Saturday, 27 August 2016

Now it's got personal

I have had a horrible three weeks - wheelchaired back to my partner's place in France thanks to the good services of Eurostar (I couldn't actually walk on to the train - they got me through all the controls, lifted me to the train, got me off and into a taxi the other end, and were wonderful, throughout), and after one night of misery, stretchered into hospital unable to move.

That's not about fountain pens? Well, it's Rheumatoid Arthritis. Which hits all joints, whenever it feels like it. That gives a lot of people problems using pens, and a desire to find more ergonomic and comfortable pens to use.

I've done a bit of browsing through the available options on the web, and there are a few useful threads on FPN, too. One thing stands out.

You can have a nice pen. Or you can have one you can write with. But not (often) both.

For instance the Rotring Skynn, one of the ugliest pens going, is fantastically ergonomic.But horrid. Some pretty pens like the Sheaffer Fashion and Targa are so slim they are painful to use.

There are some good fountain pen options for arthritic users and collectors. Generally, the following characteristics seem to be important;
  • a reasonable amount of girth at the grip,
  • a non-slip grip, whether that's textured, soft rubber, wood, matte ebony,
  • a taper to the section helping the fingers maintain place,
  • light weight, enabling a relaxed writing style (release the grip of death!)
  • good, nib-end-heavy balance,
  • a nib that's smooth and wet and consequently not requiring much pressure to write.
A slight turn-up to the nib might help (as in fude and Waverley nibs) by enabling the section to be fatter without forcing a higher writing angle.

The Laban Mento and Edison Collier fit the bill for fat-but-light well, and I like Edison's style and production values, so there may be more coming along if my pen budget is up to it. Equally, my fatter Indian ebonite and acrylic pens will remain favourites - light, girthy, and good (and I'm wondering how much a bakul grip helps over a polished one. I may be about to find out, as I've a matte demonstrator coming.) But no one seems to have set out to design a beautiful fountain pen specifically for arthritis and other hand pain sufferers (like those with Carpal Tunnel syndrome); it's just that there are certain 'regular' pens that fit the bill.

So, while I've been confined to hospital, I've been thinking, and doodling, and wondering if this might be the thing that gets me into actually making fountain pens.... because there are a lot of us out there (I'm surprised to have found out, now, just how many of my friends have some form of arthritis or RSI), and a lot of us who want fountain pens that are both comfortable and beautiful. And well made.

So please, FP lovers with hand pain - let me know what works and what doesn't. And I'll be adding more on this subject as I find out which pens in my collection make the cut, and which will be heading to eBay or the classifieds.

Fortunately, I've never collected Slimline Targas.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

X-ray vision - ink vue style French celluloid

A nice little pen that I acquired recently at a French car boot sale. I particularly like this 'x ray' celluloid, which seems to be very much a French thing - at least, I've never seen it on an English pen, and it doesn't seem to be common in Italian vintage either. This is particularly nice because the colour is a sort of orangey pink like rose hip syrup.

It's a Matcher pen - Matcher Colombes was a French manufacturer that's not terribly well known but seems to have turned out rather nice pens. Or put another way, I've managed to find five or six over the years and they've all been good quality.

Unfortunately I'm going to have my work cut out with this one. I'm pretty sure the clip is a replacement, and it doesn't fit all that well, and the cap rings are missing. But it's still a stunning bit of celluloid.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Hello Kitty! a Waterman with a purr

Many collectors focus on top of the range pens, but school pens and 'fun' ranges provide plenty of fun too. Trying to track down all the variants of the Sheaffer No-nonsense. Pelikan Pelikano or Waterman Kultur can be addictive.

And one thing I do love about school pens is their quirky nature. Pelikan's various youth ranges have some splendid prints, and here's a Waterman that amused me with its little cats chasing mice along the barrel. (Sorry, I got them upside down in the picture.) There's even a tiny mouse on the end of the barrel.
Now if only I could get a Nakaya version...

A modern 'Safety', the Harley Davidson Spirit

This little pen is quite an oddity. Its proportions - cap to barrel, turning knob to barrel - are those of a safety pen; the cap is relatively short. And like a safety pen, it has a nib that twists out when you turn the little knob.

It's not a safety, though. Like the Pilot VP it's a cartridge/converter pen with a retractable nib.

It's quite an attractive little beast. Quite sleek, in dark blue anodised metal and black plastic. That sleekness is maximised by having the wide clip flush with the body - it's only when you push on the top of the cap that the clip pops up ready to grab your shirt pocket. There's also a nicely understated detail of knurling at the cap lip and on the barrel end of the turning knob.

I'm not as much an admirer of the branding, the Harley-Davidson logo on a little black cartouche on the barrel, but it's discreet and robustly applied - it's not going to fall off or rub off when you use the pen.

The section is gently tapered and has a small lip to prevent your fingers sliding down. Turn the knob and out comes a rather nice steel nib, a two-tone nib with vertical lines giving it a slightly Art Deco feel and no branding at all. It's quite austere and it fits the overall aesthetic of the pen quite nicely, besides being slightly reminiscent of the Harley shield with its bar across.

The section unscrews, giving access to the nib carriage, a metal insert which accepts a mini cartridge (haven't tried with a standard international).

It's a long pen, nearly 14cm capped, and it's pretty heavy, too.

I do like this pen, but I wonder why it's retractable? The big advantage of retractable pens like the Lamy Dialog or the Pilot VP/Capless is that you can simply press to get the nib out, so they're really convenient for writing occasional notes. This pen, though, has to be uncapped, and then you have to twist the nib out too, so it's even less convenient than using a standard pen.

With the safety pen back in the 1920 or 1930s, of course, the retraction of the nib closed off the ink reservoir, preventing leakage in your pocket. But this isn't a safety pen - it's just a disguised cartridge/converter. So the twist mechanism doesn't fulfil any useful purpose.

It does write nicely. Although it's a fairly heavy pen I've found it really enjoyable for longer stretches of writing. The section is comfortable and the pen is nicely balanced; I think most of the weight is in the nib carrier.

Harley doesn't make its own pens. There's a  Waterman Kultur that was made for Harley, in three versions, with rather lurid printed designs, but I don't think Waterman made this pen. I have heard that it may have been put together by Stypen, another French manufacturer (which was acquired by BIC in 2004), but I don't have any evidence for that, though it does seem to use a similar mechanism to the Stypen UP ( The section even looks slightly similar.

Final verdict? Well, the engineering is really lovely, but it's not all that useful. But all in all, it's a successful pen, and I think does a good job of extending the Harley branding both as regards design and mechanical nous.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Pen manufacturers and the online community

Ninety percent of pen blogging is about particular pens. Reviews, repairs, likes and dislikes. What do you think of the new Pelikan vibrant blue, the latest TWSBI, the new Lamy lilac? What about TWSBI cracks, Ahab idiosyncracies, a nib that's a nail or a wet noodle.

But occasionally a post comes along that makes you think. Bruno Taut's latest did just that. Are things changing? Are pen manufacturers finally waking up to the existence of the online community?

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

The fountain pen ghetto

I've had the same experience in quite a number of shops. It's the experience that tells me they have no idea about who's actually buying fountain pens. No idea about why we want them.

We all know that anyone buying a gel pen or rollerball or marker wants choice. They want a choice of widths of pen, they want a choice of colours, they want a choice of metallic and fluorescent inks too. So the pen display is absolutely full of different options.

But fountain pens? You can have: a medium nib. You can have: blue ink, black ink, blue-black ink. And they come in the following colours: black, chrome, and pink (that's for lay-deez).

The little fountain pen ghetto seems to belong to a different world.

The worst thing is that the big pen companies don't know better, either.  One of the best things about fountain pens is that I can change character and mood with a change of ink - I'm not stuck with one colour. It can be the rich Murasaki-Shikibu purple one day, Herbin Stormy Grey with its metallic glints the next, or Waterman Turquoise... Or it can be Cross black, if I have forms to fill in or want to do some drawing with my EF nib. Yet Parker, Cross and Waterman really don't have extensive ranges of inks, and even worse, don't manage to convince most stores to stock more than two or three colours (which inevitably include black, blue, or blue-black).

I think they may have missed the fact that the world is now divided increasingly into two kinds of people - there are people who just don't use fountain pens, and there are fountain pen lovers who are increasingly well informed and adventurous with their choices.

Staff in such stores often tell me there's no demand for fountain pens. I've given up arguing. They're right - in a way.

There's no demand for the fountain pens they're selling. There's no demand for boring fountain pens.

After all, would they stack all their shelves with the same Pentel rollerball, in red and blue only?

Saturday, 27 February 2016

A pen heroine - Francine Gomez

I get so cross when catalogues arrive towards Christmas, with fountain pens firmly pushed to the "for him" category. It's not always easy being a woman who collects fountain pens.

That's one reason Francine Gomez is a bit of a heroine for me - a woman who ran one of the biggest pen companies in the world, Waterman. Not only that, she  took over a company that was - like many others at the time - really failing to compete with competition from cheap disposable ballpoints, and forged a new and stronger company with strikingly new designs.

The Waterman brand wasn't even under single ownership when she took over in 1969: Bic owned the US rights, Stephen the UK and Commonwealth.

Gomez presided over the launch of really classic designs: the Waterman Concorde (1972), which is an underrated pen but striking in its lines, then the Gentleman (1974), Watermina (1975), Master (1980) and Man 100 (1983). In 1987, after the sale of the company to Gillette but while Gomez was still in charge, the Lady Elsa and Lady Patricia were launched - delightful pens with a nod to 1930s Waterman designs. (Lady Elsa was even made with galalith, from old stock that Waterman had managed to acquire.)

She didn't design the pens herself. But she unerringly found great designers. Alain Carre, who was designing tableware for Puiforcat, was hired in 1970, and came out with the DG - taking off from the already well known Waterman C/F but with a redesigned swing-clip. He carried on working for Waterman after Gomez retired, and was responsible for the overall design of the Serenite, launched in 1999. (Continuity was also provided by the fact that Jean Veillon, who took over as President of Waterman after her retirement, was her protege.)

I love the old vintage Watermans - the Patrician, the Hundred Year Pen, and all those pens with mysterious numbering systems - 42, 94, 58, 3V and the humungous 20. After that, apart from the glorious C/F, Waterman seems to have gone through a bad patch. But then it had a second golden age - and I think a lot of that can be put down to Francine Gomez's drive and innate eye for good design.

She also introduced Waterman's lacquering facility, and I think that became key to the success of the 1980s and 1990s Waterman models. Waterman lacquers are incredibly beautiful, particularly the variegated lacquers found on, for example, the Laureat - even though it was not a particularly upmarket pen.

I know that my pen collection would be much poorer without Mme Gomez. In fact, because the Laureat was my first serious fountain pen, and I fell in love with the fountain pen through buying a new Laureat every year or so, I probably wouldn't even have a pen collection if it weren't for her.

Thank you, Francine Gomez. Thank you very, very much.