From the simple Lamy Safari through to a beautifully crafted Twiss pen like the one I am reviewing today, the majority of both modern and vintage pens are made out plastics or more generally polymers. Polymers are typically defined as a large molecule comprised of many repeated subunits, and you can think of them like a string of pearls with each 'subunit' being represented as a single pearl. If the string is very long then it will eventually tangle up with itself, but if you attach a ribbon to some of the pearls along the chain then the chain will get tangled in a different way. This is the secret to plastics, you start with different types and shapes of pearls (or a mixture) and then you can also modify them to get different physical properties (e.g. you could choose to make them stronger).
Polymers can be found all over in nature, from your DNA to the starch in potatoes, but most of these are not very useful for making pens. At the beginning of the British industrial revolution chemistry was booming and many new polymers were developed. Most of these started with a natural polymer which was then modified to change its properties, the first widely acknowledged example was ebonite. The person who is most commonly thought of as the inventor of ebonite is Charles Goodyear but the first patent was actually granted to Thomas Hancock (an Englishman born in Marlborough) on the 21st May 1844, three weeks before Charles's patent was granted in the US. Vulcanisation is the process of converting a natural rubber polymer to a hardened rubber (commonly known as ebonite) by adding sulphur atoms to link all the chains together. This makes the material much more useful than the natural polymer, you can change its properties by the amount of these linking bonds that you create.
A few years later in 1865, a French chemist called Paul Schützenberger discovered that if you mix cellulose (the polymer that is the main structural unit of plants and the most abundant polymer on earth) with a chemical called acetic anhydride you can form a new material called cellulose acetate. This semi-synthetic polymer has some great properties that are similar to the modern acrylic polymer (that a lot of pens are made from) and found a wide range of uses including fabrics, photographic film and the original Lego bricks. It does however melt at a relatively low temperature making it a difficult material to turn, requiring a lot of skill and expertise.
So a brief history and chemistry lesson aside, the pen in front of me today is a beautiful combination of cellulose acetate for the barrel & cap, ebonite for the grip section & the finials are made of acrylic (a modern fully synthetic polymer). These semi-synthetic polymers often feel warmer in hand and less slippy than their modern equivalents, so the material choices for this pen get an immediate thumbs up.
The cellulose acetate in question has a long history of its own, named "Parker Green Lizard Rod" and made between 1930 & 1955 the material is both old and stunning to look at. Along the barrel you can see join lines at an angle where the rod has been formed together during manufacture, but the surface finish is impeccable and polished to perfection. It is shaded in a range of green hues, each green square being separated by a black or dark green border and it shimmers slightly in the light.
The ebonite grip section is a made with a range of slightly darker greens in a striped pattern and whilst the colours do not match perfectly the contrast is really nice and better this way. The finials of the cap & barrel are finished with what looks like a black acrylic, making the pen look very smart. There is a reasonable chromed clip on the cap, it looks fine and is more than 'clippy' enough but compared to the other materials it just feels a bit pedestrian. Something ornate made of silver would have really finished the pen off and with a pen that is this beautifully made it deserves the extra attention.
The pen is a simple shape and works well because of this. The barrel is pretty much cylindrical, there isn't much of a step between the grip and barrel and the screw threads are well finished and not sharp. The grip section flares slightly towards the nib which stops your hands from wandering too far forwards and it is comfortable in use. It is a thin pen, slightly too thin compared to my usual preferences, but it is well balanced and I haven't had any fatigue in use from over gripping. It is nice and long, so no need to post this pen, which is lucky as the cap doesn't really sit on the end of the barrel very securely.
The pen barrel has been engraved with the Twiss logo but if you blink you will miss it. Apart from this there is no indication of who might have fashioned this pen. The pen screws very securely but it takes a lot of closing, some 2.5 full turns. I prefer pens that come undone a bit quicker but at least this one will not open accidentally in your bag.
A Jowo #6 nib is used to put the ink to paper, it is functional and generally smooth. Supplied for trial were fine, medium & 1.1 stub nibs with the fine and medium nibs writing smoothly and feeling great. The 1.1 stub showed off lighter inks superbly and ended up being very good for drawing chemical formulas but felt a bit scratcher than I would expect a stub to be, much closer to a cursive italic in feel. With a pen as beautiful as this one it would be worth stumping up the cash for a gold nib in your size of choice.
Overall this pen is beautiful to look at and use, being comfortable in hand and made superbly. I would probably make the pen slightly thicker and upgrade this to a gold nib; but this is the great thing about Twiss pens, you can specify almost anything if you go the custom route. I met John at the pen show in Lichfield, he was a really great guy to talk to and obviously loved his trade. I couldn't walk away empty handed so I have my first Twiss, and on returning home immediately placed an order for a custom one which will not be my last. His craftsmanship is excellent and I highly recommend going and buying one of his pens.
The great news for readers is that this pen is being given away, I am very happy for the person who wins this but very envious at the same time as this would regularly reach my rotation if I could keep it. Take a look at United Inkdom for details of the giveaway and more reviews of this pen by the rest of the crew.
Where to buy:
Straight from the maker is my recommendation, either via his website or at one of the pen shows across England. Don't delay, he currently has around a 12 week waiting list!
WIN THIS PEN
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- Ian Hedley's text-and-photos review
- Ruth Hanson's video review
- Scribble Monboddo's hand-written review
- United Inkdom meta review