This may be the most frustrating review you read of a new pen today. The two pens I’m covering here are by a UK-based maker called John Garnham. He doesn’t have a website or an Instagram profile. He doesn’t have stock or take orders or commissions. The only way to get hold of one of his pens is to wait for a batch of a handful of pens to drop on the Facebook Fountain Pens UK group.
As you may be able to tell, John is not one to court glory. He originally designed his main model to be lightweight and comfortable for his son to use every day. Selling some to the community is a hobby, basically. So the pens don’t have names — the main model is JG6, from his initials and the size of the nib. And he’s not out to get every penny he can from the community, either. The JG6 I have here cost £70 shipped with a pen sleeve and Bock nib and converter.
I flat out told John he should add £30 to that figure without blinking, and he’d still be undercutting every other maker out there. But that’s by the by.
All of this doesn’t mean John is a dabbling amateur. Chatting to him you can tell he’s an experienced machinist who has used every material under the sun. He uses CAD, he experiments and iterates and optimises his designs, he plans for ergonomics and durability (hence the second pen I have here, a pocket pen called JG5, being a prototype).
And just because John isn’t looking to make a ton of money doesn’t mean he treats customer experience lightly. He builds his pens in a wide range of interesting colours and materials, including carbon fiber. A long line of very happy customers hasn’t got a bad word to say. And he ships each one in a custom made tweed sleeve with contrasting inner fabric to match the colour of the pen.
If it sounds like I’m a bit of a fanboy, no apologies: I’m just trying to set expectations that just because John prices and sells like a hobbyist, there’s no need to judge his pens as the work of anything but a professional.
So, to the pen.
My JG6 is in a highly chattoyant material called Venom, which swirls from black through green to an old-gold yellow. It is very, very pretty.
John normally makes his pens with very solid feeling two-part clips, quickly removable by unscrewing the end of the cap. But I ordered mine truly clipless, with a one-piece cap.
This means the pen looks as simple and seamless as can be, with domed ends and even a domed end to the section at the nib end.
This is not a particularly big pen, or a heavy pen, or a broad pen. And it does not post.
But all the things that normally bother me about small pens have been dealt with, namely a short, narrow section and sharp threads. The long cap is a giveaway, but when you uncap the pen the section is a real treat.
And the threads are very soft under the fingers, with the gentlest of steps up to the barrel.
Threads are perhaps the most challenging part of a handmade pen. The JG6 has them completely nailed. The cap action feels smooth, positive, and fast, with no squeaks, grittiness or rattle.
Inside, of course, is a converter from Beaufort mated to a #6 steel Bock nib unit. Mine wrote fine out of the box, not amazing but OK. I quickly swapped in a stacked nib that I’m testing.
So a comfortable custom pen in a pretty material, with great ergonomics and refined execution, with a pocket slip, for £70? If it sounds like a criminal bargain, that’s because it is. This is a lovely pen. The only quibble I have with the pen at all is with the surface polish. They’re hard to capture on camera, but fine swirls and scratches are visible across the whole surface. I would have liked a mirror shine to get the most from the Venom material.
And what about that pocket pen? Well, what I have here is a prototype in an old Conway Stewart material that John apologised for as being a bit brittle and hard to work. To be honest it doesn’t have enough rough edges to feel like a prototype, and the material is very pretty.
The finishing is actually better than on the JG6 in terms of surface polish, but there’s still the odd machining mark.
The JG5 came with a steel Beaufort-branded Bock nib, which I swapped for a steel Visconti nib unit from a Van Gogh. This is in Bock 076 size, so it’s not as big as a #6 nib, but last I spoke to him John was looking at the design again to see about cramming a larger nib in there.
This is a very short pen, much like the Schon Pocket 6, but a bit stouter.
It’s suitable for cartridges only, and John included a cartridge of Diamine Imperial Purple, as well as a short tweed sleeve.
To make it full length, the cap screws on to post. The threads on both ends run smoothly and fast: no complaints here.
The cap came with one of John’s full size clips on, which I found interfered with my thumb webbing on two out of three thread-start positions, and visually didn’t suit the pen either.
I took it off by unscrewing the end of the cap.
In the hand, the section is shorter than on the JG6 but it’s still a good size and the threads are still comfortable. It is perfectly usable and a really good little writer.
I have been pocket carrying the JG5 in its sleeve and it’s held up well so far, although naturally don’t treat it as roughly as you would a metal-bodied pen.
I’m not sure when the JG5 will be ready for sale or how much John will price it at, but it’s already a competent product that I can recommend alongside the JG6 with no reservations. And you just wait for the JG8 that’s under development…!