If you give a nerd a fountain pen, chances are, he’s going to want some ink to go with it. If you give him a sample of ink, he’s going to ask for more. Once you clean out Vanness, Goulet, and Anderson of samples, he’ll start asking for full bottles. After you buy him 1,000 bottles of ink, he’s going to need some way to catalog and organize all the colors he’s amassed at the expense of your bank account (five points if you get the book reference). If only someone made books of small, loosely bound cards out of ink-friendly paper that he could use for this purpose!
Enter Maruman Mnemosyne Word Cards! Yes!
And…EXIT Maruman Mnemosyne Word Cards. :frownyface:
Well, That Figures
Just like every other fountain pen aficionado (that’s the Spanish word for “aficionado”), I discovered the Maruman Word Cards about five minutes before they were discontinued. I think I saw Mike Matteson using them in one of his reviews. They looked wildly handy, so I ordered a book to test them out. Before they even got to my door, the news broke that Maruman discontinued them. Going on a frantic bender trying to snag the last remnants of existing stock before I had a chance to try them out seemed like a bad idea, so I waited. I’m glad I did, because I wasn’t exactly crazy about them when I got them (more on that later).
Hello? Anyone Out There?
I did scout around for some other Word Cards. I knew they were popular in Japan, so I figured someone must make them. On a trip to Kinokuniya in New York City, I found a couple small books by Kyokuto and Nakabayashi, so I picked up one of each. Unfortunately, neither one was that great for fountain pen ink.
They’re both a little bit smaller than the Maruman cards, although close enough to get the job done. The Nakabayashi cards feathered horribly. The Kyokuto cards feathered slightly, but they only have 40 cards per pack. I couldn’t find the damn things online, and they weren’t worth flying back to NYC for. Plus, neither book had rounded corners (barf). I kept looking.
Click the following picture for a closer view of the feathering.
Recognizing this raging gap in the fountain pen world, the First Lady of Stationery (I just made that up…she doesn’t go around calling herself that) and Chair of the Well Appointed Desk, Ana Reinert teamed up with her husband Bob Atkins (of Skylab Letterpress) to fill the void left by Maruman by creating books of blank cards specifically made for swabbing ink.
Sounds simple, right. Yeah…not so much. The concept came easy for Ana, but finding the right materials proved to be difficult. If you haven’t heard her story yet, drop everything and listen to Episode 250 of the Pen Addict Podcast, where Ana recounts her harrowing quest to find decent paper that doesn’t feather, bleed, or cost a fortune. Long story short: She did it. And the result of her long and arduous journey is the Col-o-ring Ink Testing Book.
A Look at the Book
The requirements for such a book are few, but vital. First, the paper needs to be ink friendly. It should be unmarked and as white as possible (so you get the truest representation of your ink colors). It also needs to be fairly ink resistant to prevent the ink from feathering, spreading, or bleeding through. Second, the pages need to be easily removable so you can keep them organized the way you want (by color, by manufacturer, etc.).
The Col-o-ring books are simple, consisting of three parts: Front & back covers, the paper cards, and a binder ring to hold everything together.
- Covers: Very simple. Both front and back covers are made of plain chipboard. The front cover sports only the Col-o-ring logo, which is a beautiful, retro-styled design that’s letterpressed into the chipboard. I love this logo. The font is very 1950s in style, and the ink drop dotting the “i” is a bit of genius. The back cover sports the design & manufacturing information and the paper specifications (also letterpressed). Simple. Functional. Perfect.
- Paper: Ana’s efforts toward finding the right paper really paid off. Each book includes 100 sheets of 2″ x 4″ 160 GSM paper. The paper is noticeably whiter than the Maruman cards, and they’re a lot smoother. The biggest drawback to the Maruman cards was the rough texture to the paper (that texture is just plain terrible for ink swabs). But the Col-o-ring paper is smooth, allowing for nice, uniform swabs. At 160 GSM, the paper is heavy enough to handle liquid ink, but thin enough to stack a lot of pages together without your book becoming too thick and unwieldy.
- Ring: Not much to say about the ring. It’s a standard 1.5″ binder ring. It does its job well. It’s easy to open up for doing your swabs and then moving them around whenever you want. If it’s too small for you, just hit the local office supply store and get the size you want.
The Col-o-ring books are slightly shorter and slightly narrower than the Maruman books, but they’re close enough that you wouldn’t notice unless you put them side-by-side. Which I’ve done here:
Can It Handle the Ink?
In a word: Yes. I’m very, very pleased with how well the paper performs. The Maruman cards didn’t trip my trigger because of the already-complained-about, rough-ass texture it had and how absorbent it was. The Maruman paper really sucked up ink. I didn’t have any problem with feathering or bleeding, but I found that the colors of my swabs tended to be a little muted or softened when dry. “Lifeless” might be an accurate term. Comparing the swabs with some that I did on Rhodia paper, I found that many of the swabs on Maruman didn’t “pop” as much as they did on Rhodia.
But the Col-o-ring paper does a better job of keeping the “life” in my swabs. Below are six sets of swabs comparing how they look on the Col-o-ring paper (left) with how they look on the Maruman paper (right). Some inks are comparable across both papers. Others are noticeably different. In all of them, you can see the texture of the Maruman paper. In the cases of Franklin-Christoph Loden, Diamine Caramel Sparkle, and Noodler’s Apache Sunset, that texture more-or-less destroys the swab. It’s just flippin’ unacceptable. But the swabs on the Col-o-ring paper are pristine.
There are two areas in these swabs, where I like the effect produced by the Maruman paper. First, I love the thin orange line that surrounds the swabs and text on the Akkerman Ductch Masters #3 yellow/orange ink. Second, I like the orange-to-yellow gradient produced in the cotton swab of the Apache Sunset swab. But in all six sets, the smear in the middle of the cards turned out better on the Col-o-ring paper than they did on the Maruman paper.
The One Big Problem with Col-o-ring
These books are fantastic. They look great. They work great. They fill a need. But for as great as they are, there’s currently one flaw that’s driving me crazy: They’re sold out. And they have been for over a week as I write this.
I’m sort of entering crisis mode here, trying to prepare for the Atlanta Pen Show in a couple weeks. I’d like to have all my inks swabbed by then, plus have a book on-hand for testing other inks while I’m in Atlanta. Like a dummy, I bought two books in Arkansas, knowing damn well I have over 200 inks to swab. Then I bought a pile of new samples after the show, bringing my total number of inks on-hand to about 300. I’m down to my last handful of cards, and still have over 100 inks left to swab. Oh, the horror!
This “sold out” business is obviously temporary. As I said, these books fill a need, and the fountain pen community quickly and appropriately snatched up everything available. The book’s current unavailability is a testament to how great a product it is.
Although they’re currently sold out, more will be available soon. If you have lots of inks and you’re looking for a good way to organize & inventory them, I’m not sure there’s a better method out there than the Col-o-ring.
The Col-o-ring Ink Testing Books are available directly from Ana for $10.00 USD. Getcha some! But wait until I stock up first…then getcha some! 😉