Posts Tagged ‘parker’

inoxcrom nature

I’ve been asked, what’s the best beginner fountain pen?

As with anything, it’s a matter of preference. And like fashion, pens are where you find them. There are excellent pens at all price points.

Take, for instance, Spanish brand Inoxcrom, founded in 1955.

During its heyday it was largest and leading brand in Spain and its products were marketed in 80 countries. Its pens and other stationery were the default choices of Spanish students for decades. However, the Barcelona-based company fell upon hard financial times after the death of its founder, Manuel Vaque Ferrandis, in 2003. As of September 11 this year, the company is said to be in liquidation.

Despite its corporate woes, Inoxcrom produced a good-quality line of pens that were sturdy and reliable. The student pens are made of plastic barrels, caps, etc. with stainless-steel nibs.

This is the “Panda” fountain pen from the “Nature” collection. There are ten animals in the set: cow, cat, mouse, ram, donkey, penguin, chick, dolphin, toucan, panda. As far as I can find out, the collection was released in 2007.

Inexpensive pens such as Inoxcrom are great for experimenting with. In this pen, I’m running my own blend of ink – “Old Rose” – made of 9 parts Diamine Cerise and one part Parker Quink Black, more or less. I’m not sure I can duplicate this exact shade, which I can’t find among bottled brands. Anyway, ink blending is part of the fun of being an FP user.

The notebook is Moleskine. The nib is cooperative, no matter what kind of ink I fill the cartridge with. The text is something I made up after the manner of Sei Shonagon. 

Inoxcrom pens from 2007 and older were made in Europe; from 2008 onward, they were made in China.

If you ask me, I’d tell you to buy all the Inoxcrom you can get your hands on, seeing as the company is insolvent and this could be the end of their marvelous colorful reliable products. There still might be some stock at Fully Booked and National Bookstore in Manila.

Photo taken with an iPhone 4S.

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vintage and modern pens at the track

On alternate weekends  I sit as anchor of the cable television live coverage of horseracing events at the Philippine Racing Club’s Santa Ana Park in Naic, Cavite.

There are usually 12 races on Saturday, 13 on Sunday. They start at 2:00 pm and are held at 30 to 40-minute intervals. I’m on-cam at the opening and closing of the show. In between, only my voice (and that of my co-host) is heard to introduce the entries at the post parade, give the pre-race and post-race analyses, read announcements, race odds, results, and pay-offs, and crack jokes. There are no scripts, it’s all ad-lib, and it’s pretty free-wheeling as long as you stick to the sequence.

I’m stuck in the studio the entire day, unless there are awarding ceremonies to emcee, which isn’t often. To amuse myself between races and spiels,  I doodle and test fountain pens and ink.

I play!

Last weekend I brought along these babies to the track and put them through their paces.

From the top, a Lamy Purple AL-Star EF; a Lamy Coffee AL-Star EF; a Parker Ringtop; a Sailor Pro Colors 500 in Geranium Red, originally a medium and modified by nibmeister Chito Limson into a stub;  and a Wahl 3 Greek Key.

Along with pens, ink gets tested too. Pilot Iroshizuku has a wonderful line of ink based on colors found in nature, in the earth and plants and trees of the Japanese countryside.

The Sailor running Pilot Iroshizuku tsutsuji (azalea).

Once a fountain pen is altered from its original state, the practice among pen collectors is to mention all changes made to it. In the case of nib modifications, a word is coined that refers to it using the nibmeister’s name. In the case of this Sailor, it is “Chitofied”.

To give a few more examples: “Binderized” (Richard Binder), “Mottishawed” (John Mottishaw). To use in a sentence: “Sorry, kids – your only inheritance is a Pilot Vanishing Point with a Binderized cursive italic nib.”

Most fountain pen nibs in gold and steel are tipped with “iridium”, a term that refers to metal alloys that are long-wearing and protect the softer gold and steel tips. In less expensive pens, the tip of the nib may just be turned back on itself to create the characteristic bump on the tip.

A nibmeister creates a stub nib by patiently grinding away the “iridium”, often by using abrasive pads like Micromesh. He may leave a soft-edged tip, or grind a straight line with rounded edges – a “stub”. If he sharpens the edges a bit more, he comes up with an italic nib. Sharpening even further, he creates a “crisp” italic nib.

Stubs and italics offer more line variation than the usual kinds of nibs (extra-fine, fine, medium, broad). They are more interesting to write with.

To obtain more variation and fancier effects, nothing comes close to vintage flexible nibs. The best, to my mind, are gold flex nibs from the 1930s and earlier. Below is a gold-filled Wahl 3 Art Deco pen from the ’20s.

Wahl 3 inked with Waterman Havana Brown. To see a Wahl (and a Nakaya elastic fine and flexible fine)  in action, watch this video at Leigh Reyes’s blog.

Lamy is a fantastic brand that marries contemporary design with reliability and performance. Here’s their Lamy AL-Star, which looks the same as their popular Safari model, except that the AL-Star’s barrel and cap are made of aluminum while the Safaris are plastic.

Lamy comes out with different colors of their AL-Star and Safari every so often and discontinuing them after each production batch, making each new color a collectible. This one’s called “Coffee”, rendering it irresistible to me. It lays a striking line when paired with gentle-for-pens Waterman ink in Havana Brown.

Modern steel nibs are “nails’ – they are unyielding and sturdy, making them suitable for daily road-warrior work such as note-taking, writing drafts and long letters, and defending yourself against muggers. (That’s a long story. Tell you next time.)

See the difference between the Wahl 3 and the Lamy.

Lamys at the track: Purple AL-Star, Coffee AL-Star, Aluminum AL-Star, Pink Safari. Save for the Aluminum, these are LE (limited edition) colors.

I bring at least four Lamys with me everyday, inked with different colors. But I also bring a flex pen or two to play with, and another vintage favorite is this Parker Duofold Jade ringtop with gold-filled cap trim from 1929 or thereabouts.

Pilot Iroshizuku momiji (autumn leaves) gives gradated effects when used in a flex-nib pen.

The Parker Duofold’s nib is glorious; I can do calligraphic tricks with it, creating thick and thin lines and all kinds in between by altering the pressure on the nib.

Doodling in between races with pens old and new, using inks of rainbow hues, relaxes me after each task and clears my head, so I approach the commentating of each race with undiminished energy.

“Aaaaand they’re off…!”

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basic fountain pens 1: beginner’s guide

Wella - a friend from college who turned 27 some weeks ago (*wink*) - asked me to write an introduction to fountain pens as she is thinking of getting into them as well. While I don’t feel qualified to write a definitive and comprehensive beginner’s guide about this interesting and complex topic, I can at least share my personal experiences.

To begin with, as a writer and aesthete of sorts, I’ve always been fascinated by things that make marks on paper - all sorts of writing instruments, typewriters, brushes, seals and rubber stamps – and the things that make the marks – ink, paint, seal paste, and so on.

Over the years, I became more interested in vintage and antique things over modern things because of the historical  and aesthetic aspects. I find a fountain pen with its gleaming, pointed nib more visually appealing than a ballpoint pen, and found my interest concentrating on FPs.

Fountain Pens in the Philippines

However, in the Philippines, where I live, there isn’t much of a fountain pen culture. According to older folks who are now in their mid-50′s and older, usage of FPs was prevalent in schools until they were in high school, when ballpoints became cheaper and more readily available.

A 62-year old friend of mine told me of he and his elementary schoolmates stabbing the nibs of their Parkers and Sheaffers into their desks when they were bored. They eagerly embraced BP use later on as FPs, he said, “leaked, and my mom would get mad when I’d come home with ink stains all over my uniform.” (Apparently he never figured out that if he didn’t have the habit of stabbing his pen nibs into desks, perhaps his pens wouldn’t leak.)

FPs were also de riguer in some Philippine law schools and in some accountancy programs until perhaps fifteen years ago, though there are still a few law schools today, like Far Eastern University, that recommend FPs to their students.

Still, in the mainstream, few Filipinos have even heard of FPs, much less used them. I first learned of FPs as a child through reading and movies; I don’t recall actually seeing an FP being used by anyone in my family.

In college, I finally got myself an inexpensive Parker Jotter from National Bookstore. All I did was go to the pen section, browse, and get something I could afford.

But it wasn’t until a couple of years back that my interest really grew, when the choices of affordable FP brands available in readily accessible malls and chain bookstore expanded. Fully Booked began carrying Inoxcrom pens; they were made of plastic with steel nibs, and had colorful and attractive graphics.

The pink pens are Inoxcrom from the Jordi Labanda line; the red FP is a Pilot 78G and one of the best starter pens ever, available online for about $12. All three have steel nibs.

Enter the power of the Internet. After blogging about the demise of one of my early Inoxcrom Jordi Labandas, I received an email from University of the Philippines professor Dr. Butch Dalisay inviting me to a gathering of FP collectors at his home, the first such meeting ever.

Upon meeting other collectors, I was exposed to more brands, kinds of nibs, modern and vintage pens, and a wide assortment of ink. The more I learned about FPs, the more I wanted to collect, and because of my newfound knowledge, I was able to discover what I really wanted, which are vintage pens, mainly 1930s Sheaffers and Parkers; pens with flexible nibs, whether vintage or modern; and Japanese pens.

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Vintage Sheaffer Balances. All are from the 1930s except the red Tuckaway in the center. I love ’30s pens for their Art Deco design, flexible and responsive nibs, and lovely celluloid barrels.

Fountain Pen Facts

You need to know that:

1. FPs differ from BPs in that they have nibs. The nibs come in a wide variety of types. Referring to the width of the line they lay down, there are the extra-fine (EF or XF), fine (F), medium (M), and broad (B) nibs. Some brands such as Pelikan carry double-broad and triple-broad nibs. The nibs of Japanese brands such as Pilot, Sailor, and Platinum tend to be ”one size smaller” – their M is a Western F, their XF a Western XXF, and so on.

Nibs come in gold, steel, and other metal alloys and are generally pointed in shape and have a ball of iridium on the tip for strength. But there are other shapes. Stubs are nibs with the iridium gone because the shape of the tip is flat across. Italics are pretty much the same but with sharper edges; they are used mainly for calligraphy. Obliques are cut at an angle.

Nibs may also differ as to whether they are flexible, semi-flexible, or firm. Modern nibs are usually very firm – “nails”, in collector parlance – since users most likely will have grown up as members of the BP generation. Some modern nibs are flexible – pens from Nakaya and Danitrio, and Pilot’s Falcon nib come to mind.

Semi-flex nibs give a bit of line variation – examples are the Pelikan M1000 and the Sailor Professional Gear -  but the best results in that regard may be had from true flex nibs. Many vintage pens, especially those from the ’40s and earlier, have flexible nibs because they were often made of 14K gold, and gold nibs tend to be more flexible than steel. In addition, antique pens were designed to flex to accommodate use of the Spencerian and Copperplate styles of handwriting.

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Two of my favorite flexy pens – a Moore vest pen, and a Sheaffer black hard rubber ringtop, meant to be worn by ladies around their neck on a chain. Notice the line variation with the Sheaffer.

2. FPs, unlike BPs, are refillable with ink from a bottle. For green advocates, they are a better choice as they are not disposable. Modern fill systems use a cartridge - a plastic tube pre-filled with ink is snapped inside the pen – or converter - also a plastic tube but with a twister-thingy that allows you to draw ink up through the nib. A converter is better since it is re-used over and over, but a cartridge can also be refilled using a syringe. Vintage pens have a variety of filling systems ranging from lever-fill, button-fill, etc. Stick to c/c (cartridge-converter) pens at the start for less mess.

Collecting Fountain Pens

If you would like to start a collection of fountain pens, you might want to:

1. Ask friends or family for their old fountain pens. Chances are there are pens gathering dust in some drawer or box somewhere, and your relatives and friends will only be too glad to pass them on to you.

2. Check out the fountain pens for sale at office supply stores. In the Philippines, try:

a) National Bookstore for the Parker Jotter, Vector, and other models that might catch your fancy. They also carry Aurora, Waterman, Inoxcrom, Cross, and Rotring. Inoxcrom make the most affordable kinds – plastic cartridge-fill pens suitable for children, or for anyone looking for a sturdy daily road warrior.

b) Luis Pen Store is the only fountain pen store in the country. Established in the late 1940s, it’s still near its original location on Escolta Avenue, Manila, near Sta. Cruz Church. There you’ll find NOS Parkers, Sheaffers, and Pilots from the ’70s, as well as newer models of those brands and Cross and Mont Blanc. They also do FP repair, do engraving, and sell Parker Quink ink.

c) Office Warehouse has cheap and fun Schneiders – the Zippi and other models.

d) Fully Booked carries Inoxcrom.

e) Office supplies stores in Recto, near the university belt, carry NOS (new old stock) Pilot Japanese pens from the ’70s – terrific buys for their reliability and beauty, and the antique factor as well. You might also find Lamy pens.

Try checking fountain pen sellers online for modern pens, and eBay for vintage pens.

DSC_8430

Three 1940s Parker Vacumatics with their pretty striped celluloid barrels; a Parker 51, iconic for its hooded nib; a Parker 45; a (restored) Parker 75 Milleraies, the pen that started my collection; a Parkette; a red Esterbrook; and a gold Wahl set of refillable pencil and fountain pen.

3. Research online about fountain pens and join collectors’ forums. Wiki has this informative article on fountain pens. Check out Fountain Pen Network and join the Fountain Pen Network Philippines Yahoo! groups. For more information and pictures, visit Leigh Reyes’ blog, My Life as a Verb; Thomas Overfield’s Bleubug; and Dr. Butch Dalisay’s Pinoy Penman.

Getting Started

Getting started is easy. Just go to your favorite pen place and get the pen that you like best that you can afford.

I’d suggest you start with something inexpensive  – say, a cartridge-fill Parker Jotter or Vector with a steel nib – to get used to the nib and the way it lays ink on paper, which is different from the way you’d use a BP. FPs need very little pressure to lay a dark line (this is assuming you are using dark ink), whereas for BPs, you have to press hard to achieve  a darker line, making FPs terrific for writing for extended periods. In addition, FPs don’t score the back and succeeding pages of your notebook, unlike BPs.

You also need to find out what width of nib you prefer – F, M, or B? Get an inexpensive one of each kind, or try them out in the store first before buying. Testing an FP is done by “dipping” – dip the nib for a few seconds in ink, and doodle on paper.

DSC_8427

A Lady Sheaffer from the ’70s; various Pilots, including a Pilot E Script pen, a Pilot 77 from Luis Store in Escolta, a teal Pilot from Recto, and a red Pilot 78G from Shanghai; an orange Sailor Professional Gear Colors; and Japanese long-shorts from the ’70s – a Sailor, a Pilot, and a Platinum.

Don’t forget to buy bottled ink! Available in Manila are Parker Quink, Waterman, and Aurora inks (at National Bookstore). Online, look for J. Herbin, Private Reserve, Noodler’s, Diamine, Caran d’Ache, and Pilot, especially their Iroshizuku line.

And as you become more enamoured of using FPs, you’ll also need to look for “fountain-pen friendly paper”. (Fully Booked has a nice assortment of Moleskine, Paper Blanks, Grand Luxe, and Miquelrius. For local brands, Corona and Cattleya are great – smooth paper, won’t snag your nib, no ink feathering.) Happy hunting!

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bulletproof vs. non-permanent fountain pen inks

Fountain pen inks are water-based and different brands make them with varied characteristics as to color, permanency, and others. The non-permanent kind are more numerous and available in a rainbow of colors, from plain black and blue to scintillating scarlets and greens.

There are fewer of the permanent concoctions, but one of the most popular is Noodler’s “Bulletproof” line. Developed by chemist Nathan Tardiff, these inks are said to withstand everything from household bleach to airplane degreasers.  (Check out Fountain Pen Network for ink reviews and tests.)

I wanted to see for myself the difference between permanent and non-permanent fountain pen inks, so I made my own simple experiment, with Alex’s help.

The inks we tested: (B = bulletproof, NB = non-bulletproof)

NOODLER’S: Heart of Darkness (B), Socrates (B), Rachmaninoff (B), Habanero (NB)

PRIVATE RESERVE: Blue Suede (NB)

WATERMAN: Violet (NB) and Green (NB)

J. HERBIN: Rose Cyclamen (NB)

“SECRET SAUCE” (my own ink cocktails): “Inkdigo”, a mix of Parker Quink Blue and Black (said to be waterproof), and Waterman Violet (W); and “Cherry Red”, a mix of PR Black Cherry and Noodler’s Red (both NB)

I wrote on a sheet of notebook paper with a variety of pens and nibs, and allowed the page to dry for 30 minutes. Alex then squirted water on the page for ten seconds, and let it drip-dry. We checked it after five minutes, and again after the sheet had dried.

Here’s what happened:

When Noodler’s says one of their inks is “bullet-proof”, they mean it! When you use a bulletproof ink, your only worry about the immortality of your written work is the physical integrity of the paper itself.

In the photo above, the “Cherry Red” is still dark because the pen I used to write it with, an Aurora Idea, lays a superwet thick line, but you can observe how the ink “ran”. The J. Herbin ink in Rose Cyclamen, on the other hand, did not run but it did fade noticeably, perhaps 50%.

The Noodler’s bulletproof inks did not run, fade, or change color. It’s a faithful ink, the kind that will never leave you nor forsake you for another.

I’m in love.

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ink in the blood

It was the first-ever, as far as we knew, meeting of fountain pen collectors in the Philippines – at least, of this batch of friends belonging to the online communities Fountain Pen Network and PhilMUG. For years, several of them had contact only by email or on online forums discussing their particular mania. On July 5, Saturday, in a peaceful home in UP Campus, they gathered with their pens and ink to meet and share.

Fountain pens are virtually unknown now in the Philippines – ask any person below the age of twenty and you’ll get a glazed stare – but before ballpoints came into being, in the 1940s to mid-1950s, FPs ruled.

I belong to this peculiar tribe for whom the process is as important as the end result. It is easier to write with a ballpoint, but nothing compares to the feel of a pointed steel or gold fountain pen nib sliding over the paper, laying down ink almost like a brush. The words seem painted on, elevating the mundane activity of scribbling notes into an art.

Older collectors remember using FPs in their youth, mostly Parkers and Sheaffers; for them, it’s often a matter of nostalgia and reliving the past. Younger enthusiasts are drawn to vintage artifacts redolent of a history they never experienced; for them, old is new and for that reason, desirable. Using FPs in this age of gel pens sets one apart. How many people do you know still use FPs everyday?

One of them is University of the Philippines professor Jose “Butch” Y. Dalisay Jr., PhD. Host of this penmeet, he is a multi-awarded writer of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama, and screenplays. He has won, at last count, 16 Palanca literary awards. Perhaps a hundred or more pens reside in his pen cases and “junk box” (a red felt-lined wooden chest).

“Welcome to the first Philippine Fountain Pen Collector’s meeting!” Seated: Beng Dalisay, Carlos Abad Santos. Standing: George, Robert, Butch Dalisay, Leigh Reyes, Eliza, Pep, Jay, Chito, Butch, and Iñigo.

Another enthusiast is Leigh Reyes, creative director of  a prominent advertising agency. Her collection is unrivaled, containing premier brands Nakaya, Oldwin, Visconti, and Omas, to mention just a few.

I had met Leigh several times before, to acquire ink and vintage pens from her stash. The last time I saw Butch was in 1985, when I was a student of his English 5 class at UP Diliman. (He was one of my three favorite professors – the others were Dr. Michael Tan, anthropologist and columnist; and the late Rene O. Villanueva, also a Palanca-award winning writer and literary icon.) I received my invitation to this gathering from Butch. It seems he had Googled “fountain pen Philippines” or something similar and was led to this blog.

It was my first time to meet the others. After the initial frost had thawed, they welcomed me with genuine warmth into their circle, pressing pens into my hand to try, passing bottles of ink for my inspection.

Caloy_smile

Pep says something to Caloy that makes him smile: Leigh examines a pen’s nib; others “test-drive” the pens lying around.

Beng Dalisay (Butch’s wife) is not an FP collector, but remembers using them as a young student. “We used Parkers and Sheaffers,” she recalls. An accomplished artist, she prefers watercolors as her medium. Beng also restores and maintains artworks in museums and private collections. “We will soon be working on the Botong Francisco mural in Manila City Hall,” she says. A collector too – of tins and bottles – she knows the fierce and often uncontrollable craving that can overcome a  true enthusiast, and nods indulgently as we debate stiff versus flexible nibs, bulletproof against water-based inks.

Junkbox

Leigh answers a question while Butch roots through his mahiwagang junk box.

There is a particular etiquette in this culture that we instinctively practice, or it could be a result of years of “good manners and right conduct” teaching about respect for another’s property. It is this – that pens are passed to another person almost reverently,as if they were religious objects. If the pen is heavy, like Jay’s silver and tan herringbone patterned Faber-Castell, two hands are used to present it to another. Infinite care is taken when removing the cap – it could be the kind that screws on, and fie on the one who tugs! Pens removed from a case are, after careful use, returned to their proper slot or passed back to the owner. They are not left lying around unless by the owner himself. Ink bottles, too, are painstakingly opened; ink has a tendency to pool in the cap, and no one wants to spill a difficult-to-obtain twenty-dollar bottle of French-made J. Herbin.

Leigh_caloy_duo

Iñigo watches Leigh write in her flowing calligraphy; Caloy surveys a feast of fountain pens.

At some point during the festivities, several of us pull out our Moleskines. Caloy asks Leigh to customize his with her elegant lettering. Elai and I clamor, “Mine too!” Leigh good-naturedly picks up a fountain pen loaded with light brown ink, and writes quickly, without hesitation. Our names, embellished with swirls and flourishes, float from the italic nib and lie like butterflies on the creamy yellow paper.

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Leigh’s pens, notebook, and inks; Butch smiles as he uncovers more pens.

“Jenny.” I hear Butch’s voice and snap to attention. “Sir?” My response is reflexive; he will have my respect as my professor no matter how many years have elapsed since we were in a classroom. He hands me a pen. “For you, since you were my former student.” It is a black vintage Sheaffer Balance dating back to the 1940s, he says. I melt. My hands close around the pen and I stammer my thanks.

Butch does not realize, I think, how special the gift is, how his sudden impulse has profoundly stirred me. Not only because he is famous, and it will be a treasured souvenir from a literary lion; but because he was my teacher, the gift is significant as a reminder of a shared past and a mentoring that deeply influenced my writing.

One blue-book exercise he gave us was to describe a peso coin. “Be more specific and imaginative when you describe something! Look carefully at both sides and write down all you can discern.” His instructions forced me to use not just my eyes but also the vision of the mind to explore objects and concepts, employing uncommon words to provide the reader a fresh experience. “Resist cliches!” he said, so since then I have avoided them like the plague.

Pens_galore

Part of Leigh’s carefully-selected collection includes fountain pens by Nakaya, Sailor, Platinum, Pelikan, Oldwin, Danitrio, Stipula, Visconti, Omas, and the ubiquitous Parker and Sheaffer. She also owns ink in a vast array of colors, with brands like Caran d’Ache, J. Herbin, Private Reserve, Noodler’s, and Diamine.

George talks about his other passion – collecting and restoring vintage typewriters. I lean forward to listen; anything that makes alphabet marks on paper is interesting. George speaks: “Royal, Blickensderfer, Underwood,” and Butch nods sagely.

I look around and see that everyone has ink marks – on their hands, forehead, temples. Leigh rubs my chin. “Ink?” I ask, and she smiles. Caloy has a streak of green on the right temple; George, on the forehead. Butch’s fingers are a riot of color, as are Jay’s and Iñigo’s. We are true FP fanatics, I think, the stains worn as an emblem of pride. No one tries very hard to remove the marks.

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Front: Leigh, Butch, Jenny; Back: Iñigo, Jay, Eliza, George, Caloy.

One by one the penfriends depart. Chito is first to go. Butch from Baguio follows, saying, “I have a long drive. See you again soon.” “When is our next meeting?” George asks, almost plaintively. “Next month?” Butch says, “How about in six months, or when we have something new to show?”

I ride to Katipunan with Caloy. A well-traveled intellectual who is a PhD Economics candidate at UP, he offers to share shipping costs from PenGallery if I order. We have just met; but the ink in his veins calls to mine and thus we are no longer strangers.

We all look forward to the next meeting, the next sharing of custom-ground nibs and the latest colors of ink that are “not black!” as Leigh says. Anyone who is enamoured of the same is welcome to join. May the tribe increase!

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