Faber-Castell Loom Violet

Returning to the subject of more easily-acquired pens, here’s a modern review!

IMG_20170624_084706
Looks pretty sleek to me.

Modern pens don’t always look modern — here’s looking at you Pilot — but this is one which does, and not expensively so! Faber-Castell are often overlooked in the lower range because their top-end Grafs take the spotlight, and for whatever reason, Pilot and Lamy seem to have almost-complete control of the entry-level market. But a Loom can be had for under £25, which is firmly in Al-Star territory (and even Prera if you get lucky). 

What you get for that money is a solidly built cartridge/converter pen: the body is made of a matte-finish aluminium, and the section is made of plastic that is identically finished. That fact alone swung me towards this pen instead of the slightly cheaper Basic. The raised rings on the section stop it from getting slippery. The cap is plastic, too, but this is also finished in the same manner as the body. There is a smooth version of the barrel as well as several really bright colours for the cap, but I found this just right for me.

IMG_20170624_084930
Cartridge/converter pen, with easily-bought nib units: what’s not to like?

Somehow Faber-Castell has decided it’s a good idea to sell the lower-end pens without a converter. This is a minus in my book, but I have also been syringe-refilling cartridges, so your mileage may vary on this point. (The one in the picture above was given to me by a friend at the London monthly meet-up.)

The most important part of the pen performs incredibly, though, and if not for the body, this would be Pelikan-priced! Faber-Castell sources its nibs from JoWo, but the design on this is unusual: there is no breather hole, and the scrollwork is replaced by a series of pits that give it a really modern look. The nib size and the Faber-Castell logo are the only other things on the nib. You can buy nib units separately too; they just screw in and out of the section.

IMG_20170624_084746
I really like this design.

And when I started writing with this I was cured of ever recommending Lamy to anybody ever again. My vote still goes to the Metro, which is an old favourite of mine, but for anyone eschewing the cigar aesthetic, the Loom is next on the list! As a plus point, it doesn’t force you to use a triangular grip. The nib itself is smooth: almost buttery, in fact, without being too wet — a real extra-fine line, almost able to compete with Pilot fines. And the firmness is great on toothy papers like the Fabriano below: 

IMG_20170624_084719
Fantastic control and feedback too.

Last point: I find the way the threads of the metal barrel and the plastic section mesh perfectly together very very impressive. The German engineering that seems a little missing with Lamy is in full evidence here. Washing up is always a breeze.

 

Summit Cadet Model S-100 (c. 1929)

After paying a couple times for pens to get restored, how better to dive deeper into this rabbit hole than trying it out for myself?

IMG_20170616_231333
Unassuming eBay find.

I took a gamble on this because the nib looked like it could possibly have a little flex. Either way, a £17 pen shipped needing what looked like a fairly basic restoration couldn’t hurt my wallet too bad if it failed, so I put in what turned out to be the only bid on this pen!

It arrived and there was no sac, and the pen needed some care. I took everything apart; testing the nib out against my thumb indeed revealed that it had a satisfying amount of flex, though I decided I would wait after it was restored to ink it instead of going for the dip. I ordered a small bottle of shellac and what I hoped was the correct size of sac (the measurement was taken with a transparent plastic ruler).

IMG_20170616_231404
Nib shot. After polishing, the celluloid really sparkled!

When the goods finally made their way to my desk, I pulled up Richard Binder’s excellent guide and had a go very carefully. While waiting for it to dry, my research gave me a good start date for production and revealed that the S-100 was the lowest end of a series of Cadet pens made from 1929 onward. The fact that really caught my eye, though, was that Summit nibs were often firm nibs, which means that I had really lucked out on this one!

IMG_20170616_231507
Easy flex on those swirls, too!

I definitely consider this a success for my first attempt at restoration! Now I’m curious about their stiff nibs, though I’ve yet to come across another Summit in real life. The London pen meet that I frequent has tons of Conway Stewarts and Mabie Todds, and though the old hands know of Summits, none of them own one.

This is the second of three pens in chunky red celluloid that I own. A third review to come — but for now, here’s a group shot!

TWSBI 580AL Pink (modified!)

This pen was bought specifically for modding, after reading several reviews from people who have successfully hacked some pretty cool nibs onto their pens. Here we go:

IMG_20170610_091159
Simple demonstrator design, very vape-looking.

Other than having the odd creaky-piston moment, my 580AL works very well, and at under £50 due to Christmas sales, it was a bargain indeed. I got mine from Bureau Direct, who managed to get it to me in a couple days despite the seasonal mail crunch.

IMG_20170610_092306
The barrel, a little colourful bit, and the nib assembly.

The stock nib is a #5 Bock, which I ordered in medium. I’m sure it’s very good and smooth like others have said, but the truth is that I never inked it up. The whole unit is made to be swappable with other Bock units, but the nib and feed are also friction-fit. So I pulled it out and stuck in a spare FPR flex nib that I’d got at their last sale, and it wrote pretty well, though I did have to deepen the ink channel just a little for the feed to keep up with the flexing.

My final aim was to house my vintage Mabie Todd nib for greater ink capacity and less mucking around with eyedroppering a fragile 100-year-old specimen. But the feed was far too long; Mabie Todd’s #2 is significantly smaller than Bock’s #5 (or Pilot’s #5 for that matter). To this end I was inspired by Leigh Reyes’s amazing post, and though she didn’t post a step-by-step or anything, she described her process enough for me to dare to replicate it. The cost of messing up a feed is the same as buying another TWSBI nib unit, so I wasn’t overly worried — plus at that point I already had experience modifying my far more expensive Pilot Custom feed!

IMG_20170610_091347
From left to right: the three nibs that have been in this pen.

From the picture above it’s easy to see how much shorter and slimmer the vintage nib is compared to the stock nib and the #5.5 FPR flex nib. As such I had to shorten the feed by about 1.5mm and shave it down so that its tip would be the same thickness as the uncut version. This was to prevent the feed touching the paper when I flexed the pen. And of course the ink channel needed more deepening and scraping out, which I did very very carefully. You have to err on the side of extreme caution, because there’s no going back once you’ve gone too far!

And I was rewarded with this beauty:

IMG_20170610_093158
Look at that flex. No pushing needed!

The demonstrator look is excellent, and easily being mistaken for a vape is hilarious. (I consider this a feature, not a bug.) It is well built for its price, and its customisability is incredible. The included wrench obviously encourages one to tinker as well!

Pelikan M320 Ruby Red

Uninked and new in box for less than $200 is a ridiculous price for this, and how could I resist?

IMG_20170602_084517
Chunky celluloids are amazing to look at!

This is a seriously tiny pen by modern standards. The smallest of the five Souverän sizes, this is Pelikan’s pocket-pen offering, though it’ll never inhabit one of my pockets. It’s far too precious for that!

The M300 is regularly available but the five different M320s were produced as special editions from 2008–10. To my eyes,the Ruby Red has the finest colours, and the translucent cellulose acetate is really quite something to behold…

How small is that nib?

A larger version of this exists as the M600 Ruby Red special edition, though the cap on that has the newer all-gold finial design. The gold-on-black finial was phased out a few years ago and for a pen that looks like the M320’s older, bigger brother you’ll have to look up the far rarer M620 Madrid from the Cities series, which has a noticeably deeper red in its material.

The black/gold finial is exquisite.

The nib on mine originally came in a very Pelikan medium — practically a broad — though the tiny 14k two-tone nib had a surprising amount of bounce! The modern nibs I have used on the M4xx/6xx/8xx sizes have all been fairly firm, but the M320 M nib I got was almost as soft as the one that was on the M1000 I tried out once.

It writes absolutely beautifully; I had the nib ground into an extra-fine by John Sorowka. The amount of spring on the nib is great!

With normal pressure, a subtle variation is pleasantly achieved.

Because of its small size and how much tipping it has, it almost functions like a Sailor Naginata-togi nib now! But a comparison with its original incarnation as a medium nib is quite something to behold

Pilot Murex

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

IMG_20170526_003726
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!

IMG_20170526_004331
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.

IMG_20170526_004151
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:

IMG_20170526_004425
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:

IMG_20170518_230920
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!

IMG_20170518_231022
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. 

IMG_20170518_231204
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…

IMG_20170518_231702
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…

IMG_20170512_195003
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.

IMG_20170512_195111
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.

IMG_20170512_195030
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.

IMG_20170512_194946
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…

IMG_20170506_232430
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.

IMG_20170506_232454
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.

IMG_20170506_232519
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…

IMG_20170506_232559
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:

IMG_20170429_173059
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:

IMG_20170429_173137
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.

IMG_20170429_173241
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.

IMG_20170429_173108
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:

IMG_20170418_183140
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…

IMG_20170418_183206
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.

IMG_20170418_182833
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.

IMG_20170418_185715
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!

IMG_20170418_185450
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!