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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Aurora Duo-Cart–2017 Version

This is the first release of Aurora’s modern Duo-Cart pen. It’s recently been re-released and I do not have the new one to compare to my first edition. Yet.

edit: I now have the 2019 version. I’ll review that release soon. Much of what I have to say about the new release is the same as the 2017 version, but the biggest problems I had with the old version have been fixed by Aurora–no more cap **POP!,** the trim ring isn’t loose, and the nib was splendid out of the box.

Duo-Cart is sort of an interesting choice for this pen’s name. It certainly looks like the Duo-Cart of the 1950’s, which was an early attempt at a cartridge-filled pen and a way to reduce costs and sell a cheaper pen. The original Duo-Carts pretty much just used the sections off of 88s but dispensed with the more complex piston filling mechanism. Fewer parts to machine and assemble means a cheaper pen. Companies still preferentially make cartridge/converter pens because they’re easier to produce. The concept was simple–the pen held two cartridges back-to-back with a carrier; when one cartridge was empty, they were swapped and the user could continue writing without having to refill the pen.

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But they were called Duo-Carts because they held two cartridges. The modern Duo-Cart does not do this. To be fair, Aurora’s modern cartridge probably holds as much or more ink as the original system and making this pen with their current system versus creating a new rendition of a cartridge carrier or whatever probably helped keep the costs down.

This pen can also be found on the internet advertised as the “Archivi Storici,” which is a bit misleading. Archivi Storici translates to “historical archives.” Aurora did have another set of pens in this line 10 or 15 years ago that were, basically, a run of pens made from new old stock 98 and 88 parts they found lying around in their archive, hence the name. The modern Duo-Cart is entirely that–modern. It’s a reproduction, or more accurately, a modern pen inspired by historic pens. My Duo-Cart’s box is identical to these older Archivi Storici boxes and it says Archivi Storici on the box–not Duo-Cart–so that’s probably where the confusion is coming from. I feel like the distinction needs to be made, in one place, for the sake of collectors trying to figure all of this out.

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“Mythical Pens of Fabulous Years” according to Google Translate.
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That said, I’ll review my vintage 888 Duo-Cart and my Archivi Storici model 16–basically a NOS cartridge/converter 98–at some point. If (when) I decide to buy a 2019 or a vintage 88 Duo-Cart, I’ll review those as well.

Anyways, the year was 2017. I decided that I love pens with hooded nibs and I had to have them all. I’d also recently determined that I adored Aurora pens. Enter the Duo-Cart. Supposedly, the story goes, Aurora made a bunch of these pens for a company’s special event and then decided to release them. They discontinued them due to quality control complaints, which hopefully they’ve addressed.

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It was/currently is only available with a medium nib. I wasn’t crazy about the nib out of the box–it was serviceable after adjustment, but the tipping material was uneven with a misaligned nib slit and it just wrote. . .weird. I’m not saying the tines were misaligned–I mean, they were, but that’s a simple fix–I’m saying the slit in the nib was cut off-center.  This isn’t a fatal flaw, but it was obviously defective.  Instead of sending it back like I probably should have, I dealt with it. Eventually I modified it into its current state based on my examples of vintage Aurora nibs, but to date it’s the only Aurora pen I’ve bought that wasn’t spot-on out of the box.

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Here you can see the off-center slit in the nib. Pens with this defect aren’t necessarily trash, but it’s not optimal.
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I tried to modify my Duo-Cart to write roughly equivalent to vintage Auroras. It feels pretty close and looks close enough on paper.

The cap on my example is tight and comes off of the pen with a sizable and somewhat obnoxious “POP!” One of the complaints about the first run of these pens was that caps were not tight. Mine is not loose at all. The cap posts securely and seems to be made out of some non-ferrous metal, aside from the springy steel clip. Brass maybe? In any case, it’s pretty heavy and can make the pen feel back heavy when posted.

The section is quite long, which gives users some flexibility in finding the most comfortable way to hold it. I like this about Aurora pens.

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The trim ring between the section and the barrel is not secured and can be lost when the pen is disassembled. This cheapens the pen, really, and I hope Aurora fixed that in the new release.

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WHY?

The pen fills with Aurora’s cartridge/converter system, as stated. Aurora’s converters are overpriced, but it came with the pen. Their converters hold around 0.8mL of ink while their cavernous cartridges hold 1.3mL.

I collect Aurora pens, so it’s pretty much impossible for me to be 100% objective with them. Still, I will say that this pen isn’t as up to snuff as my other Auroras. The obnoxious *POP!* when uncapping this pen can draw a vacuum and lead to ink splatter, it really bothers me that the trim ring is just. . .there. . .and I’ve never had a defective nib on any other Aurora, vintage or new, except this one. Aurora is synonymous with quality to me and I honestly feel their prices reflect this fairly, but this one missed the mark. It was close, but not quite there.

It was essentially a beta test and Aurora has since reworked the pen. Also this is nowhere near the top of Aurora’s lineup. My post-purchase support from Aurora (and Kenro, their North American distributor) has been top-shelf, so I’ve no doubt that they would have taken care of me, had I chosen to go that route. In the past, Aurora has delayed the release of their special edition pens by months to make sure they got QC problems worked out, and I think this pen could have benefited from a bit of a delay. We’ll see if it did.

Even with its faults, I’d still place it in the top five modern-production pens with hooded nibs, if that’s your thing, but Aurora will have to work harder to de-throne the Lamy 2000, which is a better pen for the cash. Compared to the rest of the viciously competitive sub-$200 market, the Duo-Cart a pretty decent choice and aesthetically unique, Parker 51 knock-offs notwithstanding.

The modern Duo-Cart has some stiff competition with its past self, too. The street price of this pen is $180–for that price, it’s pretty easy to score a user grade, restored 88 or its variants. For even less money, 98s, 888s, and vintage Duo-Carts are out there. This pen isn’t “better” or “worse” than a vintage pen: the ability to use a modern cartridge/converter system, the enhanced durability afforded by modern materials, and the warranty and support of the company definitely win out, here. It comes down to user choice.

I still love the pen and its unique place in Aurora’s history. This pen can trace its lineage back to the legendary Aurora 88 much more so than the modern 88, which makes it pretty cool.

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There is definitely a family resemblance, here.

Pros:

  • Basically a solid pen.
  • Classic, old-school aesthetic.
  • Re-released after working out the kinks. Hopefully.

Cons:

  • It was an experiment, intentional or not, or it was simply rushed to market.
  • The nib was. . .so so out of the box. Serviceable, but atypically crappy for an Aurora.
  • Medium only. I wanted a fine nib, so I had to make my own.
  • It’s back heavy when posted. May or may not be a con, depending on the user.
  • Unless you like the looks, prefer a cartridge/converter pen for changing ink easier, or are an Aurora fanboy like me, the Lamy 2000 is a better value.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Snap cap.
    • Postable.
  • Nib:
    • Semi-hooded steel nib.
    • Gold plated or polished to match the pen’s trim.
    • Medium only.
  • Body:
    • Burgundy resin. Other colors are available with the new release, but the 2017 version was black or burgundy only.
    • I swore this pen’s barrel was injection molded, but I’ll be damned if I can find a seam on it. The section is injection molded but the seam is extraordinarily discrete. The threads joining the two are amazingly smooth and precise. This is the Aurora quality I’m talking about.
    • The pen barrel has a brass sleeve on the inside to add a little weight and balance, which is also typical of Aurora.
  • Filling system:
    • Aurora’s proprietary cartridge/converter system.
    • Converter capacity is 0.8mL.
    • Aurora’s system is patterned off of Parker’s, so Parker cartridges and converters probably work.
    • Aurora’s TrikTrak converter will also work, but that converter is expensive, hard to find, barely holds any ink, and basically sucks. I don’t know why anyone would use that in this pen, but they could if they wanted to.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 134mm
    • Uncapped: 121mm
    • Posted: 142mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 27g
    • Cap: 12g
    • Pen: 15g
  • Section diameter:
    • 9-11 mm
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Capped, with Lamy Safari and Lamy 2000 for comparison.
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Uncapped, with Lamy Safari and Lamy 2000 for comparison.
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Posted, with Lamy Safari and Lamy 2000 for comparison.
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Camlin 47

Every once in awhile, I stumble upon a pen that is just kind of cool. The Camlin 47 is not fancy or expensive–far from it, actually–but it has a lot of things going for it.

The Camlin 47 is an inexpensive Indian school pen, made by the Kokuyo Camlin company. The easiest way to get one in North America is to buy it from Fountain Pen Revolution (no affiliation) where it retails for $14, but occasionally  they’ll show up on eBay or similar for a couple of bucks directly from India. FPR charges more because of the convenience of  ordering from a US retailer, plus they inspect their pens before selling them. However, this pen is sold in India for around ₹20–give or take 30¢–or at least that’s the going price on amazon.in. Now, one isn’t going to be able to pay 30¢ for a Camlin 47 because of the cost of international shipping–short of flying to Mumbai and buying one in person, of course–but hopefully that puts this little pen into perspective.

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For the price, the user is getting a pen that writes well with a fine, rigid hooded nib. The ink keeps up nicely due to the pen’s ebonite feed. It fills with a piston and has an ink window to monitor ink levels. A piston filler or an ebonite feed usually means a higher price on other pens, but this pen has them as standard equipment.

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The pen is thin, so it doesn’t have a huge ink capacity. The balance is on point and it’s nice to write with, posted or not. I don’t like to write unposted because it’s pretty short and the cap is (probably) aluminum so posting it does not disrupt the pen’s balance. It’s a fantastic poster, actually.

The fit and finish are not that great. The fit is practical and uninspiring–for instance, the joints between the piston knob and the barrel and the section and the barrel are basically close enough, but still obvious to the eye and to the touch. The finish is especially rough. The pen body is barely polished. The cap is fairly well finished, but its opening is pretty rough and the clip’s “ball” is just folded steel. It’s pretty sharp and I’ve damaged a shirt with the clip, so care must be taken when clipping it to something. My Camlin will dry out if left unused for a few days, which tells me that the cap isn’t very airtight.

Cheaper Indian pens–including this one–are usually made from inexpensive vegetal resin, which off-gasses and has a lingering odor. People tend to not care about the smell, sentimentally associate it with their grandfather’s screwdrivers (which had handles made from the same material) or find it very offensive and akin to vomit or cheese. The smell fades over time but never really goes away. I’m not crazy about the smell, but I deal with it.

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For the price, I think this is a solid, reliable workhorse and this is what the pen is intended to be. It has its issues, but I try to evaluate them with the right mindset–it’s a 30¢ pen. It certainly won’t be the same quality as a $50 or $100 pen. The sub $20 category features a lot of cool fountain pens, but this is one of my favorites of the bunch.

Ultimately, the Camlin 47 is one of India’s fancier domestic school pens, but it’s still a cheap, utilitarian pen. There is a thriving fountain pen community in India and many interesting and beautiful pens are made there. I recommend checking them out.

Pros:

  • Inexpensive.
  • Practical.
  • I like hooded nibs.

Cons:

  • Smells weird.
  • Fit and finish is okay. It’s a little rough around the edges, but acceptable for the price.
  • Mine will dry out if left unused for a couple of days.

Specs:

  • Cap:
    • Push-on cap.
    • Postable.
  • Nib:
    • Hooded fine nib. No other options.
    • Uses an ebonite feed, which keeps up and performs well.
  • Body:
    • Injection molded vegetal resin.
    • Navy, Maroon, Black, Blue, and Green options are available.
  • Filling system:
    • Piston filler.
    • Small 0.7mL capacity.
  • Length:
    • Capped: 131mm
    • Uncapped: 123mm
    • Posted: 153mm
  • Weight:
    • Total: 13g
    • Pen: 9g
    • Cap: 4g
  • Section diameter:
    • 8-10.5mm
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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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