The Baron Fig Squire and the Retro 51 Tornado are two of the most popular - if not the most popular - liquid ink rollerball pens on the market. Both are well-made products from smaller, "boutique" manufacturers. Both pens also regularly make their way onto recommendation lists, and are among a handful of pens that I recommend to those approaching me about a "nice non-fountain pen for work" or a gift for someone graduating or starting their first job. You can't go wrong with either pen: they are both excellent, but still different. In this post I'll highlight some of the pros and cons of each, and talk about which pen I personally prefer and why.
Retro 51 Tornado: Pros and Cons
- Availability. If you like the look of Retro 51 pens, a key advantage is that almost any specialized pen retailer sells them, and there are dozens of different colors, designs, and special editions to choose from, including store editions specific to a given location. If you have a local pen store, you likely will be able to walk in and pick up a Retro 51 quite easily.
- Refill. The Retro 51 also uses the excellent .7mm Schmidt P8127 ceramic capless rollerball refill, which is the gold standard in terms of availability and reliability. You can also swap in the Schmidt Easyflow 9000, another Parker-style gel refill, or the finer-tip Schmidt P8126 rollerball.
- Fun Designs. Many people partial to Retro 51 love the pens for their special and limited editions, as well as their outright crazy designs and themes. Designs range from the understated Tornado Classic to the more intricate Metalsmith series, or all the way to the new KISS-themed pens. The Retro 51 that I use the most, however, is this vintage-style desk pen that I reviewed a while back.
- Clip. If you prefer a pen with a clip, or clipless pens flat-out don't work for you, you'll want to go with the Retro 51 Tornado. The Baron Fig Squire only comes clipless.
- Price. The classic Retro 51 lacquer Tornado sells for as little as $25, and even the special edition rollerball pens rarely exceed $55 or so. You can get a great pen at a reasonable price.
- Cons. I personally find the Retro 51 less comfortable to use due to the fact that the pen tapers towards the front, as opposed to the Baron Fig Squire, which has a thicker grip section and tapers towards the back. Also, because I have a tendency to rotate my ballpoints and rollerballs as I write, the clip on the Retro 51 sometimes digs into the webbing of my hand between my thumb and index finger. The clipless Squire doesn't have that issue.
Baron Fig Squire: Pros and Cons
- Ergonomics and Balance. What makes the Baron Fig Squire such a great pen to me is the shape. Though some may find the pen a bit boring and overly minimalist, the teardrop pen body sits perfectly in my hand, and the fact that the pen tapers towards the back makes it comfortable to write with for long periods of time. The matte aluminum finish of the standard editions makes for a nice grip. I don't mind the lack of a clip - I typically carry the Squire in a Baron Fig leather pen sleeve, tucked into a pen case or the inside of one of my notebook covers.
- Understated Special Editions. For their special and limited edition Squires, Baron Fig has thus far chosen to stick with solid colors and small, understated engravings, even for what could be considered their most "out there" editions, like the green "Experiment" and the orange "Mysterium". The "Precious Metal" Squires in brass and stainless steel (still available!) also turned out really well, and the pen's ergonomics counteract the added weight of the materials.
- Price. The Squire starts at a higher price point than the Tornado, with the basic pen priced at $55, standard special editions priced at $60, and the "Precious Metals" rollerballs priced at $85. That said, these pens still don't break the bank.
- Cons. There aren't many for me personally, and I've gone so far as to say that the Squire is pretty close to my perfect non-fountain pen. Some might be put off by the lack of a clip, and I understand how that could be a deal breaker depending on how you use your pens. Also, the Squire may roll off a slanted work surface, though given how the pen is weighted it tends to roll much less than many clipless pens.
Conclusions and Where to Buy
For my own daily writing needs, I use the Baron Fig Squire as my rollerball of choice. The teardrop shape and overall balance of the pen just works better for my hand, and I like that the default refill is the Schmidt P8126 .6mm. Finally, I simply like the look of the Squire better than the Tornado, as some of Retro 51's designs can be a bit busy for my taste. While Baron Fig has released a bunch of special and limited editions over the years, and recently introduced different color pens into their standard lineup, most of their pens are relatively understated and forego a lot of the somewhat crazy patterns for which Retro 51 is known (and loved by many).
In terms of where to buy these pens, as I mentioned above, the Retro 51 Tornado is a relatively easy pen to find at most pen retailers. Pen Chalet carries the entire range, including most of the annual special editions, and has even partnered with Retro 51 on their own "in-house" edition, a sci-fi take on the myth of Jason and the Argonauts which is well worth a look. Vanness Pens also stocks Retro 51, and has partnered with the Company on a series of "Artists Series" pens, including the pens pictured in this review. The most recent "Artist Series" pens have sold out, but keep your eyes peeled as new ones are always right around the corner. Finally, to give you an even better idea of some of the unique design partnerships out there, check out the Anderson Pens "Chicago" edition, as well as Mike Dudek's "The System" space-themed pen.
The Squire can be purchased directly from Baron Fig, via their website. Currently, the standard Squire is available in four colors: Fig Wine, Rose Quartz, Blue Slate, and Silver. At the time of this review, two limited editions are also available: the Stainless Steel "Precious Metals" and "Mysterium" orange. The latter two likely won't last forever, so if they interest you, pick them up now. Though I haven't used one, Baron Fig recently released a Squire "Click" ballpoint, which is a bit slimmer than the standard Squire and has garnered good reviews to date.
Disclaimer: This post contains links to paid sponsors and affiliates. The pens pictured here are a combination of pens purchased with my own funds, pens for which I received a discount in exchange for a review, and pens sent to me for review purposes free of charge.