It’s normal, right?

27 11 2021

As I got older, and strived to get wiser, I came to realise that “normal” is a much-misused word when applied to a group of items with constantly changing characteristics.

People, say.

At best, it can only be applied to a fixed group in a set circumstance for a set period of restricted observation time. Enough philosophising – despite being left-handed, B blood type and any number of other labels that are deemed unusual (I have more than the average number of legs too – think about it…), I’m pretty content with who I am most days, and almost always at ease with my current obsession, whatever that may be.

Since COVID, I’ve rekindled my interest in fountain pens and associated accoutrements. In the before-times I had a monogamous relationship with my pen. As a school kid I had a series of Platignum offerings, most often Silverline, which true to form ended up getting broken due to the typical build quality of most British manufacturing in the 70s (looking at you TR7, as well as pretty much the entire Leyland range!)

As I progressed towards the lower sixth form (via the “Transitus” – it was that kind of school), my parents bought me a Parker 45 with a gold M nib, which I still have to this day. College saw me dabbling in many dark arts, including gel pens which I continued to use as I began my work life, before discovering disposable fountain pens (which I recently discovered needn’t be so disposable after all) in all manner of lurid colours which suited my off-beat style at the time. Strictly one at a time though…

Several years ago, my lovely father-in-law bought me a Sheaffer Sagaris with a fine nib which became my every-day work pen, never failing me once. Having previously been an M nib user (and even on the fat side of that, with the UK-made Parker 45), this F was a new experience which I struggled with at first. It became a firm (no pun intended) favourite though, and my only gripe now is a self-inflicted loose-ish cap due to my incessant popping on/off of the same. Hey – I don’t smoke. Don’t judge…

And then COVID… and everyone’s world changed. “Normal” meant nothing at all any more.

And then I saw a Parker 51 on Craigslist… which led to another, and then a Vacumatic, and then a burning need to find a replacement nib for a Parker 25 I was given years ago, and then I discovered AliExpress and the awesome upper-end offerings of Jinhao, and then… I realised it was simply too late to pull up. I was in deep and the door had shut tightly behind me. This was my new normal!

Drawers full of ink for every possibly occasion (but as Barenaked Ladies’ “Life, in a nutshell” teaches us – it’s never enough!); more fountain pens than I can shake a stick at (and I have access to pretty large sticks in BC!); newfound uses for After Eight tins (10 30ml Diamine ink bottles fit perfectly); shotgun cartridge boxes (they neatly hold 25 5ml ink samples); 35ml film storage boxes (perfectly fit 10ml J Herbin ink bottles)… you get the idea.

Nestle After Eight tin fits 10 x 30ml Diamine inks perfectly.

So here we are, well into the COVID times and I find that anywhere between 6 and 10 concurrently inked fountain pens is now totally “normal”. Oddly (for too much “normal” just isn’t well, normal), I now use a “disposable” Zebra pen for my work… though truthfully that is just a different room of the house these days. For me-time though – I currently have the following selection all inked up with lots of places to go (to completely mangle a Meatloaf song).

Current Desk Companions in a repurposed Dollar Store makeup brush tidy

  • First off, we have my latest acquisition. This is a lime green Opus 88 Picnic with a medium nib. It’s an eyedropper and at 2ml takes a healthy amount of ink. It only sports a #5 JoWo, but is a lovely smooth writer and has a bit of bounce to it. Love it! Very comfortable size in the hand. Currently inked with the last few drops of my Pure Pens Celtic Sea sample. The thing about eyedroppers is that they’ll easily accommodate an entire sample bottle, so it’s useful to use a graduated syringe to make sure you leave a little for later if you want to try it in another pen too. The Opus 88s look like piston fillers but they actually have a Japanese-style valve to close off the feed if you’re nervous about your pen “burping” if you ever get to sit in an aeroplane ever again!
  • Next in line we have a Pilot V-pen, currently with Platinum Classic Citrus Black. I’ve refilled this nominally disposable pen a couple of times now, and it’s a great option for a grab it and go choice because it’s so cheap and robust. I tend to leave iron gall inks in it for writing envelopes, though citrus Black doesn’t really work well for Canada Post. Once I write it dry I’ll likely refill it with Noodler’s Bad Belted Kingfisher, or some other more mainstream water resistant colour. I chose to “customise” it by using rubbing alcohol to clear the branding off the barrel and making it a pseudo-demonstrator.
  • Opus 88 Demonstrator with Pilot Iroshizuku Syo-ro. This has been in the line-up for a few weeks now. Another lovely Opus 88, and with a fine nib and a whopping 4ml of ink capacity, it’s taking an absolute geological age to write dry! It’s a real unit though, so make sure you try one in the flesh before you commit if you’re attracted by its undeniable good looks but have a small hand – it’s a large, if light, pen.
  • Jinhao 911 with their hooded EF nib, which at 0.38mm is a solid F in most people’s view. I bought this because of its looks. It’s like a skinny, Flighter version of Parker’s classic 51 (the original – this is a click cap. The 51A is a more literal “homage”, as the name might suggest. Their 85 model is a dead ringer for a Flighter version of the new Parker 51 at a fraction of the price, and a screw cap). It’s always been a solid performer but at less than CA$5, I feel comfortable using it with unknown quantities when it comes to inks. At the moment it has Noodler’s Ink’s Bad Belted Kingfisher in it. I recently bought this on the island during a lovely visit to Island Blue art shop. I have a few waterproof/resistant inks, but they’re all a bit funky, colour-wise. I decided it was time I strove for that “normal” again, and started to look for a blue or blue-black ink I could use for envelopes, having had a couple of letters only delivered by the near-forensic efforts of the Royal Mail. They were somehow getting drenched between my address here in a rainforest and my recipient on the wet British Isles. A wonder more letters don’t get delivered completely washed out, really! As with other Noodler’s inks I’ve tried, it feathers in anything like an M nib unless using coated paper. This 0.38mm nib is definitely on the broad side for most envelope papers I’ve tried with this ink, but it’s a nice enough colour and seems to resist the water once it’s properly dried and combined with the paper fibres. A thinner nib/better paper should be better.
  • Platinum Preppy with Platinum blue/black cartridge. This is the thinnest nib I own, except for my Vacumatic. Once the cartridge it came with is dry I think this will realistically become my Noodler’s envelope-writing pen. I bought a converter to use with it, but being only an EF/0.2mm nib (about half of Jinhao’s “EF”), this nib is taking its time to drink the cartridge dry. It tended to hard start when it had been left unused for any time at all, hence why I store it nib-down. Doesn’t have any issue otherwise. Not bad for $4.50, but very plasticky compared to the – cheaper – Jinhao’s solid build quality.
  • Lamy AL Star with Lamy blue cartridge. Another pen that’s been in rotation for a while… I think it’s because I don’t find the supplied blue ink particularly appealing, so it doesn’t get much use. It’s totally problem-free, and I do like the B nib (I love the all-matte black livery of this pen, including coated nib), and I look forward to trying it with a more interesting ink.
  • Finally, I pulled an old favourite back into circulation. This is an old Parker Vector. I think it’s called a “sport” because of the black rather than more usual silver trim. M nib. Made in the USA. Currently filled with Noodler’s Navajo Turquoise. I bought a sample about a year ago when searching for a good turquoise ink. It’s pleasant enough, but given the issues I have with other Noodler’s inks and the fact they only sell in 90ml bottles, I think I’ll stick to Sheaffer.

Since I mentioned a couple of different Opus 88 models and referred to their sizes, I thought I’d add this useful graphic I spotted on FaceBook a while ago. Please check out the Opus 88 page, if you’re a FB user – they have some awesome products, and as you may have read elsewhere in these pages, their customer service is absolutely amazing. I’ve had the pleasure of travelling to Taiwan a couple of times for business and I can tell you if I ever get the chance to go back, I’ll be bringing an armful of their product home with me next time!

Original posted on FaceBook by Opus 88 and created by Dan Cincu


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