Cool: Retro 1951’s Black Fade to Silver Tornado

On National Handwriting Day (January 23rd), I stumbled upon a Retro 1951 contest where a couple of prizes would be awarded for good handwriting while a few more would be randomly chosen. The prize? One of four one-of-a-kind Retro 51 Tornados, or the Goncalo (wooden) Tornado, AND a Retro 1951 t-shirt.

So of course, I entered. Using the Albert Tornado I had with me that day, I wrote out the required tag line:

“Life is too short to carry an Ugly Pen.”

Retro 51 Contest Entry

Winners were announced on January 26th and I…

WON!

My entry was picked for one of the handwriting prizes, and I was thrilled. (I’m still thrilled.)

After looking over the selection of Tornado prizes, I quickly chose the Black Fade to Silver with line cut barrel. The glow-in-the-dark owl/floral pen was a close second, but the Fade pen is more “me.”

Black Fade to Silver Tornado

This one-of-a-kind pen was produced by the factory, but never introduced into the Tornado line. Which seems a shame because it’s super cool. Featuring pitch black knurling and clip, the color of the barrel gradually fades into shiny silver. Toss in the line cut barrel, and you’ve got yourself one stunning, great feeling pen.

Pitch black knurling

It’s stealthy AND shiny— a very unique combination for a very original look.

Black Fade to Silver

The Black Fade to Silver Tornado is a pen that I think would do exceptionally well in the Tornado line-up (and the comments on my Instagram feed seem to back this up). Hint, hint, nudge, nudge.

Other Tornado models

Retro 51 is a company that does so many things right. At a time when we’re hearing of more and more pen companies leaving the customer out of their business decisions, Retro 51 regularly engages their fans with contests and requests for ideas and feedback. By regularly introducing new designs (wallet draining designs), the offerings remain fresh—with something for just about anyone. Whether you want something simple, textured, wooden, humorous, or even glow-in-the-dark, there’s a model for you…or there will be in the near future. Much like the Field Notes Colors subscriptions, these are pens I can’t resist even though I have PLENTY. Maybe even PLENTY times 2.

A Tornado line-up

 The shape of the pen may stay the same, but no two pens look alike. In the handful of Tornados shown above, there’s superb variety— a simple lacquered Kiwi green Tornado, a glow-in-the dark Zag, the playful Space Invaders model, my prize pen, the gorgeous Monroe, the textured Franklin, and chalkboard-like Albert.

Knurling

The Tornado’s knurling is a constant, as is the great writing experience. Whether you’re using the pen with the included rollerball refill, swapping in the slightly finer Schmidt P8126 rollerball refill or a Schmidt EasyFlow 9000 ballpoint refill, you’ll find the writing experience to be dark and rich.

The pens are addictive—in build quality, in smoothness, and in looks. Oh, and in affordability, too.

Retro 1951 is a company that does things right—from maintaining high quality standards, to building great looking pens, while also actively and regularly engaging their fan base. Am I biased because I won a pen— a very cool pen? Probably, but I’ve been a fan for a long time, as evidenced by my sizable collection.

Black Fade to Silver Tornado

Life IS too short to carry an ugly pen, OR to deal with an ugly pen company.

With Retro 1951, you don’t have to worry about either. Cool pens. Cool company.

Which is why this t-shirt is so fitting.

Retro 51 t-shirt prize

Thank you, Retro 1951, for my prize, and for being…well…cool.

A Rollercoaster Ride: The J. Herbin Refillable Rollerball

Sincere thanks to my friends at JetPens for making the purchase of the J. Herbin pen and ink reviewed here possible. There are no affiliate links, and I was not, nor will I be, monetarily compensated. This review reflects my experiences and observations with the J. Herbin products pictured here.

J. Herbin Rollerball
J. Herbin Rollerball and Larmes de Cassis ink cartridges. LOVE the little tin.

I’ve read a number of reviews on the J. Herbin Refillable Rollerball and they run the gamut from “The ink flows very well…” to “The nib is very scratchy and thin.” Five star reviews versus one star reviews. Hmmmmm. Time to check it out for myself, I thought, so I added one to a recent JetPens order.

The J. Herbin Refillable Rollerball takes short international ink cartridges rather then traditional rollerball refills, which makes the pen a bit of a novelty. This appeals to me as I’ve accumulated a decent-sized stash of cartridges (okay, a lot), as I usually fill my fountain pens with bottled ink. Having a non-fountain pen to use them in seemed like a cool alternative.

J. Herbin Larmes de Cassis cartridge
Initial writing sample with J. Herbin Larmes de Cassis ink

I popped in one of the J. Herbin Larmes de Cassis (Tears of Black Current Purple) cartridges and started writing on my Levenger Vivacious Circa paper. The ink flowed without much delay, but the color just didn’t do it for me— much too light and washed out looking— significantly paler than the label on the sweet little cartridge tin led me to believe. But was this because of the pen or the ink?

J. Herbin rollerball
Disassembled, with a Levenger Cobalt Blue cartridge installed

After installing a Levenger Cobalt Blue cartridge and scribbling a bit, I was in business. The ink flowed easily, the rollerball felt smooth, and the color was rich and readable. Really nice.

Levenger Cobalt Blue writing sample

On the very smooth Vivacious paper, I’d estimate that the line runs about 0.6 mm, very close to that put down by a Schmidt P8126 refill— my choice for my ever-expanding collection of Retro 51 Tornados. It felt as smooth and free-flowing as the Schmidt refill, as well. Five stars!

Unposted vs. Retro 51 Tornado
Unposted vs. Retro 51 Tornado

Unposted, this pen is small, just 3.8 inches (98 mm). You really do need to post the cap to use the pen comfortably. The cap posts quite securely so this isn’t really an issue. Once posted, the pen measures 5.5″ inches (139 mm). It’s compact, for sure, but not too small. You can see that the posted length is a little bit longer than a Retro 51 Tornado.

Posted vs. Retro 51 Tornado
Posted vs. Retro 51 Tornado

The downhill slope of rollercoaster ride occurred on Day 2 of use, when I grabbed the pen to jot down some notes and had trouble getting the flow going. Aargh. I scribbled on a sheet of the Vivacious paper, but the results were not great. Sometimes the flow was fine, other times it seemed to dry up. Hmmmm…one star.

Scribbling to prime the pen
Scribbling to prime the pen

I then discovered that scribbling on more common (printer) paper did the trick and good flow was ultimately achieved on all types of paper. Really smooth with “just right” wetness. Five stars.

So, you can see, there is some touchiness with this pen. Thus the mixed reviews.

Day 2 writing sample
Day 2 writing sample, after priming

My experiences confirmed that there are a few caveats to successfully using the J. Herbin Rollerball— little tricks to get five star, rather than one star, performance:

  • Use richly colored inks for best readability. Because of the relatively fine line, pale ink looks weak on the page. (Duh.)
  • Realize that there may be some differences in performance based on the paper  you’re using. Flow appears to be most consistent on “cheaper” (less coated) papers, but is a-ok on good paper once flow is established.
  • Storing the pen with the tip down alleviated the need to scribble on paper to prime the pen after a period of non-use. After doing so, the pen wrote very well on even my best paper, even after sitting unused for a time.

J. Herbin Rollerball

I will admit that the J. Herbin Refillable Rollerball took me on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster ride, with both high and low points in performance. But ultimately, by following a few easy tips, I’ve been enjoying this pen and look forward to plowing through that healthy stash of small international cartridges. I’ve declared 2015 to be the year that I “use things up,” and this pen is a small step in the right direction.

J. Herbin Rollerball

The J. Herbin Refillable Rollerball is available at JetPens for $8.75, with J. Herbin cartridges priced at $5.50. While not ideal for use in this pen (in my opinion), I plan to use the Larmes de Cassis cartridges in some of my fountain pens to see how it looks with different pens/nibs. Stay tuned for an update on the outcome of that experiment.

A Collection: ACME Crayon Rollerballs

My pen collection can certainly be called “random.” I sometimes joke that its theme is “no theme.” I’m simply drawn to shiny things— rich acrylics with mesmerizing depth (chatoyancy! a word I just learned), stealthy black pens, transparent demonstrators, and cool colors. I have a little bit of a lot of pens. Pen A.D.D., I guess. EXCEPT in the case of the ACME Crayon rollerballs by ACME Studio.

P1040869

I started out with one pen, either the red or the blue one. That seemed fine for awhile. But then I found that a local Scandinavian Designs store carried them and one led to two which led to three which led to owning the whole collection. Oops.

ACME Crayon rollerballs

I’m such a faithful customer, and ACME Crayon “completist,” that the shop owner sends me an email when new colors are announced— like the latest purple and teal offerings. What’s also cool is that the shop has (or had) the retired colors— black, white, and silver. Shop local as you never know what lucky surprises you may find!

ACME Crayon rollerballs

The refill is the same as the one for the Retro 51 rollerballs so I usually swap in a Schmidt (or ACME) P8126 as that tip size is the sweet spot for me.  The pens are lacquered brass so they feel substantial and look remarkably like the crayons we had fun with as kids. The colors are so addictive, and not overwhelming in number (just eleven at this time), so owning the entire collection was certainly doable and desirable.

ACME Crayon rollerballs

One thing I don’t quite get is why the green pen has a yellow tip and end cap. Why isn’t it ALL green, like the color of the body? Weird choice by ACME, in my opinion.

In the top photo, you’ll notice my “mutt” pen on the far right side of the photo— a white pen with an orange tip. Sadly, I dropped my white pen on a counter at work and sheared off the brass tip. ARRRRGGGHHH! White is, of course, a discontinued color. I immediately contacted my local dealer…ummm, shop…and found that she still had a few in stock so I quickly purchased a new one. I also contacted ACME to try to get a replacement tip for the damaged pen. Turns out that wasn’t possible, but they did eventually swap in a tip from an orange pen, so it’s usable, but a bit of a hybrid. Lesson learned: Be extremely careful with discontinued pens. DO NOT DROP THEM ON HARD SURFACES. Pro tip.

So while my pen collection is all over the place, my ACME Crayon rollerball collection is currently COMPLETE. I’ve got a Crayon for each and every mood. For some reason, this feels like an accomplishment. For this pen collector, with the attention span of a gnat, I guess it is.

ACME Crayon rollerballs

The ACME Crayon rollerballs remind me of long ago, uncomplicated kid days when I could spend hours lying on the living room rug coloring in a new coloring book. How could I possibly resist buying more of those carefree and happy memories?

Does your pen collection have a theme? I’d love to hear about it.

Traveling With Pens: A Case Study (or a study of a basket case?!)

I’m attending a conference in Indianapolis, IN this week. But before I traveled here, I spent a god awful amount of time mulling over which pens to bring with me. Clothes? Easy. Pens? Not so much.

Right up until the last minute I was swapping pens in and out of my Nock Co. Brasstown case. The case, at least, was pretty much a given. Even though I schlep three or four Nock Co. Pen cases to and from work every day, I knew I only wanted to travel with one, and the Brasstown quickly made the cut. With its roll-up, multiple pen holding “tongue” and space to carry some ink cartridges and a small ruler, the case was an easy pick.

When it was time to leave for the airport, I had to STOP with the pen swaps and go with what was in the case. Here’s the final line-up:

Fountain pens
Lamy AL Star Blue-Green (fine nib) with Lamy black cartridges
Lamy Vista (extra-fine nib) with Lamy black cartridges
Pilot Knight (medium nib) with Namiki Blue/Black cartridges

Rollerball pen
Retro 51 Betsy Tornado Rollerball

Gel pen
Nock Co./Karas Kustoms exclusive Render K with 0.5 mm black G2 refill

Ballpoint pens
Fisher Space pen (matte black bullet model)
TactileTurn Shaker with Schmidt EasyFlow 9000 black refill

20140729-223046.jpg

I’m a couple of days into the conference now and have a few thoughts about my choices. The Lamy Vista is great. The EF nib is perfect in my Clairefontaine notebook and I especially like being able to monitor the ink level. The fine nib on the Lamy AL Star is a little broad, while the medium nib on the Pilot Knight is wonderfully smooth and lays down a precise fine line as it’s a Japanese medium.

The Fisher Space pen has been particularly handy for filling out entry forms at today’s trade show. It’s easy to carry and completely reliable. Maybe not my favorite refill of all time, but great when you just need a pen to do its job whenever and wherever.

I haven’t used Betsy or the Shaker as yet, though both are favorites when I’m home. I think I’ll work them into tomorrow’s sessions. Could it be I have pen A.D.D.? Is that a thing?

20140729-224319.jpg

A couple of other Nock Co. products have really performed well on this trip- the Fodderstack loaded with the DotDash 3×5 cards paired with Nock Co. x Karas Kustoms Exclusive G2 Render K. The pen looks and writes great. I love the playful trio of colors, and loaded with a 0.5 mm G2 refill, it’s been perfect for taking meeting notes AND for keeping track of action items that are popping up at work and at home. By jotting down tasks on the DotDash cards, I’m able to concentrate on what I should be concentrating on- the conference.

Someone on Twitter suggested that I should travel with only one pen as a challenge, and I considered that for a little bit. Obviously, I didn’t go that route since I have a stupid number of pens with me. But really, I’m having fun swapping pens from day to day…or even within the same day.

And, I must admit, pens are something of a security blanket for me. I feel better when they’re with me.

20140729-230713.jpg

There…I admitted it.

Written and photographed on my iPad and iPhone with poor hotel lighting. But written nonetheless!

Fun Find #1: Retro 1951 Tornado Umbra Orange Rollerball

(Click on any picture to enlarge it.)

Retro 51 Umbra Orange Rollerball

Sometimes a pen finds you more than you find the pen. That was exactly the case with this Retro 51 Tornado Umbra Orange Rollerball. I was browsing on the Pen City site, and found that they have a “Shop By Color” feature (great idea!). When I filtered for “orange,” this was one of the pens that popped up. Since I’d never seen a Retro 51 in a translucent acrylic, much less an ORANGE translucent acrylic, I had to order it.

Translucent Orange Acrylic

When the pen arrived, it looked even better in person than it did on the website. The acrylic shimmers and displays wonderful depth. I think it looks a little like jello salad, which made me love it just a little bit more. I really like how you can catch a glimpse of the branding on the refill and the internal threading through the body of the pen.

The familiar Retro 51 elements are here as well. Like that wonderful knurling…

Retro 51 Knurling

And the immediately recognizable open-design clip that’s both cool looking and functional…

Retro 51 clip

The pen body’s color is reflected in the twist mechanism’s finial for one more pop of color…

Retro 51 Orange finial

The Retro 51 REF-5P black refill that came with the pen is reliably smooth and dark. Writing my rough draft of this review on Staples Arc notebook paper was a really enjoyable experience. That paper and this refill seem to be made for each other.

I’ve since seen some other acrylics— red, blue, and white— and though they look very cool, too, my heart belongs to this orange version. Sadly, none of the acrylic versions appear to be easy to find, but the folks at Retro 1951 have hinted on Twitter that more acrylics may be introduced. Or should I say “re-introduced.”

Translucent acrylic

That would be as sweet as— well— jello salad.

Under My Radar: ACME Stiletto Rollerball

The scene is a familiar one. I receive a gift certificate and a bit of birthday money and the next thing you know I’m steaming up the case of pens at our Scandinavian Design gift shop. I don’t quite have my nose pressed up against the glass, but almost.

This time, though, before I could get into another epic mental wrestling match with myself over which pen to choose, the sly owner (who is clearly onto me), blindsided me with a pen that I’ve NEVER NOTICED before. How is this possible? I have supersonic pen-seeking radar and have purchased a jillion pens from this place and yet I missed these?! Clearly, I’m slipping.

Hmmmm.

In my defense, they WERE tucked to the back of the case, behind a more prominent display of ACME Crayons. They’re very slim. And in a clear tube. And may have been hiding.

Meet the ACME Stiletto Rollerball, Frag model (Designer: Giovannella Formica).

ACME Stiletto Frag

To be honest, my immediate reaction was “nah.” Too skinny. I do like (or have gotten used to) beefier pens and this one is just 0.3″ in diameter. A mere wisp of a pen.

But then I held it, and my opinion starting easing. Hmmm…nice heft for its size. The striped lacquer feels substantial, and the stripes have just a hint of texture. This is a slender, but not a fragile (fra-gee-lay!), pen. Interest is spiking.

Posting end
Posting end

When I went to do a test-doodle (required) I realized that the cap simply pulled off AND WAS MAGNETIC, and that it could be MAGNETICALLY POSTED.

Posted pen
Posted pen

Well take my money.

I’m fairly certain the body is lacquered brass, as this seems to be the metal of choice for ACME pens. The trim is chrome. The capped pen measures 5.8″ and the posted size is 5.9″. And as I said, this is a very narrow pen, so clearly not for everyone. It’s also clipless and very rolly, so if that annoys you, move along.

Magnetic cap
Magnetic cap

As I doodled, the sleek, skinny feel started to grow on me, but it was that magnetic cap that reeled me in. It *SNAPS* into place with strong magnetic conviction and stays put. I could play with that thing all day. Very convenient, too, as there’s no excuse to NOT post the cap. It’s so easy and so addictive (in a magnetic pen cap sort of way).

Disassembled

The liquid ink refill is #5888, which is longer than the standard ACME refill, but writes the same. Black. Smooth. Consistent. The rollerball tip puts down a medium 0.7-ish line on my Rhodia dotPad. As I’ve clarified in previous reviews, liquid ink is subject to a bit of spread, more so than gel ink, but I don’t find this to be much of an issue as long as I’m writing on fairly decent paper.

P8126 vs. longer 5888 refill
Refill comparison: P8126 (standard) vs. 5888 (long)

There were a few other designs available— one with pop art flowers, one with stripes that ran the length of the pen, and one with pink, blue, and yellow hexagonal dots— but I liked the red, blue, green, and white stripes on the Frag model. It looks a bit nautical to me.

P1030498

Packaged simply, in a clear tube that’s plugged on both ends, this is a minimalist pen in the best sense of the word. It’s sleek, simple, playful…

Stiletto packaging

…and magnetic.

ACME cap

Happy Birthday to me.

Compare and Contrast: Kaweco Classic Sport Liquid Ink Rollerball

In last week’s post, I wrote about the ACME Eames Chairs Rollerball. This week’s pen is ALSO a rollerball, so I thought it might be an interesting exercise to compare the two. While there are a number of similarities, there are also some key differences, so let’s take a look.

While I purchased last week’s pen at a local shop, this “gently used” Kaweco Classic Sport Rollerball was sent to me by JetPens. It happened to arrive close to my birthday— a happy coincidence. It’s not a birthday without a new (or “new to me”) pen!

PACKAGING
Kaweco tin

Each pen comes packaged in a cool tin, which is probably my favorite type of pen box because I know it’ll last virtually forever. Both tins have hinged lids, but the relief graphics and lettering on the Kaweco tin really make it pop. For a relatively inexpensive pen, this is an impressive package that has an appealing, somewhat vintage, look.

MATERIAL
Kaweco Classic Sport Rollerball

The ACME Rollerball is a brass and lacquer pen, while the Kaweco is plain black ABS plastic, with just a bit of accent branding. The plastic is sturdy and durable, great for pockets and purses and backpacks. While I’m very careful with my ACME, the Kaweco is the perfect on-the-go pen. Does the plastic get scuffed up a little bit? Sure, but this is a pen that’s meant to be carried, so if it suffers a ding or scrape, that just means that it’s out doing what it was made to do. I love the ACME, but it’s more likely to live a pampered life than this rough and tumble Kaweco.

CAP and POSTING
Uncapped Kaweco Classic Sport

My ACME Rollerball sports a snap cap, while the Kaweco features a threaded cap. Both caps post deeply and securely by pushing them onto their respective pen bodies. The ACME sports a good-looking clip. The Kaweco is clipless, though an optional slide-on clip can be purchased separately. Since I tend to tuck this “everyday carry” pen in a pocket, I’m fine without a clip. The Kaweco’s faceted body keeps it from rolling away on a desk, so a clip isn’t needed for that purpose. But, as I said, if you’re happier with a clip, there’s one available.

Posted pen

As for posting, it really is a must for the Kaweco as the unposted pen is very compact at a mere four inches. This is, for me, usable in a pinch, but posting the cap makes for a much better writing experience. For those with larger hands, posting is a necessity. The ACME feels a bit top heavy when posted, so I usually use THAT pen unposted.

REFILL
Disassembled Kaweco Classic Sport

The refill in this Kaweco has no branding or markings but it’s the exact size and shape as the ACME 888 Safety Ceramic Rollerball refill in my ACME rollerball, which, incidentally, is also the same as the Retro 51 branded refill (or the Schmidt P8126, for that matter), which means you’ll get the same writing experience in all of these pens. These refills contain liquid ink, not gel, so there’s the potential for a tiny bit of bleed or feathering depending on what paper you’re using. I have to say that I tend to prefer gel ink over liquid ink, but as I rule, I enjoy either one more than ballpoint. Gel is just a bit crisper and predictable, but my qualms with liquid ink are very, very minor.

The one thing that I’m not crazy about with the Kaweco rollerball is that the refill rattles a bit inside the pen. I don’t mean that writing tip wiggles— that’s actually very solid— but that you can hear the actual refill rattling a bit when you move the body of the pen. Hearing this always makes me think that the cap is coming unposted from the back of the pen, but it’s not. Though not a huge deal by any means, it’s something that makes the Kaweco feel less solid.

PRICE
This Kaweco Classic Sport is available for $21.00 at JetPens, while I paid $69.50 locally for the ACME rollerball. Obviously, we’re talking plastic versus brass. Since you get the exact writing experience with either pen, it comes down to a matter of personal taste and intended use.

Kaweco emblem
I’m a sucker for that Kaweco logo!

If you’re looking for a cool, compact solid writer, the Kaweco Classic Sport is a great option. It’s super handy and ready to take on anything the day may throw at you. The ACME is a looker, but not something I want to treat lightly. Some days— actually MANY days— I have so much vying for my attention that the last thing I need is pen angst. So, for me, the ACME is better off at home and in controlled environments, whereas the Kaweco is ready to hit the ground running.

The ACME’s like visiting a museum. You have a good time, and see cool stuff, but there are rules. On the other hand, the Kaweco is like a day at the beach where you boat or swim or play ball. No rules, just fun.

The choice is yours.

Kaweco emblem

I choose…….BOTH.