Sometimes I wonder why I decide to visit a website or a shop. I was in London for a business meeting and thought that if I finished early I would take a walk through the streets and maybe look in a few stores. Tessa Sowry at All Things Stationary keeps a map of stationery shops across the globe, so I thought I would see if there was anything interesting in London. I looked at all the various locations but nothing took my fancy, so I quickly Googled for somewhere to visit and found a great website called Glenn's Pens, which had a list of Great Pen Stores.
Nestled in a shopping arcade just off Saville Row is a small (and I mean very small) pen shop called Penfriend (34 Burlington Arcade, Piccadily, London W1V 9AD). The window display was packed full of interesting pens in a wide range of beautiful acrylics, celluloids etc. If only I had stayed outside window shopping, but then the door opened and a customer left holding a bag with a smile on his face. I thought that I could just browse and then walk away having enjoyed the experience.
There was a wide range of pens on show but nothing seemed to catch my eye, that is until I focussed in on a beautiful green crescent filler. I didn't recognise the colour & it didn't quite look right for a Conklin, the only make that I knew made a crescent filler. The polite lady behind the counter told me that it was actually a Visconti, a pen make that has always interested me but always seemed too expensive. The lady asked if I wanted to see the pen & try it out, how could I resist.
The pen was dipped in some Waterman Blue ink, a relatively simple and robust (if a bit bland) ink that is perfect for testing out nibs. She checked that the nib was smooth and then handed it over for testing. The size of the pen was perfect, it fit in my hand beautifully and the crescent was never in my way in either of my normal grip positions. The nib was just fabulous, very smooth with almost no feedback and whilst it said fine on the nib it wrote more like a medium.
Matt Armstrong has a scale for fountain pen nib smoothness:
1 being butter on hot glass, 10 being writing on coarse-grit sandpaper Matt Armstrong, Pen Habit
Based on this excellent scale I would probably put this as a 2 or 3, normally I like a bit more tooth but there are exceptions like my Pelikan M805 and this one where it just feels amazing.
The design of this pen is rather special. The metal work is plated in palladium trim which looks beautiful especially with the engraving on the cap band. The normal Visconti clip has been replaced with a simpler non-branded clip but it still has the same sweeping shape and spring action as their other pens, instead the Visconti branding has made its way to the crecent filler. This is a limited edition pen & so the grip section is engraved with the pen number (in this case 162/200).
The nib has been branded a 'Smartouch chromium tubular nib', so it wraps all the way around the feed. The advantage of this according to Visconti is that you do not need to dip the grip section into the ink in order to generate a good suction into the pen, in practice though the pen seems to hold quite a bit of ink and therefore it is better to dip the pen further down if your ink bottle is taller. At a RRP of £200 it is entering into the 'gold nib' category, but this is such a superb writer I don't think it needs it.
The one detail that doesn't live up to the overall fit & finish of the pen is the band that stops the crescent filler from actuating. Instead of using a piece of acrylic matched to the body colour, they have used a clear acrylic. This is by far the worst part of the pen design. The screw thread on the cap is very nicely engineered and closes quickly, as this is a multi-threaded screw it is difficult to align the cap clip with the crescent but if you find the correct starting position it no longer is a problem.
After returning home from London I inked up the pen with Diamine Delamere green ink. It matches the pen perfectly and feeds beautifully through and onto the paper. I decided this was a great pen to write notes to Ian Hedley & 'Scribble' from United Inkdom & so I pulled out some Clairefontaine Triomphe paper and began writing. It was amazing to write with, the balance with and without the cap posted was superb and I suffered almost no hand fatigue. 4 pages in and all of a sudden and without warning a big blob of ink appeared on the page, followed by another and another and another. This is not how I was expecting the pen to work.
I finished the letters with a fair amount of mess resulting from the nib and feed dripping everywhere, slightly frustrated by the whole experience. I had expected more from a Visconti. I went to my usual sources of pen information and reviews to find out if I had bought a lemon...
- SBRE Brown reviewed this exact pen: In his review he had the exact same problem as I had, the video shows this problem perfectly. After watching this I began to contemplate returning the pen.
- Matt Armstrong (his second link of the night) also posted a review a few weeks later of this pen and also found the same issue, but then he found that the nib was loose. I duly tightened up my nib and the issue has gone away entirely.
This lack of quality control is worrying, in a time where small pen manufacturers are often struggling to stay in business (OMAS, Conway Stewart) you expect a greater attention to detail. My nib is no longer aligned properly with the crescent, but it is very close. I think this may be another multi-threaded screw so once I have emptied it of ink I will take a look and see if I can get it to line up properly and still not blob. For now I am relieved that it is working well again, even after a very short time with the pen I am quite attached to it, so not having to send it back was a bonus.
The Crescent filler system is a superb way of filling a pen as long as the crescent itself doesn't get in your way. Ink capacity seems good, not quite piston filler but better than a lot of my button filler sac pens. Visconti have used a silicone rubber for the sac, this should last a bit longer than the typical natural rubber latex sacs used in older pens as most chemicals do not normally degrade it.
I love the appearance of this pen, the way it feels in my hand and the superb nib performance. It doesn't have a magnetic cap (like a lot of Visconti pens), instead using the more traditional screw mechanism but the threads are smooth and it tightens quickly. The grip section is a shiny metal, this could be slippy but there is a slight increase in diameter near the nib and so it doesn't seem to be problematic at all.
The pen came in a large presentation box with a drawer for the warranty card. As soon as I got home this went straight in the bin. I know a lot of people would get upset if a relatively expensive pen such as this came in a simple cardboard tuck, but I would much prefer this as the packaging is such a waste unless you dont intend to use the pen much or like keeping your pens absolutely pristine. I love the Franklin-Christoph approach of supplying pens in a leather pouch that can actually be used.
As this is a limited edition pen, there are not going to be too many floating around. I am very glad that I picked one up and it will stay in my collection for a long time to come. It currently is in my main rotation at work and I really enjoy using it. If you suffer from FOMO then you should act soon to get this, if your nib doesn't burp like mine did originally then this pen is pretty hard to beat.