When Cult Pens and Diamine came out with their first two “Iridescink” shimmering inks together they turned to the fountain pen community to name them, jokingly suggesting Robert and Maureen as possible names. The fountain pen community duly said “challenge accepted” and voted that the inks be called “Robert” and “Maureen”. I thought that this was a charming anecdote until I actually purchased three of the now four Cult Pens/Diamine Iridescink inks and realized that I with names like Robert, Maureen and Christine I would never be able to tell which ink is which.
This, of course, is a minor problem for an otherwise solid addition to the world of fountain pen inks. These inks are super sheening and generally well behaved, with a good solid base colour and an interesting sheen hue on top of it.
Robert, a purple ink with a green sheen (I will forever have to consult a guide when trying to remember which ink is called what), is one of the most attractive inks in the bunch. It features a reddish purple somewhat reminiscent of Diamine Amaranth, and a gorgeous green gold sheen.
On Rhodia paper with a Lamy fine nib you can see the green sheen on almost every downstroke. It’s also well featured in the swap I took in my Col-o-ring.
For the biggest sheen effect, of course there’s nothing like tomoe river paper. Here’s a quick sketch that I did on a Kanso Sasshi tomoe river booklet. As you can see the ink isn’t waterproof or water resistant (not that Cult Pens or Diamine claim that it is), and you can barely see the base colour in most places because of the heavy green sheen.
So why did I say that Diamine Robert is “generally well behaved” and not just “well behaved”? Because if you leave it unused in a pen for a day or two you may find that you need to “prime” the pen for a bit to get it to start to write. Once it gets going the ink flows well, but this is the sort of behaviour that makes me wary of using this ink in vintage pens. Your milage may vary, as ink flow changes with altitude and weather, but for now this gorgeous ink is relegated to “just” my modern pens. That’s more than good enough for me.
I was organizing some things around the house when I found a brown paper bag with the Muji logo on it, and in it was some washi tape and three wooden writing instruments: two mechanical pencils and a pen. There appears to be an advantage to being a forgetful unpacker, as I get to enjoy a little trip to a London based Muji store while I’m stuck at home in quarantine times.
Here are the three writing companions:
I was drawn to them because they were wood encased, and they had that very sleek, minimalist Muji design. They weren’t expensive, so even though I’m generally not a ballpoint fan and the mini mechanical pencil looked more like a novelty piece than an actual writing implement, I bought all three.
And promptly forgot about them.
Well now I’m giving them a spin, and I can’t help but be intrigued the most by the least practical of the bunch: the wooden mini mechanical pencil. It’s a 0.5 point pencil, which is pretty bog standard for mechanical pencils, but here’s where the standard ends and you venture into the wild world of Muji industrial design. The pencil is very, very, very, very thin and also very, very light. It makes all other pencils, mechanical or not, look like veritable giants around it. It is 0.6 cm wide, which is tiny, and it feels like a delicate little twig that will snap at any minute, making it quite the adventure to write with. You get a little thrill when you pick it up and scribble with it: will it break? will it survive to write another day?
Your own mini “Survivor” in pencil form.
The design of the cap and clip area are both peculiar and handsome. There’s a combination of matt and shiny aluminum parts that make a striking statement, especially on an otherwise minimalistic pencil body. There’s no branding anywhere, and no indication of the lead size that this pencil takes (though that isn’t hard to guess). If the metal bands serve a practical purpose I can’t think what it is. They seem a bit blingy at first for such an understated pencil, but I think that they do add to the design.
The pencil tip is very short and stubby, which adds to the kawaii of the pencil and yet keeps the tip visible. Which would be important if you could actually do any kind of writing or drawing with this pencil, but it’s just too thin to be used for anything but a sentence or two once in a while when you have no other choice. It’s like trying to write with a pen refill without the pen body: not something you would ever do unless it was an emergency and it was the only option you had.
All in all this pencil feels like a designer or a maker got a challenge to “make the smallest usable mechanical pencil possible, something nice that we can use in a Filofax ad”.
Now we’re back to normal pencil size world, and it’s time to take a look at the Muji Wooden Mechanical Pencil. It’s also a 0.5 pencil, and it has a very Muji/IKEA sort of look to it. It would definitely feel at home in an IKEA ad for a desk.
The wooden barrel is the highlight of this pencil, and since there aren’t many wooden mechanical pencils around and this was an inexpensive purchase I would recommend splurging for one if you have room on your desk.
I say “on your desk” because while the wooden pencil body is good looking and feels great in the hand, it is uncoated. This means that it will pick up dirt and dings from being carried around in a case, a bag or a pocket. Even on your desk it’s likely to become sullied with use, although I have had luck with using erasers to clean soiled wooden pencil bodies before.
The pencil is slightly shorter than a standard mechanical pencil, and it’s a very light pencil, but it’s absolutely usable, unlike its mini counterpart.
The Muji Wooden Ballpoint Pen is probably the one that I’ll use the most of all the bunch. It’s a 0.5mm needlepoint ballpoint that writes with a really fine, clean line. The refill, like the pen, is completely unbranded, but I’m pretty sure that it’s made by a large manufacturer like Uni-ball or Pentel. The only ballpoint pen that I have that writes remotely like this is the Traveler’s Company ballpoint, and this pen is more comfortable to hold and use.
The design aesthetic is the same as the mechanical pencil, very Muji/IKEA modern and minimalist. Like the mechanical pencil the wooden body makes for a lightweight pen that feels lovely to hold but is liable to easily get dinged and dirty.
The pen is on the thinner and shorter side when compared to other pens, so it isn’t the greatest for longer writing sessions. It is still a great pen for the price, as it’s solidly built with a good click mechanism and no wiggle in the tip or rattling while you write. Of the three I’d recommend this the most, as a general pen to keep in handy for those times that call for a ballpoint.
I’m drawing a lot of maps and schematics lately for a D&D game that I’m running so I’m using a slew of mechanical pencils for the occasion. Here’s the normal sized Muji wooden mechanical pencil at work on a Baron Fig Confidant:
I’ve been on a Caran d’Ache 849 swing ever since I discovered that they can accept Ohto Flash Dry and Parker gel ink refills, and though I usually shy away from “blingy” pens, I was drawn to the 849 Brut Rosé (rose gold) . It is one of the few 849 pens that have a “rough”/ grippy texture.
The Brut Rosé Caran d’Ache 849 is part of “Celebratory” series that includes Sparkle Gold and Black Code pens. They all come in metal presentation boxes with fabric lining, magnetic closure, and what appears to be the tagline of this edition: “We write the 849 Legend, with added sparkle”.
The box is clearly meant to evoke a jewelry box, and it does so well. The pen itself has the added weight that the Caran d’Ache Nespresso849editions have (and the same texture) but is still not a heavy pen. The clip and nock appear in pictures to be gold and not rose gold, but that is only because this is an incredibly difficult pen to photograph. In reality the pen is entirely a warm rose gold.
In terms of branding, this pen didn’t receive any special treatment (unlike the Nespresso pens). There’s no indication that this is a “special edition”: it has the same Caran d’Ache etching on the cap, a white “Swiss Made” screen print above the clip, and “849 Caran d’Ache” screen printed in white under the clip.
You can just about see the print under the clip here:
Thus the only indication that this is a more expensive “special edition” is the box.
The Caran d’Ache 849 Brut Rosé comes with the Caran d’Ache Goliath blue ballpoint refill. It is an excellent ballpoint refill, but as I’m not a fan of ballpoints, I’ll be switching it out for either the Parker gel 0.7 refill or the Ohto Flash Dry 0.5 refill.
The Caran d’Ache 849 Brut Rosé will make for a fantastic gift pen, whether for yourself or for someone you like. It’s on the more expensive side of 849 special editions, but I think that it makes a more subtle and sophisticated impression than the similarly priced “Claim Your Style” 849s.
I’ve been catching up on the Pen Addict members-only “Friend of the Show” podcast (highly recommended), and person after person said that they prefer modern pens, and they have a vintage pen, an Esterbrook, which they don’t really use. That people’s first vintage pen is an Esterbrook didn’t surprise me, as it’s a great little pen at a very compelling price, and it can be easily modified to suit your writing style by swapping out the nib. What did surprise me a little is that people aren’t really using the Esterbrooks that they have.
Then again, I own five Esterbrook pens:
Yet I haven’t used them in years. They all have nibs that I carefully selected to fit my writing style perfectly, and still I haven’t used any of them since 2016 or so. And the reason I don’t use them is the reason why I’m going to suggest to people starting out with vintage pens to maybe not pick the Esterbrook as their first vintage pen, ubiquitous and cheap and beautiful as they may be.
They’re lever fillers, every last one of them.
Lever filler mechanisms are very common in vintage pens, because they are so cheap and easy to produce. They’re also fairly easy to mend, and so you’ll find them everywhere on a vintage dealer’s table or on a vintage pen site. They are my second least favourite filling mechanism (hello button fillers, you get first place) because they are not great to use when you’re filling a pen, and they are really not great to use when you’re cleaning it.
The Esterbrook does allow you to bypass the annoying cleaning part in that you can unscrew the nib and clean the pen like that, but you still have to use the lever when you fill the pen, and you still have no earthly idea how much ink is in your pen while you’re writing with it.
So my friendly suggestion would be to delay your first purchase of a vintage fountain pen and buy something a little more expensive (in the $100-$150 range) that is easier to fill and clean. If it turns out that you like vintage fountain pens, then you can start getting used to lever fillers and their quirks.
Here are my top three suggestions, in order of most beginner friendly to least beginner friendly (but still friendlier than a lever filler): the Pelikan 140 (a piston filler), the Parker 51 aerometric (an aerometric filler that works like a squeeze converter), and the Parker Vaumatic (a vacumatic filler).
The Pelikan 140 is a piston filler with a gold nib, and a semi transparent body which allows you to see if you filled the pen properly and how much ink is left. It was made for over a decade and has a wide variety of nibs, so you can quite easily find it, and look for the perfect nib for you, just like with the Esterbrook. It is a more expensive pen, but you can still get a phenomenally good pen (ebonite feed, gold nib which can sometimes have flex, and a large ink capacity) for significantly less than what the same features would cost on a modern pen. The downside is the aesthetics, which can be a little spartan (Pelikan 140s are mostly black with green stripes), and the trim’s tendency for brassing. But brassing adds character, as once a very good vintage pen blog said. These pens are also likely to be more easily obtained in Europe than in the US or Asia.
The Parker 51 is still my absolute favourite vintage pen, but that’s not why it’s here. It’s here because the aerometrics (which are also cheaper) sport a filling mechanism that works very much like a modern squeeze converter, albeit permanently attached to the pen, and the filling instructions are etched into the pen, which is very helpful of Parker.
Theoretically you can gauge if there’s ink in the pen using the transparent sack but in most cases the sack will no longer be transparent, and even if it was, its position doesn’t really tell you a lot about the state of the ink in the pen. So it’s relatively easy to fill and clean the pen, but you’re not going to have any indication as to how much ink is in it at any given time.
The Parker Vacumatics are gorgeous pens with great nibs, and the striped Vacumatics let you know what the ink level is unless they are stained beyond belief, in which case I’d wait a bit for a pen in better condition. The Parker Vacumatics I’m recommending are those with a lock down mechanism. Of the three pens they are the most fiddly, and that’s why they’re in third place, but they allow for a relatively large ink capacity, and the option to see the ink levels at all times, so they go on the list. To fill the pen you unscrew the blind cap, give the metal nob on the top a slight turn and push (a bit like opening a child proof pill bottle) and then the metal plunger springs out. You push the plunger a few times to fill the pen, and then you push down the plunger and twist it once it’s down so that it locks back into place. If you’ve ever used a child-proof pill bottle then you’ll be familiar with the push and twist mechanism, and if not have it demonstrated when you buy the pen or find a youtube video that shows you how to do it. It’s not difficult.
The Parker Vacumatics are not as intuitive to use as a lever filler, but they allow for an ink window which means that you can see if you have ink left or if you’ve filled or cleaned the pen properly pretty easily:
These pens are never going to compete with the Esterbrook pens on price because they have gold nibs and more sophisticated filling mechanisms. They do quite easily compete with modern pens in terms of bang for your buck when it comes to getting things like a piston filler with a flexy double broad gold nib. If you’re buying a vintage fountain pen that you want to have a relatively easy time filling, using and cleaning, and that will give you a unique and oftentimes exceptional writing experience, any one of these three pens ought to do.
And just to set the record straight: I love Esterbrook pens, and there was a time when I used them constantly, and I still heartily recommend them as they are little workhorses of delight. It just occurred to me that perhaps that little lever combined with the opaque body may be off-putting to new users, and so I’m suggesting a few (much more expensive, sometimes harder to obtain) alternatives. With vintage fountain pens purchase patience is required and not FOMO, so it’s worth waiting for a great $100 pen that you’ll use more than buying a $50 one that you won’t.
It’s combat time in Vengeful Fortress the free-form illustrated adventure that I’m currently running. See previous instalments here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6. Drawn on a Stillman and Birn Epsilon sketchbook (review in part 1), with Schminke watercolours, various fountain pen inks (Sailor Sky High, Diamine Earl Grey, Diamine Christine, Diamine Robert), and Deleter Neopiko-Line-3 fineliners.
I had an issue with my Ti2 Techliner where my favourite gel ink refill (the Uni-ball UMR-85) and basically all gel ink refills dried out and stopped writing a few words after I uncapped the pen. While ballpoint refills like the Jetstream faired better, they also would “fade out” after a few lines, and then, after some coaxing, return to normal. It couldn’t be that the refill was drying out, as after capping the pen, it wrote well enough again for a few words. It was a refill problem, as the same refill wrote perfectly fine in a different pen.
I tried searching for answers and asked around in the Pen Addict slack but got no answers. It was frustrating, since I liked the pen, but couldn’t use it because it wouldn’t work with my preferred refills. I had a feeling that the magnet at the tip of the pen was what was causing the ink flow issue, but it only yesterday did I figure out how to bypass the very thing that was holding the pen together.
What I did was change the order of the parts in the front section of the pen. The original order was refill, plastic spacer, red o-ring, magnet and then the section screwed over that. What I did was reverse the o-ring and the magnet so now it’s: refill, plastic spacer, magnet, red o-ring, and then the section. The result is kind of pleasing to the eye, and more importantly it fixed the flow problem completely, and now I can actually use this fetching pen.
I tend not to review Field Notes because they arrive so late to me (due to postal issues, not Field Notes issues) that it seems irrelevant to review last quarter’s edition when everyone already has the new one at hand. Covid-19 has made the postal problems even worse, and so only now, and after contacting the wonderful Field Notes people and getting a reshipment, have my Vignette notebooks arrived.
What also arrived were my Field Notes Rooster 2020 notebooks, which are part of Field Notes’ yearly sponsorship of the Morning News and the Tournament of Books. I read all of the books in the Tournament of Books shortlist this year, for the second year in a row. I didn’t post reviews of them all in this site as I didn’t enjoy the last 3-4 books, and I didn’t feel like posting negative review after negative review.
I did, however, love this year’s Field Notes Rooster special edition notebook, and it is by far my favourite Rooster special edition notebook that Field Notes ever issued. It is a squared notebook, and not lined, for the first time ever, and the bold red and black print on the cover is much more striking than their usual craft or cream choices for this series.
The fact that these notebooks (sold as singles, with the proceeds going to literacy related charities) arrived so late means that I have a had a few months to think about the Tournament of Books 2020 reading list.
I enjoyed the 2019 reading list more, but the 2020 list was overall a good, interesting list of contemporary writing that I for the most part would not have read otherwise. There were a few mediocre books on it, and a few that I really disliked, but as a whole it wasn’t a bad list. I may try reading next year’s list too.
I wrote a few weeks back that I was struggling with my notebook setup, and things have changed since then. I’ve settled on using a blank large Moleskine hardcover in Reef Blue and a Pilot Hi-Tech C 0.4 for a running list of work projects and related notes.
I use the right hand side for a running tasks per project (I still manage major project points in the Things app), and the left hand side for related points, reminders and ideas. Each project has at least one spread, and I drop in pages with ideas and things to remember in between the project pages.
The Pilot Hi-Tec-C (also known as the G-Tec-C4) is not a pen that I would recommend because it’s so very delicate and unreliable, but I used to be a fan years ago, and in a burst of nostalgia (and against my better judgement) I’ve gone back to using these pens. There’s something about the barrel design of this pen, combined with it’s needle tip that makes me enjoy writing with it. Again, I wouldn’t recommend it, as you’ll rarely see a refill through (the tip will bend, or it will become to scratchy to use, or it will dry out and become unusable) and in general the Uni-ball Signo DX are much better 0.4 tipped gel ink pens. But the heart wants what the heart wants, and this is what I prefer for daily work use right now.
Ever since I saw the first reviewsofDiamine Earl Grey I have been fascinated by this ink, and only partly because I love, love, love tea. The colour seemed to have shading properties and tonal depths that were similar to the much coveted yet hard to obtain Sailor Studio 123. I had vowed to cut down on my ink purchases, but as I broke down and bought some Diamine Blue (i.e. Christmas) inks, I had to add a small bottle of Diamine Earl Grey to the cart.
This ink is sheer magic. It is very legible (unlike many lighter grey inks), it shades like mad, and even on Rhodia paper you can see a bit of its tonal depth.
On Tomoe River paper the depth of its hidden tones really comes to light:
There’s blue, even slight hints of turquoise, green, yellow, shades of pink, and in the dark recesses hints of warm brown. It’s like the greys I often create on my watercolour palette: a mix of reds, greens and blues, with a dash of brown. The result is a rich, “living” grey that surprises you every time.
I’ll probably skip the Sailor 123 Studio Ink because the price plus shipping plus customs will make it painfully expensive. Now that I have Diamine Earl Grey I don’t feel like I’ve missed out.
After a long, unplanned hiatus, I’m running my free-form illustrated adventure, Vengeful Fortress. See previous instalments here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5. Drawn on a Stillman and Birn Epsilon sketchbook (review in part 1), with Schminke watercolours, various fountain pen inks (see if you can guess which ones), and from this instalment, with Deleter Neopiko-Line-3 fineliners.
The 5th of July is apparently mechanical pencil day, which is something that Cult Pens started most likely out of promotional reasons. I’m all for celebrating what ever little things we have because life in general and mine in particular sucks pretty badly now, so I’m jumping on the bandwagon and posting two mechanical pencil reviews.
The first mechanical pencil is actually a drafting pencil, and it’s the excellent Pentel Graphgear 1000. I actually enjoy writing with the Graphgear more than I enjoy writing with my Rotring 600 and 800 (gasp!).
The Graphgear is lighter than my Rotring pencils, its knurling is less harsh on the fingers particularly because of the (non-latex) pads it sports, and the retracting mechanism means business.
It also helps that this is a well designed pencil, a beautiful writing tool to use, and whoever thought of creating different colour schemes for different lead sizes and incorporating that colour subtly over the pencils should get an employee of the month prize at the very least.
The retracting mechanism for the Graphgear sits in the clip, and works beautifully and makes the most satisfying “chunk” sound in the world. It retracts the pencil tip into the pencil body, ensuring that the lead doesn’t break and you don’t get stabbed while carrying your pencil around. This is a must-have feature for drafting pencils (together with the knurled grip, lead pipe, and lead hardness indicator), and it is done to perfection here. The only minus is the cutout below the clip that tends to collect pocket lint while being carried.
A click on the pencil cap extracts the lead sleeve once it has been retracted, and you press on the clip to retract the lead pipe, which is something that you’d do anyway to clip the Graphgear to you pocket, so this is a very intuitive pencil to use.
The grip is superb: the Graphgear won’t accidentally slip from your hand, and the knurling won’t dig into either, even if you have a “grip of death”.
The tip of the pen cap has a lead size indicator, in this case 0.7, and right above the grip you’ll find a lead grade indicator.
The Pentel Graphgear 1000 isn’t a cheap mechanical pencil, but if you are looking for a drafting pencil to use for long periods of time, or you’re looking for a mechanical pencil that’s a cut above (except for the Uni-Ball Kuru Toga), I highly recommend this pencil.
Bonus tip: If you’re starting out in watercolour on location or urban sketching, get a pencil like the Pentel Graphgear in 0.5 or 0.7 and some H leads and use that for your preliminary sketches. Even if you don’t erase them, they’ll disappear behind the washes.
Now for the second mechanical pencil, which is also a unique beast: the Retro 51 Tornado Pencil.
There are two things that are unusual with this mechanical pencil: it uses a 1.15 mm lead, and it’s shaped like a Retro 51 Tornado rollerball. That means that this is a bigger than usual pencil that uses a bigger than usual lead. Is it any good?
It depends. I’d skip using it for drawing or sketching, because at that lead size either go the 2mm lead holder route, or stick to woodcase pencils. It is, however, a fun object to have around, and it’s pretty nifty for sudoku and crosswords. The lead size is perfect for that, creating a pretty bold line even on sub-par paper while still giving your the option to erase it.
Have a delightful mechanical pencil day, and when in doubt, Kuru Toga.
It’s the new Caran d’Ache 849 Nespresso limited edition and this time it’s Arpeggio that was chosen. Arpeggio is not only one of Nespresso’s more popular capsules, it’s also a gorgeous purple, which is a huge plus in my book, and big difference from their previous edition, the India.
But first, some photos of the phenomenal packaging of this pen:
The 849 Arpeggio is made out of recycled Nespresso capsules just like its predecessors:
The cardboard cutout the pen comes in still on point: a simple and fitting material designed to perfection to best showcase the pen and its materials.
This came out darker than I would have preferred, but you can just about see the Caran d’Ache brand under the clip, and the “Swiss made” on top.
The 849 Arpeggio is a lovely deep purple, and has a great texture to it. The non-smooth surface makes it much easier to grip than many of the other 849 pens. You can see the difference in texture here between the Arpeggio and one of the 849 Tropics pens:
And here’s the by now familiar “made with recycled Nespresso capsules” tagline on the side:
I changed the refill, and since somebody asked, I thought I’d focus on that for a bit. To change the refill you unscrew the clicker on top, and that might take a bit of fiddling, since it’s pretty securely screwed in. It doesn’t take force, just a bit of patience. Then take out the refill and swap it out with the new refill, and don’t forget to put the front spring on, preserving the right direction it was placed in when it came off.
I replaced the original Caran d’Ache Goliath ballpoint refill with the Parker Quink medium gel refill (it’s 0.7 mm). Here it is in the packaging in case you’re looking for it. I bought a pack of these from the excellent, excellent CultPens (I’m not being paid to say this, I just really appreciate them and what they’re doing. If you’re a non-US pen addict in particular I recommend checking them out).
Here’s a writing sample with the Caran d’Ache Goliath ballpoint refill and the Parker Quink gel refill. If you’re a fan of ballpoints, the Goliath refill is excellent. I just happen to not like ballpoints, so I change them to gel refills whenever I can.
The Caran d’Ache 849 Arpeggio is a beautiful pen that would make for a great gift (if you can bear to part with it). I can’t recommend these series of pens enough, and I can’t wait to see what next year’s edition will be. Nespresso’s capsules come in a variety of pretty nifty colours, so I don’t think that Caran d’Ache can really miss with them.