Inexpensive need not be cheap

Living in a country where taxes are exorbitant, where exchange rates are unfavorable, where buying from foreign web-based stores is a lottery ticket (one never knows if and when the items will come, or be snatched on their way over the mail service, or if customs will demand that you far more the the price of the item in duties applied to the item’s price plus shipping costs), one is sometimes obliged to resort to fountain pens legally imported from China.

Such pens are inexpensive (well, even at twice the international cost, they are affordable), but not all are bad. Some are surprisingly good for their cost of around five to ten US-dollars (yes this is cheap – a new Lamy Safari or a Pilot Metropolitan will set you back will for about forty bucks. A Pilot VP or a Lamy 2000 will cost no less than 250 bucks, which is a lot in view of the median income here.

Moreover, cheap Chinese fountain pens (and ink) can be found in stores in even small towns all over Brazil. For those not willing to deal with mail order uncertainties, this may well be the only option.

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The hero “221” in its pretty case.

This is the case, for example, of the small and light, very fine nibbed Hero 221 fountain pen. Thin, light, plasticky, undecorated nib, with a bright gold anodized cap that sits smoothly and firmly in place, this little pen looks remarkably good and writes surprisingly well right out of the nice cardboard box.

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The Hero “221” comes in a nice cardboard case.
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The Hero “221” in its velvet sleeve.

Well, maybe this pen is no Pilot Custom 74, or even a TWSBI 580 or 700, but it is a very decent writer. In my opinion, it compares favorably, for instance, with the Pilot Metropolitan as regards writing comfort – it is thin and light, and there is no step between the body and the grip section. Build quality, however, is entirely another matter: the Pilot Metropolitan is hard to beat in that regard.

For instance, the cap is made of lightweight aluminum, and presumably prone to getting scratched fairly soon (not mine, however for I keep it in a cloth sleeve in my pen case).

The little pen, nevertheless, writes superbly – no nib adjustment was necessary when I took it out of the box and inked it up. Sure, it comes with an aerometric filler, but to get it it full to the brim, I removed the steel casing and squeezed the sac itself, and got over 0,6 ml of Parker blue-black into it. Then I put the casing back in position, for the sac is quite wobbly without the casing (although there is s wire inside it to keep it rigid).

Anyway, I have used the little pen for a while now, carrying it around in my pen case in my knapsack, bumping it everywhere, and there is not a hint of a leak, dripping or. Moreover, I had no false starts or flow problems. I am quite surprised that such an inexpensive pen can be so good.

But that is not the only inexpensive pen that is as good. I have a Pilot 85 G3, that cost me the same (new old stock – you can still find a few, though for about twice as much), a Pilot 78G (same considerations), and a Compactor Pluma – a Brazilian made plastic pen which is not manufactured any more, but of which there are still plenty available as new old stock for less than 8 dollars, universal converter included.

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The four contenders: (left to right) Pilot FP 85 G3; Compactor Pluma; Hero “221”; Pilot FP 78G.

What I do not especially like are steel or brass bodied Chinese pens from Baoer, Jinhao or even Hero. Not because they are bad, but because they are heavy and get you tired of holding them after an hour or so of writing. But build quality is very good, which is surprising for their price (here in Brazil, from 10 to 20 dollars, depending on the model). I will concede that such pens, however, as the Jinhao X450, Jinhao X750, Hero 507 “( Eight Horses”), Yiren 823 Ice are usually good, honest, well made, prettily finished pens and good writers (although some may require some coaxing the nib to write well, some nib tweaking). Aside from their rather heavy weight, I find no fault with them – but this is a matter of personal taste. I do prefer lighter, thinner pens that post well, smoothly and positively – and the Hero 221 cap action feels as good and as smooth as that of my Pilot Elite’s cap. In fact, these two pens have the most satisfying cap actions among all my pens.

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Chinese characters followed by the model number around the girth of the cap.

So what do I recommend? Well, you may save for a Faber-Castell Emotion Pearwood, or a Pilot VP, or a Pilot Elite 95, or a Lamy 2000. Or buy a vintage Sheaffer Imperial, or Parker 51 or 75, if you can. But do not sneer at these little plastic fountain pens. They may your best option for everyday intense writing joy.

Anyhow, fountain pens are all about different inks, different nibs, different papers, different handwriting styles, different journals, and about giving vent to one’s creativity (I doubt that any other hobby can give you so much joy for so little money). And one certainly does not have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to enjoy the hobby.

So keep your wallet tight, and write always, a lot, with joy!

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In Praise of Sheaffer Pens

I come from a Parker pen family. All pens in our family were Parker 51s, except for those belonging to small children – we got Compactor pens instead (the Compactor Escolar model, piston-filling, with a tendency to leak in a boy’s pocket – definitely, one should not play soccer with a fountain pen in one’s shirt pocket). It was with great pride that we were upgraded to Parker 51’s upon entering senior high school.

The other brand widely available back then in Brazil was Sheaffer. But we were Parker fans! No Sheaffers allowed!

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The set I got from my godfather on graduation day.

When I graduated from University, my godfather gave me a very pretty gold-plated set from Sheaffer’s, with a ballpoint (the model where you press the clip to push the refill into writing position) and matching 0.9 mm mechanical pencil. I still own and cherish these fine writing instruments, and I enjoy the clip-clicking mechanism of the ballpoint and the turn-to-push movement of the mechanical pencil. But as I am no big fan of ballpoints and thick graphite leads, I do not often use them.

When I lived in Guatemala in the eighties, however, I used to visit a shop called Foto Europa to buy photographic supplies. That shop had a counter full of wonderful pens, including three models of Sheaffer fountain pens with extrafine inlaid gold nibs. Who could resist buying such beautiful pens, with their great touchdown filling mechanisms? I, for one, certainly could not. I saved and for three years in a row I bought one pen a year: my beautiful gold-plated Sheaffer Imperial, my Sterling Silver Sheaffer Imperial and my big blue Sheaffer PFM (“Pen For Men”) with a gold-plated cap, and which I had them engrave with my name.

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My first Sheaffer fountain pen: PFM (“Pen For Men”) with extrafine nib, plus “The Snorkel” filling mechanism.

By then these pens had been discontinued, so what they had to sell was new old stock – but I did not know that then.

Since that time I have used those pens constantly. But, alas, the Sterling Silver Imperial now has a stub nib. Due to the pen’s weight, it was easy to drop – and once it landed tip first, breaking one of the tines. I took it to Foto Europa, but all they could ask their nibmeister to do was to grind the nib to a stub. I liked it so, and have grown used to writing with its italic slanted nib.

Of course, those pens are irreplaceable, so I handle them with care. In those thirty years since then all I had to do was to replace the filling sac of all three once, but they are marvelous writers to this day, and I use them as often as possible. But since they are so hard to replace, for my daily carry I have added one other vintage and two modern Sheaffer pens.

First, I got a Brazilian-made Sheaffer touchdown pen, gold-plated, and thinner than the Imperials. Also, it lacked the inlaid gold nib: instead, it had a ring shaped stainless steel nib that was also mounted flush with the grip section. It is also some sort of inlaid nib, because it cannot be removed, and the feed remains hidden from view (as in the Imperials). It came with an M nib, and, as is the case with all later Sheaffer pens, it has a very reliable, very smooth and rather wet nib. This pen belongs in my daily carry, inked with the very pretty Pelikan Edelstein (purplish blue) Sapphire ink.

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The Brazilian-made pen (above) has a ring-shaped inlaid stainless steel nib, as opposed to the American-made Imperial with a 14 k gold nib.

Second, I got a very charming pocket pen called the Agio Compact. Mine is a black lacquer model. It is a tiny pen, and to use it one needs to post the cap, which falls superbly into place. The little pen thus capped becomes extremely comfortable to use, even for someone with very big hands like me. This is a cartridge-only pen, because it is so tiny it won’t fit a converter. But I use Sheaffer Violet ink, of which a have a large stock, both in cartridges and in a bottle (from which I easily refill the empty cartridge with an ink syringe).

 

Unfortunately, that pen is not manufactured any more – but the other day I saw one for sale at Casa Cruz, in Rio de Janeiro, for less than US$ 40.00 – but only the stainless steel version, not the black lacquer one. Anyway, the pen has a medium nib, writes marvelously, the ink flow is very generous, and the cap slides smoothly and positively to completely seal the the pen. I carry it along with me all the time and have never experience a leak or a dry out.

More recently, I got a Sheaffer 100, a relatively inexpensive pen that is also very pretty – brushed steel cap and black lacquered body – and a great writer. Also a gusher, also with a medium nib, and this one takes a converter. I currently have it inked up with the wonderful Parker Penman Mocha ink, which was the object of my previous post. This pen also goes in my daily carry.

All in all, I do not care if Bic or Cross or whoever it may be has bought the Sheaffer brand, or if the pens are not manufactured in the U.S. any more. Sheaffer is still a great brand, the pens are solid writers and all are very good-looking pens with that distinctive white dot on the clip. I like the fact that they still have affordable pens, and that they also still manufacture the beautiful Legacy series that revives, for a price, my beloved classic Imperial Sheaffers from the sixties.

And let us not forget the wonderful Sheaffer inks – a very limited choice, but including the best true red, the best blue black, a great brilliant brown and a wonderful violet (I call it violet, not purple, because it is the only big name purple with a bluish instead of reddish tint). The other three colors (and have them all) are turquoise, blue and green. Only the green is odd – a pale, almost turquoise color, not a true, vibrant green.

Write always, with pride.

 

Requiem for a great ink

About ten years ago in a small stationery store in Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro, I found one remaining bottle of one of the best inks ever made: Parker Penman Mocha.

The Parker Penman line of inks was designed as a deluxe line and introduced in 1993. According to Leighton Davies-Smith, an ink chemist with Parker, the inks took more than two years to develop. These inks were very much talked about; as the story goes, some colors contained pigment (in addition to dye), which could stain or clog pens. Well, I myself never experienced any difficulty with the wonderfully beautiful Penman Mocha ink.

Much appreciated was the Sapphire blue ink, which I do not know first-hand, but on a trip to New Orleans I had the chance of talking to Patrick, who, together with his wife and daughter, runs a very charming pen store on Royal street called Papier Plume, and mixes inks to match customers’ orders, and who told me that this was a really very special ink, one which he had already recreated for demanding customers.

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The very pretty bottle and the original box of the Parker Penman Mocha ink, bought in 2006.

I have cherished this ink ever since I got it. My tastes run a lot towards muted brown inks, and I was very lucky to get that ink. Because that was the one and only bottle available, I use it only sparingly – I want it to last another ten years, at least…

In the box there is a leaflet explaining all there is to know about the ink. Particularly, the bottle has a conical plastic insert that allows one to fill a pen down to the last drop in the bottle. The booklet explains how to use the insert.

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A precursor of the current “Ink Miser” (see text).

This was such a good idea that today there is a similar product (sold separately to fit some ink bottles, such as Noodler’s) called “the Ink Miser“. It is sold, among others, by the Goulet Pen company.

The bottle is also ahead of its time. Today, luxurious jewel-like bottles have been introduced by Pilot (Iroshizuku), Caran d’Ache and Pelikan (Edelstein). Bat back in 1993 (up to 2000, when Parker discontinued those inks), apart from Montblanc only Parker had those precious bottles. The cap featured the logo (a silhouette of a man holding a huge pen like a spear) embossed in a bas relief, and the bottle had the same logo and the name of the ink in gold foil.

But the quality of the ink, its properties, remain unequaled to this day. Very well saturated, a deep, rich coffee brown, so serious looking that it can be used for any professional kind of writing, the ink makes me nostalgic of that era. The ink dries fast, shades well and its color is really distinctive. If I look hard, I may find some similar inks, walnut colored – but none is an exact match.

Because I live far away from places where strange and rare ink brands are readily available, my choice of inks that can be found locally is rather limited – or too expensive. So, in order to stretch out the life of this very well appreciated ink, I have resorted to Montblanc Toffee Brown ink as my standard brown. Although not a perfect match, this ink serves the purpose: a dark and professional-looking, serious brown.

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Left: Parker Penman Mocha; right: Montblanc Toffee Brown.

The picture does not really show the difference between the inks, but there is a definite difference.

Here’s a picture of the inside of the lid:

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True dark, saturated strong coffee brown.

Anyway, the other two brown inks I use are the Pelikan 4001 brilliant brown, a pure light brown with no red undertones, very subtle, very delicate, and excellent for lighthearted writing with my very excellent and unique Compactor Buschle pen (a Brazilian made pen that I really need to write about), one that I cherish, made of Makrolon resin; and Sheaffer brown, a very saturated brown, solid in color, reddish and loud – good for marking students’ papers when red is too loud.

Well, I really hope this bottle will last another ten or twenty years, for it is unlikely that I will ever come about another bottle of that bygone ink…

Write always, with faith and joy.

Other links: http://www.marcuslink.com/pens/ink/parker.htm

 

 

A perfect pen for everyday use: Cross Century II fountain pen

Many times we who enjoy fountain pens choose the pens we use for their quirkiness: for the one distinctive characteristic that makes that one pen unique. Sometimes it is form, not function. Sometimes it is function, not form. Likewise with motorcycles. Honda motorcycles are perfect in form, function, performance, style. But sometimes they are too perfect, bordering on dull. So we who so appreciate and enjoy motorcycles get away from the flock and choose Yamahas, Ducatis, Moto Guzzis, Harleys, Indians. All of these are excellently made, but many of their models are unique in that they have some quirkiness, some distinguishing trait that the user has to grow up to. And they are absolutely not dull.

I have written about the Faber-Castell Emotion, and I really like that pen. But I’ll concede that it is heavy, fat and strangely shaped, but with a nib that is a dream come true. So, although it is one of the best pens around, and extremely pretty and original, it is far from normal. Not a Honda – an MV Agusta, perhaps, for those who are into bikes to understand. Not a Mercedes, but a Lamborghini, for those into cars.

Now, moving back to pens, a brand that is instantly recognized for its excellence, its businesslike looks and its classic beauty, is Cross. Moreover, Cross Century Classic pens represent the epitome of the jet airplane era. Sleek, chrome plated, with a lifetime warranty, nearly indestructible, with a perfect mid-twentieth-century timeless design. Those pens are excellent writers and have high-quality refills (I have one particular ballpoint that has been sitting for decades, and still writes flawlessly when I happen to pick it up), and are immediately recognized as the great pens they are. So if you own one, beware: they are objects of desire and may be snatched if you do not pay close attention to them.

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I got this pen decades ago: Century Classic 10K rolled gold ballpoint (and pencil), and after all this time it still writes perfectly with the original refill.

True, Cross has undergone many changes – it has changed hands and places of manufacture, business strategies and design and marketing methods. Some may feel that many of the new models are overpriced or not very good. But the Cross Century Classic, Cross Century II and Cross Townsend lines are still what they always were: very pretty, very classic, very businesslike and very sturdy, durable, well balanced and, in a word, perfect. Like Mercedes. Like Honda. Like my Harley-Davidson Electra Glide, that has been in continuous production since the mid sixties.

But, in this case (as with my Electra Glide), classic and perfect do not mean dull. Cross fountain pens have been so sneered by the pen community that they have become outsiders, and therefore quirky pens. So it is with pride that we can go back to them.

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The Cross Century II fountain pen

The pen in case is my Cross Century II fountain pen, bought in a sale at the Riviera duty free shop at Panama City Tocumen airport. As they are phasing out Cross pens in favor of luxury pen brands, I could get this pen for less than half the original price. But after beginning to use it, I cannot put it down. My take is that it is worth every penny of the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), and now that I know that, I would gladly have paid full price for a pen like that.

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The gracefully engraved steel nib.

Mine is a chrome model with a steel nib, but instead of the vertical etched lines it has a diagonal parquet-like pattern etched upon the body.

I cannot tell what that finish is called, but it certainly adds some rarity and uniqueness to that little pen of mine.

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The Lamy blue black ink is a perfect match for this pen.

Since when I inked up the pen (it came with a medium nib and no converter, so I had to get a Cross yellow converter elsewhere), I have been unable to put it down. It belongs in my daily carry, and I use it as often as possible. It is a very smooth and very wet writer with just the perfect hint of feedback. I use it with Lamy Blue Black ink, which is a perfect match for this pen. Because it is a wet writer, you should avoid low quality paper with this pen. And thin paper, like that of Moleskine notebooks, is definitely a no-no for any fountain pen, but particularly for such a wet writer as this.

Although the pen is thicker than the Century Classic, it is still one of the thinnest pens I have. A little thicker than a Bic ballpoint, and just right for long writing sessions. The cap posts perfectly and very positively. As it is very light, it adds length, but does not change the perfect balance of the pen. And it shuts and seals the pen perfectly, so that even after days without use the nib will be wet and start writing immediately.

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Very comfortable to hold.

I find no flaws with this pen. The grip section is plastic, with grooves that make it easy to grip, and there is no question of having your fingers slip even if you have sweaty hands. Moreover, the grip section diameter is the same as that of the body, so there is no uncomfortable step between grip section and body (as I tend to hold my pens high up, I find that step very annoying, for instance in the Pilot Metropolitan, which is, otherwise, a very good pen).

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The unmistakable Cross finial.

The cartridges are proprietary Cross cartridges. Because they are not readily available everywhere and have a very restricted choice of colors (blue, black and blue black only), I strongly recommend using the Cross converter that fits this pen (the yellow one). The converter screws firmly into the section, and no amount of shaking will take it off and make a mess. Cross has two models of converters – the yellow one, and the green one, that fits the Cross Townsend and Aventura, but will not fit this pen.

The Cross Classic II fountain pen lies in a size and price range between the very thin Cross Classic Century and the heavier and thicker (and more expensive) Cross Townsend. There are currently six models of the Century II fountain pen: lustrous chrome, classic black, royal blue and medalist with steel nibs; and 10K rolled gold and sterling silver with gold nibs, ranging from US$ 115.00 to US$ 335.00 (MSRP).

The Cross Century II fountain pen, my daily writer of choice, a very practical pen, is available online from many sources. In Brazil, it is distributed by Victorinox. But you may find it better to have a first hand experience with this pen and support your local dealer. In Rio de Janeiro, you may get Cross pens (and many others) from reputable sellers such as Papelaria México (at Rua México, 168B, Centro); A Caneta Royal, a very pretty pen store downtown (Rua México, 158 Lj C, Centro), where Mr. Ralph will share his lifetime experience of pens with you and offer you his rich selection of very classy fountain pens, making it hard to drop by and not buy anything; and, of course, at Perito dos Cachimbos (new and used models there), where Edson and Marcelo will tell you a lot about pens and pipes and offer very good deals in Cross pens.

 

 

Pocket Notebooks for Fountain Pens

So the idea is to have affordable notebooks that are great for use with fountain pens.

One of the joys of having different inks and fountain pens is to be able to use them daily, all the time, for every purpose. For note taking, for sketching, for journaling, for taking down lecture notes, for action points in meetings, for creative mind maps, for everything involving ideas, nothing beats the delightful flexibility of pen and paper. But this can soon become expensive, very expensive. Little notebooks, even the high priced ones from leading brands, fail miserably when confronted with fountain pen ink: the writing feathers out (lines become spidery), the ink bleeds through the page onto the next one, medium nibs do broad lines, shading inks become dull and flat.

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Good notebooks allow you to draw, sketch and write with fountain pens without feathering or bleed-through.

What to do? If we lived in Paris, or in New York, we could go to the corner stationery store and get a Rhodia, or Clairefontaine, or Leuchtturm notebook. But in most places here, all we get are notebooks made of cheap offset paper of 56 g/sqm weight. A paper that works well with paste ink (used in ballpoint pens) or gel ink. Rollerballs and fountain pens, which use with liquid ink, will not work here.

Trouble is, even expensive notebooks such as those by Moleskine or Tilibra or Cicero (the lat two are beautiful little notebooks made in Brazil) are less than ideal for liquid ink. But there are two possible alternatives to solve the price and quality problem.

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The Silhueta 1/4 notebook and the Caderneta Ginasial 1/8 pocket notebook from Casa Cruz.

One solution is this: in Rio de Janeiro one can buy excellent, inexpensive old fashioned stapled notebooks from Casa Cruz in 1/4 size (230 x 155 mm), from the Silhueta line, or in 1/8 size (114 x 154 mm) from the Caderneta Ginasial line. For about a dollar each, one is able to buy the pretty notebooks that look exactly like the notebooks that were used by one’s grandparents more that 50 years ago, down to the boldly printed cover of light blue, green, pink or yellow paper. The Silhueta line is only available with unobtrusive light blue graph lining (5mm, 8mm and 10mm grids), in versions with 48, 60 and 80 sheets. The Caderneta Ginasial line is available with straight lines, with 60 sheets. The paper in those notebooks used to be better, and one may find some old stock with that smoother paper (easy to spot, because the grid is printed lighter); but the new paper, of 60 or 63 g/sqm is good enough.

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The Silhueta notebook is twice as large as the Caderneta Ginasial and has a grid pattern inside, with light blue unobtrusive lines.
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The addresses of the Casa Cruz physical stores, where these notebooks can be found, are here.

The other solution is more labor intensive, but it lets you choose the paper to your heart’s desire: one can make one’s own notebooks from large sheets or from A4-size sheets. This is the solution I prefer.

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Pocket notebooks made of tracing paper.

To make pocket notebooks, I use large sheets of tracing paper, which we call “papel manteiga” (butter paper) in Brazil. Tracing paper is good for tracing – and for baking – but lets you see through it. Except when used with pencil, one can only use one side of each sheet.That may be a disadvantage, but I have always found it bothersome to write on the back of the sheets (the left page) anyway. So I prefer that my pocket notebooks are of that paper, which is really, truly wonderful for fountain pens.

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It is always advisable to test the paper for fountain pen use before buying several large sheets.

The large sheets of tracing paper cost about US$ 0,40 each, and their size is 40″ x 28″ (or 3ft4 by 2ft4). By folding the sheets four times over, one can cut them into 16 sheets of 10″ x 7″, which are then folded in the middle, covered with a kraft paper cover of the same size and stapled in the middle to make handy notebooks of 7″ x 5″ (roughly 17,7mm x 12,7mm). Each sheet will yield a notebook having 32 sheets (or 64 pages considering both sides). I like that size very much. I go through one every few weeks in each of the purposes for which I use the little notebooks.

 

 

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Midori-style covers made out of leather are easy to make and very pretty and durable. I finish them with shoe wax.

To make a beautiful cover for the notebooks, Midori-style, only costs a little money as well: we can easily get scraps of leather from, for instance, the Eurocouro leather store, bought by the weight (3 to 6 dollars a pound). In large bins in that store, located on Buenos Aires Street in downtown Rio de Janeiro, there are scraps of all colors and thicknesses of good leather from which covers can be made. It is very easy to make the covers: a cutter blade and a steel ruler will do the trick. The leather cover is cut a little larger than the notebooks that will go into it, two loops of cloth covered elastic cords are passed through holes punched in the spine, and two notebooks can be fitted. Additional elastic cord loops will hold extra notebooks alongside those two.

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One sheet of tracing paper will yield one 32-sheet pocket notebook.

I usually buy one sheet of heavy kraft paper and ten sheets of tracing paper to make ten notebooks. To staple them, I have bought a long reach stapler, which costs around thirteen dollars at good stationery stores. If you find it hard to get one, it is possible to staple the spine with a common stapler using the edge of a plank, but you’ll have to close the staples by hand.

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A6-size notebooks made of 4 A4-size sheets each.

Finally, it is possible to make smaller notebooks (A6 size, 105mm x 74mm) by cutting A4 sheets in half and folding over the resulting A5 sheets. Because you can use heavier paper (75 or 90g/sqm), it is advisable to keep the notebooks thin (for example, 8 A4 sheets will yield 16 two-sided sheets, or 32 pages, which is enough for most purposes). Thinner paper of fountain pen compatibility is hard to come about, but good special papers are readily available anywhere. I prefer recycled paper, bought in 500 sheet packs for about four dollars (125 notebooks, which is a lot!).

For covers, I use old soap boxes – an excellent cardboard that makes my little notebooks smell veery, very good!

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Using soap box cardboard stock for covers makes for a very well scented notebook. Would you prefer Omo or Ariel soap?

It is fun to make those notebooks and covers, and in the long run you save considerable money, and you get everything personalized. If interested, drop me a line in the comments and I’ll gladly send you further details.

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Adding a little moisture to the spine before folding and letting the leather cover dry under a weight will help keep the cover closed.

That’s all for today. Till next week! And write always, by hand, with conviction and pride.

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Wish you’ll have a fruitful, productive week.

 

 

 

Custom-built Lamy Safaris

On the third floor of an old building on Rua da Quitanda, no. 47, in downtown Rio de Janeiro is a fascinating small shop called Perito dos Cachimbos (The Pipe Expert). The shop, originally specialized in fountain pen repairs, was bought by Agostinho Pires and his uncle in 1954. Sixty-two years later, the shop is very much like it was back then: very pretty, well organized, well lit, clean and friendly. Agostinho was a very respected, very well liked figure in the pen community in Brazil.

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Marcelo takes care of the commercial affairs and does everything that is pipe-related.

Today the shop is tended by Edson Dias, the pen wizard who has been there for decades, since 1968, and Agostinho’s son Marcelo Pires. They go on with the tradition of excellent service and great customer care. Marcelo is the pipe expert, and Edson is the pen wizard. Check Edson out in the picture above, sitting at the desk that has been his for decades.

Marcelo, the son of the late founder Agostinho, worked in the shop in the eighties, and came back to look after the shop in 2014. He repairs pipes, tends to customers and follows in his father’s footsteps

But Edson does more than repair pens. He also builds colorful Lamy Safaris from parts he has in stock, and the shop sells them for a very attractive price (ca. US$ 20.00). And he can customize a pen to order: the nib may be F, M or B (although he’s running out of B nibs). The cap may be aluminum or resin. And the body and section may be many different colors.Below is a sample of the goodies he builds and sells.

 

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Goodies for sale at perito dos Cachimbos, in downtown Rio de janeiro. All are custom creations by Edson from original Lamy parts.

The price will soon go up slightly, but they try to keep it in the US$ 20.00 range. By offering these pens for sale, they provide a great opportunity for people entering the fountain pen world to buy an awesome, nearly perfect pen, at an affordable price. The availability of three nib sizes (B, M and F, although they are running out of B nibs) allows aficionados to try out various nib sizes at a relatively low cost. If the buyer catches Edson at a less stressful moment, he may even customize a piece according to the buyer’s preferences. Otherwise, the buyer may rely upon Edson’s good taste and settle for one of his already assembled creations.

Of course, the shop offers many other pens, both new and vintage, from pens costing less than ten dollars (for the basic Compactor Pluma fountain pen, a little pen made in Brazil that is a surprisingly good writer, from new old stock) to hundreds of dollars for rare and highly valuable models. They also carry a very pretty line of leather cases for one or two pens made by hand exclusively for their shop. As with their other items, prices are attractive. Prices are good, customer care is first class. And they have several inks and other pen related articles – and, of course, a great collection of pipes and lighters.

I have four Lamy customs I bought from them.

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My custom Safari collection created by Edson Dias. Notice the blue painted Lamy logo on the yellow pen.

The top one, clad in yellow and white, I call my Vatican pen (yellow and white are the colors of the Vatican flag). The second one I call my chalk one, and I specially like the matte body and the light green aluminum cap. The third one is a yellow Safari, with a nice touch: the teal (I cannot tell if it is green or blue) painted logo. The fourth one is my charcoal/aluminum pen. All four pens belong in my everyday carry.

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My Lamy Safari Vatican. A great pen shop in Mexico City is Miguel Angel pens, on 5 de Mayo 29, Local H, Centro Histórico. A treasure trove for everything pen-related, including all grades of Lamy nibs.

Although my personal preference for general writing is for fine nibs (particularly Japanese fine nibs, which are very fine indeed), I use nibs ranging in size from EF to B on the Safaris. The Lamy F (fine) nib is almost a medium by my standards, so an EF nib (extrafine) was in order. As they had no EF nibs here, I got one on a trip to Mexico, at Miguel Angel pen shop, a gorgeous pen shop in the historical downtown section of Mexico city.

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My custom Lamy Safari collection, posted.

I like these pens a lot. I can carry them anywhere, they are excellent, flawless writers, they are not so expensive as to make me worry about carrying them around in my bag, they have all the nib sizes and ink colors I want to have on me, and they have that excellent three-sided sculpted grip that coaxes one’s hand in position for writing with the nib’s sweet spot in the best possible position.

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Writing with the B (broad) nib. The triangular shape of the section helps hold the pen in the best possible writing position.

Although the pens are sold without converters, converters can be obtained for a few more dollars, or one can use cartridges (and, on a pinch, refill the cartridges with liquid ink from a bottle, using a hypodermic syringe for that, preferably a 2 ml one with a blunt needle).

Lamy Safaris are consistently considered to be very good writers and without quirks. However, the sculpted grip may not be everyone’s preference, and certainly may be somewhat uncomfortable for left-handed people.

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Three nib sizes: B (broad), F (fine) and EF (extrafine).

I use good, sound, solid inks in those pens – Parker blue, Cross black, Montblanc oyster grey and a vintage Montblanc bordeaux (now replaced by the less exciting Montblanc burgundy).

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The F nib, up close and personal.
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The EF nib, bought in Mexico at Miguel Angel pens.

Those pens are true workhorses. I can write with any of them for hours on end without getting tired, and never ever have I had a problem with any Lamy Safari – no leakage, no stoppage, no false starts, and very smooth writing. I use the B nib for print, the other sizes for cursive. When uncertain about the paper quality, to avoid feathering I use the F or EF nibs, since the M and B nibs may cause some ink to scatter and the lines to become a little spidery. I usually prefer to write on Silhueta 5 mm grid paper notebooks from Casa Cruz, but for the B nib a larger grid – 8 mm or 10 mm – comes in handy. The Silhueta notebooks cost about one US-dollar and are fountain pen friendly, while other notebooks may not be (particularly those made of lighter stock – 56 g/m2 offset paper tend to show feathering and bleed through). However, the notebooks are stapled only, and are a rather odd size, larger than most such notebooks. I own a stack of those notebooks, for I keep worrying that the manufacturer will drop the line entirely or change the paper. Other notebook lines from Casa Cruz in very odd sizes and formats use the same paper (the Raphael drafting stapled pad line, for example). Mostly, those books are only available for sale in the physical stores.

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Writing with the F nib with the vintage Montblanc Bordeaux ink.

Summing up, anyone with a taste for Lamy Safaris can get one that no one else has, and that for an attractive price, from Perito dos Cachimbos – certainly worth a visit on your next trip to downtown Rio. If not the custom Safaris, one is bound to find something to buy there – vintage pens in mint condition such as Parker 51s and classic Sheaffers and Watermans, but also new pens from Parker, Lamy, Caran d’Ache, Cross and other brands, and, of course, inks, refills and accessories. Or, at least, good conversation and a peek into the very engaging hobbies of pens or pipes.

Write always, and do so with gusto!

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Custom Lamys.

The best mechanical pencils 5: Koh-i-Noor Toison d’Or clutch pencils

Among us engineering students, our usual mechanical pencil style was a clutch pencil (sometimes called a lead holder), not a propelling pencil (sometimes called a push pencil). We found it easier to sharpen a 2.0 mm lead to a very sharp point than to struggle with a fine 0.5 mm graphite lead that was often hard and brittle (this was before Pentel Ain Stein leads). We all proudly carried our mechanical pencils made by Staedtler, Faber Castell, Caran d’Ache and many others.

Most of those pencils were a solid color — yellow, mainly, but also green with gold lettering, blue, or black. Some were green with a knurled metal grip, and those were supposed to be better for long drafting jobs. We all had our preferences. But one model stood out from all others: the easily recognizable Toison d’Or, made in Tchecoslovakia by Koh-i-Noor. Its distinctive color scheme – a black lacquered barrel with a cream-colored band between two thin golden rings near the top of the barrel, the sturdy blade clip and the solid metal knurled sharpener that was screwed to the the top of the inner pipe and doubled as the pushbutton for releasing the clutch mechanism – instead of the more common metal tubelike push-in cap – set it out from other pencils. But back then, imports were rare, and it was hard to become the proud owner of a Toison d’Or pencil. Although fairly affordable, they were hard to come by in Brazil then.

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The two models: the smaller 5900 (for 2.0 mm leads) and 5905 (for up to 2.5 mm leads).

When I finally acquired my first Toison d’Or I bought the thinner and smaller  model (model 5900), the one that could handle the regular 2.0 mm leads. Later, I also got my larger, sturdier, heavier model, with a much bigger sharpener/button (model 5905) that could hold wider leads up to 2.5 mm.

I still have them, which shows how sturdy those pencils are – they will last for decades. And, attesting to how an excellent design lasts for decades, these same models are still manufactured today – not in Tchecoslovakia anymore, for, alas, that country does not exist anymore, but in the Czech Republic (in the same factory, actually, for the country has changed names and hands, but the old  factory is still there, in České Budějovice, near the Austrian border). The factory, originally Hardtmuth, founded in Austria in 1790, was moved there a long, long time ago.

Back in my college days, we all had little blue plastic lead sharpeners, for although all clutch pencils had some sort of sharpener attached to the pushbutton, the point we got by using them usually was very stubby; with the little blue sharpener, we got the long, fine points we so dearly liked.

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The sharp point we all strived for.

In the case of the Toison d’Or pencils, however, we got good enough points with the included sharpeners. Particularly, the sharpener included in the 5905 achieves very long and sharp points.

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The included pushbutton / sharpener.

As in all clutch pencils, the thick lead sits loosely inside the barrel. By pressing the button on top, the jaws at the bottom of the barrel are opened, and the lead comes out by the action of gravity. After an adequate size is exposed, the button on top is released and the spring inside the barrel pulls the jaws up to hold the lead in place

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The jaws keep the lead in place. (Notice how rotating the pencil keeps the lead sharp. For highlighting, a blunt point like this is better.)

 

I  use both pencils – the larger one for graphite leads (mainly B grade, but I also use other grades and have a varied assortment) and the smaller one for yellow leads (or leads of other colors) that I use for highlighting. I will use any brand, but I currently use either Faber-Castell or Staedtler leads, for these are easily available in the stores near my home and my office.

Naturally, the disadvantage of using these pencils for writing is that the point soon becomes blunt. For drafting, on the other hand, especially with harder graphite grades, as well as for sketching, by using a light touch the point remains sharp longer, and the graphite markings, after being covered with ink traces, may easily be erased.

The yellow lead I keep in the smaller pencil is ideal for highlighting. I have found this to be an excellent method, particularly for highlighting notes written with a fountain pen or with a pencil, because liquid ink highlighters will smear the traces – dry highlighting with colored leads is the cleanest and best way to go.

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Highlighting with the yellow lead: no smearing!

The lacquering is very good. Even after years of use, only some shallow scratches mar the surface of the pencils. More recently, however, I have grown more careful and now I carry the pencils in a leather étui to avoid further scratching them.

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Notice that time did not mar the lacquer or the gold lettering.

The Koh-i-Noor Toison d’Or pencils do not come out cheap – they cost anything between US$ 10.00 and US$ 20.00 (in Brazil, from R$ 45 to R$ 80). The included sharpeners are very good, and never become blunt (mine have lasted meany years and do not show any sign of bluntness). But if a long, fine point is required, the small blue inexpensive sharpeners will do the job (but their blades tend to rust and become blunt after a couple of years). Staedtler manufactures a much better (and more expensive) sharpener (model Staedtler Mars 502), available in art supply stores for about US$ 10.00. For convenience, that sharpener (not shown here) has a little can for the graphite shavings.

In Rio de Janeiro, I have found the Staedtler sharpener in Papelaria Calógeras, downtown, and the Toison d’Or pencils in the Casa Cruz physical stores and online in various sites, and I am confident that they can be found in the better art supply stores in major cities in Brazil.

I plan to use these pencils daily for a long time yet. I see no need to replace them with other models. They do the job, they are all metal, very sturdy, they have a great paint job and look pretty, they are hexagonal and do not roll off tables, and they last forever. The larger one, model 5905, is very comfortable in my hand. I can use it all day and never become tired. It is heavier and thicker that the 5900 model, so I use the smaller model for highlighting. For those of us with smaller hands, however, the 5900 may feel more comfortable. For me, the 5905 has the perfect size and a perfect balance.

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The balance of these pencils in the hand is outstandingly good. Notice some signs of use after many, many years of daily abuse: scratches, but the lacquering holds out.

Teaser: Next week, I’ll present some of the creativity of Edson, from Perito dos Cachimbos (The Pipe Expert), a small and very well appointed store full of goodies in Rio,  in creating exclusive, customized Lamy Safaris and Lamy Safari / AL-Star hybrids from the store’s parts stock. Meanwhile, you can check the store’s site at the link below, at www.peritodoscachimbos.com.br.

And go on writing, always with conviction!

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Edson at his desk, where he performs his magic repairing and creating pens.

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Mechanical Pencils 3: The Pentel Graphgear 1000

For daily use, my preference falls upon Pilot’s “The Shaker”, reviewed in the first installment of this series. For writing, I vote for the Pentel Kerry (a mechanical pencil formally dressed in a smart tuxedo, reviewed in the second installment). For drafting, definitely the Pentel Graphgear 1000 is a great choice. Let us examine why.

One of the most important aspects of a mechanical pencil for drafting is its balance. The all-metal body of the Graphgear 1000 makes it heftier than many drafting pencils, but not heavy. Its sister pencil, the Graphgear 500 (my runner-up pencil of choice), although a little lighter due to its plastic body, also balances extremely well, which indicates that the ideal weight distribution was achieved by Pentel in both models. I can use either pencil all day without getting tired.

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Moreover, the very good-looking Graphgear 1000 has some niceties that make it stand out from the crowd – by crowd I mean excellent mechanical pencils such as the Rotring 600, the Staedtler 925, the Faber-Castell TK-matic and alpha-matic, and a host of lesser known but equally good drafting pencils from Koh-i-Noor, Cretacolor, Zebra, and many others.

The main very nice detail of the Graphgear 1000 is the clip. Looking like an alligator jaw clip, it holds the pencil very positively in a pocket, and the firm spring keeps it from sliding away. By extending the clip handle beyond the hinge to form a see-saw like configutation, Pentel designed a very convenient way to open the clip and thus to easily slide the pencil out again.

ButWP_20160214_08_12_27_Pro_Fotor what is great about the clip is the fact that when that clip is pushed open, the whole sleeve section retracts into the conical tip. This simple action protects the fine sleeve and shaft from damage if the pencil is accidentally dropped.

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As someone that has damaged a few drafting pencils by dropping them, I can fully appreciate the convenience of this mechanism. And, as an added bonus, the point, being retracted, cannot pierce the fabric (or one’s skin beneath it…).

Another very nice detail are the oval inlaid rubber-covered spots around the grip. Although the grip section is made of knurled metal anWP_20160214_08_11_02_Pro_Fotord provides in itself a very firm grip, the inlaid rubber spots add comfort to it. I do not find the appearance of the rubber dots particularly attractive, but there is no discussion that they add a lot of comfort during long drafting sessions. And, granted, they do add a fresh note to the otherwise sober appearance of the pencil.

The industrial appearance of the Graphgear 1000 and its fine shaft make it ideal for drafting. For everyday use writing , scribbling and drafting, The Shaker (Pilot H-1010) is probably a more sensible choice.

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All in all, the Graphgear 1000 has become my main drafting instrument. It is available in all the usual lead sizes. It does not come out cheap, but the build quality, the distinctive look and the niceties probably give you a bigger bang for your buck than similarly priced or slightly more expensive pencils.

In Brazil, this pencil can be bought at good art supply stores, such as Casa Cruz  (in Rio de Janeiro), Art Camargo, Papelaria Universitária and many others in various cities. Online, many suppliers are available. You may want to try the site  www.lojaviajapan.com, and talk to Erika or Kazuo Nakano.

 

 

 

The best mechanical pencils 2: the Pentel Kerry

Last week the Pilot H-1010 “The Shaker”, the best push pencil for everyday use, was presented. Today, it is time for the best formal push pencil – a stunning pencil for the corporate environment, an eye catcher at board meetings, an affordable object of discrete envy: the Pentel Kerry.

The Kerry is also a classic. It was originally introduced by Pentel – a name that is indelibly connected to mechanical pencils in the users’ minds, and one of the best known brands from Japan – in 1971. It comes in two lead sizes (0.5 mm and 0.7 mm) and in six metallic colors: black, pink, light blue, bright red, dark blue, and grey. My version is the classic black with 0.5 mm leads (as always, Pentel Ain Stein 2B graphite leads).

This is an elegant pencil that caps like a pen, and when you uncap it you post the cap very positively. The cap has a very comfortable pushbutton that remains retracted when the the pencil is capped, looking more like a finial that a button.

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The pentel Kerry, capped.

When posted, the button extends out and lets the user operate the pencil in a natural way. With the cap posted, the pencil is extremely well balanced and has just the right length.

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The Pentel Kerry with the cap posted.

The pencil is a looker. It certainly looks more expensive than its ca. US$ 12.00 to US$ 20.00 price tag. The design is timelessly elegant – reminiscent of the airplane-style design characteristic of decades past. The streamlined tip, specially, is unique, unlike that of any other pencil I know. In Brazil, this pencil can be bought at some of the best physical art supply stores (such as, near where I live, Papelaria Enfoque’s paper&art store in downtown Niterói and Casa Cruz in Rio de Janeiro) and online. You may want to try www.lojaviajapan.com (talk to Erika or Kazuo Nakano there, they offer very good service for Japanese imports).

One of the nicest things about this pencil is that the cap effectively makes it look very businesslike and very professional. Moreover, the cap effectively protects the tip if the pencil is dropped. The pencil is built like a tank, but looks like a luxury car. The broad knurled metal ring around the waist definitely sets the pencil apart form the other writing instruments one is likely to find in a business meeting.

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Writing with the Pentel Kerry.

I normally use this pencil to write in business meetings. I keep it in a leather étui with two slots, one holding the fountain pen currently in use and the other holding the Kerry. It certainly attracts some appreciative looks when I pull out both writing tools from the étui and lay them on the table.

Sometimes I take other matching sets of fountain pen and mechanical pencil to meetings, Cross Century Classic II or Sheaffer Imperial gold plated. But the Pentel Kerry is not only better from a purely functional point of view, it is also invariably the most original and best looking pencil in the room.

My Kerry’s color is the non-intrusive and discrete black, but I imagine the other colors may appeal to other people out there.

All in all, there’s nothing to dislike in this timeless and very classic, very original, very streamlined and beautiful pencil. It writes extremely well, it looks great, it is solid and has a time tested design. Not unlike the Harley-Davidson motorcycles I so much enjoy riding.

 

 

 

The best mechanical pencils 1: The Pilot Shaker

 

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“The Shaker”: My no. 1 push pencil.

I own and have used mechanical pencils (or push pencils, with 0.3 mm to 0.9 mm graphite leads) and clutch pencils (with 1.6 mm, 2.0 mm and 5.6 mm leads) since my high school days. Over the years, having experienced (and suffered) many different models – Caran d’Ache, Staedtler, Rotring, Spalding, Parker, Sheaffer, Cross, Lamy, Faber-Castell (so many I cannot even remember them all), I have gradually settled on four models of mechanical pencils and only one model of clutch pencils. Those are the very best for me.

The mechanical pencils I use for writing and drafting are, in order of preference:

  1. Pilot’s “The Shaker” 0.5 mm H1010, the one I most use, the very best all around pencil.
  2. Pentel Kerry 0.5 mm – a wonderfully elegant design for writing.
  3. Pentel Graphgear 1000 0.5 mm, my choice for drafting, with the most ingenious shaft retreating mechanism and the most sturdy and safest clip.
  4. Uni Kuru Toga Roulette 0.5 mm, a very well engineered pencil for writing, also highly usable for drafting.

Moreover, and outside this list, I also frequently use the Pentel Graphgear 500 0.3 mm for drafting.

And the one and only clutch pencil, both in the 2.0 mm and 2.5 mm versions, is the classic all metal black (with cream and gold details) Koh-i-Noor Toison d’Or 590o and 5905.

No rubber grips, no frills, no cheap plastic parts, no extravagant colors, no very thin or lightweight bodies. Just the right weight, grip, handling, performance, quality, styling and size.

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Pilot H-1010 “The Shaker”

Much as I would like to provide the history and a description of each of those outstanding pencils in one post, space ant time constraints force me to tackle one at a time. So today I’ll try to cover my history with the amazing, beautiful, awesome, lovable number one pencil: The Shaker. In the following weeks I intend to cover each one of these wonderful writing instruments, and the reasons why they are so special.

So on to it.

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