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History of Retro 51 and the Tornado

Retro 51 pen in its packagingRetro 51 pens are quite retro in style. There’s a bit of a hint in the name, really. The name isn’t a hint to when they were founded, though, that was in 1990. The aim was always to make pens ‘like they used to’, with nostalgic styling and build quality.

And the pens from their early days, which you can see in their archive of old catalogues, were, well, nice enough. But, to be honest, they looked like many other pens. But that changed in 1997.

But let’s start with the basics - they were founded in Texas, to make special gifts, but the emphasis was on pens from the beginning. And they’re no longer under the same ownership, but for positive reasons. The founder retired in 2021, and the company is now run by a group of three fans of the brand, collectors of their pens. They arrived just in time for the 25th anniversary of the Tornado, in 2022. But now we’re getting ahead of ourselves - the Tornado?

The Tornado was the pen that really made them - a design that still had some of that retro charm, but with a design that was really something special. It’s hard to say quite what makes the Tornado so special, because the design is so simple - just tapering towards the tip, with a knurled twist-knob at the top to extend and retract the tip. But it is special, and nothing else looks quite like it.

For the first year or so, the Tornado just sat at the back of the catalogue, but it was picking up a wide range of new colours and finishes even then. By 1999, it was featured on the cover, claiming “This pen will blow you away!”

Retro 51 Tornado Dog Rescue Pen Retro 51 Tornado Flying Scotsman Pen

By 2007, the catalogues were more Tornado than anything else, featuring a wide range of different finishes. It’s a great design for this - most of the body of the pen can feature full colour designs, or the usual resin can be replaced with various metals. And with such a huge choice of styles, one pen design can suit many different people, and feel special to them all.

Retro 51 plays well with others, too. Many of the special and limited edition Tornado pens are produced in conjunction with other companies or charities, museums or art galleries, often raising money for good causes. They’ve made artistic and historic designs with the Smithsonian, honey bees with NW Honeybee Habitat Restoration, cats and dogs with rescue charities, an assortment of stamps with the USPS, and William Morris patterns with The Met.

Retro 51 Tornado Classic pen in purpleAnd where something is outside their own area, they work with the right people - for fountain pens, they use JoWo nibs, and their pen cases are made by Rickshaw. Refills are by Schmidt, and most of the pens use their much-loved rollerball refills, for a super-smooth writing experience. If you prefer a ballpoint, though, they’re compatible with the huge range of G2 ‘Parker-style’ refills available.

So if you just want a nice pen, the Tornado has enough choice to make it special for you. If you want a rollerball and a pencil, you can get a matching pair of Tornados, or mix it up so you can tell them apart more easily. And you could even have a fountain pen, rollerball, ballpoint and mechanical pencil, all Tornado pens.

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History of Cross

Richard CrossBack in the 1840s, Richard Cross, a jeweller from Birmingham, left the UK for Providence, Rhode Island, USA, where he founded the A.T. Cross Pencil Company in 1846. His company continued to hone their craft over five generations of the Cross family.

Their expansion into fountain pens began in 1876 with a ‘Stylographic’ pen, most similar to what would now be called a metal-tipped technical pen, but with a more smoothly rounded tip for writing. A tiny wire inside a tubular tip controls the ink flow, and the Cross design was very successful, and used by all workers in the US Post Office.

The company name came from Richard’s son, Alonzo Townsend Cross, whose name also lives on in the Cross Townsend range. It was Alonzo who sold the company to Walter Boss, their top salesperson, in 1915. With his keen mind for sales, Walter continued the company’s success, introducing the ballpoint pen to their range, and moving towards pens as ideal gifts.

For their 100th anniversary, in 1946, Cross introduced the Classic Century pencil, still one of their most popular designs. In the years since, they have added rollerballs with liquid and gel ink, brought back fountain pens, and added the option of fibre-tipped pens and refills, and now sell pens in over 100 countries. The Classic Century range was extended with more pen types to celebrate their 150th anniversary.

In recent years, Cross has also produced more special and limited edition pens, including Star Wars editions in collaboration with Disney. The Century II gave the Classic Century a wider body for more a more comfortable grip, and formed the basis for many special designs. The Tech range added stylus tips to some high quality multipens.

The Ion and Edge introduced interesting mechanisms to pull them out to extend the length of the pens while also extending the tip, making them both pocketable and fun to fiddle with.

The Selectip pens deserve a special mention too - rollerball pens, but with refills available as fibre-tip and super high-capacity ballpoints, so the same pen can write in different ways to suit the customer’s preference.

Cross pen with Joe Biden's signature engravedCross pens are sometimes known as the ‘pen of presidents’, as they have been the writing instruments of choice for many US presidents and other world leaders, being used to sign many treaties and laws all over the world.

The Cross commitment to quality continues with extensive testing to ensure their pens are reliable, including drop tests and salt spray tests, to make sure they’re not only built to last, but they actually do last. And that quality is backed up by a lifetime mechanical warranty.

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Amy Loves POSCA!

I love POSCA!

I mean it... I really, really love UNI POSCA paint markers.

I have always had a love of drawing and painting. More recently dabbling in craft projects inspired by others, but I always find myself going back to drawing and painting.

Various POSCA projects by Amy

I first discovered paint markers when working in a shop - you know, an actual shop, on the high street, with things on shelves, a counter with a till, where people came to buy things in exchange for cash and took them away with them in a bag with the shop's name on.....

…Anyway, we had these marvellous pens we could use to write on the windows to advertise our special offers. Which, after mastering the skill of writing back-to-front, became one of my favourite tasks.

Fast forward a few years and I came to work at Cult Pens and OH. MY. GOSH. A whole warehouse full of lovely stationery items and art supplies at my fingertips :) :) :)

One of the first products they allowed me to get my hands on were Uni's POSCA paint markers. They are filled with acrylic paint, in a variety of bold and bright colours. Also a great range of tip sizes. Big, wide tips for fantastic poster-style art works and the much finer PC-1M and PC-1MR for more detailed work and outlining. And outlining is the key - a strong neat outline really makes the colours stand out.

Jungle artwork, step-by-step

Level up and add a real pop to your art work by learning about shadows and high lights.

...and now the fun part - you are not limited to plain old flat paper. These pens work on almost any surface - wood, glass, plastic, metals, ceramics, fabric, stone, brick..... pretty much anything I can think of. I actively search for things to decorate - in my house, garden, charity shops, the recycling centre.....

A Halloween house model decorated using POSCAAlso, they are just as great for children as well as us big kids. A lot less messy than paint, easily washes off your skin (if you are inclined to get a little too hands-on) and easier to carry on the go than paints and all the necessary accessories.

You can download a handy size and colour guide here.

To make your amazing works of art permanent:

  • Paper/Card: no action needed - POSCA pigment will be absorbed into the fibres, making it permanent.
  • Textiles: iron on the reverse side.
  • Terracotta: bake in the oven at 220°C for 45 minutes, then spray with clear varnish.
  • Porcelain: bake in oven at 160°C for 45 minutes, optionally spray with clear varnish.
  • Glass: bake in oven at 160°C for 45 minutes, then spray with clear varnish.
  • Metal/wood/plastic: spray with clear varnish.

What are you waiting for? Get creating!

Oh! And don't forget, you can upload your awesome achievements to Instagram: #cultpenscreative #POSCA


Cult Pens Customer Service Team
Amateur artist
POSCA enthusiast

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March 2024 Pen Show - it's a wrap!

London Pen Show organisers told us this was the best attended show yet, with all exhibitor tables sold out long before the show. That didn’t come as a surprise: we were non-stop from 9-4 and we never did manage to grab that coffee!
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Stylus Pens and Digital Pens

Troika Construction Pen

A quick look at the different types of digital pens and stylus pens - for when you want a nice pen, but you don't want to get ink all over your screen! Learn about the different types of stylus pens, and the types of devices they can be used on, from the super-simple finger replacements to styluses for art, with pressure and angle sensitivity.

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Some of the Best EDC Fountain Pens

Sailor Pro Gear Slim Mini pens, held in a handEDC, or EveryDay Carry, is all about the things we all carry with us every day, and choosing the very best things for us. It doesn't have to be about luxury, it's more often about things that can stand up to plenty of use, and still work well and look good. Here, we look at some of the best fountain pens you can make part of your everyday carry.
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Cult Pens Top Ten Gifts 2023

It's very hard to pick a Top 10 when you have as many products as us. But we did it. No doubt there'll be disagreements. You can't please everybody. But we've given it our best shot. So... from the top...

  1. Cult Pens Exclusive Sport Silver by Kaweco - subtle, silvery, semi-translucent
  2. Cult Pens Christmas Crackers - bangin'!
  3. SUCK UK Skull Desk Tidy - the best use for a skull we've found
  4. BENU Santa Hand-Painted fountain pen - coming soon and very limited!
  5. Sailor Dipton Hocoro Dip Pen Set - a fude nib to show off glitzy inks
  6. Pilot 60th anniversary Capless - as innovative now as it ever was - now sold out! See the rest of the Pilot Capless range.
  7. Derwent Inktense new colours - you can never have too many coloured pencils
  8. POSCA set of 54 - versatile, mark-almost-anything markers
  9. Caran d'Ache Keith Haring - subway art-inspired pens and pencils
  10. Cult Pens Ink Subscription - get a monthly ink fix!

If those didn't seem to be quite what you're looking for, we have plenty more ideas in our full Gift Guide.

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The Best Inks for Calligraphy

Cult Pens, written in Copperplate calligraphyYes, you can use pretty much any ink for calligraphy, just as you can use any pen. And if you just want to get started and try some calligraphy, that's the best thing to do - use whatever you have. But for the best results, it's worth getting the right ink for the job - some will be better than others for certain styles and certain pens. Here, Louise will help guide you through the world of inks for calligraphy.
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How to Clear a Mechanical Pencil Lead Jam

Not the tastiest type of jam, to be honest. This little guide is taken from our more complete and detailed Guide to Mechanical Pencils, as a quicker answer to this common question, without so much to scroll through!

If you use mechanical pencils, at some point you're likely to have a lead jam. It happens. A tiny bit of lead gets stuck somewhere in the mechanism, and stops it from working. Lead might not click forward, or it might click forward but slide back in when you try to use the pencil.

Most mechanical pencils can be dismantled to some extent to clear a jam. Usually, the part near the tip unscrews, which lets you see the mechanism. If you then push the button down against your desk, the clutch mechanism pushes up. There's a brass ring around the clutch jaws, holding them shut - push it down, and it will release the jaws. Once they've sprung open a bit of sideways tapping should dislodge any tiny bits of lead.

If the mechanism can't be opened up, blockages can usually be cleared by holding the pencil tip-up, with the button held down against your desk, and feeding a cleaning pin in through the tip to push any little bits of lead out from where they're stuck. Some pencils include a cleaning pin, usually attached to the eraser, but many don't. If you don't have one to hand, another piece of thin wire or a pin may fit, but don't force anything too wide into the tip. At a push, a spare piece of lead can do the job, but it takes a steady hand to feed it in without snapping it!

With all that done, you should be up and running again. If you're having trouble with leads snapping or jamming your pencil, and you're using cheap lead, you might find better quality lead is worth it for the extra strength then can bring. See our full range here. We'd especially recommend Pentel Ain Stein leads as being very strong and smooth.

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60 Years of the Pilot Capless

Pilot Capless

A fountain pen that doesn't have a cap? A retractable fountain pen? It's unusual now, so back in the 1960s when the Capless was launched, it must have seemed really outlandish; either a case of 'it'll never catch on' (just as TV was thought to be a flash in the pan) or perhaps an assault on tradition, a bit like the newly-coined words 'selfie' and 'defo' could be seen as detrimental to the English language.

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Ferris Wheel Press - Pens too, not just inks!

Ferris Wheel Press Pen in BlueWhen they arrived on the scene, their attention to design details made Ferris Wheel Press fountain pen inks an immediate hit. The beautifully round bottles, the intricate designs on the packaging, the inspiration from a combination of fairground rides and printing presses. People loved it all.

But what many have missed since then is that Ferris Wheel Press have turned that same eye for good design details to pens. They now make a small range of fountain pens and ink rollers, with the same quirkiness that so many people love in their inks.

Ferris Wheel Press pen in orangeTake the grip sections, for example. For most pens, the grip section is either plain, or maybe has some simple lines engraved into it to add some grip. Ferris Wheel Press have taken a different approach, reasoning that if there needs to be some sort of engraving done to improve the grip on that section, why not use grab the chance to make it look good too? Why just add some lines or a simple pattern when they can add a fancy and intricate custom pattern, inspired by vintage Underwood typewriters?

The fancy engraving doesn’t extend to the more basic plastic pens, but in pricing, these are competing with some of the most popular entry level pens from the big names like Lamy and Kaweco. And they make a very nice alternative for those who just want something a little more unusual.

As with most people, we mainly knew of Ferris Wheel Press for their inks, so we asked them what made them start making pens too. They told us:

Here at FWP, we are stationery lovers and we are constantly using writing instruments in our day to day. From project planning to creative ideation, the pen is at the forefront of what we do. In a world where digital technology often takes the spotlight, we are here on a boundless mission to create the most enchanting stationery imaginable. Through the magic of storytelling, we seek to inspire a newfound appreciation for stationery culture.

Ferris Wheel Press's first product was actually a fountain pen. The first version of the Brush Fountain Pen was created out of a passion to help the world fall in love with writing again. Our design philosophy is about creating beautiful objects that beg to be picked up and utilized, everyday.

At the heart of stationery culture rests the fountain pen. It is the most enjoyable tactile experience that helps us connect our hand, heart, and mind. In our mission to inspire an appreciation for stationery culture, we endeavour to create gorgeous writing instruments that inspire people to write, create, take action, starting with a pen that yearns to be picked up.

The story of the Ferris Wheel Press universe is continuing to be told with new adventures, experiences, and endearing characters that come to life through our products. From the intricate details on our writing instruments, to the hidden Easter eggs on our packages, our aim is to bring our customers on a joyful expedition and further their appreciation for stationery.

We believe a good fountain pen is one that is put to use. Our goal is to create stunning instruments that resonate with those who value life's finer details. Beyond using high-quality materials and careful crafting processes, our designs aim to bring joy through hidden details, making the act of writing a delightful experience that excites both new and experienced writers.

As we expand our product offerings, we're developing new styles, colors, and finishes. We're also introducing new nib options and enhanced functionality. Our objective is to provide accessible products that stand out in their price range, inspiring the next generation of stationery enthusiasts.

Join us on this journey, where we celebrate the beauty of writing, one pen at a time, with Ferris Wheel Press.

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140 Years of Kaweco

While the name ‘Kaweco’ didn’t exist until later, the story of Kaweco goes back to 1883, with the founding of the Heidelberger Federhalterfabrik, or Heidelberg fountain pen factory. A few years later, in 1889, the company was taken over by Heinrich Koch and Rudolph Weber, who used a modified version of their own initials to create the Kaweco name. The Perkeo name was also used at this time.

Jumping forward to 1911, they designed a handy pocketable fountain pen, which was the birth of the Kaweco Sport, one of their most popular pens to this day.

In 1930, the name, machinery, stock and patents were all bought by a smaller pen maker, which gave us another part of the Kaweco story - the current circular logo with KA/WE/CO divided into thirds. This company was still going strong until the 1970s, but the brand faded after that.

Fortunately, along came Michael Gutberlet. He ran a successful business mainly producing cosmetics for big brands, but he had a passion for pens, and especially loved Kaweco’s designs. When the brand name became available, he snapped it up, and worked with Diplomat to produce a range of new pens under the Kaweco name, using his pen expertise and manufacturing experience to make quality products that people loved, echoing the classic Sport design.

These were very popular, leading the new Kaweco to success in its own right, with the range expanding ever since.

As an aside, it may sound odd to most people that a cosmetics company would also make pens, but it’s surprisingly common - quite a few big names in the pen and pencil world also make cosmetics, often for other brands or under a different name. Many cosmetics are made in the form of pencils, and there’s some crossover of techniques between making cosmetics and making inks, pencil lead and pigments. They often start as high quality pigments, usually in powder form.

One of Michael’s favourite things to do is scouring his own collection of vintage Kaweco pens, and old catalogues, looking for inspiration. This process has given us some of the most popular modern pens, including the handy pocketable Sport range. The same sources led to the tiny Liliput, and the comfortable and fashionable Perkeo. For the latter, their ties to the cosmetics industry has helped too, letting them make pens in up-and-coming colour combinations, bringing a touch of modern fashion to a classically-styled pen.

But even after all these years, that 1911 design, the Sport, remains one of the most popular pens around, especially as a pocketable fountain pen - some things never change.

140th Anniversary of Kaweco

If you’ve managed to reach the age of 140, you have something to celebrate, so Kaweco aren’t letting the anniversary pass by. And of course, they’re celebrating the best way they know how - with a special edition pen that brings back their own history.

Kaweco's 140th anniversary 'Ebonit' Sport pen

It’s made from Ebonite - a form of hardened rubber that was commonly used for pens back in the early days of the Kaweco brand, but is now usually considered too difficult to work with, not fitting in with modern manufacturing techniques. But it’s a special material, named for its similarity to ebony, often showing a lovely marbling or striped patterning, reminiscent of exotic wood. The hardening process leaves a characteristic sulphurous smell, and the material ages nicely, picking up a patina that can be polished away if desired. Care instructions are included.

It's supplied in card gift packaging, with a set of all ten colours of Kaweco ink cartridges, and a pocket clip. At the time of writing, it's available to pre-order, due out in October - the Kaweco Ebonit Sport Fountain Pen Set 140th Anniversary Edition.

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