Why, some of you may be thinking, am I reviewing a pen model that’s close to a decade old, in a range that’s even older. The reason being for the last year or two Visconti have been using up the last of their stock of 23k palladium nibs, with 18k in-house ones being gradually rolled out. The loan of this pen has allowed me to compare and contrast old and new.
While for many the Homosapiens Bronze Age (previously the oversized model) is a grail pen, for others it is a work horse. The Visconti equivalent to the Lamy 2000 or Montblanc 146. At the time of launch much was made of the material, a blend of basalt from Mount Etna mixed in with a resin to form a very tough hygroscopic material that is meant to be near indestructible. Matt in appearance, warm to touch, and with just a quartet of rings, clip, and cap finial to offset and add contrast. Originally available as the Steel Age, the Bronze Age arrived a year or two later in both midi (piston) and oversized (power vac) forms, though in recent times it appears only the latter remains in the Visconti catalogue.
Before I go any further I would like to point out that this pen was lent by the UK Visconti Distributor to the United Inkdom meta-review group, of which I am a member.
If you were to say to me that the Homosapiens was Visconti’s most successful range then I would not be surprised. Sure they have several popular steel nibbed models, such as the Van Goghs and Rembrandts, but this is the one pen most people seem to aim for, and when bought, keep. Nib reputation aside these were solid, reliable pens, and there are many out there who will say that the problems with the Palladium nibs and Visconti quality control are and were over hyped, however there was also a fair amount of truth to it, which is partly what makes these new gold nibs so interesting.
Now I should point out that while I sold my Bronze Age a couple of years ago, I still have two Viscontis and all three worked fine out of the box. The reason for the sale was one familiar to many of us, I just was not using it and while comfortable in the hand, a combination of not being drawn to it, the need to reduce the number of pens I owned, and greatly preferring the material and looks of my Medici meant the bronze age had to go. As for the Caput Mundi, it came later as it was a grail pen for me, one I never expected to be able to obtain, and so when one became available at a price I could both afford and justify, became a grail no more.
I am actually not a fan of the ink system. This might surprise you as I still have a pair of power vacs, a TWSBI Vac 700R, and a couple of Pilot Custom 823s, the medium nibbed version of the latter being one of my favourite pens. I’m never really going to need a large ink capacity so for me I gain no advantage to what quite possibly is the worst system out there to clean. I mean truly horrendous. Sure on something like a TSWBI you can remove the nib and use a syringe to squirt water in and around the tank, however even after multiple attempts you will still find traces of ink at the back of the barrel and behind the valve which will just not shift. Even after flushing nothing but clear water, leave the pen for a few hours and traces of ink will once more be visible.
The above should be moot as far as the readers views will be concerned as many of you either will or do own a Visconti Homosapiens, else will have tried one and so have your own views. The key thing is how does the nib work and how does it stack up to the 23k palladium unit. Why Visconti moved back to gold is open to debate and conjecture. I’m not sure they’ve actually made a valid statement about it. Certainly they will have been forced to order very large quantities of nibs from Bock each time and these will take years to work through, however what I will say is that when Visconti first made the switch palladium was a lot cheaper than gold and in the right alloy balance could result in a nib with close to the same amounts of comfort and bounce as gold, but only close. Come 2016 and a mixture of reduced supplies and high demands (palladium is heavily used in catalytic converters) resulted in the price of palladium repidly rising then overtaking gold, with no signs of stopping. The way I see things, gold nibs are superior to palladium and now cheaper. As to bringing manufacture in-house, well that is a big risk as it has high initial costs and it takes time to build up consistency and quality, however at the same time nibs can be made as required, so no large orders or stock levels.
Visually the new 18k gold nib is very similar to the palladium one and uses the same feed. The similarities carry on beyond there. Early reports were that the gold nib was firmer, however the one I have provides a similar feel to the older palladium unit. If anything it might be slightly softer, but the differences are slight. Again like it’s predecessor it lays down a wet line and has that certain smooth bounciness you also see from OMAS/ScriBo and Graf von Faber Castell. If you’re a big fan of the pencil like nature of Sailor, Platinum and Montblanc nibs and have never tried a Visconti then they are probably not the brand for you.
You will note I have not yet given the nib size. There are good reasons for this. The nib is clearly marked with a B. The line it lays down is far wider and stub like. I measured the tipping and it is 1.4mm across. A broad should be ~08.-0.9. I did mention this to a couple of people and also shared a photo. One pointed out that gap between the tines at the end appears to be too large and I do agree, however even taking that in to account the tipping would still be 1.2-1.3mm across under normal circumstances. There was a suggestion the nib had previously been lightly sprung but bounced back in to position, just with the tines slightly further apart. I’m not convinced by this. By my measurements, even if the nib had previously been pushed too far, it is still a stub nib in size and tipping cut, just wrongly marked. This in itself is worrying as there have been mixed reviews of the earlier ‘new generation’ gold nibs and Visconti have always been accused of poor quality control. The thing is though this nib writes beautifully once the ink starts to flow. I say once as it often suffers from hard starting.
The majority of time this pen hard starts, really hard. We’re talking four or five seconds of writing to get the ink to flow. Once it starts it’s wonderful and there is no hint of poor flow. I have tried experimenting but can find no consistency in when the pen will work from the start and when not. I suspect it might be the need for more ink than the feed can initially supply if there’s none by the tipping.
It is a real shame as this nib is great fun to use. I mainly use fine or medium nibs, so a broad or stub are never going to be serious contenders for my daily carry, however I do enjoy spreading the ink around from time to time and this pen has given me that chance. It is a great writer once the ink starts to flow, though also thirsty, which you would expect with a wet stub. I suspect that smaller nib sizes may not suffer the same problems. Interestingly this nib does not skip, which is often considered to be a problem with stub nibs where there are potential ink flow issues.
It would be interesting to try this same nib in a pen with a screw cap, not hook lock. While the latter may allow for a pen to be capped and uncapped more quickly it does come with some down sides, including not enough pressure against the inner cap meaning a comparatively poor seal, and never put a hook lock pen in the inside pocket of a jacket if you’re going to take that off and put it down (as opposed to over the back of a chair). I’ve twice found the weight of the jacket has put enough pressure on the mechanism so that when I’ve picked the jacket up again the pen has dropped out of the cap (happened with both my original bronze age and my Medici).
Note of thanks to Dave ‘Penultimate/Visconti Dave’ Burrows for confirming and correcting some of the information on the early days of the Homosapiens range.
Edit 19/9/2021 – With thanks (again) to Joe from The Gentleman Stationer for promoting posts of mine, however on this occasion I feel the need to quote his comments from when he posted my link as it is relevant to this article.
“I have a Visconti Bronze Age that I picked up last year, and while I enjoy the new 18k nib much better than the palladium, I had the same issue with a nib with splayed tines. After Mark Bacas fixed it in D.C., it writes like a dream, but if you’re eyeing one of these I’d still budget for an adjustment“