This Just In: ystudio Classic Desk Fountain Pen

photo of the ystudio pen (partial) and base

Like most machined metal fountain pens, ystudio pens have had a certain appeal to me since I first saw them. Still, they never pulled me in, and I never seriously considered buying one. Then the stars aligned. Kenro Industries recently became a distributor for them, so they had a bunch of new retailers promoting their pens. This has happened while the lockdown has turned my home writing desk into my main work desk, with the clutter that computers and cables bring. I like having a desk pen handy. A fountain pen that I can just pick up and use, no clicking or uncapping needed.

I have my Esterbrook Dip-less pen at the office but didn’t want to relocate it. This includes a big inkwell and a pen that sticks out at an angle. I had visions of something catching on the pen and dragging it over the edge and onto the carpet. So it remains at the unused office. I also have a Platinum desk pen, but that has been missing since I moved. I like having a desk pen that I can just grab and use, no uncapping or clicking needed.

As an aside – ystudio uses all lowercase for their brand name. I’ll do the same, even though it looks wrong and seems a tad pretentious.

photo of the ystudio desk pen in its base

The ystudio desk pen seemed to be ideal. It would be ready to use as soon as I picked it up. Having a base meant it would always be in the same place, allowing muscle memory to take over. This means I can pick up the pen while keeping my focus elsewhere. It stands straight up, so I’m less likely to hit it while working at my desk. It’s a cartridge/converter, so if I knock the pen off my desk, the worst that will happen is a few small drops of ink on the carpet. The pen arrived on May 2nd, and I’ve been using it since then.

The fact that this is a machined metal pen also appealed to me. The only unappealing part was the price, which seemed a bit high to me. I do realize that among machined metal pens, copper is usually more expensive. Obviously ystudio knew what they were doing when they priced it since I bought the fountain pen.

The ystudio Classic Desk Fountain Pen arrived in a wooden box with cardboard cutouts. It’s a light box, with wood more like balsa than a heavier wood. There were cardboard cutouts to hold the stand and pen securely, along with an instruction/product pamphlet. A converter is included, although no starter ink cartridge is in the box.

The fountain pen is solid copper, while the base is solid brass and very heavy. The ystudio name is engraved into the copper pen. It’s very subtle, with no added color, which I like. The copper has begun to develop a patina, while the base is as shiny as the day it arrived.

photo of the ystudio branding

I ordered the pen with a fine nib, which is by Schmidt and has its typical engravings. There’s some scrollwork, along with a large cursive “F” to denote the nib size. “Schmidt Iridium Point” is stamped at the base of the nib.

photo of the nib up close

I picked Montblanc “The Beatles” Psychedelic Purple as the initial ink for this pen. I typically use a desk pen for short notes or to mark up a document. So, I like a bright color in my desk pen.

The nib is smooth out of the box. It’s safe to say I’ve used the ystudio pen every day since it arrived, although rarely for more than a few words. The draft of this article (just under 3 pages) is the most I’ve used this pen in one sitting. The pen sits nib down in its base, so it’s no surprise that hard starts have not been a problem. There hasn’t been any skipping either.

hpto of the ystudio classic desk pen laying on a writing sample
The ystudio Classic Desk Foutain Pen and writing sample (Fine nib / Montblanc The Beatles ink

The ystudio desk pen does stick up like a horseshoe stake, so I do have to move it around to get it out of the way as I move my computer or iPad around. Although, in most cases, it ends up to my right, where I can easily pick it up. Also, since my desk folds closed at an angle, I have to push the pen back before I close the desk.

I’m happy with the ystudio Classic Desk Fountain Pen. It performs its intended role perfectly. I expect it to be perpetually inked, other than the occasional overnight rest after being flushed out.

photo of the copper ystudio desk pen
photo of the ystudio pen and base

This Just In: Benu Minima

photo of the Benu Minima with a writing sampleThe Benu materials have intrigued me since the first time I saw them online, which was only a month or two ago. Their fountain pens seem reasonably priced, although with plenty of competition at all their price points. While shopping for the Diplomat Aero Volute I came across the Benu Minima. It’s a small pen, and it had a small(ish) price. I don’t remember if it was on sale, but I suspect it was since it got my attention. The price has since risen, further making me think it was a sale. I decided this would be an excellent opportunity to try out the brand, so I added the Mystical Green model to my cart.

I’ll digress a bit into the Benu Minima pricing. It’s weird, so shop diligently if you want one. The Benu website sells the Mystical Green for $120, but I paid less than half that. Benu itself lists some other Minimas at $120, but most Minimas are $80. Retailer pricing varied from full list (matching the Benu website) or higher to the more typical 80% off, even at the same retailer. They do have a long list of U.S. retailers, although I only checked the ones I typically buy from.

Back to the Minima. It’s a pocket or bag pen, at least as far as the size is concerned. It’s clip-less and is just under 5″ in length. The Benu website says the minima weighs 18 grams, which seems about right. The fountain pen has a Schmidt branded nib. I believe that Schmidt now sources all their nibs from JoWo and Bock for assembly into their nib units. This is confirmed since Benu does say that they use Bock and JoWo nibs supplied by Schmidt. Benu is based in Moscow, Russia, and makes their pens there. Their U.S. distributor is Luxery Brands USA.

The Minima arrived in a white cardboard box with Benu printed in gold. Opening the box reveals a thin, white cardboard sleeve, also with Benu printed in gold on it. The Minima is in the sleeve. The box also contains a product sheet and shredded paper for cushioning. A nice overall presentation.

I bought my Benu Minima with a Fine nib and Mystical Green acrylic. The style of acrylic, multiple shades of color, and sparkles make it hard to judge in online photos. So much depends on lighting along with my own computer screen. The same can be said for other Benu pen models. Overall, I think the Mystical Green was represented accurately, and I’m happy with my choice. The acrylic doesn’t have the depth of the Leonardo or Kanilea that I recently added to my accumulation. The sparkly bits seem to be on the surface, rather than part of the acrylic itself. That does seem to be appearance only. While it’s hard to see inside the cap, shining a light inside does show some sparkles. So the lighter green, with sparkles, does appear to go all the way through. Plus, the pen’s surface is flat and not as rough as if the sparkly bits were applied to the surface. This is a long-winded way to say that although this isn’t a Jonathan Brooks level acrylic, I do like it.

The Minima is often described as being a faceted pen, and some (maybe most) are faceted. However, the Mystical Green Minima is not faceted. If you are buying a Minima, and facets matter to you, either scrutinize the pictures or visit the Benu website. Websites that list each acrylic separately seem to get the description right. Websites that use one Minima listing and then a pick-list for the acrylic seem to get it wrong. Not being faceted, and being clip-less, my Minima rolls easily.

The nib itself is all silver, with some engraved scrollwork. The nib size (“F” for fine) is also engraved along with the Schmidt branding. I’m used to larger fountain pens with larger nibs, #6 or bigger, so this #5 nib looks tiny. But the pen is small, so it’s the right size for the pen, a #6 nib would be comical.

The Minima does not post. Although the cap does fit over the tapered end, it does not hold the barrel at all. At best, it will wobble, although it would probably fall off. (Benu does say the cap doesn’t post.) The Minima is listed as a standard international cartridge/converter fountain pen. However, a full-size converter will not fit, as it is too long. A converter that fits in a Kaweco Sport should fit. However, I never found those small converters worth the hassle and won’t be trying one in the Minima.

Despite being a small fountain pen, I find that the Minima is comfortable to use. It’s just long enough to fit comfortably in my hand. It was comfortable enough to write the three page draft of this post in one sitting. I also found myself picking it up at other times simply because I liked using it. It’s my daily writer rotation, so when its turn comes up, I happily use it.

The Minima is slightly bigger than my Kaweco Brass Sport that I often carry. I’m not sure how well this acrylic will hold up to the abuse of my keys if I put it in that pocket. Unlike the Brass, the scratches and dings won’t add character to the acrylic. My phone often rides in my other pocket, so I don’t want the pen in there. I’d be afraid that the metal cap band would find a way to scratch the phone screen. So, I’ve yet to carry the Minima as a pocket pen. I have little need for a pocket pen these days, and the Kaweco Brass Sport is already inked. While that’s the main reason, another is that I bought the Minima as a rental, figuring I’d be passing the pen on after getting a good look at it. A scratch would undoubtedly make the pen less desirable. The acrylic does appear to be durable, and I’m curious as to how it will hold up. If I decide this pen is a keeper, I’ll probably carry it with my keys to see how well it holds up.

Overall, I’m very impressed with the Benu Minima. The acrylic is a nice variation from my typical pens, very mystical. I wouldn’t want all that sparkle in all my fountain pens, but it’s a pleasant change. The Fine nib was a smooth writer out of the box. I haven’t had any skips or hard starts. I’ve only had the Minima for two weeks, so these are early impressions and could change once I’ve used the pen more. I had expected to sell off the Minima once I’ve used it enough. I’m reconsidering, and the Benu Minima may be a keeper. [Update June 20, 2020: I decided that the Minima doesn’t have a place in my rotation, so I’m putting it up for sale,]

These Just In: Sheaffer Balance Oversize Lifetime (Marine Green) and Diplomat Aero Volute

Photo of the Sheaffer Balance Oversize Lifetime (top) and Diplomat Aero Volute (bottom)

I’m combining the introduction of these two fountain pens since they are similar to other pens that I’ve written about. Plus, I’m getting really tired of this string of This Just In posts.

The Sheaffer Balance Oversize Lifetime is my favorite pen style. I love the acrylics, and the nibs are great writers. The Marine Green from the early 1930s is the best ever. I’ve also seen it referred to as “Green Marble.” Unfortunately, the cap on my original Marine Green Balance Oversize broke into two pieces, making it unusable. I’ve been on the lookout for a replacement since then.

Comparing my two Marine Green Sheaffer Balance Oversize fountain pens
The new Sheaffer (left) compared to the original, now broken, Sheaffer (right)

This Sheaffer Balance Oversize Lifetime in Marine Green was an eBay purchase that arrived in early March. This was from a trusted seller that I bought from in the past. Even so, I still always assume the pen looks better on eBay than in reality, and bid accordingly. Even if it’s because I missed something in the photos. In this case, the color looked less vibrant and darker than my original Marine Green Balance. From experience, I knew this seller usually had well lit and accurate photos, so I figured this was true. It was also a solid gold-colored nib, and I prefer the two-tone nib. On the positive side, it was a fine nib, and I love vintage Sheaffer fine nibs.

I’ve really, really wanted a Marine Green Sheaffer Balance Oversize ever since mine broke, and my recent pen show visit had been a bust. So I decided to bid on the pen since the next pen show was obviously going to be in the distant future. I set a maximum bid pretty close to my personal ceiling for an eBay Balance, despite the less than vibrant color and the lack of a two-tone nib. I ended up winning the auction. As a side-note, the same seller had a second Marine Green Balance Oversize go on sale a couple of weeks later. This one had a two-tone nib and what appeared to be slightly more vibrancy. By the time I decided to bid, it was already near the maximum I would spend on eBay for this pen, even if in seemingly excellent condition. So, I didn’t bother even bidding. It eventually sold for over $500, which is well above my eBay fountain pen comfort level. So, if that’s the new price level for this pen, it will take a pen show or other in-person sale before I get one. So for now, this pen is it.

Photo of the Marine Green Sheaffer Balance Oversize Lifetime on a pen stand

The fountain pen arrived, and it was what I expected. The Marine Green material is clean, but it is subdued and on the dark side as I expected. The flat-top ball on the clip, along with the marine green, date the pen from 1934 or 1935. It’s a lever-filler, which is my preference over the vacuum (plunger) fillers. The cap does fit my original Marine Green Balance, although the colors are way off. If I wanted to use the stub nib on the original, I could use this cap.

Photo of the Diplomat Aero Volute - capped

I inked the pen up with Sheaffer Green to inaugurate it. As I expected, it was a smooth and consistent writer. The Balance Oversize form factor is comfortable in my hand. The pen wasn’t inked up when I started drafting this post, but before it was done, I missed the pen and had to ink it up.

I’m not disappointed with the Marine Green Sheaffer Balance Oversize Lifetime since it was what I expected. Although it isn’t the ideal replacement for the Marine Green that I loved.

The second fountain pen, a Diplomat Aero Volute, is a more recent arrival. One problem with discovering a new pen brand, and then realizing that they make great pens is that I start exploring other options. While Diplomat is not a new brand, I only recently bought one of their pens. This was the Orange/Black Diplomat Aero, which I got at the Long Island Pen Show. I was pleasantly surprised by this pen when I used it. So I was browsing other Diplomat pens when I came upon the Aero Volute. The barrel and cap have a base color of grey with a black design on top of it. The black design is applied using a process called hydro-dipping or water transfer. (While a pen isn’t used as an example, this video shows the hydro-dipping technique.) Black and grey are my aesthetic these days. Recently purchased furniture and linen have been black and grey. The Volute is a limited edition and has a list price that is $100 higher than the regular Aeros. So, while prices varied, they were still expensive, especially since I already had an Aero. While I used to go crazy with fountain pen models that I like, I now try to limit myself to one fountain pen per model. But I still added the pen to my watch list.

I then came across a Pen Chalet sale, which dropped their price down to $177 (the price has moved back up). Not the absolute lowest price I saw (which was $175), but the lowest I saw from a retailer that had the pen is stock and ready to order. Like a former boss once said, businesses can list any price they want it they don’t have to actually take the order. So with the lower price and one of Pen Chalet’s always easy to find 10% off coupons, the price dropped to a more reasonable amount, so I ordered it. The fountain pen drop-shipped from Yafa, the distributer, but arrived in a reasonable time. It was only a couple days later than the Benu pen that was in the same order.

The packaging was the same as my Orange/Black Aero, although with a limited edition card included. Mine is number 524 of 1000. There’s no number on the pen itself that I could see.

Photo of the Diplomat Aero Volute with the authentication card

Like other Aero pens, it is made of aluminum. The hydro-dipping process means no two pens are the same. My pen thas some lines between the cap and the barrel that do line up and cross from one to the other. While there are other lines that just end, and don’t cross over. Also, while not a literal seam, there’s a visual seam running down the length of the cap & barrel. It’s where lines seem to end and don’t match up. But the design is random, and I only notice these things upon close inspection. They don’t stand out or bother me at all, so this isn’t a complaint or something I consider a flaw. I assume it’s the result of the way the pen was dipped.

I bought the fountain pen with a fine steel nib to provide a slightly different writing experience than my Orange/Black Aero and its extra-fine nib. Like my original, this is a nice smooth nib. Diplomat continues to impress me with the quality of their pens, and I’m glad to see they expanded into more elaborate designs. I wouldn’t buy the Volute at the typical street price, which is around $236. While I do love the design, that would be an $80 premium over the regular production Aeros. I’m sure there’s more labor involved, just like their flame version. However, I find that I do grow tired of distinctive designs, so I couldn’t justify the premium to myself since I already had one Aero. But thanks to Pen Chalet’s often weird pricing and ubiquitous 10% discount coupons, I was able to get one for only a couple dollars above the standard pens. That made in an insta-buy.

I’m thrilled with the Diplomat Aero Volute, and I’m enjoying the pen.

Writing samples: Sheaffer (top) and Diplomat (bottom)
Sheaffer Balance Oversize Lifetime (Fine) writing sample on top. Diplomat Aero Volute (Fine) writing sample on bottom.

This Just In: Kanilea Cherry Kona

Photo of the Kanilea Cherry Kona fountain pen
The newly arrived Kanilea Cherry Kona

If my memory is correct, Kanilea Pen Co. was launch at the 2016 Washington D.C. Pen Show. I remember seeing their fountain pens made with beautiful acrylics and considered buying one of them. It took almost four years, but I did eventually buy one.

I stumbled across the Cherry Kona on their website and was considering buying one. It looked gorgeous, plus it was available much faster than a typical Kanilea web order. Then the Pen Addict podcast’s turn came up in my podcast player, and both Myke and Brad gushed about it. It was less than a couple hours later that all resistance and doubt collapsed, and I ordered one.

I did manage to screw up my order, but thanks to proactive and hands-on customer service, it all worked out without causing a delay. I wanted the “Classic Flush” profile, both because it was immediately available, and it is the design I liked best. I must have reset the order form and returned to the default “Classic” profile. The next morning I got an email asking me to confirm that’s what I really wanted. They sent the email because the Classic profile wasn’t the one available immediately. So I replied that yes, I meant to order the Classic Flush profile. I later checked the entire order and found that I had used the shipping address as the billing address, so I sent off another email to update that. Despite all this, the pen shipped out within the promised timeframe.

Hawaii is the focus of Kanilea Pen Co., and the packaging reflects that. The packaging also shows the thought and care that went into the pen. All the pen acrylics are inspired by scenes around Hawaii, and a photo postcard of the pen’s inspiration is included. This does add to the cost of the pen, but it also enhances the experience. In purely marketing terms, it gives the buyer a feeling that justifies the expense. Experience isn’t important, even though it doesn’t make the pen write better. Let’s face it, I have multiple fountain pens with similar nibs, so experience matters to me, whether it’s the writing experience or the emotional experience. It doesn’t make up for a bad fountain pen, but it enhances an already excellent fountain pen and softens the blow to the wallet.

The packaging…

I dug through the packaging to get to the Cherry Kona fountain pen, after all, that’s what I wanted. I then spent some time admiring the acrylic. It’s gorgeous, with fantastic depth. It seems to bend and reflect light in different directions. I mentioned in the Leonardo Messenger review that the Messenger had a large translucent swath that bothered me since it provided a clear view of the converter. Not so on the Cherry Kona. I knew the converter was in there, but the little chrome that was visible looked like part of the bending and reflecting light. There’s no metal in the pen, so if the converter does bother me, I can simply eyedropper fill the pen.

I finally got around to filling the pen and ran into my first complaint. The cap requires a marathon to twist off, It takes four complete turns to uncap. This translates to six twists with my fingers each time. I don’t have to tighten it completely if I pause when writing, but it’s a bit much for my taste. I don’t recall any of my other fountain pens requiring this much effort. A minimum of a dozen finger turns each time I use the pen.

Kanilea Pen Co. Cherry Kona capped

There’s a choice of nib styles and materials. I picked a polished steel nib. There is some engraving on the nib, but no branding. I like a plain silver nib, so no complaints here. There’s also a flower medallion on the cap finial, and I picked sterling silver for that. No gold on this pen.

Finally, to the ink. I picked Sheaffer Red as the ink to inaugurate this pen. A nice bright red to match the acrylic. The fine nib is a friendly smooth writer, The nib tines and feed seem perfectly aligned (to my eye).

I’ve noticed my hand getting fatigued after writing as little as a page. This isn’t something I expected or currently understand. The pen is on the large side, although very light for its size. The gripping section is concave, so I pulled out my calipers to see if it was thinner than it appeared. At 11mm, it’s in line with my comfortable fountain pens, although that girth is on the low end of the range. I’ve been paying attention and trying to keep my grip looser than usual. This seems to help a little, but it could be a placebo.

Further confusing me is that the fatigue arrives quickly but doesn’t go to the next level, which would be pain or cramps. It’s just tired. I’ve only had a couple other pens with a concave section. A few Karas Kustoms Ink fountain pens and rollerballs, none of which caused any fatigue. I sold most but kept one and will probably ink it up for comparison. The second, an Edison Nouveau, was sold off since it was too thin and light for me, but I didn’t tie this to the concave section as it was a thin pen.

Kanilea Cherry Kona with writing sample

I’ve yet to finish the first fill of ink. Still, the writing experience has been enjoyable, despite the fatigue issues. There’s no skipping or hard starts.

The Kanilea Cherry Kona is gorgeous, no doubt about it. As I’m sure you gathered, the long uncapping effort really annoys me. It was enough to move it down to the “hangers-On” category from what I thought was a sure “Core Pen” listing. Maybe I’ll warm to it, or at least learn to ignore it, but I think it will always annoy me. The fatigue is another issue, and unless I can solve it, the pen will probably go up for sale. Running a marathon to uncap the pen while knowing my hand will feel tired after about 5 minutes will keep me from using the pen. Especially since I have many choices that I can use all day for hours at a time. If I had seen the Cherry Kona at a pen show I would have bought it, there’s nothing about it that would alert me to it being a fatiguing pen for me. I can’t even say it’s uncomfortable, because at first, it’s not. But the bottom line is that the uncapping marathon and fatigue has given me a disappointing first impression.

This Just In: Leonardo Officina Italiana Messenger

Photo - Leonard Officina Italiana Messenger in greenI’ve been seeing a lot of Leonardo Officina Italiana fountain pens as I browse various fountain pen sites. Some of those sites have had positive reviews. In general, I like the look of Italian pens. All this combined to keep the brand on my radar, so when Pen Chalet put the Leonardo Messenger on sale and had one in green, I decided to buy one.

I did so knowing that this might be a rental. The sale price, and the Pen Addict coupon code, brought the price low enough to either be a reasonable rental, or a good deal on the purchase. Why a rental (purchase, followed by a quick sale)? Because it’s a colored translucent barrel, which I don’t like. So why even try? There’s a nice swirl pattern to the acrylic, which could block the translucency enough to mask the converter inside. Plus, the design should prevent it from looking cheap.

Leonardo does limit the number of pens within each acrylic, although there are many acrylics in each line. There are 366 pens for each Messenger acrylic since there are 366 days in 2020. My particular pen is number 157.

I picked green (Verde) for my pen because, well, green. Green is easily my favorite color. Maybe that’s why I have a hard time finding that perfect green pen or ink.

When the Leonardo Messenger arrived, I was pleasantly surprised. When I opened the clamshell box, the visible part of the barrel was heavily swirled, and I couldn’t see the converter through the barrel. Plus, the acrylic looks great. Then I took the pen out of the box and looked at the entire barrel. I was disappointed to find that the other side of the barrel had a large, utterly translucent section where the converter was clearly visible. For me, the straight lines of the converter, and its reflective chrome, destroy the beauty of the acrylic. On the positive side, the pen does not look like it’s made with cheap plastic.

The translucent section is almost hidden when I’m writing with the pen. But not entirely, and I’m unable to not see it because I know its there. There’s metal inside the pen, so eyedropper filling isn’t an option.

I picked Montblanc Leonardo Red Chalk ink to inaugurate the pen. The extra-fine nib is a pleasant writer, and it’s true to the expected size of a European extra-fine nib. The pen does come with some thoughtful design choices, such as a screw-in converter. I don’t post my fountain pens and fine the longer than expected barrel to be very comfortable in my hand. The photo below compares the size to other pens.

Photo - size comparison of 12 fountain pens
Size comparison (L->R) Benu Minima, Sailor Realo, Sheaffer Balance Oversize, Sailor Balance Oversize, Diplomat Aero, Pelikian M815, Lamy Safari, Leonardo Messenger, Sailor KOP, Kanilea Cherry Kona, yStudio Classic Desk Pen

The Leonardo Officina Italania Messenger is a very nice fountain pen. That big translucent spot on the barrel may turn it into a rental for me, but that’s due to my personal tastes and isn’t a fault of the pen. The design of the acrylic is gorgeous. I’ll let it live among my other fountain pens for a while to see if I can overlook that translucent gap since I do like the overall look of the pen.