A technophile lawyer rediscovers the joys of pen and paper

Friday, August 27, 2010

"Top 13 Most Expensive Pens In The World"

For a mere $2.6 million, you can buy one of each and get $1,000 back in change! (That link is a little old, so you may have seen it already, and the list may have changed since then. But I just found it, and the rule around here is that if I haven't seen it before, its new enough to be blogworthy.)

I find most of them horribly gaudy, however, so I think I'll keep my $2.6 million in the bank. Besides, you know what else you could buy for that $2.6 million? 100,000 Lamy Safaris! One. Hundred. Thousand. Of course, you'd have to double up on a few colors.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Who stole the Waterman Carene from Overstock.com?

After reading yet another comment from someone about how buttery smooth his Waterman Phileas writes, I googled the name of the pen to find a deal and found a great deal on Overstock.com. They have some good deals on some other fountain pens, too (I ordered a couple of the Waterman Harley-Davidson pens, which I've also read good things about).

They've even got a Waterman Carene for only $199. Maybe, anyway. When you click the "larger image" link next to the picture of the pen, this is what comes up:


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The ultimate fountain pen for lawyers

OK, this limited edition came out in 2004, so this isn't exactly breaking news. But I just found out about it, so what the hell, I'm posting about it. The ultimate fountain pen for attorneys has to be the Pilot/Namiki Shark.

Only 80 were made, and each sold for $10,000 in 2004. No idea what one costs now.

If only it didn't have a threaded cap, I'd buy one tomorrow. Maybe two!


Friday, August 13, 2010

If it's a myth that fountain pens are messy, why are my fingers always stained with ink?

Maybe I'm doing something wrong. I don't get inky when you might expect — when changing inks. No, my problems start when I'm nowhere near the pens when, between uses, they leak into their caps.

There are two primary repeat offenders here. One inexpensive pen (Noodler's Aerometric/Eyedropper — see my review) and one rather pricey one (Cross Apogee). When other pens misbehave similarly, I tend to blame my rough handling of their storage cases. But these two are such consistent offenders (the Cross especially, which has exhibited this behavior with a range of inks), that I think there must be poorly designed, defective, or damaged nibs to blame.

I tend to forgive the Noodler's a little more, because it gets handled more roughly day to day, stored in a pencil case inside my briefcase, which gets slung around quite a bit (though that doesn't seem to bother the Lamy 2000, Pelikano, or Platinum Preppy that are also in the case). But the Cross lacks such an excuse. It is typically stored nib up inside my portable letter-writing kit, which gets handled with much greater care. I must have a tissue handy every time I open it so I can wipe it down before gripping it to write.

Am I just being too rough on my poor pens? Or is this simply physics at work, perhaps with some nib problem?


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Review: Noodler's Ink Aerometric/Eyedropper Filler Fountain Pen

Screen shot 2010-08-11 at 8.05 Noodler's Ink recently got into the pen business with two lines of fountain pens. A few weeks ago, I reviewed the piston-filler model, and now its time for me to scrutinize the aerometric/eyedropper filler. Now that I'm sitting down to write this, I realize that I should have reviewed them together (like bleubug did), because most people interested in the Noodler's Ink Pens are probably trying to decide between the two, and it's impossible to write this review without comparing them in any event. So, you might want to open a  new browser tab and bring up my review of the piston filler so you can switch back and forth between my reviews.

The differences between this pen and its piston filler brother don't make it better or worse than the piston filler in performance. Instead, differences in design and aesthetics make the "winner" a matter of personal preference.

For how much I like using the pen, the $24 price at Jet Pens seems fair. Like the piston filler, I like writing with this eyedropper model better than writing with any of my entry-level Pelikans at comparable price points (a P55, Style Silver, and Pelikano), and about as much as the comparably priced Lamy Safari. However, this Noodler's pen displays some troubling quality control issues that make me wonder if it is built to last. It may turn out that time will tell this pen is not worth the money.


This pen arrived in the same catfish-adorned cardboard box that the piston model did. The insert in the box covers quite a bit more than the insert in the piston filler, though. In addition to explaining various features of the pen, it explains how to convert it from its default aerometric filling configuration to an eyedropper filler and back again (more on that later).

Fit and Finish
While I wasn't expecting much in the way of beauty from Noodler's $14 piston filler, I had higher expectations for this pen, both because of the higher price and because its photos online looked better than photos of the piston filler. I don't think this is a beautiful pen, and I like its lines even less than the lines of the piston filler. However, there area few reasons I prefer the look of this pen.

First, the mottled finish of this ebonite pen (at least the brown — I haven't seen the mottled green) looks much nicer than the smooth finish of the "vegetal resin" body on the piston filler.  I generally prefer a less "busy" finish on a pen, but the mottled finish here functions to hide some flaws. A close look at the finish reveals lots of scratches at right angles to the the length of the pen, just like the piston filler, but they are much harder to see on this model because the mottled finish hides them. In fact, you have to really look to find them on this eyedropper model, while they tend to jump out at you on the piston filler.

Second, the metal trim on this pen seemed to be in better shape than the trim on my piston filler. Since there are reasons I note below (and Pocket Blonde notes in her review) to believe that this more expensive pen is not subject to more stringent quality control procedures than the piston filler, I attribute the better-looking trim to the fact there is less of it. Despite its larger size, this pen has significantly less trim — including a much smaller clip, smaller cap ring, and no section ring — than the piston filler, so there are no large patches of trim to look nicked up.

Barrel and Fill Mechanism

As I mentioned, the body of this pen is made of ebonite, a hard rubber. Noodler's insert doesn't say so (and why would they), but I'm pretty sure this is the same material that bowling balls like my old Brunswick LT-48 Johnny Petraglia Signature model. In fact, since no one makes bowling balls out of rubber anymore, one wonders if one could recycle all those old bowling balls into fountain pens.

Hold on, where was I?

Noodler's Aerometric/Eyedropper Fountain Pen - Sixe Comparison

As you can see, this pen is quite a bit larger than the piston filler, so those with large hands itching to try a Noodler's are probably better off with this eyedropper model than the piston filler.

Let's take a closer look at the filling alternatives.

In the default configuration, the pen is an aerometric filler. The sac is glued to the section and thus cannot be removed between inks like the sac on the Pilot Knight. Inside the sac is a breather tube (which is, I believe,  what makes this pen a true aerometric filler) that the insert says maximizes sac capacity, enables atmospheric changes (presumably, they mean that decreases in outside air pressure won't cause the pen to leak), and acts as an ink drain when the pen is stored upright in your pocket.

Another feature touted in the insert is the "metal filler" that Noodler's says "distributes the heat of your hand to better avoid chamber air expansion." Presumably, that is a reference to the metal sleeve that encloses the sac, but I'm not sure.

Noodler's Aerometric/Eyedropper Fountain Pen - Disassemled in Aerometric Mode
Disassembled in Aerometric Mode
The aerometric fill mechanism is less than ideal, to my mind. It works fine to fill the pen, but I found it hard to flush. Then again, I'm pretty obsessive about getting every last trace of the prior ink out before changing colors. If you're comfortable changing inks with trace amounts of the old ink left in the sac, or if you plan on using the same ink all the time, the difficulty in flushing shouldn't matter.

The friction fit of the metal sleeve that surrounds the sac is not very tight, making it easy to remove to reveal the sac. In fact, the sleeve did not stay attached to the section and came away in the barrel the first time I took the pen apart to fill it.

When I got the pen, the sac was clear. The package insert warns that most normal inks will stain the sac (and provides tips for avoiding stains by choosing certain inks that are — shock! — Noodler's inks). Sure enough, about the third or fourth ink I put through this pen is the one that turned the sac pink. Was the stain caused by Noodler's Bay State Cape Cod Cranberry? Nope. Pelikan Brilliant Red? Nope. Iroshisuku Tsutsuji? Nope. The guilty ink is Private Reserve Midnight Blues (pictured in the scan near the end of this post). Interesting that a blue-black ink would stain the sac pink. Perhaps it was a cumulative effect of all the inks, but none of them was anywhere near red or pink.

Converting the pen to an eyedropper filler is fairly simple, but requires some slightly different technigue than described in the package insert. Simply remove the friction fit metal sleeve and take off the sac, and voila — you have your eyedropper filler. (You can remove the breather tube, too, but that's not necessary.)

Noodler's Aerometric/Eyedropper Fountain Pen - Sac Removal #1
Removing the sac takes more than described in the package insert, though. The insert says all you have to do is pull the sac straight off, but intuition tells you that the rubber cement will prevent that technique from working. Nonetheless, I gave it a try. As I expected, all that happened is that I stretched the sac.

To get the sac off, I had to peel it away at the base (which happened almost by accident as I was figuring out the best way to do it). Once the sac was off, there was residue to scrape off the fitting. I'm not sure any of the residue (which I presume included rubber cement) would have contaminated the ink, but I figured why take chances?

Noodler's Aerometric/Eyedropper Fountain Pen - O-ring Seal

Once the sac is removed, all you have to do is use an eyedropper or syringe to fill the barrel with ink up to the level of the inside threads and thread the section and barrel back together. The pen already has an o-ring to seal the seam between the barrel and section, but more conscientious types might consider applying a silicone lube to the threads for added protection against leaks.  Once I converted the pen to an eyedropper filler and filled it without using silicone on the threads, I spent the next several days expecting to find a pool of ink in my pencil case every time I opened it. But so far, so good, and it's been more than a week.

The package insert advises you to keep an eye on the ink flow to know when to add ink when in eyedropper mode. With that metal sleeve removed, the warmth of your hand can expand the air in the barrel and increase ink flow as the ink supply draws down. When you observe this, according to Noodler's, the ink supply is down to about 1/3 capacity, and it is time to add ink.

This, to me, is the big disadvantage of eyedropper mode. If the ink flow increase is appreciable (and I haven't reached that point yet), then the writing characteristics may not be to your liking, and the only way to get them back where they belong will be to top off the barrel. But what if you also want to change ink colors? Unless I'm missing an alternative (tell me if I am), you either have to pour that 1/3 barrel of the old ink color back in its bottle and risk contamination or pour it down the drain. Neither prospect is attractive. Of course, it could be that with the right ink, the increase in flow is so marginal that you'll be able to continue using the pen comfortably to a much lower level of ink or even until the ink is exhausted. Experience will undoubtedly reveal one's best inks for this purpose.

The pen can be converted back to aerometric filler by replacing the sac, using rubber cement to attach it to the section. That strikes me as a lot easier said than done, though. The parts are small, and I think you'd have to be awfully careful with that rubber cement. With my luck, I'd apply it in a way that blocks the path from the sac to the feed. Also, don't forget to replace the breather tube if you removed it.


The cap on this pen is not threaded like the cap in the piston filler, but you don't get a "click-on" cap, either, really. There's no clear "click" when capping or uncapping the pen. Instead, the inside of the cap contains springed prongs that grip the section when capped and barrel when posted. (I couldn't get a good picture of them, but Office Supply Geek did). This seems to provide a firm fit in both positions. However, it is possible to catch the nib between the ebonite and the prongs (I did it once or twice), so guide the nib into the cap carefully.

The metal trim on the cap is minimal. Despite the fact this pen is much larger than the piston filler, the clip is much smaller in size and the metal ring on the cap is quite narrow. However, the clip seems no less functional than the larger clip on the piston filler.

Nib & Section

Screen shot 2010-08-10 at 10.37.18 PM
I think this nib slipped by quality control!
This nib is the same as the nib on the piston filler in all respects: stainless steel, fine-medium, a standard #2 friction fit, so it can be removed by a hard, steady pull and replaced with almost any other #2 nib. I never could quite see the same gap between the tines as in the nib on my piston filler, and that Noodler's touts as the sign of a properly tuned nib.

In fact, the slit in the nib in my pen is off center. That doesn't seem to affect its performance, at least not so much that I could notice. This pen writes just like my piston filler. Still, it is not an encouraging sign for the quality of the pen (and makes me worry about the quality of that o-ring that, in eyedropper mode, is the only thing standing between me and an "ink incident"). I have to think this nib slipped by quality control and should not gave been allowed to leave the factory like this. (Pocket Blonde cited different but likewise bothersome signs of poor quality control.)

One of my complaints about the piston filler was its very thin section. This eyedropper model has a  more conventional-sized section. Between that and the greater weight of this pen, I found it more comfortable to write with.

Feel & Writing Experience

With a nib identical to that in the piston filler, it is not surprising that the performance is nearly identical. The "fine-medium" nib lays down a line quite similar to the line on a Lamy Safari fine nib, the writing is very smooth on most papers because of the wet  line. While the pen starts up almost quickly even after being left uncapped for extended periods, I found it to be not as fast a starter as the piston filler. This may be due to some manufacturing variation in the nibs, but more likely due to the fact that I readjusted the tines on my piston filler after dropping the pen into the sink during a flush.

The piston filler tended to lay down a broader line with a Noodler's ink (Lexington Gray) than with others, but I did not find that the Noodler's ink I tried in this pen (Navy) laid down a line any different than that laid down with Private Reserve Midnight Blues. Noodler's has so many different formulations in its inks, however, that I would not expect Noodler's inks on the whole to perform differently than others. As with any other ink, performance is likely to vary from ink to ink even among the Noodler's brand. (Remember that in eyedropper mode, the pen will tend to write wetter when the ink is down to about 1/3 capacity.)

Noodler's Aerometric/Eyedropper Fountain Pen - Nib Comparison

Which Noodler's Pen Wins?

When I started to write this review more than a week ago, I was ready to declare this eyedropper model the "winner" when compared to the Noodler's piston filler. Now, I'm not so sure. They have identical nibs and both have great ink capacity (once you've converted the aerometric/eyedropper to eyedropper mode).The eyedropper has better aesthetics and has more heft. People with larger hands wil almost certainly appreciate the greater size and heft of the eyedropper.

Which one everyone else finds better is likely to depend upon your preferences for size, weight, appearance, filling method, and cap (threaded versus unthreaded). Overall, my preference for the aesthetics and weight of the eyedropper put it ahead, but I still am a little tentative about long-term use of an eyedropper filler. The naturally clumsy (like myself) may want to stick to the piston filler or leave the aerometric/eyedropper in aerometric mode. Fountain pen use has enough hazards for clumsy people without adding the dangers of an eyedropper filler!

Other Reviews

See bleubug, Office Supply Geek, and Pocket Blonde. For more photos, check out my Flickr set for the review.

Update (9/30/10)

This pen has been driving me crazy lately, because I have been experiencing the a problem similar to that experienced by commenter Don Johnson has. He wrote:
So I converted to eyedropper -- I have plenty of ink now, but it also gushes droplets of ink from the section-- NOT good -- Any thoughts[?]
The last five or so inks I've put through this pen have leaked like crazy. I don't get any leaking when the pen is uncapped, but it leaks a lot while capped. Every time I uncap it I have to be very careful about wiping down the section before gripping it and I have to remember not to post the cap, because that transfers a lot of the leaked ink to the barrel, and that eventually gets on my fingers. In fact, this was one of the pens that inspired this post.

I don't know if it's leaking from the section or the nib, but either way, I think I have given up on this pen. I'm not about to go through the hassle or reattaching the sac, because I'd probably just end up sealing off the feed with a glob of rubber cement.

I'll probably be offering this pen in a giveaway soon, so if you're game to give it a try, keep tuning in.