Ebonite is a wonderful material for pens, combining lightweight solidity with a warm texture that absorbs moisture without becoming clammy. It's an irregular material that lends itself well to the fountain pen, an analog technology that hasn’t changed much in 50 years. Most of my ebonite pens originated in India, and they all write well and display an understated, old-fashioned integrity.
But the Bexley Prometheus is as American -- and as Midwestern -- as a Ford Mustang (Michigan) and a Cessna Citation (Kansas). Or a Rawlings baseball mitt (Missouri). Bexley was founded in 1993 in Columbus, Ohio, by Howard Levy and other pen people who say their inspiration comes from classic designs from the first half of the 20th century. The Prometheus was first offered in the mid-2000s as a piston-filler with a gigantic, no. 8 Bock nib in 18-carat gold. Bexley appears to be gearing up for a re-release of a cartridge-converter version of the Prometheus in fall 2016, and recently sold several developmental pens in acrylic, ebonite, and celluloid material, equipped with a large, no. 6 Jowo steel nib.
This particular Prometheus is made from raspberry-and-black-colored woodgrain ebonite. I now own two Bexley pens – the Prometheus and a Gaston special edition in a Tibaldi rosso-verde celluloid. This limited experience leaves me with three impressions: Bexley knows how to select, machine, and finish gorgeous material; how to ship an unbelievably smooth nib; and how to find and incorporate excellent pen furniture.
The fine-grain material used in this Prometheus is the most uniform rendition of non-uniform ebonite that I’ve ever seen. I don’t know the source, whether it’s some classy version of ebonite ordinarily used in pipe stems and clarinet mouthpieces, but this material finishes up so smoothly that it cannot possibly fall in the economy category. The color is a quiet brownish-red that resembles mahogany.
The gold-plated pen furniture displays depth, weight, and finish that suggest durability. The clip looks like a sturdy gold sword, the kind of double-edged blade Prometheus might have used in the theft of fire on Olympus. Two gold rings decorate the barrel, and there’s one on the cap. One of the barrel rings appears to separate the section from the barrel, decorating the cap. But this is an elegant illusion – the ring actually divides the section at the threads, and doesn’t even touch the cap. The three rings also divide the pen in two nearly equal portions, and separate the black acrylic cap and finial from the ebonite.
Finally, the nib defines smoothness. If you like a toothy nib, one with some feedback, my Bexley experience suggests that you have two choices: buy a pen from someone else, or rough up your nib.
It’s tough to come up with things I don’t like about the pen. It’s largish, in the girthy sense. Most of its dimensions are almost identical to a Lamy Safari, but the barrel, cap, and section are considerably thicker. The section is about 13 millimeters in diameter, a little sturdier than I’m used to, but doesn’t require much adjustment in the way I hold it. Sometimes it’s a little hard to find the sweet spot on the broad nib, but I’ve noticed that I rotate this pen more than others. Maybe it’s the girth, I don’t know, but once I find the sweet spot, it stays in place.
The camphor aroma of the Bexley Gaston in rosso-verde celluloid is soothing and lovely. But the ebonite Prometheus is odorless, a good thing, because it doesn’t smell like burned rubber.
The material, design, and construction of the Bexley Prometheus make you say, “I didn’t know they made them like that anymore.” But they do. If anyone today is building on the legacy of pens with integrity, born in the American Midwest, started by George Parker in Janesville, Wisconsin, and Walter Sheaffer in Fort Madison, Iowa, it’s Howard Levy, in Columbus, Ohio.