Skyline Redux

2 Sep

My first vintage pen was supposed to be a double jewelled mustard “51”. Regrettably, my Veuve Clicquot tastes were shackled by a Budweiser budget so I happily ended up with a jet black Eversharp Skyline Executive instead. The Skyline had a distinctively streamlined look, while its nib was my initiation to the world of flex. It wasn’t intuitive but after cracking its code, my lines could swell from F to BB with ease. Unfortunately, my pen focus shifted and Japanese brands sentenced the Skyline to long-term storage. The time soon came when a grail needed funding so I sold several pens, the Eversharp included.

 

Fast forward to about two weeks ago. I discover that a local pen buddy is now a dealer for the Wahl-Eversharp pen company, as revived by Syd “Wahlnut” Saperstein. I message Kailash who tells me his maiden shipment is arriving in a few hours. Leigh and I rush to pick up our loot that night, and I run solely with my new prize for almost two weeks before even thinking of reviewing it on this space.

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My modern Skyline comes from the Classic range. Compared to the Executive I once had, this one is a touch shorter but looks a lot more sartorial. Its silhouette remains true to the original save for two things. It lacks a filling lever and the barrel now sports a trim ring. The cap is a reprise of the Radial Engraved pattern from the ’45 – ‘48 Presentation Skylines and can understandably be mistaken for its vintage predecessor. Finish and execution are astonishing with even the famous Double Check hallmark being purposefully retained.

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Uncapping the pen reveals gold trim on the section’s flare, a feature absent on the Skylines of old. The nib wears ornamentation that draws from Wahl’s Art Deco roots, which stands in stark contrast to the almost bare décor on the vintage nibs.

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That isn’t tarnish on the nib. Ink smears are inevitable when you actually use your pens.

Inking the pen takes some figuring out. No seams are visible near the barrel threads and attempting to turn the section causes nothing to budge. It dawns on me that the barrel trim ring might hold the key and true enough, the ring marks a blind cap. Twisting this free reveals a piston knob. I later learn that this is actually a converter and owing to the pen’s redesign, long International carts are your only option if you don’t want to fill from a bottle.

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There is but one nib size, a Fine-Medium, currently available. It is not a true semi-flex by any stretch but it is as supple as Nakaya’s Soft Medium or Pilot’s Soft Fine-Medium. Slight pressure readily yields sufficient line variation and throughout weeks of writing and doodling, I feel no tooth or snags, only a hint of feedback like the Japanese nibs I love.

 

Certain that this is an OEM nib from the Orient, I ask about the part’s origins. It shocks me just a bit to learn that not only is it German, it is coated stainless steel and not gold! I have previously handled stainless nibs gifted with a bit of spring, but nothing like this. It feels more controlled or deliberate in its cadence. The snapback seems calibrated instead of being a mushy afterthought. The writing performance is familiar and novel all at once. I cannot explain how Wahl-Eversharp accomplish this feat. The long sloping shoulders may partially explain the majix but I’m sure there’s a lot more voodoo going on. Bottom line: it provides a wonderful writing experience.

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An old chevron pattern Wahl flat-top chats with our new friend.

Handling is lithe and its long section readily welcomes a host of hand sizes and grips. Some may find the unposted Skyline just a bit too light though. If you so choose to post, the cap mounts deeply and securely but shifts the pen’s balance drastically to the rear. Personally, I wouldn’t post but if it’s your pen, then it’s your rules.

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What scale means to pen geeks. From left to right: Omas 556/S Brevetto, Montblanc 1912 Heritage, 2014 Wahl Eversharp Skyline Classic, Bexley Submariner Grande Butterscotch, Sheaffer Autograph Band Snorkel, Parker UK Aerometric Duofold

Now for the $200 question: is it worth the coin? Sticker price on this model is only a few notches south of a pair of Benjamins so it isn’t exactly inexpensive. With vintage Skylines remaining available and affordable, what does this redux bring to the table?

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The bottom pen is an original blue Skyline. The newer palladium capped black Classic doesn’t seem too different.

Given what I’ve seen and learned from the new pen people in my area, this is what I think. Today’s converts may want the writing experience that only a nib can bring, but seek as rich a history and pedigree as possible within a fairly attainable price point. They desire generous doses of flair but eschew having to deal with shrinking polystyrene, cracked nibs, ossified sacs and unexpected leaks. With all this in mind, the new Skyline gives them precisely what they want without exacting unreasonable tolls.
It isn’t La Grande Dame Brut. But if Gentleman Jack is ample tipple, this will wet your whistle.

 
(All pens other than the new Skyline appear courtesy of leighpod)

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It looks old but it isn’t

14 Aug

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A pen friend just became the local distributor of a revived and revered brand. Naturally, we supported his new venture and I was quite happy to be one of his first two customers not long after his shipment arrived.

Details soon. I promise.

Two brothers (and a gatecrasher)

5 Aug

These two share one name and not much else. One looks genteel and refined. The other is dark and edgy, a certified bad boy in designer Goth.

The guy on the right didn't have an invite. I'll let Leigh talk about him some other time.

The guy on the right didn’t have an invite. I’ll let Leigh talk about him some other time.

The respectable member of the brood is the Ogiva. Its torpedo silhouette is a 1927 design, launched at a time when Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington and the Gershwins were all the rage. Style was a non-negotiable commodity and the Ogiva never had to plead for anyone’s sympathies. Over decades, not once did it lose its sense of élan and OMAS have made it available in various sizes and materials, keeping it tasteful and attractive regardless of what fashions prevailed.

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OMAS draped this particular pen in a wonderful celluloid material called Saft Green. Granting a slight nod to modern tastes, rose gold was chosen for this Ogiva’s decor. The pink hues cast a warm and more welcoming look compared to the rather vibrant moods of yellow gold. While the rose gold rage will fade soon enough, this treatment, like a pair of bespoke Balmorals, will survive the ebb and flow of fads.

One will dance if it likes your tune. The other headbangs.

One will dance if it likes your tune. The other headbangs.

The nib is an Extra Fine Extra Flessible which I think is the best width from among Omas’s soft nibs. I’ve handled their Fine Extra Flessible before and while it had spring in it step, its line variation was more modest than a convent-bred schoolgirl. (While the nuns were about, of course.) The EF on the other hand is capable of a bit more flair but not along the lines of a vintage semi-flex. Snapback is good and thankfully, the feed never struggles to match the whims of the nib. (If you know box-stock Italian pens, this is nothing short of miraculous.)

Then we have the offspring from a totally different era. This one doesn’t swing to bebop but bangs to the likes of LL Cool J, the Notorious B.I.G. and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. The 360 came about in 1996, in the middle of a decade committed to insane (read: tacky) opulence and a worldwide obsession with technology and the Internet. Not exactly an ideal period for writing instruments, let alone new designs. But OMAS boldly took up the cause that the Triad Pen Company unsuccessfully championed in the 1930s and introduced a pen with a triangular cross-section.

Round isn't the only shape out there.

Round isn’t the only shape out there.

Of course, the immediate question is, “Why?” Round and even faceted shapes worked so well for so many hands. What did a triangular shape bring to an admittedly cramped table? A few years ago, I would have said, “Nothing.” But a pen friend I respect tremendously told me that the 360 is the most ergonomic pen she had ever used. Now she has an impressive collection of really nice pens and doesn’t impress easily. At all. So her unusually high praise is what I considered a clue. Of course, she was right. The 360 shape doesn’t look like it’ll work but if your grip is close to what the schoolmarms insisted on, it’ll fit you like a pair of well-worn Luchesses.

Look closer and you'll see that black isn't always completely so.

Look closer and you’ll see that black isn’t always completely so.

This model is wrought from cotton resin, which thankfully makes it a little more accessible than its older sibling. It is not close to being as rich or warm as celluloid, but OMAS cleverly make up for this by etching an intricate diamond weave pattern into both barrel and cap. Ruthenium is wisely employed to trim this pen and the overall effect is dark without being flat. The resin retains some transparency and if you hold the pen to the light, you see not just the ink sloshing about but also a slight aubergine hue lurking beneath the material. It is an über cool nuance and one of the small details that set OMAS apart from many other makers.

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The nib is a standard firm Fine. Well, firm isn’t completely accurate. It has a very (and I mean very) slight bit of give, which feels pleasant on paper. It also possesses a hint of feedback. Some may not like this but this is exactly how I prefer my fine nibs to behave. Flow is dry-ish but not arid, and gives some interesting variation to its cross-strokes. Compared to the Arte Italiana Noir that I wrote about recently, this one gave me no trouble at all.

Even the nib ornamentation is a little passive aggressive on this one.

Even the nib ornamentation is a little passive aggressive on this one.

So there you have the tale of two brothers. One struts about in Battistoni threads. The other dons Zilli leather before mounting a Ducati. It’s hard to choose between these two but luckily, I don’t have to.

(The Vintage LE Paragon in Arco celluloid makes its guest appearance courtesy of Leigh.)

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Batman meets Blade

20 Jul

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A caped crusader…Italian style

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In a pile of Western pens, it’s always easy to spot an Omas. They just seem to be the most elegantly coiffed in the bunch, sporting details that belie an inner playfulness. Whether it’s a gemstone roller on a clip, ornate nib decor, or vivid colors swirling deep within layered celluloid, these subtle touches deftly skirt the lines that divide drab, dapper and gaudy.

However, when Omas announced they were doing a stealth pen I cringed and wondered if their expression would defile everything their pedigree stood for. After all, Omas are masters of pomp that never offends. They veer away from the limits of brash and leave concepts like the Chaos pen in the able hands of Montegrappa. Would their Dark Knight prove to be their champion or their undoing?

 

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Enter the Arte Italiana Noir, a Milord in this case. It may be kid brother to the Paragon but scrawny it is not. It is about the size of a Souveran M800 or a 146 Le Grande. Not obscenely huge but a fist full of pen nonetheless. Signature Omas design cues frame the Noir – faceted shape, roller clip, Greek key motif on the cap band, and the trademark O inlay on the cap finial. These are all hallowed hallmarks of the brand’s DNA but the craftsmen of Bologna added a dash or two of spice to the genetic mix.

 

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Its finishing is one its most obvious distinctions. Watchmakers reserve guilloche to embellish the dials and movements of their high-line timepieces, and Omas chose this regal treatment for both barrel and cap. The pattern is evenly applied across all facets and surfaces, with no nicks or blemishes found. I am unsure if this was molded into the resin or executed by machine prior to finishing. However this dark magic was conjured, the results stand above the unadorned matte or satin surfaces of the lesser stealth pens in the market.

 

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The trim is nothing short of spectacular. I’ve seen various flavors of ruthenium plating, ranging in hue from dark pewter to glossy black nickel. The plating on the Noir is closer to a smoky shade of charcoal without overdosing on sheen. This complements the guilloche perfectly and permits the engraving on the metal bits to emerge cleanly yet discretely.

 

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Gripping section is thankfully rendered in resin (I dislike the feel of metal in this area) with the transition from barrel to the section being effortless. The threads never intrude on the writing experience and the balance of the pen is spot on. The bias favors the nib ever so slightly, which makes handling easy and effortless. Filling is done via an international cartridge or the included converter. I know real men use pistons but C/C’s are far easier to clean and maintain.

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My copy came with a factory Stub, and here is where the guardian of Gotham meets Bane. From the get-go, this nib was temperamental and rather dry. I figured I could eventually coax it to settle down. I spent several hours aligning the tines, massaging the rough spots with a bit of lapping film, and flossing the slit with a brass shim. No matter what I did, ink flow remained erratic and the tips taunted me with their incessant clicking, indicating that the gap might still be too tight.

With my DIY options running low, I stripped the feed and nib and rolled up my sleeves. The feed was scrubbed with a soapy water solution, rinsed and then cleaned in an ultrasonic tank. I balanced the tines while the nib as off-feed, working the shoulders gently until the tips aligned. I heat-set the feed to the nib, and reseated the whole mess into the section while chanting every prayer I knew to the gods of pendom. The improvements were dramatic but sadly, insufficient to give me the reliability I demand in a daily driver.

If this were a Japanese writer, I’d be severely disappointed. But I’ve long accepted that the dashing good looks of Italian pens are often accompanied by peculiar quirks. These are part of the ownership experience and with some professional help, are easily overcome.

Now if I can only find John Mottishaw’s email address…

Just black, please.

15 Jun

It’s true of every cup I order in a café. Well, almost. Maybe three visits in a hundred, I’ll ask for a latte but I typically choose plain old black, preferably using beans that are ground just before brewing. Better if they were roasted in the past week. No cream. No sweetener of any kind. Just black, thank you very much.

If I have a say in preparation, I’ll opt for whatever suits my moods; Aeropress if I’m in a rush, syphon brew if it’s a leisurely afternoon, hand pour if I crave depth. Seems like a lot of trouble for a plain old cup of black, but it’s the craft and detail that go into the brew that make a rather plain drink so very special compared to what you mix from a sachet.

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In some ways, the same thinking carries over to pens. Take the case of picking out a black pen. It should be the easiest thing in the world. Every maker worth their name offers a decent black writer and you will not lack for choice regardless of your budget. From Monteverde to Montblanc, faceted to torpedo, simple to garish, one can get a smooth flowing pen that will likely outlive its owner. Being a bit of a gear snob however,  I wanted something with a bit more craft to it.

The stars aligned when work brought me to Singapore. I had a day to kill before my conference began, and Leigh messaged to ask me to visit Aesthetic Bay. She wanted me to see if the new Mizu Iro Nakayas were in stock and indeed they were.  I marveled at the enchanting water-like hues of this new finish. Depending on how light was cast on the pens, the color would shift from mint, to gray, to blue, much as the sea’s tones change in the course of the day. As the staff gently returned those treasures to the display counter, I spied a lustrous Long Piccolo nestled quietly in the corner of the showcase. I asked to see it and you can probably guess what happened not long thereafter.

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Nothing could be seemingly plainer but Nakaya excels at making even the simplest objects exude a profound charm. This one is totally devoid of metal trim. Unlike its tamenuri kin, there is no hint of color peeking from beneath the pen’s finished edges. It is all black but perfectly so, with a shimmer and depth that would make a Steinway’s keys seem ashen in comparison. You can stare into the finish all day and never discover where the bottom of the lacquer lies, and the radiance of the urushi betrays how a living and breathing Japanese craftsman spent countless hours unearthing the beauty hidden within a lowly tree sap.

The Long Piccolo is exclusive to Aesthetic Bay and I confess to liking this shape a lot. Mottishaw’s Naka-Ai, another personal favorite, is a little more agile but the Long Piccolo gives you a bit of welcome chunk and a more pleasing visual balance. All Nakayas look good but in my opinion, this is the one that wears kuro roiro best.

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The monotone BB is a pleasant departure from Nakaya’s conservative nib norms. Like all Nakaya nibs, it needs no coaxing at all to write smoothly without stumble or stutter. But I have never ever handled a stock Nakaya that is this lush. I find it to be a notch wetter than an M4xx Pelikan B, a nib that is many things but stingy. It writes so well that it need not visit with John Mottishaw for a regrind. I generally like italic cuts on wide nibs but when something is this exceptional, I can learn to look the other way.

The best part about this pen is that it attracts no attention from the crowd. Only those familiar with Japanese pens would probably give it a second glance and even then, they would ask themselves doubtingly, “Could it be a Nakaya?” This prompts them to perhaps look closer and look closer still. Only when it is in one’s hand is the magic revealed.

Much like a perfect cup of black.

 

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Old school 88

22 May

(Yes, this blog still has a pulse however faint. Work’s been hectic but I hope to get an occasional entry posted once in a while. Thank you for your patience.)

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I once read that if you sent your Parker “51” to finishing school, you’d end up with an Ottantotto. Having owned a “51”, I’d have to agree. The iconic Parker was certainly sleek but its nail of a nib prompted me to pen a Dear Janesville note.

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The 88 on the other hand, has everything I could want or like. Three materials drape this dapper Don. The barrel is wrought from glossy piano black celluloid with subtle clear slots cut near the section to provide an ink view window. The piston knob and hood are crafted from black ebonite, which is less lustrous vis-a-vis the barrel but just as warm in feel. The striated rolled gold cap provides just enough bling without making the pen look like a Soprano in a track suit.

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Then we have the nib. Apparently, stiff wasn’t cool in late 1940s Torino.  The Fine is intoxicatingly supple and the ebonite feed insures that ink is always on tap. In fact, the only time it stops is when it hits the bottom of the tank. If you hate firm tips but need something more usable than a wet noodle, this may well be your poison.

 

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My copy is not pristine but its small nicks and scars hint at a storied past. It is honest wear draped in finery and despite its age, it looks a lot better than many of the newer pens out there. (How do you spell M-o-n-t-e-g-r-a-p..?) Its original cork seals expired in December 2012 so I asked Ron Zorn to help me out. I knew he had a long queue, but he built his name by doing things right more than fast. Eight months later, my faith was amply rewarded and he even cleaned her up for me while he was at it.  Old was made new once again and my usually confident Vacumatic Long Major inexplicably started to sweat.

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