Pelikan m205 Duo

This pen is sold as a highlighter. I used it as a highlighter for a long time but it’s a very wet writer, which leads to smudging and bleed-through on text book paper or similar. If the user keeps that in mind, it’s quite functional as such. It works particularly well on articles printed on high quality paper where the text is already pretty small.

The double broad nib on this pen is way too sweet to be used in a purely functional way, though; it makes a bold, wet line that works very well with shading inks.

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Except for the BB nib, this pen is functionally identical to other Pelikan m205s, which are m200s with chrome trim instead of gold trim. These, along with their higher-end sibling the m400, have not changed much since their introduction in the 1980s, themselves being inspired by the 400nn of the 1950s. Because of this, they are sized like the pens of that time–pretty small by modern standards.

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Small isn’t always a bad thing, though–the m205 fits quite nicely in a shirt pocket, and Pelikan’s 3/4 twist to remove cap is every bit as quick to deploy as a snap cap pen. This, combined with Pelikan’s no-nonsense piston filling system, makes for a pen that is meant for writing.

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Typically, m200s and m205s are not offered with BB nibs; on the other hand, the m205 Duo series is only offered in BB. If the user wants a BB nib on their m205, this is their option. Don’t believe Pelikan’s nonsense about using only Duo highlighter ink in this pen–it’s just a regular m205 with a fat nib.

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One of the advantages of Pelikans is their interchangeable nib units–so m200 nibs can be swapped with m200 nibs, m400 and m600 nibs, and even similarly sized vintage nib units. This makes the platform versatile and at least partly customizable.

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It’s hard to go wrong with Pelikan, really. The m200 series is around $125 to $150 or so, which is a pretty reasonable price for what the pen is. Cartridge/converter pens with stock JoWo or Bock nibs routinely sell for more than the m200/205 and the 200/205 is a superior pen in both fit, finish, and durabilty compared to other steel-nib piston fillers, so I don’t see price as an issue with this pen. Pelikan’s pricing model sky-rockets once gold nibs are involved, though, but the user is paying for a durable, classy pen with a time-proven design that works. A m200/205 series pen is a great choice for a beginner or as a step-up pen.

Pelikan also routinely releases special edition m200/205 pens to satisfy those with a desire to collect different colors.

I’ve used my Pelikan m205 Duo for three and a half years for both highlighting and writing and it’s held up quite well. I can recommend this family of pens.

Pros:

  • Good size.
  • Fool-proof piston filler.
  • Fun, juicy BB nib.

Cons:

  • May be too small for some users.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Screw cap.
    • 3/4 turn to remove.
    • Postable.
  • Nib:
    • Pelikan m205 series steel nib unit, double broad.
    • Other nibs are available and compatible with this pen in numerous nib sizes.
  • Filling System:
    • Piston fill.
    • 1.4mL ink capacity.
  • Body:
    • Demonstrator yellow.
    • Also available:
      • m205 Duo in demonstrator green.
      • m205 in countless finishes.
      • m200 in black, marble green, marble brown, and special edition colors.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 126mm
    • Uncapped: 123mm
    • Posted: 151mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 15g
    • Pen: 10g
    • Cap: 5g
  • Section Diameter:
    • 9.3-10mm
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Parker 51

Some say that the Parker 51 is the best pen ever made.

So, do I think it’s best? “Best” is subjective. If we define “best” as “a no bull-shit pen that writes a consistent line every time, holds a crap load of ink, is virtually indestructible, and has otherwise stood the test of time” than the Parker 51 is easily in the top ten, maybe the top five. I love the streamlined fountain pen aesthetic and rigid, hooded nibs, but that’s not for everyone. Some people accuse pens like this–the Lamy 2000, Pilot Vanishing Point, vintage Montblancs, Auroras, and the titular Parker 51–of being glorified roller ball pens because of their aesthetic. This isn’t a philosophy of aesthetics blog: love it or hate it, it’s hard to argue that the Parker 51 didn’t revolutionize fountain pens and set the trend for fountain pens in the 1950’s and 60’s.

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My P51 is a vacumatic, dated to 1948, which is late for a vacumatic. In ’48, Parker introduced the aerometric filler, which is a simpler, more durable filling system. Many of the original aerometric fillers are still functional today whereas vacumatic filled pens invariably fail and require specialized tools to replace. Most 51s are aerometric fillers. Vacumatic pens hold a ton of ink–my P51 holds a whopping 1.6mL–but are impossible to clean out. I just use blue in mine.

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The nib is a fairly rigid 14k medium, or it was sold to me as a medium. Vintage American pens tend to be ground finer than modern German equivalents, so a medium Parker 51 is going to appear pretty fine on paper. Parker also produced 51 Specials, which are the same pen but with high-quality steel nibs.

Parker 51s are made from Lucite, a brand of acrylic. When compared to injection molded plastics, it feels high quality and robust. Compared to a celluloid or ebonite material, it feels cold, hard, and lifeless. It doesn’t feel cheap in any case, and the material has a proven track record of durability. Mine is dove gray and has a few areas of discoloration, which isn’t entirely uncommon on the lighter materials. They came in twelve or thirteen different colors during their production, with gold trims or not. There is also a smaller version of the 51, called the Demi.

The cap is a clutch mechanism–the cap is “locked” onto the barrel’s clutch ring with “lugs” on the inside of the cap, which is sort of opposite of the Lamy 2000 that has lugs on the pen that lock onto the cap. This isn’t the perfect way to describe this, but suffice to say capping and uncapping the P51 is quite satisfying compared to a typical friction-fit snap cap that just gets smooshed onto the pen. It posts well, too.

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I like the Parker 51. It–along with the Esterbrook J series–is the prototypical, indestructible vintage American pen that is both easy to collect and a sensible choice for everyday writing. Every American pen brand and many European brands had a pen that was inspired by the 51’s looks (including the Aurora 88 that was legendary in its own right), and the pen itself has been copied ad nauseam; imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all.

If one is looking for a beautiful and responsive open nib or gorgeous, deep materials, however, one will have to look elsewhere.

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Pros:

  • Great writer.
  • Lightweight and well balanced.
  • Huge ink capacity.
  • Durable.
  • Vintage Americana.

Cons:

  • Aesthetically, it’s not for everyone.
  • Vacumatic pens are impossible to clean and wear-out over time.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Clutch type.
    • Postable.
  • Nib:
    • 14K Medium on this pen.
    • Parker 51s almost always have fine or medium nibs, although Parker made other grades including broad, stubs, and obliques; these nibs are extraordinarily rare and usually insanely expensive.
    • Octanium nibs are common, too. Octanium is Parker’s proprietary steel alloy.
  • Body:
    • Dove Gray Lucite on this pen.
    • Other colors exist on both the full sized 51 and Demi model.
  • Filling system:
    • Vacumatic with 1.6mL capacity.
    • Only 1941-1948 pens had vacumatic systems, the rest are aerometric.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 140mm
    • Uncapped: 130mm
    • Posted: 153mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 19g
    • Cap: 8g
    • Pen: 11g
  • Section diameter:
    • 9-11mm
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Ranga Model 3

Ranga is an Indian pen company that specializes in handmade pens in both acrylic and ebonite. They only make a few models but have a bunch of different materials to chose from. Mine happens to be the Model 3 in the green ripple ebonite.

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This pen is very light despite being a large pen–its dimensions are similar to the Pelikan m1000.

Ranga offers their pens with a huge variety of nib options to suit the end user’s preference. Mine is tapped to accept a JoWo nib unit, but you can order most of their pens tapped to accept Schmidt nib units or Bock nib units or the pens can be made to accept Kanwrite nibs, made in India. All of Ranga’s pens can be filled via eyedropper, but the pens equipped with JoWo, Bock, or Schmidt nib units can also use standard international cartridges and converters. It’s hard to find this level of customization at this price range–the Model 3 is going for $33 to $84 on Ranga’s website, depending on material and nib choice. Considering production Franklin-Cristoph or Edison pens start at $160, $84 is a great bargain.DSC_0333

Mine came with a stock Fine nib that was completely serviceable but I’ve installed a ruthenium plated Medium nib that was modified into an oblique cursive italic by Pablo of fpnibs.com. Oblique nibs are cut at an angle and were originally designed to compensate for rotation of the nib; in modern times, obliques are usually ground like a slanted stub or italic and offer unique line variation. One either can write with obliques without an issue or not, and I seem to get along with this nib just fine.

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Cut at an angle. . .
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. . .and ground quite sharp for line variation.

I love this pen and nib combination. The Model 3 is big and comfy, the ebonite is smooth and organic feeling, and the nib is full of character. It’s a joy to write with it.

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Great line variation.

It’s hard to find fault with the Ranga Model 3. It’s truly handmade, so the fit and finish aren’t as precise as a mass produced piece, but for the cost one could do a whole lot worse. If forced to say something bad about the pen, I’d say that Ranga pens tend range from oversized to gargantuan and some people don’t want a big pen. Also the pen doesn’t post (well, it does but it’s stupid long when posted), but I’m really nit picking at this point. The Model 3 is a top-shelf choice in the sub-$100 category.

Pros:

  • Well made.
  • Tons of options for customization.
  • Lightweight.

Cons:

  • It’s big, and that’s not for everyone.
  • Pen doesn’t post in a practical way.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Screw cap.
    • 1.1 turns to remove.
    • Postable, but ridiculously long when posted.
  • Nib:
    • JoWo steel medium modified to an oblique cursive italic.
    • Huge factory options including:
      • JoWo extra fine through broad, 1.1mm and 1.5mm stub.
      • Bock extra fine through broad, 1.1mm and 1.5mm stub.
      • Schmidt fine, medium, and broad.
      • Kanwrite fine, medium, broad, and flex.
  • Filling system:
    • All models are eyedropper compatible.
      • 4mL ink capacity.
    • Standard international system if equipped with a German nib unit.
      • Ink capacity if filled with standard international Schmidt K5 converter is 0.8mL.
      • Long international cartridge compatible.
  • Finish:
    • Green ripple ebonite.
    • Other standard ebonite colors and premium ebonites are also available.
    • Most materials can be made matte or shiny.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 150mm
    • Uncapped: 138mm
    • Posted: 187mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 24g
    • Pen: 15g
    • Cap: 9g
  • Section diameter:
    • 11-13mm
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Great line variation.
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Sheaffer Balance Oversize

I had a thing for large pens and vintage Sheaffer fountain pens back in 2016, so when I saw a pen that was both I knew I had to have it.

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Using Richard Binder’s site once again, I’ve dated this pen to between 1936 and the Early 40’s, and for a pen that is 80ish years old, this thing is pretty sweet.

When it debuted, this was the top of the line Balance. The barrel is marked “1000,” which isn’t a model number but rather the MSRP of $10, or around $180 adjusted for inflation. Identifying what model a Sheaffer balance is requires examining the clip, nib, the pen material, and its dimensions and comparing it to records like those found on Richard Binder’s website.

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Now by modern standards, this oversized pen isn’t that big. It’s closer to what we would call a full size pen, like an Aurora 88, Pelikan m800, Sailor 1911 Large, and so on. Back then, huge pens weren’t in style; after all, in fountain pens’ heyday they were just pens, and not everyone wanted a flashy status symbol.

The Lifetime nib on this pen is stunning–14k two tone, heart shaped breather hole, and an up-swept medium point. It’s a very smooth writing experience. The nib is also one of the most rigid nibs in my collection, second only to an Esterbrook fine manifold nib. Gold nibs aren’t always softer than steel nibs. I like rigid nibs for most applications, but not everyone does.

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The Balance pens were meant to be posted, but mine is a little warped from being posted over the years. I still like to post it, but I feel like I have to push it on harder than I’d like to get the cap to post because of the warping. When I post it, I do so cautiously to avoid cracking the cap lip.

This particular pen also suffers from ink starvation–it writes perfectly for a page and then starts writing drier and drier until finally it stops writing altogether. This isn’t a particularly difficult thing to fix, depending on what’s causing the issue, but I’m not in a huge hurry to correct it. I consider it a quirk of an 80 year old pen rather than a flaw. Maybe I’ll send it out, eventually.

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I have a lever filler, but vacuum filled Balances were made towards the end of production. My Balance holds a sizeable 1.4mL of ink.

Sheaffer Balances are widely available in a bunch of different sizes and finishes, so they’re pretty accessible to someone looking to pick one up. They are good pens.

Pros:

  • Light and well balanced.
  • Pretty.
  • Writes well.
  • Holds a bunch of ink and has a visulated section to check ink levels.
  • Vintage Americana.

Cons:

  • Old pens have quirks.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Twist cap.
    • 1.25 turns to remove.
    • Postable.
  • Nib:
    • 14k Lifetime nib, in Medium.
    • Other nibs came on Balances. The most common nib grade is Fine, but Medium and Extra Fine are somewhat common. They aren’t marked, so it takes some guesswork to figure out what’s in one’s hand.
    • Sheaffer also made Broad, Stub, and Accountant nibs–those range between pretty uncommon to exceptionally rare.
  • Filling System:
    • Lever fill.
    • 1.4mL ink capacity.
    • Vacuum fillers were also made towards the end of the pen’s life.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 143mm
    • Uncapped: 124mm
    • Posted: 165mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 20g
    • Pen: 12g
    • Cap: 8g
  • Section Diameter:
    • 10-12mm
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Yard-O-Led Viceroy Grand

This pen hardly needs an introduction.

This is the YOL Viceroy Grand in the impressive Victorian finish and it is borderline ridiculous.

It’s handmade from solid sterling silver and carries a price tag matching its name. The Viceroy Grand is eccentric, yet refined–this an elegant pen that makes a statement.

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I love silver and I had to have this pen for my obnoxious oversized pen collection. The Viceroy Grand is massive–the pen itself weighs 46 grams and is 140mm long. It posts, too–quite well, I might add–making for a pen that is 175mm long and 64 grams. I don’t post it, but I could.

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Shown here with its massive brethren.
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Yard-O-Led is a charming company with a neat story. Their writing instruments are, impressively, made by hand by artisans in England largely in the same way they were made 100 years ago–although fountain pens are a relatively modern addition to their lineup. The company started-out making mechanical pencils and sold their pencils with a yard of “lead” refills, hence the name “Yard-O-Led.” Because they are handmade, no two are exactly alike–the gentlemen who worked at YOL when my Viceroy Grand was made have both retired, and its finish is much different than my newer Viceroy Pocket that was made by a younger smith, presumably an apprentice to the older guys. Looking at two pens and being able to tell that they were obviously created by two unique artists is a special experience. Viceroy Grand pens are available in the Victorian finish, as shown, a barleycorn finish, and a pinstripe finish that is a Smythson of Bond Street exclusive, but only the Victorian finish is completely hand chased.

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The nib is a YOL branded 18K #6 Bock nib. I’ve already said all I have to say about Bock nibs in this post. What I will say about the nib on this pen is that I didn’t have to do a lot of deBocking to get it writing properly–it was just a little dry out of the box for my taste, but completely acceptable. It fills with a standard international converter and there is plenty of room in the barrel for a long international cartridge or a spare short international cartridge, if desired.

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The most problematic part of this pen is the price. The street price for a new Viceroy Grand is right around $1500 right now, which is quite a bit more than what I paid for mine back in the day. Would I buy it again, even after the price increase? Hell yes. I was doing some window shopping and trying to mentally figure-out how to wriggle $1500 into my budget as I was writing this. Keep in mind, this isn’t some plastic, mass-produced pen–this is a serious hunk of silver, for one, but the reality is that buyers are getting these pens for the artistry. The Viceroy Grand is functional art.

edit: Looks like Fahrney’s is carrying some YOL pens again for a much fairer price–no affiliation. That’s probably where USA customers will need to go for a YOL pen.

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Left to right-hallmarks, maker’s mark, hallmarks, anchor indicating Birmingham Assay office, Lion indicating English sterling, and the date code–in this case, 2016.

As far as I can tell, there are no North American retailers that carry YOL, so potential buyers are limited to ordering directly from the U.K. I’ve bought all of my YOL pens from The Writing Desk (no affiliation) and I can recommend them wholly. I will also caution potential buyers: normally, we don’t have to mess with import duties into the United States, but if you have a package with over $1000 of silver and gold coming at you, expect to pay a little bit (I think my bill was $35 last time I ordered YOL pens, which still isn’t too bad).

The Pocket and Standard Viceroy pens are pretty cool, too, and I’ll review them later, but the Viceroy Grand is a whole different level of pen and completely unique. I urge every fountain pen user to seek one out, if just to hold it.

Pros:

  • I mean, look at it.

Cons:

  • Certainly not for everyone.
  • Very expensive and getting more expensive.
  • Bock nibs have horrid quality assurance–beware of over polished nibs.
  • Pretty much only available from retailers in Europe.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Snap cap that snaps to post.
  • Nib:
    • 18k #6 nib.
    • Fine, medium, and broad only.
  • Filling System:
    • Standard international cartridge/converter with international long cartridge compatibility.
    • Capacity is 0.8mL when filled via converter.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 150mm
    • Uncapped: 140mm
    • Posted: 175mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 64g
    • Cap: 18g
    • Pen:46g
  • Section diameter:
    • 11-13mm
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Size comparison with Safari, Pelikan m1000
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Size comparison with Safari, Pelikan m1000
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Size comparison with Safari, Pelikan m1000
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Sheaffer Balance Junior

I’ve been reviewing full-sized and oversized pens  for the most part, but I decided to break it up with this sweet pocket pen.

The Balance Junior was one of Sheaffer’s lower-tiered, non-white dot pens, but it’s largely made from the same materials as the larger Balance pens–14k nibs, the same celluloid, and so on. This one doesn’t have gold-plated trim, but otherwise there isn’t much difference between this and a white dot Balance, except the size. Sheaffer made Balances from 1929 until the early 1940’s; Sheaffer didn’t introduce the Marine Green striated celluloid until 1937, so this pen is at least that old (more Sheaffer balance information can be found on Richard Binder’s Website.)

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Trying to capture the depth of the celluloid.

Unlike larger Balances, the Junior can be found with the Junior nib–a beautiful, semi-flex nib. Typically, vintage 14k nibs from Sheaffer are extremely rigid; the Junior was available with these rigid nibs too, but the Junior nib is anything but. Perhaps it’s not as flexible as a full-flex vintage nib, but I doubt that any modern flex nib can outperform this nib and feed.

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Tiny nib with a lot of character. Also shown is the visulated section that helps keep track of the pen’s ink level.

I don’t really write with flex pens but this one is very enjoyable. It takes zero effort to flex, snaps back quickly, and the feed keeps up well. It’s perfect for adding a little bit of a flair to writing, but I wouldn’t push it too hard.DSC_0165

That said, a nib this flexible isn’t really all that great for everyday writing unless using a light touch. The pen is very tiny, too, so I don’t like it for long writing sessions. Someone with a smaller hand and delicate touch could make it work.

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Size comparison with Safari and Kaweco Sport

The street price for this pen is $50-$100, depending on the material, filling system, nib, and condition of the pen, so someone in the market for a self-filling, high-quality pocket pen could do a heck of a lot worse. However, pens that fill with sacs–like lever fillers–are more sensitive to jostling, temperature, and pressure changes so it should still be carried in a secure way, not rattling around in a purse or jeans pocket.

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Made in the U.S.A in Fort Madison, Iowa.

Pros:

  • Stunning materials.
  • Basically affordable and still around.
  • Pocket-sized, self-filling pen with an ink window (technically a “visulated” section, but functionally similar).
  • Wonderful nibs.
  • Holds more ink than a typical cartridge only pocket pen.
  • Vintage Americana.

Cons:

  • It is small. That might be a pro, depending on the writer.
  • The youngest of these pens have been around since World War II, so they’ll come with vintage pen “quirks”.
  • Lever fillers suck to clean and pens that fill with sacs are more likely to burp/splatter/do weird stuff in response to vigorous movement, temperature changes, or air pressure changes.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Screw cap.
    • 1.25 turns to remove.
    • Postable.
  • Nib:
    • 14K Sheaffer Junior; EF/F Semi-Flex.
    • They were also made with rigid two-tone 14k Lifetime nibs and Sheaffer #3 nibs, almost always in fine or sometimes medium.
  • Filling System:
    • Lever filler with visulated section.
    • Ink Capacity: 0.8mL.
    • Vacuum fillers were an option on later pens. These are harder to restore than lever fillers and have a higher price tag.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 123mm.
    • Uncapped: 117mm.
    • Posted: 143mm.
  • Weight:
    • Total: 11g.
    • Cap: 4g.
    • Pen: 7g.
  • Section diameter:
    • 8-9.1mm.
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Size comparison with Safari and Kaweco Sport
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Size comparison with Safari and Kaweco Sport
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Size comparison with Safari and Kaweco Sport

Sailor 1911 Large

I wasn’t looking forward to writing this review because I don’t hate this pen. My 1911 Large is a pretty nice pen, but I do not understand the Sailor hype. It’s one of my most confusing pens because I want to like it and I want to hate it and I can do neither because it’s just decent.

First, here is what I think the 1911L has going for it:

The 1911 Large is a very light, well balanced pen that’s large enough to be used posted or unposted. It’s a full-size pen, basically comfortable to hold, and it writes well. It’s a classic design and it just works. It’s a practical pen in many ways–even the broad nib is fine enough to work for everyday writing. It is innocuous. It’s okay. I like these aspects of the pen–ultimately, a pen is made to write, and the 1911L  does that rather well–smooth, wet, and a little feed back.

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Now the things I personally don’t care for:

The nib: I don’t get it. It’s too soft. It’s mushy. I think a fairly close comparison would be my Pelikan m1000’s nib. The Pelikan’s tines open up easily to allow for neat line variation and expression, which is sort-of true of the Sailor except it feels like it’s too fragile and the tines will be sprung with any amount of pressure. It’s very hard to explain and a lot of users like this feeling, but I feel like I’m going to destroy it. I don’t like it. It feels like tinfoil.

There’s a reason why 14 carat gold was the defacto metal choice for nibs for forever–it can be made rigid while staying soft enough to be a little flexy but also spring back to its original shape. I’m neither a metallurgist nor a nibmeister so maybe I’m way off. Now I’m not talking about the flexing the nib–I personally don’t like Sailor 21K nibs because they don’t feel rigid enough and don’t feel like they will return to their original shape on the down strokes of standard writing. To be fair, these are made with Japanese writing in mind, so maybe that doesn’t matter when writing in that script, and plenty of people writing in western styles seem to like Sailor nibs just fine. Maybe it’s just me.DSC_0168

The converter: Wobbly, cheap (not inexpensive), rattly, and low capacity. I measured the capacity of my 1911L as 0.7mL, which is enough to barely get the broad, wet nib through a day of heavy note taking, so it works but it feels like one of those cheap 99 cent converters except it costs nine dollars. I’ve read that Sailor’s philosophy is that pens should be practical and their cartridges are practical so the converters are somewhat of an afterthought. I wonder if that same thinking about us bottled ink users lead to the decision to make Sailor ink bottles 50% smaller (while charging the same for them). I digress.

Which leads me to what I find most objectionable about Sailor pens: the cost.

The street price for this pen in the United States is $270-$300.

That’s 300 USD for a lightweight, injection molded plastic pen with a tiny, crumby converter and a pretty nice nib. The fit and finish are good, so I cannot fault them there, and while I don’t like the nib personally it is good, both functionally and aesthetically. I just don’t think it’s $300 good. No way.

The Pilot Custom 823 is also injection molded but has a cool filling system and a large 18k nib. Cost in the US: $280.

The Platinum 3776 is about the same size and same concept as the Sailor and it’s converter isn’t trash. US cost: $176. The Platinum President is probably a closer comparison to the 1911 Large, and it retails for $220.

The criminally underrated Waterman Carène has a lovely lacquered metal body and fills with the ever-reliable standard international cartridge system. Those can be had for less than $200.

On the other hand, the Aurora Talentum is a little more than a Sailor, but it is equipped with a superior converter, a larger 14k nib with an ebonite feed and the body is machined from a solid rod–not injection molded.

The cost of the Sailor 1911L is a little more tolerable in the Japanese market. I think I paid $150 for mine when I bought it, including shipping and a converter. A cursory check reveals that they are still right around $160-180 as of this writing. That price makes this pen competitive, not $270. This point is why this review was so hard to write. This is a solid pen at the Japanese price point, but the North American price point is insultingly high. At $300, one is starting to get into custom fountain pen territory or even the used luxury market a la Montblanc, Aurora, Pelikan, and Montegrappa. At this price point, I’d save-up the extra $80 and grab the piston-filled Realo version of the 1911 if I had to have one and I was buying it at the full North American MSRP.

Cost is a weird thing in the fountain pen world. Realistically, one doesn’t have to spend more than a few dollars to get a fantastic writing experience. On the other hand, I’m not one of those types that pooh-poohs expensive pens, either. To me, if you charge more money for a pen, then there better be a good reason–artistry, precision, exotic or precious materials, relative rarity, or some other unique attributes–otherwise the manufacturer (or more likely in Sailor’s North American case, the distributor) is charging more for their name only. Some may consider Sailors “worth” that kind of money and that’s fine–it is a small company that seems to take pride in what they are doing–but my opinion is that Sailor has done nothing innovative with their product line-up and simply continues mass producing the same entry-level pens and charging inflated prices for them. The community would collectively balk at Pilot selling the Custom 74 for $300, or Platinum selling the #3776 for $300–although Platinum’s U.S. pricing approaches exorbitant as well–but Sailor seems to get a pass.

Pros:

  • Light weight and well-balanced.
  • House-made nibs are renowned and available in a wide array of grades.
  • Classy aesthetics. They are beautiful pens.
  • A practical pen that’s a decent choice for everyday writing.

Cons:

  • I don’t like the nibs.
  • I don’t like the converter.
  • Feels cheap relative to direct competitors–soft injection molded plastic and a filling system that doesn’t inspire.
  • The pen is relatively expensive in North America.
  • I don’t think this pen brings enough to the table to justify its cost.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Twist type.
    • 1.75 turns to remove.
  • Nib:
    • Proprietary 21K Sailor nib.
    • Available in Extra Fine, Fine, Medium-Fine, Medium, Broad, Music, and Zoom.
    • Historically, specialty bespoke nibs were available. If one finds one for sale, it will likely be for a huge amount of money.
  • Filling System:
    • Sailor’s proprietary Cartridge Converter.
    • Capacity when filled with a converter is 0.7mL.
    • A piston filled-version called the Realo is available for more money.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 144mm
    • Uncapped: 127mm
    • Posted: 157mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 24g
    • Cap: 8g
    • Pen: 16g
  • Section diameter:
    • 11-12mm
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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.

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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.

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

Pros:

  • Perfect.

Cons:

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

Specs:

  • 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
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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.

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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.

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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.

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

Specs:

  • 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
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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. . .

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Pros:

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

Cons:

  • 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.

Specs:

  • 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
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