Pens & Stationery

It’s Called a Music Nib for a Reason

Several fountain pen manufacturers offer a music nib as one of their nib options. It’s a variant of stub nib that was originally designed for writing musical notation: if you hold it properly, you can lay down thick lines for the beams and note heads and thin lines for the stems. But I expect most people who own pens with music nibs use them like a stub or calligraphy nib. “Friends who write music tell me that a pencil is actually the preferred writing implement for composing music, not a fountain pen,” says Tom Oddo of Goldspot; Richard Binder believes that modern music nibs are too stiff and otherwise “totally unsuited for writing music.”

Vintage music nibs were another matter: Jeff Peterson explores how vintage music nibs, which have more flex than modern nibs, were used in musical composition, both by looking at historical manuscript examples and by using them himself. He also explains why the stems on manuscript scores are on the wrong side of the notehead. “This is on purpose for speed and ease of writing. We write words from left to right, and because a music pen is held 90-degrees to the direction of writing, having stems on the left-hand side would require a pushing motion of the pen which would dig into the paper.”

Not Learning Cursive Means Not Being Able to Read It

“In the future, cursive will have to be taught to scholars the way Elizabethan secretary hand or paleography is today.” History professor and former Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust bemoans the loss of cursive handwriting, not so much in terms of people no longer being able to write it, but in no longer being able to read it—which has implications for her (and my former) field and her students, in that a lot of historical sources are handwritten.

(My wife, a high school teacher, has been running into this problem: for the most part, not only do her students no longer use cursive, they have trouble reading her notes.)

Stationery for the Strange

Toronto-based Wask Studios is the novelty store of stationery: weird dice, erasers and paper clips; sticky notes with the adhesive on the corner rather than the edge; rulers with the scale on the short side; rhombus-shaped notebooks; bookmarks made of matches. Office supplies as performance art.

Pilot Announces Iroshizuku Cartridges

Pilot just announced that 12 inks from its premium Iroshizuku line will be released in cartridge form next month. (Prior to this, only its basic ink colours could be had as cartridges.) Iroshizuku inks are extraordinarily good (we have nine different colours); this move will make them accessible to people who can’t or won’t use bottled ink. (Pilot’s cartridges are proprietary: they can only be used in Pilot pens. But with just a few exceptions even their most expensive pens can take a cartridge.) At 900¥ (before taxes), a box of six is three times the price of their regular cartridge pack, but not ridiculous compared to premium brands: regular Pilot cartridges are actually pretty cheap as cartridges go. (Also, I’m comparing the Japanese domestic price to the price here: I have no idea whether we’ll be seeing these over here.)

Pilot Discontinues Three Iroshizuku Inks, Introduces Three Replacements

Pilot is discontinuing three of its Iroshizuku inks and replacing them with three new ones. Production will end next month on yellow-brown Ina-ho, royal blue Tsuyu-kusa and medium-brown Tsukushi (which we just bought a bottle of). Replacing them are pink Hana-ikada, yellow-green Hotaru-bi and dark teal Sui-gyoko—which maintains the Iroshizuku line at 24 inks. See Pilot Japan’s website. [Fudefan]

Update, 14 April 2022: The Well-Appointed Desk reviews the new trio. (Also, we just picked up a bottle of Ina-ho, while we still could.)

Tomoe River Paper: The Next Generation

An update on the Tomoe River paper situation (previously). Last month Tomoegawa sold all rights to the paper to Sanzen Paper, which has begun producing a new version of Tomoe River 52 gsm paper on its own machines. Fudefan has gotten his hands on a sample of Sanzen’s new paper and is impressed. He compared it to both old (pre-2020) Tomoe River and “new” paper produced on a different Tomoegawa machine. “Sanzen’s paper is impressive. It seems to take any ink you throw at it […] In terms of shading, sheen, and vibrancy, Sanzen’s paper consistently outperformed ‘new’ Tomoe River and was mostly on par with the old paper. […] There was slightly less ghosting (show-through) on Sanzen’s paper than on the others. It was also the only paper that didn’t suffer any bleedthrough, even with my ridiculous nibs. An impressive feat.” Stockpiling the old paper may not be necessary, in other words.

The Truth About Tomoe River

Recently there have been rumours that Tomoe River paper, prized by fountain pen users because it resists feathering and bleed-through despite being insanely thin, was about to be discontinued. A post at The Well-Appointed Desk seemingly confirmed the rumour, which didn’t help the general panic; but someone contacted the Tomoegawa company directly and got an answer that has clarified things somewhat.

It appears to come down to a confusion between Tomoegawa, which prints the paper, and Sakae Technical Paper, which sells notepads and notebooks under the Tomoe River brand. Tomoegawa discontinued production on the machine that made the paper Sakae used; Sakae declined to use paper from another machine, and announced the discontinuation of their products when their stock of original paper ran out. That doesn’t mean Tomoegawa is getting out of the business: they have plans to keep supplying Tomoe River paper once they work out production issues.

Update: Fudefan has information direct from Tomoegawa that explains what’s going on with the different kinds of Tomoe River paper, and the different machines that produce it. While the machines are being shut down, their plan appears to be to outsource production. [r/fountainpens]

What Is a Grail Pen?

Interesting discussion over at r/fountainpens about the definition of a term bandied about a lot in the fountain pen community: the “grail” pen. For most pen collectors it refers to a singular pen they aspire to but can’t easily buy; the OP argues that “grail” isn’t the right metaphor if it refers to a pen that is slightly outside the buyer’s budget but is readily available. There are some interesting takes in this thread (which is not something you can always say): one points out the absurdity of someone having a “next grail pen,” another that a lot of this depends on how much money you have. It’s possible to spend four figures on a pen, but for most people a $50 pen is the most expensive writing instrument they will ever own—or need to own.

How to Fill a CON-40

Few fountain pen accessories generate more online vituperation than Pilot’s CON-40 converter.1 It’s small and hard to fill completely: it has no capacity. The size complaint is a bit unfair: it’s designed to fit all2 of Pilot’s fountain pens, including the pocket-sized E95s/Elite. Whereas Kaweco and Sailor both make pens that are too small for their standard converters. As for being hard to fill? Between us Jen and I currently have a total of 11 pens with a CON-40 converter, and while they’re not as easy to fill completely as pens with the CON-70 converter3 or piston-filling pens, it can be done. There’s a trick to it, though, and Brian Goulet’s video above shows how to do it.

An Analysis of Fountain Pen Ink Reviews

Adam Santone did a quantitative analysis of 15,000 customer reviews of 500 fountain pen inks sold on the Goulet Pen Company website. Those reviews rated inks by characteristics like drying time, flow, shading and water resistance, and Adam collated those ratings into useful comparative tables. There are some artifacts here and there—I don’t think Iroshizuku Syo-ro is supposed to be water-resistant—and different bottle sizes of the same ink have different entries, because reviews are by the SKU, but this will really help inform my ink buying in the future. [r/fountainpens]