More eBay trawling resulted in this little dinky pen:
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:
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.
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.
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…
There’s nothing more fun than trawling eBay and then realising you’ve got an absolute treasure when it lands in your hands.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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”:
Right back to the whole point of this blog: an addiction to flex!
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…
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.
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!
And to cap it all off, here is a video of it hard at work:
’m going to jump a little out of order here: my best friend helped me buy a Pilot Custom 742 with an FA nib from Itoya Ginza in January 2016, which I only received in July when we were finally in the same country again. I originally wanted the one in burgundy, but then found out Pilot only has interesting nibs in their black cigars. So I ended up with a great nib in a very classic design, which is all good, but why do that when you can have this?
I had this delivered from Kingdom Note’s magical online second-hand store to a Japanese friend in October, and got to it just after Christmas. So this is a pen that’s taken a year to put together. And it’s beautiful: when I saw it in person, it looked better than any of Kingdom Note’s photos, and they take really good photos.
Because each pen is turned from a different cut of wood, the grain differs from pen to pen. Pilot have treated the body and cap with a waterproof resin, so it does not warp from washing or sweaty hands, yet it is still possible to feel the wooden texture. Some sort of technological magic at work here… Even better, the pen feels slightly lighter than the resin of the 742, but in no way delicate. This is quite possibly my favourite Pilot, and it takes second position in my favourites list only because the Grand Place is such a gorgeous pen!
The real wonder of the pen is the FA nib. Very plain on the front, it has a distinctive shape due to the shoulder cutouts and is Pilot’s only nib that is shaped this way. The cutouts help the nib to flex more, and the plain front is (according to Pilot) for structural strength, since scrollwork causes additional stress in the nib during flex. Among modern soft and flexible nibs, it’s the one that comes closest to vintage flex for me. (Disclaimer: I have not tried the new Aurora offering or the Wahl-Eversharp Decoband, which are supposed to be great flexers too.)
This pen is the same size as the 742 but lacks the trim ring at the bottom of the barrel. The cap band says CUSTOM ART CRAFT instead of Kaede, but Kaede just means “maple”. There are other wood pens in the 845 size as well — priced accordingly as you’d expect. A cartridge/converter pen, it takes Pilot’s largest converter (the CON-70), though it is pictured with the smaller CON-50 here.
But manypeoplehavecommented on the FA nib and its tendency to railroad. In Pilot’s defence the pen was designed to be brush-like for kanji writing, which involves short strokes with variation. The stock feed won’t keep up with Western-style calligraphy, which is a massive waste, but there is a fix for this:
Start by taking the pen apart. In the picture above, from left to right and top to bottom, are the cap, FA nib, breather tube, feed, O-ring, section, CON-50, CON-70, and the barrel. Obviously, only one converter can be used at once, but I had a spare, so I took this picture showing both. The key to this modification is really the feed and the breather tube: Pilot make their feeds for the Custom series in two parts, unlike any other feed I own. The feed for the FA was taken from the 742; the original M nib this pen came with was shaped slightly differently to accommodate a differently-shaped nib. The O-ring was taken from the feed on the Kaede, since the 742 does not need one. The interior of the two sections are different, and the screw threads are also at a different pitch, so it was not just a matter of swapping the section assemblies.
Step 2: a dissembly video for removing the breather tube.
Now take the two parts of the breather tube and dry them. Deepen the ink channels using very careful cuts with a penknife or other cutting tool. Err on the side of extreme caution: you can always take more off, but you can’t undo mistakes that go too far! And since Pilot do not sell nibs or feeds separately, you’ll have to buy a whole new pen.
Now wash off the dust and reassmble the pen. The flow will be much wetter, and I have noticed I need to use almost zero pressure before I can get a line as fine as it used to be — an advertised line width of 0.35mm! But the increased flow means the pen writes more smoothly, and I no longer have any railroading problems with sensible use. It still breaks when I try to go above 2mm flex, but that kind of swell is best left to vintage flex and dip pens…
If ever there was an entry-level workhorse vintage pen, this would be it.
Esterbrook was a hugely-respected company that made so many cheap pens that it’s not hard to find a specimen or two for almost the same kind of money one would spend on a modern entry-level. The J/LJ/SJ models are by far the most common, and they are the easiest to find these days, only differing in size. J is the longest and fattest pen, the LJ slightly shorter, and the SJ both shorter and slimmer.
I actually bought 3 Esterbrooks in total, one blue J and two copper SJs, but gifted the other two to stationery-enthusiast friends. This here is the first one I received.
The best thing about these Esterbrooks is that they operate on a one-size-fits all model: the nibs are swappable, and there is an absolutely staggering array of nibs to choose from. From a super extra fine cartographic nib (#8440) to several kinds of broad nibs (flexible, firm, rigid, or stub), an Esterbrook user usually ends up with a few to choose from. They even take nibs from other brands: a Pelikan M2xx nib fits in these pens, as do the Osmiroid nibs. Pictured below are three from my collection:
I was lucky enough to come across not one, but two #9128s nibs for a steal — they now cost upwards of $40 on eBay. The different nibs were made to different specifications: the old #1xxx and #2xxx series were untipped and made for disposable use; the newer #9xxx ones were tipped. My #3668 is a rarer English variant of the usual steel “sunburst” nib, which also exists in an even rarer frosted/matte version. And so on…
Given the age of these nibs and pens, there is a lot of variation between individual specimens. My pen uncaps in 1 1/4 turns, while the other two I gave away opened with 1 turn. New old stock (NOS) still exists and might be found if extremely lucky, while there are easily thousands of nibs that still exist unopened in their little original cardboard boxes. The writing sample below thus represents how my nibs write. My #9128 is just a little fragile and I have been told that the #1550 nib I own writes with an especially fine line.
Sometimes I am tempted to go on eBay and pick up another one in a different colour, but then I realise I would probably end up with another three or four of these nibs. I have way too much fun swapping nibs, sometimes on the fly… It never ends!
Maki-e and a springy 18k gold nib for less than $100? Yes please!
Okay, I have to admit, I got it on sale. Still, Platinum’s “Standard” line actually encompasses three different model numbers (PTL-12000, PTL-15000 and PTL-20000), but I cannot tell what the differences are. Mine is from the 12000 line and the design is called “Cranes with Mt. Fuji”. All three lines use the modern hira maki-e technique, where the images are screen-printed onto the pen; usually this results in a flat finish, but not with Platinum’s offerings. The Cranes has no maki-e on the cap and perhaps that’s not to everyone’s tastes, but I like the simplicity of this design.
As this is a lower-end maki-e pen, it is priced accordingly: hand-painted maki-e will cost easily five times more! But that doesn’t take away from the beauty of the design, which is colourful, eye-catching, and full of detail.
Posting the snap cap works well, though it also obscures some of the maki-e. I would never post this simply out of fear of scratching up the design, though it might be a little too short for large hands when unposted. This is a medium-weight pen, and is rather front-weighted due to the metal parts in the section. The two trim rings near the nib also give off a feeling of luxury — this pen feels like it is much more expensive than it is.
The clip is simple and straight and looks like a tie clip. Platinum’s famous slip-and-seal inner cap is included, and it works as expected. I have never had ink dry out on the nib even if I don’t write with it for weeks.
The nib itself is a little wonder: a tiny piece of 18k gold, similar in shape to those on the Preppy. It looks like it could almost be pulled off and swapped out Lamy-style, though I haven’t tried. Platinum doesn’t sell individual nibs either, and I won’t buy two Standards just to try this!
A very beautiful pen, yes, but how does it write?
The nib has a little feedback that feels almost rough, but I like that. It definitely isn’t buttery-smooth by any means, but it won’t fly around on smooth papers either, and handles Clairefontaine and Tomoe River very well. My nib leaves a true fine line, nothing as fine as my experience with Pilot’s F nibs, but in turn definitely finer than Western F nibs.
Ink flow is always great — I have used inks ranging from the very dry Pelikan and Platinum blue-blacks to Pilot Iroshizukus and have never run into problems. The feed is also slightly transparent, so there’s an additional splash of colour in an unexpected place!
And, this is the best part: it’s slightly flexible! Advertising material states that it’s firm, but that hasn’t been my experience at all. For me this is a plus, since I like flex, and I can get some quality Engraver’s/copperplate and Spencerian out of the nib. The springback is surprisingly fast as well, though I would hesitate to label this as anything but semi-flexible at best. “Springy” is probably the term I would settle on.
Here we go, then:
This concludes two months of Flex & Other Follies! Thank you for reading my reviews, and have a happy New Year in advance. To finish off properly, however, here is another example of what I use the Platinum Standard for:
The second half of my first vintage purchase, this is the oldest pen I own; the latest date I was given for this pen was 1910! This means the pen managed to survive two world wars and the fall of the Soviet Union. It came to me in a cardboard Waterman box with papers in Hungarian, on which someone had tested out a bunch of inks and also ripped off a corner. There were some notes and dates written on it as well. The box itself has Sole European Representatives (in English) on it under the Waterman logo, so I can only assume that the pen had remained in Europe for over a hundred years, eventually making its way to me.
And here it is, in all its ebonite glory:
From left to right we see the cap (with a clip; clipless models exist), and then the pen body, which is quite short, and a little knob at the end. That knob rotates, and I’ll explain later.
For now, we can see that the earliest date is 1903, since that actually appears on the pen body.
Pretty amazing I’d say. I’m aware fountain pens can write beautifully 130 years after their production if well taken care of, but to actually hold one that’s easily 110 years old is an incredible thought. So much technology went into the construction of these pens.
The safety mechanism is one of them: a safety pen was an eyedropper pen that could be filled as usual, with one major difference – the nib sat in the ink when the pen was capped. And that was achieved by using the knob and an ingenious helix-screw system to retract the nib into the pen body:
The nib rears its beautiful head with just over a complete turn of the screw. The variation in colour you see are due to a few things: the silver tip is from a retipping and the purple blob is from reddish inks (I’ve put Yama-budo and Tsutsuji inside, among others).
This Waterman tends to write a little on the wet side, of course, which is expected for a feed that can keep up with flex as wide as 2.5mm. When unflexed, it lays down a medium to fine line depending on paper softness and how little pressure is being used. Again, this writing sample is done on Fabriano A5 dotpad.
Only that swirly figure below VINTAGE FLEX comes anywhere close to pushing the nib hard. The rest of it was written easily, with very little pressure. Look especially at how fine the hairlines are! This is a pen that works for Spencerian and various Copperplate scripts, flexing almost like a dip nib. (In fact, it is softer than any of the G nibs I have used.) And yet, when used with a light hand, the ink flow is dry enough for small writing.
Anyway, after all that, here is a video of the nib doing its quite magical thing. So addictive…!
It gets interesting here: this is (half of) the first vintage purchase I made, and it has a real flex nib. I bought this off eBay, and it came fairly cheap because of a previous owner’s personalised engravement on the cap. I didn’t mind that at all; it was really strange to realise that this was a pen used by generations of people up to a hundred years previously. It was the first time I felt like I was holding a real piece of history in a writing instrument.
I sent it to John Sorowka in Oxford, who gave mine a date of 1913–20. There are several kinds of Swan out there; the earliest were made in 1887, and there were lever fillers as early as the 1910s. But here we go:
A very slim pen, made of finely chased hard rubber, the cap unscrews to reveal a very interesting feature: a slim gold stalk with a little hole in it.
I have been told this is rare in Swans, and indeed I haven’t managed to find another example like it.
That’s an overfeed, and it keeps the ink flow to the nib going even when the nib is flexed hard away from the (under)feed, as below:
The overfeed still exists today in nibs like the Sailor Emperor series, though that is not designed to deal with flex like this.
The nib itself is pleasantly fine for my taste, if slightly toothy on the upstroke. A little 12000-grit micromesh made it sufficiently smooth for reverse writing as well.
That’s a 5mm Fabriano dot grid, the same paper as I used for the Namiki Falcon review. And with all of that business going on in the section, it still remains very slim – all of these parts are delicately balanced. I had some trouble with the way the parts came together, and initially had to readjust positions so that the overfeed did not touch the paper when I flexed. And for the true test…
That’s a line thickness that varies from 0.3mm to 1.5mm easily; 1.8mm would perhaps be possible with a little pushing. But I’m not risking springing this nib! What a beautiful piece of art.
In closing, here is a complete tear-down of the pen:
This was my very first major purchase, after a few Platinum Preppys and some experience using dip pens. I scoured various sites and reviews and worried about springing the nib, since r/fountainpens was, at that time, under a wave of stories about people pushing their Falcons too hard. But I had also been practising cursive and pointed-pen scripts using a Nikko G and a Brause blue pumpkin, so I thought myself up to the challenge.
And here it is!
Made of resin, it came in a soft medium nib. Having searched on eBay, I pounced on a slightly under-priced offering of an uninked NOS (new old stock) pen. I am aware that Pilot now calls them the Pilot Falcon, and the Elabo in Japan, though I can spot no difference in their nibs. My cap band does say Namiki instead of Pilot, funnily enough, and it came in a nice Namiki box.
I have not tried very hard to find out how old this pen is, even though I really enjoy using it. From my varied half-hearted attempts though, I have not found anything that tells me when Pilot started using Pilot as the brand for all the lower- to middle-end pens, leaving Namiki for the top-of-the-line offerings. Anyone who has information to offer can comment below! At any rate, both the cap band and the nib have NAMIKI etched in them; PILOT is now standard on all Falcons. (Edit: I later took a 20× loupe to the nib and found B908 etched in it, right above the section. It means it was made in September 2008, on the B production line at the Hiratsuka factory.)
And boy, does it write! When I first got it, I only had a 30ml bottle of Pilot Black to fill it up with, but my ink collection has expanded somewhat since then, and this nib lays down enough juice to show up shading beautifully. (Also, the composer John Adams used this pen to autograph my score of Hallelujah Junction.)
Even as I continued amassing pens and inks, I never left the Falcon uninked except when washing and drying it out. It sits in my everyday carry pouch and has never lost its place to any other!
To finish off: happy International Fountain Pen Day! There will be far more to come, as I work my way through cataloguing my collection, so stay tuned…
(Below is a link to my not-purely-pen-stuff Instagram account, which you can follow for more pen stuff!)