I bought an exclusive edition fountain pen four months ago that has impressed and underwhelmed me. Lately it also doesn’t seem so exclusive.
Earlier this year Massdrop (if you’re not a member you’ll have to register to see more–it doesn’t cost anything to register) partnered with pen maker Retro 1951 to produce an exclusive edition of their Retro 51 Tornado fountain pens. The process involved Massdrop members voting for which of four or five designs they liked best. The design with the most votes was then offered as a drop.
Unfortunately for the companies, the acid-etched herringbone design that was chosen wasn’t my first choice–or even my second–and apparently didn’t appeal to most other voters either. The original requirement for the drop was 300 sales, but the total fell short of that by 50 or 60 sales (at least that’s what I remember. However, Massdrop and Retro 1951 apparently reached an agreement to go ahead with the drop and announced that the drop was a go.
Four months later I received my pen and was both underwhelmed and impressed with it out of the box. The pen came in nice packaging and was much better looking than I was expecting. I was pleased the herringbone pattern was actual texture and not just surface coloring, but I was surprised at how light and cheap it felt. Retro 51 lists the body as being made of “metal” without offering anymore specifics. It reminded me in weight and feel of a fake Montblanc rollerball my dad gave me for Christmas back in the late 80’s. It wrote reasonable well, but broke after about a month of every day use.
In all fairness to the Tornado EXT, I know better than to judge the quality of a pen by its weight. I’m used to heavier pens made of aluminum, acrylic and ebonite and the feel of mystery metal is a bit strange. Also, despite feeling light and cheap (to my hands anyway), the body doesn’t have any creaks or rattles. The threads on the cap and on the body feel smooth and well machined and I don’t get the sense the section will suddenly snap off like the old fake Montblanc’s did.
I like that, unlike my old Retro 51, the Tornado EXT can carry two small international cartridges and can use a standard international converter making it easy to clean and change inks. I also like that it has a twist cap and is thicker than my old Retro 51 200 series.
The best selling point of the Tornado EXT is the stainless steel Schmidt nib. I chose an M nib and have been pleased with how smoothly it writes. There’s a little resistance on the page as it breaks in but I haven’t had any skips or hard starts. It is light years ahead of the nib on my original Retro 51.
I’ve written as much as possible with it over the last week on different kinds of paper and haven’t had any problems. At 4.92 inches (12.5 centimeters) it’s a good length for my hand and because it weight only 17 grams (0.6 ounces) with converter and ink, it isn’t like lifting weights when you write with it.
My biggest complaint, and the only think I want to see redesigned is grip section. It is made of a form of plastic that seems to be slipperier than Teflon. As I wrote I found my fingers slipping forward toward the nib. To be safe, I have to grip the pen up by the threads which, luckily, are not sharp.
My final complaint is that Massdrop is now offering a second drop of this “exclusive” pen. I don’t know if I should be annoyed by that or not. It’s the same price, but it would have been nice to see them offer a second design, or at least give us first drop members a few more weeks of feeling exclusive.