I’ve wondered on and off for some time about getting a Duofold — ideally a Centennial (the larger size) in Big Red colour. Considering my first fountain pens were Parkers, my collection is alarmingly Parker-free.
A few things have put me off from getting a Duofold, though. First is the price. These are flagship-priced pens, but they’re cartridge-converters, plastic-bodied, and relatively small. And the nibs have a reputation for being on the rigid side.
Well, today I received a black and gold Duofold International, bought on impulse from a fellow pen-enabler on Facebook for a bargain price. My example is made in the UK, of around 2006 vintage (so not quite the current version) and equipped with an 18k medium nib.
Designwise, the first thing that leapt out at me is that the Duofold is a doppelganger of my Kaweco Dia2. Sure, there are differences, but the size, feel, and bones of the pens are very close. The only real difference is that the Duofold has a larger nib.
A quick look around the Duofold reveals an unusual finless feed, the trademark Parker arrow clip, the flat coin finial, and a flat-top shape. “Made in UK” is engraved subtly at the end of the barrel. It’s a good-looking pen, in a classic way. The proportions are spot on.
In the hand the Duofold feels solid. The resin is thick and everything screws together smoothly. The section is nice and long, and flares helpfully at the end, but it’s very narrow. Narrower in fact than the Dia 2, and the Pelikan M400, otherwise the smallest pen I own. You’ll see from the shot below that the nib is very similar in size to the Pelikan, too.
I’ll be honest, the Duofold’s nib is weird. It’s pretty, with a bi-colour ‘ace of spades’ design, and it’s very well finished: the plating is accurate, slit is cut straight, tipping applied evenly, and so on. But — and you might get a hint of this from the photo below — it almost curves downwards, like the Pilot Elabo nib. And the gold seems on the thick side. Perhaps this is what makes this the stiffest nib I’ve ever used. I have called nibs “nails” in the past. By comparison with the Duofold, every other nib is full flex. Zero give or line variation, even with a very firm press.
The tip is incredibly smooth. It skitters over the page, and on glossier paper it can skip a little. The line it lays is a true medium, and moderately wet. Good enough.
Inside the section is a brass sleeve and threads that probably add a bit of durability and weight. A very nice gold converter sits securely. The cap threads are plastic, and don’t get in the way at all. The cap takes two turns exactly to remove. And the iconic clip works great. So no complaints for usability.
Overall, this is a curious pen. I quite like it, in fact respect it, but the nib feels alien to me. My Viscontis are springy and willing; Montblancs give feedback and somehow get out of the way; my Lamy golds are very wet and soft. Every nib brand has its own personality. I don’t yet know how I get on with Parker’s. Behind the nib, the narrow section bothers me. I feel like I’m holding a pencil.
But the problem really holding me back from the Duofold is the price. The current version of the Duofold International retails for £340 (price from Pen Heaven), compared to about £180 for the plain black Pelikan M400, which is a piston filler, and £75 for the Dia 2, which has a steel nib but otherwise feels much the same as the Duofold.
Despite the good fit and finish, and the nice Parker packaging, ultimately the Duofold International is a small pen with a nail for a nib and a cartridge/converter filler. It’s a black plastic pen. It just doesn’t stack up as a package for £340. If you have that kind of money in your pocket, get a Cleo Skribent and experience a truly joyful nib. Or save your money and get a Dia 2, with a dozen nibs from FPnibs to swap in and out.