Every year at the end of December I take some time off to recap the year, and talk a little about trends: what I like, what I don’t like, and what I want to see in the future. All of these observations are, of course, my own personal opinion, and shouldn’t be taken as anything more.
Favorite Acquisitions of 2018
Conway Stewart Model 100. Technically, I purchased this pen in late 2017 but it didn’t get any use until 2018. As I discussed in my recent review, this pen hits every high point in terms of what I look for in a high-end fountain pen: classic, vintage-inspired design, quality construction, a well-tuned nib out of the box, and a fair price point.
Pelikan M800 Stone Garden. Pelikan’s more modern turn in recent years to styles like the Ocean Swirl and Vibrant Blue had me a bit concerned, because while those were beautiful pens in their own way, it seems like Pelikan was moving towards a trendier look that I was glad to see balanced by 2017’s Renaissance Brown and this year’s Stone Garden, which I couldn’t pass up.
Montblanc Petite Prince Classique Rollerball. I surprised myself over the past year with how much I used rollerballs - a big shift from years past. Montblanc makes my favorite rollerball refill, striking what’s (to me) the perfect combination of smoothness, wetness, and line width, even in their medium tips. The Petit Prince theme also has special meaning to me.
Platinum 3776 Oshino. I’ve really come to appreciate Platinum over the past year, especially how they manage to innovate in design and materials without sacrificing their heritage and quality. The Oshino is one of the clearest demonstrator’s I’ve used, and this year saw Platinum continue to experiment with texture on the 3776, with the Kumpoo (“Balmy Breeze”) edition that wasn’t a “must buy” for me personally, but which I know many people enjoy.
Pelikan M120 and M120 Iconic Blue. Yes, back to Pelikan again! I took an initial pass on the M120 when the standard Green/Black version was released, but I had the opportunity to try out the “Iconic Blue” version during a pen club meet-up, and realized that this pen ticks a lot of the same boxes as the Conway Stewart discussed above. The stainless steel EF nib is an exceptional writer, and unlike most Pelikan nibs, writes true to size.
Trends from 2018 That I’d Like To See Continue
Well-Conceptualized Brands. At various points last year I talked about Kanilea Pen Company and how they impressed me with the coherence of their brand identity. They picked a theme (their love for Hawaii) and stuck with it, releasing a small number of well-executed pens that all adhered to the same level of quality and consistency. This year’s addition, the Hanauma Bay, was a no-brainer acquisition at the D.C. Pen Show. On the ink side of things, Colorverse has done something similar, releasing three “seasons” of space-themed inks that blew everyone away with the level of attention paid to detail. As the year went on, however, I feel like Colorverse has drifted off target a bit. I’m not sure I understand how their latest “Wisdom of Trees” fits into the overall scheme of the brand.
Innovation at the Mid-tier Price Point. Here I’m primarily thinking about Opus 88 and their line of Japanese-style eyedroppers. Opus 88 targeted a somewhat neglected price point (the $50-100 range) and positioned itself as a legitimate go-to option for a reasonably priced workhorse pen. The high-capacity Japanese-style eyedropper mechanism is something previously only available in the ultra high-end market segment, from manufacturers such as Danitrio. From what I’ve seen teased online, Opus 88 has some new designs in the works.
Return to Classic, Vintage-Inspired Design. I won’t say too much more about this one, but in addition to some great special and limited editions of classic pens from established brands (discussed above), 2018 saw the relaunch of Esterbrook in a new format that paid better homage to the brand’s heritage. The M1 adapter allows Esterbrook enthusiasts to use their collections of vintage Esterbrook nibs in the new pen bodies.
Continued Creativity with Materials. Jonathan Brooks continues to do what he does best - working with companies and retailers on custom acrylics and other materials. Just take a look at what he’s been able to do in collaboration with Kanilea Pen Company and stores like Vanness Pens and their 80th Anniversary Special Edition.
Emerging Nibmeisters and Penmakers. A new generation of fountain pen enthusiasts also sparks a new generation of retailers, nib workers/specialists, repair people, and other service providers. Dan Smith (The Nibsmith) and Mark Bacas both continue to gain solid followings with their nib work, with Dan expanding his retail services as well. Ralph Reyes of Regalia Writing Labs also has something special going with his absolutely crazy nib modifications.
What I Want To See Next Year
Originality Beyond Different Colors. I want to see more than companies putting out the same model of pen in every color imaginable. I can be a fan of special editions, but it needs to be “special.” I’m getting a little bored with the rotation of Lamy AL-Stars and Safaris in various shades of neon, and even the Pelikan M205 “Gemstone” releases feel a little tired (though I did love this year’s Olivine). Aurora has done a decent job of mixing things up with their limited edition 88s, such as this year’s “Minerali” demonstrators and the “Sigaro Blu” edition, two pens I finally picked up during year-end clearance sales. Sure, it’s the same base model of pen, but Aurora manages to do just enough to keep things interesting with unique design schemes and materials.
Moving On From the “Minimalist Pen”. Please, no more “minimalist pen/pencil” Kickstarter projects. This “thing” has been done. I plan to pass on reviewing these types of projects from here on out because I want to refocus on things that are new and exciting.
Consolidation in Ink Lines. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the newfound variety of ink on the market, but has it swung too far in the other direction? With the proliferation of ink companies, it sometimes seems that they are racing to outdo each other through volume, including by introducing “new” colors that really aren’t that different than other inks in their current lineup. One of the reasons that I’ve basically stopped buying ink is because I’ve purchased so many bottles that ended up being identical to inks I already owned - including some made by the same manufacturer!
Fewer Acquisitions. Building on the themes of “less grab ‘em all” and “consolidation” that I talked about above, one of my personal goals for this upcoming year is to acquire fewer things. I’ve been on a downward trend in recent years - my personal collection is much smaller than it has been in the past (it almost fits in two pen cases), and I can’t recall a year that I’ve purchased less ink. I sometimes feel that I let myself get caught up in the “collect every color of everything” mentality that manufacturers have encouraged, and I want to work against that by focusing a bit less on rushing to review/preview every new release, and providing more in-depth content on what I find interesting and really enjoy using day-to-day.
More Paying-It-Forward and More Giveaways! This one’s much more of a “personal resolution” than something I’d like to see from others. As a “first step”, I’m holding a massive 2018 year-end giveaway. Details on prizes and how to enter here. You definitely don’t want to miss this one!
Thanks for a great 2018, and I’m looking forward to what 2019 has in store. Things might be a little quiet around here until after the first of the year, but I’ll hit the ground running in January!
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