The Refinement Phase: On Establishing a Pen Rotation and Stable “Collection”

By Michael W. Harris 

I am a collector by nature.

Top tray in my large pen case. A few empty slots for some custom pens.

Over the years, I have collected pretty much all the sorts of things that people collect at one point or another: baseball cards, coins, stamps, comics, various types of books, CDs, vinyl, DVDs, Blu-rays, and so on and so forth. And today, it has extended, in a “relatively” small way, into watches, knives, and bags.

However, knowing that I am both an obsessive collector and also a person of limited means, when my growing fountain pen obsession begin to accumulate at a rapid pace, I quickly moved to set limits on said collecting. But the new, shiny “acquisition phase” of any hobby is tricky. You are learning your tastes, what you might like to collect, and also just trying to learn about and experience all that you can while also having fun. Continue reading “The Refinement Phase: On Establishing a Pen Rotation and Stable “Collection””

Nib Shootout: Spaghetti Western Edition

By Michael W. Harris

Pretty Viscontis All in a Row

It was never my intention to end up with four Visconti pens (not counting my TWScontis) all with different nib materials, but so it was that a could not pass-up deal on a Pininfarina with the so-called “Chromium 18” nib (whose exact metallurgical composition and how it differs from plain steel I shall not litigate here) found me in possession of steel, chromium 18, 18K gold, and 23K palladium nibbed pens. The loan of an Opera with a 14K gold nib completed the set of Visconti nib materials (not counting the seemingly Delta inspired “fusion” nib) meant that the Italian Standoff was on. Continue reading “Nib Shootout: Spaghetti Western Edition”

A Modest Fountain Pen Proposal: Do Away With Vintage & Modern

By Michael W. Harris

I am still a relative newcomer to the pen and stationery hobby, but like so many, once I dive-in, I tend to devour and learn all that I can. It is my personality and is most assuredly an off-shoot of my librarian/archivist/academic tendencies. So it was that, pretty quickly, I became a bit confused and annoyed with the rather loose definitions of the terms “vintage” and “modern” by those in the community. Ask 10 hobbyists how they would define “what is vintage and what is modern,” and you would probably get at least 5-7 different answers, if not 10! For me, this is a problem because I need some guidelines at the very least!

We could try and use the qualifications that are applied to antique/vintage car registrations, which can vary between state and country, but they usually label as vintage anything that is between 20 or 35 years old. This, while giving us a set length of time, also yields a moving window, meaning that—eventually—everything becomes vintage. Which might be fine for some…but not for me. And my feeling that way is due to how people will talk about a “vintage inspired design,” not unlike how some talk about vintage clothes, which points to a more aesthetic criteria for what is vintage vs. modern. (For example, see the cover story of Pen World February 2019, which touts, “Vintage Inspiration” in a story about Armando Simoni Club, Wahl-Everysharp, Conway Stewart, and Bexley, pp. 42-9.)

Continue reading “A Modest Fountain Pen Proposal: Do Away With Vintage & Modern”

Blue Dots: A Taxonomy of Hues

By Michael W. Harris

I Love Blue

I love blue, it is my favorite color by far (with purple a medium distant second), and even better is that the color has a fascinating history in our culture. It is a color that is sad and joyous. It is the color of royalty and the color of the commoner. It is one of the rarest naturally occurring colors and yet is also the color most associate with both our planet and its two most prominent features: water and sky.

And it is a color that has been among the hardest to produce for dyes and pigments until relatively recently. It is a color that at one time was so prized in Western art that artists had it written into agreements how much patrons would provide for them, and it was reserved for only the most import subjects in art: Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

I will not attempt to rehash the history of blue here, but the links to the following YouTube videos will provide a more thorough (and entertaining) recap of this fascinating color:

My interest in the color blue is multifaceted. Historical, philosophical, material culture, and sociological. However, for this post, I will focus on a single aspect: categorical. Continue reading “Blue Dots: A Taxonomy of Hues”

Inspired By Modding -OR- How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love TWSBI

By Michael W. Harris

A TWSBI family portrait. Since this photo was taken 3 more have joined the family.

I have been “deep” into the stationery game for a bit over a year now, and I feel like I am starting to hone in on my tastes and figure out what I really like and dislike. However, some things still do surprise—such as just how much I liked writing with a Sailor King of Pen that a fellow Memphis Pen Club member recently bought. I had always assumed it would be way too beg for me, but instead I am now entertaining expensive thoughts. But of all my recent realizations a year in, the most surprising was saying to myself, “You know, I think I could get rid of most of my pens and be happy with just my modded TWSBIs.” Sure, there would be a few others I would keep, such as my so-called “Tier 1” pens, but this was a shocking thought, especially because TWSBI was one of the first brands I tried and quickly decided was not for me. Continue reading “Inspired By Modding -OR- How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love TWSBI”

It’s Alive!! Musings on the Nature of the Frankenpens

By Michael W. Harris

The Sailor Pro Gear Slim Purple Cosmos. I love this pen, but it is probably the most FOMO purchase I have made.

It is hard to be a fountain pen enthusiast and be of modest means. Budgets are really tight and FOMO is strong with the endless parade of pretty limited edition pens in swirling colors. You naturally want to get ALL THE THINGS, but rational thought, your bank balance, and the crushing reality that you can only use so many pens and inks in a lifetime (and you cannot take them with you) will, hopefully, bring one back down to earth. So, what is one to do to keep the fountain pen/stationery passion alive and well when you cannot plunk down $900 on a new Visconti at the drop of a hat? How can the stationery junkie in search of their next fix get it while also on a budget?

Some find that rush in the form of cheap Chinese pens bought from Amazon, Etsy, or eBay. Fun to explore, easier on the wallet, and many times mimicking the hot trends of the larger or more expensive brands (looking at you PenBBS faux Conid), these can be a way of exploring different aspects of the hobby without breaking the bank. Continue reading “It’s Alive!! Musings on the Nature of the Frankenpens”

Looking Forward, Looking Back: The Past and Future of The Temp Track

By Michael W. Harris

Pen, paper, and coffee…the beginnings of so many posts this past year.

It has been a year. While I did not go into 2018 planning on doing one post a week, that is how it ended up. It just sort of started, kept going, snowballed, and before you knew it I had a pattern established, and I am loathe to break patterns. And looking back, I am really glad I did it. It was part therapy during what was one of the most difficult periods in my life, part exercise in finding a good writing process as I try to integrate my love for the craft of the written word into my life, and part needing an outlet for some of the smaller scale projects that I want to pursue.

However, more than anything else, I just wanted to write more. I have always loved writing, and it is a big reason why I decided to do a PhD and not a DMA all those year ago. When I thought about which I would rather do, practice bassoon for eight hours a day or read and write for 8 hours a day…the decision was easy to make. And now, with (hopefully) my last degree a year behind me, another year of tumult and upheaval over, and job stability ahead, it is time to think about what the future of The Temp Track looks like.

After a year filled with gin reviews, musing on stationery, some rather personal essays that made some people worry about my mental and physical health (and I share those concerns…hence writing as therapy), and other random musing on life, the universe, and everything, what does 2019 look like?

Let’s first look back before we look forward, shall we? Continue reading “Looking Forward, Looking Back: The Past and Future of The Temp Track”

A Year in the Fountain Pen and Stationery Game: AKA My Top 5 (Personal) Pens of 2018

By Michael W. Harris

It is still (just barely) 2018, and I figured I would try and squeeze in one more post this year before my “state of the blog”/“year that was and is to come” post this coming Saturday. But the only reason I decided to do this post was that in thinking over the past year and the activation of my latent/dormant stationery bug gene, I began to muse on what would be my Top 5 pens that I have acquired over this first year diving into the hobby. What are the pens that I want to keep inked all the time if I could? What if I had to severely curtail my collection because of “reasons,” what would be the ones that I kept?

Platinum Higo Zogan: if its good enough for the G7 and Barack Obama, it is good enough for me.

I will say that there were some relatively easy choices for what to include, while others I had to think about. I have bought (and sold) a number of pens this year, and I love all the ones I have kept, but I haven’t spent a lot of time with some of them so they are harder to judge. For example, my Platinum Higo Zogan is a beautiful pen, and one that I bought as my present to myself for landing the Memphis job. However, it is not on this list as, for as much as I love the design, nib, and the way it feels in my hand, I still sense that I am getting to know it. Plus, I have found that the Platinum fine nibs as not my favorite, and I would to swap it for a medium or broad at some point, or maybe a Platinum specialty nib (like their music nib). Seriously Platinum (and Sailor), start making loose nibs easily available!

What I am trying to say is that my criteria here is rather loose and instinctual. What do I actively reach for when I am inking up new pens? What do I have to force myself not to use in order to keep other pens in my rotation? Continue reading “A Year in the Fountain Pen and Stationery Game: AKA My Top 5 (Personal) Pens of 2018”

Finding Happiness in the Dark: The Aesthetics and Beauty of Stationery

By Michael W. Harris

Pen, paper, and coffee…what more do you need?

I was a late user of Instagram, and it was only when I had found myself largely abandoning Facebook that I decided to dive into the photo-only world of the platform. I needed something beautiful and happy in my life. I needed something to bring me joy amidst the dumpster fire of the rest of the world.

I needed a purely joyful aesthetic experience.

I know that I am not the first to discuss the purely visual aspect of Instagram as it compares to the text forward medium/misery-pit of Facebook and/or Twitter. However, I have never considered myself a person to be driven the visual or even the beautiful. Yes, I appreciate beautiful artwork, a well-designed building, and so on, but to be so fully drawn into a purely visual aesthetic experience like Instagram was something I never considered to be “for me.” Continue reading “Finding Happiness in the Dark: The Aesthetics and Beauty of Stationery”

The Pelikan M491: A Pen History

By Michael W. Harris

My fountain pen history began in May 2013 with the gift of a Pelikan M200 in marbled green. While it took another five years for that gift to flower into a full-blown hobby, because of my first fountain pen being a Pelikan, the brand has retained a special place in my heart and mind. So much so that I hope to acquire a number of Pelikans to compliment that first M200. Call it a “flock” of Pelikans, if you will.

A Flight of Pelikans

To date, I have picked up three additional pens from the brand: a Special Edition M120 in Iconic Blue, a M200 in blue marble (a pre-1997 model at that with slightly different features), and the subject of today’s post: the M491 from the 1960s. This last pen is all sorts of weird: from its left oblique nib to its model number, the M491 is just an oddpen from the usually rather sedate and venerable German Brand.

Word of caution: this is not going to be a typical pen review. Rather, this is going to be more a history of this writing instrument, how it came about, what makes it so odd, how it came to be in my collection, and why I love it…quirks and all. Continue reading “The Pelikan M491: A Pen History”