This tag is about evaluating the releases — in this case pens & inks — from the past year.
1. What release(s) lived up to the hype most this year?
The two that come to mind are the Kaweco Iridescent Pearl and the TWSBI 580 Iris. With the former, it seemed everyone was clamoring to get their hands on one. Even I succumbed to the hype and will readily admit it’s a pretty pen.
With the latter, I’m fairly certain anyone who follows TWSBI was expecting it’s release. With the phenomenal reception for the Vac 700 Iris, it was only a matter of time until TWSBI released other models with the same finish. The 580 seemed to receive an equally enthusiastic reception. The question now is whether the Eco or Mini will get the treatment next. My guess is the Eco.
2. Which release(s) did not live up to the hype?
My answer to this question is a guess, based on how little I hear anyone discussing the release. Everyone seemed eager for the Sailor Yurameko inks when they were first announced. To the best of my knowledge, they were the first inks specifically formulated to look different depending on what paper you used them on. However, after an initial swell of interest, the ink line seems almost forgotten. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s because we all tend to have a favorite paper, so the main selling point of the ink is rendered pointless.
3. What was the biggest curve ball?
While curveball can mean several things, in this case, I’m treating it as “unexpected.” With that in mind, I think we had three curveballs this year.
- Benu hand-painted pens. These were a surprise to me. To my knowledge, they’re the first of their type released by a mainstream company, especially in the $200-$300 price range.
- Sailor Northern Lights Purple (Goulet Pen Co exclusive). I think this is the first U.S. Store exclusive — I could well be wrong, I don’t follow Sailor closely. If that isn’t enough of a curveball, though, remember that Goulet Pen Co was only allowed to carry Sailor in the second quarter of 2020. Before then, if I recall correctly, Sailor required retailers to have a brick-and-mortar store. That’s a pretty impressive reversal.
Update: Someone has pointed out Yoseka Stationery has had Sailor exclusives, and they’re a U.S. store. So, the Northern Lights Purple isn’t the first U.S. store exclusive, but it’s still an interesting curveball.
- Pelikan Twist. I bought a Fresh Ocean Twist in 2017. At the time, they were difficult to find. But, this year, many U.S. stores have started carrying the Twist, and it seems to be experiencing an explosion in popularity.
4. What was the most ridiculous luxury release?
There are two releases that I feel fit this one: the Montegrappa Smiley and the Visconti Woodstock series.
Let’s start with the Montegrappa Smiley, specifically the Heritage Collection edition. It looks like something you could pick up at the dollar story. The design is childish. The smiley faces look like they were designed with the font Comic Sans in mind. And given the placement of the smiley on the nib, the breather hole becomes a center-forehead bullet hole. It’s a cartridge-converter pen — which I don’t mind, but I know a lot of people consider them less premium — and made out of brass, with a 14K nib. Oh, and did I mention that these are about $1,500 MSRP?
Then we have the Visconti Woodstock series. The materials used for these remind me of cheap pens. They don’t look like luxury pens. They also don’t seem — to me — to have anything to do with Woodstock. They aren’t quite as pricey as the Smiley, but they’re firmly in the luxury price range at $750 MSRP.
5. What was the biggest letdown/snoozefest?
I don’t think there were any snoozefests this year, but there were a couple of letdowns. Unfortunately, both were from Retro 51. The biggest letdown for me were the Winnie the Pooh releases. Although it wouldn’t have been my preference, I didn’t mind that the first release was a set. However, not one of the 5 total writing instruments released had Tigger. It’s perhaps less maddening for the first set which didn’t even include Christopher Robin. But, the fountain pen had everyone except Tigger and Gopher! The best I can say is that it saved me some money
The other Retro 51 letdown didn’t really affect me. However, several of my pen friends were disappointed that the Met releases came in sets. I can’t say if that was a decision by Retro or the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but I don’t think it was a great one.
6. Which brand(s) had the best year?
I can’t think of a brand that had a better year than Stanford Pen Studio. They seem to have skyrocketed in not just the diversity of pens they have available but also their notoriety and popularity. The pens they have released lately are stunning, and rather unique to the pen world. I wish them many more fantastic years.
Coming in a very close second, though, is Benu. They really stepped up their game this year, which is even more impressive considering they also moved from Russia to Armenia, with all of the difficulties that encompassed. I’m incredibly impressed with Benu as a company and with the pens they’re releasing.
7. Which brand(s) need to reevaluate what they’re doing?
Unpopular opinion alert! I have to go with Sailor. I’ve lost track of how many times Sailor has raised their prices in the past few years. It’s certainly more times than other, comparable brands. Considering most of their pens are the same — small — handful of models in different colors, it’s not like they have massive manufacturing costs. I have to wonder if they’re trying to make up for lagging sales or if the massive number of exclusives and special editions they release are causing problems.
UPDATE: I received a comment in the DC Metro Pen Crew group on Facebook that I feel should be shared. Assuming the commenter is correct — and I have no reason to suspect otherwise — Sailor’s price increases are mostly for the export market due to differences in culture. Where the western market will grumble, but continue buying, the Japanese market (potentially the entire eastern market, that part wasn’t made clear) will simply go without the item rather than pay more. So, essentially, the western/export market bears the brunt of the world’s price increases so that the companies to do not collapse under revenue losses.
Someone further commented that Sailor hadn’t raised their prices in the 2010’s, and now they’re trying to make up for that. Honestly, though, this doesn’t change my thought that Sailor should reevaluate what they’re doing. Whatever the reasoning, Sailor needs to reevaluate their frequent and steep increases. I’ve certainly heard many complaints about the increases, including several avowals to stop buying from Sailor. If they don’t find a way to mitigate the issue(s), Sailor may find that they’ve priced themselves out of all markets.
8. Did your predictions from last year come true?
I made two predictions last year: “With pens, I think we’ll see more unique and indie-made materials use for mainstream pens… with inks, I think we’ll see more multishaders.”
To be honest, I haven’t kept a close eye on mainstream releases. However, I know at least Visconti and Leonardo Officina Italiana have released multiple pens using Brooks materials. I believe Esterbrook released one or more pens with Diamondcast material. So, while it wasn’t an explosion in indie material use, there were some.
With inks, though, I was definitely on the mark. There was certainly an explosion of multishader inks.
9. What are your predictions for releases next year?
I think we’re going to see more special editions themed around historical anniversaries. They seem to be getting more popular. In 2023, we’ll see: the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, 75th anniversary of the World Health Organization, 100th anniversary of the Hollywood sign dedication, and the 50th anniversary of the Exorcist.
With inks, I’m guessing we’ll see some mixable inks. Both sets you can mix freely like Platinum, Pineider, and Pilot have created; and mix ins like the shimmer powders from Wearingeul and desaturated color-changers from Ink Institute
Thanks for reading to the end, I hope you enjoyed my post. Do you agree with my answers? Do you think I’m completely wrong? What are you predictions for next year? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.