WAY Better Than Poi or Don Ho: Retro 51 Vintage Surf Tornado Rollerball (Limited Edition)

I’ll be honest. The closest I’ve ever come to surfing was watching those 1972 episodes of “The Brady Bunch” when the Brady family traveled to Hawaii, found a cursed tiki, and Greg, while wearing said tiki, suffered a surfing accident. They made a cliff-hanger out of the incident and we had to wait a WHOLE WEEK to see if Greg pulled through. I remember being worried for fictional Greg. Ahhhh, to be 13.

Despite my lack of surfing prowess, when I saw Retro 51’s latest Popper release- The Vintage Surf Tornado– I had to have one. I loved the look of the wooden barrel and surfboard-esque, oh-so slightly distressed, stripes. Couple those handsome looks with a limited edition of 500 pens and you’ve reeled me in. Well played, Retro 51, well played.

Retro 51 Vintage Surf

I purchased my pen from Art Brown (list price $55, Art Brown price $44 + S/H) because I just wasn’t finding it available anywhere else and I didn’t want to risk a sell-out. Brad Dowdy scored a MAJOR win by obtaining one from Amazon for a mere $20, which is a STEAL…but I hear that that source has since dried up. Though I would’ve loved to pay only $20, I don’t feel gypped at the price I paid. The pen is THAT nice. And lets’ not forget…limited edition, so a bit of a premium charge doesn’t seem unreasonable.

New packaging
Goodbye, awesome metal tubes. (Sniff)

Package endcap

Retro 51 has recently introduced new packaging that is touted as being more environmentally friendly, but I’ll be honest, I miss the vibrant metal tube packaging. Pulling the top off of those tubes made a satisfying “pop” sound and with the stunning colors and text, the tubes looked as collectible as the pens. The new design is paper-based, so there’s no more “pop,” and the look is a bit more subdued. Inside the new tube is a foam insert that holds the pen in an upright position, and I do like this feature (vs. the pen sleeve). The graphics are a bit more retro than in the past, and are admittedly pretty cool, but I still miss the metal. I will, though, adjust.

Foam insert
Built-in pen stand

Oh, this pen! It’s slightly heavier and thicker than a regular Tornado, well-balanced, and very smooth…both in the feel of the wooden barrel and in the writing experience. I swapped in an 8126P refill (Private Reserve or Schmidt) for the included one (8127P) as I enjoy the finer line of the 8126P (0.6 mm as opposed to 0.7 mm). The writing tip is easily extended by twisting the knurled end of the pen. The gun-metal-ish finish on the clip, front section, and knurled end compliments the wood nicely, and gives the pen its classic vintagey look. Clearly, the folks at Retro 51 thought this one through.

Clip and knurling

Writing tip

The edition number is printed or etched (I don’t think it’s engraved) on the band at the twist end of the pen, and I received #469 out of 500. Limited editions of affordable pens always tug at me. Though I have been known to resist some similar offerings in the past, I couldn’t do so with this one. It was just too irresistible in pictures and is even more so in hand.


The Retro 51 Vintage Surf Tornado is even cooler than Greg was in that Brady Bunch episode, and MUCH cooler than Don Ho and his ukelele serenading the Brady family at their obligatory luau. It’s so cool, it’s hot.



A Tale of Two Nibs: Lamy Safari Neon Yellow (2013 LE)

If there ever was a pen that makes you want to wear sunglasses, it’s the Lamy Safari Neon Yellow (2013 LE) fountain pen. Though it doesn’t actually glow in the dark, it certainly looks like it could/should/would. This pen pops with neon goodness, even more than the pictures show.

Neon Lamy + Ray-Bans
A pen made for Ray-Bans

But you’ve undoubtedly already heard about the intense brightness of this pen, I imagine. The tale, this time, is not really about the extreme yellowness, but about the nib(s). One pen, two nibs.

When I inked up my new Lamy with Private Reserve DC Supershow Blue, that tingly buzz of anticipation zipped though me. But when I put the black EF nib to paper, the flow was quite spare. The flow simply did not flow. Well, shoot.

Black EF nib
Optional black EF nib, via Goulet Pens

I scribbled all over different kinds of paper, figuring it’d get going, but nope. If I pressed really hard, I could get some grayish dry lines from the pen, but that type of line is just frustrating. Sooo…I stepped it up a bit, flushed the pen really well, and changed to J. Herbin’s Perle Noire. Nothing but chalky feeling greyish lines. Grrrr.

Bright but disappointing
Oh so bright, but where’s my ink?!

Late that evening, I contacted Goulet Pens and explained my plight. As I DO own a few other Lamys, I COULD swab nibs around, but that wasn’t really an ideal solution. (Swapping in a fine nib that I had in an un-inked Lamy resulted in excellent flow, thus confirming that the issue was definitely with the nib.) The next day, Katy replied, and offered to send me a new nib as well as a pre-paid envelope so that I could return the “problem child.” Perfect!!

That package arrived yesterday, so I postponed dinner (priorities!) and immediately swapped in the nib, then scribbled away.

Nib test
Nib tests

All better. I’m now getting a spot on wettish EF flow from the pen. Happy ending.

But wait, there’s more! Included in my Goulet Pens replacement nib package was the usual (and appreciated!) Tootsie Pop, bookmark, and sticker, as well as three ink samples…Diamine Kelly Green, Private Reserve vampire Red, and Noodler’s Kung Te-Cheng. Bonus inks! Surprise!

Goulet Swag
Replacement nib, ink samples, and Goulet swag

Suddenly, my mood was as bright as my pen.

Neon Lamy vs. highlighter

It is, after all, the little things.

Living History: The Dignitary by allegory

History class and I didn’t really get along. Most of the time the teacher sounded just like Charlie Brown’s teacher…wah wah wah…something about Chinese dynasties. Because the lessons didn’t contain stories that I could latch onto, just “facts” and dates, it all sounded like static to me. I memorized. I passed. But it all rolled off of me as soon as I turned in my test paper.

The one exception was 7th grade New York State history. “No textbook,” said Mr. Hiteman. “We’ll learn by doing.” And that’s exactly what we did. We spent afternoons at a dig site excavating around a cellar hole, then diligently cataloguing our artifacts. For the final exam, we wrote an essay using those artifacts to reconstruct the life of the home’s inhabitants. History felt 3-D and static-free that year. History seeped into me without any effort. History was, for once, alive.

Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to allegory’s pens. Made with ancient and reclaimed woods, you’re literally holding history in your hand. I backed their first Kickstarter project, and because that went so well, I didn’t hesitate to back their second (The Precision Collection). By backing the second project, I was able to purchase the Dignitary fountain pen, from their first project, at a reduced price. (Follow that?)

The Dignitary
The Dignitary

The primary wood in this pen is Bethlehem Olivewood (Israel), which is nearly 2000 years old. Though the trees are protected, the branch trimmings and deadfall are made available to woodworkers and tourists. Two thousand years. Wow. If wood could talk.

The accent wood, Bog Oak, is even older. These ancient woods have been preserved in the peat bogs of Ireland and England for 3500 to 5000 years. Life in the bog gave the wood its rich dark color.

Married together, in a process shown in this video, the woods come alive again in allegory’s pens, and I think the result is pretty cool.

A magnetic closure makes this a fun box to open and close

The reveal
The reveal

As my pen collection grows, I find myself looking for pens that offer something out-of-the-ordinary, and The Dignitary certainly fits that bill. It’s unique “bulbous” shape isn’t something that you see every day. And though I think it looks and feels a little top-heavy when posted (6-1/2″), I find holding the unposted pen (4-3/4″) to be very comfortable. And the look has really grown on me. (To be honest, I wasn’t crazy about it at first, which is why I didn’t spring for one until the second project.) The shape makes the pen fun to hold, the weight is lovely, and the wood is warm.

Posted pen
Posted pen

Speaking of posting, the cap screws onto the back of the pen so that it stays put. You don’t have to worry about the cap coming loose and falling off.

For posting
Nubbin for posting

I’m a sucker for gunmetal, so the accents on this pen suit me fine. The gunmetal section is fairly narrow, but I haven’t had any problems with slippage. The unmarked nib writes a medium(ish) line and flow is on the wet side with no hard starts or skips. An unspecified black cartridge came with the pen. I’m not enough of a converter expert to know which one might fit, so I’ve just been using the included cartridge for now.

Section & nib

As with anything handmade from ancient materials, there may be imperfections in the wood. I noticed a crack only after looking at this enlarged photo. This doesn’t bother me, but allegory pledges to offer an exchange if you are unsatisfied for any reason, so no worries there.

allegory logo
allegory logo and crack-o’-history (which looks much larger here than it does in real life)

With Davis Leatherworks Notebook Cover
With Davis Leatherworks Notebook Cover…a nice match

Full of ancient tales and untold secrets, the Dignitary is a pen that you can use to write your own stories.


Write it out. Write it down. Record your history WITH a piece of history. (Right, Mr. Hiteman?)

Photo-op: Bags Of Love Personal Notebook

The ethics stuff: Bags Of Love provided one of the personalized notebooks for review. I solemnly swear to review the notebook impartially and fairly. But you DO know that I’m a sucker for notebooks!

I was not aware of Bags Of Love, until Claire Grannell contacted me about reviewing one of their Personal Notebooks. Once I saw that I could combine two interests obsessions…notebooks and photography…I knew I had to take one for a test drive. So I went to their website, uploaded a couple of photos (after changing my mind a half dozen times), and submitted my order. The upload process was quite intuitive and went without a hitch. Though Bags Of Love is in the UK, and I’m in the US, the order arrived quickly. (I should have kept track of the number of days, but I didn’t. I do know that it was quite fast.)

A6 Personal Notebook

I personalized the A6 size notebook (6″ x 4.5″/15 x 11.5 cm) with a couple of photos from an Adirondack vacation (one for the front cover, and one for the back), and am very pleased with results. The cover is glossy and heavyweight (350 gsm*) but still flexible, and with the thickness of the spine at about 0.4″/1 cm, it looks very much like a nicely constructed paperback book. This particular size is very easy to carry around, or tuck into a purse or bag. The photos look exactly like the images that I uploaded, with true colors and crisp images. Nothing was lost in translation.

Front cover
Front cover: Wild Center, Tupper Lake, NY

Back cover
Back cover: Adirondack Museum, Blue Mountain Lake, NY

Inside the notebook are 76 pages of plain cream/ivory 100 gsm* paper, which I THINK is about 68 lb paper. It’s a nice weight…substantial but not too thick. I decided that I want to use this notebook as a gratitude journal (the photos make me feel instantly grateful for vacations and relaxation and summer and nature), so I wrote a gratitude quote on the first page using my TWSBI Mini fountain pen (EF nib) and Private Reserve DC Supershow Blue ink. How would the paper handle this combination of pen and ink, I wondered. Turns out…like a pro. There was no feathering bleeding or show-through. Happy dance.

Gratitude quote
To kick off the gratitude journal. (Page color is a touch yellower than it appears in actuality.)

Because these notebook are personalized with YOUR photos, they make great gifts for moms, dads, kids, grandparents OR yourself. Create covers that feature your kids, pets, gardens, vacations, or interests. You can also add personalized text to the cover, if you wish. Use the notebook as a journal, a place to keep to-do lists, a book or movie log…whatever. The compact size, sturdiness, and glossy covers make these notebooks stand out from the usual notebook crowd. With a custom cover, your notebook is TRULY your one-of-a-kind creation.

A6 Notebook

The perfectionist in me has to point out a few niggly things. Because the notebook is bound much like a paperback book, in order to easily write in it, you’ll eventually need to crease the cover. Not a big deal, but something to keep in mind. My perfectionist mind is also happier with grid, dot, or lined paper than with plain because I can keep my entries uniform and straight. But those who like to sketch and draw (or who are less OCD) will have no issue with the plain pages. I’ll happily use this notebook, but I’d love the option for other page styles. I’d also like the option of choosing white paper over the cream, but again, not really a big deal.

Bound like a paperback

The A6 notebook runs £14.98 (around $23.00), but right now Bags of Love is running a “Buy Two, Get One Free” deal, which makes this a great time to buy a few gifts or a trio for yourself. I’m impressed with the whole process…from the photo upload to the finished product…and I look forward to using mine at the end of each day to jot down what I’m thankful for.

Notebooks not your thing? (GASP!!!) Well, check out their website for a wide range of other items that can be personalized…everything from mugs, tablecloths, calendars, coasters, place mats, aprons and so much more.

Let’s face it, we walk around with hundreds of digital photos in our phones and cameras, but rarely do much more than download them (if that). Bags Of Love gives us the opportunity to use those photos to create gifts and keepsakes, a way to give those photos a life outside of the camera.

Bags Of Love

Go ahead, upload. It’s easy.


*gsm = grams per square meter. It’s the UK, remember?

Prized: Edison Extended Mina in Cinnamon Swirl Acrylic (EF nib)

On Saturday April 27th, the planets and stars aligned JUST right and I miraculously won an Edison pen during the FPGeek’s FPtv Episode 69 Live Broadcast. When Stephen pulled my name out of the hat (yes, an actual hat), I did that thing that football players do when they score the winning touchdown. (And if you know me, you know that’s TOTALLY out of character.) The win was particularly cool, because the first name Stephen drew belonged to someone in the chat, and they, apparently, hadn’t stuck around long enough to see if they’d won. So a second name was drawn, and it was mine.

Stunned. Serious stunnage. I was stunified.

As the winner of the Edison giveaway, I was allowed to select any cartridge/converter, steel nibbed pen from Brian Gray’s current inventory (up to $250 value). Now THAT was a daunting/fun/colorful decision. There were hundreds of pens to choose from (this was just prior to the Chicage Pen Show, luckily) and I flipped through the entire inventory a couple of times before narrowing things down. Ultimately I settled on the Extended Mina in Cinnamon Swirl Acylic, with my usual EF nib. The pen arrived a few days later, and wow…just wow. This thing is gorgeous.

Extended Mina

When browsing through Brian’s inventory slides, I was  quickly taken by the shape of the Extended Mina. The pen gently tapers to the center so the ends are a bit thicker than the middle of the capped pen. There’s no clip, and the pen cannot be posted, so if you require either of those features, this model is not for you. But it is definitely the one for me. The look is clean and smooth, and the Cinnamon Swirl Acrylic makes it truly jaw-dropping.

Extended Mina

This particular swirled acrylic has amazing depth and sheen and translucency. I like how you can catch a glimpse of the threads through the cap. And the colors are “my colors.” Rusty oranges and greens and golds and blacky blues all swirled in a mesmerizing pattern. You can’t not look at it.

Cinnamon Acrylic

The tapered section fits my hand perfectly. Holding this pen is like slipping on that perfect pair of sandals…the kind that make you exhale with comfort. (Obviously the Extended Mina and I were meant to be together.) And this EF nib is wonderfully fine, perfectly fine…somewhat finer than the EF nibs I have on a couple other Edison pens. Which suits me…well…fine. I couldn’t be happier with this pen.

Edison EF nibbage
Edison EF nibbage

What’s cool about Edison pens (like this one, and my Collier in Persimmon Swirl) is that they totally ruin you for other pens. My wishlist doesn’t tug at me nearly as hard now that I’m using my Mina. Which is kind of nice. To feel pen-satisfied.


“Prized,” as defined in the dictionary means:
1) Offered or given as a prize;
2) To value highly; esteem or treasure.

And so this is my prized pen. This is my Edison Extended Mina. Pinch me.

Uncapped Extended Mina