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.

This Just In: Sailor King of Pen Royal Tangerine

Photo of the Sailor King of Pen In its boxThe Sailor King of Pen Royal Tangerine has been on my radar for a while. It was on my list of things to seek out at the pen shows I’d be attending this year. I have a King of Pen (KOP) in black, but for a pen at this price, I really want to see it in person. My other KOP was a pen show purchase for the same reason, I needed to see it to be sure. Unsurprisingly, since the Long Island Pen Show is small, I didn’t come across one. So, with additional pen shows becoming less and less likely, I went ahead and ordered one from Classic Fountain Pens (CFP). I ordered a factory medium, but to be ground to an oblique tip. Often called a left-footed oblique because the nib slants the same way as the toes on our left foot toes.

Photo of the Sailor King of Pen NibI love the way the KOP feels in my hands, likely the most comfortable pen I own. I can write with it for hours at a time. But, I’ll never have as many as I want because it’s obscenely expensive for what it is. Even the base models, like my first KOP, sell for over $700. It’s a basic resin pen. Yes, of outstanding quality and workmanship, and with a large 21kt gold nib, that’s glorious, but the price still causes me to gag a bit. The price is one reason I couldn’t justify (to myself) getting a KOP with the same medium nib that I already had. A broad nib, from experience, is not something I would use more than occasionally. These are the only two nib sizes available, which meant a nib grind would be required.

The Royal Tangerine KOP is a North American exclusive. I haven’t seen any mention of it being limited (it’s certainly not numbered), it does seem to be out of stock most places. Although it is still listed for sale, so Sailor may be planning to eventually nake another batch. I appear to have gotten the last one at CFP as it went out of stock after my order. Good timing on my part, unless I ended up not liking the pen.

The Royal Tangerine King of Pen has the classic cigar shape design. This is a nice contrast with my other KOP, which is a Pro Gear model. I have a slight preference for the Pro Gear style, but that wasn’t an option. Even if it was, I might have still gotten the cigar style (a.k.a. 1911 style) just for variety. My current trend toward variety would outweigh my aesthetic preference in this case. But like I said, it was the only option, so no decision was needed.

Photo of the Sailor King of Pen uncapped in its boxThe pen arrived relatively plain, although slightly larger than standard, Sailor branded pen box. The box is more than sturdy enough to protect the pen during shipping. It’s distinguishing feature is the wrap-around magnetic cover. Sailor uses a proprietary filling system and includes two black ink cartridges and a converter.

Photo ofeverything received with the Sailor King of Pen

My recent practice has been to avoid waste and use any included ink cartridges first. I couldn’t bring myself to do that this time, so I picked Robert Oster Signature Orange ink to inaugurate this pen. It seemed like a logical choice. Logical or not, I was happy with the choice. The pen & ink performed well together. I’ll use those cartridges eventually and won’t waste them. My black KOP and the Regency Stripe are both in the queue to be inked up and would be suitable choices.

I wrote the pen dry and put it aside to give other pens a chance. But, I soon missed it and returned it to the rotation with Montblanc Bordeaux ink.

Oblique nibs sit perfectly on the paper when I use my normal grip. I never have to adjust my grip to suit the nib, and I never have any skipping. That’s why I never pick a pen with an oblique nib as my daily writer. If I have to contort my hand, such as when dealing with the wires in a wire-bound notebook or reaching over a keyboard, the nib may not keep consistent contact with the paper. So, like all my oblique nibs, it only gets pulled out when I am sitting at a desk or table and writing on a flat notepad. It’s a delight to use In this way.

There’s not much more that I can say about the Sailor King of Pen Royal Tangerine. It’s a perfect size for me, and the 21 kt gold nib is glorious. I’m happy with the pen, if not the price. Despite being a new pen, it shot right onto my list of core 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, Edison Huron Grande, yStudio Classic Desk Pen

This Just In: Diplomat Aero Orange/Black

Diplomat Aero capped

I bought the Diplomat Aero from Fountain Pen Hospital (FPH) while at the 2020 Long Island Pen Show. Diplomat pens have been around since 1922 but only popped up in the U.S. a few years ago. While their pens are made in Germany, I found it interesting that the contact address on their corporate website is in France.

The Aero design comes in versions for mechanical pencils, ballpoint pens, and rollerballs in addition to fountain pens. The Diplomat website also lists a gold nib version of the fountain pen. I didn’t stumble across a gold nib for sale at a U.S. retailer, but my search was only cursory.

I liked the Zeppelin inspired design of the Aero right from the start when I first saw it at the Washington D.C. pen show several years ago. But, I’ve avoided buying one until now. I also didn’t keep up with the available colors.

Last time I went to the Long Island show I didn’t buy any pens. This time I hadn’t bought anything when the time to leave approached. I was itching to buy a pen, and the only pen that really called to me was nearly $1K. I wasn’t going to answer that call. So, I decided to buy the Aero. Only three pens were on display at the FPH booth, black, blue, and red. I decided on red. Admittedly, more because I didn’t want to walk away empty-handed, rather than a deep desire for the pen. The pen show price was further reduced by an FPH gift card given at the door, making the price slightly better than the typical online price.

I asked for a red model with an extra-fine nib. Luckily they didn’t have one, but mentioned that they had EF nibs in “orange and black.” I heard that as meaning two pens and asked to see the orange pen. When the orange/black appeared, I knew I’d be getting the pen. It jumped from being a consolation pen to a pen I really did want. So, I walked out with an orange/black Diplomat Aero with an extra-fine steel nib.

I’ve read elsewhere that the nibs are by Jowo, although they are Diplomat branded. They are stamped with the Diplomat logo along with the words “Diplomat Since 1922”. The nib is a solid silver color, which is my preference.

The pen itself is all metal (aluminum), including the gripping section. The pen body is a dark orange. The cap is black, as is the section. The words “Diplomat” and “Made in Germany” are stamped around the base of the cap in silver. It gives the appearance of being a cap band, especially since the bottom of the cap is flat. The tip of the body is crowned with a bit of black. The end of the cap has the Diplomat logo in silver.

I popped in the included blue-black (?) cartridge when I unboxed the fountain pen. The cartridge went dry as I was drafting this article, but it’s still the only ink that I’ve loaded in this pen. It performed well, and I saw no reason to replace it. The box actually included two cartridges, of the same ink, along with a converter. Diplomat does like branding any surface they can, so the converter has the Diplomat logo along with “Diplomat Made in Germany” stenciled on it.

The packaging was a bit elaborate, although not too expensive. The outer cardboard box had the Diplomat name and logo printed on it. (Did I mention that they like their branding?) Opening the box revealed a metal covered sliding box, which also had their branding. The metal was unexpected until I realized that they promote all their pens as being made from metal due to its durability (I do see one lacquer pen in their lineup). Sliding the cover off revealed their brand yet again, in a cardboard flap that covered the pen. Removing that flap finally revealed the pen. The pen rested on the typical pen box removable shelf. The two cartridges and a converter were below the shelf. The pen uses standard international cartridges and converters.

Diplomat Aero in the box

Maybe it’s because I’ve been cooped up for weeks, but I found all that branding comical. Literally, it made me chuckle as I opened the Russian Nesting Dolls to get to my pen, seeing their logo and name each time. But the reality is that the branding is subdued and not flashy. The packaging contributed to making it feel like a quality product and bought in volume, it probably doesn’t add much to the cost of the pen.

After getting to the Diplomat Aero fountain pen, I inked it up with one of the included cartridges. By the time I picked up the packaging and stored it away, the pen was ready to right. The ink made it to the nib without any help from me, and while lying flat on its side. That was an encouraging start.

The Aero is comfortable in my hand, even for long writing sessions. Even though it’s a metal pen, aluminum is relatively light, and I wouldn’t consider the Aero heavy at all. Sure, it is heavier than a resin only pen of the same size. The grip section is also metal, and it’s smooth. I haven’t had any problem with the pen slipping. But, the weather is still cool and dry. It may be a problem when heat and humidity move in.

The nib is a smooth writer that was well-tuned. The ink flow has been perfect, and I haven’t had any problem with skipping or hard starts. I’ve been rotating through my pens, so the Aero would spend 4 to 6 days stored nib up between uses. There weren’t any hard starts. It is a firm nib which I like.

Diplomat Aero writing sample

I’m happy with the Diplomat Aero. It’s a great writer, and I love the look. It probably won’t rise to the level of being a core pen, but it will be around for a while, and I expect it to be inked up frequently. I cleaned out the pen and put it in storage for now. I’ve been trying to rotate through my pens and revisit ones that haven’t been used in years. So it will sit out for now, but the Diplomate Aero fountain pen will stay handy and return to the rotation in the not too distant future.