IN PRAISE OF THE OLD STYLE VISCONTI VAN GOGH “MAXI” FOUNTAIN PEN
Visconti are a Florentine pen manufacturer founded on 20 October 1988 by two friends who decided to make a business of their passion for fountain pens. The two founders, Luigi Poli and Dante del Vecchio are stars of the long tradition of Italian pen manufacturing. They succeeded in remaining at the top of a highly competitive international market for over 30 years, which is an outstanding achievement when one considers the sad demise of OMAS or Delta.
Throughout their history, Visconti have set new standards for imaginative and striking designs, ranging from the very expensive to cheaper “every day” pens, earning a well-deserved devoted following of fountain pen collectors and users. Their “Homo Sapiens” line of pens need no introduction, and most people reading this will own or have seen a “Van Gogh” or “Rembrandt” Visconti pen. Some of the leading online pen reviewers, SBRE BROWN (https://www.youtube.com/user/sbrebrown) and PENULTIMATE DAVE (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmPrXpKKggCrGTmAhhMmvBA) have produced many highly entertaining and informative reviews of Visconti pens.
In this review, however, I wish to celebrate a now sadly discontinued range of Visconti pens, the “Van Gogh Maxi” which were in production in the first decade of the 2000s (along with their smaller cousins the Van Gogh “Midi” and Mini” versions). The series was also produced as roller ball pens.
The larger “maxi” size is one of my favourite pens as it fits my hands beautifully, so I will only be discussing this “maxi” line of the Van Gogh production as this is the type I own. More recently, of course, Visconti have produced a modern line of Van Goghs that are very widely available. They are hugely popular with their bright, fun colours, easily swapped or cleaned steel nibs, filling mechanisms that will accommodate standard size cartridges or converters and general sturdiness. But these are not of the sophistication as their earlier relatives, and they have steel nibs rather than gold nibs, so I will not be covering them in this review.
THE VISCONTI VAN GOGH MAXI FOUNTAIN PENS
Revealing a collector’s mania side of my character, I have acquired seven Visconti Van Gogh Maxis (VGMs) over the years. They are one of the jewels in my pen collection and are in constant use.
I was introduced to the VGMs by Ray Walters, (http://www.vintagean...dernpens.co.uk/] who is a regular vendor at Pen Shows, on his website and elsewhere. As always, he is charming and persuasive and I think the first pen he sold me was the VGM “Tortoise”.
This pen was a discovery and a revelation. I was writing with a pen of different design than the Pelikans and Japanese pens I was used to but with outstanding performance qualities. This purchase was quickly followed by the Musk version:
And then, throwing financial discipline to the winds, I also bought the beautiful “Sandal Wood” coloured version from Ray:
As I had the income to collect then, I quickly added (from eBay) a Demonstrator version:
Later on came a “Starry Night” version:
And a “Fantasia”:
And finally, an Ivory version (sometime also called a Vanilla, but I think Ivory is more appropriate):
There are other colours available, and these sometime turn up on eBay or at Pen Shows. From my online searches, I gather that the other VGM colours are Cappuccino (sometimes called Espresso), Black, plain Green, bright Yellow and Mint Blue. If there are other colours I would be interested to know from readers.
These pens are in the “oversize” range. They are slightly larger than the Pelikan M800, but slightly girthier and heavier as the weight is increases with the metal central band.
Personally I don’t like oversize or very large pens and have therefore never bought the more recent range of large Viscontis like the Homo Sapiens and similar, which I find simply too large and bulky. The VGMs are therefore, for me, at the size limit of what I enjoy writing with, especially as I prefer to post my pens.
The pens fit comfortably into my hand while writing (either posted or unposted)
As always beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but in my view, these pens are beautiful and very stylish. They have a happy, joyous range of colours with strikingly stylish bodies.
Their clips are the signature “Ponte Vecchio” arches and these are very flexible, making them easy to place in a pocket.
One controversial aspect of the design is the screw on the top of the cap, which keeps the clip in place.
For some this is a serious error in design, detracting from the overall aesthetics with a rather “industrial” and crude intrusion in colourful body. Personally I don’t really notice the screw as I have the cap posted with the clip showing on top, so that the screw always remains in the unseen underside of the pen, but I agree with the critics: Visconti could have produced something more visually pleasing (like the design of the Pineider clips which have a more discreet clip holder mechanism).
The Visconti locking system changed over time. Initially, Visconti used a “3K” twist fastener system, where the cap was secured with a twist locking it on three threads.
The system is not really satisfactory: I found that it uncaps inside a pocket which is irritating as then the nib stains ink on a shirt through the inner jacket pocket’s lining. More concerning were reports by some users of cracking of the barrel through the pressure involved in locking the “3K” twist system. So it was discontinued and replaced with threaded locking:
The VGMs have cartridge converter filling systems. The system allows international size cartridges which is helpful as one of the really irritating aspects of Japanese pens or some European pens like Aurora or Lamy is having to use proprietary cartridges! The converters are threaded which makes them secure. They do sometimes have a tendency to “rattle” unless the top section is tightened, which is the case in one of my seven VGMs.
The nib is, of course, the soul of a pen. In this respect, Visconti excelled themselves in producing superlative writing nibs. My own preference is for fine nibs and Visconti’s nibs tend on the wetter side. From my research the VGM nibs ranged from EF, F, M, B and Stub. Generally, the VGMs have 14 carat nibs but I have one 23K Palladium fine nib.
These have beautiful decoration as shown below
These nibs are wonderful writers. The fine duo tone VGM 14K nibs glide smoothly on the page, with just enough feedback to make the writer conscious of the grain of the paper on which the nib writes. The 23K “Dreamtouch” fine nib is also a joy to write with, although it lacks the flexing quality of the 14K nibs.
An added bonus is that these nibs can we swapped between different VGMs, rather like the way Pelikan nibs can be swapped between pens.
These Visconti pens are among the finest pens in my collection (which is mainly composed of Pelikans and Sailors). Their design, joyous range of colours and wonderfully expressive nibs make them a set of pens that give constant pleasure whenever used. Although I would, if pressed, prefer the Pelikan M800 or the Sailor 1911 Large range of pens, these old style Viscontis are a treasure that I cherish.
These Viscontis are now sadly discontinued and, in my view, one of the worst decisions taken by the Florentine manufacturer was to produce the modern steel nib Van Gogh series. While these are perfectly decent writing pens, with attractive colouring, they simply cannot match the exquisite precision of the VGM gold nibs and style of their design. If only Visconti would revive them, just as Pelikan has begun to revive old discontinued models!
Edited by Quadratus, 03 May 2020 - 19:30.