram (@slightly_unnerved) will know that I have a bit of a thing for the Sailor Pro Gear. In 2020, the number of Pro Gears I own went from a modest three to a more showy eight. These were all limited/special editions of one sort or another. More (or less) interestingly, four out of these five came with medium nibs.
This didn’t bother me in the slightest as I happen to really like Sailor’s 21K medium nib. It’s a package that just works for me. Hand-finished, in practice, each of the Sailor medium nibs I own is sufficiently different (line width, flow, feedback) that they don’t all blur into one. Combine this with the range of colours I have and it never feels like I don’t have choice.
Besides the pens that I bought, one other Pro Gear I had made up my mind to buy was the Ocean. It too was a limited edition, but limited in the thousands and widely available at regular Sailor prices.
Familiarity did a good job of breeding contempt and I was quite happy to sit and ponder this particular purchase. Unfortunately, I waited too long and by the time I was ready to make the purchase, no-one in the UK had any left. It was sold out with no prospect of a re-stock.
As I veered between reconciliation with the situation and the (not entirely rational) notion of ordering one from the US, Anthony from UK Fountain Pens put one up for sale. On the face of it, this solved my problem – the model I wanted, from a UK seller and with the bonus of not having to pay the premium of a brand new pen. I’ve never met Anthony, but if you’ve ever read his blog (and you should) it’s clear that he cherishes and cares for his pens. As such I had no concerns about the condition of the pen I would be buying.
There was one quite big issue that I needed to address. This pen would come with an extra-fine nib! Japanese fountain pen nibs generally run thinner than their European counterparts. Given that I’d be reluctant to buy a European pen with an extra-fine nib, the prospect of a Japanese extra-fine was quite daunting (well for me anyway).
Here was my dilemma. If I passed on this, when would I get a chance to buy another Pro Gear Ocean at a sensible price? If I bought it, what if it was effectively useless? In practice, the decision didn’t take long to arrive at. Funds were duly dispatched and a few days later the pen arrived.
Was it the right decision? Definitely. Inked up with Sailor Yonaga, it writes brilliantly. The flow is good and the nib is not at all scratchy. It has a little of the pencil-like feedback that Sailor nibs are renowned for, but that’s it. All in all a fantastic pen.
Much of this pen was a known quantity, but sometimes it’s good to push your boundaries a bit and try something that differs from the norm.
I stumbled on the Platinum Prefounte as I was browsing Cult Pens’ website a couple of months ago. I’ve previously enjoyed the Plaisir from the more budget-friendly end of Platinum’s line-up and for under £10 (£8.99 to be precise) I thought I’d see how the Prefounte fared. In fact, I bought two – a fine in ‘Vermillion Orange‘ and a medium in ‘Night Sea‘.
In terms of presentation, the Prefounte comes in some fairly simple plastic and card packaging. It’s inoffesnive and appropriate for the price of the pen, but doesn’t really have a second use and mine went straight into the recycling once I’d unpacked the pen.
Quick on the uptake as ever, I also realised that (with the exception of the very different Curidas), all of Platinum’s readily available steel-nibbed pens have names starting with a ‘P’ – even the PGB-3000A ‘Cool’. Cool name? Definitely. Well…maybe…
Anyway, back to the Prefounte. It’s a fairly slim and lightweight pen with a translucent cap and barrel, which makes it look more up-market than the Preppy and (arguably), not as smart as the Plaisir. Price-wise, between these two pens is exactly where the Prefounte sits – the Preppy is about half the price (around £4-5) and the Plaisir around 50% more expensive (around £13-15). As other reviewers have noted, whether there was a genuine gap in the line-up that needed filling is open to debate.
Of nibs and feeds
Keeping the Preppy and Plaisir in mind, all three pens share a common section, nib and feed, meaning that switching nibs is dead easy. I’ve always been intrigued by Platinum’s approach of incorporating the feed into the grip section. By making the section translucent as well, you can see the arrangement of fins within. This set-up makes the already small nib unit look more like it could be a replacement unit for a fibre-tip pen than a fountain pen, but in practice it all fits together nicely and works well.
Staying on the subject of the nib, the business end of this pen is great. It may be small and plain to look at, but I think the simple approach works well here. The key question is ’how does it write?’ The answer to that is – ‘really well!’ I’ve had 5 of these nib units in various pens over the years and all have been excellent writers – very smooth with no scratchiness or hard starts. I did read some reports of problems with the Prefounte, but that doesn’t match my experience.
I’ve mentioned the translucent barrel and cap already, and I have to say I really like both the colours I picked. If neither of these appeal, you can also have Crimson, Dark Emerald or Graphite Blue.
The barrel is smoothly cylindrical, with a slight taper. The cap is a slip fit and snaps on and off crisply. The name ‘Prefounte’ is painted on just below the metal clip and the ‘opposite’ side of the cap tells you the nib width – 03F (or 05M) together with Platinum’s name and logo and the fact that the pen is made in Japan.
Being translucent means you can see the cartridge or converter in the barrel as well as the nib and feed in the section. You can also see the spring inner cap that makes up the ‘Slip and Seal’ mechanism. I like the fact that Platinum has extended this design right the way down its range of pens – even the Preppy has it. Platinum claim that you can leave a pen inked for a year and it won’t dry out. I haven’t fully tested this claim, but it certainly holds true for several months.
The Prefounte comes supplied with a Platinum ink cartridge, because as with many Japanese pen brands, Platinum uses a proprietary fitting. This means you’re (mostly) restricted to using their own cartridges which in the UK come in a very limited selection of colours.
If you want to extend your choice of ink, you could clean and refill an empty Platinum cartridge, but that has ‘faff’ written all over it. Another alternative is to use a Platinum converter, but unless you have a spare one lying around the price of buying a new one (£6-9) can be almost as much as the cost of the pen itself! A more economical solution is to consider Platinum’s adapter for international cartridges at around £1.50. These do what the name suggests and open up a much wider set of options in terms of ink brands and colours.
One of my preferences is to use less expensive Platinum pens like the Prefounte with Platinum’s Carbon Black ink cartridges. Carbon Black is a fantastic waterproof, pigment ink which I love but don’t use a huge amount. A pen like the Prefounte is a great choice here. The basic writing experience is great and worst case, if it does get clogged up because of the ink particles, it’s not going to be too traumatic a loss. So far that hasn’t happened because the Slip and Seal cap is great at preventing the pen from drying out and the ball bearing that’s used to seal the cartridges gets punched out when you fit the cartridge and helps keep the ink in the cartridge agitated.
What/who is the Prefounte for?
This was essentially the theme of some of the reviews that I read. Was it a necessary addition to Platinum’s range of pens? Who is the target market? I did wonder whether the Prefounte is considered to be a school pen. It’s not marketed as such, but maybe that’s its purpose? Within Platinum’s range you already have the Preppy if keeping costs down is your only consideration, or if you have a little more cash available you could have the Plaisir. If you really don’t want a metal pen like the Plaisir, I guess the Prefounte offers something more aesthetically pleasing than the Preppy and made with nicer materials.
The Prefounte is just about smart enough to be used in a work context and you could probably lend it to a friend or colleague and not worry if it got lost or damaged as it’s cheap to replace .
In isolation, I find it really hard to dislike the Prefounte. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it. It’s a nice enough looking pen, without being distinctive and it feels good in the hand. Platinum have got the writing experience with their steel nibs completely sorted, so that’s not an issue. It’s only when you start to think of it alongside other pens that you start to think about why you might buy it. There’s certainly lots of competition at this end of the market.
I bought mine as a bit of an experiment to see what they were like. If you were in the market for your first fountain pen, you could definitely do worse than pick the Prefounte. At least if your usage is going to be low/infrequent you can be comfortably certain that your pen won’t dry out when not in use.
While the usual recommendations for a first fountain pen are the Lamy Safari or Kaweco Perkeo, these will cost you quite a bit more (in relative terms). It’s arguable that you are getting better design and materials for your money and a better selection of inks that can be used with those pens, so there are other factors to consider here besides price.
At almost the same price as for the Prefounte, you could have the Kaco Retro. Based on my experience, deciding between these two is a much more marginal call. Price-wise there’s hardly anything in it. Both are fun designs and remarkably competent performers for such cheap pens. The Retro comes in some fun colours and has a converter as standard, but there’s only one nib size. The Prefounte colour choices may be slightly less fun, but I really like them, plus the Prefounte has interchangeable nibs and Slip and Seal. Here I’d say it really comes down to which one you prefer the look of. Neither has let me down and I’d recommend either.
I’ve always enjoyed writing with Platinum’s budget steel-nibbed pens, and the Prefounte has lived up admirably to those expectations. Whether it has enough going for it in the face of competition is a more tricky question to answer.
One of the upsides to posting so sporadically is that it takes away some of the sense of needing to write about new products or little-known makers. Pelham Blue is not a new ink and Diamine is definitely not a little-known maker.
Gratuitous pen shot
Pelham Blue is one of the Gibson Guitar series of inks. I believe these were originally a Germany-only exclusive, but they were subsequently made generally available and have become a routine fixture in Diamine’s product line-up. That’s good news because it means that Pelham Blue is widely available and fits into Diamine’s regular pricing structure.
On to the ink itself. I’ve struggled to categorise it within the pantheon of blue inks. Pelham Blue is a bit of a chameleon, looking slightly different according to which pen and paper you use. I’ve seen ‘blue-black’ inks that are lighter than Pelham Blue. What I can say is that it’s definitely not out there with azure and sapphire blues and it’s definitely not turquoise. Before writing this post I read some other reviews and was struck by the difference in appearance between my use of Pelham Blue and the review on the Pen Addict. That said I had a look at some examples of Gibson guitars that were finished in Pelham Blue and the photos of these were hugely variable too,
Some Col-o-ring swatches
If you swatch Pelham Blue, you could convince yourself that there some green in there, but that doesn’t really come through in normal use – i.e. writing. Cult Pens, who I bought the ink from describe it as a deep, rich blue. I think that sums it up quite nicely.
It’s definitely a blue of some description
I don’t see it as my mission in life to categorise and catalogue inks. The key things for me are: ‘Do I like the colour?’, and ‘Does it suit my pens and the way I write?’
The answer to both of these is a resounding ‘Yes’.
Do I like the colour? Yes!
I really like this colour. Pelham Blue manages to achieve the balance of being dark enough for serious things like work, but lively enough to be pleasant to use rather than utilitarian.
I tend to use Japanese paper in most situations, and this brings out some wonderful shading. I didn’t think there was any sheen to be had, even on Tomoe Rive paper. Then I tried some ink splats and these duly showed up some red sheen, but only where a considerable amount of ink had pooled.
There’s some sheen there if you really look for it
In my experience you won’t see any sheen in regular use, even on papers that normally deliver on that front. But that’s OK, it’s not promoted as an ink that sheens, and the shading is more than adequate compensation.
You have to love the consistency in nib widths
Pelham Blue works in pretty much any pen. It’s free-flowing and what I would call a wet ink. I like inks that are wet, so that probably endears it to me. I’ve found it works well in my Montblanc Heritage 1912 – to the extent that I can’t remember the last time I inked this pen with anything else. As I was writing out this post, my Montblanc ran dry and I had absolutely no hesitation in just filling it up and carrying on.
One benefit of being a ‘regular’ Diamine ink is that Pelham Blue is relatively inexpensive. I started with a 30ml bottle for £2.35 from Cult Pens, but got increasingly frustrated with trying to fill a piston filler from such a narrow bottle neck. The only and obvious solution was trading up to an 80ml bottle instead (a massive £5.90). I gave the 30ml to a friend and am quite prepared to believe that I will empty the 80ml bottle. It may take me a while, but I can’t see me losing interest in this ink any time soon.
Depending on what you like, Diamine inks can be a bit hit and miss in terms of colour and properties but, as far as I’m concerned, they got it spot on with Pelham Blue.
Kaco is a pen brand that I’m not at all familiar with. I bought my Retro from Cult Pens as a top-up to an order I was placing. The Kaco Retro is a cheap Chinese fountain pen. It’s also very retro in style terms (who’d have thought it?). Pens of this sort can be a bit hit and miss in terms of quality and whether (or not) they work. The last one of these I tried was the Moonman M2. That turned out to be a good buy (and my most read post). Is the Kaco Retro good enough to recommend as a beginner’s pen? Does it offer enough to be of interest to a pen aficionado? Read on to find out what I made of it…
What’s in the box?
For it’s £10 price tag, you get a surprising amount. Of course there’s the pen and also a couple of anonymous short international cartridges. So far, so predictable. What makes the proposition more interesting is the inclusion of a converter. These aren’t usually included with pens from major manufacturers that cost several times more, so to see one here is a definite bonus.
I’m not in the box (anymore)
On to the pen itself…
The Retro is made from some kind of ABS-type plastic, which apparently means that it’s an opaque thermoplastic and an amorphous polymer. Well that’s good to know. The really good news is that there’s absolutely no danger of the term ‘precious resin’ being used in the marketing blurb. It makes for a lightweight pen and one that feels like it was made to a price point – which, of course, it is.
The material and overall weight don’t necessarily inspire a sense that the Kaco Retro will survive long enough to become a family heirloom, but it’s tough enough for the here and now and my guess is that it will be fun while it lasts.
The pen I bought is described as ‘green’, but I’d say that turquoise would be a better description. That said, the lid of the box says KacoGreen and the ‘KG’ is etched into the cap, so who am I to argue with that?
Form and function
The shape of the Kaco Retro is that of a rather familiar slim cigar. It also has a hooded nib. Of course, any resemblance between the Retro and a Parker 51 is entirely coincidental. To be fair, rather than going all out and ripping off the Parker design in its entirety, Kaco have added one or two touches that are presumably enough to fend off a lawsuit for infringement of design rights.
Now which pen do you remind me of?
Nibz in the hood?
The barrel and the cap are each made in single pieces, so there are no finials and no adornments at either end. There are small indentations at each end that look like manufacturing artefacts, but these have been tidied up well enough that I have no complaints about them.
That’s one end of it
The section is essentially the same diameter as the barrel, so there is no step-down between the two. Also, being a slip cap pen there are no threads to get in the way. This smooth profile, coupled with the materials it’s made from, might make the Kaco Retro a slippery customer, but I’ve experienced no problems holding on to it while I write. It’s also worth noting that top of the section which screws into the barrel is clear and doubles as an ink window. I’m not sure how much use this will be, but it breaks up the otherwise uniform colour of the pen.
Normally I don’t worry much about clips on fountain pens. Their main benefit to me is as a roll-stop to prevent pens sky diving from my desk. Despite this, I felt it was worth highlighting the clip on the Retro.
From a design point of view, I think the clip works really well. The simple form suits the pen. One end vanishes inside the cap with no obvious means of attachment, the other end sports a plastic ball in a colour that contrasts the rest of the pen. On the green (turquoise) Retro that I have, the ball is orange. If you buy a blue Retro, you also get an orange ball. Buy an orange pen and the ball is blue – and so on.
Where the clip is less successful is in terms of its utility. I’d go as far as to say that as a clip and all that’s implied by that term, it’s a complete failure. It’s extremely rigid. It looks and feels like a nail. The clip is so rigid, in fact, that it’s hard to lift it to clip the pen to anything. I wrote the notes for this review in a Paperchase notebook with 100gsm paper and I couldn’t clip the pen to a single sheet of this. My suspicion is that any attempt to persuade the clip to live up to its name would not end well. Consequently I haven’t forced the issue.
The Kaco Retro comes with an extra fine nib. That’s it. You don’t get a choice of other widths. In practice, I’d put the width as being nearer to what I would call a fine and it suits me well enough. If you like your nibs on the broad side of things, you’ll probably be disappointed.
Extra fine or fine? My money’s on fine!
At the price the Retro comes in at, the most you can hope for is that the nib will write well enough and do so without too much hassle. It may have been luck, but mine has proved to be an excellent writer. To be on the safe side, I inked my Retro with Pure Pens’ Celtic Sea. This was partly to (vaguely) match the colour of the pen, but mainly because it’s a free-flowing ink and I wanted to avoid a writing experience that was dry and scratchy.
The Retro writes well on a range of papers, putting down a smooth and wet line of ink. I’ve experienced no skipping or hard starts. To be honest the pen hasn’t lain unused for long, but I’ve had no indications of the nib drying out or being reluctant to start. This is probably also helped by an insert inside the cap. This incorporates a clutch ring to hold the cap on and a plastic liner that looks like it’s there to help stop the nib from drying out.
I tend to shy away from the ‘best pen for…’ type of recommendation, but I’ve been very pleasantly surprised and impressed by the Kaco Retro. I find it visually appealing. It also comes with the added bonus of functioning really well as a fountain pen. Sure, it’s not made from the highest quality materials, but neither does it pretend to be more than it is, and it does only cost £10.
If you like the design and colour scheme, the Kaco Retro is a great place to start with fountain pens. The fact that you get a converter thrown in is a huge bonus. Being able to buy from a reputable pen retailer like Cult Pens means that if you do have any issues (like a dud nib), you have some customer support to engage with. All of that said, this pen has something to offer even if you already own a heap of fountain pens and want something a bit different to add to your collection.
I got mine from Cult Pens for £9.99. Prices on eBay and Amazon look to be broadly similar. I couldn’t immediately spot a mainstream US retailer that carries them. If anyone knows of one, let me know and I’ll update this post. If money is no object, you can buy what appears to be exactly the same pen from Choosing Keeping for £18.00. Although, if you feel the need to spend the sort of money that Choosing Keeping are charging, I’d suggest sticking with Cult Pens and buying two of them. The orange one is next on my list…
I noted the other day that Bauhaus is 100 years old. Not the pale-faced, pointy-cheekboned goth outfit fronted by Pete Murphy, but the German art and design movement founded by Walter Gropius.
This got me thinking about a pen that has become one of my long-term companions on my particular bus ride – the Lamy 2000. This is a fountain pen that has often been seen as embodying the Bauhaus aesthetic, even if technically it missed that particular bus by 30-odd years. It was also pretty much my first ‘posh’ fountain pen, by which I mean it cost over £100, had a gold nib and filled using a piston mechanism. This was all unknown territory for me at the time, but the 2000 exuded class and almost everything I read said it was great pen and a classic design that any self-respecting penthusiast should have in their collection.
So it was that I gave Cult Pens what seemed (at the time) like a lot of money and they sent me a pen. I chose a fine nib and seem to recall that this was the first time that I’d really given consideration to picking a nib size other than medium. Due to a fortunate combination of personal preference (I think it looks way better) and price, I picked the black Makrolon finish instead of the alternative of brushed steel.
The Lamy 2000 in all its sleek, simple beauty
Pens achieve cult status for all kinds of reasons; some more justified than others. In the case of the Lamy 2000 (first introduced in 1966), I think this is deserved. Capped, its lines are simple and appealing, with flat ends and a brushed metal clip on which you’ll find the only bit of Lamy branding, subtly etched near where the clip attaches to the cap.
In case you forget who made the pen…
The only other accent you’ll find is a brushed metal disc at the tip of the barrel.
Piston cap inlay
It’s a slip cap, so a slight pull is all that is needed to uncap the pen and get writing. Removing the cap really reveals what all the fuss is about. There are no steps between elements or weird changes of angle, just a simple and continuous curve from where the nib emerges from the section to the end of the barrel.
Follow the lines…
Perhaps the only thing that jars ever so slightly is a pair of tabs that protrude a fraction of a millimetre from either side of the section a little below the ink window.
If the cap fits… One of the two cap clutch tabs
I was never really sure what these were for, but in doing some background research I discover they are part of a clutch ring for the cap. In that sense they do their job perfectly well and don’t intrude on the writing experience. My thumb sits right on top of one of them when I hold the pen and I can’t say I’ve ever really noticed it, let alone felt any discomfort even for long writing sessions.
This also marks the point where the section attaches to the barrel. The design of this (and the piston cap) is such that you can barely see the join where the two elements meet. The cleverness of the piston cap end of things was highlighted in a recent post by Anthony over at UK Fountain Pens.
Can you spot the join?
I can certainly remember looking at my newly acquired Lamy 2000 and wondering how I was meant to fill it. As it was my first piston filler, I duly read the instructions, but remained stumped as to where the cap that I was meant to unscrew actually was. Of course now it seems so easy (it always is when you know how), but what impresses me is that even after several years of use and numerous fills, everything has remained tight and these transitions still appear seamless. A tribute to the design, the materials and the manufacturing.
As a counter to all that black Makrolon, there is a short brushed metal section which leads the eye down to a small, partially hooded 14K rhodium-plated gold nib. The only departure from curved lines comes with the underside of the section, which angles up more sharply towards the underside of the feed. Cunningly, this conceals the breather hole – another good piece of design.
The 14K nib in all its glory. Where’s the breather hole?
There it is!
That slight change of angle…
It may have been good fortune, but the nib on mine has written flawlessly since I got it. I have read that some people had bad experiences with theirs, but I have absolutely no complaints with mine and I’m not the greatest lover of Lamy nibs. It’s not the thinnest ‘fine’ I’ve ever owned, but it suits my writing just – well – fine. Mine copes with pretty much whatever ink I throw at it, but it is a very wet writer, so can be a good choice for use with drier inks.
I have to say it, I really love my Lamy 2000. It looks fantastic, writes well and seldom goes uninked for any length of time. It’s also pleasing that Lamy haven’t tried to do anything silly with this pen. The design wears its age well and has evolved by remaining essentially unchanged over the 53 years of its life so far.
The Lamy 2000 is smart enough to use in any setting and, although not cheap, I’ve never felt uncomfortable taking it with me to work. Sure it’s not as glamorous as some other pens, but it does its job with quiet efficiency and (I like to think) pride in being able to do its job well. Definitely a pen where all the plaudits are entirely justified. If you don’t own one already, I’d recommend giving some serious thought to rectifying that oversight.
If you want to know more about the Lamy 2000, when I was doing some researchI came across this amazingly thorough piece on FPN It covers pretty much every aspect of the pen from its design origins through to how to strip it down. Whatever you think of the pen it is well worth a read.
When I started my blog, I was in part looking for a creative outlet that could serve as a substitute for photography. Sure I’ve liked and used fountain pens for years, but it never occurred to me that I would start collecting them in earnest, or writing about them, or (here was the big surprise) finding that other people might actually want to read what I had to say about them.
I’ve never really taken to digital photography beyond the acceptance that these days it’s a convenient way to take photographs. And while I still can’t be persuaded to spend hours in front of a computer tweaking images, I never had that problem standing for hours in a cramped, darkened space under a red safelight making prints in a darkroom. Maybe it was the smell of the chemicals, but I’d like to think it was the childlike wonder of watching an image gradually materialising on the paper as it rocked gently in the tray of developer and thinking “I did that”. Of course, it applied equally when things went wrong, but I’m pleased to say that this sense of magic has never gone away.
Waterfall (Cwmorthin, North Wales)
I can’t pretend to be a very good photographer but I need to be able to believe I still am one. Unfortunately, the time needed for taking and making photographs has not been compatible with work and family commitments in recent years. I’m hopeful that one day this will change, and that when it does it will actually still be possible to buy film and photographic paper and get back to something that I really love. In the meantime, my darkroom is mothballed and my beloved Sinar Norma and Mamiya RB67 are more like ornaments in the corner of a room than tools of the trade. All the gear – no idea when I’m going to get to put it to good use…
What does any of this have to do with buses?
On the face of it, not a lot.
I’ve never been to Helsinki and I’ve certainly never seen its bus station, but I’m more familiar with it than any other Scandinavian transportation hub as a result of a lecture given by Amo Rafael Minkkinen a number of years ago. He was talking about the creative process, the development of one’s own style as a photographer and how it could be compared to taking a journey from Helsinki’s central bus station. You can read a transcript about the Helsinki Bus Station Theory here. (It’s worth taking the time, I think.)
Google tells me this is the old Helsinki bus station… (Courtesy of JIP at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0])
In a nutshell, he argued that you will spend years making photographs that look like the work of others, but eventually (and here’s where the bus analogy punchline arrives) your personal route will start to diverge from these others as the journey progresses and your own style will start to become distinct from those around you. The trick is to stay on the bus and see the journey through. Going back to the bus station and starting again on another route to see if that offers a better option will just waste precious time and end up leaving you no further forward than before – just on a different route.
This resonated with me at the time, being inspired by the work of photographers like John Davies, Fay Godwin, John Blakemore, Igor Svibilsky and many others while I tried to work out what sort of photographs I wanted to make. However, I’ve recently found myself reflecting on it in the context of writing my blog and how the focus of my interest in pens, paper and ink has changed with time, practice and seeing what interests other people.
Do I stick with what I’m doing?
Should I follow what I see going on elsewhere?
Sure, at times I’ve followed the same routes as other people, even jumping on the occasional bandwagon. What I think I’ve learnt along the way is that you should trust your own judgement, follow what interests you and learn from your experiences as you go. I’ve also learnt that my list of favourite pens (owned or aspirational) or inks and, to a lesser extent, paper now looks nothing like it did a couple of years ago. Also, I’m fairly confident that my list will almost certainly never entirely match anyone else’s. At first glance there might be similarities, but look at the detail and you’ll start to see the differences. That’s one of the wonders of this hobby and the wonderfully diverse group of people out there who practice it.
So, whatever your creative endeavour, whether it be one that you do in private or share publicly, you’ll get where you’re going eventually. Stick with it and try to enjoy the ride.
As Minkkinen himself said – “Stay on the bus. Stay on the f*cking bus!”
A Helsinki bus. Consider staying on it… (Courtesy of AleWi [CC0])
In case you were in any doubt about which ink I’m talking about
Rikyucha (Green Tea Brown) is part of Sailor’s Shikiori (Four Seasons) range of inks. Although it is a new ink to me, a bit of research suggests it was part of the Sailor line-up for a while, before disappearing to wherever discontinued inks go. The translation of Rikyucha is a good one in terms of describing what is quite a complex ink. It’s also a more palatable descriptor than some that might be applied to it. Any resemblance between this ink and something that you might find lurking at the bottom of a pond is, of course, entirely coincidental…
My interest in inks of this colour started with a couple of Diamine inks – Safari and Salamander. While I’ve liked the colour of these inks, I’ve found them a little dry for my liking. In a quest for something more to my liking I tried Robert Oster Bronze. I love the colour of this ink, but again it’s a bit too dry for me.
Can you pick out the culprit from this lineup?
The same swatches in closer detail
As you might expect from an ink made by Sailor, Rikyucha is a well-behaved, low maintenance ink. That said, I suspect it’s the kind of colour that will polarise opinions. I may well be biased, but it was appealing enough to make me buy a bottle. As I’ve used it in anger I’ve grown increasingly fond of it.
As well as these basic properties, Rikyucha has one or two extra tricks up its sleeve. The most on noticeable thing is that it looks dark green with a slight hint of blue while wet, but dries to a much browner shade. I tried to capture this difference, but failed miserably so you’ll have to take my word for it.
Some of my favourite literary villains and yet another chance to flaunt my awful handwriting
On top of the colour shift, there’s a cheeky bit of sheen thrown into the package. Like a number of other Sailor inks I’ve used, it’s not the raison d’etre of this ink, but it’s a nice addition without dominating proceedings. I used some ink splats to highlight this, but (on the right paper) broader, wetter nibs will also show this off.
The obligatory ink splats to highlight the sheen
As befits an ink with these properties, its make up is a bit complicated and unexpected. Some simple kitchen chromatography shows a range of colours. I certainly wasn’t expecting the blue component…
There’s more to Rikyucha than meets the eye
This is one of the first bottles of Sailor ink that I’ve bought in the new, smaller bottles that are replacing the old 50ml ones. I like the design of the bottles and I’m generally a fan of smaller ink bottles. I already have more ink than I’m likely to get through in my lifetime, so not having to add another 50ml to my list of guilty excess is to be welcomed. What is not so welcome is the big shift in the unit cost of Sailor inks. In the UK, a 50ml bottle of the old Sailor Jentle Four Seasons ink cost in the order of £16-20, which I thought was pretty good value for money for the quality of the ink.
The new 20ml bottles, however pretty they might be, weigh in at around £11 or £12, which shifts the cost from around 35p per ml to approximately 60p per ml. Much as I love Sailor inks, this will certainly make me a little more selective about future purchases.
Is it small or just very far away?
Overall I really like this ink. I like the new packaging and bottles and I definitely like how Rikyucha behaves and how it looks on the page. The colour shift as the ink dries and the sheen add to the interest, so if the colour of this ink appeals I’d recommend checking it out. The only fly in the ointment is the pricing. To be frank, the jump in price per ml seems excessive to me. I get that smaller volumes will be relatively more expensive, but this is going a bit far. That said, none of the other inks I’ve tried in this corner of the colour chart have worked nearly so well for me, so I’m prepared to live with the relatively high price.
The makings of this review have been hanging around for the best part of a year. I even started a draft back in April of last year, but couldn’t find the right approach. Fast forward 8 months or so and a comment on Rupert Arzeian’s excellent blog and I figure it’s time to have another go. After something of a fallow period in terms of posts, I had to start somewhere. So here it is, a review of the Faber-Castell Loom fountain pen. Well, 2 of them, actually.
Looming on the horizon after 8 months…
For a company with such a long history of making writing instruments, it’s always struck me that the design of a lot of Faber-Castell’s fountain pens is remarkably contemporary. So it is with the Loom. Its clean lines and distinctive shape make for an interesting starting point. I’d admired the Loom for a while before I bought my first one. Owning that one didn’t deter me and I’ve since bought a second. My first Loom came in a matt silver finish, but these don’t seem to be very widely available any more. The second came in a gloss silver finish, which I think looks more stylish. There are also some options in a gunmetal finish, although these command a premium on price.
The Loom is quite widely available from the usual sources. In UK pricing terms, the gunmetal version costs around £40, with the silver version coming in at around £30.
A Sense of Proportion
The Loom is not overly long, but looks stocky. The constant diameter of the barrel coupled with the limited taper of the section make it feel quite chunky. The photos below show some comparisons.
Capped size comparison. L-R: Sailor Pro Gear Earth, Faber-Castell Loom, Faber-Castell Loom, Pelikan M400 White Tortoise, Pelikan M600 Vibrant Orange, Platinum 3776 Kumpoo. (Polar bear not to scale)
Uncapped size comparison…
If the Loom was a more high end pen, the barrel might be milled from a single rod of metal. Instead, it comes as a plastic-lined cylinder with a concave plug at the end. It’s all well finished and it gets the job done, but it does look a little unusual. The plug looks a little less attractive on the matt version compared to the gloss. Luckily the pen posts easily and without any negative effects on balance so you can at least cover this up whilst writing.
Plugging away #1
Plugging away #2
Once you’ve decided on finish, the only other option to consider is what colour you’d like the cap. When I bought my orange one there was quite a wide range of colours, but this seems to have reduced over the past couple of years with more of a focus on muted and pastel shades. Not as much fun, but there are still options. The lack of threads is a bit of a giveaway – the cap is a snap on, rather than screw-on and it does so with a very satisfying ‘click’. You’re left in absolutely no doubt when the Loom is safely capped.
If the cap fits…
The cap is engraved with the company name and logo down one ‘side’ (relative to the clip). There’s no separate finial, but the part of the clip where it fits into the cap is engraved with the Faber-Castell logo as well. As seems to be the case with a number of Faber-Castell pens, the Loom’s clip is a fully-functional and substantial affair.
The cap is slightly bulbous in shape. From its widest point at mid-height, it tapers slightly towards the base and slightly more markedly towards its tip. I find the profile easy on the eye, and when the pen is capped it breaks up what would otherwise be a very angular profile to the Loom.
I mentioned the contemporary look of several Faber-Castell fountain pens, and one area the company seems to have gone its own way on is in the design of the section. On first reading, cylindrical and slightly tapered sounds pretty conventional, but I haven’t come across a design quite like this before. On both of my Looms, the finish of the section matches that of the barrel so there’s no concession there to promote grip. There’s also a slightly disconcerting lack of any flaring to stop your fingers sliding off the end of the section and onto the nib. The only feature to help keep your hand where it should be is a series of 5 rings that act as ridges to provide something to grip.
The section won’t be to everyone’s taste
This works perfectly well in terms of stopping the Loom from sliding out of your grasp. Even so, I do find the section a bit ‘squirrely’. It has a slight tendency to try and rotate in your grip. That persists with use, but you do get used to it and everything settles down. I wrote the first draft of this review by hand with the Loom (and in 1 sitting) and it was fine. I don’t find that I have to grip the section any more tightly than normal and I haven’t experienced any noticeable fatigue as a result.
The Sharp End
I’ve spent a bit of time now highlighting some of the Loom’s quirks and (ahem) features, but it does have a trick up its metaphorical sleeve – the nib.
Faber-Castell has a reputation for high quality steel nibs, and the units I’ve got on my Looms are crackers. The nib is a #5 in size and suits the proportions of the Loom well. I think it’s the same as used in a number of other Faber-Castell pens, including the Ondoro and eMotion. Absence of a breather hole and a stippled finish in the form of a chevron add to the attraction, but at the end of the day it’s the performance that counts.
The nib housing protrudes a bit from the section…
I have a fine and a broad nib and both have worked flawlessly out of the box. Ink flow is good, even with drier inks. Both nibs give feedback on a range of papers, but it’s not too intrusive.
The obligatory writing samples
The Loom takes either an international cartridge or converter, meaning there is a wide range of ink options available. As a slight note of caution, I’ve found that not all international converters fit equally well, so a bit of trial and error might be needed if you’re thinking of re-purposing another brand of converter.
I can see the Faber-Castell Loom being a pen that divides opinions. I’ve highlighted a number of ‘quirks’ in the design and execution of the Loom. The overall design might not appeal to everyone. Similarly the shape of the section won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. While none of them are likely to be killer blows in isolation, I could see how they might start to accumulate in the ‘deficit’ column of any evaluation of the Loom.
My take is that the overall design and feel of the pen, coupled with the quality of the nibs, make the Loom worth having. To reject it on the grounds of some kind of cumulative scoring system would be rather harsh.
Don’t smash the Loom! (As Ned Ludd almost certainly didn’t say.)
I was going to call this a review, but since it lacks the sort of details that you might expect to find in a review, I’ve gone with something more mundane.
If you have any interest in fountain pens, you’ll have heard of Pelikan. Some people collect Pelikans to the extent of obsession, owning every regular and limited edition going. There’s even a collective noun for them – a flock. (If you want chapter and verse on Pelikan pens, you could do worse than to start with the excellent Pelikans Perch). I could always see why people liked them – a strong pedigree, well made, (mainly) gold-nibbed and piston filled, but for me something about them never quite clicked.
That’s changed a little in that I now own a Pelikan – an M400 White Tortoise. Even that wasn’t entirely straightforward…
The seldom spotted White Tortoise
On the one hand, photos of the green tortoiseshell that makes up most of the barrel of this pen were intriguing. On the other hand, “everyone” (whoever they are) says that the M400 is too small and any right-thinking person would start at the (larger) M600. One of the reasons for going to the Bristol pen show back in February of this year was to be hands on and get my head round the relative sizing of Pelikans.
All of this combined to confirm that, despite the looks of the White Tortoise, I shouldn’t buy it. It was too small and didn’t look right in my hand.
Since I didn’t much like any of the options in the M600 range at the time either, it left me concluding that about the only Pelikan I could consider buying was the M805 Stresemann. Perfectly rational, but the price meant that it got put on the long list of pens to buy one day, rather than anytime soon.
So far, so logical. But despite this, I couldn’t quite get the White Tortoise out of my head. Fast forward to the summer of this year and an unfortunate combination of circumstances trampled logic into the dirt, turned and blew a raspberry in its dusty face and led me to buying the same said White Tortoise. The lure for this particular ambush was set out by Anthony from UK Fountain Pens, who posted a photo on Instagram of a White Tortoise he’d just bought. The trap was then sprung by Cult Pens, who had the nerve to offer 10% off an already competitive price and throw in a free Pelikan case.
My already non-ferrous will collapsed at this and I gave in to the inevitable and pushed the button.
It was hard enough resisting the pen, the prospect of a free case tipped the balance…
The one thing that photos of pens and even picking them up un-inked can’t tell you is how they will write, and this for me has been the revelation with the White Tortoise. I have lots of pens that give me pleasure to use, but I own a far smaller number that you feel just “want” to write. My new Pelikan is one such pen. The nib is unbelievably smooth, inks flow ridiculously well and actually it feels pretty good in the hand.
View from the sharp end
My first outing with it involved inking with Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-peki, a long-time favourite both for colour and for ease of use. I was wary of anything that might stain the barrel and ruin the looks of the White Tortoise, but Kon-peki has always proved easy to clean out. This highlighted one “issue”. With an ink that flows well, output from the nib is so high that the fine nib I bought looked more like a generous medium. Not unmanageable, but not quite what I wanted. I’ve since tried some “drier” inks and things are definitely more to my liking with this change.
It still tests the definition of what I’d call ‘fine’, but I can happily live with that.
The obligatory writing example
I was reflecting recently on one of the first posts I wrote on this blog about the Conklin Duragraph and how I realised that initial troubles I had with that pen were due to the poor flow of the ink I was using – Diamine Silver Fox. Now I haven’t touched this ink since that fateful trial, but I wondered whether my new Pelikan could be elevated to the status of miracle worker and get something useful from Silver Fox. It turns out not, but I won’t hold it against the White Tortoise and Silver Fox will just have to forever remain on the inky equivalent of the naughty step.
Back to the White Tortoise. Since I’ve had it, only a couple of days have gone by when it hasn’t been inked and it continues to be a source of joy and pleasure. It’s made me realise that Pelikan might know something about pens after all and “made” me put my name on the waiting list for the soon-to-be-released M600 Vibrant Orange. That is an M600 I could really like.
I suppose I’m meant to draw some kind of conclusion out of this. Aside from the obvious “Pelikan pens are not what I thought they were”, there’s the wider realisation that “monkey see, monkey want” is not all there is to this wonderful world of fountain pens and all that goes with them. Sometimes a longer courtship, coupled with denial and, ultimately, ignorance of reasoned argument is required to make you really appreciate what’s in front of you.
Also, temptation from enablers and discounted prices are a wicked (interpret that how you will) combination.
If you’re a fountain pen collector/hoarder like me, the question of how to keep them safe can become a bit of an issue. One potential solution is the humble pen wrap/roll. Enter the Hemingway from Rickshaw Bagworks.
Give me a wave
Is it a wrap? Is it a roll? Both terms seem to get used for objects of this sort. In using the Hemingway, there are elements of both wrapping and rolling. So, like a sightless Cervid, I have no idea. Rickshaw call the Hemingway a pen roll, so that’s good enough for me. Pen roll it is.
The Origin Story
The Hemingway, like Rickshaw’s other products is made at their workshop in San Francisco. It comes in two flavours – Standard and Graphic. The Standard can be had in a range of colours and retails at $39. You can customise the finish for an extra $10. The Graphic also comes in at $49, and you can now have all manner of finishes. The graphic started out as a series of rolls themed around oriental dragon designs, which Mark from Rickshaw posted on Instagram a while back. Inspired by this, I asked whether it would be possible to produce a roll based on the famous Hokusai woodblock print of the Great Wave off Kanagawa.
As it turned out, the answer was – “yes”. Within 2 days of posing the question on Instagram, the fabric had been printed, cut and a prototype stitched. Pretty impressive.
Block and roll. Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa – woodblock meets pen roll.
I placed my order and, within a few days, my Hemingway was en route. Not surprisingly, the longest wait was for various postal organisations to get their act together and move it from the West Coast of the US to the UK. Eventually it landed safe and sound in the UK and, once I’d paid over the ransome to the Royal Mail to get my goods released, it was duly delivered.
The cutting and stitching are of high quality and everything is well finished. The printed fabric is described as a polyester canvas. It feels a slightly smoother than regular cordura , but there’s nothing to suggest that it lacks the necessary robustness to look after your precious pens. Rickshaw call their lining material “Royal Plush” and it lives up to the name, being incredibly soft and sumptuous. Mine comes in dark blue, which matches up nicely with the indigo and Prussian Blue used in the Great Wave. As you might hope, the quality of the image itself is also very good.
The Hemingway does all the things you’d expect a pen roll to do. As with many other pen rolls, it holds 6 pens, although you can get versions that hold 8, 10 or 12 pens. I like the idea of a roll that can hold more pens, but I can imagine that this might become a bit bulky and cumbersome. The largest pen I own is a Conklin All American, and the Hemingway swallowed this with room to spare. How much bigger you can go before things get a little too snug – I can’t really say for sure.
In all their pampered glory
Gratuitous detail of the plush lining
It’s a wrap? On a roll?
Once you’ve finished your wrapping and rolling, the Hemingway is secured by a loop of elastic cord and cord lock which will allow you to cinch the cord up if you need to. Rickshaw claim that the Hemingway is machine washable, which is handy if things go a bit wrong. I’m less certain how colour-fast the fabrics are and what you’d end up with after letting your washing machine loose on this. Still, it’s nice to have as back-up.
If this was “just” a regular Rickshaw Hemingway, I’d be seriously impressed. Whatever the finish, it’s well made, does its job effectively and the plush lining material is truly sumptuous. You could rest assured that your pens were being suitably pampered as you went about your business. That said, I feel a much stronger degree of connection towards this one, because an element of it was my idea. As an acknowledgement of this, Mark was kind enought to include a dragon pen sleeve in the package at no extra cost.
Hats off to Mark and the team at Rickshaw for both a great product and for their responsiveness. One of the things that impresses me about the fountain pen world is that there are so many companies willing to engage with their customers and go that bit further. I definitely put Rickshaw Bagworks in this category. Based on my experience as a customer and with the range of cool designs they now have on offer, I suspect this may not be the last Hemingway Graphic that I buy.