No Grime or Raisin

30 01 2022

I’ve been trying to use and more greatly appreciate my current fleet of fountain pens and ink, and resist buying many more this year. We’ll see how that goes…

I had ordered a couple of pens from ēnsso in California at the end of 2021, and both have now safely arrived. I blogged my initial thoughts on the diminutive XS Minimalist previously here if you’re at all interested.

A couple of weeks in, I’ve written dry the initial Kaweco Smokey Grey ink cartridge I’d christened it with. Such a lovely pencil-like neutral grey. Looking forward to finishing the packet of cartridges I bought and moving on to a full bottle (when I allow myself to buy ink again… ).

In the end though, I just couldn’t get on with the Bock M nib I’d ordered with the pen. I wasn’t sure if it was the ink or the PVD coating on the nib, but it was highly prone to hard starts/skipping at the beginning of words. I was pretty sure it was the nib, as the ink is quite wet usually and provides lovely shading as it pools in the letter forms.

The business end of the nib – the underside of the tipping – doesn’t actually have PVD on it (I guess it quickly gets worn off in use – paper can be surprisingly abrasive), but I suspected the coating on the tines was messing with the capillary action and so I swapped the nib unit out for a spare uncoated B Kaweco nib unit I had, and it wrote flawlessly from that point on (no pun intended).

To be fair – the Bock on the ēnsso comes with a very different feed to the Kaweco-supplied unit, so that is one variable I didn’t exclude from my perfunctory testing.

Coated No 5 Bock nib on ēnsso XS

This last week brought me two more toys though. Firstly was my long-awaited limited edition (200 units – 3 left at time of writing) ēnsso Italia, made from raw copper. I’ve long yearned for a pure copper pen: I’ve enjoyed the look of copper patina since I first became aware of the extreme blue copper salts found on old rooves* back in the UK. Pens tend to only gather varied shades of darker brown salts, but the almost organic nature of the staining is something I find attractive. All that said… I was actually a little disappointed to find that my brand new pen already had some smears and marks on it. OK – maybe not grimy as such, and they will be readily subsumed into the naturally acquired patina as time moves irresistibly forward, but I was just a little sad it didn’t at least start pristine.

ēnsso Italia LE in copper – note oxidation on cap

It’s generally though a thing of beauty. It’s pretty weighty at around 86g with the cap and 55g without. It is machined out of a solid block of copper with the exception of the spring steel clip which is neat, unadorned, functionally efficient and without any nasty sharp edges.

The cap and barrel have tiny micro-machining rings from the lathing, and if you rub your finger lightly along the length of the pen you can hear a slight susurration or singing, though you can’t actually feel any ridges, they’re that fine. Holding the pen to the light gives the telltale rainbow along the reflection highlights, showing micro-scale differences in the angles of reflection/refraction from the ridges left by the lathe blade.

The nib is a standard No 6 Bock unit, and though it was perfectly adequate, I found the M I’d ordered to be a bit narrow for my taste, and swapped it almost immediately for a spare Jinhao M (as used in their X750), which I’ve always found to be reliable and juicy.

The cap and section both sport the italianate frieze that gives the model its name, and unscrewing the section reveals the only branding on the collar that holds the converter.

Lip of cap, showing Italianate ornamentation
Branding on collar for converter

Both screw connections – cap to barrel and section to barrel – are machined and copper on copper, which can sometimes cause a bit of teeth jarring if you get a false start, but are robust and secure – no slop in these closures. The cap is threaded to the barrel with square cut threads which are not at all uncomfortable when writing, and close the cap in about 1½ turns, for those who care about such things. I can’t say I’ve been rough with the pen thus far, but I’ve not noticed any propensity for the cap to come loose or the section to unscrew with wanton abandon.

Now we come to my one real gripe – and it’s small (literally and figuratively), and to lessen it further, I actually anticipate it will improve with time and use…

Some pre-patina and severe transitions

I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the quality of the machining from this California based outfit. I can’t help feeling though that some of that finesse is lost by not paying a little more attention to the final result. I find the edges of the ornamentation very crisp and clean… so much so that when writing, you can’t help but notice the sharp edges of the ornamentation around the nib end of the section. Similarly the simple Star Wars-esque trench around the end of the barrel. Very stylish to look at, but just a little awkward when explored with one’s fingers. Not sharp enough to cut, but sharp enough of a transition in the surface to be uncomfortable, and likely to snag on delicate fabrics should one be carrying it in a pocket. These are not burrs or poorly finished edges – au contraire: they are such well machined transitions, they are literally razor sharp.

I actually expect, copper being a relatively soft metal, that these sharp edges will dull over time. Perhaps even hurried on their way by those users that will polish the pen regularly to try and maintain its lustre. (Not me! Bring on that patina…)

The pen is limited to an edition of 200 and I’m very glad I managed to get one by pre-ordering. My niggles really are minor and the price was astonishingly reasonable for a hand made pen. As ēnsso continue to mature, I will continue to keep an eye on their future offerings, and certainly appreciate their fresh engineering-led take on the often conservative world of fountain pen design.

So, it’s with more than a little irony that I now turn to classic designs from earlier days of fountain pens.

From the early 1900s through to art deco, it was not uncommon for pen manufacturers to offer users premium versions of their pens clad in sterling silver – often added to the basic underlying pen by a specialist silversmith. There are countless examples from such classic vendors as Waterman, Dunhill and others. The silverwork had several gaps through which the underlying pen was visible, to provide visual contrast – usually simple black hard rubber (ebonite) in those days. But good design causes echoes through time. (Though so too does bad design – looking at you, flared jeans!)

I was recently made aware of a new (at least to me) Chinese pen manufacturer… Asvine. They may or may not be associated with Hong Dian, though I confess my Chinese is not sufficiently advanced to tell. (OK, OK, I admit I can only understand/say “hello”, “I’m fine” and “thank-you”). The V169 model is a vacuum filler, which is a filling method not shared with any of my other pens and I have recently been looking for a low priced option that had received decent reviews… enter exhibit one. I admit it was ordered after 2022 began. What can I say? My abstinence is still a work in progress…

It’s a resin cap and body, covered with a brass sheath styled like a cross between those art deco designs and a 60’s lava lamp. The brass is itself plated chrome, making for an attractive silvery finish. Because of the clear resin one can entertain oneself watching the ink sloshing back and forth within the reservoir, through the many “windows”. The cap has a solid clip with a strong spring – not just the typical folded sheet metal common in cheaper pens. The section is fully metal and mine came with a No 6 M nib, not unlike the wet and smooth nibs I’ve received with several larger Jinhao pens. This is a different nib though, and has the M size marked attractively in italic on it for reference.

Asvine V169 with M nib

I was a little worried that the section might be slippery, but the slight waist-ing of the design seems to avoid this being an issue in practice. Threads are square cut and very smooth to the touch. The cap closes in 2½ turns, which some people seem to care about. The threads are resin (cap) on metal (section) and have a reassuring cinching feel as the cap closes shut. The top half of the cap has a narrower bore and this allows the section to snuggly dock with it and keep the nib from drying out. I chose a smokey grey/blue resin, but there are a couple of other colours out there to suit your mood. At 32g uncapped, 54g capped, it’s a mid weight pen, I’d say.

Branding of “Asvine” is embossed around the cap opening, and there are no uncomfortably sharp transitions even on the many holes of the sheathing.

The blind cap unscrews to become the plunger for the vacuum filler which felt positive and well made.

Along with several other metal pens in the $10+ range I’ve accumulated from China, this pen feels well designed and solidly made. I shall be keeping an eye out for other Asvine products, because if this is anything to go by, we’ll definitely be hearing more in the future.

And as for the reason to discuss raisins…

Yesterday we stopped by at Fieldstone’s bakery on the way home. They do pretty awesome cakes and make bread using traditional ingredients and methods. (i.e. they can be pretty chewy, but taste great.)

As is common in Canada, they offer a lot of sourdough options… something I’d never even heard of until I moved to the colonies, but have come to quite appreciate. Mrs E is not a fan, but was willing to give the raisin and cranberry sourdough Pugliese a try, figuring the sweet/tart fruit would offset her dislike of the vinegary/sourdough taste.

It was with some dismay then to find when we got home that we’d actually been given a garlic version of the loaf! Thankfully we’d been peckish and cut a pre-dinner slice before having committed to it for breakfast toast on Sunday. That would definitely have been an experimental pairing with marmalade!


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Source Google: More popular now than ever. Don’t go all “you spelt roofs wrong” on me!

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3 responses

31 01 2022
Danny Watts

I’m glad you were able to make the best of the bread debacle, my Chinese is much like yours except I include “bathroom” and “beer.” As for the pens, copper is an interesting material of choice. I’m sorry if I missed it but is the pen coated? I’d imagine with time it would change colors and become spectacularly unique.

31 01 2022
Quieter Elephant

No – not lacquered at all. I admit my passing “raw copper” description is far from explicit on the matter. I previously bought a “Lincoln” Retro 51 pen which is also copper, but lacquered and “frozen” in a state of light, uniform, patina. I have higher hopes for this with the combination of air contaminants and finger grease. I also admit, as a non-American, it took me much longer than it should have to understand why the Retro 51 was called Lincoln! A bit like when I first encountered “a dime” many years ago and had no idea or hint at its value.

6 02 2022
Fountain Pen Quest Trail Log – February 6, 2022 | Fountain Pen Quest

[…] No Grime or Raisin | Quieter Elephant […]

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