Aurora 88

When I started this blog I said that I was going to review my pens in roughly the order I bought them.

We’re taking a bit of a detour because I cannot wait anymore. I have to write about my modern Aurora 88.

Before this pen, I was exploring what I liked about fountain pens and I acquired a bunch without any real direction. I went through a try everything phase, then an oversize phase, followed by a hooded nib phase. The Aurora 88 is none of those things (the modern 88 isn’t anyways).

I knew about Aurora as a newbie, of course, but I was pretty nervous about their reputation for having nibs with feedback, and they seemed fairly expensive–relative to the Delta Dolcevita Oversize, Pelikan m1000, Yard-O-Led Viceroy Grand, and other pens I’d bought, Auroras aren’t really any more expensive, but I wasn’t sure about them. I found this 88 used on the Peyton Street Pens website for a good price, and decided I’d give it a shot.

I wish I’d bought the 88 first. Or maybe not because I wouldn’t have bothered buying any other pens. The Aurora 88, to me, is The Pen.

Not “my grail pen,” no, I have a different pen in mind for that–the 88 is The Pen. I cannot tell you what The Pen is–it’s a feeling, a state of mind. It’s the instrument that checks all of the “Yes” boxes and none of the “No” boxes. It feeds your soul, whether by the company’s story, the product itself, the writing experience, or (more likely) some combination of those things. A grail pen could be The Pen, but I don’t think they necessarily are the same thing. If you could only have one pen, The Pen is it, and the humble (by Aurora’s standards, anyways) 88 is My Pen.


It’s a perfect fit for my hand. It’s classy and beautiful. The nib? Perfection: wet, smooth, and with perfect feedback. On premium paper and with a wet ink it’s a smooth, luxurious writing experience. On the other hand, I can tame the medium nib with a drier ink like Rohrer & Klingner Salix to write smaller or on crappy paper, so it’s adaptable to either writing bold and beautiful letters or small, precise every day writing. No skipping, hard starts, or drying out. The writing sample is done in R&K Salix, but my favorite ink to use with this pen is the beautifully dark, velvety Aurora Black–Aurora Black is extremely well behaved given how wet and lubricated it is, and the combination is simply divine, especially on a premium paper like Rhodia, Midori, or Tomoe River.

The pen is a piston filler. I measured 1.4mL capacity through my usual measurement technique. It does have the “magic reserve” feature, which is supposed to keep a little bit of ink in the piston and allow an extra couple of pages of writing by fully extending the piston, should one be caught without enough ink. It’s sort of a gimmick, but it works as intended. The ink window is subtle but functional.

It doesn’t matter if the 88 is used posted or unposted because the balance is perfect. Some pens feel like they need to be posted and some feel better unposted but it doesn’t matter with the 88–although I almost always post it. Through some Italian wizardry, the 88 somehow manages to be shorter than comparable pens when capped, longer when unposted, and roughly the same length as its peers when posted, so it fits in any pocket or pouch, feels substantial when not posted, and remains comfortable when posted. The long, tapered section helps with writing comfort.

Left to right: Pilot Custom 823, Aurora 88, Sailor 1911L, Platinum 3776 Century
Left to right: Pilot Custom 823, Aurora 88, Platinum 3776 Century Sailor 1911L,
Left to right: Pilot Custom 823, Aurora 88, Sailor 1911L, Platinum 3776 Century

Auroras are entirely made in house in Turin Italy and their nibs are unique–ground finer than German equivalent but perhaps not as fine as equivalent Japanese nibs.  The feedback of Aurora’s nibs is a grossly over-exaggerated topic, in my opinion. The nib isn’t perfectly smooth, sure, but it is far from scratchy. Like I’ve said before, a nib can have feedback and be smooth because feedback is an audiotactile sensation whereas scratchiness is a defect. When I was a newbie, this distinction was not very clear and it’s scary to think about buying an expensive pen that one won’t like, which kept me from pulling the trigger on an Aurora. It turns out that I love feedbacky nibs but not everyone will. I think Platinum nibs are the closest to Aurora’s in feeling, so I would recommend that newbies try a cheaper Platinum first to get an idea before dropping serious cash on an Aurora. The other alternative is to order Auroras from a nibmeister who can adjust the pens to have less feedback. That said, all of my Auroras except one have written perfectly out of the box, and the one weird one was pretty close to perfect.

I swear, I am being paid by neither Aurora nor their American distributor Kenro (although I’d be happy to review some new Aurora stuff, hit me up guys!) I discovered my love for Aurora independently and my fountain pen collecting has largely shifted to Aurora, both vintage and modern, because of the Aurora 88.

If I was forced to say anything bad about the Aurora 88, it would be that it can be a chore to clean the pen because of the magic reserve feature. This can bother some people–I don’t care–but it’s worth mentioning. Another point is that I’ve found Aurora’s ebonite feeds to be wholly incompatible with pigmented inks like Sailor Kiwa-Guro. It seems like the narrow feed channels cannot handle the particulates in these inks and it leads to poor performance and clogging regardless of flushing, at least in my experience. This isn’t a ding on Aurora per se as they are not advertised to be compatible with these inks nor are these inks designed to work in Aurora pens specifically, but I would stay away from shimmer or pigmented inks with these pens.


  • Perfect.


  • None.
  • All right, cleaning can be a hassle.
  • This level of quality comes at a price.


  • Cap:
    • Screw cap.
    • 1.25 turns to remove.
  • Nib:
    • 14k Large Proprietary Aurora  medium nib with ebonite feed.
    • About #6 size.
    • Nib units screw-out and are interchangeable with like Aurora pens.
    • Available nib grades are extra fine, fine, medium, broad, double broad, oblique broad, oblique double broad, factory stub, factory italic, and Goccia EF, F, and M. Aurora did make a flexible fine nib that is still available. Factory reverse oblique nibs and an oblique triple broad nib may also exist.
    • Edit: I have officially confirmed that Aurora no longer makes O3B nibs. Aurora’s nib lineup, best as I can tell, is EF, F, M, B, BB, Factory Stub, Factory Italic, OF, OM, OB, OBB, and reverse obliques (OFR, OMR, OBR, and OBBR) along with the Goccia EF, F, and M. While this a very impressive lineup by modern standards, obtaining one of the more exotic grinds will almost certainly require a special order through a participating retailer–along with an additional fee.
  • Filling System:
    • Piston filler with magic reserve.
    • 1.4mL capacity.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 136mm
    • Uncapped: 132mm
    • Posted: 160mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 21g
    • Body: 14g
    • Cap: 7g
  • Section diameter:
    • 10.5-12mm

Pelikan m1000

After I got my Delta DolceVita Oversize, I was hooked on oversized pens and I acquired a bunch of them in rapid succession. The Pelikan Souverän m1000 was one of them.

I knew early on in my fountain pen journey that I had to have an m1000. A “grail” pen, as it were. My definition of a grail pen has shifted over the years and the m1000 is not it, but I wanted one and used my post-Delta giant pen fever to justify getting it.


This is another substantial pen. Although it’s large, the pen is proportionally correct so it doesn’t feel as ridiculous as the Delta. The material has depth but is subtle. The whole pen feels like a high quality instrument, like the Delta, but it’s not flashy and garish–it’s classy and conservative. All of these qualities work together to create a fountain pen that would be a great option for every day use, although I think it’s a bit long for a shirt pocket.

Pelikan’s flagship pen is not heavy, despite being large. Most of its weight falls in the web of my hand because of the brass piston mechanism; some do not like a back-heavy pen, but it works for me. The pen posts and becomes stupid long, but because it is proportionally sensible and the cap is light and posts deeply, it sort-of works. I don’t write with it like that, but one could do it.


The two tone nib is one of the most beautiful in the industry. Pelikan nibs are proprietary and interchangeable between like models (i.e. m1000 size nibs are interchangeable). Unlike my Delta, it wrote out of the box. I didn’t like how it wrote, but it worked: the nib seemed uneven like one nib tine was longer than the other and it tended to slowly run dry while writing–unacceptable at this price, of course, but at least it was functional.

I’ll be honest, I bought this pen off of the gray market–paid a lower price ordering it directly from Germany via eBay. The trade off to taking this route is one can generally kiss their warranty goodbye. I probably could have sent it back to Germany, but instead I sent the pen to the legendary Mike Masuyama. He sorted it out for me. The guy is a pen wizard.

It writes like a dream, now. It’s significantly finer than it was and writes with the perfect amount of feedback with no skipping, drying-out, or other BS. The nib is springy and responsive but nowhere near a flex nib–nor is it advertised as such. It’s a joy to use.

The Pelikan m1000 is a seriously nice pen.


  • Classy and professional.
  • Comfortable in the hand.
  • Well designed and balanced.
  • Beautiful, expressive nib.


  • Probably too big for some.
  • Expensive.
  • Mine was a mediocre writer out of the box.


  • Cap:
    • Screw Cap.
    • 3/4 turn to remove.
  • Nib:
    • Large Pelikan nib unit–roughly #8 size.
    • Presently available in extra fine, fine, medium, and broad.
    • Other nib grades were historically available and are still out there.
  • Filling system:
    • Silky smooth piston mechanism
    • Ink capacity is around 1.2-1.3 mL.
  • Length
    • Capped: 146mm
    • Uncapped: 136mm
    • Posted: 178mm
  • Weight:
    • 34 grams
      • Cap: 10 grams
      • Pen: 24
  • Section diameter:
    • 12-13mm

Delta Dolcevita Oversize

This is partly a review, partly a cautionary tale.

The Delta Dolcevita Oversize–henceforth, Delta–was my first “luxury” level pen. I read reviews about it, saw pictures of its glorious/ridiculous size, and decided that I had to have it. And one night, I found it at a really good price and bought it.

I was so excited that I took the afternoon off from work to intercept the package and test-out my fancy new pen. I don’t have the box anymore and I don’t have pictures of it, but Delta used a really cool box for this pen with thumb screws securing a lid that, when removed, revealed a super shiny, huge pen surrounded by black velvet.

Compared to my previous pens, packaged in generic boxes and sleeves, this was cool. I knew I was dealing with something special. It takes a lot to get me going about packaging nowadays, but the Delta was my first really fancy pen.

So I inked it up to write and. . .


That crappy, low-res gif is a pen–worth about the same  as my entire fountain pen collection up until that point–not writing. A pen simply not doing what pens are supposed to do.

I was perturbed. Embarrassed, even. I flushed the pen, washed and flushed the pen, tried the Delta ink that came with the pen, tried the pen in eye dropper mode instead of filled with the converter. The gif is the result of those efforts.

Under a loupe, it was obvious that the nib was fundamentally flawed. Delta used Bock nibs. I’ve never had a pen equipped with an OEM Bock nib that didn’t need some level of  work before it wrote well. Two Kaweco Sports, One Delta and a replacement loose Delta nib, and three Yard-O-Led pens. A couple thousand dollars worth of nibs and pens that all needed work to write. Coincidence? Maybe. I’m not the only person who’s had this problem, though–Visconti pens, for instance, are notorious for not working out of the box, and their nibs are made by none other than Bock.

Even if only a fraction of these results are caused by faulty nibs, that’s still ridiculous for pens as pricey as Visconti.

How many anecdotes are required to make evidence?

Anyways, I wasn’t confident enough in my nib skills at the time, so I contacted the seller–who I won’t name–and I was informed of their “no returns on pens that have been inked” policy. “Be sure to dip-test it, next time.” Fun fact: you cannot tell if a pen is over polished–a condition colloquially known as baby’s bottom–if you just dip it. The seller wasn’t interested in helping me.

At the time, Delta was distributed by Yafa in North America so I emailed them. They got back to me two months later. I’d mostly fixed the issue by then. Thanks Yafa.

I could have emailed Delta Italy directly as they supposedly had pretty decent customer service. But I decided to fix my Delta myself. The reality is that nib modification isn’t hard to do, but it’s really easy to screw-up, so I went slowly and deliberately, re-profiling the nib’s tipping material over the course of several weeks–check, grind, test. I eventually got the factory stub working fairly well.

Back to the pen. It’s heavy, thick, shiny, and garish. The responsive, bouncy 14 karat stub nib creates a luscious, juicy line. It’s so gloriously wet that I used almost a full converter of ink writing my two page sample/rough draft. It’s barely a stub in the traditional sense, but it’s still somewhat expressive and adds character to the user’s writing. After I de-Bocked it, of course. This nib would make a beautiful cursive italic.

The hallmarked sterling silver trim ring is a nice touch.

The pen, while lovely, isn’t for everyone, though. It’s thick and quite heavy. It’s not long, though, so it fits in a shirt pocket. I find the Delta to be quite comfortable for periods of long writing, but it’s an acquired taste. I don’t consider this pen a good everyday pen because of its size and flashiness. Also it burns through ink like nobody’s business, although it can be eye dropper filled to negate some of that issue.

That o-ring allows the Delta DV/OS to be filled as an eyedropper–no silicone grease, no eyedropper conversions, it’s ready to go.

Sadly, Delta doesn’t exist anymore, at least not in the same capacity that it used to. QC issues aside, they made some interesting pens that are absolutely worth checking out, including a modern lever filler that I’ve always been curious about. It’s still relatively easy to find Deltas on the used market, although their already hefty price has continued to climb higher and higher.

Here’s the cautionary part of the tale: fountain pens don’t always work right because they are complex instruments, so one must be ready to deal with that. There are ways to mitigate this risk: buy pens from a nibmeister who can correct flaws before sending their pens out, order from merchants with a reasonable return policy, or buy pens made by companies with good post purchase support. Conversely, one can learn to tune their own nibs or work with a good nibmeister. The most important advice: keep one’s expectations in check.


  • Huge.
  • Beautiful.
  • Luxurious.
  • Substantial.
  • Awesome.


  • It didn’t write. I blame both the pen companies for not testing their products and the OEM nib manufacturer. There is no excuse at any price point, but it is even less excusable at this price point.
  • Shite customer service. I don’t know if Yafa has stepped-up, but my experience was not good.
  • This pen is huge. It’s too big to be practical, for the most part.


  • Cap:
    • Screw cap, one turn to remove.
    • Sort-of postable, but comically huge when posted.
  • Nib:
    • Bock #8 nib, 14k gold with ebonite feed.
    • It was available in Extra Fine, Fine, Medium, Broad, and factory Stub.
      • Writing sample is the Stub.
      • I also have a Fine nib for this pen.
      • Neither worked out of the box.
  • Filling system:
    • Standard international cartridge/converter or eye dropper.
    • The pen came equipped with a threaded standard international converter.
    • Compatible with long standard international cartridges.
    • Ink capacity is 0.8mL with standard converter, 5.6mL as an eye dropper.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 138mm
    • Uncapped: 133mm
    • Posted: 175mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 44 grams
      • Pen: 31 grams
      • Cap: 13 grams
  • Section diameter:
    • 15mm
With Safari for scale.

Hero 616

The Hero 616–manufactured, supposedly, by Hero in Shanghai–is a notorious and inexpensive copy of the Parker 51. In many ways, it is the prototypical 51 copy and it can be had for as low as $1.50 shipped, as of this writing.

They look the part, of course, but they are much, much cheaper. When the Parker 51 was introduced in 1941, the base model MSRP was $12.50–a little over $250, adjusted for inflation. So they look alike, but they are not really comparable.caps_compare

Obviously, anyone who likes the Parker 51 aesthetic but wants something less expensive should go out and grab a 616 right now, right?

No. Not so fast.

The issue isn’t with the Hero 616 itself–they are actually relatively decent fountain pens, for the price, and fill a niche in a world where one is concerned about loss, theft, or the average coworker unintentionally mashing a $400 nib back into a gold nugget.

The problem is getting a good, authentic 616.

First, counterfeits abound. These fake 616 pens are generally very poor quality and not worth the money, no matter the price. Seriously, the pens the bank hand-out for free are better. That’s not to say you cannot coerce them into working, but they’re a knock-off knock-off, so don’t expect much.

Second, Hero’s quality control is a atrocious. Even if you find an authentic one, you will have to disassemble the pen and put it together correctly as the nib, feed, collector, and hood are usually sloppily tossed together and the pen probably won’t work all that great. To be fair, the company is producing a pen that can be shipped 7,000 miles for a buck and half so corners are being cut, but the pen is a little bit more expensive when you account for a jeweler’s loupe, shellac or thread sealant, and the time and skill necessary to assemble your pen if you want one that does what it is supposed to do. Assuming that you can skip the disassembly step because the hood is oriented at least pretty close, it’s likely that the pen will randomly run dry, skip, won’t fill properly, and will otherwise fail at being a fountain pen because the nib-feed-collector assembly is out of whack.

Third and probably related to number one and two, not all Heros are alike. I don’t know if this is because they are made in different factories with different equipment or if sellers package counterfeits with authentic pens or pens intended for export and those intended China’s domestic market are being mixed-up somewhere or if there are different lots made with different parts in circulation. I honestly have no idea.

Consider my two 616s. Both are marked Hero 616 (英雄616). None of the parts are interchangeable including the nibs and caps except the feed and collector. They’re not even the same length. A few points about the green pen:

  • The sac protector/pressure bar isn’t polished and is sharp.
  • The characters on the filler are stamped into the metal and feel rough and crappy.
  • The arrow clip is blobby and weird looking.
  • The trim rings are rough to the touch and stick out past the section and body.
  • The nib is a folded steel nib with a square profile.
  • The 英雄 characters on the nib–which aren’t visible when it’s put together, of course–are incompletely stamped into the metal.
  • The striations on the cap are pronounced. It kind of feels like a nail file, actually.
  • The threads between the section and the body are functional, but loose and sloppy.

Compare this to my black Hero 616:

  • The sac protector/pressure bar on the filler is highly polished.
  • The characters on the filler are crisply engraved.
  • The details on the arrow clip are well defined.
  • The trim rings around the ink window do not stick out and are smooth.
  • The nib is folded steel, too, but is well tuned. Actually, it’s probably the nicest P51-style folded steel nibs I’ve used.
  • The 英雄 characters are engraved on the nib, not stamped. Again, this isn’t visible unless it’s disassembled.
  • The striations on the cap are tastefully engraved and smooth to the touch, creating more of a satin finish rather than a stripped one.
  • The threads between the section and body are precise.
  • The clutch cap works and is a close approximation of what the P51 clutch cap feels like.
Filler differences.

Maybe one is a counterfeit, but these came in the same blister pack. These pens are not the same. There is no way these were produced on the same machinery. I don’t know which one is authentic, if they both are, or if they are both fake. It’s a mystery. I definitely like the black one more, though. That said, excluding pens that were obviously fake, I’ve had ten Hero 616s pass through my hands. Of those, one was my rough green pen, seven were like my rough green pen, one was like my good black 616 but cracked out of the box, and one was my nice 616. Bear in mind, all of them needed work to function properly–full tear-down, thorough cleaning, alignment of the feed, nib, and collector, and reassembly with alignment of the hood and nib before shellacking the hood in place, with minor nib adjustments as necessary. Also keep in mind that these pens are cheap and not all of them will survive surgery.

Sure, the pens are only a couple bucks. That value doesn’t look as great once one factors the supplies, skills, and time needed to get these pens running especially compared to the competition that has sprang-up in China over the last couple of years.

Personally, my recommendations to a newbie looking for a P51-esque pen, from most recommended to least, are:

  1. Sorry, I have to be that guy: bite the bullet and save your money for a Parker 51. Parker did it best and they made millions of 51s. Restored, user-grade examples come-up on ebay, Etsy, and elsewhere all the time for $90-$150.
  2. The Wing Sung 601. It costs more than a 616, but that’s because it’s a better pen.
  3. The Jinhao 51a isn’t so much a copy of a P51 as a homage. They don’t cost that much more than a 616. Plus they come in cool acrylics or in wood!
  4. If you buy a Hero, buy it from a trusted seller on eBay or Amazon or whatever. You can get it cheaper from shady sellers, but consider a couple extra bucks cheap insurance.

I love hooded nibs and the Parker 51 aesthetic so I have all of them, but the Hero 616 was my first. I didn’t know that getting a good, working example of a 616 was going to be a tremendous pain in my ass. I wouldn’t mess with them, knowing what I know now, nor would I recommend the pen unless one has some reason to want to accumulate a desk drawer full of broken mystery pens in search for one that doesn’t suck.


  • Dirt cheap.
  • Can be made to write well.
  • Holds a lot of ink.
  • Semi-disposable–you won’t miss it if you lose it.
  • I think it’s fun to tinker around with them.


  • You’ll have to fix it out of the box. Plan on it.
  • Tons of counterfeits/crappy versions. Hard to get the real deal.
  • A lot of headache for a ho-hum pen.


  • Friction-fit cap (or a close approximation of a clutch cap, if you’re lucky).
  • Hooded nib available in any nib grade you like as long it’s extra fine.
  • Integrated aerometric filler. Ink capacity 1.2mL.
  • Length:
    • Capped: about 140mm
    • Uncapped: about 127mm
    • Posted: about 147mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 16 grams
      • Pen: 9 grams
      • Cap: 7 grams.
  • Section diameter: 8-11mm.

616s compared to Parker 51, capped.


Common step-up pen super review–Pilot Vanishing Point, Platinum 3776, Lamy 2000

There isn’t much I can add about these pens–they have been reviewed thousands of times. They are pens that are common for second pens, or first pens with gold nibs, or step-up pens, or whatever. They’re recommended often because they’re solid pens.

There are other pens that could be in this review–Pilot Custom 74 comes to mind, maybe Pelikan m200. Some Faber-Castell pens might be in here, too. Maybe the cheaper Sailors. Probably a bunch of others. But I don’t have those and outside of the Custom 74, these pens are more commonly recommended. I seriously think that the Aurora Ipsilon and Pilot e95 are solid step-up pens, too, but they aren’t as commonly recommended either and I want to cover those separately.

First up, the Vanishing Point. These are great workhorse pens and with the capless design they deploy quickly for notes on the go. The pen’s body itself is more of a carrier that holds the nib unit, which is shared by all of the capless pens by Pilot. They fill via Pilot’s cartridges or converters. I have the Pilot CON-50 converters in mine because they are a bit older, but Pilot’s new CON-40 is a dumpster fire–they hold a tiny amount of ink, rattle because of the stupid agitators, and are basically impossible to fill completely. I’d refill Pilot cartridges for a higher ink capacity and no annoying, rattly balls if that was my only option, but I like the CON-50.

One more thing I could comment on: the fountain pen community has long said “Japanese pens are finer! Consider ordering a size up!” This advice is perhaps somewhat true, but it sucks. Nib sizes are not standardized a differ between manufactures. We should be telling people, however, that German pens–Lamy, Pelikan, or pens equipped with JoWo nibs–are a size up and people should order down. I know this advice would have saved me a lot trouble. If you want a fine, dear reader, and you are ordering a Pilot or Platinum, just order a fine. If you are really on the fence, find a brick and mortar store or a vendor or company with a nib exchange policy. Ink and paper selection can impact this quite a bit, too.

These Japanese nibs aren’t atom-splitting skinny–they’re actually fairly comparable to nib grades from other companies. Lamy, on the other hand, is generally thicker. Ink selection can impact this, too, but I’ve still found this to be mostly true.

The Platinum 3776 is the most “fountain pen-like” pen of this bunch. Classic design, twist-off cap, lovely 14K open nib with a heart-shaped breather hole. They fill with Platinum’s cartridge/converters–which is my favorite system of the big three Japanese manufacturers. These pens, while small and light, are meant to write and are a fantastic bargain.

They are toothy writers, though. Feedback, or tooth, is the audio-tactile sensation of “feeling” the nib on paper–it’s not scratchy. A pen can be a smooth writer and still be toothy or have feedback. Some compare it to writing with a pencil. My rule of thumb is that if the sensation seems diminished while writing with headphones on, it’s feedback. Scratch is unpleasant and damages paper.

I love some tooth, so I love the way Platinum pens write. Some people hate it. Everyone has to try it in person to figure it out.

The 3776 is a solid choice.

The Lamy 2000 is my favorite of the three–hooded nibs, smooth writers, no bullshit filling system, and basically indestructible. They’ve been in production since the 1960’s. They are classic. The snap cap makes it quick to get it to paper, but not as quick as the Vanishing Point.

The nibs on these pens are fat and wet, though. One has to consider this when deciding what nib size to get. My broad Lamy 2000 is borderline ridiculous and not especially practical for use on the standard crappy paper that one encounters in the wild–it’s like writing with Sharpie and it will bleed through mediocre paper. It’s still an awesome nib, just not that practical. I’ve found my Lamy 2000 with a fine nib to be more practical.

Speaking of which, all three of these pens have a ton of nib options:

Vanishing Point:

  • Extra Fine
  • Fine
  • Medium
  • Broad
  • 1.0 mm Stub


  • Ultra Extra Fine
  • Extra Fine
  • Fine
  • Soft Fine
  • Medium
  • Soft Medium
  • Broad
  • Coarse (basically a double broad)
  • Music


  • Extra Fine
  • Fine
  • Medium
  • Oblique Medium
  • Broad
  • Oblique Broad
  • Double Broad
  • Oblique Double Broad

There’s something for everyone with these pens, which make them even more fun as step-up pens.


Sheaffer 500 “Dolphin”

A little background on this pen: in the 60’s, Sheaffer wanted to make a lower-budget line of pens that capitalized on the popular Imperial line. They had semi-hooded nibs that looked like inlaid nibs. The pens from the line were eventually nicknamed dolphins, likely originating from the weird, bulbous sections. The least expensive pen in this budget line is the cartridge 500.

That said, this weird pen is pretty sentimental to me.

I found it in an antique shop after I took the NCLEX–the licensure exam for nurses in the United States. It was new old stock, in box, with a matching mechanical pencil. It was one of the first times that I’d seen a fountain pen in a store and I’d just passed a big milestone in my life, so I bought it.

I fell in love with the streamlined look of hooded and semi-hooded pens because of this goofy little pen. The aesthetic doesn’t work for everyone, but I love them. I have a sub collection of pens with hooded nibs because I found this pen. It was my first vintage pen, too.

It may have been a budget pen in its time, but the 500 writes like an expensive one. The nib is fine and maybe unhallmarked palladium-silver–mine doesn’t attract a magnet, but the nibs weren’t marked on these cheap pens. The pen itself is small–right around 12cm uncapped–and very light. The metal slip cap works and isn’t too heavy, so the pen can be used posted, although it’s long enough to be used unposted, too. The whole thing feels cheap, though

It’s filled with a cartridge only. Modern Sheaffer cartridges work just fine for this, but modern converters will not fit in the pen (I tried). I suppose one might be able to convert it to an eyedropper. I have no idea if vintage Sheaffer squeeze converters would fit but those sell for about the same or more than these pens, so that’s not exactly an economical solution. The good news is that Sheaffer cartridges are all over the place and not terribly expensive. The ink is okay, too (except black–I hate Sheaffer Black) and the cartridges hold-up to reuse pretty well if one wants to refill them, as I usually do.

The 500 series pens are still relatively easy to find used, if one is interested. The street price is $55-75 as of this writing. I like this pen, but I would not pay $50 for it and I sure as hell wouldn’t pay $75 for it–$50 is in the Esterbrook J range and $75 can buy a user-grade Parker 51 (if one shops around), both of which are arguably better vintage pens.

The pencil is a pencil and it functions as expected.


  • Writes really well. Smooth steel/maybe palladium silver nib.
  • Still relatively available.
  • Interesting Aesthetic.


  • Cartridge only.
  • Feels like a cheap pen, even if it writes well.
  • Interesting Aesthetic.

My verdict: mine is sentimental to me, but overall I’d stay away unless one finds an example at a good price, collects Sheaffers, or likes the unconventional look.

Capped, with Safari for size comparison

Posted, with Safari for size comparison

Unposted, with Safari for size comparison

With Matching pencil. Cartridges only.

It’s pretty obvious that manufacturers of the day were emulating the style of the Parker 51.


Edison Nouveau Premiere

I bought my first Edison NP as a college graduation gift to myself and opted for the 18k gold nib option. Is the 18k nib worth the up charge on Edison pens? Maybe. The surface of the gold nibs are more highly polished and look nicer but they do not perform that much better than the steel nibs and they certainly aren’t flexible.  Gold nibs reputedly feel different when writing because they are slightly bouncy or springy compared to steel nibs. That isn’t always true but seems to be the case with Edison’s nibs, made by JoWo in Germany.

Every Edison pen I’ve bought has written well out of the box whether a gold or a steel nib.


The broad nib on my winter 2012 was ground to a stub by Dan Smith and is smooth with nice line variation. I ground the Fall 2014 broad to a stub myself, and the Fall 2017–which I’ve loving dubbed “my Guy Fieri Pen”–is a stock fine.

The NP is a Goulet Pens exclusive product and they release seasonal special editions, so these finishes aren’t available anymore. The fit and finish on Edison pens is always spot-on. They are simple cartridge/converter fillers that can be readily converted into eyedropper filled pens, if so inclined. All production Edison pens are quite lovely and American made.

I have two issues with the NP line, though. For one, I want to post these pens. They feel like they should be posted. But they don’t post, not really anyways. The cap sort-of fits on the end but barely hangs on and makes a weirdly balanced pen that feels too long.

My second issue: I am always incredibly annoyed when a manufacturer makes a full-sized, standard international cartridge/converter pen that is just barely too small to accommodate a long international cartridge. It’s an oversight that bugs me. I don’t use cartridges often but having the option to take a few high-capacity long cartridges while traveling is very convenient.

The NP is longer and thicker than this Yard-O-Led Standard. . .
. . .but cannot accept the same cartridge,

Maybe I’m weirdly enthusiastic about this point, but I have a backstory: I had a tragic, inky accident on a business trip and didn’t have a way to refill my pen. This is when I discovered that Waterman cartridges are sold in practically every office supply store in the US. If I had a standard international long compatible pen, I would have been set, but I didn’t. I always take one on business trips now, out of tradition. Honestly, I usually just take a bunch of pens and refills with me, but one of them is always a pen compatible with Waterman cartridges.

To be fair, a long international cartridge will fit in a NP with some coercion but removing the cartridge is another matter. They are not advertised as compatible, either.

Obviously these minor issues were not enough to stop me from buying three of these pens. I recommend them.

It’s really hard to capture these cool materials with my less-than-stellar photography skills

Cross Century II

A teacher of mine in high school gave me a Cross ballpoint at one time. I developed a bit of a soft spot for the brand at that point.

When I discovered that the A.T. Cross company made fountain pens, I knew I had to have one.

The Cross Century II was my first “step-up” fountain pen. I ordered directly from the manufacturer and paid full MSRP for it, but I did so because I wanted a broad nib. The broad option was on its way to being discontinued at the time, and I don’t think they are offered at all anymore on this line.

5 - h8JJtbl

It’s a sweet writer. Super smooth and wet.

The company has changed a lot in the past couple decades and the question of who makes these nibs and during which time period is confusing–Pilot and Pelikan have made Cross nibs, and Sailor currently makes nibs for the Peerless line–but whoever made the nib on this pen knocked it out of the park. Only fine and medium are options on Century II pens, now.

The pen is thin and uses a simple snap cap. I can write with it unposted, but it feels better posted. It fills via Cross’s proprietary cartridge/converter system. Their cartridges were just okay when I tried them a couple years ago, so I prefer to fill it with the converter–which, I might add, costs extra. . .seriously, guys?

I like the Century II. Parts of it feel a little cheap–the plastic-lined snap cap feels reminiscent of other pens that originate in China but cost significantly less and ink can get trapped between the plastic grip and the chrome ring on the front of the section, staining ones fingers. Overall, though, I like it. It writes really well and looks classy.

4 - H4687Hs
3 - xwWTe36
1 - yjGg6TZ

Kaweco Sport

The Kaweco Sport is another pen that there isn’t really anything else that I can say that hasn’t already been said. It is a ubiquitous beginner-level pen and sort-of the quintessential modern pocket pen. There is already a lot of information about it floating around. My red Ice Sport was my second pen, so for the sake of staying in chronological order, here we go.

There are dozens of finishes for this pen–demonstrators, plastic or metal, gold trim or not, whatever one could want. Typically, the pen comes with a steel nib in sizes ranging from extra fine to double broad, but one can find all the nib sizes in 14k gold–in plain gold, rhodium-plated, and two-tone finishes–and stub/calligraphy nibs from 1.1mm to 2.3mm and a double nib that makes two lines at once. Several different types of removable clips, two types of converters, and the option to convert the pen into an eyedropper make the Sport a very customizable pen, although it’s all extra because the pen only comes with a blue cartridge.


I wear a large size glove and I can write with the Sport for a long time, but it’s not my favorite thing to do. The pens really were meant for quick notes, and for that they work well. I have a thing for matching sets, so I eventually got an Ice Sport ballpoint to go with my fountain pen, and it works as it should. The Kaweco double pen pouch makes a compact package for on-the-go writing activities, and the plastic pens are sturdy enough to handle whatever is thrown at them. My red Sport has been camping, kayaking, and hiking and has never had a problem except it likes to burp ink if I use the squeeze converter or convert the pen to eyedropper fill, so I don’t do that.

Open and Closed. A spring from a cheap clicky ballpoint can be used to prevent the cartridge from getting dislodged.

As far as the writing experience goes, Kaweco has a reputation for questionable nib QC. All my Sports wrote too dry out of the box, which is an easy enough fix but annoying, especially for beginner-tier pens, but they wrote. Frankly, I blame Bock–the OEM nib manufacturer for Kaweco and a bunch of other brands. I’ve had many pens with Bock nibs in them and none of them were good out of the box. Some of them simply didn’t write without extensive work on my part or professional nibmeister modification. I would advise potential buyers to proceed with caution in that regard.

Inks: Iroshizuku Fuyu-Gaki on top, Pelikan Blue Black on bottom. The double broad is slightly stubby and very smooth.

I do, however, like my Kaweco Sports. They are cool, durable, compact, and very customizable pens.sports

Lamy Safari, Charcoal Finish. My first pen.

What can I realistically say about the Lamy Safari that hasn’t already been said ten thousand times?

Not much, really.

Mine is in the Charcoal finish, even. It’s almost cliché at this point.


When I started my fountain pen journey, beginner-level fountain pens weren’t as widespread as they are now. The Pilot Metropolitan didn’t exist or wasn’t available in the United States. The Pilot Varsity, the Platinum Preppy, and the Lamy Safari were the pens I saw most frequently recommended, and I liked the Safari’s aesthetic, so I chose it. That’s not to say there weren’t other pens I could have chosen, but I was a newbie and I didn’t really know what I was looking for, so I picked it out based on looks and a handful of forum recommendations.

I didn’t buy it for myself, though. It was a Valentine’s gift from my then girlfriend, now wife, in 2012, which makes it extra special to me–there are many Safaris like it, but this one is mine. I also occasionally and ever so gently remind her that she facilitated my madness.

I don’t use it as much as I used to, but I’ve put it through its paces. Despite its light weight, it is robust and has held-up very well over the years. I’ve never had any problems with its performance–it writes every time I put it to page. Not much else to be said about that, really. If you are looking for one pen to use for a long, long time, consider this a candidate. The easily swappable nibs make it a versatile platform to try different nib grades or replace a damaged nib, too–an often over-looked quality in beginner’s pens.


The Safari posts well, but I think it feels weird and too long or unbalanced when posted, so I don’t do that. I’m not a huge fan of the triangular grip, honestly, but I make do. If you don’t think that the grip will bother you, it probably won’t, and the section is long enough that you can adjust your grip a bit up or down to figure out what works best.

As of today, Lamy still doesn’t include a converter with the Safari. C’mon, guys.

Surely the Lamy Safari has hooked countless people on fountain pens over its long career. Even with an ever-growing catalogue of newbie-friendly pens, I still think the Safari is worth a look. If you are considering it, please think about ordering it through a reputable seller as there are many convincing looking but crumby quality counterfeits out there.