Lamy Safari featured

Standing the Test of Time (4)

11 April 2018 By ian

Pens! Paper! Pencils! is now almost five years old. In that time I’ve reviewed 138 inks, 48 notebooks, 68 pencils and 192 pens. My tastes have changed over this time. Five years ago I was looking for the finest tipped pens with the blackest inks. These days I like medium-tipped rollerballs or gel pens and broad nibbed fountain pens, and I like bright blue, green, red or orange inks, as well as blue-black and grey.

Each year I take a look at items I reviewed over a year ago that I still enjoy using. What has stood the test of time?

Non-fountain pens

I continue to love Blank Forces pens and although the one I tend to carry with me in my pocket I’ve had for less than a year, I have an X1 on each of my two sets of keys. I like Blank Forces pens because they are incredibly well made. My family continue to be thrilled every time I ask them to find the gap between the cap and barrel. It’s invisible! Hours of fun. They’re also honest about their materials. They’re metal and proud of it.

Blank Forces X1 X2 on keyrings

For organising my task list, when usually I’m at home, I enjoy pens that use the Schmidt P8126 or P8127 refills. Usually that means the Karas Kustoms EDK or a Retro 51. Retro 51s are made well, quick to use (just twist the end) and come in a range of inventive and/or pretty designs. The EDK is a little on the weighty side but satisfying to hold and good for taking a quick note, as it has a push mechanism.

Retro 51 Tornado rollerball pen review

The Machine Era Original is usually handy too, as it lives in the very useful built sadly no longer available Pen Friend holder, attached to the side of the microwave in the kitchen. It’s just the right size and easy to uncap and use quickly.

Machine Era Original cap

Fountain pens

The Platinum #3776 Sai was on my first Standing the Test of Time list and it’s been on each one since. It looks beautiful and the nib is a joy. Part of its ongoing appeal is no doubt due to it being the first truly expensive pen I bought but there’s no doubt it looks stunning, and the fine nib is the only fine nib I routinely love to use. It has just the right amount of feedback for me and puts down a good amount of ink.

Platinum 3776 Sai capped

My Twiss Marmalade continues to be a favourite and it now has an upgraded gold broad stub nib, making it a very special pen. Again, part of its appeal is in it being a ‘first’: my first custom made pen. But it’s also beautiful and well made.

Twiss Marmalade swirly cap

I went off my Franklin-Christoph M02 and I’m not entirely sure why. I think it was probably the section, which was a grey and white colour (‘smoke’). I much prefer sections to be the same colour as the rest of the pen but, also, I just stopped liking that particular colour combination. Possibly not the best reason to sell a pen on but sell it on I did. And then, just last week, I bought a new M02. Madness. It hasn’t arrived yet but it looks to be a beautiful amber colour – including the section. Throughout all this insanity I’ve kept using my Franklin-Christoph M03. This is a clipless version, something I tend to prefer, and it’s a little more slender than the M02. It’s a lovely shape. Of course, it’s grey with silvery swirls, very much (if not identical to) the section of the M02 I sold. It just goes to show, I suppose, that being objective about pens is quite hard and, in the end, how a pen is put together, in its entirety, either works for you or not.

Franklin-Christoph M03 section and cap

My mid-range collection of fountain pens has taken a real battering recently as I’ve sold a whole bunch in order to fund some more expensive purchases. I’ve sold a lot of pens I quite liked. I’ve wanted to move away from having lots and lots of pens I have time to use only occasionally to having fewer, better, pens I use often. (Obviously this is all relative. I still have more pens than most people would consider sane.) As a result, the only mid-priced pen I still have from over a year ago, that still gets lots of use, is the Kaweco Brass Sport. Sports will always have a special place in my heart, being the pen I most wanted when this was only an idle interest. I consider them to be the best pocket pen design there is, too. They look distinctive and they solve the small-in-pocket big-in-hand problem better than anything else. The brass version appeals because, well, it’s made of brass; it’s also robust and so I never have to worry about it getting broken. I use it with one of Kaweco’s gold nibs, which make it very special but also moves it well out of the mid-priced range.

Kaweco Brass Sport review

I still have a whole bunch of more sensibly priced pens that I use quite often. The highlights, for me, are the Lamy Safari and Lamy Vista. They are just fantastic pens. They’re fun, comfortable to hold and write well. I keep being temped to buy more Safaris but am trying to be strong. One is enough. (As far as the Safari versus AL Star contest goes, it’s Safari all the way, for me.)

Lamy Vista FP review

Notebooks and Accessories

My goodness I have so many notebooks, most of which I was sent either to review or in subscription boxes. Consequently I rarely use the same brand over and over because I always have more to try out. Calepino remain, though, I think, my favourite, perhaps because they were an early find but also because I enjoy the paper so much. A lot has been written about Field Notes (though not by me) and I can certainly see the appeal. They are made so well, with creativity and love. I’ve been using them a lot more often than I used to, though not with fountain pens. These notebooks standout for me and I use them frequently but the pocket notebook field is booming these days.

Field Notes Kraft review

As for larger format notebooks, I have a new favourite which means it isn’t eligible for this list. My A5 notebooks are kept in an old favourite, though. I keep going back to my Roterfaden Taschenbegleiter because it’s just so practical. I can keep three A5 notebooks in it and also pop an A6 notebook into a front pocket, as well as some business cards and a ruler. The cover continues to get better with age, too.

Roterfaden Taschenbegleiter review

I keep my inked pens in my Nock Co Brasstown and Nock Co Lookout, and use my Nock Co Sinclair to keep my task-list notebook in, along with a little notebook for sketching and a set of sketching pens. The Sinclair goes out with me while the Lookout and Brasstown stay at home. They all look a little grubby, mostly from pencil graphite, but they’re extremely practical.

Nock Co Brasstown open


I rarely use mechanical pencils these days. If I’m drawing I use wooden pencils and if I’m writing I use a pen. It’s a shame because there’s much to explore with mechanical pencils. Manufacturers love to experiment with different ideas. For a long time I was trying to find reasons to use them but in this last year or so I’ve stopped doing that. Either I use a pen or pencil because I want to use it for a particular purpose or I don’t use it at all.

Mitsu-Bishi Hi-Uni blunt end

When I’m drawing I use either Tombow Mono 100s or Mitsubishi Hi-Unis. Hi-Unis just edge out Mono 100s for me, they’re just a tiny bit smoother and the Hi-Uni 10B is my secret weapon. It’s like magic, how a few lines here and there with that pencil can make a drawing leap off the page. I also enjoy Derwent Inktense watercolour pencils, the colours are fantastic (intense, in fact); and Caran d’Ache Technalo 779 water-soluble pencils.

Supporting Pens! Paper! Pencils!

I write here because I enjoy it. I no longer keep review items (unless it’s something like a notebook that has to be used in order to be reviewed) and I don’t contact companies to ask for products. This does make it a little expensive to keep going, sometimes.

But I enjoy doing this and it’s fun and I don’t want to ask you for money to fund my hobby. What I would like to do is ask you to take a look at my drawing business over at and consider commissioning me to draw you something or letting friends know about what I do.

Thank you, and thank you for continuing to read Pens! Paper! Pencils!