Next up in the ‘behind the pen’ interview series: Roy van den Brink-Budgen, the brains behind Izods Ink, Montblanc specialists, UK retailer of Leonardo and Nettuno, and dealer in Robert Oster and Krishna inks. I’m a repeat customer of Izods — along with Chatterley Luxuries in the US, I hit ‘refresh’ on the Izods ‘what’s new’ page far too often. I go to drool over beautiful pens that I can’t really afford, but buy anyway. Thanks to Roy for spending some time with me to share his perspectives.
Ant: You stock a lot of fine pens. What are your personal grail pens? Do you ever get tempted to keep stock and not list it for sale?
Roy: The idea of ‘grail pens’ is a tricky one when it’s also your business. I think it’s easy to get blase about pens, because you see so many rare and beautiful writing instruments every week. But there are always pens that just stand out as being absolutely wonderful and the most recent example was an unused Montblanc 149 Demonstrator (with every element being clear).
It had the legendary 14C Tri-Tone nib and it was just something to behold. It ended up with a client in the US and it was a sad day when it went because you knew that you couldn’t just find another one. I suppose if I was to chose a grail pen it would be the Montblanc Heritage 1914 Coral 333, because everything about it is just fantastic and wow the size of the mother of pearl snowcap. Saying that, we had an Omas Harmonia Mundi in stock recently and wow that is a serious pen!
Ant: And what’s in your pen case right now?
Roy: Good question, it’s a pretty mixed bag… I’ve got a Montblanc 149 Celluloid Silver Rings, Leonardo Momento Zero Hawaii Stub, Nettuno 1911 Petra Squares and a Graf von Faber-Castell Ivory Anello. Then for when I don’t use a fountain pen (shocking I know!), I’ve got a Montblanc Heritage Capless Steel Rollerball.
Ant: In the past you’ve stocked Tactile Turn pens and Robert Oster, and in 2018 you started stocking Nettuno and Leonardo and Krishna. What’s in store for 2019?
Roy: There’s some big plans and all will be revealed in due course. Leonardo and Nettuno are very much at the heart of our offering and I’ve always been of the opinion that we don’t want to work with loads of random brands, rather those that we’re really passionate about. To give you a little insight… izods has always been known for selling an extensive selection of ‘pre-loved pens’, but 2019 is the time for the izods brand to be developed further, so there’ll definitely be some exciting ‘own-brand’ products coming in 2019.
Ant: Montblanc comes under a lot of fire from some corners of the pen community. I personally love a lot of its models. What is it that attracts you to Montblanc, and do you have any personal favourite models?
Roy: It’s fascinating sometimes watching the forums and discussions when it comes to Montblanc. I think, a bit like Manchester United in their heyday, it’s easy to criticise a hugely successful company like Montblanc. Undoubtedly they’ve changed dramatically over recent years and are now a massive commercial beast, but they do make some insanely wonderful pens and they remain aspirational products for so many people. The Skeleton pens are amongst my favourites, with the 90 Years Skeleton being right at the top of my list. It’s just the little extra details and the intricacy of it all… stunning!
Ant: Inks are just as important as the pen. Are there any inks that you turn to, time and again?
Roy: It’s a tricky one when it comes to inks, because I’m like a kid at a pick and mix! Selling Robert Oster and Krishna means that we get to try all sorts of colours. But if I was on a desert island and I could only take two with me, the first one would be an exclusive colour that Robert Oster did for us called Ruthenium and then the Montblanc Mahatma Gandhi.
[Ed: I have a bottle of Ruthenium and it’s a lovely grey with purple undertones. Definitely worth a look, although it seems to be out of stock right now. And good luck finding a bottle of Gandhi…!!]
Ant: How would you describe your typical clientele? Is that changing?
Roy: It’s really tricky to describe a typical client, because they vary so dramatically. It might be an appointment with a very serious Montblanc collector in the morning and then a chat with someone buying their first fountain pen before finishing up the day with a really specific request from an avid enthusiast. I’d definitely say that the range of customers has broadened as more and more people look at writing with fountain pens.
The one thing I would say is that we like to maximise the whole experience for everyone… we won’t spoil the surprise, but even unboxing an izods parcel is enjoyable!
We love the passion that our clients have for pens and it’s even more satisfying when they send us a note saying how much they love their latest purchase!
[Ed: I buy pens from a lot of different shops. Sometimes, even if you’re buying an expensive pen, you get a beaten-up box in a jiffy bag with a printed packing slip. I can say with confidence that Izods puts a little more effort in…]
Ant: It was great to meet you face to face at the London Pen Show a few months back. What’s your view on the role that pen shows play in the market, and do you think they need to evolve?
Roy: Firstly, thank you… great to meet you too. Personally, the thing I enjoy the most about the shows is meeting people, whether that’s a client that we’ve always dealt with remotely or someone who just wants to chat about pens! It’s incredible the array of pens you can buy and discover, but I think maybe it would be a more enjoyable and professional experience if it was moved away from exhibitors simply having tables and more towards proper trade show stands. I’m very aware that for many exhibitors, they do like simply having table space which is great, but I think sometimes it’s easy for people to get blinded by rows and rows of tables.
[Ed: I completely agree. I remember my first time at the London show and I went into complete shock at the endless lines of vintage pens on table after table.]
Ant: What got you into pens in the first place?
Roy: There wasn’t one thing that got me in to pens, it was really that I just liked the idea of owning a fountain pen. I’m one of those people that will spend ages researching the options and it was then that I discovered that there was a whole world out there. In a digital world (I’m guilty, as I’m writing this on my phone!), it’s nice to be able to do something that doesn’t involve a keyboard or just highlighting text and changing the colour… writing with a pen is an enjoyable experience and hey who doesn’t want to own as many as possible?
Ant: How do you use pens today? Do you journal, BuJo, Hobo?
Roy: My own use tends to be straightforward, but I do get through a lot of notebooks as I scribble a lot of information at every client meeting and even when I’m just sat at my desk. If I can write it with a pen, rather than store it on my phone, I will.
Ant: I’ve found that a lot of the pen community has overlap with other analogue pursuits — vinyl, watches, etc. Do you fall into that camp?
Roy: I guess I’d class watches as a passion of mine, but I’m very strict when it comes to indulging. I’ll happily drool over endless instagram photos of watches, but my own collection currently only stands at three — a gorgeous cream dialled Stowa 1938 Chronograph, a Tudor Black Bay Bronze Bucherer Edition and slightly off-piste Raketa Big Zero.
[Ed: the man has taste. That Black Bay is very special — speaking as a Tudor owner myself…]
Ant: How do you think the world of stationery is going to evolve in 2019? Are there any trends that you think will blow up, or any that you think (or wish!) would blow over?
Roy: I think it’s definitely faster moving than it ever has been! We use Instagram a lot and it’s brilliant to see people’s posts about the latest pen they’ve bought, or an ink review or even just showing off their amazing handwriting or calligraphy skills. I think there’s more and more room for brands to join the party if they offer something that’s both appealing and at the right price point. From our own experiences with Leonardo and Nettuno, I’d say that there’s far more recognition of how good steel nibs can be and I expect that to continue.
I say, the more the merrier so bring on those shimmering inks, wild coloured pens and beautiful notebooks!
[Ed: I am still a gold snob, but I have been really impressed by some of the steel nibs I’ve used recently, and I’ve tried to express that in my reviews. I think 2019 is going to be the year of the steel nib.]