I recently came across a discussion on the Fountain Pen Network concerning a new, custom Noodler’s Ink made for our friends Murtaza et al at Sleuth & Statesman, i.e., Blue Upon The Plains of Abraham (BUPA). As you can see from the above picture of the label, the artwork is very detailed and draws on (no pun intended) the historical significance of this location, namely, the Battle of the Plains of Abraham (BOPA). In fact, those of you who are more historically and/or artistically inclined may notice that the label is an artistic reproduction of A View of the Taking of Quebec, seen below:
A couple of nits about the label itself. Obviously the Canadian flag is not historically correct. I also must admit that I am confused by the meaning of the phrase “American Canadian Ink for Canada”. I guess I could speculate a bit about that and maybe even rant; however, I have decided to let “sleeping dogs lie” in this instance rather than risk sparking a nationalist uproar.
Before I get to the ink itself, I think it would be interesting to review the history of the BOPA. After all, it was only the most significant battle in Canadian history! The actual Plains of Abraham (POA) was a large, flat piece of farmland on high cliffs to the west of Quebec City (and derive their name from a previous owner, Martin Abraham). The BOPA was a battle fought between the French and English in 1759. In less than an hour, the British troops led by Major-General Thomas Wolfe defeated the French forces commanded by Lieutenant-General le Marquis de Montcalm. The French army retreated to Montreal and within a year had surrendered New France (Quebec). A few years later, France transferred its North American possessions to England. Needless to say, had the French been successful in the BOPA, this blog might very well be written in French!
Now, to the real reasons for you reading this blog entry – what is the story on the ink.
Cost and Availability
As I noted previously Noodler’s mixed up a limited number of bottles of this bulletproof ink for Sleuth & Statesman (S&S) in Toronto. Unless you live in or around Toronto or plan to visit in the near future, you will have to email or call and have them ship the number of bottles that you require. The cost of each bottle is around Cdn $25, including taxes, and shipping is extra (which will depend on the number of bottles and method selected). Expensive, yes, but understandable in the circumstances – how else could S&S offer their customers a unique ink while recovering their costs and a small profit, if any, on such a small “batch” of ink (I thought that I read somewhere it was 50 bottles or so).
Performance of the ink
From what I have read, the ink has a strong magenta undertone that takes on varying and differing degrees of prominence. It apparently can be so temperamental as to reflect those different undertones while using the same pen at different times! Someone even referred to it as the Canadian “Baystate Blue” – not necessarily a particularly positive comment (to some people) but inaccurate, at least to the extent that the BUPA ink is labelled as being pH neutral – the Baystate line of inks are not. On the other hand, it can very a very nice blue when the dyes stay mixed!
At our pen club meeting on Saturday morning, I test dipped the bottle with a Q-tip – the line that it laid down showed a variety of colours with a heavy magenta undertone; however, I did not see that special blue that I was expecting. Perhaps it was because the ink was not as shaken up as it might have been (and that I can remain objective in my test dips and writing samples).
The first thing that I did on Sunday (after shaking the bottle a number of times) was create an ink swatch on Maruman grid paper with a Q-tip with ink from the bottle and then from the inside of the cap. The results were much better than the first swab on Saturday, however, there is even a noticeable difference in these swipes. When the ink is blue, it is a very, very nice blue; otherwise, I am not sure what to call it.
I then filled an old warhorse that I have, a Sheaffer Fashion fountain pen with a broad nib. You can see the handwriting samples on first the Maruman and then the Whitelines paper. In each case, the pen started skipping and then stopped after writing with it for a few minutes. When I chose to stop writing, capped the pen, and then tried to write with it again (less than five minutes later), the pen would not start – I had to pump the aerometric filler in order to restart the flow. In my past experience with this Sheaffer pen, it has been a wet writer with a generous flow (I used it with Baystate Blue on a number of occasions without difficulty). This ink felt very dry when writing on both paper samples, in fact, you could really hear the nib on the paper. I could even tell that it was going to skip and stop, it was just a question of when. The other thing I noticed on the Whitelines paper, was that the writing seemed to have a slight aura of magenta.
After leaving my desk and thinking about this for a bit, I thought it might be useful to try out this ink on some different paper (Rhodia reverse book this time) and using two glass dipping pens that I have. What a disaster, as you can see below. I tried both glass dipping pens with the same incredibly poor result – the ink either splatted off the pen or nothing, I could not write anything decipherable with it. And there was clearly ink on the glass nib but it seemed to have dried almost instantly so that it was not able to flow from the glass nib to the paper.
This ink is incredibly temperamental – either the colour is not right or the colour is right but the pen is skipping and stopping. I am going to have to decide if (and that’s a very big IF) it makes sense to invest some time trying the BUPA in different pens and on different paper to see whether there is a magical combination that works.
I applaud S&S for making the effort to provide their customers with a unique ink but it appears to me that something went wrong here. I would love to see the test results for this ink and if they are positive, I would love to find out what I (and others) are doing wrong. It should not be that hard, I mean, we are talking about fountain pen ink after all, not the formula for the fountain of youth. I cannot believe that Noodler’s would put their name on ink that I can’t figure out how to get work in a fountain pen.