TIBALDI VINTAGE

Design

Well, isn't design what this kind of pen is really all about? At an original MSRP of £800 ($1400), you have to be paying for something rather more than a cap, barrel, feed and nib. I honestly can't justify this sort of amount, but I can justify the £137 ($240) plus VAT that I paid for it on Ebay. At that price, I think it's a bargain in anyone's terms. Especially given the design!

First, the material. This is absolutely fantastic celluloid, the highest quality I have seen on any pen of any vintage. At first sight the colour appears to be brown, but look closer in the right light, and you'll see that it's actually a deep, dark red. You'll also notice that the flecks of material contained in it are actually three-dimensional; iridescent chunks trapped like flies in amber within the translucent celluloid. My photographic skills are nowhere near good enough to capture this. But if you've had the chance to see one in the flesh, you'll know exactly what I mean. The effect is almost hypnotic as you turn the pen in your hand, watching the chunks shimmer in what looks like a rich, viscous fluid; an activity best avoided, I find, in serious meetings!

The dimensions are what's called full-sized today, and would have been called oversize by Sheaffer in the 1930s. At 5.5 inches capped, 6.5 inches posted, it feels a substantial pen in the hand, especially as its width is quite broad. I find it one of the most comfortable pens I've ever used, the relative warmth and softness of the celluloid combining with the girth to make it a pleasure to use for hours on end. What's more, the shortness of the section places the screw threads fairly low, which also suits me as I like to hold a pen relatively high on the barrel.

Internals

The Iride uses a vacuum pump filling system, which I think is similar to that of a Parker Vacumatic. You unscrew the spring-loaded blind cap, which pops out about half an inch, dunk the nib in the ink, and pump the cap three or four times. You can feel (and hear) the ink being sucked rapidly into the barrel. Once the pen's full, slowly push the cap towards the barrel and screw it back into place. The spring pressure is quite fierce, so it's important to have a good grip and use both hands. With no internal sac or container, the pen holds plenty of ink, and as the celluloid is translucent (just) you can monitor your ink usage.

Nib

The Tibaldi nib is monotone 18 kt gold, which as I may have said before, I prefer in many ways to the current fashion for duotone gold nibs. This type of nib has a more vintage appeal; it's also quite large and to my eyes, extremely handsome and well-proportioned. The point is a true "F", and it writes a medium-wet line. Starting is never any problem and after giving the pen a good flush after I first received it, I've found no problems whatsoever with any skipping. It's a fairly firm nib, though probably not as firm as a Duofold for example. At the other extreme, it is nowhere near as springy as the F nib on my Visconti Van Gogh maxi.

As I understand it, the first Irides to be issued had duotone gold nibs, with later production being switched to this type. If this was some sort of compromise, I can't see any evidence of it affecting the nib's writing characteristics. This is one of the nicest nibs I've ever used and I'd put it alongside my favourite (though very different) Visconti F, Stipula 1.1 and Pelikan OB for sheer writing pleasure.

Conclusion

The Tibaldi Iride is a fabulous pen, and the current pricing puts it well within many more people's reach. Unlike some Italian pens that I love (did anyone say Stipula 991?) it's quite unostentatious. To see its sheer class (and to justify its original expense!), you have to look closely. But if you do, you will be rewarded by discovering one of the most stylish and capable writing instruments ever. Perhaps the lack of 'bling' appeal was why the luxury market didn't take to it in the first place, thereby contributing to the company's failure.

This post has been edited by RichardS: Feb 28 2006, 05:33 PM

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