Aug. 23, 2020

10: Urban Hafner of Fountain Pen Companion

10: Urban Hafner of Fountain Pen Companion

This episode is a discussion about ink tracking with Urban Hafner of

Urban has developed an extensive website for tracking inks, pens, and more called the Fountain Pen Companion. He is also a co-host of a podcast of the same name.  Urban is also an avid Chinese pens collector.

Ink Journal

Leonardo Pens on Appelboom

PenBBS on Etsy

Bobby on ChinesePen

EasyBuy on Etsy

Is your favorite ink #1 on FPC?

Fountain Pen Love

385 ink brands on FPC

E-2 Paper

Sailor Pro Gear Slim Purple Cosmos zoom nib

Pilot 78G

Wing Sung piston filler

Pen BBS 456 vacuum filler with a #6 nib

Karas Decograph cracked ice

Urban’s name chop as a two-color wax seals

Naomi Bulger’s Mail Art Coloring Books

Naomi Bulger on Instagram

Urban on the Internets:

Urban on FPC




John on the Internets:

John on FPC




You can also write to me at:

Stationery Orbit

Attn: John West

P.O. Box 621

Golden, CO 80402  

Support the show (


SO ep 10  tk 1.sesx_mixdown


[00:00:00] John: [00:00:00] Welcome to episode 10 of stationary orbit. I'm your host John West and today's episode is a discussion about ink tracking with urban Hafner. A fountain pen, Urban has developed an extensive website for tracking inks pens and more called the fountain pen. Companion is also a cohost of the podcast of the same name.

Urban is also an avid Chinese pen collector. So Robin, why don't you tell us a little bit more about yourself? I 

Urban: [00:00:26] am. Thank you for having me on your show. I'm not sure there's much more to add. I run the site called fun band, where you can track your NGS and currently inked and, and a few other things.

I also collect a bit too many pens, I guess, mostly Chinese, because they're interesting because there's so much variation in them. And also because they're a bit cheaper, of course, but lately I'm more and more going towards a bit more expensive pens. And I try to also use up my inks, which [00:01:00] there's a lot, there's about 300 inks and maybe half of them, I haven't even tried yet.

John: [00:01:05] Yeah, I'm feeling your pain. , I've been on eight journal and their ink flights for over a year. And when the first couple of flights came in, I was a good little boy. And I sat down with , my brush and  my glass nib pen and put together my ink, swatches, and then that kind of stopped. And I've got like this overflow of ink samples.

So I'm, I'm in the same boat. You are. 

Urban: [00:01:31] I mean, I'm very diligent about swabbing them, but there's a difference between a swab and actually using it in a pen. Yeah. Trying to actually use them up and use a lot of them. So it's taken, it's going to take me a long time, I guess. 

John: [00:01:47] So with your movement to more expensive pens, are those still Chinese pens or are you moving into other brands now?

Urban: [00:01:55] Mostly other brands or. I have a sailor here, [00:02:00] although this is basically on lawn and some, uh, Leonardo or some platinum pens in that direction, mainly 

John: [00:02:09] lucky. And I just happened to, well, I didn't just happen to be, I was like stalking the new Leonardo Jonathan Brooks collaboration for that primary manipulation pen.

And as soon as that came up on sale, I was. Clawing through the websites, trying to figure out who actually was going to offer those. And, , I picked mine up through Apple. 

Urban: [00:02:32] Yeah. And that Ben looks super pretty. It's just, it's that's, it's still a bit out of my price range. Maybe at some point I will have to get a momentous arrow.

Grander. Yeah. 

John: [00:02:44] It's definitely something that's going to put a halt to some other pen purchases for a while. Cause that was a. Pretty significant hit, but I'm finding, , stamps and wax seals still. 

Urban: [00:02:57] That is true. Yeah. The bends are [00:03:00] generally the more expensive part than an inks and paper and stuff like that.

That still is possible to amass quite a few things there. 

John: [00:03:10] So one of the questions I had for you is for the Chinese fountain pens. It seems like you had a pretty good, , in, on where to find those. , I think it was an Etsy site. Is that correct? 

Urban: [00:03:22] Or one manufacturer? So for Penn BBS, they basically have an Etsy store directly from them.

And that's where I normally buy those for the rest. There is basically eBay and sometimes at T there's a few sellers. Where it's best to buy from because sometimes the QC on those pens isn't that great. And if you pick the right seller, they will just send you a replacement. So that would be someone called Bobby in the  community.

So he has at his store called Chinese ends. Maybe I can find the link and then there's easy buy, which is basically the second one. 

[00:04:00] John: [00:04:00] Is that also on Etsy? Yes. 

Urban: [00:04:03] Yeah, that's basically it. If you're, if you are adventurous and want to see stuff sooner, and there's also AliExpress, but I never really got that deep into it.

I'm just waiting until the depends hit it EBA or 

John: [00:04:19] that's nice. All right. Since , we're talking about. We've got a podcast for sitting in Boulder, Colorado. We've got my guest in Germany and we're talking about Chinese pens. I get asked you what country has the best pen pals. 

Urban: [00:04:34] That is a good question. So my, most of my pen pals are actually from the S because I found them through the kinetics Slack.

Otherwise it's of course different. If I have to write in English or any other language, if so, sometimes it's just easier for me. If I talk to someone in German. And I have a few pen pals from here as well. 

John: [00:04:57] Do you speak any other languages other than English and German? 

[00:05:00] Urban: [00:05:00] It depends on how you define speaking.

So I can talk to someone in Greek and if necessary also in French, I can also read Swedish. So I am in Sweden. He writes me in Swedish and I just write back in English because my English, my Swedish isn't good enough anymore to. , to actually write it, but reading is fine. 

John: [00:05:25] That's awesome. Yeah. I remember, , it was a, your wife is of Greek descent.

Urban: [00:05:30] Yes. My wife is Greek, so I need to speak Greek to speak to other relatives when we were there. Basically. 

John: [00:05:36] Very good. You've noticed any difference between pen pals between the U S and your European pen pals differences in style? 

Urban: [00:05:44] Not so much. No. I mean, it's, it's. It's a really personal thing anyway. Right.

Everyone writes differently. So I think it depends much more on the actual person then bend on where they're 

John: [00:05:57] from. Fair enough. Yeah. I [00:06:00] was hiking with Amanda, my K, and she was talking about the wide variety of her pen pals folks that will just pick up a legal pad and a pencil and a standard business envelope versus crazy people like me that insist on like letter locking and.

All kinds of wax seals and stamps. And yeah, 

Urban: [00:06:20] I think I fall somewhere in the middle. I generally try to have nice paper and use fundings, but these days I am, I'm a bit too lazy. Sometimes I put in a bit of washi tape, but that's it. And sometimes if I feel really fancy also axial. Yeah, 

John: [00:06:37] that was one of my recent finds that in the aftermath of my Leonardo purchase, I'm like trying to find fun washy tapes.

And I found, , my friend Totara or my, my neighbor Totoro washi tape from jet pans, and that was a studio Ghibli stuff. And I was just, that's a really fun washi tape. Yep. With all of the [00:07:00] ink flying around on fountain pen, companion, do you own any vintage inks? 

Urban: [00:07:05] No. Okay. Yeah. So , I'm more interested , in ink as a, to use, and I'm not necessarily as interested in it as something to collect.

I try to not be a collector. I'm trying to be a user. I mean, I now own almost 300 inks and 70 pens. So it's questionable if this is still user territory or not, but no, , I don't even own any examples from. Stuff like that Parker pen, mint chip or something like that. As far as I know. Yeah. I'll 

John: [00:07:40] , with, , John Bosley over here and we'll see about fixing that for you, send you some care packages, some, , pretty serious vintage inks and all of his stuff is usable.

He actually developed a book that he used as a guideline and a lot of his ink swabs were his [00:08:00] arc types, or when he got in a new bottle of ink, he'd swab it to see if it was close enough to his arc type color that he thought the bottle was still good. So , he was he's collecting for usability as well.

So I'll make sure I get you hooked up. Ah, 

Urban: [00:08:16] that's nice. Always fun to get new inks. To try, 

John: [00:08:20] especially stuff that you're not going to be able to find anymore or stuff where maybe you have some of the modern stuff and being able to compare it to the vintage. So do you have , a favorite brand or a brand does you're right now that you're really following 

Urban: [00:08:36] really?

I mean, these days, I just grab some of my examples randomly and put them in a pen to actually use them. So there's a funky new stuff , from some smaller Polish companies, like a pen pal of mine sent me an examples she's from Poland and it's basically stuff that's local, or [00:09:00] even just made for their fountain bend forum and stuff like that.

And , sometimes it's just stuff I had here for a long, long time. And it's just what a man and the purple. So I, I tried to use it all. 

John: [00:09:14] Okay. That's fair enough. It's hard to chase everything. I think the total ink brand count was it was at 500 prank brands. 

Urban: [00:09:24] , depends on, I mean, if, if, let me look at the number on Fontbonne companion, the current numbers, 383 brands and a total of over 5,300 distinct inks.


John: [00:09:40] , the ink part I know is completely mind blind, but I was actually blown away at how many ink brands there are. 

Urban: [00:09:48] Yeah. That is true.  That's a lot these days. 

John: [00:09:51] So do you have a favorite type of paper then? 

Urban: [00:09:54] That also depends on the use case basically. So for letter writing, I, I [00:10:00] try to use paper that is fun to write on and also where the ink looks nice.

So. The more reverse, definitely at the top of the list there bank paper is also nice. And I also started to make my own ads out of bluff on 10 printer paper. Oh yeah. So you can basically buy 500 sheets of eight or for seven or eight euros that has 50 GSM paper. And you can I print a very, very faint dot grid on it.

And I bind it with bookbinding glue into those ads where you can tear off sheets. I've 

John: [00:10:37] got two different reams of specialty paper, one you can't even buy anymore. And it was a wheat straw paper out of Canada that staples used to stock. And then I just picked up a ream of cocoon printer paper. And I don't remember who recommended that, but that was something I still have yet to get into a printer or get [00:11:00] under ink.

So it'll be interesting to see how that one works. 

Urban: [00:11:04] Yeah. So , that is sort of the paper I mainly use , for letter writing because there, I can just leave the page to drive for however long it takes or my work notebooks. I, well, it depends. I currently use a moreover notebook still, but they had tried to use really dry eggs and iron pens, but I'm probably switching to something that is.

Some might consider a paper that is not really good for fountain pens, but it's just, it just drives pretty fast. Something like the Alarmy notebooks or, , Fabriano paper, stuff like that. That's 

John: [00:11:36] fair enough. Fabriano is another brand I need to see about delving into and picking up some of their eco CWA pads.

Urban: [00:11:44] Yeah, they're nice. They're really nice. Plus, they have this nice four millimeter dot grid, which I find much nicer to use than five millimeters. 

John: [00:11:52] Yeah. I was a cut my teeth on engineering graph paper here in the States. And it's a specific style called  [00:12:00] paper that has the grid on the back of the page. So that if you photocopy it, you don't see the grid.

It's kind of a weird paper, but I still find myself going back to that with ballpoints , when I'm needed like comfort food for paper and pens. You were saying before that you like certain types of paper for certain types of inks. And do you have a certain particular type of paper characteristics that you like or in characteristic that you like in terms of sheening or shading or that kind of thing that you really enjoy?

Urban: [00:12:32] I'm not that much into cheating ink. So, I mean, if there's a tiny bit of sheen here and there, that's fine, but those super seen as sheen monsters, Personally, I'm not a fan of the ever-present red sheen. Anyway. I don't like color plus they're so saturated that they're smashing even when they're dry. So they're just not so fun to use.

Plus [00:13:00] they're also so saturated that sometimes they just don't flow very well. Sometimes I'm okay with . If they don't overdo it. But I'm more into shading, inks and lighter inks. So light greens and stuff like that. Which of course also we're only really works on good paper because if the ink really soaks into the page, then it just doesn't look nice with those really lighting you lose the color.

Yeah. It just gives it a really weird look. I can't really describe it. So that's stuff to use on Memorial river, stuff like that. Yeah. 

John: [00:13:34] I've found myself, like you said, getting away from the sheening yanks, just because of the. Extremely high dry times. And even once  they're dry, you can still smell them.

And, , I found myself getting more into the shimmery ranks, which seems to behave better. 

Urban: [00:13:49] Yeah. I mean, what I I've, I'm not stuck with a bottle of, , organic studio's nitrogen, which is one of those super Sheena's and I've started to mix it with, , , [00:14:00] which is not my favorite , shimmering, because it's more of a Royal blue with a gold shimmer.

, if I mixed two parts of that with one part of the nitrogen, it's basically looks like nitrogen, but with shimmer and somehow it's not gold shimmer anymore, it's sort of overlays. I think it's just that this ink is so saturated that it changes the color of the shimmer also, but that's really fun combination.

John: [00:14:25] That's exactly what you were saying before is that the shinning inks, the super Shinners are so heavily saturated that they're going to take over anything. You're going to mix them with. So one thing that I think a lot of folks might not know about you is that before you got into fountain pens, you were really big into origami.

Urban: [00:14:43] Yes. That was my main hobby when I was still in university and had a lot of free time. I never really got into this artistic direction of origami where you old animals and stuff like that. I was more, more into the mathematical [00:15:00] direction. So where you fold many pieces that all look the same, and then you put them together.

Or you do something like tessellations with which basically then in the end look a bit like those Arabic, , drawings that you see everywhere. So that's basically what I did. 

John: [00:15:16] Did you have, , a favorite paper for origami? Cause I know that origami is a completely different kind of  a paper issue because then you're dealing with how well it 

Urban: [00:15:25] full.

Yes. , so I basically always got my paper from a really. A specialized store here in the area. , and they just imported from Japan basically. I mean, there it is again, , depends on the use case. So there's what I mainly used is this, what do you see as standard origami paper? So white on one side and a color on the other and fairly thin.

But if you get into making those animals , and bigger things, then you instead, normally use really, really thick paper. It's [00:16:00] harder to fall, but in the end it gives you the ability , to moisten it a bit, and then you can sort of model it and you don't only fold, but in the end you sort of moisten it a bit and then you can bring it into shape.

And then when it dries, it stays like that. That holds the 

John: [00:16:14] fault and the shaping. Yep. So we had spoken before about her Chinese collection and with fountain pens. And the fact that you're kind of moving away from some of the Chinese pens or to more expensive pens. Do you have a particular type of fountain pen that you really enjoy right now?

Urban: [00:16:34] So Mike current favorite is a unfortunately, and that I only have on loan. So it's a sailor progress limb purple cosmos with a zoom nib. And I just enjoyed it.  It's just so much fun to use. I basically use it all the time, even for work, even when I need to write smaller, just it's just very enjoyable.

I might have talked to the owner and see how much it's going to [00:17:00] cost. 

John: [00:17:01] Yeah. I think that's one I need to see about picking up, but what the zoom NAB, but I'm going to have to do it now. A pro gear or  because the burger Slims are just too small. I've gotten to use to M 1000 size pens. 

Urban: [00:17:16] Yeah. I mean, I have fairly small hands, I think so I can, if in a pinch I can use a sport.


John: [00:17:25] wow. That's yeah, I can't possibly do that. I have a hard enough time with COVID goes in the, like the Sean designed pocket six when  I've got those posted at let alone trying to work with one of those on posted. , it sounds like we've already got the question too. Favorite pen in the collection, which goes back to the sailor pro gear slam.

, so that works out. What is one thing you wished people knew about Chinese pants? 

Urban: [00:17:52] Wow. I mean these days, I mean, when I started maybe four years ago, Chinese pans were exactly what you [00:18:00] generally imagined. They were super cheap and mostly pretty crappy, but these days they. I mean over the last year or two, they have massively improved their quality control and they are just, they're just good pens.

I mean, you can buy a 20, I mean, on, in the, on the more expensive side. So maybe 20 or $30, you already get a really, really good band. Yes. There's sometimes are just blatant. Wrap-ups rip offs of other manufacturers. But if you really look into it, So is the silo, 1911 of a Montblanc. You have a black sailor, 1911 with gold trim and you put it next to them on blog.

Most people that aren't found pen users probably will have a hard time to distinguish them for that. They don't see the snowflake 

John: [00:18:49] yeah. Cigar style as a cigar style. Yeah. So I 

Urban: [00:18:52] wouldn't. So sometimes I see people and say, ah, they are all just ripping off all the other companies out there. But if you look [00:19:00] into this, that's how it used to be with Tiffany's Benz.

My few decades ago, 

John: [00:19:05] I've heard that there's one of the Chinese pens that people initially looked at as being like a Twispy knockoff. But it turns out that actually has a couple of features to it. For like locking down the piston. I think that actually is an improvement on what twas be put together. Yeah.

Urban: [00:19:23] And sometimes they  do these changes. Like I have a, , Panda does, looks like a, or is a copy, basically pilot's 78 D but it is a piston filler, which is wow. That's great. So they do experiment. 

John: [00:19:36] Yeah. Do you remember what model that was? 

Urban: [00:19:39] I couldn't tell you that one doesn't even have a name. I just bought it as wing sung, piston filler.

That was the description on eBay. Sometimes you don't even get a name. Yeah. 

John: [00:19:50] Yeah. With all the Chinese pans on the quality that's coming out of there. Now, would you have a pen that you'd point the listeners to that [00:20:00] you consider to be a really great value that folks might be missing in this U S. 

Urban: [00:20:06] My favorite company is probably Penry VBS.

A generally don't make knock-offs. I mean, that is one that is basically an  and all the other ans they're pretty, pretty unique, or basically built on patents that have expired eight years ago and stuff like that. So I think the  best of them is the, or five six, which is a vacuum filler, which is basically.

I would say, depending on where, how much, , what material you use, they're around 30 bucks, 35, something like that. And you get it back for the love within them. Number six sides. And they're really sturdy. That's 

John: [00:20:47] cool. Lord knows the vacuum filler family in the current fountain pen is a pretty narrow selection.

It's the eight 23 or the VAX 700 and a lot of cases, [00:21:00] that's 

Urban: [00:21:00] basically it. Yeah. I mean, and of course, once this was out there, a few other Chinese ends came up there. There's a, another one. I don't remember the model number, which is like, It looks very similar to the back 700 and it's like 10 bucks. Okay.

John: [00:21:16] That's very cool. If you can find the good quality and then you've got a great value, but not a great value, if you don't get the 

Urban: [00:21:22] quality. Yeah. I mean, I did learn to fix nibs with all the Chinese spans. 

John: [00:21:30] There you go. Yeah. Especially if , they're working off of a Bach nib and you can just grab it and replace it, then you're good to go.

Urban: [00:21:38] That is also true. Yeah. Although the parent be BBS, nibs are actually pretty nice these days. I ended 

John: [00:21:44] up with a kind of an unexpected surprise is when I backed the watcher green pen on Kickstarter. They were saying that they were just going to use us standard off the shelf nib. And then when they actually got around to distributing the pins, they [00:22:00] were so far into the manufacturer of their own washer, nibs that they actually sent mine out without a washer nib on it.

And that's actually been a nice nib. That's nice. What is your favorite stationary purchase of the last six months? 

Urban: [00:22:14] The last six months, I think I haven't bought that many things with all the it's just been weird the last month and I didn't buy that many things, but it probably would have to be my Kara of graph.

I have it in this nice. Practise a material that is pretty dark and have has a few blue spots. And that's just a very nice pen. Plus the tax bok nibs and. They are pretty cheap to get in Germany. So I now have a, uh, black nip on this basically really black and dark then, which is nice. 

John: [00:22:49] So do you have a favorite embellishment when writing or receiving snail mail?

Urban: [00:22:54] I mean, like I said before, I don't do that much to my envelopes [00:23:00] or my letters anymore these days. I just, I'm happy to get the letters out. So sometimes I do put on a bit of washi tape in the past. I might also make my own envelopes, but that just didn't scale. I guess when I feel really fancy, I use my name top that a friend of mine from Hong Kong had made for me as a wax seal.

That works pretty nice. That's excellent. And you can sort of use this red paste. That comes with it and put some on before you do the walk seal. So you ended up with a Wuxia, but you have this, , in the indentations, you actually have this red ink or this ink paste, which gives it a nice two color look.

John: [00:23:41] That's very cool. There's the chop actually in 

Urban: [00:23:45] Chinese. Yes. So he very cool. I asked his relatives on how to, I would want translate this name and then they came up with something. 

John: [00:23:54] Yeah. That's something that when I was doing the research for the wax seals and [00:24:00] rubber stamp seals kind of episodes that you end up with a whole different rabbit hole that you can go down because of how important.

Those name chops are in Eastern Asian culture. That if you do business over there, you pretty much need to go by your own name, chop so that you can sign 

Urban: [00:24:22] documents. That's true. It's basically the criminal into a signature here, right? 

John: [00:24:27] Yeah, absolutely. And there are one of the interesting little tidbits I found is that, especially on paintings, when you turn the painting over, you'll typically see two or three chops on the back.

One will be the artist and one will be the owner and then possibly a second or third owner. And each one of them will chop the painting. 

Urban: [00:24:47] That's interesting. Yep. 

John: [00:24:49] With, , the snail mail to get back to the embellishments thing. Is there anything that you've seen that when you got hold of the envelope, you just thought, wow, that's really cool.

Urban: [00:24:59] mean that, there's [00:25:00] some people that just number one day, put it up, they make their own envelope. So you can use such a, you can view, use fund paper with it. So that's, that's a good starter I need. And some put in a lot of different washy tapes and they. Right in really fancy script, the addresses and stuff like that.

So, , that is that a cool plus one of my pen pals for a while. So he did, I think one drawing a day and she did the drawings on the envelope she sent out. So he did get envelopes with the drawing on them, which was also pretty cool. Yeah. That's 

John: [00:25:34] like good old school, male art that the root of it. Yeah. For a little while there I was getting into watercoloring and I'd put down and then I'd water color over the Sampson.

Occasionally those that go out with a letter and I haven't done that in awhile. Maybe that's something I need to try again. 

Urban: [00:25:54] Yeah. I mean these days, I just don't find the time. I have a stack of [00:26:00] letters to reply to some, some of them are a few months old and I'd rather just send out a replay and not spend much more time on the envelope so that it takes even longer to go.

John: [00:26:11] Yeah. I'll probably regret this later on down the line, but given that I'm running a podcast that. It's supposed to concentrate on creative letter writing. I've tried to get out to more pen pals and do more letter writing. So eventually that's gonna come around and bite me, but it hasn't yet. So wish me luck.

Urban: [00:26:29] mean, the trick is to not to reply to anyone, then you don't have as many letters to 

John: [00:26:32] write. There you go. Uh, runs into the problem of you don't get letters unless you send letters. Yeah. But 

Urban: [00:26:39] then you just restart and say, sorry that it took so long and then you can sort of, it takes off again. 

John: [00:26:45] Are there any artists out there that you think are doing amazing work that the stationary lovers listening are need to know about?

So, one 

Urban: [00:26:54] to think about is now, Naomi Bulger. I'm not entirely sure if she [00:27:00] still does it. She used to have a newsletter where you basically, every week you got one or two PDFs with. Coloring pages basically that you could color in and then you fold them up and they will turn into an envelope. And she has, yeah.

Plus you can look at her Instagram and she has a lot of envelopes she's made. So that is really fun to look at. I am, I just don't have the time anymore to do it. So for a while we did it with the kids where they would in the summer holidays, just make our envelopes and I let them all in, but we don't really do that anymore.

John: [00:27:32] Like I said everything, everything takes time and you've got to choose your battles, but yeah, I've followed Naomi Bolger on, on Instagram as well with her decorated envelopes. And some of those are hand painted as well. Pretty serious artwork. 

Urban: [00:27:49] Yeah. I think you can even get them as an ebook ebook these days where you can then basically have 50 or something and you can print them out.

John: [00:27:57] I'll have to go. I'll have to go see if I can find a link for [00:28:00] that so I can put it in the show notes. So I mentioned in the show notes, urban, where can they find you on the internet? 

Urban: [00:28:08] Yes, you can find me at FTC dot Inc slash users. Last one. So that is my applique profile on CommBank companion. You can find me in your favorite podcasting app under fountain pen.

Companion may be, hopefully we will restart recording again soon, and you can find me on Instagram as Urban Hafner. 

John: [00:28:32] Excellent.