Among other sources I get many pens from eBay.  Occasionally one will arrive with undisclosed damage, like a cracked nib or cap lip.  An otherwise rather nice Swan 3260 arrived yesterday but it had a crack in the cap.  Those repairs are too time-consuming to be worth the effort so I requested a return.  The seller, 1968mandy2011, refused the return, saying that the pen was good when it left her so I must have over-tightened the cap.  Never mind the fact that that’s not how cap lip cracks happen, the crack was ingrained with dirt and clearly old.

I told her that I would wait eBay’s statutory eight days and refer the matter to them for judgement.  It was only at that point, fool that I am, that I looked at her feedback.  With less than 500 sales she has six negatives and three neutrals.  Judging by the buyers’ comments she makes a habit of concealing flaws in the goods she sells and adding insult to injury by blaming those she has wronged.

She couldn’t leave well enough alone and kept messaging me with increasingly vituperative insults.  I brushed them off calmly.  I’ve been there before!  Eventually her comments descended into obscenity and I reported it to eBay.  This morning I received a return-paid label from eBay.

I don’t usually write about eBay disputes and I don’t usually name and shame but while this one was amusing it was also unpleasant.  I suspect that others less persistent than me may have lost their money for useless goods.  Best to avoid 1968mandy2011, I would say.  She will have seven negatives shortly.


We all have our preferences in fountain pens; some can be backed with a logical explanation, others may be inexplicable but nonetheless important and strongly held for all that.  To begin with, I like pens with a proper filling system which rather disqualifies eyedropper fillers and cartridge/converter pens.  That isn’t to say that I won’t use them.  I just don’t admire them.  For me, the lever filler is a good, well thought out method.  The button filler is very similar in its workings but better, because the barrel is unbroken and your hand is kept away from the ink when filling.  For the same reason, I especially love the Swan Leverless and it wins because it is almost always allied with an admirable nib.

Talking of nibs, I used to write with a medium flexible, perhaps oblique and stubbish.  Such a setup flattered my writing; the breadth of the line concealed the imprecision of the creation of the letters and the flexibility provided a bit of distracting flash.  A few years ago I became dissatisfied with that.  I decided to try to write well with a firm nib.  Making the nib a fine or an extra fine provided even more of a challenge.

Many people write with fines because their writing is small.  Mine isn’t huge, to be sure, but it isn’t minuscule either.  Within my own eccentric style of writing I aim to create the letters well and I pride myself (perhaps I delude myself) that my writing is clear and easily read.  That’s the intention.  I don’t aim for beauty in writing, just legibility.

So I am happy with my Swan Leverless 1060 with its very fine No. 4 nib.  A No. 3 nib might be better and if I ever come across one that is extra fine I will swap.

A Child is Born

A month ago, my PC began to intimate to me in unarguable fashion that it was bound for the computer graveyard.  In a sense that was okay; it doesn’t owe me anything.  It has been a worthy servant for years.  On the other hand, the thought of the work involved in setting up a new one would be enough to turn my hair grey if that process wasn’t already well underway.

The computer is the heart of my pen world, both business and hobby.  The amount of information to be transferred as almost beyond belief.  It accumulates unnoticed and takes hours to copy over.  Peripherals need persuasion to talk to each other nicely.  Programs have to be installed, some from DVD, others by download.

The worst was Adobe Photoshop Essentials.  I’ve bought and paid for the program and have it on DVD.  To install, however, one must log in to Adobe’s site.  Then they refuse to recognise my correct password.  I have to go through the interminable process of creating a new login.  You will not be surprised to hear that my new password includes a word rarely used in polite society.

At last everything is almost as it should be.  The printer is being cooperative.  Music comes from the speakers when requested.  Useful things like my memory card reader and microphone behave as they should.  27 (twenty-seven!) essential programs and utilities have been installed.

I can now get back to fixing pens and forget about the PC for a few more years.

Introducing Bookworm Bindings

I don’t often post recommendations to other businesses in my blog, mainly because I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so if I hadn’t personally dealt with them. Today is different, though. This morning’s post brought with it a beautifully hand-bound notebook/journal crafted by my friend Robin Smith at Bookworm Bindings, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

Full disclosure: Robin, a US ex-pat living in Scotland like me, is a customer of Goodwriters Pens as well as a friend. She has tucked my business card in to the books she has sent out to her customers, giving me some nice advertising; once I have her business cards, I will be returning the favour. But this blog entry is not for the sole purpose of giving Bookworm Bindings free advertising – I’m writing about Robin’s new venture because I am a very satisfied customer. Since I know that many fountain pen users are interested in notebooks and journals as well, it made sense to bring her to your attention.

On to the book, then. I was given a choice of book size, cover design, colour of end pages, a nice variety of metal corner-pieces, and lined or unlined paper. Robin chose the bright head and tail band colours which went nicely with my choices. The creamy paper – I opted for unlined – is of good quality. I tested it with a fountain pen and a gel pen; both, of course, smeared a bit if touched immediately after writing, but the fountain pen ink dried quickly, with the gel pen ink taking slightly longer. For both pens there was no feathering of the ink, and very little show-through to the other side of the page.

For pricing and shipping as well as more photos of available options, follow the link in the first paragraph. If you have any other questions about Bookworm Bindings you can contact Robin through that link as well.

Note: the book I ordered is the grey-and-white 3D ‘illusion’ cover, pictured. My thanks to Robin for permission to use the photos of some of the other books she has made, taken from the Bookworm Bindings Facebook page.

The Stupid Government

Packages sent to America have been delivered at about their usual speed: ten days or so. Things are generally much improved. Talking to the respiratory consultant in the main hospital here, he seemed to regard Covid-19 as almost over in the Northern Highlands. I was on the point of re-opening the sales website in the coming week.

And then the stupid government threw tourism wide open, despite a quite high rate of infections elsewhere in the UK. There will be a train of RVs and camper vans heading north even now, sizzling with coronavirus. As we have had few infections here we are vulnerable to a real outbreak. I certainly won’t open the sales site and I may have to batten down the hatches again. I hope not.

For the time being, if there’s anything on the sales site that you want to buy, let me know. I can certainly send it out just now and if matters get worse and I don’t want to go to the post office I can reserve it for you and take it off the site so no one else can ask for it. I don’t charge for reserved pens until I am ready to send them.

Smoothing and Unsmoothing Nibs

This subject arises from a discussion in the ever-entertaining Fountain Pen Geeks. I dislike a buttery-smooth nib. It feels slippery and imprecise to me. The problem is easily resolved with a moment on fine micromesh. The aim is a nib that grips the paper ever so slightly rather than skating over it. No roughness or scratchiness, just that absence of slipperiness is what is required. Most Pilot pens I’ve had are like that straight out of the box.

Others, of course, will go the other way, polishing their nibs to make them even smoother. The question – really an unanswerable question – that arises from this is, “were people so particular about their pens in the heyday of the fountain pen – say the 1940s?”

Unless some centenarian with a wide knowledge of how people used their pens back then appears, we will never know. We can speculate though. Most people would only have one pen, used for social and work purposes. Would they tolerate it being uncomfortable or unpleasant to write with? Would they have made an adjustment themselves as many of us do? There was a large fountain pen repair industry, everything from the local guy (or guyess) to the fountain pen manufacturing companies. I’m sure most of those technicians carried out all the repair work we do now. Would they have been surprised to be asked to unsmooth a pen? Is it just us modern snowflakes who are so sensitive about our pens?

What do you think?

Caps and Convenience

There are a variety of types of caps and they have various benefits and disadvantages. I use pens in two ways: writing drafts like this one and taking notes when reading and researching. Taking the latter first – and why not? The best cap for note-taking is no cap at all! I had a Pilot Capless for a few years and it was convenient and a good writer. Too convenient, perhaps, because other suitable pens never got an outing to take notes. In the end I sold it. It was a good pen and I enjoyed it but it was time to try the other pens.

I had a Lamy Dialog briefly. It lacked the convenience of the Capless. Twisting to expose the nib is not one handed, or at least not conveniently so. The pen was heavy and did not sit well in my hand. The new Platinum Curidas has yet to come my way. I have no doubt that it will.

Pens that have caps that must be unscrewed are a nuisance for note-taking. The hard rubber slip caps of the earlier part of the twentieth century were beautifully machined and those I’ve had fitted firmly a century later. It is my one use for eyedropper fillers.

Modern pens with press-on caps depend either upon a plastic clutch, or, more simply, several small protuberances that close the pen against the section or by locating behind a ring. I do use such pens for note-taking but I do not expect that they will still be usable in a century from now. Clutches and bumps wear. The former is capable of being repaired, maybe a few times before it gives up altogether. I can imagine a rough hack that would replace bumps but neither closure method is especially durable.

That takes care of the note-taking. For more extended spells of writing any pen will do. I don’t post my pens. Once the cap is unscrewed or pulled off it is set aside until I’m finished so threaded caps, even those that take several turns to uncap, are perfectly convenient. Other concerns become more important – the comfort of the pen in the hand, the quality of the nib, even how many pages can be covered before a refill is required.

Like most people, I like pens that don’t dry out quickly and the cap plays a large part in that. The Platinum 3776 is most famously secure in that regard but most pens, old or new, can be set aside for a week or two and still write instantly. I have two Swans that I particularly favour, a rather battered SF230/60 and a 1060. Either could be set aside for a month or two without drying out. Mabie Todd made good, well-threaded caps.

Wing Sung 699 Plunger Filler

I often say that I will buy no more pens – for myself, that is, not for the business! And I also say no more Chinese pens. I stick to neither of these resolutions. The Chinese are no longer the poor relations of the pen world. They are turning out pens now that are competitive in quality and ingenuity with the rest of the world.

The biggest seller last year was the Wing Sung 699. It is variously described as a vacuumatic filler and a piston filler, neither of which is an accurate description of its filling mechanism. Many of those advertising and reviewing pens have little idea of pen history and the traditional names used to identify various filling systems.

The vacuum description has always been problematic. Every filling system depends on the creation of a vacuum to draw ink, even the Parker 61 capillary system. That said it has been applied to the Parker pen of that name and the first Parker 51s and also to the plunger fill Sheaffer which is where the confusion arises. That pen is a plunger filler and so is the Wing Sung 699. I’m glad we’ve got that out of the way!

At £16.99 the 699 is a little more expensive than the average Chinese pen but it is almost ludicrously inexpensive for what it is. At 15.1 cm capped it is a large pen and the mechanical parts make it quite heavy at 29 g. Though it isn’t too heavy for me it may be too big to be comfortable especially the very big nib. I am told that in appearance and operation it closely resembles a particular expensive Japanese pen. Frankly, I never care about these things which seem to be the source of great annoyance to some people. If it is a good pen that is all I care about and this is a good pen!

It is a very Onoto-like in filling. Unscrew the blind cap, apply a single thrust and the pen is filled – in this case not quite to the top but enough to keep you writing for a long time. Again, like the Onoto, to enable good ink flow you have to leave the blind cap unscrewed a little. The nib is a 0.5 mm fine – which is not very fine in my book. I think I might have a nib that suits me better and I might swap them around.

Other things are as you might expect. The cap fits well with a single turn. The semitransparent smoky brown plastic feels very smooth, warm and pleasant. The nib lays down ink well with no skipping or hard starting. It’s a good nib, just a bit too long and too like a medium for me. These pens have not been around all that long so we can’t really talk about durability, but I haven’t heard of cracking or breakages. The plunger works very smoothly.

As I said I feel that it may be too big to be a keeper for me. Large pens are not a problem for me but very large nibs can be, pushing the wrist back to an uncomfortable angle. We shall see.

The accompanying piece of paper is almost all in Chinese but it does show an exploded diagram. The pen should be quite easy to disassemble should the need arise. I’m not one of those whose default is to tear a pen apart to clean it but it’s good to know that it should be easy to change the nib.

What Makes a Good Pen?

On one of the pen boards I saw a thread entitled something like, “what makes a good pen?” I wasn’t tremendously impressed by the answers but I thought the question an interesting one. Here are a few ideas of my own.

Nib. Flexibility or firmness are personal choices, not an indication of the quality of the nib. You may rave about those super-flexible nibs suitable for copperplate when all you can do is the modified printing one sees so much these days. I do a proper cursive best served, to my mind, by a firm nib with a well-sculpted tip.

Design. There are at least two sorts of design, possibly three. No, actually definitely three. There is the design for appearance which adds nothing to utility of the pen. The Sheaffer Balance is an example of that. Then there is designed complexity for its own sake. Yes, I’m looking at you, Snorkel. I know it seems like I’m picking on Sheaffer but that’s only because. Then there is designed for utility and comfort in the hand, for a pen that doesn’t tire one in the long haul of a day’s writing. I’m thinking of the Swan 1060. Not the post-war very tapered one but the slightly tapered wartime one; a pen of great elegance and utility. I like the model with the No 3 nib. I hasten to add that this is not the only pen that I would regard as well designed. It’s just an example.

Materials. I hate those horrid concealed brass pipework jobs, like many Chinese pens and the execrable Italix. (I am aware that not all Italixes are brass bodied; most are). Pens do not require weight to work well, it is rather the reverse that is true. Acrylic, celluloid or hard rubber will do very well. I especially favour hard rubber with its warmth to the touch and proven durability. I snigger at those commentators who talk about materials “feeling cheap”. We won’t get into abuse of “precious resin”.

Colour and Pattern. Most of what makes a pen useful for me has nothing to do with what colour it is. Many of my pens are black but I do appreciate good colour patterns. Examples of what I appreciate are in the vast range of patterns employed by Conway Stewart, the subtler patterns of Swan, the hard rubber ripple by Waterman and even the very bright acrylic used by Moonman in the Duofold lookalike.

Filling System. Really, nowadays, it makes little difference to me. Eyedropper fillers tend to blob and are rather a pain to fill but I’m not saying I would never consider one. I hold the cartridge/converter filler in some contempt for lack of imagination and taking the easy way out but I use them anyway. What I don’t use are the overly complex examples by Parker and Sheaffer made during that prewar period when it was all about gimmicks. Sac fillers, especially the button filler and the Swan Leverless, piston fillers, plunger fillers, the Ford Patent, bulb fillers – they’re all good.

Have I annoyed you enough with my prejudices? Tell me about yours!

John Brindle’s Mabie Todd Pen Lists – Update

The new version of John Brindle’s Mabie Todd lists is going ahead well. It will be done in WordPress and I confess that creating a website of such complexity in WordPress would be well beyond me! I am therefore hugely grateful to Tony Lancaster who is redesigning and rebuilding the site. It will still be the work of John Brindle but corrections and additions can now be made. That had become impossible on the old site.

Once it has all been put together there will still be all the data entry to do, and that – and future site maintenance – will fall upon my husband who had a good relationship with John and who is happy to take on the work in John’s memory.

Here’s a working image of the front page.