Message from London: Please send ink

IMG_4095I’m still here! Must drink… more ink… We can’t get it! Of all the new brands and ranges, Robert Oster is the main marque to have penetrated our online shops widely. We suffer in the UK from customs charges and the even more pricey Royal Mail “handling fee” for items bought outside our shores, so it’s better for us to be able to “buy local”.

IMG_4093London is a wasteland for fine stationery, only W. H. Smith giving scant succour to the pen and ink fiend. Or so I thought, until perusing the Instagram of Leigh Reyes who visited the city recently and shopped at L. Cornelissen & Son (est. 1855) and the London Graphic Centre. A commenter recommended Green & Stone. Jackson’s Art Supplies also have two shops in London. These companies stock art supplies, (very few fountain pens,) brush pens, dip pens and calligraphy ink.

So what have I been up to? I’ve started journalling in a Hobonichi Techo and kept up my photography: I have uploaded some of the best snaps on Instagram and Facebook, but I have a huge backlog to go up on Flickr. Home, family and looking after a certain dog has occupied my time a lot and kept me away from developing creative pursuits for fun and profit. I shall have to be more single-minded, I think.

Anyway, I’m using four Sheaffer pens for my scribbles: these will be in my next review.

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A brace of Parker 45s

The Prologue

I put an absolute block on myself in September: John, do not buy any more fountain pens. I have bought seven since then, mostly by reflex or to take advantage of a good price. This is about one per month which is a big reduction in my habit anyway.

It is so much easier to buy than to sell. Even the simplest eBay listing with a few photos seems to take ages to construct, but this is what I need to be doing: selling duplicates and those other pens that I might quite like, but are not my favourites. So from now on I shall do comparative reviews of more than one pen where possible to weed out the collection.

Oh, Parker! (Yus, milady?)

Parker pens are well-known in the UK. The many hundreds of W. H. Smith shops around the country stock Parker’s low and mid-range models, hanging in blister packs from uninspiring displays.

The teenage me got one as a birthday present: a heavy black Parker rollerball with gold trim, which was nice, but the clip was delicate and always getting bent out. I got it repaired a couple of times since it came with a lifetime guarantee, but the new clip was never any better so I took to wrapping the clip with thick rubber bands and then the pen got stored in a box with all my other pens and pencils.

My mum lives on the south coast and told me a few years ago that the British Parker factory at Newhaven is being demolished. Now Parkers are only made in the U. S. A. and France. You see what happens when I stop buying them. Parker’s latest innovation is their 5th Technology which looks like a fountain pen but has a fibre tip. At £110 for the cheapest model it’s a gamble for buyers.

The Parker 45 was introduced in 1960. Designed for the economy school market, it has a tiny nib and an innovation: ink cartridges. The story of Parker and this model, including why it was called the 45, is at the comprehensive parkerpens.net (— site found using Pennaquod). Initially all 45s had 14k gold nibs. Later, Octanium steel nibs were used on cheaper models. Production continued until 2007.

Parker 45 x 2

Dirty, dirty

I bought two Parker 45 fountain pens, both made in the U.S.A. One has a medium nib, the other a fine nib. The dark blue pen cost me £18.24, and the stainless steel pen was £14.01, including p&p, from eBay. With patience you could get a better price. Both have a friction-fit cap, a squeeze convertor and the same type of replaceable nib and feed that unscrews from the grip section.

Parker 45 - fine and medium nibs

Problem no. 1 was the steel pen’s nib which did not write. I had to adjust it for flow and alignment, then polish it in accordance with the excellent Pen Habit‘s videos.

Problem no. 2 was the amount of old blue ink left inside the blue pen. Whereas the steel pen flushed out with clean water in a few minutes, the blue pen needed a lot of work and an overnight soak before the water ran clear.

Fuyu-Gaki ink

Since random.org chose an orange red ink for me, I’m expecting this to turn purple during this review! Ink can sometimes be better than water at dissolving old accretions of dye. I filled both pens with Pilot Iroshizuku Fuyu-Gaki ink so I could compare them more easily. This is a really good flowing ink, performing poorly on porous paper (as found in Field Notes or Whitelines notebooks) because of feathering and bleed-through, but on denser paper like Rhodia or Tomoe River it behaves well. The colour really pops in my photos but in actuality it looks a bit darker. I would say it is similar to Diamine Coral.

Parker 45 with Fuyu Gaki ink

 Thumbs Up

I like these pens. Both write smoothly and the ink flow is fine. The steel pen weighs 22g and the plastic 16g. I think I prefer the medium nib which will show off ink shading better, even though I will have to form my script larger to compensate, and I shall unscrew the medium nib and stick it in the steel body. The blue pen will go back on eBay with a fine nib. One down!

Parker 45s by a six inch notebook flanked by a Senator 47, a Pilot Custom and a big old purple Lamy AL-Star.
Parker 45s by a six inch notebook flanked by a Senator 47, a Pilot Custom black stripe and a big old purple Lamy AL-Star.

I haven’t gone into the usual detail because these are “vintage” pens that you cannot buy new—unless as new old stock (NOS)—and eBay buys and their descriptions vary in quality. Cartridge pens are usually a safer bet than piston or lever-fill pens which can need skilled maintenance, and replacement nibs can be found since this pen was common until a few years ago. If you can find a Parker 45 from a well-rated dealer then you can probably go for it. They are nice, reliable pens.

Parker 45s on a Clairefontaine Crok'Book

Music for this review: ‘Ms. 45’ by L7 and ‘My .45’ by Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs.

 

W H Smith calligraphy pen

Another random pairing: a 20th century pen made by the British company Platignum for the stationers W. H. Smith, paired with modern Pilot Kon-Peki ink. plastic tube WHS.JPGAn unprepossessing plastic tube you might suppose, but inside is not only a converter but a broad italic nib that looks like a new Lamy nib, and it writes just as well. W. H. Smith Calligraphy Pen with broad italic nib

The pen probably only cost me a few quid about thirty-five years ago. WHS were certainly using the cube logo around 1980.superficial lyrics WHS Calligraphy Pen(Remember these lyrics?) The Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-Peki ink looks good here on Rhodia dotPad 80 gsm paper with some shading and red sheen.

W. H. Smith Calligraphy Pen with broad nib

Like the Lamy italic nibs, there is no tipping material but it writes smoothly. The Lamy leaves a crisper, more square, edge.

W. H. Smith Calligraphy Pen with broad nib

These photos show a lot of defects from the plastic moulding process. This is not a high quality pen but it writes perfectly well. Weight with converter: 14 g.

writing about WHSmithI wrote this to show that I can write quite small characters with the italic nib.

W. H. Smith pen made by Platignum, England

The nib is marked “Platignum England — Italic — Broad”

Kon-Peki Writing sample on Tomoe River cream paperKon-Peki writing sample on Tomoe River cream paper. Red sheen!

W. H. Smith sell calligraphy pens to this day, now stocking the makes Berol, Manuscript, Lamy and Sheaffer. The old model I have is no longer made, however. Platignum is still around.

As I have mentioned, a modern Lamy 1.5 nib fits on most of their cheaper models and will give the same results, or you could spend about £18 and get a Rotring ArtPen. Clearly I’ve kept this old pen because it’s good. The italic nib suits my style of large lettering and makes writing fun!

 

Some ink is not permanent

I’ve been writing up old episodes of The Pen Addict in my Field Notes, using a brown Pilot G-TEC C4, but since a scrap of Whitelines paper got mixed up with the shopping I realize this is not waterproof.Not all ink is permanent.jpeg(These are iOS apps I’m rating for another Twitter account.) So I have switched to using a pigment ink in a drawing pen, the popular Staedtler pigment liner 0.05. This writes a finer line, but needs a lighter touch than the metal needlepoint of the Pilot G-TEC 0.4. At least I’ll be able to read it after any water damage. Swings and roundabouts!

IMG_6100 1.JPGThe Staedtler soon ran dry. Well, I’ve had it for decades. I didn’t have any pigment ink handy so I switched to using a similarly indelible/archival Sakura Pigma Micron, also with a 0.05 tip. The Micron leaves a broader line on the paper and feels slightly softer, so I’m using an even lighter touch than with the Staedtler. This is not conducive to long writing sessions, although writing-up old Pen Addict episodes in Field Notes notebooks is a bit of spare time fun for me.005.jpegSo how to refill the Staedtler? My solution was to use a waterproof fountain pen ink. I could not manage to open the pen at either end. As with most of these pens, the fibre tip is within a metal collar that is mounted on a plastic cylinder that protrudes from inside the barrel. Around the cylinder there is a gap, presumably so air can replace the ink in the (fibrous?) reservoir. Using a syringe, I decanted drops of Noodler’s Green Gator ink down the side of the cylinder. About 1 ml of ink disappeared inside and shows no inclination to come out again, except through the tip which is what I want! So now it writes in green ink!

I think now I should have a look to see if anyone has compared all the 0.05 pens out there. If not, there’s a blog post in the making.

Water damage is not the only problem with notebooks. They can go walkies. A tip from Stephen Hackett via The Pen Addict podcast #11: backup your notebooks. I lost one which had my eBay price notes inside: luckily I had captured  an image of one page while photographing a pen so all was not lost. Scan (or just photograph) each page. If your writing is neat, you could even use Evernote OCR to convert the text to digital form and make it searchable.

Of course, your computer is backed up online and in more than one place so you can never lose that data, right!?

A chart of UK shops online

This is a chart of UK pen shops, designed to help find elusive brands of pens and ink to compare prices or complete your collection. I’ve concentrated on fountain pens (highlighted green) and ink for fountain pens (highlighted blue unless it’s already green).

UK pens and pencils - a guide to online shops.
preview of the chart

Legend: f=fountain pens;  r=rollerballs;  b=ball pens;  d=drawing pens;  p=pencils;  i=ink.

Download as PDF;  CSV.

This is a companion post to my earlier, larger list of UK pen, ink and paper shops! on which you can find links to the web sites. The list also contains brands only available at one outlet—many marques have been moved out of the chart into this list for size reasons.

I’ve probably made a few mistakes, so please let me know of any errors or omissions. I’ll be adding some more sites soon, but I think I’ve covered the larger ones. Good quill hunting!

Asa Stellar Galactic in a Diamine Steel Blue sea

The landing itself was nothing. We touched upon a shelf of rock selected by the automind and left a galaxy of dreams behind. As I emerged from the reverie I saw Piloto 4 slouched among the nav screens: the shifting patterns of space largely replaced by chat windows. I made a note of it in my log.

Note-taking is but one function of the Galactic, one where it excels. When you get over its space-age looks and the resemblance to the much more expensive Franklin-Christoph 02 or 66 Ice, the real utility of this pen starts to shine. At 32 g with ink it is heavy but because of its large size it feels lighter than it is.
Asa Galactic unposted
It comes with a great German nib. In use it is like a trusty needlepoint that gets grabbed when something needs to be scribbled down. I don’t even worry too much about making sure the nib is level before writing. It can handle it! No hard starts. Because of the wide girth of the grip it also reminds me of the old metal-cased marker pens of the 1960s that were similarly reliable.
Asa Galactic stock nib
The pen is gorgeous. On the brushed acrylic cap is a clear polished jewel that catches light. This unscrews to allow replacement of the stiff clip. It would be great if the jewel (a pen term for any shape of material at the end of a pen) focussed on the end of the nib inside, but it doesn’t. The cap also unscrews, a characteristic of more expensive fountain pens.
Asa Galactic uninked
The steel nib is firm, almost hard, with practically no line variation, but very smooth and reliable. The feed is transparent so the end of the nib and the section inside can be seen, both coated with ink. This is an eyedropper pen, designed to be full of ink sloshing around and it looks pretty good with the Steel Blue ink I selected at random. It can take a lot of ink: about 4 ml. The long barrel is also brushed acrylic with a solid, polished, rounded end that looks like glass.
Asa Galactic lens
The barrel unscrews for filling and a small eyedropper (supplied) or syringe will be needed to transfer ink from a bottle. The threads are lightly greased to keep the ink inside.

The Diamine Steel Blue ink behaved well. It flows fine. But it looks green on the page! Definitely the green side of teal. There is not much shading and no sheen.

Asa Stellar Galactic with Zig CocoiroTwo main problems: the pen does burp a little from around the nib. Some ink, just a drop or two, will blob out and transfer to the threads of the cap and the grip section. Mostly this is when the pen is still in my discarded trousers and they are flung around but this doesn’t happen with other pens. It does not look good.

The other problem for some people is going to be the thickness of the grip, exacerbated by a squared-off lip near the nib. I don’t mind the grip, in fact I can use any pen so long as the grip is not slippery, tacky, sharp-edged or brushed aluminium.
Asa Galactic on cafe table
Overall I recommend this pen. The burping could be obviated by storing the pen upright when not wearing it. It’s an ever-ready note taker that also looks great. Picture: Wality 69T / Asa Galactic / Pilot Volex:
Wality 69T / Asa Galactic / Pilot Volex.
I paid £20.33 for mine from AsaPens in India. They say the Galactic is the first of the ASA Stellar series. I chose the stock nib and asked that they test the pen. There is also an option for another (Jowo?) nib instead of the stock nib. The pen was supplied in a handsome black bag with golden drawstrings.
Asa Galactic with Steel Blue ink
Something was wrong: my hands felt clammy. I was holding the pen but it wasn’t ink on my fingers. A clear liquid… it must be the silicone that Asa used to seal their pens, which could only mean – pressure drop! I turned quickly and saw the meteorite hole punched through the ship wall. Nearest to hand was Piloto 4’s spare head which sealed the breach nicely. Calvert opined they might have to give me another medal, but I knew it was the Asa Galactic that deserved the award.