Ink and Pen Notes: Sheaffer Balance Aspen and Montblanc Permanent Grey

Sheaffer Balance Aspen LE medium nib with Montblanc Permanent Grey ink bottle

The Sheaffer Balance Aspen SE tops my favorite 5 fountain pens list. I picked it up for a writing session today and it immediately skipped. No, not a pen problem, it had been written dry. I actually noticed yesterday but had forgotten when I picked up the pen. I wanted to use it so I immediately refilled it with the same Montblanc Permanent Grey ink. Officially it’s called Montblanc Meisterstück 90 Years Permanent Grey ink. I’ve seen the word “anniversary” thrown in there but it’s doesn’t appear on the box or bottle.

The pen’s reputation as being fragile has me keep it in it’s own personal single pen case and I rarely take it out of the house. It’s the only pen that gets such treatment. No doubt my continued use will cause some damage but I can’t bring myself to not use this pen so I’ll settle for putting it off as long as possible.

The ink is also a favorite and I bought a second and third bottle even though this is a more expensive limited edition ink. I was surprised to find that I’ve yet to publish a review of this ink. Short review: I like it a lot.

This pen has had this inked constantly since Sept 27th. I usually don’t go that long between real cleaning, usually flushing every second fill even if the ink stays the same. I was so intent on using the pen today I never even considered that. Plus, the pen has been problem free. The nib was tuned by Mike Masuyama so I’m not surprised to say it has been both hard start and skip free. It’s a Montblanc ink so I’m not overly concerned that it’s been so long between flushes although I did make a mental note to flush it the next time it goes dry.

I wouldn’t have thought a medium nib would stay inked for so long because it’s a favorite instead of staying inked because I don’t use it. But I really love this nib. It’s not a pen I use for notes, marking up documents, or quick writing but when I’m using it for longer writing sessions I don’t want to stop. This usage works well with the ink which isn’t fast drying. The nib is just wide enough to start showing off the saturation and shading of the ink.

Ink Notes: Montblanc Corn Poppy Red

Montblanc Corn Poppy Red bottle

Corn Poppy Red is Montblanc’s latest addition to its regular ink line. I like red inks and I like Montblanc inks so getting a bottle was inevitable. I did manage to hold out for a couple of months since I already had plenty of red inks. But I have a bottle now.

I’ve switched up the way I’m doing this ink notes. I used this ink as a daily writer in one fountain pen, in this case a Sheaffer Crest with an extra fine nib. The rest of the writing samples were do with various Esterbrook nibs in a dip pen.

The color reminds me of Sheaffer red, it’s a nice bright true red color. There’s a little bit of line variation with wetter nibs but its a smooth, solid red in my preferred thin nibs. Wider nibs do provide a little bit of shading. There’s no noticeable feathering and the line stays consistent with the nib width. It’s a wet flowing ink with a good level of saturation.

As for being waterproof – it didn’t wash completely away but it might as well have. It’s not at all waterproof.

Dry times are pretty standard but I did have some problems with accidental smudges on slower drying paper such as Tomoe River and Rhodia. With thin nibs on my typical Doane Paper it was a more reasonable 5 seconds or so and was safely smudge free at 10 seconds. With wetter nibs or anything wider

When I first saw Montblanc Corn Poppy Red I thought of Sheaffer Red which is my current favorite red ink. It’s pretty close.

Wrapping Up

I like Montblanc Corn Poppy Red. It’s a nice vivid red that performs well, but it’s nothing special. I like Sheaffer Red just as much and a bottle is half the price (although the Montblanc bottle holds 20% more ink, it’s still about twice as expensive per ml). I’ll use the bottle, in fact I may refill my Esterbrook Inkwell with it, but when it comes time to buy a new bottle of red ink it will be Sheaffer Red and not Montblanc Corn Poppy Red.

While there’s not a lot of shading, and I think it requires a nib that’s both wet and wide, if that’s your pen and would like to see some variation you may prefer Montblanc Corn Poppy Red.

Additional Reading

INK REVIEW: Montblanc Corn Poppy Red – Pentulant

Seeing Red: Montblanc Corn Poppy Red Compared – FPGeeks

Ink Shot Review: Montblanc LE Corn Poppy Red Ink – Gourmet Pens

This Just In: Nexus Minimal Fountain Pen (Kickstarter)

Nexus Minimal fountain pen with packaging

[Updated Feb 26th – see below]
I received my Kickstarter Nexus Minimal fountain pen today. I pledged at the early bird level (the lowest) and didn’t order any of the accessories, not even a converter. I was concerned about the quality of the project but I did want to support a fountain pen. By “concerned about the quality of the project” I mainly mean that their delivery date (Nov 2014) was far to aggressive considering they wouldn’t get the money until mid-September. Plus, I felt if they were successful and reached their stretch goals (they did) they would have a project that was complicated to complete with so many options.  So while it arrived several months late it wasn’t unexpected or unusual for Kickstarter.
They shipped it with the cartridge in the pen (not loaded, just in the barrel). My cartridge leaked in the pen so I had to clean it out and will let the barrel dry for a couple days so that there isn’t any moisture trapped in there. This isn’t the first pen I received with the cartridge stored in the barrel, but usually the top of the cartridge (the hard part) is near the feed, in other words it’s usually shipped upside down. Maybe the cold affected it (I’ve avoided ordering ink because it’s been so cold for so long) but there weren’t any signs of ice so it may have been punctured when being jostled in transit.
I picked the Matt Black version which doesn’t feel like cold aluminum and has a bit of a soft feel to it. The pen feels nice in my hand although I’ve yet to actually write with it. I like the feel of the material. It feels lighter than I expected although I then weighed it and found it’s 22 grams which is close to their pre-production spec of 24 grams. And I don’t trust my scale enough to say they’re wrong.
They used Bock nibs and the nib is stamped with the Bock name. I usually don’t judge a nib until I write with it, but since I couldn’t write with it yet I took a look with a loupe. The tines are just slightly misaligned. I did see one commenter complain about skipping. I don’t think they did any nib alignments so they’re at the mercy of Bock’s mass production quality control.
With the exchange rate at the time, foreign exchange fees, and shipping this fountain pen was less than $40. For that price this seems like a very nice pen, although I have to qualify that by saying I won’t be inking it up for a couple more days. Unfortunately those of you who picked the Titanium pen are still waiting for them to work out the manufacturing process.
[Feb 26th Update] I inked up the pen today before lunch. It wasn’t problem free but I haven’t heard of anyone else having similar problems and it’s not something that would go unnoticed.
Since the pen shipped with a Diamine ink cartridge, but mine was broken, I wanted to pick a Diamine ink to start with and I had a box of Diamine Prussian Blue ink cartridges. So I popped one in and set the pen nib down to allow the ink to reach the nib. A couple minutes later, when I checked the pen, I found that the cartridge had completely emptied into the cap. It appeared the ink had flowed through the feed, not leaked around the side. I inked another pen with a Diamine Prussian Blue cartridge at the same time. That one didn’t have the same problem and in fact the ink took about 10 minutes to even reach the tip of the nib.
I checked back and I found that this Prussian Blue cartridge did the same thing in another pen, but in that case I blamed the pen and put it aside for review (which I’ve yet to do) because I had just taken it apart for a thorough cleaning. Interestingly, but meaningless, that was a Faber-Castell Basic which this pen reminds me of.
But back on this pen – I unscrewed the nib unit and there wasn’t any trace of ink around the threads, further leading me to figure the ink flowed right through the nib. So with the nib unit still removed I inserted a Pelikan Edelstein Sapphire ink cartridge and waited for the ink to flow. No signs of leaking and the ink took over 5 minutes to reach the nib. It’s been a couple of hours and there’s no sign of ink in the cap, although the pen has only been nib down when I’m writing. It’s either flat on my desk or nib up in my pen stand.
I haven’t  done a lot of writing with the Nexus Minimal fountain pen but my first impression are:
The nib isn’t the smoothest but it is smooth enough. I’ve certainly paid more for a pen with a worse nib. There’s some tooth on courser paper. I haven’t had any skipping on Doane Paper except when I first uncap the pen. The first stroke sometimes skips if it’s a upstroke. This doesn’t happen every time. I have the same hard starts but I also had some skipping on the slicker Rhodia paper (No. 16 Dotpad). This is typically an upstroke when starting a new word and when I was taking notes where I write a bit fast. As I mentioned the tines are slightly misaligned which may contribute to the skipping. In my case, on the upstroke the leading tine is higher than the trailing tine. The tines don’t seem that much out of alignment, but if I used Rhodia or other slick paper most of the time the skipping would be annoying enough for me to align the tines and smooth the nib sooner rather than later. With slower, deliberate writing I have less skips on even Rhodia paper. And I really do need to slow down whenever I expect other people to read my writing. But on Doane the hard starts aren’t frequent enough for me to make changes. At least not yet.
Also, I did not order the converter but a standard sized Schmidt converter fits just fine so no reason why other converters won’t fit. Standard international long cartridges also fit fine, at least the Pelikans I have do.

Ink and Pen Notes: Sheaffer Crest with an Extra Fine Nib and Monthblanc Poppy Red Ink

Sheaffer Crest uncapped on a mirror

I inked up my Nova Red Sheaffer Crest back on January 19th, so it lasted just over a month. It’s extra fine nib uses ink sparingly so this isn’t surprising.
Montblanc Corn Poppy Red is a relatively new ink and this is the first pen I’ve used with the ink. I’ll be reviewing the ink soon and this is the pen I used as my daily writer for the review.
Performance was good. There weren’t any hard starts or skipping problems. The line put down was true the the nib size. Dry time was OK, I did have some careless smudging problems on slicker paper (Rhodia, Tomoe River).
While the pen was almost empty I did flush it out early due to a problem I had. The barrel came loose yesterday and I noticed a little red ink on the threads which is the wrong side of the nib for ink. When I removed the barrel I noticed ink had crept up from the feed opening. It’s a squeeze converter but it was obvious the ink had come from the area of feed opening and not from a hole in the sac. The converter seemed to be securely in place so the cause is still a mystery. It’s a new event for the pen but I’m not willing to blame the ink. At least not yet.

Sheaffer Crest Nova Red with Montblanc Corn Poppy Red leaked around the converter
Oops, a little Corn Poppy Red loose in the barrel

Others have said they had some nib creep with this ink but I didn’t experience any significant nib creep. While there was some ink on the nib the pen did bounce around my computer bag several times. That big spot on the gold section of the nib (in the above photo) came from the pen rolling onto the ink that was on the paper or my fingers since it wasn’t there when I uncapped the pen.
Unfortunately I lost the photos I took of this pen inked up and didn’t notice until I flushed the pen. So no gallery, just the messy converter photo and an older file photo. The review, a day or two away, will have writing samples.

Comments on Fountain Pen Innovation

TWSBI Vac 700 with Montblanc Burgundy Red
TWSBI Vac 700
Sheaffer 300 - uncapped on stand
Franklin-Christoph Model 66

Dr. Deans, on the Fountain Pen Economics site, recently put together a Brand Taxonomy (website has been deleted) to categorize various fountain pen companies based on their competitiveness. He classified the brands based on their “…performance in the competitive environment.” The four categories are: disruptive, innovative, competitive and uncompetitive. The article is worth reading and provides more detail on the categories, but they are pretty self-explanatory. He’s since published an additional article about the disruptive and innovative companies but I wrote the draft of this article before it was published. I’ve added a few comments based on that article but I didn’t rewrite the whole thing. Hopefully this doesn’t make the article too disjointed.

How do my personal favorites fair on the list?

I own more Sheaffers than any other fountain pen brand and it’s a sentimental favorite. Despite this my search for it started at the bottom of the list. Sure enough, it’s in the “uncompetitive” list. Unfortunately I can’t argue that it’s wrongly accused. Only two of my twenty-three Sheaffers were manufactured in the last five years. While I like the Sheaffer 300 it’s only one pen and it’s neither perfect or unique. At best if proves Sheaffer can still make a good pen if they want to. The recent Sheaffers seem to get good (but not great) reviews but the lack of a large number of reviews indicates others are as uninspired by the pens as I am.

Franklin-Christoph is the one brand I consider wrongly classified although I do admit that it’s one of my favorite brands and I own eight of their pens. He puts it in the “competitive” category with a note that it has the potential to move to “innovative.” I’d argue that it’s already innovative. I find their designs subtly unique and they have a recognizable design aesthetic. I do admit the materials aren’t fancy but they work well with the designs. Most (maybe all, I haven’t checked) of their fountain pens come with 20 nib options and their Mike Masuyama nib options are the best value in the business. I’m not aware of any other manufacturer offering so many nib options across their pen line.

They only sell through their website (and a couple pen shows) which probably holds them back. This may be by choice since their Mike Masuyama nib option may not scale well. (They’ve recently done some special editions for individual retailers.)

Edison Pens is in the “Innovative” category. Edison is two companies in one. Their custom pens (the Signature Line) puts them in the “Innovative” category, no argument from me. The available filling systems may be based upon older designs, but they are unique among modern fountain pens.

Their Production Line, sold through retailers, has some nice material and designs. The build quality is excellent. But I’d still put them in the competitive category. I don’t argue that the company isn’t innovative, but I’d like to see that innovation trickle down to the production line. Overall I’d consider Franklin-Christoph as innovative as Edison Pens, much more so when the custom pens are ignored or cost is considered.

Edison Pens, unlike Franklin-Christoph, is active in pen forums and has a community built around their pens. They do group buys every year to make a Signature Line pen available at a lower cost.

I’m not sure what I think about the two “Disruptive” companies: Noodlers and Twsbi. They are certainly disruptive although personally I’m not particularly fond of either companies’ products. Despite this there’s no doubt Twsbi has a loyal following and many people love their pens. Both companies make low cost fountain pens, especially based on the types of pens they provide. Their prices are certainly disruptive.

Both companies also suffer from some quality problems. Noodlers pens have a reputation of needing tweaking to get them to work right (although my own pens have worked fine after flushing the manufacturing residue). Twsbi has redesigned pens to resolve design weaknesses. They make up for this by having terrific customer service.

While Noodlers ink has a bad reputation among some (Bay State Blue?) they’re the only ink manufacturer I know of that makes inks which such a wide range of properties. Maybe it’s just because I noticed Noodlers first, but it didn’t seem like permanent inks were so popular until Noodlers was making them. Is there a manufacturer with so many color options?

The business philosophy between Noodlers and Twsbi couldn’t be more different. Noodlers is very much a one man show. Twsbi involves their community early in the pen design and (I assume) takes their feedback when designing a product.

Edison Huron Grande Extra Fine Nib and R&K Blau-Schwarz LE ink

I don’t know much about Visconti but the other two Innovators (Edison & Nakaya) are both relatively low volume producers. Nakayas are high priced premium hand made pens. Their innovation seems to be having a viable company that makes only high-end pens. They have a narrow focus on Urushi pens. While not as expensive as Nakaya, the innovative Edison Signature Line are hand made premium custom pens.

Like I said, I don’t see the Edison Production Line pens as innovative despite owning two of them. Does this mean innovation can’t scale? Or does the price of innovation in fountain pens mean the cost forces the market to be small? Or is the cost high because the market is small?

How do your favorite pen brands rank on the list? Do you agree with their placement?