This is a review of the Blue/Gold Chased Onoto Magna Classic
The review needs a little bit of background as to how I got to buying this pen, to put it in both a personal and historical context.
I became interested in Onoto as a brand after I inherited my grandmother's gold overlay Onoto 3000, hallmarked 1924.
The pen had seen a lot of use, and even though it wasn't in a usable condition I wanted to try it, to see what my grandmother had liked. This proved interesting as I tried to get a cheap, working, bhr Onoto. There seems to be no such thing as a cheap, working bhr Onoto... I found that they are very desirable pens and people are prepared to pay a surprising amount of money for them, so I'd never call them cheap. Eventually I managed to find a pretty beaten up one at a price I was willing to pay, and discovered what my grandmother loved...
The whole feeling of unmistakable quality.
Even this 90 year old beaten up bhr pen had it.
I was hooked.
It was high time I found out a little about the company that produced these pens.
Well, it appears the 'push down to fill' plunger had been invented in 1905 by George Sweetster, a music hall performer (magic acts while dressed as a woman and on rollerskates - the mind boggles, and you couldn't make it up!). He sold the patent to Thomas De La Rue & Co, who started the Onoto pen brand. These pens were spectacularly successful all over the British Empire as high quality pens. It turns out Winston Churchill used one in WW1, along with many, many others. Onoto produced the plunger fillers from 1905 to at least 1954. During that time there were quite a few variations of the 3000, both in length (the short one was called the 2000) and finish. There were all sorts of partial and full gold/silver overlays until the mid to late 1920's. As the new materials came in (celluloid etc) Onoto always seem to have been slow in introducing new designs, colours and materials, but made sure that the pen worked properly when they did introduce a new style.
In the 1937 they came up with the Magna, a pen that was a fair bit larger in diameter than the previous 2000/3000 series. The Magna sold in large numbers, and is still sought after today. The pen still used the plunger filler invented by George Sweetster, showing how Onoto were either very concious of their history or how complacent they were in not really developing alternative fillers (at the moment I do not have a fixed view on this - depending on mood I tend to vacillate between the two ideas).
During the WW2, Onoto was affected by bombing, with its London factory being hit. After a hiatus, they moved to Scotland to avoid the bombs, but wartime caused all sorts of supply difficulties (and I imagine war work interfered with pen production too), so relatively few pens were produced. Post-war Onoto continued with a few of their pre-war designs (the solid Black Magna and the 6233/6234/6235 were some that I know survived, but without their expensive pre-war ink view capability) and also tried to develop their own competitor to the overwhelmingly popular Parker 51. This resulted in the Onoto 'K' series 'Pelikan' style piston fill pens with hooded nibs. However the K series pens couldn't save the company from Parker's competition and the emerging ballpoint technology, and it was wound up in 1956.
That seemed to be that.
Until the 1990's when four enthusiasts bought the intellectual property of Onoto from De La Rue, but they didn't have the capital to resurrect the company as a going entity. That had to wait until 2003 when a venture capitalist turned up with a need for a pen (the Horatio Nelson) and enough money to realise the dream. From then, the Onoto Pen Company has been up and running.
I went to LWES 2009 and saw the Onoto stall. There was a new Onoto Magna (I think it must have been a 'Magna 261'), only with a c/c fill and a modern feed. I made it my grail pen there and then. I'd have preferred a plunger fill - and said so at the time. I believe many more people have done the same, which is why the Magna Plunger Filler ( http://www.onoto.com...-plunger-filler ) now exists. However my pockets are rather shallow, so I had to go for virtually the cheapest option that Onoto produce.
After a few more years, and a history of buying three other luxury pens (2x Parker Duofold & the FPN Stipula Etruria), none of which worked perfectly when I got them, I was a bit nervous about buying another new luxury pen. Would it be as wonderful as my Onoto 6233?
Or would it be a dud?
I think the pen I got can answer a few questions, so I'd better get on to it.
The Magna 261 had sold out by the time I was able to afford an Onoto, so I went for the closest available pen. A Blue & Gold Chased Magna Classic. I like the black & havana colours, but for some reason the chased blue stuck me as the nicest combination.
The nib on this pen is the steel nib, with a broad stub grind by John Sorowka. I went for steel, as the new Onoto nibs are reportedly quite stiff, that being so, I saw no point in selecting an expensive nib material that is best used for flex nibs, then thickening it up so much it doesn't flex. So, I was able to slightly offset the extra cost of the custom grind and chasing with the reduced cost nib.. It's nice to be able to pick & choose options.
So, I ordered my pen and waited.
Not as long as I'd been told it would take. From ordering it direct from Onoto to getting the pen was 19 days. Very nice for a made to order pen.
Well, what can I say.
Inside the outer shipping cardboard box was a blue shoebox with 'Onoto' embossed in gold on the top.
Inside the shoebox were a number of bits of ephemera (2 reprints of Onoto adverts on bookmarks, a leaflet on how to look after the pen, and a little historical outline of Onoto, an explanation of the UK hallmark and a cleaning cloth). Below this was a blonde burr veneer box that looked just so tactile and amazing with its depth of finish that I could only sit and stare.
I have a thing about wooden boxes, but it isn't as much as my wife's 'thing'. I nearly lost the pen at that moment, without ever having opened the box and got to see it!
Anyway, inside the box, sitting comfortably was my new pen. It looked stunning.
I was almost afraid to touch it with my huge paws. OK, that feeling didn't stop me, but it was a feeling to savour.
When I picked the pen up, it felt wonderfully light. I reckon that a pen needs to be 25g or under to allow me to write all day with it. This pen (a 'light version') weighs in at 25g. Perfect.
I make a few pens myself, and know how difficult it is to get a pen of the Onoto's size to be as light as it is. Heavy pens are easy, just a matter of brute ignorance and force. Light & strong pens are not, they require good design and good attention to detail, otherwise the pen weight creeps up and up. This may also explain why the Duofold Centennial is 35g, and the Chinese copies are 45g for a pen similar in size to the Onoto Magna Classic.
Another thing that struck me was how 'sharp' the pen was. I don't really know how else to describe it as the machining was beyond 'crisp' and far out the other side. The chasing and engraving was obviously machined in using a CNC mill. The corners of the cap and barrel finial were turned to such precision edges that you could almost scrape burrs off your fingernails on the sharp edge. No buffing or polishing had been done to the pen after machining, or the corners would have been blunted - so the machined finish was what I was seeing. It was wonderful and slightly depressing at the same time - it showed superb machining, but how can a home shop machinist ever hope to get to that standard of finish? [As an aside, I do feel that a light buffing with a polishing mop would have been better, as the roughness of my skin got hooked up on the sharp edges of the pen during the first few days of ownership causing the odd 'Ooh, that wasn't nice' feeling. However, the edges smoothed off after a few days of use.]
After noticing the crispness of the machining, I began to notice other details about the pen.
- The clip always lines up with the barrel writing of 'ONOTO THE PEN'. This means a single start thread, always starting in the same place on all pens (just thinking back to how much grief I've had at work trying to ensure that a thread starts in the same place with machined container parts - this displays manufacturing control of a very high order).
- The position of the gap in the chasing for personalisation is visible to a right handed writer, and could be read every time they use the pen. This means that the nib unit threads always start in the right place, the section-barrel threads start in the right place and the barrel internal threads all start in the right place. I've only ever had to control one thread start before, and +/- 30 degrees was the limit we could achieve with our equipment, I've never had to worry about the build-up of tolerances from three. Superb manufacturing control here too.
Little details like this are an indicator of very high levels of design and manufacturing quality.
- The gold plated silver cap rings seem to have been swaged onto the pen without the need for an extra cap lip machining if the sort seen in Delta's, Stipula's and Parker Duofolds. Once again, neither design nor manufacturing effort has been stinted.
- The cap ring hallmark is exactly 180 degrees around the cap from the clip. Unlike the hallmark on my Stipula, where the cap lip ring spins around because it hasn't been stuck down.
I think I'm seeing a pattern here. The pen has been designed and manufactured by obsessives. For obsessives. The test would be if it wrote perfectly without the need for flushing or tweaking the nib.
No need to guess, it wrote flawlessly.
Weight and Dimensions.
Length Capped: 139mm
Length Uncapped: 122mm
Length Posted: 163mm
Barrel Diameter: 12.89mm (measured with digital caliper)
Cap Diameter: 15.69mm (measured with digital caliper)
The overall quality of fit and finish is flawless (with the one exception of being a bit 'sharp' noted above). This is the sort of fit and finish you'd expect for a pen costing £330 rrp, and it delivers.
I think the cap lip is one piece with the cap body (unlike on the Duofold where it's a separate piece), with the cap rings swaged onto the cap. The Clip is a cast silver ring clip that is gold plated. The finial is black acrylic with a cast silver Onoto logo in the top. The barrel is one piece, except for a gold plated (mirror finish) button in the end of the barrel. The Section is machined externally to shape, and internally to accept a nib unit. I understand why these nib units are used - for ease of manufacture - but do feel that a high quality pen like this one should dispense with the nib unit and position the feed and nib into a friction fit section machined to accept them. The accuracy of CNC machining will make this possible without too much trouble - and I have been able to do the same with home made tools on my non-CNC lathe at home, so it is possible.
The parts all feel well made, are thickly plated (where plated) or are self coloured, so I expect the pen to be a long lasting one and keep writing well for years. It should be as usable in 100 years as it is now. The only possible site of wear is a little ring on the section where the cap marks it. This may turn into a little groove in time:
Writing with the Pen.
I asked for a broad stub nib to be fitted to the pen, from steel. So no flex.
However, with Parker Quink, the flow was perfect and oh so smooth. Not so smooth it felt like I was writing on ice, just smooth enough to glide freely over the paper but importantly also show me that the paper had texture. This feedback is the work of a master. I can smooth nibs so they feel like ice, but it gives an entirely characterless writing experience. The skill is knowing when to stop smoothing.
The nib is the best modern nib I have. There are no doubts about that.
However, and I must say it, the nib is not as great as Onoto nibs of the past. It feels dull and lifeless in comparison to those nibs. The nib feels good enough to encourage an exubarant style of writing, but it doesn't encourage the same wild exuberance of style that the gorgeous stub nib on my 6233 does.
The pen weight is great, and though it's much heavier than the old Onotos, it's light enough not to cramp the hand even if used all day.
The cap posts securely and doesn't overbalance the pen - even though much of the cap weight is in its finial area. The weight of the cap when posted doesn't make the pen too heavy either. When unposted, the pen is quite short, however it does comfortably rest on my hand between my thumb and fore finger. I have large hands (needing an 'Extra Large' glove), so anyone with smaller hands should find it easy to write without posting.
The barrel diameter is large enough to grip comfortably, however I find the section diameter a little on the large side and the steepness of the section is a little greater than I would prefer. This is a preference only, and I know many people who like the larger diameter. For me it isn't a problem, just making the pen slightly less comfortable for me than it might be. I grew up using a hooded nib P61, and there the slope is very gradual, yet you can choose the diameter at which you hold the pen.
Value for Money
This is difficult. How do you define VFM with Luxury pens? I almost feel the appelation 'Luxury' indicates VFM is poor or absent entirely. In some ways, it is poor. But you get a very good pen for the money. VFM is no worse, and probably better than, my Stipula Etruria and Parker Duofolds. The box is certainly nicer than any of the aforementioned pens, and it worked properly at its first use. So, if you want one, and can find the money, get it.
I have seen criticisms that it's expensive for a c/c pen. It is expensive for a self filling pen, no question. My response is 'Why should the more cost effective c/c filling stystem be judged more harshly than the more expensive to make piston fillers?'. I actually dislike piston fillers because they are so hard to see how much ink is left (unless they have an unsightly ink window), how difficult they are to flush and how much ink they hold - I like to change my inks around a bit. Furthermore, repairs to piston fillers (though less frequently needed) are more expensive. With a c/c, you dispose of the faulty c/c and put another in its place, no repairer & little expense needed. Swings & roundabouts. I feel there is no need to look down on the c/c in the way quite a few people on FPN seem to do. A c/c is a sensible engineering solution to the problem of a self filling pen, and it has no less validity than a plunger filler, a syringe filler or a vac filler, and its relative cheapness compared to the other pens is an advantage, not a signal it's less effective.
Comparisons with other Luxury Pens
I have to say here that my experience of luxury pens is limited to three I have bought (Parker Duofolds in both the Centennial and International sizes and the FPN Stipula Etruria).
- Weight: It's massively lighter than any of the other pens, and as such is much easier to use all day. This is a pen for those who want to write. The other pens are, in some ways, for those who want writing as an excuse to buy a fancy piece of jewelery. The Onoto is very focussed on being a tool to write with, and it's exceptionally good at it.
- Finish: It appears to be as well made as most of the other luxury pens. The Stipula has two loose parts that I would expect to be fixed (the cap ring turns in its groove and the silver oak leaves over the clip rattle a little), this is a bad mark for the Stipula.
- Nib: It's the only steel nib of the lot, and wrote better than any of the rest when they were new. After getting the others set so they can write properly, the Onoto seems to have a softer nib than the Duofolds. The Stipula nib is softer, but doesn't write so well. There is something about it that feels a bit feeble to me - it bends without showing any significant flex nib characteristics, and produces the occasional skip. My Duofold International feels a little dry all the time, which makes me prefer the Centennial of the two Parker pens. Overall I think the Onoto's nib is the best of the nibs out of the modern luxury pens I have.
- Section Shape. I must admit, I prefer the slightly smaller diameter of the Duofold Centennial section where I hold the pen. Also the Duofold has a larger bump to stop my fingers sliding down the section. The Stipula, due to the 'Overall Experience When Purchasing' (see below), is a pen that I cannot like.
- Design: It's a classic shape, just like the Duofold. This has a resonance with me that's stronger than with the curvy Italian Pen.
- Material: The Onoto is the most boring material of the lot, it has to be said. The Celluloid of the Italian pen is stunning. The Pearl & Black used in the Duofolds is gorgeous, and I shall never tire of looking at it. The Onoto's plain blue with chasing is very staid in comparison with the flamboyance of the other pens. Maybe Onoto will have the courage to use other materials one day (as they did with the Magna in the past). Multi-coloured acrylic blank material isn't very expensive compared to the plain, and it does make a gorgeous pen. Celluloid materials are available too.
- Manufacturing precision: All the pens are made to a similar level of precision, but only the Onoto needed buffing afterwards to remove sharp corners.
- Durability: I cannot see anything that would indicate that the Onoto will last less well than any of the others.
- Ephemera for new pen: Without doubt the accessories for the Onoto are streets ahead of the Duofolds and Stipula. I love the box.
- Overall Experience When Purchasing: The Onoto customer service was amazing and left me feeling pleased, proud and a little bit in awe of what I had bought. The Duofolds through JML were without trouble, nothing good, nothing bad, and left the pen to speak for itself without additional help. The Stipula had to be returned to Italy within days of arrival because the pen wasn't fit for use - that leaves a really sour taste in ones mouth, and even now I cannot like the pen due to the way it made me feel when I first got it. The description of what I had to put up with is here: http://www.fountainp...ost__p__2225954 . I shall never buy another Stipula due to the quality of the pen I bought, I have bought another Duofold (but probably no more as the range seems to have collapsed into 'any colour you want, so long as you want Black') and I would love to buy another Onoto if I had the money.
Comparisons with Other Onoto Pens
I do not have one of the vintage Onoto Magna's, so will have to compare the pen with the other vintage Onotos. I treasure my four vintage Onotos, three are Onoto 3000's, so I shall compare the modern one with the first bhr one I bought and the later, post war, celluloid 6233 I have.
- Weight: This pen is MUCH heavier than the old Onotos I have. It has heft, while the others are so light you are hardly aware they are in your hand.
- Finish: This isn't really a fair comparison as the old pens are at least 60 years old! However they all give an impression of a slimilar level of fit and finish when new. The oldest (the Onoto 3000) gives the impression of great, but slightly faded, good looks. The 6233 still looks gorgeous if somewhat worn, but despite the fact it's celluloid, it doesn't overwhelm the looks of the new Magna Classic. The heritage is evident.
- Nib: The modern steel nib of the Magna feels very different from the vintage Onotos. The nib was the outstanding part of the old Onotos. The Magna Classic is stiff and dull in comparison to the two vintage nibs, however it is smoother to use and looks very similar in shape and duotone plating pattern to the nib in my second bhr 3000.
- Section Shape. The vintage pens are much smaller in diameter than the modern pen. The 6233 has a longer, less steep version of the section used on the Magna Classic. I find the oldest pen's section shape quite comfortable, though a bit small. The 6233 is nice, similar in size to parts of the hood on the P61, while the larger Magna seems to be trying to throw my fingers towards the nib. This isn't quite as comfortable as the 6233.
- Design: The design heritage is evident in the shape of the Magna Classic. Not many companies can go through such a long period of quiescence and still come up with a design that harks back to its roots with such authenticity.
- Material: The new acrylic is not as stunning to look at as the vintage celluloid, but is nicer than the bhr. The chasing on the surface of the Magna harks back to the very faint chasing visible on the bhr Onoto 3000. Once again Onoto has kept its hold on its roots.
- Living with the Pen: This is where I find the Magna such an advance on the older plunger filler Onotos. When I keep the older pens with me I always have to be wary of splattering ink everywhere because of the fractured way in which I have to work in the office. The vintage plunger filler pens need to be kept warm and a great deal of control kept on the flow rate. Any slight complacency and the pen splatters ink everywhere. The modern pen has a proper collector, so the ink doesn't pool under the nib ready to go everywhere when I spin on my office chair or move my hand incautiously - this is a vast improvement over the old pens.
This pen combines the history of the company in a modern package. It's a wonderful pen, and I would highly recommend it. The design and manufacturing of the pen is superb.
The nib does not feel like the old Onoto nibs, instead having a modern rigid feel. This is a slight shame, as the vintage Onoto nibs are absolutely outstanding, but the pens were hard to live with.
Anyway, this pen will be a permanent part of my pen rotation, and I doubt it will be un-inked for years. There could be one or two little improvements in the pen (detailed below), however there is nothing major that I would change at all.
This is a personal view, and is only about very minor points because, overall, I think this Onoto is pretty close to being the best new pen I have come across.
- Barrel finial. In the past Onotos had plunger fillers, which necessitated a barrel finial that could be unscrewed. Onoto retained black bhr as the plunger handle/barrel finial right up to the last gasp of the plunger fill pens. I think a black acrylic finial 15mm long would make a nice aesthetic statement and also hark back to the plunger fillers, complementing the black cap finial too. A finial of this sort is not too difficult to manufacture, so could be incorporated.
- Cap marking the section. A shoulder inside the cap touches the section, 21mm down from the cap lip. This marks the section in a ring. If the clearance in this area could be increased then the section would not be marked. If, as I suspect, this is the vapour seal for the inner cap, then if the shoulder were to be moved to the shoulder at the nib end of the section, the marking would be the same, but un-noticed by the user.
- Sharp Edges. A light buffing with a polishing cloth prior to despatch should remove the very sharp corners that gave me the odd moment when I thought 'Ooh, that wasn't nice'.
As you can see, these improvement are just around the edges of a beautifully engineered and manufactured pen.
Other reviews/posts that may be of interest:
Parker Duofold Centennial: http://www.fountainp...howtopic=134028
Parker Duofold International: http://www.fountainp...-international/
Experience with FPN Stipula Etruria: http://www.fountainp...ost__p__2225954
Onoto 3000: http://www.fountainp...howtopic=106928
Onoto 6233: http://www.fountainp...e-pearl-review/
I hope this review is of use to someone.