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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The Awesomeness that is Surreal Makeup

I’ll be the first to say that I am not a “girly girl”. Makeup happens maybe once a week. I’m really happy if my nails are all the same length. When I wear dresses, it’s because it’s only one piece to pull out of my closet, rather than two. I’m not necessarily the tomboy that I was as a kid, but I’m still definitely not girly.

I tell you this to give you a bit of context for the rest of this post. So that you understand how impressive it is that I’ve bought so much from Surreal Makeup. And when I say “so much” here is my current collection, and I have four more eyeshadow colors on the way.

Current Surreal Collection

 

Backing up a bit, I discovered Surreal at AwesomeCon 2016. Amanda Baker, the founder, was manning a table alone when I went by. She was so bubbly and colorful that I stopped to check out her stuff. She explained how Surreal is “hypoallergenic, naturally water resistant and cruelty-free mineral” makeup, and was very quick to swatch a few colors on the back of my hand. I was stunned. Finally, I’d come across the super pigmented, vibrant eyeshadows I’d always wanted. And, in some ways even better, they clean up with basic baby wipes; you don’t need makeup remover! They certainly live up to their name. But, my funds at the time were rather limited, so I bought my favorite colors (G. I. Jane, Gorgeous, and Royal) and snagged a card so I could buy more later.

Surreal First Purchase

Let me remind you, makeup rarely happens for me. I just don’t get up early enough to do much, if anything, during the week, and on weekends, I often don’t feel like putting in the effort. But I still bought three jars on the spot. Because these eyeshadows, well, a picture’s worth a thousand words, so, look at them. Just, wow!!! Swatches on the left are on bare skin, swatches on the right are over Surreal primer.

Surreal Swatches

I’d like to point out that a full 5g jar of this stuff will last you forever. Well, ok, it depends on how often you wear makeup. But I usually just put a single color on my lids and call my look done. So for that, I generally up-end the jar and tap it 4-5 times into a palette. Not a whole lot comes out with that, but you certainly get enough to do a full look. So these will last a very long time. And being loose powder, you won’t be introducing bacteria, so no grossness!

After AwesomeCon, I only ended up ordering a couple of the sample pod packs over the course of the year. The sample pods are amazing. You get 1 gram of 5 different products. And you can choose any product they have in stock. ANY product! It’s fabulous! You can try before you commit to a whole jar. They are also REALLY good for travel. So much so that I have some sample sizes of colors I own whole jars of, just so I can travel better. I’ve also noticed that you get an extra goodie or two with the samples you order, which is how I discovered Juicy is an amazing color for work.

In January this year, as I was working on my cosplay for AwesomeCon, I dropped Surreal a line on their Facebook page asking if they’d be back again. I got a quick reply in the affirmative. Happy day! I planned to get the makeup for my cosplay at the show. I also threw away what non-Surreal eyeshadows I had (most of them were very old, as in, I couldn’t remember when I bought them) with every intention of buying Surreal equivalents at the show.

AwesomeCon 2017 rolled around and I made sure to find Surreal’s table on Friday. There were more colors, and more types of products (including black light reactive eyeshadows!!!), but Amanda was still just as lovely and bubbly and colorful.

I’m going to pause a minute to say that it occurred to me the other day that Amanda’s like Luna Lovegood all grown up. A very kind soul, and 100% herself (or at least, that’s how she presents herself to the world, and she’s never seemed anything but completely genuine). And honestly, for me, there’s no better compliment. I’m in awe of people who can be themselves completely. It’s amazing. I hope she doesn’t mind me borrowing her photo.

But back to AwesomeCon…Amanda helped me pick out the right eyeshadows for my punk Tinkerbell costume, and swatched many more colors on the back of my hands. I had to wipe both hands off! Twice! I ended up putting together a nine-shadow palette, plus getting a lip gloss (because it was just so pretty). I really only stopped with those because I was determined to stick to my Con budget. And despite asking to see/swatch a million different colors, Amanda was continuously helpful and enthusiastic, so I didn’t feel like I was being a pain. Instead, I felt like we were bonding over her fabulous products. I even made sure to bring one of my close friends to her booth the next day, because I wanted her to experience how awesome Amanda and Surreal are.

It was shortly after AwesomeCon that I started following Surreal on Instagram, and I was, and still am, amazed at how positive all of the posts are. Every photo that Surreal shares has something good in the comments. When the account shares customer photos, they always include some kind of uplifting compliment. It’s generally a “feel good” feed.

A few weeks ago, Surreal started teasing their new Dragon Scales collection, and I knew I had to have them. I drooled over their fabulous swatches and mixing videos, and even set a reminder for launch day so I couldn’t possibly forget to buy them. I was so eager, that I purchased them before the official announcement, and my post BECAME the announcement on Instagram. *grin*

As an example of how FABULOUS their customer service is, I received an email a couple nights ago from Amanda herself, apologizing that they’ve run out of Hydra Dragon because she’s been unable to return home due to the Hurricane. I’m just happy she’s safe. But I was offered a different eyeshadow in exchange, with Hydra being shipped when she gets back home in October. How totally awesome is that! We then proceeded to have a short email exchange, ending with her suggestion of Cosmic or Hypnotize in response to my question about an intense silver shadow.

Now, just so people don’t say I’m being too positive, I will admit to some difficulties with their primer, although I’m pretty certain it’s user error. It’s a gel-like primer, and I’ve yet to figure out just how much to use so that it holds the shadow without being overly greasy or creasing really bad. Maybe someday I’ll figure it out, or, if I’m smart, I’ll ask Amanda at next year’s AwesomeCon (assuming that she goes again).

Ultimately, what I’m trying to say here, is that if you love bright, highly pigmented eyeshadow, Surreal is, in my opinion, the best choice. For what you’re getting, and how long they last, they are certainly among the least expensive, and you’re buying from an AMAZING person. Just try the sample pods once they’re back in stock. You won’t regret it, really. Even Yaya Han is wearing their stuff. My entire eyeshadow collection is from Surreal, and I have no regrets. Ms. Baker, if you ever happen to read this, know that I love your cosmetics, and you have a customer for life. Keep up the amazing work, it’s very much appreciated. 🙂

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Stipula Etruria Rainbow Pens Update

Yikes, what a mouthful of a title! Anyway, we’re about a month out from the DC Pen Show, and I’ve been meaning to post an update to my Stipula’s attitude problem and Jim’s pen’s problem.

As you may recall from my post about meeting Brian Goulet, my Stipula was a bit “skippy” when writing (I just considered it had an attitude problem). Jim’s pen suffered from a bit of overuse. While at the DC Pen Show, a lovely gentleman at the Yafa table (Twitter user @stevetweeting pointed out that it was probably Ross) tweaked both of our pens.

Rainbow Prisma 88

I am very happy to report that Prisma is MUCH better behaved now. I don’t have any problem with it skipping now, even when I write quickly. Check out the difference in the before and after. See how smooth and pretty the after writing is. Both are Diamine inks. Tudor Blue from the new anniversary inks on the before page, and Eau de Nil on the after page.

Writing samples before and after my Stipula was adjusted.

It’s certainly a rather wet writer, now. Almost too wet for me, but thankfully it’s still within the “ok” range. It does mean I get some nice shading when I use the right inks.

Rainbow Demonstrator

Jim’s pen, however, seemed to improve for a bit, then get worse again. After a few weeks, he discovered the real problem. It was cracked along one side of the stamped design. I don’t have a picture of the old nib, so I found this one on Google to refer to. Click on it to see the original page.

An example of where Jim's Etruria nib cracked.

Jim filled out a service form (or whatever it is you have to do in order to send your pen to Yafa for servicing), but hadn’t gotten around to sending it in when we went to Bertram’s Inkwell a couple of weekends ago.

After taking a look at the pen, Bert was kind enough to replace the nib, no charge and no questions asked. Can you say someone has earned your business if you’re already a repeat customer? Needless to say, Bertram’s Inkwell jumped up a massive amount of cool points for both of us. And I’m currently waiting for them to let me know my pre-ordered Pilot Vanishing Point Crimson Sunrise is in stock (waiting patiently is SO not my strong suit).

Anyway, (got a bit off track there) Jim’s Rainbow Demonstrator is now a super wet writer, and he’s very happy with it.

So there’s my update on the condition of both of our pens. We’re both delighted with our pens, and have 0 regrets. I’ll leave you now with some pen porn. *wink wink*

Stipula Etruria Rainbow Prisma 88 beauty shot Stipula Etruria Rainbow Prisma 88 beauty shot Stipula Etruria Rainbow Prisma 88 beauty shot

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Top 10 DC Photo Walk Pictures

A little back story to my photo walk: I bought a nice, entry-level DSLR camera last year around my birthday. A Canon Rebel T5. But I don’t make anywhere near as many opportunities to use it as I should, which means I’m not as familiar with it as I’d like to be.

I’m going on vacation in December and plan to take the T5 with me. To help become more familiar with the camera, I’ve decided to take some photo walks and capture anything that catches my eye. Practice makes perfect, after all.

I walked around Southwest DC, namely the tidal basin and national mall. There’s so much to see and photograph around there. I think I ended up with about 100 photos. Most of them were pretty good, thankfully.

Here are my 10 favorite photos. Which one is your favorite? Do you ever go on photo walks?

 

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