It’s nearly December, and my thoughts are turning to a review of the year. Last year I enjoyed putting together a lighthearted list of awards, based on products I’ve encountered over the course of the year (and on the full understanding that I saw only a fraction of the new releases).
But first, let’s start with some numbers.
It’s been an amazing year for this blog. This will be my 59th post this year — considerably fewer than in 2017, yet my pageviews have more than tripled. I may hit 100,000 views by the end of December, which would please me greatly.
Most of that traffic came from search engines, and I’m staggered to find that I rank on the first Google results page for a lot of the pens I’ve reviewed. But I owe a debt of gratitude to the Well-Appointed Desk, Gentleman Stationer and Pen Addict, each of which drove thousands of views to me over the course of the year.
Among those 59 posts are 26 full pen reviews, which are of course the heart of this blog (the clue’s in the name). But even that is just a fraction of what I could be publishing. All told, 90 fountain pens have landed on my desk since I started this hobby seriously, either bought or borrowed, and as I write this draft I keep finding pens that I want to mention that I haven’t yet got around to reviewing.
Now, on to those awards.
New pen model of the year: Leonardo Momento Zero
Let’s get the big one out of the way. Few products this year hit me as being such great value as the Leonardo Momento Zero. For its price, you get a great steel nib, comfortable design, and beautiful finish. I know quite a few people who have bought one now, and nobody has a bad word to say about it.
The runner up for me is the Desiderata Soubriquet. Pierre at the Desiderata Pen Company has been forging his own path, like many other wonderful custom makers, for some years. With the Soubriquet he has created a whole new design from scratch, with a vac pump mechanism, ink window, blind cap and other complex features all made in-house. The result is a pen with great personality and performance, particularly in its wooden finish. This is the most I’ve ever paid for a steel-nibbed pen, and it was worth it..
Limited edition of the year: Pelikan Ocean Swirl
The fountain pen market is saturated with limited editions, at all price points, and across paper, ink and pens. It’s a trend that I find exhausting. I bought a few this year (such as the Aurora Optima Flex, the Montegrappa ‘The Sea’, and the Visconti London Fog, as well as numerous Montblanc special edition inks). But the one that leapt out as “must have immediately” was the Pelikan M805 Ocean Swirl, which was technically a 2017 release, but like most people I got mine in early 2018.
I still think it’s the most beautiful material in my collection, and it’s singlehandedly responsible for me moving on from black pens to the more colourful designs that I now tend to focus on.
Pleasant surprise of the year: Esterbrook Estie
I was not expecting the new Esterbrook Estie to be as good as it is. Generally when I get a sub–$150 pen to review, I appreciate it and review it within the bounds of its market segment but generally it doesn’t last in my rotation for very long. But the Estie is really comfortable, and the vintage nib adapter gives it serious legs. The Esterbrook 2048 extra fine may well have displaced the Platinum 3776 UEF as my extra fine of choice.
The runner up is a loaner I had earlier in the year: the Cleo Skribent ‘The Skribent’. The pen itself was good but generally unremarkable and not really my sort of thing, but to this day I fondly remember the nib. Tiny, but so much personality, a truly great writer and one I was not expecting.
New budget pen of the year: Karas Starliner
To me, the Karas Starliner XL is an exceptional example of what a good budget pen should be. It is comfortable, attractive in a simple way, robust, and a good writer. It doesn’t blow its budget on fancy features, just solid writing. I missed the review sample so much that I’ve ordered a replacement from my own money.
The Lamy Aion falls into this category for me too. Although mine has been edged out of rotation by fancier pens, the Aion is an incredibly solid pen that I think makes for a real step up from the Al Star and Safari.
Disappointment of the year
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, because it shows I have some perspective), I was disappointed by a lot of pens and products this year. Perhaps most egregious was the Rotring Newton — I would have had more pleasure burning four £20 notes. I ended up throwing it in the bin.
I was really hoping to like the Parker Duofold, but felt let down by the nib and size. More recently, I was SO EXCITED to get the bright blue Diplomat Aero, but not only did the nib suck, I’m finding the section too slippery. And back earlier in the year, I was disappointed by the Namisu Ixion. A perfectly fine pen, but I will never buy from Namisu again.
The “I was wrong” award
I have been guilty of some sweeping generalisations over the years. Big pens are better. Gold nibs are better than steel. I hate metal sections. I’m lucky to have been exposed to a number of pens that have helped me challenge those assumptions and given me a more open mind.
The Graf von Faber-Castell Classic is one such pen. It’s skinny. It has a small nib. It has a metal section. But it still works, amazingly well — and it’s had more use in the past couple of months than most of my pens.
The Visconti Van Gogh falls into the same camp. Small, metal section, small steel nib. But it just works.
Ink of the year: Montblanc
This is a tough one. I’ve bought and used dozens of inks this year, some of which were newly released in 2018, but many were simply new to me. Rather than do this scientifically and actually go back through all the inks I’ve used in 2018, I’m simply going to give a shout out to Montblanc, which has done a blinding job of its special edition releases this year. In particular, Red Fox and Swan Illusion (photo below) have earned a rare place in my “buy a backup bottle” list. Psychedelic Purple is awesome too.
Birmingham inks continue to be my second favourite brand of ink, although by this point there are so many goddamn inks in the range that I simply can’t keep track (this is what pisses me off about Robert Oster too). I have maybe a dozen colours and I have trouble remembering which is which. But I have very fond feelings for Grandview Horizon, Boiler Room Blue/Black, Alternator Crimson, and now Celestial Blue and Polar Bear are in regular rotation too. As well as making great inks, Nick at Birmingham Pens offers truly exemplary customer service.
I also want to give a mention to Pure Pens, which from a standing start created a blinding range of inks earlier this year. Cadwaladr remains my favourite red ink.
Paper of the year: GLP The Author
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Tomoe River, but I keep trying other brands too. Graphilo is good and probably my second favourite, but it’s not widely available.
Fiorenza notebooks are decent. I didn’t get on with MD paper. Mnemosyne is a bit smooth. Rhodia I hate, too squeaky. The Foyles notebook performed dreadfully. And so on.
In other words, I keep coming back to Tomoe.
Bizarrely, most manufacturers that use Tomoe decide that because it’s such thin, light paper, the answer is to cram 500 sheets into any notebook. The result (like the Hippo Noto, Nanami) is a brick. That’s why I like the GLP The Author. It’s slim, flexible, and an innovative size, with all the advantages of Tomoe River paper and even a sheet of blotting paper included. It was great to watch this brand launch, and I still use one whenever I’m not reviewing new paper.
Pen hall of fame: London Fog, 1912
I’ve been lucky to acquire a few pens this year that I know I’ll own and love for years to come. Pens like the Desiderata Soubriquet described above and the Ocean Swirl. The London Fog from Visconti is a dead cert for this list too: it was my grail pen for over a year and it was even better than I could have hoped for.
Last in this shortlist is the Montblanc 1912. This little beauty will be with me to the grave.
What to expect next year
When I set out to write this blog, my goal was to blog for a year. I achieved that. In 2018, my goal was to double my viewership from 2017. I blew that goal away.
I’m not sure what to do in 2019. I plan to keep blogging, but I hope to cut back on the number of pens and inks I buy, and that will reduce my volume of posts. What do you want from me? Reviews? Editorial posts about my experiences and views on the market? Buyer’s guides? How-tos? Leave a comment and let me know.
And one final award: to you guys. Thanks for reading. It means the world.