I snuck out of the house today at 7.30, and cruised under sunny skies to London for the pen show with a sense of anticipation. By the time I walked in the door of the Novotel ballroom at 8.30, many tables were already set up and I saw several familiar faces.
Jose Munuera and his crazy nibs
Jose dragged me over to his table to show me some of his new nib creations… a six-layer beast, a three-tipped music nib, a stacked gold nib, and more besides. Jose had a queue for nib work for the whole show, and apparently has a big queue for nib commissions, so I guess I shouldn’t be promoting his Instagram account here… but anyway, it’s @nib.lab.
I also got to see, but didn’t photograph, the new Delrin pen from Gravitas, which Jose brought with him. The Delrin makes for a great stealth feel with engineered-plastic robustness. Keep an eye open for them.
Titan pens by William Shakour
As promised, I checked out the latest generation of Shakour’s massive pens, including this time a pocket pen design tooled for a #8 nib, and a katana design eerily reminiscent of the Nakaya Dorsal.
The colours and materials weren’t for me, but it’s great to see innovation coming from individual talent.
Esterbrook face to face
The Esterbrook stand was absolutely rammed all morning, with a full range of tester pens, forthcoming materials and historical catalogues on show, all presided over by Bryan from Kenro, Esterbrook’s parent company.
I have been an Esterbrook champion for years, and even today I showed an Estie to a friend who promptly went off to buy one. They’re just great pens.
It was lovely to catch up with Bryan, talking about how Esterbrook is working with the community: its edition artworks come from artists it engages through Instagram, it uses resins from artisan makers, and of course there’s the special nib series in partnership with different nibmeisters. And that was my takeaway from the meeting: one of the soon-to-be-released Needlepoint nibs by Kirk Speer.
I’ve installed it in my Nouveau Blue and it is one of the nicest needlepoints I’ve used. Genuinely really good.
Inky fun at Cult Pens
The Cult Pens stand was popular as ever. Esterbrook pens were selling fast, so were the Preppy Was that I reviewed recently, helped by a discount — and there were killer prices on several models.
I was mainly there to pick up some of the huge range of inks on show, but I got overwhelmed by all the new Vinta and Troublemakers and focused on loading up a mini box with three Iro inks — including the recently discontinued Ina Ho.
Bleach mad scientist Nick Stewart was setting up for a workshop just as I moved on. Truly an inky day!
More inks from Scrittura
Scrittura were over from the Netherlands and I picked up some more ink. Two new bottles of Wearingeul to add to the dozen or so I already have… oops. A big bottle of Gazing Far Blue Feather, an old favourite. And because I liked Artemis Navy so much, Laban’s Hera green.
Kilk pens built to impress
I said in my pre-show post that I was keen to check out Kilk pens from Turkey. Well, I did. There were four or five models on show, all with steel nibs and ranging from 100-200 quid. Several had really ornate and well-done hallmarked silver trim. One had a built in fidget-spinner. They were all beautifully made and finished, really impressive. But none of the colour schemes and designs really spoke to me so I left empty-handed. I’ll keep my eye on them, though.
A milestone for Onoto
I paid a quick visit to the good people at Onoto, and a very fruitful visit it was too.
I picked up a custom pen I ordered on Friday night — yes, it was ready in time! And I can say with some confidence that it’s my favourite Onoto yet. I picked the Sequoyah model, which you may remember from my previous review. I asked for it with shorter cap threads; Onoto obliged and the cap comes off in 2.25 turns. Excellent. Inside is a barrel weight, and at the business end a #8 gold nib with F tipping. It brings together all the best bits from the Onotos I’ve tried over the years.
I was also really excited to pick up my review samples of the Onoto Scholar, a new budget model that I’ve been watching develop for some time. I know a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this project and the team at Onoto are really passionate about making a pen that will welcome new customers to Onoto, who want a quality pen but can’t afford £400 for a Magna.
The Scholar is undeniably Onoto in its design, and while the plastic and trim are noticeably cheap compared to other models, Onoto hasn’t skimped where it counts. The Scholar has brass inserts inside the barrel and section, so it feels solid and well balanced. The threads are triple start, super fast and effective. Most importantly, the nib seems to be identical to the steel nibs offered on the Magna — I inked both the F and M versions up at the show in the bar, and they both wrote well. Inside is an Onoto-branded converter.
Onoto is offering the Scholar in black, blue, red, yellow and the highlander scheme familiar from the Magna, each available with silver or gold trim. At £129, including one of Onoto’s practical pen rolls, the Scholar seems pretty keenly priced. Look out for it when it hits the Onoto website in a week or two.
And last but not least, Onoto has started offering these beautiful metal bookmarks, echoing the design of the Keats pen. I couldn’t resist.
A bourbon with Derek
I promised ages ago that I was going to get a Benu Euphoria Bourbon, and I finally did it today, thanks to the temptation of Derek at Stonecott. It’s a striking pen in person. I stand with Ukraine in the war against Russia, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to boycott companies like Benu that I have known and worked with for years, or the small retailers like Stonecott that stock them. There are real people behind these small companies, and a mad dictator’s vendetta doesn’t change how I feel about them.
Building my wishlist
I checked out a few Danitrio pens, as I predicted I would. By gosh, I fell hard. I blame Sarj.
I also got to write with one of Aurora’s Goccia nibs, which I have been mulling for a while. That’s gone firmly on the list now.
Catching up with all the people
John, Jon, Rupert, Dave, Gary, Ali, Jane, Claire, Claire, Bryan, Jose, Sarj, Luke, Derek, Bernardo, Jim… I felt like I spent most of today chatting with fellow pen-nerds. Some of these folks I’ve never met in person, others I’ve seen at pen meets going back years.
Many are quirky characters, but seeing them always puts a smile on my face.
What was more surprising this year was being stopped multiple times by people saying ‘are you Ant from UK fountain pens?’. Not sure if it’s the YouTube channel or what, but it was certainly great to hear that people are enjoying this blog enough to go out of their way to tell me about it. Thanks to all of you!
It’s more than just a shopping trip
I spent the last hour of the show in the bar inking up pens and checking out pens from Claire and Luke’s haul. Pens like this Mr Cypress.
I checked my watch and suddenly it was 1pm and I had to dash. Four and a half hours passed very quickly.
It was a great show, probably the most high-spirited one I’ve been to yet. Looking around I saw lots of laughter and conversation, and seemingly a lot of attendees and a lot of purchases going on. I saw multiple kids of all different ages, and lots of younger visitors. There was a great mix of tables, from pen makers to retailers to luxury traders to vintage stands and multiple nibmeisters, and several new exhibitors. You could buy pens, paper, ink, nibs, storage, spare parts, even art equipment. Every part of the hobby was represented. If today was anything to go by, the pen community in the UK is in fine health.