Over the last few years, I’ve tried to look back over the year and highlight the ups and downs in the stationery world. 2020 was chock full of challenges both big and little but sometimes, its nice to just look at a little wedge of the world and fuss about the good and not-so-good that happened. Hopefully, you’ll find a little amusement in all this.
J. Herbin despite confusing corporate naming — Are you Jacques Herbin or J. Herbin today? I thought I’d figured it out with the fancy $45 per bottle inks being the Jacques Herbin branding and everything else rolling up under the J. Herbin branding but then the new Anniversary ink was released. Which is what I wanted to cheer: Vert Atlantide ($29.50 for 50ml bottle). While it’s still hard to acquire, it makes makes me happy. As the first ink brand (to my knowledge) to really experiment with unique properties in inks and releasing just one specialty ink per year, the 1670/1870 and now 350 series of inks is always a seasonal release that is watched and welcomed with enthusiasm and much discourse. While some reviewers received samples as early as July, the ink did not hit the new world until late fall. They are generally worth the wait.
The release of the Diamine 2019 Inkvent “Blue Edition” inks (starting at $15 per 50ml bottle) in the uniquely shaped bottles made the summer a bit more bearable. Both Mountain of Ink and myself did a little “Christmas in July” review of the inks to celebrate. While Diamine did not release a 2020 Inkvent calendar, many bloggers and folks on Instagram created their own “Inkvent” by swapping samples with friends and swatching a new color everyday leading up to Christmas. We here at the Desk have been celebrating the end of the year with our Inkmas posts where we try to “catch up” with inks that did not get reviewed throughout the year. More inks are released than we could ever possibly review but our 12 Days of Inkmas at least allow us to share a few.
On the topic of ink bottles, Krishna released the S Series bottle which is a beautiful desktop ink bottle with reservoir. It rivals Akkerman for most interesting ink bottle.
This year saw a rise of mix-it-yourself ink kits. The 3 Oysters My Color DIY Ink Kit ($52) and the Kuretake Ink-Café Ink Mixing Kit ($40) for example show that as the ink obsession grows more fervent, the option to mix one’s own custom ink color has grown as well.
On the topic of inks, the absolute wealth of new ink brands available in the US is definitely something to celebrate. Shigure Ink has brought new delights to us like Tono & Lims and Lennon Tool Bar. JetPens introduced me to Kala Nostalgia inks. Vanness Pens brought Ancient Charm to the US along with adding Pennonia and Ink Institute.
Both Ferris Wheel Press and Birmingham Pen Company have been releasing a huge array of custom created inks and each takes a beautiful approach in their themes, colors, and presentation.
This year was a good year to be an ink lover.
Pelikan did it again this year with the M205 Moonstone. The Star Ruby from last year was a roaring success and the Moonstone, in its glittering grey translucent material, is equally striking. Unfortunately, there was no Pelikan Hub event this year which is usually about the same time as the release of the Color of the Year M205 pens. And speaking of Color of the Year, points to Pelikan for actually being ahead of Pantone on the color for 2021.
TWSBI White Rose Gold ($49.99) was released this year to much fanfare around the Desk. The simplicity of the white combined with the rose gold hardware made it a real standout.
Diplomat added more diverse color options for their flagship pen, The Aero, including Rose Gold, Green and Volute.
This year saw an explosion of new papers to rival (or replace) Tomoe River. Yamamoto Paper introduced their Paper Sampler in 2019 and has been steadily releasing pads of the most popular papers from the sampler this year. Bank Paper ($20 for A4 pad) and Cosmo Air Light ($18 for a A4 pad) have become a pen community favorite.
The Field Notes United States of Letterpress edition was both a personal and professional cheer. It turned out beautifully and was warmly received by the stationery community. It was also a huge part of the Skylab/Desk summer while we (and by “we” I mean Bob. He did all the printing and I did the bulk of the household duties and provided copious amounts of moral support and beer) worked furiously to produce the flyleaf pages included in every single book.
2020 will be the year I will say “At least we had Baltimore…” Just prior to lockdown, I attended the Baltimore Pen Show and was able to participate in the Erasable podcast as well as spend quality time with some of my favorite people. I also did my best to steal a pen from Cary at Kenro but was thwarted, temporarily.
I have spent the better part of the year adding new products to our online shops– Big Cartel and launching an Etsy shop and made plans for even more in 2021.
In July, an orange furball named Ollie came into our lives and into our hearts. He needed a home and our house clearly had a “vacancy” sign posted. He needed some fattening up but he’s well on his way to being a plump lump. He’s become the unofficial mascot of the Desk, a title Lucy gladly relinquished in exchange for her new life of leisure.
The worst thing that we can say about 2020 in regards to ink, there were just too many. Even ink addicts like myself, Jesi and Jaclyn just felt overwhelmed. We have done our best to stay on top of the releases but there are just too many for us to cover. Thankfully, there is Mountain of Ink and Fountain Pen Pharmacist who have devoted their blog endeavors to reviewing nothing but ink. Otherwise, 2020 was coined the “InkSwamp”.
This year was also a “PenSwamp” year. Lamy released the delightful but overwhelming Safari Candy Collection, Sailor had so many special release designs that many were lost in the shuffle, Opus88 released new colors in their oversized Jazz, Flow, Bela and Demonstrator models.
Newer manufacturers like Narwhal, Schon Design, Leonardo Officina, Additive, Benu and more also added range to their product lines. This meant there were more options than ever for fountain pen users and collectors. Deciding which model or brand is right for you though, is becoming an even bigger challenge.
Despite the sad news that Retro51 was going to shutter its business in 2020, there was an absolute flood of new Poppers and Limited Edition Tornado designs released throughout the year. As it stands, Retro51 shows no indication of slowing down for the foreseeable future. SO… this is actually good news, right?
TWSBI also released a lot of color variations of its ECO, 580 and Vac lines. The least appealing had to be the Cement Gray. I know some will disagree with me but this isn’t the first time TWSBI has ended up in my Tears list. Some of their design decisions seem a little odd and the flat primer grey of the TWSBI ECO is a clear example.
This was not a good year for planners. Pretty much everyone bailed on their planner sometime in March when most major cities and towns went into lockdown. Some planners stayed in timeout, collecting dust. Some people found new uses for their planners: tracking the spread of the virus, archiving national and international events, testing inks or just creating gratitude journals to help get through the year. I am sure 2021 planner sales were seriously down. We are an optimistic bunch but not THAT optimistic.
Tomoe River announced changes to the beloved 52gsm paper causing a disturbance in the community that could be felt all year. Many people spent the remainder of the year scrambling to get a hold of the few remaining notebooks, loose sheets and pads of Tomoe River in the original formula. Others shrugged. 2020 messing with us again.
While I did not have but
one a few friend(s) announce that they had COVID, many people in my life were infected with the illness and no one I know has perished from this horrible virus. But many people near me have lost family members. The tragedy is on a scope that will take us years to fully process.
Even without pandemic-level illness, 2020 was fraught with upheaval and changes. I lost my job of 19+ years and spent the first half of the year on unemployment, a first in my adult life. I have since cobbled together an income through several part-time jobs. None of these came with health benefits so we are having to pay out-of-pocket for health care — not that anyone plans to visit a doctor in the next few months unless its a true emergency.
What else is there to say about 2020 other than, like most people, I’ll be glad to see the back of it. Onward… to 2021!
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Funny thing about planners. This is the year I started using a paper planner. (Quo Vadis Note 21). After retiring and no longer in front of a PC all day I needed a new way to track appointments and to-dos. So even tho others may have slacked off on their planner use to me it has been a welcome addition to my day. (Oh yeah… and getting to meet you last February when we both were still working was another smile maker for me in 2020)