Pen Review: Edison Pen Company Menlo
Nib: Steel Fine
Filling System: Pump Filler
Length (Capped): 144.6mm
Length (Uncapped): 129.3mm
Length (Posted): 162mm
Section Diameter: 11mm
Barrel Max Diameter: 13.2mm
Cap Max Diameter: 14.6mm
Weight, Uncapped (with ink and/or converter): 16g
Weight, Capped (with ink and/or converter): 22g
I have a thing for unusual filling systems in pens. Sure, cartridge/converters and piston-filled pens are fine and convenient, but sometimes I love the fiddly nature of a lever filler, vac filler, or button filler. Yeah, they’re more work. Often, they’re a pain in the tuckus to clean out. But they’re also a lot more fun. Sometimes convenience isn’t everything.
One of the filling systems with which I haven’t had a lot of experience is the “pump” filler…or as it is perhaps more well-known, the Vacumatic filling system that Parker popularized in their well-known Vacumatic line of pens. The system consists of a brass or plastic pump concealed by a blind cap on the back of the pen. Pressing the pump button pushes down a rubber diaphragm inside the barrel of the pen, and when released sucks ink up into the ink chamber. Four or five pumps of the button and you have a substantial fill. Couple that with a see-through barrel, and you have a really fun inking process.
It is, of course, silly to buy a pen solely for the filling system inside, but acquiring one of the Edison Pen Company’s pump fillers has been on my list for a while. And since I am already a fan of Edison’s pens, materials, and craftsmanship, I took an opportunity at the DC Show to pick up an Edison Menlo from Brian and Andrea Gray.
The Edison Menlo is part of Edison’s “Signature” link: a set of models that are only available via a custom order or, as in my case, as one of a limited number of pre-made models built specifically for sale at a pen show.
Visiting the Edison booth is like visiting a rainbow factory. Edison is not afraid of bright, vibrant colors and flashy materials. When custom ordering a pen, a customer has several hundred different materials to choose from. At the shows they attend, they usually bring a selection of pens made from a wide subset of those materials. I opted for the Menlo model in Electric Blue Swirl acrylic. The materials is a rich, dark purple-blue, highlighted with delicate swirls of pale electric blue. The base color of the acrylic reminds me a lot of the material in the Platinum 3776 Chartres Blue. The material is semi-translucent/transparent, which is great for determining ink level with the pump filler.
The body of the pen feels long, with ever-so-slightly pointed ends. The clip is a clean, straight design that comes to a rounded point “ball” of folded metal. It attaches to the cap via a small slit in the cap wall. I like the design of this clip a lot, but the clip feels rather on the flimsy side…as though it wouldn’t take much to bend it out of place. There is a narrow silver-colored cap band on the cap, and no other decoration.
The barrel continues the same clean, streamlined shape with no real decoration. The words “EDISON PEN CO. MENLO” are etched into the barrel. The blind cap that hides the pump filler mechanism is so seamlessly incorporated that the only way you can tell it is there is that the pattern of the acrylic doesn’t quite match up across the two pieces.
The incredibly tight manufacturing tolerances exhibited in the barrel to blind cap transition show up again and again across every Edison Pen I have ever held in my hand. Every thread is silky smooth and remarkably tight. Every join is seamless. And every surface is exquisitely polished. Edison has proven to me over and over again that they are dedicated to turning the finest quality pens possible. And I have never seen less than flawless craftsmanship from any of their products.
Under the cap, which twists off in one and a quarter turns on butter-smooth threads, is a relatively short section and a #6 Jowo steel nib. Edison pens are available with both steel and 18k gold nibs, as well as a limited number of 14k nibs customized by Richard Binder for extra flex. I opted for the steel nib on my Menlo because, well, it was the last day of the show and I was out of money.
I have nothing against #6 steel nibs, but they are in use in so many pens that I find the writing experience very good yet somewhat pedestrian. There is absolutely nothing wrong with pedestrian; in fact, pedestrian is what I usually look for in a pen I need to use for long writing sessions or an everyday carry. But by this point in my fountain pen life, a steel Jowo nib just doesn’t get me jumping up and down with excitement. Buying from the Grays at the show, Brian spent a bit of time with me making some adjustments to the nib to suit my writing style. I came away with a rigid nib—one that is smooth with a minor amount of feedback and a nice, moderate ink flow. I opted for a fine nib this time, as I don’t have a lot of fines in my collection. While I find the nib is smooth, I will say that I find the nib’s smoothness to be highly dependent upon the vertical angle at which I hold the pen. If I go much above a 60-degree angle to the paper, I start to lose a bit of smoothness–nothing that can’t easily be resolved with a bit more nib polishing, however.
If I had to do it over again, I would probably replace the steel nib with an 18k nib. My handwriting style is a relatively loopy cursive—one that really benefits from the bounce of a slightly softer nib. In fact, chances are that I will try to pick one up for this pen at the LA show next month.
One of the other reasons I am usually so un-enthused about these pre-bought nib units is that, so often, the nib looks like it was just an afterthought in the design of the pen. On many pens, the nib looks and feels out of proportion and out of place. Despite being a relatively pedestrian nib unit, though, the Menlo’s design manages to make the nib feel like a fully integrated part of the whole design. The line of the pen travels down all the way to the tip of the nib, without anything interrupting the flow of visual energy. That all sounds a bit new-agey, I know, but the line of the pen seems to have a tangible positive impact on my experience using it when nib is put to paper.
In the hand, I find the pen a touch awkward when I use it un-posted. It is long enough and wide enough, but the pen is so light that I struggle to find a grip that is 100% on the money for me. Posted, though, something magical happens. It seems a bit long, but the extra heft from the cap and the extra length result in this weird feeling, almost like there is an energy flowing from the end of the pen through the nib and onto the paper. My grip relaxes, my posture improves a bit, and I stop having any issues with pressing too hard on the paper. Posted, I find the Menlo to be a nearly perfectly proportioned pen.
I should also take a quick moment to talk a bit about cleanup. Pump/Vacumatic fillers can be a right PITA to clean out. Cleaning out my vintage Parker Vac drives me crazy…to the point that I often hesitate before inking it up because I’m loathe to have to clean it out later. People have even rigged up weird contraptions using salad spinners to harness centrifugal force to clean out their pens. Fortunately, Edison bypassed all that mess by making the section of the pen removable. You can unscrew the section, clean out the interior of the pen thoroughly, put a touch of silicone grease on the threads, screw it all back together, and ink it up again. It’s a nice feature.
At $350, there is no doubt that this is an expensive pen…especially when that $350 comes with a steel nib. But much like custom pens from smaller, bespoke makers, the Menlo has the feel of a pen that consumed a lot of time and effort to build. To replicate a vintage filling system with parts that are interchangeable with the old Parker Vacs and then incorporate them into such a lovely, well-proportioned pen is no small feat. And then to make each one on request in the material of the user’s choice? That is a pretty labor-intensive process. Perhaps it is not for everyone, but I found the price completely fair for what I received.
The Menlo is quite a special pen. It is, without question, my favorite of the Edison pens I have purchased and/or used. And it does a superb job of straddling the border of showpiece and robust daily use pen. This blurple beauty is a real winner for me.