As I recounted here, last month I decided to shift my modern collecting focus to custom pens, and sold off a large number items in my collection to fund several purchases that would give me a head start in this direction. I ordered four fountain pens: a Conid Bulkfiller Minimalistica, a Newton Shinobi, a Scriptorium Balladeer, and a Franklin-Christoph Model 65 Stabilis with a Masuyama-ground medium cursive italic nib. So far, the Model 65 is the only pen I’ve actually received, but--as you will soon be reading--I’m very pleased with the purchase. This morning I received notice that the Conid has shipped (woo-hoo!), and the other two are in production and should make their way to me by mid-summer. In the meantime, I wanted to give my first impressions of not only the Franklin-Christoph Model 65, but also the Franklin-Christoph Pocket 66 that I picked up at the Atlanta Pen Show last month.
Franklin-Christoph is headquartered in North Carolina and has a long an interesting history. I have owned one Franklin-Christoph pen in the past: a Model 03 Iterum that I impulse purchased at the Baltimore pen show a few years back. The pen turned out to be something that just didn't work for me, though I liked the Masuyama-ground medium stub nib that came with it. Since then, I’ve watched Franklin-Christoph closely, waiting for another opportunity to pick up a different pen that spoke to me more.
Model 66 Pocket and Model 65 Stabilis
The “Stabilis” line of pens originated as tester pens that F-C would bring to pen shows so that customers could test all of their various nib offerings. The Model 66 holds No. 6 nibs, while the Model 65 holds the slightly smaller No. 5. If you visit the F-C table at a show, they will have dozens of Stabilis pens set out on the table featuring the entire range of nibs in both High-Performance Steel and 18k Gold. Their range includes standard nib sizes (EF, F, M, B, 1.1, 1.5), the Masuyama specialty nibs (XXF Needlepoint, Medium Italic, Broad Italic, Medium Stub, Broad Stub), and the 1.9mm Christoph Music Nib. It turns out that customers really liked the tester pens and wanted to buy them, so F-C began offering them for sale.
The full size Model 66 Stabilis is a bit large for me (which is why I ultimately opted for the Model 65), but F-C does offer the Model 66 in a shorter “Pocket” version. Seeing this for the first time at the Atlanta Pen Show, I couldn’t resist picking one up. It’s the perfect size for a daily carry pen, and for over a month it’s been inked and riding with one of my Sailor Pro Gears in the front pocket of my Nock Co. Fodder stack. For a size comparison of the Model 65 Stabilis and the Pocket 66, see the gallery at the bottom of this post.
The build quality on F-C pens is outstanding. I have neither experienced nor heard of widespread problems with cracks, excessive scratching, or other manufacturing flaws. The caps thread on and post easily, and the threads are cut fairly wide and short, so that cap removal doesn’t take long while still attaching securely. As Susan Pigott points out in her excellent review of the Model 65 for the Pen Addict, the threads are placed at the front of the grip section, out of the way of your fingers, so both Stabilis pens are very comfortable to hold. The pens post well (important for me), and the Model 65 has a flat side so that the pen doesn’t roll off my desk—crucial for a “desk pen”! The Pocket 66 is completely round, but it's used for pocket carry so I haven't had an issue.
Most F-C pens are turned from acrylic, though they have some metal options as well. Both of my pens reviewed here are from the “ice” series of demonstrators, meaning that they are turned from clear acrylic but the inside of the pen barrel is not polished in order to maintain the “rough” texture. This creates a smoky, or “ice-like", appearance. When the pen is used as an eyedropper, you can still see the ink slosh around in the barrel of the pen, but the ink also settles in the nooks and crannies of the acrylic and looks, well, like ice.
Most Franklin-Christoph pens are versatile. They can be set up to write as cartridge-converter models or as eyedroppers. Both of my pens have been converted to eyedroppers. “Eyedroppering” a pen is not as scary as it sounds. You apply a small bit of silicone grease to the threads in two places: where the nib unit screws into the section, and where the section screws into the barrel. The trick is to make sure the silicone grease is applied all the way around the threads to seal the ink in the pen. I’ve had no accidents so far, and I’ve not been especially gentle with my Model 66 Pocket.
A couple notes on eyedroppering: make sure you like the ink you use, because it will be with you for a while, and make sure the ink is relatively easy to clean, especially with the F-C “ice” models. As I noted above, the inside of the ice demonstrators is not smooth. I imagine that a staining ink could get trapped in the nooks and crannies and be difficult to clean. So far, I’ve stuck with Waterman, Montblanc, and Diamine inks and haven’t had any issues with flushing ink out of these pens when cleaning and refilling. I've even changed inks once in the Pocket 66 (from blue to red), and I saw no residue from the old ink (Diamine Regency Blue) after about 10 minutes of cleaning.
Nibs and Packaging
In my mind, two things make Franklin-Christoph pens truly stand out from offerings by other companies: the nibs and the packaging. First, the nibs. F-C uses JoWo nibs, the same nibs used by the Edison Pen Company, Newton Pens, Scriptorium Pens, and many more. While I have tried the 18K gold nibs at pens shows and found them to be smooth and a bit “springy,” JoWo’s "high-performance" (??) steel nibs are quality and I don’t notice a marked difference in performance that would justify the increased price (for me at least). As I mentioned above, one of the most attractive selling points of F-C pens is that they offer specialty nibs custom ground by Mike Masuyama. Some of these nibs are not regularly offered elsewhere, such as the XXF needlepoint, medium stub, and medium cursive italic options. You can also order extra nib units for your pens, and they are easy to unscrew and swap out.
At the Atlanta Pen Show, I purchased the “Pocket 66” in clear ice, with the Masuyama broad cursive italic nib. I wanted the medium cursive italic nib, but they had sold out of the No. 6 nib in that size. So why not step out of my comfort zone? End result: there is not a significant difference between the two nibs. When I ordered my Model 65 Stabilis the following month, I opted for the medium CI, and while I slightly prefer the narrower size, it doesn’t keep me from using the Pocket 66 on a daily basis. Even the broad nib is still “fine” enough for me to use to annotate legal briefs and other documents, and it helps that the cursive italic grind, due to its sharpness, tends to not be as wet as a stub and therefore writes better on cheaper paper.
Previously, F-C packaged it’s pens in the same faux-alligator clamshell box used by other pen companies such as Edison. While they make for great gift presentation, these boxes are of limited utility elsewhere. Franklin Christoph recently switched to packaging their pens in a brown leather zippered pen sleeve, which I find much more useful. The case easily holds one large pen or two small-to-medium pens, and I’ve also used it to carry a variety of pen-related items, from cartridges to gel pens. I have my Nock Co. gear to cart my fountain pens around, so it probably won’t get much use as an actual pen case.
Franklin Christoph offers high-quality, versatile pens at a reasonable cost, especially if you are looking to try out custom nibs. If you don’t want to risk sending a pen you already own to a nibmeister to grind, I would highly recommend purchasing a Franklin-Christoph pen in a standard nib size (F,M,B) and then springing for an extra Masuyama nib unit. You are guaranteed to get a high quality grind, and Jim Rouse of Franklin-Christoph does one final tuning of the nib to make sure it writes correctly. At a pen show, he will let you write with the pen before he tunes it, and will adjust smoothness, ink flow, etc. to your preferences. The end result is outstanding: these two pens are among the best writing stub/italic nibs that I own, and I don't say that lightly.
DISCLAIMER: I have not been compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for this review. Both of these pens were purchased by me with my own funds for my own use and enjoyment.