This Just In: Spoke Icon

I’ve always been a fan of the work Brad Dowdy does, and have bought numerous Nock Co. cases and paper products. (Aside: It’s been announced that Nock Co. is winding down regular retail sales.) Spoke Design pens just never caught my fancy. That is until now. I was listening to a recent Pen Addict podcast when I heard the words “British Racing Green” and “Brass”. That got my attention, and I was off to the Spoke Design website.

The pens are machined aluminum, and I’ve always viewed them as too thin and light for my comfort. Although, I never actually looked at the specifications, until now. But now I had an incentive to do some research. I really wanted the Spoke Icon in British Racing Green (BRG), but I didn’t wand to make the same mistake that I made with the Sailor Pro Gear BRG and buy an uncomfortable (for me) pen. I, as the podcast played in the background, I looked up the weights & measurements and compared them to fountain pens I already owned.

The girth of the Icon was just a tad more than the Sailor Pro Gear, although so close as to make the comfort dependent on how the pen sat in my hand. My first choice for the section material (brass) also happened to result in the heaviest pen. I was encouraged that the pen would be heavier than the Sailor Pro Gear Regency Stripe. The Regency Stripe is heavier than the typical Pro Gear since there’s significant metal in the construction, and it’s a Pro Gear I can use for longer writing sessions.

I don’t know what the insert material is. Since it’s not mentioned, and there are no weight difference listed. I assume it’s aluminum. I don’t have the tool to remove the sleeve and I’m not about to try and improvise. I’m hoping it’s not real brass. While I like patina, I don’t think a brass insert would patina well since it’s not touched to give it character.

By the end of the podcast I had ordered a Spoke Icon, in British Racing Green, with a Brass insert, a Grooved Brass Section, and an extra-fine nib. The pen is highly customizable with options for each of these parts. The nibs are Jowo. The weights and measurements for all the options are on the website. I appreciate the simple pricing. All pens are the same price, no matter what options and materials you choose.

I listened to the podcast again after ordering the pen, since I pretty much ignored it once I heard British Racing Green and Brass. I learned that I ordered the same configuration that Brad said he was using. Subliminal messaging? More likely just similar tastes, since I never seriously considered other options.

Arrival and Unboxing

The pen arrived Friday afternoon after a bit of a delay as it did laps between a couple of neighboring states. So my anticipation was high when it finally did arrive.

The pen arrived in a simple, flat(ish) cardboard box, with a surface big enough to hold a shipping label. The pen itself was in a metal tin, while the two blue-black ink cartridges were in a separate plastic bag. Fairly minimal, except for the tin. The Spoke logo was on the tin and printed all over the box. The converter shipped inside the pen and seemed to have a bit of condensation in it. Testing?

Upon arrival, my pen weighed 29.3g according to my scale. This was without ink or a converter, but otherwise configured to write (uncapped). The pen does not post. The weight was encouraging, since I find heavier pens easier to use for long durations.

The Spoke website says the Icon is 4.75″ long when uncapped. The is borderline short for me, but acceptable and felt comfortable when I tried it. The machined aluminum finial, of the Spoke logo is a nice touch.

Overall, a good first impression.

First Ink

I should state up front that I didn’t clean the feed upon arrival, I just removed the converter and popped in the cartridge.

The cartridge is Monteverde ink, and I’m not a fan of it, or any other brand that Yafa manufactures (as opposed to brands they just distribute in the US, like Diplomat). But I didn’t want to waste ink, and I usually don’t know what brand it is anyway, so I kept with my practice of using any included ink cartridge as the first ink.

After over two hours nib down in the Penwell, along with some assistance (squeezing), the ink didn’t appear anywhere near the tip of the nib, So, I removed and tossed the cartridge, along with the unused one, then I gave the pen a quick flush with a bulb syringe. I admit, the flushing may have removed manufacturing residue, but I blame the Monteverde ink.

I popped in the converter and loaded the pen with Waterman Blue-Black ink (from a old bottle prior to the name change). I really wanted to use Montblanc British Racing Green for the first converter fill, but after the previous problem I didn’t want to use an ink with such a limited supply left. The Waterman ink is both inexpensive and flawless in any pen I’ve ever put it in. It was a solid choice to prove that my previous problem wasn’t due to the pen.

I didn’t have any problems filling the pen from the bottle. The section grooves do collect a considerable amount of ink, although it was easy to wipe off. But to avoid needless waste I’ll either fill the converter directly, or use a blunt syringe to fill the converter. Especially when I switch to Montblanc BRG where every drop counts, since I’m on my last bottle. The next fill, which won’t be done through the feed will be a test of how well the ink reaches the nib using gravity.

Writing With The Spoke Icon

Spoke Design Icon, British Racing Green with a grooved brassed section. Uncapped.

The cap requires three full rotation to cap and uncap. This is more than I prefer, although not an overly burdensome problem. If I’m at either my office or home desks, I can use the Penwell and easily soft-cap the pen when I take a break from writing. I do avoid soft-capping the pen when I have to either keep holding it or laying it flat on my desk. Both this situations are accidents waiting to happen (proven by accidents that didn’t wait with other pens).

I have to admit that I was so concerned with weight and girth, that I didn’t notice it was clip-less until it arrived, and rolled when I put it on my desk. The lack of a clip doesn’t bother me too much. The time to uncap the pen already ruins it as a shirt-pocket carry. Even if I had noticed, I wouldn’t have hesitated to order the pen. A clip would be beneficial with some pen cases. The Spoke is on the short side (4.9″ when capped), and can get trapped in some of my deeper pen cases, such as the Penvelope 6 or 13.

Despite having seemingly flat sides, the Spoke Icon rolls easily. An ever so slightly angled surface, or any momentum when putting down the pen will cause it to roll. Once it get going, it wants to keep going.

The writing performance of the pen has been great. There hasn’t been any skipping or hard starts. Well, other than the non-start with the initial cartridge. Ink flow has been consistent.

My concern about the Spoke Icon being too thin and light for my comfort turned out to be unwarranted. I wrote about six 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheets when drafting, and redrafting this article. I didn’t feel a trace of fatigue or cramps in my hand. I didn’t have any subconscious urge to use a death grip on the pen. This meant I could write, rather than worry about my grip.

Wrapping Up

Spoke Design Icon, British Racing Green with a grooved brassed section. Uncapped and on a pen stand.

While I’ve yet to use even the partial converter fill, I’m completely satisfied with the Spoke Icon. I’ve already forgotten about the cartridge problem, which means that performance has been great out of the box.

The Spoke Icon features interchangeable barrels, sections and inserts, providing seemingly endless customizations. While I agree it’s a cool concept, I has no appeal to me. I am fickle, and could change my mind, but the Spoke Icon with a British Racing Green barrel, brass Insert, and brass section is the perfect combination for me. I don’t want to swap anything. I like it just the way it is.

This Just In: Franklin-Christoph Model 02 Intrinsic Gemstone

Franklin Christoph Model 02 fountain pen in Gemstone acrylic
Franklin-Christoph Model 20 Intrinsic Gemstone

The Franklin-Christoph Model 02 Intrinsic, in Gemstone acrylic came to my attention in a recent Franklin-Christoph email blast. I usually either just delete these marketing emails, or save them for when I want to catch up on what’s happening. I happened to open this one soon after it arrived. The photo was gorgeous and immediately caught my attention. I didn’t really read the email, just clicked through to the website and the pen. I knew I liked F-C pens and the Model 02 specifically, so I decided quickly, and didn’t take a day or two to consider it. It’s probably good that I didn’t wait since the pen is now sold out. I don’t pay too much attention to Franklin-Christoph these days, but my impression is that a lot of their pens are short runs of unique acrylics, which may or may not repeat. This is one reason I don’t pay too much attention to them, it’s exhausting trying to keep up.

It’s the green and red in the gemstone material that caught my eye. I’m not a fan of blue. While there are blue specks, it’s the least visible color. Or, my brain reflexively suppresses it. In any case, I wasn’t too concerned about the blue. I ordered the pen late Monday afternoon, and it was in my hands on Friday.

Unboxing and First Impressions

When I unboxed the fountain pen and opened the zipper pouch I was a little disappointed. The gemstone material didn’t “pop” like it did in the photos. I was in very subdued, indirect lighting. Under good photography lighting the material certainly does pop, so there was no misdirection. The acrylic also looks much brighter under my normal desk lighting. I’ve gotten past my initial disappointment and the first impression has worn off.

First Ink

Franklin Christoph Model 02 Gemstone fountain pen with pouch

The Model 02 comes with a pen pouch rather than the traditional clamshell or presentation box. While I probably won’t use the pouch a lot, it’s certainly more practical packaging than a box I’ll never use. It is all in a small cardboard box that provides protection and structure for shipping, so it’s not just the pouch. A converter is provided, along with one blue and one black cartridge.

So I removed the cartridge and flushed out the section with a bulb syringe. I returned the cartridge and left the pen in my Penwell while I cooked, ate, and cleaned up after supper. So, well over an hour. Still no ink could reach paper. The ink cartridge went into the garbage. The pen got another quick flush and I shook out the water into a cloth. Then the converter went on and I filled the pen with Waterman Intense Black. If the pen has any issue with Waterman ink it’s going back.

My disappointment grew as I tried to ink the pen. I like to avoid waste and use the included cartridge as the first ink. I picked the black cartridge as the first ink and popped it into the pen. I tried a couple Franklin-Christoph inks when they first introduced their own ink line, and I didn’t like them. Because of that I almost skipped the cartridges, and I should have. Even though the pen spent several hours nib down in my Penwell, and got some help from me, the ink never reached the business end of the nib.

I was very pleased when the Model 20 wrote perfectly with the first stroke. The extra-fine nib is nice and smooth, with a line that’s true to the nib size. The pen wouldn’t be going back.

Using the Model 20 Intrinsic

Franklin Christoph Model 02 Gemstone in a Penwell Traveller.

The pen can be capped/uncapped in less than one rotation, about 3/4 of a turn. The threads are at the bottom of the section, just above the nib. They are thick threads. At one time F-C called them block threads although I haven’t seen that term recently. They are a bit of a pain when I bottle fill with the converter attached. The ink gets into the threads and needs to be aggressively wiped off with a soft towel. My impression is more ink is wasted than in other pens, since the ink can’t be easily swiped back into the bottle, and the threads collect more ink than a flat section. With a typical section I usually “scrape” it along the bottle top to get some ink back into the bottle. I may be overestimating the lost ink (I’m not about to figure out a way to measure it), and in any case, it’s a small amount.

I still have the original Model 02 (rev 1) which has the traditional higher, and smaller threads. I prefer it’s design over this one, but I can see where the original’s threads would bother some people. The current Model 02 (rev 2) is slightly thicker, which is a point in its favor. Although, I don’t notice a difference when using the pens. Both versions are comfortable. My longest writing session with the new pen has been three 8.25″ x 11.75″ pages, and it was fatigue free. I expect to easily duplicate the 2+ hours sessions I have with the original Model 02.

The Model 02 can be eyedropper filled, although I don’t plan to do that. I don’t need a large capacity these days, and I like changing up my inks.

My only real complaint is the clip. It’s extremely tight. I can’t slip it over any of my pen case material. That’s not a huge issue since the clip fits inside the pen slot, and stays secure. I can slip it over a thin shirt pocket, but it’s a two-handed operation. The tight grip makes it extremely secure.

Franklin-Christoph Model 20 Intrinsic Gemstone

Wrapping Up

Franklin-Christoph says they tune and test the nibs on all the pens they sell. I can believe it. The extra-fine steel nib is a smooth and consistent writer. The Gemstone material, while subdued in indirect lighting, really sparkles when there’s any direct light hitting it. It doesn’t have the depth of my Kanilea Kona Cherry, but it is less than half the price. I can get lost staring into the Kona Cherry. That doesn’t happen with the Gemstone Model 20, but the Gemstone acrylic still makes me smile.

Despite the initial disappointments, I’m extremely happy with the Franklin-Christoph Model 20 Intrinsic with Gemstone material and an extra-fine nib. My Lamy Aion Dark Green has been my daily workhorse for a few weeks. Once the Aion goes dry (very soon) the Model 20 will take over and it will have a chance to show me what it can do. I’m looking forward to it.

Franklin-Christoph Model 20 Intrinsic Gemstone (EF)
Franklin-Christoph Model 20 Intrinsic Gemstone (EF)

This Just In: Lamy Aion Dark Green

Lamy Aion fountain pen

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a This Just In post, and even those last few stretched the meaning of This Just In. It’s time to return to my original intent with these posts, my first impressions within days of a new pens arrival.

The Lamy Aion Dark Green arrived on Monday, I inked it up Tuesday morning, and this post is being written on Thursday evening. Which means, don’t take this as anything resembling a thorough review, or even that my impressions won’t change.

So on to the pen…

The Lamy Aion wasn’t on my radar until I saw the Dark Green, and I immediately wanted it. From the picture it seemed like it could be another thin Lamy pen since there wasn’t anything else in the photo for scale. But the beautiful green color made me do some research.

The Aion reviews that I found were mixed, but seemed weighted on the negative side of the scale. In reading the reviews I found that many of the complaints were actually things I like in a fountain pen. The most common complaint was that the pen was chunky. Merriam-Webster defines chunky as “heavy, solid, and thick or bulky.” I don’t consider those as negative traits, unless taken to an extreme.

The Dark Green is a 2021 special edition, although it’s priced exactly the same as a basic black (or silver) Lamy Aion. Previous special editions are Blue (2019) & Red (2020), both of which can still be found new if you search hard enough. This is a good indicator that I didn’t need to rush the purchase. But I wanted the green, so while I didn’t need to rush, I wasn’t going to dawdle.

The Aion was designed by Jasper Morrison, a British designer of many non-pen products. I was a little concerned that he might do something weird with the design in order to make his mark. While there are design complaints, such as chunky it’s a minimalist, but otherwise valid design.

It was rolling out in the US and several places has it in stock so I could have ordered one, but I did hold off ordering for a bit. Of the retailers I watch, Anderson Pens was the last to list it for sale, which was about the time I decided to buy one. As I mentioned before, it arrived on Monday.

The Lamy Aion arrived in basic packaging and included an ink cartridge, a converter, a marketing/instruction pamphlet and warranty pamphlet. I ordered mine with an extra-fine nib.

Lamy Aion Dark green with packaging

First Inking

Lamy Aion Dark nib comparison
(L->R) Fine-> Lamy Aion extra-fine -> Lamy extra-fine (click for full-size image)

As is my current practice, I popped the included ink cartridge onto the Aion. By the time I grabbed a piece of paper the ink had reached the nib, and was ready to write.

Speaking of the nib; it isn’t the same that’s used in the Safaris, AL-Stars , and other Lamy pens. It will fit the feed of those fountain pens (except the Lamy 2000) so the nibs are interchangeable. The Aion nib starts tapering in to the point further from the barrel.

Writing with the Lamy Aion

Lamy Aion Dark Green, fine nib,uncapped with writing sample

I was shocked with how smooth the extra-fine nib is. It’s terrific. Despite having an aluminum gripping section the pen doesn’t slip in my hand. The section feels like it has an ever so slight texture to it, although it isn’t visible.

For some reason, it takes me a moment or two to settle the pen into my grip as I get ready to write with the nib in the right position. I’ll probably get used to it over time. I use a Penwell Traveller at my desk. I soft cap the pen in the Penwell when I take a break. Since the pen is in the same orientation when I place and remove it, this isn’t a problem when I’m at my desk. It still takes me a moment if the pen has been capped and on my desk in a pen case. It’s a problem I have with hooded or small nibs. But the Aion’s nib is neither hooded or small, so I’m not sure why I have to concentrate when first holding the pen.

The inner cap only reaches about half-way down from the top of the cap. If insert the pen at a slight angle, something I do a lot, the edge of the pen catches on the inner cap. It doesn’t appear capable of bending the nib itself, but it is annoying to have to straighten the barrel on half my capping attempts.

I like pens on the chunky and heavy part of the spectrum, so it’s not that all those reviews are wrong, but I love writing with the Lamy Aion. And I love seeing the color on my desk when I’m not using the pen. I don’t post my pens, and the unposted pen is plenty long enough to be comfortable.

The nib is a smooth, consistent writer. I haven’t experienced any hard starts or skipping.

Wrapping Up

I’m impressed with the Lamy Aion Dark Green and I love it so far. Granted, it’s only been three days. I ordered a 14k gold oblique-medium nib with the attempt to use it on this pen if it was comfortable. Well, it’s comfortable, but the Aion’s steel nib is so good that I’ll probably be forced to find another pen for the oblique-medium.

This pen is definitely a keeper, it needs a little more time in my hand to earn its place as a core pen.

These Just In – Year End Pens

I ordered four fountain pens in early December. I had money left in the pen budget and flashed back to the corporate world of use it or lose it, so I placed several orders. These are three of those four fountain pens. The fourth fountain pen, a gold nibbed Diplomat Aero, was massively delayed by USPS and just recently arrived.

These fountain pens all arrived 7 to 10 days before Christmas, but I didn’t ink them up until Christmas day. On to the pens…

Sheaffer 300 Matte Green (Fine)

photo of the Sheaffer 300 Green, capped on pen stand

As much as I love the Sheaffer pen colors and designs of the last century, I find the current designs either boring or heavy on colors that I don’t like. That changed when I saw the Matte Green 300 on the Anderson Pens podcast. I had to have the pen. The real-life pen lived up to expectations set by the video.

I had another Sheaffer 300 in metallic grey with chrome trim about 6 years ago. Eventually I gave it away after consistently passing over the pen whenever I was picking a pen to ink up. Since green is my favorite color, this pen won’t get ignored.

Despite being a sub-$70 pen ($82 MSRP), the Sheaffer 300 arrives with a classy presentation. A slightly oversized clamshell box is held in a cardboard sleeve. The sleeve has a cutout so that the Sheaffer logo printed on the clamshell box can be seen. In addition to the pen, the box contains a converter, a blue cartridge, and a black cartridge. There’s also an instruction/warranty booklet. The Sheaffer 300 uses Sheaffer’s proprietary filling system.

First Inking

photo of the Sheaffer 300 green, uncapped on pen stand

To avoid wasting ink I’ve been trying to use any included ink for my new pens. While I do praise Sheaffer for including a choice between blue and black ink cartridges, I was swearing at them for giving me two cartridges to either use or waste. I picked the black cartridge for the pen’s first ink. The blue might end up in the trash bin, or remain in the box until it dries out.

I inked up another two pens before returning to the Sheaffer 300 to use it. The fountain pen wrote well, a nice smooth true-to-size fine steel nib. Then I noticed my left hand was covered with ink stains (I’m a righty). I couldn’t see any ink inside the cap, or extra ink on the nib or section. Then I noticed even more ink in my left hand. While hard to see on the matte green in subdued lighting, there was a coating of ink on the outside of the cap. So, I cleaned the cap under the faucet and scrubbed the ink off. While cleaning the cap, I noticed water flowing through the cap from around the clip. Since it isn’t watertight, it certainly isn’t airtight.

There’s an inner plastic cap that is held in place by a metal screw at the top of the cap. After cleaning the cap, and verifying that the cartridge is secure the pen was ready to use again. The nib and section were secure, as was the cartridge. I haven’t had a problem since. I never confirmed what the problem was, so I can only guess. Whatever it was, it hasn’t returned and the pen has been leak-free. So the problem is moot. I did inspect the Sheaffer 300 thoroughly the day it arrived, so it certainly didn’t arrive covered in ink.

Using the Sheaffer 300

photo of a Sheaffer 300 writing sample

The snap-on cap is easy to take off and replace. There’s a nice solid click when the pen is capped. There’s just enough resistance when removing the cap. All this gives the Sheaffer 300 a nice, solid feel. Although I don’t post my pens, this one is designed to post and does so securely. The end of the pen has a shallow lip that the inner cap snaps onto. It almost makes me wish that I did post my pens. It’s a nice attention to detail.

I’ve been using the Penwell Traveler. The Sheaffer 300 is held firmly in place by the cushion. If I forcefully push the cap into the cushion, I can uncap and use the pen with one hand. Despite this, I typically soft-cap the pen during use. The ink stays wet on the nib and doesn’t evaporate. This includes the time I walked away and left the pen soft-capped for a couple of hours.

The nib has been more prone to evaporation when I pause while writing. The ink will dry off the tip of the nib in under a minute, causing skipping on the next stroke of the nib. Skipping after a pause is a bit annoying. It’s January, and the heating has dried the air in my apartment, which has no doubt affected the pen. Even my previously problem-free pens have been drying out quicker than usual.

In my original Sheaffer 300 review, I mentioned that I found the nib too short and stubby, unlike the classic Sheaffer nibs that I love. I have the same opinion of the nib six years later. I mean stubby as in a visual sense, not the nib grind.

Speaking of the nib grind, I got a fine nib. A medium nib is also available. Both options are steel only.

The nib is a smooth writer and very enjoyable to use. I mentioned skipping after pausing a minute or more, but other than that the writing experience has been problem-free. I’m extremely happy with this Sheaffer 300. Unlike the original, now passed on grey version, this green model will get noticed and won’t be passed over.

Lamy Safari USA Independence Day (Medium)

photo of the Lamy Safari USA Independence Day, capped on a pen stand

The name is a bit unruly, so I’ll stick with calling it the Lamy Safari USA.

Based on the name I assume it came out before July 4th. An internet search turned up reviews from 2019, so this pen is at least a year-and-a-half old. Yet, it didn’t come to my attention until November or December when I saw it on a Pen Chalet sale page. I eventually picked it up at the sale price. The price dropped even further during a year-end sale, so clearly, this model wasn’t moving.

While patriotically named, and with special packaging, nothing about this pen screams “USA”. It would fit in as a patriotic purchase in any of the other 27 countries with red, white, and blue national flags.

I’ve owned many Safaris and AL-Stars over the years, but currently have only three safaris remaining, including this one. The others have a matte finish to them, making them appear less like plastic pens. The Safari USA is shiny plastic, and in my opinion, makes it look a little cheap. Still, I do like the bright colors.

The Lamy Safari USA arrived in a custom red/white/blue cardboard box, rather than the typical flimsy Lamy slotted box. While more substantial than the typical Lamy box, it is still a small, simple box without a lot of wasted space. Both easy to store and easy/cheap to ship. Some Amazon reviews mention that the buyer received the pen in the typical Lamy box, lending credence to other Amazon reviews that claim to have received a counterfeit pen.

Compared to the textured plastic of the two Safaris that I already have, the smooth, bright plastic of this pen makes it look cheaper. Although, it isn’t any different than other glossy Safaris that I’ve owned.

I bought this fountain pen with a medium nib, the only option that was available to me from Pen Chalet. It may be that this was the only nib option offered by Lamy. The pen included a blue ink cartridge for the proprietary filling system. No converter is included.

First Inking

photo of the Lamy Safari USA Independence Day, uncapped on a pen stand

As is my current practice, I popped in the included Lamy ink cartridge. The ink had reached the nib by the time I was ready to use the pen.

I do have a supply of other Lamy nib sizes but decided to stick with the medium nib for now. I always like to use a pen before making any changes, this way I know who to blame for any out-of-the-box problems.

Using the Lamy Safari

photo of the Lamy Safari USA Independence Day medium nib writing sample

The Lamy Safari USA is just like every other Safari that I’ve used. I find the triangular grip a natural, comfortable fit for my hand. I’ve had good out-of-the-box experiences with every Lamy I’ve owned, except for the flagship Lamy 2000, and this pen did not disappoint. It performs well and has been free of skipping and hard starts. It’s also nice and smooth.

I’ve been using the Penwell Traveler recently. The Lamy Safari stayed ready to write, even when soft-capped for a couple of hours. The pen fits securely. Although, it is not so secure that it can be uncapped without having to hold the cap in place.

While they’ve never completely pulled me in, I’ve never had any complaints about Lamy Safari fountain pens and I can understand their popularity. That said, but I wouldn’t have bought the pen if it wasn’t on sale while I was in the mood to buy a pen.

Retro 51 Lincoln (1.1mm Stub)

photo of the Retro 51 Lincoln, capped on a pen stand

With Retro 51 winding down operations I decided to look into any available fountain pens. I’ve had two of their fountain pens in the past and was disappointed in them both. The first, a Double-Eight, was poorly built and quickly fell apart with normal use. The second was this same model(Review). While the build quality was better than the Double-Eight, the nib was much too wet for my tastes.

I came across some comments that Retro 51 had changed their nibs. Details, such as when they made the change, and what the changes were, were lacking but I decided to risk it and hope a current model would be better.

Against better judgment, I ordered a Retro 51 Lincoln with a 1.1mm Stub nib. A 1.1mm stub nib is not suitable for me. It’s much too wide for me. But, I’ve been trying other nib styles and have found them fun to use, if not as an everyday writer. I was already placing an order with Pen Chalet, and the only option they had available was the 1.1mm stub, so I ordered one.

The Retro 51 Lincoln fountain pen arrived in generic Retro 51 packaging. A converter and two black cartridges are included, along with an instruction pamphlet.

First Inking

photo of the Retro 51 Lincoln, uncapped on a pen stand

I removed the cartridge from the barrel and popped it into the pen. The ink made it to the nib by the time I was ready to use the pen.

I noticed a rattle in the pen as I used it. My first reflex was “poor build quality again”, but then I realized there was probably a second ink cartridge in the pen. I opened the pen and the second cartridge fell out. It was stuck in there when I took the first cartridge out.

Writing With The Retro 51 Lincoln

photo of the Retro 51 Lincoln writing sample

I don’t have much to say here. The 1.1mm stub is too wide for me, but I knew this going in. That said, I do find the nib to be true to size, with a nice even flow.

The Lincoln is not an oversize pen, but the metal barrel does give it some heft. I find heavier pens more comfortable to use for extended writing sessions. I do like the feel of the Lincoln. The gripping section is smooth plastic. I suppose this could get slick in summer, or with extended writing sessions, but I haven’t had any issues in the dry indoor air.

I have experienced some hard starts, but I blame this on the dry, indoor air more than the pen. Even usually problem-free pens have been drying out faster than normal when I pause my writing, I’ve had to keep my pauses under 1 minute. Any longer and I’ll probably get skipping on the first stroke when the nib returns to paper.

I’ve been using the Penwell Traveler with the Retro 51 Lincoln. The pen fits securely. I can unscrew the cap with one hand. I can also leave the pen soft-capped for a couple of hours and the nib stays ready.

Wrapping up

Of these three fountain pens, the Sheaffer 300 Matte Green is my clear favorite.

The Retro 51 Lincoln has an antique brass finish that I love. I do regret my nib choice a bit. The 1.1mm stub is not an everyday nib for me, but the pen looks good enough to use every day, I’d like to carry it in my Nock Co Fodderstack XL along with its rollerball sibling. I may try a nib swap, or since it’s only a $50 pen, look for an extra-fine nibbed version.

The Lamy Safari USA will probably get the least use. I like the colors, yet as I mentioned, Safaris never seem to pull me in.

This Just In: Benu Briolette Secret Garden

photo of the Benu Briolette capped

The Benu Briolette arrived at the end of May, so calling this a This Just In post is a bit of a stretch. My two Benu Scepter fountain pens arrived after the Briolette, and I’ve already given my first impressions of those pens.

Since the Briolette is still working on its first ink cartridge, albeit a long international cartridge, I’m still calling this a This Just In post.

The fact that it’s been over four months on the first cartridge says something about my view of the Briolette. When I look at the pen or write with the pen, there’s a lot to like. I like the green & black design, and much to my surprise, the sparkles don’t ruin it for me. The extra-fine steel nib is an excellent writer. There’s a lot I like, and nothing that sticks out as a negative, yet the pen doesn’t click with me. So, the review timeline has dragged out, and I’ve already decided that the Briolette needs a new home. But let’s back up a bit.

The Briolette was the second Benu fountain pen that I purchased, the first being the Minima. There have been more since. I ordered the Briolette because the Minima was too small for me and couldn’t be lengthened by posting the cap. So, I moved up a size. The Briolette arrived in what I now recognize as standard Benu packaging. Classy, but less flashy than the pens. Gold lettering on a heavy cardboard box. The pen is in a cardboard sleeve on a bed of shredded paper. A long international cartridge is included, although there was no converter. Some websites, such as Goulet Pens, say a converter is included. The Benu website itself offers a converter as a $5 upsell. JetPens, which is where I purchased mine, does say no converter is included. So be sure to check carefully if a converter matters to you.

The Briolette is a many-faceted pen, so it doesn’t roll easily, despite not having a clip. It takes significant effort to get it to roll at all. The pen does not post and is on the smaller end of the scale at 5.4″ (137.4mm) long when capped, and a body that’s 5″ long (126.7mm) from nib tip to back-end.

I do find the Briolette comfortable to write with, for the most part. Its size is at the boundary of being too small in girth for my comfort. My hand did get tired and a little sore during my longest writing session using the pen, which was a little over an hour. It’s a light fountain pen, with no apparent metal. So the fatigue wasn’t due to the weight. Personally, I’d prefer a little more weight. The gripping section is thinnest at the point where I grip the pen. Although, at 9.4 mm, it’s not outrageously thin. The section does have a drastic taper to it so that a higher grip will provide more girth, 11.3mm just below the threads. The threads are smooth and seemed comfortable when I gripped them, although that’s too far from the nib for my taste.

photo of the Benu Briolette Secret Garden

I picked the Secret Garden design since I’m partial to green. Green is the base color, although there significant areas of black. And of course, there are also silver sparkles. I’m not a fan of the cap band. It’s wide and black, with the Benu name molded onto it. It’s not exactly a band; instead, it’s a separate piece that attaches to the main cap. At least this is the appearance it gives. The threads are molded into this piece. I don’t hate it, but it does break up the look of the pen. At least the Secret Garden has some black in it, so it isn’t totally out of place. The colors, and glitter, are not uniform, giving the impression that each pen could be slightly different.

The lack of metal also means eyedropper filling should be possible, although I did not try it.

The extra-fine nib performed well out of the box. It’s a #5 extra-fine steel nib made by JoWo, in a nib unit assembled by Schmidt. Nib sourcing info is from the Benu website, so as always, it can change anytime. A while back, they mentioned nibs came from both Bock & JoWo for assembly by Schmidt.

The nib performed well out of the box. It was smooth, and I didn’t have any problems with skipping or hard starts. The nib stayed ready to write, even after being capped for over a week. I used the included long international cartridge that Benu had in the box. I like a firm nib, and this fits the bill. I’m currently going through a phase where I’m enjoying some variety in my nibs, so it was unexciting while the nib performed well. Excitement for nibs in sub-$100 fountain pens can often mean bad things, so boring could be considered a positive.

size comparison
L->R Kaweco Sport, Benu Briolette, Lamy Safari
uncapped size comparison
L->R Kaweco Sport, Benu Briolette, Lamy Safari, Lany Safari (posted)

Wrapping Up.

The Benu Briolette performs well and appears solidly built. It’s a $75 fountain pen, so there’s a lot of competition from pens that write just as well, with some costing less. They do have eye-catching materials and designs. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so whether or not you like the look will be personal. If you like the look, then you should enjoy using the pen. While $75 might be a little much as a starter fountain pen, the bright designs could make it a fun fountain pen for a new user.

But it’s not for me. In past days I may have kept the Benu Briolette Secret Garden in my pen case to pull it out and use it every now and then. But these days, I’m trying to be cutthroat in my pen choices, so this one is going up for sale.