Parker Vacumatic Oversize with Pilot Iroshizuku Shin Kai.
Parker Vacumatic Oversize with Pilot Iroshizuku Shin Kai.
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:
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Leuchtturm1917 entered the busy sketchbook market about a year or two ago, with a lineup of A6, A5 and A4 sketchbooks with white 180 gsm paper.
The covers of the Leuchtturm1917 sketchbooks come in a wide variety of colours, which is a rarity in this market. Usually you find sketchbooks in black, or maybe one or two other colours, but Leuchtturm has decided to offer these in all the colour options available in their regular lineup.
The sketchbook contains 96 pages of acid free 180 gsm paper, and it opens flat. There’s a note in the back packaging that says that the paper is colourfast, and shows a sketch made with a fineliner and markers. More on that later.
There’s a place to write your name and address on the front cover. I recommend writing your name and email address instead. It’s more practical, and more secure.
There is a back pocket. I don’t really think that it’s necessary in a sketchbook, but it’s nice to have.
Leuchtturm offers two unique things with its sketchbook. One is the offer to personalize it with an embossing of your choice. During last year’s Urban Sketchers they personalized the sketchbooks that they gave away as part of the symposium’s package, and the result is very nice.
Now for the heart of the notebook, it’s paper. The pages lie flat with a bit of coaxing, and are thick and substantial. You have to really layer down markers for them to bleed through, and there’s no show through, meaning you can use each page on both sides.
So how does the paper behave? It depends on the medium. This sketchbook excels at dry media (pencils, couloured pencils, conte crayons, etc).
It’s pretty horrible with wet media, including fountain pen ink, watercolour washes, and ink washes. The paper buckles, shows off colour poorly, turns into a grainy mess, and and the ink feathers and spreads. I wouldn’t recommend it even for the lightest washes. All the vibrancy of my schminke watercolours turned into a muddy mess here (the sketch was done with a medium nibbed fountain pen and R&K Emma SketchINK):
Even with fineliners you’re going to have spread. If you like sharp lines, find a different sketchbook.
Again, even from a bit of a distance you can see the spread. That’s just a shame, because if the paper was a little less absorbent then this would be an excellent sketchbook.
This brings me to my frustration with the picture on the back end of the paper band, the one showing a tiny marker and fineliner drawing. This is my experience using markers and fineliners on this notebook:
There’s no option to layer or blend the markers, but that’s OK. This isn’t marker specific paper after all. But even for casual use, or just for use with fineliners/brush pens this paper isn’t great.
So do I recommend this sketchbook? It depends. If the way it looks makes you want to use it, then yes, it’s a notebook for you. I’ve been using this sketchbook for my journal comics mainly to test it out. Will I continue using it? Only because I already have a body of work in it. Otherwise, there are better options out there, ones that aren’t only pencil great, but also work with pen, ink and light watercolour washes (the Stillman and Birn Alpha sketchbooks come to mind).
Every once in a while Franklin Christoph comes out with a batch of their pens in “Antique Glass”, a clear acrylic with a bit of a green tint to it that makes it look like an old coke bottle. The material is both minimalist and beautiful. It allows you to show off the ink that you’re using while still having a pen that has more character than a run-of-the-mill demonstrator. Franklin Christoph’s pens and the nibs that they use are excellent and very well priced. The result is that these limited runs having a waiting list (from which a 100 names are drawn), and there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to even get on that. I had to wait for two years until I was able to purchase mine.
The wait is worth it though.
The Franklin Christoph Model 66 is a long and sleek pen that can’t be posted. The pen is light but still substantial, because of the extra acrylic in the finial. I was worried at first that it would be top heavy, but the Model 66 is perfectly balanced, and one of my favourite pens for long writing sessions.
The Model 66 is a demonstrator pen that is built to be eye-droppered. Yes, you can use the supplied converter or cartridges, but what’s the point of having a pen that looks like this if not to eye dropper it? Franklin Christoph even supply the requisite o-rings and silicone grease, making it super easy to transform it into an eye dropper.
The pen body is made of smooth acrylic on the outside, but is pebble textured on the inside. The result shows off the ink colour and the pen colour even more, but it also means that staining inks have even more surface area to stain. I decided early on to use only turquoise, teal, blue and green inks in this pen, as even if they stained the pen it would work well with its “natural hue”.
You can see the greenish “antique glass” tint best in the cap.
In terms of design, this is a desk pen and is designed as one, so it has one flat side which keeps it from rolling off the table even though it’s a clipless pen.
There’s a wide variety of Jowo nibs that you can order with your pen, and I decided to pay a little extra for a Mike Masuyama medium italic nib. The nib is buttery smooth, and the feed keeps up with flow. This italic isn’t super sharp, which is a plus for me, and together with the large ink capacity that an eye-dropper pen offers, it’s writing heaven.
The Franklin Christoph Model 66 Antique Glass with a Mike Masuyama medium italic (what a mouthful) is build to show off interesting inks. Although I would never use shimmering inks in it, it’s great for inks that shade or sheen. And Robert Oster is the king of sheening inks.
The River of Fire is a dark teal ink that has significant red sheen and a good amount of shading.
As usual with inks of this kind, the paper and nib affect how much sheen or shading you see. This nib is perfect for that, and the paper I used here is Tomoe River Paper, which brings out the best in every ink.
You can see a bit of the properties of the ink here, particularly the shading, but this ink really does have a lot of sheen. It’s just difficult to photograph, so you can only see a bit of the golden red that happens where the ink pools.
This is such a pretty ink. Look how much variation and interest it offers:
So, if you can get on one of the Franklin Christoph antique glass waiting lists, I highly recommend it. As for the Robert Oster River of Fire, I think that it’s a gorgeous ink, but it’s not unique enough in Robert Oster’s large ink offering. If you have something in the turquoise or teal shade in their lineup, then there’s probably no need to buy the River of Fire. If yo don’t then I recommend this ink since it’s wild and yet dark enough to “pass” in an office setting.
A quick sketch on location of the Eurovision 2019 Tel Aviv Euro Village as it was filling up.
Leuchtturm1917 Sketchbook, Super5 0.7 fountain pen and Rohrer and Klingner Lotte ink.