Ebonite is a fancy, semi-genericized trademarked term for what is, basically, hard rubber. Over the years,it’s been used for lots and lots of things, including fountain pens, where it retains a sort of retro cachet for no real good reason.
Usually “cachet” in fountain pens means big money, but there are a couple of companies making $30-or-less ebonite pens, which is (sadly) “entry-level pen” territory for a lot of people. (The Lamy Safari and Waterman Phileas, two injection-moulded plastic pens from Europe with fairly large followings, are right about this price.) The most visible are Noodler’s, better known for making a couple hundred colours of bottled ink, and the Ranga Pen Co in India, who aren’t known for much of anything.
I got one pen from each of them; let’s see how they fare, shall we?
(Top to bottom: black Lamy Safari, brown Ranga aerometric filler, green Noodler’s aerometric filler)
In the Green Corner: Noodler’s
Noodler’s is a fairly well-established company owned by one heck of an unusual guy named Nathan Tardiff. Nathan is immensely passionate about fountain pens, and has done huge amounts of work to make them (once again) the writing instrument “of the people”. For the most part, his efforts have involved ink – 200 colours and then some, including some bizarre concoctions that could only have been thought up by a mad scientist.
These ebonite pens are not Noodlers’ first foray into writing instruments, but they’re the most notable, as they were more-or-less designed from the ground up by Nathan. (They’re almost certainly manufactured in Pakistan, BTW.) They’re made of nicely-machined ebonite (in mottled green or mottled brown) with aerometric-esque squeeze fillers, and convert easily to “eyedrop” filling, where you remove the aerometric filling assembly and just load the whole damned body with ink. The nib is stainless steel, marked with Noodlers’ name; the feed is ebonite as well. Both the cap band and pocket clip are neatly engraved with Noodlers’ name, as well. The ebonite surface of the body and cap is coated with what is probably varnish.
I have two big complaints about this pen: The filling system and the nib. The filling system – though it actually fills, up to 80-90% full – has a huge and annoying flaw; the inside of the sac is textured, which causes ink to stick to it like nobody’s business. This means that, in practice, you occasionally need to shake or tap the pen to get ink down in contact with the feed, and thereby to the nib. I wrote about 20 A4 pages with this pen one day, and this was immensely annoying. To be fair, it never blobbed or dribbled or failed to start, in around 40 pages of writing and four fills of ink.
I could probably have lived with the balky filling system had the nib been nice. The nib, however, is not nice. It’s somewhere between scratchy and toothy – not due to misalignment, just due to manufacturing – and was somewhat sloppily ground to some sort of fairly extreme oblique point, which I don’t like. To be fair, the pen has been designed to accept as a replacement most “#2″-sized nibs from other pens. A fair number of people on the web seem to be refitting theirs with nice flexy gold nibs from old Waterman or Sheaffer pens, so I went the opposite route, and fitted a #8361 “ExtFine” steel nib from a 1950s Wearever Pennant to mine, which is a substantial improvement over the factory one. (If you’re reading this and aren’t up on your pen manufacturers, Wearever were a notorious New Jersey-based manufacturer of pens… and many other things… reknown for cheapness, in every sense of the word. That the nib from one of their absolutely least expensive pens is better than the factory nib on Noodlers’ pen should tell you a thing or two…)
Sorry, Nathan. Balky filling system + crap nib = not worth buying, IMO. I moderately regret purchasing this pen.
In the Brown Corner: Ranga
Ranga is a small pen company in India – Thiruvallur, to be exact, which is just outside Chennai – who make pens from wood, acrylic, and, yes, ebonite. Their pens are hand-made to order by M.S. Pandurangan, a chap with 30 or 50 or somesuch years of experience, apparently. (This is the same craftsman who made/makes the ‘Varuna’ brand of pens, by the way.) Yep, bespoke pen manufacturing. You e-mail them, having seen one of their ads on a pen forum/eBay/Etsy, tell ’em what you want, pay, and a week or so later your pen is shipped to you, exactly as you ordered it.
It sounds awesome on paper, but it’s let down by one little niggling issue: The pen is utter crap. (At least the one I received is.) What do we get? Let’s see – ebonite body and cap with slightly retro aesthetic, poorly machined, and coated with something varnish-like. (I did order the “glossy” finish, to be fair. Other finishes may be raw ebonite.) A splotchily-plated clip marked ‘Cruiser’, a splotchily-plated nib marked ‘Fellowship’ mated to an ebonite feed. A squeeze-filler without an aerometric breather tube, marked with Chinese characters and apparently salvaged off an old Hero pen, which cannot fill more than one-third of the way. Everywhere that glue was used – around the cap band, and where the filling system mates with the section – glue has oozed out. There’s a steel-ish clutch ring kind of thing between the section and the body, which is not only rusting,but is too large, and barely fits in the cap (which is press-fit). The nib came misaligned; even after adjusting it, it’s quite scratchy and prone to skipping.
Upsides? None whatsoever. The whole thing is a poorly-made, badly-conceived piece of shit, which I utterly regret buying.
If you don’t mind swapping out the nib (not the easiest of tasks, FYI), the Noodlers’ pen is otherwise a fairly nice pen, let down a bit by the filling system. (You may be better off removing the aerometric filler and just using it as an eyedropper-filler.) For the price, you can do (much) better, but if you want to own an ebonite pen (encased in varnish), this is probably the cheapest option available to you. The Ranga, on the other hand, is an appallingly unfunny joke, an offensively disappointing pen-shaped object. It has no redeeming qualities. Avoid it as you would any other steaming turd.