Saturday, 13 July 2019

Guest post: Pens for New Writers – What to Look for in a Vintage Pen

I'm delighted to share this post with you from Simon Gray of Battersea Pen Home on the history of fountain pens and what to look for in a vintage pen. You can find out more about vintage fountain pens and fountain pen repairs at Battersea Pen Home.

Battersea Pen Home have specialised in servicing and repairing pens, ballpens and pencils since the mid 1990s. They were originally based in Battersea before moving to Epping in 2000.

They look after most makes of fountain pen including those now classed as 'obsolete' by their manufacturers. They were trained by Parker and Waterman back in 2002 as service technicians for their writing instruments and are also recommended by Sheaffer UK.

Pens for New Writers – What to Look for in a Vintage Pen

Many people buy vintage fountain pens because they find them inspirational. In a similar way that driving a classic car can force you to drive differently, using a fountain pen forces you to write differently. Writing with a pen is more challenging than using a word-processor; you can’t easily edit what you have written and so you have to find creative ways to make it work.

When buying a vintage pen, most people are initially drawn to how it looks; although how comfortable it feels in the hand and how smoothly it writes are what ultimately determine how much it will be used. Often the most important consideration is sentimental. Owning and using a pen that brings back memories of loved ones gives a sense of connection to things past and present that a biro or keyboard can never achieve.

Most vintage pens are susceptible for wear and tear, but don’t be put off. Most of the important components can be replaced and repaired, and once refurbished, pens can continue to work for many years with very little further intervention. Here are some tips for selecting the perfect vintage pen.

The term ‘vintage pens’ covers just about every instrument produced for the purpose of making marks on slate, skin, parchment or paper. One of the first pens capable of holding its own supply of ink was described by Nicholas Bion, a French instrument maker and author who lived in Paris around the turn of the 18th century. Little progress was made until the early 19th century when the number of patents connected with fountain pen design began to increase as new materials and production processes were developed.

By the late 19th century much progress had been made with the development of hard rubber which was cheap, resistant to chemicals ink and could be easily turned on a lathe into caps, barrels and nib sections – the main components of a pen. At this time, virtually all fountain pens were ‘eyedroppers’ where the ink was contained directly in the barrel rather than in an ink sac. Ink was transferred from the barrel through the feed and onto the paper by capillary attraction; hence ink only flowed when the nib touched paper.

The 1900s saw the development of the feed (the part below the nib) in an effort to regulate ink flow. Once this had improved, designers were freed up to focus more on the portability of pens with the 1910s bringing pen caps which screwed securely onto the main body of the pen rather than just being a push or slip-on fit. Screw-on caps meant it was safer to carry a pen in your pocket so the next stage was a multitude of clip designs to ensure the pen didn’t fall out of your pocket. Everyone today takes clips for granted, but in the 1920s a fountain pen clip was quite a new idea and frequently an optional extra at additional cost.

At the same time, progress has been made with improving the method of holding ink. Rather than the hard rubber barrel being the only reservoir, latex rubber ink sacs became available and reduced the possibility of leakage. Research and design then turned to filling methods with Conklin leading the field with its Crescent filler in 1901 and Parker developing a button filling system in 1914 which was still being used on their Duofold models as late as the 1950s. Sheaffer, Waterman and others focussed on lever fillers which again lasted through to the 1960s with several companies.

So, we are almost there with what most people would recognise as a fountain pen in terms of controlled ink delivery, a variety of filling systems and a basic design which was secure enough for the pen to be carried around in a jacket pocket. The final step was in materials development. Up until the 1920s, pens were made from metal (either solid or plated gold, silver etc) and vulcanised hard rubber which restricted the colour of pens largely to black, red or a combination known as a rippled finish.

All this changed from around 1924 with major developments in the manufacture of plastics principally in the USA and led by DuPont. No longer restricted to hard rubber, pen makers went into overdrive with pens appearing for the first time in colours such as lapis blue, jade green, pearl and black and many other combinations.

So, in terms of choosing a ‘vintage pen’ to write with, the mid 1920s is really the starting point as choice of colour, style, filling system, nibs begin to expand almost exponentially.

Many thanks to Simon Grey for the post.

You can find out more about vintage fountain pens and fountain pen repairs at Battersea Pen Home.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

HUGE pen test on pocket size notebooks!!

This post was born out of writing a post for Nero's Notes on whether my dislike of Moleskine and Field Notes was justified (spoiler alert... it is). They really don't play nicely with fountain pens, but then I wondered which pocket notebooks actually did.

Enter the biggest test I've done yet, with 10 notebooks getting tested. I used 5 fountain pens and I also tested 11 non-fountain pens too.
Warning! Post is very picture heavy!

The Notebooks:
Field Notes
Story Supply
Rhodia Webby
Clairefontaine 1951
Pebble Stationery

The Fountain Pens:

(top to bottom)
Parker Vector with calligraphy nib. Ink = Iroshizuku Shin kai
Tombow Object m nib. Ink = Iroshizuku Ku jaku
TWSBI Eco m nib. Ink = Diamine Burnt sienna
TWSBI Diamond 540, 1.1 mm stub nib. Ink = Sailor Yama dori
Conklin Durograph, 1.1 mmstub nib. Ink = Iroshizuku Shin kai
Platinum Preppy - UF nib. No idea what the ink was and anyway, it ran out...

The Other Pens:

(top to bottom)
Pilot V5 hi-tecpoint 0.5
Uniball vision needle micro
Scheider slider memo XB
Uniball signo RT 0.7
Uniball Jetsream 1.0
Stabilo worker medium 0.5
Zebra J roller RX 0.5
Zebra Z-grip medium (biro)
Uni jetstream 0.7 (biro)
Calepino bic biro
Field Notes bic biro

The results:
A lot of pictures... left side of the picture shows the pen test; right side of the picture shows the reverse of the page.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

My Every Day Carry (#EDC)

It's been a while since I shared my set-up with you, so I thought I'd give you all a quick look at what I'm using at the moment.

I need my EDC to have everything in it. There's no point me having a separate wallet and diary/notebook, because I'll forget one or other of them when I leave the house! But, I need to have something small enough that I don't wreck my back carrying it around! I'm somewhat in awe of people who merrily lug a well-stuffed A5 Filofax or planner around with them. Despite the fact I do always appear to have an enormous handbag, my EDC is pretty small.

For a long while, I'd been using my undyed extra wide pocket from Meadowgate Leather, which is slowly turning the most delicious caramel colour. But this week, I've changed out of that and into another Meadowgate Leather cover that I bought from a Facebook group.

Pocket TN from Meadowgate Leather
with extra width

Friday, 3 May 2019

B5 bonanza!

There aren't all that many places that sell B5 (at least, not in the UK) and those B5 notebooks that are reasonably easy to get (via eBay or Amazon) are often poor quality. These ones are okay, but just don't play nicely with fountain pen.

Well, despite the fact I'm deep into editing the fantasy trilogy I've been writing for a few years (hopefully published later this year... watch this space! Or watch my author website - I'm more likely to talk about it all there!), the next book is giving me the occasional poke. And so (naturally) I start thinking about new notebooks.

I've been through a variety of notebook sizes while writing (and even dabbled with a writing Filofax at one point, which didn't work out anything like as well as I hoped it would). But at the moment, I've settled on B5 as a good size for me. Partway between A5 and A4, it offers a decent amount of real-estate without taking up the entirety of my desk when lying open. I've also renovated an old Filofax Deskfax into a B5 traveller's notebook (to use as a writing TN).

This week was National Stationery Week and The Journal Shop did a site-wide 15% off. They sell quite a few B5 books, most of them Japanese and therefore amazing paper and so I treated myself to a small (ahem) selection.

The haul:
1x Life Kappan Note
2x Tsubame Notebooks
3x Penco Hightide Notebooks (purple, black, pink)

How do they compare and contrast?

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Current set-up: diary, to do/notes, and Travellers Notebook

I haven't blogged on here for a while (I've been busy writing and editing my novels, as well as writing for Nero's Notes), but I did tell you about my 2019 diary a while back, so I thought, since we're now in the second quarter of 2019, I should update you on how it's going.

I'm pretty much using the same system that I've used in the past, but with a couple of tweaks. I have my main diary/planner, which lives on my desk and never goes anywhere else, I have a running list of 'stuff to do/remember' and I have my Every Day Carry that is usually in my handbag as it's predominantly a wallet.

Main Diary:

This is still the Box Clever Press one I blogged about. This has honestly been one of the best diaries I have ever used! I'm even using the month at a glance pages (and we all know how terrible I am at knowing what they're for!).

So, why is it so good?

Saturday, 9 February 2019


Logo of a black dog with a monocle and the name Nero's Notes

Those of you who've followed me for a while (bless you!) will know that as well having an addiction to stationery, I also write books (you can see the covers in the sidebar here!). Well... I'm now managing to combine both loves as Stuart Lennon has asked me to write for the blog on Nero's Notes.

I first 'met' Stu a couple of years ago. There are quotation marks, because in fact, Stu and I haven't ever met in real life (though I hope we will one day). We were both part of a #writingchat chat on Twitter (where various writers come together via Twitter on a Wednesday night from 8-9 pm UK time, to talk about a range of topics relating to writing) and the topic for the night was writing buddies. Neither Stu nor I had a writing buddy, nor were we in any writing groups. To cut a long story short, Stu and I swapped a small chunk of writing, gave feedback to each other and have ended up good buddies ever since!

Stu is now one of my beta readers - a very select group who read my books when I'm happy enough with them I can bear the thought of someone else seeing them, but with still some work to do on them. He also shares my love of good stationery. In fact, so much so that he bought a pocket notebook company! It was originally called Pocket Notebooks, but under Stu's guidance, has become Nero's Notes. You'll have seen a number of reviews of things from there, over the last wee while (and in case you missed them, I'll pop a list at the end).

Picture of pen, paper, envelopes and ink bottle, for letter writing
Stu is also one of the friends that I write to. Yes, I still write proper letters to people, on proper paper and put them in proper envelopes, add a stamp and post them. In fact, my very first blog post for Stu is on writing letters and it comes out on Wednesday. Please pop over to the blog and check it out? It should be up after 2 pm.

If you're reading this blog, the chances are that you share my love of good stationery, so go and have a rummage through the Nero's Notes site. There are notebooks, pens, pencils, accessories and some excellent subscription boxes to feed your habit. There's some amazing stuff on there, including some things you won't be able to get anywhere else in the UK. Hopefully see you all over there!

Reviews of Nero's Notes (originally Pocket Notebooks) things:
(Each link opens in a new window)
PapioPress A6 Notebooks
Darkstar Collection
Write pocket notebooks
Rhodia Rhodiarama
New Darkstar Collection
Stationery Box (subscription)
Word. notebooks
Inky Fingers Currently Inked (sadly no longer available)
6 for £6
Leuchtturm lined slim softcover
Poach My Lobster notebook