Long Term Review: Sheaffer Balance II (x3)

 

Three Balance IIs and some Sheaffer old-stock ink

My first Sheaffer Balance II was the limited edition Aspen. I fell in love, despite some early problems. It joined my accumulation over 5 years ago, and it’s been filled at least 10 times since then. I say “at least” because I’m not consistent in recording when I refill a pen with the same ink. I liked it so much that I added two more Balance IIs within four months, the Jade Green and the Crimson Glow. All three pens have the same 18K gold two-tone Feather Touch nib.

The Aspen was released in 1999, while both the Crimson Glow and the Jade Green were part of the original regular product launch in 1998. There were some earlier limited editions in 1997.

The Aspen was know to have some flow issues when it was new, and mine had those issues when it arrived. It would write for about a page, then stop completely until the feed was primed. I sent it off to Mike Masuyama for adjustment and it’s been perfect since then. The Jade Green and Crimson Glow have both been fine from the start.

Officially, the nibs are all mediums, but they are much closer to a medium/fine. I’ve had western fine nibs that are wider (as was a Pelikan extra fine). I’m not typically a fan of two-tone nibs but I adore these nibs. Their look reminds me of vintage nibs, and there’s a lot of detail in the engraving.

The acrylic used for all three of these pens has a reputation of easily, and spontaneously, cracking. Mine are all in great shape (knock on wood). From what I read, it’s compressed acrylic with a lot of fractures that can cause cracking for no apparent reason. I buy my pens to use, and these are no different. I do handle them carefully. I don’t post the caps, which isn’t a problem since I don’t typically post my pens. I carry and store them in a slotted, cushioned, fully enclosed Visconti case. I never use the clips. I try to avoid my usual habit of fiddling with the cap in my left hand while I write.

The solid color versions of the Balance IIs don’t share the reputation for cracking, but they aren’t nearly as beautiful.

Based simply on the number of pens in my accumulation, Sheaffer is my favorite brand and these are among my favorite Sheaffer. The Aspen topped my favorite pen list in November 2015, although it dropped off a year later since I hadn’t used the pen that entire year. If I was to redo the list today (and it’s long overdue) I would put all three Balance IIs on the list, to share one of the top 5 slots.

I tend to use brown or gray inks in the Aspen. Although a couple other colors have found their way into the pen. Montblanc Permanent Grey is the ink I’ve used the most in this pen. All the inks have worked great. I don’t experiment with this pen, so it only gets ink I already know have good behavior.

A expected, the Crimson Glow often gets red ink, although the most used ink was Sheaffer Peacock Blue, from the days of inkwell bottles and maroon boxes. While I don’t usually like blue inks, I like the idea of using a classic Sheaffer ink in these pens. The turquoise ink has grown on me and the contrast with the red pen is nice.

The Jade Green Balance II has been used exclusively with green inks. Sheaffer Emerald Green is the most used ink while Montblanc Irish Green is the only other ink to be used more than once.

The Aspen is my clear favorite among the three pens. It has been pulled from the pen case and filled far more often than either of the other two.

In difference to their brittle nature, the Sheaffer Balance II fountain pens are not used for note taking, but only when I sit down for the sole purpose of writing. This is to limit the the number of times I uncap and cap the pens. Plus, when taking work notes I can be somewhat absent minded and be a little rougher with the pens, such as laying them on top of the ring binders in a notebook,being a little rough when putting it on my desk, or absently knocking it out of my way. Because of this, they can go a long time without being used. Occasionally I may need to hold the pen nib down to get the ink flowing, or even prime the nib, but they mostly start writing without any hesitation.

The Sheaffer Balance II Aspen, Jade green and Crimson Glow are among my favorite fountain pens. They look great and are terrific writers. What’s not to like? Well, their fragility mainly. It’s what keeps me from using them more. Even though I’m working to trim the accumulation these pens will be staying with me, despite breaking the rule to avoid keeping pens that are similar in every way, except the acrylic.

Links

My Aspen Review

My Jade green and Crimson Glow This Just In post

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Saying Goodbye: Waterman Edson

Waterman Edson on standI sold off three of my Waterman fountain pens last week, including my Waterman Edson which I reviewed here. The Edson was my first “executive” pen, and one of my first expensive fountain pens, along with the Caran d’Ache Ivanhoe that I got about the same time. It’s very gold and very blue. I did use the pen a lot when I first got it, and I considered it worth the price. By the time I started keeping track of my pen & ink usage, 10 years later, my usage was nearly non-existent. I used it once in 2014 and once again in 2018.

The Edson wrote as well as it did when new, but my aesthetics tastes had turned against both gold and blue. Plus, I now had many more options to choose from. The pen is a nice size, and I can use it for long writing sessions without any fatigue. Usability was not a factor in my decision to sell.

The non-aesthetic negatives were relatively minor. The Edson was tedious to clean. It took forever to flush all traces of ink out of the feed. I also had to take extra care when filling the pen with bottled ink. The ink would stain my fingers from the breather hole unless I dripped out a couple drops after the fill, and wiped the breather hole clean of ink. Early on I used cartridges, and this wasn’t a problem.

I kept passing over the pen because I no longer loved the look, so that was the main reason I decided to sell. There’s too much gold. I never really like blue, although the sapphire barrel on this pen has a nice depth to it. Back in 2003, I’m not sure I even knew other colors were available, although only the sapphire and a more expensive limited edition model was being made in 2003.

While I don’t keep track, I think the Waterman Edson is the first pen I bought new, used it, and then sold it for more than I paid (ignoring inflation).

The Waterman Edson is a fountain pen that I enjoyed and used when I got it, but then my tastes changed, and I moved on.

Long Term Review: Kaweco Brass Sport

Kaweco Brass Sport in pen loopThe Kaweco Brass Sport joined my accumulation in July 2015. My first impressions are here. There are numerous editions of the Kaweco Sport, they all have the same design and nibs, the only variation is the material used and the aesthetic design. It’s the one that’s become my “go to” pocket pen, leaving the other Kaweco Sports sitting in a pen case.

In my This Just In post, I mentioned that there was a slight misalignment in the extra fine nib that caused some skipping. I did align the tines which did eliminate the skipping. The pen has been a problem free writer since then. Somewhere along the line I picket up a converter that would fit the Sport, but I never used it. I seemed like way top much trouble for way too little ink, so the pens has been used exclusively with cartridges. I don’t refill cartridges with bottles ink since I basically lazy and find cartridge ink perfectly acceptable.

As the name announces, the pen is made of brass. This makes the Brass Sport is one of the heavier models, certainly the heaviest of any Sport that’s found its way into my hands.

The Brass Sport spent most of its life with me as a pocket pen, although it did spend some time in the pen loop of my Roterfgaden Taschenbegleiter,. The brass complemented the leather perfectly, and it was small enough to stay out of the way. I didn’t spend too much time in this roll. It wasn’t replaced by another pen, it was just easier to carry it in my pocket. Other than that short diversion, the pen is exclusively a pocket carry. It travels in the same pants pocket as my keys, pocket knife, and occasionally some coins. The other side is for my phone, so nothing hard or metal goes in that pocket. The Brass Sport is made for abuse, so the keys don’t damage the pen, they add character and make it unique.

The keys, along with regular use keeps the patina from turning in to outright crud. I did let the pen sit in a pen case for a couple months at the end of which the patina had turned the pen a consistent gray. That was the only time I polished the pen. I used Simchrome to polish the pen.

As a pocket pen, it can go unused for days, or even weeks. It never fails to write immediately when I pull it from my pocket. It’s bouncing around all the time which may help keep the ink at the nib. But, there’s never much ink in the cap. I have had one or two instances of the cap unscrewing from the body when in my pocket. Since the cap is so deep, it stayed on until I pulled the pen out of my pocket, so no ink accidents.

I do occasionally pull the pen out for a more extended writing session. The pen is very comfortable for me when I use it posted. Long writing sessions are never a problem even though the pen is on the heavier side. For shorter notes, I can use the pen unposted. It’s not comfortable, but certainly useable.

As I already mentioned, I use cartridges exclusively Kaweco Sports. Other than the included blue cartridge, I’ve been drawn to using red and black inks with the pen.

The Brass Sport has risen to the top of my Kaweco Sport favorites list. I’m down to three Sports, one of which will be moving on soon. The Raw Aluminum Sport is the only other one I’ll keep. Like the Brass, its looks improve with age an abuse. But, since I rarely need two pocket pens, the Raw Aluminum rarely gets any use (only once since 2015).

The Kaweco Brass Sport was $92 when I got it. It’s not the most expensive Sport, but it’s certainly more than the standard models while having the exact same nibs. I’m happy with the pen and have no regrets.

Saying Goodbye: A Couple Pelikan M620 Cities Series

Pelikan M620 Shanghai and Piazza Novana for saleLast week I sold off two of my Pelikan M620 Cities Series fountain pens. The Pelikan Piazza Navona and Pelikan Shanghai both joined my accumulation in 2005. I was enamored with the designs. It was a time when I wanted to experiment with different nibs, so both cam with broad nibs.

It didn’t take too long for me to realize that broad nibs weren’t for me, no matter how much I liked the look of the pen. At least not for anything more than a brief change of pace.

I really liked the pens so when the 2013 Washington DC Pen Show came around, I brought them with me to have them ground. As I mentioned in my Piazza Navona review a fine nib felt like a waste of tipping material, so I went with a stub. I figured a stub would bring some excitement. I was wrong. While the stubs were nice, and I generally like them, they were still too wide for me to use regularly. The pens were only inked three times each since the pen show. Even when inked, they saw little use. Only the Shanghai has been inked in the last five years, and that was in 2017.

I suppose a grind to a fine or extra fine nib would get the pens more use. While the pens are beautiful, they got a lot more competition for my attention these days. Plus, the history of two bad choices (for me) leaves some bad associations with the pens. The pens are great writers and beautiful, so it was time for them to go to a better home.

I did keep one M620, the Piccadilly Circus. Aesthetically it was my least favorite of the three, but it has a medium nib. Yes, the nibs are easily interchangeable, but I do have an aversion to changing a pens original equipment. Even when that equipment is designed to be swapped.

There’s not much else for me to say. The pens are beautiful and great writers, just not for me. I’m trying to get down to a core group of pens I can use regularly. The lack of use doesn’t give me much to say about them.

Long Term Review: Fisher of Pens Hermes

Fisher of Pens Hermes with R&K Blau-Schwarz LE bottleMy Fisher of Pens Hermes was a 2016 Washington D.C. Pen Show purchase. I wrote about my first impressions here. Fisher of Pens is Carl Fisher’s brand for the custom pens that he makes. In this case, while it’s a custom pen, I bought it off the shelf (actually a table).

It’s the pen color that caught my eye. It was a dark pen that stood out among all the bright green pens on the table. I love the color. The base color is a deep, dark black. An olive green web covers the pen, giving it a vintage look. The celluloid is called vintage web green, which is an appropriate name. An yes, I did say the material is celluloid, making this my only modern celluloid fountain pen.

While the bulk of the pen is celluloid, the finials on each end, along with the section, are black ebonite. I’ve used eight different inks in the pen, one of which made two visits. Early on I had some hard starts and flow issues. Carl did contact me and offered to have the pens sent back for an adjustment. I declined the offer.

Other than flushing out any manufacturing residue, I never believed fountain pens needed to be broken in. If this had been my first fountain pen, I’d probably believe that they did. It’s gotten better and better with continued use.

The problems were never severe, just annoying. Increasing the ink flow is within my capabilities, but I was reluctant to make changes since the pen wrote great most of the time. I like my fountains a bit on the dry side, so I let things go and resisted the urge to tinker and adjust. Now, the Hermes is an enjoyable writer. If it has been unused for a week or more, it may need a little help getting started. That trait is shared by several other of my thin nibs.

This pen highlighted one of my fountain pen quirks. I have this aversion to changing a fountain pen once I get it unless I got it with the intent to make a change.  I can sometimes bring myself to make changes, such as getting a new nib grind or fixing an obvious problem such as consistent skipping due to a misaligned nib. I also like to use a pen for a while before I make any changes, such as a nib grind. That was undoubtedly a factor in my hesitation in making any changes to this pen. The annoyances were more than offset by the writing enjoyment the pen usually provided. I was concerned fixing the annoyances would ruin some of the pleasure of using the pen. My patience was rewarded.

The Hermes is a straight rod, without any taper. The cap screws flush to the body. Thanks to the web pattern, it’s hard to see the seam between the cap and the body. The fit is perfect. It’s a long pen, which means it looks thinner than it actually is. I find thin pens uncomfortable, while this one has plenty of girth for comfort. It’s also a relatively light pen, considering its size. The only metal on the pen is the nib and clip. Since the cap doesn’t post, the clip doesn’t add any weight when writing. I can use the pen for very long writing sessions without my hand getting fatigued.

Since it’s such a long pen, it’s not a pocket carry. The cap requires two full rotations to remove or replace, so the Hermes isn’t suitable for quick notes. I typically.keep the Fisher of Pens Hermes in a two or three pen case. Currently, that’s the Nock Co. Tallulah. My Visconti 3-pen case has been used in the past. The Hermes fits comfortably in the Tallulah, with just enough clearance for the zipper (there’s a protection strip of material between the pen and zipper). It needs to use the middle slot on the Visconti, otherwise the pen will press against the zipper. While I do use it at my desk, it’s mostly used when I’m working somewhere else. This is mainly because it’s in a pen case that stays in my briefcase, so it’s ready when I head out. Once a pen enters the case it’s there until I’m motivated to swap it. It’s a pen I only use when sitting at a desk or table, it’s too unwieldy to use while standing or on the move. So while it may be used infrequently, when i use it, it’s for a more extended writing session.

It’s a fact of life when carrying pens in my briefcase or computer bag, the jostling results in extra ink loose inside the cap. While hardly unique to the Hermes, the Hermes seemed to result in more ink inside the cap than usual. Because the pen is a dry writer, this surprised me.

Inks Used

The inaugural ink for this pen was KWZ Green #2. It was a little dry, even for my taste. Both the pen and the ink were new to me, so I attributed the dryness to manufacturing residue. I filled the pen at the pen show and didn’t clean it first.

After giving the pen a good cleaning, I picked a familiar ink, Montblanc Irish Green for its next fill. It was fine until I let the pen sit for a week, then I had to resort to some water to get the ink flowing again.

Next up was another new to me ink, KWZ IG Green #2, the iron gall version of the first ink. This one performed well, probably helped by the fact that the pen was used nearly every day. Although I did need to prime the feed a couple of times, I never had to find some water.

Waterman Red was used next, breaking the string of greens. After 3 or 4 days the Waterman Red turned a darker red, more like Diamine Ancient Copper. The ink was fine, just darker. I did need to prime the feed if the pen was stored nib up for a few days.

It was time for my favorite ink, so next up was R&K Blau-Schwartz LE. As expected it performed well. No hard starts or skipping.

P.W. Akkerman #28 Hofkwartier Groen was the worst ink in this pen. Nib creep was an issue, and a lot of ink found its way into the cap. The ink & pen performed well, with manageable nib creep, until near the end. Then it became messy with ink working its way to the section. It was also tedious to clean out of the pen. This is the one ink that will never return to this pen.

To recover from the Groen ink, I picked Iroshizuku Shin-Ryoku, a well behaved green ink. This ink performed well and returned to the pen in a few months. Although, I admit its return was more because I forgot it had been in the pen and didn’t check the ink history first.

I used Omas Green between the two Shin-Ryoku fills. The ink performed well except for when the pen sat unused for over a week (maybe closer to two). Again, water was needed to get the ink flowing. Unfortunately, while trying to wet the nib I was clumsy and got the cap slightly wet and dirty, so I decided to clean, flush, and completely dry the pen.

The last ink and the one used to write the draft of this review was Sheaffer Emerald Green, from back in the days of the yellow boxes and inkwell bottle. It’s performed well so far.

Conclusion

In reviewing my older blog posts about this pen, I see I may have been a bit harsh. When I really like a pen (or anything), I have higher expectations, and the negatives stand out to me more. What I didn’t mention enough is how much I enjoy using the Fisher of Pens Hermes, and it brings a smile to my face when I use it.

The Fisher of Pens Hermes has been a finicky pen. It just doesn’t like being ignored. I’ve no doubt that a little tweaking could increase the ink flow, but I’m thrilled with its current performance. I’ve found I like my pens to be drier than what most people prefer. I’m glad I didn’t fix the pen. It’s broken-in quit nicely.