Many pen reviews start with first impressions but with this pen I think I need to start with the history, because this pen is steeped in it, both in terms of its theme and its significance to the modern Onoto pen company. So let me start with the theme, Horatio Nelson.
Picture courtesy of the National Maritime Museum
Nelson was Britains greatest naval hero. Born in 1758, Nelson joined the Royal Navy at 12 and rose up through the ranks, largely due to his courage and his impressive strategies and tactics. He won a number of significant naval engagements, culminating in his greatest victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, off the coast of Portugal, in 1805.
At Trafalgar, Admiral Lord Nelson commanded a British fleet of 27 ships of the line who, largely due to Nelsons tactics, defeated a combined French and Spanish fleet of 33 ships of the line. However, the victory was bittersweet. It made Nelson a national hero because by destroying or capturing the ships of the French and Spanish fleet he prevented Napoleons forces from invading Britain but during the battle he was fatally wounded by a French sniper and he died shortly after learning of the victory. His body was returned to England and he was given a state funeral which lasted 5 days and he was also given the honour of being buried in St Pauls Cathedral in London. Even today he is still honoured and remembered for his bravery and leadership.
Returning to the pen, its important in the history of the modern Onoto company because it was the desire to make a pen commemorating Nelson and 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar which led the English entrepreneur, James Boddy, to revive Onoto as a pen manufacturer in 2003. The Horatio Nelson pen was therefore one of the first pens which the modern Onoto made, back in 2005.
2. First Impressions
Packaging - Onoto pens comes in sensible, useful and well made packaging. My pen came in solid blue lacquered box, accompanied by a number of interesting leaflets about the history of Onoto, care for the pen, the hallmarks and, in addition, a little booklet about Nelson.
From other reviews of Onoto pens, Ive seen that some of their pens come in a lovely blonde, burr wood box. The blue box I received was a bit more modest but I dont mind as I have my own wooden pen box in which the Nelson will live!
The Pen whilst the packaging is fairly modest, the pen itself is not! It is magnificent on first sight and very substantial when you first pick it up.
3. Appearance and Design
Awesome! The pen was designed and hand made for Onoto by the master goldsmith, Jack Perry.
In terms of the materials, the body of the pen is made from sterling silver but not just any sterling silver, Victory Silver. Going back to the history, Nelsons flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar was HMS Victory and given the significance of the success at Trafalgar the Royal Navy didn't want to scrap it once it had come to the end of its operating life. As a result the ship has been maintained as a commissioned vessel to this day, albeit in dry dock in Portsmouth, in the south of England.
Picture courtesy of Phillis and the Online Museum
Over the years the Victory has been refurbished but the Royal Navy kept the wood and copper which were taken out of the ship. In 1999 the Ministry of Defence sold about 30 tonnes of wood and 10 tonnes of copper from the Victory. It was bought by a British businessman who resold it to various craftsmen and women with a view to them making objects commemorating the 200th anniversary of Trafalgar. It is some of this copper which has been used to produce the sterling silver alloy, under the brand Victory Silver.
Not only is the body of the pen special, so is the cap. The main feature being the cobalt blue vitreous enamel over an engine turned wave pattern. In the hand the cap looks as though it is made of a lustrous blue glass, which is essentially what this enamel is. I understand that a hand ground paste of silica, water and metal oxides are put onto the cap by hand, layer by layer using goose feather quills! In between layers the cap is fired at up to 850c to transform the paste into liquid glass, which fuses to the metal. The result is an incredibly pure, vivid blue which makes even Baystate Blue look slightly muted! The guilloche wave pattern gives a lovely depth to the blue colour.
The cap has a number of details on it which link back to Nelson. In particular, there is a gilded, fouled anchor motif on the top which is similar to the design of the buttons on Nelsons uniform. In addition there are 3 matt, gilded silver bands around the bottom of the cap which resemble the braid around the cuff of Nelson's uniform sleeve, together with a cartouche which shows Nelsons signature and his dates. I was a little dubious about the inclusion of Nelsons signature on the cap but in the flesh it works nicely as part of the design.
Without the cap, the pen itself is quite conservative, with the fluting on the barrel being designed in the style of Nelsons Column in London. There is further fluting on the section, which helps to give grip.
Picture courtesy of Wayne Lorentz and Londonarchitecture.co.uk
4. Weight and Dimensions
As you would expect from a pen made of a rod of sterling silver, its substantial! Its approximately 90 grams in total and 50 grams without the cap. Despite the weight its fairly well balanced in the hand.
The pen is just under 14cm in length when capped. I would prefer the barrel of the pen to be a bit longer given the size of my hand but it is comfortable enough in use.
5. Nib and Performance
Very smooth. I opted for a medium nib, custom ground to a cursive italic by John Sorowka. It is firm but easily the smoothest nib I own (and John has worked on several other nibs for me from the likes of Visconti, Waterman and Pelikan). I would prefer it to have a little more line variation, so I may send it back to John for further tweaking but in the meantime it is lovely to write with. I believe Onoto obtain their nibs, made to their specification, from one of the German manufacturers, presumably Bock?
6. Filling System
Cartridge converter. Not much more to say. The pen purist in me would like a more exotic filling system but the pen user in me is quite happy with a converter.
7. Cost and Value
Expensive. Even with a generous discount for being an FPN member, this pen is still over £1,000 BUT it is handmade to order by a top craftsman in a limited edition of 100, from a special form of sterling silver, with proper vitreous enamel applied by hand and with gilded details. It doesnt have the clinical perfection of some of the big brands but it has the charm of being beautifully handmade to a top quality specification. If this pen had a white star on the cap it would be priced at many times the price which Onoto actually sells it for! So, all in all, I am comfortable with what I paid.
It is a beautiful looking pen which writes beautifully, what more could you ask for! I have other lighter pens for long writing sessions and I anticipate keeping this pen on my desk for note taking and signing documents. In that role I anticipate it providing many years of faithful service.
I love the theme of the pen. I grew up near Portsmouth and I have been to see HMS Victory many times since I was a boy, so the theme of the pen and the history resonates with me. The pen will also go nicely with a box I already have, made by Peter Lloyd from oak taken from the Victory.
Edited by Jonst, 22 December 2012 - 14:39.