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.
Diamine Inkvent Calendar is an advent calendar with a tiny (7ml) bottle of ink behind 24 windows, and a larger, 30ml, bottle of ink behind the 25th window. All the inks are limited edition, and only available through this calendar. You can read more about the calendar here.
Day 4’s window isn’t exactly aligned with the printing, but you get a cute snowman with it, so who cares?
The day 4 ink is Diamine Polar Glow, which is a royal blue ink that has sheen. How much sheen you ask? Well…
There’s so much red in that gloriously rich blue. I used a vintage italic Waterman ideal nib, and this was drawn on a Kanso Sasshi 3.5” x 5.5” Tomoe River Paper notebook, so this is probably close to maximum sheen, but still, it’s impressive.
Even as a standard ink, Diamine Polar Glow pops. The blue is deep, rich, and yet shades a lot, from cyan to royal blue (you can see it in the leaves in the drawing above). The red sheen just adds a little extra zing to it, without overshadowing the already good qualities of the ink.
This is an ink designed for wide, broad, italic, flex nibs that lay down a lot of ink. It really shows it’s best properties on Tomoe River paper, but even on Rhodia/Clairefontaine paper I could see sheen in every letter (using the same broad italic nib).
Would I buy a bottle of this, if Diamine offered it? Probably yes, since it’s dark enough for office use, but is also more interesting and appealing than a run-of-the-mill dark blue.
The Waterman Phileas was my first fountain pen, one that I bought after careful research on eBay, shortly after they were discontinued. It cost me £15 at the time, a small fortune for me, and the most I had ever spent on a pen. My RSI was at its worst, and I had to take a lot of notes (I was still in the university), so I splurged mostly out of desperation. Internet research brought up fountain pens as something that could possibly help with my RSI, and so I decided to give it a try. I found the Fountain Pen Network and combed the boards for information about fountain pens for newbies like me. Two pens kept coming up as good first fountain pens to buy: the Lamy Safari, and the Waterman Phileas. It was relatively newly discontinued by Waterman, and so I could find it easily and buy it NOS from a reputable seller. It’s been over 11 years since I bought it, and it’s still one of my favourite pens, and one of my most frequently used ones.
The Waterman Phileas is named after Phileas Fogg, Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days” protagonist. It comes in blue, green, red and black, and is cartridge converter pen with a large two-tone steel nib. The nib and pen have an art deco look to them, and the pen is also designed to look somewhat like a cigar. It’s a classic “fountain pen” look that makes it appear more expensive than it is, and it’s part of the reason why you’ll see it popping up in various commercials, even to this day. It’s a very beautiful and elegant pen that just looks classy.
Unlike it’s cheaper sibling, the Waterman Kultur, the Phileas has a brass insert in the body, which means that it has got some heft to it, weighing (filled, with a converter) 24g, as opposed to the Lamy AL-Star’s 22g (filled, with a converter). The weight is perfectly balanced for writing, especially for beginners, since it encourages you to lay off putting pressure on the pen. The pen let you feel that it’s putting the pressure on for you.
The look of the Phileas is phenomenal, especially for the price, but it’s the nib that made me fall in love with it specifically and with fountain pens in general. I chose the extra fine nib, and it is nothing short of magical. Take a look for yourself:
Yes, that’s line variation. No, it doesn’t come from applying pressure to the nib. It works like a less extreme Sailor Zoom nib: vary your writing angle just a bit and it will go from 0.4 mm lines to 0.7 mm ones. The nib is also smooth, but gives a little feedback, which reminds me a little of the feedback you get from using a really good pencil. Couple that with the fact that the Phileas is a cartridge converter (with a sizeable converter), and so very easy to clean, and you’ll understand why this is still my favourite sketching fountain pen.
The Phileas accepts long international cartridges, and Waterman is one of the few makers that make those cartridges. They excellent (especially the blue-black) and very convenient when travelling with your fountain pen.
Which brings me back to the beginning of my story. It’s 2019 and I have a substantial collection of fountain pens, most of them costing well over 10 times what the Waterman Phileas cost me. None of them are 10 times the Phileas as a pen. I could have stopped here, but the Phileas has proven to be a gateway into fountain pen madness for many people over the years. It’s a pen to fall in love with, in a way that I haven’t ever fallen in love with my Lamy’s, good-though-they-are. Its design is classic and timeless, and its quality is unparalleled for the price (yes, even today).
SO WHY HAS WATERMAN DISCONTINUED IT? WHY? WHY?
This should have been their Lamy Safari, TWSBI Eco or Pilot Metropolitan – a more classic version of the beginner’s fountain pen, as opposed to the other’s more modern design. It boggles my mind that they not only discontinued the Phileas, but also it’s cheaper cousin, the Kultur. What on earth are they doing over there? Do they not want new people to fall in love with their pens? It’s the same weird move with their ink line (their refusal to jump on the limited edition/shimmer/sheen ink bandwagon), but even more baffling. YOU WOULD SELL THESE WATERMAN!
Anyway – if you can get your hands on a Waterman Phileas for a reasonable price, I highly recommend it. It’s a charming pen that will never go out of style.
The outline and cat were drawn with a Waterman Phileas (EF nib) and Noodler’s Heart of Darkness (which I haven’t used in years, no idea why), and the hat and clothes were filled in with a Tombow Fudenosuke dual sided brush pen.
It was a fun challenge, and I really pushed myself this year to try new and different things. Can’t wait for next year’s Inktober!
I just listened to the latest Pen Addict Podcast, where a listener asked for tips on buying their first vintage fountain pen. I have well over 100 vintage fountain pens, and I’ve been buying vintage fountain pens since the early 2000s, so I decided to take the time and write a guide to buying your first vintage fountain pens (for the sake of this guide vintage fountain pens are those made before the ’70s).
First, set a budget. Vintage pens are no different than modern pens in this respect, but somehow vintage fountain pen buying guides tend to skip this step. You can get great vintage fountain pens for under $50 and well over $500. Pick a number you’re comfortable with, and stick to it, no matter what.
Decide why do you want a vintage pen:
Flex – You’re looking to add line variation to your writing or drawing. Apart from dip pens, vintage fountain pens are the cheapest way to get that desirable flex. No modern fountain pen, despite any manufacturer promises, offers the line variation of a vintage flex fountain pen, and the premium you pay for a bit of springiness in modern nibs is painfully high. Vintage fountain pens also offer flex “combos,” such as italic flex, needlepoint flex, etc. And if you’re considering the Noodler’s fountain pen lineup, I recommend going dip pen instead. They require less fiddling and are more reliable.
Gold/Specialty Nib – You want to get into gold nibs as cheaply as possible, or you want non-standard nib configurations (a fountain pen that works on carbon copy paper, perchance?). You can get fantastic gold and crazy nibs on vintage fountain pens for much, much less than certain manufacturers ask for a generic steel nib pen with a colourful plastic body.
Looks – You can find a vintage fountain pen that utterly matches your style, whether it’s an understated elegant pen, a stunning showstopper one, or an out of this world wacky wildcard pen. Did I mention also that these lookers will likely cost you much less than any modern equivalent?
History – You’re looking for something with a past, with a story. It can be something that’s passed down the family, a treasured pen found in an estate sale and begging to be researched, or a bold attempt by a brazen small company to create something completely new.
Quirkiness – Things were wild in the heyday of the fountain pen, and you want a piece of that. Retractable and adjustable nibs, crazy filling mechanisms, pens made out of strange materials: works of genius and madness that call out to you.
Collectable Value – This is the first thing people think about when they hear about vintage fountain pens, and there’s a reason it’s the last on my list. If this is what interests you, I highly recommend walking away before you even start. This isn’t a money making venture. There are no great deals or finds to be made. All the good ones have been taken long before you, and are now passing from hand to hand, available only to people in the know. If you get into vintage pens for another reason and then decide you want to collect a few of the same kind, maybe nab one that’s a bit hard to get – fine. Otherwise, you’re getting into a losing game.
Your next move depends on what you chose in the last step:
Flex – Get thee to a vendor. Writing samples on the internet are lovely, and they’re a great way to shop for inks. Vintage flex needs to be held in hand and tested. Go to a pen show or a vendor and specifically ask for pens with a flex nib. Then ask to dip them, and try writing with them. Be very gentle at first, until you figure out how the nib works. The magic of vintage flex isn’t so much the nibs themselves, it’s the feeds. A good vintage wet noodle can keep the ink flow going even when you’re writing in giant poster letters. A modern pen’s feed will give up and you’ll end up with railroading. Things to remember:
A vintage flex nib may look wonky (dropping, slightly wavy). Ignore that – the test is in the writing. If the vendor won’t allow you to dip test, say thank you politely and walk away.
You’re interested in the nib, not the pen. Ask if the filling mechanism works (99% of the time vintage flex are lever fillers), and check the body for cracks. That’s it. It can be a black chased hard rubber (BCHR) Waterman brown with discolouration, brassing, and 3 different personalizations, it shouldn’t matter. You’re there for the nib, and the uglier the pen, the cheaper it’s likely to be. Vendors used to not even repair these ugly ducklings until recently, when the interest in vintage flex spiked and people figured out that you can get a wet noodle for $30.
The maker doesn’t matter. Waterman made great vintage flex nibs, but people know that, so you’re going to pay a premium for it. Some of my best flex nib pens are from no-name small manufacturers, and I got them all for a song. Waterman is great, just don’t get locked in to looking only at them. Test the nib and let it speak to you.
If you want to be extra sure that the pen works, ask the vendor to fill the pen for you once you’ve completed the purchase but before you’ve left the table. Just don’t forget to empty the pen out if you’re going on an airplane later on.
Never touch a pen, especially not a flex nib pen, without talking to the vendor first.
Gold/Speciality Nib – Much of what applies to flex nibs applies to these types of nibs. Unlike with flex nibs, online shopping for vintage gold/specialty nib pens is an option, but going to to a pen show or a vendor and try them out is still the best and safest approach. Don’t buy for the pen’s looks or condition (beyond checking that it works and there are no visible cracks), but for how it feels to write with this nib. Things to remember:
Great vintage pens with gold nibs are very common. If the price for a pen is high, you’re not paying for the nib, you’re paying for something else. Walk away.
If you just want your first gold vintage fountain pen, I recommend the Parker 51. You can get a great one for well under $100 (often under $50 if the body’s been personalized), so long as you aren’t fixated on one of the rare colours or an early year. Focus on aeromatics, in Black, Navy Grey, Burgundy, Forest Green, Midnight Blue, Teal Blue with a lustraloy cap. You pay a premium for special colours, caps in gold and sterling silver, red band vacumatic filling systems, and the cap condition. If the cap is dinged or lost its frosting, or if the pen is personalized, you can get it for a song. The Parker 51 nibs are PHENOMENAL. There’s absolutely nothing like them, and they make your writing look great. This is a large part of their appeal. The nibs aren’t graded, and most of them are in the fine-to-medium range. Just make sure there’s plenty of tipping material when you buy the pen (try out the pen and feel if it’s scratchy/look at the tip/ask to see a close up of it when buying online). The Parker51 website and the Parker forum on the Fountain Pen Network are a great place to learn more about these pens.
Speciality nibs are harder to find, so focus on two companies: Esterbrook or Pelikan. Both made great pens with a wide variety of interesting nibs, and both can be had relatively cheaply. These pens were also built like tanks, so they’re very likely to be in great working condition when you buy them, just be sure to ask. If you’re in Europe, Pelikans will be cheaper for you to acquire, and if you’re in the US Esterbrook is your friend. These are also pens that you can buy online relatively safely. Start with the Fountain Pen Network Esterbrook/Pelikan forums (FPN is still the #1 resource for vintage fountain pens), Esterbrook.net or the Pelikan’s Perch to educate yourself and purchase pens. I’ve purchased great vintage Pelikans from Berlin Collectibles, but again, I’d recommend trying the pen in person before going to the online shopping route. Esterbrook is going to be significantly cheaper than Pelikan, and you can buy one pen body (I recommend the J) and several nib units. But Pelikan has phenomenal OB, OBBB, OBBBBB… nibs that Esterbrook just never made.
Looks – this is probably the hardest one to give recommendations for, except go to a pen show and look around to see what catches your eye, but there is one thing worth noting. If there’s a particular design you like but it’s beyond your budget, look for “knock offs” made in the same era. Smaller makers made great pens “inspired” by more expensive ones made by the big manufacturers. You can get a Parker Vacumatic Golden Web look alike for $50-$80, gold nib and all, and only you’ll know that it’s a lever filler made by a no-name Italian maker and not the real deal (don’t sell it as such, though).
History – tell friends and family that you’re into fountain pens, and you’ll likely be inundated with old pens that they’ve found in the back of desk drawers. Most of them will be ruined, but you may get grandpa’s Parker 51, or grandma’s Esterbrook nurse pen, you never know. If it’s something from the family, I recommend investing in having it professionally repaired and restored if the history aspect interests you. Otherwise, this category of purchase requires dedicated research. I’d check the Fountain Pen Network, and go on from there. If you like to know that your pen had a past, skip stickered pens and go for personalized ones and you’ll also save a lot of money.
Quirkiness – this is the most fun category. Go to a pen show or vendor and ask if they’ve got anything strange. A pen with a weird body design/colour. A pen with a strange filling mechanism. Something wild engineering attempt to make the pen leak proof. The prices here can vary a lot, depending on whether the pen works or not, and if you plan on restoring one of these and they have a strange nib or filling mechanism take into account that it will add a lot to the price, and not every restorer will take the job. I wouldn’t start with one of those.
Collectable Value– don’t. If you really, really want to, go to the relevant Fountain Pen Network forum and check what everybody’s wild about. Don’t go by what eBay sellers call “rare,” and remember that not everything that’s rare is desirable.
A quick sketch on a Moleskine Star Wars Limited Edition plain paper with a Waterman Phileas fountain pen (Extra Fine) filled with Colorverse Selectron pigment ink. I thought I’d test how Moleskine friendly the new Colorverse Selectron ink is (it is), while also creating a farewell sketch to my old headphones.
I just received a pack of the Field Notes Signature blank page edition and noticed that on the front of the band it said,”Sketch Book” right below the “Plain Paper”. I opened it up and saw that unlike my beloved Dime Novel edition, these notebooks had no page numbers (a plus for me) and their pages were white and not cream coloured. That made me decide to break them out for a very quick sketching opportunity, to see how well they faired.
The notebook doesn’t open flat, and it tends to want to close on itself, so I used a clip to keep it open when I was sketching. Ideally you’ll need two clips and maybe a backboard of some kind to use it comfortably. The paper, as is normal with sketching paper, doesn’t take washes too well. It’s relatively thin and it buckles pretty easily, so only the lightest of washes should be attempted with it.
The drum set above was sketched with a Sanford No-Blot Pencil. You can see the paper buckling even though very little water was applied with a water brush.
The paper fared better with fine brush pens:
A tiny bit of spread when you lay down the ink too thickly:
Zero complaints when it comes to pencil sketches:
As is to be expected with this kind of paper, it works well with pencils and coloured pencils, having just enough tooth to make it work well with them, but not so great with fine and extra fine fountain pens and thin technical pens.
As you can see above, the Extra Fine Waterman Phileas (with Colorverse Selectron pigment ink) stuttered on the page.
The Signature also suffers from being an awkward size for a sketchbook: too large to be truly pocketable, too small to allow for anything more than tiny, quick sketches.
As a sketchbook, I’d not recommend it. There are better options in the market, ones that open flat, in better sizes, with hardcovers (a plus when sketching on the go), that take washes a bit better than the Signature does.
That being said, it’s a fountain pen friendly Field Notes, and so long as you’re not set on using nibs that in the extra fine realm or using this notebook as your main sketchbook, it’s a nice little thing to carry around and play with. There’s nothing wrong with a notebook that can take a little doodle next to your todo list…