Retro 51 System and Uni-ball Jetstream SXR-600 Review

The Retro 51 System is what piqued my interest in Retro’s Tornado rollerballs again. It is such a handsome, well designed pen.  There are surprisingly few black Retro 51 limited/open numbered editions, which is in some ways not surprising. The company’s aesthetic leans towards the colourful or the metallic, not so much the “dark/stealth/tactical” side of the pen world.

A handsome, handsome pen.

I haven’t reviewed the Retro 51 System so far because it was such a huge hit when it came out, there were half a dozen reviews of it practically from day one. What did I have to add to the conversation? Plus, there was some confusion after the first 300 pens ran out and Mike Dudek put up another 300 pens for sale: people thought it was a very small limited edition, while it was always sold as a numbered, open edition. I didn’t want to take part in the drama, and I think that this pen is iconic enough to warrant discussion outside the hardcore Retro 51 collectors’ circles. Dudek and Retro 51 took a concept that could have been a “Smithsonian gift shop pen” idea, and turned it into a little work of art.

Pluto is on there, and you can see some of the “dark matter” streaks that Dudek designed into the pen.

The Retro 51 System isn’t cheesy, though it certainly could have been. Retro do design cheesy pens at times (its part of their design aesthetic), and the solar system has been over-productized for the past 50 years. Yet there’s something about the care put into creating this pen, from the choice to put Pluto on the map but to the side, to the choice to leave the texture to the “dark matter” stripes and let the planet designs speak for themselves, that makes it a utilitarian work of art. This pen was clearly designed be people who love everything about space and the solar system, and also everything about pens. It doesn’t glow in the dark, because it doesn’t need to. It has a classic, classy look that will also wear well with time.

One of the favourite things about this pen is the finial/top disc: it’s clear orange, a representation of the sun. It glows bright against the black background of this pen’s hardware, and really makes the pen pop – to whoever is writing with it.

Around the time I got this pen the Uni-ball Jetstream SXR-600 (Parker style) refill started appearing on the market. I was looking for a replacement to the Schmidt refill, and I had yet to meet my favourite Ohto Flash Dry refill, so a Uni-ball refill that made Brad Dowdy happy seemed like a good one to try. The Uni-ball SXR Jetstream SXR-600 in 0.5 is a Jetstream hybrid gel-ballpoint refill, one that lays very thin, neat, relatively dark lines. It’s probably the best ballpoint refill that you can get these days, and it is waterproof, fade proof and resistant to all kinds of fraud. It is not, however, fully a gel ink refill, nor does it remotely feel one, despite what the marketing says. It’s a best-in-class ballpoint refill, which most people will want to buy in 0.7 I think, as the 0.5 refill lays down a really fine line. If you’re looking for a replacement refill for Retro 51s, something that’s less messy and lays down a clean, fine line, the Uni-ball Jetream SXR-600 is probably the pen for you.

Retro 51 System and Uni-ball Jetstream SXR-600 Review

Retro 51 Buzz Review: The Bee Rescue Tornado

The Retro 51 Buzz bee rescue tornado is probably the Retro 51 I eyed the most before buying. I loved the honeycomb design, but not so much the bees, and when it came out I still hadn’t found a replacement for the Schmidt refill. I solved the refill issue with the Ohto FlashDry, and once Retro51 announced that they’re closing, I decided to finally buy this pen.

I love that Buzz logo and I kind of wish that it was featured on the pen, even though I know that it would have just cluttered it.

The Buzz pen is part of Retro 51’s rescue series, which means that there’s a small donation given to NW Honey Bee Habitat Restoration for every pen sold. It comes in a beautiful pen tube (which makes it, like all Retro 51s, a great gift pen to give), and is a very well designed pen.

Let’s start with the finial/top disc, which is featured in the Pen Addict Podcast Retro 51 Celebration pen. How could it not be? It’s a honeybee themed pen and it features a bear – a classic Retro 51 move.

One of the best top discs that Retro 51 has ever designed.

The pen itself features an acid-etched honeycomb texture with printed honeybees and brushed copper hardware. Some of the honeycombs are filled, and the bees… Well, I think that they come off as a little bit tacky in photos, but they somehow “work” in person. They blend in better with the rest of the design, and actually help tone down its shininess.

The copper hardware fits this pen like a glove. 

The best thing about this pen is the honeycomb etching on it. It glows and really makes the pen pop, with the added benefit of making the Retro 51 Buzz easy and nice to grip.

Look at that glow:

Check out that shiny, shiny glow.

The only nit-picky thing I didn’t like is the finish level. The filled honeycombs aren’t always painted within the lines. If that’s on purpose, I find that it detracts from the pen, and doesn’t add anything. If it’s not, it’s a shame:

Can you see where the brown paint doesn’t go all the way to the edge? 

I still love this pen, and I’m so glad that I bought it while it’s still to be had. The Retro 51 Buzz is not only a beautiful and well designed pen, it’s a pen that only Retro 51 could have designed.

Buzz!
Retro 51 Buzz Review: The Bee Rescue Tornado

Pilot Vanishing Point Matte Black and Colorverse Selectron Review

There’s something about black fountain pens and black ink that make them popular beyond what common sense would dictate. The blacker they are the more popular they are, especially if you add the word “stealth” somewhere in their name or the copy. Apparently everyone wants to be a ninja.

There’s so little nib and so much nib creep that investing in a black coated nib unit for this VP seems pointless to me.

Colorverse Selectron is a pigmented ink that I obtained as part of the Electron/Selectron Multiverse box. Colorverse have lately started to sell some of these paired inks as individual bottles, and so if orange isn’t your thing (Electron is orange, don’t ask me why) you may be able to obtain just Selectron soon enough.

I bought this Matte Black Vanishing Point from Goulet Pens in 2013 I think, but it hasn’t seen much use in recent years. As part of my move to both use my fountain pens more and see if there are any that I might want to part with I dusted this one off and filled it with an “appropriately” coloured ink.

Is this not a handsome pen? Yes it is. Just don’t look too close.

I’ve written about Colorverse Selectron before as part of other reviews. I initially thought that it would be a perfect drawing ink, as it’s pigmented and fountain pen friendly I was hoping that it was also waterproof. As you’ll see later on, it is not.

In terms of the ink itself, there’s nothing remarkable about it. It’s a solid black with some sheen when layered and no variation, which is what you usually want from a black ink.

Ugh! You looked too close and now you can see where the coating has rubbed off! 😦

The Matte Black Pilot Vanishing Point is a VP like all VPs: a pen with a great nib, a body design that you either love or can’t use (depending on how you grip your pen) and a solid click mechanism. It still has a converter that holds about a drop and a half of ink and is annoying to fill, and it still suffers from nib creep.

The novelty here is in the matte finish, which is both very nice and not very durable. I hardly used this pen and already the coating is becoming glossy where I usually grip it. It’s a shame because the coating feels great and looks great when it’s unblemished, as in the body of the pen:

Pretty, pretty matte coating.

Like some other pigmented inks, the Colorverse Selectron is Moleksine friendly: there’s no feathering, spreading and bleed-through with fine/medium nibs (show through is going to be there no matter what). It’s also a fun ink to draw with:

I started watching “The Mandalorian” and I love it, can you tell?

And here are the results of the waterproof test:

Look at this mess… Not at all waterproof. You’ll be able to read your notes after a spill though. 

Matte coated pens are difficult to do well, and Pilot haven’t done a stellar job with this Vanishing Point. Black fountain pen inks are a dime a dozen, and Colorverse haven’t done much beyond packaging and copy to create one that stands out. If I could have tested these in person they would have probably both remained on their respective shelves, but the online hype of the time swept me away. I’m much more wary of it and FOMO in general over the past two years.

Invest in things that will stand out and stand the test of time. And take care of yourselves (and your pens) in these troubling days.

Pilot Vanishing Point Matte Black and Colorverse Selectron Review

Retro 51 Cat Rescue 3 Review

The last Retro 51 of the three that bought once I heard that they were retiring arrived: the Cat Rescue 3. I gave it a try as  part of my Retro 51 Challenge, and so far I’m utterly enamoured with it.

The Cat Rescue 3 shares a similar design and illustration style as the Dog Rescue 3. The illustrations on both pens are wonderful: adorable, full of humour and love for their subject.

Beyond cool cats in sunglasses (that go well with pirate dogs with eyepatches) the Cat Rescue 3 pen also has a hidden drawing of a mouse (the dog one had a hidden squirrel). That just makes this pen 1000% more likeable in my eyes.

The tube the Cat and Dog rescue is similar, as both donate 5% of proceeding to the same animal shelter, Operation Kindness. Unfortunately the cardboard tube mine came it was utterly crushed by the mail service, so I won’t be photographing its ruins.

The finial/top disc features the Operation Kindness logo, and I’m not bothering with a writing sample because there are only so many times you can read about me raving how great the Ohto FlashDry gel refill is.

As a bonus, here are a picture of my cats (brother and sister, both rescues) to make you smile. If you can donate or help your local shelter in any way, please do.

Retro 51 Cat Rescue 3 Review

Retro 51 Dino Fossil Review

My Retro 51 Dino Fossil arrived in the mail, and I’ve been using it throughout the weekend. It was a completeimpulse buy, and I kind of regretted it once I bought it and before I got it. I thought that I’d never use a pen with bones on it, fossilized dinosaur bones or not.

It turns out I was wrong.

I don’t care much for packaging, but this packaging was cool. The gold embossing really adds a classy touch to it, and the Smithsonian logo pops on the background of the black tube.

That same logo also appears, in full colour, on the finial/top disk of the pen, and it adds a welcome bit of colour to it.

The pen is copper, much like the Retro 51 vintage metalsmith Lincoln, but there’s a lot of added texture to that copper. There’s brushed copper on the pen hardware, a dark matte copper on the pen body, and embossed dinosaur fossils that are partially painted.

The result could have been busy, but ends up working phenomenally well, while at same time making it almost impossible to properly photograph. The copper glows with warmth that makes the pen come to life.

It somehow doesn’t look tacky in person, but rather classy and somehow understated. The pen’s copper body draws more attention to itself that the bones do, because of their muted off-white colour.

The other thing that surprised me is that the Dino Fossil is numbered. I wasn’t expecting that, and the seller I got it from didn’t mention it, but just in case you care, on the band below the twist mechanism there’s a number, and “Smithsonian” where there usually is “Tornado” etched in. The number also appears on the cardboard tube the pen comes in.

The dinosaur fossil embossing makes this pen really easy to grip, and pretty enjoyable to write with. As usual I swapped out the Schmidt refill it comes with, replacing it with an Ohto FlashDry 0.5 gel refill.

The Retro 51 Dino Fossil was a pleasant surprise: a pen that I thought I bought for gifting, and turns out to be one of my favourite Retro 51s to date. I’m likely going to say goodbye to my Lincoln before this, and I recommend it if you have even the slightest affinity to dinosaurs, natural history, archeology, the Smithsonian or beautiful copper pens.

Retro 51 Dino Fossil Review

Retro 51 Dog Rescue 3 Review

I bought three new Retro 51 pens once I heard that they were retiring: Dog Rescue 3, Cat Rescue 3, and the Smithsonian Dino Fossil. I was planning on giving them a try as part of my Retro 51 Challenge, and if it turned out that I didn’t enjoy them, gifting them (or at worst, reselling them).

The Dog Rescue 3 arrived a few days ago, inside one of the cutest tubes that Retro 51 has designed.

5% of proceeds from this pen goes to Operation Kindness, which is nice, but probably won’t move the needle much. I donate yearly to a local animal shelter, and if you’re buying stuff just to donate, it’s better to not buy the stuff and just donate. This is a great looking pen though, so if you like it, by all means buy it, feel a little good about the donation, and then go and donate to Operation Kindness or a local shelter directly.

The operation kindness on the finial/top disc is a great touch.

The red on the finial is echoed in the dog illustrations on the body, which works really well. The illustrations/cartoons themselves are the best part of the this pen. You can totally see different dog personalities here, not just different breeds:

There’s even an eye-patch dog – can you spot him?

The hardware on this pen is shiny silver, and though it works, it isn’t one of the highlights of this pen. I suspect that the Dino Fossil’s one will be more interesting.

I replaced the standard Retro 51 refill with an Ohto FlashDry 0.5 one and it’s a joy to write with now.

The Retro 51 Dog Rescue 3 is a delightful pen that brings a smile on my face every time I pick it up. It would make for a great gift for a dog lover or a Retro 51 aficionado.

Retro 51 Dog Rescue 3 Review

Retro 51 Cat Rescue 2

An utterly non-Instagram ready journal entry about this pen, including my terrible handwriting. 

In November 2017 I went to a business convention in Washington DC, and while there I stumbled upon a tiny stationery store that had some Retro 51’s for sale. I liked the red colour of this pen, and some (not all) of the cat illustrations on it, and so I bought it. It was an utterly unreasonable impulse buy, because at the time I already knew that the Schmidt refill rendered my Retros virtually unusable for me, and I was years from finding a suitable replacement refill. The pen gathered dust in a pen cup on my desk for the past two years, until this week.

The finial/top disc is one of Retro 51’s best designs.

As part of my decision to use my Retro 51s more, I replaced the (dried out) Schmidt refill in this pen with an Ohto FlashDry gel ink one, and I’ve been using it pretty regularly for the past few days. It’s a bright and cheerful pen that writes like a dream now, even though in a quiet room you can definitely hear the tip rattle a bit as you write.

There’s no texture to this pen, the rescue cats are just printing on it, and I wish Lucy Kinsley had drawn them. So I’m not yet sure if this pen stays with me or I’m going to gift it to a cat loving friend, but for now I’m enjoying giving it a spin.

Retro 51 Cat Rescue 2