While I had previously planned to review this pen it was for further down the line, partly due to a side project connected with the fountain pens for a fiver article, and partly due to other pens I wished to cover first. Spotting that the Helix Oxford is presently on sale at Asda (on the UK high street) for just £4.50 I felt now was the time to cover this pen while it can still be bought at the reduced price.
For those of us who grew up in the UK (or those still going through the school system) Helix was a well known name, appearing on most the measuring and geometric sets we will have used. Be it rulers, protractors, set squares or the ubiquitous pencil using compass. Even now if you go on to the website of UK stationary or school retailer and search for Helix the result will display virtually everything a child could need and would probably use for maths, science, and physics lessons from the start of junior school through to and including university. It should thus not have been a total surprise to find Helix offering an entry level fountain pen, but to me it was.
Go to the Helix website and you will be left in no doubt what their target market is, even describing themselves as ‘a world leader in school supplies’. With fountain pens however, they have taken a different direction from their continental rivals. This might be because fountain pens are not mandatory here and I’ve even heard of non public/private schools banning them. The net result is rather than making the pen out of near indestructible thermoplastic, or very cheap ‘as it is going to be broken any way’ materials, Helix instead have gone for a metal barrel and cap. In addition no shaped grip to enforce the proper holding of the pen, just a traditional round/cone shaped section.
Visually the plain aluminium finish is simple, but effective. It does not try to pretend to be what it is not. This is a simple back to basics fountain pen. There is no pretence of luxury. From the website you can see there are colour options, presumably anodised, however I have only ever seen the brushed metal version in the high street shops. The clip, cap band and finials are polished, nicely offsetting the main finish. The top of the cap finial contains a black plastic disk matching the grip. I’m not sure if this is the same for the coloured pens as the official pictures give no hint. I would actually hope they match the cap and barrel colour, but you must remember we are talking about a pen made to a price point and for a target audience who are either being told to use a fountain pen else have gone for something outside of the ubiquitous ball point and pencil. This is not a writing implement for the fashionistas.
The cap is straight edged and the barrel tapers down very gently till about half way along where the angle increases slightly. It is a subtle pleasing effect and does mean the cap can post while also only being slightly wider than the barrel. This is probably for a mixture of aesthetics and allowing sufficient width for the grip section. There is a very satisfying snap when you remove or replace the cap and while you can hear the cap band scrape on the barrel when posting I have not seen any visible scratching. The barrel itself is held firmly in place by the plastic inner cap, which also appears to seal the nib quite effectively.
The clip is rather tight but does work. I found it did not naturally slide over thicker seams, however it was easy enough to lift up to secure in a jacket pocket. I would say this pen would either be kept in an inside school blazer pocket or a pencil case/tin, however I’m certain someone will point out these days many schools do not have school uniforms.
The section is short with the metal clutch band by the nib more acting as a warning of inky fingers beyond than something to rest finger tips against. There is a step up towards the rear, which is actually part of the barrel. This does feel slightly sharp when you move your fingers across it, but when they are resting on it the step is too shallow to notice. Oddly enough, unscrew the barrel and you see a very slight plastic lip at the back of the section which matches with the start of the barrel, but then there is the sudden step on the latter. I think the barrel threads are a separate piece of metal which is slid and secured in to the barrel and this creates the difference in widths. It is a shame they could not have made these parts flush and increased the size of the rear lip, along with a slope (it is moulded after all) and have the thread unit sit all the way in to the barrel. All quite minor though as in the hand and when writing it is quite a comfortable pen to hold.
For me the pen is on the narrow wide, but we are not talking Lamy Logo or pencil thin here. I can still use the pen and as the section has straight edges, though angled in slightly, I do not find myself gripping it too tightly or pulling my fingers in towards the crook of my hand, something I find naturally happens on curved sections.
The nib is impressed with HELIX branding on it but alas no size, nor is the size mentioned on the packaging. I would suggest it is a fine, though it also lays down a wet line. There is a slight amount of tooth, however it is not scratchy and makes for a pleasant enough writer. Certainly it does not feel like a Bock, JoWo, or Schmidt nib however at this cost point and with Helix just making the one fountain pen, I can not see it being an in-house unit and so assume it is a branded variant of the Chinese company who actually manufacture the pen. Key thing is it writes and it writes well.
The pen comes with a single blue international standard short cartridge and Helix do sell these in packs of 20. Note while doing the research for this piece I found that Cult Pens do sell all the colour variations of this pen, for £6.99, so a higher cost, but these packs come with 5 cartridges, not just the 1. I tried using a Schmidt converter and while it looked like things would be tight it did fit.
So my thoughts. This was actually the pen that kicked off the idea about the high street pens for a fiver piece when I saw it in my local Asda. To be honest I was not expecting much, though I’m not sure why as Helix products always work and tend to be tough. Perhaps it was because I’m certain it was designed with a 11-16 year old in mind. Reality is though that I like it and I’m not alone. Most people I have passed it to either have confessed they already have one else the also like it. It is a good pen. Heck I’d consider it superior to many a Cross or Parker costing ten times as much, though with saying things like that you must remember I only paid £5 for mine, but still that’s a lot of pens by those two bigger, pen centric, companies which I think this is superior to.
Would I recommend this pen to others. At first I thought this might prove to be a catch as many of you will already be collectors of fountain pens and will either have large collections else be moving onwards from a price bracket position. In addition it is hard to beat the TWSBI ECO and those are just thirty quid. The key thing though is occasionally you need a pen for a location where there is a risk of damage or the pen being lost. Maybe one you can just thrown in your bag for travel and not worry if it falls out when you’re hunting for your passport or tickets. The Helix Oxford fills this need perfectly without the feeling that you’ve had to step down in quality as a result. You then have the original purpose for which I first bought this pen and it’s 9 cohorts. For new users and to tempt people in to using fountain pens. Here you have something that looks smart, writes nicely, feels well made and is not supporting companies who think intellectual property is all in the mind. Net result, if you’re tempted then go for it.
- Solid feel.
- Nice writer.
- Will take a converter.
- May be a little thin for some people.
- Just 1 cartridge included, however this is a very cheap pen.
- Only available with the one unknown (fine ?) nib size.
Size Comparisons Shots:
This time I did not have a Lamy Al-Star or Safari to hand, so another common pen was used instead, the TWSBI ECO.