Fountain Pen Review – Kaco Retro

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.

Contents of Kaco Retro box

I’m not in the box (anymore)

On to the pen itself…

Materials

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.

Photo of capped Kaco Retro

Now which pen do you remind me of?

The hooded nib

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.

Cap detail

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.

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Size comparison #1 (L-R: Kaweco Perkeo, Kaco Retro, TWSBI Eco)

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Size comparison #2

The clip

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.

Clip detail

Clippety doo-dah

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 nib

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.

Handwriting sample comparing nib widths

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.

In conclusion

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…

The Lamy 2000 – a long-term companion

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.

Capped Lamy 2000

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.

Lamy 2000 clip detail

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 detail

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.

The sleek lines of the Lamy 2000

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.

Lamy 2000 cap clutch tab

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.

That blind piston cap

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.

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The 14K nib in all its glory.  Where’s the breather hole?

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There it is!

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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.