Kaweco V11: Vintage on a budget

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Nearly identical to its contemporary the Montblanc 32 (c.1962), but about one third the price, the V11 is a wonderfully soft writer that holds a good amount of ink. Vintage Kaweco are wonderful pens, with soft or even flexible nibs. The plating is thick, materials and build quality are rock solid. A very nice writer for $20, I must say.

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If you’re after vintage pens on a budget, have a look around for Kaweco. German eBay is an excellent place to start.

Kaweco Dia 2: Sophisticated, Strong, Sublime

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The name “Kaweco” (or originally “KaWeCo”) is an old and respected one in the world of German stylographica. The original form of the company went under in 1980, and lay dormant until 1995. The name was taken up by the Gutberlet family, and brought back to its former glory. They did this not by pretending to be the same company as the original, like some famous marques, but by honouring Kaweco’s traditions and bringing it into the present at the same time. The Gutberlets continue to introduce new writing equipment, with a flair for the unordinary.

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The Kaweco Dia 2 is a modern interpretation of the company’s historical Dia line of pens. Kaweco produced a ‘Dia’ in some form between the 1930s and early 1960s: “dia” is the word for “day” in most Latin languages, and I imagine this pen was marketed as a pen to use day in, day out. This modern Dia contains the stylings of a 1930s-era model, with the knurled end caps and the distinctive bowed clip. I’ve owned this pen for about six years now, so it’s really time to have a good look at it.

Note: The Dia 2 is the updated version of the modern Dia. The differences are mainly cosmetic, with a differently shaped section, shorter end cap on the barrel, and a gentle swell on the barrel that gives this basic black pen a hint of sexy. And, more importantly, the Dia 2’s cap screws on, where the Dia’s did not (even though it looked like there were threads on the section).

I received this pen as a gift. It came in one of Kaweco’s lovely tins, with the embossed design on the front: this is one pen box that didn’t go into the trash. It could be used as a pencil case, or to store pen-related bits and bobs. I keep the Dia 2 in it when not being used.

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In a nutshell, the Dia 2 is a very well put together pen: fit and finish are excellent. The acrylic used is very high gloss. Perhaps it could be called ‘precious resin’, but I won’t go there. The hardware looks to have a fairly thick plating. The clip is not spring loaded, but has just enough tension to be useful (and not wear a hole in a shirt pocket). There are also the now trademark little Kaweco logos in both ends of the pen. All in all, this pen looks like it cost much more than it did.

The cap screws on and off in just under one complete turn.  While turning, there is very little wobble: tolerances are pretty tight. The section is made of metal, with a turned centre of acrylic laid over it: no slipping or coldness here. The section screws into brass threads fit inside the barrel. It would seem that the barrel is lined with brass along its entire length. It’s certainly thin brass if this is the case, for the entire pen weighs 26 grams (20 grams uncapped). A good friend of mine referred to it as ‘bulletproof’ design. However, like many other high gloss resins (ahem), I feel this one could be on the fragile side. Avoid dropping on floor.

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This combination of metals and acrylic has been fashioned in a way that this is one of the best balanced pens I have tried to date. Very little effort is needed by the hand to keep the pen in writing position. This is probably a good time to mention the length of the pen: 134mm capped, 125mm uncapped, 158mm posted. Quite the jump in length when posted, but even so the pen retains its good balance (I never post, but I have tried it with the Dia 2 and it feels good).

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One nice touch on the cap is on the opposite side of the clip: small script saying “Kaweco Dia”, with “Germany” printed beneath. I had assumed this was merely a stencil, but my friend noted that it is actually stamped or engraved, and filled in quite admirably with white. For a basic black pen with chrome hardware, with the gloss of its materials, the fit and finish, and the very gentle curve of the body, it’s fairly commanding yet has an air of sensuality. Audrey Hepburn in her little black dress comes to mind, or a very well cut tuxedo.

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Now we come to the business end of the Dia 2, the nib. Like all Kaweco’s pens except the Sport Classic and Ice Sport, this one uses the Bock 060, which is a screw-in nib/feed unit.  My pen originally came with an M nib. This particular nib was a dud, the only bad Bock I’ve ever owned. Contact with the dealer and the manufacturer in Germany brought me a new nib within a week, this time a BB nib. And what a lovely nib it is. Smooth, but not overly so: enough feedback to know you are writing on paper and not glass. You can see the design of it in the pics, so I won’t get into that. All nib sizes available are EF, F, M, B, and BB, but only F, M and B seem to be available with the pen: EF and BB can be ordered from various sellers. Kaweco has recently introduced 14k nibs for the Dia 2 and other models taking this handy screw-in nib unit. One could have an entire range of nibs, and easily interchange them as needed.

The Dia 2 is a cartridge-converter pen of the international kind, and a perfectly running one. I know that some would deduct points because it isn’t a piston filler. If it was, the price would be at least double. And personally, I don’t consider piston fillers the be-all and end-all of filling systems: I enjoy changing inks waaaay too much to really use it. My Dia 2 came with a standard Schmidt K1 converter, but there is also a ‘deluxe’ converter available with the Brand name printed on the clear part, and can be taken apart for cleaning. The term ‘deluxe’ here means about €2 online, so not a major outlay.

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Just about the only fault I can find with this pen is that long international cartridges don’t seem to fit. I tried a long Pelikan cart, and as I was screwing the barrel on over it the nib was unscrewing itself out of the section.  I haven’t tried a Waterman long yet, so I can’t speak for those.

The chrome-trim version seems to run between $100 and $120 online: there is also a gold-trim version that costs slightly more. I think for the price, it’s very good value. The Kaweco Dia 2 is a well-made, classy and quietly attractive pen that punches well above its weight.

A Dash of Colour

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Getting slowly back into the swing of things, I thought that on this drab, dreary Monday we could use a dash of colour. I certainly could.

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There’s something about ink that just makes me happy. The colours, since I love colour? The possibilities of using them? The way some inks cling to the sides of the bottle and you see into what makes them tick? Maybe even a little of the bottles themselves, especially funky ones like these?

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What do you think? What do inks do for you?

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Pelikan Edelstein Ink of the Year 2016 ~ Aquamarine

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This is my first Edelstein, and I have to say I’m impressed. What a nice writing ink: it feels like there are little ball bearings making the nib feel smoother than it actually is. Smooth, wet, nice shading, and I’m a sucker for teals and turquoises. Yeah, it’s expensive, and Diamine Eau de Nil is already my One Ink, but this is nice, nice stuff, and I’m glad I have some.

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Vintage Kaweco Sport V16: a pocket masterpiece

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With the exception of around 15 years between 1980 and 1995, there has been a pen named “Kaweco Sport” in production since 1934. First as a pocket safety pen, then piston-filler, finally as a cartridge filler, the little pen that’s big in hand has withstood the test of time. And for good reason: when closed, the Sport is not much bigger than a tube of lipstick. But when posted, it becomes the size of a standard fountain pen.

The modern Kaweco Sport is strictly a cartridge pen, with some attempts at a tiny converter being made. The vintage Sport is an entirely different animal. The pens from the 1950s and 60s are wonderful little things, built like tiny tanks with celluloid or acrylic bodies, piston mechanisms and flexy gold nibs (especially the open-nibs). Our subject today is a Sport V16 in green, and was one of the countless corporate gift pens produced in Germany back then by Kaweco, Pelikan and most other makers.

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If you think the modern Kaweco Sport is tiny, it dwarfs the vintage Sports. Our little green wonder checks in at 103mm long capped, 98mm uncapped, and 133mm posted. Filled with ink, it weighs 18g capped and/or posted: if you are over the age of about 3, there is no way you can use this unposted. Even yours truly, who is as vehement an anti-poster as there is, must post the vintage Sport.

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Build quality is as one expects from that time and location: top notch. Acrylic construction, small but very solid feeling piston mechanism that moves like a hot knife through butter. Older Sports had cork piston seals, but this model has a nylon head and seal: I believe the seller that it was never used, as it was spotless when I received it. I haven’t measured the ink capacity, as personally I think it’s more trouble than it’s worth, but I would say this pen hold about the same as a short international cartridge, or roughly 0.6ml.

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The nib is 14k, as most vintage Sport nibs were. It is marked B on nib and piston knob, and it is a good old-fashioned German B: almost square cut, stubbish, but as smooth as velvet. There is no catching the corners of the nib on paper, no scratching or squeaking, just great big packets of smooth. I lament the day back in 1965, when most German makers switched to ball-tipped nibs. Before then, nearly every nib made in Germany had built-in line variation. The only modern nibs I know in this style are the B and BB nibs of the Lamy 2000, and the new 14k Bock nibs available for larger Kawecos like the Dia 2, Student, and AL Sport.

There is also a great deal of flex in the nib, but the semi-hooded construction limits it somewhat. The semi-hood also makes cleaning more difficult, as ink tends to get trapped under the hood when filling. I’ve also yet to find a way to remove the nib and feed. Similarly styled Lamy and Montblanc pens from the period have sections that unscrew from the barrel, and the nib/feed unit drops out the back for easy rinsing and cleaning. This is the one complaint I have about these particular Sports.

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My green Sport arrived in its green leather pouch with a friend, a matching Sport 619 ballpoint pen. The refill is long dead, but any D1 sized refill will fit. Here is the pair of them, with their leather pouch that’s in remarkably good shape. It took me a while to figure out that the ballpoint extends with a half click, and retracts with a full click. I don’t use ballpoint enough to warrant buying a refill: I would much rather have a pencil to go with the fountain pen.

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Both FP and ballpoint are engraved with the name Junker, which I can only assume is a reference to the aircraft firm. And strangely enough, neither pen is engraved with the usual “Kaweco Sport”. They are a product of Kaweco, though, both having the usual tiny gold discs engraved with KA-WE-CO.

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Writing with the V16 is a pure joy. The nib is glorious, smooth and perfectly balanced in wetness. The line variation is just enough to make things interesting without needing a lot of care in nib placement.  The piston mechanism feels rock solid, and while not holding a lot of ink will at least equal a modern short cartridge.  Give one of these a try, if you can. With patience, one can be had on eBay.de for around $30-$50, which isn’t bad when you consider there are modern Sports that cost twice that.

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Kaweco Sport Cognac

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I’m a sucker for the Kaweco Sport: I think they’re great little pens. Compact, nice Peter Bock nibs, and versatile: they can easily be made into eyedropper pens with a little silicone grease around the threads.

I have black, green and brown Sports, and a vintage piston-filling one from the 50s. The other colours I wasn’t crazy about, but I couldn’t resist this cognac colour: it reminds me of amber.

This cognac Sport seems to be available only from Seitz-Kreuznach, in Germany. I’ll never be a shill for anyone, but they are good people, with reasonable, flat-rate international shipping.

Pen Review: Montblanc 3-42G

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Welcome to the first of what I hope will be many reviews of writing instruments, and the things that go into them. I will cover both ends of the spectrum, from cheap and cheerful Chinese pens to classic designs of bygone days. This is my choice for the first go because it is something I thought I wouldn’t like, but have fallen for big time.

In the world of writing instruments, the name Montblanc sits at or near the very top of the pyramid. Today, Montblanc is part of a large consortium of luxury goods, and their pens represent only a small part of its range and priorities. Modern examples of its writing instruments are seen more as status symbols than anything else, and the company has other fish to fry such as watches, cologne, and $300 belts.

But back in the day, until the late 1970s, a Montblanc pen was a serious pen, a proper pen; built to last, built to write. The company had a large range of pens at all price levels, even student pens, and were highly respected by both the public and the industry. The fact that there are still so many vintage Montblancs around is a testament to their quality.

Throughout most of their existence, Montblanc produced three levels of products, numbered 1xx, 2xx, and 3xx. Our exhibit today is a number 3-42G, an example of Montblanc’s third-tier or lowest quality product line: this particular example is from the mid-1950s. The fact that this pen is “third-tier” really can’t be seen by its quality: Montblanc’s third tier products were as good or better than some companies’ flagship models. The acrylic may scratch a little easier, the gold plating may be thinner, but the main difference in the product lines is size.

Our example here, the 3-42G, is a small pen from any angle in modern terms; however, this was a standard size pen in those days. Dimensions are as follows:

  • Capped length – 127mm
  • Uncapped length – 113mm
  • Posted length – 141mm
  • Capped weight, inked – 16g
  • Uncapped weight, inked – 10g

The average thickness is about 10mm. This was a rather upscale student or entry-level pen: the ‘G’ in the name signifies a gold nib, since it was also available with one made of steel (the 3-42 with steel nib was eventually sold under the Monte Rosa name as model 042).

But good things can come in small packages, and the 3-42 (or 342, depending on the vintage) is a good example. Being so light and small, it reminds me of an Italian sports car: nimble, deft, it darts across the paper with lots of pep for its size.

The tiny 14k nib is very soft, flexing with slight pressure. Being left-handed, I can’t really take advantage of this, but the writing sensation is still soft and springy. This particular nib is a Medium. Being a German nib made in the 1950s, the tipping is not round or ball-shaped like a modern medium nib; as shown in the writing sample, there is some subtle line variation to be had here (a future post will discuss this tipping phenomenon in more detail). The line is smooth, with a wetness I would put at 7 out of 10.

Like all Montblancs of the 1950s, the 3-42 is a piston filler. I have tried quite a few piston fillers of various makes, and this particular one is the smoothest I have ever tried. It is easy to move, and doesn’t feel like it’s going to snap like some modern pistons I have tried. I haven’t measured the capacity, but I’d say it’s very close to 1ml which is not bad at all.

The plating on the hardware of these pens doesn’t always withstand the test of time, like most lower-priced pens, and our example here has certainly seen some mileage. Being an early 50s example, this Montblanc has the old logo with mountain range engraved on the cap. I’ve cheated and filled the engraving in with a sharpened china marker, as well as the outline of the snowflake at the peak of the cap. Later examples of the 342 have the more conventional solid white snowflake, and a straight section as opposed to the concave one here.

When I first held this pen, my first thought was that it was too small for me to use. I’m so glad I didn’t move it on as originally planned. I tend to hold my pens quite far up the barrel, sometimes over the threads or even above them. Holding it in my hand almost like a paintbrush, the 3-42 zips and parries across the page, darting like an epée in the hands of an Olympic fencer. The ride is soft and cushiony. It’s times like this where I am grateful I was trained to have a light touch: when I write, the nib basically brushes the paper. If I press with my over-writing left hand, the nib will dig into the paper. I envy right-handers who can take advantage of this kind of flexibility and create wonderful, flowing script.

For a “third-tier” pen, the quality in this small instrument stands out proudly. A soft nib full of character, a quality filling system, and a solid build equal a very fulfilling writing experience. These diminutive wonders can be had for as little as C$100, if one shops around on ebay.de.

I hope this has been even a little educational, or at the very least entertaining.