Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mouse Fur?

The J. Herbin ink library of colors includes a rich assortment of beautiful, striking and unique, or at least idiosyncratic colors. The Vert Olive is a distinctive ink, and the perfectly named Rouge Opéra is for one who has a taste for reds, particularly individual. And though it it close to Private Reserve’s Arabian Rose, the J. Herbin Larmes de Cassis has its own quality apart from the former. But the feeling is they have done something truly individual with the ink they call Cacao du Brésil. A quick look might prompt one to say, “Yeah, a gray-brown ink. Not very pretty.”

In my opinion that snap description would be about 50% accurate. It honestly is not an ink that anyone would choose to brighten up or prettify the page. But then, we must realize it was never meant to serve that purpose, and that the mixologists at J. Herbin had a different idea in mind when they devised this odd shade of gray-brown. I have always felt that fountain pen inks should be chosen to illuminate the writer’s mood, or the tone of what is being put on the page. Certainly graphic designers routinely select their fonts and colors to enhance the ad or layout on their drawing board. Are we who love fountain pens, ink and paper any different in that respect?

I saw right off that Cacao du Brésil would fill a useful spot in my palette of inks. In writing out the detailed review page shown above, I mentioned that the ink reminds me of the De Atramentis ink, Charles Dickens—slightly somber, but in that description we also sense a hard-to-name quality of quiet simplicity. The Japanese call it shibui, or sober refinement and elegance. To my eye, the Herbin gray-brown has that quiet elegance.

Gray-brown. Mmm…is that accurate? How did they achieve this shade? At the risk of sounding as though I’m making a joke (and I’m not), if I had to imagine how Herbin arrived at this color, I would say they tried to come up with something that might look like a mix of unwashed potato peels, mouse fur and two, three at the most blueberries. Of course, that’s a preposterous recipe, but it does look a little like that to these eyes. My hope is that no one will read it as an inky indictment. When all has been said, when finally the inked words march or dance they way across the page, I’m happy with what I see.

The above review gives a few of the details, but I must warn that as of now, I have only tried the Cacao du Brésil in one pen, a Lamy Safari, and on three or four varieties of paper. The overall impression with the Lamy was good, but I'm not sure that another (perhaps better) fountain pen won’t bring out some other qualities in the ink. I have a feeling that the shading might be improved in a Pelikan, with a gold nib. In time, I might have some other ideas about this wonderfully peculiar J. Herbin Cacao du Brésil.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America