This is a review of the Oxford fountain pen, from Helix. Helix is a British brand that, to the best of my knowledge, produces school supplies. The pen is inexpensive and available over-the-counter at stationery shops in the UK. You can probably get it elsewhere also.
The review itself comes in two parts: traditional and aesthetic. For more on why I’m taking this approach, see the explanation in my review of the Conid Minimalistica.
--- TRADITIONAL/NUMERICAL REVIEW ---
Design and appearance: 10/10
Steel-coloured, metal-bodied fountain pen with snap-cap and black plastic section. Slight flare at the end of the grip section made of metal. Capping the pen is pleasing, because of the very satisfying click that it makes.
Clip is functional and fairly stiff, and has the words “Helix ® OXFORD” embossed on it. The clip is the only place that any branding appears.
The top and bottom finials, the cap band and the clip, have a polished finish, whilst the rest of the barrel and cap are a more matte finish. This makes for an understated and aesthetically-appealing pen.
The barrel tapers towards the back end. Pen posts securely. Black finial makes for a pleasing visual distinction to the rest of the outside of the pen (all steel), and matches the black section. Nib is steel, with plastic feed and is marked only with the word, “Helix”.
Is this my most beautiful or favourite pen? No. But it does exactly what it sets out to do. Simple, elegant, restrained design. Won’t win any prizes for innovation, but well thought-through. Succeeds very well at being what is obviously a workhorse pen.
A word on the packaging: this is simple, minimalist and recyclable – just right.
Filling System: 10/10
The pen comes with two standard international short cartridges. I’m sure it would fit a converter. This is exactly the kind of filling system that you would expect from a pen in this category. Given its use-case, I wouldn’t want to see a different filling mechanism.
Nib performance: 9/10
The nib is surprisingly good. It is smooth, stiff and writes with a decent flow. For those who like such things, you can use it for reverse writing, for which it performs well. There is even some line variation to be had (when writing normally).
The packaging advertises a nib that is “smooth writing”, a claim that definitely checks out.
The description in the packaging also calls it a “flexible medium nib for excellent writing control.” Is this true? That depends on the audience. By comparison to proper flexible nibs (even modern flex), calling the nib “flexible” is an outright lie. But FP enthusiasts aren’t the target market: by comparison to a ballpoint or rollerball, the nib is clearly flexible.
Writing experience: 8/10
The grip section is ever-so-slightly too narrow for me to be comfortable using the pen for long writing sessions. But that’s really my only complaint.
The pen feels good in the hand. The metal barrel and cap give the pen a bit of heft, but it’s by no means heavy. It posts well and is not at all back-heavy when posted (I am an habitual poster). It’s long enough to use unposted if you don’t like posting. The nib is smooth and wet enough. I was pleasantly surprised by how well it performs.
Writes out of the box: 5/5
Many modern fountain pens bought new have problems right out of the box. I therefore think it generally appropriate to give a mark of 5/5 if it is trouble-free from the start, to reflect the fact that a pen is principally a writing instrument (0/5 if this criterion isn’t met).
In this case, the pen wrote perfectly out of the box.
Is the writing experience and pleasure from using the pen in any way congruent with the price paid? Value-for-money may not be a fountain pen enthusiast’s principal motivation, but it’s still relevant.
This is a solid, well-made pen that writes well, with a very modest price tag (under £10 in 2019): definitely good value-for-money.
Overall view: 48/50
This is an excellent pen for what it is. And it is unpretentious.
Don’t get this pen if you only buy and use Visconti limited editions.
But if you are looking to give someone a first fountain pen, or if you need a well-performing pen to drop into a bag or take on your long hike, then this is a good option, albeit one of many.
--- AESTHETIC/NARRATIVE REVIEW ---
This part is based on criteria proposed by Jonathon Deans.
Evaluating the aesthetic experience
Intensity (the wow! factor).
There isn’t much of a visual wow factor here; it's not a pen to drool over. But it’s not meant to evoke Wowness. It’s means to look and feel sober. The feel is good in the hand, but again, no experience of being wowed. The performative intensity (experience in writing) is medium, because of the surprisingly good writing experience.
Complexity of the experience: did I experience this pen as imaginative, surprising, interesting?
Not really. I experience the pen as solid, reliable and pleasant to use. Having said that, the simplicity in design is deceptive: some real thought went into the design of the pen, and it holds together very well. That thorough design sets it apart from other pens in a similar price category.
Unity: did I experience the Oxford as coherent and complete?
Definitely, yes. It doesn’t make me want to shout from the roof-tops, but its well thought-through and well-balanced features make it an understated unitary whole that is very pleasing.
Sources of aesthetic appreciation
Materials: colours, shapes, physical material.
Two kinds of metal, plus black plastic: not much to get excited about. The shape is standard and conservative. The good things about the pen come about through the way the individual parts are combined.
Form: The relationship of each element to the whole.
This is a real strength of the pen.
Expression: what if anything is it that I associate with this particular pen, and what sort of emotions does it evoke?
This was a birthday present from a child, paid for from their own pocket-money. I cannot use the pen without the emotional association that this evokes. Apart from that, I really like the way the pen is put together, and the radical simplicity of the design.