Yard-O-Led Viceroy Pocket

I didn’t want to write this review. I feel like it’s going to be one of the few dissenting YOL reviews out there. But the community needs to hear about my experience.

I actually love Yard-O-Led, in principle. I gushed over them in my post on the YOL Viceroy Grand–which is truly a remarkable work of art.

But I also outlined some of the issues I’ve noticed with the company in my post on the YOL Standard.

For context, I recommend reading both of those reviews before continuing.

First, the good: this petite pen is beautiful. Each pen is individually made either on very old machining tools or chased by hand by silversmiths. Because of this, one can see the different styles used by the individual silversmiths–for instance, it’s very obvious that my older Viceroy Grand was made by a different person than the Pocket, even though they are the same pattern.

Detail of the Viceroy Pocket’s finish.
Pocket on the left, Grand on the right. They’re both the same finish, but made by different smiths so they have different character–the patterns and the depth of the strikes are much different. Both are very pretty.

The Pocket is awesome. Delicate. Petite. Painstakingly made with care by artisans.

The tiny size necessitates writing with the cap posted. The pen only fills via short international cartridges officially, but I found that the pen can use a Kaweco slide piston converter if the converter is only filled to about 70-80% capacity. The barrel of the pen cannot accommodate the piston rod when it is fully extended and filled, and reassembling the pen creates a mess when the barrel compresses the tiny piston. Is this hassle worth the 0.4mL ink capacity? That’s up to the user. If it were my one and only pen, I’d just use cartridges.

The finial is polished silver.
The end of the pen is shaped much like the section so the pen can post well.
The pen will fill with the Kaweco mini piston converter, not the squeeze type. It is shown filled as full as it can get without squirting ink all over when reassembled.

This is where my YOL Viceroy Pocket love affair stops. It’s all downhill from here.

The cap is not secure. The pen–like all of YOL’s fountain pens–uses a simple plastic inner cap that engages with a lip on the pen and is subsequently snaps into place. But for whatever reason on my Pocket, the inner cap does not engage very well; in fact, it is downright insecure. Any lateral pressure on the cap, whether posted or in the pocket, causes the cap to dislodge and pop off. This doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but think about all of the times one could conceivably place pressure across the pen when it’s in a shirt pocket–crossing your arms, leaning against a surface, or bumping into something can cause the cap to come lose. Now you’ve got a cap clipped to your shirt and a pen floating around your pocket. Forget about having it rattling around a purse or bag, unless you can find a suitably rigid pouch to keep the pen in. This is obviously a very bad quality for a pocket pen.

Detail of cap and clip. Each pen is serialized, also shown on the clip. Not shown is the exceptionally weak inner cap that does not keep this pen closed.

I have great disdain for Bock nibs. Every nib that I’ve tried that was originally made by Bock, whether on a $20 Kaweco or on this very expensive Viceroy has had some issue and required some level of correction to make it write correctly. The nib on this pen was a disaster out of the box. It came with a very blobby, wet, medium nib that was so unbelievably over-polished that it barely wrote. That nib is now on my Viceroy Standard and had to be corrected by a nibmeister. The nib that is currently on this pen was also so over-polished that it did not function out of the box. Dan Smith ground this nib into an extra fine for me when he was still doing outside work, and now the nib is okay. Dan does magnificent work and the grind is perfect, but I still don’t really like how it writes. It feels like the nib has too much flex but in a weird way, like the tines flex too much radially creating weird, needle-like feedback. It’s an 18k gold nib and it has to be very thin to get this level of softness, which makes the nib feel unpleasantly fragile to me. Flexing this nib would certainly spring it or outright destroy it. There is a reason why the best vintage and modern flex nibs are 14k gold. To counter-act this sponginess, my pen has to be used with a very delicate touch, which might be okay for some users but I don’t like that quality in a pocket pen that is, presumably, intended for hurried jotting. I’ve half-considered finding a generic steel #5 Bock nib and trying that in this pen to see if I like it more.

It’s a lovely nib, and although it was pretty crappy originally it’s since been fixed. It’s a bit too spongy for my tastes, unfortunately.

This pen currently retails for well over $1000. I didn’t pay nearly as much for it when I got mine, but even for what I paid for it it should have wrote well.

edit: Looks like Fahrney’s is carrying some YOL pens again for a much fairer price–no affiliation, and they don’t seem to carry the Pocket model. That’s probably where USA customers will need to go for a YOL pen.

YOL has, historically, been noted for its good customer service but when I emailed them with a question I received a canned response telling me to send the pen back to Birmingham. That’s a solid “meh” from me on the customer service front. Plus they’re not accepting repairs because of the pandemic–I don’t hold that against them for obvious reasons, but it’s something to consider if one is currently trying to decide on a YOL instrument right now. You don’t want to get stuck with an unrepairable dumpster fire of a pen that cost you a whole stack, now do you?

So, there we have it. I love YOL as a company, I really do. I love the company’s story, I love the art they are producing. But I am not a silver rod collector, I am a pen collector, and I can buy a hell of a lot of pen for $1000. Maybe that’s harsh, but I’d point-out that silver still isn’t that expensive as far as precious metals go (the spot price is under $30 per ounce [28 grams], as of this writing.) Compare this price to, say, Nakaya pens that are also produced entirely by hand and undergo lacquering processes that take months and can be found for well under $1000. And their pens are basically guaranteed to write.

It breaks my heart to write this, but I’d pass unless you get a good deal or can get it from a retailer with an outstanding return policy and even then I’d only pull the trigger if you really have your heart set on a Yard-O-Led fountain pen.

edit: I was thinking about this and I am pretty sure I bought the YOL Pocket when the Pound/Dollar exchange rate was very favorable. I wanted to be sure I wasn’t ranting about price increases and stuff that had more to do with geopolitical market shenanigans than it did with the company.

So I checked some historical prices via http://www.archive.org (no affiliation.) The Pocket was around £356 ($500ish) when I bought it in 2017. It is retailing, today, for £900. The Pounds:Dollar exchange rate was 1:1.29 back then compared to 1:1.39 as of today. It wasn’t the exchange rate that sent these products from expensive but obtainable to laughably exorbitant.

Pros:

  • I mean, just look at it.
  • In the hand, it is quite comfortable to hold and well balanced. The proportions are very nice. It has all of the trappings of a fantastic pen, but. . .

Cons:

  • . . .for the price, YOL has alarmingly unacceptable quality assurance. For what I paid for this pen I was pretty disappointed. If I’d paid today’s MSRP I would have been outraged.

Alternatives:

If you are in the market for a pocket pen, get literally any other pocket pen. On the inexpensive side, consider:

  • Kaweco Sports and Liliputs are bombproof. Their nibs usually need some tinkering but Bock seems to bork cheaper nibs less often, for some reason.
  • PenBBS 471 is a great pocket pen.
  • I find the Luoshi 358B a charming pen, and they work well for the price. One can buff the paint off pretty easily if you aren’t into the cigarette look.
  • Sheaffer Balance Juniors are fantastic pens. I recommend this one if looking for a flexy pocket pen–just make sure you find one with a “Junior” nib as the rest are not flexible at all.
  • Pilot E95s. Easily one of the best sub-$150 pens out there–possibly in the top 10 of the sub-$300 category–pocket pen or not. At least in my opinion. Really any vintage Japanese pocket pen by Pilot, Sailor, or Platinum could also work. This style of pen is a bit larger than European-style pocket pens, but they follow the same general concept of being small when capped and bigger when uncapped.

High-end pocket pens are somewhat difficult to come by, but for a more premium pocket pen look for:

  • Aurora Optima Mini.
  • Montblanc 114 Mozart.
  • The now-discontinued Pelikan m300.
  • The now-discontinued Delta Dolce Vita Mini, but watch-out for that Bock nib.

If you are in the market for a Yard-O-Led, I recommend the Viceroy Standard over the Pocket because the cap is far more secure, but even the Viceroy Grand isn’t that high of a premium over the Pocket model. Personally I would have gotten the Viceroy Pocket ballpoint and used Uniball Jetstream D1 refills with it had I known that I’d dislike the fountain pen so much.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Pop-top.
    • Posts.
  • Nib:
    • *shudders*
    • Available in Fine and Medium. Maybe Broad, but after a cursory search I couldn’t find any for sale in Broad as of this writing.
  • Body:
    • Hand-chased sterling silver.
    • Shown the Victorian finish, also available in Barleycorn.
  • Filling System:
    • Officially Standard international short cartridge only.
    • Kaweco mini piston converters can be made to work but only hold a tiny bit of ink. Squeeze-type Kaweco converters did not work for me in this pen and created an inky mess.
    • I am willing to bet that one of these minuscule Templar Ink mini converters would work, too (no affiliation). I’ll update here if I’m ever enterprising enough to buy ridiculously small converters to try in a pen I don’t really care for that much.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 110mm
    • Uncapped: 95mm
    • Posted: 127mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 28g
    • Pen: 20g
    • Cap: 8g
  • Section Diameter:
    • 10mm
Top to bottom: Pocket, Standard, Grand, capped.
Top to bottom: Pocket, Standard, Grand, uncapped. The pen isn’t really big enough to be used like this.
Top to bottom: Pocket, Standard, Grand, posted.
With Kaweco Sport.
With Kaweco Sport.
With Kaweco Sport.

Published by

MatB

I am a fountain pen enthusiast.

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