Favorite 5: Modern Pens

It’s been a little over six months since I last picked my Favorite 5 modern fountain pens. This time around I decided to impose a new rule – only fountain pens inked since my last favorite five list can be considered. Since I’m fickle with my fountain pens one of the worst things that can happen is I use it so much I get tired of it and move on simply for variety. This rule is what kept the Franklin-Christoph Model 66 from being on this list. It had been inked, on my desk, and used regularly for years. It’s still a fine pen and will be back, but it went on hiatus. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

For the record, a modern pen is anyone 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.

1. Sheaffer Balance Aspen SE

Sheaffer Balance II AspenThis was my favorite six months ago and remains my favorite today. It’s been inked constantly for the last six months, getting an immediate refill when it went dry. The nib was tuned by Mike Masuyama which certainly helps it hold the #1 position. It’s a medium nib, which isn’t my typical point of choice, but it’s on the fine side of medium which makes it great for all but my smallest writing. Review

2. Pilot Custom 823

Pilot Custom 823 not postedThe Pilot Custom 823 has the classic cigar shape that I love. It moved up from the fourth to the second position on the strength of the nib. I love the fine nib on this pen. I’m not a flex nib person but this nib has a nice spring which enhances the writing experience. It’s a large pen but light and seems custom designed for my hand. Add its large ink capacity and it defines a perfect pen for me. Here’s my review.

3. Pelikan Souverän M805 Stresemann Anthracite

Pelikan Souverän M805 Stresemann Anthracite capped on mirrorA new pen for me and the newest to make this list. Part of the reason it’s here is because of that new pen glow. It’s extra fine nib is almost what keeps it off the list. The nib is a little wetter/wider than I want in an extra fine nib, much wetter and as wide as the Sheaffer Aspen. If I had to pick one, this would be the fountain pen most likely to be missing from my next fav 5 list. We’ll have to see how much that new pen glow contributes to its place on the list. No review yet but I did write my initial thoughts here and here.

#4 KarasKustoms Ink

Gold fountain pen Ink with copper section

Another relatively new fountain pen for me. I didn’t have any the last time I published this list. Now I have several of them. These are excellent pens, and an excellent size for me, but they make this list because of the variety of choices. As I said, I’m fickle. These let me change up barrel colors, gripping section materials and nib sizes. I admit, if I had one of these pens it probably wouldn’t be on the list although it would be frequently used.

#5 Edison Huron Grande

Edison Huron Grande Extra Fine Nib and R&K Blau-Schwarz LE inkThis big, bright fountain pen is new to my favorite 5 list. It has an extra fine nib and I use it as a eye dropper filler so it lasts a long time. This replaced my F-C Model 66 as my desk pen for several months. It was my first, and remains my only, custom pen. No review yet but my initial impressions are here and I wrote about it with one of my favorite inks here.

Wrapping Up

I’m sure this list will be different in six months, but for now these are solidly in the top five. Pens that I have inked get an immediate bump in my opinion so it’s no surprise that the first three pens on the list are currently in my rotation.

In addition to the previously mentioned F-C Model 66 I also dropped the Vanishing Point Maplewood and the Lamy 2000 from the list even though they were used, and enjoyed, in the last six months. I look forward to inking them up again, but I wasn’t wishing for a pen to go dry so I could ink one of them up. I don’t have an KarasKustoms Ink in the rotation (well, a Ink rollerball is in my bag) but I am looking forward to inking one up as I do the Huron Grande since I do miss them.


Sunday Notes and Links

Parker Vacumatic Maxima with Montblanc Bordeaux inkThis week’s favorite fountain pen and ink combination was my vintage Parker Vacumatic Maxima (c.1942) with Montblanc Bordeaux ink. The pen will get mentioned in another post later in the week.

Some links of interest…

Will Write for Fude – Peaceable Writer // Not the first time I’ve read about these pens, but this time I checked Amazon and at less than $10 I clicked the buy button.

Inks That Cause Problems Including Negative Opinions – An Inkophile’s Blog // That recent tweet, assuming I’m thinking of the same one, through me for a loop to since I was surprised a whole brand was damned. It’s the type of statement I tend to ignore, no matter who makes them. Good guidelines in the article.

Cross Aventura Fountain Pen – M Nib — The Clicky Post // Any fountain pen shat shows up on a shelf in Staples gets my attention.

Field Notes Color Comparison: Yellow — Three Staples // A lot of yellow.

nanami paper seven seas standard – ink between the teeth // I have a couple of these although they changed slightly since I got mine. After the original I picked up a couple “seconds” at a discounted price.

Pen Review: Think Pens Gatsby – The Pen Habit // I like the look of this pen.

Platinum Preppy (Old Version) Fountain Pen Review – Pens! Paper! Pencils!

Pilot Custom 823 Soft Medium Fountain Pen Review (video) – Hey there! SBREBrown // While it’s a different nib, I really like my Pilot Custom 823

75th Anniversary – Crónicas Estilográficas // Speaking of Pilot, a little history.

Pen Talk #1 – Etsy shop, what’s in my bag, and buying a second pen — The Purl Bug // Andi, aka FP Physicist, has a new site. She’s double posting fountain pen related posts for awhile but be sure to check out the new site. Good advice if you’re looking for your second fountain pen. Not that I followed it.

Check out all of this week’s links at Fountain Pen Links. If you’re looking for information about a specific pen or ink be sure to visit Pennquod.

Currently Inked – May 1, 2015

I had been up to a dozen pens inked at one time during the month but I’m back down to eight, which is the same number I started April with, although some inks and pens have changed. Only four pen & ink combos remain from April 1st. I was itching to ink up a couple more as the month began but I’ve resisted so far although that was made easier since I like the mix that is currently inked.

As usual the writing samples are in the same order as they appear in the photos. Except for the Esterbrook Dip-Less which isn’t shown in the tray. You can follow the link for that one in order to see photos of it. The writing samples are on Tomoe River Cream paper.

Currently Inked capped - May 2015Currently Inked uncapped - May 2015 Currently Inked writing samples - May 2015Esterbrook Dip-Less (#7550)Montblanc Corn Poppy Red // Pelikan Souverän M805 Streseman Anthracite (extra fine)R&K Blau-Schwarz LE // Parker Vacumatic Maxima c.1942 (fine)Montblanc Bordeaux // Pilot Custom 823 (fine) – Pilot Blue-Black // Namisu Nexus Minimal (fine) – Pelikan Edelstein Sapphire cartridge // Sheaffer Snorkel (extra fine) – Waterman Red // Platinum Plaisir (fine) – R & K Alt-Goldrün // Sheaffer Balance Aspen (medium) – Montblanc Permanent Grey

Ink and Pen Notes: Esterbrook J with #8440 nib and Pelikan Blue-Black

Esterbrook #8440 Superfine nib and Pelikan Blue-BlackThe Esterbrook #8440 Calligraphy nib is my thinnest Esterbrook nib and one of my thinnest nibs overall. It puts down a very thin line. Because of this it needs a ink with a solid color.  For some reason Pelikan Blue-Black is one of their 4001 series inks and isn’t available in the U.S. and I ordered mine from Cult Pens sometime last year.

Pelikan Blue-Black is a fairly dry writing ink which is to my preference but I was concerned since the #8440 nib is so thin, but it performed admirably.

I inked the pen up back on February 2nd so it took me awhile to run through the ink but I did finally write it dry. This nib is so thin, and also the most expensive Esterbrook nib that I have, so I find myself being a bit timid when it comes to using this nib. I pick it primarily for note taking and marking up document, not for longer writing sessions. I also avoid using the nib on course or fibrous paper. It’s especially nice on Tomoe River and Rhodia paper. I tend to concentrate more on my writing with this pen, which isn’t a bad thing, so that I don’t damage the pen.

I immediately refilled the Esterbrook J with Pelikan Blue-Black ink since it fills a nice spot in my writing arsenal, even though ink doesn’t flow through it as fast as some of my other fountain pens. [Update May 3, 2014] In this case I must have been careless filling it up and it was written dry by the weekend. This time I flushed and cleaned it out.

Sunday Notes and Links

Esterbrook #8440 Superfine nib and Pelikan Blue-BlackThis week’s favorite fountain pen and ink combination this week was my Esterbrook J with a #8440 Cartography nib and Pelikan Blue-Black ink. I wrote the pen dry and immediately re-inked it. It’s not a nib I can use all day but I like the ultra thin line it puts down.

Some links of interest…

My Experience With a Counterfeit Lamy Safari — the desk of lori // I was surprised to read the relatively inexpensive Lamy Safari is the subject of a fairly elaborate counterfeit. It’s not just expensive pens.

Pelikan Fount India Black Fountain Pen Drawing Ink Review – THE UNROYAL WARRANT // I don’t usually include ink links these days, but I’d never heard of this ink before. I don’t think I’ll be trying it but it is interesting.

Mandarin Yellow – Crónicas Estilográficas

I Know It’s Over, Still I Cling… — The Pen Addict // The Atlanta Pen show included a Pen Addict gathering which includes a lot of bloggers, so there was a lot written about it. Rather than link to them all I’ll send you to the epicenter for all the links.

Notebook Bankruptcy — Bruce Layman // I share a similar problem.

Ranga Hand Made Ebonite Pens – The Frugal Fountain Pen

Karas Kustoms INK Review — Pens and Planes! //Nice to know my opinion of these pens is shared.

Sailor Young Profit Fountain Pen – M Nib – Black with Silver Trim — The Clicky Post

Edison Beaumont Stealth 2013 Limited Edition – mycoffeepot.org

Check out all of this week’s links at Fountain Pen Links. If you’re looking for information about a specific pen or ink be sure to visit Pennquod.

Ink and Pen Notes: Sheaffer VFM with Diamine Prussian Blue

Sheaffer VFM with Diamine Prussian Blue cartridgesI just reviewed the Sheaffer VFM so this is going to be short. I inked the Sheaffer VFM up back on February 26th. I didn’t write it dry. Instead I pulled the cartridge once the review was done. It wasn’t a bad pen & ink combination, but I was always reaching past it to pick up another pen. As I mention in the review, the nib is wider than I want for taking notes and the pen is thinner than I can comfortably use for longer writing sessions.

The Diamine Prussian Blue ink flowed well from the cartridge, I didn’t have any hard starts. There was some minor skipping at times but never enough to be annoying. The nib was ready to use even after being stored nib up for a couple of days.

I never intended for these ink & pen notes to coincide with a review but I’m a completest and I can’t bring myself to skip writing this up. After all, how else will I count how many pens I ink up this year? So these photos are the same ones that appeared in the review. Not much new here.

Review: Sheaffer VFM

Sheaffer VFM with capThe Sheaffer VFM is a strange bird. It’s the only fountain pen in the Sheaffer line that doesn’t take Sheaffer’s proprietary cartridges. It uses standard short international cartridges, and only short international cartridges. It’s too narrow for a standard converter or a long cartridge. (It might take the small Kaweco or Monteverde converters but I haven’t tried them.) Sheaffer says VFM means “Vibrant, Fun and Modern.”

The VFM is Sheaffer’s entry level fountain pen, selling for about $17 these days. I bought mine when they were a buck cheaper.

Why I Got It

I already had an order going and I decided to add a cheap modern Sheaffer to see what they were like. I’d grown to love vintage Sheaffers but I like modern Sheaffers less. My youngest Sheaffer was 10 years old. I actually got this before the Sheaffer 300 I have already reviewed.

I picked the Maximum Orange finish, expecting to get a nice bright pen.

What I Got

As I mentioned, a strange pen that takes only short international cartridges. There’s no room to carry a spare cartridge either. The pen arrived in a box with two cartridges, one black and one blue. The barrel is too narrow for Sheaffers proprietary cartridges. Usually short cartridge only pens are pocket pens and too short for anything longer. This barrel is long enough for a cartridge or converter but quickly tapers and is too narrow for anything longer.

The pen is already on the thin side, even at its widest point, to begin with so it doesn’t take much to make it too thin. The metal barrel makes this unsuitable for use as an eyedropper filler.

The orange color was more subdued than I expected, especially since it was called “Maximum Orange”. In my opinion it doesn’t live up to either “V” for vibrant or “Maximum”. It also looks like it has some texture that would help in gripping, but it doesn’t. It’s not a slippery fountain pen per se, but if your hands sweat in the summer it will be slippery.

The nib is a medium stainless steel nib that has a plain design. “Sheaffer” is engraved into the nib along with an “M” for medium, but it’s a plain engraving that lacks the stylized “S” seen in other Sheaffer nibs. The Sheaffer website lists a fine nib option but I’ve only seen mediums for sale. When I bought mine the medium was the only option, otherwise I’d have picked the fine nib.

Sheaffer is also engraved around the cap band, three times as a matter of fact. So there’s no doubt who made the pen. The trim and nib are all silver which is my preferred trim color. Sheaffer says the trim is nickel plate.

While I threw out the box before I took any pictures it was a pretty nice box, although simple. It wasn’t a blister pack and would have been suitable for wrapping as a gift.

The pen is a slip cap design and the cap does hold securely when the pen is capped. It has a simple chrome that does have the trademark Sheaffer white dot but no other designs or the split clip seen in other recent Sheaffers.

The VFM has a metal body so it does have feel like a solid pen. It’s a simple design which appeals to me although I don’t like the orange finish.

The Numbers

  • Length Capped: 5.4255″ (137.81 mm)
  • Length Uncapped: 4.7545″ (120.76 mm)
  • Length Posted: 6.0240″ (153 mm)
  • Section Length: 0.9065″ (23.02 mm)
  • Section Diameter (near nib): 0.2970″ (7.54 mm)
  • Section Diameter (below barrel): 0.3705″ (9.40 mm)
  • Section Diameter (mid-section): 0.3380″ (8.58 mm)
  • Cap Diameter: 0.4570″ (11.61 mm)
  • Barrel Diameter (widest near cap): 0.4570″ (11.61 mm)
  • Weight (with ink cartridge): 20 g
  • Weight (body only – with ink cartridge): 20 g

Writing With The Pen

This is the type of pen which probably wouldn’t be cleaned first by most users since it’s an entry level pen. So, while I did have the pen for over a year before inking it up, I popped in a cartridge without flushing it out. The Sheaffer supplied cartridges had been separated from the pen so I picked a Diamine Prussian Blue cartridge as the first ink for this pen. The ink took about 5 minutes to reach the tip of the nib, using just gravity and capillary action.

I don’t typically post my pens so take this for what it’s worth. When I first posted the cap I thought it was secure, thanks to friction. But I did write with it a bit when posted and it’s really not all that secure. It doesn’t wobble when writing but if the cap is bumped, even lightly, it does come loose. Some ink from inside the cap transferred to the barrel when posted. The pen remains well balanced when posted.

The pen is just barely long enough for me to use it unposted which is my preference and how I used this pen.

The Sheaffer VFM is thin and light which means it’s not a pen I can write with for any length of time. I tend to grip pens like this much too tightly and get fatigued or even cramps after writing about 10 minutes. This isn’t really a criticism of the design, the pen is what it is and would be perfectly suited for others. It was expected, and one reason it took me so long to ink up the pen.

I did have a couple of skips with the pen but not enough to be annoying. It was usually after a minute or two pause right after writing quickly. It’s not the smoothest steel nib but I didn’t expect it to be. It’s comparable to my Pilot Metropolitan although the Metropolitan may have a very slight edge. But they’re both inexpensive pens and the difference was so minor that a different two pens could have their positions reversed due to manufacturing differences.

I prefer extra fine nibs, especially thinner Japanese extra fines, but I didn’t find this nib too wide for me. Unfortunately the nib is a size I prefer for longer writing sessions, when I don’t need to write small, but the pen is a size I can’t use for long writing sessions. So it’s taking awhile to run through the cartridge of ink and I’ve yet to write it dry. I ended up pulling the cartridge early so I could include cleaning the pen in this review. I decided not to put it back.

Inks Used

Diamine Prussian Blue, in a cartridge, is the only ink I’ve used in this pen. Performance was good and it was easy to clean from the pen. See the next session about cleaning.

Cleaning the Pen

The pen does not come with a converter so flushing the pen could be difficult if this is your first pen. Although if this is your only fountain pen you may not be putting it on the shelf very often. So cleaning the nib under the faucet may be enough. If you have a bulb syringe or a international converter from another pen then it is easy to clean.

I used a bulb syringe and the feed was ink free with just a couple flushes.

Wrapping Up

I have more positive feelings about this pen than negative even though this pen isn’t for me (too thin and light) but if you like this size pen then that’s not a problem. The Pilot Metropolitan is usually considered the gold standard for entry level fountain pens and unless you like the look of the Sheaffer VFM more than the Metropolitan I can’t come up with a reason the pick the VFM over the Pilot. The Pilot uses a proprietary filling system but will take a converter. (The European version, called the MR, takes short international cartridges, making this moot.)

This is my second modern (meaning currently available new) Sheaffer and both performed well out of the box. I don’t think of Sheaffer as being to deliver a consistently good nib for their pens but my experience, although limited, is making me reconsider. Still, I can’t bring myself to recommend Sheaffer over Pilot as a first fountain pen.

I’m not convinced that cartridge only is a big negative in an entry level fountain pen but unfortunately for Sheaffer, this may be their entry level pen, but it’s priced to compete with more versatile fountain pens and those manufacturers have even less expensive offerings with very nice nibs but the same limited versatility. Most pens at the VFM price point seem to be converter capable, except for the ones designed as compact pocket pens. The Sheaffer VFM is long enough for a converter, just not wide enough.

The Sheaffer VFM is not a keeper for me. It’s not a bad pen, but just not for me.

Additional Reading

YouTube – SBREBrown

YouTube – Fountain Pen Shootout #39: Sheaffer VFM vs. Pilot Metropolitan – SBREBrown

The Fountain Pen Network