Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spicy Ink

It won’t surprise anyone to hear that I stumble almost daily over bottles of fountain pen ink and that keeping up with so many different inks can be a problem. Basically, it’s because my system of arrangement and storage doesn’t allow them to be easily seen one by one, but it’s also because I have too many bottles. Even with optimum display and quick access to each bottle and color, the numbers mean that a few are going to get lost in the crowd and likely ignored for long periods. Favorites are always placed in spots easy to reach and easy to see, but managing as many as ten shifting favorites also gets unwieldy.

But at least this inefficient system of storing ink makes for an occasional happy surprise. That was the case two days ago when I uncovered an old bottle of Noodler’s Cayenne ink and realized it hadn’t been opened in at least seven years. There is a reason for that apart from its being lost in the crowd around here, but more about that later. Buying ink in Japan always comes with the privilege of trying out a particular ink in-store before purchasing it. Shopping one day in Shosaikan, a pen and ink store in the Aoyama district of Tokyo, I first discovered Noodler’s Cayenne ink. Not hard at all to describe, since the color of the ink is a perfect match to the brownish orange of everyday cayenne pepper. 2005 was a time when brownish orange ink was something of a rarity. Not too many ink manufacturers had yet come up with the idea of creating an ink color from the spice rack. The Noodler’s Cayenne intrigued me. I remember sampling it in Shosaikan and being impressed by the color, but uncertain of the ink’s lubricity. In the pen offered to use for sampling, the ink didn’t show a great deal of smoothness. Scratchy was the feeling I got. Still, I bought the ink for the simple reason that the color was gorgeous.

At home, the ink went immediately into my freshly washed Sailor Professional Gear pen. My thought at the time was that the sample pen at Shosaikan was a poor match for the Sailor, and that the Cayenne ink would flow from the Sailor nib like butter onto glass. That proved not to be the case, even on various kinds of paper in several notebooks. I told myself not to jump to conclusions, to go on using the Professional Gear with the Noodler’s Cayenne for at least a week. At the end of the week I decided to try the Cayenne in a Pelikan Souverän 600, a fountain pen that turns all ink into silk, but after a few days the verdict was unavoidable, and it wasn’t good. And so the Noodler’s Cayenne ink got relegated to the back row of ink bottles, and in time forgotten.

The other day I uncovered that Cayenne ink and for a moment wondered why it was hidden at the bottom of the pile. Without a moment’s pause I grabbed it up and brought it together with a Lamy AL-Star and a Bexley Limited Edition. It didn’t take more than a few lines from the Lamy and its fine nib to know that the nib and Noodler’s Cayenne were not a good match. I continued to use the Lamy hoping that the Noodler’s ink would eventually smooth out, but hope proved insufficient and I switched to the broad nibbed Bexley. In my opinion, the Bexley fountain pen will never be the pen a Lamy is, especially one designed by Wolfgang Fabian, but in this case the Bexley’s broad nib was enough to tip the balance. The Noodler’s Cayenne is much better with the Bexley, the flow and smoothness an improvement over the Lamy, but still not exactly hunky-dory.

The sample on the left above, a short poem by Pablo Neruda, was written with the Lamy AL-Star and a fine nib. It looks okay after the fact, but there was little smoothness to those thirteen lines. Despite that, the color of the ink is superb. The example on the right—a journal excerpt—was done with the broad nibbed Bexley and was much closer to the smooth flow of ink most prefer. Personally, I prefer larger nibs, and the Bexley example exhibits better saturation and shading than the Lamy sample.

The excerpt from Kerouac’s On the Road above is one more done with the fine nibbed Lamy AL-Star, and something about the writing of this sample was easier than the first one in the Neruda Poem. Could be the paper, which is no more than an inexpensive memo pad from a Tokyo stationer.

Despite my reservations about this Noodler’s ink, for the time being I’m happy to have it once again in my weekly menu of colors. I expect that continued writing with this ink in whatever fountain pen—say something in excess of five full pages—might become wearing. We all like that which allows us to forget the collaboration of ink, nib and paper and apply our thoughts to the content uninterrupted, and I’m just not sure this particular and exquisite shade of ink will permit that.

For anyone interested in this ink, you can do no better that seeing it, sampling it and buying it at Goulet Pens.


  1. I like the color. Cayenne it is. Would make a great ink for some labels of hot cooking spices in south Louisiana. Would instantly convey to the buyer the taste of what is inside.

  2. I ditto what Raymond said and think it would be a perfect combination.


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