2020 was a strange year in many ways, but it was a great year for fountain pens. As I sat down to prepare to write this post, scanning back over my Instagram feed and blog to refresh my memory, I was struck by, well, just how many great pens landed on my desk — even if pen meets in pubs seem like a world away now.
I thought about doing another UKFP Awards post — but I rapidly got overwhelmed by the selection process and even the categories. Could I really pick a ‘pen of the year’ or ‘ink of the year’? It’s felt like such a long year.
So I’m going to go a little more casual and call this post a recap of 2020. Let’s see where it takes us.
State of the UKFP nation
For this humble blog, 2020 was a bumper year. Even though I was on my hiatus until late April, I clocked in at more than 100 published posts in the seven months that followed, totalling 100,000 words. I guess I could have abandoned the blog and written two novels instead…!
Thanks to all of you that took the time to read, like, comment and email on all of those posts, and particularly to those of you that have chosen to donate to support the blog. It really does keep my motivation up, and heaven knows I needed it during lockdown.
It’s gratifying to know that I’m not shouting into a vacuum. My posts now consistently get around 60,000 views per month from places as far afield as Libya and Burundi, Andorra and Kazakhstan. (Of course, the USA and UK are neck-and-neck at the top of the list — no surprise there).
Of the 100ish published posts, something like 43 were pen reviews, and I’ll likely hit 50 by the end of the year, judging by my review queue. Pen reviews are the core of what I do, and it’s where I think I can add the most value to readers like you.
I’ve covered pens from £20 to £5,000, and I’ve hunted around in the market to spotlight pens that nobody else has reviewed, or that are brand new. I get huge joy from introducing you to pens and makers you might not have seen before.
I’m grateful to the brands and retailers that have trusted me with their products, from Onoto to Benu, Otto Hutt to Write Here, Leonard Slattery to Ben Walsh, and to Esterbrook, which sponsored my first giveaway. There are too many to list here — you know who you are!
Wherever the pen has come from, I aspire to be fair and thorough in my reviews, without being dry or sitting on the fence. I’ve had several hate mails about my negative reviews, yet nobody that I can recall has ever taken me to task for being too positive about a pen… so I take from that that I’m not yet a shill in the clutches of “big pen”. Looking back over old posts, I am proud to stand by my judgements and the quality of my writing.
I made a conscious decision this year that I wasn’t going to do many ink reviews, although I continue to buy, play with and use plenty of it. The reason is simple: I know that ink behaviour and appearance varies so much from nib to nib and paper to paper, and indeed in different lighting. I’d rather do no ink reviews than misleading ones.
But I have tried to diversify and cover other kinds of products beyond pens, from cases and bags to notebooks. Galen Leather and Rickshaw have consistently supported the blog with review samples, so particular thanks to Yunus and Mark.
Reviews aren’t everything. Some of the posts that I’ve found hardest to write but most rewarding have been more editorial in scope, from rants (and rants!) to humour, interviews, market analysis and trends, how tos, listicles, introspection and even confession.
I operate this blog with a degree of professionalism — I have processes and plans, policies and standards — but still when I sit down at the keyboard an opinion piece like these can appear completely unexpectedly just because a topic has been on my mind. I’ve learned to let it happen, and my editorial posts have proven some of my most popular articles, even though it still mystifies me why anyone would want to hear my ramblings!
Six new pens that stuck in my mind this year
So, enough about me. What about the pens?
Easily fifty or sixty new pens have passed through my hands this year — probably more. Some I play with, review, pass on and never think about again. Others stick in my head, even if they don’t always stick in my pen tray. These are the ones I want to tell you about now.
I’m not sure quite what it is about this little pen that grabbed me this year. It even has gold trim, and I hate gold trim almost as much as I hate small pens! But it has that special something. I’ve kept it and still use it after my review is long done.
I have a Leonardo Cuspide on the way, which I am excited and nervous about. I bought it on the strength of this, the Furore Grande, a truly stellar new release for 2020. Salva has nailed everything about this pen: it’s beautifully wet, the piston is great, it’s finished to perfection and the patterns even line up!
Scribo released several new colour versions of the Feel this year, all gorgeous, but it was the purple Write Here Tropea that I ended up buying, and the one I’d recommend to you. The Scribo 14k nib really is a special experience.
Onoto has been busy this year! The Sequoyah was the standout hit of all its new releases, and it’s one of my favourite pens now, full stop. The lustrous brown resin and Onoto silver trim make a perfect combination.
The Schon Pocket Six is not a new design for 2020, but this year there have been dozens of new colours, and the faceted brass and copper versions — of which I own a prototype. These little pens bring me so much joy. The pick for me from 2020? The Shipwreck and faceted brass.
I don’t own this pen. I think it’s too expensive at 2,500 euros, and there are things about it that I don’t much like. But I found it fresh, challenging, and interesting. Months after sending it back to Otto Hutt I found myself thinking about it. I interviewed the designer and that put it on my mind again. There’s something about the designC that’s worth attention, and indeed it’s put Otto Hutt on the map for me. I can’t wait to see what the collaboration with Otto Hutt turns up next.
And Hello Tello rebranded as Tesori, introducing some fabulous innovative new designs like the Venezia I have in for review.
And it was a good year for metal pens, too. As well as Schon described above, Karas nailed the improvements to the Ink fountain pen, and Ben Walsh introduced the Gravitas, which launches in production form this week, with a host of improvements over the Kickstarter prototype I reviewed.
Pens that changed my mind
This is a post about 2020, so it seems natural to focus on pens that were new to market in this year. But actually some of the pens that surprised or impressed me the most aren’t new at all, they’re just new to me. When I look back at my 2020, it’ll be these pens that stick.
Caran d’Ache Leman
I thought the Leman was going to be skinny, slippery, boring. Actually it’s fabulous and I wish I’d given it serious consideration earlier. Everything about this pen is good, and the quality is as you would expect from a Swiss maker.
ST Dupont Line D / Elysee
Again, I figured ST Dupont was a has-been maker, of dull and slippery pens that hadn’t changed in years. Actually the Line D completely won me over with world-class precision and build quality, and surprising comfort. It sits in my main tray and holds its head up high. If you’re willing to give Dupont a chance, the folks at Pure Pens will be glad to help.
Smythson Viceroy Grand
This is not my first tangle with a Yard o Led — I reviewed one last year — but this is my first time owning one. I’m a sucker for silver pens, but even so this one feels special. The balance is just spot on.
I could go on. There were pens that I picked up at the end of 2019 that I fell in love with in 2020, like my Montblanc Martele. There are other new arrivals like the TWSBI Eco Grey and Golden Horse. There are all the accessories I’ve loved this year, from the Galen desk pad and sketch box to the Rickshaw Coozy and Bento. And the many great new inks I tried — Scribo Grigio, Choosing Keeping Blue, KWZ Turquoise, Herbin Bleu Austral, and dozens more. But I’m outstaying my welcome.
What’s in store for 2021?
There’s a reason I’m publishing this post in November. Review commitments aside, I plan to take December off from blogging, and see how I feel come January.
It’s been a long, tough year, and I’ve worked my nuts off both in the dayjob and on this blog, along with parenting two young children, and I need a break. I’m finding myself getting irritable with readers sending me questions (sorry!), and I have less interest in the pens I’m reviewing. Those are warning signs.
That’s not the only reason, of course.
My personal pen collection is stabilising, and while I’ve said that before, I’m finding it harder than ever to contemplate any major changes. In fact, I’m overdue a sale.
Review samples aside, I have a Wet & Wise that just arrived today, a Lamy Dialog CC and Leonardo Cuspide incoming, and some of Ben Walsh’s Gravitas pens that I just ordered. Oh, and I have one of Desiderata’s BAMFs somewhere in the USPS systems, that I hope will make its way to me in the end. That’s it for incoming pens. Much less than usual.
I’ve not given up on pens for good. I’m still eyeing a King of Pen Urushi, a Nakaya Dorsal 2, maybe the Montblanc Curved Nib if it ever appears. I am thinking about a Kilk pen. I have a little wishlist. But nothing on it is screaming urgent.
Like I said, it’s been a good year for fountain pens. I’m feeling blessed and content. And there are plenty of signs that next year will be good too.
Stay safe, stay well, and I hope to see you at a pen show in 2021.