Many years ago, shortly before finishing college, I bought my first non-disposable pen. It was a Pelikan rollerball. I’ve been unable to figure out what the model was, but it was a slim pen bought for around $60. I loved that pen. I wrote almost every day with that pen for many years, and when it became difficult to find Pelikan refills at my art store I took my first steps into the world of pen stores, and looking for pen supplies online. Sometime during the packing, moving, repacking and moving again that came with my divorce, I lost the pen. I got a couple other rollerballs but none of them ever measured up to that first Pelikan. Then I started to develop RSI in my arm and hand—that’s when I first delved into fountain pens. Since then I’ve had it in my mind that I wanted to find the right Pelikan fountain pen, to recreate the feeling I had when I wrote with that first Pelikan rollerball.
I’ve tried a few Pelikans. The m215 was a fantastic pen, but it was just too small for long sessions. I’ve owned a few versions of the m200/205—several have left my hands as gifts to family, and I still have a blue one, but it’s still not the Pelikan I was looking for. A few years ago I tried a higher end Pelikan—the m640 Everest—but the shape of the barrel, and the too-light weight, are the reasons that one only stuck around for a few weeks.
Then recently I found a very good price for the m805—online and overseas. I’m doing my best to keep my collection the size it is now, so to make room for this purchase I sold 2 other pens that just didn’t get much use. Then I had to decide on the color. That was tougher than I thought. I was generally leaning toward the red, because I just don’t have any red pens; but even though I’m not generally a fan of black pens, there was just something about the Stresemann that was hard to ignore.
I’ve now been using the pen for a couple of months with at least 4 different inks.
The Souverän series, to my eyes, has always looked a bit staid—buttoned-down if you will. Plain colors, pinstripes, and subtle ink windows assure the pens would look at home in any professional environment. By sticking to a monochrome palette, the Stresemann accentuates this, and intentionally tried to bring to mind a pinstripe suit. The pen looks classy—dressy if you will—but it is somewhat plain.
The only quibble I have is that I don’t understand the design choice to make the piston knob a slightly smaller diameter than the tail end of the barrel. It creates a small but noticeable ridge—that catches both the eye and the hand—and seems completely unnecessary.
Pelikans have a reputation for a solid construction. Examining the m805 demonstrates why that reputation exists. Every detail of this pen exudes precision. The logo on top of the cap is aligned toward the clip. Even though you can’t see it, they took the time align the nib and the clip when the pen is capped. The piston moves smoothly, and there’s no wiggle or give in the knob. The brass piston mechanism, gives the pen a good, but not excessive weight. I have looked closely and found no faults.
Pelikan pistons are widely regarded to be among the best in the industry. It’s definitely the easiest and smoothest piston mechanism I’ve ever encountered, and as it’s a fairly large pen, the m805 holds a good amount of ink.
I wavered between scoring the nib as a 9 or a 10. The first time I filled the pen, it was Caran d’Ache Vibrant Green. This is one of my two tester inks, because I use it so frequently that I feel that it helps me judge a pen, without unknowingly judging the ink as well. And for the same reason I always use Rhodia DotPad to test any pen. And right away I has a problem with the pen skipping. I wrote for a while to see if it worked its way out, and it didn’t. So I cleaned the pen with pen flush, but that didn’t work either. So I tried a different ink, and the problem went away. I’ve tried 2 other inks and haven’t has the same problem. After going online I found a hypothesis that some Pelikan nibs are so smooth that with certain pen/paper combinations there’s just not enough friction for consistent flow. And while I can’t confirm that scientifically, I have only had the problem with that particular ink, on that particular paper, and only when the pen is at certain angles—which leads me to believe that in this case the proposed theory is true. With any other pen/paper the nib has been a dream—butter-smooth, with just a tiny bit of softness (or spring if that’s how you describe it).
Test Drive: 9/10
This pen does what I hope every pen does—it disappears. When writing I don’t think about the pen at all. The only thing that stopped me from giving it a 10, was the specific-circumstance-skipping that I detailed in the Nib section, above. The size and weight are as perfect, for my tastes, as I have found, and the super-smooth nib extends the time I can write before fatigue kicks in.
After a good bit of looking, I have finally completed my Pelikan quest that began back with that first Pelikan Rollerball.
Pilot Vanishing Point “Stormtrooper” – Overall: 7.0/10
It took me a few tries to find the VP that works best for me. This is the fourth VP I’ve had—the other 3 were all acquired secondhand, either in trade or bought as part of a lot. The first two I got rid of in response to Want-To-Buy ads. Later I got one of the special annual editions, but I wasn’t wild about quality of the finish—luckily I was able to sell it at the same price I bought it for.
Then, last year, the White and Black VP was released in the US. This pen has been around in Europe for a while, and is often referred to as the Stormtrooper VP. When I stumbled across the pen on sale I decided that this was the VP I wanted for my collection. One of my previous VPs had a custom stub which I liked quite a bit, so I decided to try this pen with a factory stub.
Pens can catch your eye for several reasons. There are pens in collection that grab my attention because if their beautiful material, their craftsmanship, and their simple artistry. The VP is not one of those pens. If the VP catches your eye it’s either for it’s odd looks, or it’s functionality. It’s not ugly by any stretch, but neither is it pretty. Even the special edition I had, was kind of flat. I suppose it difficult for a pen with a metal body to have much depth to the look of the material. As such, I think this pen looks best in solid colors. This particular one appealed to me because the stark white with black hardware looks like it was inspired by Star Wars’ Stormtroopers. Do I think it looks pretty? No. Do I think it looks sleek—maybe even cool? Yes.
The clip of the VP—it seems like you either hate it, or it doesn’t bother you. I’m not gonna beat a dead horse, so I’ll just say I’m in the “doesn’t bother” camp—for the most part (and I’ll get to that). However this pen had a problem that none of the first three had. That problem caused me a few weeks of frustration, and lead me to reexamine my relationship with two different pen stores.
When this pen first arrived, there was a problem with the alignment of the nib—it was off kilter by somewhere between 5°-10°. With a normal pen I would just rotate my grip a tiny bit, but the clip placement on the VP makes that impossible. The nib is held in place by fittings inside what I’ll call the cap, and when I looked inside the pen the door that seals the pen shut was off-center and was causing the nib to rub against the door, which in turn caused ink to pool inside the cap if the nib was extended and retracted several times during a writing session.
Even though I reported this problem to the online store I bought it from, they refused to allow me to return or exchange the pen. They did offer to act as an intermediary between me and Pilot warranty service (which they said could take up to eight weeks), but as I’m perfectly capable of doing that myself, I didn’t feel they could be any help to me. Without naming the online store, I will say that because of this I doubt I will buy pens from them again—I may buy ink from them if I can’t find it elsewhere, but even that is doubtful.
Later the same week, while I was in a local stationery/pen store to pick up some Rhodia DotPads, the shopkeep struck up a conversation. I’ve not previously considered this shop for anything but paper, because in the past I’ve found the owner a little heavy-handed as a salesman, but this wasn’t the owner and they were less pushy. After a short discussion about my new VP, they gave a call to their Pilot representative and got the OK to switch out the cap section for me. Everything is fine with the new cap, and my local store (not to mention Pilot) has earned some new business.
This is the only VP I’ve had this problem with, but it’s also the only one I bought new, and it makes sense that a used pen wouldn’t have this issue, as the owner likely would have solved it already. It’s a solid pen, for sure, but the mechanics of the retractable nib, and the apparatus inside that hold everything in place, all seems a little prone to damage.
My general score for a converter pen is a 7. When it comes to filling, this pen has some plusses and some minuses, which kind of cancel each other out.
Minuses: You have to remove the nib to fill it—it’s a mild inconvenience, but it’s still an extra step. Also, no matter which of the converters you choose—and there are three options—you don’t get much ink.
Plusses: While it’s an inconvenience to remove the nib for filling it does make it easier to fill from smaller bottles, and also makes it easier to clean off the nib.
It’s hard to complain about an 18k gold nib for a pen in this price range, and basically I’m happy with it. It’s not the smoothest stub nib I’ve tried, but neither is it the worst. It does dry out faster than I would like, but as long as I keep writing it’s not an issue. I know some who have reviewed the stub nib have said that if you write at a shallow angle the nib has a tendency to skip a bit, but I was unable to replicate this problem.
Test Drive: 7/10
Writing with the VP is fine. It’s not an experience I’m in love with, but to me that’s never been the VP’s selling point. But the pen writes well enough that I forget about it and can just write. The clip placement and metal body mean it’s not the best pen for long stretches of writing, but for me it’s the perfect pen to have at the ready for notetaking in meetings.
This isn’t one of those pens I keep in my collection because it’s a joy to write with. I like to keep a VP around because it’s unique, but moreover because it’s a crazy convenient way to keep a fountain pen at the ready, and even though it’s not a top-of-the-line writing experience it’s still a comfortable pen—with a stub—for a good price.
I’ve wanted an Edison Pen for quite some time. Not only does Brian Grey have a reputation as an excellent craftsman, but to my eyes his designs are quite beautiful. But I had a good bit of trouble finding the Edison pen that was for me. A couple of years ago I got one of the first seasonal editions of the Nouveau Premiere; and while I liked the pen quite a lot, it smelt of burnt plastic and it never seemed to dissipate (I still don’t know if the smell was specific to that one pen or to that particular material). I was able to recoup almost all of what I paid for it, but I was still left without an Edison.
I used the money from the sale of that pen to commission a custom Extended Mina, but during the long wait I read some online reviews and found a small aspect of the pen that soured it for me (most people don’t seem to care much about the feature, but the pen world is full of people who are OCD about their pens, and I’m no exception) so I converted my custom order into an outright purchase–an Edison Menlo.
I reeeeeeeeeally wanted to like the Menlo, but that one just wasn’t the pen for me. I’m not sure if the pen was defective or if my warm hands just aren’t compatible with eye-dropper or large capacity fill systems. But Brian let me return the pen for a refund/credit, and I was back to trying to find the right pen for me. Ultimately I decided on the Collier, in part because of it’s large size, but also because I liked the shape. After picking my material Brian graciously put me at the front of the design queue, so it wasn’t too long until I had the pen in my hands.
Here are my thoughts on the Edison Collier in Translucent Mint Swirl with a steel 1.1mm stub nib.
I may not get to keep this one either. My wife, who is generally partial to very thin, very light pens has already hinted that, while this pen is huge, I shouldn’t panic if I notice it missing.
Note: for the first 2 sections, which concern the Edison Pen Company and not the pen, I will provide comment but not a score, as only the pen categories are scored.
Design/Ordering Process: Not scored
The website is good, not great. It’s a clunkier experience than most pen sites you’re used to. If you’re ordering a custom pen, that’s fine, because you probably don’t want to build your pen through a series of dropdowns–you want to talk to the guy who’s going to put it on the lathe. But for the person who sees what he wants while scrolling through the inventory, they’d probably want to just drop that in their cart and checkout.
Also, the site is divided up onto different domains, which ads to the clunky feel. It’s definitely nice to able to scroll through all those pictures of current pens, past pens, pen materials, etc, but if you’re deciding what you want that can mean a lot of jumping back and forth between the main site and the picture album site.
However, it’s a huge plus to be able to see all those pen pictures. Without them I never would have landed on this model or this material. None of this was enough of a bother to stop me from ordering a pen, and truthfully I think we’d all rather Brian spend his time making pens instead of working on his website, but if he’s got someone to do his website for him, it could use some updating.
Customer Service: Not scored
If you read the intro above, you’ll know that I had a lot of communication with Brian during the months that I was in the queue for a custom pen, then waiting for my Menlo, then waiting for a repair, then back in the queue. During this time, Brian was always ready to assure me that he wouldn’t be happy until I was happy. And based on the time he spent on my problems, I believe him.
If I had one knock in this area it’s that communication can sometimes take a while. Edison Pens isn’t a one man operation, but it all revolves around Brian making a custom item in a niche market. So when he goes on vacation, production basically stops. When he’s out email doesn’t necessarily stop, but you’re likely to get a personal response that tells you Brian’s on vacation, and you’ll get an answer when he’s back. Likewise, if he’s headed to a pen show you may have to wait a few days as well. I don’t begrudge Brian these breaks, but if you’re going to order from him you’ll need to understand that when you want something from a craftsman you can’t expect factory-like production times.
This is a seriously sexy pen. Part of that stems from the material I picked, and I’ll get to that, but it’s the shape of the pen I like best. This is not a small pen, and many of the oversize pens I’ve used either make the barrel straight, or go a little overboard with giving it some curves. I like the gentle lines of this giant. And yes, the material is awesome. It’s a little frustrating to look at the pictures because I just don’t have the photography skills to show off this material; but my wife hit the nail on the head when she said it looks like the glassy-swirl marbles so many of us has when we were kids. It looks so nice my other pens are getting jealous–I haven’t touched another pen since I first inked this one.
There is part of me that wants to score this an 11, but I respect math too much to do that. Instead I’ll give it a 10 with a bang (that’s an exclamation point for you non-programmer/not grammar nerds). There are essentially two aspects to the construction score–there’s the design and then the execution of the design.
With the Collier, as good the execution of the design is, it’s the design itself that makes this pen so special. The seam at the clip, where the cap meets the finial, is so smooth I can only detect it with my fingernail when carefully looking for it. The finished surfaces are smooth, inside and out, I can see through the pen with no distortion.
But as I said, the design is what makes this pen special. It’s a pretty big pen–bordering on huge. It’s longer than my Homo Sapiens, Cosmos, Al-Star, Van Gogh Maxi, Franklin-Christoph 02, and even my Newton Gibby; and as thick or thicker than all of them. But even with all that size, it has a relatively normal-sized grip, and it’s fairly light (30g overall, 20g without the cap). The curves help give the pen a great balance–a tiny bit front heavy.
One note about the design: The pen does not post. At all. Once upon a time this would have been a deal-breaker for me, but in the last couple of years I’ve completely stopped posting my pens.
8 is my default score for a Cartridge/Converter system, where the end of the section is smooth, making it easy to wipe off after filling. The converter is the default system for this design. You can pay extra to switch to a bulb filler, or pump system, but I stuck with the converter–I might have paid extra for a piston fill, but that wasn’t offered.
I went with the steel 1.1mm stub. I like this nib, I don’t love it. It’s a little too rounded for my taste–generally I lean toward a slightly rounder stub, rather than crisp, but even for me this one is too rounded. I’m not sure how much control Brian has over that, as he gets his nibs from JoWo. Brian does tune the nibs he sells, and this nib is certainly smooth and wet enough for my taste.
As nice as it is, it’s nothing special, and I’ll be looking to upgrade this nib soon. I might send this one off to a nibmeister for some shaping and a little added flex, or I might try to source a higher quality #6 nib to replace this one. I wonder if Visconti makes any steel #6 nibs.
Gold nibs are available from Edison, but I’m less enamored of gold nibs than the fountain pen population at large.
Test Drive: 9/10
The whole point of a pen is how it writes. Everything else is prologue. Can I write with the damned thing? Can I write for hours? When I clean out my pens and decide to ink up 3 of them, will my heart reach for the Edison Collier?
This pen has been constantly inked since it came in the mail. I’ve filled it will Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-peki, and Caran d’Ache Vibrant Green, two inks I use often and am very familiar with. I’ve burned through at least 15 full pages with each ink, and the thickness combined with the light weight results in remarkably little hand fatigue. I enjoy writing with this pen a lot.
8.8. That’s a bit lower than I expected going in. But if I’m able to source a high-quality replacement nib, or get my nib-guy to work his magic, the score could come all the way up to 9.6.
I have a feeling the Edison Collier will get a lot of use.
I love Franklin-Christoph pens–and I love the company, too. This is, in part, local pride as we’re both residents of North Carolina’s Research Triangle. However, I also love them because of all the companies I’ve seen, F-C seems to have a flair for experimentation and innovation.
I’ve had several Franklin-Christoph pens over the past couple of years. Most have moved on to other owners as my tastes have changed. One exception to this was the Franklin-Christoph 02 Intrinsic Anderson Pens Special Edition (black body with bright pearlescent blue section and final). But when I saw the F-C 02 Emerald & Ice version I knew I wanted it in my collection. With one notable exception, I’m not the kind of person to have multiples of the same pen, so I sold my Anderson F-C 02, and bought the Emerald & Ice.
I really think this pen is beautiful. And more importantly, the “ice” effect—done by applying some sort of texturing treatment to the interior of the cap and barrel—is something unique to my collection. The Emerald final—made of a slightly pearlescent darkish green material—provided a nice contrast to the Ice body. The pen tapers dramatically from the section, back toward the end, which results in a silhouette that is odd, but not unpleasant.
I think I would have preferred if the section was also the Emerald material. I usually write unposted, and this would have given the pen body just a bit of flair. However, I know from reading reviews of the Smoke & Ice version many people suggested wanting the section to be clear—so it’s really sort of a personal preference.
This is an uncommonly well-made pen. The shape was very well thought out—the taper ensures that the pen is only 3mm longer when posted than when capped. Where the Clear material is untreated—at the ends—the pen is crystal clear. A few reviews have mentioned that the clips feel flimsy, or cheap. I don’t know if I agree, but I also really don’t care about clips, as long as they keep the pen where it should be.
The construction highlight of this pen is the threads that seal the pen to the cap. They are all the way down at the end of the section. Not only are they so forward that you won’t touch the threads unless you hold your pen uncommonly close to the nib. But even if you do, F-C used block threads so there are no sharp ridges.
It’s a C/C. I like C/Cs. The threads are at the very end of the section, so they will get inky; but since they’re block threads they’re just as easy to wipe off as any smooth part of the pen.
It’s also made to work as an eyedropper. In fact, as other reviews have touched on, the “ice” effect seems to be enhanced when using the pen as an eyedropper. But I hate eyedroppers. My hands are always a little warm, and no matter what I do I wind up with globs of ink on the page. So I’ll never get to see this pen in all its glory.
I got the Steel Extra Fine nib. While there’s nothing special about the nib, it came in perfect condition. Smooth, and had obviously been tuned—wet but not too wet. No spring to it—at least not yet. IN the near future this one will be headed off to Art of Art’s Nibs for the Tomahawk treatment.
Test Drive: 9/10
This pen feels great in my hand—which I already knew from my previous experience with the F-C 02. Of all the F-C pens I have tried (02, 19, 25, 27, 29) this is my favorite. They’re all great writers but this one feels the best—it just fits my hand and my writing.
What stops it from being a 10 is that the cap is not particularly secure when posted. After a couple of minutes of writing the cap loosens a little, and while it’s never fallen off it will loosen enough that it will rattle a little, until I either take it off the pen or re-secure it.
The Franklin-Christoph 02 Intrinsic Emerald & Ice. Beautiful, well-built and a great writer, it’s a great everyday pen.
There are plenty of reviews of the various Nock Cases lurking around the web. This one will have a different focus. I’m going to take a look at the cases as a group. Think of it like a review of a collection of short stories instead of just a single story.
I was a backer for Nock’s Kickstarter campaign. While others bought several cases, or even the whole lineup, I only signed up for a single Hightower case. Frankly I had concerns that the fabric they used would be too rough for pens with more delicate finishes. So I decided to try one, and see how I liked it.
In the subsequent year+ I’ve had several of these cases come in and out of my possession (which should tell you how I felt about the fabric once I had it), I’ve had several low-level email exchanges with Brad (assuming he doesn’t have someone else answering his emails), and I’ve manually modified two of the cases. And I’ve carried the cases every day. In short, I’ve had enough interaction with the cases and the company to give a thorough review.
To begin here’s a list of all the cases I’ve had. The ones in bold I still have.
Brasstown, Forrest/Sunshine: This is the one I carry in my messenger bag when I go to work. It gets used maybe 2-3 days each week.
Brasstown, Mandarin/BlueJay, Modified: I’ve modified this one so that it holds larger items. At this point it’s sort of a catch-all for larger items (harmonicas, knives) if I’ll be carrying them around or packing them in luggage.
Hightower, Steel/Mango: This one has two main uses. It’s my go-to case if I just need one or two pens and a small notebook, but I also use it to transport pens in my bag on the workdays that I don’t use the Brasstown.
Hightower, Mandarin/BlueJay: Given away as a gift.
Hightower, Steel/BlueJay: This was the one I got through the Kickstarter. I ripped out one of the bartacks to combine two pen slots into one larger slot. Unrelated to the modification the case got dropped in the parking lot and the oil wouldn’t come out.
Sassafrass, Mandarin/Mango: Sent in error and returned to Nock…but I looked it over first. I liked the color combo so much I bought a new Lookout in this combo.
Lookout, Mandarin/Mango: I use the Lookout when I’m going somewhere to write and I’m taking my Midori or large Rhodia pad.
Lookout, Steel/Mango (sold as part of downsizing pen collection)
Lookout, Forrest/Sunshine (sold as part of downsizing pen collection)
Fodderstack XL, Mandarin/BlueJay: The Fodderstack XL is my newest addition to the range, and I carry it around at work, loaded with a pen, a pocket notebook, and some index cards.
Appearance (Comments for all models as a group)
The Nock Cases have a rugged, casual look about them. If you’re a style conscious person it might look out of place to pull one of these cases out of your suit pocket or leather briefcase, but they go along perfectly with backpacks and casual bags. That’s not a knock against them, but cases are chosen as much for their looks as how they protect your pens. And if you’re expecting a case that looks rich, you’re going to be disappointed. These are cases designed for EDC—after all, they’re named after mountains.
Each of the cases (except for a version that I have never owned) are made of two different grades of Nylon. The color combinations change from time to time—there are seven right now, and a few more have been phased out, or were used for limited runs. The interior colors are fairly bright—with one exception—while the exterior tend to be darker, but the Mandarin and Sky colors are fairly bright. Personally I think the color choices are nice. And while I understand why we can’t mix-and-match our own color combinations, it sure would be nice. In case Brad reads this…please make the new “Halftower” in a new Forrest/Mango combo.
Construction (Comments for all models as a group)
I’ve already said these cases are designed for EDC, so it’s no surprise that construction is where these cases shine. They are sewn with a variety of seams—exposed, hidden, reinforced, and bartack—and all of them are solid. I’ve now modified two cases by ripping out stitches, and ripping them out was no easy task. It took 5-10 minutes to get out a single seam to turn two pen slots into one. Errors in manufacturing aside if you blow a seam on one of these cases you’re doing something very, very wrong with your case. Looking inward from the seams, the two different grades of nylon are strong and even after a year of use don’t have any major wear.
During the Kickstarter campaign I commented that I was skeptical that the nylon used would we be gentle enough on delicate pen finishes. While I’m much less concerned, now that I have the cases and have used them for a year, if I had any ultra-high-end, ultra-glossy pens, I still might be a little wary whether the nylon (strong, not scratchy, but not what I’d call soft either) might not dull the finish over time—BUT, and I can’t stress this enough, I’ve not had the problem with any of pens, ranging from cheap to high-end.
Price (Comments for all models as a group)
The advantages of selecting cases built to carry around, is that the materials aren’t expensive. Even taking that into account, these are a remarkable value. Prices ranging from $17 (Fodderstack XL) to $35 (Brasstown) are refreshingly low (note: there are two cases lower than $17, but I don’t have either of them). The Lookout offers secure protection for three pens, for anything short of crushing, for $20. In 2015 that’s a steal.
Company (Comments for all models as a group)
One of the advantages of buying from a small company, be it a start-up or a maker’s shop, is the ability to connect with owner or employees of the company. When I decided that I wanted to modify one of the cases I asked Brad for advice, to make sure I didn’t ruin the case. I got an email back, the same day, telling me that other’s had made similar mods, and that I should have no trouble. He even asked me to let him know how it went. Likewise, when I’ve wanted a particular model in a particular combination he can generally give me a pretty good estimate when more will be posted to the site.
All of my cases have come marked with the Made in USA label. I like this. Not for any nationalist pride, but because for this type of product it means that the work was done in one place—no wasteful shipping between manufacturing locations. It’s a few people working together to make a good product to fill a need. It’s the kind of business I’m happy to support.
On to the actual cases…
The Brasstown Holds: 6 pens with room for extras
Cons: Noisy Zipper, No Notebooks
This is Nock’s largest case. Closed, it looks not unlike a traditional pencil case. But inside is a “tongue” that unrolls to reveal 6 pen slots. The tongue does not have a flap that folds down over the pens’ clips, but that’s a good thing. Not only would the flap make the rolled-up tongue much thicker, but it’s unnecessary, as the rollup will be tucked into the zipper pouch anyway. The roll-up is large enough that even holding 6 pens there’s still a little room left over for small bits and bobs. I keep small UV keychain light (for using Noodler’s Blue Ghost to send letters to my kids), a FitBit charger, a USB drive and some days even a harmonica in there to keep my pens company. It can be a bit large for everyday use, but it’s ideal for packing into a backpack, or into luggage for a trip.
The one criticism I have—and I’ll freely admit this is a quibble—is the zipper. It’s noisy. If I don’t silence the zipper and put it in my backpack, I can hear the zippers rattle with each step. It’s not difficult to fix this; for one I cut off the zipper pulls and replace them with cord and rubber finger loops, for the other I wove cord through the zippers. Both of these solutions have the added benefit of allowing me to hand the case from a hook when needed. Ideally, this could be solved with using smaller zipper handles, rubberized zipper handles, or having a flap of fabric cover the zipper (like on the zippers of pants). I get that this would add a little to the price, and since it’s not hard to fix myself, this wouldn’t affect my use of this case. Like I said…it’s a quibble.
The Hightower Holds: 3 pens, 1 notebook
Pros: Notebook sleeve is roomier than Fodderstack XL
Cons: Can open in a bag
A small nylon folio, the Hightower opens to reveal three pen slots inside the front cover, and one notebook slot inside the back cover. There is a flap that folds down to cover the pens clips, that serves to keep the pens from sliding out of the slots when the case is closed. I love taking this one along when I go out for the day, or over to a friend’s house for the evening. I love that it holds my preferred pocket notebook, the Rhodia Unlimited 9x14cm 60 sheets, with enough room left over for index cards or a few folded sheets of paper or receipts. In fact I can even get two of these notebooks into the Hightower, though it doesn’t close all that well.
Drawbacks? Yes, one. If I put this is a bag, it sometimes works its way open. I’ve never had a pen fall out—thanks to that flap—but I have had a notebook fall out on occasion. Otherwise I just love this case.
The Lookout Holds: 3 pens
Pros: Small, Secure
Cons: No notebook
For me, this is the least versatile of all the cases. It only holds one thing—pens. Depending on the day this can be a plus or a minus. If I’m going somewhere to write, and I’m taking a larger format notebook, this case goes along perfectly—I can take three pens, or two and my ink pot. But if I’m not carrying a larger notebook with me, this one is just too limiting.
That said, if you’re packing your pens for later, the loop across the front of this case hold the pens very securely. If I toss one of these in my bag I know the pens aren’t going anywhere.
The Fodderstack XL Holds: 1 pen (2 if you’re ok with them touching), 1 notebook and/or index cards
Pros: Crazy Convenient
Cons: Fairly limited in the size of notebooks and pens
I have frustrating relationship with the Fodderstack XL. For starters, it’s a ridiculously convenient case—holding one pen and one pocket notebook. If I just want to have somewhere to take notes or write down the stray thought, this case fits the bill. However, this is not a versatile case. If I want to use it I have to adjust to it—not vice versa. The problem is the very thing that makes it convenient—its size.
It was designed to hold the Nock pocket notebook (9x14cm), so it also holds the Field Notes books easily. However, it doesn’t like my beloved Rhodia notebooks (also 9x14cm) because they’re just a tiny bit thicker than the Nock notebooks. It also doesn’t like the Clairfontaine 9×14 notebooks. So it’s not like I can’t find something to fit in there, but it’s won’t take my Rhodia notebooks because the tolerances on the small case are just that tight.
Similarly, using this case you need to be conscious of what pen you put in there. My favorite, lately, in the Franklin-Christoph 02—a fairly large pen—and it sticks up above the top of the case. So if I’m going to take this with me I can’t just toss it in my bag, but instead need to put it somewhere where the exposed end of the pen is protected. The TWSBI 580 is just a hair too long, but the Pelikan M200 is small so that one gets plenty of protection.
I love that if I’m going to a business meeting this case tucks nicely into my Suit’s lapel pocket.
I get that these cases aren’t for everybody. If you carry around twenty pens, these aren’t for you. Likewise, if you prefer cases made of leather or fancy materials, move along. But if you’re ok with the casual look and feel, these cases almost certainly have a good way for you to carry around a few pens. Whether it’s tossing your rollerballs and pencils in your backpack, or making sure you always have your favorite fountain pen at the ready, these cases are a good bet.
I’ve seen some of the teaser pictures for the new “Halftower” case which combines featured of the Hightower and Brasstown cases. Additionally I’d love to see a case that holds an A5 notebook or pad along with one or two pens. But first and foremost I’d love to see a new color combination—fingers crossed for Forrest/Mango (if not that one, then Midnight/Sunshine).
I just got my first custom pen. There are quite a few makers of custom pens out there. But I didn’t just want a pen made from a kit. Those generally all have a similar look and feel—you’re just picking your parts. I wanted something made from scratch. Due in part to my previous dealing with Shawn Newton—I bought a replacement #5 nib from him, which performed beautifully—I went with Newton Pens. And now after a long wait—compared to an off the shelf pen—I finally have my first one of a kind pen.
So what do I think of it?
Design/Ordering Process: 9/10
This was a difficult category to score. The process of designing a pen with Shawn is a fight between two different forces. First, you’re ordering a commercial item. From this perspective the process is kind of lacking. Even if you have a good idea, and you’re idea is fairly simple, it’s probably not going to be as easy as filling in a form, hitting send, and waiting for your pen to arrive. But it’s also—and primarily—a creative process. Working with a craftsman simply can’t be done by visiting a website and checking a few boxes.
To some extent Shawn has tried for a balance between the two forces, and he’s generally opted for the craftsman approach. Our design process took place over about 3 dozen emails over a two week period. When I’m buying a pen I’m not the guy who says, “I would buy this pen if it had this sort of grip”, or “I love this pen except for the color.” Generally I make my decision based on the pen as a whole, unless I’m trying to fill a gap, such as wanting an oversize pen. But when I’m designing my own things I’ll be the first to admit I get a little finicky. Shawn handled this very well, and I appreciated that when he told me something wasn’t doable, that he explained why.
Ultimately, after wasting a lot of his time, I settled on one of his base models, with a custom combination of two materials. If he wanted to jump through the computer and throttle me with my space bar, for taking him on a wild goose chase only to settle on an established model, he never let that show.
If I could recommend a change to the process it would be that Shawn streamline his website to walk the potential customers through the process and their options in a more linear fashion.
Note: I noticed that Shawn has made changes to his website, formalizing certain models, and adding additional information. The score of 9 that I’m giving is based on my experience, not what had changed since then.
Duh…I designed the pen. Of course I like it. Come to think of it, it doesn’t make sense to judge the pen based on how it looks, because Shawn didn’t choose anything about it’s appearance.
So, instead I think I’ll rate the pen’s…
How well did the final product reflect the pen that I thought up? 10 out of 10.
The two materials I chose are decidedly random in their pattern. Whether through chance, or craftsmanship, or a combination of the two, the final product has a nice balance of color and design. The pen could have easily looked silly if the black threads on the white barrel were too few or too many. Though I gave no guidance on how deep the ends of the barrel and cap should be, they both seem “just right”.
In short, the pen looks exactly like I thought it would. Scratch that. The pen looks exactly like I wanted it to look. What’s the difference? I didn’t expect that the pen would look exactly like I thought—how often do you make something and it turns out just right? For me, not often. My guess is that Shawn had better results.
A 10 just doesn’t seem like a high enough score here. There is a fundamental difference between a quality handmade product and a well-made, mass-produced product. I can make a few things by hand, but none of them are well crafted—maybe…MAYBE…well-built.
This pen, is finely crafted. My brain and my eyes KNOW, that this pen is made of two different materials. But my fingers can’t feel any of the seams (not counting the one that’s threaded, because…duh…I can feel where the threads start). If I didn’t design this pen by picking two different materials, I would assume this pen was made from a fancy acrylic that was formed from two different colors—it’s that smooth. The threads…normally I don’t like threads that join plastic to plastic. There’s always a lot of friction, and if not well done can feel scratchy. These are the best plastic to plastic threads I’ve felt—very smooth.
And turning to a more subjective measurement–the pen just FEELS like someone spent a lot of time on it.
8 is my default score for a Cartridge/Converter system, where the end of the section is smooth, making it easy to wipe off after filling. But, as with the appearance, Shawn didn’t pick this. He provides other options, but I went with the Cartridge/Converter because that’s what I like. I’m not scoring this category, either.
The nib wasn’t great at first. It wasn’t quite smooth, and it was awfully wide for a Fine. I discussed this with Shawn through email, and he told me a couple of things I could try. I tried them, and frankly I made things worse. So Shawn told me to send it back to him and he fixed it up for me, even correcting my own poor attempts.
Now it’s a nice, wet Fine. It’s probably the best of the steel nibs I now have, and that means it beats out a Visconti, a Delta, a TWSBI, a Binderized Pelikan, and a Pendleton Pelikan.
Test Drive: 10/10
The whole point of a pen is how it writes. Everything else is prologue. Can I write with the damned thing? Can I write for hours? When I clean out my pens and decide to ink up 3 of them, will my heart reach for the Newton?
It’s not even a fair question. With Shawn’s help I designed a pen that is very much ME. I love this pen. One knock would be that I didn’t realize how light the pen would be…but when I put it on the scale it’s still a little heavier than my Custom 74….so I guess it just looks like it should be heavier.
I haven’t left it uninked since I got it. So far it’s handled Yama-Budo, Visconti Turquoise, and Cactus Fruit Eel without skips, and without any problems.
9.6. That’s the verdict. For comparison, my Delta Dolce Vita Piston, and My Visconti Homo Sapiens Bronze both got the same score.
If you’re looking for a custom pen, I cannot give a better recommendation that to give Newton Pens a try.