Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass Review

I am a huge fan of the original, vintage Esterbrook fountain pens. They are beautiful, versatile workhorses that are easyto find and affordable, provided you’re not after the rarer colours/models/nibs. If only they didn’t have lever fillers, one of my least favourite filling systems, they would have been my go to vintage pens.

I don’t buy vintage brand reboot pens. In my early days of fountain pen use there was a lot of hype about the reboot of Conklin. Conklin fountain pens had an interesting filling mechanism that I wanted to check out, but they were all too expensive for me at the time. Then came the brand reboot in the mid 2000’s which made the pens more affordable and more widely available. So I bought a Conklin Mark Twain in 2009, and it was terrible. It looked and felt like a $10 pen, it skipped and hard started all the time, and it fell to pieces after the first use. I still keep it as a reminder to be circumspect with my purchases in the future. The experience made me leery of vintage brand reboots, and so when Esterbrook was rebooted I stayed clear of their pens. They didn’t look like Esties, they looked like generic fountain pens, so I decided that this too must be a QC nightmare money grab that would ruin the Esterbrook name.

I was wrong.

My photos do not do this pen justice. The Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass. It’s gorgeous, trust me.

After a mountain of good new Esterbrook reviews came in, and after I reconciled myself to the idea that the new Esterbrooks did not look like the old Esterbrooks I decided to give the Esterbrook Estie a try, and picked up a Sea Glass with a journalling nib. I normally don’t buy pens with gold hardware, but this was what was available at the time, and so a gold hardware Esterbrook Estie Sea Glass it is.

First of all, the pen is gorgeous. It has the classic cigar/torpedo shape that many fountain pens share, but the material of the Sea Glass pen sets it apart. It’s partly translucent, partly chatoyant, and vibrant without being Benu loud.

You can see some of the effects in the pen body here, but my photos don’t do it justice.

What took me by surprise is the capping mechanism. It reminded me of a child safe pill bottle, where you also have to push down as you twist to get the bottle to open. The mechanism does work well to make sure that the Estie doesn’t dry up or accidentally uncap itself, but it also means that it takes longer and a bit more effort to uncap the pen. If you write in short bursts this mechanism is going to be an annoyance.

You can see the capping mechanism threads. Esterbrook gets bonus points for making them attractive.

The “cushion cap” mechanism is well made and is attractive and unobtrusive when writing, so I don’t think it detracts from the pen. It’s just something to be aware of, since it is so unusual. It reminds me a bit of the Visconti Homo Sapiens caps.

The cushion cap inside.

The nib has scrolls and the Esterbrook branding on it, as well as a four digit number, like the old Esterbrook nibs. You can unscrew the nib and replace it with a vintage Estie nib, though I’ve been enjoying my Gina Salorino medium stub journalling nib enough to not want to change it. The fact that Kenro industries, the makers of the new Esterbrook, have teamed up with nibmeisters to offer custom nib grinds is amazing. Apart from the journalling nib they also offer an architect grind.

The nib.

The pen is branded on the cap lip below the clip with an “Esterbrook” imprint in gold script. I really don’t like the branding, as I feel like it cheapens the pen. If it were just an imprint then I think it would have been classier.

When the branding calls too much attention to itself…

The Esterbrook Estie is a cartridge-converter pen, and it comes with an excellent converter. The fact that this isn’t a lever filler like vintage Esties is great, as it’s much easier to fill, clean and check how much ink you have left in a converter, plus sometimes cartridges are convenient.

Cartridge converter at work.

The Esterbrook Estie is on the larger side but not heavy, with its weight distributed closer to the nib. It makes for a very comfortable writing experience, especially for me now. The cap posts, but I wouldn’t post it because it makes the pen overly long and unwieldy.

Here’s a writing sample with the journalling nib. It’s a lot of fun to use, and very forgiving to whatever writing angle you use it with:

Writing sample.

The Esterbrook Estie is more than a reboot to an old beloved brand. It’s a fantastic pen to select as your first “more than $100” fountain pen. It’s very well made, comfortable to use, has a classic fountain pen look, and an interesting selection of nibs that you can get directly from the manufacturer. It’s also very forgiving: easy to clean due to the combined cartridge-converter system and nib unscrewing, not likely to dry up or leak due to the cushion cap, and comes with easy and cheap ways to customise the nib post-purchase if you find that your tastes have changed. There are a lot of vintage Estie nib units out there.

The pen that I was leery of buying turned out to be one of the best fountain pens I have.

Health Update for the New Year

It’s been a while since my last update, so I thought that I’d write a new one. On August 24th I had my fourth chemo treatment, and it went rougher than the ones before it in terms of side effects. The worst of the bunch has been my neuropathy, which until now has been not so bad. This time however, both my hands were numb and tingly, and the tips of my fingers actually hurt. It’s been hard typing, holding a pen, drawing. It’s not that I’ve stopped doing these things, it’s just that it’s been a challenge to overcome the pain, to focus more to get my hands moving the way that I want them to. But I haven’t given up, and I’ve managed to type, write with my pens, and even create this drawing:

Not bad for someone with semi functioning fingers, right?

My hands have gotten better with time, but they are getting better slowly, and they still haven’t returned to normal. I’ve discovered that lighter fountain pens with bigger barrels are the best in terms of being easy on my hands, and although my handwriting has suffered a bit due to the pain, it is still recognizably my handwriting.

What’s next? On Thursday I have a PET CT which will determine what the rest of my chemo treatment will be, and on Sunday I’ll have the fifth chemo treatment. I’m not looking forward to either of these things, and as the PET CT is approaching my anxiety levels are rising (I really need good results on it). Meanwhile I’m trying to distract myself with work, books and season 2 of “Ted Lasso”. Here’s hoping for good results, and less pain for the Jewish New Year.

OneWeek100People 2021: Day 2

Day two of the One Week 100 People challenge and today was more challenging than yesterday, mainly because I started late and had trouble finding decent photographs. Photographers apparently love photographing blurry people, masked people, people with their backs to them, other photographers (while they are taking photographs and their face is half covered by the camera), or people from a large distance. Some of them also love photoshopping their subjects to death, so I’m now able to find a half decent subject only every five or six photographs. Thankfully the pool is huge and varied, with people in all ages and from all over the world, so while things are slowing down a bit, I’m still grateful for the the opportunity to enjoy the work published in this wonderful group. Even if I can’t use all of the photos there, I am thoroughly enjoying perusing through all of them.

Sketchbook Design: My Tools

I’ve enrolled into Liz Steel’s Sketchbook Design online course, as I like the way Liz designs her notebook pages and I’ve taken an Urban Sketchers workshop (in Porto, 2018) which was excellent. Liz sent the first intro videos to the course to her newsletter subscribers, and so I decided to pick a sketchbook for the course (which starts on January 4th) and draw the tools that I plan on using in it.

The sketchbook that I chose is a Stillman and Birn Beta softcover A5 sketchbook, because it has watercolour friendly paper and I wanted to try that paper out. Here’s a sketch of my tools done with a Lamy Safari Petrol fine nib fountain pen and a Lamy Safari Dark Lilac medium nib fountain pen, both with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black.

I got carried away with the lines when drawing my palette, so I decided to roll with it and just use it to write down the paint details.

Here it is after applying watercolour:

It’s not perfect, but I like the way this page looks.

Here’s my Winsor & Newton Travel Watercolour box, filled with Schminke watercolours (some of them on their second or third refill from the tube). I love this paint box so much that I used my previous one until it fell to pieces. This is my new one, and it’s holding up well so far.

The fountain pens that I’ll be using: Lamy Safari Petrol F nib with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, Lamy Safari Dark Lilac M nib with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, Lamy Safari Charcoal EF nib with J. Herbin Bleu Pevench, Sailor Fude MF pen with Noodler’s Lexington Grey (Bulletproof ink).

My non fountain pens are my beloved Saedtler pigment liners in 0.3 and 0.7 and a Uni-ball Signo broad white.

The pencil I will use is a vintage Eagle Turquoise “Chemi Sealed” H drawing pencil. I just love everything about these pencils, and I really wish that they were still in production.

My brushes: a Raphael round travel brush, I’m not sure what size. There’s a good chance that I’ll replace it with a better round brush as the course progresses, as I’m not enamoured with it. The black brush in the middle is a Winsor & Newton Series 7 no 2 Kolinsky sable brush. The white and silver brush below is a Rosemary & Co R12 Sable/Nylon Dagger brush, and it’s a brush that I haven’t 100% mastered but that I’m growing to like with use.

That’s it for my tools at the moment. I’ll update this blog with my progress as the course takes place, and I’ll be sure to note if my tools change throughout.

Muji Fountain Pen Review

When the Muji fountain pen came out a few years ago it got pretty rave reviews from quite a number of reviewers. My only conclusion is that either they hadn’t used the pen for long, or they have steel clad hands. This is a textbook example of form over function, and the form isn’t even interesting or innovative enough for you to forgive the loss of function.

First off, the form: the Muji fountain pen has the standard minimalist, IKEA-like design of their other stationery products. It’s made of brushed aluminum, it has a knurled grip (why?), has two grey-brown discs on the ends of the pen, and the same sort of clip that their mechanical pencils have. It’s a bland and boring look, but if you’re looking for a minimalist pen then this fits the bill.

You can’t pick interesting colours for the finials, because that would give the pen too much character. Can’t have that.

What works in mechanical pencils falls flat in a fountain pen, in my opinion. A fountain pen craves more flair, more personality – yes, even the “plain” black ones. A Montblanc 149 or a black Sailor 1911 have class, whilst the Muji fountain pen is a thin aluminum tube with a knurled grip (why?). You just look at it and wonder why it was made and for whom.

Nail nib and inexplicable knurling – a match made by Muji.

My Muji fountain pen has a fine nib with the classic “iridium point” stamped on it and some nice scrolling on it. I’m guessing the nib is a Schmidt nib, but that’s just a guess; what’s not a guess is that it’s an absolute nail. There’s no give whatsoever in this nib, to the point where I have fineliners that show more line variation that it does. It’s not scratchy but the lack of give may put you off if you’re looking for a more “fountain pen” experience (and this is a fountain pen, why wouldn’t you?). Both the Lamy Safari and the Pilot Metropolitan have nicer nibs at around the same price range. They also have the added bonus of a personality.

Spoilers for the rest of the review.

The grip is just… why? It’s not like the pen body is slippery and the knurling on the grip is necessary. Visually I find it jarring, and there is zero chance that it is there for ergonomic reasons. This is an ergonomically terrible pen. If Muji wanted to do a better job it would have made the barrel wider, moulded a grip section not out of aluminum, and redesigned the cap entirely. The knurling itself is so poorly made that it just makes the grip more slippery, not less.

The worst cap design I have ever encountered.

All this is not great by any means, but I just wouldn’t have bothered to write a review about a boring, mediocre pen. The Muji fountain pen, however, pushes past the boring and mediocre and heads straight into terrible territory with its cap design. The cap has a razor sharp and thin edge that slots into a deep and narrow cutout around the nib. The result is that you can and will cut you fingers on that cap edge, you will have to learn to grip the pen really far away from the nib or you will cut your fingers on the edge of the cutout at the end of the knurled (why?) grip, or it will dig uncomfortably into your fingers. If you dare try to absentmindedly cap the pen then there’s a good chance that you’ll catch your finger in between the cap edge and the knurled (why?) grip and that is pure torture. Also guess what, Muji let’s you have the same finger cutting experience on the other end of the pen too!

I also replaced the terrible cartridge that Muji supplies with this pen with a converter (a Pelikan converter). It fit perfectly, but I didn’t fill the converter first and then attach it to the pen, I made the mistake of dipping the pen in a bottle of ink and filling the converter through the nib. The mess was a sight to see. First of all, the knurling on the grip is a real ink magnate, but it’s the deep groove that the cap goes into that’s the winner here. Ink not only seeps into it and is then extremely difficult to clean out without taking the pen apart and soaking it in water, if you don’t do that then the cap lip gets soaked in ink every time you cap the pen, and so you’ll get ink stains everywhere.

Oh God, who let them do this twice?

The pen posts using the same terrible mechanism as the cap, which means that there’s a second deep groove that you can cut your fingers on, on the other end. If you’re a pen fidgeter, this will teach you not to fidget. Is that a plus?

But look how pretty it is! It posts so well!

If you’re filming an IKEA commercial, feel free to use this pen. Otherwise, do yourself a favour and buy a Pilot Metropolitan.

Rotring 600 Levenger Fountain Pen and Rollerball Review

I haven’t bought a fountain pen on eBay in years, but when I decided to celebrate completing a six month intensive DevOps course, I headed out to eBay in search for the Rotring 600 Levenger rollerball. Yes, you read that correctly, I was looking for the Rotring 600 rollerball, not the fountain pen. I love the design of the Rotring 600 Levenger pens, but I thought that there was zero chance that I’ll manage to snag a good quality fountain pen, not to mention a fountain pen and rollerball set, so I decided to focus on the cheaper to obtain rollerball. As it turned out, I landed on an estate sale Rotring 600 set, and managed to get a Rotring 600 Levenger fountain pen and rollerball in great condition for a pretty good price.

The Rotring 600 Levenger pens aren’t flashy. They both have metal hexagon bodies with knurled ends and the classic Rotring red rings on the cap ends. The cap ends and the grip and the pen finial and round, and the pen body and cap are hexagonal, and somehow the transition between these two shapes is perfect and seamless. Industrial design at its best.

The fountain pen cap snaps into place with the help of the two silver protrusions on the knurled grip section. These protrusions don’t get in the way while writing, no matter how weird your pen grip is, and the section itself is very comfortable to hold. The knurling isn’t as dense as on the Rotring 600 mechanical pencil, and it is smoothed over so it doesn’t dig into your fingers. It provides a secure grip, while giving the pen the traditional Rotring look.

Because of the silver protrusions the pen cap snaps very securely into place. The fountain pen came with no converter, just unbranded short international cartridges, but it was easy enough to take the converter off my Super5 pen and use it here. The nib grade is indicated on the pen cap, which is what you’d expect on a drafting pencil. I like that oh so Rotring touch.

The Rotring 600 fountain pen comes with a steel nib that’s shaped a lot like a Lamy Safari nib. It’s stamped with Rotring’s logo on one side, and the nib grade on the other.

The nib is smooth and a lot of fun to write with, but it’s on the wider (European) side of fine. A 0.7 mm width line. Check out that grip section design:

The rollerball has a blue indicator, presumably for the colour of the ink refill inside. By the time I got it the refill had dried out, and so I replaced it with my favourite refill, the Uni-ball UMR-85N gel ink refill. This is the reason I bought the set and I couldn’t be happier with my purchase. Just look at it:

That’s so sleek and so clever, and I have no idea why they stopped producing them. Side by side you can see that the knurling on the fountain pen is slightly more pronounced. You can hardly feel the difference when in use, but I thought that it’s worth pointing out.

And here is that glorious nib in use, with a quick sketch of the Albert Memorial in London. The ink is Sailor Jentle Ink Epinard, which is a fun ink to sketch with an a green ink dark enough that you can sneak it into office use (not that anyone would notice or care right now).

It’s been a tough time, and a long and challenging six months course, but I couldn’t be happier with my “reward” for finishing it. If you run across a Rotring 600 rollerball or fountain pen at a reasonable price, by all means, buy them. The design on these pens is the kind that belongs in museums it’s so good, and they are a lot of fun to use too.

Rotring, if you’re listening, bring these back!

PenBBS 456 Smog RM and Pilot Iroshizuku Fuyu-Syogun

I ordered the PenBBS 456 Vacuum Filling Smog 54 RM at the same time I ordered the PenBBS 500, because I was intrigued by the filling system, and I wanted a PenBBS 500 with the Smog design but there weren’t any available. I was expecting to like the PenBBS 500 more because from the pictures it seems to have a more classic design, but the PenBBS 456 is the perfect example of how pen pictures often misleading.

The 456 is a much sleeker pen than its chubby 500 counterpart. There’s also significantly less hardware on the 456, which makes it both lighter and better looking. Massive chrome details on fountain pens just seem to cheaper their look in my eyes. If the cap band had been about half the size then the 456’s design would be better, but as it is it’s not a pen that I’d be ashamed to carry, and it looks more expensive than it actually is.

The steel nib on this is a medium, and it writes at about a 0.7mm line, as described. The nib design itself is elegant and clever, with a calligraphy “M” designating its width. The nib itself is smooth with some feedback, and has little or no give.

I purposefully filled this pen only about a third of the way up once I realized what a massive ink capacity it has. The filling mechanism is somewhat elaborate, like all vacuum fillers, but it works, and unlike the end-cap on the PenBBS 500, the PenBBS 456’s end-cap doesn’t twist off unintentionally.

The smog material is really beautiful, and it’s a way to get some of that Visconti vacuum-filler, London Fog feel without breaking the bank. This pen proves that you don’t have to pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars to have a nice pen that you enjoy writing with.

Some more closeups on the overly large cap band (if only it had ended on the line below the “Shanghai”) and the lovely smog material. You can also see the filling mechanism clearly:

The material looks even better when the pen is filled up with ink, but I just wasn’t willing to dump out so much ink, and I knew that I would be forced to do that if I topped the pen up:

Pilot Iroshizuku Fuyu Syogun was one of the first Pilot Iroshizuku inks that I splurged on. It shades beautifully, and is a lovely cool (i.e. bluish) grey that is utterly not waterproof, and so can be “stretched” and reworked as you can see in the small sketch that I did:

This was drawn on Tomoe River paper, but you’ll see shading on Rhodia and Clairefontaine paper as well. Of all the grey inks I own, this one is still my favourite. It’s dark enough to be readable (and appropriate for office use), and offers a lot of interest and drawing potential with its shading.

Like all pens that aren’t cartridge converters, cleaning this pen out will take a bit of effort, and vacuum filling pens are more difficult to clean out than piston fillers or lever fillers (only button fillers are worse IMHO). It just means that you’ll need to have patience when filling and cleaning this pen out, and that you probably shouldn’t put shimmering inks or inks that are difficult to clean out (or stain the pen body) in a pen like this. Then again, the pen costs $32, so if worst comes to worst, you haven’t ruined an expensive pen.

I wish that PenBBS would pick a naming convention that is easier to remember than the one it is currently using. But other than that and the not great cap band, for double the price the PenBBS would still be a great buy.

One month in

PenBBS 456 Vacuum filler Smog RM nib with Pilot Iroshizuku Fuyu-Syogun on Rhodia dot pad.

Pilot Vanishing Point Matte Black and Colorverse Selectron Review

There’s something about black fountain pens and black ink that make them popular beyond what common sense would dictate. The blacker they are the more popular they are, especially if you add the word “stealth” somewhere in their name or the copy. Apparently everyone wants to be a ninja.

There’s so little nib and so much nib creep that investing in a black coated nib unit for this VP seems pointless to me.

Colorverse Selectron is a pigmented ink that I obtained as part of the Electron/Selectron Multiverse box. Colorverse have lately started to sell some of these paired inks as individual bottles, and so if orange isn’t your thing (Electron is orange, don’t ask me why) you may be able to obtain just Selectron soon enough.

I bought this Matte Black Vanishing Point from Goulet Pens in 2013 I think, but it hasn’t seen much use in recent years. As part of my move to both use my fountain pens more and see if there are any that I might want to part with I dusted this one off and filled it with an “appropriately” coloured ink.

Is this not a handsome pen? Yes it is. Just don’t look too close.

I’ve written about Colorverse Selectron before as part of other reviews. I initially thought that it would be a perfect drawing ink, as it’s pigmented and fountain pen friendly I was hoping that it was also waterproof. As you’ll see later on, it is not.

In terms of the ink itself, there’s nothing remarkable about it. It’s a solid black with some sheen when layered and no variation, which is what you usually want from a black ink.

Ugh! You looked too close and now you can see where the coating has rubbed off! 😦

The Matte Black Pilot Vanishing Point is a VP like all VPs: a pen with a great nib, a body design that you either love or can’t use (depending on how you grip your pen) and a solid click mechanism. It still has a converter that holds about a drop and a half of ink and is annoying to fill, and it still suffers from nib creep.

The novelty here is in the matte finish, which is both very nice and not very durable. I hardly used this pen and already the coating is becoming glossy where I usually grip it. It’s a shame because the coating feels great and looks great when it’s unblemished, as in the body of the pen:

Pretty, pretty matte coating.

Like some other pigmented inks, the Colorverse Selectron is Moleksine friendly: there’s no feathering, spreading and bleed-through with fine/medium nibs (show through is going to be there no matter what). It’s also a fun ink to draw with:

I started watching “The Mandalorian” and I love it, can you tell?

And here are the results of the waterproof test:

Look at this mess… Not at all waterproof. You’ll be able to read your notes after a spill though. 

Matte coated pens are difficult to do well, and Pilot haven’t done a stellar job with this Vanishing Point. Black fountain pen inks are a dime a dozen, and Colorverse haven’t done much beyond packaging and copy to create one that stands out. If I could have tested these in person they would have probably both remained on their respective shelves, but the online hype of the time swept me away. I’m much more wary of it and FOMO in general over the past two years.

Invest in things that will stand out and stand the test of time. And take care of yourselves (and your pens) in these troubling days.

Visconti Homo Sapiens Bronze Age Review (or Falling in Love with Fountain Pens Again)

In late 2014 I visited the wonderful Mora Stylos in Paris, France. I was there to buy a pen. A specific pen. One that had made a buzz in the pen world the moment it came out. The Visconti Homo Sapiens:

There are dozens of Visconti Homo Sapiens reviews out there, and so I wasn’t planning on reviewing this pen. Yes, it’s beautiful. Yes, it has a satisfying heft to it, the material feels amazing to the touch, the nib has some delightful springiness to it, and did I mention that it’s a hulking large, beautiful pen?

It’s also a very, very expensive one. It was the most expensive pen I had purchased until then, and since then only three other pens in my collection have come close to it in price (my Nakaya, my Henry Simpole Silver Overlay Conway Stewart, and my Oldwin).

I remember spending a lot of time in that store, holding the pen (it’s large and I have tiny hands), trying out the nib (I bought an Extra Fine. Today I would have gone for something broader), debating the price of pen.

Look at that patina!

In the end I liked the aesthetics, the nib, the unique filling mechanism, and the story around the pen enough to buy it. As I bought it from Mora Stylos, it was customized with my initials on the finial. This made the pen even more special and precious to me.

The finial can be customized by dealers, using a special magnetic mechanism.

I got home and I couldn’t get enough out of just looking at this pen, this piece of art that looked like it belonged in a museum.

Just look at the nib and the clever closing mechanism.

Who would want to sully this with ink, right? I could accidentally drop it or something.

A closer look at the scrolling on the nib and the patina on the band.

But I forced myself to fill it and try using it, if only at my desk at home. I loved writing with it. It’s truly a joyous pen to write with, especially if you have a light touch. The nib is something else, comparable to my Nakaya in terms of feel.

But then I had to clean it out. And that was an absolute nightmare that took ages and  ages. The filling mechanism was great to use, but terrible to fully flush out. Who has the time for that, especially for a pen that I daren’t carry with me at all times?

So over the past 5 years I’ve used my Visconti Homo Sapiens a grand total of three (!) times. It stands to reason I should sell it and let someone else enjoy it. Yet I can’t bring myself to do that. Why?

You see, I’ve grown lazy in my fountain pen use over the years, and this pen was one of the turning points. Fountain pens require effort. They have always had. That’s why people moved to ballpoints the moment they were a semi viable substitution. Fountain pens can be messy. They need filling and cleaning, and care during use and storage and while cleaning them out. You don’t use them for convenience, you use them because they bring you joy.

I’ve lost touch of that, just as I’ve lost touch with the joy of playing around with various inks. My pen usage has fallen into a rut of mostly easy to clean inexpensive cartridge-converters or TWSBI pens filled with easy to clean inks.

Diamine Denim, which I haven’t used in more than two years and used to be one of my favourite inks. Still is.

It has taken me a while to realize that. As I was building my goals for 2020 the realization that I’ve stopped actually enjoying my pens and ink dawned on me, and I’ve decided to see if I can’t change that.

So I filled my gorgeous Visconti Homo Sapiens, and I actually carried it with me in my bag (the skies haven’t fallen yet and the pen is OK), and I’m thoroughly enjoying using it. And I dusted off my beloved Diamine Denim, one of my favourite blue-black inks and previously one of my favourite inks that has seen absolutely no use over the past two years, and I’m giving it a spin. It’s as richly delightful as it ever was. There’s no sparkle or sheen to it, and not much shading to speak of, and yet I still love it. Diamine Denim is just a very good blue-black ink period.

So, who knows what the future holds, but I hope that this pen that does so much to evoke humanity’s past will get me interested again in my fountain pen future.