Monday, March 23, 2020

REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER PEN CASE

REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER ZIPPERED PEN CASE
Despite the name of this website, pen cases and storage options have never been my number one priority. I've reviewed a couple throughout the years (Visconti Dreamtouch case, Franklin-Christoph Penvelope, Frara Road pen roll, One Star Leather pen sleeves,...), but we're going to do things a bit more seriously from now on. Let the search for the ultimate pen case begin!

Today's review took me to Goulet Pens, to take a look at a very traditional style of carrying (fountain) pens: the zippered, folio-style pen case. More specific, the 10 pen case by Aston Leather. "Why this particular brand?", one might ask. Well, if you've followed the Goulet Pens YouTube channel  (which used to be just founder Brian Goulet, filming from his kitchen table!) long enough, you'll undoubtedly have seen Brian using these exact cases for his personal daily carry. Besides having a nice premium appearance, what has always stuck with me is that these Aston cases use a slightly different setup inside to hold the pens, that differentiates this case from the rest -at least in my opinion.
REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER ZIPPERED PEN CASE
Aston uses 'top grain' leather for this case. For those that aren't familiar, top grain is when full-grain leather (which is the complete skin) is sanded down to remove the textured top layer. So top grain DOESN'T have a top layer? [CONFUSING] Because of the sanding step, the leather that's left behind is easier to work with because it's thinner, and it has fairly little texture. The leather is coated and sealed more so than full-grain, to add a protective barrier, which creates a shiny and uniform look on the leather surface. 

The treated leather gives the case a classy appearance that matches well with the traditional and rather conservative overall design (as far as these folio-style zippered cases go, they all look roughly the same). The leather is dyed and can be had in four earthy brown or black colors (this is the 'Cognac'). The case is unbranded on the outside and is finished with a plastic zipper and weathered brass zipper pull. It's simple and unassuming on the outside, which I think is a positive. 
REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER ZIPPERED PEN CASE
The only design choice I don't necessarily love is how the zipper is actually a single piece that wraps all the way around the edge and folds over at the top of the spine. I think it would've looked classier if it was tucked into the lining of the case (as it's done on the other end of the case). On the plus side, it does perhaps allow the case to open up flat a bit easier.
REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER ZIPPERED PEN CASE
REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER ZIPPERED PEN CASE
L to R: Aston 10 pen case, Franklin-Christoph Penvelope 6, Visconti Dreamtouch 6, Frara Road 6 pen roll. Note that the Frara Road roll would be considerably thicker when filled with pens!
The Aston 10 pen case is surprisingly compact considering its generous 10 pen capacity. Measuring about 23 cm (9") by 19 cm (7.5"), with a thickness of 4 cm (1.6"), it's roughly the size of a book and so it's still very much able to fit in a bag or backpack. Compared to the Franklin-Christoph Penvelope 6, Visconti Dreamtouch 6, and Frara Road pen roll - all built to hold 6 pens - the Aston case is not that much larger, despite holding almost twice as many pens!
REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER ZIPPERED PEN CASE
REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER ZIPPERED PEN CASE
Build quality on this case is quite good. Everything is stitched together cleanly with a fine thread that matches the color of the case. The elastic loops are attached straight and the slots are evenly spaced. On the inside of the case, the spine of the case is reinforced with an extra piece of leather.
REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER ZIPPERED PEN CASE
As I said at the beginning of this review, the reason why I chose to review the Aston case, is their different approach on the inside. Aston's cases feature double elastic bands per pen. If you know me, you know that I'm incredibly OCD about avoiding my pens hitting each other, which is what happens when they're kept in place by a single elastic band. The double elastic is a feature that you don't see very often at all (to my knowledge only three brands that do this: Franklin-Christoph, Girologio, and this one), so Aston immediately scores some bonus points for that.

Now, there's a good and a bad about double elastics. The good is obviously that it does a better job keeping your pens in place (especially narrow pens that would otherwise have too much wiggle room). The bad is that it's twice as hard to get pens in and out of the case, while also maneuvering around the zipper. It's a double-edged sword, and whichever type you like best depends completely on your personal preferences and needs. Personally, I'll gladly take the extra hassle, knowing my pens are secure and protected.

If I'm being really picky here, I feel like the wider elastic band on top is maybe a bit overkill. Two narrow loops would probably require less effort to get pens in and out of the case, while still keeping them securely strapped in place.
REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER ZIPPERED PEN CASE
Another positive is the velvet divider in between the two layers of pens. It's quite thick and does a good job protecting the two layers of pens. The divider is attached to the outermost left edge of the case, so you can fold it back to reveal all 10 (or 20, if you opt for the larger 20-pen case) pens at once. The divider has a small business card pocket in leather which could be useful in some cases (for example to leave a note with your contact info, should you lose it), but it also makes the divider stiffer and thicker than it needs to be. As I said, the case opens up all the way to allow it to lay open completely flat.
REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER ZIPPERED PEN CASE
L to R: Pelikan Souverän M805, Pelikan M1005, Lamy 2000, Opus 88 Omar, Montblanc Meisterstück 149
The 10 pen case fits 10 (duh!) relatively large pens. I say relatively because yes, it will fit a chunky MB 149 or Opus Omar, as demonstrated above, but it's a tight squeeze and also adds considerable bulk to the case when closed. You won't be able to fit 10 massive pens like this comfortably, but a balanced mix of larger and smaller pens should not be an issue. More averagely-sized and less girthy pens like the Pelikan M800, Lamy 2000 or most Pilot pens, fit effortlessly. Noteworthy is that -because of the generous height of the case- it can easily deal with very long pens if they aren't too thick. The ASC Bologna Extra for example, a 16 cm (6.3") long pen that barely fits the Visconti Dreamtouch case, easily fits in here. Not bad!
REVIEW: ASTON LEATHER ZIPPERED PEN CASE
Zippered folio-style pen cases are ubiquitous in our hobby. If you've ever been to a pen show, almost every vendor and trader swears by them. There's a lot of reasons to pick one up: they fit a ton of pens in a small space, provide very decent protection, and are generally quite affordable (especially price-per-pen!).

The Aston Leather pen case adds to that the small and practical 10-pen form factor. The more secure double pen loop setup gives some additional piece-of-mind, making me more inclined to recommend this along with cases like the Visconti Dreamtouch or Franklin-Christoph Penvelope if you're looking for the best possible protection. On top of all that, the Aston Leather 10 pen case comes in at just 64$ (90$ for the 20-pen version), which is very competitively priced compared to the alternatives from Visconti and Franklin-Christoph, mentioned above!

Note: This product was provided by The Goulet Pen Company, free of charge, so I could write this review.  I was in no way influenced in the making of this review, the opinions shared in this review are completely my own! This post does not contain affiliate links.

Monday, March 16, 2020

REVIEW: FOUNTAIN PEN REVOLUTION HIMALAYA ULTRA FLEX FOUNTAIN PEN

REVIEW: FOUNTAIN PEN REVOLUTION HIMALAYA ULTRA FLEX FOUNTAIN PEN
Ok. I'll admit, Indian fountain pens are a blind spot of mine. They have always been on my radar, but I didn't get around to actually trying some. It's never too late to change though, so for today, we're taking a look at an excellent option for getting into Indian pens: the Fountain Pen Revolution Himalaya.

Fountain Pen Revolution is a USA-based company that both sells Indian brands like Kanwrite, Guider, and Airmail, and also partnering with these manufacturers to create their own line of affordable, Indian-made fountain pens, sold under their own brand name. The Fountain Pen Revolution (FPR) pens start at just 7$, which is commendable on its own, but it also turns out that they have some excellent options if you're looking for an affordable flex pen... so that's more or less what we'll focus on in this review!
REVIEW: FOUNTAIN PEN REVOLUTION HIMALAYA ULTRA FLEX FOUNTAIN PEN
Just to be clear, the Fountain Pen Revolution Himalaya costs more than 7$, but it still sits at a very budget-friendly entry-level price point. You can tell that it's more expensive because they used a fancier acrylic instead of injection-molded parts. It's actually a good-looking pen, I have to say. The acrylic is a dark greyish-green with white swirls and beautiful pearlescent streaks throughout. It certainly doesn't come across as a budget pen, at least not from afar. 

Looking closer though, the metal trim kind of gives away that this isn't a 100$+ pen. The finish on the center band is a bit rough, and the cap lip is a bit sharp. The bent metal clip looks and feels a bit flimsy. Although in its defense, it IS nice and springy and therefore very easy to use. This particular pen had "gold plated" trims, but the plating is not great at all, it's even just non-existent in certain areas. The plating came right off with a quick polish, and I frankly like it a lot better now that it has a uniform chrome color. Chrome trim is an option as standard, so I'd pick that any day of the week.
REVIEW: FOUNTAIN PEN REVOLUTION HIMALAYA ULTRA FLEX FOUNTAIN PEN
Apart from the mediocre metal trim, the overall build quality is actually quite good. I expect that this pen -like many other Indian pens- is made by hand, which is pretty impressive at the price point we're seeing, but it also means that it's not all as impeccable as if it were injection-molded and completely machine-made (like a Lamy Safari, for example). Even so, the build quality is quite good. Every part fits together precisely, feels solid, and has a nicely polished finish
REVIEW: FOUNTAIN PEN REVOLUTION HIMALAYA ULTRA FLEX FOUNTAIN PEN
REVIEW: FOUNTAIN PEN REVOLUTION HIMALAYA ULTRA FLEX FOUNTAIN PEN
L to R: Pelikan M805, Pilot 78G, Platinum Prefounte, FPR Himalaya, Lamy 2000, Lamy Safari.
The Himalaya is a medium-sized pen that strikes an excellent balance between a not-too-large form factor, and still being very comfortable in the hand. It measures 13.4 cm (5.2") closed, and 12.4 cm (4.88") uncapped. Despite not typically posting my pens, this is one that does post quite comfortably without adding weight or too much length. At just 16 grams, it's a very lightweight pen. It's a fairly slender pen but the section retains a comfortable diameter and has a pleasant tapered shape. There's hardly any transition from section to barrel, and the threads are noticeable but not sharp to the touch -overall, this pen has all the right ingredients for a comfortable writing experience.
REVIEW: FOUNTAIN PEN REVOLUTION HIMALAYA ULTRA FLEX FOUNTAIN PEN
The piston is made from the typical smelly plastic you often find in Indian-made pens, and discolors quite easily.
For this review, I was sent the first version of the Himalaya, but they made some minor improvements shortly after. Both versions one and two are currently available for purchase, but I'd recommend paying the 3 to 6 dollars extra to get the updated version. 

Aesthetically, they remained completely identical, but the new version receives a more traditional screw-type converter. My review pen still has the push-pull piston converter, and it's a tricky one to get a full fill with it (even after multiple attempts). Another option would be to remove the converter altogether and use the pen as an eyedropper (some silicon grease on the barrel threads is all it takes to get a proper seal), but I'm not a huge fan of eyedroppers for daily use. 
REVIEW: FOUNTAIN PEN REVOLUTION HIMALAYA ULTRA FLEX FOUNTAIN PEN
An ebonite feed, impressive on a pen this price!
Let's talk about the part that actually impressed me most about this pen: the nib!

First of all, every FPR pen comes with a hand-cut ebonite feed. You'll typically only see ebonite feeds on very high-end pens, so this is a very nice thing to see on a pen this price.

The Himalaya v1 is available with a slightly smaller #5.5 (roughly the same as a #5 nib) or an upgraded #6-sized nib. The new version (v2) does away with the #5.5 nib option, which I think is a good decision because the larger nib fits the pen better, aesthetically.

Nib options are extensive: EF to M, B (+4$), stub (+4$), flex (+4$) and EF ultra flex nibs (+14$) are available in stainless steel, as well as fine, medium and flex in 14k gold (+119$). I went with the ultra flex nib for this pen because I'm currently exploring modern flex nib options (Spoiler alert, more flex pen reviews are coming in the near future!).
REVIEW: FOUNTAIN PEN REVOLUTION HIMALAYA ULTRA FLEX FOUNTAIN PEN
So what does "Ultra" flex mean? For 10$ extra, Kevin from FPR manually modifies each nib with additional cutouts on the sides of the nib and a widened ink channel on the ebonite feed. This improves the flexibility of the nib and creates a wetter ink flow that can keep up with the more demanding nib setup.

Line variation with this modified nib is impressive. VERY impressive even, down to the point where it can start to seriously compete with vintage flex -no small feat! You're looking at line variation from a western fine, to almost 2mm at the very maximum. The most impressive part is that it doesn't require nearly as much pressure as I expected. The cutouts effectively give this steel nibs a much more springy character than similar nibs without the modification, and it also seems a bit more forgiving in terms of snapback.

BUT, there is a catch! Affordable flex nib fountain pens like this one, have a reputation for being a bit finicky (think about Noodlers pens, for example), and may or may not require some work to get the most out of them. I think the nib and feed are heat-set out of the box, but I did it again a couple of times to optimize the position of the feed for the best possible ink flow. Heat-setting ebonite feeds is actually not that difficult (there are plenty of tutorials online, FPR also has instruction videos on their own website!), but it takes some time and willingness to tinker a little bit, which is not something every fountain pen user is looking for when buying a new pen.

Even when I was satisfied with the heat-set, ink flow could still sometimes behave temperamentally. Especially with heavy flex writing, it is prone to railroading and hard starting, and you can starve the ink flow when writing too fast. It's very picky about the ink you're using, the paper you're writing on, and even your writing angle... In short: there are a lot of factors that influence its behavior. 
REVIEW: FOUNTAIN PEN REVOLUTION HIMALAYA ULTRA FLEX FOUNTAIN PEN
Before buying, make sure that you're willing to tinker and experiment with this pen (that's part of the fun, even). This is certainly not the kind of 'plug-and-play' modern flex nib fountain pen that writes perfectly out of the box. In fact, one could argue that the perfect modern flex fountain pen doesn't even exist, there's always some kind of trade-off. In this case, you're giving up some ease-of-use and reliability in exchange for pretty excellent line variation.

With those sidenotes out of the way, would I still buy this pen? Yes. From what I've seen and tried so far, the FPR Himalaya Ultra Flex comes extremely close to the kind of line variation you'd expect from a vintage wet noodle flex nib. That's impressive for a 49$ pen (35$ for the pen + 14$ for the ultra flex nib), no matter how you look at it.

NOTE: This product was provided by Fountain Pen Revolution, so I could write this review. I was in no way influenced in the making of this review, the opinions shared in this review are completely my own. This post does not contain affiliate links.
REVIEW: FOUNTAIN PEN REVOLUTION HIMALAYA ULTRA FLEX FOUNTAIN PEN

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

REVIEW: INVENTERY LEATHER PASSPORT SLEEVE & NOTEBOOK COVER

REVIEW: INVENTERY LEATHER POCKET NOTEBOOK COVER
Inventery is one of those low-key brands that you don't hear about very often (maybe not often enough). They don't flood the market with new products, but when they do come up with something new, it's usually a good one. As a fan of well-thought-out minimal and industrial design, I've always enjoyed the pens they came up with (the Mechanical Pen, Pocket Fountain Pen, and the No.2 Mechanical Pen + Pencil). The product we're looking at today is not a pen though: the Inventery leather passport/ notebook sleeve!

Inventery's notebook cover was created with two main use cases in mind - the straightforward naming convention of Inventery products already sort of gives it away: a sleeve to protect your passport when traveling, or a pocket-sized notebook cover. In both cases, the sleeve provides additional credit card slots, and a flap to hold larger loose papers (a boarding pass, for example-. The elastic band on top additionally provides room for a pocket pen. 
REVIEW: INVENTERY LEATHER POCKET NOTEBOOK COVER
I don't have a passport so I can't speak for the first use case, but as a notebook cover, it certainly works quite nicely. A very unusual aspect of this cover is that it's designed to take a pocket pen along the top edge instead of on the side, which supposedly helps the entire thing fit in your pocket a little better. While this -rather unusual- configuration indeed makes it somewhat easier to fit inside a coat pocket or back pocket of your jeans, the cover obviously still adds quite a bit of bulk to your EDC. Especially if you then also fill up all the credit card slots and the additional pocket, it maybe becomes a bit too bulky to carry around on your person.

The fact that your pen has to sit on the top side, also means that it's quite restricted in terms of how long it can be. It really only fits extremely small pocket-sized pens such as the Kaweco Lilliput or Inventery's own Pocket fountain pen. Most other pens will be too long, causing them to stick out from the sides which isn't particularly practical. The broad elastic band does a good job of keeping pens securely in place.
REVIEW: INVENTERY LEATHER POCKET NOTEBOOK COVER
A somewhat strange configuration with the pen loop on the top side, but it works.
It's definitely worth talking about the excellent build quality of this cover. Inventery aims at a luxury, high-end market, and their leather notebook cover certainly fits the bill! The build quality is excellent, everything is put together precisely and stitched neatly with thin black thread. The entire cover breathes luxury, with its completely black color scheme and full-grain leather, similar to that of an expensive wallet. Even the velours-lined interior looks and feels classy. The cover is minimally branded on the inside behind the notebook, and the front flap is finished with a small gold Inventery logo in the bottom-right corner. The veg-tanned leather does have a fairly strong smell to it when it arrives, sort of reminiscent of leather shoes, but it lessens over time. 
REVIEW: INVENTERY LEATHER POCKET NOTEBOOK COVER
The cover can hold only one notebook, which I think is fine for day-to-day use. But it does mean that you can't really use it as a notebook and passport cover at the same time. The cover comes with a single notebook that matches the black and gold color scheme of all Inventery products, and you can buy replacement books on their website (a 4-pack, containing one of each ruling type: blank, grid, ruled and dot grid). Contrary to what you might think, these are not Field-Notes sized, but rather they are similar to Baron Fig's Vanguard pocket notebooks, coming in at a slightly smaller 3.5x5" form factor. So if you don't want to stick to Inventery's own paper, you at least have options from other brands.
REVIEW: INVENTERY LEATHER POCKET NOTEBOOK COVER
However, I don't really see a reason why you'd want to change the notebooks, because the paper quality is actually surprisingly good! Surprisingly, because good fountain pen friendly paper is not easy to come by in general, so I was impressed to find it here, from a brand that doesn't necessarily specialize in fountain pens. The notebooks come with 80gsm cream-colored paper, 60 pages per book. A nice detail is that all pages are perforated, so you can use your notebook to leave small notes!
REVIEW: INVENTERY LEATHER POCKET NOTEBOOK COVER
REVIEW: INVENTERY LEATHER POCKET NOTEBOOK COVER
I obviously went right ahead and threw fountain pens and ink swabs at it, and for the most part, the paper took the abuse without feathering or bleedthrough.
REVIEW: INVENTERY LEATHER POCKET NOTEBOOK COVER
REVIEW: INVENTERY LEATHER POCKET NOTEBOOK COVER
Very broad nibs can get the paper to budge and bleed or feather slightly, but all in all, it's far from the worst performance I've ever seen. Besides, super-wet nibs and ink swabs are probably outside the scope of what you'd be using in a pocket notebook, anyway, no?
REVIEW: INVENTERY LEATHER POCKET NOTEBOOK COVER
REVIEW: INVENTERY LEATHER POCKET NOTEBOOK COVER
Ink even dried quite nicely, showing little to no sheen, but better-than-expected shading. The textured paper also means that it's excellent for pencil, ballpoint or rollerball/gel pen use, so it's a good middle ground that's practical for on the go. 
REVIEW: INVENTERY LEATHER POCKET NOTEBOOK COVER
While Inventery products typically tend to not be super cheap, I think the Leather notebook cover strikes a good balance, coming in at 70$. With that, it's actually far from the most expensive pocket notebook cover on the market, say for example, compared to the 110$  One Star Leather or the 95$ Field Notes x Bellroy cover. At 15$ for a 4-pack of 60 pages each, the paper is priced very reasonably as well. The price per page is roughly equal to something like Field Notes or Baron Fig pocket Vanguard notebooks.

If you're in the market for a luxurious, well-made and quite practical EDC carry, Inventery provides a solid option that may not be the first one to come to mind, but it's sure worth checking out!

NOTE: This product was provided by Inventery, so I could write this review. I was in no way influenced in the making of this review, the opinions shared in this review are completely my own! This post does not contain affiliate links.
REVIEW: INVENTERY LEATHER POCKET NOTEBOOK COVER