November 14, 2013

PPF 48: Reward of Uniquity

Happy PPF! Turns out my Tornado costume eked out a narrow victory in the Retro 51 Halloween costume contest, so the good folks at Retro 51 let me pick a one-of-a-kind Tornado (best. prize. ever.)!  I picked the Wavy Orange Groove writer, and boy is it a looker. I thought it was going to be orange and white, but the white bits are actually a striated silver. I love it!

Retro 51 Wavy Orange Groove Writer

November 8, 2013

PPF 47: Discontinuation Blues

I don't remember where I first heard about the Pilot Explorer -- though my money's on either The Pen Addict or Good Pens -- but it was already too late.  It must have been ahead of its time: too out of step with the stick pens and questionable color pallets of the 80s and 90s.  It wasn't even that they had become so hard to find that they were going for $100 on eBay and I wouldn't do it -- they weren't on eBay.  I couldn't find one anywhere.

I pined for months before it showed up: one unopened 2-pack of Pilot Explorers.  They were in New Zealand and had to be purchased through a site I'd never heard of, but the retailer took Paypal and only wanted $7 for them -- totally worth the risk.  Eventually, they came!  I have them!  They go great with leaves.

For what were intended to be disposable office pens, these are kind of amazing.  They have fairly hefty, thick barrels and surprisingly comfortable molded grips reminiscent of the famed Lamy Safari.  Design aside, they seem to have been some of the first widely distributed fine-tipped modern pens, which earned them a permanent spot in the hearts of many.

The only thing I don't like about these is knowing there's little hope for replacing or refilling them.  As Patrick at A Pen A Day put it, "I like this one so much I don't want to use it."

November 1, 2013

PPF 46: Fountain Pen Day

Happy PPF and happy Fountain Pen Day!  The official Fountain Pen Day website describes the holiday as an occasion to "embrace, promote, and share fountain pens and the handwritten arts."  Pen Porn Friday is, I suppose, an occasion to enjoy gratuitous images of writing instruments for no higher purpose than personal enjoyment.  So, embrace your inner pen gawker!  Promote and share when you're ready.  This is a safe space.

Hey, look -- a pen!  It's the Muji Aluminum Fountain Pen, which is one a heck of a pleasant surprise at $15.50.  It looked to me like another great example of Muji's simple, beautiful, affordable designs, but it's a great writer, too.  The build quality is impressive; it feels solid overall, but certainly not heavy, and no rattly parts.  That little ridge on the bottom of the cap lets it post firmly on the end of the pen, which has a tiny round slot for it on the end of the barrel.  It uses international standard cartridges, which are easy to find.

It's a great buy if you're up for spending $15 on a pen (live a little!), but good luck getting off the Muji website without several other items jumping in your cart.

Muji Aluminum Fountain Pen

October 25, 2013

PPF 45: Campy Vacation Edition

Happy PPF!  Folks, when you tell people that you like pens, they tend to assume that you hate mediocre pens. This has always seemed curious to me since I just said that I like pens. 

Thankfully kids seem immune from whatever self-conscious impulse triggers that response. So when my nephew spotted this souvenir pen, he was excited to show it to me even through his nonchalant, "yo check this out" demeanor.  I happily purchased it despite the fact that it's a stick (heh) pen with no top. And they say kids are impressionable. 

Not an awful buy for $3.99; it's a fairly smooth ballpoint with some weight to it, BUT NO TOP. Seriously, wtf. 

Prior to this find, I'd selected another souvenir pen. This style is available roughly everywhere; the pens usually retail for $1.99 and they're awful, sub-Bic writers. This one happened to fit with the "pen porn" theme, though it might be a little too wacka-chicka for me.

October 18, 2013

PPF 44: Plus They're Cool Edition

Happy PPF!  Folks, I've made reference to Fisher Space Pens many times, but here's the real deal: two of Fisher's Bullet-style pocket pens. 

The Bullet style is only 3.75" capped and 5.25" posted with a super durable brass body. One free line of engraving if you order from  Gifting occasions are coming up!

The matte black one is -- I think -- the first non-disposable pen I ever bought.  My friend Kelley kindly reminds me of how many times I had to "visit" it in the store before I eventually shelled out $17 and brought it home.  The shiny one (which offers a bonus reflection of me taking the picture) was an eBay purchase.  It has the seal of the U.S. House of Representatives and came in a nifty gift box; the seller said it was a gift from his congressman.  (The seller also failed to mention in the listing that it was a Fisher Space Pen, so I think I only paid $8 for it.  Sweet deal.)

One more thing to mention: despite whatever email forward or clever anecdote you got from your wingnut neighbor or smug uncle, the U.S. government did not spend a gazillion dollars developing a space pen while the Russians sensibly used pencils.  All astronauts used pencils initially, but they weren't ideal: the tips can flake and break off, and that's problematic in zero gravity.  Plus NASA was a little shifty about having flammable crap like pencil shavings around given the potential for space shuttles to, y'know, blow up.  Tragically.

Space pens were actually developed by Paul Fisher of the Fisher Pen Co., who had had some success in the 1950s with his "Universal Refill," which could be used in most ballpoint pens of the time.  Fisher invested his own money in the project and patented his AG7 Anti-Gravity Pen in 1965.  He offered the pen to NASA; after two years of testing the agency placed an initial order of 400 Fisher Space Pens for $2.95 each.  They first flew on Apollo 7.  The Russians started using them shortly thereafter.


Truthfully, I don't end up using a space pen much.  They are especially smooth ballpoints, but I just don't love a ballpoint.  Many of the pen bodies (there are a ton of options now) are really cool, though.  Is it wrong to want a gel refill for a space pen?  It feels a little wrong.

October 11, 2013

PPF 43: Surprise Prequel Edition

Happy PPF! In some ways, the current Retro 51 Hex-o-matic is like Terminator 2. First, it's badass. It's also much more well known than its predecessor. So much so that even though The Terminator (1984) was made before T2 (1991), it kind of feels like a prequel. That could be partly due to my age -- I hadn't turned 2 yet when the original movie came out -- but T2 grossed $520 million compared to The Terminator's $38 million, so I don't think I'm alone here.

I've had and loved the current model of the Hex-o-matic for months, but I had no idea that Retro 51 had released a prior version in the early 90s (perhaps in limited numbers since the brand itself was born in the early 90s). I learned that yesterday when the nice person manning @Retro1951 responded to my tweet:

I love the internet.

One more picture:

Retro 51 Hex-o-matics (left to right: 2012 version, early 90s version)

October 4, 2013

PPF 42: Ink, Yes; Joy, No

Happy PPF!  So you know how most grocery-type stores carry dozens of laundry detergent brands, but Procter & Gamble makes all of them?  Not technically true, but they do make Cheer, Downy, Dreft, Era, Febreeze, Gain, Ivory, and 47 kinds of Tide, plus a bunch of international brands.  That sort of offering allows P&G to target different market segments with efforts tailored to each, and it crowds out competition by making it that much harder for a new brand to find a toehold.

Newell Rubbermaid (NWL) isn't the P&G of the pen world, but they do own eight major pen brands: you're likely familiar with Paper Mate, uni-ball, Parker, and Sharpie; Expo probably made the nearest whiteboard marker to you; Prismacolor is primarily targeted at artists; rOtring is a German brand of really cool technical pens and mechanical pencils; and Waterman is a luxury brand born in NY that seems to be trying to pass itself off as French these days (wouldn't that make you L'Homme d'Eau, guys?).

At the most affordable end of that spectrum is Paper Mate, which it turns out people like!  I didn't actually have any Paper Mate products on hand, but I picked some up recently at the suggestion of readers Tom and Mary.  The Profile 1.4Bs and the InkJoys I tried still look and feel cheap, but on the plus side, they are cheap: $0.75 and $1.25 respectively, versus $2.60 for the uni-ball Jetstream and $2.50 for the Pilot Acroball that I used for comparison.  (The Profile was the only true ballpoint in this fight; the InkJoy, Jetstream, and Acroball are all hybrids: they use mixed inks that aim to dry instantly like a ballpoint but flow smoothly like a rollerball.)

At 1.4 mm, the Profile's tip was considerably broader than any ballpoint I'd used before; it kind of felt like writing with a chopstick at first.  It was smoother than I expected right away, but it got considerably better after I wrote with it for a while.  At the end of the test I'd say it even wrote with a color depth comparable to the Jetstream, though it required more force (a problem for my crampy old lady hand) and couldn't match the consistency.  Still, for $0.75 it was a pleasant surprise.

As expected, the InkJoy was smoother right out of the gate, but the barrel is cheesy and slim and its greasy ink accumulated on the tip overnight and made a big globby mess the next time I used it.  Ink, yes; joy, no.
Right to Left: Paper Mate Profile x 2, InkJoy x 2, uni-ball Jetstream RT, Pilot Acroball

October 2, 2013

Midweek Disappointments

When I first got my TWSBI Diamond Mini (months ago), I only had Noodler's Bulletproof Black on hand, and though it's one of my favorite inks, it doesn't look particularly exciting in a demonstrator.  So yesterday when I finally finished that first fill, I was excited to try something new.  Something special.  Something like Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-Peki.

Sadly, in the pretty much looks like black too.

September 30, 2013

Nock Co Kickstarter is Live! And Funded!

It only took an hour for Nock Co's Kickstarter project to reach its funding goal, but you still have 30 days to become a backer!

Congrats, guys!  Can't wait to try them.

September 27, 2013

PPF 41: Pressurized Edition

Happy PPF! Friends, remember the Fisher Space Pen? It's a marvel of 1960s technology that's able to write in space, in freezing cold, in desert heat, underwater, and upside down due to its pressurized ink cartridge. That pressure also makes it an unusually smooth everyday ballpoint. If you simplify that idea a bit, you get pens like the Tombow AirPress and the Pilot Down Force, which use rather pedestrian (read: cheaper) refills and pressurize them each time you depress the knock to extend the writing tip. I didn't expect to much prefer one of those two over the other -- same idea, similar appearance -- but I do, and I'd say the $3 price difference is worth it.

Except for the clip, I find the Down Force more attractive. Pressing the top of the clip also retracts the tip (rather than pressing the knock again), which is neat, but the "click" -- and especially the "un-click" -- are LOUD. The Down Force also floats, which likely appeals to certain folks (Dad), but just means that it feels hollow -- almost brittle -- to the rest of us. The AirPress has a strong, metal clip that would look right at home on the outside of your pants pocket, and it's about an inch shorter, meaning you're much less likely to accidentally stab yourself in the leg. Its barrel is also rubberized (i.e., grippy) and feels a lot more durable. So if you're interested in a Down Force ($7), I'd suggest shelling out an extra three bucks for the AirPress ($10). (Plus "down force" kind of sounds like a polite way of measuring gastrointestinal distress.)

Tombow AirPress & Pilot Down Force

September 20, 2013

PPF 40: Sprightly Edition

Happy PPF!  Friends, I'm not generally drawn to bright colors.  So the first time I heard about Poppin, I liked their sleek, modern, minimally-branded office supplies, but I resisted the urge to order something.  The whole site seemed a little too chipper.  "Work happy," it said.  "F*** you," I thought.
Then they had a really good sale: a free medium soft cover notebook with any purchase over $10 and free shipping. So I threw a 6-pack of Pool Blue Retractable Gel Luxe Pens in my cart with a matching notebook and pulled the trigger.
First, the packaging is kind of precious.  The packing slip has directions on the back for making it into a paper airplane, and the little air pillows each have speech bubbles that say things like "Hello!" and "See you in the supply cabinet!"  The notebook feels very much like a $20 Moleskine and includes a similar ribbon bookmark, pocket in the back, and elastic band closure.  The pens are quite good for the price range ($10/6): a dark, rich color with no skipping, and I dig the metal clips, which taper around the barrel a bit.  They are a bit broader than I'd like at 0.7 mm.
Poppin 1, Curmudgeon 0

Poppin Soft Cover Notebook & Retractable Gel Luxe Pen

September 13, 2013

PPF 39: Serendipitous Edition

Happy PPF!  Pop quiz: How are a ballpoint, a rollerball, and a gel pen different from each other?  Answer: just the ink. Whether you fancy a greasy, instant-dry, smear- and feather-proof ballpoint, the smooth flow of a liquid ink rollerball, or the precision, color intensity, and effortless experience of a gel pen, you're generally using the same ink delivery method and the same type of tip.  So if you're shopping at a store based primarily overseas, it's not too surprising that the terminology gets shuffled a bit.  Such is the serendipitous case of Muji's Compact Aluminum Ballpoint, which is actually an excellent gel pen.  (Muji's cheaper, plastic gel pens -- a few of which I picked up for only $1.50 -- are also an absolute joy to write with, though not as snazzy as their aluminum counterpart.)

Muji Compact Aluminum Ballpoint

September 6, 2013

PPF 38: Educational Sample Edition

Happy Pen Porn Friday!  Say hello to my little friend, an Esterbrook CH Educational Sample.  Esterbrooks were a popular choice for students given their reliability and affordability, and this one definitely seems geared toward smaller hands at just under 4.5" capped and about 5.25" posted.  This particular style is -- I think -- part of the 1950s purse pen line, so perhaps Esterbrook was targeting teachers as much or more than students with this offering.  I think it's darling, and though I've inked it and written with it a bit, I generally keep it cleaned and stowed so I don't risk cracking the soft, aging plastic barrel.

Esterbrook CH Educational Sample

August 30, 2013

PPF 37: Multinational Collaboration Edition

Happy PPF! Folks, while the Lodis model of pen production generally leads to disappointing results, pen stores partnering with pen makers to produce exclusive offerings can be fan-freaking-tastic. So when a favorite pen store, Cult Pens, joined forces with a favorite pen brand, Kaweco, I was in -- despite getting hosed by the exchange rate and the across-the-pond shipping cost.

Kaweco makes two other fountain pens I love: the AL Sport and the Liliput. Neither of these have satisfying -- or even included -- clips. The Cult Pens Mini Fountain Pen has a firm, stainless steel clip that looks surprisingly well matched to its brushed aluminum barrel and nickel-chromium plated brass accents. At 20g it's just weighty enough to feel substantial without weighing down a shirt pocket, and at 105 mm capped and 123 mm posted it's short enough to fit easily in said pocket and long enough to fit comfortably in my hand. For writing at length, I'd prefer something a bit longer and thicker, but for quick notes or signing receipts, this does the trick.