Tag Archives: medium

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!

Pelikan M400 Souverän Green-striped

And now for something immensely classic:

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Old but gold.

The M400 has been around in various incarnations since 1982, superseding the old 400 variants. It is also the first pen to use the M designation, with Pelikan revamping its lines over the next few years to include a range of sizes, as well as rollerballs (R), ballpoints (K), and pencils (D). There were also cartridge/converter pens (P), with one of the more recent ones being the Stola III, otherwise known as the P16.

This pen hails from the earlier period of the M400, and has a timeless colour scheme in green-black-gold. Pelikan managed to keep a little bit of green in the completely black version by including a little transparent ink window just above the section, which, when capped, is completely hidden. In this pen the gaps between the stripes is actually translucent and so the whole pen barrel functions as many tiny ink windows running down the whole length of the pen.

The cap looks different from modern M400s as well. The single trim ring from the 80s has been upgraded into a double ring for the Souverän line in general; the single ring now belongs to the M200. This cap also has a black finial instead of the 24k gold-plated one seen more recently, and it even has a two-chick logo:

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One Pelikan bill, and three pelicans on the top!

The piston also gains a trim ring in the modern versions. The nib design has been changed as well: the single-tone 14k nib has given way to a two-tone nib design now standardised across all lines. Pelikan no longer makes completely yellow nibs. And finally, a last clue in dating this pen to the 80s: the cap band says W.-GERMANY.

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Trim-less piston and W.-GERMANY on the cap band.

Now, as any Pelikan aficionado will testify, Pelikan nibs now tend to run broad. However this medium nib, from older times, writes like a true medium: definitely not too broad, and definitely not a fine — though it gives my modern M200/M205 EFs a run for their money!

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This nib definitely sings when writing…

To end off: my first 6 Pelikans in a beautiful nib circle…

Pilot Custom Kaede (modified!)

’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?

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Even better than a red body.

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.

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Not your usual combination!

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.)

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So worth it.

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.

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Cap, barrel, and section + converter.

But many people have commented 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:

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Step 1…

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.

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Widen and deepen these two channels.

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…

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Trust me, this is absolutely worth the trouble.

Pelikan M100 Stormtrooper

These are not the pens you’re looking for…?

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No, definitely not!

It’s a rather small pen, smaller than the M2xx series of Pelikans, though not quite as small as the pocket M3xx Souveräns. It is very light because of its size and the plastic piston, though the ink capacity is relatively huge at 1.18ml. The cap has a subtly embossed double-chick logo on the finial, and the clip is the usual pelican bill. An ink window is tucked away under the cap and can be seen when the cap is unscrewed (as in featured photo above).

The M100 Tradition (to give the proper name) comes in several colours, the most sought-after one of which is the one in white. The black model in rhodium trim was released first, followed by ones in red, blue and green, but unlike the others, the white pen has its trim painted black — very unusual for Pelikan! Even better, the nib is black chromed steel as well. Truly stunning when seen up close, my pictures hardly do it justice.

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So sexy.

The white model was released beginning 1987 and the entire M100 line was discontinued in 1997. Mine, being a slightly earlier version, has W.-GERMANY on the cap lip, which features a black trim ring.

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It’s very subtle and depends on lighting.

What a nib! Laying down a juicy line, there is no flex at all, and while not quite a nail, it is very firm indeed. It feels almost as hard as my carbon-paper manifold Pelikan from the 1950s. And even with all that, it writes so smoothly… it almost makes me wish the modern nibs went all the way with their firmness.

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Really comfortable, too.

Below: a size comparison of all the Pelikans I own (at end of 2016)!

Update, 10th February 2017: Have since sold the M nib and bought an EF… and it simply glides over paper like a dream!

Esterbrook SJ (1950s)

If ever there was an entry-level workhorse vintage pen, this would be it.

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So much depth in that copper colour.

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.

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Mine is in incredible condition for its age!

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:

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Left: #1550 Extra Fine / Right: #9128 Extra Flexible Extra Fine / Front: #3668 (English) gold-plated Firm Medium

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.

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Just like Lego!

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!

Pelikan Stola III (P16)

The newest contender to the budget everyday-carry fountain pen battle, I bought one when I was in Verona in December 2015, shortly after it had been released. After going back to the hotel and to the sweet embrace of free wifi again, I realised that there weren’t any reviews then available…

That didn’t stop me from enjoying the pen itself though. And here it is:

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Sleek, modern, and understated.

Made of brass, it weighs just a little more than the Pilot Metro, though the straighter pen barrel makes for a very different experience when actually holding it. It definitely feels more expensive than it actually is, which is something the Lamy Safari/Al-Star can’t boast about. It also came with a long international cartridge in Pelikan Royal Blue.

I have yet to drop this pen, so I cannot comment on the build quality with regards to picking up dings and scratches. But it is hefty and solid, and if you like to put pens in your pocket, you’ll definitely miss it when it’s not there. 

The cap has also been redesigned to fit in with the more modern aesthetic of this pen. Instead of the face-and-beak clip of the usual Pelikan offerings, there is an outline that still resembles the traditional shape but looks very minimal and utilitarian. The black accent also goes well with the flat top and the black single-chick Pelikan logo on the finial.

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Very springy clip, too.

Pelikan very helpfully explains how the cartridge system works for this pen. A standard international converter or a long cartridge may be fit in, but if one doesn’t have a converter (I don’t) or wants for whatever reason not to use one, that is easily remedied by sticking a spare in reverse in the barrel. That helps to hold the one in use in its functioning place. 

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Disassembled: the next colour I’m planning to use is Montblanc Golden Yellow!

Unfortunately — and this is a major strike against Pelikan — the nib is only available in medium and the body only available in silver. I’d like one in blue or black with an extra-fine nib, as I usually do; this medium certainly ranks as among the broadest nibs I currently own. It is firm and offers no line variation whatsoever, though it is smooth and really pleasant to write with, and can definitely earn its keep as a daily writer.

Here is a writing sample:

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Definitely pulls its weight as a heavy pen!

Sadly, the other Stola lines don’t have a fountain pen option, which is a pity, because the Stola I design is in matte-black.

To finish: instead of an Instagram post, here is the first-ever review of the Stola, which I wrote almost immediately after putting the cartridge into the pen.