Our local fountain pen brick and mortar shop is closing down at the end of the month, and it’s a crying shame. There’s been a steady stream of collectors visiting the store to say goodbye and stock up on supplies, and on Thursday I joined them. I bought a few bottles of ink, a few fridge magnets with reproductions of old fountain pen adverts (most of them for Parker, of course), and there was a single tray of vintage pens.
“None of them work, I’m afraid,” the proprietor’s daughter said.
But I saw a Parker Vacumatic Shadow Wave among the lot, and I have a very hard time leaving Parker Vacumatics and 51s behind. I picked it up and took a quick glance. It was clearly a user grade pen, but I didn’t care – it was a speedline Vacumatic, which meant that it was fairly easy to fix. I asked her if they could perhaps be mistaken, and was there a chance that the pen worked. She brought out a cup of water and tried it out. It didn’t seem to hold any water, and she showed it to her dad, the proprietor and a well known pen repairman. “Oh, I can fix it, no problem. It just needs a filler swap”.
So today, in the midst of a rainstorm, I went to pick it up after its repair. It’s still a user grade pen, because it’s full of little nicks and scratches, and it has a well worn name engraved into it. But that’s part of what I love about vintage pens, and it’s something that I just can’t get with modern ones. I got a gold nibbed pen with a unique filling system and lovely material (that allows you to see the ink levels through it), in a classic design, for less than $130. And I got a bit of history, as this little workhorse has been around since the first quarter of 1938, and it’s still doing its job. Finally, there’s the mystery of it: puzzling out the model and the date code, maybe trying to find out about its previous owner (in this case, a Mary Thompson. It’s part of why I have no problem with engraved vintage pens), imagining what it’s been through over the decades. This pen is almost 85 years old. It’s a Junior Debutante, so it isn’t surprising that it belonged to a lady. It was likely a gift, and one wonders for what occasion and who the gift giver was. It was at the cusp of a world war that would change a lot of things for women. Was Mary Thompson starting out at her first job? Had she graduated from college? Did the pen pass to her children? How did end up in a pen shop in Tel Aviv 85 years later?
Yes, there’s a risk when buying vintage pens. There is also always a story, and a chance of a greatly rewarding experience, not to mention the possibility of getting a pen with a nib that writes like this (it’s a fine italic nib with nice amount of spring to it):
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.
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.
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.
Parker Quink Blue Black is far from a new ink on the market: it’s been produced and in use for decades. So why bother to write a review about it now?now
Because Covid-19 happened, and it’s turned shipping and shopping into a challenge, and so I have found myself seriously contemplating a “desert island” kind of question:
If the only ink you can buy is ink commonly found in brick and mortar shops, which ink should you buy?
The obvious answer for me is anything Waterman, but specifically Waterman Blue Black, now renamed to “Waterman Mysterious Blue”. But Parker Quink Blue Black is just as readily available, and just as cheaply priced (more or less), and also a workhorse, utilitarian ink that packs a few surprises. So why is it not my go to ink? I’ll get to that near the end, I promise.
I took two swabs and writing samples of the Parker Quink Blue Black, mainly because I thought that the first swab didn’t show off the correct colour of the ink. The left hand writing sample was done with a dip pen, and the swab was done with a brush. The right side was done with Henry Simpole’s Jasmin pen and a Conway Stewart medium nib, with the swab being done with a q-tip. The right hand sample is truer to the colour of the ink, although you can get a more teal/turquoise colour out of the ink in certain nibs (as is true with Waterman Mysterious Blue). This changeability is part of the charm of blue-black inks.
It’s also worth noting that Parker Quink Blue Black both shades and has a red sheen, so it’s far from a bog standard, boring ink. Here’s an ink that can be fun at the same time as it makes you look serious.
Waterman Mysterious Blue leans a bit more into the teal/turquoise side of things, but it doesn’t sheen as much as Parker Quink Blue Black. Here’s the ink on Paperblanks paper (I snagged a fountain pen friendly Paperblanks a few years back and have been using it to test inks ever since):
There’s a red sheen even on the Paperblanks paper, in every spot where the ink pooled (so the bottom half of these letters for instance):
And here it is on Tomoe River paper, showing off shading and sheen. The photo came out a shade lighter than in reality, but that was the only way that I could show some of that sheen off.
Parker Quink Blue Black is neither waterproof or water resistant, just like Waterman Mysterious Blue. Yet it takes a bit more time and effort to clean the Parker ink out of pens than the Waterman’s (my gold standard for easy cleaning ink). It’s vintage pen safe, and an excellent staple ink, available practically everywhere that sells stationery or art supplies. In times where shipping prices have skyrocketed and many places no longer offer shipping to all destinations, it’s good to know that there are still good, cheap and widely available ink options out there.
When Caran d’Ache came out with this year’s limited edition Nespresso capsule 849 pen I breathed out a sigh of relief. I’m not a fan of their India capsules, and their olive green colour doesn’t speak to me, so I thought that it would be an easy pen to skip. Their previous collaboration, the Darkhan, was an excellent pen overall, especially as a gift purchase to the Nespresso or pen lover in your life, and I also loved the capsules and loved their colour.
Well Cult Pens celebrated their 15th anniversary, and I needed some refills, and somehow or other the India 849 found itself in my basket. I thought I would gift it away, but once it arrived I knew that this pen is staying with me.
As with the previous edition, the packaging on this pen is genius. It shows off the pen and what it is beautifully, and it’s so well made and well considered. On the front there’s the “This was a Nespresso capsule” label, and a sketch of the pen that fits perfectly with the way the pen is presented in the box (that’s not left to chance. The box is designed so the pen will stay put in semi profile and show off the subtle “Caran d’Ache” logo underneath the clip).
On the back there’s a short explanation about what makes this pen special:
Inside the pen is securely slotted in its superbly designed cardboard housing, and here you can catch the first glimpse of why I decided to keep this pen: its colour.
This is a beautiful pen that doesn’t photograph well. Its colour is wild, if subtle could be wild. It’s a cool grey with a slightly green hue. I’ve never had a pen like it, and the result is very, very cool.
Unlike most 849’s and just like the Darkhan edition, this pen has writing on it beyond the hidden Caran d’Ache and the “Swiss Made”:
The 849 is a ballpoint and has an excellent out of the box Goliath Caran d’Ache refill. I’m not a fan of ballpoints, so I switched my refill out with the 0.7 Parker gel refill in black, and now I can’t put this pen down. This pen weighs more than the featherweight 849, and it has a textured finish. The result is the 849 pen, only better.
I highly recommend this pen to anyone who is even slightly interested in the Caran d’Ache 849, as it’s a significant improvement over an already great pen design. It makes for a great gift, and a great pen to carry around with you (just make sure nobody tries to nick it from you). I hope that Caran d’Ache and Nespresso continue this collaboration, and I can’t wait to see which capsule colour they select next.