Design evolution: From Parker Slimfold to Parker 45

One of the things that fascinates me with collecting pens, is discovering their history. Once of the most obvious transitions in design, is the evolution of the original Parker Slimfold (from the UK Duofold series) into the design we now know as the Parker 45.

Here’s a visual example of how the Parker Slimfold evolved into the Parker 45.

From left to right:

The Original Duofold Slimfold (Mark I) – a very succesful little pen, consistent with the design of the rest of the UK Duofold series like the Junior, Senior, Duofold, Victory, etc.

“Transitional” Slimfold – Notice that the cap has changed shape with the more recognisable inverse cone finial of the 45, and the gold cap band has now moved to the cap lip. The clip is also longer and launches the design that will be used on the 45. The pen body however remains the same with the same rounded end of the barrel. The pen still has the same aerometric filling system.

Slimfold Mark II – Now a cartridge filling pen, the barrel is taperred with a flattened end to accommodate the new cartridges, the section is longer and the nib is the new removable unit of the Parker 45. Notice however, that the cap is still threaded on the barrel, which is the most obvious distinguishing feature between the Slimfold Mk II and the 45 Arrow. Also, there is no ring between the barrel and the section yet.

45 Arrow CT – The first Parker 45. The barrel taper is a little bit narrower than the Slimfold Mk II, but similar length. The section is significantly longer making it a much longer pen than the original Slimfolds. The cap is still plastic, but it’s now push-fit with an internal clutch, and there is a “resting” ring between the barrel and the section.

45 Brushed Steel (early) – And here is the final design of the 45 that we are most familiar with. The cap is metal, and the body is either plastic (similar to the Arrow) or also fully metal (the “Flighter” models). The early ones had plastic finial at the end of the barrel, which eventually became a metal finial, and eventually disappeared altogether.

What is missing from this storyline of course are the Parker 19, and the Eversharps (10,000 and ‘Big E’) which originally influenced the whole design change. That’s because I have not found one yet 🙂 If anyone has one to sell, let me know!!

Gravitas Entry vs. PenBBS 323 Aluminum

I just received my PenBBS 323 Aluminum from China. Given that my daily writer is (and has been for a while) a Gravitas Entry, which lives permanently on my desk, a comparison between the two was immediate and inevitable.

In case you are not familiar, the purple one on the top is the PenBBS 323 and the teal one at the bottom is the Gravitas Entry.

On first impression, the pens are very similar. Both are made from anodised aluminium with pretty much identical finish. They are both clipless pens, with screw-on caps, cartridge converters and #6 size nibs, and weigh an identical 31g each (inked).

The PenBBS is slightly shorter and significantly girthier, with a curvaceous barrel. The Gravitas is more streamlined and narrower. Both have similar conical ends to the barrel and the cap, although the Gravitas is a little more pointed than the PenBBS one.

With the caps removed however, the two pens start to look quite a bit different. Gravitas uses a more traditional arrangement with the cap threads at the end of the barrel and takes a full two turns to unscrew, whereas the PenBBS has opted to put the cap threads at the front of the section and needs just over one turn to unscrew.

PenBBS however missed a trick here: Instead of taking advantage of the location of the cap threads to create a smooth transition between the barrel and the section, they opted to add a decorative band where the threads would be, with the name PenBBS, which has an annoyingly sharp step down. Especially as the resting curve in the section is much higher and almost forces you to rest your knuckles on it making it irritating for longer writing sessions. The machined grooves of the Gravitas section give it a much more secure grip, and the design allows you to hold the pen closer to the nib, without the barrel threads interfering at all with the hold (and even if you hold the pen higher, they are smoother than the PenBBS step anyway).

There is another key difference between the sections. Even with the caps removed, the Gravitas pen is about only about 2g heavier than the PenBBS one. However, weighing the sections on their own (with nib, feed and converter) the PenBBS one comes at a mere 8g whereas the Gravitas one weighs more than double at 17g.

Why is that important? Balance! The heavier section of the Gravitas balances nicely the weight of the metal barrel and brings the balance point forward, making the pen extremely comfortable for writing under its own weight. By contrast, the lighter section on the PenBBS makes the pen slightly back weighted which makes writing much more tiring as you need to press the nib down more. The shaping and lower positioning of the indentation on the Gravitas section adds to the effect.

On the point of balancing, it’s worth mentioning that the Gravitas cap does post securely without impacting the pen balance (even if I personally don’t use it posted), whereas the PenBBS cap does not post at all.

Both pens come with a good quality general purpose converter included. The Gravitas takes the standard international converter and cartridge, whereas the PenBBS take the much wider ‘Parker’ style one. Interestingly, the PenBBS comes with a rather significant silicon O ring in the section which makes the barrel stiff to remove (whereas in the Gravitas I added one myself at the end of the section threads, just so that the barrel does not “arrive” metal-to-metal. It’s just personal preference and it ensures that the section does not unscrew by accident from the barrel if not fully tightened). I’m not sure what the purpose of the O ring is, as I would not recommend using a metal pen as an eye-dropper. It is possible that the process these metals have gone through protects them, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The barrel unscrews from the section with 4.5 turns on the PenBBS, and an eye-watering 10.5 turns on the Gravitas.

The Gravitas comes with a manually tuned and tested standard #6 Jowo nib (EF in this instance) whereas the PenBBS has it’s own proprietary #6 nib (this particular one is an F) although it looks visually quite a bit smaller than the Gravitas one. Both nibs and feeds worked a bit erratically when I first used the pen, but since I’ve been using the Gravitas daily (and extremely reliably) for several months it is unfair to compare them directly. The PenBBS started flowing quite quickly after adding the inked converter and, even though it was skipping quite a bit to start with, after a couple of hours of writing it settled into quite a smooth writer. The PenBBS nib is closer to an <M> than an <F> though, as it was advertised.

Price-wise there is a significant difference between the two pens. As of today, the Gravitas Entry will set you back about £54 ordered from Ireland, whereas I ordered the PenBBS 323 directly from China for £30, including postage and tax. However, availability of the 323 in generally very limited.

I would be happy to recommend either pen. Given the choice, I would choose the Gravitas any day, as it is by far the more comfortable pen to use. But for its price the PenBBS 323 is still a great pen despite my niggles with the section and, if you can get hold of one, it will still make great writer.

You can get the Gravitas Entry pen from Gravitas Pens and the PenBBS 323 from the official PenBBS store on Etsy.com. I am not affiliated with either brand, and I have purchased both pens myself.

The Great Paper Test of 2022 – Part 1

Background

The idea of a paper comparison germinated early last year, when I found (and bought) some heavily discounted A5 notebooks from Amazon. I had been using both cheap ringbound notebooks and Oxford Red n’ Black for work, for years, but these Clairefontaine Europa, came at an irresistable price. At about the same time I also found some interesting Fabriano, Moleskin and Leuchttrum notepads and notebooks at my local TKmaxx, so I decided to do a quick comparison to see how they behave with different inks. The results were interesting, and somewhat unexpected, so that set the idea of a more thorough test.

I was aware of many different papers and journals that people were discussing in our Fountain Pen facebook group, which I had never come across or used: Tomoe River, Midori, William Hannah, etc. So around November last year, I made a plea to the group for samples to add to my test. The response has been amazing, and ten different people so far have sent me samples of the ones I was missing. And more! With the holidays in between not everything arrived in one go of course, but by now, I have collected most of the papers I was after. I started the process of listing them this weekend, and the list of 60-odd different samples is overwhelming!

I have done a besic grouping in more logical categories, but my intention is to run the same set of tests on all of them, and document the results.

My next task is to devise and try out the set of tests I want to run, in order to make sure I can run them consistently on 60+ different papers! I’m looking to test feathering, ghosting, bleed through, response to sheen, shimmer and shading, normal writing with different nib sizes, calligraphy nibs, sketching, and drying speed.

To be continued… The Great Paper Test of 2022 (#GPT22) has begun!

The battle of the minions

What’s the best affordable, sub-£4, student pen?

My last post on a terrible £2 pen from Sainsbury’s prompted several pen friends to suggest alternatives that I should try out. So this review is dedicated to fountain pens that can be easily obtained in the UK for £4 or less. (prices correct as of mid-October 2021).

TL;DR – Jump to the Conclusion

For the purposes of this review, I am not a fountain pen enthusiast. I am not a pen collector, I am not an author, I am not a pen repairer. I am a school kid. I spotted one of my friends using fountain pen, and pestered my parents to get me one too. They bought me something under a fiver to keep me quiet. This pen is my first fountain pen.

I will do a quick review of each of the pens, from the cheapest to the most expensive one, and then give you my conclusion. Bear with me, as these are reviews rolled into one.


Platignum Tixx V – £1.89 (Amazon)

The pen… Platignum is a well known brand name in fountain pens, but I don’t think that the brand (which is currently own by Snopake Ltd.), has any other relationship to the vintage Platignum pens, other than the name. Unlike most fountain pens, this is a “disposable” pen. In other words, when the ink in the pen is finished, there is no option to refill it, you need to throw it away and buy another pen. It comes in a simple blister pack, it’s filled with black ink, and – according to the packaging – it can write a line of over 2000m (not sure if that is meters or miles, but i presume it’s meters). It has an ink window which allows you to see the level of ink and, as far as I can see, the barrel holds a LOT of ink. It is a good size, fairly chunky and sturdy plastic pen, with a stainless steel nib (as are all the pens in this test). The cap clips on the section securely and has a flexible clip. It also has a spring-loaded inner cap, which seals the nib when the cap is in place (more on that in a bit…). You can feel the spring, just before the cap clicks into place. The cap posts securely and deeply and does not affect the balance of the pen. The pen is designed in the UK, and made in China. It weighs 13gr fully inked, and it’s almost 14cm long and 12mm wide.

Getting started… To use the pen after removing it from the blister pack, you just remove the cap and start writing. And it writes instantly without hesitation and with full flow. I presume that this is partly due to the fact that the section had enough time to transfer ink to the nib before it even left the factory, and partly due to the ingenious inner cap that ensures that the ink does not dry up on the nib.

Writing… The pen has a steel medium nib (rather on the thinner side of M, in my opinion), and was – surprisingly – extremely smooth! I know that at that price point Quality Control is not at the level you would expect from a much more expensive pen, but the experience of writing with this nib, was just ridiculously good. Smooth in every direction, with consistent flow, very little feedback, and absolutely no skipping, however fast I tried to write. The pen does not draw a line under its own weight, but given that it only weighs 13g, that did not surprise me. Even writing in reverse, gave an extremely fine line, but had absolutely no flow issues. An impressive performance for any pen, let alone at that price.

24 hours later… I picked up the pen after leaving it on the desk for 24 hours, and again it wrote instantly. Absolutely no issues.

10′ dry test… For this test, I left all the pens uncapped for 10-15 minutes (as a school kit is very likely to do) and then picked it up to use. The first letter was a little bit hesitant, but was still written. From then on the pen wrote without an issue.


Jinhao 991 – £1.99 (Amazon)

The pen: Jinhao is a well established Chinese brand, who manufacture pens under their own name and also for other fountain pen brands. I believe that this 991 is their most inexpensive entry level pen, alongside the “Shark”. The pen arrived without any packaging, but with a separate pack of 5 Jinhao branded ink cartridges. Jinhao pens use standard international cartridge and converters, and the standard Jinhao cartridges are rather more generous in size than the standard universal cartridges. I think for that price, the amount of ink alone is impressive.

The pen is made from clear “smoke” plastic and it feels sturdy but a bit brittle. It’s the kind of plastic that is likely to crack if dropped, rather than bounce. In fact, there were a couple of small cracks in the barrel threads already, although they did not affect the pen. The cap clips and unclips on the section securely, and has a metal clip which is quite springy and very usable. The cap posts well and deeply, and it does have an inner cap which seals against the section, although it’s not spring-loaded as the Platignum or the Zebra. The section unscrews from the barrel to allow for swapping ink cartridges and, even though it cannot hold a second cartridge in the barrel, the barrel is long enough to fit a standard cartridge converter, if you buy one separately, which is great for people who want to experiment with different inks. The nib and feed are removable (push-fit) for cleaning and to support using different inks. The pen weighs a mere 11gr (with ink cartridge installed) and is almost 14cm long and quite thin at 10.5mm thick.


Getting started… As there was no package to remove, the first task was to unscrew the section from the barrel and add a cartridge. In theory, you just push the ink cartridge in the back of the section, where the breather tube breaks the seal at the front of the cartridge and allows the ink to flow. In practice, that proved to be a very difficult task! Despite pushing, twisting and every other method I used on the Jinhao cartridge, it was only with sheer brute force that I managed to get the seal to budge. Enough force to worry me that I was going to damage the pen. Given that it is very unusual to try and install an ink cartridge with the section inside the cap, I would not trust a 10-yr old to install a cartridge on a new pen, without stabbing themselves! That for me is a design flaw that should have easily been solved. Ink cartridges have been around for decades, so there is really no excuse.

Writing… With the cartridge in place it took about 3 minutes of waiting before the ink reached the nib and the pen started writing. Once it got going, the writing was smooth. The steel M nib has quite a bit of feedback, but it’s not dry or scratchy. It’s smooth in all directions, but it does tend to skip when writing a bit faster. Reverse writing dried up very quickly.

24 hours later… When I picked up the pen again the next day, it did write straight away, but the skipping was significant. It took a couple of lines of writing before the flow was sufficient to sustain a normal writing speed.

10′ dry test… After leaving the pen uncapped for 10-15 minutes, it was a little bit dried up. It took 3 to 4 characters, before the ink reached the nib tip, but after that, flow was as good as before.


Zebra – £2.49 (Amazon)

The pen: Like the Platignum, the Zebra is a disposable fountain pen. It comes in a simple blister pack with very little information, other than a link to their Zebra Pen website which, ironically, has no mention of a fountain pen in their product catalogue. There is no reference to where the pen was designed or made (on the pen itself it says “Made in China”), and no model number.

Although the exterior design is slightly different, the Tixx and the Zebra have incredible similarities. The two pens are made from similar plastic, they are roughly the same size, similar inner cap mechanism, and even their caps are interchangeable. More importantly, comparing the section, nib, and feed, they look identical. I would be willing to bet money on the two pens being manufactured on the same production line! Cosmetically the exterior design is a little bit different, with the Zebra having a more curvy overall design and a clear indication where the ink level window is.

There also seems to be a bit of a difference in the way the ink behaves inside the barrel. On the Tixx, the ink seems to coat the inner sides of the barrel well, to the point where you have to wait to be able to see how much is empty, whereas the Zebra seems to have a different coating (or ink!) since it easily glides off the barrel walls. Like the Tixx, the Zebra weighs 13gr. and has the same dimensions and volume of ink.

Getting started… Quite predictably, given that it shares its design with the Tixx, the pen wrote instantly the moment I took it out of the blister pack.

Writing… The nib was again very similar to the Tixx, but with a little bit more feedback. Not enough to notice unless you do a side by side comparison, but nevertheless it was there. Flow was good and there was no skipping at whatever speed I tried.

Both the 24 hour later test and the 10′ dry test, had exactly the same response as the Tixx.


Manuscript Dodec – £3.25 (Cult Pens)

The pen: Manuscript is a long standing British manufacturer of calligraphy pens and nibs. The Dodec (named after the 12 facets on side of the body and the cap), is the pen that kicked-off this review. A friend who read my previous review of the Sainsbury’s pen, recommended that I should try it, and kindly sent me one in the post (which is why the picture of the original blister pack above has a different colour pen). It’s the only pen in this review that was manufactured in the UK.

The pen has definitely a more plasticky feel than the rest, as it seems to be made from the softest plastic. For a starter pen, this can be an advantage, as it can take quite a lot of physical abuse without breaking. It’s also the only pen in this review that has a screw-on cap. Threaded caps are not conducive to quick note-taking at school, and I am not sure how well these soft plastic threads will sustain constant use. On the other hand, there is no chance of the cap falling off by accident and ink leaking all over last night’s homework. The cap is clear and does not have an inner cap to seal the nib, it relies (I assume) on its threads to provide the seal. Unfortunately it is not designed to post at all, and if you try to force it it will definitely crack the threads. I can imagine a lot of caps rolling off under a desk, to be lost forever. The pocket clip does flex, but I get the feeling that it will easily either deform or snap off. The section has quite a deep and hard cross-hatch pattern, which can get quite uncomfortable if writing for longer periods. The pen is the smallest in this set, only 12.8cm long and under 11mm thick, weighing 11gr.

Getting started… The Dodec officially comes with a single ink cartridge, but since I got mine sent without, I used a standard international blue cartridge. The standard cartridge fitted in place without a simple push, but it took a lot of effort to get the pen to work. After waiting about an hour with intermittent attempts, the pen refused to write. Eventually I had to resort to vigorously shaking the pen forward, until it spat a drop of ink on the paper. Then the writing started. That is not a good first experience for anyone.

Writing… The steel nib on the Dodec feels quite sharp and toothy. It’s not a bad nib, but it’s definitely more of an F than an M, and writes fairly dry with a fair amount of feedback. It had a bit of skipping to start with, which seemed to calm down after a bit of writing. The nib has no flex, and I would not be expecting it to. However, a little bit of extra pressure does add some character to it, which is a positive experience and hints to the company’s background in making calligraphy nibs.

24 hours later… Picking up the pen after a whole day (capped), it refused to write again. It took several attempts and a little bit of shaking to get the pen going. Having said that, I repeated the test another day later, and this time the pen started quickly.

10′ dry test… Writing with the pen after leaving 10-15′ left uncapped, the first 3-4 characters did not come out, but after that the pen behaved alright. However, it still skipped quite a bit when writing fast.


Oxford Helix – £3.99 (Amazon)

The pen: Helix Oxford is a well known brand amongst school kids in the UK. Pens, pencils, rulers, compasses, and many other school year basics carry the brand. This is their entry level fountain pen, and it comes in many finishes. I ordered the brushed steel one to test.

This pen is very different than any of the others in this test, despite being in the same price bracket. First of all it’s a metal pen, not plastic. That immediately feels a lot more luxurious and substantial in the hand. Quite simple and classic in style, it feels solid and well made. Despite its very English sounding name and the “Local British Brand” logo, the pen is actually made in China, and the feel in the hand is very reminiscent of other modern metal Chinese pens. The cap clips onto the section with a nice springy action, and has a clip which is functional but quite stiff. The cap also posts very securely and since it has an inner plastic cap, it is unlikely to scratch the barrel finish. The section is nicely tapered and not slippery. Like the Jinhao, and other similar Chinese pens, the nib and feed are push-fit, and are easy to remove to clean. The barrel is long enough to easily take a cartridge converter, but it does not come with one. The pen comes nicely packaged in a very presentable carton box, which boasts of “Plastic free packaging”. Being metal, the Helix is the heaviest pen on the review with 31 grams, but it does not feel heavy in the hand as it’s very well balanced.

Getting started… The pen comes with one ink cartridge (stored loose in the barrel). Like the Jinhao, it took a lot of force to get the cartridge seal to break. However, once the cartridge was in place the pen started writing very quickly without any particular effort. Overall, a good start.

Writing… The nib on the Helix is smooth in all directions, but writes a little dry. As a result, it has a bit of a drag on the page giving a faint feeling of writing with a wax crayon. However, the ink flow is consistent and it did not skip, however fast I tried to write. It is possible though that with a slightly wetter ink, the feel on the paper will be different. The pen does draw a line under its own weight, which is an indication of good ink flow.

24 hours later… Absolutely no drying issues. I uncapped the pen and it just wrote as well as it did the day before.

10′ dry test… After 10-15′ lying uncapped, the pen wrote a little bit dry for the first couple of letters, and very quickly got back to normal after that.


Conclusion

I wanted to like the Dodec, but I found it disappointing. It was really hard to get going, which is not a good experience for a first pen. The Jinhao is a good cheap pen once you manage to get the cartridge in place, and the fact that it comes with five ink cartridges is a bonus. The Helix makes a great present. It looks good, feels much more expensive than it is, will last a lifetime, and it offers the complete fountain pen experience.

My recommendation for a first pen, however, has to be the Platignum Tixx (only because it was cheaper than the Zebra and between the two the Tixx had a slightly better nib. They are effectively the same pen). I know that disposable fountain pens are not the most cost effective (although at that price you can’t buy much ink on its own, never mind a pen), you can’t use different inks, and disposable plastic pens are not great for the environment, but… hear me out! If the purpose of a first pen is to get a kid to fall in love with fountain pens then this is, by far, the best first experience you can give them at this price range. It writes instantly and consistently, it comes with a ton of ink, it needs no preparation, and it has an excellent nib. If the kid doesn’t like writing with a fountain pen, then you can throw it away or pass it on. If the kid does enjoy it, you can then progress to the Helix Oxford, or even a fountain pen in a higher price bracket. But even for adults, it’s a great pen to have lying on your desk for a quick note or two, but you run the risk of someone “borrowing it” permanently.

How bad can a £2 fountain pen be?

TL;DR: Terrible!!

I have seen and read several reviews, of inexpensive “student” pens that perform extremely well for their price point, even compared with much more expensive “proper” fountain pens. My own personal experiences with cheap Chinese pens in the £5-£25 range have mostly been excellent. Perfectly usable, robust pens that do the job, even if their nibs are not much to write home about, and some of their plastics are not designed to decorate your mantlepiece.

So when I spotted this £2 fountain pen in my local Sainsbury’s, I had to try it out and see how usable it was. It’s part of the Sainsbury’s “HOME” range, which includes a range of basic stationery consumables such as notebooks, printer paper, pens, glue, etc.

The pen design is clearly based on the later Sheaffer No Nonsense pens, with the clip-on cap and the rubberized grip section, which have been very successful budget school and calligraphy fountain pens. Unfortunately, the overall pen shape is pretty much where the similarity ends.

The nib itself looks quite attractive, and the feed looks solid.

Although the shape is different, looking at the nib reminded me very much of the way Lamy nibs are set, so I tried to see if it is removable. Sure enough, it did slide off quite easily from the feed (I’m not sure if that is necessarily a positive feature for school pens, but let’s ignore that for the moment), to reveal a very unorthodox feed mechanism. Normal fountain pen nibs are base on capillary action to raw ink from the ink repository to the nib. This pen uses a wick!

I am assuming that the idea is that the wick will draw ink from the cartridge (in pretty much the same way that a methylated spirit burner draws liquid), and being in contact with the nib close to the tip, the nib’s capillary action will take care of transferring ink from the wick to the paper. I don’t know if this is cheaper to manufacture than a standard plastic feed, but it is an interesting idea nonetheless.

Time to try the pen. The blister pack comes with four black small international standard cartridges, so I picked one and tried to fit in the pen. It sits securely in the section, but however hard I tried, it proved impossible to pierce! I tried a different one, same result. I tried putting a second cartridge in the barrel to first the first one in, but the barrel is so large that the second one just floats in it. Measuring the cartridge it appears that whilst the external dimensions of the cartridge are correct (4.5mm) the internal diameter of the hole is slightly smaller (2.4mm, consistent with international cartridge converters) than most standard small cartridges (3.0-3.5mm). Also the plastic is quite hard and does not have any “stretch”. The net result is that the cartridges supplied with the pen, do not fit the pen!

I expect that, at this point, most of these pens will find the way to the rubbish bin, with an exclamation of “oh well, that was a waste of 2 quid…”. However, I was determined to see if it works. I replaced the cartridge with a standard J.Herbin cartridge I happened to have around and, sure enough, it fitted well and pierced straight away. I then had to wait patiently for the wick to do its magic, and get ink to the nib. Actually, I gave up waiting. I let the pen be and only came back to it a few hours later, by which point I could see that the tip of the wick had gone dark, so I assume it was saturated with ink.

It took a bit of effort to get the ink to flow through the nib and, when it did, it only produced a very thin, skipping, scratchy line. Thiner than a typical EF, and very very dry.

I tried pushing the tines hard to force some ink flow increase, and also tried smoothing the nib a bit with some micro-mesh (you know, as you would expect the average school kid, would do to improve their new pen flow…). I got it to the point that it would write adequately, but it was still a laboured experience.

I have to admit that I did not do a whole lot of writing. I wasn’t exactly inspired… I left the pen and returned to it a few days later to give it another try. Nada! Zip! Nothing! No matter how hard I tried, I could not get the ink flow to start.

I suspected that the ink had dried on the wick (why wouldn’t it? that’s what we expect it to do on paper when exposed to air…), so I ran the nib and feed under the tap for a few seconds, waited about half a minute, and sure enough the pen started writing again.

Conclusion

This pen is just terrible. It’s everything you don’t want a fountain pen to be: difficult to use, unreliable, scratchy, bothersome. But it only costs £2, so who cares? Actually, I do! And I would implore #Sainsburys to remove it from their stock, until the issues have been fixed. If I was a kid and I was given this pen to use, the experience would scar me for life. If this is what my first experience with a fountain pen is like, I would not want to go near a fountain pen again. Give me a Bic ballpoint anytime!

Fountain pens are some of the finest writing instruments ever produced. Kudos for trying to bring them to the masses with an affordable entry point budget pen. But this is NOT the way to do it!

Is it a pen? Is it a plane? No, it’s a… thingy

(with apologies to René Magritte)

What is it?

I came across these pens while browsing on eBay and, at the princely sum of £2.33 each including delivery from China, I decided it was worth a look. If only just to experiment with it. So I bought both the F and the EF versions available.

So let’s start with the obvious: It’s an un-branded, Lamy Safari demonstrator look-alike. That is not too surprising, there are dozens of Chinese cheap copies of the Lamy Safari. As far as copies go, this is actually quite a nice one.

As with all Safari-style fountain pens, you get the cap with the metal paperclip on the outside and a sealing inner-cap on the inside, you get a barrel with a couple of ink-viewing cutouts (never understood the point of those in a clear demonstrator but hey, if Lamy has the holes so should the lookalike), you get a piston converter for your favourite inks, and you get a transparent section with a recessed grip and a finned ink feed. So far so good.

What you don’t get, however, is a traditional nib! the feed continues and ends up into a ballpoint. Or, technically, a rollerball (more on name-calling later in the post).

Does it work?

Yes it does! I started by loading the converter with Diamine Oxblood, one of my most well behaved inks, on the 0.38mm EF section. I was expecting that it will take a while for the feed to get saturated before it starts working but, to my surprise, it wrote instantly! And it wrote well, with a juicy wet flow. And it wrote instantly every time I picked it up. And I deliberately left it uncapped for 20 minutes to see what it will do and guess what? It still wrote instantly, just as a ballpoint does.

Time for a stronger challenge. I loaded up the 0.5mm F one with KWZ Sheen Machine. One of my worse behaving inks. It’s beautiful on the paper, but a nightmare on nibs. (Not to mention that I have never managed to load a pen without getting ink all over my fingers, what is it with that ink?). It worked absolutely fine. The sheen does not lend itself to F and EF, it really needs a M or B to show properly, but it’s there if you look for it. And of course it’s much drier flow than the Diamine. However, the pen wrote quickly and every time, without any issues of drying up. Success!

The only issue I do have, is that I don’t see much difference in thickness between the F and the EF. Compared to my fineliners (which is my usual test), they both are thinner lines than a standard EF, and not much to separate them from each other. Perhaps if they were both loaded with the same ink the difference may have been different.

As the ink is in the cartridge and can’t be eye-droppered, there is little point in being a clear demonstrator, as you can barely see what ink you have in the pen. To be fair though, I find that issue with most demonstrator pens that use a converter, and this pen is no different.

Interestingly, however, the shape of the 0.5 tip is shaped as a technical pen tip, rather than as a ballpoint, even though it still has a ball tip. Easier to use with a ruler, so even more brownie points for flexibility.

I have not yet tried to clean the pens, as I want to write a bit more with them, but I will update here once I know more. Interestingly, the converters do unscrew and come apart for cleaning, so that is definitely a bonus!

Is this a fountain pen?

There has been a big debate in the past, to determine what exactly IS a fountain pen, and which pens can actually be classed as fountain pens, and which not. Stylographs, for example, the pre-cursors to the modern day Rötring and Steadtler technical pens, are included in most fountain pen history books [such as Andreas Lambrou’s “Fountain Pens vintage and modern”], as well as fountain pen repair guides [such as Jim Marshall’s and Laurence Oldfield’s “Pen Repair”]. So have been fountain pens with glass nibs. They are a fundamental part of the evolution of the modern fountain pen. My preferred definition of a fountain pen is a writing device that uses a container of re-fillable liquid ink which it prevents from evaporating, with a writing point that allows the ink to be transferred, when in contact with paper.

Based on this definition, ballpoints and rollerballs are not fountain pens, because the ink container and the writing point are all-in-one refills, so I can’t clean them out and refill them with my favourite ink, whenever I want. By the same token, a Montblanc with a glass nib, or a Conway Stewart stylograph with a needle-point, are very much fountain pens.

This pen also fits the fountain pen definition. It does use a rolling ball rather than tines to transfer the ink to paper, but in every other way it allows me to use it as I would use any other fountain pen. And unlike having an open nib, it will not let the ink dry at the tip, so I can use it reliably with my most challenging inks. And it comes in a choice of tip widths (F-0.5mm and EF-0.3mm). So I’m happy to declare this thing a fountain pen and not feel guilty using it. I only wish it would come in a Medium or Broad so that I can take advantage of it with fancier inks.

Parker Slimfold – Same but different!

I was tidying up some pens last night, and between them were a few Parker Slimfolds.

The Slimfolds were the runt of the Duofold litter, but they are fascinating pens: Small, affordable, reliable, easy to clean and service. A great introduction to vintage pens.

There are several articles that cover the history of Slimfolds, but last night I noticed something that was unusual and I have not seen covered elsewhere: There different “generations” of the original Slimfolds!

The easiest way to spot the difference are the clips. One (I believe the later one) has a shorter clip with tapered feather section on the arrow. The other is a bit longer and the feather section is more rectangular

The next difference is in the cap band. They both have the same chevron pattern, but the newer band has a bit of a “lip” at the top and bottom, which the older one does not seem to have.

Next difference, still on the cap, is the breather holes. The later pen has only one breather hole towards the top of the cap. The older one has two breather holes opposite each other, much further down the cap. Usually, you’ll find one of the breather holes hidden under the clip.

Moving to the barrel, the main distinction is the imprint. The earlier pen has Parker and Slimfold printed on separate lines followed by “Made in England”. The newer pen has the Parker logo and “Parker Slimfold” on a single line. The earlier pen also has a year stamp (“6” in this example, denoting 1956). The newer barrel is not dated.

There is a slight difference in the colouring of the plastic, which is very difficult to see in the pictures. The earlier pen is a bit brighter overall, the newer pen is a bit darker. This only seems to apply to the red ones though, as far as I have seen.

And just so that you don’t think this peculiarity is only relevant to the red slimfold, here is a similar pair of caps in green.