Pen Review: Franklin-Christoph Model 66 Stabilis
Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the San Francisco Pen Show. I haven't been to many pen shows, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but there was one thing I was sure of: if I had the opportunity to pick up a Franklin-Christoph pen in the "Antique Glass" finish, I was going to seize the opportunity.
Materials & Construction
The Model 66 Stabilis is available in a variety of acrylic finishes. Franklin-Christoph tends to keep certain finishes "in rotation" and presently those finishes include solid-color versions in black, "ice" (a translucent demonstrator model), and emerald, as well as a flecked garnet version. One of the perks of attending pen shows is that smaller pen manufacturers will often bring along special versions of their pens that aren't in standard production and I was fortunate enough to pick up my Model 66 in Franklin-Christoph's highly coveted "Antique Glass" finish.
The material is as lovely as I hoped it would be. It's a clear acrylic with a subtle, minty green tint to it that immediately evokes the glass used in vintage soda bottles. As someone who is hopelessly addicted to soft drinks, the material struck a chord in my heart the first time I saw it, and I knew it was something I needed to have in my collection. Unfortunately, it's not that easy to obtain, as Franklin-Christoph usually only makes it available in small quantities via a special sign-up process on their website which, unsurprisingly, fills up quickly.
Now that I finally have the material in hand, I can say that it feels just as good as it looks. The exterior of the acrylic is polished smooth and feels great in the hand. Call me crazy but it feels rather cool to the touch, and holding it practically feels refreshing; maybe the soda bottle illusion is just duping my mind? In any event, the material has a certain kind of radiance to it, and different parts of the pen will appear more vibrant than others based on how the light strikes the material and brings out the tint. It's ripe with character, and even after using the pen for a few weeks now, the novelty still hasn't worn off.
In terms of build quality, the Model 66 does not disappoint. The acrylic feels durable while still being lightweight. It's thicker than what you might find on inexpensive pens like those from TWSBI, so I'm not afraid that it will crack or deform under ordinary wear and tear. Moreover, the "unibody"-like construction of the barrel has a certain rigidity to it and gives off a sense of sturdiness that's just downright pleasing.
The Model 66 is marketed as a desk pen and has been designed accordingly. Of course, the namesake feature of the pen is the single facet on the barrel that allows the pen to rest stationary on a flat surface. In practice I find it works well and without it the pen would definitely be prone to rolling. I like that Franklin-Christoph inscribes their company name and "Model 66" on the facet, but the engraving itself is a bit imperfect: the text characters are somewhat grainy and lack uniformity. Sure, I'm being a bit nit-picky, but the imprecision in tooling is noticeable and detracts from an otherwise clean design.
When seeing the Model 66 for the first time, your eye is immediately drawn to the long, tapered barrel. The interior of the barrel has a coarse finish to it that almost resembles the plastered look you'd find on dry wall. This results in a 'frosted' design that's more opaque than the other components of the pen. What's cool is that if you eyedropper the pen, bits of ink will temporarily stick to the small creases in this finish, which really gives off a distinctive look. One of the design features I absolutely adore is the transparent end of the barrel. It's perfectly clear, which contrasts nicely with the frosted barrel, and I love the way the barrel cavity abruptly stops short of the barrel's drawn-out end.
Like the barrel, the cap also makes use of a combination of polished and mottled design elements. The top of the cap is polished and features the Franklin-Christoph "F" logo accompanied by a pattern of 4 diamonds. The upper portion of the cap has the frosted look that's applied to the barrel, but the area below that (where the threads reside) is polished. It's a neat look but it is also a bit busy. Part of me wishes they would simplify the design and just go with a completely polished cap, which would provide some added symmetry when viewed against the clear end of the barrel.
Though the Model 66 does accept a standard international converter (and one is included with the pen), I find the pen far more enjoyable to use as an eyedropper. The spacious cavity in the barrel will hold a ton of ink, and seeing it slosh around in there will bring a smile to any fountain pen enthusiast's face. What's more, the mottled, frosted design of the barrel can produce an interesting look, especially when the pen is outdoors or in other well-lit environments where light passes through the pen. I particularly enjoy filling this pen with dark brown ink to really exploit the soda bottle look.
In the Hand
The Model 66 feels great in my hand. Uncapped and unposted, the pen is long, but in a good way, and its generous proportions lend a feeling that you're writing with a truly premium pen. The gentle inward taper on the back end of the barrel affords a good balance and the pen's 21g weight results in comfortable writing dynamics. For those who may find the pen's 153mm (uncapped) length to be unwieldy, Franklin-Christoph does offer the smaller Model 65. However, I greatly prefer the dimensions of the 66, and the step down to a #5 nib in the 65 is another compromise I'd rather not make.
The cap does post, but to get a snug fit you do have to apply a little pressure and part of me fears that doing so will mar the finish eventually. Posting the cap doesn't make the pen that much longer but does add enough length that I don't find myself using this pen posted.
The hourglass-shaped section is long and allows for a pleasant grip. One thing I should note is that the pen uses two different types of threads. The threads that connect the section to the barrel are your more traditional, closely-knit variety, but the threads that pair the cap to the section are larger. For that reason, those who prefer to hold their pens near the nib may find their fingers resting on the threads. While the blocky threads are polished in such a way so as not to be sharp, they nevertheless do protrude enough from the section to be noticeable. While I don't personally take issue with this, I could see how some may not enjoy the feel of the threads. On the flip side, if you tend to grip your pen further back on the section, then the threads will be completely out of your way. I tend to vary my grip position and have found the pen comfortable to use either way.
Material & Design
Franklin-Christoph offers a wide variety of nibs and grinds on their pens, perhaps the largest selection I've seen (unless you include Sailor's bespoke nib options). To start, you can choose from gold or steel, which Franklin-Christoph curiously deems "high performance steel." I'm not sure what, if anything, the company does to achieve such "high performance" but if it's just a marketing tactic it doesn't offend me that much. Gold nibs are offered in both 14K and 18K varieties, though the option to add 18K nibs seems to have somewhat limited availability. The nibs are offered in the standard extra fine, fine, medium, and broad sizes, but Franklin-Christoph also offers more unconventional options, such as needlepoint nibs, flex nibs, music nibs, and a wide variety of stub and cursive italic options in various sizes. Many of these speciality nib options come pre-tuned by nibmeister Mike Masuyama and entail only a modest upcharge.
Regarding the nib on my pen specifically, I opted to go with a standard steel medium. Design-wise the nib will be familiar to anyone that's used a steel Jowo nib, though the addition of Franklin-Christoph's logo does add a small amount of distinction.
Franklin-Christoph's nibs are proof that not all Jowo nibs are created equal. Sure, these Jowo nibs may have a familiar shape and design, but Franklin-Christoph tunes them to absolute perfection. I've now had the opportunity to use several Franklin-Christoph nibs in various materials and sizes and I can say with confidence that they consistently provide some of the best out-of-the-box writing experiences I have encountered. The nibs I've received with pens I ordered through their online store have been wonderful: ground smooth, perfectly aligned, and just the right amount of increased ink flow to allow for a nice, wet line.
Because I purchased this pen in person at the pen show, I had the added bonus of getting the nib custom tuned for me right then and there. Even with that opportunity, though, the pen basically wrote just as I prefer when they first handed it to me, so the need for additional tuning was minimal, just a bit of extra polishing to get it glassy smooth.
Needless to say the pen writes with the kind of predictability I treasure. It starts right up, never skips, and ink flow is reliable and consistent. The tipping material has been ground and polished in such a way as to make the nib glide effortlessly across paper. It's truly a wonderful writing experience.
As of the time of this writing, the Model 66 sells for just under $170 when equipped with a conventional steel nib. Adding a 14K gold nib bumps the price up to around $260, and if you want to opt for one of the Masuyama-ground nibs on either material then tack on another $20. These prices are certainly on the higher end, but it only takes a few minutes of writing to see why Franklin-Christoph pens earn their price tags. In fact, in looking at the pens in my collection in the $150-$200 price range, I don't see another pen I prefer to this one. If you do feel that $170 for the steel nib version is a bit high, you might want to consider the Opus 88 Koloro Demonstrator which has many of the same perks as the Model 66 (eyedropper, ample ink capacity, transparent demonstrator, etc.) for around $50 less. Having said that, I do believe the Model 66 has more charm.
Final Thoughts & Score
- subtle facet allows for stylish clipless design without the hassles of rolling
- ginormous ink capacity when converted into an eyedropper
- dizzying array of nib options, and all of them are tuned to perfection
- some may not enjoy the placement of the threads on the section
- engraving on the facet could do with some more precision
- Antique Glass version is difficult to obtain