Time for a digitally driven fountain pen nib?

February 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

The principles of the fountain pen have been established and refined over the last 150 years. Put simply, an ink reservoir feeds ink into a delivery tube, through a series of capillary tracts, through to the tip of the nib, where contact with the writing surface causes the ink to be deposited. Although a fairly crude process by comparison to the writing technologies of today, the fountain pen, either because of its idiosyncrasies or in spite of them, remains the most rewarding way to put words onto paper for others to read.

Much has been written about the attributes of different styles of nib fabricated from almost every conceivable type of resistant material but, ultimately, beauty remains in the eye of the beholder. At PenFountain, what is very clear is that the current trend towards one-size-fits-all ‘medium’ nibs is eroding the very market that the fountain pen works for.

When asked for advice about pens with alternative nibs, sizes, and formats, the conversation invariably contains the caveat ‘without spending a fortune…’, to which only one reply is currently available, Lamy.  Regular readers of my blog will be familiar with my faith in Lamy’s interchangeable nib system with its low cost and reliability. However, even with its greatness, the design of the Lamy pen range can be a little too contemporarily radical for what may be described as an inherently conservative market. In an ideal world, perhaps the solution could be to put the Lamy nib system into pens of a slightly more conservative style such as, Waterman. Keep the price below £50 and you could have a commercial winner. While we’re designing the perfect commercial fountain pen, the range could possibly be extended to include some oblique nibs. We have been surprised at the number of fountain pen users requesting italic and oblique nibs and, even with Lamy’s ‘calligraphy’ pen nibs, which are technically italic, the 1.1mm nib does not offer sufficient variation between major and minor line widths and yet the 1.5mm major line width tends to suit people with larger writing. Conversely, the broad italics and obliques from the other major players tend to be neither wide enough and, being predominantly18ct gold, too expensive.

We understand the issues associated with production costs, tooling, and economies of scale but surely in the age of CNC manufacturing it would be possible to develop a digitally controlled tool to create a range of nibs that meet the fullest market requirements without prohibitive cost?

Would this be your ideal solution?  Please let us know.

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.

Is White the New Black?

June 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

In contrast to the ubiquitous black pen, Waterman have recently released a series of white editions of their existing pen ranges.  The Expert Deluxe notionally described as ivory, has been on the market in white with its chisel-patterned, chrome plated cap since the middle of last year.   This has now been joined by  the Carene Contemporary series, now available from stock, which features a deep gloss white lacquer over a brass barrel with gunmetal trim and cap.  The gunmetal finish is based on a silver plating but with subtle black overtones creating quite an impact by introducing just a hint of contrast.  The nib is the tried and tested Carene 18ct gold unit with rhodium over-plating and available in a range of widths and styles (details available on the PenFountain Nib Comparison Chart).  However, the colour of then nib, while sympathetic, does not quite correspond with the gunmetal.

The Waterman Hemisphere 10 series is also available in white with conventional chrome trim, if you have a requirement for something a little more petite.  The excellent writing experience for each of these pens has been well documented on other websites and blogs.

Waterman Carene Contemporary White Fountain Pen

Waterman Carene Contemporary White Fountain Pen

These pens look impressive with their clean crisp colours and contemporary styling and, while the lacquer used on Waterman pens is very durable, in the course of day-to-day use, the barrel may pick-up minute scratches that will not be readily visible on a black or darker coloured pen but, on such a bright white, may be slightly more visible.  We would suggest that a pen case may be a worthwhile consideration as an accessory.

Oh, and another thing about Lamy…

June 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Gold is regarded as the finest metal for fountain pen nibs.  They offer softness, malleability, and even a degree of springiness to mould their way in your personal style of writing.  Arguably therefore, gold is the optimum material for the finest writing experience.  However, its attributes are also its weaknesses. When you knock the pen off the desk the law of Mr. Sod comes into play and it always goes down, nib first, onto a hard floor.

Replacement nib for a Waterman Carene required!

Waterman Carene having experienced the thick end of a lever arch file mechanism!

Gold ain’t cheap!  And under most circumstances, unless you know a highly skilled nib-smith and go without your pen until they can fit it in, it’s a new nib.

At PenFountain.com we have had our share of returned pens under warranty with tines splayed at 30 degrees to each other claiming ‘It’s never been dropped or abused’.  The tines obviously just fell apart on first use!  Sorry folks, it’s a new nib.  Nibs are the most significant component of the pen and therefore, represent an equally significant proportion of the cost of a complete replacement pen making them relatively expensive. To many pen users the risk is enough to put them off using their favourite pen on a regular basis.

Our belief in Lamy pens has been well documented in earlier blogs, with the Studio having been discussed in the blog,  Lamy’s  Gold Standard.  Not only is this a beautiful, contemporary pen with its 14kt gold inlaid nib, it is also practical.  Lamy, unlike other manufacturers, offer a part exchange service on damaged gold nibs.  If you have had the unspeakable happen to your gold nibbed Lamy, we can return it to the factory and have the nib replaced, usually for the price of another manufacturers’ replacement steel nib.  Usually within a couple of weeks you can have your pen returned ready to be Sellotaped to the desk to stop a repeat performance.

Has Google Lost its Democratic Roots?

May 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

At PenFountain.com we can beat the bigger players on price, delivery and service.  Case in point: we offer Waterman and Parker pens with alternative nibs from stock.  Few others do. In the last 6 months there has been a significant increase in the number of  ‘bigger players’ looking to mop up extra turnover by pushing into previously untapped niche markets such as fountain pens.  These high street names have enormous resources to promote their brand and are starting to make in-roads into ‘our’ market. 

Waterman Carene fountain pens with alternative nibs from stock

Waterman Carene fountain pens with alternative nibs from stock

Previously, Google has bent-over backwards to maintain its democratic roots by adjusting the algorithms to balance its search results for benefit of its users.  However, come June, at PenFountain.com we are going to be put under increasing pressure with the demand to include several key pieces of product information including core data, such as barcode EAN numbers required to be included in Google Shopping.  We don’t currently have barcode numbers on our database and it requires significant changes to our website to change the product information database.  The big players have this resource to do this.  We don’t.  So, another avenue to promote our business becomes swamped.  The losers? We are, through reduced business, and you are, through reduced choice in the Google Shopping tool.  We are working towards the required inclusion but it’s a shed load of work.

The Nib of the Issue

May 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

We’ve been doing a bit of a stock check of late at PenFountain.com and have found some interesting numbers – disturbing if you’re an accountant and heart warming if you’re a pen enthusiast!  We have over £3000.00 worth of replacement nibs just for Waterman Carene and Parker Duofold pens.

Waterman Carene fountain pen nibs

Waterman Carene replacement nibs

On reflection, I suppose that’s what makes our offer different.  Although a luxury, we try to keep the slightly less popular nibs in stock such as, stubs and obliques. This works on the theory that we rotate stock with the manufacturers in that we take the stock medium nibs replaced on out-going pens and return them in exchange for the more exotic styles.  Unfortunately, the process is fraught with issues, usually time related.  We send the nibs to the factory in Nantes, Northern France, and particularly at busy times,  it may take a couple of weeks for the replacements to come back.  In the meantime, we have sold nibs or swapped them and find that our stock is out of sync with the incoming stocks!  So we start all over again.

 So, if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, we may be able to help – subject to stock of course.

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.

Agnes B and the new Waterman Hemisphere

February 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

In addition to her couture and cosmetics ranges, French fashion designer, Agnes B has also designed for Seiko and L’Oreal, and is a patron to the French film industry.  With the re-launch of Waterman’s Hemisphere, the company commissioned Agnes to produce a special edition fountain pen and ballpoint pen.  Featuring the sweeping lines of a point d’ironie, a humorous punctuation mark created by 19th century poet Alcanter de Brahm,  produced on a deep black lacquered barrel with complementary blue roundels. The cap and trim offset the black of the barrel with the brightness of their chrome plating. This is a beautiful, ‘special edition’ for the new Waterman Hemisphere pen range. 

Waterman's Agnes B Special Edition Hemisphere

Although the Agnes B uses the new Hemisphere pen as its base, the writing experience has changed from the tried and tested Hemisphere models of the past. It is a millimetre narrower than its predecessor with the revised profile of the barrel, grip, cap and clip emphasising the narrower dimension.  The fountain pen is a couple of millimetres longer, giving the pen the visual appearance of  something a little more sleek.  The actual nib is identical to the earlier pen but the grip and central chrome plated band mean that the nibs are not interchangeable and, because of the revised profile of the grip, the writing experience of the new model is noticeably different.

Waterman Hemisphere comparison

The Agnes B Hemisphere, although no production numbers have been released, we believe that there will only be a limited quantity which, combined with the pen’s premium price, may make this delightful pen a collectors’ piece.  Perhaps a little disappointing is the lack of finer materials being used such as, rhodium plated gold nib and trim. 

At our shop, PenFountain.com in Cranleigh, we were first shown pictures of Agnes b last year and fell in love straight away.  Having seen them ‘in the flesh’ the pictures did them no justice!

Fash-nib-le?

November 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

Occasionally, we are asked for a pen with a hooded nib.  The request is usually based on prior experience, either directly or through the treasured possession of a family member. While there are a few refurbished Parker 51’s around, generally there is little to offer in this style. The nearest fit would probably be the Lamy 2000 but, despite its quality and track record, this tends to be too contemporary for an enquirer despite having been originally designed in the mid-1960’s.

Lamy 2000 Nib

Lamy 2000 nib-nearest to a hooded nib currently available

The question of nibs and fashion is intriguing.  Personally, my experience of hooded nibs was the ubiquitous Osmiroid during my school days.  Like most people, the experience of pens at school clouded opinion of fountain pens as a whole.  It was only later in life that I found the joy of writing with real ink.  The Osmiroid, in my hands at least, was not a positive experience recognising clearly that neither pen nor the user were quite ready for each other.  As a generalisation, the hooded nib was a passing, albeit lengthy, phase.  But why?  Is it fashion? The pens performed admirably, had the required presence and balance, and did not attract any significant price premium and yet are now generally unavailable.

The nearest similarly styled nib is the 18ct gold inlaid type favoured by both Sheaffer and Waterman’s Carene.  These offer a compromise between the hooded number and a full conventional nib.  Sheaffer have been using the inlaid nib in their top-end pens for over 50 years, currently offering it in their Valor and Legacy Heritage models. In both applications they offer a very pleasant writing experience with the nib length imbuing the writing tip with an inherent flexibility rarely found in conventional nibs.  The Sheaffer nib widths and ink flow are both quite generous and, particularly with the various limited editions of the Legacy Heritage, such as the Victorian and 1920’s, the presence of the pen is unquestionable.  The Valor series currently offers one of the most competitive entry-level 18 carat gold nibbed pens in our range. However, under commercial pressures, the disappointment is that the range of nib styles has been restricted to the standard small medium and large.

Sheaffer Legacy Heritage Nib

Sheaffer Legacy Heritage Nib - flexibility is its key

The Waterman Carene’s inlaid nib offers a smooth, comfortable writing experience but has not capitalised on the potential flexibility of the inlaid style nib.  Like almost everything fountain pen, it comes down to personal taste and the Carene is neither better nor worse than the Sheaffer; just different.  Waterman have a policy of offering a comprehensive range of nibs with all of their higher-end pens with the Carene starting with extra fine through to broad, stub, and obliques.

Carene Silver Nib

Waterman Carene Silver plated nib available in a range of styles

The question is that, having lost the once ubiquitous hooded nib, is the inlaid nib likely to go the same way?  I sincerely hope not.  Fashion is a fickle beast but difference surely lies at the very heart of fountain pen usage? As always, we recommend trying the options in our shop, where practical.

Gold or Steel for fountain pen nibs?

September 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

Perceived wisdom is that the best nibs are produced from gold.  The theory is that gold, being a relatively soft metal, ‘moulds’ the profile of its tip to the writer’s style and becomes an intrinsic part of the writing experience.  The style of the nib unit also contributes to the flexibility of the nib while the pen’s overall design and materials will deliver balance and weight. 

However, increasingly, I believe that with modern manufacturing techniques, the arguments in favour of gold as the choice of material for nibs is diminishing.  Steel nibs are increasingly precise in their manufacturing tolerances with finer tynes and, even with limited finishing, an can perform in a similar manner to a brand new gold counterpart.  The wear characteristics will differ between the two materials, assuming that the nibs are used extensively in a set position.  However, for many owners, their pens are only used for an occasional flourished signature or brief note of affection. 

Caran d'Ache Maya gilt fountain with gold plated steel nib

Caran d'Ache Maya gilt fountain with gold plated steel nib

My advice is do use a gold nibbed fountain pen to make your statement but don’t feel you have short-changed yourself if you select a good quality steel nib such as, a Caran d’Ache Ecridor, Cross ATX or Waterman Expert.  Once again, the message must be: Try before you buy.

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