How to tell if it’s an impulse: it’s the same model as something you already have, in the same nib size, and just a different colour. (It’s probably worse if you have two absolutely identical pens, but why would anyone…? Right?)
I thought I’d wanted a fine nib but my penchant for “as fine as possible” won out in the end, and I paid the €10 more for the EF, resulting in me now owning two M2xx EF pens. Not that it’s anything to complain about, since the colour is strikingly different from the M205 Amethyst!
There are actually two versions of Pelikan’s clear demonstrator: an earlier release from 2000 also called the M201, and this release from 2012. The earlier one has a black piston housing and a black cap band around the finial. With either of these, though, the ink still sloshes around in a very satisfying manner, especially if there’s a light colour within; my first inking of this pen was with Robert Oster Peach.
The gold plating in this pen is slightly less yellow than in the twoSailors I’ve reviewed; there is a comparison photo in last week’s article. The nib, as expected of Pelikan, is a little wider than a Western EF, but really smooth and (after I washed it in some soap to get rid of manufacturing oils) a wonderful writer.
The amount of spring on Pelikan steel nibs has always amazed me and this is no exception. With some pressure you can get pretty good line variation — be careful, though!
Under £120 ($157) for two Kobe inks and a store-exclusive Sailor is a deal that really shouldn’t be passed up. The Kobe inks (at 61!) cover far wider ground than most other premium lines, and are far more consistent across the whole range than all makers.
What you get for your money (after taking away the price of the two bottles of ink) is an exclusive pen for less than RRP. The cap band differs from the regular Sailor pen by being thinner — it doesn’t extend all the way to the lip. The etchings on it also say NAGASAWA PenStyle instead of SAILOR JAPAN FOUNDED 1911. It functions as any other Sailor would: with their shockingly small converter (~0.6ml) or a cartridge. Either way, no fuss.
The nib itself has completely different scrollwork: Nagasawa’s logo takes pride of place instead of the anchor logo, with 14K below that and then a Sailor logotype. The nib size designation goes on the left edge, as is typical with Sailor. The border is also a simpler single-line design instead of the curly edge found on other nibs.
The rise of the Jinhao 992 and similar models of Chinese knock-off beg the question: if you can get a purely functional pen for 99p, why pay a hundred times that? The answers always come back to the same handful of things: build quality, quality control, design, and experience of use. In my opinion, owning both (the Jinhao will be reviewed at a later date), and knowing full well that one can be cheaply sacrificed while the other costs a good few hours’ pay… I still bring the Proske around. The writing experience with a Sailor nib is simply far beyond anything a Chinese pen can offer.
The extra-fine nib on this is absolutely wonderful. I enjoy my nibs very fine, and Sailor’s famous feedback is thus even more evident here. Yet it still writes smoothly, and the feed provides enough ink to keep the pen moving across more textured papers like Rhodia or Fabriano. Tomoe River simply bends to the nib’s will like grass in the wind.
Overall, this is a deal I hugely recommend, both in terms of aesthetics — I think this looks better than the regular Sailor 1911 — and the fact that you get two bottles of ink with it. What better way to get started on a Kobe ink collection?
Returning to the subject of more easily-acquired pens, here’s a modern review!
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.
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.
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:
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.
Uninked and new in box for less than $200 is a ridiculous price for this, and how could I resist?
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…
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 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!
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…
More than 40 years after its creation, this design still looks sleek and modern.
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!
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.
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:
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…
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…
Sometimes an eBay trawl can bring up surprising things…
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.
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.
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:
To round off this review, here is a size comparison of the Pelikans I own…
…It’s harder to take photos of this pen than I anticipated. But how beautiful is this?
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.
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.
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:
With how pretty the pen is, the first thing I did when opening it up was to ink it with my yellowest ink!
This was almost an impulse purchase. I say almost because I kind of really wanted another of the Cities series…
Having lived in London for five years, Piccadilly Circus is a frequent haunt. Pelikan released this pen as the 11th of the Cities series, with the Grand Place rounding off the dozen. And Pelikan absolutely got it right: the famous colours of the Underground roundel, splashed all over the pen in swirly resin!
The one strange thing about this pen is the purple cap colour, which can be seen in the picture above; the inside of the cap is the same colour. While not very obvious at first sight, it sticks out a little upon closer inspection. Furthermore, despite the rhodium trim, the pen ships with a two-tone 18k nib, which I got in fine. It is beautiful — I tried swapping nibs with my rhodium-plated nib on the Grand Place, but liked the colours the way they are. The gold is a very welcome accent.
Of course, being a Pelikan, the pen is solidly built and feels like it is more expensive than it (already) is. The resin catches the light beautifully and the sparkle is astonishing in its depth and brightness of colour. More than once I’ve caught myself getting distracted while writing…
As for the nib, what is there to say?
Despite QC at Pelikan not being the best, I’ve never come across a nib I didn’t like. Some of them need smoothing to get rid of slight baby’s bottom (especially the stainless steel ones) but this wrote wonderfully right out of the box! If you can hunt one down, the slightly softer 18k nib is an upgrade over the standard M6xx 14k.
I’ve sold this pen, now, but there are a few more from the Cities series that I have my eye upon…
’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…
Reviewing my collection in chronological order, one week at a time!