A technophile lawyer rediscovers the joys of pen and paper

Friday, April 29, 2011

What's better than getting a bunch of ink samples in the mail?

Ink TenpinsGetting a bunch of full bottles of ink, that's what! I think this order from Goulet Pens just about doubled my ink collection so far.

The reason for ordering so much ink at once? I decided I needed some dark inks for my new Visconti Homo Sapiens. I had some dark ink samples, but I wasn't able to fill the pen from any of the sample vials because the nib is too large to submerge. So, I tried out some of the inks in other pens, then bought eight colors that I thought fit the personality of the Homo Sapiens (though I'll certainly use them with other pens, too)..

Four of those colors are purples: Diamine Damson, Noodler's Purple Martin, Noodler's Nightshade, and Private Reserve Ebony Purple. Why four shades of purple? Because you never know what purple you're going to need. That's just common sense!

But I also got two deep greens — Private Reserve Ebony Green and J. Herbin Vert Empire — and Noodler'sRed-Black, which is what the Visconti is currently inked with, and which looks great flowing out of the pen. The J. Herbin Cacao du Brésil is an interesting color because it's hard to categorize.

I rounded out the order with J. Herbin Rouge Hematite and Noodler's Bad Belted Kingfisher. The former is not only a good ink, it has one of the coolest bottle designs ever (special because it is the 340th anniversary ink - see the middle bottle in the top photo). And Bad Belted Kingfisher, besides having a bitchin' name, is a great blue-black and replaces my old bottle, which I lost in an "ink incident" that is still evidenced by stains in the caulk near the sink.

By buying ten bottles, I got a 10% discount, to boot!



Monday, April 25, 2011

Review: Cross Apogee Fine-Nibbed Fountain Pen with Frosty Steel Finish

An "apogee" is the point of orbit of a heavenly body in which it is furthest away from the center of the object around which it is orbiting. So, I take it Cross intended the name of this pen to mean a pen that has reached the highest standards.

I'd say that's about right in this case. I like almost everything about this pen. Pens being so personal, of course, I found a thing or two I don't particularly like, but my complaints are mere quibbles.

Cross Apogee - What color is Frosty Steel?
I could not capture the true color of this pen. See the Flickr photo
set at the end of the post for some better pictures.

First Impressions

Usually, I have this "first impressions" section because the pen I'm reviewing was ordered online and I haven't seen it up close before. This pen is an exception, because I saw and tried the pen at Flax in L.A. before buying it there. A first impression at Flax is a little different than a first impression opening a package at home, because Flax does such a beautiful job of presentation. It looks like you're viewing jewelry in the display cases . . . Joan could probably display a charcoal gray Lamy Safari in a way that would make it look worth hundreds of dollars!

Even out of the display case, though, this pen in "blue steel" finish is quite stunning. The name of the finish is probably meant to connote blue tint to the gray/silver color. The Cross website, describes the finish as "pale blue translucent European lacquer over guilloché-etched chrome." The resulting color, in my opinion, is  more of a bluish silver than a silvery blue, and certainly less blue than the pen appears online on my monitor. The true color is somewhat of a hybrid of the three views in the picture above. If color is important, I recommend you first see one up close.

The pen has a somewhat odd, but not unattractive, outline, with a very wide variance between its widest and narrowest points. A pen this thick (0.49 inches) usually doesn't narrow toward the end of the barrel as much as this one does, and you'll note that the contour of the barrel is far narrower than the contour of the cap.

Cross Apogee - Frosty Steel - Guilloché EngravingFinish and Appointments

At first glance, the finish resembles a very tight carbon fiber weave, or maybe scales, but on closer inspection — I looked at it under a 14x loupe — the barrel has a series of longitudinal wavy lines engraved into the barrel, spaced so the raised ridges narrow and broaden along their length. This is very difficult, if not impossible, to see with the naked eye.

The sleekness of the pen is broken up by a very wide cap band. The appointments are chrome plated, but the cap band has polished chrome only on its borders, with a satin finish over most of its width. The cap and barrel ends are all polished (no satin finish) with engraved rings that also tend to break up the sleek outline. This is one of my quibbles: I think the pen probably would have had a sleeker look if the cap ring was all polished chrome or the cap and barrel ends did not have the engraved rings. This, of course, is purely a subjective factor.

Cross Apogee - ClipCap

The cap is not threaded, and goes on feeling like it will just be friction fit until it's almost on, when you finally get the somewhat soft click that tells you its seated. This is not a sharp click like you get on a Lamy Safari or Lamy 2000. It's a little mushy, and even more so when removing the cap. Not what I'd prefer, but there's no mistaking when the cap is seated.

Which brings me to another of my quibbles, this time a a functional one. The spring-loaded clip requires you to squeeze the top of it to open it before sliding it over your pocket. The clip is so tight against the cap and and shaped so there's just no way it will slide over a pocket without opening it first. I think Lamy Safaris have spoiled me on clip functionality forever.

Nib, Feed, and Section
Cross Apogee nib and Lamy AL-Star nib side-by-side
Cross Apogee nib om the left;
Lamy AL-Star nib on the right

The nib is rhodium-plated 18k gold. It's not particularly distinctive, except in size: it's tiny on such a large pen. I think it's even smaller than the nib on my A.G. Spalding & Bros. mini fountain pen. Given the size of the pen, the appearance is somewhat the equivalent of a person with a noticeably small head. At right, it is compared to a Lamy AL-Star nib. (Check it out compared to the giant nib on the Monteverde Invincia Stealth here.)

The section has a plastic cover on it, so those of you that avoid metal pens in order to avoid gripping metal need not worry. The section is comfortable and has never felt slippery.

I know nothing about the feed except that you don't push the converter straight onto it. The converter is threaded, which I really like. Some of my other converters get lose after many uses, but the threaded converter stays in place with no wiggling, so I'm hoping that the actual connection to the feed stays tight for a long time.

For a while, I had a difficult time with ink leaking into the cap between uses, even when I wasn't carrying the pen around with me. That seems to be a thing of the past, though. I'm assuming that certain inks will and most won't.

Writing & Feel

Someone on the Fountain Pen Network has three maxims in his signature, one of which is: "Chase the nib, not the pen." I don't know whether to attribute the pleasurable writing to the nib or the feed, but I can tell you the one obvious benefit to writing with this pen that distinguishes it from most others I own: it doesn't skip even with quick changes of direction and long, fast lines. Many of my pens tend to skip a little if I make a quick circle or long line, but this one never does.

The fine nib is probably a little broader than the fine nib on my Lamy Safaris and Waterman Expert. It is wonderfully smooth and wet. This tends to smooth out the writing even on textured paper; you'll get less feedback from the texture with this nib than with some other fine nibs. I don't know if those characteristics are standard or a fluke, but I like 'em!

People not used to metal pens may find this one a tad top heavy when posted. I started writing with fountain posted, because that's the way I always wrote before using fountain pens, but that's because everything I wrote with was plastic. I now write mostly unposted with this pen and my other metal pens, and I find it more comfortable that way.

Bottom Line

As I said, I like almost everything about this pen.

Pros: Smooth, skip-free writer, threaded converter, nice aesthetics.

Cons: squishy cap closure and difficult to use clip.

Maybe you've been toying with $30 to $40 pens and want to see if a more expensive pen is worth it. If you're willing to spend around $200 (a little less at discount retailers), this pen is a fine choice.

As usual, more photos at the Flickr photo set.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Making the most of a parking ticket

Parking ticket in Oslo, Norway.Image via WikipediaNothing like getting a parking ticket right in front of your own house. But that's what happened to me this week. I usually park in the back, but after having my gas tank siphoned twice in a week, I decided to park in front of the house, where a gas thief will be more exposed, until I can get a locking gas cap.

Geez, didn't I just write something in my last post about trying not to bore people?

Anyway . . . because I'm not used to parking out front, I forgot that the streetsweepers come through on the first and third Tuesday mornings each month, and my wife wasn't here to remind me, so I got a ticket.

So, how did I make the best of it? I got out a nice Crane's envelope, my newest pen, and my wax seals . . . and sent off perhaps the most elegantly posted parking ticket payment the processing center will see all month (if you don't take my handwriting into account):

I'm wondering of the clerk who gets this will even notice it among the hundreds or thousands of others to be opened that week. But of course, I didn't do it for the clerk, I did it for me. It's such a pleasure to use the good stuff!


Where did that month go?

What month? The month that I didn't post, that's what month!

I know it's customary to return from such a lengthy and unannounced hiatus with a post explaining one's absence, but . . . I'm not going to bother, because it would bore you silly.

Suffice it to say I have some posts in the queue and should be back to 1-3 posts a week starting . . . wait for it . . . wait for it . . . now!