PENCILS: AN OVERVIEW – By LPC Member David B.

pencil

Which type of pencil is best for writing? My intention is to compare the different types of pencils to determine the quality of writing experience. Secondly, to find if writing pencils made by pen companies are superior to those designed for drafting, math or drawing. I have large hands so I find most mechanical pencils shorter and thinner than I prefer. Categories are wood pencils, drafting lead holders (2.0mm or greater) and mechanical pencils (0.5, 0.7 and 0.9mm).

My interest is to test the smoothness and consistency of writing and the relative ease or complication of use. When drafting the knurled grip allows one to rotate the pencil between the thumb and fingers which helps maintain the sharpness of the point. It is useful to turn the pencil a bit at a time when writing as well. Leads come in degrees of hardness from very soft (6B) to very hard (6H) with the familiar HB sitting in the middle. There is a direct correlation between durability and smoothness. Compared to an HB lead, a B lead will be smoother but an H lead will last longer. Not all H/B labelled leads will be the same.

We are all familiar with wood pencils – particularly the common no 2 HB used in grade school. Cost can range from 12 for $1 to $2 each for Blackwing and other premium brands. Sharpeners can be mechanical, hand turned or electrical. KUM (Blackwing) makes a long point sharpener that uses two stages while most others use one. This point seemed, in my experience, to be better suited to writing but wears quickly. As a pencil wears it obviously diminishes and, upon becoming half used, is uncomfortable to hold. A holder or extender can allow the rest of the pencil to be used. Frequent sharpening is a necessary hassle and can be messy. I found HB leads scratchy so B or 2B leads wrote more smoothly but wore quickly. The Palomino does not use the H/B grading. The 602 and Pearl seem more suited to writing than the Blackwing, which is softer.

Drafting lead holders (also known as clutch pencils) are used to make mechanical or architectural drawings. 2.0mm leads are standard but other diameters are available. These can be sourced in many lead grades from 6B to 6H. They are pricey($2 apiece) as are the holders ($10 and more). One advantage of this design is that almost all the lead can be use without affecting function. The lead retracts into the holder protecting the point when not in use. Most are similar in length and thickness to a wood pencil. With a proper rotating sharpener, maintaining the point is less mess and hassle. The sharper point does wear quickly so a compromise to smoothness may be necessary.

Mechanical pencils are very popular and can be quite inexpensive. Bic makes a quality for value 0.7mm pencil that is ideal for crosswords and everyday use. Pencils and replacement leads are stocked in Dollar stores to Art Supply outlets from less than $1 to $50 and more. Quality models can be found for less than $10 in 0.5, 0.7, 0.9 and other sizes. No sharpener is required and lead size resembles nib widths(0.3/XF to 0.9/B). Most units are relatively thin and short. Fixed pipes are preferred for drawing but retractable models are fine for writing. TWSBI makes a quality version of both. The compromise of wear vs smoothness is less because the leads are made with a polymer additive. Also, the lead is continuously useable without sharpening. So one can write without interruption.

There are many videos and blogs specializing in pencils for different uses. My testing was not expansive, limited to common examples of each type. I found the quality of HB wood pencils satisfactory since going to a softer grade wore too quickly. A long point would only last a few lines so frequent sharpening is necessary. However, this is definitely the better choice for writing. Before this comparison, my first pick was the 2.0mm lead holder. HB leads wear too quickly and 2H leads are too faint and scratchy. The 0.7mm pencils work well in standard HB while 2B makes it write more like a 0.9mm. The writing experience is smooth and consistent.

I borrowed a few pencils to find out if pencils designed for writing are better. I had the following examples: Lamy Safari(0.5), Cross(0.9), Parker(0.9), Sheaffer Imperial and Targa(0.9). Jim R made a custom 0.7mm wood pencil – fatter than the normal version. The three 0.9mm pencils wrote well but are quite thin and short. The Lamy was more comfortable but the triangular grip makes rotating difficult. The Lamy 2000 MP comes highly recommended, however at close to $100 I would have to try before I buy. Phidon had none in stock. Jim’s custom pencil is close to ideal weight and balance for me. Using a 2B lead, the writing is smooth and noticeably darker than an HB. So it is the winner and my new favourite pencil. The 0.7mm seems to be a better balance of smoothness and wear.

We would love to hear about the pencils that you find best for writing – all non-fountain pen suitable writing, of course!

Heavy Metal (Pens that is)!

Somewhere in an alternate universe, with the music of Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Metallica blasting in the background, the rebels of the London Pen & Motorcycle Club gathered at their Williams on Wonderland HQ to binge on coffee and show off their new ink, like this beauty that Doc showed up with (he’s not a real Doctor, that’s just a name he picked up somewhere):

From Fenix Tattoos in Seattle
From Fenix Tattoos in Seattle

Well, that’s not exactly what happened … we did binge on coffee and heavy metal, pens that is …if a pen sticks to a magnet, it meets the test!! Bring your flighters, filigrees, overlays, signets, silver, gold (more likely gold-filled), aluminum, titanium, gunmetal, shiny or matte and all combinations and permutations thereof. Some like their pens with a patina (you might say potana) and others like them looking brand spanking shiny new. They could be factory or farm fresh – maybe have a few scratches and dents or even some brassing, we won’t hold that against them. And don’t forget your pens that are part-metal, i.e., they might have a metal cap with a resin or other body; however, metal trim-only is not enough metal, sorry.

To wit, a great collection, in a large variety of makes, models and finishes – Sheaffer Targas and a significant number of Parker:

whole bunch more

Anyone for a Parker 75 – just pick your finish:

whack of 75s

Some Parkers, at least one Sheaffer (a Targa, I think) and a Pilot Birdie(?):

table shot

A Waterman 452 1/2V sterling silver filigree (pierced work) overlay and a bottle of Herbin Vert Olive:

small waterman w overlayA true classic, the Parker 75 Cisele:

parker 75

Another Parker 75, a Sheaffer Connoisseur and a Pilot Birdie:

P75 connoisseur and birdie

Quite a mixed bag here from L to R – a Montblanc Meisterstuck Sterling Silver Solitaire Le Grand 146, a Dani Trio Phantas aka the “snake pen”, a Sheaffer Imperial and an older model of the Visconti Travelling Inkwell:

MB146 and snake pen

A close-up of the Dani Trio Phantas (snake pen) …

IMG_1639

… and a close-up of the Sheaffer Imperial Brass engraving:

sheaffer imperial brassA couple of one-piece metal pens, i.e., an integrated nib, a titanium Parker 50 aka the “Falcon” and a Namiki-Pilot M90:
integrated nibs M90 and P50 falcon

Not sure this Stipula/Chatterley Pens Carbon Future Oversized Etruria LE qualifies but it is one sweet writer with that 1.1 mm stub nib!

IMG_1636

Remember these Cross pens – graduation presents, wedding gifts, they were ubiquitous:

cross cross cross

Can you say vermeil?  Rotring 600s, Sheaffer Targas and Imperials and a couple of Parkers:

IMG_1632

The old hidden compartment pen … how did that bottle of ink get in the picture?

hidden compartment pen

What – is this a remnant from the alternate universe, a Waterman Harley-Davidson:

Harley

A number of Parker Flighters with a couple of 75s for good measure:

flighters and 75s

We have some Sheaffers, a Lamy Studio and a blue Kaweco off to the side

bns

The pen in focus is an Aurora 80th Anniversary Limited Edition, a brilliant guilloche pattern cut in sterling silver while the pen slightly out of focus is a Conway Stewart “Drake” LE:aurora guilloche untitled

A side shot (above) and head-on shot (below) of the Aurora 80th anniversary LE, a Conway Stewart “Drake” LE (this is a massive pen, made from a solid rod of sterling silver, guilloche engraved in a classic wave pattern), a Conway Stewart J. Rake Demonstrator (based on their classic Duro design), a Parker 51 Special Edition (from 2002), a Parker 51 Flighter, a Visconti Spider, a Visconti Skeleton, a Waterman Carene Deluxe, a Waterman Exception Night and Day Gold, and of course, a Waterman Edson:

MAW2

What about you?  We always love to hear what you think of these Heavy Metal Pens as well as about your own Heavy Metal pens.  Do you have a particular favourite?  Surely you have at least one?

Iconic Pens

The theme for our Saturday, October 24, 2011 meeting was “Iconic Fountain Pens”.   

What makes an item, such as a pen, iconic?  When most of us hear the word “iconic” we think of people, places or things that are famous, well-known, widely-known, celebrated, renowned, fabled, legendary, notorious, infamous, illustrious,  or perhaps even “the one”.  At least, those are some of the words that come to mind when I think of something that is “iconic”.  

The theme for this week was for our members to share their thoughts on those fountain pens that were icons from their perspective as well as the reason(s) for their selections.  We asked them to think about whether it was a popular or well-known pen?  Was it something to do with the pen’s design or looks?  Maybe it revolutionized the look, function of pens or even how pens write?  Has it developed a bit of a cult following?  Perhaps it is not famous but infamous?  Is it inexpensive or does it cost a small fortune?  Was it made by one of the “iconic” brands or do you have trouble pronouncing or even remembering its brand?  

If you were to build a collection of pens based on an “iconic” theme, what would you consider to be the “must-have” pens?  These hypothetical exercises are great – there are no limits, e.g., you are not restricted to modern or vintage pens, etc.  You don’t have to own the pen, have ever owned the pen or even want to own the pen!  Heck, you don’t even have to have any money!  Although, I don’t want to suggest that a pen’s cost necessarily influences its status as an icon.  I can think of very expensive pens that I would not be surprised if many thought of them as an icon, or conversely, others thinking of one of any number of inexpensive (dare I say, “cheap”?) pens that could easily fit the bill, e.g., Lamy Safari. 

Enough of my dribble, here are several groups of pens (with photos) that different members of the LPC view as being iconic and why:

 

1. Sheaffer Balance. 1930s. The Balance began the tradition of streamlining the shape of pens with tapered caps and barrel ends, along with the use of plastics in colours not seen before. 

2. Parker Vacumatic.  1930s. Striped plastics, ink stored right in the barrel rather than a sac, and an “interesting” filling system – the Vac is still what I think of when I think of vintage pens. 

3.  Parker “51”.  1940’s. A hooded nib. “Writes Dry with Wet Ink” to quote the advertising of the day.  Introduced in 1939 and in production until 1972, the Parker “51” sold in the millions and is of the most successful fountain pens of all time. 

4.  Sheaffer Snorkel.  1950’s. The Sheaffer Triumph nib (also known as the wrap around nib or conical nib) was continued on the Snorkel filler.  One of the coolest and most complicated of the filling systems, the Snorkel was made in a multitude of colours and finishes. 

5.  Sheaffer Imperial/Lifetime.  1960’s. I don’t have a Sheaffer Pen For Men (PFM) so I am including my 1963 Lifetime with the famous inlaid nib.  The PFM introduced the now iconic inlaid nib that Sheaffer continues to use on their pens to this day.  The Imperial, Targa, Intrigue and Valor models all have the inlaid nib. 

6.  Parker 75 in Sterling Silver cisele pattern.  1960’s. A classy looking pen.  I am still waiting to see one on the TV series “Mad Men”. 

7.  Lamy Safari.  1980’s. The Safari was first introduced in 1980 and hasn’t changed in 30 years.  A great starter or school pen that is available in an array of colours and nib sizes.

 Another member’s group of “Iconic Pens”:
 
  1. Aurora 88.  An elegant Italian design that functions perfectly and has a hidden cache of ink, if needed.
  2. Sheaffer Targa.  Simplicity and variety.  One could spend a lifetime collecting these classic fountain pens with the inlaid nib.  Just check out one of the best pen sites on the internet – sheaffertarga.com
  3. Pilot/Namiki Vanishing Point.  Many people think this pen has a cult following but I disagree.  How many people do you know that own at least one Vanishing Point?  I would not be surprised if 3 out of 4 pen owners have one – that’s not a cult, that’s a club!
  4. Delta Dolce Vita.  Ah, the sweet life!  The first time I saw this pen I thought it was a bit much, I mean, who has the nerve to use a bright orange pen like this, especially a conservative business man like me.  It did not take too much longer before I owned one.  Actually, I have the double desk set as well!
  5. Conklin Crescent Filler.  Even non-pen people know this pen, it’s the one that Mark Twain uses – because it won’t roll off of a table.
  6. Lamy 2000.  A wonderful example of design and functionality. A simple design, the pen is made of black makrolon and is a piston filler, holding a ton of ink.  The flagship pen of LAMY.
  7. OMAS 360.  The non-conformist’s fountain pen because of its unconventional triangulated form.  It’s the type of pen that you either love or hate.  I happen to love it.  Unfortunately, OMAS screwed up its original design when it redesigned its line of pens.  If you want one of these, get the older “vintage” model.
  8. Pelikan M800 Souverän.   I loved this fountain pen from the very first time I saw its green striped barrel at Sleuth & Statesman in Toronto.  While I actually bought the black-blue model with silver trim first, I just had to have the original black-green model with gold trim.  In my mind, the green striped barrel makes it the quintessential fountain pen!
  9. Parker Duofold.  Not a big surprise that the Duofold is on this list, although most people would probably cite the vintage “Big Red” model.  Most people would put the Big Red as one of a dozen or so pens in a core collection of pens.  I like the blue ones myself, especially this remake of the “True Blue”.
  10. Waterman Edson.  A legendary and elegant pen.
  11. Conway Stewart #28 “Cracked Ice”.  Colourful plastics have been a signature of Conway Stewart.  The names of many of these colours, such as this one in Cracked Ice, have been adopted by collectors over the years. Other personal favourites include Reverse Cracked Ice and Tiger Eye.  Truth be told, my favourite models are #27 and #60 – I just grabbed the first Cracked Ice that I came across so please forgive my oversight!

 One more member’s quartet of Icons:
 
 

From top to bottom:

  1. Parker Vacumatic. Hey, it’s a Vacumatic, what more is there to say?
  2. Sheaffer Autograph.  The Autograph has a much wider cap band than the Sheaffer Signature and used to be one of their most expensive models.  It has the clip and the cap band made out of solid 14K gold. In fact, you could send the pen to Sheaffer along with your signature and they would engrave it on the cap band. This cap band has yet to be engraved.
  3. Esterbrook.  A classic double jewel J (full sized).
  4. Parker 51.  This aerometric filler with gold filled cap is Cocoa in colour, while not as rare as Nassau Green or Plum, is fairly uncommon.

A different view of the same quartet: 

 
And finally, the best part of every pen club meeting – writing with someone else’s iconic pen – in this case, a Parker 65 Flighter! 
 
 
Maybe you agree with these selections, maybe you have your own views.  We would love to hear from you!  Let us know what your iconic pen is and why?