It's been another interesting sort of year for Cult Pens, and another interesting one for the world at large. Solving the world's problems would be a bit too much of a challenge for us, so, being a pen shop, we've stuck to selling pens and things. We like pens and things. Mostly pens, but things are nice too.
Amanda and Simon wrote last year's review, but this year they asked me (Michael) to write it. I wasn't sure if they were too busy, or maybe it hadn't been such an interesting year and they needed my ability to make anything weird, so the article would still be interesting. I've had a look through all the things we've been up to over the last year, and they must be too busy. A lot has happened. I'll try to be a bit weird anyway. It's expected of me, so it would be weird if I wasn't weird.
From the point of view of the people here, it's been quite a full year. We've had our second 10-year anniversary, with Matt marking ten years here. Ideal, as Matt would say. He does a lot of work for the local kids' football clubs here in Tiverton, has a wonderful wife and awesome son, and the most amazingly cute corgi-cross dog; but we all know his heart truly belongs to Spurs. I should make some sort of joke about them here, but I'm out of my depth already when it comes to football. COYS, or something.
We had our second baby too! Not all of us, we're a pen shop, not a genetics laboratory with terrible ethical standards. Tammy, specifically, gave birth to a baby girl, and we wish her the best of luck with it. I mean, I made a Bulbasaur at Build-A-Bear, and that felt like a lot of responsibility. Tammy isn't the only one ready for such a responsibility, though. Shortly before Christmas, we've had not just one, but two more impending additions to the Cult Pens family! Congratulations to Nick and Martin, who are both now expecting babies too! Well, not themselves, as such, but you know what I mean. It's all quite amazing to me, I can't keep a plant alive.
Speaking of babies, we also had our first 18th birthday. Well, ok, not a baby, but in comparison to the advanced age some of us have reached, Beth is very young. Too young to understand half of my jokes, anyway. Actually, in most of those cases, the jokes probably just don't make sense. And much of the other half may just be nodding and smiling to humour me. Even in the worst case, though, she's nice enough to at least try to humour me, so she's alright by me.
Herbie. Yes, he's a spaniel, so he's better than people. I'd love to tell of his great year, and relate his many triumphs. Sadly, though, he's remained dedicated to his goal of catching a squirrel, and it hasn't been a great success. Oh, he's tried. He really has. He learned that squirrels could evade him by running into trees, so he worked out how to do that himself.
Getting up there didn't go so badly, but getting down again was a little lacking in dignity. The result was right - he did return to ground level. But let's just say the execution of the plan made it a bit difficult for him to claim it had gone entirely as intended. Planning isn't really in the skillset of spaniels. He does have a very particular set of skills, skills he has aquired over a very long career. Skills that make him a nightmare for bacon-flavoured treats. He will look for them, he will find them, and he will eat them. Fortunately for squirrels, they can move faster than a bacon-flavoured treat. His boundless optimism in the face of an adversary he's clearly never going to outwit is either a poignant tribute to Wile E. Coyote, or an inspiration to us all to never give up on our dreams. It's the same kind of boundless optimism that led certain people here to think I might have been able to write this without meandering off into strange digressions about cartoons. Meep-meep.
The next thing may have been a company thing, really, but it was deeply personal to one of us. Amanda is from Widnes. Amanda loves rugby. Therefore, Amanda loves the Widnes Vikings. Hashtag WTID. Many years ago, when discussing the idea of starting a business, Amanda may have slightly boasted that it would be hugely successful, and would one day sponsor those very Vikings. I don't know about you, but I get the feeling there may have been drinks being drunk while this discussion was happening. In any case, it turned out not to be an unachievable dream. So, earlier this year, Cult Pens sponsored the Widnes Vikings for their Magic Weekend of rugby at St James' Park in Newcastle. Our logo was there on their shorts as they thundered their way to a resounding win - a dream come true. Well, apart from the winning part, that's not true. But the important thing is to try, isn't it? (Hey, get me doing a rugby joke. I hope it works.)
Oh, and for anyone with less knowledge of these sporting things than me, I believe football is the one where they kick a circle around, while rugby is the one where they throw an oval. I'm mystified by it all, but Amanda and Matt are both quite mystified by my love of Bulbasaur and BABYMETAL, so it's all good.
Oh, sorry, you came here to read about pens and things, didn't you? Well, yes, we've done a bit with those too. Pens and things. New brands to us this year include L'Artisan Pastellier, Ecoline, Fabriano, Paper Republic, Robert Oster and Whitelines. We've brought in lots of new things (and pens) from existing brands, including some always-exciting special editions from the likes of Lamy, Field Notes, TWSBI, and Graf von Faber-Castell.
We have more Copic, Conklin, Caran d'Ache, Calepino, Clairefontaine and Cross than we had last year. We have more from Pilot, Platinum, Platignum, Pentel and Pelikan. We added new products from lots of other brands too, but we're always attracted to alliterative arrangements of articles. And that's just the Cs and Ps, which are letters we're quite fond of.
One of the themes that jumps out when looking back over the year is paper. We've added my favourites - the leather notebook covers from Paper Republic, which I have enthused about before. Field Notes have continued their innovative pace of new Editions, with Dime Novel proving really successful and unusual (and the new Resolutions edition now ready for your January plans). Whitelines have some interesting notebooks with white lines on grey backgrounds making them easy on the eye as well as working well with their scanning apps. Fabriano make a selection of interesting stationery, but specialise in superb paper. We've continued expanding our range of Leuchtturm1917 notebooks, and brought in beautiful writing paper from G Lalo.
Oh, and Rhodia added the new Heritage range with some interesting binding methods and a retro style; and we brought you Age Bag and Flying Spirit notebooks from Clairefontaine. We've also had new notebooks and leather covers from Calepino, including the handy little 90x140 mm weekly planner books - undated planners to fit many covers and most pockets.
Yes, it's been a very good year on paper.
All that paper would be of limited use without ways to make marks on it (unless your interest is in quilling or origami). And if your preferred way of making marks involves bottled ink - with fountain pens, dip pens or brushes - it's been quite a year for that too. Herbin brought us a new special edition ink, starting the new 1798 Collection with Amethyste de l'Oural. We weren't sure why Herbie was getting so excited, but then we realised he was mishearing us when we were getting so excited about Herbin. Sorry, Herbie, we weren't talking about you. Look! A squirrel! There we go, he's busy again now. No, sorry, Herbie, that's the ACME Studio catalogue, they're not the ones who make the rocket-powered roller-skates.
Diamine's Shimmering range caused quite a stir when they first appeared, and this year saw the addition of another ten colours, making a total of 32 colours featuring either gold or silver particles for a sparkly shine. I've been having more fun with these in my transparent TWSBI pens than a man in his 40s really should. As mid-life crises go, though, it's quite reasonably priced, so I'm ok with it.
Diamine also brought us other new inks - they added to their 150th Anniversary range, which initially arrived in 2014, to celebrate their, er, 150th anniversary. This year, they also made more colours available in cartridges, and added more assorted sets of cartridges for those who like to play with different colours in a convenient way.
A lot of people had asked us about Robert Oster inks. We were already aware of them, though, because for a while, if you followed a few fountain pen fans, it was impossible to open Instagram without seeing a close-up of the amazing sheen produced by their Fire & Ice ink. So we got them to send us lots of ink from Australia to Devon, and the people who had asked were happy. We like making people happy. It makes us happy. Happies are contagious.
With natural ingredients and traditional methods, L'Artisan Pastellier inks have a more old-fashioned feel to them, but the maker is an experienced chemical engineer, and is bringing modern industrial precision to these old techniques. The result is several different ranges of inks, including the Classic and Callifolio ranges for fountain pens, as well as inks for dip pens and brushes. Their care for the environment extends to making the popular Callifolio range available in foil bags as well as glass bottles, for less waste, and more ink for your money. Ideal when you need to refill a bottle, or if you have a favourite ink bottle or inkwell you like to use. Do take care not to confuse them with your Capri-Sun, though. They look nearly identical, and while the ink probably wouldn't do you much harm, it wouldn't be so deliciously juicy. The screw-cap is easier to use than those straws, though, so maybe...
And if all that wasn't enough for you ink-thirsty lot, there was something that was perhaps even more unusual and interesting than any of the above: Platinum's Classic inks. A range of iron gall inks - acidic and somewhat risky in fountain pens - but so different to anything else around that plenty of us have been taking the risk. Really, as long as you don't leave them unused in a valuable pen for too long, they should be fine, but any specialist ink carries a bit of extra risk. I've used them quite a bit and they've been ok, but they may not mix well with other inks, so clean the pen thoroughly before and after using.
Why are they so interesting? Well, apart from being nice inks to use, which seem quite resistant to bleeding into paper, they're permanent - the iron gall content adheres well to the paper, and while the coloured dye may run, your notes should remain perfectly legible after any sort of spillage. More excitingly than that, they change colour, darkening as they dry! It's strangely fascinating to watch. The change varies depending on the colour - the darker colours don't change a lot, while Citrus, for example, goes on pale yellow, and darkens quite noticeably. Fun stuff, if you're excited by ink. And you've got this far down an article about a pen shop, so you're probably a bit strange like that.
So, it's been quite a year of calligraphy for us. With all those interesting inks, and lovely new notebooks and papers, we had to find something to do with them all. Louise wrote all about getting started in various types of calligraphy. We had a visit from the wonderful Joyce Lee, known as Artsynibs, to teach us how to calligraphy. No, it's too late, I verbed 'calligraphy'. Just go with it. Smile and nod, like Beth, it'll be over soon.
We had a visit to the Pen Museum in Birmingham, which included more calligraphy. So many nibs. More nibs than you can shake a nib holder at. And while Amanda's adventures in journaling may not include much calligraphy, Louise's demonstration journal pages certainly have, and when Helen (Journal with Purpose) visited us, she showed more artistic prowess in her journaling than most of us can muster, with some beautifully decorative lettering.
So, I think it's been a year of calligraphy, overall. Which, if you've ever seen my handwriting, makes me a terrible choice to write the review of the year. I'm sure we'll get someone better suited to rewrite it, and throw this in the recycling bin.
If you're reading this, we ran out of time and just used what we had. Sorry.
4 January 2018