Sunday, November 27, 2011

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.

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