Archive for the ‘Pen Profile’ Category
The John Holland Gold Pen Company was located in Cincinnati, Ohio, just down the street from where my office is today. Around the time of the Civil War, they were one of the leading producers of dip pens, but was slow to transition to fountain pens. The company folded in the Fifties, and the factory torn down, replaced with an office building.
My oldest pen is a circa 1890 John Holland eyedropper pen. I say “circa,” as I have no good basis for when this pen was produced. Stamped into the cap, it says:
The earliest it could have been made, therefore, is 1888. My house was made in 1890, so that seems to be a reasonable date. In my head, it signed the original deed to my house. Over the past century, it perhaps left with the owners, was lost, passed around, and found its way home in my briefcase, after a trade with another collector. It seems quite apt.
The pen is made of hard rubber, with a neat diamond pattern in the barrel–I can’t quite capture it in a photo. It is an eyedropper filler, meaning that ink is put directly into the barrel with an eyedropper. When I first started using it, some ink would seep out of the threads around the section. I was clued in to put a bit of silicone grease on the threads. This works well.
The nib is a very early example of a hooded nib, where part of the nib is covered with the section. The Parker 51 would later use this as a way to limit the evaporation of ink from the pen. This pen predates clips on pens being common. I think that’s a neat bit of trivia, though it is the main reason it rarely leaves the house.
It writes a smooth, fine line, though I still prefer my Lamys better. The nib is a bit on the flexible side, allowing for subtle variation in the lines’ width, giving it almost a calligraphic flair. When I first got it, the nib’s tines would rub a bit against each other. I adjusted how it sat on the feed. Now, I know of pens produced this century that are not nearly as smooth, and not just ballpoints.
The pen is very economical with ink, producing a line that dries quite quickly. I find older pens tend to be of that mold. They were tools in that era, and the goal was to minimize how often they needed to be filled (so you could write all date or more). Today, fountain pens are affectations, and, working in a paperless workplace, I doubt I could use all the ink in a fully loaded fountain pen in one month, much less one day.
Overall, this is a good writing pen, especially considering it is over 120 years old. It is not practical for my everyday use, for a number of reasons. However, it is nice to have a piece of history such as this that I still can use.
A few years ago, I got a box from Lost Crates as a gift. Now closed, it was a neat concept: you put in some details about your style and likes and dislikes, and they would send you a box of stationary. In my box was a rollerball: a Kaweco Sport. Capped, its shape was a bit odd, but it had the advantage of being very portable. Capped, it was significantly shorter than most pens, but with the cap posted, was about the same size as a regular pen. These are attributes that I’ve appreciated in other pens, most notably the “Bullet” space Pen. Between a Black Friday discount and some gift certificates, I got a matching fountain pen last month. The portability is a desirable advantage, and is fairly unique.
As I mentioned, capped, the pen is smaller than most pens–it’s an inch and a quarter smaller than a capped Lamy Safari, and a full inch smaller than a Retro 1951 Tornado, though it is a bit longer than a capped Bullet Space Pen. This makes it a very portable pen. When I’m wearing a shirt that doesn’t have a breast pocket, it goes in the pocket of my pants easily. The pens do not have clips–for this application, it’s not a problem, and one is available as an add-on if that is desired. The cap screws closed, which reduces the likelihood of it coming open accidentally.
One disadvantage is that, when capped, I can’t tell the fountain pen apart from the rollerball. The rollerball is slightly heavier than the fount, but making that distinction (usually by holding one in each hand) is not always practical. Fortunately, for the times I can’t, I usually just want to make a quick note. I’m not picky about the mode.
With the cap posted, the Sport is the size of most pens, though I find it a bit top-heavy. The section is a bit on the small-side–the grip can be a bit awkward, and my fingers find the threads fo the cap. This can be a nuisance, though it really depends on how you hold the pen.
Like all ball pens, the rollerball is a fancy holder for a refill. It comes with a Schmidt cartridge, and it is the same size as the ones in the Tornado–I love it when things are compatible. It is a decent cartridge for a rollerball, though you can try different ones. Since Parker-style refills work in the Tornado, I suspect they will also work in the Kaweco Sport, though I have not tested that.
The fountain pen takes international cartridges, which are available from a variety of manufacturers. Give the size of the pen, it has to be the short size–this is the size Diamine, my primary ink these days, uses. However, it cannot take most standard converters. A mini-convertor is out there, but a special order. Standard converters can at least be used to clean the pen.
The fountain pen is a decent writer. Mine has a medium nib, and runs true to other medium nibs. though not as smooth as a Lamy (my gold standard for smoothness), it writes well. Overall, the flow is in the Goldilocks zone–not too wet, not too dry. My biggest quibble is that, if I am not holding it in the sweet spot, it can be a bit reluctant to start. I have seen this mentioned in other forums.
Overall, I think this is a good pen, but not a great one. It writes decently, but I don’t feel the urge to write with it. However, its portability means that I do not have to go without a fountain pen. It is moderately priced, with the fountain pen being available for as little as $25 online. I would not recommend it as a first fountain pen–the nib won’t “wow!” a new user, and it’s quirks take some getting used to. However, it is a great pen to add to an existing collection. It writes well once you get used to it, and the portability more than compensates for its quirks.
I was walking back to my office from the data center on a Friday afternoon. As I crossed the last corner, I noticed a pen on the ground. I risked an extra two seconds as I crossed, bent down, and picked it up. It was a Uniball Vision rollerball. It had no scratches on it, and seemed full of ink. Pretty much, it looked like a brand new pen that had fallen.
The right guy happened by. Rather than letting it get knocked around the mean streets of the ‘Nati, I decided to give it a home.
While I’ve seen these pens around, I don’t think I’ve ever actually owned one. The one I found was a fine point green–a quirky choice, which made me wonder who had it, and why they wanted green. Was it for some functional purpose, to color code something? Or is it simply a quirky nonconformist act of someone living in an otherwise stiff corporate culture–someone after my own heart? When I get a vintage pen, I often wonder about who had this pen before me. Whose hands did it pass through. How many events did it mark, singing mortgages, report cards, and letters. I like to think every pen can tell a story, be it literally, like Neil Gaiman’s Lamy 2000, history made with Douglas MacArthur’s Parker Duofold, or just a disposable pen, a tool to help someone get through their day.
When I got home, I tucked the pen into the pocket of my “Coat of Awesome,” next to a Field Notes memo book. We went out, and my daughter spent some quality time doodling with it.
The ink is a little bluer than I like for a green pen–it seems artificial relative to the green fountain pen inks I use. However, it balances nice, and the grip is comfortable. We passed it around the table and played with it, waiting for a meal.
Though I will likely favor my other pens, I know that it has a better chance to tell more stories in my house, rather than on Fourth Street. Already, it told a story about a butterflies and bicycles.
Before Christmas, we were walking through the IKEA Family area, where they had an array of office supplies: Gel pens! Notebooks! Desk accessories! The prices were more than reasonable, but I really couldn’t justify it.
But I did come across the Frusen gold and silver gel pens. I was using a silver sharpie for some marking purposes, and, for $2, though ti was worth a try. I bought a set. I was reasonably pleased. The silver worked on the inside fly leaf of my Rhodia Webbie. It writes reasonably well on most paper, though sometimes it is a bit of a reluctant starter. It has a fun glittery look to it. The gold does good on white paper, but less so on darker paper. Just as glittery as the silver, it has more of a yellow hue to it.
While I don’t see myself using them for long notes, but to add some decoration to the page, they would work well. Unfortunately, they don’t appear on the IKEA web page. The really bad news: last time I was at IKEA, they were in the “Last Chance” bin, for a buck a set. I picked up an extra two sets. If you live near an IKEA, it may be worth seeing if you can do the same.
An earlier edition of this post identified these as “Nlefam” pens. However, I have since learned the correct model name is Frusen. They appear to be still available, though not for the close-out price. The post was corrected. My apologies.
The same day my mystery box came in, I got another package–one I was expecting. Pilot Pen was having a contest on twitter. I happened to be at a Cincinnati Cyclones game, where my daughter’s choir sang the national anthem (not that I was tweeting during my daughter singing the national anthem*). I entered, and won! Multitasking at its finest.
I’ve been a fan of Pilot pens the majority of my life, starting with the Better Ballpoint that occupied my pocket throughout high school and the Pilot Varisty which was among my first experiences with fountain pens. I’m also a huge fan of the Vanishing Point (which is also sold under their Namiki line), which should be the subject of another post. Pilot is an innovator in other areas, including their G2 gel ink, as well as the B2P, which uses recycled water bottles to form the housing for the refill.
Fountain pens use liquid-based inks, which as been used for millennia in dip pens. Ball point pens, starting in the Fourties, use an oil-based paste that lacked the vibrancy and smoothness of liquid ink, but was cheaper and more convenient. Rollerballs brought liquid ink to the ball tip, and gel inks improved this form. These offered the flexibility the ballpoint form offered, but did not last as long, or dry as quickly. I also find that the refills tended to be larger than ballpoint refills, or have a very short life (a D1 gel refill only lasted about six months; I’ve never had a D1 ballpoint run out of ink).
The Acroball is one of the new ball pens that use a hybrid ink. These inks are designed to provide the smoothness and vibrancy of a liquid or gel ink, while offering some of the benefits of a ballpoint. I have to say, on the paper, it definitely hits that mark. The two I was sent by Pilot have black ink, which is always an interesting color for me. For such a basic color, I’ve seen significant variation (more-so among fountain pen inks). Writing, it feels smooth like a good rollerball, and the ink does deliver on the vibrancy. Note the comparison to a variety of ball pens.
The ballpoints definitely have the duller appearance, and some of the roughness comes through. Truthfully, I couldn’t tell a significant difference between the gel, liquid (rollerball), and hybrid inks. I haven’t had a hybrid pen long enough to speak to their life, but I did do a “smudge test:” I made a dot, then immediately brushed my finger over it.
The rollerball and the fountain pen definitely had a smudge; the hybrid and ballpoint did. Obviously, had I given the liquid inks a chance to dry, they would compare more favorably, but that wasn’t the point of the test. The hybrid ink, at least in my initial impression, struck that middle ground between the ease of use ballpoints offer, and the nice appearance of a liquid or gel ink.
The ink is the impression left by the pen, but how does it write? With fountain pens, how it writes is the whole package: the part that touches the paper stays with the body. What you get is reliably known. Ball pens, on the other hand, are split in two the refill, which contains both the ink supply and the writing tip, and the body. As noted, the refill goes across the paper quite smoothly, comparing favorably to rollerballs.
The body, however dictates the balance of the pen in the hand, and the comfort of the grip. I confess, that I didn’t find the body of the Acroball anything to write home about. It has a rubberized section where it is gripped. Perhaps it is my taste, but I really didn’t care for that. The balance was OK for the type of pen. Aesthetically, I did like the white body with the colored accents. I think the engineering of the pen focused on the refill rather than the body. It is not bad, and I’m sure I’ll write with it.; it just does not compliment the writing experience promised by the refill.
Overall, I think the Acroball is a neat pen, and is a great introduction to hybrid ink. I definitely will look for it when refilling ball pens, and may look for options to use these refills that better suit my tastes. Definitely a cool pen!
*I was busy being a dorky dad, videoing my daughter (and her choir) sing.
There are several attributes that contribute to how well a pen writes. This includes the size and weight of the pen (the impact of this being a function of personal taste), the refill (in the case of a ball point), the feed system (in the case of fountain pens), and the smoothness of the nib (also for fountain pens). For me, I find that no brand seems to consistently get all these points right across their line is Lamy. Based in Heidelberg, Germany, the company was founded in 1930 by C. Josef Lamy, a former salesman for Parker Pen. The company has primarily stayed in the family, and has incorporated several contemporary schools of design. Indeed, the clean lines of their products call to mind other innovators of industrial design such as Braun or Apple.
The flagship Lamy 2000 exemplifies both Lamy’s commitment to understated design and an excellent writing experience. The Fountain Pen Geeks web page posted an articular titled “Lamy 2000 and the Origins of Lamy Design”, a fascinating of the pen’s design and materials, and really is the definitive reference for this pen. The look of the Lamy 2000 is a nice balance between being a conservative pen, while bringing some modern styling. The designers of the 2000 took their cues from the Bauhaus school of design. The pen has a minimalist look with nice curves and a good feel. For all its modern appearance, it was originally introduced in 1966.
The pen is made from Makrolon, a fiberglass-reinforced resin, with a metal section. This makes for a light yet balanced pen. The fountain pen pen uses a bottle-only piston-fill mechanism to draw in ink. The ink level can be viewed through an small window just behind the section. The whole pen is one continuous line, with no break detectable.
Lamy makes some of the smoothest nibs in the business, from their entry level Safari line, and reaches its pinnacle with the 2000. I love writing with it. The nib is semi-hooded, meaning that only part of it is exposed. Several other pens use this, as an attempt to limit how much ink is exposed to air (causing it to evaporate). The feed provides consistent ink flow, and works with the nib to lay down an even line. I would easily say it is among the best writing pens in my collection–if forced to identify the top slot, this would likely be it.
The cap snaps firmly into place, which is also my one gripe. Two small taps stick out a bit, which hold the cap in place, but sometimes my fingers find them when holding the pen. This is easily solved by adjusting my grip. After nearly a decade of use, the cap ceased to stay on when posting the cap. An “ear” on the cap clutch ring had become bent. Lamy customer service was very easy to deal with, and repaired it for only the cost of postage. This is the second time I dealt with their customer service (the first being for a replacement nib on a vintage find), and they have been superb.
The 2000 also comes in a full selection of writing modes, including roller ball, ball point, and mechanical pencil. In addition to my fountain pen, I have the multipen version. One instrument holds four ballpoint refills. The color is selected by holding the pen with the proper “color” tag up. Unlike other multipens, the same button extends and retracts the refill. The action is OK, though sometimes I feel as though it feels rough. The pen has the same balance as the fountain pen, but, like most ball pens, the paper feel is dictated by the refill. It takes a D1 refill, so a variety of choices are available.
All in all, this is one of my favorite pens. It looks modern and understated, and writes exceptionally well. Author Niel Gaiman uses one to write his novels. Its ability to balance both a conservative and modern look means that it goes well with both a suit or more casual attire. It is also an example of a school of design which influenced one of the major companies of the twenty-first century, Apple.
You may have heard that in the early days of the space race, NASA spent millions of taxpayer money developing a pen to write in space. The Soviets, faced with the same problem, used mechanical pencils.
This story is inaccurate.
The Fisher Pen Company set out to create a pen that could write in all conditions: extreme cold and heat, underwater, and, of course, without gravity. It was patented in 1965. NASA purchased the pen for evaluation in 1967, and first flew it on Apollo 7 in 1968. Fisher sold 400 to NASA–at a discount. The Soviet program also bought the pens for use on their space flight (also at a discount). Myth busted.
A maxim among fountain pen
snobs collectors is that a “ballpoint pen is just a fancy holder for a refill.” I don’t believe that to be completely true, as the “fancy holder” does have an influence over writing (how it is gripped, how it is balanced, etc.). However, it is the refill that provides the characteristics that make a Fisher Space Pen a pen for space. The refill is pressurized with nitrogen gas, to force the ink to the tip. The ink is designed to remain a gel until it comes out of the tip (to keep it from being pushed out under the pressure).
While I do not have the true astronaut model, the AG7, there are two other models represented in my collection. The Bullet model was covered before. Its fits into a pant pocket quite readily. When posted, the cap makes it the length and balance of a full size pen. These are quite handy to carry around, though its portability may be its downfall.
One year, for Christmas, my sister gave me a black grid shuttle model. I like having ballpoints that retract, as it makes it easy to pull out for a quick note while standing (rather than having to handled the cap). The action on the mechanism is quite solid–push the button on the top, and the tip extends. The button on the side retracts it solidly.
As a fan of the space program, the fact that these are descendants of pens
design to be carried in to space is a thrill. However, what makes it well suited to write on the International Space Station–that it can write anywhere–is what makes this pen handy to have in one’s pocket.
When I did my profile of the Bic Disposable Fountain Pen, I was continuously comparing it to another disposable fountain pen, the Pilot Varsity. Looking back on that post (a whole week-and-a-half later), it seemed to beg the question: where’s the Varsity pen profile? A fair question. This pen actually has a fair number of fans out there, from aficionados of writing instruments and office supplies to Browncoats.
As I noted previously, the Varsity was one of the first fountain pens I tried back in college (many years ago), and helped spawn my love of fountain pens.
A disposable fountain pen has many functions. They are good if you simply don’t want a more expensive pen, or at least want to take something that would be less painful to lose. Among pen collectors, it is something we may recommend to someone getting into pens. One might even give casually to an interested friend, for no occasion other than to sate their curiosity (“first dose is free”). For both applications, you want a pen that writes well, though perhaps not as well as other pens. In the case of introducing someone to fountain pens, it needs to provide a positive impression of what it’s like to write with a good pen. The Varsity does well for both applications.
I’ve always thought Pilot made great nibs, either for their pens, for their Namiki line, or when they are supplying nibs to other manufacturers. The nib on the Varsity shows this prowess exists up and down their line. It is a stamped steel nib, but with a shape that harkens back to the hey day of fountain pens. While not as smooth as some fountain pens in my collection, it is far from scratchy, and can produce an even line with little pressure. I’d put it towards the middle of my pens (though perhaps pushed down within that “middle” category).
The pen is comfortable in the hand for longer passages–no death grip required. The ink does well, with minimal feathering on most pads (even many of those in the office supply cabinet). What’s more, the Varsity’s ink comes in a wide array of color choices, including blue, black, turquoise, red, pink, and purple*. It clearly is a disposable fountain pen made by folks who make fountain pens.
As I mentioned, this pen is meant to be disposable–at some point, the ink-view window will show no more ink, and you’ll have to get a new one. Several folks have hacked ways to refill the Varsity, either by removing the nib and feed, using a syringe, or, for the adventurous, working from the back (with a drill). I’ve never tried it, though I may. There are reports of people custom grinding the nib–an extreme act for a disposable pen. The fact that people are willing to go to this trouble speaks to the quality of the pen.
The Pilot Varsity is a good fountain pen that happens to be disposable. It is a great way to start to use them, or have one where the situation might not otherwise permit. They are inexpensive enough to stash one in places where you may find yourself wanting a pen. It is definitely worth trying if you’ve ever been curious about fountain pens.
*I’m close to deciding that the purple ink is my favorite color for purple ink. I’ll have to see if I can find it in a bottle (or at least one that matches).
One of the challenges of getting into fountain pens is that it can be relatively expensive to get started. The fountain pen most often cited as a “beginner” fountain pen, the Lamy Safari, starts at around $35. While plenty of nice ball pens go for that amount, it’s a lot if you aren’t sure fountain pens are for you. There are lots of more inexpensive options, but few are readily available, and are of variable quality.
The one option that was both inexpensive and broadly available was the Pilot Varsity. It is a disposable fountain pen that was commonly available at most office supply stores, as well as many drug and grocery stores. While not as smooth as many of my other pens, it writes well enough that it would not create a negative impression of fountain pens in general due to the quality of the pen. I had one back in college (about…checking the calendar…GAH! twenty years ago) as a first taste. They are still quite available–I probably should add it to my list of pens to do profiles on.
I was in Staples snapping up some Black Friday
loss leaders deals when I noticed something new. They were carrying the Bic Disposable Fountain Pen. Given the ubiquity of Staples, I figured this might be an option for people interesting in getting their feet wet. There were two options. One was a three-pack with three colors. I bought a two-back of black, which was priced similarly to the Pilot Varsity hanging above it.
The pen wrote OK overall-no scratchiness. Though it felt as though there was a bit of drag (as opposed to the light feel of other pens), it seemed smooth. It would meet my “not give a bad impression of a fountain pen” criteria, though if one were to upgrade, they would have a very pleasant surprise. I tried a variety of papers–from cheap pads that were in the supply cabinet to the journal I use for my pens. While the ink could be described as “whimpy green-black” in color, it bled only slightly more than my other pens, mostly on a pad from the supply cabinet that every wet ink pen bleeds on. It dried reasonably quickly–a key feature for a lefty.
However, it wasn’t a particularly comfortable pen to write with. If I was taking notes in a meeting, where I might write in bursts of a sentence or two at a time, it did fine. That does not really give a sense of the ergonomics of any pen. When writing several pages in my journal, the grip felt hard (even when compared to pens with metal bodies). Between that and the dragginess of the nib, I rarely used it for more than a paragraph after that experiment.
The pen’s design is very similar to the Varsity (on the right) overall, with a clear plastic section showing the feed. The section, where one grips the pen, is a bit thicker than the Pilot, but within the range of what is typical for pens in my collection–it doesn’t stand out at either extreme. The clip appears to have a more modern design, “growing” out of the top of the cap. The cap closes with a satisfying click, and, when posted, covers an ugly bar code.
The Bic appears to have a stamped steel nib. The design of the nib is quite similar to the Varsity, with more of a breather “ring” than hole on top. However, the Bic’s nib is a bit larger, and less stylized.
For what it is, the Bic Disposable Fountain Pen is an adequate writing instrument. It writes reasonably well in the context of handwriting in the Twenty-First Century, and would leave the user with a not-negative impression of fountain pens. It wrote surprisingly well, though not as good as other pens in my collection.
However, if I were looking to get someone a cheap introduction to fountain pens (or were on a business trip, inkless, and jonesing for fountain pen), I would probably leave the Bic on the shelf, and reach for the Pilot Varsity. Overall, it is smoother, more comfortably for longer writing sessions, and is a more attractive piece.
Pilot Pens have started a Power to the Pen program. Basically, it is their social media initiative. It’s taking many forms–a Pinterest board, a twitter hashtag (#powerto thepen), and a hashtag on Instagram (though I can’t quite figure out how to link to it).
One of their ideas is to have a blogger do a “pen and ink” blog post. I believe their intent is to discuss their newer pens (the G2, B2P, etc.). However, I have a stronger tie to one of their other pens, the “Better Ballpoint.” I pulled out my Webbie, and wrote about how I used this pen through high school.
I also typed it, as
my handwriting might not be the most legible the scan may be iffy.
Does this explain my fascination with pens? Not entirely. However, it is a bit of nostalgia from when I was younger. I won’t say it was a universal experience–just a thing we did.