I’ve written a lot recently about consolidation, and reducing the number of things that I own, especially pens. This year-long process started after last year’s Atlanta Pen Show, when I had the opportunity to hold and write with dozens of pens, the majority of which had been designed or customized by their owners. I quickly realized that my sprawling collection of mismatched cheap and midrange pens wasn’t bringing me much satisfaction. I was buying pens on a monthly basis, and purchasing whatever my budget allowed that month, rather making less-frequent, well-considered purchases of nicer pens that would bring me more long-term satisfaction. Long story short, after Atlanta, I sold off over a dozen items from my collection and ordered two custom pens: A Scriptorium Balladeer and a Newton Shinobi. I’ve already reviewed the Balladeer, but it’s taken me a while to collect my thoughts on the Shinobi.
Who is this man, Shawn Newton, and what is the Shinobi?
Shawn Newton is the (one) man behind Newton Pens, one of the most innovative pen makers active right now, and an all-around good guy. Shawn is a former art teacher who, in addition to making pens, funds student scholarships via donations and the sale of postcards on his website. Since leaving his teaching job to focus on turning pens full-time, his business has expanded exponentially. Now, not only does Shawn turn all of his pens completely by hand on a lathe, but he's taken the next step and offers intricate filling systems (such as piston fillers and button fillers) in addition to the cartridge/converter systems that come standard with almost all custom pens.
The origin of the Shinobi fountain pen has been discussed in much more detail elsewhere, so rather than rehash all that I’ll focus on my impressions of the pen. But in short, a member of the fountain pen network reached out to Shawn with the idea for the Shinobi, and the design proved so popular that it's taken on a life of its own. Apparently there was much pent-up demand for a cylindrical pen with flat ends and a single facet to act as a roll-stopper.
The design of my Shinobi is not original. I became enamored with the pen as originally conceived by its designer: a black-matte ebonite pen with a red section, but I didn’t want bright red. Instead, Shawn managed to source some deep, blood-red alumilite. I love the result: From a distance, the pen appears almost solid black, yet up close and uncapped the burgundy section stands out just enough to give it character.
My Shinobi became the first ebonite pen in my collection. Ebonite is vulcanized hard rubber (the same material they use to make bowling balls). It's highly durable, and was one of the original materials used in fountain pen manufacture. Normally, you see ebonite with a heavy shine. I requested that Shawn not polish the finished pen because I prefer a matte finish, and the result is exactly what I wanted.
Note: one of the first thing you'll notice about ebonite is its distinctive smell. It's hard rubber, and it smells like rubber. Think "car tires". The smell fades after you've had the pen for a while, but be forewarned. Another cool fact is that if you look at a cross-section of ebonite (such as the end of a Shinobi), it looks like a vinyl record.
So far, I've only used this pen with the included converter. Ebonite pens make great eyedroppers, however, and I'm sure that once I've found a suitable ink, I'll go that route. I'm still waiting to decide on an ink that I won't get bored with. This is a rather large pen, and whatever ink I decide to use will be with me for a very long time.
Shawn uses German JoWo nibs, available in either 14K gold or stainless steel. These are the same nibs used by Edison, Franklin-Christoph, and Scriptorium. (Unless you are providing the penmaker with a specific nib you want them to use for your pen, JoWo nibs are really the only quality nibs that are readily available to small-scale penmakers.) While I have never used a JoWo 14K nib, the steel nibs are consistently very good. They may not offer the most exciting writing experience, but they are dependable writers that also serve as a solid base for nib modifications. See, in addition to being a talented penmaker, Shawn Newton also does nib work. I had him grind the medium stainless steel nib on my Shinobi to a medium (.6mm) cursive italic. The nib provides great line variation while still being a fairly wet writer: perfect for my writing style.
Overall Experience and Takeaways
The Shinobi offers a great writing experience. The balance and weight of this pen is perfect for me. Some people complain about the somewhat steep step-down from the barrel to the section, but this pen fits my hand perfectly. If the barrel/section step is something that you're finicky about, worry not. Shawn can customize every pen to your specifications, and I know more than one person who has asked Shawn to modify the section of the Shinobi to make the grip more comfortable for their particular writing style.
I plan on adding another to my collection sometime in the future, once my wallet recovers from 2015. While I have seen at least one Shinobi with a piston-filling system, as I dive ever deeper in to this hobby, I've come to appreciate the versatility of the cartridge/converter/eyedropper model and am glad that I went with the basic design. At some point I'll add a second Shinobi to my collection, and that pen will likely be clear acrylic, so that I can set it up as an eyedropper and watch the ink slosh around inside.
More so than any other pens I own, my custom pens from Shawn, Renee (of Scriptorium Pens), and Brian Gray (of the Edison Pen Company) are functional pieces of art. These pens are not only a pleasure to use, but they’re visually stunning and make me smile every time I see them on my desk. You can check out more of Shawn's work over at his website.
Other articles discussing the Shinobi
I purchased the pen featured in this review with my own funds, and have not been compensated in any way for this review by Newton Pens.
Correction: Shawn kindly reached out to let me know that a previous statement in this article was incorrect. Shawn's Newton Pens Scholarships are funded via the sale of postcards and donations, not via a portion of sales from the pen business. The error was mine alone. Please check out the details here.