Form Versus Function

Allegory The Bard nib

Reviewing the Allegory The Bard fountain pen last week and the Retro-Essential pen this week really brought it home to me that some pens are made to be admired from afar, some are made to be admired in use and not so many pens manage both.

The Bard and the Retro-Essential both look absolutely amazing but not quite so much thought has been put into how they are to actually use. The Bard is good enough to have become a pen I very much enjoy but the Retro-Essential doesn’t quite make it over the hump. An even more severe example of this is the A. G. Spalding Maple Wood pen. I really liked this pen when I reviewed it but that was partly through lack of experience. I now rarely ink it up because it’s not comfortable to use.

A G Spalding Maple Wood Orange cap 2

What these pens, and many others, have in common is that they don’t seem to have been designed with an outstanding writing experience as the top priority. Sometimes they get away with it, sometimes they don’t.

TWSBI Diamond 580 fountain pen ink reservoir

Conversely, many other pens are great to write with but don’t look that special. I’d put most TWSBIs into that category. They don’t look particularly special but they are lovely to use. More controversially perhaps, the Pilot Custom 74, whilst absolutely stunning to use, isn’t the prettiest of pens.

It’s a rare pen that manages to be beautiful in both use and in looks but some manufacturers are more successful than others: Kaweco with their metal pens (and the Dia 2); the Platinum #3776 range; Franklin-Christoph across pretty much their entire line; Faber-Castell (although the e-Motion perhaps tips into the looks over function category). The Karas Kustoms Ink also falls into this category.

Platinum President next to 3776 Sai

It’s no surprise my favourite pens tend to be made by these companies. The fact that the Custom 74 is one of my favourite pens despite it’s fairly average looks tells you all you need to know about how great it is to write with.

There must be plenty of other pens that are great writers and great lookers – what would you suggest?

Pilot Iroshizuku Yu-Yake ink review

Pilot Iroshizuku Yu-Yake Ink Review

Pilot Iroshizuku Yu-Yake ink review

Pilot Iroshizuku Yu-Yake (Sunset) is a lovely orange ink with decent dry times, a good flow and some shading. Not as bright and cheery as Sailor Jentle Apricot but a nice happy colour nevertheless. It definitely needs a good wide nib to get the best out of it.

Here I am doodling the Inkling.

You can find some more reviews of Pilot Iroshizuku Yu-Yake on Pennaquod.

Pilot Iroshizuku Yu-Yake Inkling

Now n Then Retro-Essential Pen branding

Now n Then Retro-Essential Pen Review

Now n Then Retro-Essential Pen review

The Now n Then Retro-Essential is a pen that’s available with a walnut, rosewood, beech, oak or Pterocarpus indicus barrel and plain brass or gold-coloured brass hardware. Each pen comes with a detachable clip, stylus tip, a Schmidt 888F ceramic roller (liquid ink) refill and also a Schmidt P900M ballpoint refill. They can be found online for $60-65. This model, walnut with golden brass hardware, was sent to me by ISHUJA for free for review purposes. These are my honest opinions.

Now n Then Retro-Essential Pen branding

The refills are good choices. The 888F is a decent rollerball that puts down a consistent and strong black line. The P900M has a good reputation amongst ballpoint fans. Being a standard Pilot G2 kind of size, there are lots of other choices too.

Now n Then Retro-Essential Pen deconstructed

The clip is functional. Likewise, the stylus tip does it’s job. Personally, I don’t use either so I appreciate them being optional.

Now n Then Retro-Essential Pen capped

The cap closes and posts magnetically. It’s quite secure when capped and I wouldn’t have many worries about it coming off accidentally. When posted (and I find the barrel is just a little too short for my hands for me to want to use the pen unposted) the cap feels as if it will fall off. This isn’t going to happen: no matter how much I shook the pen with the cap posted, it didn’t come off. However, it does move around a little and doesn’t have that reassuring solidity that I’d like. It’s a minor detail but it does detract from the experience of using the pen. A slightly wobbly cap on a light pen takes something away from the overall feeling of quality and, for me, spoils the pen somewhat.

Now n Then Retro-Essential Pen posted

The pen looks wonderful though. I like wooden pens and walnut is a beautiful wood. The finish is excellent – very natural looking. I wouldn’t have picked the gold-finished brass myself, I’d have much preferred the uncoated brass, which will develop a patina all of its own.

(This is a good example of why reviews of review samples can often be more negative than reviews of pens I’ve bought. I don’t usually get to pick the specification of a review sample which means it’s not always as I’d like. In this case, it’s just a question of personal taste and so while the coating detracts from my enjoyment of the pen, there’s no reason why it should affect your enjoyment, and you can pick the uncoated version if you’d prefer.)

Now n Then Retro-Essential Pen uncapped

The Retro-Essential is a great looking pen with an excellent choice of refills (and two great ones included as standard). It can be configured in various ways so, assuming you like wooden pens in the first place, it’s likely you can specify a pen that meets your both your tastes and your needs. If you’re a able to be a little more tolerant of the wobbly posted cap than me, it’s a good little pen.

Thank you to ISHUJA for sending me this pen to review.

Now n Then Retro-Essential Pen handwritten review

Word Notebook front cover

Word Notebooks Review

Word Notebook review

The Word notebook is a 48 page pocket notebook (3.5″ by 5.5”) available with a range of different colours in packs of three. This one was sent to me by Pocket Notebooks. Pocket Notebooks is a new company selling a good range of notebooks that also offers a subscription based notebook service in the UK.

Word Notebook ink test front and inside back cover

The 90gsm paper isn’t particularly fountain pen friendly. Careful choice of ink and nib will work but if you really want to use fountain pens for everything this probably isn’t the notebook for you (rather like Field Notes). It holds up well with gel ink pens, fibre-tipped pens and ballpoints, with little show-through.

Word Notebook ink test back

The cover is stiff cardboard and pretty sturdy. The inside back cover has a list of suggestions for making better notes. The inside front cover describes the Word system.

Word Notebook front cover

For this is a notebook that comes with a bullet-list based system. If that’s what you want then obviously this is perfect. It’s easy enough to ignore the bullets for a page or two should you wish to stray from the path occasionally.

Word Notebook with pencil

The Word Notebook is a good little pocket book with reasonable paper and an interesting and potentially useful system for making lists. It’s worth a look if you want a notebook primarily for lists but otherwise you may find it too restrictive.

Word Notebook handwritten review

Thank you to Pocket Notebooks for sending me this sample. They are definitely worth keeping an eye on if you live in the EU, as shipping from the USA for things like notebooks often doubles the price.