8/19/2018 UPDATE: All five winners of the Pen Habit drawing have been drawn. Thank you all for participating!
Hello Pen Friends!
I realized a couple of weeks ago that I never managed to post the final giveaway items on the website, so I figured now is as good a time as any. This is a big ole’ giveaway, containing all of the items I had left to give away to all you awesome pen nerds. This giveaway will have five winners, and they’ll be drawn one at a time. Then the winner will be allowed to pick their prize pack of choice before the next winner will be drawn.
It was a drizzly Sunday afternoon in late February when I found myself crammed into the busy thoroughfare of the famous Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle. I was on a mission. Nestled between the flower stalls and airborne fish stands was the small table of The Market Penmaker. I was there to pick up a birthday present for my father: a hand-turned, wooden fountain pen. I walked away with more than just my father’s present though; I walked away with a new obsession, hobby, and eventually, avocation.
In the years that passed, I jumped into the fountain pen hobby with abandon. I read all the posts. I watched all the videos. I bought all the pens. I bought all the inks. I started reviewing pens, wanting to do it through the eyes of someone just getting started in the hobby. One day I turned around and realized I had nearly 40,000 YouTube subscribers and 6 million (!) video views. I had produced over 300 videos. I had purchased, and now owned, hundreds of bottles of ink and dozens upon dozens of very expensive pens. I had flown all across the country to attend pen shows. I had taken thousands of pictures and written hundreds of thousands of words. I had filmed over 10 terabytes of high-definition video and spent more hours than I care to calculate putting them all together.
Running The Pen Habit has been a wild ride…one that I never imagined when I sat in front of my computer screen five years ago and used the built-in webcam to make my first video. During the intervening years, I moved from an apartment into my first home. I turned two of my four bedrooms into a “studio.” I built a “set” and attached studio lighting to my ceiling. I expanded to three cameras and multiple microphones. I started my own line of notebooks. I wrote theme music and learned video editing techniques. And through all that effort I think I’ve made my mark, hopefully for the better, on the online fountain pen community.
But if there’s one lesson that life has taught me, it’s that life itself marches on: people grow, situations change. So it is with The Pen Habit.
My original forays into fountain pen reviews began with a deeply-ingrained case of ME TOO-itis. I watched my early (and involuntary) mentors, Brian Goulet and Stephen Brown, sharing their knowledge–and I wanted to do it too. So I did. And it was fun. And it was a lot of work. And it was emotionally draining. But still really fun.
In the last couple of years, though, I have changed as a person. Call it a midlife crisis or a shifting of priorities, perhaps. I realized that the time and effort I was pouring into The Pen Habit was no longer leaving me happy or fulfilled. I found myself uninterested in the new inks or pens or notebooks or Kickstarters or news or drama that circulates around the fountain pen community every couple of weeks. People began asking me questions about new products, and I realized I had no idea what they were talking about. I stopped spending time on the forums or Slack channels or Facebook groups or even answering my emails. Talking myself into spending a Saturday making or editing videos was becoming an increasingly difficult chore. Even after several months of hiatus last summer, when I returned to The Pen Habit in the fall, my heart wasn’t in it. I realized that the time had come for me to move on to other things.
So, the majority of this season was spent trying to answer viewer questions, make it through the backlog of items people had sent me for review, and putting my affairs in order (as it were.)I pulled all the advertisers off penhabit.com in January. I stopped charging my Patreon supporters for videos a few months ago. I stopped accepting new pens for review since before Christmas. I was preparing to take the next step: to stop making pen videos and blog posts.
Even though I will no longer be new content for The Pen Habit, I plan to leave both penhabit.com and the Pen Habit YouTube channel up for the time being. Comments, however, will eventually be turned off. (The effort required to moderate a comments section is more than I’m willing to put into legacy content.) The Inky Fingers notebooks will stay listed on penhabit.com/shop until the stock is gone. Once they sell out, that will be the end of the line. Likewise, I’ll be listing pens I wish to sell on the Pen Habit website until I’m left with only my core collection of favorites.
And as for me? As we say in my family, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” So, I don’t know what’s next for sure. I want to focus on several things: I want to build more real-life friendships with a wide array of people. I want to travel the world and expand my horizons in a way I haven’t done for decades. I want to date and form a romantic relationship. (I’d be happy to skip the dating thing and go straight to the relationship, but that’s not usually how it works.) I want to catch up on work around the house. I want to have time to use the pens I’ve talked about in my padded room for these last five years. I want to spend time with my fuzzy yellow monster for the short couple of years we have left to us. (He turns 12 this summer.) Mostly, though, I want to leave room in my life for randomness to guide me to new experiences.
I know that this isn’t the first time I’ve announced I was planning to “leave” The Pen Habit. I hadn’t even made it a year until I nearly threw in the towel the first time. With this announcement, I don’t feel as though I’m being driven out of a hobby I love like before. Instead, I feel as though I’ve contributed all I have to contribute. My interests have shifted. I still love using my beautiful writing instruments, but I have a wandering heart when it comes to hobbies. I feel like it’s time for me to make way for the next group of reviewers and YouTubers. I’ve done what I can do. Now it’s time for someone else to take it the next step.
I would be deeply remiss if I didn’t spend a little bit of time before I sign off to thank the many, many, many wonderful people who watched my videos, emailed me, left kind comments, and showed both emotional and financial support to me over the last five years. Thank you to the people who bought my notebooks, or who came up to me and said hello at a pen show. Thanks to the folks who sat around the tables late into the night as we passed around our pens, shared stories, or laughed nearly to the point of puking.
Thanks, especially, to Brian Goulet and Stephen Brown, whose videos encouraged me to get started doing these reviews in the first place, and whose continued support has been the reason I was able to keep doing them for as long as I was. Thanks to my special Pen Show Posse of Ana, Brad, Fr. Kyle, and Lisa and Mike V for more laughs and amazing memories than I could possibly catalog, and for some truly aggravating group texts! Thanks to my online and pen show friends that are far, far too numerous to list. (And I’d feel bad when I realized I’d missed people.)
I’d like to close with this thought: Four years ago, when I threatened to do what I’m doing now (albeit for a very different reason) I said I was going to make it my mission to civilize the internet. Realistically, that was never going to be feasible from my solitary computer in western Washington. The Internet can still be a cesspool that breeds self-loathing, mean-spirited, hateful people. But it’s also a place populated with the best humanity has to offer. So, please, as you go out into our virtual world, be kind. Be gentle. Be loving. Make the Internet a better place by having used it.
I like Franklin-Christoph’s pens. Quite a bit, actually. But I’m not generally one of those people who has a case of one-of-everything-itis when it comes to the brand’s offerings. I had a Model 19, Model 02, and Model 66, each of which I liked in their own way, but each quite different. I still have a Model 45 and the pen in today’s review, the Model 31 “Omnis”.
When looking at the Model 31, you can tell from across the room that it’s a Franklin-Christoph. The chamfered edge along the top finial, the four-diamond motif engraved into the streamlined clip. This pen clearly has much of the same design DNA as it’s relatives in the line. But of all the F-C pens I’ve tried, I actually think this one is my favorite design.
The 31 is a flat-topped model with a fairly wide cap that tapers slowly to a narrower profile toward the back of the pen. The lip of the cap is thin and fits tightly to the edge of the barrel, giving the pen a very streamlined appearance. The barrel itself is cut with three rings which give just a touch of flair to what is otherwise a fairly understated design.
Normally for me, understated is usually a synonym for boring, but I don’t find that the case here. Perhaps that’s due to the pen’s rich, swirly material which I’ve nicknamed “cappuccino swirl.” (This was one of their pen show color prototypes and isn’t part of the regular colorways for the model.) But part of it is also due to the pen’s line. I find the 31 to be the most elegant of Franklin-Christoph’s offerings that I’ve tried. The proportions just seem a little more “on” to my aesthetic taste. It’s large without feeling mammoth, and light without feeling flimsy. I like it a lot.
The cap unscrews on the block-style threads that grace most of F-C’s pens these days. They’ve created a nice, long section on this pen, which keeps the threads out of the way of the grip which I appreciate. I also like it when they put the threads on the front edge of the section to keep them out of the way, but I recognize that people who grip their pens close to the nib might find that irritating. Fortunately, that won’t be a problem here.
And as is always the case with Franklin-Christoph pens, this one constructed with only the highest level of quality. The fit and finish is pretty much perfect. The
One rather interesting feature of this particular model is how Franklin-Christoph has inset the nib rather deeply into the section. I’ve not had a chance to ask the F-C folks about the thinking behind this design. It’s cool in that it’s different, and it does give the ability to have that long section without having to extend the cap quite so much, but it does make the nib look a little weird when you’ve become so accustomed to the “standard” shape of a #6 nib.
The nib itself, however, is a true marvel. It’s a 14k gold #6 Jowo nib in fine that has been ground into one of Jim Rouse’s spectactular SIG (stub-italic gradient) grinds. (The SIG nib is pretty much the only flat nib I’m able to use consistently and comfortably with my grip.) As a fine nib, there isn’t a ton of line variation between the horizontal and vertical strokes, but it does give the nib a nice, pleasant tooth that feels a bit pencil like to me. And, of course, because each nib on F-C pens is adjusted before being handed over, this one was tweaked to my preference by Mr. Rouse himself when I purchased it at the Chicago Pen Show in 2017.
The Franklin-Christoph Model 31 “Omnis” has become my favorite among the F-C pens I’ve tried. I like the shape, the feel in the hand, and the construction quality. I love the nib.
At the time of writing this, Franklin-Christoph was in production replacing the stock of the Model 31, so I was unable to do an exact pricing. But if memory serves, the pen sells for around $160 with a steel standard nib, with upcharges for gold nibs or nibs with specialty grinds by Jim Rouse or Mike Masuyama. I believe I purchased mine for around $250-$260 or so.
Nib: Steel #6 14k Gold SIG nib
Filling System: Standard International Cartridge/Converter
Length (Capped): 148.6mm
Length (Uncapped): 129.7mm
Length (Posted): 171.9mm
Section Diameter: 10.7mm
Barrel Max Diameter: 14.2mm
Cap Max Diameter: 16.5mm
Weight, Uncapped (with ink and/or converter): 15g
Weight, Capped (with ink and/or converter):26g
At the Arkansas Pen Show, I got to watch master penman (and all around super-nice guy) Michael Sull write “The Pen Habit” in his inimitable brand of Spencerian Calligraphy. He was kind enough to let me film the entire process, and I thought you might like to see it. Skip ahead to the end if you want to see the whole 15 minute process sped up to 1000% speed.
I’ve written/talked about Xezo fountain pens before on the blog and YouTube channel (see here, here, and here) so I won’t go into too much detail reiterating info about the company here. You can revisit those posts if you want a bit more information. A few months ago, Xezo sent me a couple variations of one of their newest models, the Maestro LeGrand for me to review and give away to my pen friends.
As the name suggests, the Maestro LeGrand is a big, heavy pen. Like most of the Xezo pens, The Maestro is metal-bodied and extremely solid. The pen comes in the company’s unusual dual-hinged pen coffin, and comes with several international standard short ink cartridges, a standard international converter, a polishing cloth, and the “International Guarantee Card.”
Xezo sent me two pens for this review. The Moldavite (olive-colored pen with silver trim) is meant to reflect the coloring of the mineral found in the Czech Republic. The teal-colored variety with gold trim is known as the Dioptase, and also reflects the color of the gemstone of the same name. Both are limited editions of approximately 230 pieces. These particular models were introduced in 2017.
The Maestro LeGrand features a fairly classical profile, with a flat top engraved with the Xezo logo, a streamlined clip, and a Greek key design that circles the pen at the top and bottom of the barrel. The pen features a long, flat, black finial with threads that allow for secure posting of the pen. Both the barrel and the cap are first decorated with a diamond-cut guilloche pattern and then lacquered–first with layers of a translucent color then with several clear coats. Per the company’s description, each layer is dried and polished before the next is applied.
While the shape of the pen feels a bit chunky for my tastes, I do have to say that I love the guilloched lacquer work on this pen. The colors are bright and rich, the engraving is sharp and crisp, and the whole thing has a silky-smooth feel to it.
Under the cap, there is a long, black plastic section with a bi-colored #6-size nib. The Xezo name has been laser-etched onto the nib’s surface (rather than imprinted there at the time of manufacture) similar to what you see from other smaller manufacturers. If I had to guess based on the shape of the pen’s feed, these nibs are manufactured by Jowo.
All in all, I find the construction quality of these pens to be superb. They’re rock-solid, built with tight specifications, and are finished well. The uncapping mechanism is smooth and even. The nibs on both pens wrote well for me out of the box.
That being said, I’m not sure this is the pen for everyone. These are extremely heavy pens. The metal walls which give the pen such a solid feel also give the pen a lot of heft. At nearly 40 grams uncapped, and a whopping 63 grams capped or posted, this is not the writing instrument for someone who likes a light acrylic pen. It’s also quite a large pen, with a slightly slender section in relation to the pen’s weight and girth. At only 10.5mm in diameter, the section is still comfortable for me, but does border on the slightly too narrow side. So, if you like a chunkier grip, bear that in mind.
In the hand, I find the pen well-balanced and comfortable so long as it isn’t posted. Posting this pen makes it far too long and far too back-heavy to be usable for me. Fortunately, as someone who doesn’t post his pens, that’s not a huge consideration.
The nib is likewise well-adjusted. The ink flow was moderate, and I noticed only the slightest hint of ink starvation on longer writing sessions. (So little, in fact, that it could be entirely imagined.) The steel nib is as rigid as you would expect from a steel nib, and there was a touch more feedback than I generally like, although that may also be attributed to the ink I was using.
I do have a smaller bugaboo regarding the Xezo Maestro LeGrand: the company has chosen to offer only fine nibs on the pen. You can, after you order, send an email to request a medium nib, but that seems more difficult than should be necessary. To really engage the fountain pen enthusiast community, it is my opinion that you need to offer XF, F, M, B, and 1.1MM Stub nibs at a minimum, although I can fully understand that keeping all the various nibs in stock for that kind of offering can be a bit of a hassle–not to mention a significant cost.
The decision not to offer additional nibs sizes makes me wonder if Xezo is choosing to target their wares for the non-enthusiast market instead. I think most non-fountain pen users tend to want fine nibs to more accurately replicate the ballpoint experience. Fortunately, as these appear to be standard #6 nibs, swapping nibs out should be relatively painless.
In terms of price, the Xezo Maestro LeGrand prices range a bit depending on the model you get. The Dioptase lists for $170, while the Moldavite lists for $160. There is also a rollerball version for approximately $15-20 less. And, if you want a convertible pen, you can purchase an additional section to switch from fountain pen to roller ball for about $12.
As far as I know, Xezo’s pens are only available from Xezo directly (they don’t seem to wholesale to other retailers) so any discounts or sales would have to come from Xezo. While the price feels a touch high for me (I have a mental block about heavy metal fountain pens feeling inexpensive due to my early experiences with a lot of very cheap Chinese-made pens), the construction quality, lacquer work, and guilloche are top-notch on this pen. If you’re a fan of heavier pens or metal-bodied pens, I think this is one you could really enjoy.
Material: Lacquered Metal
Nib: Steel #6 Bi-color Steel Nib (Fine)
Appointments: Silver-colored & Gold-Colored
Filling System: Standard International Cartridge/Converter
Length (Capped): 142.4mm
Length (Uncapped): 126.8mm
Length (Posted): 165.9mm
Section Diameter: 10.5mm
Barrel Max Diameter: 14.8mm
Cap Max Diameter: 16.2mm
Weight, Uncapped (with ink and/or converter): 38g
Weight, Capped (with ink and/or converter):63g
These pens were provided free of charge for honest review and giveaway. No other compensation was provided. All opinions expressed herein are my own. These pens will be given away on penhabit.com prior to the end of Season 5.
Corrections to the video above: This pen color was released in 1996. The smaller version(s) of the pen were the International and the Demi, not the Heritage as stated. The text describing the comparisons was wrong. (Reused from an earlier photo). The correct order is: Classic Pens LB5, Visconti Homo Sapiens Bronze Age, Montblanc 149, Pelikan M1000, Pelikan M800, Parker Centennial Duofold, Pilot Metropolitan, TWSBI Eco, Lamy AL-Star, Jinhao x450, Esterbrook J.
There is no doubt that the Parker Pen Company has had a significant impact on the trajectory of the Fountain Pen Industry during its long lifetime. The original incarnation of Parker, founded in 1888, was responsible for creating some of the most iconic and popular pens in history. They pioneered new filling systems and new materials. Their Vacumatic series, in particular, is one of the most-collected lines of pens of all time (and perhaps my favorite vintage pen.)
But the modern Parker is a very different beast than the Parker of seventy or eighty years ago. It has changed ownership multiple times, closed historic factories, and even began outsourcing most of its manufacturing. Design innovation has slowed (or even stagnated, some might say.) Today’s Parker is but a shadow of its former self.
In the late 1980s, Parker decided to reinvent one of its original lines of pens, the Duofold. (You can see my review of a 1940s era Duofold here, and a review of a 1920s era Lady Duofold here.) Borrowing heavily from its flat-topped ancestor, the modern iteration of the Duofold was released in the late 1980s as a celebration of the company’s 100th anniversary. It came with simplified, flat-topped design. Rather than returning to the days of celluloid or ebonite, however, the new Duofold came in a trio of sizes and using modern acrylics. The Duofold has remained in production since then, with different colors coming out on a regular basis or for a limited time. This new implementation never had the raging popularity of earlier Duofolds or Vacumatics, but became moderately collectible in its own right, with certain color combinations or limited edition runs catching a fair bit of attention. (For a great article on the modern iteration of the Duofold, check out this great post from the ParkerPens.net website.)
Even today, Parker continues to make the Duofold line, although they did a hefty refresh/redesign in 2017. The pen for today’s review comes from the early phases of the MKII period…I’m guessing around 1996 or so. This model was known as the Lapis Lazuli and, like most of the new Duofolds from this era, was manufactured in Parker’s plant in England. (The original Janesville, Wisconson plant in the U.S. would end up being shuttered several years later.)
My Duofold Centennial is a lovely pen. The Lapis Lazuli acrylic is more opaque than other acrylics with this much motion in them, which gives is a very unique, almost flat, look. The cap is topped with a trapezoidal finial into which is inset a gold-colored metal medallion with a lovely, vintage-feeling medallion.
The cap’s clip features a slightly updated Parker Arrow design, although the modern iteration lacks the depth and detail of some of the originals. It feels more like the design was stamped in rather than cast that way–particularly around the arrow’s fletching.
The cap is finished off with a double band in the same gold plating as the clip. The barrel of the pen is relatively straight-sided, but does have an almost imperceptible swelling toward the back end which gives it a slightly more “organic” feel. The barrel is capped off with another gold ring and a black, flat-ended finial that is similar to the one on the cap.
The cap twists on very smooth threads to reveal a black acrylic section and a very attractive 18k gold nib. This is a cartridge/converter pen, and uses Parker’s proprietary system (which will also work with Aurora-branded cartridges and converters). The section’s tenon is metal, and so this pen is not a candidate for eyedroppering.
As a pen meant to signify the company’s centennial anniversary (they were founded in 1988), Parker didn’t skimp on the nibs they used for these pens. The bi-color custom design pays hefty tribute to the art deco and the contemporary design movements of the company’s heyday, while still being a modern interpretation. In particular, the silver-colored arrow design makes this nib feel long and lean, but very strong.
In terms of writing, this 18k gold medium is a good, but perhaps not great, writer. As you can see from the macro photo above, the grind is a slight bit on the stubbish side, and the ink flow is generally moderate. There is a minor amount of feedback, but nothing I could consider unpleasant.
In fact, most of the time, it’s actually an extremely good writer. What keeps it from being great is that every now and again it will behave a little oddly. It will feel temporarily dry or a bit feedback-heavy. This intermittent issue seems to be exacerbated when the pen has sat inked, but unused, for longer periods of time. When in regular use, it appears to behave better. However, it’s still a very good writer, and a minor adjustment (the kind I could do myself) will almost certainly turn it from a good writer into a great writer.
In the hand, I find the hand extremely comfortable. The metal in the tenon pulls a bit of weight toward the nib, leaving the pen nicely balanced. It’s long enough to use unposted, which is good, since posting the pen makes it approximately the size of a putter. It’s well-balanced and light, and very attractive.
These days, the Parker Centennial Duofolds are a relatively common sight at pen shows. If you’ve missed out on a discontinued color, chances are you can find it at one of the larger shows. Their prices can range pretty widely depending on the material & rarity of the particular model, but the more common models haven’t seen a huge bump in value since their original offering.
I bought this pen at a show for around $350. These pens often sold for around $400 list price in 1996 (about $640 in today’s dollars), so they’ve not appreciated much in value in the last 22 years. But they’re a very nice pen. And if you’re looking for a collection of pens that’s easier to find than the original Duofolds or Vacumatics, this is an area where you could still easily work to build out a complete collection from a well-known brand.
Day 3 (Saturday) of the show started with visiting the show, seeing all kinds of new other fun stuff. I got to spend a bit of time with master penman Michael Sull (there will be a full video of him writing “The Pen Habit” in Spencerian calligraphy coming soon.) The evening was capped off with the Pen Addict Party and my initiation to the great Southern tradition of Waffle House.