Aurora Internazionale

Usual bias alert: I collect Aurora pens. That Aurora logo means I’m emotionally invested at baseline, but I always challenge myself to be objective when writing about Aurora Pens.

My “grail” pen is the Aurora Duplex in the lapis finish. Senior sized. I don’t even know if they made lapis Duplexes in the big size, but I want one.

The price of senior size Duplexes in okay condition–if they show up for sale–can easily exceed a thousand dollars. The lapis finish is especially desirable.

The Aurora Internazionale is modeled after these pre-war pens and I knew I had to have one the moment I saw it. I might not actually have a chance to acquire my white whale, so this is a nice substitute.

aurinterbesidecapThe Internazionale is a bit larger than a big Duplex, but otherwise Aurora did a fantastic job keeping this pen as close to its roots as practically possible. If it were a lever filler, one may be hard pressed to know the Internazionale is a modern pen, at least at first glance.

The vermeil trim ring and engraved clip are very classy, perhaps approaching garish to some. The details are fabulous.aurintercapband

aurinterclipThe pen is comfortable in hand. It sports a classic-styled gripping section that is quite thick and the pen is well balanced. The cap posts, but it is very long while posted so I don’t do that. It takes nearly 2 turns to remove the cap.

The celluloid material is soft to the touch and beautiful to behold. It doesn’t appear identical to the vintage material in all aspects, but it’s a great homage.

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aurinterwholepenThe nib is a fine and it writes as an Aurora should. This pen features the unadorned nib  that appears on some of Aurora’s limited edition pens that closely resembles the Aurora nibs of yore. The nib unit is otherwise a modern Aurora and is interchangeable between similarly sized Aurora models–sacrilege, but doable.

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The piston filler is functionally identical to all other modern Auroras. It operates smoothly and draws 1.5mL of ink into the pen. The pen is equipped with Aurora’s (in)famous Magic Reserve system as well.

Aurora is releasing other finishes of the Internazionale–black with rose gold trim and a jade finish–but I’ll stick with just the lapis, for the time being. I’ll give Aurora credit, here–many companies (including Aurora) have a tendency to release the same pens over and over again in different finishes. They took a risk with something different, and they absolutely crushed it in my opinion.

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While it’s not my dream pen, the Internazionale is as close as it’s likely going to get for me. I don’t use it often, but once I have it inked up I can barely put it down.

Pros:

  • This pen is a work of art, and a masterpiece at that.
  • It is a very functional pen. Writes like a dream.

Cons:

  • It doesn’t have an ink window–which would mess with the aesthetic anyways.
  • Cumbersome when posted.
  • The magic reserve can be handy, but also makes cleaning the pen completely a bit more challenging.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Screw cap. Push to post.
    • 1.9 turns to remove.
  • Nib:
    • Aurora 18k nib unit.
    • Theoretically it could be equipped with any large Aurora nib unit. I think the Internazionale-style nibs are limited to EF, F, M, and B and maybe Stub.
  • Body:
    • Lapis Auroloid (Aurora’s celluloid.)
    • Black is available. Jade is becoming available as of this writing.
  • Filling system:
    • Piston filler.
    • 1.5mL capacity.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 138mm
    • Uncapped: 132mm
    • Posted: 175mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 25g
    • Pen: 17g
    • Cap: 8g
  • Section Diameter:
    • 10.5-11.5mm

Alternatives:

  • Obviously there’s a bunch of vintage pen alternatives.
  • Parker Duofold Centennial.
  • The Aurora Talentum is a cartridge/converter pen that is very similar in size and shape.
  • Pelikan m800.
  • Ranga model 3.
  • Conklin Duragraph.
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Sailor Pro Gear Classic

First, this isn’t my pen. It’s my wife’s pen. She adores it.

I’m not a huge fan of Sailor. I think my review of the Sailor 1911 Large was a bit harsh, but I stand by it. For the most part.

The Pro Gear Classic–henceforth Pro Gear–is, basically, a 1911 Large with flat ends. Sailor isn’t the only brand that does that–the Aurora Optima is essentially a flat-top 88, for example–but something magical happens when a manufacturer flattens those elegant, round ends. By taking 14mm off of the total length of the Pro Gear, Sailor created a pen that fits perfectly in a pocket but feels just as substantial in the hand. This pen is beautifully proportioned.

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It’s hard for me not to draw comparisons between the Pro Gear and the equally beautiful and perfectly proportioned Aurora Optima. They are quite similar in many ways, and while I generally find Sailor pens to be overpriced, the Pro Gear is still a lot cheaper than an Aurora Optima. Users that are not concerned about ebonite feeds, piston fillers, and such things may very well find the Sailor Pro Gear to be a suitable substitute for the Aurora Optima.

The pen fills via Sailor’s proprietary cartridge converter system, which is functional enough. For $80 more, one can purchase the Pro Gear Realo version, which fills via piston. My understanding is that the Realo version’s ink capacity isn’t that much more than the cartridge/converter pen–especially if one is using cartridges. In general, the major advantage of a piston filler is increased ink capacity at the cost of the pen being more expensive, more difficult to clean, and ultimately harder to service. Because of these deficiencies, I’m not sure I’d go with the Realo version of the Pro Gear, but I can see the appeal. Piston fillers are sweet.

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The nib on this pen is an extra fine, and extra fine it is. Like I said in my 1911L review, I don’t like the way Sailor nibs feel–it’s as if they’re not rigid enough–and that makes writing with this very fine nib somewhat tricky. It takes a very light, delicate touch. This is likely what separates die hard Sailor fans from those of us who don’t get them. Users willing to master the touch required for this nib are rewarded with a heavenly writing experience: high precision with a perfect level of feedback. I like Platinum’s and Aurora’s nibs more, but I can appreciate what Sailor’s doing.

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Simply forcing myself to write a single page with my wife’s Pro Gear has changed my mind a little bit. Sailor pens are well made and attractive, and they write beautifully. If I were going to give Sailor another chance, I’d probably go with a Pro Gear, and I’d take my time to learn how to write with the thing.

The Pro Gear is an immensely popular pen, so there really isn’t that much more I can add. I think I’m starting to understand the Sailor hype a little bit more.

Pros:

  • Lovely size.
  • Perfectly balanced.
  • Beautiful writer.

Cons:

  • I still think they cost too much. It’s still just a cartridge/converter pen. Sailor would have my interest if the Pro Gear were $200. They’d have my full attention at $150. But the street price is $272 and is approaching the price of custom pens, used/vintage Montblanc/Aurora/Pelikan/Montegrappa/OMAS/whatever. It’s good, just not $272 good.
  • The gray market price is much closer to what I think this pen’s worth.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Twist to remove. Push to post.
    • 1.5 turns to remove.
  • Nib:
    • Proprietary 21K Sailor nib. Either polished gold or rhodium plated to match the pen’s trim. Some models have a very pretty two tone 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.
  • Body:
    • Ivory resin.
    • There’s a boat load of different colors of resin available for the Pro Gear.
  • 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: 130mm
    • Uncapped: 127mm
    • Posted: 150mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 24g
    • Pen: 16g
    • Cap: 8g
  • Section diameter:
    • 11-12mm

Alternatives:

  • Obviously the Aurora Optima or Sailor 1911L
  • The Pro Gear Slim is widely available and much cheaper.
  • The Pilot Custom Heritage 92 and Custom 912 are similar, and less expensive.
  • Sailor literally makes nibs for Taccia, and their pens are cheaper than Sailor’s pens. Taccia’s two tone 14k nibs are gorgeous, too.
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Top to bottom: Aurora Optima, Sailor Pro Gear, Sailor 1911 Large
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Yard-O-Led Viceroy Standard

I’m reviewing this pen through the lens of its current price for the sake of people considering purchasing it. This review would read much differently if YOL’s fountain pen prices hadn’t tripled over the past three years.

See my YOL Viceroy Grand Post for more information on the company. I gushed over YOL, how neat the company is, and how cool the Viceroy Grand is.

First, the good: the Standard is a classy pen and it’s a much more usable size than the Viceroy Grand. To me, this is the most practically sized fountain pen in YOL’s lineup. The Barleycorn finish is very nice and pleasant to the touch without being garish like the Victorian finish. I really like this pen.

It’s ridiculously skinny but long enough to accept standard international cartridges and converters–the user can even piggyback two short cartridges or utilize long international cartridges for maximum ink capacity in a relatively compact package. The pen works posted or unposted, but I like to post mine.

Standard international converter, long cartridge, or short cartridge. The user may place a second short cartridge tandem in the pen’s barrel. I added the o-ring on the converter’s knob just so it doesn’t make click on the inside of the barrel.

Unfortunately, I had issues with the pen. The nib, for starters, was a mess out of the box–over-polished to the point of barely working. It was a skippy, unpleasant disaster. I eventually sent it off to a nibmeister because of how awful it was. Bock strikes again. Also the cap is weirdly loose and the o-ring that prevents the section from unscrewing from the pen was absent. Those last two points are a bit nit-picky, and had the nib not been a disgrace out of the box, I may very well have overlooked them.

Technically, the nib on this pen didn’t come on the Standard out of the box–I switched my Standard’s nib with my Pocket model’s nib. Fear not, dear reader, for Bock had messed both of the nibs up, requiring professional help and marring my opinion of both pens forevermore. The Bock nibs on this pen and its little cousin were the final straw for me: I no longer buy pens with Bock nibs on them with rare exceptions and tell anyone who will listen that Bock nibs have serious quality control problems. Lamy, Pelikan, Montblanc, Aurora, Pilot, Sailor, Platinum, Ancora, Santini, Waterman, and Parker have figured out how to make nibs. Bock’s main competitor JoWo makes nibs that work. It’s pretty easy to get a $2 pen from China or India that works out of the box. Yet Bock nibs don’t, even on pens that cost hundreds of dollars.

YOL does have a great warranty and good customer service, in their defense, but I didn’t want to pay shipping back to the U.K. when there are great nibmeisters here in the U.S.

This brings me to the price of the Standard. When I bought mine in 2017, it cost right around £320, or around $400. That’s an acceptable price to me–if the pen worked–we are talking about handmade, sterling silver pens with 18k gold nibs, after all. But as of this writing, the Standard’s MSRP is well over £800, or around $1100. One may be able to shop around a bit and get it a bit cheaper–maybe even under $1000.

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.

Hallmarks, left to right: YOL maker’s mark, 925 Sterling, 925 Sterling, Birmingham Assay Office, England, 2017 date code.

I mean, this pen is fantastic. $400 plus maybe $50 for nib work is pretty tolerable, especially considering YOL’s reputation, history, and eye for detail. But for $1100? No way in hell. Well, maybe if it wrote flawlessly out of the box, but that’s a very, very big maybe. This isn’t even the model that is chased by hand–the Victorian finish is more expensive. Even the price of the YOL Viceroy Grand has gone up by £77 from a year ago. For the record, YOL’s ballpoints and pencils, which I assume are their bread and butter, have not really increased in price to match their fountain pens, and Bock nibs surely don’t justify a 500 pounds sterling increase in price, so I don’t actually know what their deal is. Weirdly, the YOL pens exclusive to Smythson of Bond Street are significantly cheaper than their other finishes. Who’s coming up with these prices?

I really didn’t like writing this review. I hated it. I don’t want to slam YOL because I think the company is charming and making works of art. Yard-O-Led is still in my top five favorite pen makers. But I really, truly cannot recommend the Standard in good faith at its current price–and I’m quite fond of it.

Pros:

  • Very pretty.
  • Nice size, well balanced.

Cons:

  • Too expensive, for what it is.
  • The cap is loose.
  • The thing barely wrote out of the box.

Specs:

Nib:

  • Small 18k YOL-branded Bock nib.
  • Fine, Medium, and Broad available.
  • Writing sample done with a nib that was originally a Medium but ground to a Fine.

Body:

  • Hallmarked Sterling Silver.
  • This pen is the Barleycorn finish.
  • Plain, Victorian, and (Smythson of Bond Street exclusive) Pinstriped finishes are available.

Filling system:

  • Standard international cartridge converter.
  • The pen has enough room to perfectly piggyback two short cartridges or accept a long international cartridge.

Length:

  • Capped: 141mm
  • Uncapped: 124mm
  • Posted: 156mm

Weight:

  • Total: 31g
  • Pen: 20g
  • Cap: 11g

Section diameter:

  • 8-9mm
Top to bottom: Pocket, Standard, Grand, capped.
Top to bottom: Pocket, Standard, Grand, uncapped.
Top to bottom: Pocket, Standard, Grand, posted.

Wing Sung 601

I’ve been putting this review off for a long time.

It’s not that the Wing Sung 601 is a bad pen–it’s not. I quite like it, for what it is. There just isn’t that much I can add that hasn’t been said already, and there wasn’t that much to say about it from the start.

I’ve had a lot of Parker 51 clones pass through my hands. The Wing Sung is the best of those, and is a pretty good price to boot. Actually I’d go ahead and say that if one is looking for a cheap P51-esque pen that works and doesn’t break the bank, look no further.

Is it “better” than a vintage Parker? Nope. Not even close. Is it “better” than a Hero 616? Yes, by a long shot. The question of “good, better, best” is subjective, of course, but unlike the numerous Hero pens, one can be reasonably assured that their Wing Sung 601 will probably work out of the box.

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Left to right: Hero 616, Wing Sung 601, Parker 51

The 601 is available in six or seven different colors for around $20 shipped. For 20 bucks, the user is getting a pen that is fairly well built, writes pretty well, and fills via a vacumatic system with a monstrous 1.8mL ink capacity. The only self-filling pen I have that exceeds this capacity is the Pilot Custom 823, and that only does so by 0.4mL. The very fine nib makes that capacity last for quite some time between refills. Mine is a true vacumatic filler, but newer 601’s have a different mechanism that is somewhat of a cross between the Parker vacumatic system and an Edison draw filler–functionally they’re the same, but in theory the newer system should be less likely to fail in the future, either from age or the use of inks that aren’t latex safe.

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Some differences between the Parker and Wing Sung’s filler and blind cap, but fairly similar overall. The Wing Sung does have an ink window, though.

The cap’s clutch mechanism works well and is functional. It posts deeply and securely. The nib is functional. All in all, a nice little pen.

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The reason I didn’t want to write the review isn’t because I don’t like the Wing Sung 601–I do like it, as I said already. The pen is just uninspiring. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table. It’s a copy of an 80 year old design. It’s probably the best of the copies, but the quality of the materials and the fit and finish of the pen cannot stand up to a Parker 51–as I’ve said before, this isn’t a fair comparison because the 51 retailed for over $250, adjusted for inflation, and this is a $20 pen.

And unlike its cheaper competitors, I can’t even tell a cool story about how I had to buy 15 of them just to get an authentic one that didn’t even write–I bought it off Amazon, it came in a rip-off Lamy box, and it worked fine. I’m not complaining–it’s definitely worth the extra money over most P51 clones–it just makes for a boring review.

Pros:

  • Good, inexpensive pen.
  • Works the way it’s supposed to.
  • Holds a ton of ink, but. . .

Cons:

  • . . .is a pain to clean out because of the vacumatic system.
  • There aren’t a lot of cons, actually. For the cost, it’s a great pen.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Clutch-type metal cap.
    • Posts very well.
  • Nib:
    • Steel P51-style nib
    • Fine only.
  • Body:
    • Injection molded plastic.
    • Available in several different colors.
  • Filling system:
    • Parker-style vacumatic.
    • The newer ones have a draw-filler mechanism that works in the same manner.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 140mm
    • Uncapped: 130mm
    • Posted: 153mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 20 grams
    • Pen: 13 grams
    • Cap: 7 grams
  • Section diameter:
    • 8-11mm

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Top to bottom: Parker 51, Wing Sung 601, Lamy Safari.

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Top to bottom: Parker 51, Wing Sung 601, Lamy Safari.

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Top to bottom: Parker 51, Wing Sung 601, Lamy Safari.

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Aurora Optima

The current state of affairs in the world has kept me rather busy, but I am back with a review of the Aurora Optima.

Bias Alert: I love Aurora pens. I collect Aurora pens. I try to be as objective as possible when dealing Aurora pens, but I’m not perfect. That said, I am not compensated by Aurora or their North American distributor Kenro in any way, shape, or form.

These pens are named after the original Optima, Aurora’s top of the line pen from 1938 until 1945. There is some family semblance–they’re close in size, the cap bands from early Optimas are similar to modern Optimas, and both bear Aurora’s barrel embossing, but the similarities basically stop there. The original Optimas were vacuum fillers, and the modern versions have other functional and aesthetic differences.

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Note the cap band variations.

The Optima can be had in six or seven different celluloid finishes, black resin with different cap options, the sterling silver Riflessi variant, and countless limited edition options. In many ways it still remains at the top of Aurora’s lineup, even if the 88 is widely considered the flagship model.

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Functionally, the Optima is identical to the Aurora 88 and much of what I said about the 88 applies to the Optima as well. The Optima is a shorter pen–both capped and uncapped–but has the same girth as the 88. Even with its shorter length, I can use the Optima posted or unposted, but it feels like it should be posted. Writers with larger hands may find the Optima a bit too short to use unposted.

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I have two versions of the Optima. The gray Nero Perla variant is a regular edition pen and has a lovely factory oblique double broad nib. The nib is very smooth but not especially forgiving. I generally prefer an obliquely-cut italic nib over a straight-cut stub nib, but that’s just me. I would caution potential buyers to try a cheaper pen with an oblique nib to make sure it’s compatible with their writing style before dropping the serious change for an Optima (and enduring the wait, as Aurora’s specialty nibs are generally made to order.)

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I was always curious how Aurora Optima’s Nero Perla (Black Pearl) finish compared to the Cracked Ice Conklin Duragraph, shown here if someone else is equally curious. They’re vaguely similar, but Aurora’s celluloid is a fair bit deeper, shinier, and feels much softer/warmer than the Conklin acrylic.

My other Optima, and the one I actually purchased first, is the 365 Abissi Limited Edition model from a few years ago. Aurora over-hyped the pen and released doctored promotional materials; subsequently the pen was maligned on the internet. I won’t excuse Aurora’s snafu, but I was able to pick this pen up for a steal because of it. I will say that the Abissi material is quite interesting, even if it’s nothing like the promo photos: it almost appears black, but subtle colors and chatoyance shimmer and dance below the surface. It reminds me a lot of an especially deep lake near my home that I kayak often–it’s usually too dark to peer into its murky depths, but floating sediment and shapes glimmer in the correct light. Abissi is Italian for Abyss, after all. My photos here accentuate the glittery qualities of the pen a little bit more than what it typically looks like in person.

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This is a very subtle finish, much more subtle than the promo photos would have one believe.

Both pens are extremely warm, soft, and smooth, as celluloid pens tend to be.

The Aurora Optima is well made and oozes class. It doesn’t feel as “timelessly modern” as the 88, instead staying true to its art deco roots. The Optima feels like a pen from the late 30’s, but made today.

Pros:

  • Many beautiful options to suit any taste.
  • Pleasant, usable size.
  • Available with Aurora’s full lineup of nibs.
  • It is an Aurora.
  • It has the magic reserve feature but. . .

Cons:

  • . . .it’s a pain in the ass to clean.
  • Optimas are very pricey out of the gate, but the price quickly escalates when special editions, precious materials, or specialty nibs get involved.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Screw cap.
    • 1.25 turns to remove.
    • Posts very securely.
  • Nib:
    • 14k or 18k Large Aurora proprietary nib unit with ebonite feed, shown in Fine and Oblique Double Broad.
    • Available in yellow gold, rose gold, or rhodium plated depending on the model.
    • Nib units screw-out and are interchangeable with like Aurora pens.
    • Commonly available nib grades are extra fine, fine, medium, and broad. Specialty nib grades include BB, Factory Stub, Factory Italic, and oblique nibs (OM, OB, OBB,) along with the Goccia EF, F, and M nibs. Not all retailers carry specialty nibs, so potential users will have to search for them (and pay extra).
    • I know for certain that Oblique Fine and reverse obliques (OFR, OMR, OBR, and OBBR) were available at one time, but I’ve only seen them on vintage pens from “nib testing” sets. Writers interested in those may be able to special-order them, however.
  • Body:
    • Resin, Auroloide (celluloid), or precious metal overlay.
    • Pictured here: Nero Perla and Abissi celluloid.
  • Filling System:
    • Piston filler with magic reserve.
    • 1.2mL capacity.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 126mm
    • Uncapped: 124mm
    • Posted: 155mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 21g
    • Body: 14g
    • Cap: 7g
  • Section diameter:
    • 10.5-12mm

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Top to bottom: Lamy Safari, Aurora Optima, Aurora 88

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Top to bottom: Lamy Safari, Aurora Optima, Aurora 88

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Top to bottom: Lamy Safari, Aurora Optima, Aurora 88

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ASA Sniper

At one time, I decided that I had to have every pen with a hooded nib and I had an affinity for oversized pens. Conveniently, the Sniper is both.

It is made to order in India by ASA. It took four months for my Sniper to be made, which sounds like a long time, but it is fairly quick for a handmade pen. It arrived in a lovely cloth pouch along with a free Click Falcon, which was an unexpected and pleasant surprise.

This pen is quite unique–like an enlarged cross between a Lamy 2000 and a Parker 51. Under the hood is a modified JoWo #5 nib unit, which allows the user to switch nibs, although the process is more complex than with an open unit.DSC_0430

The body is a matte black brushed ebonite, although ASA’s website has other options available.

Being oversized, the pen has a nice, fat section. This, along with its light weight, make for a comfortable writing experience. The pen technically posts, but it becomes hilariously long and somewhat unwieldy, so I don’t personally do that.

The clip is plain and functional. The fit and finish of the pen, overall, is quite nice–no seams or rough spots, the threads are smooth, and so on. The hood on mine is very slightly asymmetrical, which may really bother some people but I’m willing to give it a pass because of its handmade nature.DSC_0431

I personally wasn’t really impressed with the #5 nib, but it was acceptable out of the box. The beauty of JoWo nibs is that they are ubiquitous and cheap, so the end user can practice nib adjustment without fear of destroying some rare nib or replace them as they see fit. Like all hooded nibs, the hood has to be removed to work on the nib beyond a few simple adjustments, which adds extra steps to the process that may be fairly intimidating for beginning users. The customer service at ASA did impress me, though, so I’m sure they would be accommodating to a customer should they receive a defective nib. That said, the owners are fountain pen people so your pen gets tested before being shipped to you.

Because of the nature of this pen’s design, it can fill from a converter, but excess ink in the hood can get a bit messy, and the converter doesn’t really fill fully. This is not unique to the ASA Sniper–I have other hooded pens that suffer the same or similar issues. This is typically resolved by inverting the pen and expelling air from the converter then filling it again followed by a liberal application of a napkin for excessive ink. If the user prefers eyedropper filled pens or cartridges, this is a non-issue. Either way it’s worth consideration.

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Nib shown with hood removed. It’s simply a modified JoWo #5 unit.

 

Finally, the cap doesn’t have an inner cap to speak of, so the nib dries out a bit when left unused.

Overall, I’m impressed by what I received from ASA, especially given the price–$58 shipped. The pen is quirky to be certain, but a great value, especially considering that it’s handmade and a semi-custom piece.

Pros:

  • Unique, fun, customizable.
  • Comfortable writer.
  • Good value.
  • It’s huge.

Cons:

  • Nib was a little weird out of the box and working on a hooded nib can be a bit trickier.
  • One can fill the pen via converter in the traditional sense, but it doesn’t work that great.
  • The nib dries out when not used.
  • It’s huge.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Screw cap.
    • A very secure/borderline absurd four turns to remove the cap.
    • The cap isn’t practically postable.
  • Nib:
    • Modified JoWo #5 nib unit.
    • This one is a Fine.
    • Presently only fine and medium are available on ASA’s website, but in theory any #5 nib could be swapped into the special unit, or any JoWo #5 unit could be modified to work.
    • This model is not really conducive to easy nib swapping, though.
  • Body:
    • Brushed black ebonite.
    • Other options are available on Asa’s website.
  • Filling system:
    • Standard international.
    • Long standard international cartridge compatible.
    • Eyedropper compatible. I measured a capacity of around 3.4mL.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 147mm
    • Uncapped: 136mm
    • Posted: 180g
  • Weight:
    • Total: 23g
    • Pen: 15g
    • Cap: 8g
  • Section diameter:
    • 10-12mm

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Ink is Pelikan Edelstein Topaz. The color didn’t come through well on the scan, although I tried to adjust it. It’s close, but I’d say the Topaz is a little more blue on paper and a little less turquoise, like in the pen photos, above. It’s a nice ink but generally lighter than I prefer.

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Wing Sung 618

I’m usually behind the times when it comes to pens from China. There’s a lot of cool stuff coming out of China, but I’ve shifted away from buying a lot of fountain pens to buying a few pens that I really want every once in awhile so these offerings tend to get neglected. That’s no fault of these pens, though.

In fact, I quite like my 618. It’s not the best pen ever. It’s actually far from it–the clip is cheap, I had to fiddle with the pen to get it in order, and it tends to have sporadic–although acceptable–ink flow. But it’s just kind of quirky and I like it.

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It’s sort of a TWSBI/Parker 51 hybrid with a subtle nod to Sailor in the cap band design, all packaged in a Lamy box. I’m not the first reviewer to point this out, of course, but it just sort of works for the Wing Sung in a weird way. Frankly, had they omitted the fake clutch ring on the section and used a different clip design, one would be hard pressed to call this pen a true Parker 51 clone because it’s just different enough. The 618 is a demonstrator, has a screw cap, and is a piston filler–Parker never did that. I think Wing Sung missed an opportunity to create something wholly unique, but that’s just me.

My 618 has been modified. It wrote fine after some adjustment/tinkering when I received it, but I eventually replaced the nib with a fake Hero nib and shellaced the section in place. It didn’t need shellaced per se, but it came untwisted on me once and I fixed it.

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The story behind this nib is perhaps more interesting than the pen itself: I was sold a “Hero 100” with a “10k gold nib” but the pen I received was by the far the most ungodly abomination of a pen I’ve ever held in my hands complete with razor sharp edges and rough spots. It didn’t fill well and broke almost immediately, but the nib was pretty good. I was convinced that I had a gold nib, so I removed it from the destroyed fake Hero and transplanted it on the 618.

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The process of removing the nib from the original pen also removed the cheap plating on the nib, revealing its true nature–a steel P51 style nib. But it’s still the nicest example of one of these nibs that I’ve come across yet and I swear that it is properly tipped and not just folded, polished steel. Whoever made this nib did a pretty decent job, even if they skimped on the plating and put it on a trash counterfeit pen in an attempt to swindle people.

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Note the incomplete plating, Hero logo, and CHINA in block letters. Is that actual tipping? Where did this come from?

A big selling point for this pen is the low price–they’re still going for less than $20, as of this writing. It isn’t the most plush fountain pen in existence and it may need some fiddling to get working, but one can be reasonably assured that they’re getting a pen that will work, even if it takes a little tweaking to get there. Some of Wing Sung’s cheaper competitors barely produce approximations of pens, let alone functional pieces. If the user wants a pen that has been QC tested and is ready to write, the 618 may not be it, but it’s a fair bit cheaper, too. It’s a nice compromise that way.

Of course there are pens that are both cheaper and basically write between good and perfect out of the box nearly every time, like the Platinum Preppy or Pilot MR, but those aren’t piston fillers, either. It comes down to user tastes at the end of the day.

The Wing Sung 618 is extremely popular, so there isn’t much else that I can say about it that hasn’t been said before. It’s quirky. I like it.

Pros:

  • Overall, a great package for the price.
  • Basically does what it’s supposed to do. It doesn’t dry out and it fills and writes well.
  • The fit and finish are more or less acceptable, for the price point.
  • The balance and writing comfort are all on point. It’s nice to use.

Cons:

  • Quality control isn’t perfect. The pen may need some minor tweaking.
  • I’ve always had aberrant ink flow with this pen. It starts as a very wet writer but then cycles between fairly wet and fairly dry. It’s not really noticeable on the page, but it is noticeable to me. Odd.
  • The real tragedy: this pen was so close to being truly interesting, but Wing Sung chose to make an oddball P51 clone instead of a unique piece, forcing the community to label the 618 a Parker-knockoff forevermore. You did 96% of the work, Wing Sung! Why not just make it your own?

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Screw cap.
    • One turn to remove.
  • Nib:
    • This one is unknown fine nib.
    • Usually a EF/F P51 style nib.
  • Body:
    • A variety of different colors are available.
    • This one is the clear demonstrator with chrome trim.
  • Filling system:
    • Piston.
    • There’s a locking feature to prevent the piston from unintentionally actuating.
    • 1.5mL ink capacity.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 142mm
    • Uncapped: 134mm
    • Posted: 157mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 20g
    • Pen: 12g
    • Cap: 8g
  • Section diameter: 8-11mm
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Top to bottom: Parker 51, Wing Sung 618, Lamy Safari.
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Aurora Ipsilon

Bias alert: I love and collect Auroras, but I try to be as objective as possible with them.

The Ipsilon is one of Aurora’s entry-level offerings and seemingly their most popular, given the options available with this model and the fancier Deluxe version.

Like all Auroras, it is entirely made in in Italy. The Ipsilon is much simpler than its more expensive siblings; it’s light but well balanced, has a snap cap, and has a steel nib.

But the Ipsilon writes like an Aurora. The nib is smooth with some feedback and lays down a fairly fine, moderately wet line. The fit and finish, like all Auroras in my experience, is great with no rough spots, seams, or any other obvious flaws.

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The small, steel nib is simply embellished, but it writes like a dream

The cap snaps on and off and posts with a satisfying *click*. Once capped, it’s very secure–my Ipsilon went through the laundry without coming uncapped.

Does the Ipsilon evoke the same metaphysical feel-goodery in my soul as an 88 or Optima? No, not even close. But for $120 retail, this pen is fantastic step into the brand and a way to get a feel for Aurora nibs without dropping serious cash. There are cheaper options in the Aurora line-up like the Kappa and Style, but the Ipsilon has the largest selection of nibs and finishes, from a simple resin pen with a steel nib like mine clear up to sterling silver bodies and 14k gold nibs.

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On my particular pen, the fine nib is more comparable to Aurora’s 14k extra fine, and it seems that Aurora’s steel nibs are a bit finer in general. Those who love finer nibs will do just fine with the Aurora Ipsilon.

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Ipsilon is line 2.

Even though this pen has a steel nib, it writes as well as my other Auroras. Its performance is why I feel the Ipsilon is a worthy contender in the crowded $100-$200 category. That Aurora feel is why this cartridge/converter, steel nib pen competes with the likes of the Platinum 3776 and the Lamy 2000. That’s not to say that the Ipsilon is better than those other pens, just different, and ultimately it comes down to the user’s tastes.

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My Ipsilon is an older model with a discontinued color and different style of cap band but is otherwise functionally the same as a production Ipsilon. I actually purchased it used in set with a matching ballpoint because I’m a sucker for matching fountain pen/ballpoint combos. The knock style ballpoint accepts common Parker pattern refills and works as expected with a tiny bit more tip wiggle than I’d like.

Pros:

  • Lightweight and well balanced.
  • Solid performance.
  • A good introduction to the Aurora brand.
  • Caps and posts very securely.

Cons:

  • For what it is, it’s hard to find fault with the Ipsilon.
  • It’s a standard size pen, so it may be too small for some users.
  • While it’s basically competitively priced, I’d like to see the base model price come down a bit.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Snap cap.
    • Snaps to post.
  • Nib:
    • Steel Fine.
    • Also available in:
      • Steel: extra fine, fine, medium, broad, italic.
      • 14k gold: extra fine, fine, medium, broad, double broad, italic.
    • Gold, BB, and Italic nibs come at a premium.
  • Body:
    • Polished resin.
    • Numerous other finishes are available, including matte resin, lacquered metal, and sterling silver.
    • The fancier the body, the more it costs.
  • Filling system:
    • Aurora proprietary cartridge/converter.
    • Converter included with pen.
    • Converter capacity: 0.8mL.
    • Cartridge capacity is around 1.2mL.
    • Parker cartridges/converters and Aurora’s own Trik Trak converter also fit.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 138mm
    • Uncapped: 120mm
    • Posted: 150mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 22g
    • Pen: 15g
    • Cap: 7g
  • Section diameter:
    • 9-11mm
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Pilot E95S

Edit: Public Service Announcement: Always check your pockets before doing laundry. In loving memory of Mat’s Pilot E95s, 2017-2021. RIP, my sweet prince.

Update: It’s back from the dead but it was a huge PITA; basically a complete restoration. The nib was bent up and not attached to the pen. Ink and scuffs everywhere. It was a nightmare, but now IT LIVES. Don’t put your pens through the laundry.

Pilot is among my favorite pen makers. They’re by the far the largest of the Japanese pen companies and have a massive selection of writing instruments for any taste or budget, ranging from a few dollars to tens of thousands of dollars in their Namiki line.

The E95s, or Elite 95, is an underrated gem.

It’s modeled after the Japanese pocket pens of the 1960’s, which were designed to be short when capped and full sized when posted. They usually had semi-hooded or inset nibs, appealing to the streamlined, futuristic tastes of the time. Pilot, Sailor, and Platinum all made pens in this style, as did other now-defunct or obscure companies like Morison. I’m sure that other companies made pens in this style as well.

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The E95 feels like a standard-sized pen that was designed to be smaller when stowed, unlike other pocket pens that are either intentionally small and designed to be larger when in use or are merely scaled-down variants of bigger pens. It’s not nearly as compact because of this but it’s more comfortable in use, at least to me.

My E95 is the black version and it is made from plastic with some metal components inside that do not affect the pen’s balance. The cap is a soft metal, lacquered black on my model. The burgundy model has a brushed appearance, but I do not have that one to compare. The clip is spring-loaded and works well. The cap is somewhat hard to describe: it is a pseudo-clutch-type mechanism that stays tight whether the pen is capped or posted. In any case, it’s unique, effective, and satisfying to use.

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The 14 carat gold nib is inset, which I personally like but not everyone does. It comes in extra fine, fine, and medium; mine is a fine. The nib is stiff enough to be a practical and a smooth writer but isn’t so stiff as to feel lifeless. It was a flawless performer out of the box with a lovely balance of wetness, smoothness, and feedback. The line produced by this fine nib is about what one would expect out of a Pilot–a bit finer than an equivalent German nib, but not a needle point.

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E95 writing is line 5.

The soft metal cap is easily dented, so I don’t consider this a hard-use pocket pen like a Kaweco Sport or similar. This pen uses Pilot’s proprietary cartridge/converter system and the only converter that officially fits is the Pilot Con-40. The converter rattles, has a low capacity, and the pen’s design makes it impossible to check your ink level while it’s installed. I hope Pilot re-visits their small pen converter, but for the time being it will allow the pen to fill from a bottle. The now discontinued Con-20 also fits. Pilot’s cartridges work perfectly in this pen and would be my choice if this were going to be my one and only everyday pen due to their better capacity and Pilot’s high quality ink. Pilot cartridges are becoming increasingly available at office supply stores and they allow one to monitor the ink level in this pen while holding up well to refill and reuse. Edit: Pilot is now selling the Con-B, which is the old “cleaning converter” that comes with the Parallel, MR line, and probably a few others. It is perfectly adequate for this pen and would be my preference in lieu of the Con-40, although both do what they’re supposed to. Anyone with a latex allergy would need to avoid the Con-B, though.

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Cannot check ink level when filled with the Con-40. All that’s visible here is the operating knob and threads of the piston.

The E95s retails in the United States for $136–which is a very attractive price in the competitive sub-$200 category. Anyone looking for a “step-up” pen should strongly consider this pen.

Pros:

  • Clever design.
  • Light and well balanced.
  • Fits in a shirt pocket but isn’t too small in use.
  • Flawless performance.
  • Great value.

Cons:

  • The Con-40 is trash, so a user would have to live with it or use cartridges.
  • Edit: Or get a Con-B. Or source an old Con-20, but those are going for 10x more than the Con-B right now.
  • Not as robust as some pocket pens. This should be considered a “shirt pocket” pen, not a “jeans pocket” pen.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Postable aluminum sliding cap with spring-loaded clip.
  • Nib:
    • 14k inset fine.
    • Also available in extra fine and medium.
  • Body:
    • Polished black resin.
    • Also available in burgundy.
  • Filling system:
    • Pilot Con-40 or cartridge.
    • Con-40 capacity is 0.4mL by my calculations.
    • Cartridge capacity is around 1.1mL.
    • The discontinued Con-20 works in the pen, as does the “cleaning converter” that comes with some Pilot pens. edit: AKA the Con-B, now available for sale.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 121mm
    • Uncapped: 114mm
    • Posted: 149mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 15g
    • Pen: 10g
    • Cap: 5g
  • Section diameter: 9-12mm.
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Edison Herald Grande

There isn’t much I can say about the Edison Pen Company, founded by Brian Gray, that hasn’t been said a million times. In brief, they have a production line of pens that are available at various retailers, but one can also custom order a pen from them in several models and a large number of neat materials.

So I’m the guy who, given a vast number of potential combinations of pens and materials, chose a black, cigar-shaped pen with gold trim. Perhaps that’s boring to some, but I don’t care.

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The Herald Grande is, unsurprisingly, a very large pen. When capped, it dwarfs my other oversize pens. Uncapped, it’s comparable to my Pelikan m1000. The section is a big, fat cylinder with very little taper to it. The barrel has a bit of a waist near the threads and flairs out a bit before tapering down again, which gives it a subtle, unique shape. It’s a light pen, and its section diameter and length of the barrel make it great for long writing sessions. The cap posts very securely, but it’s absurdly long when posted.

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The engraving is more subtle than it appears in this photo.

The fit and finish were absolutely superb out of the box. The threads are perfect. The seam between the cap’s finial and the cap is barely perceptible. This is pretty standard for Edison pens.

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Here, the seam between the cap and the finial is barely visible. It is not tactile at all in person.

The nib worked well out of the box, also typical of an Edison pen. Edison claims to adjust their nibs to have an ink flow of 7/10, and that’s what mine was adjusted to at first. On Edison’s scale, I think I would prefer closer to an 8.5/10, but it’s pretty easy to fix. The beautiful thing about Edison pens is they’ll accommodate just about any request the buyer can think of, within reason, and ink flow is one of those customizable points.

What doesn’t come across in a written review or even in photographs is how the pen material feels. It’s a subjective point, and one that is difficult to describe. Compared to the various plastics used in pens, ebonite feels different. Some would say warm, or smooth, or soft, but it’s nice to the touch in an organic way. This sensation is amplified immensely on a pen as well polished as this Edison. This is a pen I can just hold, but like any reflective, smooth, black surface, it shows fingerprints like no other.

If I was going to criticize this pen, it would be that it’s huge. On the other hand, that’s why I bought it, so that’s not really a fair criticism. Personally, I think it’s a bit of a shame that Edison doesn’t offer #8 nibs on their giant pens like this, but surely only offering #6 nibs helps keep costs lower and, functionally, there isn’t a lot of difference. It’s an aesthetic preference.

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I think in the custom pen realm, Edison makes some of the nicest pens at the moment. In a lot of ways, the company eschews needlessly fancy stuff (like #8 nibs) in favor of practical materials and designs. Even so, Edison still offers options–filling systems, nibs, and so on–that most other custom makers cannot compete with. And if the options are too daunting, one can always send Brian Gray an email for help.

I love the Edison Pen Company and they’re easily one of my favorite fountain pen makers. It’s not just because they make awesome pens, there’s more to it than that for me–it’s really cool to have a modern pen made by fellow Midwesterners who are keeping a tradition of Midwestern pen manufacturing alive. Even if one’s not looking to buy into a company’s cool story, Edison pens are still fantastic and a relatively great value considering the customization options.

Pros:

  • Perfect Fit and Finish.
  • Fantastic customer service and a lifetime warranty.
  • This pen is massive.

Cons:

  • Despite their great value, Edison pens are expensive.
  • This pen is massive.
  • I sort of wish #8 nibs were an option on bigger Edison pens.
  • I sort of wish I ponied up for the pump filler/vacumatic option on my pen.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Threaded cap.
    • 1.5 turns to remove.
  • Nib:
    • Two tone 18k gold.
    • This one is a fine.
    • Other options:
      • Steel nibs in extra fine, fine, medium, broad, 1.1 italic, and 1.5 italic.
      • 14k flex nibs in extra fine and fine.
      • 18k nibs in extra fine, fine, medium, broad, double broad, 1.1 stub, and oblique double broad.
      • Edison can custom grind nibs into just about anything one could want, too.
  • Body:
    • Polished black ebonite.
    • Other options abound.
  • Filling system:
    • Standard international cartridge/converter system.
    • Long cartridge compatible.
    • Converter ink capacity is 0.8mL.
    • The pen can be converted into an eyedropper filler (measured 3mL ink capacity).
    • Edison has other unique filling system options in addition to cartridge/converter pens, depending on the model.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 166mm
    • Uncapped: 142mm
    • Posted: 187mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 26g
    • Pen: 16g
    • Cap: 10g
  • Section diameter:
    • 12-13mm
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Top to bottom: Delta Dolcevita Oversize, Yard-o-Led Viceroy Grand, Edison Herald Grande, Lamy Safari, Pelikan m1000.
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Top to bottom: Delta Dolcevita Oversize, Yard-o-Led Viceroy Grand, Edison Herald Grande, Lamy Safari, Pelikan m1000.
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Posted, with Safari. It posts well but feels way too long to me.
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