Edison Pearl…Rollerball? Heck, ya!

Edison Pearl in Antique Marble
My Edison Pearl in Antique Marble (Photo Credit: Edison Pen Co.)

One day, back in the winter, I was battling extreme cabin fever by browsing around on the Edison Pen Co. site, as you do. As I clicked around, I noticed a section I hadn’t paid attention to before—a section about rollerball pens. Hmmmmm. Here, Brian explained that you can get every Edison Pen model as a rollerball, if fountains pens don’t do it for you. OR, if you’re like me, and keep a foot in both the fountain pen and rollerball worlds, there’s the very cool option of getting one pen body with two sections—a fountain pen section AND a rollerball section for an additional $50. When I read about this option, bells of joy chimed in my head (they did!) because as much as I love and use fountain pens, I also heavily use, and appreciate, rollerballs.

Edison Pearl Rollerball

Brian Gray and I exchanged a few emails to discuss this “two-fer” option, then came the tough choice of picking a model and material for my new RB/FP pen. I have handful of Edison pens, but no Pearl as yet, so the model decision was settled quite quickly. To choose a material, I clicked through hundreds of photos on the Edison Pens gallery and took note (quite literally) of which materials gave me a little zing. From this subset, I did some focused browsing, and ultimately decided on the Antique Marble acrylic. It’s everything I love— autumnal colors, amazing depth, liquidy swirls, some translucency, and a good dose of chatoyancy. Pretty stunning to my eye.

Edison Pearl RB & FP in Antique Marble
Edison Pearl body with both a fountain pen and a rollerball section

Brian estimated an 11-12 week wait for my custom order, and he hit that timeline perfectly. The pen arrived last week and it’s absolutely everything I hoped for. The acrylic looks like it’s ON FIRE…so hot. With the added versatility of the two sections, this is a pen that will be very hard to take out of rotation.

Edison Pearl Rollerball in Antique Marble

Brian included both a black and blue Schmidt 5888 rollerball refill (medium), along with two springs. The spring is seated onto the back of the refill to hold it in place inside the pen body so that it fits snuggly and perfectly. The Schmidt 5888 is smooth and kind of luscious—like the rollerball equivalent of fountain pen ink. The Schmidt 888 and Schneider Topball 850 refills are also compatible.

Edison Pearl fountain pen

For the fountain pen, I chose a medium nib, as I’m finding that western mediums suit me best lately—fine enough for my small handwriting, yet wide enough to see some ink shading and/or sheen. I will admit that I haven’t inked up this pen as yet, so I can’t speak to the smoothness of the nib right now. (I cleaned a significant number of pens this weekend and feel SO MUCH better getting the number of inked pens back under control. I’m proceeding with extreme care.)

Medium nib

My photos just don’t do this material justice. Much like the Persimmon Swirl acrylic of my Edison Collier, it puts me in a pen-staring trance with its mesmerizing jumble of swirled colors, depth, and translucency.

Swirls and chatoyancy

Pen cap
I like that little clear section in the middle of the cap.

Translucent threads
Catching a glimpse of the threads

When you buy an Edison pen, you get guaranteed satisfaction. In the letter that came with my pen, Brian wrote, “Our services go beyond the sale. If you ever have any issues, let us know. If you ever get a scratch, we’ll be happy to buff the pen free of charge.” It’s great knowing that I won’t have to jump through hoops should an issue ever pop up.

Edison Pen Pearl rollerball

While the Edison Pen Co. is famous for their gorgeous fountain pens, they probably aren’t who you immediately think of when you’re shopping for a rollerball. Maybe that’s about to change.

I purchased this pen with my own funds. I was not compensated in any way, nor was I asked to provide a review. But, really, how could I not?!

Hand-Me-Ups: ACME’s HATCH and OPTIKAL Rollerballs

As a kid, there were two things that made me go “UGH.” Leftovers and hand-me-downs. If I didn’t like tuna noodle casserole the first time around, I certainly didn’t look forward to having it warmed up for round two. Almost as unsavory, was getting a pair of slacks, a winter coat, or shoes second-hand from a sibling, friend, or cousin. The casserole and the clothes had both seen better days so they were accepted begrudgingly, and were not appreciated as they should have been. Kids want new dinners and new clothes. Anything already eaten or worn was seen as second-rate by my grade-school self.


Luckily, I’ve changed my ways, and now cook double-sized dinners on purpose just so we CAN have leftovers— cook once, eat twice! And I no longer turn my nose up at hand-me-downs. Many times there’s plenty of good left in the item, especially in the case of pens. (You knew I’d get to pens eventually, didn’t you?)

ACME OPTIKAL and HATCH rollerballs

Knowing that I’m a big ACME fan, Mike Dudek recently reached out to let me know that he was paring down his collection and that a couple of ACME rollerballs were up for grabs. I mulled over which one to purchase, then did what any sane person awash in pens would do— I bought both. Mike’s prices were more than fair and both pens are in pristine condition. Unlike the ungrateful child I once was, grown-up Mary is a very happy second owner.


The ACME OPTIKAL rollerball arrived with the standard ACME 888 Safety Ceramic Rollerball refill (Fine point) installed. It lays down an even, very dark line and runs about 0.6 to 0.7 mm— soooo smooth on my Levenger Vivacious free leaf notepad paper. This brass pen features an undulating etched design that’s filled with black lacquer for a unique look. The designer behind this pattern is Karim Rashid, and his signature is etched into the cap band.

Etched signature

The HATCH Rollerball, designed by Karl Zahn, features a series of “hatch” etchings and is sometimes called “the doctor’s pen” because of the unique antimicrobial properties of the brass. The ACME literature states that brass has “a remarkable ability to self-sterilize,” so the pen “lends itself perfectly to situations where hygiene is a priority.” (Isn’t that always?!)

HATCH design

It should be noted that the HATCH rollerball is actually coated with a thin layer of lacquer (for shininess), which will eventually wear away to expose the raw brass and its wonder powers.

I just think it’s a cool pen. I’ll still rely on hand washing to avoid germs.

ACME HATCH rollerball

This pen arrived from Mike with a Pilot G2 0.38 mm refill installed, and I was like, WHAT??!! Until then, I hadn’t realized that the Pilot G2 refills fit the capped ACME pens. Lightbulb moment!

ACME HATCH rollerball

These are hefty (about 42 g), great-looking pens that I’ve lovingly ogled as I leaf through every single edition of the Fahrney’s catalog. Brand new, they’re a quite a bit more than I was willing to pay, but Mike made me an offer that I couldn’t refuse.

ACME OPTIKAL rollerball

That, I guess, is my takeaway message— keep an eye out for deals on second-hand pens. You just might pick up a gem from someone looking to down-size their collection. To be sure, ask questions and buy from folks you know and trust. If you do your homework and proceed with care, you can score some first-rate pens at reasonable prices.

ACME OPTIKAL and HATCH rollerballs

Keep your eyes open and you might just be able to purchase a pen you’ve worshiped from afar. That’s not a hand-me-down—it’s absolutely a hand-me-up.

Mike’s gorgeously photographed full reviews of the ACME HATCH and OPTIKAL rollerballs can be found HERE and HERErespectively.


Quick medical update: I saw the out-of-town MS Specialist on Tuesday and was very happy with him and his practice. He’s not, at this point, convinced that the MS diagnosis I received is correct, and has mapped out a prudent plan for getting to the bottom of my symptoms. There are lesions present, but they don’t necessarily mean I have MS. He’s scheduling more testing in the coming weeks—another MRI and a spinal-tap— to try to confirm or deny the original diagnosis. I came away impressed and cautiously hopeful. 

I remain incredibly appreciative of the good thoughts, letters (a bundle of which arrived today), and heartfelt sentiments that you’re sending my way. This is a physical and emotional roller coaster ride, but you’ve been amazing in lifting me up. I will, of course, keep you posted.

Knocking It Out Of the Park: Retro 51’s Homerun Tornado Rollerball

FIRST OF ALL (yes, I’m shouting), thank you for all of the love, support, prayers, good wishes, emails, and letters I received following last week’s post. They have buoyed me up and I’m in a much better place mentally. You’ve fired up my fighter attitude and I’m feeling much more like myself— maybe even a new and improved version, in spite of this medical challenge. I’m sure there will be ups and downs, but it’s great to feel “up” after a long(ish) spell of “down.” I have an appointment with a specialist on June 9th (navigating the medical world has been a lesson unto itself), and my symptoms seem to be diminishing a bit (shhhhh…don’t jinx it). I’m very, very grateful for all of the above.

Retro 51 Homerun Rollerball

This week I really WILL take a look at the Homerun Tornado by Retro 51 that I pictured at the beginning of last week’s post. As with all Retro 51 designs, it’s a cool pen, with fun details, and a reliably good rollerball writing experience. It’s almost summer. Let’s have fun, no matter what life throws at us.

Retro 51 Homerun Tornado Rollerball

Maybe my favorite feature is the baseball design at the end of the pen’s twist-mechanism. I’m no baseball fanatic, but I love this level of detail and whimsy. As always, the knurled mechanism twists smoothly to extend the rollerball refill’s writing tip. This is a solid beefy pen with a sense of fun.

Simulated stitching

The simulated stitching on the pen is raised ever so slightly, so that the pen barrel feels just a little bit like an actual baseball. Great choice to not just have the baseball-like graphic, but also the feel.

The Homerun Rollerball is limited to a run of 750 numbered pens. I happened to receive pen #009, by some stroke of luck. Cool number for a baseball pen!

Baseball folio

As I said, I’m really not a huge baseball fan but because we live less than an hour from Cooperstown, NY— which also happens to be my father’s hometown— we visit there often and are members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. On a recent visit to their gift shop, my eyes fell on a baseball-themed folio that pairs perfectly with my Homerun pen. With our member’s discount, it came to about $9.00. Quite the deal.

Baseball-themed paper

The paper inside is well-intentioned in its baseballness, but, frankly, bothers me. The lines are perfectly spaced, but are too dark. The stitching graphic looks neat, but gets in my way. No worries, though. My all-time favorite Levenger Vivacious freeleaf Cross dots note pad fits like a glove (baseball glove?!) so a swap will definitely be made.

Vivacious Cross dot pad

Ahhhh…all better.

The included refill writes on the broad side, but I’m okay with that—especially on the Vivacious paper—so I may resist the urge to make my usual swap to the finer Schmidt P8126 refill. Sometimes I like a super smooth thick black line.

Pen #009

Retro 51 knocked this design out of the park, and you have done the same for me.

Let me simply say, “Thank you.”

The Apex, A Fine Wooden Pen, by Amy Grigg (via Kickstarter)

Amy Grigg logo

Amy Grigg has a Kickstarter pen project with less than a week to go. She’s fully funded, with 129 backers and almost $13,000 at the time of this review, so the project is a sure thing. Amy turned to Dan Bishop for some Kickstarter advice (smart!), and Dan pointed Amy in my direction for some pen/project feedback. After reviewing the page and looking at the pens, I chose to back her project because:

  • Well, these are pens…made with lovely woods, some with magnets (love magnets);
  • Amy has been nothing but friendly, courteous, professional, and not at all pushy in our email exchanges;
  • Amy’s from Rochester, NY, which is relatively nearby, so I feel geographically loyal;
  • Amy’s a fellow dog-lover.

Some of the above has nothing whatsoever to do with pens (locale, dogs), but as Kickstarter gets bigger and bigger, it’s important to get to know who you’re dealing with. I’ve learned this the hard way, having backed a few projects that are dragging into eternity and a few that were outright scams. All pen makers are not equal. The more I can get to know someone, the better. Amy seems like the real deal.

The Apex

After I backed Amy’s project, she offered to expedite my reward (The Apex rollerball, $60 level) so that I could offer up a pen-in-hand review—good or bad. The pen arrived on the weekend and I’ve been making it part of my daily rotation since then, so that I can offer up some pictures and impressions.

Apex packaging

I don’t usually pay too much attention to packaging, but in this case, it’s worth a mention. The black cardboard slip-case, adorned only with Amy’s logo, hits all the right notes for me. It’s minimalistic, but not a throw-away. Simple and understated, neither too much nor too little. I also like that you can get a glimpse of your pen through the small window.

Bocote wood

A self-employed woodworker by trade, Amy’s pens are crafted from exotic and domestic hardwoods. I chose Bocote wood for my Apex rollerball and love both the look and the feel. The gorgeously grained wood has been expertly turned and sealed for a silky smooth finish that’s pleasing to both the eye and the hand. It is, I repeat, SUPER smooth.

The Apex

This pen’s hardware sports a shiny gun-metal finish, and features a magnetic cap for exceptionally easy capping, uncapping, and posting. If there’s a magnetic feature in a pen, that’s usually the one I go for, so it’s really no surprise that I picked the Apex out of the handful of reward options. The hardware is purchased by Amy, who selects, turns, and finishes the wooden portion of the pen, and assembles the finished product. Everything in my pen is snug, solid, and good-looking.


I particularly like that the wooden section of the Apex is thicker in the middle than at the two ends, which is a small detail that makes the Apex feel good in hand. I tend to use the pen unposted as the weight of the cap (14.4 g) throws off the balance of the pen (31.4 g) a bit. Unposted, the balance is very good and the length is more than adequate (4.95″/126 mm). The pen measures 6.25″/159 mm when posted, which is usable, but feels a little long.

Disassembled Apex

The Apex ships with the Schneider Topball 850 0.5mm refill, which is a refill that I use in a few of my other rollerball pens and quite enjoy. I believe the ink is liquid rather than gel, so the line is a touch wider than that of a comparably sized gel refill. The ceramic tip is not susceptible to drying out and is very smooth and consistent. I love it on the Levenger Vivacious Circa paper I used for my rough draft of this review.

Apex writing tip

If you prefer a gel ink, I’ve found that Staples house-brand Avant refills (0.5 mm gel) also work in this pen, so that’s an option. They’re normally on special for $1.00 for a pack of two refills (in store) so I keep plenty of those stocked in my refill “treasure chest” (which overfloweth).

Amy’s project offers ballpoint, bolt-action ballpoint, rollerball, and fountain pen models with reward levels ranging from $40 to $280. With twelve woods to choose from, you can create a personal pen that matches your style, in your favorite writing mode.

Mirror finish

Amy’s project campaign ends on April 20th, so move quickly if her pens and craftsmanship appeal to you.

Kickstarter project aside, I’m quite enamored with Amy’s other wooden creations—bowls, carved spoons, cutting boards, boxes, and other turned pens, which can be found on her website, Amy Grigg Designs. I think a bowl is in my future. (Have I mentioned I have a thing for bowls as well as pens? Indeed I do.)

It’s been a joy to get to know both Amy and her pens, and I wish her well with this Kickstarter project and with her other creative endeavors.

NOTE: As previously stated, the Apex pen reviewed here was purchased by me. I was not compensated for my review in any way. This review reflects my experiences with, and impressions of, the pen.

Worth a Look: Reclaimed Wood Pens, by Doug Mann, on Kickstarter

Reclaimed Wood Pens
Photo courtesy of Doug’s Kickstarter page

I haven’t been backing a lot of pen projects on Kickstarter lately, as per my desire to ratchet down the buying, BUT today I backed Doug Mann’s “Custom Handmade Pens” project.

Doug hasn’t asked me to plug his project and I have no prior experience with Doug, so proceed as you see fit. I just thought this project was worth a quick mention.

Doug’s from State College, PA and makes pens using traditional pen making processes combined with 3D printing technology. Interesting.

He uses reclaimed wood (as you’ve probably gathered from the name of the project) like:

  • Game-used MLB Bat Wood
  • WWII Crate Wood
  • Wood salvaged from the mountains of northeastern Kentucky

I like wooden pens, especially those with a bit of a story. Doug is making rollerball and fountain pens available as rewards.

If you do nothing else, give his video a look. It made me chuckle out loud. (No spoilers here!)

Reclaimed Wood Pen
Photo courtesy of Doug’s Kickstarter page

Doug’s project certainly appears to be worth a look. Click HERE to do so.

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…


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.


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.