Nib Novice, Part 9: Pen Cleaning & Retro 51

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


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It’s probably an understatement to say that I have a fondness for the Retro 51 Tornado. Not only do I have an embarrassingly large collection myself, I’ve also given away many of them as gifts, hoping that others will appreciate the pen as I do. Of course I’ve been aware for a while that Retro 51 offers a fountain pen version of the Tornado. I even ordered one a few months ago, but it has been sitting, unopened, on my desk. Before cracking the packaging open, I promised myself that I’d do something I’ve been putting off: fountain pen cleaning.

While I like the fountain pen collection I’ve built up over the course of writing this blog series, the simple fact is that I just don’t consistently use all of them. For example, my Parker 51 is great, but I feel guilty letting ink just sit inside a vintage pen. And I think it’s neat to have that counterfeit Lamy Safari in my collection, but I’m never going to actually use that piece of junk ever again.

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The good news is that Goulet Pens has a wonderful guide to pen cleaning. The bad news is that it is tedious as hell. The procedure goes like this: fill a cup with room temperature water in a sink, then pull the water into your pen (via whatever filling system the pen happens to have), then flush the water back out. Keep doing this over and over, replacing the water every once in a while, until the water being flushed out of the pen comes clean. Wiping the nib down with a paper towel after a few flushes can speed the process up, but the whole thing still feels endless.

The Parker 51, with its aerometric filling system, was pretty easy to clean. The counterfeit Lamy, on the other hand, required quite a lot of clockwise and counterclockwise twisting of the cartridge-converter. I have a couple more pens that I should probably clean, but, in all honesty, I currently lack the patience. So while letting the pens dry out overnight, I decided it was time to finally break out the Retro 51 Tornado Fountain Pen.

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In typical Retro 51 fashion, the Tornado fountain pen is available in a bunch of styles. My choice was The Lincoln,  a vintage-looking pen with a shiny, copper-colored coating. It’s got some weight to it, and it feels like a substantial pen. It uses a medium Schmidt nib and comes with both a cartridge-converter and a generic ink-filled cartridge.

Initially, I was going to use the cartridge converter, and I even started filling the pen with some bottled ink. Then I remembered all the tedious cleaning I’d just finished, so I did an on-the-fly switch to the pre-filled cartridge. That probably wasn’t my best idea, as it caused a bit of a mess.

After using the Tornado fountain pen for a few days, I’m sad to say that I grew a little tired of it. I had some trouble with ink flow, particularly whenever I’d set the pen down for a few hours. But mostly, it worked just fine. I guess this one just didn’t blow me away in the same way that the TWSBI Eco did. It’s almost as if this Tornado fountain pen is one I’d rather look at than use – or maybe I’d rather just buy the rollberball version of the Lincoln instead.

As someone who collects Retro 51 Tornado pens, that’s fine. I’m glad I have this pen. However, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to anyone else. Hopefully my next fountain pen pen – the final one I’ll be purchasing for this series – will leave more of an impression.

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Retro Talk: In Vino Veritas

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The Retro 51 Vino Tornado was first sold in 2007, but I didn’t hear about it until late 2015 when it was re-issued and sold by the now defunct Paradise Pen Company. The design immediately caught my eye, but it could only be purchased as a $70 pen and pencil set, and, unfortunately, I was really only interested in the pen half. So I put it to the back of my mind, thinking that I’d eventually find someone who wanted to split their set.

A little over a year later, after I’d mostly forgotten about it, Retro 51 announced via social media that the Vino Tornado (pen only) had once again been revived in a limited quantity for Fahrney’s Pens. So, not being one to hesitate, I jumped on the deal.

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The Vino is undoubtedly distinct from every other Tornado I own. Unlike many of the Tornado designs, which are mostly lacquered wraps, the barrel of the Vino is made of an entirely different material called, according to the marketing material, ‘durable cork.’ The more truthful description might be artificial cork, which feels quite rubbery and soft. (UPDATE: Retro 51 says that it is indeed authentic cork). However, that doesn’t diminish the design. This material makes it a little more comfortable to hold and a little easier to grip. Additionally, the barrel is textured with cracks and divots, giving it a more realistic look and feel.

Aside from the barrel, the remainder of the design is standard for a Retro 51 Tornado. It has silver accents with a tan finial disc, and it comes equipped with the standard 0.7mm Retro 1951 refill. I’m quite happy to own this Tornado, though it would obviously make a great gift for any wine-enthusiast. It pairs well with a tasting book and fancy bottle of shiraz.

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Review: Retro 51 Hex-o-matic, Ballpoint, Medium

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Put them side-by-side, and the Retro 51 Hex-o-matic looks a lot like an ‘everyday carry‘ version of the Retro 51 Tornado. But really, aside from the knurled-metal end, the two pens share little similarity. The Hex-o-matic is thin, clickable, and durable. It has a matted, hexagonal body with a round, knurled grip, and it has an overall shape that is reminiscent of a syringe. Its metal construction gives it a nice bit of weight, and, like almost everything Retro 51 produces, I like it a lot.

One of the more remarkable aspects of the Hex-o-matic is actually its packaging. It is fairly intricate, as if it were designed by an origami expert, which makes for a great first impression. But unlike the Tornado’s packaging, which doubles as a pen holder, this elaborately-folded cardboard tube is ultimately useless. I’ll soon be tossing it in the recycling bin as I wonder, “how much did this packaging add to the cost of the pen?”

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The Hex-o-matic comes loaded with a Schmidt Easy Flow 9000 ballpoint refill, which is the same refill used by the Retro 51 Slim Tornado. It’s definitely good; much smoother and darker than a typical ballpoint, though it smears more than it ought. However, since it is a pen that seems built for ‘on-the-go’ usage, I really wish it came with a pressurized ink refill, such as the one that comes with the Fisher Space Pen. Unfortunately, that particularly refill doesn’t quite fit, at least without modification.

At $28, the Hex-0-matic feels a little expensive, especially when a decent metal pen like the Pentel Energel Alloy RT is under $10. But now having used the Hex-0-matic a while, I find it competing for pocket space against the Everyman Grafton, a favorite of mine (that costs even a little bit more money). So if you want a nice, durable pen to throw in your pocket as you run daily errands, this pen is a very good choice.

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Retro Talk: A Tribute to Gray’s Anatomy

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When I was in college I bought myself a copy of Gray’s Anatomy – not to be confused with Grey’s Anatomy, the TV show – edited in the form of a coffee table book. At the time I didn’t own a coffee table, but I really liked the anatomical drawings. The illustrations are something almost anyone can appreciate, as they are an amazing example of functional art. Each drawing takes attention to detail and a lot of study.

So, when Retro 51 released a Tornado design earlier this year named Dr. Gray, I didn’t wait long to place my order. The barrel features an anatomical drawing of the skeletal system with 30+ of the major bones identified. I’m not sure whether this illustration is a Gray’s Anatomy original or if it has been redrawn by another artist, but, either way, it would be good enough for at least a couple of correct answers on a biology exam.

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Like the Albert Tornado, this design is part of Retro 51’s “Vintage Metalsmith” series, which mainly means that the metal on the clip, twist, and tip has been weathered. One fairly unique feature, however, is that the Dr. Gray glows in the dark after being exposed to light. Since I usually keep pens in my pocket (and I don’t use them in the dark), it took me a while to notice. Throw it directly under a bright bulb for 10 minutes, however, and it glows quite brightly. It’s a neat little gimmick that gives it a Halloween vibe.

I like the Dr. Gray, although, at $40, it’s more expensive than many other Retro 51 Tornado designs. But if you know an orthopedist or a med student, it would probably make a really cool gift.

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Retro Talk: The Birthday Tornado

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Take a look through any Retro 51 collection, and you’re bound to find a lot of really amazing designs. And though a simple classic lacquer Tornado costs only about $20, you’ll have to shell out around $25 to $50 for a special or limited edition Tornado or sometimes upwards of $100 for a Tornado design that’s discontinued or currently out of production. There is, however, one exception that I know of: the Retro 51 ‘Birthday Greetings’ Tornado series.

At one point in time, Retro 51 was making a bunch of these ‘Greeting Series’ pens. There’s the ‘Happy Holidays’ Tornado, the ‘Congrats’ Tornado, and even the simple ‘Thanks’ Tornado, but these days they are all pretty difficult to find for a reasonable price. But for whatever reason, the ‘Happy Birthday’ Tornado can easily be found for under 15 dollars.

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The ‘Birthday Greeting’ series was made with three different colors/designs: blue (shown above), yellow (shown below), and red (shown here). Apart from the colors, the red and yellow pens are identical. They have phrases and icons pictured all over the barrel, and the word “BIRTHDAY!” is splashed across the side. The blue version is subtler, and it mainly consists of numbers/ages. The blue design still contains an assortment of birthday-ish words and icons, but you’d really need to examine it in order to see the theme.

Perhaps it feels like you can only use this pen one day a year, but I actually use mine all the time (I bought the blue version for myself last year). It’s also a nice and easy present. In fact, I just gave away the yellow version as a gift, and I might just stockpile the red version to give away sometime next year. And as an unskilled gift wrapper, I always appreciate when a product comes in its own gift box.

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