Retrospective: Retro 51 Pens

retro 51 retrospective

This photo was posted two years ago when we bought our first Retro 51 display case. Well, in two years, we acquired enough Retro 51s to fill a second tray… and then some. When I say we, I mean Bob and I both collect Retro 51s. It’s a pen collection that we can embark upon together. So, it’s with a heavy heart that I must consider the world without Retro 51 in it.

retro 51 retrospective

For Bob, the Retro 51 Tornado was really his gateway drug into fine pens. I think one of his first Retro51s was the Pinball, Kona or Vintage Surf.

For me, I bought a lacquer lime green Tornado very early on in my collecting since it was relatively inexpensive  and a chance to experience a refillable pen with a refill known to be as good as the Japanese gel pens. While I am one of the few people who doesn’t love the Schmidt refill, I love that I can use other refills like Parker-style or hacked refills.

retro 51 retrospective

retro 51 retrospective

One of the aspects of the Retro 51 designs that I haven’t seen mentioned is the design on the packaging tubes. Early on, Retro 51 had appropriately retro-styled graphics. The yellow box on the far right of the photo is very old package that contains an aluminum tube. Later package design carried the graphics from the pen on to the paperboard tube.

Retro 51 always knew how to do packaging well.

retro 51 retrospective

Some of my favorite pens from Retro 51 are the Pen Addict special editions. I have all four of the special editions together in my display box. Next to them are the bright pink prototype that Lisa from Vanness Pens got for me. Then, my original kiwi lacquer Tornado. I bought a sterling silver prototype mini pen at the Dallas Pen Show a few years ago and then finally the first and most tiny Crossword pencil that Bob bought for me years ago. These are my extra special pens.

My all-time favorite is the Twinkle. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it for the photo shoot, even after tearing my house apart looking for it. I fear that I may have lost it since it was the pen I always carried in my bag. If anyone happens to come across it, it was #1000.

retro 51 retrospective

I’m tickled at the numbers I’ve accumulated. The 003s are all the Pen Addict models which Brad kindly saved the first few for himself, Myke and I. The very first Pen Addict model, I didn’t get the 003 originally. A lovely fan of the show brought the 003 to me at the DC Show and I was speechless.

Somewhere, Bob has his pen tubes. Bob’s Zodiac is numbered 007 which amuses us to no end.

retro 51 retrospective

The pens in this bamboo tray are Bob’s (plus my System pen because they look good together. I couldn’t find my System pencil for this photo either which hangs out with the pen twins.)

retro 51 retrospective

retro 51 retrospective

The focus of Bob’s collection is, of course, the space- and plane-themed. When Retro 51 unveiled the Launchpad pen stand, we couldn’t order one fast enough. He didn’t order the Gemini because he felt like it was “too much” but now he’s a bit bummed he missed his chance. If there’s another space or plane Retro 51 before they close up shop, we’ll order it in a New York minute.

retro 51 retrospective

Bob ordered the full set of spirit-related Retro 51s to give as gifts to friends and clients. We still have the beer Speakeasy. Bob thinks he may keep it for sentimental reasons.

retro 51 retrospective

There were a few pens we realized we could not share so we have two. I guess a family who Retros together, stays together?

I wonder what pen company will fill the gap that Retro 51 will leave? Maybe Caran d’Ache would consider stepping up and using the 849 form factor as a canvas for new designs and graphics. Caran d’Ache has already experimented with printed designs and various finishes, even the Nespresso recycled cup pens… so they are a strong candidate. Baron Fig and their Squire is another contender. They’ve already done several collaborations and experimented with etching on the aluminum barrels. Could they print on the barrels or add texture? The Squire is definitely a good option and uses the same Schmidt refill as the Tornado does.

I guess we must wait and see what the future of custom pens might bring. What are your thoughts? What were your favorite Retro 51 designs?

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6 comments / Add your comment below

  1. My beloved Ipenstore Retro 51 collaborations: one is a roller that shows a fine cat shaped clip and acid etched paws. The other is a fountain pen similar in design with silver color but the clip is a bone in silver chrome.

  2. That mini crossword pencil! It’s a lovely collection but that one is just too darling! I wish I’d gotten a Pink Robots but I’m happy with my modest collection of 2!

  3. I’ve been thinking about the Crossword Puzzle mechanical pencil. On the fence for the Space Shuttle pen, and intrigued by the Leap year pen for the Moon phases.

    I learned from the mistake of not getting the Liftoff popper because I was only going to buy fountain pens. I got the Mission to Mars pen early on. Then they came out with a fountain pen version. I’d have rather had that, but one Mission to Mars pen is enough.

    I keep holding out hope someone will buy Retro 51 and continue it. If not, I will miss them, and their creativity. I’d have more of their pens if money grew in trees.

  4. I kind of wanted a Cioppino but haven’t been able to justify spending the money when there are so many other cool pens on my list. Especially since when I asked this-or-this on the Goulet forum on Facebook, nobody said the Cioppino was the one to have over the other one I was considering. I guess their rollerballs are their fortune.

  5. Even though I really don’t use ball pens very much, I spent a lot of time looking at the Big Shot Sherman Tank model. When Retro 51 announced their retirement (and I saw models starting to sell out and jump up in price as a result), I FOMO’d hard and bought one. It’s a beautiful pen, and I’m still working on finding a refill that works well for me — but the very fact that I’m determined to use this pen says a lot about how much I like it.

    Also: since Myke mentioned the possibility on a recent Pen Addict podcast, I’ve been hoping that the company that fills the Retro 51 gap is whatever company Brad and Myke launch. =)

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