Some of my favorite pens in my collection are what many people refer to as “blacked out” or “stealth” pens. I’m not sure where the trend originated, but I suspect it started with Pilot’s Matte Black Vanishing Point. That’s the earliest “stealth pen” I can recall receiving a lot of attention. Next, I purchased the Sailor Pro Gear Imperial Black fountain pen, which remains a personal favorite to this day. I like this pen not just because of the ion-plated trim, but because of its compact size. The Pro Gear is the perfect pen to stick in a shirt pocket and take to work: it’s portable, but when posted expands to a comfortable length for longer periods of writing.
But I still found myself looking to add a larger pen that would spend most of its time at my desk at home, for journaling and the occasional letter writing. I’d been eyeing Visconti’s Homo Sapiens line of pens for a while, and had come close to pulling the trigger on the “Steel Age” model but never loved the overall look enough to do it. Then, last year, Visconti introduced the Homo Sapiens “Dark Ages,” and I finally jumped.
First, a bit about the Homo Sapiens line in general. Visconti markets these pens as being made from hardened volcanic lava from Mount Etna in Sicily, which is mixed with a proprietary resin to create what most vendors describe as a “virtually unbreakable” pen. Much like celluloid and ebonite, the pen warms to the touch as you write with it, and absorbs moisture from your hands. Originally, the Homo Sapiens only came with bronze trim (the “Bronze Age” pen), but Visconti has since released the HS with steel (“Steel Age”) and the all-black (“Dark Age”) furniture.
The Homo Sapiens pens are sold in two sizes: Maxi and Midi. The Maxi size - what I have here - is a large pen that realistically can only be used unposted. It features Visconti’s 23ct Palladium “Dreamtouch” nib with Visconti’s “Power Filler” filling system. I love the nib, but I’ve found the “Power Filler” to be a bit overrated. I understand that the slightly smaller Midi pen also features a Palladium nib and a piston-fill mechanism.
The Nib and Writing Experience
If you like soft, wet nibs, then you’ll love Visconti’s Palladium nibs. Once these nibs are set up properly (more on this in a minute), they write with almost no pressure. “No pressure” is key: apply too much and you could end up springing the nib or gushing ink onto the page. I purchased this pen at the 2016 DC Pen Show, and immediately had Mike Masuyama grind this nib down to an EEF and attempt to reduce the ink flow as much as possible, yet this pen will bleed through even very thick paper if I bear down too hard. That said, once you get the hang of writing with little to no pressure, this is a very pleasant and comfortable pen to use.
The Puzzling “Power Filler”
The filling system on this pen merits extended discussion. I’m not sure what the purpose of Visconti's “Power Filler” is, because it doesn’t seem to hold a lot of ink, which, to me, is what the name would imply. It's a vacuum-fill system, similar to the Pilot Custom 823, where to fill the pen, you place the nib and section in the ink bottle and depress the plunger. From a normal ink bottle, I’ve found the usual fill holds just over 1ml of ink. (Supposedly, you can get a bit more into the barrel using Visconti’s “Traveling Inkwell,” but I don’t have one and don’t particularly fancy spending more $$$ just to get a couple ml more into the pen.) For a pen of this size, that’s not a huge ink capacity, and certainly seems to fall well below what my other similarly sized pens (i.e., the Pilot Custom 823, Pelikan M800 or Montblanc 146) can hold. Given that most Visconti pens are very wet writers, you'll probably find yourself refilling your Power-Filler pen more than you’d expect.
Takeaways and Where to Buy
Of all the Visconti’s I’ve had the opportunity to try at pen shows, etc., none of them spoke to me more than the Homo Sapiens Dark Age. It’s a great-looking pen, and as modified, the nib is a very nice writer. That said, my experience with this pen doesn’t have me jonesing to go out and buy another Visconti without careful consideration. This pen was a temperamental and inconsistent writer out of the box, and if I hadn’t had Mike Masuyama there to work on the nib immediately, this experiment definitely would’ve ended in frustration. If you’d like to add a Visconti to your collection, I’d recommend purchasing at a pen show or from an online vendor who is willing to check the nib prior to sending it to you.
I purchased this pen from Bryant Greer of Chatterly Luxuries at the 2016 D.C. Pen Show. I’ve made several purchases from Bryant in the past, and have nothing but good things to say about him and his company. (I've heard that Bryant will also ship new pens directly to Mike Masuyama for nib customization/tweaking.) If you have a relationship with another major pen retailer, most of those who carry Visconti keep the various Homo Sapiens models in stock. For example, both Pen Chalet and Anderson Pens have the Dark Ages available on their website. I’ve not seen anything to suggest that this pen is a limited or special edition, and will likely be available as part of the regular Homo Sapiens lineup for the foreseeable future.
Disclaimer: I purchased this pen with my own funds for my own collection. While certain links in this post are affiliate links, I have not otherwise been compensated in any way for this review.