Zebra Sarasa Clip Peanuts Limited Edition Review

The Zebra Sarasa Clip is an excellent gel ink pen, with a unique and well done clip design. I have a bunch of the black and blue black pens laying around at home and in the office, and although I prefer the Uniball Signo line of pens, I do use them and recommend them to people looking for an upgrade from the Pilot G2.

I don’t usually buy limited edition disposable pens because there has to be a limit, and I already own way too many pens. I can’t afford to start collecting all the Uniball and Zebra collaborations with various (usually animated) IPs. But sometimes Japanese makers manage to floor you with just how far they’ll go with their big-box, disposable pen lines, and the Zebra x Snoopy Sarasa clip line is that case. I just had to buy it once I saw it surface on JetPens.

Yes, I bought all of them. I don’t have a problem, you have a problem!

This is the 4th (!) limited edition Zebra Sarasa Clip Peanuts limited edition, and it consists of two sets of 4 pens (each in a plastic, resealable pouch), plus three extra stand-alone pens (two black and one blue-black). The clips have a drawing on Woodstock on the top and Snoopy’s head near the Sarasa logo. Each pen body has an opaque drawing of Snoopy and Woodstock doing something together, and two of the pens (the orange, which is part of a set B, and one of the black pens, which is part of set A) are Halloween themed.

The pen body is still the usual Sarasa transparent body, which brings us to what made me do a double take:

The refills have Peanuts drawings on them.

If you look closely at the transparent part of the pen body you can see the refill prints.

Here’s a close up of the “Boo” black pen:

And here’s the blue “Saxophone” pen:

The green pen has the most transparent parts, and so shows it off the best:

This is so wild. You can barely see the refills from up close, not to mention from a distance, so Zebra totally did not need to do this. Regular refills would have worked just fine. Instead, this is what you get:

This is why I love Japanese stationery so much: the utterly unnecessary but charming attention to detail.

The Sarasa pens are excellent gel ink pens, and I like the colour choices in this set (especially the orange). I personally would have replaced the red in the set with a blue black, but red is a classic pen colour so I guess it would have been strange if it wasn’t there:

Sometimes you just want a pen that will make you smile when you pick it up, and Zebra has really delivered on that with these limited edition pens. For $12 a set and $3 a single these are a nice, not overly expensive pick-me-up. They aren’t available on JetPens anymore, but you can probably still find them on Etsy or eBay (or just wait for the 5th limited edition, which will surely show up eventually).

Zebra Sarasa Clip Peanuts Limited Edition Review

Waterman Phileas Review, or Why, Waterman, Why?

The Waterman Phileas was my first fountain pen, one that I bought after careful research on eBay, shortly after they were discontinued. It cost me £15 at the time, a small fortune for me, and the most I had ever spent on a pen. My RSI was at its worst, and I had to take a lot of notes (I was still in the university), so I splurged mostly out of desperation. Internet research brought up fountain pens as something that could possibly help with my RSI, and so I decided to give it a try. I found the Fountain Pen Network and combed the boards for information about fountain pens for newbies like me. Two pens kept coming up as good first fountain pens to buy: the Lamy Safari, and the Waterman Phileas. It was relatively newly discontinued by Waterman, and so I could find it easily and buy it NOS from a reputable seller. It’s been over 11 years since I bought it, and it’s still one of my favourite pens, and one of my most frequently used ones.

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Look how pretty this pen is! 

The Waterman Phileas is named after Phileas Fogg, Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days” protagonist. It comes in blue, green, red and black, and is cartridge converter pen with a large two-tone steel nib. The nib and pen have an art deco look to them, and the pen is also designed to look somewhat like a cigar. It’s a classic “fountain pen” look that makes it appear more expensive than it is, and it’s part of the reason why you’ll see it popping up in various commercials, even to this day. It’s a very beautiful and elegant pen that just looks classy.

Unlike it’s cheaper sibling, the Waterman Kultur, the Phileas has a brass insert in the body, which means that it has got some heft to it, weighing (filled, with a converter) 24g, as opposed to the Lamy AL-Star’s 22g (filled, with a converter). The weight is perfectly balanced for writing, especially for beginners, since it encourages you to lay off putting pressure on the pen. The pen let you feel that it’s putting the pressure on for you.

The look of the Phileas is phenomenal, especially for the price, but it’s the nib that made me fall in love with it specifically and with fountain pens in general. I chose the extra fine nib, and it is nothing short of magical. Take a look for yourself:

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From hairline to European fine – the Phileas line variation at work.

Yes, that’s line variation. No, it doesn’t come from applying pressure to the nib. It works like a less extreme Sailor Zoom nib: vary your writing angle just a bit and it will go from 0.4 mm lines to 0.7 mm ones. The nib is also smooth, but gives a little feedback, which reminds me a little of the feedback you get from using a really good pencil. Couple that with the fact that the Phileas is a cartridge converter (with a sizeable converter), and so very easy to clean, and you’ll understand why this is still my favourite sketching fountain pen.

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Drawn with a Phileas, except for the witch’s cloak and hat.

The Phileas accepts long international cartridges, and Waterman is one of the few makers that make those cartridges. They excellent (especially the blue-black) and very convenient when travelling with your fountain pen.

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Look at that nib! It’s hard to photograph, but it’s such a great design.

Which brings me back to the beginning of my story. It’s 2019 and I have a substantial collection of fountain pens, most of them costing well over 10 times what the Waterman Phileas cost me. None of them are 10 times the Phileas as a pen. I could have stopped here, but the Phileas has proven to be a gateway into fountain pen madness for many people over the years. It’s a pen to fall in love with, in a way that I haven’t ever fallen in love with my Lamy’s, good-though-they-are. Its design is classic and timeless, and its quality is unparalleled for the price (yes, even today).

SO WHY HAS WATERMAN DISCONTINUED IT? WHY? WHY?

This should have been their Lamy Safari, TWSBI Eco or Pilot Metropolitan  – a more classic version of the beginner’s fountain pen, as opposed to the other’s more modern design. It boggles my mind that they not only discontinued the Phileas, but also it’s cheaper cousin, the Kultur. What on earth are they doing over there? Do they not want new people to fall in love with their pens? It’s the same weird move with their ink line (their refusal to jump on the limited edition/shimmer/sheen ink bandwagon), but even more baffling. YOU WOULD SELL THESE WATERMAN!

So frustrating.

Anyway – if you can get your hands on a Waterman Phileas for a reasonable price, I highly recommend it. It’s a charming pen that will never go out of style.

Waterman Phileas Review, or Why, Waterman, Why?

Inktober 28: Old Man and the City

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This quick sketch of people relaxing under an olive tree in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, was drawn entirely with a Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pen – Double-Sided – Gray/Black, which is a hard, durable (for a brush pen), waterproof brush pen which has become a staple in my drawing kit. Highly recommended, especially if you’re new to brush pens, or plan to use them with watercolours.

Inktober 28: Old Man and the City

Pilot V Sign Pen Review and Colouring Pages

The end of summer is upon us and my services as creator of kids’ colouring pages are now in high demand in the office, as desperate parents bring their kids to work for a few hours in lieu of camp or a sitter. After ruining several brush pens on these drawings I’ve settled on the best pen for this purpose: the Pilot V Sign Pen.

The Pilot V Sign Pen is a liquid ink pen with 2.0 mm bullet tip that creates the consistent kind of lines that kids seem to prefer.

The V Sign has a cheap looking plastic body, complete with ugly barcode printed on the barrel. It’s pretty ergonomic though, with a relatively wide barrel and a light weight body.

I just replaced my old V Sign Pen as it has run out of ink, and as you can see above and below, the tip does get worn down with use, though compared to most plastic tipped pens it’s super durable.

This V Sign works on cheap copier paper with a little bleed through and a lot of show through. It’s non-waterproof, and I’m pretty sure it’s not archival. It is, however, a lot of fun to use. For office doodles of this kind, it’s absolutely perfect; For anything else, I’d recommend something archival and waterproof instead.

To all those parents out there, here are some colouring pages that I’ve drawn. Feel free to print them out for your own personal use, and gain a few minutes of peaceful bliss.

Pilot V Sign Pen Review and Colouring Pages

Spoke Pen Review

My Spoke Pen Orange Crush arrived a week ago, and I’ve been using it exclusively for journaling and meeting notes since then. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

First comes the colour, because there’s just absolutely no way to ignore it. It’s nothing like I would have expected orange pen to be: it’s like an amalgamation of gold and bronze with a dash of copper. This is a rich and SHINY finish that sparkles and glows. You cannot ignore it, the very opposite of subtle, and yet it isn’t gaudy and doesn’t look cheap. Orange isn’t a colour that I’m overly fond of, but I’m glad that I picked it out for this pen: it’s perfect.

The second thing you notice about this pen is the weight. It’s super light, though it appears to be a solid and heavy looking pen. It shouldn’t have surprised me, as it’s made of aluminum, but the Spoke Pen still looks like it a heavy pen because there appears to be so much metal in use in it that it seems impossible for it to be so light. The first time I picked it up it really surprised me. It’s lighter than my beloved Ti Arto, even though it looks like it should be heavier. At first I had to consciously remind myself to use the Spoke Pen and not the Ti Arto when journaling, but now it’s become the pen I turn to for long writing sessions because it fatigues my hands less. Could it replace my Ti Arto as my favourite pen? Time will tell, but it’s entirely possible the way things stand now.

The Spoke Pen was designed entirely around Brad Dowdy‘s beloved Uni-ball Signo DX refill (UMR-1), but also accepts the Uni-ball Signo UMR-85N (my favourite refill), UMR-87N, and other refills of the same size. To change refills you unscrew the section, take out the old refill, and then the magic starts. When you put in a new refill it will appear to jot out quite a bit from the pen body. “There’s no way this thing will close back up again,” you think to yourself. Have faith, it does: there’s a hidden spring in the back of the pen, and you’re going to have to apply a tiny bit of force to push the section back close to the body, but once you start screwing the section back everything fits snugly back in place. The tolerances on this pen are flawless, as I’d expect from a pen with this provenance.

Machined pens seem to be divided into two schools of thought when it comes to branding: either the over the top, in your face, you can’t miss it branding style, or the barely branded one. The Spoke Pen belongs to the latter group, as there’s a discreet stamp of the Spoke logo on the top finial and that’s it. Very classy move.

The third great thing about this pen is the magnetic closure. I actually thought that this would be a more significant feature than the colour or the weight of the pen, but after using the Ti2 Techliner for a while the novelty of magnetic cap closures must have worn off for me. If the most important thing for you is the magnetic closure, then I recommend the Ti2 Techliner instead, as its magnets are significantly more powerful, and you can both cap and post the pen with them, even from a distance. The Spoke Pen’s cap magnet engages only halfway through capping the pen, basically functioning like the click at the end of a regular pen capping. It’s fun to use, and fun to fidget with, but I don’t think that it’s the pen’s main selling point.

Are there any cons to this pen? Of course, rarely anything in life is perfect. You may not like the Spoke Pen’s tactical aesthetic. If you carry the Spoke Pen in your pocket lint will probably get wedged in its “fins”. The clip looks like a determined person with something to prove could bend it out of shape (for normal use I think it’s perfectly fine). These are not issues for me personally, but they may be issues for you.

As it is, the Spoke Pen Orange Crush is one of my favourite (non-fountain) pens ever, and is looking to replace the Ti Arto at the top of my list. Kudos to Brian Conti and Brad Dowdy for creating such a great product out of the gate.

Spoke Pen Review

PenBBS 309 Hawaii Fountain Pen Review

I’ve been on a fountain pen purchasing hiatus for a while, as I’ve been trying to use what I have rather than buying more pens that will see little or no use. Also, money is a thing, and this hobby can get really expensive really quickly.

So when reviews of the PenBBS pens started coming out I largely ignored them, even though they were generally very positive. That changed when I saw the PenBBS Hawaii: here was a chance to get a pen with a Kanilea Pen Company kind of vibe, but at a price that I can afford. To be honest, despite the reviews, at this price point ($39) I thought that I’d get a cheap, plasticky feeling pen that wouldn’t really be a piston filler.

I was wrong.

This is what arrived in the mail:

Then I took this out of the sleeve:

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I don’t usually care much about packaging, but this is worth noting. Even if the packing would have just been a sturdy cardboard box inside a sleeve it would have been mind-blowing for this price. But it’s so much more than that.

That black box is designed like the boxes high end Pelikans come in (including a cushioned interior). It’s designed. There’s texture to it, a logo and the edges are rounded up so you can see the red colour underneath. The box even comes with magnetic closure. It’s well-made enough and good-looking enough to be used as a display box.

But that’s not enough for PenBBS. You paid $39 remember? You’re going to get so much more than your money’s worth. The pen comes in a beautifully made sleeve. Somebody bothered to make a sleeve (a lined and sewn sleeve, not a cheap felt glued one, mind you), and then took the time and effort to make it a display piece: something that you’d proudly carry around with you.

But the pen is the thing, right? As amazing as the packaging is, we’re here for the writing experience, not the unboxing one. So here it is, the PenBBS 309 Hawaii:

Isn’t it pretty? The pen is semi-translucent, with a lot of depth and chatoyance. It’s also pearlescent in places, as you can see in the tip or near the section. I filled it with Sailor Bungubox June Bride Something Blue ink and you can see some of the colour coming through the body (and a slight smear of ink in the cap, where I didn’t clean it properly after filling before capping it).

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The only thing that I don’t quite like about the pen design is the super wide metal band on the cap. It has “PenBBS” and “309” engraved on it, but it cheapens the pen because of its width, not because of the branding.

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The nib looks great, with some thoughtful scrolling engraved on it, as well as the nib width (fine. It only comes in fine). The pen is quite standard in its width and weight, and very comfortable to use in long writing sessions. The section looks sleek, but is much less so than the Lamy Studio, and the lip on the edge prevent your fingers from accidentally hitting the nib and getting inky.

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The fine steel nib offers a tiny bit of line variation as you tilt in (not the flex kind of line variation that appears as you apply pressure on the nib). It’s smooth but does provide feedback, and depending on how you hold it, you may feel more or less of that slight feedback as you write. I enjoyed writing with it, and because it’s a light acrylic pen, its comfortable for really long writing sessions.

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Because its a fine nibbed pen I thought that I’d try it on my current journalling Moleskine. To my surprise this pen and ink combo worked fine on that paper. There are a few dots of show through here and there, but nothing that bothers me. Again, YMMV, and this LotR Moria Moleskine isn’t advertised as having fountain pen friendly paper, but I’ve been enjoying journaling with my PenBBS on it.

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The PenBBS 309 is a piston filler, which for this price is unconscionable, especially considering that the piston mechanism works smoothly (and without squeaking) out of the box. The Pelikan piston fillers do feel better than the PenBBS one, but they come at a much higher price.

Whether you’re just starting with fountain pens or you have a sizeable collection already, the PenBBS 309 is well worth purchasing and trying out. I look forward to trying other PenBBS pens after this one, and I love that companies like PenBBS allow people to have a great fountain pen experience at such an affordable price.

 

PenBBS 309 Hawaii Fountain Pen Review

How to Buy Your First Parker 51

Since there’s a good chance that people reading this post, about buying your first vintage fountain pen, will want to purchase a Parker 51, I thought I’d write a separate post with a few extra tips on how to get a good, working Parker 51 at a decent price.

So, one of these pens costs upwards of $400 and the other can be purchased for closer to $40. Which is which?

This is one of the dilemmas facing a new Parker 51 buyer: you’ve heard that this is a great vintage pen, but you can’t make heads or tails of its market value. How do you know what to buy and that you aren’t being ripped off?

Here are a few things worth knowing, if you want to buy a Parker 51 that you actually intend to use. If you’re looking to buy a pen to collect, this is not the guide for you. I’m assuming that you want a good, writing pen that will last you for years and won’t break the bank.

  • Check if the pen is a vacumatic or an aerometric Parker 51. You can either ask the seller, or take a quick glance at the pen body. If there’s a visible seam near the end of the pen, its a vacumatic. You want an aerometric, because they’re cheaper, easier to use and clean, and generally have less issues requiring repair than their earlier counterparts. Aerometric Parker 51 have a filling system that looks like a modern squeeze converter: a sack covered in a metal sleeve. The sack is transparent when the pen is brand new, but 95% of the time you’ll see sacks that are discoloured to a black, opaque state. That doesn’t affect the workings of the pen, but the more transparent the sack is the higher the pen’s price will be. You don’t need a pen with a clear sack to enjoy your 51. Just press the sack to check that it’s still supple (it usually will be. The sacks aren’t rubber so they don’t crumble with age), and remember: you’ll need 4-5 presses to fill the pen properly.
  • Most of the value of a Parker 51 pen lies in the cap. I know, that sounds weird, but since the body has no markings (usually), there’s really note much else that can differentiate between one Parker 51 and another (we’ll get to the colours later, I promise). Gold, gold-filled, coin silver and sterling silver caps will make the price of the pen skyrocket. Telling the gold apart from the Lustraloy (regular) caps is easy, but don’t worry, you won’t get any silver capped 51 for less than $150, so that’s how you can tell even if you don’t want to ask the dealer. But by all means, ask the dealer. Sterling silver caps are stamped, as are the gold ones. The gold filled caps are merely marked as gold filled, and if your heart is set on them they aren’t wildly expensive usually (they actually cost less than a modern Edison or Franklin Christoph pen, so long as you’re going for an aerometric in a common colour).
  • Caps that are even slightly dinged or nicked, visibly scratched or have lost the frosted lustre in their Lustraloy also seriously devalue the price of the pen. A brand new Lustraloy cap has a frosted finish and shiny bands on the top and bottom. The pen in the middle of this photo is NOS, and you can see that it looks different than its well worn neighbour to the right (the black pen). Gold filled and gold caps are usually dinged in some way if they were used, and this is the case of the demi Parker below (the grey one). Needless to say, the state of the cap doesn’t affect the writing experience with the pen, so you can get 51s for a song if you’re willing to go with a common coloured pen with a Lustraloy cap that’s seen some wear. It doesn’t even have to be dinged – just the existence of significant micro-scratches is enough.
  • In order of rarity the common Parker 51 colours are: Black, Navy Blue, Grey, Burgundy, Teal. None of these colours are rare, and none of them should raise the price of the pen.
  • If the pen is NOS or stickered and sold as almost NOS, walk away. That significantly raises the price for a pen that’s meant to be looked at, not used.
  • All Parker 51s use a slip cap mechanism. That means that oftentimes a well used pen will have scratches, abrasions and visible scuffing on the section (the part of the pen above the band, near the nib). That also devalues the pen, but like other cosmetic flaws it does nothing to affect its writing capability.
  • So what does affect the Parker 51’s writing capability? The tipping material. The thing you absolutely must check before buying a Parker 51 that you intend to write with is how much tipping material it has left. This may be a little tricky, because in finer 51 nibs you may not see how much tipping material there is on first glance. The trick is to look at the pen nib not from the side, but from below. Look at this 51 pen nib for example. Without a loupe it’s difficult to see from the side how much tipping material is left on it:

 

  • Hard to tell if there’s a lot of tipping material left there or not.

The answer is to flip the pen and look at the flip side of the nib. The tipping material looks like a shiny dot on the tip of the nib. If there’s no shiny dot and you just see the gold nib, the tipping material is gone. You’ll also feel it immediately when writing, as the pen will drag over the paper instead of floating on it, and may even be scratchy. Parker 51 nibs don’t get misaligned very often, so a scratchy nib usually means the tipping material is gone.

  • A medium Parker 51 nib with plenty of tipping material left

    A fine Parker 51 tip with some tipping material left. This should still last for years of use.
  • Parker 51 pens have gold nibs, unless they’re Parker 51 Specials, in which case they have steel nibs, shiny caps and a black jewel on top. I personally am not a fan of the 51 Special, but if you are, they’re usually an inexpensive way to get into your first vintage fountain pen.
  • There are two lengths of pen body, the full size Parker 51 and the shorter Parker 51 demi. I don’t recommend buying the demi because they’re too small for even my tiny hands  to use with comfort (without posting), and they tend to cost more because there were less of them made.
  • As usual, personalization of any kind on the pen body or cap makes the price of the pen severely drop.

Bottom line: you can get a phenomenal gold nibbed pen in a beautiful Jetson design for less than $100 if you know what not to pay for. Now can you tell which pen is the Plum?

How to Buy Your First Parker 51