Review: The Spectre of Alexander Wolf

The Spectre of Alexander Wolf
The Spectre of Alexander Wolf by Gaito Gazdanov
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Liked the descriptions and scenes of 1920s (I think) Paris the most. These are narrated tersely, with just enough visual and aural detail. Thought the narrator’s inner ruminations seemed convoluted and tedious by comparison, with the diction overly formal.

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Kaweco Dia2, 2013

Classic styling with lots of thoughtful little details. 

Kaweco was no more by 1976, but the brand was revived in the mid-1990s by the Gutberlet family, who runs a firm specialising in industrial equipment for pen manufacture. 

In terms of design, Kaweco’s lineup is heavily influenced by Kaweco pens of the 30’s. The Dia2 is an excellent example.  

Kaweco Dia2

Design and Materials

I like the combination of pre-war German styling with modern elements. The Dia2 is ultimately inspired by a Kaweco Dia c.1940 (see this FPB thread for some pics — Modern elements include: the barrel design (more on that below); logo inserts on crown and barrel end and the engraved script on the back of the cap. The knurling and gold trim at the barrel end evoke a piston-filler’s turning knob. 

As the name implies, the Dia2 is the latest version of Kaweco’s earlier re-issue of the Dia. That pen followed the vintage Dia design much more closely. You can see pics here —

Kaweco Dia2

The Dia2 has a less monolithic profile and a more slender barrel, designed such that it bulges a little in the middle before tapering towards the end (c.f. Pelikan’s Wonders of Nature models). The section is also simpler, and slightly concave. 

Cap and barrel are plastic, but the pen has a bit of heft due to the metal parts. The inner cap is a metal piece, the clip brass. The inner barrel threads look like brass as well, though that piece doesn’t extend the length of the barrel. Pens like these don’t feel as cold as, say, Waterman’s usual lacquered/painted all-metal barrels.

The Dia2 comes equipped with a steel nib plated to match the trim. The nib is sized for the Kaweco Sport, a much smaller pen, and the units are interchangeable. I suppose this helps keeps costs down but the nib is visually too small relative to the rest of the pen.   

Performance-wise, no problems. Smooth out of the box (which, btw, was a very attractive vintage-inspired tin 🙂 )

Filling System
Cartridge/converter, and Kaweco converters come printed with their logo — a nice touch. If you use international short cartridges, you’d probably appreciate the loose spring inside the barrel which allows you to keep a spare international short cartridge inside without having it slide up and down. 

Length (capped): 13.3cm
Length (uncapped): 12.2cm

Kaweco Dia2

Majestic flat-top, pearl and black


Found another charming Majestic — one I’ve never seen before. Looks just like a Waterman 52 especially with the riveted clip. Comes with a Warranted 14K “2” nib. I still half-expect to find a number stamped on the barrel end. It’s probably older than the Majestic I posted earlier.

Incidentally, Jon Veley has pics of Majestic pencils in similar pearl and black celluloid, with riveted clips on his site.

Review: How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book presents evidence that success in education (and in one’s life) is determined in large part by non-cognitive skills — grit, determination, persistence etc — rather than raw academic ability or IQ. It also describes the experiences of educators working against great odds to inculcate in disadvantaged kids habits and skills to improve their educational outcomes, so that they can rise above their circumstances. Inspiring stuff.

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Swan Safety Pen eyedropper, 1948-1952

Swan Safety Pen

The cap on this one caught my eye with its guilloche-like chasing.


Fortunately it polished up very nicely, and straightening the clip was easy. The pen was an eyedropper and a cinch to clean. Sharp imprint, barrel mostly clean. Its Swan #1 14C nib is a fairly stiff medium stub.


This pen was made 1948-1952 according to “The Chronicle of the Fountain Pen” by Martins, Leite and Gagean. (Lambrou’s “Fountain Pens of the World” mentions that 1948 saw Mabie Todd offer pens with #1 nibs for sale, though it’s unclear whether the nibs first appeared in 1948.) By this period Mabie Todd’s fortunes were well in decline and one is tempted to link that with the pen. Overall it feels a bit too light and the cap, though brilliant, is thin-walled. The tines are balanced but the nib slit is just slightly off the centre of the breather hole. The feed is straight but the sides leading up to the tip are not evenly ground. The knurling at the end of the barrel is cosmetic and probably meant to make the pen look like a Leverless model. There was no number or model name given to this pen, though it was probably made for export and shared many components with other pens — possibly including the 3160.

Capped length – 5 inches / 12.7 cm
Uncapped length – 4.5 inches / 11.4 cm

Thanks to Deb Gibson ( and “Hugh” on FPB for the info. Brian Anderson has the same model and he shared pics of it on Pentrace –

Majestic fountain pen, 1930s?

Majestic pen

A short pen – about 4.2 inches / 10.7cm long capped – but the celluloid is unique and attractive: pearlescent browns, greys and translucent parts ambered with the years. For fun, here’s a shot of the barrel and cap lit up from inside:


Much of the gold wash on the furniture had worn off over the decades, typical of third-tier pens.

This pen took some time to clean up. The nib had glossy black marks around the edges and the slit, and there was some kind of hard shiny crud at the tip of the feed and in the fins. Maybe someone had tried using India ink in this pen?

The marks on the nib wouldn’t come off with water, and because they looked like shellac I tried rubbing alcohol on Q-tips. It worked but the gold wash came off too. I trimmed and scraped most of the crud and rough bit off the feed. Cleared the channels with a safety razor and a craft knife.

I salvaged a J-bar from an equally small Ambassador with a split barrel end, then resacced the Majestic with a silicone sac to prevent the celluloid ambering further. The pen had come to me with a plastic sac (from a Hero?) installed using rubber cement, and a plastic strip in lieu of a J-bar. To finish off I polished the barrel and cap a little.

The steel nib – a Fine – writes nicely with a little tooth. Good amount of gold wash and tipping left and not flimsy at all.

Based on what I found online, “Majestic” was a brand of pens from the Majestic Pen Company (originally J. Harris & Co), which also made “Harris” and “Ambassador” pens. Regardless of brand, models resembled each other very closely and were of the same third-tier quality.

More links:
– J Harris pens –

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