2020 in Inky Review Part 2 - Market Trends
By the time I finished gushing over our communities and my own instruments of ink destruction, I realized how long the first post was getting. So, in a first, I’ve split my year-end review into two parts. Now, on to the market trends as I observed them!
Let’s start with what I know you’re really here for - my tepid take on the Tomoe River kerfuffle. (It’s certainly not a hot take anymore!) Did Tomoe River change, and was that probably the biggest news in the “fountain pen paper” world this year? Yes. Is it going to matter to the vast majority of people? Probably not. Have I tried the new stuff? Yes. Could I tell a difference? Not really.
The good news is that there’s still plenty of the old stuff around if you want it, and there are increasingly good alternatives available. Yoseka continues to have some of my favorite paper in new formats, and from one fo my favorite stores out there! (One day, I’ll get up to NYC to visit. One day.) Yamamoto Paper also finally released their Cosmo Air Light notebooks to Shigure Inks, bringing another highly-regarded paper option here to the US.
I have it on decent information that there will be more paper options coming from one of my favorite vendors this year, so I’m excited to see some other options in the coming year.
For years, people have been saying “this must be the year that we hit peak ink,” and each year, that has not been the case. This year was no exception. In fact, I think we saw even more ink this year than we had in some previous years!
I attribute a lot of that to the frenetic pace that Tono and Lims is releasing ink. Every time I turn around, it seems like they’re running another event and releasing another line of their decidedly not cheap inks. But before it sounds like I’m giving Tono and Lims too much grief, they’re doing some truly wild things with ink with that premium, so you can’t fault them too much.
Sailor continues to confound and confuzzle with their pricing and development. They jumped on board the “chromo shader” train by releasing a few more Sailor Ink Studio inks, like 280, and kept them at the high price per ml that’s typical of the Ink Studio line. But, they also released some awesome new inks in the Manyo line, which not only had some of the same properties, but also resided in a good sized bottle at a reasonable price. Who knows?
The guys at Tokyo Inklings mentioned that some truly exciting things have been coming out of Taiwan this year, and I absolutely agree. iPaper, Lennon Tool Bar, and Ink Institute all really entered the American market this year, and offered good performance, pretty inks and bottles, and good prices. For a long time, the main places to watch for inks were Japan or Europe, but other parts of the world are slowly starting to pop their heads up, too.
Speaking of other parts of the world, it was a mixed bag for Australian Ink makers this year. Van Dieman’s Inks launched this year to some excellent reviews, but we lost two different ink makers. Both Standard Bindery and Blackstone announced that they won’t be making ink for either the foreseeable future or permanently. (Reports and releases were mixed from both manufacturers, so I don’t want to state an opinion too strongly here.) Seeing as how I greatly enjoyed inks from both of those brands, it was a bummer to see them go.
This past year felt like the year where lots of pen makers played it safe, and rightfully so. As a result, barring the Platinum Curidas release, I’m struggling to think of any really big product releases that blew the socks off of the pen world. (The Curidas had/has its own issues, but points to Platinum for trying.)
Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly makers out there doing cool things with materials, like SCHN Designs with his patterned metal finishes, or Eboya, who continues to be the king of ebonite. Visconti also rolled out some new, colored finishes for their Homo Sapiens, and brought their nibs back in house, which has me interested, but my wallet says no.
I loved watching larger pen makers like Leonardo and Esterbrook use materials from some of the talented acrylic makers like Brooks’ Primary Manipulation and McKenzie’s Diamondcast. I didn’t pick up any of the collaborations, but it does make me happy to see them happen.
Speaking of Esterbrook, talk about a vintage revival this year, huh? Esterbrook released their JR, which pays homage to the pens that made Esterbrook famous in the first place. Then, we saw the excruciatingly slow rollout of Tibaldi here into the United States. I’m very intrigued by their vintage-inspired materials and ebonite feeds, but I’m not sure about the price tag. This will be a prime pen show candidate whenever those happen again. And now I’m hearing about Radius, a vintage Italian brand that is making its comeback as well. It feels like these “new vintage” companies are doing a much better job at remembering what made their names in the first place, and that benefits all of us.
But hey, if you’re into new colors of pens that you already know, the market certainly rose up to meet you this year. Sailor re-issued the Cocktail series and created a new Shikiori series as well as a new Mini series, Pelikan continued branching into new colors across the lines, and so did almost everyone else. Pilot, one of these days, will you join in with everyone else?
Sadly, we also saw price increases on most pens across the board, especially in the “mid-range” space. Pelikan, Platinum, Sailor, Montblanc, some Pilot, and the venerable Lamy 2000 all saw price increases, and I think it does change the landscape a good deal. It’s a lot harder to recommend a pen that used to be $150 at the $200-$300 mark. But I guess that’s where we are now.
What a year. For a year where I didn’t feel like there was much to talk about, I certainly found a way to get some words on the page, didn’t I? If you want some great other “end of year” content, go take a watch through Inky.Rocks’ videos for the end of the year, they’re some of the best I’ve seen this year. Jacob at Fude Fan also had a great review of the trends in Japan. Here’s to 2021 being a better year!