A technophile lawyer rediscovers the joys of pen and paper

Sunday, February 19, 2012

My afternoon at the 2012 Los Angeles International Pen Show

Today was my second visit to the Los Angeles International Pen Show. (Second ever, first this year.) Last year, I didn't have any idea what I was looking for, I just wanted to get a feel for the show. This year, I has some specific goals in mind, most of which I met, so it was a pretty good visit.

Remember that 30-year-old Mont Blanc my wife's uncle surprised me with at Christmas? It is now in the hands of a pen restorer, who will be working on removing some stains, evening out a dent in the cap, and making sure the pen is in good working order. I'll still need to send to off to a nibmeister later, though. From the same vendor, I picked up a set of shims for spacing nib tines, which will come in handy, and I also bought a lighted loupe. Now I won't have to use my wife's and get in trouble when I leave the light on and use up the battery in hers.

Speaking of wives and trouble, I thought this was a cute sign:

I wonder if it helped her sales?

Main display area
The show did not seem as crowded this year. It seemed a little easier to move through the aisles. But maybe I just had a more defined mission and moved better through the crowds.

I was hoping TWSBI's Speedy would be there again, since I wanted to buy some of their ink bottles and a couple of stub nibs, but I didn't see him (or anyone else from TWSBI).

I still don't know my way around vintage pens at all. Some vintage hard rubber pens at The Fountain Pen Store's display caught my eye, but not enough for me to buy one.

Mostly, I was on the prowl for some pens I'd been admiring on websites but had yet to see up close.

One was the Pelikan M625, which I have been lusting after for most of a year. But when I saw them at the show, they weren't as beautiful as they look on the website. Nice looking pens, but not as beautiful as I was expecting. The translucent barrels are so dark, it is hard to see the difference among the red, blue, and aubergine models without their caps on. 

The others were the Aurora Europa and Aurora America, which are basically limited editions of the Aurora Optima. These two pens looked even better up close than they do online, especially the America. I like the idea of an Italian pen that honors America. Still, a little pricey. If I ever buy one, it will probably be off of eBay, or perhaps when someone is trying to unload theirs on the Fountain Pen Network classifieds.

Still, I did not walk away empty handed. I was also looking for a deal on a Visconti Rembrandt Eco-Roller rollerball pen (which takes fountain pen ink), since no one seems to discount them online. Bittner gave me a great deal on one, which I'll review after trying out for a couple of weeks:

I came every close to buying A Diplomat Excellence Rhombus fountain pen with 14kt nib. This is a pen I saw for the first time at last year's show. It's gorgeous, the fine nib wrote smooth as silk (though writing on an R by Rhodia pad will undoubtedly make most nibs feel smooth), and it felt remarkably light in the hand for a metal pen. I already regret turning down the discounted price I was offered.

An afternoon just isn't enough time to fully explore the show. I could have spent all afternoon going down just one aisle. But all, in all, it was a fun afternoon, I got a great deal on a pen I wanted, and I managed to learn a little more about vintage pens in the process.

If you are a pen nut and a show is held within a few hours' drive from you, I highly recommend you make the trip!


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Review: Lamy Studio rollerball, stainless steel finish

Lamy Studio Rollerball in Stainless Steel Finish
As much as I love my fountain pens, sometimes they're not very convenient, so I recently decided to get a couple of rollerballs. One of them is the Lamy Studio in stainless steel finish. There are some cool things about the pen, but some things that I just haven't been able to get used to.

Let's start with the bad. The stainless steel wasn't my first choice. I walked out of the store with the black Studio. When I got it home, I pulled it out to take pictures for this review, and noticed that the black finish on the cap was noticeably different than the finish on the barrel. One was glossier than the other (can't remember which was which, though.) At first, I thought I might be seeing things. But looking at the pen under a light, you could see a big difference in the reflection off the barrel and the reflection off the cap. So, I took the pen back to the store the following weekend. I felt like I was being a real pain the butt, but even the salesperson agreed that the finish was inconsistent. She had two more black Studios in stock, so I was willing to trade straight up, but . . . both of those had the same problem as mine. I don't know of this is a widespread issue or just a bad production lot, but it's not what one usually sees in a German product. (I've been there, and you really can set your watch by the trains. It's amazing.)

So, I ended up trading it for the stainless finish, which I like quite a bit and has the advantage of a non-metal section. Which brings me to the second issue I have with the pen: the width of the section. It is noticeably wider than any of my other pens, and I've had a hard time getting used to it. It really throws me off, and my handwriting deteriorates when I write with it. I've tried to give it time, but I'm growing impatient. This, of course, is merely an issue of personal preference, not quality.

Lamy Studio - Rollerball
This distorts the size of the section, but it FEELS this big to me.
The third issue: the feel of the rollerball. There's something vaguely waxy about it. It's not just that it's different than a fountain pen, because there are other rollerballs I use quite comfortably. It just doesn't have a good feel to me. Again, a personal preference. One that I should have discovered when I was trying it out in the store, I guess.

Everything else about the pen is pretty cool. I like the finish a lot, and it seems like it will stand up over time. I won't have to worry about the finish scratching off, as would have been likely with the black finish. One odd thing about the finish is that it creates an optical illusion at the intersection of the cap and barrel that makes it look like each side dips down toward their junction. At least, I think it's an optical illusion. Maybe that's really the way the pieces are machined. I couldn't get that effect to show up in a photo, though.

I find the finish very aesthetically pleasing, and especially like how it is complimented by the shiny chrome clip. The clip on the Studio seems to have gotten all the attention from pen aficionados. It's essentially a 90 degree twist of the clip as you go from top to bottom:

Lamy Studio - Clip Views
A few views of the infamous Studio clip

Lamy's website describes the clip as "reminiscent of modern sculpture,"while others have refereed to it as propeller-shaped. (I can see the reason for the latter description, but it's not technically accurate; I don't think you could generate any lift with a propeller designed along the lines of the Studio clip.) For a long time, I thought people made too much fuss over the shape of the clip, but when I saw the pen up close, it really did look pretty cool.

But it has its downsides. First, it does not appear to be spring loaded, so you might have to worry about it giving and bending away from the cap over time, leaving a gap between the clip and the cap. Second, the orientation of the clip makes for a very small surface area coming in contact with your pocket, so there's less friction to prevent slipping. Combined with the lack of spring tension, this makes the pen feel less than secure when it's in your breast pocket. (Not too much of an issue for me, as I usually carry my pens in a case.)

Lamy Studio Rollerball - Posted Cap
Posted cap leaves room
between barrel and cap
The ink refill performs well enough. It doesn't skip. It doesn't bleed like the ink in my Tombow rollerball does. The ink is not the blackest of blacks, but it's hardly alone among black inks in this regard.

The cap posts differently from almost any other pen I own. It is not a friction fit with the barrel. Instead, there is some form in the inside of the cap that clicks onto the very end of the barrel. There is actually a little space between the barrel and the edge of the cap when it is posted. If you write very fast or move your hand a lot, the cap will actually wiggle while posted. It wasn't noticeable enough to throw me off, though.

Bottom line: this rollerball is going on eBay, because I don't like the feel of writing with it. There are enough other cool things about the pen, though, that if it weren't for my inability to get used to the wide section, I'd probably like to own a Studio fountain pen.

As usual, more photos in the Flickr photo set for this review.