Early use of Cyan Blue Gold

de Atramentis Pearlescent Inks

Sparkling and shimmering inks are  a Big Deal right now. It started with J. Herbin’s 1670 Anniversary ink, Haematite, which is a lovely, deep red with a subtle gold shimmer. Further Anniversary inks followed. Most notable of these was Emerald of Chivor, an amazing dark teal with red sheen and gold shimmer. Diamine brought out some of their own shimmering inks a few years after Herbin, some of which I reviewed here. Now de Atramentis are getting in on the act, with their own pearlescent inks.

So, if shimmer inks are a big deal, are we reaching saturation point? (Excuse the pun.)  Well, de Atramentis have introduced a little innovation here. Herbin and Diamine have produced ink with a complimentary shimmer colour, but de Atramentis offer a choice of shimmer. Each of the ten ink colours in the pearlescent range is available with gold, silver, or copper shimmer. 

The first thing that I noticed on making ink swabs was the sheer amount of shimmer particles in this ink. There is so much more than Herbin or Diamine inks. For many people, this will come as good news. This shimmer is not subtle!

A word on pen hygiene. Many people are reluctant to put shimmer inks in their pens for fear of clogging. I am not overly concerned about this, but I don’t tend to put this in my best pens. I have never had a problem with clogging in my Lamy Al-Stars though, even when I’ve left it in them unused for weeks. The significantly higher concentration of shimmer particles in these inks may make me a bit more reluctant to leave it in pens for a long time.

De Atramentis have kindly offered United Inkdom some samples of these inks for review. Pure Pens carries some of the colours to buy.

Heliogen Green

The base ink here is a medium green which works well with all three of the pearlescent shimmers.

Heliogen Greens
Heliogen green with three different finishes

As you can see from the picture, the different coloured shimmer makes quite a difference to the look of the ink.

Heliogen Green Copper
Heliogen Copper
Heliogen Green with Copper

The contrast of the warm copper and green is really lovely and quite unusual. The de Atramentis inks have a LOT of shimmer particles in them so the effect is easy to see, especially so with this combination. I am not sure this is something I would have bought had I not seen it in action first. However, having used it, I am pleasantly surprised at how well the combination works.

Heliogen Gold
Heliogen Gold
Heliogen Green with Gold shimmer

This is another lovely contrast of warm and cool.  It is less strikingly unusual and could be compared it to Diamine’s Golden Oasis.  Diamine’s offering uses a lighter coloured ink and has a more subtle shimmer, though.

Heliogen Silver
Heliogen Silver
Heliogen Green with Silver shimmer

Green and silver are a nice combination, and to my mind, a bit festive.

Cyan Blue

Cyan Blue
Cyan Blue with three finishes

The base ink here is not accurately described as cyan, but is a lovely royal blue.

Cyan Copper
Cyan Blue Copper
Cyan Blue with Copper shimmer

The Copper shimmer again proved to be a successful and surprising combination. The contrast between the blue and the orange copper is beautiful.








Cyan Gold
Cyan Blue Gold
Cyan Blue with Gold shimmer

The blue and gold is beautiful too, and reminiscent of Ancient Egyptian art with its use of gold and lapis lazuli. A sort of Ink of the Pharaohs?

Early use of Cyan Blue Gold
Early use of Cyan Blue Gold

This was my favourite of the samples I tested.

Cyan Silver
Cyan Blue Silver
Cyan Blue with Silver shimmer

The silver shimmer works really well with the blue ink. It looks like an icy pool in the swab sample. The colours compliment one another very well.

Like the green, the blue and silver combination really shows how much shimmer these inks have.

Brilliant Violet

Brilliant Violet
Brilliant Violet with different shimmers

I expected to like the Brilliant Violet inks more than I actually did. I didn’t feel that any of the shimmer colours went well with the shade of ink.

Brilliant Violet Copper
Brilliant Violet
Brilliant Violet with copper shimmer

The contrast between the purple ink and copper shimmer did not do it for me. Unlike the contrast with this shimmer and both the Green and Cyan ink, this created a bit of an odd ink that I can’t imagine ever wanting to use.

Brilliant Violet Gold
Brilliant Violet Gold
Brilliant Violet with Gold shimmer

This is nicer than the Copper. Purple and gold are a classic pairing.

Brilliant Violet Silver
Brilliant Violet Silver
Brilliant Violet with Silver shimmer

Purple and silver are also a good pairing, and I’m sure this ink will have some fans.


Amber Gold
Amber with Gold shimmer

I only have a sample of Amber with Gold, so I can’t compare to the other shimmer colours, but it’s rather lovely. It looks very pale and transparent when the ink first goes down on the paper but it dries quickly to a lovely warm yellow. The gold shimmer with that shade is quite beautiful.

Early use of Cyan Blue Gold

Taroko Design A5 notebook

The Taroko A5 notebook is a great way to get a hold of some Tomoe River paper at a less-than-eye-watering price. For fountain pen enthusiasts, Tomoe River paper needs little introduction. It’s super lightweight but resists feathering and bleed-through like a much heavier paper. Through some paper alchemy, it’s also fantastic at showing off the sheen of inks.

The Taroko Design notebook uses this legendary paper. Bureau Direct were kind enough to send some of us United Inkdom reviewers a sample notebook to take for a test drive. The one I’m reviewing here is the A5 size with lined paper. It’s also available in traveler’s notebook sizes, with plain and dot grid paper.


  • The notebook is proper A5 proportions so will sit nicely with an A5 traveler’s notebook or alongside a Leuchtturm or other A5 notebook.
  • It contains 64 pages (32 sheets) of paper
  • It’s made with 62gms Tomoe River paper which is the slightly heavier of the two weights this paper is usually found in.
  • It’s staple bound
  • Price: £7.95

This isn’t a cheap notebook at £7.95 but the premium price is due to the premium paper. Tomoe River isn’t easy to get a hold of in Europe


The notebook isn’t much to look at from the outside. The lined version has a black cover (the dotted is brown and the plain blue). It’s a sugar (construction) paper cover which won’t take a lot of battering about. It’s clearly designed to be used with an additional cover. As it is, this won’t protect the insides from folding, tearing, spills or general bashing. It does keep the total weight and width down though.

Taroko A5 cover


I’d never normally choose lined paper if dot grid or even plain was available. The lines are never the right width! The Taroko lines are a comfortable 7mm apart. Were I to buy one, I’d still choose dot grid, but I found the lined to be surprisingly pleasant.

Taroko A5 cover
Its lined but I still love it



The real pleasure with Tomoe River paper is the writing experience. The paper is smooth and light. Fountain pen ink can take a little longer to dry on this paper so be prepared for that. But also be prepared to see your ink like you’ve never seen it before.

I can also say, as someone who harbours the guilty pleasure of writing with ballpoint pen on sugar paper, this notebook would also be fun with ordinary pens.

Taroko A5 cover
Herbin Caroube de Chypre- look at that shimmer!



I dropped some ink on the notebook while writing this review, just to see how it handled it. 12 hours later (TWELVE HOURS) it’s still not quite dry. Of course, this isn’t the usual amount of ink a pen, even a wet pen, would put down. Left-handed writers might want to think twice about this paper.

Sloooow drying times
The tail of the drop is still wet 12 hours later!


I really like this notebook but with some caveats. It is an absolute pleasure to write on. However, at £7.95 it’s a bit pricey. I suspect this would make me hesitant to use it and it might sit around for rather a long time while I waited for the perfect use for it. The soft cover also means that it would be better used inside an additional cover to protect it. All that said, Tomoe River paper is unparalleled and this notebook is a great way to try it out without the exorbitant shipping costs that come with buying from abroad.

Early use of Cyan Blue Gold

Platinum Classic Iron Gall inks

I love ink. One of the main reasons I love fountain pens is that I have a virtually limitless selection of ink colours available to use with these pens. However, I also realise that practicality plays a part. Much as I like unusual, light coloured inks, I don’t use them as often as I use darker or stronger colours. I’m fortunate in that, as a PhD student and university teacher, what I can deem “practical” is much broader than people in many (perhaps most) other fields. I am always excited when I see new inks which combine interest with practicality though. I was therefore delighted to receive samples of Platinum Classics inks to review.

Citrus Black with the Lamy Charged Green Al-Star
Citrus Black with the Lamy Charged Green Al-Star

Platinum have recently released a set of six inks which have some interesting and unusual properties: the Classic blacks range. These inks are “made by a traditional Japanese method which only Platinum still use.” They are iron gall inks and so oxidise over time so the ink darkens. The change is visible initially, especially if you put a lot of ink down on the paper. As it dries, it darkens dramatically. This process of darkening continues less visibly over a longer period.

Platinum Classic inks
Platinum Classic ink swatches

Cult Pens, on e of my favourite source for all things stationery, sent United Inkdom some inks to test out for review. You can see the products here. There are six colours in the Platinum Classics ink range: Citrus Black, Cassis Black, Forest Black,Khaki Black, Lavender Black, and Sepia Black. They are available from Cult Pens for £21.99 per bottle.

Cassis Black

Cassis Black starts out, unsurprisingly enough, the colour of blackcurrant juice, a bright pink-red. It dries to a deep pinky red. I am not a fan of pink at all, but this colour has enough depth to appeal to me regardless. I can see a bottle of this becoming the only pink ink in my collection.

Cassis Black
Platinum Classic Cassis Black

Citrus Black

Citrus Black is an unusual colour, which reminds me slightly of J. Herbin Vert Olive. Unfortunately, I don’t have a bottle of Rohrer and Klinger Alt-Goldgrun which I think might be the closest comparison. Citrus Black starts off a bright yellow with green tones, and dries to a dark greenish gold. It’s one of the most dramatic of the colour changes because it starts off so light in colour. I’ve been getting more and more fond of these sorts of acid greens lately and I like Citrus Black a great deal.

Citrus Black
Citrus Black swatch


Forest Black

Forest Black is a dark, deep green which changes the least in the initial minutes of oxidation. It starts off dark and gets a little darker over time. There’s a depth to this colour, like all the Platinum Classics, which gives this colour a real richness. In a pen, especially with a fine or extra-fine nib, I think it would be difficult to distinguish this colour from black. That in itself might make it appealing.

Forest Black
Forest Black
Forest Black
Forest Black

Khaki Black

Khaki Black is a deep, rich warm brown (and not very khaki-like at all, in my opinion). It’s very deep and reminds me of leather- it looks like it should be warm and supple to the touch. I don’t have much need for brown inks, but this is lovely and, like the Cassis Black, I can see it becoming an exception to my (not at all strict) rules. The swatch below also shows the shading of this ink, where a single pass with the brush in the lower left is a much lighter colour.

Khaki Black
Khaki Black

Lavender Black

I suspect Lavender Black will be the general favourite of these inks. It’s a deep red-purple and reminds me of Diamine Tyrian Purple, but Lavender Black is richer and deeper. I think this will prove to be a popular addition to all those purplophiles’ collections (that’s totally a word).

Lavender Purple
Lavender Purple

Sepia Black

Sepia Black, like Forest Black, starts out dark and darkens further as it is exposed to the air. This is a very dark brown, almost black but it’s slightly cooler toned than Khaki Black, with the tiniest hint of green. The depth of colour, again, could tempt me to get some brown ink after all.

Sepia Black
Sepia Black

Iron Gall Inks


Medieval manuscript
Iron gall ink damage to a medieval illuminated manuscript

As a historian, I find iron gall inks both fascinating, and worrying.

Historically, scribes made this ink by extracting tannic acid from oak galls (caused by gall wasp larvae on trees), mixing it with iron sulphate and binding it with gum arabic (there are variations on this recipe). The result was a very dark purple or brown ink which darkened over time as the iron oxidised. It was easy to make and water resistant so it became very popular in the Middle Ages. It was eventually replaced, after nearly 2000 years of use, in the twentieth century when other waterproof inks were developed.

Medieval and Renaissance iron gall inks sometimes damaged the paper on which they were used. This damage takes a long time to take effect, but has, in the worst cases, destroyed the manuscript. The acidity of the ink could eat through the paper and cause it to disintegrate. This is well illustrated in the image to the left, where the ink has eaten through the manuscript almost everywhere it was in contact with the paper or parchment.

Fortunately, modern iron gall inks are made to a different recipe and should not cause any damage to paper, or fountain pens. Modern manufacturers are aware of the potential pitfalls and have compensated, using different acids which are fully oxidised on contact with the air so they don’t damage the paper. That being said, Cult Pens recommends not leaving Platinum Classics inks in your fountain pens for extended periods of time so be aware. It’s better safe than sorry, especially with a beloved pen!

Early use of Cyan Blue Gold

Paper Republic Grand Voyager review

United Inkdom has received a number of Paper Republic Grand Voyager XL traveler’s notebooks for review. Paper Republic is an Austrian company, based in Vienna, founded in 2012 but their products are starting to make a splash further afield now. Their small team (only four people) have worked hard to produce a high quality product and to keep that quality high.

Traveler’s Notebooks (TNs) are enjoying huge popularity at the moment. Essentially, a TN is a cover (usually but not always leather) with vertical elastics to hold interchangeable notebooks in place, and a horizontal  elastic closure. There are some standard sizes, but also a great deal variation, usually designed to house particular notebooks (such as A5 or Fieldnotes). I currently have a standard sized TN made by Ink Bandits on Etsy, and a smaller one which was a gift. The appeal of this system is its adaptability. Covers hold varying numbers of notebooks, but it would be reasonable to expect a cover to hold 3-5 without too much trouble. Some wider designs hold more, and of course it depends on the number of pages and paper weight of the notebooks. There are, of course, a huge variety in the inserts available. Etsy is a great source for these.

Paper Republic make two sizes of TN: the passport, the and the XL; and a phone case which doubles as a TN. I have road tested the XL, which they sent to me free in exchange for an impartial review.


Firstly, the cover. Mine is black leather with contrasting orange elastics (other colours of leather and elastic available). The leather is tanned in Tuscany (a very good pedigree), and is soft and flexible. As with all leathers, it will get scuffed with wear but in such a way as to add character rather than detract from its appearance. I’ve had mine in my bag getting bashed about for a week or so and it’s not looking worn. The covers retail at €60 from the manufacturer in Austria (with free shipping for orders over that amount), or £54 from Cult Pens.

Paper Republic Grand Voyager
Paper Republic Grand Voyager


PR Insert ink test
PR Insert ink test
Ink test reverse
Ink test reverse

The inserts are available from Paper Republic and Cult Pens, in plain, ruled, or grid, with 56 pages and 80 gsm white paper. They are available for 2 for 13 EUR (around £11.42 or $14.57 at today’s exchange rate) or £12 from Cult Pens. This is reasonably good value for money. The paper itself is ok (see ink test) but I’m not wildly excited about it. (There are also two types of undated planner insert but I could not determine from the Paper Republic website what, if any, differences there were between the two.)

You can see from the ink tests that the paper stands up to most inks with no feathering or bleed through, and very little shadowing.

(Pen test in order: Stabilo Boss highligher & pastel highlighter; Zebra Mildliner; Muji gel pen; Staedtler Triplus fineliner; Uni-ball Eye; Pentel Touch sign pen; Tombow Mono Twin; Tombow ABT; fountain pens with Diamine Tyrian Purple, Grape, Imperial Purple inks; flex nib fountain pen with Diamine Asa Blue ink.)


Insert on elastic
Insert on elastic

The biggest issue for me is the sizing. The XL is not actually A5. It’s close, but not close enough. A5 is a standard size: 145m x 210mm. The XL cover is 150mm x 210mm, so it’s a little wider than A5 as you would expect for a cover, though at only an additional 5mm, it’s not really wide enough to accommodate multiple A5 notebooks. That’s not necessarily a problem but the effect of the non-standard sizing is that much of the ability to customise the TN is lost.


The inserts, to fit the A5 cover, have to be much smaller than A5: only 135mm x 200mm. This makes more sense for the narrowness of the cover, but it also means that customers must either buy proprietary sized inserts from Paper Republic or trim down another notebook manually. You could, for example, trim down a large Moleskine Cahier to fit. However, these are expensive notebooks to cut up, and the paper is poorer quality than that of the Paper Republic inserts. You may, understandably, be reluctant to doing that though.


Despite the inconvenient proprietary sizing, this is a good TN. The leather is clearly high quality and has a lovely leather smell. The contrasting elastic colour gives the plain cover some character. I’d probably never have chosen orange but it’s really grown on me.

Paper Republic Grand Voyager
Paper Republic Grand Voyager
Back cover embossing
Back cover embossing
Paper Republic
Paper Republic






Insert and elastics
Insert and elastics
Cover, insert, elastic
Cover, insert, elastic
Insert and elastic
Nice match with the Lamy Copper Orange
Early use of Cyan Blue Gold

Silvine Originals Notebooks review

A surprise winner in the Pocket Notebooks stash was the tiny Silvine Originals Pocket Notebook. Silvine kindly sent a few of us United Inkdom reviewers some additional products to test out.

As I said before, I didn’t expect much from the tiny Pocket, but its unassuming plain cover hid some pretty impressive paper. The pages admirably handled everything I threw at it. The paper is pure white, unlined in the case of the Pocket, and noticeably thicker than most notebooks. It has a little texture to it, but not a huge amount. It might even handle a bit of watercolour.

Silvine Originals
Selection of Silvine Original notebooks


Memo £4.50 (ruled)

Memo notebook
Untidy finishing on the stitching. Blue ruling. Perforated pages.

This is a handy pocket notebook at 97mm x 159mm, 52 perforated pages, and stitched binding. It might make a good bullet journal if you find the much-loved Leuchtturm 1917 option too bulky to carry around.


I wasn’t especially happy with the lines, and this goes for all of the Silvine ruled notebooks reviewed here. For me, the bright blue jars with the red cover and stands very starkly against the white paper. I prefer something more subtle, but this is a design choice that’s central to the branding so I don’t see it changing any time soon. The line spacing is 7mm which isn’t little too wide. It does have the feel of an old fashioned notebook as a result of the blue lines, but I don’t think it looks good. I’d definitely use this notebook with plain paper, or a dot grid provided it wasn’t printed in the same blue as the lines, but unfortunately, Silvine currently only manufacture this size with ruled pages.




Note £6 (plain)

Silvine Note
A proper notebook

This is a great sized notebook (125mm x 190mm and 52 pages). This would be an ideal TN notebook due to the high quality of the paper, but isn’t the right size. I’d be keen to see it in Traveler’s Notebook proportions (in addition to the Note size rather than instead). This was my favourite notebook of those sent by Silvine. It’s a nice size, and the plain paper is beautifully smooth. I can see me buying more of these.




Exercise £7 (ruled)

Silvine Exercise notebook
Red! Blue! Silvine Exercise notebook

This is another nice sized notebook (162mm x 230mm, 52 pages), intentionally reminiscent of school jotters. This too is a stitched binding with perforated pages, so it opens flat. This time, there is a red margin on the right. I quite like that, and think it might be nicer to have it paired with grey, or even red, line ruling. I just can’t get on board with that blue!

Project £14 (plain and squared)

Silvine Project
Silvine Project binding

This is a bigger book, slightly narrower and taller than A4 in size (200mm x 305mm) with plain and squared pages (squared recto and blank verso). It’s a multi-signature sewn binding with a spine, so is different from the other, single signature, notebooks made by Silvine. This allows more pages, and manages the weight of the increased size. It reminds me of softback version of school lab books. It’s a good size, and I can imagine that the squared and plain paper have many uses beyond drawing your Chemistry apparatus.

Silvine Project
Silvine Project plain and squared paper



  • lovely paper that is a pleasure to write on (particularly the plain paper)
  • classic, old school look
  • handy range of sizes
  • manufactured to high standards in Yorkshire, not mass produced cheaply (though this may make it difficult to get and pricey for non-Europeans)
  • sewn binding lies flat


  • limited range of size-rule types mean you might not be able to get the ruling you want in the right size
  • bright blue lines are a bit of an acquired taste
  • non-standard sizes may not be convenient
  • no dot grid option
  • ‘untidy’ finishing of sewing might annoy perfectionists


N.B. Silvine sent these samples in return for an unbiased review. Prices indicated were taken from the Silvine website and were correct at time of publishing. Other retailers may vary.


Early use of Cyan Blue Gold

Kaweco Lilliput Fireblue review

The manufacturer lent me a Kaweco Lilliput Fireblue fountain pen for an honest review. This is a pen I’d had my eye on for a while due to its unusual looks. I’m not a big fan of Kaweco’s more popular Sport pens- there’s something about the shape I’m just not fond of, but the sleek lines of the Lilliput are very appealing. I decided to do this a little differently, and take a leaf out of Scribble’s book, by writing my review by hand but my camera, unaccustomed to the  bright light of sunshine we’re currently experiencing, couldn’t get a good shot of the text. Instead, I’ve had to capture it as a document, and the ink colour is all wrong! The review was written on the California State notebook reviewed here.

First off, the pen comes in a nice little tin. That said, you wouldn’t carry it around in this as there’s nothing to secure the pen inside. It’s pretty though.

Kaweco tin
Kaweco tin


As you can see, my writing is pretty scruffy here. I found the Lilliput difficult to hold comfortably and my writing suffered as a result. Fountain pens should be a pleasure to use and this just wasn’t. I can still feel a slight ache between my right thumb and index finger after 10 minutes or so of writing with it. My hands are about average size for a woman, I would say, so I think you might have to have very delicate hands to find this pen comfortable, assuming the weight of it didn’t bother you.

Kaweco Lilliput Fireblue
Kaweco Lilliput Fireblue


This is a really beautiful pen, and my crummy photographs don’t do it any justice, but I would caution you to try it before you buy. There’s no way I would be sending this loaner back to Kaweco if this were a standard sized pen! As it is, I know I’d never use it. I’d just gaze regretfully at it.



Early use of Cyan Blue Gold

Mega Mini-Notebooks Review

The lovely Stu over at Pocket Notebooks sent some United Inkdom members a bumper pack of small notebooks to review. I received a really nicely presented box containing 6 approx. A6 notebooks, and a tiny wee Silvine.

Pocket Notebooks box
Pocket Notebooks box (including a little ‘sweetener’)

All of these notebooks should be able to handle fountain pens, so I decided to put the manufacturers’ claims to the test with a variety of pens and inks. I selected a variety of purple inks for no particular reason except I like purple. Here are the pens I used:

From bottom to top (the order used in the tests):

Tester pen selection
The selection of mostly) purple pens used to put these notebooks through their paces
  • Stabilo Boss purple highlighter
  • Stabilo Boss pastel purple highlighter
  • Zebra Mildliner soft purple
  • Muji gel pen (0.5mm)
  • Staedtler Triplus Fineliner
  • Uni-ball Eye (fine)
  • Pentel Touch brush sign pen
  • Tombow Mono Twin
  • Tombow ABT (636 Imperial Purple)
  • Lamy Safari fountain pen, M nib with Pelikan Edelstein Amethyst ink
  • Faber-Castell Basic fountain pen, EF nib, with Diamine Grape ink
  • Pelikan P405 fountain pen, gold EF nib, with Diamine Imperial Purple ink
  • Vintage Waterman fountain pen, flexible italic nib, with Diamine Asa Blue ink

The Tombow Mono Twin is a permanent, solvent-based ink, which I expected to go through the paper. You would be hard pushed to find through which the Mono Twin wouldn’t bleed- what I was checking here was how well the notebooks stood up to potential feathering with this pen, so judge the results on that rather than bleed.

The vintage Waterman is a VERY wet writer, so this really tested how well the notebooks could deal with a lot of ink. The results were somewhat surprising.


Silvine Pocket



This teeny-tiny notebook is on 110mm x 72mm and 40 pages in size, but is nonetheless an impressive piece of writing kit. They retail for £7.00 for 3 (approx. €8.25 or $9 US). The paper is plain, off-white, and the notebook has a sewn binding.

This unassuming wee notebook was one of the best at standing up to the rigours of the pen test.

None of the pens tested feathered at all, which was impressive. The Mono Twin did bleed through a little but there was no ghosting apart from that.

I’d definitely put Silvine notebooks on my To Buy List, but not this small. I’d be interested in an A5 notebook from this manufacturer if it had the same thick, off-white paper. The tiny pocket would get chewed up in my bag.


The California Back Pocket Journal

California Backpocket Journal
California Back Pocket Journal (right)
California Backpocket pen test
California Back Pocket pen test

These notebooks are slightly smaller than A5 at 88mm x 133mm and have 48 sheets, and a sewn (pamphlet stitch) binding. They’re available in lined, blank (as here), dot grid, graph, or a mixture of plain, lined, and dot grid, and are 3 for £10.50. The paper is 105gsm HP paper which is incredibly smooth.

The paper feels lovely, and handled everything except the very wet vintage nib, which, as you can see, feathered terribly and bled through the page. The bleed through on this was even worse than that of the Mono Twin. This was by far the worst result for the Waterman, which is surprising when everything else fared so well. There was hardly even any ghosting.

The Waterman result aside, this is a nice little notebook.

California backpocket detail
California back Pocket detail
California backpocket verso
California back Pocket verso

Another California Back Pocket: Tomoe River Paper



This appears almost identical to the previous, except it contains glorious Japanese Tomoe River paper. This is ivory-coloured and very thin, but can take just about anything a fountain pen can throw at it. I used a Hobonichi diary last year which was made from Tomoe River paper and have been a big fan ever since. It’s definitely worth the hype. Three of the California notebooks retail at £14.

The test results for this notebook are not at all surprising: no bleed through except for a small amount with the Mono Twin; no feathering; some ghosting due to how thin the paper is. The latter will bother some people but I don’t mind it. Tomoe River paper is a pleasure to write on.

Inky Fingers



This is the same size as the California notebooks, but has a coated cover which is a little stronger. It consists of 44 sheets of environmentally-friendly and sustainable wheat straw paper. It feels a little like recycled paper, having more texture than the other papers reviewed here, but doesn’t have the drawbacks of feathering and bleeding usually associated with recycled paper. The paper is white with very subtle specks, and the notebook is staple-bound.

This is a nice notebook, but at £6 each, they’re pricey. For my money, I’d rather get a Tomoe River notebook for £4.67, though I appreciate the environmentally-sustainable way the Inky Fingers notebooks are made.

The lines are narrow at 6mm, which I like. The lines are made of micro-dots which is a nice detail.

Also available are a blank notebook, and a Currently Inked Log book for the same price.


Clairefontaine 1951 Retro Nova



French company Clairefontaine make a variety of notebooks and jotters, supplying a lot of French schoolchildren with their classroom needs. They’re a favourite manufacturer of mine because of their high-quality paper, wide range, and good prices.

The Retro Nova is marginally bigger than the previous notebooks at 88mm x 140mm with 64 smooth ivory pages, and a sewn binding. They are 3 for £8, which is a stone cold bargain. Each of the three has a different cover pattern too. The one pictured here is “novelle vague.”

The pen test showed just how good Clairefontaine paper is. There was no feathering, minimal ghosting, and only the infamous Mono Twin bled through.


Story Supply Co.



Beneath a plain exterior decorated only by the Story Supply co.’s cheerful, retro logo, lies a solid little notebook. It’s 90mm x 140mm, with 48 pages of staple-bound, off-white paper. I tested the lined notebook, which has 5mm spacing. This retails at 3 for £11.

I wasn’t familiar with this company before, and was pleasantly surprised by how well the paper dealt with all of the pens. There was no feathering, little ghosting, and only the Mono Twin bled through (though there were slight hints of almost-bleeding through from the Waterman).

I liked this notebook a lot, but if pushed would have to state a preference for the Clairefontaine above. The Story Supply Co. paper is not quite as good, and it’s an extra £1 per notebook, for an inferior binding.


Darkstar Nomad



This is a differently sized notebook at 100mm x 140mm, so it looks a bit squarer than the others. It has 56 pages of white, dot grid, 100gsm paper and is staple-bound. Interestingly, the ‘dots’ are tiny crosses. These cost £8 for 3.

The Darkstar handled most of the pens well but the Waterman and even the Pentel Touch (which is also a wet writer) both feathered slightly. The Mono Twin and the Waterman bled through the paper, though the ghosting wasn’t bad at all.












Final Thoughts

This was a really interesting set of notebooks and I’m very grateful for the chance to test them all. My favourites were the Clairefontaine and the California Tomoe River. The Clairefontaine is the ideal combination of high quality and good value. The Tomoe River is a higher price for a specialist product that some people (like me) will love but  may find the ghosting and long ink-drying times a frustration.

2017-05-06 10.02.45

KWZ ink: Azure #5, Green #3, Foggy Green, Blue-Black reviews

I delightedly receivved some samples of KWZ ink from the lovely people at Pure Pens as part of a meta-review for United Inkdom. KWZ inks are made by Chemistry PhD student Konrad Żurawski in Poland and come in a variety of colours and types, including iron gall and waterproof varieties. I’m reviewing some green and blues here. 

KWZ inks
KWZ blue and green inks

Azure #5

Azure #5 sample
Test of Azure #5 with glass dip pen

Azure #5 is surprisingly dark for the title “azure” but it’s a lovely, saturated dark royal blue. It reminds me of Diamine Majestic Blue but without the red sheen. It’s definitely a colour that you could use for more formal situations where a restrained, but still a little interesting, ink is called for. It’s a nice, wet ink, but I don’t see it replacing Majestic Blue for me.

KWZ Azure #5
KWZ Azure #5 swab on watercolour paper

Green #3

KWZ Green #3
KWZ Green #3

Again, this is a nice, solid dark-ish green without sheen. There’s some nice shading with it, and it’s free-flowing and wet. It’s not hugely exciting though. It’s a little darker and less blue-toned than Robert Oster Emerald, as you can (hopefully!) see from the side-by-side below.

KWZ Green #3
KWZ Green #3
Robert Oster Emerald ink
Robert Oster Emerald









Foggy Green

KWZ Foggy Green
KWZ Foggy Green

Foggy Green is a far more unusual ink than the previous two. It’s difficult to describe, and I suspect the pictures don’t convey how it really looks. Even the name doesn’t suggest, to me at least, the real colour. It’s a very dark green, with a grey rather than black tone. The written sample (using a glass dip pen) is very dark, but still definitely grey-green rather than black. The grey tone is more apparent in the swab below, and is what stops it seeming black.

KWZ Foggy Green
KWZ Foggy Green swab on watercolour paper
KWZ Foggy Green
KWZ Foggy Green: close up


I’m not a blue-black fan. I’ve tried a few (Diamine Twilight, Pelikan Edelstein Tanzanite) but can’t quite get on board. I like my blacks to look like the staring void. I like my blues bright and interesting. Blue-blacks are the worst of both worlds. However, I was pleasantly surprised with KWZ Blue-Black.

KWZ Blue-Black
KWZ Blue-Black

Like Foggy Green, it’s a grey-toned colour, but very dark in the glass pen writing sample. The colour of the swab shows the lovely shading of this ink best.

KWZ Blue-Black
KWZ Blue-Black

My one concern about KWZ inks is the smell, though. Foggy Green and Blue-Black in particular smell very strongly. It disappears by the time the ink dries on the paper, but the wet ink reeks. Even just opening the sample bottles (which contain about 4ml of ink) releases a horrible chemical smell. It’s a strange, plasticy, synthetic smell that lingers for a few minutes after filling the pen. It’s off-putting, but at least it doesn’t last.

Zibaldone Da Canal 16v-17r

Why I’m ditching the bullet journal and turning to a zibaldone or commonplace book

Bullet journals, zibaldoni, and commonplace books

The explosion of interest in bullet journals which I’ve spoken about before, shows no sign of slowing in 2017. The new year encourages many people to turn over a new leaf, and for many this means getting organised. The hundreds of beautifully decorated pages on #bulletjournal. I’ve said before, and I still agree, that it’s a bullet journal if you say it is, and it doesn’t have to fit someone else’s predefined idea. If the inventor welcomes lots of variations, then Sue on that bujo Facebook group you joined doesn’t get to say otherwise.

However, as I adapt my own bujo system, I find myself thinking of it in different terms. In my other life, I’m a historian, and so it won’t surprise anyone to hear that I tend to think about things in historical terms. A little bit of research reveals that there are some fascinating predecessors to the bullet journal, reaching as at least as far back as ancient Rome.

Bujos of the Past

Romans kept notes of ideas, maxims, quotations and so forth, and called these collections locus communis. Emperor Marcus Aurelius himself kept one, and it became his Meditations. From the third century, the Chinese kept biji, which were similarly collections of notes. These ancient practices led, eventually to the Italian zibaldone, which were the basis for commonplace books and later, bullet journals.


The genre really came into its own in the thirteenth century, when Venetian merchants started keeping notebooks with them on their travels and at home. They recorded their trading activities, but also notable events and experiences, in their zibaldoni (zee-bal-done-ee). Zibaldone (singular) means “heap of things” and indicates that these books were used as receptacles for any and all information and reminiscences that the author wanted to keep track of. An early example is the Zibaldone da Canal, dating to 1312.

Zibaldone Da Canal
Zibaldone Da Canal, Venice 1312 (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University)


Importantly, these books were written in the vernacular, meaning that they were for everyday use and not intended as formal documents (which would have been in Latin). In Florence, and other Italian cities, people kept ricordi (records), and libri segreti (secret, or private, books chiefly but not exclusively concerned with business information). In these books, people (almost always men) recorded business transactions, family births and deaths, observances of city life and political events technical information, indeed anything the author might want to refer to again later. Writers put these books together in no particular order, piling content in as and when it appeared. These books have provided highly important for historians. Giovanni di Paolo Rucellai, a fifteenth-century Florentine wool trader and statesman, was one of the most important keepers of a zibaldone. Not only does his book tell us about conducting business in the Renaissance, but it bears witness to the rise of the Medici and huge changes in civic government.

Commonplace Books

These Italian merchants brought their books to the foreign cities they traded with, and they caught on. By the eighteenth century, they were known in English-speaking countries as commonplace books, a translation of the Latin locis communis. Many notable people kept them: Thomas Jefferson, Jane Austen, H. P. Lovecraft and Napoleon, for example. A few have been published, like that of H. P. Lovecraft.

Zibaldone Lucchese
Zibaldone Lucchese, Abbot Jacopo Chelini (1748 – 1824), Archivio di Stato di Lucca


People filled their zibaldoni and commonplace books with all sorts of things: reflections on events, personal and political; recipes; business information; quotations; drawings and illustrations; letters; poems; reference tables, for example of weights and measures; proverbs and prayers.

Zibaldone Today

Today’s bujos record a huge variety of things. While I don’t usually track tv series I’m watching, I did track watching episodes of Murder One while I was doing archival work in Florence. Jane Austen may not have done this, but when we track and record things in our bujos, we’re taking part in a tradition that goes back far further than we tend to think.

Bullet journals, like zibaldoni and commonplace books are not diaries. They are not necessarily chronological, but they fulfil many of the functions of diaries. Like diaries, they work in two ways. They look both forwards (planned events and appointments) and backwards (when we record what actually happened). We keep track of our scheduled tasks and appointments in weekly or monthly spreads. We record things that happened without planning, in the form of general reflections or specific spreads. Gratitude logs are a popular way of marking things for which we were grateful each day. Historic zibaldoni and commonplace books tended to do much more reflection than planning, but the two are very much compatible. The bujo index helps out with locating information amid the hodgepodge.

I love the idea of renaming my bujo to acknowledge this long tradition. I kind of hate the abbreviation “bujo” anyway, even though I use it out of typing laziness. It seems increasingly fitting to me to think of my A5 dotted Leuchtturm1917 as a modern zibaldone (I study late medieval Italian history- I was hardly going to go for the English phrase!). I very much doubt it will ever of of as much interest to future generations of historians as that of Giovanni Rucellai. But that’s ok.

Commonplace book, Beineke Rare Books and Manuscripts, Yale
BuJo History pin
Rober Oster Emerald

Robert Oster Signature Inks Claret and Emerald review

There’s been some buzz around Robert Oster inks recently. Made in Australia, they’ve been difficult to find in Europe and North America until recently. In the UK, you can buy them from Izods Ink, who kindly sent samples for this and the other reviews for United Inkdom.

I received Claret and Emerald to review. I’ll confess that when I first received these ink samples, and did a quick swatch of each to get an idea of the colours, I was underwhelmed. Both of them seemed dull and lacking vibrancy. I had hoped that the Emerald would be a bright, dark green, and the Claret a rich red purple. The swatches showed an unexciting dark green, and a dark, greyish purple. Revisiting them a few days later, and creating new swatches, I find I’ve warmed to them a little.

Robert Oster Claret

Robert Oster Claret swatch
Robert Oster Claret swatch

Of the two, I was most keen to try Claret. I always like purples and dark reds, and I hope this would fall into both categories.

It’s dark indeed, and has some depth. I didn’t seem any shading when I tested it with a glass pen but you can see there’s quite significant variance in colour from the swatch. I bold- or stub-nibbed fountain pen might make this clearer.

Robert Oster Claret writing sample
Robert Oster Claret writing sample






Robert Oster Emerald

Emerald has really grown on me. Although I didn’t find it very exciting at first, on my second look at it, I appreciate the richness and jewel-tones of this ink. As you can see from the photo, there’s a huge variation in the colour: from bright green to almost black. As with the Claret, this wasn’t visible with the glass pen, but will be with a fountain pen using a broad or stub/italic nib. Anything which puts down a lot of ink should show this shading.

Robert Oster Emerald writing sample
Robert Oster Emerald writing sample



These are nice inks, and have great shading potential. The Claret is a little unexciting, but the Emerald is lovely. I can see me using both, though I doubt I’d buy Claret as Diamine Grape and Tyrian Purple, and Pelikan Edelstein Amethyst cover all my dark purple needs. I don’t have anything quite like the Emerald though, so that’s one I’d consider. The other United Inkdom reviews show that the Robert Oster teal and turquoise inks are pretty special- and I am keen to try out Fire and Ice which looks pretty special.


[Please excuse the rather dark pictures. It’s been a very dark and gloomy weekend in Edinburgh and there’s just not been enough natural light to take good photos!]