The Lamy AL-Star (not this matte black one I’m writing the review with) was the second fountain pen I had ever purchased. It’s surprising that it’s taken me this one to review one. The AL-Star is nearly identical to the Lamy Safari, except it’s made from aluminum. I’m definitely a huge fan of the pen (I have three of them…) so enjoy the review!
Appearance & Packaging:
If you’re familiar with the looks and packaging of the Safari, you’re not going to be very surprised here. The AL-Star looks the same, but is ever so slightly wider in diameter than its plastic counterpart. It also has the love-it-or-hate-it signature Lamy triangular grip. Being right handed with a normal tripod grip, I find the pen to be very comfortable.
The difference between the Safari grip and the AL-Star grip is that instead of matching the body, all of the AL-Stars have a smoky transparent grey plastic grip, regardless of the color of the pen. I think the dark plastic looks great in pretty much every body combination (the sandy metallic tan doesn’t look so great in my opinion). I absolutely love the modern design that Lamy employs throughout their entire product line, and the AL-Star is no exception.
Nib Performance & Filling System:
The AL-Star takes Lamy’s proprietary cartridge/converter system. For the price range ($37.00), it makes sense for the pen to have a C/C system. I’ve said it in other pen reviews, I really don’t mind the C/C system because it allows me to change inks more frequently. The AL-Star has an oval-shaped window in the body that allows you to see how much ink is left in the pen as well.
The AL-Star takes the interchangeable steel nibs that are seen across most of Lamy’s product line. They can be hit or miss, but they’re really easy to swap out. The steel nibs aren’t bad writers at all, and are definitely in the middle of the road in terms of smoothness and flow. I like the interchangeable system, because it allows you to try new nib widths with a relatively low barrier to entry, and makes the pen very versatile as well. I found Lamy’s nib system to be hugely helpful in the beginning of my fountain pen journey. It really helped me to dial in my nib preferences without spending big money on a pen with a nib I may not be crazy about.
The Lamy AL-Star definitely has a more premium feel than the Safari. It’s slightly heavier too. The aluminum has a nice tactile feel, and it’s nice to pick up something that’s cool to the touch (at least in the winter it is…) that warms up in your hand. The fit and finish of the AL-Star is also top notch. I used to write with my Safaris and AL-Stars posted, but lately I’ve been doing so with the cap off. The pen is definitely a bit long at 6.7″ posted, but it’s not horribly off balance should you decide to post while writing.
The AL-Star also has the triangular grip section as seen on the Safari. I personally find it to be comfortable, but others with non-standard grips may find it to be unbearable. The grip does enforce proper grip, and the nib is always going to be lined up properly with the page when you’re using the grip. Again, this helped me out quite a bit in the beginning of my fountain pen days. The feel of the body is nice, but the aluminum is not quite as durable as the Safari. The finish is definitely prone to showing wear, and I’ve heard stories of people denting the body of their AL-Star with abuse. I don’t mind when pens show wear, but if you baby the pen, I’m sure it will hold up just fine.
Affordable price range
Premium feel over the Safari
The grip isn’t for everyone
Aluminum construction doesn’t mean better durability
I love my Lamys quite a bit, so I may be slightly biased. The AL-Star is a winner in my book. Swappable nibs make the pen very versatile. The minimalistic design and clean aesthetics really resonate with me as well. The triangular grip may not be for everyone, but it can really help out beginners develop a proper fountain pen grip. I have around 6 Safaris and 3 AL-Stars, and I’m definitely going to continue to add them to my collection. I would definitely recommend this pen to anyone.
Admittedly, I had written off TWSBI for a while. After a continuously cracking 540 and an inconsistent medium nibbed Vac700, I figured I’d hold off on TWSBI until they worked out some of the kinks that were widely experienced with their products. After seeing their many improvements from the 540 line to the 580 line, and the new Mini model, I had to give TWSBI another shot. The Classic color scheme (black and clear) made it that much easier to pull the trigger. Read on to see if the TWSBI Mini holds up to it’s competitors!
Appearance & Packaging:
Unboxing a TWSBI pen is always a treat. The packaging is very “Apple-like”. It’s a white plastic base, encapsulated in clear plastic. The pen is suspended above the base on two pedestals. The plastic box is surrounded by foam and safely packed into a brown cardboard box, adorned with the red TWSBI logo in the middle. It’s really a great presentation. Onto the pen itself…The Mini is a sharp looking pen. The Classic has a black grip, cap and piston knob, with a clear barrel. It’s an awesome looking combo. My favorite part is the black grip section, that usually drives me nuts trying to keep clean on a demonstrator.
The Mini is small, but not too small. I love the demonstrator barrel and the black with chrome accents. The red TWSBI logo on the cap adds just a splash of color that works well with the overall aesthetic of the pen. It’s a great looking little pen, and it looks awesome loaded up with some Iroshizuku fuyu-syogun.
Nib Performance & Filling System:
I was pretty nervous for this part of the review. My first TWSBI 540 didn’t even write out of the box, and my Vac700’s medium nib skipped more than it wrote a solid line. I’m happy to say that there are zero issues with the Mini’s fine nib. It’s a bit on the dry side, but that’s not a complaint. It’s silky smooth and lays down a nice fine line. The nib on the Mini is a little bit smaller than the 5X0 and 700 series.
The nib is a good size for the pen, and doesn’t come off as too small (I’m looking at you Kaweco Allrounder). It’s definitely one of the smoother steel nibs I have used. Before TWSBI entered the scene, a piston filler in a sub-$100 pen was a rarity. The piston operates smoothly and efficiently. It’s easy to get a full reservoir of ink, and it’s fun to fill too. A great nib and an awesome filling system…so far, so good.
The TWSBI Mini is a smaller pen (I mean, it is called the Mini), but I wouldn’t call it miniature. Unposted, it’s a bit too small to comfortably write with. The coolest part about the feel of the mini is how the pen posts. The cap actually screws onto the back of the pen, making a super secure post that doesn’t interfere with the piston knob. The screw cap greatly helps in improving the rigidity of the pen while writing. Posting the cap makes the pen an ideal width for me. Balance is great and it’s not too light or too heavy. If you are familiar with the Sailor Sapporo, you’ll be right at home with the Mini.
They’re practically identical in size, weight, and proportion when both pens are posted. My one issue with the feel of the Mini is the metal ring at the bottom of the grip, closest to the nib. The ring has a slightly sharp edge to it, and the way I grip the pen results in some discomfort over time. Choking up on the pen a bit solves the issue, but it’s not ideal for me to change my grip to use a pen. Other than the metal ring, the TWSBI Mini feels great in hand.
Improved design (grip ring) prevents cracking
Smooth, consistent nib
The grip’s metal ring prevents cracking, but it may be uncomfortable for some.
I would say that I am 99% happy with my TWSBI Mini. The nib is much better than the last generation of TWSBIs I’ve owned, and they have added a metal ring to the grip to prevent cracking (although it’s a bit sharp). The Mini’s great looks and feel, coupled with it’s affordable price make the Mini an awesome pen for both beginners and collectors. The Mini did a great job at changing my mind about TWSBI. The Mini is a great little pen, that I would definitely have no hesitations recommending. Good show TWSBI, good show.
Sheaffer Snorkel Admiral and Saratoga
– Handwritten Review –
Review Ink: Sheaffer Peacock Blue and Iroshizuku Fuyu-Syogun
Review Paper: Maruman Mnemosyne B5
Description:A highly collectable (and reliable) vintage pen with the most advanced filling system to date.
Nibs: 14k gold, open-style – Admiral is an all gold medium nib, Saratoga is a two-toned medium nib
Material: Plastic with metal accents
Filling Mechanism: Snorkel fillers
Handwritten Review Scans:
Comparing and reviewing vintage pens can be a bit weird. The problem is the varying conditions an old pen can be in, repairs that have been done to the pen, and a vintage pen may not contain 100% original parts. This is more of a feature than a formal review, and keep in mind that your mileage may vary greatly when buying a vintage pen. That’s not to say that a great vintage pen can be purchased, and I really like both of my Snorkels.
Onto the pens at hand… I currently have two Sheaffer Snorkels in my collection, a grey Admiral and blue Saratoga. The Admiral has a 14k gold nib, that is open-style. Some other models of the Snorkel come with a tubular nib (referred to as ‘closed’). The Saratoga model also has a 14k gold nib, but it’s two-toned; a feature which I really enjoy the aesthetics of. The Admiral is Canadian-made, and when I purchased it, it was pretty much in New-Old-Stock condition – still having the sticker denoting nib size on then grip of the pen. Both pens write exceptionally well and have a solid place in my rotation of pens. The Sheaffer Snorkels are on the thinner side, but still have some decent heft to them. Compared to a Lamy Al-Star, they’re about the same length.
When the pen is capped, it’s quite unassuming. The body is very plain, with a 1/4″ gold cap band. The only markings on the pen are the subtle stamping in the body stating the country of origin and the brand, and “Sheaffer’s” is stamped into the gold clip. Later models have a white dot on the top of the clip, which Sheaffer used to denote their premium pens. The white dot was also used as a mark of quality. I really like the simple style of the Sheaffer Snorkels I have, knowing that under the plastic shell is the most mechanically-complex filling system to be in a fountain pen.
Nib Performance & Filling System:
The Sheaffer Snorkel is one of the most mechanically-complicated fountain pens, and has kept that honor for over 60 years. To fill the pen, you have to unscrew the tail cap, until the snorkel tube is fully extended from underneath the nib. Once fully extended, the tail cap is pulled out. When the pen is “fully-extended” – you have to submerge the tube into the ink you wish to fill the pen with. It is not necessary to put the nib into the ink – making for a mess-free fill. When the tube is submerged, you must depress the tail cap back into the pen body. The internal sac is compressed with the downward motion, and when the tail cap is all the way back in the pen, the vacuum is released, sucking ink up through the snorkel tube and into the internal ink reservoir. After the pen is filled, the tail cap must be screwed back in, and the snorkel is retracted. It sounds very complicated, but it’s an easy and fun way to fill a fountain pen.
The pen is long enough to write with comfortably when un-posted, but posting doesn’t throw off the balance or feel of the pen. The Sheaffer Snorkels are nicely weighted and well balanced. The grip on the models I have is ribbed for extra grip, and the metal flair at the bottom keeps ink off of your fingers. The transition between the grip and the section is smooth, and the threads are hard to notice when writing. Both the Admiral and the Saratoga are identical in the body and cap, the only difference being the nib. Both pens are comfortable and durable, although they are a bit slimmer than most modern fountain pens.
Availability and Price:
Sheaffer made the snorkel fill models for around a decade, and they are by no means limited edition. It’s relatively easy to find a snorkel in great condition that has been professionally restored. There are several people and websites that do Snorkel restorations, most offering warranties on their work. While not the cheapest entry into vintage pens (Esterbrooks can be had for surprisingly low prices), a user-grade pen in working condition can be found for around $60. A fully restored, like-new pen and pencil set can be purchased for around $95, ready to write. AndersonPens.net offers restoration services and usually has a few nice models in stock.
Affordable entry into vintage pens
Fun to use filling mechanism
Nice weight and balance
More complex to restore on your own
More moving parts = more to go wrong
I’m by no means an expert on vintage pens, but I really like my two Sheaffer Snorkels. They’re great workhorse pens that come in a variety of body colors and nib types. Most of them have been in service for 60 years already, and I’m sure that if properly taken care of, they can easily go another 60 more. The filling system is really cool and fun to use as well. It’s definitely worth having a specimen of the Sheaffer Snorkel in your collection as a part of fountain pen history.
Goes on blue, dries green. Ku-Jaku (meaning “peacock”) is another great ink offering from the Iroshizuku line. At first, it’s very blue, but once it settles into the page, it’s a nice shade of blue-green. Like the rest of the Iroshizuku line I’ve sampled, the ink performs well. It writes smoothly, shades nicely, and has great flow. It’s similar to Diamine Eau de Nil, which is one of my favorite inks. I like the color and performance of this ink, but given that they’re so close in color (and the price difference), I’d have to give the edge to the Diamine.