Retro Talk: The Tiger Shark

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The Flying Tigers – officially called the 1st American Volunteer Group – were a band of Air Force squadrons sent to defend China against Japanese attacks during Word War II. They were successful and popular in their time, but they are probably best remembered for the creative paint jobs they gave to their P-40 Warhawk fighter planes. So, in August 2015, 70 years after the end of WWII, Retro 51 announced a Tornado pen in tribute to the Flying Tigers.

The Flying Tiger Tornado turned out to be a very successful product: 500 pens were made, and they sold out fast. I missed out, unfortunately – I hadn’t gotten my first Retro 51 Tornado until a couple weeks after the Flying Tiger was released, so it was long gone by the time I caught wind of it. To my delight, the design was so popular that Retro 51 decided to release two more versions of the pen earlier this year, the Tiger Shark (the one I have, pictured above) and the Fortress (pictured below).

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All three pens feature a design printed on a lacquer wrap with acid-etching for detail. The acid-etching is especially cool, as it adds texture to the rivets and grooves in the paneling. To give the pen a grittier look, the metal of the nosecone, clip, and twist have been artificially weathered. All three pens look great, but I especially like the camouflage on the Tiger Shark. The “Dear Becky” insignia on the Fortress design is also pretty great, but it lacks the iconic set of shark teeth at the pen’s tip.

This has got to be one of my favorite Retro 51 Tornado pens. Like the Albert Tornado, the pen has a great design along with an interesting history. Both the Fortress and the Tiger Shark are also easy to get a hold of – unlike the Flying Tiger, the Fortress and Tiger Shark aren’t being sold in limited quantities. However, they both still have a production number stamped near the twist. I’m not sure I understand the reason for this, but if you have a higher number than mine (#180), then I think you should owe me a drink.

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On a side note, Vanness threw in a blue Retro 51 refill with my order. I don’t usually use blue ink, but I decided to throw it in the Tiger Shark anyway. To my surprise, I’m actually liking it. It’s smooth and has a nice, deep hue …though I suppose a green ink might make more sense with this pen.

Notes on Point Oh Field Notes

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In October of 2015, a digital marketing company named Huge hosted a design conference called Brooklyn 1.0 where special 3-packs of Field Notes were given out to attendees. The notebook set, dubbed the “Point Oh!” Edition, was created specifically for the conference and limited to 1,000 packs. When photos of these notebooks were posted online, Field Notes collectors seemed to fall in love with them. But apart from those who attended the conference, it seemed especially difficult for people to find this edition. Afterward, they sold for  ridiculous prices on eBay.

Fortunately, in April of 2016, somebody at Huge must have found a box full of conference leftovers, and the Point Oh Field Notes suddenly became available for purchase on the Brooklyn 1.0 website for $9.95. The orders were limited to one 3-pack per person and standard shipping cost an additional 8 dollars, but they still sold out quickly. And lucky for me, I managed to snag a pack: number 888 out of 1,000.

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While it’s often hard to justify the hype that surrounds Field Notes, it’s also hard to deny the appeal of these pretty little Point Oh notebooks. With their pastel colors, embossed print, and polka-dotted inner-covers, they stand out from the rest of my Field Notes collection. Even though the yellow (“banana split”) cover color would later be used with the Spring 2016 Edition, the Point Oh books are especially reminiscent of Spring and the decorations you’ll find during Easter time

In terms of specs, these books are the typical 3.5″ x 5.5″ pocket-size with a hearty 100# cover stock and blank, 50# inner paper. Though I don’t typically use blank sheets of paper, it may be preferable to many designers and artists for whom these notebooks were intended. And for artists on-the-go, these notebook covers not only hold up well to wear and tear, but they also manage to look good in the process.

It’s a cool edition if you can get your hands it. Since it sold on the Point Oh website, packs have come down in price in the secondary market. So it’s possible to find one for a reasonable amount of money, though I never recommend spending too much on these special edition books. The next one is always right around the corner.

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Additional Notes

  • Of the 30 “Practical Applications” listed in the notebooks’ inside-back cover, my favorites are the following: “12. Polka Dots”; “15. Rap Quotes”; and “17. Why I Miss The Beastie Boys.”
  • I really should also mention the cool embossed logo on back cover.
  • Man, I’m a bit jealous of the other cool stuff those conference attendees got.

Nib Novice, Part 5 – The TWSBI Eco & a Zebra V-301 Update

This is the fifth part in a series in which I’m learning to use fountain pens. For the previous installments, click here.


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Chalk it up to a bad experience, but I really had no desire to pick up a new fountain pen after putting down my Lamy Safari a few months ago. I’d already purchased a pen – a TWSBI Eco – but I couldn’t bring myself to ink it up. So I decided to let it sit, shrink-wrapped on my desk, for about a month. When curiosity finally drove me to break open the packaging, I realized pretty quickly that my experience with fountain pens was about to change for the better.

Just to look at it, it’s obvious that the Eco is one of the coolest pens I own. In the lingo of the fountain pen world, it’s referred to as a demonstrator pen, a style that indicates a clear-bodied pen that makes all the inner workings visible. Filled with a dark red ink, “Rouge Hematite” by J. Herbin, it’s neat to watch the fluid slosh around the pen’s innards and move through the feed toward the nib. It’s certainly eye-catching. In fact, a co-worker of mine recently mistook the Eco for an e-cigarette and erroneously scolded me for picking up the habit of smoking.

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In addition to its looks, I’m very happy with the way the Eco writes. Various nib styles are available, but I decided to blindly go with a stub nib. Luckily, this turned out to be a great choice, as it seems to give a professionally stylized character to my print handwriting. This has everything to do with the shape of the nib, which looks to my eye like a narrower, rounded-off italic nib. This gives it a vertical/horizontal line variation that is a lot more subtle than what you get from a calligraphy pen.

It’s worth noting, too, that the Eco’s piston filling mechanism holds a lot of ink. A piston mechanism, I’ve learned, works almost exactly like a cartridge converter; simply dip the nib into a bottle of ink, then twist the end to suck the ink up into the reservoir. There’s really only one difference between the two filling systems: instead of the a cartridge being housed inside the pen, the pen’s barrel is the ink cartridge. Yes, I have some anxiety about the pen coming apart and ink spilling everywhere, but it’s something which – knock on wood – hasn’t happened yet.

I’m happy to report that the Eco is the first fountain pen I’ve found myself coming back to again and again. I’ve even considered buying a second one with black trim that I’d fill with a black ink to match, but that’s a little ways down the road. For now, I’m excited again about trying another new fountain pen.

In other news…

Shortly after writing about the Zebra V-301, the fountain pen that barely worked, I received an email from one of Zebra’s product managers. The V-301’s design was in the process of being updated, and I was asked if Zebra could send me one to try out. I agreed, and a few months later, the new V-301 arrived in my mailbox.

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On first inspection, the new V-301 looks practically identical to the older model. Take off the cap, however, and it’s easy to tell that the nib has gone through a bit of an update. A shroud now covers the nib and feed section, and it’s likely that there are more changes underneath. Whatever the case, I can say that the V-301 now works a lot better. The new model writes much more consistently (and right side-up), and the ink flow has been reduced. I’ve also noticed that the cap of the new model posts a lot more securely than the old one did.

It’s still not a particularly smooth fountain pen, and I think the clip could use some beefing up. But for a fountain pen under $5, it’s not bad. At the very least, I’m happy that Zebra listened to their customers and made improvements.

Review: Everyman Grafton, Gel Ink, 0.7mm

Kickstarter, in my experience, can be hit or miss. Any given Kickstarter project might have a good sales pitch, nifty graphics, and a well produced video, but creating and shipping a final product is a different matter entirely. A good project will meet your expectations, and a great project will exceed them. And I’m happy to say that since I received the Grafton by Everyman a few months ago, I believe that it fits into this latter category. In fact, it’s quickly become the pen I pick up more than any other.

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The Grafton is designed as an “everyday carry” pen, something that can easily be slipped into a pocket or purse without having to worry. To that end, the Grafton does a very good job. Its fully aluminum body, which comes with a black or silver finish, can take a beating, and the ‘click’ retracting mechanism is hearty and reliable. The clip, which is kept in place by a couple of tiny hex screws, is strong, yet pliable enough to easily attach to a pocket.

Inside the pen, a branded 0.7mm gel ink cartridge is included. The ink is dark and smears a bit, similar to what you might find in a Pilot G-2. But if you prefer a refill that can write through dirt and water, I was pleased to see that the Grafton also comes with parts that allow a Fisher Space Pen refill to fit inside the barrel.

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I really like this pen, but that obviously doesn’t mean it’s for everybody (despite the company’s name being “Everyman”). As you can see from my picture, the black finish does get worn with heavy use. I’m actually a fan of this worn look, but it would obviously be bothersome for anyone who likes keeping their pens looking pristine. From a dimensional standpoint, it might also be a bit big for some people. It fits into my pocket nicely, but it’s noticeably longer and thicker than other “everyday carry” pens like the Fisher Cap-O-Matic or the Zebra F-301.

My only complaint is that the threading on the barrel sometimes comes a little loose. It’s not so much that the pen falls apart, but it’s enough that I have to re-tighten it at least once a day. It takes a fraction of a second to fix and only occurs when I’ve been using the pen a lot, but I think that it’s a minor annoyance worth noting. Obviously this hasn’t deterred me at all from using the pen.

If you’re interested in the Grafton, you’ve unfortunately missed the Kickstarter campaign. However, you can now purchase one from the Everyman website for a little more money – $35. It might be a tad pricey for some, but it’s been a worthwhile investment for me. As the packaging insists, it’s meant to be a “Buy-For-Life” pen, so I intend to get my money’s worth.

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Notes on Coal x DDC x USA Field Notes

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Back in January of 2014, Draplin Design Co. and Coal Headwear came together to produce a set of Field Notes in homage of Old Glory. This special edition, known as the Coal X DDC X USA Edition, was limited to 5,000 3-packs, which – of course – sold out quickly. Luckily, many 3-packs were held back for inclusion in a special “USA Kit” sold by the Coal and DDC websites, and much to my surprise, I found that this kit is still available for purchase. So, I happily ordered one, and it came in time for Independence Day this year.
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The kit includes a USA patch and trucker hat, along with the pack USA-themed Field Notes pocket notebooks. Each notebook cover features a solid blue background atop a red and white-striped lower third. The cover stock is a hefty 100#, heavier than the 80# stock used in the standard Kraft edition. The innards contain a gray-inked graph, printed on 50# white paper.

If you’re a fan of pocket notebooks, then it’s obviously a perfect choice for July. As usual with Field Notes, I love their look as the book slowly gets used and worn. The red ink on the inside cover does seem to rub off onto the outer layers of paper over time, but as far as complaints go, that’s pretty minor. 

Otherwise, it feels like a pretty typical Field Notes notebook. It’s worth the cost of the Kit only if you’re feeling extra patriotic. My only real concern is that I look pretty goofy in a trucker hat, USA-themed or otherwise.

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Additional Notes

  • Though the practical application list (printed in the back, inside cover) is very similar to that of the standard Kraft Field Notes, the Coal X DDX X USA edition varies somewhat. Among my favorite variants: “02. Color Predictions”; “08. Badge Schematics”; and “16. Couches To Crash On.”
  • According to Jinnie at Three Staples, the paper used in this edition is different from what Field Notes typically uses. And it’s worth noting, she feels this paper isn’t as smooth. Personally, I hadn’t noticed a difference.
  • As usual, the notebook’s specifications page names each color used in the printing. Apparently, the notebook uses “Wenatchee White,” “Ballard Blue,” and “Rainier Red” (with a little bit of “Yakima Yellow” text) for the cover. However, the official names of colors used on the United States flag are “White,” “Old Glory Red,” and “Old Glory Blue.”