Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Visconti Rembrandt Fountain Pen

    First Impressions. [10/10] The very first impression was “This is a high quality pen and altogether different than any other pen I've owned.” This Visconti Rembrandt is made out of black resin with a slight hint of very dark silver veins. On this pen the veins are nothing as distinct as the photograph that I saw online. At first I was disappointed by that but over time have grown to love the subtlety. It doesn't jump out at you the way some bright and bold resin mixes do. Instead it conveys the serious chiaroscuro that the Visconti's designers envisioned. While the pen is very ingenious and modern in the way the pen is designed to function, it communicates a centuries old impression – as it was clearly intended to do. As an amateur student of art who has studied Rembrandt's paintings in person, I am amazed at how well this pen captures the atmosphere of Rembrandt. I know it sounds trite, but it looks like the kind of pen he would have used, had there been such a thing. However, I have also seen the blue Visconti Rembrandt in person and did not find that to be true with that pen. The blue version did not communicate the bold chiaroscuro that Rembrandt is known for, nor did it have that old-but-new appearance.
    Dimensions. [9/10] Classic cigar-shaped pen with many interesting nuances.
    Capped: 5 1/2” or 14.1mm
    Posted: 6 7/16” or 16mm
    Uncapped: 4 15/16” or 12.5mm
    Diameter: 1/2” or 13cm
    Quality. [10/10] The quality of this pen is impressive in every detail. The resin is lustrous and not easily scratched. The threads between the body and nib section are metal to metal. (Leaving you without the concern that metal on resin may eventually wear out or cross-thread.) The button and end caps are metal and well fitted. The band on the cap is beautifully detailed and deep. (It is nothing like the shallow laser engraving that one occasionally sees.) It is very comfortable to use and pleasing to the eye.
    Cap. [10/10] Usually, the cap of a pen is the part I am the least interested in. So long as it looks good and does what it is supposed to do, I am pleased. However, the Rembrandt's cap is simply amazing at a number of levels. The engraved band is strikingly handsome, with an antiqued look to the silver. The magnetic closure is fun and functional. I'd remembered that being the only feature of the blue Rembrandt that I had seen in a local store that I liked, but it wasn't enough to get me to buy it. But now that I've had the black Rembrandt for a couple of months, I think it is tremendous. I use my fountain pens at work throughout the day, but get weary of constantly unscrewing the cap. The magnetic cap seats firmly over the nib, so there's no concern about it coming loose in your pocket, and pulling the cap on and off throughout the day is a joy rather than a chore. Putting the cap back on the pen is actually distractingly fun (I'm easily amused) because you just get the cap close to being closed and the magnet pulls the cap on the rest of the way by itself. Also, the cap seats well enough that the nib doesn't dry out quickly: another plus. As if that weren't enough, the cap has a magnet built into its top button also. When I purchased this, I didn't care the least bit about the Visconti "My Pen System” - I knew I'd never use it. However, the dealer threw in my initials for free – I guess because I'm a regular customer, or because he is such a nice guy, or both! The Visconti My Pen System allows you to customize the top button of your pen. Using a magnet you can pull out the standard Visconti logo and replace it with your initials, symbol, or stone. As much as I liked having my initials in the pen, they left the top of the pen very flat, which opposes the symmetry of the pen – in my mind. The end cap at the bottom of the pen is a simple chrome nipple, which looks great on a classic cigar-shaped pen. The fact that the top of the cap didn't match the bottom of the barrel got on my nerves – I needed symmetry! So, I ordered a hematite stone to fit into the top of the cap. It came today. The pen is finally symmetrical. It looks great. I couldn't be more pleased.
    Clip. [9/10] The clip is great, too! I'd seen photos of Visconti clips and didn't really care for them: they appeared to stick out too far. In reality, they do not. The bow of the clip is not as dramatic in person as at first appearance. And, the fact that it is spring-hinged is another classy and functional touch. Even the printing of “Visconti” on the side is accomplished artfully.
    Fill. [5/10] This is the one and only feature where the pen does not excel. It uses a cartridge or converter. The converter is of sufficient quality and fits snugly into the feed. Nothing to complain about, but nothing to get excited about either. That being said, having a converter that fits securely is valuable.
    Nib. [8/10] I have read critiques about Visconti steel nibs being too firm. And this nib (a fine) is fairly rigid, but not as rigid as a Cross or Waterman nib. It is extremely smooth and medium wet (6/10), and writes well with very little feed back. I am using Diamine Twilight ink and getting a very consistent medium-fine line without skipping.
    Conclusions.  I enjoy this pen the more that I use it.  And now I'm thinking that I will order more stones for the pen system in different colors to indicate the color of ink in the pen.  Well, maybe I'm getting carried away.

    Addendum [May 1, 2013] - I recently purchased the Rembrandt calligraphy set with two italics nibs  (0.5 and 1.5).  It also comes with two converters, so that you can switch back and forth between the two nib sizes. I enjoy the 0.5 nib so much, that I am using it for my daily writing pen.  This set is currently on sale and is well worth the $150 price tag.  The calligraphy pen is lighter than the regular Rembrandt because the nib section is plastic rather than steel. Other than that they are identical.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Anatomy of a Fountain Pen

Once you find a pen you are happy with, it is easy to collect more of the same. For me, that has meant that I have collected several Levenger Truewriters – they are good writers, well designed at a reasonable price. Similarly, I have come to enjoy the variety, quality and style of Laban pens. 

 I appreciate those high quality pens in the $200.00 plus range, but frankly I can't afford many of those. Most of my collection comes out of the $40 - $100 range pens. And, I especially enjoy finding pens on sale. So, about a year ago I snagged a couple of Laban Celebration pens from Ebay. One was an Oyster Pearl Yellow Celebration with a custom ground needlepoint nib, and the other was a black Celebration with a standard medium point nib.

Fountain pens are like people, you have to spend some quality time with them before you know their true character. In the case of these two Celebrations, I discovered that I hated the needlepoint nib and loved the medium nib. However, I preferred the oyster pearl resin over the black resin. I wanted to swap the two nibs, but didn't know how to do it. So, I posted a query on the Fountain Pen Network and one officianado who was much more experienced than me told me how to do it. I gently wrestled the nibs out of the sections of the two pens, cleaned them, and then swapped the nibs and re-assembled them. Now one of the pens that I rarely used is one of my favorite pens.

It is funny how something can seem such a mystery until you dive in, and then once you have done so, you enjoy a confidence in that discovery. Hence, the "Anatomy of a Fountain Pen".

Once I pulled the pen apart, I examined all of the components, so that I might understand better how it works. I thoroughly enjoy writing with fountain pens, but I also like to know how they function. The feed was the part that I realized I knew the least about. It is the conduit between the cartridge/converter and the nib. This is rather obvious once you see the feed outside of its housing. The feed includes the nipple at the top that receives the ink, which flows betwixt the feed and the nib to provide ink to the nib tip. This strikes me as that which is so typical in life: that here is an unseen or forgotten element in our lives that acts as the conduit for that which we most value. One rarely sees mention of the feed in reviews on fountain pens, and yet the pen would be useless without one. The great surprise for me once I disassembled my fountain pens was the complexity and utility of the feed. It supplies both ink and vent: blood and oxygen.  The feed is the conduit between the ink supply and the practical action of the nib. Not something that I give much thought to, but essential to the function of the pen.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Smart Phone Fidgets

My smart phone has increased my fidget factor when I am out.  I'm not a big talker and love to have something to do with my hands when everyone is talking.  I don't play games, text, or check e-mail - I'm not that rude.  But I love to play with the camera.  I used to bring a sketchbook and sketch when I was out with people.  In my teens and twenties, that was cool and not only did it not offend anyone, my friends actually liked it.  But now at age 51, it is no longer cool and definitely viewed as rude.  So, now I bring my smart phone and take pictures at the table. Since everyone brings their phones everywhere now, I can get away with this. Ironically, I am one of the few people who refuses to answer his phone at meals, because that seems rude to me. Now if everyone would just bring sketchbooks and plop them on the table, I'd still prefer that, but I don't live in an art compound, so that's not going to happen.

When everyone is busily engaged in conversation, I snap a few photos of people, which always come out blurry because it is dark.  But then I can sneak out a few still life shots, like this one of the wine glass and silverware.  It is not a great shot but I like the stark contrast of the black and white image.  The photo was not processed in any way. This is it straight out of the camera (HTC Eris). I changed the settings on the camera to BW and was able to steady it well enough to get a decent low light picture.

Here's another way to get a clear low-light picture with a smart phone: The color photo of the parking garage was taken by pressing the phone against the window of the hotel room, which steadied it enough to make it a clear photo.  Not a great photo but I was bored.  How can cable have so many programs and still have nothing to watch?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Favorite Pens

Favorite filling system: Pilot Custom 823

Favorite writing nib: Bentley fine steel nib tuned by R. Binder

Favorite NOS pen: Sheaffer Legacy with 18 ct gold inlaid nib

Favorite nib style: Waterman's Carene inlaid nib

Favorite pen body: Laban Mento Tortoise Shell

Favorite pen cap: Visconti Rembrandt

Favorite resin: Libelle Epic Ivory Swirl

Favorite work pen: Pilot Vanishing Point - carbonesque - with Pilot black ink

Favorite reliable pen: Levenger TW black onyx with Noodler's Polar Black

Favorite Demonstrator: Pelikan M205 Blue Demonstrator

Favorite sketching pen: Namiki Falcon with sf nib

What is your favorite?

Pilot Custom 823 Review

This is an amazing pen - in a number of ways. It is such a fine instrument that I rarely take it out with me as the pen in my pocket. Don't get the wrong impression, it isn't fragile. I just admire it so much that I hate the thought of it getting lost or damaged. It is very well made.

STYLE. I'd rather not begin with a negative but the color of the pen is not my preference. And my commentary on style preference is not much help unless we have the same taste. But here it is: I like the classic cigar shape. I just don't care much for gold and brown (amber) anything - that's one of my least favorite color combos. Yes, I know that there's a smoke and chrome version but I couldn't find that one at a price I could afford. Now that I know how much I love this pen, I should've waited until I could get the smoke grey version. However, the brown translucent body looks better with ink in it. Especially blue ink, which cools down the warm color.

The size of the nib in comparison to the rest of the pen is right by my standards. A large pen with a small nib looks awkward; like a 6' 4" man with size 7 shoes. The large nib looks great on this pen. A secondary style issue is the way the pen is presented to you: It comes in this huge satin lined box with a large 70ml bottle of Pilot Blue ink. Now that's style! And, the ink is a rich color of intense blue that flows smoothly without bleeding.

CONSTRUCTION. Construction quality is excellent. It is made in Japan. The 823 is more complex than most fountain pens - more so than even a piston filler. The gold banding has nice detail. There are no rough spots, burrs; nothing is out of place or misaligned. It is perfect. Capped: 5 7/8". Posted: 6 3/8". Without cap: 5 1/8". Diameter: 1/2" (body), 5/8" (cap).

CAP - CLIP. I like the classic ball clip. It holds tightly to my shirt pocket without feeling like it is going to rip the cloth when I pull it out. Threading is nice and smooth, and the cap mounts deeply and securely to the end when posted. Nice details on the cap band tell you that it is a "CUSTOM 823 * * * Pilot Made in Japan"

FILL. The 823 holds an enormous amount of ink, and since I have a fine nib I have not filled it in quite awhile. So, it is difficult to describe well how this filling system works. It is not a piston filler; it is a vacuum filler. Additionally, you can close off the feed so that it wont leak when you are flying. The end cap operates the plunger and also opens and closes the reservoir. This is odd until you get used to it. If you forget, you'll find yourself running out of ink and wondering why. The end cap must be turned a couple of times to open the reservoir. When you're done just dial the end cap back down and you're safe from accidents. I have only used Pilot ink in it and have never had any skipping, drying, or even priming starts - it always writes.

NIB. As if the filling mechanism wasn't enough to commend this great pen, the nib is just as phenomenal. It is a large 14ct gold nib and was perfectly tuned out of the box. Mine is a fine nib and is smooth and friction free. I like a little bit of tooth to help me stay on track but this pen has no feedback at all. That's no complaint though, I respect the fact that Pilot can create such smooth free-flowing fine point nib. It writes effortlessly and is my first choice for long periods of continued writing. Besides, I have plenty of other pens that can give me feedback when I want it.

SUMMARY. Outstanding. If you are looking for an excellent pen and want something different than the standard cartridge-converter style pen, this is it. I highly recommend it.

Friday, June 10, 2011

St Austin's goes mobile

Blogger has added a setting which makes it easier to read our posts on smart phones. So, now you can go into any pub with phone and fountain pen in hand and read the posts at St Austin's Pub. Enjoy!