Good Times at Bertram’s Inkwell

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I like “pimping” companies that I’ve had good experiences with. So far, I’ve discussed Edison Pen Company, Goulet Pens, and Surreal Makeup. This time I’ll be telling you about Bertram’s Inkwell.

Bertram's Inkwell

Shopping Experiences

Photo of a Red Nibbed Platinum Preppy 05Bertram’s holds a special place in my heart as the store where I bought my first fountain pen. It was a red-nibbed Platinum Preppy 05. I don’t have a picture of mine, as it sadly disappeared in my recent move, but I did find this photo from WonderPens. It was my gateway pen, and the experience of purchasing it was so pleasant that Bertram’s was forever fixed in my mind as a top-notch store.

Photo of Lamy Safari Dark LilacThe next time I visited, I picked up a Lamy Safari Dark Lilac, completely oblivious to the fact that I was buying a special edition. I just knew I liked the color and feel of it. I also picked up bottles of Diamine Meadow and Diamine Aqua Lagoon because they were beautiful, bright colors. I’ve since learned that just because a color is pretty doesn’t mean it will make a good writing ink. Meadow hasn’t gotten much use because a full-page of it can be hard on the eyes.

While we were there, Jim bought a Namiki Falcon as a birthday present to himself. I can’t recall if it was Bert or Adam (or both) who helped us out that day — I was too focused on buying my first “nice” pen — but whoever it was was incredibly patient with me as I went through all of the Lamy colors, and let me dip test a few different nib sizes. Jim was also treated very well as he tried to decide if he was actually willing to buy such an expensive pen (oh, how our views have changed).

And now the really fun part. I get to tell you about some of my customer service experiences that I feel went above and beyond what your typical store offers.

Crimson Sunrise & Stipula Nib Exchange

Photo of Edison Pen Co. Pearl in Berries and Cream
My “series pen” – the pen I intend to sign books with – that I’ve dubbed Moon Blood.

When Goulet Pens announced the Pilot Vanishing Point (VP) Crimson Sunrise, I was intrigued. I’d considered buying it as my “series pen” until I found Moon Blood at the DC Pen Show (Read my 2nd DC Pen Show post for that story). But as its release date drew nearer, I wasn’t positive I wanted it. To help me decide, we took a trip to Bertram’s. I figured I could hold and write with a regular VP, and, if I liked it, I’d order a Crimson Sunrise when they were available. I’m not going to lie, I intended to order one from Goulet Pens. I even signed up for the in-stock notification email.

At Bertram’s, I found that I liked the way the VP felt. Bert dipped a nib for me and let me try writing a bit, and I was rather happy with the line quality and flow. I wasn’t positive I loved it, but I knew that if I bought a Crimson Sunrise and decided it wasn’t for me, I could sell it and get my money back very easily. After all, the 2015 special edition is selling for around $500 on eBay.

Most likely seeing my approbation, Bert asked if I’d like to pre-order the Crimson Sunrise. I started to decline, but Bert’s price was a couple bucks less than Goulet Pen’s, and I wouldn’t have to pay shipping. Bertram’s had been good to me thus far, and, honestly, who doesn’t like saving money, even if just a bit. Deciding to give it a go, I said yes, paid, and was informed that they were expecting the pens to ship in a couple of days. Since I couldn’t decide if I’d rather come in and pick up my pen or have it shipped, Bert said he would call me when it came in.

With my business out of the way, Jim brought out his Stipula (You can read the story about it in my 4th DC Pen Show post and a shortened version of this exchange in my Rainbow Pens Update post) with the question, “Do you want to see something I bet you haven’t seen before?”

Jim proceeded to point out the crack in the nib right along the stamped design. It was sheer unlucky coincidence that the nib was bent (to wrap around the feed) precisely at the edge of the design, creating a weak point.

Photo pointing out line where Stipula nib cracked.
This is the replacement nib. I don’t have a photo of the original nib with the crack.

Out came Bert’s loupe, and I was surprised to hear, “You’re right, I haven’t seen this before. It’s a manufacturing defect.” That’s paraphrased, it was long enough ago that I don’t recall precisely what was said anymore.

Now, while I wasn’t in Jim’s brain, I’m as certain as I can be that he just intended to show Bert something different. Neither he, nor I, had any expectation of getting the pen fixed at Bertram’s. However, Bert disappeared behind a wall (I strongly suspect there are various pen parts on the other side, although I’ve never asked) and emerged with a new gold-colored Stipula Titanium nib.

He had the old, broken nib out, the new nib inserted, and was handing the pen back to Jim before either of us had really processed what was happening. I was so flabbergasted that I don’t recall precisely what was said next, but it was basically Jim making his surprise and thanks known, and Bert telling him no thanks were really necessary.

I’m well aware that Stipula stands behind their pens, so you can send a pen in for servicing at any time. Jim had already filled out a form to do just that. But Stipula nibs aren’t exactly cheap, and Bert just handed us a new one. We left that day with a new level of respect for Bert and his store.

I waited impatiently for the week to end, feeling a little disappointed each day that I didn’t receive a call. Another week went by, and again, no phone call, so on Friday, I called the store. The pens hadn’t shipped, but they’d let me know when they did.

Around this time, I started seeing photos on Instagram of the Crimson Sunrise. Patience, never my strong suit, became that much harder as I more and more images appeared.

I didn’t make it another week. On Wednesday, I caved and left a message on Bertram’s Facebook page, asking if there was any status update on the Crimson Sunrise. I got a rather quick reply that the pens would probably be shipped that day.

Sure enough, the next day (Thursday), Bertram’s sent me a Facebook message saying the pens had been shipped, and when they came in, I’d get first pick of the numbers. As if waiting wasn’t hard enough! I allowed myself a brief moment of fantasy and imagined getting another #19 pen, or maybe pen #1988, despite knowing the odds were astronomical.

Come Monday, I decided to check in, as the pens were now available on Bertram’s website, and I wanted to make sure I hadn’t been forgotten. The shipment was out for delivery, but may not arrive until 4pm. Sure enough, around 4:30, I got a message that the pens had arrived. They’d received numbers 1969-1980.

My thoughts were a roller coaster. Disappointment that I wouldn’t get #19 or #1988. Immature silliness imagining having pen #1969. *eyebrow waggle* Confusion, because what pen did I want. Distress at needing to pick a number quickly. Relief at figuring out the perfect number: 1971. I had a 1988 pen for my birth year, and now I’d have a 1971 pen for Jim’s.

I thanked Bert profusely, and worked out details to have my pen shipped. It showed up two days later in all it’s colorful glory.

Photo of Pilot Vanishing Point Crimson Sunrise

I’m well aware that my repeated check-ins were wearisome (some would say nagging), and I can only feel eternally grateful that Bert, or whoever it is that mans the social media post, has the patience of a saint. The responses were always quick, friendly, and helpful, which means a lot to me.

Montegrappa Coffee Brown Ink

And now for the Tale of Montegrappa Coffee Brown. Just imagine a creepy face with a flashlight held underneath. 😉

A while back Jim bought a bottle of Montegrappa Coffee Brown ink. He’s a big coffee drinker, and the color is almost spot on, so of course he had to get it. He loaded up a pen almost immediately, I filled a pen a bit later after seeing the color.

Because Jim put the ink in a wet writer, he didn’t notice a problem at first. I, however, put it in my Jinhao x450, which is a fairly dry writer, and noticed flow issues almost immediately. I had to wet the nib every time I started writing. It annoyed me enough, that I finally decided to put in a different ink.

While cleaning my pen, I decided to just dump what was left in the converter. As I twisted the piston, the ink bubbled at the top, then dripped down slowly, more like syrup than ink. Jim and I have since dubbed it “ink snot”. I’ll let you soak in that lovely mental image for a moment.

Jim decided to clean out his pen almost immediately after I finished explaining my “Ewww!” I did some research online about the ink drying out or coagulating in a pen, with no real results, so I sent out a tweet to see if this was a one-off or a known problem.

The general consensus was to try it in a different pen, because maybe I didn’t get the previous pen clean enough. I think Jim tried it in one other and had the same issue.

So next time we went to Bertram’s, we mentioned the issue and were treated with, “Oh, that was you on Twitter!” It’s always fun to hear that. We explained the problem in more detail to Bert, who reiterated that it wasn’t a problem he’d heard of before. We decided it was probably a bad bottle, maybe there was a contaminant inside when the ink was added, and were satisfied. It happens, right?

But, Bert surprised us. He pulled a new bottle off the shelf and handed it to us. “Give this one a try. And, if you remember, bring in the other bottle the next time you’re here. I’ll send it back to Montegrappa.” I can’t speak for Jim, but I’d never heard of receiving a replacement for something defective without having the original. More kudos to Bertram’s.

Jim tried the new bottle a few days later and had even worse problems with it. As he put it, “I was thwapped with a line of ink snot.” This was while filling a pen from the bottle. Again, eewww.

When we next went to Bertram’s we returned both bottles and got our choice of ink (Diamine Kelly Green) and some change in return, no questions asked.

While writing this, I decided to try looking for a review again and found only one, from Mountain of Ink, who wrote the following:

“When I tried to drop this ink, instead of falling straight to the paper, it hung from the converter a bit, looking more like syrup than a viscous ink. When it did hit the paper, it didn’t spread out much and had short little fingers. This tells me that the ink is pretty thick compared to the average fountain pen ink.”

So maybe others are having troubles with this ink, too, and just don’t want to write negative reviews? I’m not sure. It’s made me a bit wary of other Montegrappa inks. I think I’ll get samples before committing to any of them. But It hasn’t warned me off the brand. I think my next pen will be Montegrappa Fortuna Heartwood Pear.

Final Thoughts

There are certainly other examples of excellent Bertram’s customer service, but seeing as this post has already hit 1900 words, I think I should wrap things up.

We’ve been in multiple times since Jim introduced me to Bertram’s, and each has been a fantastic experience. Adam and Bert are spectacular, as are the various other people who have been in on different days. There’s a sense of camaraderie and inclusion at Bertram’s that makes you want to stay. You feel like a friend as well as a customer.

Ultimately, if you’re local to the DMV area, or visiting, make a point to visit. You won’t regret it. It’s a great place, with fabulous people. Their upcoming Annual Pen Fair on November 11 is a great reason to go check it out. And if you can’t make it into the store, they’ve got a website. *wink* You can also find Bertram’s Inkwell on Facebook, Google +, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

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3 thoughts

  1. Excellent review post and reflects many of my own experiences with Bert and his shop, going back to the days he was in White Flint Mall across the street. (A moment of silence for one of the nicest malls in Montgomery County…)

  2. Rachel, Bertram’s is home to so many of us. I trust Bert and his team with my “family”. This is the place for top-shelf customer experiences and good friends. It’s easy to hang out most of the day there…and pick up more goodies. See you and your hubby soon.

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