Monday, November 28, 2011

Day Twenty-five: Noodlers Ahab Flex with Noodlers Beaver

For day twenty-five, I chose my new Noodlers Ahab Flex pen which arrived the day before Thanksgiving and filled it with Noodlers Beaver ink. Before I discuss this pen, I have to give a special mention to Goulet Pens, who went above and beyond in shipping out this order. They released the new Ahab pens on the 21st, at noon, and I ordered two along with a few inks and some blotting paper, then added what I hope was a polite note that if it were possible, I hoped to get these before the end of November.

Considering Thanksgiving was just a few days away, I knew this might not happen. Well, the package arrived before noon on the 23rd. It took less than forty-eight hours to get from Virginia to Massachusetts - and, as near as I can calculate, at least forty-five of those hours were spent in the hands of the US Postal Service. In the middle of a new product release, they somehow noticed my note - or, if they didn't, the result is even more impressive - packed up my order, and got it out the door in less than three hours. It arrived in perfect shape, having been packed so well it could have shrugged off anything short of a nuclear fireball. Absolutely great work, Brian, Rachel, and crew! Thank you!

The new Ahab pen from Noodlers, fitted with an unusual type of flex nib, is a very interesting pen in several respects. First, the clip is designed to resemble the outline of a whale's back as seen from the air - the type of whales hunted by whalers in the days when ships like the Pequod spent years at sea accumulating their valuable cargo. The filling system is designed on the principle of the bailing pumps used on these ships.

This is a nice, big pen which holds a huge quantity of ink by modern standards. Despite my preference for fillers that don't require me to remove the barrel of the pen, I found this filling system fun to use. The nib was smooth and wet, and the pen wrote well. For the price, this is the single most amazing modern pen I've ever seen. I've read complaints that every one of these pens was not perfectly adjusted when it arrived.

That may be true, but they are designed to be easy to adjust, they include a sheet that explains how the pen works, and mine worked well right out of the box. All this for twenty dollars. Sure, if I'd had to pay two hundred dollars for the pen, and then found out I had to fiddle with it for a minute or two, I'd be annoyed. But, wait! I do have to fiddle with two and three and four and even five hundred dollar pens to get them to work perfectly.

The Ahab sells for twenty dollars. Considering the price, the incredible design, and the basic quality of this pen, users ought to be groveling in gratitude that they got such a bargain. From most manufacturers, this would be at least a two hundred dollar pen. I enjoyed using this pen, and I recommend every serious writer to go out and buy a handful of these, in whatever colours you like. They're absurdly inexpensive, they work well and if you get one that gives you a bit of trouble, they aren't difficult to fix, because they're designed to be easy to work on. For writing tools that are made today, this is the best value you're ever going to see.

When I look back on what I posted a few days ago, in my review of the TWSBI Diamond 530, I have to laugh. I'd heard of the Ahab, of course, but I had no idea what it was like. I hadn't even seen a picture. It has a large nib, and approximately the same "geometry" of nib to paper as the Merlin Perfect. It does not, quite, have the quality that the Perfect does. It doesn't actually come alive in your hand. But it comes closer than any other pen I've tried, and I am sure if I had the right skills, I could either modify the nib it comes with, or come up with a similar nib that I'd worked on, in order to give it that quality. Sadly, I am not a nibwright. But I'd love to see what someone who really knows nibs could do with one of these pens.

Noodlers Beaver is another very nice brown ink. It is slightly darker than Golden Brown, and has a more reddish hue, but it is a beautiful brown, and another ink that suggests an old-fashioned manuscript. The bottle came in the order with my Ahab, and already this ink is on my list of inks that I don't want to run out of. It is perfect for writing manuscripts, although, like many browns, it would only work for markup in very specific circumstances.

Battling a very nasty cold, I somehow managed to write 2,233 words in all, for a total so far of 51,659 words. In other words, I made my goal five days early, and everything else from here on in is gravy! If only I could have felt well enough to enjoy my success. Still, the story is going well and picking up a few new twists as it moves along. My alternate World War Two scenario is certainly a more difficult war, not just for poor George, but for everyone.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Day Twenty-four: Thanksgiving and a Much Needed Break

Day twenty-four fell on Thanksgiving. I also woke with a terrible sinus infection. I had hoped to write at least enough to cross the finish line, since I couldn't quite 'win' with my Onoto, but it was late when I got home and I was tired and sick. I decided it was much better to rest than to make myself sicker just to finish a day earlier. I apologise to my readers, as that means I'll be trying out one less pen during this challenge, but I really felt it was best.

Day Twenty-three: Onoto the Pen 5601 with Noodlers Golden Brown

For day twenty-three, I finally chose the pen I'd originally considered opening the month with, my one and so far only Onoto, model 5601, black engraved with an amber ink window. This pen is newly restored by Richard Binder, who did an amazing job. Onoto happens to combine so many of my personal obsessions; if I ever decided to limit myself to just a few pen makers, the first two names on the list would be Merlin and Onoto. To fill it up, I selected Noodlers Golden Brown.

Onoto was such a fixture in British culture from Edwardian times through World War Two that they were known as "Onoto The Pen". They were made by Thomas De La Rue and Company, who also printed banknotes and postage stamps for Great Britain, the various British colonies, and many other countries for many years. And their pens in this era featured an innovative plunger filling system which is incredibly easy to use.

This particular model is a simple but attractive pen that was first made in the 1930s. My pen, which I bought for myself as a birthday present earlier this year, features the number "941" on the plunger knob. Since the Onoto offices were destroyed in the London Blitz, sadly little is known about their production, but I speculate that this may mean this pen was actually produced in 1941, during the height of the war.

It filled as simply and easily as the iconic ads found in old British magazines suggested it would, and it holds an ample supply of ink for a writing marathon, even with the stub nib fitted on this pen, which uses a fair amount of ink. A unique feature of Onoto pens is the ink shut off valve, which allows you to seal the ink into the barrel, then put it into your pocket without any chance of it leaking.

In my experience, this valve required a bit of fiddling with to get the ink flow adjusted exactly where I preferred it, but it is so well designed that this didn't present even a slight distraction. It actually makes the pen fun to write with, and allows the writer more control over their instrument. The nib would add character to anyone's handwriting, and is nice and wet and smooth.

If I lived in Britain during the period when Onotos were made, I might well have never even considered using any other pen. I certainly would own a whole battery of them. As it is, they are a bit more expensive than many vintage pens, and much harder to find in practice, so I will stop short of recommending that every writer get one. That said, if you are an Anglophile, share any of my various obsessions which render the Onoto such a talismanic pen for me, or otherwise have reason to think you might like one, I do highly recommend them.

If I absolutely had to trim my pens down to two, this Onoto and my Merlin Perfect are the two pens I'd elect to keep. That isn't to say I wouldn't miss many of my other pens, some of them badly. But even among highly useful, fun, and wonderful pens, this one stands out. And the ease with which it can be filled, combined with its excellent ink capacity, make it an ideal tool for a writer.

Noodlers Golden Brown is, as the name suggests, a nice, warm, golden brown. It is dark enough to read easily and is an excellent choice for writing a manuscript. I enjoy using it because it has a slightly archaic flavour to it, making the finished page look as though it were written many decades ago. It flows beautifully, and even though it is slightly on the dry side, it lubricates the nib nicely.

It isn't likely to be suitable for markup except in very special situations, even though there are plenty of inks that would be more than adequate for marking up a manuscript written in Golden Brown. It happens to be one of those rare inks that will permit other inks to stand out against its background more readily than it will stand out against most other backgrounds. But since most writers will usually stick to a certain set of inks for writing drafts in, and one or two others to use for marking them up, this isn't a serious problem.

On day twenty-three, I wrote 2,397 words, for a total so far of 49,426 words. Had it not been late, or had I not been struggling with a nasty cold, I would have pressed on until I reached my goal, but I am close enough now that only utter catastrophe could possibly keep me from reaching it well before the end of the month. I understand more of what is to come in my story, and I'm anxious to finish the first draft so I can begin editing it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Day Twenty-two: Parker 51 with Greune Cactus Eel

Earlier, when I tried a Parker 51 Special, I noted that I wanted to try the better 51 as well. For day twenty-two, I chose a Parker 51 that my father bought when it was new. I don't know the exact year this pen was made, but I believe it is one of the earlier aerometric models. I decided to fill the pen with Noodlers Greune Cactus Eel ink.

It was a little more difficult to fill this pen, compared to the Special I tried earlier. This was due to a very small "window" in the metal guard surrounding the ink sac, in which you could squeeze the pressure bar. This was probably designed to limit the potential for accidentally squeezing the bar before screwing the section and the filler back into the barrel, but it was a surprisingly awkward arrangement. That is one of the reasons I suspect this is an early model.

This pen has a gold nib with an extra fine point. It did have a bit more tooth, but for an extra fine nib, it was a wonderfully smooth writer with excellent ink flow. Despite my trouble in filling it, it easily held enough ink to last throughout my writing session. The difference isn't huge, and the budget minded might be satisfied with a Special, but this pen did behave better than the other one. It amply confirmed my conclusion that every writer ought to have at least one or two Parker 51s on hand, for those times when you just need the writing to go smoothly.

I can understand how revolutionary they must have appeared when they were introduced, with the sharp contrast between these pens and the models that came before them. Today, however, the Parker 51 isn't an exciting pen. It is understated, and few would give it a second glance. But it is a reliable, low profile workhorse. In that respect, it is just as excellent a choice today as it was the day it was made. And the fact it is so reliable, so many years after it was made, speaks volumes.

The filler on this pen even specifies the dreaded "Superchrome" ink, and since my father had a bottle in his desk, I presume it drank at least some of that corrosive brew. Yet in spite of that, it is in fine shape, still fitted with the original ink sac and working without any problems whatsoever. For any object that is sixty or so years old, that is a testament to how well they made them.

The Noodlers Eel series inks are primarily meant for use in piston fillers, plunger fillers, and other pens with internal moving parts exposed to the ink. (Lever fillers, button fillers, and so on may have internal moving parts, but they are outside the ink sac. If ink gets on them, it is because the sac has failed.) However, it is fine for use in any pen, and in this case, it was one of the inks I had left to try, and it was convenient when I needed to fill my pen quickly.

It flows very well, and lubricates the nib nicely. It is a darker green, easy to read and perfectly suitable for a manuscript. It probably wouldn't work well for markup in most cases, although if you had written the original in a bright enough or light enough ink, it would do fine. I won't say that this is an ink every writer needs, but if you like green, it could be a nice one to have on hand.

On day twenty-two, I wrote 1,512 words for a total so far of 47,029 words. I had hoped for more, but this was a very busy day. In addition, I was interrupted by all the dragons of Pern, keening for their creator, Anne McCaffrey. After learning of the death of an author I had enjoyed reading and admired for years, I lacked the heart to continue. I'm still safely ahead of where I need to be, so this shouldn't pose a problem.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Day Twenty-one: Hero 7002 with Dragons Napalm

For day twenty-one, I chose a Chinese Hero 7002, another inexpensive Chinese pen. I decided to fill it with Noodlers Dragons Napalm. This was not what I had planned to use, but I had a busier day than I expected, I was coming down with a cold, and I needed a simple choice so I could settle down to writing.

The Hero is an attractive pen, with a fine, hooded nib. The body is made of metal, so it has a nice, heavy feel in the hand. It has a piston operated converter, which was a bit weak. However, it did hold enough ink to last for the entire writing session. My greatest fear was simply that it would fall apart while I was trying to use it. Chinese pens seem to universally neglect the filling system in favour of the exterior.

On the other hand, the nib was nice and smooth and wet. This is the nicest nib I've found on any of the Chinese pens I've tried, and since several others had quite decent nibs, that is high praise. As the section is chromed metal, I was a bit afraid I might have some trouble gripping it, but it turned out to be fine. The pen is a nice writer, and although I wouldn't want to use it as my primary writing pen, it is a useful one to have around, considering how little it costs.

As the name suggests, Dragons Napalm is a very fiery, orange red. It is a reasonably wet ink, and flows well. This is such an intense ink it isn't likely to work well for all but the most unusual manuscripts (perhaps a thriller involving arson?), but this would make a great ink for markup. It stands out in almost any environment.

On day twenty-one, I wrote 1,575 words, for a total so far of 45,517 words. I'm nicely ahead of schedule, although getting sick complicates things somewhat, as does the approach of Thanksgiving. I'd like to find the time to catch up on these blog posts, but I'm still struggling just to stay in place. Nevertheless, I'm learning a great deal, and am glad that I decided to go through with this.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Day Twenty: Hero 001 with Noodlers #41 Brown

For day twenty, I chose an unusual pen, a Chinese Hero 001, which features the "360" nib. This is a nib that is supposed to be able to write through three hundred and sixty degrees, like a ballpoint. To fill it up, I chose Noodlers #41 Brown (although I'm using the original formulation, no longer available). This ink was developed to commemorate Scott Brown's victory in a historic Senatorial race in Massachusetts, to fill Ted Kennedy's vacant seat. Without commenting on my or anyone else's politics, Scott Brown lives just one town away, and attends the same church I do, so this ink was especially interesting to me.

The Hero 001 is another absurdly inexpensive pen. This one is lightweight, with a body made of anodised aluminum. It is attractive, in a very modern style. The squeeze filler was anemic, although it did hold enough ink to last for the entire session. I can't help noting that while almost every Chinese pen I've tried is otherwise surprisingly good, the filler mechanisms are uniformly shoddy.

The nib is interesting, although it doesn't quite live up to its promise. It is a "double sided" nib, with tipping material in a ball on the end of the nib, and several slits cut into the nib. I imagine it is meant to be an inexpensive answer to the Sailor Trident nib which is no longer made. It is not, however, a true all angle nib. The nib itself is flat, and while it writes well even when held vertically, if you rotate the nib outside one of the two planes of the nib, it will not write.

The nib is also somewhat scratchier than a regular fountain pen nib. It isn't unpleasant to use, and is a nice alternative for jotting quick notes, or for carrying as a loaner pen for people who aren't used to fountain pens. Although anyone who doesn't know enough to try writing with the nib lined up with the paper will have trouble, since the nib will not write at all on its side. This isn't one of my favourite pens, but it is nice to have one or two around.

And, as I noted, every writer could use at least one to jot notes, in situations where a more 'forgiving' nib might be an advantage. If an idea strikes you, say, while you're in a moving vehicle, this pen is a bit easier to scrawl a fast note with. If you carry one for that purpose, it can also serve as a backup pen in case the pen you meant to write with runs out of ink prematurely.

As an ink, #41 Brown is a nice, dark brown. It appears somewhat lighter coming out of this pen (as all fountain pen users know, an ink may look completely different when used in two different pens), but is a favourite of mine because in some pens, it comes out as the kind of dark brown you see in a cat's fur when they appear black except in direct sunlight, when you see that their fur is really a rich, dark brown. I am not sure if this is true of the reformulation, which from the reviews I've seen is a slightly different shade.

It flows well, and is a nice, wet ink that lubricates any nib nicely. In this nib, which tends to be a bit scratchier, it reduced that issue substantially. I find it an excellent choice for writing manuscripts, and you could easily mark up such a manuscript with almost anything other than another brown or a black. No matter what your politics, this is an ink every writer should have. (The name is an "in-joke" whose significance is obscure enough that you won't seem to be endorsing anything unless you choose to make a point of doing so.)

On day twenty, I wrote 2,472 words, bringing my total so far up to 43,942 words. I am well ahead of where I need to be, and although I'd like to get as far as I can on this novel during November (few novels are as short as 50,000 words, so once I 'finish', I'll still have more to write), I'm no longer very worried about failing to complete that goal. It would take a real catastrophe to prevent me from doing so now.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day Nineteen: Esterbrook Dollar Pen with Midway Blue

For day nineteen, I chose a vintage Esterbrook Dollar Pen made in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Esterbrook made relatively inexpensive but very durable fountain pens for many years, but their main claim to fame was their "re-new point" nibs. All of the later Esterbrooks, including the dollar pen, featured a nib and feed unit that could be unscrewed and replaced with another. They offered many different types of nibs, so the user could select a nib that suited them. To fill this pen, I chose Noodlers Midway Blue, part of the V-Mail series of inks from Noodlers.

This particular Dollar Pen has a clip whose details reveal that it was made between 1941 and 1942, at about the time America was entering World War Two. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the nib is not original. It is a newer 2556 nib, a firm fine for "fine writing". A pen made in 1941 might have been fitted with the same type of nib, but it would have been of an older style. And a pen made once wartime material restrictions went into effect would have been sold with an 8000 series nib, made of palladium tipped with "osmiriridium" (presumably, an alloy that may have included osmium and iridium). Still, an ink with a wartime theme seemed appropriate to use in this pen. It is a lever filler, and it filled easily with enough ink to last for all but the last few lines of writing.

This particular 2556 nib is no longer anything like the usual Esterbrook nibs of this type. Although it still works, after a fashion, it is badly damaged. Although the tip is vertically in line with the rest of the nib, it is bent at roughly a thirty degree angle. This is how the pen was sold to me (by a seller who shall remain nameless) without any warning of the nib's condition. Nevertheless, I've delayed replacing the nib, simply because for all its annoyances, it has a few interesting characteristics.

After you fill the pen, or once you set it down for more than a few minutes, it is very hard to get ink flow started again, although once it is started, it flows as well as it might in an undamaged nib. This is no doubt due to the uneven gap in the slit that is inevitable given that the tip of both tines is bent in a single direction, yet the whole nib remains reasonably flat. The nib will not write at all in a normal position; in fact, once you get used to writing with this nib, when you first take up another pen, you are likely to hold it at the wrong angle.

However, once you learn to roll the pen to one side, so that you are essentially writing with the angled portion (instead of trying to write with the side of the tip of a single tine), it writes well enough, although with a somewhat scratchy feeling. The interesting point is that, without flexing, this nib somehow produces thicker and thinner strokes. I'm sure a nibmeister could explain the precise reason for this, but it is an interesting and attractive effect.

The pen as a whole was a pleasure to write with, and the fact that the nib will work at all even with such severe damage is impressive. The fact that once you grow used to working with it, it can be used for an extended period of time is even more impressive. For me, the real attraction of this pen is the fact that I know it existed during World War Two. It was probably used to write letters to one or more soldiers at the front, or perhaps by a soldier to write to "the homefront".

Since my story is set in an alternate World War Two, the association was an inspiration. Filling the pen with an ink based on those used at the time only heightened the sense of history. These pens still don't cost too much, and they would make a good working pen for any writer, but I especially urge any writer who has an interest in World War Two to consider one of these. There are other pens made during the war, but unlike some other models, the changes in clip design allow a Dollar Pen to be accurately dated. Of course, even if you get one made earlier, during the Depression, it was probably still in use during the war.

In addition to providing the opportunity to write in a hue similar to the inks used at the time, Midway Blue is a nice, attractive blue. I usually prefer blue-black or turquoise, and most ordinary blues seem very humdrum to me, but I actually like this colour. It flows well, dries quickly, and is a very well behaved ink to use. According to Noodlers, it is only partially waterproof, but you should be able to recover your work under almost any circumstances. This is a great ink to use for writing a manuscript. It would even work well for markup, as long as you used a black or very dark or bright ink for the original manuscript.

On day nineteen, I wrote 2,339 words, for a total so far of 41,470 words. The story is going well, and my chances of finishing 50,000 words before the end of the month look increasingly good. I do intend to continue working on this draft until it is done, and posting here, although perhaps not daily, depending on how often I get the chance. And I will also update this blog with occasional posts as I edit the first draft, and consider what will happen to the completed story.