Pilot Murex

More than 40 years after its creation, this design still looks sleek and modern.

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Grail #2!

I jumped on one on Reddit for $200 and it came in excellent condition, save for a little cosmetic issue with the feed (more on that later). I already had money set aside for it and had been looking for it fairly half-heartedly on eBay — many of them were going for more than $400 new. But it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time for mine!

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The pen’s functioning bits.

The pen itself is a cartridge/converter model, but what really sets it apart from Pilot’s other metal offerings is the shape of the nib. Melded right into the section, the breather hole and tines are part of the same piece of steel. This makes the nib impossible to swap out, of course, but it’s possible to dissemble the nib assembly into section+nib and feed along with a couple other smaller parts. 

The snap cap is tight and very well designed, with the clip separately sprung so it moves quite freely and the MR logo pre-dating the Metro by several decades. (See featured photo for close up.) The pen tapers into flat ends on both sides, making it slightly shorter than the Metro.

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Urushi-coated feed, showing bubbles.

Now about the cosmetic issue: the pen came looking practically new, with the sticker still in place. It’s rubbed off a little since I started using it, but the main “problem” was that the urushi had started bubbling due to moisture and heat. Apparently this was a common problem, but it doesn’t affect the ink flow at all, and lends a touch of attractive imperfection to an otherwise robotic-looking pen. But, as always, here is a writing sample on Fabriano paper — and it wrote far better than I expected it to:

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It looked like it might have been scratchy… but no!

As the nib is literally part of the steel, it is very firm with no bounce at all, but the way Pilot has shaped the tipping means there is a very smooth line. It absolutely flies over Tomoe River but even on toothier paper (like Fabriano) there is almost a sense of enjoyment at how it glides around with no hint of scratchiness. Definitely something to pick up, if one comes across your path!

Look at that point! The Murex looks like it could draw blood. I promise I haven’t tried…

Pelikan 400NN Brown Tortoise (1950s)

I jumped on this one because Pelikan no longer makes anything near the range they used to have, both in terms of pen shapes as well as nib types:

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Look at the rounded cap finial and piston knob.

The 400NN was developed after the 400N was a “neu” version of the old 400, which looks like the modern M400. The finial and knob gradually got rounder, finally arriving at the rather cigar shape above. The binde of the vintage tortoise variants also varies far more in colour and evenness compared to the modern browns on the M400 and M800 pens; mine shades from dark brown to as light as yellow and green in some places — to my eyes, much closer to a tortoise’s patterns than the rather averaged-out modern colours!

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Such a beautifully uneven brown binde!

It arrived clean but definitely shows signs of age and wear: the finial is rubbed fairly smooth, not to mention the brassing on the clip and the cap band. The nib itself is in excellent condition though it has a slightly stubby quality, which is a sign of long periods of intense use.

Indeed, it was the nib that attracted me to the pen. Pelikan used to make a range of italics and obliques and “ballpoint” (Kugel) sizes with different sorts of tipping, and this dates from the era of pre-ballpoint carbon papers, when special nibs were made to withstand larger pressures without flexing. Mine is a DF (Durchschreib-Fein) nib, or a manifold fine, and comes in almost as fine as my Japanese pens — no modern Pelikan “fine” here! It is a single-tone 14k gold nib and has shorter tines. Unusually enough, it also has two breather holes. 

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Old-school cool: the DF nib.

In writing on Fabriano paper (below), the pen gives a very pleasant sort of toothy feedback — a sign of wear — and yet absolutely glides along on Tomoe River paper. As with my other Pelikan fines, it writes on the drier side, but is wet enough here to show the shading in Oku-yama. The pen itself is light to hold, as one would expect from the rather small 400 size. And while it is very firm, it does not feel like a nail…

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My most even fine nib!

A size comparison (in featured photo) places the 400NN as intermediate between my M200 and M620s, which is only to be expected. More delicious photos in better lighting here:

Montblanc Slimline (1980)

Another Montblanc I didn’t buy…

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Sleek as heck.

My mother gave this to my father almost forty years ago and it has made its way to me after not being used for most of the intervening period. (I guess it’s sensible to keep expensive pens away from the kids.) For such a slim pen, it has a total of four(!) Montblanc stars on it: one on the nib, one on the clip, and one on each end of the pen.

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Slap a star on every flat surface! The one on the barrel is slightly raised.

There is a model without the star on the clip (the Noblesse) and that has a gold nib. The Slimline, on the other hand, has a gold-plated steel nib. While I have never tried the Noblesse, the way this Slimline writes makes me feel that Montblanc certainly were doing something right: this is a joy to behold.

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The other two stars.

It seems to be a common complaint about modern Montblancs: that their nibs are very average and that the way to find a good nib is to go vintage. My admittedly fairly limited experience with Montblancs definitely bears this out; having tuned an old Montblanc 32 and tried some modern 146s and 149s, I can safely say I enjoy this pen far more than the far more expensive Johannes Brahms I wrote about last week.

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Very smooth, and with far more character than an anonymous modern nib…

Montblanc Johannes Brahms Donation Pen

Disclaimer: I didn’t buy this pen. It was given to me…

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Relevant to my interests.

And that makes two Montblancs that I didn’t have to pay for, since I also inherited my father’s (and will be writing about that soon). I guess the reasoning behind the decision was that Montblanc is a “prestige brand” — you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know the white star — and I make music for a living. Anyway.

I don’t normally say good things about modern Montblanc design, because so much of it is either completely plain/classic and thus boring or downright garish (like the £6900 Steinway) and Italian-looking. But with this particular musician pen Montblanc has done something rather special: a very tasteful design with topical references and (unlike earlier attempts) not loud at all. In fact, I quite like the five bands, alluding to the music staff, and the tuning fork clip is a very cute idea.

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It also comes bundled with an actual A=440 tuning fork.

The ink window is reminiscent of Pelikan because of the slits, but is a surprising blue in colour, which also somehow seems to work. More power to the design team: the main cap band has the autograph of Johannes Brahms just under the tuning fork, and the nib features a dove, common to earlier models of the Donation Pen series and later changed to include further musical references.

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The nib creep is downright lovely on this one.

Size-wise, it sits in between the 146 and 149. It is nowhere near as fat as the 149 but is longer than the 146 and is very comfortable to hold, though the piston assembly is metal and thus the pen is a little back-weighted.

The nib itself is my main beef with modern Montblancs: it is completely anonymous, and other than the fact that it is a good nib, has nothing else to recommend it. It doesn’t spring; it doesn’t feel like a nail either. In fact it sits right in the middle: not dry, not wet. It does run very broad, however, which is the one thing that distinguishes it. Strangely enough, I went to a shop to try out their fine, and it was no worse than a Pelikan fine…

It writes well, and I guess it thus does its job. But I don’t find myself reaching for this pen very often. I’d much rather use my Pilots or Pelikans, or even some of my really finicky vintage flex pens. This pen ends up sitting in my case for as long as a fortnight without getting use…

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Ticks all the boxes.

Instead of an Instagram post, here’s an unboxing album!

Aikin Lambert Capitol Lady Dainty (1920s)

More eBay trawling resulted in this little dinky pen:

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Not an actual Conway Steward Dinkie.

This is the first Aikin Lambert I own, but not the first I’ve tried. About half a year ago, a family friend had heard I was “interested in pens” and so taken out something she had bought thirty years ago. It turned out to be an incredible overlay pen, slim, similar in size and length to my Mabie Todd Swan, and when I uncapped it, revealed a very slim nib. By then, I was experienced enough to know at sight that it was flexible. And I was allowed to dip and try it…

Having remembered the feel of that pen, I proceeded to add the maker’s name to my occasional eBay searches. Which is how I got this:

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Back of the nib, and the name wearing off the cap.

A Capitol Lady Dainty: similar in size to a Waterman 42 1/2 V (as in featured photo), it was far less troublesome as a lever filler and, while also far less flexible, was much eaiser to fiddle around with. The branding is also on the cap instead of the barrel.

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Flexible nib, latex sac and pen barrel.

The pen itself writes with a feed back unexpectedly similar to my Pilot, and though not as flexible as the one I first tried, definitely qualifies as a vintage semi-flex. It is also firm enough to use as a regular point nib, for which it writes a very pleasant Western fine. There is a toothy quality to it on Fabriano paper, which is slightly textured, but it glides across Tomoe River, the feed being juicy enough to keep the contact point well-lubricated. Using an excellent ink like an Iroshizuku helps greatly as well.

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A very expressive line and easy control make this pen awesome.

The nib has the capability of very expressive swells when called upon to function that way, though since this is one of my firmest vintage nibs, I often use this as a regular fine when I am rotating through my collection. Perhaps I should start looking again for one that is truly flexible…

Salz Brothers Peter Pan (1920s)

Another eBay vintage find:

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Just…

Dating from almost a century ago, this was in such good condition I could scarcely believe myself. The Peter Pan pens used to be worn as jewellery (thus the ringtop) and it was a challenge to fit a completely functioning pen into something unobtrusive and very very light.

Mine is among the smallest specimens ever made. At 59mm capped and 51mm uncapped, it’s really quite something to behold…

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Size comparison: Lamy LX on top, the Peter Pan below.

Unlike most vintage pens, it’s easily taken apart. Because of its size there are no levers or sacs to deal with; even so, it holds a maximum of 0.25ml of ink, and I usually only fill it to 0.2ml.

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L to R from top: Cap, nib, feed, section, and barrel. 

That nib contains the magic of the pen: a size 0, it is the smallest gold nib ever produced. Mine actually happens to be a stub that is also rather flexible — but of course there is no chance of the feed keeping up with a nib this size! You’d also run out of ink almost immediately if flex was involved.

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Macro shot of nib. PETER PAN is visible, as well as the top of 14KT.

I have been tempted on many occasions to modify the feed on this, except I risk damaging something older than my grandparents. Anyway, it’s a rather crisp stub, though not quite as unforgiving as an italic. There’s plenty of line variation, which is surprising for a piece of jewellery!

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I wrote this unposted.

Later versions grew in size and eventually had lever fillers. Perhaps they even became large enough to use comfortably without posting… at any rate, since I don’t like to post my pens in case I scuff the barrel, I felt as if I were writing with a toothpick. This is a definite novelty, but such an unusual one!

Pelikan M805 Stresemann

Sometimes an eBay trawl can bring up surprising things…

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With no banana to scale, this almost looks like the M405 version.

This guy had forgotten to state the model of the Pelikan in his auction, and his photos had no other object to compare the size against. However, buried deep down in the wall-of-text description was “18-carat nib”, and Pelikan does not make M400-sized 18k nibs, so… I jumped. For £206 including shipping this beauty was mine.

The pen arrived in wonderful condition, as promised, and I was struck by how grey it was: it was not warm and not cool, just grey. To me this is the definition of neutral grey, sitting right in the middle, and so in the ensuing months I have only ever used greyscale inks in it.

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Silver furniture, black body, grey barrel…

The single-chick Pelikan logo on the cap finial is nicely done in a glossy/matt texture, and the clip looks incredibly sleek compared to its gold-coloured M800 counterparts, simply because of the colour (or lack thereof). The silver furniture gives the pen the -5 last digit.

Similarly, the nib is a beautifully monochrome piece of art. The M8xx is the largest-sized Pelikan nib with single-line scrollwork, clearly seen in the picture below. It almost seems like it’s more reflective than other pens, again due to the sheer desaturation of the pen. 

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Grey grey grey grey grey: what a beauty of a nib!

It’s quite a large pen, and the brass piston adds a lot of weight compared to the M6xx pens, which have plastic piston assemblies. This causes pens of this size and upward (especially the flagship M10xx) to be end-weighted, though in my case, the piston rests wonderfully in between thumb and index knuckles. Compared to the M620s I have, this pen requires much less pressure — and the M620s already don’t need much at all! Writing under its own weight, I can get very fine lines with the Stresemann, maybe even finer than a Western extra-fine. 

Despite its larger size and higher gold content, it is a firmer nib than the M4xx/6xx nibs. Mine writes like a real fine (instead of a “Pelikan fine”) and has a smooth response, though you can definitely feel it on less-smooth paper, like the Fabriano EcoQua I do my reviews on. That said, here we go: 

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Limited edition Tokyo Iroshizuku grey though!

To round off this review, here is a size comparison of the Pelikans I own…

Mabie Todd Blackbird (1930s)

There’s nothing more fun than trawling eBay and then realising you’ve got an absolute treasure when it lands in your hands.

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Very unassuming, until you open it up…

The Blackbird is regarded as Mabie Todd’s slightly lower-tier pen, beneath the Swan series. They come in a smaller range of designs, which, at least for someone like me, means a less bewildering time having to hunt them down. I managed to track down a date of 1933–38 for mine, which is pretty good indeed considering the condition of the pen!

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The imprint is still crisp, as is the chasing on the body and cap.

On the barrel it says “BLACKBIRD SELF FILLER” in the first line (see above), which is an early name for any pen that didn’t require eyedroppering or syringing ink into the barrel. This is a lever filler, and although the lever is a little rusted, the mechanism still works absolutely fine, and the sac must have been newly changed when I got it.

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Slight tarnishing on the lever bar.

The nib is a tiny little wonder, amazingly flexible despite its diminutive size. Made of 14k gold it is the only part of the pen that doesn’t have silver-coloured furniture and so it draws attention to itself. The stamped imprint on the nib is still crisp even though there the tiniest bit of brassing, probably from 80 years of exposure to ink.

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Made in England; the last line is set inside the section.

This is a rather small pen, on par with the size of the Pelikan M2xx/4xx series. It’s also rather light, though the metal lever mechanism draws the weight towards the back of the pen slightly; for me, the centre of mass rests just on the skin between my thumb and index finger, feeling perfectly balanced. The cap is a screw cap and mine opens with 2.5 turns, though this definitely varies between individual pens.

The true test of buying vintage is the moment of putting pen to paper. In this case, I was not disappointed at all! In fact, the nib was more flexible than I had hoped, judging from the photos the seller had posted. It does require a little pressure to flex, but the response is wonderfully snappy and it’s possible to get some really fine lines with high-angle writing.

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I cannot remember what recipe I used to mix this ink…

Mine is a rather juicy writer. I highly recommend anyone interested in vintage flex to search for these as a possible budget option to the high-profile Watermans (52/54, 42, 12) which tend to go for far higher prices online. To finish off, the Blackbird writes the word “blackbird”:

Sailor 1911 Large Demonstrator

…It’s harder to take photos of this pen than I anticipated. But how beautiful is this?

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Blingy, too!

I tried out my first Sailor at the now-defunct Penfriend on Fleet Street (yes, that Fleet Street) in London. It was the smaller 1911 Standard, with a 14k nib, but it was also the demonstrator. Having read so much about the pros and cons of the Sailor nib came nowhere near to actually trying one out, though, and the instant I put pen to paper I was blown away by how smooth it was.

And so the online trawling began, as it always does… I found a few of these going on the eBay grey market and started placing bids, eventually winning this Large demonstrator for around £135 ($185). I thought for a while about getting a Naginata-togi nib, but those only start at MF and go broader from there, and would not work with my small handwriting.

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Simple, no-fuss assembly.

The pen comes with a converter included and a stock cartridge of what I assume is Sailor Black. Unfortunately with Sailor, the converter is proprietary and holds a shamefully small amount of ink (~0.6ml). But it does what it needs to do, though it can feel a little fragile. I’ve also come across photos of eyedroppered 1911s, though I wouldn’t recommend that at all since ink can corrode the metal band in the barrel.

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Look at the scrollwork on that nib!

The cap has a slightly-less-transparent inner cap, which some have said spoils the demonstrator aesthetic. To me it doesn’t matter at all, and the cap helps keep the nib from drying out. The nib has some scrollwork on it which is extremely classic in style, and actually makes use of nib creep to stand out — in the photo above, black ink has increased the contrast on those lines. The Sailor logo and 21K 875 follow below 1911, the founding year of the company. Oddly enough, the nib width is etched into the left side of the nib.

Sailor famously has a pencil-like feedback seen by a fair few as toothy or even scratchy. I can only agree with the former: there is a little bit of bite on the paper, but the nib is very smooth — not buttery in the way Pelikans are, but definitely not scratchy. I found my first experience with the smaller F nib absolutely mindblowing, and the larger one was no different. My H-MF (hard medium fine) nib is in no way a nail, but it is definitely firm enough and shouldn’t be flexed. To me, even looking at the line it lays down gives me an impression of a very precisely-shaped point:

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Sooooo smoooooth.

With how pretty the pen is, the first thing I did when opening it up  was to ink it with my yellowest ink!

FPR Indus Demonstrator

Right back to the whole point of this blog: an addiction to flex!

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Looks pretty swank, no?

The humble India-based FPR offers a cheap pens to rival Noodler’s. FPR also has Pen of the Week deals where a pen in question is heavily discounted. I found out later that the Indus sells for as low as $15 when that happens, and bought myself a spare; the first one I bought cost me $22. Both arrived in London a week after I placed my orders. That’s pretty fast: East Asian sellers could take a leaf out of their book!

And it actually is really fun to clean, being very easy to take apart. However…

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L to R, from top: finial ring, clip, inner cap, outer cap; nib, feed, nib housing; barrel; O-ring, piston, blind cap.

Uh oh.

The first thing people say when I hand them the pen is Ooooh, followed by What’s that smell?  Undeniably, the FPR Indus has a slight stench of uncured resin about it. I’ve been told the Noodler’s pens smell similar, though I have never owned one. And being cheap resin, it stains way too easily; the yellow bits were coloured by Private Reserve Black Cherry.

That said, if you can look past these obvious cost-saving faults, it is a pretty good starter pen for flex writing. It looks like a Pelikan, has an easily-replaceable flex nib in a standard size (#5/5.5), and you can swap the nib out for normal point sizes if you wish (EF, F, M, B). They also come in stub sizes.

You get what you pay for, obviously, but then again, this nib is a surprise package in itself.

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Lovely two-tone design, and no breather hole!

By no means is this anywhere close to vintage flex. But when used with the right amount of force — in this case, quite a bit  it’s possible to get some very nice line variation. It is also surprisingly smooth, with just the right amount of bite to let you know how much you’re flexing and where you are on the paper. But enough talk: let the results speak for themselves!

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Lays down a nice fine-medium when unflexed, too.

And to cap it all off, here is a video of it hard at work: