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Santini Libra Ebonite with an EF "superflexy" nib - initial impressions



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Vintage_BE

I have not yet posted a review on FPN, and I am a bit skeptical about reviews of recently acquired pens. I received this pen on 11 March 2021 and nevertheless decided to write a quick review for two reasons. First, I want to join in the praise that several other FPN members have heaped on the company for their stellar customer service and - communication. Second, I’d like to share my (initial) experience with their EF-tipped “superflexy” nib, since there appears to be some confusion as to the availability and characteristics of that nib.

 

I will skip the customary “first impressions” section of the review template since this review is a first impression in its entirety. 

 

I bought a Libra Ebonite pen (in the “Lava” design), at the (then discounted) price of €359 (including shipping). 

 

Appearance and design: I have enclosed a few pictures. This is an oversize pen (see below for dimensions). As noted in other FPN posts, Santini's color schemes sometimes come across as rather baroque (not to use the term gaudy), however the “Lava” version seems inspired by the vintage “woodgrain” design that was popular with Waterman, Conway Stewart and other brands in the 1920s-1930s. The vintage aspect of the Libra is reinforced by its flat-top design (it reminds me of Conway Stewart’s 55 Duro model). The cap ring is perhaps a bit massive for my taste and the same goes for the “Santini Italia” inscription. The ebonite versions of the Libra (25 of them, when I checked their website, but they may be adding more) are all “limited editions” - i.e. limited to 33 pieces each. The serial number is etched on the top of the cap. In summary, perhaps not a pen to uncap in a meeting where you intend to keep a low profile (but then most meetings are videoconferences nowadays).

 

Construction & quality: Santini advertises their pens as "100% made in Italy". I have no reason to doubt that claim, and my initial impression is one of high quality materials, genuine craftsmanship and careful finishing. No loose or wiggly parts, the ebonite has been polished to high gloss, the cap engages perfectly with the threads. And their nib is something special (see below).
 
Weight and dimensions: The Libra measures 14.6 centimetres capped, 13.5 centimetres uncapped, and sports a hefty barrel that comes to 1.5 centimetres at its widest spot. The section is exceptionally long. Like I wrote, a truly oversized pen. It is slightly longer and significantly heftier than the Pelikan M1000, generally recognised as oversized (see enclosed picture). The ebonite barrel and cap help to keep the weight down (31 grams capped), in spite of the built-in piston component (see below). I have big hands and welcome pens of this size. You could post it but that would make the pen really too large for my taste.
 
Nib & writing performance:  This is why I am posting this review. Santini is one of the very few remaining fountain pen companies that manufacture their own nibs. Their website (https://www.santini-italia.com/nib-size-guide.html) gives the impression (perhaps deliberately) that the “superflexy” nib is not available in EF size, and states that the EF tip puts down a line with a width of 0.5mm. I had a (web-) chat with Katrina, one of the family owners and deservedly famous on FPN (and elsewhere) for being exceptionally responsive and flexible (in a commercial sense of course). She confirmed that they would be happy to prepare a superflexy nib with an extra fine tip - without surcharge by the way.
The Santini superflexy nib comes with an ebonite feed which is claimed to improve ink flow. It’s difficult to verify such a claim (I do not have a Libra with a plastic feed) but I can confirm that my Libra yields a decent ink flow, in spite of its EF tip. My Libra does have noticeable feedback (as you can expect from any EF sized tip), but that helps to control the nib and does not result in a “draggy” feel.
And what about the “superflexy” feature? My Santini nib is flexible, a bit less than the Pilot 912 #10 FA and the Montblanc Calligraphy nib, a bit more than the Jowo “soft” 14K nib (the one with the sideways cut-outs). When used at what I consider to be normal pressure, for writing cursive with a 55° right slant, Santini's superflexy nib does not produce significant line variation - but then almost no contemporary nib does that (the Pilot #10 FA being the exception in my limited experience).  You certainly can squeeze line variation out of this nib, when writing vertical script and applying an amount of pressure that (in my view) is hard to sustain for more than a few lines (yes, I am one of those who believe that fountain pens are best used with a very light hand). I hasten to add that the superflexy nib has immediately become one of my favourite writers (and like many FPN members I do write with a rather large number of pens). It has a very pleasant bounce that helps to put down a nicely rounded, flowing script. And - other than what the Santini website states - my extra fine tip actually is an extra fine, and perfectly suited for cursive writing with an x-height of 2.5 mm or even less (see enclosed picture with ruler). In other words, Santini seems to have overdelivered - something I have not yet experienced when purchasing a fountain pen. Once again, this is a first impression after just four weeks of use, but I expect that this nib will remain one of my favourite writers in the longer term.
 
Filling system and maintenance: Santini advertises the Libra as having a “piston filling system” and from the outside it does look exactly like a piston filling pen (without an ink window though). As other FPN members have noticed (see https://www.fountainpennetwork.com/forum/topic/348301-santini-italia-libra/?do=findComment&comment=4388621), the pen encapsulates a Schmidt piston component. That makes it a pen with a “built-in converter”. Compared to a standard converter, the Libra can be filled (and flushed) without having to first unscrew the barrel. However, its capacity is that of a converter, ergo a (bit) less than the capacity of a typical (think Pelikan) piston filler. A standard converter can be taken out of a pen (like a cartridge), which allows for easier flushing/cleaning of the pen. And if a standard converter fails, it can simply be replaced by another one (which usually costs less than €10). That being said, I have been using converters for many years, and have not yet been confronted with one that stopped working. Also, Schmidt is a well-known German quality brand and I have no reason to believe that their piston component is less reliable or sturdy than a classic piston filling system. And if worse comes to worst, Santini has a repair service. If that service is on par with the finishing of their pens, and with their customer service, I would not lose sleep over the continuing functioning of the Libra’s piston filling system.
 
Cost, value and conclusion: at a price of €359 (VAT excl; at a VAT rate of 21% the price would be 434€, and I believe they regularly offer discounts) this is a proposition that is hard to beat. Santini may not (yet) have the reputation and prestige of brands such as Visconti, ASC, Leonardo and Scribo. They do not appear to invest in marketing and I think that they sell most of their products directly to the end customer. But my initial impression is that their pens are of the same (or perhaps superior) material and quality as/than the better known Italian brands. I suspect that this pen will remain one of my better purchases. YMMV of course.

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Karmachanic

+1 Well said.

My experience matches yours, albeit with an acrylic version, and a wider nib.

"Simplicate and add Lightness."

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christam

Thank you, this was an enjoyable read.  I've just taken delivery of my first two Santini pens and have only written a few lines with each so far but initial impressions are very positive.

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lionelc

excellent review, was thinking of ordering one this year but got tangled up with their website - the pages took a long time to load

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Gloucesterman

Definitely going to get one of the Santini pens.

 

Looking for advice as to which way to go. Ebay or direct? By the bay it's about $25-35 less expensive. That includes currency conversion cost, s&h, and PP (MA sales tax included).

 

If anyone has an opinion or even thoughts about which way to go I am open to suggestions and comments. Feel free to PM me or to post here on FPN. BTW, yes, the added cost would be a bit of burden but not necessarily a deal breaker. It might mean ordering later as opposed to sooner.

 

Oh, one other comment. I sent a question to the Bay seller last week about nib availability and have not heard back 4-5 days later. Should I take that as an omen?

 

Thank you for any feedback.

“Don't put off till tomorrow what you can do today, because if you do it today and like it, you can do again tomorrow!”

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A Smug Dill
23 hours ago, Gloucesterman said:

Looking for advice as to which way to go.

 

I wholeheartedly recommend order directly from Santini Italia, as a fellow fountain pen user and hobbyist. The company's customer service is stellar, and international shipping is included in the pens' pricing in its web shopfront. You can also ask for (some degree of) nib customisation, at no extra charge in my experience.

 

Keep in mind I'm intentionally keeping consumer concerns and considerations (such as taxes at the border, preferences in shipping method and speed, etc.) out of scope, because that's where you and I are dissimilar even as ‘fellow’ consumers — we don't live under the same government regulations, or have the same concerns, and saving you money on the total cost of acquisition wouldn't do anything for me and so is not a priority in my thinking.

I endeavour to be frank and truthful in what I write, show or otherwise present, when I relate my first-hand experiences that are not independently verifiable; and link to third-party content where I can, when I make a claim or refute a statement of fact in a thread. If there is something you can verify for yourself, I entreat you to do so, and judge for yourself what is right, correct for valid. I may be wrong, and my position or say-so is no more authoritative and carries no more weight than anyone else's here.

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lionelc
5 hours ago, A Smug Dill said:

order directly from Santini Italia

hi smug - is there a way to get around the website loading times?  all i get is a loading circle using chrome, have tried edge, firewall settings etc - no luck

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Karmachanic
40 minutes ago, lionelc said:

hi smug - is there a way to get around the website loading times?  all i get is a loading circle using chrome, have tried edge, firewall settings etc - no luck

 

Loads quickly for me. Firefox, Brave, Safari

"Simplicate and add Lightness."

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Nurmister

This is a wonderful review, thank you. It was particularly useful that you contextualized the nib's performance by referring to other modern "flex" nibs.

 

While this pen, like the ones you compared it to, won't replace aging wet noodles, it seems this pen would be the perfect, responsive, softer nib with a sharp spring-back. This is a quality I look for and find in (for example) older Montblanc 149s.

 

The price Santini offers their pens for, given the level of work, is great. I certainly think one of the few independent nib manufacturers should be supported. For others who are interested in what they see, consider also that they have a wonderful Omas-like faceted pens available for 500-600 euro.

 

Thanks for bringing this manufacturer to my attention.

 

The topside of a nib is its face, the underside its soul (user readytotalk)

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lionelc
2 hours ago, Karmachanic said:

Loads quickly for me. Firefox, Brave, Safari

must be coming from my end then, will look through my permissions etc

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5 hours ago, Karmachanic said:

 

Loads quickly for me. Firefox, Brave, Safari

+1 for me-a year or so ago, the website did seem to load slowly, but with no changes on my end, I’ve had no loading issues in the past 6-9 months.

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sansenri

Thank you for the review, I'm in the queue for a Cumberland Libra (waiting for material restock around next few weeks) with bronze trim and rose gold stub flexy.

Their experience on nibs derives from former Ancora and possibly they are among the few manufacturers who are still able to regularly produce decent semi-flexible gold nibs.

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27 minutes ago, sansenri said:

...I'm in the queue for a Cumberland Libra (waiting for material restock around next few weeks) with bronze trim and rose gold stub flexy.

...

@sansenriVery nice! My Nonagon Antique Rose is also a Flexy Stub (size M). The Libra Ginger is a Superflex. I have enjoyed both very much. They are both well tuned by Santini and perform quite well. Pls send a photo when you receive it. Always fun to look!

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BayesianPrior

For orders outside the EU, could someone please confirm if the prices displayed on the website are inclusive or exclusive of Italian VAT?

bayesianprior.png

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Nurmister
2 minutes ago, countrysquire said:

For orders outside the EU, could someone please confirm if the prices displayed on the website are inclusive or exclusive of Italian VAT?

 

Prices are exclusive of VAT it seems: e.g. here

 

The topside of a nib is its face, the underside its soul (user readytotalk)

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BayesianPrior
4 minutes ago, Nurmister said:

 

Prices are exclusive of VAT it seems: e.g. here

Thank you for that - a little embarrassing I didn't see it.  Must do better.

bayesianprior.png

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sansenri
39 minutes ago, como said:

@sansenriVery nice! My Nonagon Antique Rose is also a Flexy Stub (size M). The Libra Ginger is a Superflex. I have enjoyed both very much. They are both well tuned by Santini and perform quite well. Pls send a photo when you receive it. Always fun to look!

 

Will do, from Santini's estimate should be around early May.

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Gloucesterman
20 hours ago, A Smug Dill said:

 

I wholeheartedly recommend order directly from Santini Italia, as a fellow fountain pen user and hobbyist. The company's customer service is stellar, and international shipping is included in the pens' pricing in its web shopfront. You can also ask for (some degree of) nib customisation, at no extra charge in my experience.

 

Keep in mind I'm intentionally keeping consumer concerns and considerations (such as taxes at the border, preferences in shipping method and speed, etc.) out of scope, because that's where you and I are dissimilar even as ‘fellow’ consumers — we don't live under the same government regulations, have the same concerns, and saving you money on the total cost of acquisition wouldn't do anything for me and so is not a priority in my thinking.

Thank you for your comment. based on what you have shared, I will be making my selection and ordering within the next week or two. With no
"local" pen shows on the horizon I guess this where I will spend part of my disposable income.

 

Your comments are much appreciated.

“Don't put off till tomorrow what you can do today, because if you do it today and like it, you can do again tomorrow!”

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Honeybadgers

On my "buy" radar for a while. I've heard only good things. Aurora's flex nibs are equally not flexible, but having the tip reground to a japanese EF really helped it. I feel like that's the biggest failing of modern flex nibs. They all seem terrified of making them with a proper EF or needlepoint tip, which is required to really get the most out of a limited amount of flex.

Selling a boatload of restored, fairly rare, vintage Japanese gold nib pens, click here to see (more added as I finish restoring them)

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lionelc
3 hours ago, Honeybadgers said:

They all seem terrified of making them with a proper EF or needlepoint tip

true honeybadgers - i suppose it increases the learning curve and chance of a return.  with too heavy a hand the needlepoint can catch on paper and spring a tine.  have been practising my 'light hand' with a zebra g nib + flexible nib factory penbbs feed combo for a few months and i still have a tendency to put on too much pressure.  the good thing being if i spring a tine, the zebra gs come in a box of 10.

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