2015: the pen year in review.

When a market is diversifying, it’s thriving. On that basis, 2015 was a healthy year for pen addicts everywhere – an especially happy observation to make in the fountain pen segment, which is almost two centuries old.

The Year of Personalization

Bespoke bodies and custom nibs have been around a while, but personalization was truly the big theme of 2015. Makers connected directly with customers, thanks to visual storytelling platforms like Instagram and Periscope. Part of the thrill was being able to specify everything, from pen material to section girth to filling system to stopper. The chase was also on for rare components: vintage celluloid, a trove of once-exclusive Conway Stewart acrylic, vintage music nibs.

L-R: Scriptorium Pens Long Idyll, Newton Shinobi, Pen 18111 Falling Sakura

L-R: Scriptorium Pens Long Idyll, Newton Shinobi, Pen 18111 Falling Sakura

Among the makers whose popularity grew in 2015 were Shawn Newton, Renée Meeks of Scriptorium Pens, Tim Cullen’s Hooligan Pens, Jonathon Brooks aka Carolina Pen Company, and Yoshi Nakama’s Pen 18111 (one eight one eleven). Shawn’s Shinobi variations were a hit. His recently-introduced Breaker looks promising. Renée’s Conway Stewart material stash (including the subtly beautiful Dartmoor) appeared in many of her made-to-order pens. Jonathon made his own materials (even a beautifully-named Ghost Koi), and ventured into surface treatments (airbrushing and urushi). Hooligan did interesting material combinations (here’s a customer’s kingwood-and-titanium Hooligan pen review). Yoshi went beyond 3D-printing roll stoppers to entire pens. His 20-year background in fabrication shows in his techniques, including laser engraving to achieve patterns.

Here’s the making of a Newton Shinobi:

Fountain Pen Day also has a video review of his Shinobi in crystal-clear 4k.

Newton Pens' Shinobi

Newton Pens’ Shinobi

Custom nibs received a big boost from Franklin-Christoph this year, with their nib line-up pre-ground by Masuyama. Many opted to pay extra for a Masuyama 0.2 mm needlepoint or cursive italic to go with their Franklin-Christoph pen. (Which beat waiting to stalk him at a pen show! Good thing he’s online.) Dan Smith, aka The Nibsmith, offered the breakout grind of the year, the Architect. Mark Bacas opened shop as the Nibgrinder. Makers such as Shawn continued to offer nib grinds as an add-on service.

Mike Masuyama for Franklin-Christoph

Mike Masuyama for Franklin-Christoph

Speaking of Franklin-Christoph — people couldn’t get enough of their “#cokebottlepen“, a translucent material with a faint green tint. Introduced as a prototype in the DC Pen Show, it induced a minor feeding frenzy. Clearly a sub-trend of 2015. 😉

Franklin-Christoph "coke bottle pens" L-R: Model 66, Model 20, Pocket 20

Franklin-Christoph “coke bottle pens” L-R: Model 66, Model 20, Pocket 20 (inked with Sailor Storia Clown)

Many brave pen people also decided to skip the entire flex modification process and pop titanium-finished Zebra G nibs into their Noodler’s Ahab or Jinhao pens. Below is a hack for a Ranga. (More on this in another blog post.)

After a little more tweaking, no railroading. 😆 #fountainpen #zebrag #nibhack #penaddict

A video posted by Leigh Reyes (@leighpod) on

The Year of Shimmer

You couldn’t avoid the sheen, shimmer and splendor this year. J. Herbin’s Emerald of Chivor stained hearts, fingers, and pens everywhere. (Thank you Vanness Pens – also the source for Akkerman, Callifolio, and KWZ inks – for making sure I got mine!)

Shimmer on feeds!

A photo posted by Leigh Reyes (@leighpod) on

Diamine brought on the bling with not one, not two, but ten Shimmertastic inks, covering the planet from Golden Sands to Night Sky. (If you’re in the Philippines, both Pengrafik and Everything Calligraphy keep Diamine in stock.)

Diamine Shimmertastic Blue Lightning, Brandy Dazzle, Golden Sands

Diamine Shimmertastic Blue Lightning, Brandy Dazzle, Golden Sands

The Year of “Bridge” sub-brands

In fashion, a bridge brand straddles high and low: think Kate Spade Saturday or McQ by Alexander McQueen. It is a precarious walk; the product needs to deliver the prestige of the brand while being affordable enough to appeal to more.

You had to sell your progeny to afford a Conid. With the entry of the Conid Minimalistica, you only had to sell your limbs. (At least the ones you don’t need to write with.) Seriously, the Minimalistica was an inspired choice of materials and design, with the bulkfilling system you could only previously get in Conid’s higher-end models. Also thanks to a friendly tax ruling, the brand from Belgium definitely had wider appeal this year.

A piston-filling pen under US$30? The TWSBI Eco proved it possible – with a range of nib choices, too. (TWSBI is exclusively distributed in Manila by Scribe Writing Essentials.)

TWSBI Eco, Conid Minimalistica

TWSBI Eco, Conid Minimalistica

Honorable Mentions:

Sailor Storia – available in Manila at Scribe Writing Essentials, this circus-themed line of waterproof inks is unique in color range and mixability.

Sailor Storia Fire, Lion, and Magic with a watercolor wash

Sailor Storia Fire, Lion, and Magic with a watercolor wash

Nock Co – I already liked their Brasstown, but the introduction of the Fodderstack and the Sinclair (previously the Halftower) showed how the team’s design and material thinking helped them arrive at fresh, flexible carry solutions.  Check out #nockshots on IG to see how people use theirs.

An assortment of Nock Co cases

An assortment of Nock Co cases

Next up, my wish list for 2016. How was your year in pens?

  • Amanda McKay

    I love this roundup so much! Very nicely done! Thanks to you for your wonderful contributions to the pen community. You are amazing. xx

  • Gerald Taylor

    Everything Amanda said. A treat to read. Thanks!

  • lgsoltek

    2015 saw my very first Nakaya: a decapod in aka-tamenuri, which I enjoy a lot, especially the finish. Although the nib is a slight disappointment because it’s too stiff for my taste, even when it’s already a “soft medium”.
    During this year my ink collection has also expanded in a crazy rate: from about 70 to over 220 now. I start to enjoy some bright pink and fuchsia colours than before. But the Storia inks turn out to be a huge let-down because I just really dislike how pale and undersaturated they are. They don’t flow as well as dye-based Sailor inks either and are hard to clean.

  • Gordon Hall

    I started FPing in July 2014, tasted flex with Noodler’s Ahab in March 2015 and fell in love with flex and penmanship in general. Got my first oblique holder in May. Now I have a handful of custom holders and drawer full of FP inks and dip inks. My scripts have been slowly improving, thanks to theinspiring artists and penmans on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook!! cheers!

  • Shawn Newton

    Thanks so much for the post!
    It has been a heck of a year. 🙂

  • Steven

    Glad you’re back. I feared you switched full-time to Instagram.
    My wishlist for 2016? Not enough space in this comments section :-).

  • jonro

    Great post, Leigh! That’s a great recap of 2015. You’re the ultimate enabler 🙂

  • Matt

    The architect grind has been around for a bit. Kudos for keeping it up though.

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  • http://www.FountainPenDay.org Fountain Pen Day

    Fantastic read… and I really agree with your choices. I saw some of the most beautiful and well made custom pens this year. The surge for bespoke pens is on the rise and our favorite pen makers are having longer and longer queues to get in. Have an awesome New Year !!!!

  • Zhm Toh

    Great read. What a summary! I usually come here for energetic fun content and lovely droolsome pics and you always deliver. Happy New Year!