You Had Me At Orange

My new orange pens

Turns out my pledge to hold off on buying pens doesn’t stand a chance when the pen world offers up a handful of reasonably priced orange pens. It’s a conspiracy, I tell you!

Lamy AL-Star in Copper Orange

I wrote the rough draft of this review with my new CopperOrange Lamy AL-Star (medium nib), filled with the matching CopperOrange ink (cartridge). Lamy has, in my opinion, nailed it with this pen and ink combo. They match perfectly and this ink has quickly become one of my favorite oranges. It’s dark enough to be legible, but still pops with a nicely balanced brightness.

Lamy AL-Star in Copper Orange

The pen almost looks like it’s lit from within—warm and bright but still easy on the eyes. The AL-Star is a pen you either love or hate, mostly because of the iconic contoured grip. I have no issues with the grip so picking up this pen in this color was a total no-brainer.

TWSBI 580AL in Orange

I also “cracked” and ordered the orange TWSBI 580AL when I read that the color was being discontinued. (They manipulate me like a pen-buying puppet!) I chewed on my pledge, but again, this is an affordable pen and I’ve yet to have a bad TWSBI experience.

TWSBI 580AL in Orange

The pen arrived in Saturday’s mail, but the weekend was such a blur that I haven’t gotten around to inking it yet. I stepped outside of my nib comfort zone by ordering a broad, and can’t wait to see how it writes. My current dilemma—what ink should I fill it with? One of my oranges? Or a nice bright blue? Why I belabor this, I’ll never know. It’s not like it’s a permanent decision.

P1060760

I hear there’s a big basketball game on tonight, but I’ll be watching “The Voice,” then reading. So…not really a basketball fan, but the Limited Edition SWISH Big Shot Tornado Popper by Retro 51 reeled me in with top-notch details and orangey goodness.

Retro 51 SWISH

The pen is marked and textured like an actual basketball, features that classic Retro 51 knurling, and is finished with a very cool basketball graphic end cap. Though I don’t give a hoot if Wisconsin or Duke wins tonight, I do love using my SWISH pen with my usual “swapped in” Schmidt P8126 refill.

My new orange pens

So that pledge to pare down pen purchases has taken a little bit of a beating.

Lamy, TWSBI, and Retro 51—you had me at orange.

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I purchased the Lamy AL-Star from Fontoplumo, the TWSBI 580AL directly from TWSBI, and the SWISH Retro 51 from Anderson Pens. I experienced excellent customer service from all three vendors. There are no affiliate links in this post. I just enjoy sharing good pens and good buying experiences with you.

2014 Wrap-Up: The Feelings

Simple tree
Simple tree

I had planned to get a post up last week, but then I caught a cold (unexpected) and Christmas arrived (expected). One thing was fun, the other not so much. Slowly coming out of my sinus miseries and low-key Christmas celebrations to think about getting things back to normal. Well, normalish.

Baking cookies
Baking molasses cookies. Or as I call them, mole asses cookies.

I’m off from work for most of the week— just have to pop in on Friday for a little while— so every day feels like Saturday lately. Which is what I imagine heaven feels like.

Christmas colored Retro 51s
My festive Retro 51s

A couple of feelings routinely kick in this time of year, as one year ends and the other begins. The first is gratitude. Thanks for all of the good stuff and good people that I’ve encountered in the last year, much of it related to pens (and paper and ink and pencils) and the pen/pencil communities. These are the places where I feel most comfortable, where my introverted tendencies vanish, where I have a blast.

The Retrakt
Karas Kustoms Retrakt

Though not a complete list by any means, these are just some of the people and places who made 2014 a memorable year:

Podcasts/Videocasts
The Pen Addict with Brad and Myke (responsible for oh so many pen purchases and for an always entertaining commute)
The Erasable Podcast with Andy, Johnny, and Tim (Who would’ve thought I’d listen to a show about pencils? I do, and I love it.)
Anderson Pens (Oh, that chat! It’s like meeting with friends every time I tune in.)
SBREBrown & Gourmet Pens & the “I won’t be ignored” kitty (Great information with great humor. You guys rock.)

Pen, pencil, ink, notebook, and storage vendors
Anderson Pens
Dudek Modern Goods
Edison Pen Co.
Field Notes
Fontoplumo
The Goulet Pen Co.
JetPens
Karas Kustoms
Levenger
Nock Co.
Pen Chalet
The Pen Company
Retro 1951
Write Notepads & Co.

Thanks to some for supplying review items, to others for great customer service, and to all for great products and that extra-special personal touch.

My nib guy
Dan Smith @fpgeeks

Thanks for making less than stellar pens remarkable, quickly and affordably. Great work!

Penpals
Tracy Lee
Michelle

Thank you for understanding when I TAKE SO LONG TO REPLY. Your letters and cool envelopes are a source of delight in my mailbox. So glad we’re getting to know each other better while using our pens and inks.

Bloggers, Tweeters, Facebookers
I won’t name names because I’ll leave someone out then feel bad, but you all entertain and educate me, amuse and enlighten. This is the BEST community.

Best hotel
The Sheraton at Tysons Corner for returning my “left behind” Akkerman ink after the DC Pen Show. Amazing customer service. So grateful.

Pencils at the ready
Pencil line-up

The other feeling that kicks in this time of year is “fresh start.” Old year out, new year in. Time to purge, reorganize, and start with a blank(ish) slate. Fred and I regularly purge and straighten out our pantry during our break between Christmas and New Year’s. Annual ritual. Afterwards, we vow to use what we have on hand before adding more stuff to the cupboards.

Conklin Stylograph
Conklin Stylograph (to be reviewed)

In that same vein, I plan to make 2015 a year where I buckle down and USE my pens, pencils, papers, and inks— switching my focus from acquisition to using. When you have a Staples Printer Paper box full of empty notebooks, it might be time to stop buying notebooks and start writing in them. Like every day. Don’t get me wrong, I use my stuff but I need to REALLY use my stuff. There’s plenty here to be written in and written with, plenty to be reviewed, plenty to have fun with. Plenty.

Machined goodness
Machined favorites

So I’m closing out 2014 and starting 2015 feeling grateful and blessed. And you— all of you— are the reason.

Peace and good health to you all.

Write Notepads & Co.
Write Notepads & Co. loot

On Fire: The Delta Unica Red LE Fountain Pen (via Anderson Pens)

Delta Unica Red LE Fountain Pen

I rarely come away from watching the Anderson Pens video podcast without jotting yet another pen onto my wish list. Case in point— just before the DC Supershow, Brian and Lisa announced their Delta Unica Limited Edition Fountain Pen, in a gorgeous red acrylic that’s an Anderson Pens exclusive. Wowza.

Oh, that acrylic!!
[Oh, that acrylic!]

With just fifty pens in this color, I was intrigued. And when I heard the price— just $85 (a small premium over the regular Delta Unica colors)— I knew I wanted this pen. BUT, I was getting to the pen show for Sunday only, so I spent a lot of my road trip from New York to Virginia worrying that they’d be gone by the time I was able to shop. PEN ANXIETY!

They were gone. I didn’t get one. The End.

KIDDING.

I hit the Anderson Pens table(s) pretty quickly on Sunday morning and was relieved to find that there were still some left. I chose #34/50 (medium nib), got one of Lisa’s famous hugs, talked to Brian, and ran off to pinball my way around the rest of the show. (Why I can’t seem to do a pen show in an orderly fashion is beyond me. I think it’s adrenaline.)

AP 34/50 Limited Edition
[Limited Edition, Anderson Pens, 34/50]

Once home, the first pen I inked and spent time with was my Wahl-Eversharp Skyline Technik fountain pen (LOVE that thing), so I didn’t get around to inking the Delta until a couple of weeks ago. And that’s when I found a bit of a glitch. The pen would write, then stop, then write again. Sometimes it flooded the paper with ink, while other times it ran completely dry. Well, shoot.

Once I took a close look at the nib, the problem was obvious— the nib tines were simply too far apart. I contacted the Andersons by email, included a couple of photos to illustrate the problem, and had a speedy reply from Brian. At his recommendation, I mailed the pen to him, he fixed the nib, and returned it to me asap. Great service after the sale.

Delta Unica matte steel nib
[All better.]

NOW it writes as good as it looks.

Delta Unica LE Red Fountain Pen

It truly is a stunning pen. The red marble acrylic has amazing depth and sheen and looks like it’s on fire from within. Branding is VERY subdued. (You can just make out the “DELTA/ITALY” engraving at the bottom edge of the cap in the picture above.) The clip features a little roller that makes sliding the pen in and out of a pocket or case snag-free. I love the shape of the cap— how it subtly flares out— giving the pen a really clean and simple, but interesting, profile.

Delta Unica vs. Lamy AL-Star
[Size comparison: Delta Unica vs. Lamy AL-Star]

The size is perfect for me (4-3/4″ unposted, 6″ posted). The cap posts securely and doesn’t throw off the balance of the pen. The 0.46″ grip feels great in hand, and the threads and oh-so slight step-down do not interfere with my grip at all. It’s a joy to hold and use. The pen weighs 22g (15g body, 7g cap)— light enough for even an extended writing session.

Delta Unica Matte Steel nib

The nib is steel in a matte finish, and features branding that I find to be a little busy. The writing experience is a smooth and juicy one, with just a bit of feedback. The Unica is cartridge/converter pen, and a converter is included. I’ve filled mine with Sailor Jentle Grenade, a color that was MADE FOR this acrylic.

Delta Unica in LE Red Acrylic
[On fire!]

I’m very pleased with my Delta Unica LE fountain pen— my Anderson Pens Delta Unica. It’s hot looking, writes great, and feels terrific. Brian’s speedy response and quick nib fix proved why it’s important to deal with people you trust. Sometimes things aren’t exactly perfect— with pens as with life— and it’s great to know that there’s someone there should you need help.

Delta Unica LE Red Acrylic fountain pen

Or a hug. (Right, Lisa?!)

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Click HERE to watch Brian’s video overview of this pen.

Fun Find #2: Monteverde Invincia Deluxe Nighthawk Ballpoint

Monteverde Nighthawks
A pair of Monteverde Invincia Deluxe Nighthawks: Ballpoint [top] and Fountain Pen [bottom]

I picked up the Monteverde Invincia Deluxe Nighthawk fountain pen (a collaboration between Brian Goulet of Goulet Pens and Monteverde) as soon as it was released, just about a year ago. In my review of that pen, I noted how it pushed a number of my “this will make me buy a pen” buttons, like:

  • Stealthy looks
  • Matte finish
  • Carbon fiber

Unfortunately, the Nighthawk line has been discontinued by Monteverde because of some production difficulties (i.e., In some pens, tiny bubbles trapped in the carbon fiber were visible under the matte coating). My fountain pen appears to be free of this problem, and I’m particularly happy to own one since production has ceased. (There are some available from Goulet Pens and Anderson Pens, but these are the end of the line.)

Monteverde Nighthawks

So what does this have to do with a BALLPOINT Nighthawk? Well, I was poking around on the Anderson Pens site one evening and noticed that not only do they have some of the remaining fountain pens, but they also offer a Nighthawk ballpoint. Because I already own the fountain pen, it just made sense to pick up one of the ballpoints, because that pen, too, is wonderfully stealthy, and I assume, in limited supply.

Disassembled Nighthawk

The Nighthawk ballpoint takes my favorite Parker-style refill— the Schmidt EasyFlow 9000— which lays down a lusciously rich jet black line that’s smooth and thick. The blue refill is just as nice as the black one, assuming that you’re okay with lines that are on the broad side.

Nighthawk innards
All-metal innards

The ballpoint weighs 44 grams, so it’s no lightweight. I use it throughout my work day jotting my to-do lists in a Field Notes notebook so I don’t experience hand fatigue from writing with such a heavy pen. Longer writing sessions could, I suppose, get a little tiring, given the heft of the Nighthawk. The pens “innards” are sturdy metal (brass?) which explains why the pen feels so solid and substantial.

Monteverde Nighthawk ballpoint

The refill is deployed by twisting the upper or lower half of the pen’s carbon fiber body. This mechanism works silently and smoothly.

A subtle difference
VERY subtle Monteverde logo on the ballpoint end cap vs.  the plain fountain pen cap

In looks, the ballpoint is a “fraternal twin” to my fountain pen version, which means that there are a few differences aside from the fact that one’s a fountain pen and the other is a ballpoint. There were two slightly different versions of the Nighthawk fountain pen. I have the original version with a bigger carbon fiber weave and very minimal branding. The ballpoint more closely resembles version 2.0 of the fountain pen with a tighter carbon fiber weave, and just a touch more branding. My ballpoint features a very subtle rendering of the Monteverde logo on the clip end of the pen. This small detail was not included on the original version of the fountain pen to keep the pen super-stealthy.

Fraternal twins

A little bit of research revealed that there is an actual bird called the Nighthawk. It’s not black, but is well-camouflaged and stealthy. It’s considered a common bird but is declining in numbers.

The Nighthawk— the bird AND the pens— once they’re gone, they’re gone.

That seems like a real shame.

Flawed and Wonderful: Parker Vacumatic in Azure Blue

Parker Vacumatic Azure Blue

When I was at the DC Pen Show, I found myself completely overwhelmed and intimidated by the stunning array of vintage pens. I shied away from exploring them because I felt like I needed to know [much] more to be able to recognize an acceptable pen at a good price. Sarj Minhas has a staggering vintage collection (so nice that it paralyzed me, both physically and verbally). I was especially blown away by his “Ripley” Vacumatic— simply stunning— with a hefty price tag that I’m sure is well worth it. So, while in DC, I stuck to moderns and remain very pleased with those purchases.

Vacumatic striations

But gosh darn, those Vacumatics speak to me. And wouldn’t you know it— one popped up for sale on Dan Smith’s site. I slobbered over it, then had a bit of a twitter conversation with Dan before deciding to go for it. During this exchange, Dan asked me, “What is it about the Vacumatics that you like?” I quickly answered, “The stripey bits.” It really is that simple— I love the look of the striations (aka stripey bits). And at $65, I knew this would be a good “starter” Vacumatic.

Vacumatic with Duofold nib

Going in, I was well aware that there are a few things wrong with the pen— and they’re undoubtedly big things if you’re a collector. The nib is a Parker Duofold, which is the wrong nib for this pen. The barrel is badly ambered so that it’s not at all translucent. I’m not able to judge the ink level by looking at the barrel— it just stops writing. And I may or may not be having some filling issues (TBD; working with Anderson Pens on this…pretty sure it’s just me being impatient when filling).

Vacumatic imprint

Despite all of this, I love this pen. LOVE. It puts down a perfectly wet, smooth, medium line— pure fun to write with. The barrel imprint is crisp and completely readable. The cap and clip are in great shape. Amazing, really, for a pen that was made in 1945. And those striations. Yeah, they’re what really got me.

Vacumatic barrel

Myke Hurley recently said, on Episode 75 of “The Pen Addict” podcast, that he overheard someone at the London Pen Show describe a Vacumatic as looking like the lit windows in a skyscraper at night. I SO agree with this description. (I was driving at the time I heard this, but nodded and laughed a little because I’d been thinking the exact same thing.)

Blind cap & vac

The filling system is very easy to use, but as I said, requires a bit of patience in that, according to Brian Anderson, one needs to pause at the bottom of the plunger’s downstroke, as well as at the top, for a second or two. I’m not sure that I’ve been doing that so my fills may have been a little short. Next time, I’ll take my time.

Uncapped Vacumatic

Like so many pen lovers, I’ve been on the elusive hunt for the “perfect pen,” as if such a thing exists. Does perfect mean that it has to be expensive or super smoooooooth or drop-dead gorgeous, or does it just have to fit our hand or our tastes or our writing style? Heck if I know. I’m pretty sure, though, that “perfect” is a moving target. And maybe (undoubtedly) “perfect” is overrated.

Parker Vacumatic clip

Our jobs/partners/kids/pets/churches/schools/movies/books/art are all imperfect— well-marbled with flaws along with the good stuff. And yet we love it all. We love our messy, sticky lives. This pen is the same— flawed, and yet still wonderful.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Notes:

  • My Parker Vacumatic is currently inked with Pilot’s Iroshizuku tsuki-yo.
  • The Sassafras pen case prototype by Nock Co. provided the colorful backdrop for a number of these photos, and is where I’ve been storing this Vacumatic.  I’ve been carrying the Sassafras case with me EVERYWHERE and it looks as fresh as it did on day one.  Check out Nock Co.’s project on Kickstarter.
  • That Ripley Vacumatic? Unforgettable.