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  1. bobje

    Experiments With Flex

    Affordable flex is difficult to find. My recent practice in learning copperplate script makes me appreciate flexible nibs as writing tools. Dip pen nibs offer both affordability and ultimate flexibility and line variation, if the writer is willing to carry jars of ink. Vintage flex fountain pen nibs offer portability at the price of a vintage flex pen. In this thread I will present results of informal experiments with nib flex modifications that start with the well-documented “ease my flex," and then include a central cut-out inspired by dip pen nibs. This thread will ultimately contain a series of four tests: 1. The first test, in this post -- modifications on inexpensive Jinhao and Airmail Wality nibs. 2. The “ease-my-flex” modification -- also known as "angel wings" -- applied to flex and extra fine, no. 6, steel nibs, from Fountain Pen Revolution. I selected FPR nibs because they're affordable, easily available in multiple sizes and types, and my previous experiences with them have been positive. FPN contributor Pterodactylus started a discussion of the "ease my flex" modification in February 2013, initially applied to the Noodler's Ahab model: https://www.fountainpennetwork.com/forum/topic/240492-noodlers-ahab-ease-my-flex-mod/ 3. A “central cutout” modification applied to flex and extra fine, no. 6, steel nibs. Also known as the "Cross of Lorraine."See post no. 5 by FPN contributor Freddy in this discussion thread: https://www.fountainpennetwork.com/forum/topic/317970-two-cuts-and-a-small-bend-to-make-your-jinhao-flex-like-a-zebra-g/ Synnove, the FPN contributor behind these "central cutout" tests, also created this thread: http://www.fountainp...-edison-jowo-6/ Additionally, Synnove did a small study on how much weight on the nib it took to splay the tines a given width. http://www.fountainp...-fat-grail-pen/ 4. A modification applied to flex and extra fine, no. 6, steel nibs that includes both ease-my-flex and central-cut-out. Test 1 was conducted on Jinhao x450 and Airmail Wality 71j pens that I already owned. Tests 2 through 4 are being conducted on FPR nibs, feeds, and Click pen bodies supplied by Kevin Thiemann of FPR. For the most part, Kevin supplied materials; I supplied labor and documentation. Today’s post includes my experience and results of the first test. I used a Dremel-type grinding tool to remove a small scallop with a depth of about 2 mm on each side of the shoulders of nibs on Jinhao x450 and Airmail Wality 71j pens. I wrote with the pens, and then used a Dremel-type cutoff disc to enlarge the breather holes to a horizontal oval about 3.5 mm wide. I documented both nibs with photographs, but did not document a writing sample from the Jinhao x450. TEST NO. 1 -- FLEX NIB MODIFICATIONS ON AIRMAIL WALITY NO. 6 FINE NIB AND JINHAO NO. 6 MEDIUM NIB A. WRITING RESULTS AFTER REMOVING WING SCALLOPS ONLY Jinhao x450 with no. 6 medium nib, 6 mm standard plastic feed More give/bounce in the writing experience, and tines separate slightly to make the nib wetter. Some flex if pushed, but this nib starts as a medium and requires too much pressure to generate line variation. Nib is smooth. Airmail Wality 71J with Airmail no. 6 fine nib, 6.3 mm standard ebonite feed More give/bounce in the writing experience. Tines definitely separate, making the nib wetter and the writing experience much more fun. Not much line variation. Nib has some feedback. B. WRITING RESULTS AFTER CREATION OF WING SCALLOPS AND 3.5 MM OVAL BREATHER HOLE Jinhao x450 no. 6 nib, medium Not much pressure required to make tines separate easily. Line width varies from about 0.6 mm to 1.2 mm -- basically 2X. Well-lubricated, pleasant writing experience. Plastic feed keeps up if the writer maintains steady, moderate pace. Occasional priming of feed required before a large flourish, or railroading occurs. More fun to write with. The snap-back, however, is sluggish, and after extensive writing, sometimes the tines don't return to their original position at all. Airmail Wality 71J with Airmail no. 6, fine Not much pressure required to make tines separate easily. Line width varies from about 0.4 mm to 1.1 mm -- about 3X. Standard ebonite feed nearly always keeps up. Increased flex seems to pull more ink, making the writing experience well-lubricated. Writer must push nib to unpleasant levels of pressure before railroading occurs. Much more fun to write with. C. ELEVEN OBSERVATIONS 1. One trial with the Jinhao no. 6 nib used only the expansion of the vent hole, with no wing scallop removal. In the writing trial, the tines widened, but didn't seem to snap back into position. Without wing scallops, the lines were all wide, all uncontrollably juicy, all the time. 2. The enlarged vent hole made a significant difference in the ability of the tines to separate. 3. The Dremel cut-off disc can make a crescent-like, oval, enlarged horizontal vent hole. The oval hole is ugly. Jeweler's needle files might help shape the hole, and some kind of buffing/polishing process would help. The design of vent/reservoir holes in dip nibs may provide some inspiration. 4. Gold-tone nibs lose their finish in the grinding process. Chrome-colored steel nibs might be more attractive candidates. 5. The back side of the nib, behind the slit, took some abrasion in the grinding process. Ink supply did not seem to be impeded. 6. The design of standard dip nibs is more utilitarian, often showing grinding marks where the manufacturer thinned the nib material. A pen user who modifies nibs for calligraphy may need to discount nib aesthetics. 7. Cutting the scallops from the wings is fairly simple and foolproof, and requires about 10 minutes. Enlarging the vent hole requires more precision, and also takes about 10 minutes. This is my first flex nib modification, and my first time using a Dremel tool. 8. The standard ebonite feed in the Airmail Wality 71J keeps up extremely well. No deepening of the ink channel was required. 9. The plastic feed in the Jinhao x450 kept up better than expected. 10. The modification process improves writing performance in both nibs, making the writing experience much more enjoyable. The modification also makes the nibs lay down significantly more ink, and the ink capacity of the Airmail Wality eyedropper helps. 11. This modification makes the standard fine Airmail Wality nib enjoyable to write with. Airmail Wality pen bodies are well-crafted, but provide significant amounts of feedback, and I usually swap the standard nib for something else.
  2. Pilot Parallel italic nibs perform wonderfully in italic calligraphy applications, and they can be successfully ground, hacked, and shaped for a variety of effects. With simple shrink-wrap tubing usually used for electronic connections, the diameter of the nib unit can be expanded to fit snugly into the section of a Penbbs 456 fountain pen. This enables calligraphers to place the high-performing Pilot Parallel nib in a more elegant pen, and to add wide italic functionality — from 1.5 mm to 6 mm — to the Penbbs 456. Use scissors to create a 5-mm-long “collar” from 7-mm heat-shrink tubing. Then, use a hair dryer to shrink the tubing tightly around the Pilot nib unit. The additional diameter enables the modified nib unit to fit snugly into the Penbbs 456 section. The interior diameter of the Penbbs section is about 5 mm, and the interior diameter of the Pilot Parallel is about 4.5 mm, so the tubing needs to increase the diameter only slightly. Because heat-shrink tubing is slightly elastic, it also serves as a type of extended o-ring in this application. My first attempt, with a 10-mm-long collar that covered all of the Parallel feed’s fins, proved too difficult to insert into the Penbbs section. But 5 mm is about right. There is plenty of room within the Penbbs 456 cap for the Parallel italic nib, and the nib starts up quickly after two days of non-use. The Penbbs 456 is a vacuum filler, and it’s also still possible to vacuum ink into the barrel through the Parallel nib. These photographs display the 2.4 mm Parallel nib in a Penbbs 456 in the koi material, described in English as “tiny happiness.” The ink is Diamine marigold.
  3. FILCAO Atlantica, a Chilton-type pneumatic filler I'll save you some time. The FILCAO Atlantica writes smoothly, feels balanced in the hand, and is carefully constructed from an elegant material. These are fine qualities, but they aren't the reason you should write with one, if you get the opportunity, because they aren't made any more. You should write with one because it's interesting, and it's interesting for three reasons. First, this particular Atlantica uses a filling system you've probably never heard of, and it's slick, quirky, and makes a lot of sense. It's called a Chilton pneumatic filler, and you can read about it in one of Richard Binder's authoritative pen encyclopedia entries. To fill the pen, you remove a blind cap, pull out a chrome rod, place your finger over the hole, immerse the nib in ink, push the rod in, and take your finger off the hole. Then you replace the cap. The system holds a lot of ink, maybe 1.2 milliliters, though I haven't measured, and because it takes me a week or so of regular writing before the ink gets depleted, I'm not planning on measuring it. Second, the material used in the pen isn't just elegant. It is mahogany-paneled-private-library elegant, and could serve as a dictionary illustration for what the Italians call catarifrangente and the French call chatoyant. The material is deep, shimmering, and glowing, and it looks like a lucky day for an amateur geologist/pen collector hiking in the Alps west of Torino. Finding a boulder of gray-green granite laced with mother of pearl and curly black mica flakes, illuminated from the inside by fading candlelight, the collector made a mental note--"that rock will do very nicely.” Then it was made into a Goldilocks-sized, understated pen for people who need to mark up contracts, describe the inner thoughts of characters, write prescriptions, draw circuit diagrams, or correct the improper grammar of students, and who actually enjoy the tactile quality of the writing process. Last, the pen was made by a Torinese pen designer who combined two uniquely Italian qualities – the genius that sometimes stems from economy -- as anyone who has eaten fettuccine alla Genovese could tell you. Pesto is made from basil leaves, a few stray pieces of cheese, some olive oil, and pine nuts that require considerable amounts of labor to dehusk. Combined in a sauce, these ingredients are sublime and satisfying, but one has the feeling that, on one very bleak day, they were what was in the pantry of a brilliant grandmother who needed to feed her family. Necessity ignites invention. As Italian-American pen distributor Giovanni Abrate tells the story, the late founder of FILCAO, Francesco Grisolia, built relationships with the Italian manufacturers of resin used in pens and eyeglasses. In comparison to the market for eyeglass frames, pens are a tiny market, so if you're a boutique pen manufacturer trying to make handsome but reasonable products for stationery stores throughout Italy, occasionally your business relationships need to score gorgeous material at a good price. In the late 1990s, Grisolia found some material in northern Italy that had been evaluated for Montblanc special editions. Montblanc appears to have used a slightly different version for the Oscar Wilde. Grisolia used what he found to create the Atlantica, this eccentric Chilton pneumatic filler. I am fairly certain that the Oscar Wilde is a gorgeous pen. For $1,500, give or take a few hundred, it ought to be. But I am absolutely certain that the Atlantica is as satisfying and delicious as a plate of fettuccine alla Genovese, served with a deep red Nebbiolo, on a table with a white linen tablecloth. Now that I've saved you some time, you can choose. For $1,500, you can have an Oscar Wilde, or an Atlantica and a flight to Milano. Buon viaggio. Chilton-type pneumatic filler Medium steel nib Dictionary illustration for what the Italians call catarifrangente and the French call chatoyant. Section Writing Sample. First poem in Italian by a female writer, attributed to "Compiuta." Rough English translation Photograph of writing sample, Sailor Jentle doyou ink
  4. The no. 6 flex nib from Fountain Pen Revolution fits in a Penbbs 456, this one in the absinthe material. The ebonite feed was shaved slightly to fit the plastic section housing. I modified this nib with wing scallops along the lines of the flex nib experiments in the thread below. FPR now sells these ultra flex nibs with wing scallops included. The ink is Diamine umber, and the paper is from MUJI. https://www.fountainpennetwork.com/forum/topic/324910-experiments-with-flex/
  5. In one of the world's largest cities, there always seems to be a place to take a break. At the Hakusan Shinto shrine in Tokyo. A week in Japan makes me think stationery stores are the retail urban planning equivalent of zen gardens. They provide an analog break in days filled with digital noise. We have only a few stores left in the United States, in Appleton, Wis., and Little Rock, Ark., of all places, and Houston, and Nashville, and another north of Pittsburgh. A couple in New York and New Jersey. Two in Maryland and one in Washington, DC, and that’s about it. I’m probably leaving out a couple, but my point is that in a really big country, there are fewer than a dozen bricks-and-mortar stationery stores. Unless you count Staples and OfficeMax, which are great for laserjet paper, printer cartridges, and office chairs. Japan, on the other hand, is stationery mecca. I was in meetings in Osaka where team leaders handed out agendas and summaries in elegant transparent folders, and erasable gel ink pens, and we realized that every one of us around the table was a geek who, in elementary school, undoubtedly loved the fragrance of promise and hope in a new box of yellow No. 2 pencils. Kyoto In Kyoto, the spiritual heart of Japan, there are more than 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines. TAG’s headquarters stationery store is in Kyoto, and there are five other TAG shops around the city, filled with paper for calligraphy and art projects and school assignments, and racks of washi tape and fountain pens. Kyoto specialists in natural dyes, who got their training in textiles, created the TAG line of inks. Remember indigo? Around 900 AD, people in the imperial court of Keian in Heian-kyō, the former name for Kyoto, fermented leaves to produce indigo. I digress, but here’s my point: if you really like writing, it’s entirely possible that, like Matsuo Basho, your heart is in Kyoto. On a walk through the Arashiyama bamboo grove, I’m talking with a friend about how Japan offers up so many details that would make great visual pauses in films. Breathing space. They’re like the short musical interludes, sometimes called buttons, in radio news broadcasts. She asks why I like calligraphy. It’s an analog break from digital chores, I tell her, and she responds, “Oh, like a button.” A few meters away, we walk by a home where the poet Matsuo Basho hung out with one of his students. Even in Kyoto -- Hearing the cuckoo’s cry -- I long for Kyoto. -- Matsuo Basho Tokyo One of the great things about Tokyo is that even though it’s one of the 10 largest cities in the world, with almost 14 million people, there always seems to be a green place to take a break -- a playground or a garden, a bench on a shady patch of street, or a shrine with a fountain for prayer. Stationery shops are air-conditioned and filled with students and bookish people, and they are wonderful quiet spaces. I found myself in two of them, the Maruzen bookstore, located a hundred meters from Tokyo’s central station, and the TAG store on Tennouzu Isle. Maruzen is a Japanese chain, and half a floor in the main Tokyo store is devoted to stationery, pens, and inks. Lovely display cases show pens from global brands as though they are objects in a museum, all, it seems, at retail list price. But a section of ink is tucked away on one side of the pens, a closet full of colors from Pilot, Platinum, Sailor, Montblanc, Faber-Castell, and Pelikan. Hiding away in one corner are inks made for Maruzen by Sailor -- Athena sepia, and renga, an urushi red. They’re considered unobtainable everywhere else. I buy them both, again at retail price, which in the case of Japanese inks is 30 percent less than everywhere else. The notebook section offers funky composition notebooks by a brand called nanuk. I’m not sure if the paper works well with fountain pens, but they have a sample copy for testing. At the pen counter, a salesperson helpfully pulls out a Platinum Preppy pen, and as it turns out, nanuk paper is terrific. On the late afternoon of another unbelievably hot July day, I stumble upon the TAG stationery store on Tennouzu Isle, just off the monorail to Tokyo’s Haneda airport. The store offers envelopes and paper in pastel patterns of coral and indigo, designed for writing letters, lined or unlined. The store manager is playing an entire Beatles album -- Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band -- and for 20 minutes, I’m lost in a bliss of washi paper and “I’ve got to admit, it’s getting better.” Then, it gets better. Next to the cashier there’s a display of every TAG Kyoto ink, from Moonlight of Higashiyama, a brick red, to Aonibi, a blue-black. The manager gives me a pen with a glass nib for testing ink. (Let me repeat that -- they keep a glass-nibbed pen for testing inks.) I realize that one ink, Nurebairo, is a black that shades blue, with a subtle golden halo sheen. When I’m confused about whether Nurebairo actually shades blue, she explains that it depends on whether the paper is cream or stark white. Then she wraps it up, adds it to my other purchases, and agrees with me about The Beatles. I walk out onto a boardwalk and as the sun sets on Tokyo Bay, I eat a wagyu hamburger with an old friend.
  6. bobje

    Three Oysters Giwa

    Writing sample of the Korean ink 3 Oysters giwa, rather than a full review. Giwa is dark gray with a tinge of green. North Americans would describe it as slate. Fans of murky greens will like this one. Kim Jong-hae is a poet born in Busan, South Korea.
  7. Like many people, I love the idea of Sailor Cigar from the Pen & Message shop in Kobe, Japan, but am exhausted by the idea of finagling a way to obtain it. The legend and scarcity have grown so large as to make one consider pitching a tent on the sidewalk outside the shop on Kitanagasadori and waiting, like fans of a new iPhone. But this is an ink revolt, and we are not going to do that. The work of Chrissy, Tas, dcpritch and others inspires us all to mix an ink that matches the color of the world's best cigars, rolled from tobacco grown in Vuelta Abajo, Cuba. I did not succeed in my first attempt, but it was not a failure, either. This formulation is a derivation of Chrissy's work, which uses a single-dye permanent blue, a yellowish-green, a golden brown, and a rust-like orangy red. The result closely resembles Stipula verde muschiato. When we succeed, we shall call our ink "Vuelta Abajo." This humble first attempt in our revolution, however, is "Route 54 Motor Oil." Draft 1.5 of the New Cigar Manifesto 1 part Noodler's Bad Blue Heron 1 part Diamine sepia 1 part Diamine evergreen 1 part Diamine terra cotta Writing sample with Pilot Plumix italic nib on Staples 32-pound ivory laser paper.
  8. ASA Azaadi in opal Creating a new ASA Azaadi in opal gave me a four-part tutorial in pen design. I commissioned the Azaadi after reading an account of a stunning similar pen in casein by Prithwijit Chaki, a prolific contributor to the Fountain Pen Network. Inspired by the fine white-on-ivory veins of the casein, I set about looking for a material that would simulate the elegance without the fragility. [/url] Capped, the Azaadi is about 1 centimeter longer than a Lamy Safari. Uncapped, it’s about the same length, and considerably thicker. Lesson No. 1 – Material Selection The Azaadi, as explained by Chaki, is based loosely on the Churchill design of the most recent version of the Conway Stewart company in the United Kingdom. When Conway Stewart closed shop in 2014, Vince Coates of The Turners Workshop in Newcastle purchased the remaining inventory of blanks and rods, and some of these materials are still available. There wasn’t a matching, veined white material, but opal offered a similar, classic quality. Coates shipped the opal to L. Subramaniam at ASA Pens in Chennai, who sometimes makes custom pens with material supplied by his clients. This opal doesn’t look like the gemstone. It includes translucent shades of amber, honey, and ivory, like the biscuit color of stained glass table lamps in the Mission, Arts and Crafts, or Tiffany styles. Whatever is underneath the acrylic opal material is visible, especially if what’s underneath is dark. The Azaadi design typically uses black acrylic for the section and finials. Because the opal material remains relatively thick near the finials, most of the black acrylic underneath is obscured. But at the section, where two sets of threads overlap (the cap to barrel and the barrel to section), the material is extremely thin. At this joint, the black section shows through the opal material. The opal material is translucent, but white teflon tape masks the black section under the barrel-to-cap threads. If I were making the pen again, I would probably select a medium-toned, opaque ivory or amber color for the finials and section. But my error also presented a solution – the white Teflon tape used by plumbers to seal pipe fittings. It’s designed to be an extremely thin, white, sealing dry lubricant. Wrapped in a single layer around the threads between section and barrel, it masks the black section underneath. The tape needs to be replaced with ink changes, like lithium grease in an eyedropper, but it’s not a particularly big deal. Lesson – think not just about material aesthetics, but about how the materials fit together. Lesson No. 2 – Ink Compatibility This pen uses a Jowo No. 6, 1.1 mm italic nib and a Schmidt K-5 cartridge-converter. I’ve used this nib in other pens, and never had an issue with ink lubrication. But this particular Jowo nib is choosy about the ink it prefers. The first ink I selected worked beautifully -- a green-olive-brown color mix created by FPN contributor Chrissy, resembling the wrapper of a “candela” cigar. It uses Noodler’s permanent Bad Blue Heron and three Diamine inks. But then I realized that specks from the permanent ink component could stain the interior of the translucent material and show through to the outside. So I swapped out the ink for a conservative Waterman brown. Too dry. I tried Diamine Saddle Brown, another conservative choice. Too dry. My fourth choice, Pilot Iroshizuku yama guri, works smoothly and beautifully. Lesson – nibs and materials sometimes require different inks. Pilot Iroshizuku yama guri ink flows smoothly in this Jowo 1.1 mm italic nib. Lesson No. 3 – Furniture The ASA Azaadi has been reviewed several times, including Chaki and Sanyal Soumitra. A regular refrain is that the furniture could be better, and they are right. Furniture is the jewelry of the pen, the first thing people notice, setting a tone for everything else. This furniture is adequate, but no match for the elegant workmanship of the rest of the pen. Lesson – clips, bands, and rings make a difference. ASA tolerances and workmanship outclass the metal furniture. Lesson No. 4 – Azaadi The Azaadi is an Indian pen derived loosely from a Conway Stewart design named after Winston Churchill. Chaki explains that the pen was named “Azaadi,” (आजादी in Hindi), meaning "independence, freedom, or liberty.” The name is partly cheeky repartee to Churchill, who strongly opposed Indian independence, and partly a reference to the pen’s launch date on August 15, Independence Day in India. Azaadi also signifies political, spiritual, and intellectual enlightenment, with various spellings in other Indian and Iranian languages. Beyond the dictionary, the concept of azaadi is rooted in the Indian struggle for independence and the role of Netaji (meaning “Respected Leader”) Subhas Chandra Bose between 1920 and 1945. Bose revamped the Indian National Army and opposed the British during World War II, creating an independent, nationalist legacy that ultimately led to a British decision to withdraw from India. Bose's clarion call -- Tum mujhe khoon do, mein tumhe azaadi doonga (Give me blood, and I promise you freedom) -- shows the importance of azaadi. Based on a British design with a British material, constructed in India, named Azaadi in response to Churchill -- the ASA Azaadi pen is a story about a complicated relationship between India and the UK. Lesson – a pen is a symbolic tool of intellectual enlightenment. Pens tell stories, but they can also be the story. In Conclusion – Taking Risks Creating a new custom pen involves risks. My risks were minimal, because the design already had been used in several other iterations. Some things in my version worked perfectly, including the elegance of the opal material, the balance, and the writing comfort of the section and the nib. Some things didn’t, including my first ink choices, the translucent barrel-to-section joint, and the furniture. In other custom pen designs, I’ve seen how some choices work and some don’t. Conclusion – regardless of whether risks result in wins or losses, they offer independence of choice, freedom to make mistakes, and opportunity to learn. Writing sample from another country's declaration of independence. This particular Jowo 1.1 mm italic nib is choosy about the ink it prefers, and permanent inks could stain the interior of the translucent material. Iroshizuku yama guri flows smoothly.
  9. The PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games start in a few days, which is a good time to write about a pen that celebrates the last city to host the Olympics, Rio de Janeiro. In August 2016, I led an award-winning program in digital storytelling to Rio, for 25 students from the United States, Brazil, Germany, and Italy. The students, mostly journalism majors, collaborated on multimedia stories about the impact of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on the host city. To commemorate this adventure, I asked several people for ideas on a Rio-themed pen. Among them were Prithwijit Chaki, Ian Roberts, Lakshminarayanan Subramaniam, and a half-dozen moderators from the Fountain Pen Network. A design emerged that incorporated iconic elements of Rio: the green of Guanabara Bay, where Olympic sailing events took place, the color of sunsets at Ipanema and the Red Beach near Botafogo, where our program was headquartered, and a clip based on Christ the Redeemer, the monument overlooking the city. We decided on a Conway-Stewart material called pistachio for the pen, which was based on Prithwijit Chaki's Halwa design. L. Subramaniam, who runs ASA Pens in Chennai, India, created it. The pistachio acrylic supplies lush versions of green and red, but I havent completely followed through on the clip. I found a lovely silver demitasse spoon based on the monument, called Cristo Redentor in Portuguese, but havent had the heart to have the spoon cut, twisted, and soldered into place. Instead, a silver peacock serves as a roll-stopper, inspired by the peacock headdresses of carnival in Rio which is taking place as I write this review. The pens 1.9 mm music nib from Franklin-Christoph, headquartered in my home state of North Carolina, supplies a Sailor ink called tokiwa matsu in exuberant quantities. The ink is evergreen, but sheens in the color of brownish-red pine cones. The nib's "FC" imprint mirrors a statue of the composer Frederic Chopin at Red Beach -- Praia Verhelma -- created by the Polish community of Brazil during World War II, after a statue of Chopin was torn down in the invasion of Warsaw. The Rio pen is delightful to write with, and bears the craftsmanship of ASAs custom projects, which are remarkable, understated, and attentive to detail. It's large, about the diameter of a TWSBI Vac 700, but a little longer. Dimensions are on Prithwijit Chaki's account of making the Halwa. The barrel contains a cartridge-converter and bears an imprint to celebrate the city where the Olympic project took place, the date, the pens maker, and the city where the pen was made. Imprints document the creation of a pen for this generation and the next. Imprints are underrated, and I love them. One of the key lessons our students learned in Rio was that an event like the Olympic Games makes a permanent impact on both the topography and the residents of the host city. These individuals take pride in the celebration, and they pay for it. A corollary is that city residents make an unforgettable mark on Olympic history and on everyone who takes part in the games. Its like a positive version of the Locard exchange principle, the basis of forensic science. Every contact leaves a trace. L. Subramaniam shipped this pen to me in May 2017, which means this review is long overdue. I have been thinking about the excitement and anticipation of creating the pen, of the emails, drawings, and photographs exchanged in the spring of 2016, and of the ideas and contributions of Ian Roberts, in particular. Ian, who passed away recently, was an enthusiastic participant in the Rio pens creation. Known on FPN as Ian the Jock, he was Scottish, hilarious, articulate, irreverent, joyous, and generous. Ian teased me about my affection for green pens, which he disliked. But he loved red, and he enjoyed pens with nautical and ocean themes. Ian brightened this little pen community much like the people in cities who host the Olympics, or like the students who trained hard for month after month in the spring and summer of 2016, and then made a success of our adventure in Rio. Every contact leaves a trace.
  10. One of the great qualities of fountain pens is that they combine utility with beauty, in a tool we use daily. The material is a key factor in this formula, and a recent discussion on Fountain Pen Network gave people the chance to name the most beautiful materials they had ever seen. Italian celluloids topped the charts: Tibaldi Impero, Omas Arco, and Omas Burkina, for example. This month I began writing with a Ranga Model 8b pen made from a blue, red, and pale yellow ebonite recently created for the company, based in Thiruvallur in southern India. Its a gorgeous ebonite, layered in rich combinations of colors revealed only as the material is turned. The pens appearance is not so much polished as excavated, like an Italian building with a foundation built in Roman times, modified over multiple centuries, and then peeled back to reveal bits and pieces from ancient and gothic and baroque periods that combine in an elegant and irregular way. As a material, for me, this ebonite ranks in the Top 10. We can make a list: scarlet tanager from Parker and carmine from Sheaffer, in the United States; the three Italian celluloids above; ebonites from SEM in Hamburg and Nikko in Tokyo; just about anything from Mazzucchelli in Italy; and diffusion bonded acrylics from Carville in England. Thats pretty high cotton, as they said in the antebellum South. I do not know what company makes this ebonite for Ranga, but I suspect someone on FPN will tell us. Fountain pen people live for arcane details. [EDITORS NOTE: the Kandan family who operates Ranga Pens also makes its own ebonite, through the Loyal Ebonites company.) Beyond the material, the craftsmanship, finish, and threads on the pen are immaculate, and the proportions have been scaled up slightly from the Model 8. Its a form of sculpture for the hand, elegant and unpretentious, at prices more accessible than pens made from other Top 10 materials. This clipless model is filled with a cartridge-converter and contains a Jowo no. 6 nib, in an 1.1 mm italic. Ranga Pens offer a handmade quality that lends itself to roll-stoppers made from wrap rings. Snakes work well, and lotus flowers, turtles, dolphins, peacocks, and lizards. I inked the pen for the first time with Sailor Jentle Souten, a blue that shades nicely for a K-pop lyric by Lee Ji-eun. Pens write stories, and a pen from Ranga, created on a specific morning by people we can actually have conversations with, people with families and colds and shoes and favorite flavors of ice cream, offers its own human story. And in the meantime, between the work we are supposed to do and the letters we should have written, the snakes and peacocks and dolphins can keep us company. Capped, the Ranga Model 8b is 155 mm long; uncapped, 141mm; the section diameter is about 11 mm; barrel diameter is 14 mm; and cap diameter is 16 mm. I dont know how much it weighs, but its ebonite, so its light.
  11. A new pen Ive been using recently reminds me of a concept in psychologist Daniel Kahnemans book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. The book starts with the idea that we have two ways of thinking. System 1, the fast way, is instinctual, prone to snap judgments (which are often valuable and sometimes not), and kind of lazy. System 2, the slow way, is methodical, detail-oriented, analytical, and focused. The Ranga Emperor is a System 2 pen. The Emperor is capable, understated, elegant, and precise. The lines, proportions and materials stake the pen at the polar opposite of flash and exhibition. The Emperor is for people who need a pen to write with reliability and integrity, without calling attention to itself. If accountants, investment analysts, and aircraft engineers still used fountain pens, this would suit them. I bought the Emperor in solid olive green ebonite in a recent group buy organized by the architect Vaibhav Mehandiratta, a moderator on Fountain Pen Network, and MP Kandan of the Ranga pen company in Chennai. It was created to the specifications I requested, which included flat ends and a no. 6 Bock 1.5 mm italic nib. The pen is about 145 mm long, 139 mm uncapped, with a barrel diameter of 14 mm and a section diameter ranging between 11 and 12.5 mm. Its fairly large. This is the first Bock italic nib Ive used. Its smooth, the feed supplies ink reliably, and its backed up by a Schmidt converter. Precise machine work and threads are some of the pens most remarkable qualities. I can see the joints between the olive ebonite and the black ends, but theyre almost imperceptible to the touch. The immaculate tolerances in the junction between the chrome clip and the ebonite cap are worthy of a watch from Switzerland or Japan. The only complaint I can muster is with the chrome rings that reinforce the cap. Theyre not flush with the lines of the cap, and not consistent with the quality of the rest of the pen. But theyre robust, and it takes a macro lens or an awfully studious eye to spot the imperfection. On these photographs, a macro lens also picked up my fingerprints. This is my third ebonite pen from Ranga. The others are a Model 5 and 8, and all three are consistent and reliable performers. The Ranga Emperor is a pen for someone who wants an unusual combination of qualities in a tool made by a human being, with the imperfections that carries, but executed with competence and integrity. It would be perfect for a psychologist who studies flawed behavior in people and economic markets.
  12. Ebonite. We keep using that word. I do not think it means what we think it means. We love pens made with ebonite, but ebonite was originally a brand name for hard rubber. Now it’s the name of a company that makes bowling balls, mostly from polyester, polyurethane, or reactive resin. Bowling balls haven’t been made from hard rubber since the 1970s. But the blue, orange, and green hard rubber of the Ranga Model 8 is so evocative of time and place that it reminds me of going to the Fireside Lanes in Wichita, Kansas, with my Cub Scout den in the late 1960s, lacing on soft leather shoes with red, ivory, and green panels and a great big number on the heel, and picking out a swirly Brunswick bowling ball. Beyond the fact that the Ranga Model 8 writes smoothly and well, and that it displays charming hand craftsmanship, for me, the defining characteristic of this pen is the material. If I stick my nose close to the pen and sniff hard enough, I can smell burnt rubber, like the tires on my older brother’s 1970 Plymouth Barracuda. (On a curmudgeonly note, why are the tires on performance cars now so low-profile and skinny? They look like the wheels on Conestoga wagons. Why is that fashionable? But I digress.) One other thing about hard rubber pens -- as FPN contributor Sandburger so eloquently put it, they are gloriously inconsistent. Like ceramics, like wooden boats, like anything made by human hands, they are imperfect and completely unlike each other, and that is what makes them spectacular. Writing Performance This pen uses an eyedropper filling system, a black hard rubber feed (now that I think about it, writing ‘hard rubber’ is kind of tedious, so I’m just going to stick with ‘ebonite’), and a Bock broad nib. The imprint says ‘Conklin.’ I assume that means Bock manufactured a whole lot of nibs that didn’t get used by some iteration of the Conklin company and Ranga picked them up for clearance sale prices. The nib on this pen is so broad and so well lubricated that I might as well be writing with a really slick bowling ball, and I mean that in a positive way. I bought the nib partly to learn more about Bock and partly to have enough tipping material to be ground into an italic, and succeeded on both counts. The Model 8 also taught me something about ebonite feeds and eyedroppers. Initially, this pen’s nib and feed were seated in the section in such a way that the nib was a little ‘spongy,’ pushing back from the feed under pressure. That really screwed up the ink flow. But after pulling the feed, playing with it, adjusting its position with the nib, re-inserting it, and heat-setting it, this German Bock nib now slides across paper like white-soled shoes on waxed maple, baby. The eyedropper version is not a pen for beginners. They’re better off with the Model 8 versions equipped with Jowo or Schmidt nib units. I inked this pen with Rohrer & Klingner Königsblau, thinking that a somewhat dry ink might help counteract the wetness of an eyedropper, and I was right. Design The Model 8 is not a large pen. It’s about the size of a Pilot Metropolitan, in the Goldilocks category of not too large and not too small. Posted or unposted, it’s well-balanced in the hand. The aesthetics of the feed are a little chubby. In profile, the feed is all chin, like, I don’t know, John Goodman in ‘The Big Lebowski.’ It’s so chubby that I keep expecting it to drag on the paper, like one of those sweepers with brooms on Canadian curling teams. It doesn’t – drag on the paper, that is -- but the feed certainly makes its presence visible. Maybe the ebonite feed should go on a diet, or maybe, like John Goodman, it just doesn’t care. This pen came without a clip, because I usually carry pens in a case, not in a pocket, and I like the way roll-stoppers personalize a pen. In this case, an inexpensive silver-plated dolphin protects this swirly, ocean-like pen from the depths of gravity. Or maybe the pen’s true habitat is a bowling alley in Miami. Size comparison with the Pilot Metropolitan and the Airmail Wality 69eb. One centimeter longer than the Pilot Metropolitan, but barrel is about the same diameter. Service Experience I bought the Ranga Model 8 in a group buy organized by FPN contributor Vaibhav Mehandiratta, as well as MP Kandan of the Ranga company in Chennai, and I consider group buys to be the most special of limited editions. The pens are not numbered, and group buys are not technically limited or even special editions. But they’re made to order in a specific edition created only for Fountain Pen Network members. Basically, that means a hundred or two hundred obsessive-compulsive pen people, each of whom probably know each others’ tastes and preferences, and all of whom really like the same pen. Everybody can converse with each other and with the people who make the pens, talk about the product, improving both the pen and the experience. This is amazing! Imagine creating a group buy for a Plymouth Barracuda in 1970! Ranga shipped the pen within a few weeks, and it arrived with some of the most unusual packaging. The box was sewn inside a white fabric sleeve, the shipping information written directly on the fabric, and the fabric seams were sealed with wax. It felt like being on the receiving end of a package shipped 150 years ago. My assumption is that this tamper-proof packaging discourages overzealous postal employees from opening it up and obliterating the shipping information. It also reminds me that it’s been 20 years since I received brown paper packages tied up with string. A guy at the post office told me that packages just don’t come that way any more, except sometimes from Europe. Probably Austria. A bowling alley near Salzburg. Or maybe Chennai.
  13. The ASA Bheeshma is named after a mythic Indian commander, an archer who ultimately died on a bed of arrows. Suspended in mid-air, his head unsupported, Bheeshma asked for a pillow appropriate to a warrior. That turned out to be three more arrows, tips up. The architect Vaibhav Mehandiratta named the pen after this epic character, after collaborating with passionate friends in India to design it. They included Prithwijit Chaki, a financial consultant; L. Subramaniam, founder of ASA Pens; and other pen warriors. These two themes, arrows and friendships, define the pen for me. After completing the design, Chaki commissioned a Bheeshma from ASA in 2015, and orders from other clients followed. About a year later, on a pen-component shopping safari in New Delhi, Chaki found a 14-karat gold Sheaffer inlaid nib and offered to help me work with Subramaniam to incorporate the nib into the overall design -- a kind of large version of a Nakaya Piccolo. Sheaffer's elegant nib resembles nothing so much as an arrowhead, and it's paired with a gray, quartz-like acrylic material that forms the graphite shaft of the arrow -- its barrel and cap. The acrylic was sourced from a stash of former Conway-Stewart material at the Turners Workshop in Newcastle upon Tyne, then shipped to the ASA shop in Chennai. But enough back story. Details The nib writes well and with considerable feedback, probably because it's an extra fine. I've forgotten what filling system was used in the nib's former life, but it now exists as a bulb filler, with the sac protected by a metal sleeve. The pen is 151 millimeters long, capped, and 135 mm uncapped. The cap and barrel are 15 mm in diameter, and the section is 10 mm, meaning that there's a considerable step-down. The inlaid section is 25 mm long, however, providing plenty of space for fingers to seat themselves before they reach the threads -- which are smooth enough to grip, anyway. I don't know how much the pen weighs, but it's mostly acrylic, so it's light. The pen is clipless, and a bronze snake ring serves as a roll-stopper. In Conclusion The Bheeshma is a sharp tool that fits my hand comfortably, writes cursive script with precision, and holds a respected position in my quiver of pens. Any army attempting to oppose Bheeshma should beware. A powerful cadre of friends supports him, and they are building a daunting armory of writing instruments.
  14. In December 2014, the Fountain Pen Network contributor "Masque" offered a recipe for a highly shading teal ink that he named "Black Swan in Icelandic Minty Bathwater." The mix is composed of three Noodler's Inks: Navajo Turquoise, Massachusetts 54th, and Old Manhattan Blackest Black (an exclusive to Fountain Pen Hospital). I enjoy Nathan Tardif's Black Swan inks, both the Australian Roses and English Roses versions, which embed a mysterious black shadow in a subtle, lovely color, as well as another mix by the FPN contributor "crunchmaster," called "Black Swan in North African Violets." It's entertaining and unexpectedly educational to watch Tardif incorporate economic and historical concepts within ink, of all things -- in this case, how economies and organizations should consider the dramatic and always unexpected impact of "unknown unknowns," described in Nassim Taleb's book, The Black Swan. Realizing recently that I owned each of these three inks, I mixed Masque's recipe. His proportions -- 15 parts Navajo Turquoise, 3 parts Massachusetts 54th and 1 part Old Manhattan Blackest Black -- produce a gorgeous, reliable, highly shading teal ink. A comparison with other inks reveals similarity with Sailor Jentle Yama Dori, though without the sheening properties. Other FPN ink mix developers in the "Icelandic Mint" thread attempted blends with other versions of black, with varying degrees of success. Masque's recipe is highly successful, as is another by the FPN contributor "Intellidepth," composed of 2.5mL Noodler's Navajo Turquoise, 2 drops Noodler's Yellow, and 2 drops Noodler's Black (bulletproof). With black swan versions of red, violet, and teal, likely next candidates include blue and brown. Black Swan in Chocolate Pansies? Black Swan in Blue Sage?
  15. 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.
  16. The Hua Hong blue belter, vaguely Pelikanesque, stands on its own design. Also available in red The Hua Hong blue belter raises as many questions as it answers. We can start with the answers, because that’s a shorter list. The Hua Hong is a medium-sized, cartridge-converter pen with a black lacquer barrel and a snap cap. The barrel is lightweight, probably brass, and provides nice balance while writing. The manufacturing standards are high, with tight tolerances, and the finishes are smooth, glossy, and durable. I’ve had the pen for nine months, and it holds up well. The pen's proportions are vaguely Pelikanesque, but it stands on its own design. The cap's blue twisting pattern offers the pen’s most striking visual element. The sword-like chrome clip is thick and well-constructed in two pieces, and does not seem to have been stamped. Capped and uncapped, the belter is about the size of a Platinum Preppy. The Hua Hong sword-like clip is constructed from two pieces, and does not appear to be stamped. The Hua Hong’s medium nib writes beautifully and bears a charming imprint of a joyous human with outstretched arms. The imprint is even more impressive because the human figure is created with just two simple versions of the letter “H”, one nestled inside the other. And more impressive still -- this imprint was probably conceived by a Chinese designer operating in a foreign language. The Hua Hong imprint combines two versions of the letter 'H' The small letter H of the human's head also resembles a stylized version of the circular “shou” motif common in Chinese art and design. A Chinese scholar friend points out that this character, representing longevity or immortality, regularly appears throughout China, on bowls in restaurants, on pottery, placemats, clothing, wall hangings, and in other places. A translation obtained by brg5658, another FPN contributor, indicates that the Chinese characters for “Hua Hong” mean “China Grand.” Unfortunately, some versions of the Hua Hong logo now resemble an alarming combination of a gas mask from World War I, a warning exclamation point, and the symbol for a nuclear fallout shelter from the Cold War. This rendition, anything but joyous, raises one of the first unanswered questions -- does the company understand the designer's original intent? Recent version of the Hua Hong logo Translation of characters from another Hua Hong pen model, presented in a review by FPN contributor brg5658 Like many Chinese fountain pens available recently on eBay, the Hua Hong is extremely reasonably priced. It typically sells for between $2.5 and $5 – about the price of a Preppy. The blue belter is also offered in red. I use the pen almost daily because it writes so reliably and well, and the nib imprint is so contagiously happy. The cap is too heavy, but unposted, the pen is nicely balanced. This is where the bulk of the unanswered questions start. A Scottish contributor to the Fountain Pen Network, Ian the Jock, is one of Hua Hong’s greatest brand ambassadors. This is important, because no one seems to have any idea of the company’s back story or marketing strategy. What is the name of the pen? Ian named the pen “blue belter,” because this, in Scottish, signals something that punches above its weight. But the belter doesn’t really have an official name, and its model numbers change regularly. Right now, it’s going by HH-8, but it was previously sold as Y-7, Y-5, and Q-5. Are the pens new, or new old stock? We think they are new old stock, because they are not available in a Hua Hong current catalog. But we honestly have no idea. How does one buy the pen? We know of only two sales outlets, both on eBay. There are no other Western retailers. Who are the eBay retailers? One eBay seller, xiongfu1990, was based in Hangzhou for most of 2015, and the name on the return address of the shipping bubble envelopes was Wang Wei Jie. But in 2016, the name changed to Wu Kun, with a return address in Shanghai. The other eBay sales outlet, mizukushi, is based in Hong Kong, and lists similar pens at much higher prices. How can the quality standard of the pen be so high? The pen exceeds recent Jinhao standards, which are high to start with. The Hua Hong has a smooth, custom-imprinted nib, a high-quality clip, a smooth lacquer finish, and an efficient feed and converter. We realize that shipping is subsidized by the Chinese government (and, by extension, the postal service of the receiving country). But even at the low recent prices of Chinese pens, $2.5 is extraordinarily low for this pen. Who was the designer of this nib imprint? Where did she or he learn graphic design? Why is it so difficult to learn about these pens? Why does the company appear to be so clueless about marketing? Does the company realize that, with some reasonably authentic marketing shtick, it could quadruple its prices? These questions could continue, but what we do know is that Hua Hong offers a well-crafted pen at an astonishingly low price. The other models in the Hua Hong portfolio, none of which are named (except by Ian and by other soldiers in the Honger army) are equally well-made. Some are in beautiful, ruby-like resin, some come with twist caps, and some with elaborate illustration. Thank you, Hua Hong, Wang Wei Jie, Wu Kun, and Mizukushi, for offering these great pens. If you can hear us, we would like to learn more about you. Writing sample from the Hua Hong blue belter, inked with Rohrer & Klingner verdigris
  17. ASA Nauka in blue and red ebonite Can a humble pen offer a homily in human imperfection? This is one of the questions that the ASA Nauka, turned by a penmaker in Chennai, India, makes me want to answer. Lakshminarayanan Subramaniam runs ASA Pens, an online and bricks-and-mortar retailer offering multiple pen brands and at least 16 models specific to ASA. It is difficult to type the 16 letters of his first name, and even tougher to pronounce, so well take his lead and just go with L. In 2015, Subramaniam began collaborating with Joshua Lax, president of the Big Apple Pen Club in New York, to create a pen based on the Sheaffer Crest of the 1930s, and the Oldwin Classic of 2002, created by André Mora for the Paris company Mora Stylos. The Nauka positions the cap threads next to the nib and then gracefully sweeps, unbroken, to the end of the barrel. The Naukas huge cap looks like the stub of a cigar. Nauka means boat in Hindi and Bengali, and I think the name refers to the sweeping sheer line of nautical architecture. Uncapped, its about the size of a Montblanc 149. The development of the Nauka is equally as interesting as its conception, because it relied on a prolific group of Indian pen enthusiasts who worked together to design, prototype, and market the pens first round of manufacturing. Im not all that interested in the minutiae of dimensions, but elegant photographs in a review by FPN contributor Sagar Bhowmick display them all. I ordered a couple of Naukas, including one in a mottled Indian blue-red ebonite and another in a tasteful Conway Stewart acrylic material called Dartmoor. I had hoped the Nauka in Dartmoor would be gorgeous, and a joy to write with, and it is both. But what is remarkable is that the pen I have the most fun with is the humble, eyedropper-filled, ebonite model. This results partly from a gigantic 40-millimeter nib by Ambitious, an Indian company, with a black ebonite feed that supplies ink in reliably generous quantities. Whenever I write with it, at whatever direction or speed, however long its been sitting on my desk, the Nauka's medium nib -- more of a broad, really -- lays down a wet, glistening line of ink. The nib and feed introduce what is most interesting about the ebonite Nauka. The slits that form the fins of the feed, for example, are irregular in length. Maybe theyre hand-cut, maybe theyre not, but theyre definitely not uniform. The gold-colored nib is imprinted with the words IRIDIUM POINT, wrapped around a circle. The letters are a little eccentric. I dont know, maybe there were too many letters to wrap properly around the circle. Maybe the Ambitious nib designers ran out of energy and were rushing to make a deadline. And nothing about the rest of the pen is uniform, either, because this is a hand-made pen, made by a human being on a lathe. There arent all that many Naukas out there Im guessing 500 at the most -- but this eyedropper is different from all the rest. Mine is clipless, and I found a bronze ring in the shape of a lotus, the national flower of India, to serve as a rollstopper. If you squint, you can see imperfections in the ebonite, little dark spots about the size of an opening left by a pin. If you use a macro lens to shoot photographs of the barrel, you see marks left by the tools that created the pen. I can see one tiny nick in the cap, exactly parallel to the cap opening, and when I see that nick I can hear a curse from the lathe operator who realizes the need to spend more time to smooth that out. He Im guessing the operator is a he either smoothed out as much as he could without creating an even bigger divot in the surface, or finally said, screw it, this looks good already. Many of the lathes that turn ebonite pens in India are still foot-pedal operated, and I dont know whether ASA lathes are driven by motors or feet. But I know the humans operating those lathes had a lot more on their minds than a 1-millimeter-long tool mark. In a wonderfully hopeful turn of phrase, the FPN contributor "sandburger" wrote that Indian ebonite is like wood, gloriously inconsistent, with the power to surprise and delight. I agree completely. There is much literature on the subject of human imperfection. Robert Browning wrote a poem called Old Pictures in Florence that, among other things, talks about lesser-known artists and how they contribute to the work of greater artists. The New York-based psychiatrist Dr. Janet Jeppson Asimov, widow of the science fiction author and biochemist Isaac Asimov, wrote an essay this year for The Humanist called In Praise of Imperfection. She writes that the imperfections of human brains actually improve the way we function. We learn more from mistakes than we do from successes. When I was in university I had the good fortune to spend a few days in Venice, and one afternoon I was admiring the irregular lines of a gondola along a bridge where gondoliers were taking a break. The gondola, as you probably know, is an asymmetrical boat, because the single oar sticks out on the starboard side. The port side needs to be longer so the boat doesnt turn left all the time. And the gondola is heavier at the bow than at the stern, to account for the weight of the gondolier. If you look long enough at the polished black sides of a gondola, you see undulations and imperfections. As I was staring at one of these gondolas, hypnotized by the play of light and water on the shiny surface of the wood, I told a gondolier that it was beautiful. He responded that it was beautiful because in it you see the hand of the human being who made it. This review originally appeared on Giovanni Abrate's website, newpentrace.
  18. The ASA Nauka in Dartmoor acrylic. For a simple fountain pen, the ASA Nauka offers at least two important lessons. It shows how design can be rediscovered and reinvented over a period of several decades, and how online forums and social media are creating a renaissance of collaboration. That’s an ambitious, rather academic argument for a humble review, so let’s just start with the pen. The Nauka is offered by Lakshminarayanan Subramaniam of ASA Pens in Chennai, India. It echoes the design of the early Sheaffer Crest and the more recent Oldwin Classic, with a graceful barrel that integrates seamlessly with the section, cap threads next to the nib, and a huge torpedo-shaped cap. The Nauka is a little larger than a Montblanc 149 or a TWSBI Vac 700, capped. But uncapped, they're all about the same. FPN contributor Sagarb’s excellent Nauka review contains exact weights and dimensions. Joshua Lax (jjlax10 on FPN), president of the Big Apple Pen Club in New York, organized the first group buy of the ASA Nauka in October 2015. After two successful rounds of group buys, ASA now offers the Nauka as a regular model. The pen is available with clips or clipless, in several ebonite versions, including an eyedropper equipped with a No. 6 or No. 7 Ambitious nib, and two cartridge-converter varieties equipped with Schmidt and Jowo nibs. ASA Pens ships its product in a simple velour slip. I’m no pen historian, so take this information with a pinch of, well, cumin, but Sheaffer seems to have originated the basic design in 1937, and André Mora of the Paris company Mora Stylos reincarnated it with the Oldwin Classic model in 2002. Pen enthusiasts worldwide, including Leigh Reyes in 2008 (and again in 2014), Otto Markiv in 2012, and the previously mentioned Joshua Lax in 2015, rediscover it over and over. The distal-thread design, to use a term meaning “away from the center,” provides the writer with the choice of holding the pen high on the section, low, or wherever. There’s no step between section and barrel, which sometimes creates an awkward need to reposition fingers. Those are functional advantages. Aesthetically, the lines sweep, unbroken, from one end of the pen to the other, much like a sheer line in naval architecture. This inspired the ASA pen’s name, Nauka, which means “boat” in Hindi and Bengali. This ASA Nauka is equipped with a Jowo 1.1mm italic nib. ASA Pens offers at least 16 ASA models and also sells other brands. One of the ways L. Subramaniam differentiates ASA is that customers can ship blanks and rods of various materials to his shop in Chennai, and commission pen models using this material. FPN contributor Prithwijit Chaki has commissioned at least nine models from ASA. He is also a prolific and catalytic member of a WhatsApp/Telegram group of pen enthusiasts who are creating a virtual 24-hour Indian buffet of new models in imaginative materials, nibs, clips, and designs. Another FPN contributor, Vaibhav Mehandiratta, tirelessly organizes group buys and reviews Indian pens and inks, all documented by beautiful photography on his website. The Indian WhatsApp group, and by extension everybody else, can accomplish this collaborative feat because online resources provide an endlessly updated archive of expertise, history, and experience. We can discover a design from the 1930s, locate detailed photographs and reviews, identify trusted manufacturers, and source materials. Time is the only sizable investment on our part. This isn’t unique to India, and it isn’t even unique to fountain pens. Software developers, animators, and small technology firms can rely on the same global ad hoc collaboration. Timeless design is the theme of the Sheaffer Crest, the Mora Oldwin Classic, and the ASA Nauka. My own Nauka is clipless, to preserve the lines, and uses an adjustable bronze snake ring as a roll-stopper. The Tamil Nadu state, where Chennai is located, offers up a whole pit of venomous cobras, kraits, and vipers. My bronze snake comes from a shop in the Carolinas, my part of the world, but I don’t know where they sourced it. Snake roll-stopper in bronze, made from an adjustable wrap ring. The material for my Nauka is an acrylic called Dartmoor, named for a granite-strewn moor in southwest England. The acrylic was created for the re-invented Conway Stewart brand of pens in the late 1990s. When this version of Conway Stewart went out of business in September 2014, the company left behind a rich inventory of gorgeous, well-selected pen blanks, rods, clips, and other components. Vince Coates of The Turners Workshop in Newcastle purchased the blanks and rods, and some of them are still available. It’s entertaining to comb through Coates' website, using Google Images to compare the materials with new-edition Conway Stewarts and vintage pens from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. It reminds us that the people who developed these designs and materials, decades ago, sometimes 100 years ago, had wonderful taste. Like teenagers discovering music, we think we’re uncovering something new. Smartphones and the Internet may make it easier, but other teenagers, in other decades and other centuries, discovered it first. The Jowo 1.1mm italic nib on this ASA Nauka is extremely specific about where it directs ink.
  19. Vicarious geographic exploration is one of the underestimated joys of fountain pens. Fill a pen with Diamine Sunshine Yellow and you're not that far away from Liverpool, where the Beatles got started and Diamine still makes ink. Intrigued by the economic development of Germany after reunification? Use a pen by Cleo Skribent, made in Bad Wilsnack, a village northwest of Berlin, in the former DDR. A new ink brand, Robert Oster Signature, transports us to Naracoorte, just north of the Great Australian Bight, or open bay, midway between Melbourne and Adelaide. The name Naracoorte is apparently derived from Aboriginal words for place of running water, or waterhole, which is appropriate. Of the more than 40 inks offered by Oster, half are blues and greens. At least 20 shades of blue-green would be needed just to document the bay. Photograph of Great Australian Bight at Nullarbor Plain, by Flickr contributor Michael Middleton, used under Creative Commons license A sample of Oster aqua was given to me by Amberlea Davis, a prolific ink reviewer and moderator on the Fountain Pen Network. This appears to be the first review of aqua on FPN, though fellow FPN ink reviewer Cyber6 has reviewed two dozen Oster inks, and Visvamitra has reviewed more than a dozen. Color and Shading Aqua is what I would call a green-heavy version of teal, a color that I truly enjoy. It shades beautifully, and creates dark halos around a slightly lighter inner core. It's dark enough for many professional environments. Range In addition to blue and green, Oster offers other colors derived from Australian iconography, including Bondi Blue and Barossa Grape. The Coonawarra wine-growing region is nearby, home to Penfolds, Yalumba, and Wynns wineries. Performance The ink performs well with a Nemosine Singularity 1.1 mm italic. It flows adequately, is fairly well lubricated, and exhibits no signs of feather or show-through on Strathmore 24-pound, 25 percent cotton ivory paper. It dries in less than 10 seconds, which is probably influenced by the paper absorbency. I'm not detecting sheen, but the halo effect is gorgeous, and sheen may be obtainable on less absorbent papers. Presentation Oster inks are available in a 50 ml PET bottle. A plastic resin, PET is recyclable and commonly used in food and drink bottles and jars. The bottle is somewhat tall and narrow, and though the opening is wide enough for nibs, the bottle is a little tall for its diameter, which makes it fairly easy to tip over. Unlike glass, however, PET is lightweight, which is relevant to shipping costs from Australia. Price and Availability Oster ink sells for about US $7.50 for a 50-milliliter bottle, which is more than reasonable. Unfortunately, shipping from Australia to the USA is double that. Several bottles could probably be combined for a single shipping charge, however. The inks are currently sold on eBay, though the Sakura Fountain Pen Gallery in Belgium carries them, and I suspect that Oster is exploring other distribution options. In the United States, two other Australian inks Blackstone and Toucan are offered by Anderson Pens and Vanness Pens. Conclusions Robert Oster aqua is a lovely teal color, lighter than the English Diamine teal and the Dutch Akkerman No. 24 Zuiderpark blauw-groen, and greener than the American Noodlers Navajo turquoise. It is ever-so-slightly bluer than Black Swan in Icelandic minty bathwater, a mix of Noodlers inks created by FPN contributor Masque. But certainly close enough for highway work. Since this ink comes all the way from Naracoorte, we'll call it the Riddoch Highway, and we'll dream about a drive through vineyards, farmland, ranches, and timber, on our way to the great, blue-green bay of Australia. https://goo.gl/maps/SY5rGqJmh6q
  20. Purchasers of the popular Italix pens from Mr. Pen in the United Kingdom receive an instruction sheet that recommends the use of Diamine ink. They may not realize that the company also offers a custom Diamine blue ink blend. The ink, Radiant Blue, recently accompanied my purchase of an Italix Churchman's Prescriptor. The ink is a cerulean blue, lighter than both Waterman Inspired Blue and Chesterfield Antique Oxford (itself supposedly a version of Diamine Majestic Blue). The founder of Mr. Pen, Peter Ford, describes the ink as the result of adding four drops of a special ingredient to a Diamine blue ink. This ingredient is a mystery, but a good guess on the base ink is Washable Blue or Royal Blue. His description suggests Radiant Blue was a Diamine color from a couple of decades ago. As a supporter of attempts to recreate legendary ink colors, and as an enthusiastic fan of Mr. Ford's ability to imbue stationery products with uniquely English names and characteristics, I tried it. The ink offers a great deal of shading and a solid, business-like, not-too-flashy professional presence, with well-behaved flow and cleaning characteristics, though with perhaps a touch of showthrough to the other side of a sheet of Rhodia 80 gsm notebook paper. No observable sheen. Written with an Italix medium nib, the ink dries completely after about 20 seconds on this paper. If you like blue ink and enjoy the idea of English ink in an English pen, it may be worth ordering Radiant Blue along with your next writing instrument from Mr. Pen. I forgot to complete the water-resistance test in the accompanying photographs; if you're interested, the ink is not waterproof.
  21. Americans love underdogs. We revel in stories about how the British had their hind-ends handed to them in the American Revolutionary War, 240 years ago, and it was us – poorly clothed mongrels – who did the handing. This idea of underestimated integrity comes to me when I consider two unlikely subjects: the Italian city of Torino, and a fountain pen that originated there, called the FILCAO Roxi. When non-Italians think of Italy, four cities come first: Rome, Venice, Florence, and Milan. For a century or so, Torino came in fifth or sixth, somewhere in a tier with Naples and Bologna. Then, two things happened. First, FIAT turned Torino into the Detroit of Italy. And second, in 2006, Torino hosted the Olympic Winter Games. Suddenly, Torino had name recognition. No longer just an industrial city west of Milan, it was transformed into something much more magnetic than a Detroit. Torino was now the Italian gateway to the Alps -- the Denver, Colorado, of Italy. Naples is the undisputed home of the comic Italian underdog, but Torino is overlooked as well. You probably didn’t realize this, but the Swiss used to visit Torino in the 1700s to learn how to make chocolate and to buy chocolate-making machines. Torino is chocolate paradise, and there is a famous and elegant café called Baratti e Milano, in the center of the city, where people buy bite-sized chocolate ingots called “gianduiotti.” Like Nutella, gianduiotti are a mixture of chocolate and hazelnuts, and they are rich, smooth, and magnificent. But beyond the famous cafes, there are lesser-known, family-run, off-the-beaten-path places to buy chocolate – Peyrano, for example, or Pfatisch. The Aurora company, founded in Torino in 1919, is the oldest of Italy’s many fountain pen companies. Run by the Verona family, Aurora may be the most autonomous and financially healthy of these. But for decades, seven Roman miles east of Torino on the road to Milan, there was a cluster of small, family-run companies making pens, writing instruments, and components. In 1963 a guy named Franco Grisolia founded one of these, FILCAO, in a place called Settimo Torinese. Unfortunately, after five decades in the pen business, Grisolia died early in 2015. His was one of the last remaining pen companies in Settimo. FILCAO, like FIAT, or OMAS of Bologna, is an acronym. It stands for Fabbrica Italiana Lavorazione Cappucci Alluminio Ottone (Italian Factory for Aluminum and Brass Cap Processing). Under Franco Grisolia, FILCAO first made components, and then charted an oblique orbit in the already eccentric solar system of Italian fountain pens. That niche was pens designed for writers, in classic designs from the 1930s and 1940s, at prices that were unusually reasonable by Italian standards. Just looking at FILCAO pens evokes underdog western brands with integrity – they’re more like Esterbrook and Wyvern, than Parker and Onoto. Like Torinesi discussing a favorite ciaccolateria, we live for the chance to argue distinctions among obscure brands. Enough history. This is a review of the FILCAO Roxi, and what I can summarize briefly is that it’s a lightweight but largish resin pen that writes smoothly. The cigar-shaped design is based on the ogiva, or ogee, or pointed arch, found in architecture. When this torpedo shape is applied to pens, the fountain pen universe thinks first of Montblanc or OMAS or Sheaffer. But the designers for these companies all based this shape on something, and that something was the pointed arch. The German pen companies, the Swiss, the French, the Americans, the Japanese, the Chinese – they’re not ripping off each other. They’re ripping off Italian architects of Gothic cathedrals, who ripped off architects from ancient Persia, Greece, and China. My Roxi is the color of whipped honey, and it was also available in a Ferrari-like flame red. This resin comes from an Italian company called Sintetica, which also supplies material for Italian eyeglass companies. The Roxi is a piston filler, with a gold Fine nib marked “Iridium Point 585,” in the European style for 14-karat gold (58.5 percent gold, rather than 14/24 parts gold, 10/24 parts other). The nib is resilient – it couldn’t be called flex -- but it displays more give than the steel nibs I usually write with. In the first few hours I used it, my Roxi skipped infrequently, particularly on strokes that went from left to right. But the skipping has mostly stopped, and may have occurred simply because the feed hadn’t marinated in ink long enough. The Fine nib is one of the juiciest and widest I’ve encountered, and the wet, lubricious Aurora black ink of Torino may have something to do with this. A pen review presents a rare opportunity to use the word “lubricious,” and I’m taking it. I like several things about the Roxi. First, it writes well. Second, the design is simple, classic, and symmetrical. It’s almost modest, an unusual trait for an Italian pen. Black ogee finials and a black section bookend the honey-colored cap and barrel, and a two-toned nib balances rhodium trim. Third, Franco Grisolia named the pen “Roxi” after his son, Rosario. People who write with this pen have a connection not just with a company, but with one of the last pen-making families of Settimo. And last, the Roxi was created and launched in 2007, shortly after the Olympic Winter Games, at a high point for Torino’s visibility and confidence. What do I dislike about the pen? Well, there’s the infrequent skipping issue, but that will be easily sorted. There’s a little bit of play in the black ogee cap that turns the piston filler. But what I really miss is an imprint on the barrel. One of the most celebrated FILCAO pens, an even more understated lapis blue model designed by the American pen expert Richard Binder and named, immodestly, “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean,” proudly displays “Filcao” in an oval on the barrel. I love that imprint. The Roxi sparks one last story from Torino. There is an Italian author named Natalia Levi Ginzburg who grew up in Torino, and whose father was a professor at the city’s university. She wrote a beautiful book called Lessico Famigliare, or Family Lexicon, which was published in 1963 and is still taught in Italian schools. Foreign students of Italian also read Lessico Famigliare because Natalia Ginzburg’s language is simple, modest, familiar, and understandable. Her family lived on the Piazzetta Donatello, across the street from a municipal bathhouse and the Church of Mary Sacred Heart. In 2006, when I searched for her childhood home, the Italians I encountered on this piazza were amazed to learn that Natalia Ginzburg had once lived there and embarrassed to learn this trivia from an American. Fortunately, in 2011, a tree was planted there in her honor. In this neighborhood I like to think of the schoolgirl Natalia of the 1920s, and of a small shop a few blocks away where her parents might have taken her and her brothers and sister to buy chocolate on special occasions. Like FILCAO and Peyrano and many other family-run Italian companies, the future of that store, Pfatisch, is complicated, just as families are complicated. I don’t know what pens Natalia Ginzburg used to write Lessico Famigliare. But in my imagination she uses modest pens for writers, made by families in Settimo Torinese. It’s possible to acquire a FILCAO Roxi, in New Old Stock, from Giovanni Abrate, an Italian American who acquired remaining inventory and rights to the FILCAO brand from the family of Franco Grisolia. I have no affiliation with Giovanni -- Tryphon on FPN -- other than buying the Roxi and the Columbia, and spending time in Torino in 2005 and 2006. More evidence of Torinese integrity: it’s one of the most ecumenical of Italian cities. The city’s most prominent landmark, the Mole Antonelliana, was originally a Jewish temple, and the Italian Protestant church – the Waldensians – was founded and headquartered in Torre Pellice, west of Torino.
  22. Citizens of the United States don't invest a lot of time thinking about the shade of green ink used to print their currency. Go ahead, pull one out of your wallet, we'll wait. If you're not an American citizen and still hold U.S. currency in your wallet, well, thank you for the loan. You probably don't think much about ink shades on your currency, either. (Unless you're from Norway. In that case, congratulations, kroner are the most aesthetically gorgeous currency designs on our planet, and pretty darn solid, too.) A close examination of a U.S. paper note actually reveals two shades of green ink. On the front side of a U.S. $1 bill, the serial number on the left and the seal of the Department of the Treasury on the right are printed in a bright, jewel-like shade of green. The back side, however, is printed in an entirely different, swampy, blackish green. U.S. dollars are not the most attractive of currencies, but they certainly bear a consistent, reliable, comforting shade of black-green. Who do you think supplies that black-green ink to the U.S. Treasury? Or the color-shifting black-to-green ink featured on newer, pricier U.S. currency notes? You have no idea, and neither do I, and there are good reasons for that. My bet, though, is that it is not Nathan Tardif of Noodler's Ink, who has an entire line of inks that mock the U.S. Federal Reserve, and it's not Diamine, either. Diamine is British, and it would be pretty silly for the U.S. Treasury to outsource one of the key ingredients in the stability of its currency to a bunch of limeys. Nothing against the British, but we doubt if the British government asks Yankee crackers for help with its currency, either. Which brings us to the subject of this review, which is a British fountain pen ink called Diamine Emerald Green. This ink warrants a couple of American observations. First, it's much more vegetal than jewel-like. It's more like the back side of a U.S. dollar note than the front. To use other great green American icons, Diamine Emerald Green is more like sequoia trees, National Parks, and the U.S. Forest Service than it is like the navigational signs on U.S. interstate highways. It is definitely not like the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. Another observation: this ink dries blazingly fast. On a sheet of Hewlett-Packard 32-pound laserjet paper, it's totally dry in 4 seconds. If you're left-handed, or if you're one of the members of the British secret service who supposedly write spy notes in green ink, you should really consider Diamine Emerald Green. It won't besmirch your hands and will save you oodles of time. Also, it doesn't do any of that fickle color-shifting sheeny stuff. And, last observation, it's an unbelievably well-behaved, polite, reserved, modest ink; exhibiting virtually no bleedthrough or showthrough at all. The holder of a fountain-pen-wielding member of the green-ink brigade who writes crazy conspiracy-theory letters to British newspaper editors could well imagine the ink saying, "Dry now, sir. We certainly want to ensure that you can fit many more words on the other side of your paper. If that's all, sir, I will make tea." Scanned Ink Review Document - Diamine Emerald Green (If this scan appears jewel-like on your computer monitor, it was intercepted and altered by the British secret service.) The Pen Used to Ink This Review -- a Jinhao 599
  23. Peter Ford deserves an award for inventing the most evocative, magnetically Anglophile names in the entire category of stationery products. As a fountain pen user, being able to deliver the words Parson's Essential, Churchman's Prescriptor, and Imperium State is worth at least $5. "Wow, that's a shiny pen you're using today. What is that?" "Oh, this? It's called a Churchman's Prescriptor. Comes from a guy in Northwest London." Staples and Office Depot should hire Ford to re-label entire rows full of products. Those notebooks bound from paper made from sugar cane waste, sometimes called "bagasse"? The Staples name for them is "Eco-Easy," which is about as lame, non-descriptive, uninspired, and unimaginative as you can get. Your thought experiment for the next three minutes, while you're otherwise occupied with the reading of a review of a pen you've probably seen reviewed a dozen times previously? Come up with a Peter Ford-like, Anglophile name replacement for those sugar cane paper notebooks. I don't know -- Plantation Journals. Jamaican Logbooks. The Harbormaster's Log. Anything will be better than "Eco-Easy." I've learned that my aesthetic taste in pens is almost identical to a prolific contributor to the Fountain Pen Network named "Ian the Jock" -- a guy who sounds so Scottish that you can imagine him sitting there in a kilt with a dagger tucked into his kneesock. He'll correct this post shortly, provide the proper Gaelic name for daggers, and use some classic Scottish vocabulary like "wee," "belter," and "stoater." Ian's recent review of an Italix Churchman's Prescriptor inspired me to order the pen, and after using it, I must say that the community's enthusiasm about Italix products is warranted. The Churchman's Prescriptor is beautifully crafted, the black lacquer finish is prettier than pictures give it justice, and the nibs are smooth indeed. Ian suggests that the Churchman's Prescriptor has a solid, churchy appearance, and it warrants an Episcopal purple ink. I agree, and I've written this review in Sailor Jentle shigure, an ink that may have been, but probably was not, used by Episcopalian missionaries in Japan. For all I know, and I'm too lazy to look it up on Wikipedia or whatever, Episcopalian missionaries inspired the development of the ink color "shigure." I do have one objection to the Churchman's Prescriptor that I haven't seen in other reviews. There is a brass fitting between the section and the barrel that protrudes more extensively that I expected. It is not painful, and your grip can get used to it, but, well, it's there. Please list your Peter Ford-like suggestions for sugar-cane-paper notebooks in the comments below.





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