How do you choose your next pen?

January 28, 2012 § 1 Comment

Buying a pen, particularly a fountain pen, can be a very personal experience.  The price, the style, the nib and even the presentation can be a determining factor.  At PenFountain, we are currently experiencing the Rolls Royce for a Mini price scenarios on the retail front.  A £5.00 pen in a velvet lined cardboard veneered case so that it the looks the business (but it’s a lie!).

For fountain pen users, without a doubt there are some fine ‘gems’ to be found below £10  – without the presentation case but, for collectors, these are often the little extras for selection from a pot of pens on the desk.  When it comes to buying the more serious pens, is it hearts vs. heads on price and appearance or is it all in the brand?

We are conducting a short poll – please feel free to complete the poll and comment.

PenFountain enjoys retailing at a new level

December 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Having opened our new concession shop in Beales department store, Worthing, we continue to learn how different the environment is from our previous individual shop.  The concession offers limited space but encourages creative thinking when it comes to finding room for new products.    

PenFountain @ Beales Store Picture
A great range of pens, nibs and inks at PenFountain @ Beales

We have also had the the privilege of being asked to provide a window display in the main shop frontage on South Street.

 PenFountain @ Beales, window South Street, Worthing

 We look forward to seeing our customers from the Worthing area.

CSI Waterman

September 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

The victims were delivered, not in the usual body bags, but in a Jiffy bag.  They were pulled onto the bench for examination.  It was not a pretty sight.  Not 1 but 2 victims, Hemisphere front-end assemblies dismembered in places that there should not even be any joints.  The witness claimed that he had not seen any violence towards these sad examples of fountain pen-dom.  But close examination suggested otherwise. The SOCO identified similar patterns of damage but, using conventional wisdom, the only explanation could be demise by aggression.

Waterman Hemisphere fountain pen

Waterman Hemisphere - unwitting victims

The team looked for further evidence and fortunately, the witness could produce the complete pen from where the cadaverous nibs had come with a pristine nib still in situ.  Further perplexed, as a precaution before elevating the evidence to the specialist forensic laboratory, the SOCO checked for evidence of fluids in the pen.  Yes, there was fluid in the converter – ink, but not as we know it.  The converter was removed and flushed but, he noticed a gnarling on its normally clean, round mouth.

Forensic experience was required here and the evidence was bagged and despatched to the secretive clean rooms found only in the Waterman complex located just to the west of Nantes, in the West of France.  Time passed and a brief phone call requested further information about any inks and cleaning materials used.  The witness was questioned further and, under interrogation, he revealed that he had used an unnamed registrars’ ink and proudly announced that the pen had not seen any solvents, in fact it had never been cleaned-out!

The final piece of the jigsaw was in place.  The acidity of the registrars’ ink having lain in place for some 18 months without disturbance had attacked the nib assembly and converter mouth from within.  The structure of the resins used in the components had failed resulting in fracturing during assembly and use.

This is not a victimless crime but a lesson in the importance of taking precautions when using iron gall registrars’ ink, one of the oldest inks known to man.  Wash it or lose it.

The Diamine Registrars’ ink that we offer, whilst formulated for fountain pens, needs to be treated with respect in terms of its use in pens.  Damage on the scale reviewed here is very unusual and the result of unfamiliarity with the product. At PenFountain.com we advise customers of the requirement for cleanliness, both on the web page and on the ink’s  outer packaging.  However, whilst acidic, Registrars’ Ink does not represent a threat to health and is of a strength similar to that of vinegar or a cola drink.

Lamy Safari Reviewed

August 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Lamy Safari and its success as a school fountain pen is well-known.  But lying behind this success is a combination of design and manufacturing quality together with features that make this an attractive pen from the outset.

From picking the pen up at just 18 grams in working order, the quality of the ABS moulding is immediately noticeable.  The Lamy Safari uses the same polymer that is used in the manufacture of  Lego bricks, offering the same high quality, and durable finish.  Its round-sectioned barrel is finished with facing flat sections and an ink level window.  Whilst the grip, also round in cross-section, has 2 asymmetric flat recesses to accommodate the thumb and forefingers in an ideal position for optimum control.  The stainless steel nib, shared with the Lamy family up to around £80 pens, offers excellent writing characteristics from its range of widths from extra fine through to 1.9mm square-cut italic calligraphy style.  There is also a left-handed nib available.

Filling the Safari is by conventional, proprietary ink cartridges or by optional screw-piston pump ink converter to allow use of bottled inks.  The best thing about the Safari is that it works reliably with a smooth performance which, particularly for the uninitiated, exceeds expectation for a relatively low-budget pen.  The Safari also uses a rubber o-ring as a final seal to its click-on cap contributing to the reliability of its initial ink flow.

Lamy Safari fountain pen with cartridges

Lamy Safari fountain pen with cartridges

The detail adds to the Safari’s difference.  The ability to change the nib with minimal cost and simplicity is well-known, using the Lamy slide-on mounting system.  This offers 2 principle benefits including, replacement of a damaged nib or selection of an alternative nib width or style. The cartridge has a small reserve ink supply in the final constriction at the top of the cartridge where, when you’re down to your last drop, a little flick of the end will release the ink from its designed-in air-lock.

By the way, when you get your first Safari fountain pen, please remove the cardboard spacer from the barrel – it’s only there to prevent premature puncturing of the sealed ink cartridge before use.  You’d be surprised at how many customer have complained at not being able to get their new pens working!

The Lamy Safari is currently on Special Offer at PenFountain.com for £9.95 until 5 September.

Service vs. Tumbleweed

August 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Cranleigh, like many high streets in the current economic gloom, is extremely quiet.  The tumbleweed almost rolls down the road some afternoons.  However, Cranleigh is relatively quiet even when other high streets are heaving with shoppers preparing for a holiday. This is why the retail shop for PenFountain.com is in an ideal position.  With the majority of our sales being online, for those prepared to make the journey, we are able to offer attentive, personal service that buying a quality pen deserves.

PenFountain.com for pens at low prices

PenFountain.com, the shop to look out for!

For those who have discovered the almost therapeutic pleasure derived from pen selection, many have travelled some distance. Recently a couple came over from Woking.  This is not exactly the other end of the country excepting they came by bus requiring a change of route at Guildford just to visit the shop. 2 x buses x 2 and over an hour of travel each way.  They seemed to enjoy their excursion and think it well worthwhile.

What is waiting for those who make the pilgrimage?  A good range of pens, a selection of nibs and paper types, enthusiastic, informed opinion, and advice, with prices parallel to our online offering. Arguably, this offer could not be replicated in a bigger store elsewhere because our personal involvement cannot readily be scaled up to a busier shop. Our service is not just for the high-end pens, either.  In many ways greater satisfaction comes from helping first-time fountain pen users, particularly left-handed ones!

PenFountain.com in the Surrey countryside

Make a day of your visit to PenFountain.com

Once in Cranleigh, we can recommend a selection of excellent refreshment stations and some other interesting independent retail experiences too.  Walkers and cyclists are well catered for with open countryside all round us.  So, why not make a day of your visit to PenFountain.com?

Skipping and irregular inking

June 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Let’s be honest, the fountain pen, although proven technology, is still relatively crude in its operation.  The ink is held in a reservoir and, under gravity, it runs through a tube into a network of fine capillary chambers and, still using capillary action, to the writing tip of the nib where its is distributed across the nib’s contact surface with the paper.  Reliable action is dependent on a lot of quite fine variables which, in the most part, come together and produce that sublime writing experience that we all love.  Occasionally, particularly with a new pen, the experience is not as giving as we would like. This can manifest itself as anything from no ink at all to the occasional, initial skip on a down- or cross-stroke.  They are all equally frustrating at a level only normally found with recalcitrant computers!

On a new pen the first problem can be as simple as an impatient user.  On first fill, the capillaries do take time to fully flood and ensure a reliable ink flow to the nib. However, when using a new nib, once fully inked, another issue causing inconsistent flow can be that during manufacture, the smallest piece of production debris may have found its way into the capillaries and can result in irregular flow.  This can be addressed using a pressurised ink flow such as, pumping ink back and forth using a converter and a bottle of ink, or by filling the feeder-tube end of the nib with a little tepid water and gently blowing the water through the nib.

Caran d'Ache Leman nib - one of the finest made

Caran d'Ache Leman nib, in our opinion, one of the finest made, fully tested before leaving the factory

Clearly there are other factors that can influence ink flow such as ink type and paper surface.  These can be eliminated by substitution, trying alternative products to determine the effect.  The user may also find that their writing style may be part of the cause.  Particularly when using unfamiliar italic or oblique nibs, the angle of contact between nib and paper can be critical, as can the downward pressure.  If irregular inking occurs, try adjusting the relative position of nib to paper and gently increase the downward pressure.

If all else fails, contact the pen’s supplier and discuss your issues.  But, so that you don’t have the hassle of losing your pen a for a few days while it’s returned to the factory, do try the other suggestions first.

At PenFountain.com we are happy to discuss issues with your pens and, where we can, offer remedies.

Wringing out the ink

March 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

For many users, bottled ink is the lifeblood of their fountain pens and getting the best fill for their converter is vitally important.  To this end, there are numerous videos on You Tube of varying qualities (and degrees of condescension!) offering advice on how to get the best results.  In essence, ensure the nib is fully immersed in the ink and fill by gently lifting the plunger, either by screw thread or by slide, dependent on type.  To ensure maximum filling, push the plunger back downwards and upwards a couple of times to express any airlocks.   Hey presto!  A video script.

fountain pen ink, Lamy fountain pen ink, Pelikan Edlestein ink, Waterman fountain pen

Ink bottle design - more than just aesthetics

What is not covered on these videos is that, in addition to the quality of the ink, there are more designs of ink bottle than you can shake a nib at.  Each bottle is designed around a specific brand requirement, some of them even take into account the needs of filling a pen.   However, ink bottle design is not just about aesthetics but about practicality and useability.  Once you have drawn a significant amount of ink from the bottle, covering the nib can become a problem.  But, with a little thought in bottle design, the amount of ink it is possible to draw can vary significantly. Possibly the best design for an ink bottle is Lamy’s with its central well in the base, shown without its plastic support cover, allows the ink  to flow to the point where it is needed.  At the other end of the spectrum ( no name – no price tag)  is the cuboid glass bottle with the little dish that bearly covers a nib when full.

The choice is yours!  

Not sure?  Come to PenFountain.com in Cranleigh and have look for yourself.

Why Platignum is in the Sale

January 27, 2011 § 1 Comment

Platignum is a brand that has been steeped in fountain pens since 1919 until its demise in 1998. Presumably, based on a perceived equity remaining in the brand, Snopake bought the rights to Platignum and launched their new range of pens to the trade in 2007. 

On the surface, the range was well thought-through, with the high-end pens retailing at about £25.00 reducing down to around the £10.00 area for the lower end of the range.  The pens were of a reasonable quality having been sourced in Germany for the more expensive products and the Far East for the lower priced products.  The ballpoints and rollerballs took Platignum branded generic refills in the style of Parker, Sheaffer, and Cross, while the fountain pens accepted a nominal ‘Euro’ style cartridge.

Platignum Fountain pens No1 & No5 in orange

The pens are all manufactured using metal barrels and finished in lacquers with chrome plating, and brushed metals.  The designs range from the more conservative Series 1 and 2 through to some stylish hooded nibbed models in the mid to lower priced units largely matched with corresponding roller/ballpoint formats.

What could go wrong?  Unfortunately, the brand appears, in my opinion, to a victim of insufficient ‘joined-up-thinking’. Initially, all the pens were supplied in a universal clear plastic hang-pack suitable for supermarket display.  This was ideal for the lower priced units but by the time the customer was looking to spend in excess of £20, a higher quality of presentation was required.  While this was addressed with the supply of optional, but relatively low quality, flip cases, the transfer from the retail display packaging was still required.  On launching, there were no Platignum branded cartridges, convertors, or alternative nibs and the split sourcing of the fountain pens resulted in issues relating to the dimensions of the cartridge fit.  Unfortunately, not all ‘Euro standard’ cartridges are produced to the same ‘Euro Standard’ and whilst some fitted, others were less secure and tended to back-off, resulting in leakage in some, but not all of the range.  Recommending third-party produced convertors had the same pitfalls, while the availability of replacement nibs, even on a like-for-like basis, would have been a powerful selling point.  None of these issues is insurmountable and, with a bit of research, at PenFountain.com we recommend the Pelikan cartridges that fit the entire Platignum fountain pen range and have sourced a convertor that works without leakage.  The nibs may still be an issue.

For some reason, the majority of pen manufacturers seem to be of the opinion that it is adequate to produce a new pen or range and the retailer then has responsibility to promote and sell the product.  Platignum was no exception with only minimal promotion in the trade press.  Surely, a pound added to the cost of the pen would have maintained its competitive pricing structure and yet created a budget to allow an advertising campaign to raise the profile of the brand and enhance sales for the entire supply chain. 

Despite its inherent high quality proposition, sadly, we are in the process of discontinuing our stock of Platignum and have reduced the prices accordingly.  If you want a reasonable quality pen at a very competitive price look no further than our Platignum sale.

An evaluation of Elco James fountain pen correspondence papers

November 14, 2010 § 1 Comment

This week we were offered a new range of correspondence papers.  It fell into the category of ‘something we have been look at’ to sit alongside the outstanding G.Lalo Verge de France range.  However, Verge de France is a laid sheet which, whilst ideal for fountain pens in terms of both bleed and show-through, the textured surface is not to everyone’s taste.  New papers are easy enough to find.  The complication is to find surfaces that are fountain pen friendly and offer a full suite of sizes, envelopes and accessories. The Elco James range is a 100gsm, warm white wove sheet that is fountain pen compatible and that meets the criteria being available in A4, A5,  A6 correspondence cards and matching envelopes.  Elco is a Swiss paper brand that has long been a associated with premium papers but, as far as we are aware, the James range is a new addition to their offering.  The packaging design is disappointing in that it looks like it comes from an industrial design studio belying the quality of the product but with the saving grace of a picture of a fountain pen on the front! 

Elco James sample with the Conway Stewart behemoth

Elco James sample with the Conway Stewart behemoth

The Elco James samples were  presented to us and immediately the behemoth was unleashed.  The Conway Stewart Silver Duro.  Its medium oblique nib produces a line width of 1.3mm and delivers Herbin’s Pearle Noir as though it had been applied direct from a bucket.  Its deep wet line will challenge any paper for bleed characteristics and although it’s a temperamental beast, when it works it’s a joy to write with.  Testing the James samples with the Conway Stewart produced an excellent result with the meniscus of the generous ink holding good as the liquid evaporated and dried.  There was no discernable bleed along the paper’s fibres to distort the lettering with spidery ink lines, and even with this weight of ink, little show-through to the reverse of the sheet.  The paper has a surprisingly low bulk and, although the envelopes are produced from the same 100gsm sheet, the tissue lining performs the dual function of luxuriating the appearance and increasing the opacity extremely well.

Elco James - no discernable bleeding

Elco James - no discernable bleeding

Compared with the established Verge de France product, the James range, at 100gsm, is a 20gsm lighter reflected in the price being a shade lower. The presentation of the branding is disappointing but the packaging functional. Unlike the Lalo products, there is a James presentation box which also includes some A5 deckle edged notelets.

Fountain pen inks aren’t all the same

September 11, 2010 § 2 Comments

Fountain pen ink is literally the lifeblood of the pen.  For schoolboys it’s the colour of their fingers from dismantling their pens to find how they work.  For the more mature users, it’s what they spend their time doing, trying to find the colour and quality which most clearly reflects their personality or whim and suits their favoured pen of the week. 

With 2 key components, water and dye, fountain pen inks have changed little since the late 19th Century.  The dye, being water soluble, offers a guaranteed equal dispersion of colour throughout the ink without the risk of the colour component settling back out of the water during periods of inactivity. Historically, in the absence of any other form of written communication, the issue of ink flow versus drying times was of major concern.  However, the modern market is somewhat different with a host of alternative methods of recording the written word, drying times of are of less consequence and focus is more towards colour density and pen reliability, particularly with more limited use for most fountain pens.

Lamy Accent with Diamine Inks

The issue of balancing reliable ink-flow with optimal drying time was addressed in 1928 by George Parker. He introduced a solvent into the formulation of his Quink Ink (quick drying ink) with a view to offering reliable ink flow with quicker drying times without the risk of clogging in the pen.  In older formulations, Quink also offered some degree of water resistance. Although the principles of the formulation remain in today’s Parker Quink, in our opinion, the quality of the ink in terms of its flow and opacity, is not ‘best in class’ and is not compatible with many pen types. Quink remains one of the largest volume selling inks worldwide.

 For ink formulating chemists, an alternative to dyes would be a pigment-based ink. Pigmented inks generally offer stronger, denser colours than the dye based equivalent, particularly with paler colours. However, by its nature, a pigment is a solid in suspension in a liquid.  Fountain pens, working principally by capillary action, are dependent on the free flow of liquids through fine conduits and pigments would offer the probability of obstructing the feed routes by liquid evaporation and deposition of solids.  The inks may also be prone to the settlement of the pigment out of the liquid during periods of inactivity. Pigment inks are generally available for dipping pens used primarily for calligraphy, while Indian Inks use shellac in their formulation for similar applications away from fountain pens

Modern dye-based inks are increasingly influenced by developments from the chemical industry producing reliable, hybrid dye based inks, with some microscopic solids to improve overall colour and drying performance. 

More recently, the fountain pen ink market has seen the proliferation of colour with the likes of Diamine and Pelikan offering over 70 different colours and offering a constantly changing palette.  However, it is not recommended that different colours are mixed to create a ‘personal colour’ because each colour may have a different pH value which may result in fading over time.  For this reason, it is also recommended that pens are flushed between colour changes.  There is also a number of manufacturers’ such as French producer , J.Herbin, offering scented inks.  This technology, whilst fun, does not generally offer a sustainable scent beyond the room in which the romantic correspondence has been composed, probably because of the high cost of the chemical components required to increase the scents’ durability.

 Dye based fountain inks are inherently water-soluble and therefore, can easily be erased, either by accident or in malice. For certain types of legal documents such as marriage certificates, the demand is for a permanent record.  For this application the lead is taken from the earliest times where iron gall ink was used.  Such is iron gall’s tenacity that, through modern analysis, it has been identified that the Dead Sea Scrolls were written in a form of iron gall!  Iron gall ink works by a combination of evaporation of the water carrier and oxidisation of the iron component on contact with air. Initially it forms a steely blue-grey line which becomes waterproof on drying and darkens as the oxidisation occurs.  However, iron gall is not bleach resistant or fully UV resistant.  Iron gall inks such as, Diamine Registrars’ Ink are available for use in fountain pens but it is strongly recommended that the pen is flushed after each use to prevent clogging and acid damage. 

Since the mid-1960s many manufacturers have offered the convenience of cartridges.  Generally offering a similar formulation of ink to bottles, many manufacturers including, Pelikan, Caran d’AcheWaterman, and J.Herbin use a ‘Euro Standard’ cartridge fitting.  However, it should not be taken for granted that all cartridges will fit every pen.  In our experience at PenFountain, there is some variation in design that can be significant enough to result in leakage.  Equally, some manufacturers including Parker, Cross, Lamy and Sheaffer, require their own proprietary cartridges and convertors.

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