Squire Sub No. 04 – The Key

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The Key is latest and, also, possibly the last installment of Baron Fig’s Squire subscription service. Rumor has it that the company will continue making special edition Squire pens – they’ve already produced a bunch of new colors – but without the pressure of meeting a quarterly deadline. The Key, in fact, should have been released in Q4 of 2017, but it wasn’t shipped until early January 2018. I’m inclined to overlook the delay, however, because they managed to put out a pretty good edition this time ’round.

After my disappointment with The Insightful Spectre Squire, an edition that boiled down to a paint job with mildly interesting marketing, I am very happy to see that Baron Fig has attempted something new. Instead of the body being made from the Squire’s standard aluminum, The Key is entirely made of brass. This change is immediately noticeable, as it’s easily twice as heavy as the other Squires I own.

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It comes with Baron Fig’s standard 0.6mm refill (a rebranded Schmidt), but the refill included with mine was a dud. This happens occasionally with these refills, but it was no problem for me because I have plenty of extras. It is the same style refill used in the Retro 51 Tornado, after all, and I have a ton of those.

Overall, the pen looks minimalistic and sleek, it has a good (bottom-heavy) balance for being so heavy, and pairing it with the company’s new Lock notebook was a good marketing move. My one complaint, as always, is that this pen likes to roll away, perhaps even more so than the other Squires I own.  On multiple occasions I’ve jumped at the loud “thunk” The Key produces when it falls off my desk and hits the floor. Luckily there has been no noticeable damage (to either the pen or the floor).

If Baron Fig keeps releasing these limited-edition Squires, I can’t say for certain whether or not I would purchase them. There have been ups and downs with this subscription service, after all. So, for the moment, I’m content to take a “wait and see” approach.

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Click here to see my review of the original Baron Fig Squire Review.  Click here to see my review of the first limited edition Squire, The Alphabet. Click here for The Experiment Squire. And click here to see The Insightful Spectre,

Squire Sub No. 03 – The Insightful Spectre

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Well, that didn’t last long. On June 27, roughly a month after releasing the second limited edition squire, Baron Fig abruptly announced an intention to end their subscription service. In an email sent to subscribers, the company’s co-founder Joey Cofone stated that the subscription service will cease at the end of 2018. However, my subscription ends at the end of 2017, and, as far as I can tell, there is no way to renew it.

Maybe that’s all for the best. I like this third edition in their series, named The Insightful Spectre Squire, but there’s really nothing new here. It has a dark gray (“phantom black”) body along with an etching of a little ghost on the barrel. Other than that, it has the same size, shape, and refill as the standard Squire, which just makes this edition a bit boring.

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If it’s Baron Fig’s intent to retain the overall design of the Squire while only making aesthetic adjustments, I’m not opposed to it. That is essentially what Retro 51 does, and I love that company’s pens. But with this Insightful Spectre edition, all I can think is that I already have a black Squire and had a charcoal gray Squire (before I lost it), so why would I want another one that looks so similar? At least the Experiment edition, the second in Baron Fig’s subscription series, had a bright color and ink to match.

To put it bluntly: if you already have a Squire, there’s no need for this one. I’d like to see Baron Fig try something a little different and take a risk. Something simple like adding a knurled grip or flat edge would be great. Even doing a full-barrel design, rather than a tiny icon, could go a long way. Baron Fig has a lot of talent and creativity (just take a look at the great copy written for this Squire edition), but with the Squire subscription service ending, I don’t hold out a lot of hope for the final installment(s).

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Retro Talk: The Bioworkz Edition

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One year ago, Vanness Pens and Retro 51 collaborated to create the first “Artist Series” Tornado, designed by Joey Feldman, and it remains one of my favorite pens for its unique barrel design. Whenever artists are brought into the world of stationery, interesting and one-of-a-kind products are almost always produced. So when Vanness tapped California artist Bioworkz (Ben Kwok) to create the second “Artist Series” Tornado, I was excited and ultimately blown away by the result.

This edition’s barrel design features a trio of flying owls in a style that is reminiscent of henna body art, and two color schemes of the artwork were created as options for purchase: one blue/red, the other orange/turquoise. Overall, these may be the most beautifully designed Retro 51 Tornados I’ve seen. Additionally, the design is ever-so-slightly raised on the barrel, creating a texture that feels good to hold.

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Aside from the difference in the art’s color scheme, there are few other differences between the two versions. The blue/red version comes with dark gray metal accents, whereas the orange/turquoise’s metal accents are a made to look weathered. The inset disc at the top of the twist mechanism also differs in color between the two versions, and the blue/red version comes with a signed and numbered print – hence why it costs an extra $20.  The pens themselves are also individually numbered, and a total of 500 pens were produced (250 of each color scheme).

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So far, the Retro 51 Tornado Artist Series has been great. Besides that, there’s not much more to say, except that I’m looking forward to whatever comes next.

Squire Sub No. 02 – Experiment No. 108

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Experiment No. 108 is the second offering from Baron Fig in their quarterly Squire pen subscription series. Besides making for a confusing blog post title (see above), this ‘Experiment Squire’ is meant to conjure up images of a laboratory. It has a emerald-green barrel, reminiscent of Flubber, and the original Squire’s sword logo has been replaced with a bubbling, round-bottom flask.

The overall construction of this Squire hasn’t changed, but smaller, incremental changes are starting to pile up. Besides the body color and the logo (which first changed in the Alphabet Squire), Baron Fig decided to include green ink with this pen. It was an easy change to make, as Schmidt – their supplier – already creates a 0.6mm green refill, but it’s still a nice touch. And when I eventually get tired of the green ink, it wont be a big deal to swap it out.

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Because the Experiment Squire isn’t significantly different from previous versions, there’s no big reason to throw your money at this pen. That is, of course, with the exception of the green barrel, which I love. And based on the fact that this pen is already listed as ‘sold out’ on the Baron Fig website, I’m probably not alone in this feeling.

Though this is only the second in the Squire subscription series, it seems to be going well so far. I remain excited to see what Baron Fig comes up with next, which probably says a lot. Although, I have to admit that I’m still hoping that the next version has some sort of clip.
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Review: uni-ball Vision Elite, Rollerball, 0.8mm

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At 2 to 3 dollars apiece, the uni-ball Vision Elite is a pen that’s positioned at the top-end of the inexpensive, plastic market. It’s the sort of pen you’d expect to be handed at a car dealership just before signing a lease agreement. It contains a dark ink, has a sturdy clip, and features a thick, robust barrel. However, the most impressive thing about the Vision Elite is its ink – advertised as “super ink” – that barely smudges or smears at all.

On the other hand, the ink doesn’t flow all that consistently, and this 0.8mm tip provides a much bolder line than I expected (although, uni-ball does make finer-tipped versions, at 0.5mm and 0.7mm). Additionally, I should mention that I had problems with the cap, which would constantly pop off whenever I tried posting it to the end of the barrel. Though, these “designer series” versions of the Vision Elite, which differ only in aesthetics, do look pretty snazzy.

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If you’re looking for a fairly inexpensive, low-smear rollerball pen, then the Vision Elite is a good choice. If you can tolerate some smear, then I’d recommend checking out the Pilot Precise instead. Or if you’re okay with a gel pen, then the uni-ball Signo 207 contains similar low-smear ink as this pen. But overall, the Vision Elite is a decent, smooth and comfortable pen, even though it wouldn’t be my first choice.

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Extra Links

  • Art Supply Critic has a review that features the red and blue versions of the Vision Elite. He mentions some bleed through issues, which will definitely happen on thinner paper.
  • Here’s a very positive review at The Clicky Post. It’s mentioned here that refills for the Vision Elite can be purchased separately, though you’ll spend about the same amount of money if you just decide to buy a new pen.
  • And, of course, this was reviewed by The Pen Addict. It’s mentioned here (and in the pen’s advertising) that the Vision Elite is airplane safe. Though, honestly, I’ve never had a problem with pens exploding on airplanes. So I’m not sure that this is a unique feature.