Alongside the big manufacturers, there are many bespoke pen makers creating custom and unique pieces. Today, I review six truly beautiful handmade pens from John Sanderson of Silverburl Pens. They include a variety of materials from wood burl, a resin embedded pine cone, diamond cast, kirinite and ebonite. Prepare to pick your jaw up off the ground and put your credit card on to chill. You have been warned!
Well, just WOW! I mean, really, WOW!
The materials are simply stunning. Every one of these pens is a delight to hold and behold. I am having to restrain myself from flinging around exclamation marks like a teenager!!! OMG! Like*, there I go again!
*Sorry! (shuffles feet in embarrassment)
You may need to slap me if I get carried away here, but words just can’t express how exciting…and sparkly…and shiny…and…and… just downright gorgeous… (I.will.not.use.another.exclamation.mark…well, maybe just the one) ! See, I’m turning into a gushing schoolgirl again (sigh).
I think you have probably guessed by now that my first impressions are rather favourable.
THE PENS – PART 1
First up, the wood burl and resin pens. From left to right: sweet chestnut burl barrel with alumilite diamond cast cap/section; buck eyed burl with kirinite rioja pearl cap/section; cast resin pine cone with alumilite diamond cast cap/section.
John uses mixed materials in many of his pens, so while the barrels of these first three are made from a resin and wood composite, the sections and caps are made from complementary materials.
The wood burl materials are a fascinating hybrid of wood and resin, giving a very unusual and pleasing effect. John makes these himself and was kind enough to outline the process when I contacted him for more information about the material.
The Pens – part 2
The next set are not wood-based. From left to right: Purple Diamond Cast, Kirinite and Carbon Ebonite.
The alumilite diamond cast resin is spectaclar. In addition to the swirls of colour, the effect of the tiny sparkly specks catching the light is quite magical. It isn’t in-your-face blingy. The sparkle is subtle, like early evening stars. Then, when it catches the (sun)light, you get the whole starlit sky. See…
Of course, it’s so much more sparkly in real life.
Most of the pens have trims and clips made from Argentium silver .935. This is superior to Sterling .925 silver, which is a little more prone to tarnishing, but usually nothing that a quick buff can’t fix.
The pens come fitted with a #6 nib made by Bock, which is a fairly well known and reputable brand. They supply a wide range of nib widths in different styles and materials, so I won’t spend too much time on the nibs in this review. I will mention that the nib units screw in though. This is a very nice feature. Not only does it facilitate cleaning, but it also allows you to change the nib to suit your mood or requirements very easily.
The beauty of custom made items is that you can, well, customise them. Thus is you fancy a different nib colour from the Bock range, or the pen you see ticked almost every box, then contact John. He can also supply the pen with a Jowo nib if you aren’t a fan of Bock. If he can accommodate your requirements then I’m sure he will.
The writing experience
At the end of the day, the primary function of a quality pen is a quality writing experience, otherwise it’s just a decoration, so this is the important bit.
First up was the Purple Diamond Cast pen with a #6 Jowo nib. I was a little concerned about the slight step in the middle of the section on this model. It seemed an odd feature. Regular readers will also know that I’m not normally a fan of short sections with screw threads either. However, this pen is so light that none of this was too much of a problem for a quick scribble. I imagine that for longer writing sessions it would be irksome for me, so this style wouldn’t be my first choice. I am totally enamoured of the material though.
Whilst this pen will post, there seems little to be gained by doing so. Unposted, the length is a comfortable 135mm. Posting makes it an awkward 180mm, as the cap sits quite high and doesn’t feel balanced, though the additional weight is negligible.
I was much happier with the shape of the section on the Carbon Ebonite. Long enough not to cause problems for my particular grip and a pleasingly ergonomic shape. This pen was fitted with the Bock nib.
Again, a very lightweight pen, which would be quite comfortable for long writing sessions. This one doesn’t post at all, but that is not a particular disadvantage as far as I am concerned. The Bock nib was smooth and glided across the paper.
All the pens are very lightweight, attractive to look at and largely comfortable to use, subject to the aforementioned caveats. None have caps that post, with the exception of the Purple Diamond Cast, and this is only just postable. This may be a dealbreaker for some, but you can always ask if that customisation is possible. Both the Bock and Jowo nibs performed impeccably and were switchable between pens.
More about sections
All the other pens had similar sections with very slight variances. Some were perfect for my grip, others just a tiny bit off, tipping them into the discomfort zone. For example, the Kirinite section is exactly the same length as that of the Ebonite, but is a slightly different shape with a metal band at the nib end. That is fine, as I don’t hold my pen that close the the nib. However, I found the screw thread for the cap is also much lower, encroaching onto the area where I do hold the pen.
All the wood burl pens had very similar sections, with slight differences. The Pine Cone pen (top) straying into inconvenient screw thread territory, whereas the other two were fine. None of the pens needed more than two full turns to (un)screw the cap, so these differences may be irrelevant for most people. For me, though, it can make a huge difference to the comfort factor and thus whether I will enjoy using a pen or not.
As the title suggests, these are custom handmade pens, made by an artisan, so don’t expect them to come cheap. That said, they are not exactly expensive either, compared to some of the mass-produced brands. Of course, this all depends on your frame of reference for what is cheap. You are looking upwards of £120, which, in my opinion, is a steal for unique, handmade pens such as this.
These are without doubt beautiful and unique pens. Each one is subtly different. This is both their attraction and their potential pitfall. You may need to be careful to check what you are buying, or be very explicit in what you order. There is no mass production consistency and each pen is liable to be subtly different. Just make sure those differences are not issues for you and you will have the perfect pen.
- Beautiful materials and construction
- Screw in nib units
- None, if you know what you want
- Caps don’t post (not an issue as far as I am concerned)
The key thing here is that you can ask for something to be CUSTOMISED! All the parts, with the exception of the nib unit and converter, are hand made by John. This means that there will be no “I really like that except for…” or “if only it had…” scenarios. You can’t do that with a Visconti or Pilot or whatever your preferred major brand happens to be. What you will get here is a completely unique pen. How could you not love that?
These pens are the personal property of Jim Blackburn, who has kindly lent them out for review purposes to United Inkdom reviewers. He has also allowed me to use his photos. I have no association or affiliation with the maker.
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