Gift Guides

Ugly Sweater Retro 51 and Field Notes Workshop Companion GardeningI’m not a huge fan of holiday gift guides. On he other hand they do provide fodder for blogs that have been silent more often than they should.

The Pen Addict Podcast had their gift guide episode which I enjoyed a lot.

I think it was Ana (from The Well Appointed Desk) who mentioned splitting up a Field Notes package as a gift. I don’t know many people who would appreciate a Field Notes subscription or even a three pack, but last year I split apart a Workshop Companion Edition and gave individual books to people who would appreciate the theme.

While not a fountain pen, I agree with the recommendation of a Retro 51 as a introduction to nice pens. You can find many of the regular Retro 51 Tornados in many office and stationery stores. Goldspot Pens has a Coffee Themed Retro 51 for the coffee fanatic on your list. This is a Goldspot exclusive, but not a limited edition. Unfortunately it may not arrive before Christmas, Anderson Pens has a TeraByte Tornado for the computer geek on your list. This year’s holiday Retro 51 doesn’t do much for me but others on your list may like it and it’s probably more appropriate for year round use than the last year’s ugly sweater holiday pen (pictured above). This is a limited edition but with a relatively large run of 1,225 pens.

They also mentioned Dudek Modern Goods which I whole heartily endorse. I have several of his pen holders and wouldn’t hesitate to give one to anyone on my list that needs pen storage. Since they are hand made they aren’t a last minute gift and the website gives December 1st as the last order date to be sure of Christmas delivery.

Brad mentioned Keep Fresh, Stay Rad postcards from Princeton Architectural Press. I already bought a box, but for me not a gift. (Self gifting?) Unfortunately I already but some Connecticut themed (my home state) postcards and will run through those before I get to the these.

I don’t propose giving a fountain pen to a non-fountain pen user just because you like them and hope they will. But if you know someone that is interested in a good fountain pen, Ana matched up the Pilot Retro Pop Metropolitan with inks. She also recommends a matching Rhodiarama notebook. I think the Pilot Metropolitan is a great gift or first pen since the quality is high. I would add a recommendation to get a box of Pilot ink cartridges in case the person may not want to fiddle with bottled ink all the time or don’t want to use the colored ink. Unfortunately they are proprietary cartridges.

I often see a Lamy Safari recommended as a gift. I wouldn’t recommend it as a first fountain pen since some people don’t like the grip, plus I’ve found the nibs to be inconsistent.

Ed Jelley has published his gift guide which I would consider more traditional and, unlike the Pen Addict list, targeted to fountain pen users as the recipient.

If you’re into giving matched sets, Goulet Pens has put together 10 of them, each with a theme and a discount for the package.

Here in the U.S. the holiday shopping season kicks off in full force with tomorrows Thanksgiving holiday. I’ll be sitting home enjoying my fountain pens, rather than fighting the crowds. But if you’ll be shopping the Pen Addict, Well-Appointed Desk, Ed Jelley and Goulet Pens have good lists to get you going.

Giveaway Reminder & Happy Thanksgiving

Current giveaway entriesThere’s less than a week left to get your giveaway entry in. It’s probably too late (but maybe not) for those outside the US to get their entry in by Monday, but there’s still time for those in the US. I’ve received 27 entries so far, seven of them from outside the US.

I’ve been bad and have yet to rad any of the entries but plan to do so in the next few days. I also got some postcards and plan to send a reply back to you all. Postcards are small, but it’s more than I usually do and hopefully it’ll be a stepping stone to full blown letters.

To those of you in the US (or anywhere else that celebrates it) – Happy Thanksgiving!

Favorite 5: Modern Fountain Pens

It’s been over 6 months so it’s time for me to update my Favorite 5 lists, starting with my Favorite 5 Modern Fountain Pens. The rules are the same as when I lasted updated the favorite 5 modern pens list in May. First, the fountain pen has to have been used since the last list update. Second, to be a modern fountain pen it has to have been manufactured after I was born. So in my accumulation that puts the Sheaffer PFM I’s in the transition period and I classify those as vintage since they were probably manufactured before I was born. One of them could have been used to sign my birth certificate, none of the ones listed here could have.

I dropped two pens from May’s list. None of my KarasKustoms Inks have been used since May, so they’re off the list. This surprised me but it was undeniable. The Pelikan M805 Stresemann also left the list and this was a tough decision as it’s been continuously inked since I got it. My recent ink notes cover the reasons why. In short –  I just can’t get past the width of the nib. I go back and forth about getting it ground to either a truer extra fine or even a left oblique. I’m now leaning towards getting it ground and if I did it would probably return to the list.

This is a strictly personal list, I’m not claiming these are the best modern fountain pens, but they are my favorite. On to the pens…

1. Sheaffer Balance Aspen SE

Sheaffer Balance Aspen LE medium nib with Montblanc Permanent Grey ink bottleThe Sheaffer Balance Aspen enters its second year as my favorite fountain pen. It’s gorgeous and has a terrific nib. (I did have to have a problematic feed fixed by Mike Masuyama and the nib was tuned at the same time.) Even though it’s officially a medium nib, it’s a very thin medium. Review

2. Pilot Vanishing Point Cherry Bamboo (Left Oblique nib)

Pilot Vanishing Point Cherry Bamboo with medium left oblique nib and Pilot Blue ink (cartridge, not the bottle shown)This is a new addition to my accumulation and debuts as my second favorite modern fountain pen. While the red bamboo isn’t really bamboo (and not called bamboo in some markets) I can get past that because the pen is gorgeous and feels comfortable in my hand. I enjoy the warm feel of the wooden Vanishing Points over the cold metal versions. The left oblique nib is perfectly suited to the grip of the Vanishing Point, at least for me.

The pen has that new pen glow and the nib benefits from being uncommon in my collection (except for some Easterbrook nibs). This helped it make the list but it’s still a solid choice. This Just In article

3. Pilot Custom 823

Pilot Custom 823 not postedThe Pilot Custom 823 dropped a spot but it is a solid member of my Fav 5 list. I like the classic cigar shape which is comfortable in my hand. The rest of the design is just “meh” for me and I am getting tired of it. Even though I like brown I’m not a fan of colored demonstrators or gold trim, which pretty much describes this pen. Yet, when I use the pen I forget all that and just enjoy it. The fine nib is a Japanese (read: thin) fine with some spring to it, making it a soft touch. This provides a nearly perfect writing experience. Review

4. Edison Huron Grande

Edison Huron Grande Extra Fine Nib and R&K Blau-Schwarz LE inkThis is my only custom pen. It’s huge and hold about 5 ml of ink. It’s big and bright with a extra fine nib. It’s too big to be a regular carry, but it’s usually at my desk filled with one of my favorite inks. This Just In article

5. Sailor Pro Gear Regency Stripe

Sailor Pro Gear Regency Stripe extra fine with R&K Blau-Schwarz LEAnother new fountain pen that made the list. The Sailor Pro Gear Regency Stripe joined my accumulation back in July. It’s heavier than my first Pro Gear which is a plus in my book. The thin line of the extra fine nib limits the inks I can use since with my aging eyes the ink has to be dark enough for me to see. Even so, I would not change the nib.

The new pen glow helped this pen make the list. I have to admit its hold on the #5 slot is tenuous and it may be replaced by one of the runners up.

Wrapping Up

There were a couple fountain pens that were close runner ups. The Franklin-Christoph Model 20 was a strong contender, especially the one with the stub nib. The Regency Stripe beat it out because while all these are unlinked, I’m most anxious to ink up the Regency Stripe.

I have two more Sheaffer Balance IIs, either of which could have made the list. They are the same as the Aspen except for the acrylic. They all share the thin medium nib that I like.

Every time I compile this list I wonder why I have 150 fountain pens in my accumulation. If I can pick 5 I should be able to get down to a dozen or so. Nah!

Fountain Pen Day

Fountain Pen Day logo

Fountain Pen Day first arrived in 2012 and is the first Friday of November every year. It’s a great time to promote and share the use of fountain pens. For the most complete information you can check the official Fountain Pen Day website.

If you’re in the market for a new fountain pen you’ll find many retailers are have FPD events. You can find a list on the FPD website under Sponsors (scroll to the bottom of the page).

In addition, your favorite pen blogs will have increased activity this week.

If you missed it, I do have a giveaway starting on Fountain Pen Day.

Use those fountain pens today!

Image Credit: The image at the top of the post is the Fountain Pen Day logo and comes from the website.

Fountain Pen Day Giveaway

Sheaffer 300 posted on cloth

[Updated Nov 13th – see item #7 if you don’t have a fountain pen]

Fountain Pen Day is here, at least for those of you in Tongo where each calendar day first arrives. Sounds like a good time for a giveaway. I admit, if I had done this right I’d be picking the winner on Fountain Pen Day, but instead we’ll start on Fountain Pen Day. The giveaway will be open until the end of this month and it will be old school. You’ll have to use one (or more) of your fountain pens.

The winner will receive a Sheaffer 300. I reviewed the pen here and this particular pen was provided for review by Goulet Pens. It’s a terrific pen, but I want to slim down my accumulation and this one can’t compete for my attention with 23 other Sheaffers. I need to part with this pen to prove to myself that I can sell pens that I do really like individually but the reality is I don’t use them. I wrote about this recently. In this case, since this pen was free for review, selling it isn’t an option. So a giveaway will prove the point to me.

To enter:
1. Send a letter or postcard to me. The only requirement is that you must use a fountain pen It must be handwritten or drawn. “Letter” is very generic in this case. The letter can be anything, drawings, poems, a postcard, a standard letter, or a few words on an index card in the envelope, etc… As long as a fountain pen is used and the USPS can deliver it to my PO Box.
2. Send your entries to

Ray Newbery
PO Box 176
East Berlin, CT 06023

3. The giveaway is open internationally, as long as the pen can be shipped there via USPS.
4. The entry must arrive on or before November 30, 2015
5. One entry per person please.
6. Please be sure to include a legible copy of your address in the entry as I will ship the pen to this address. Optionally, include an email address so I can contact you before shipping the pen.
7. [Updated Nov 13th] – I was asked how to enter if you don’t have a fountain pen. So – if you don’t have a fountain pen you can enter by writing a brief note on why you want a fountain pen.

Your address will not be shared or published. I may use your first name and country when announcing the winner or sharing your entry. I may publish or show some entries (although not showing addresses). If you have a public website, Instagram or Twitter account and mention it in the entry I may publish that info, so feel free to promote yourself in your entry. I do intend to share any entries I especially like. If you don’t want any of this info public just mention it and I will respect your request.

I will number each entry and then pick the winning number with What is written and the order received have no affect on your chance of winning. I will post the winner as soon as possible but since each entry must be sorted and numbered I may be delayed a few days, potentially the following weekend.

Optional, but appreciated:

It would be cool if you made a note of the ink and pen you used for the entry. I really wanted to require this but decided not to.

Including an email address will let me notify you if you win and clarify any shipping info (would really be appreciated for none-U.S. addresses so I can be sure they are exactly right). It would also allow me to send you any tracking info. I won’t share the email address or use it for any reason other than this contest.

The fine print

None of this is needed for your entry, but this giveaway has the potential to be complicated and sometimes Internet lawyers come out of the woodwork. So based on past questions and possible future questions…

If your entry doesn’t include enough information for me to send you the pen or contact you (or if the info isn’t legible) I will pick another winner or, at my option, post a copy of the entry and give the winner time to contact me to provide the information.

I intend to pick up the mail from the PO Box on Dec 1st. Should I not get there until a later day, any entries in the box will be valid as long as they are postmarked Nov 30th or earlier. Since I have no way to know when the letter arrived this is the only way that makes sense, but don’t count on me being late, get your entries in the mail.

Should an entry be found to be invalid after a number is assigned the numbers will not be reassigned. If the invalid entry happens to be drawn it will be voided and another number will be chosen.

I can’t/won’t replace any pens lost or delayed in transit. Generally there is tracking while the package is in the USPS system but not any tracking once it leaves the country. Since this is a used pen with no transaction associated with it any insurance payment from USPS would be a pipe dream and shipping will be the lowest cost method available from USPS.

International shipments (I’m in the US) will be declared as gifts although a value (which will be minimal and not the value when the pen was new) must still be listed. If your customs authority disagrees with the declaration you’ll be responsible for any taxes or duties.

It is one entry per person, two fountain pen lovers at the same address may submit separate entries. Each entry must be unique with each person doing their own entry and then sent separately with separate postage. This is easy to abuse but I’d ask you to respect the spirit of one entry per user. If abuse seems blatantly obvious to me I will reject entries. If I’m wrong and you do in fact have a household of 15 fountain pen lovers (as an example) I apologize but there’s no recourse or reconsideration once the winner is picked. My contest, my pen, my rules. My decision which is final.

So get out those fountain pens.

Seeing Red

I’m down to six inked fountain pen, that’s a little low for me but not unprecedented. What shocked me was that when I reached for a pen this morning I didn’t have one “business” ink in the bunch. I had four pens inked with red ink, one with orange and one with green. I’ve never thought of any ink as business or non-business since any ink is appropriate for any situation if I want to use it. Still, the lack of a basic black or blue-black ink for me was a problem. I like to use three colors for note taking, one for the bulk of the writing, usually an black or brown ink, something on the darker side. Then I use a couple other brighter colors, such as red or green, when I want something to stand out or when a topic has changed. Red, green and orange were not really a suitable trio for my note taking since it would make for a lot of bright ink on the page.

So how did I get to see so much red?

  • Montblanc Bordeaux is my favorite ink, I don’t really think of it as a red ink. It’s just an ink I use a lot. So it’s no surprise that it’s in my Pelikan Stresemann. I actually do think of it as a dignified business ink.
  • The Montblanc Corn Poppy Red is in my Esterbrook inkwell. Ironically, picked because I never seemed to have a red pen handy at my desk. Now all I have is red.
  • I’m not sure why I picked red for the Kaweco Brass, but it seemed right at the time.
  • My new Franklin-Christoph Model 20 screamed for red ink as it’s first ink. It’s the one most likely to run dry soon so I’ll have the option to pick a non-red ink for it’s next fill.
  • I hadn’t inked a vintage pen in a long time and the Marine Green Sheaffer Balance Oversize was picked. A vivid green pen needs a vivid green ink.
  • The Akkerman Oranje Boven is a new ink for me. My experience with orange inks is that they aren’t suitable for thin nibs, so when it came time to ink up the left oblique nib again I picked it.

I’ll be inking up a couple new pens as September begins. I won’t flush any of the red ink early, although if I had realized it, I wouldn’t have flushed the Kaweco AL Sport early just because I was cleaning another pen and it was convenient. I do keep track of what ink is in what pen, now I just have to pay attention.

Pens inked on August 28, 2015

Expensive Fountain Pen Buying Strategies

Sailor Professional Gear Regency Stripe

My most recent expensive pen purchase

OK, I admit that the title is a bit ambiguous, so to clarify, this is about how I go about buying expensive fountain pens. I got to thinking about this after a comment was left on my Platinum 3776 review. Prachi had bought a Platinum 3776 which had a scratchy nib, unlike the pen I reviewed. My rather rushed response wasn’t very good, because once a pen is inked up there’s usually little that can be done.

Everybody has their own definition of what an expensive pen is, but some strategies are only options for pens that are of a certain price, so there are some constraints imposed by reality. Overall, nib quality seems to be pretty good these days but there’s always a chance you’ll get a bad nib.

Pens and brands have their own reputation on quality. I’ll assume everyone does some research before buying a pens, especially one that falls into the expensive category. For example, searching Pennequod and reading reviews.

Assuming I have high level of confidence in the quality of the fountain pen I’ll use one of the following buying strategies:

  1. Caution to the Wind – I don’t generally buy my pens by looking for the lowest possible price from any seller and I like to spread out my business across sellers I know and trust. If a pen has a good reputation for a quality nib I’ll often just buy the pen from one of these retailers. I’m most likely to do this for fountain pens $200 or less, which I would easily consider a expensive pen. Even more expensive pens are likely to get purchased using the second or third option. An example of this was the purchase of my Pilot Maplewood Vanishing Point. While over $200 it was a limited edition that I didn’t pre-order so my options were limited. I’ve had excellent experience with Pilot nibs and since this was a special edition I expected it to be even more intensely inspected by Pilot than usual. In this case everything worked out and the nib was very nice. I have to admit, I already had numerous VP nibs so ordered this one with the medium nib which I knew I wouldn’t use very often. So this isn’t complete caution to the wind, but as close as I get.
  2. Plan for a Bad Nib – Sometimes a specific pen has a less than perfect reputation but I still want the pen. In this case I assume I’ll have to pay for some nib work and look for the pen at a price that takes this extra expense and hassle into account. An example is my Lamy 2000. The pen has a bit of a reputation of having rough nibs from the factory. In this case I kept holding off on a purchase until I saw the pen on Amazon for just under $100, a significant discount from the typical price. While the price would typically scare me off as too good to be true, Amazon’s return policy alleviated that fear (Amazon itself was the seller). If it was a scratchy nib I could get it adjusted and still not pay more than the typical price of the pen in the end. If the nib was fine then I’d have saved a bunch of money. In the end the nib needed to be tuned so it was a wash financially. Although I suspect the Mike Masuyama nib is better than any factory nib would have been, so I consider it a good deal. I don’t do this very often since it is still a hassle even if the price is right.
  3. Get it Tuned During the Purchase – Lately this is how I’ve been buying my pens. I order someplace that will check and adjust the nib before sending it to me. Most of my pen purchases this year have been from Classic Fountain Pens where the nibs are checked and tuned before sending. The pens I ordered all have a good out-of-the-box reputation for their nibs. I imagine John Mottishaw would rather sell pens that don’t need much tuning to reduce his costs, so I can’t say this has provided better nibs than if I purchased the pen someplace else. But there’s no monetary cost for this service since the price is typically the same as other authorized sellers for the brand. There is a potential indirect cost. Only pens with a enough margin to make this service profitable can be sold. So don’t expect to find Lamy Safaris or many options under $150. In addition, there’s also the potential for delays while the pens are checked, although I can’t remember ever not having an pen shipped more than a day after I finalized the order. My one pre-order took some time to ship but that could have been because my extra-fine nib (like all extra fines) was delayed by Pelikan and not the volume of pre-orders.

Pelikan Souverän M805 Stresemann Anthracite capped on mirror

I generally don’t return things, pens or anything else, unless it’s clearly broken or not what I ordered. But another option would be to find a retailer with a generous return policy. If there’s obvious problems with the pen you may be able to contact the seller before inking it up. But most nib problems will go unnoticed until the pen is inked which will usually limit return options.

Then there’s always self-service. If it’s a steel nib I’m usually willing to try smoothing it myself. Generally speaking, expensive pens usually have gold nibs. While I’m not afraid of trying to smooth gold nibs because they’re gold, they are usually attached to expensive pens and could be expensive to fix or replace if I screw up. So I’d much rather have them arrive smooth, or have someone experienced work on them.

None of these guarantee a perfect nib although the third option probably has the greatest chance of success. (Well, I guess option two might have the best guarantee since the nibmeister of your choosing will tune the nib.)

What’s your expensive pen buying strategy?