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Happy summer, blog readers! I always feel like summer is a time for having fun, and I thought it would be fun to do a little something different for this week's blog, so I decided to ask my colleagues about their favorite thing from Pen Boutique. I told them their pick had to be a product they own and use regularly, because I really wanted a first-hand account of why they love it and how it fits into their everyday life. I interviewed three staff members so far, and plan to follow up with more installments soon. Today I will be starting with Fana's pick, the Retro 51 Tornado Buzz Ballpoint. I hope you enjoy reading this first Staff Picks article as much as I enjoyed talking with my team mates and trying out their recommendations for myself!
If you've ever visited the store on our busiest day, Saturday, you've probably met Fana. She's originally from Mekelle, Tigray in Eastern Africa, and has been working for Pen Boutique part time since 2020. I got to know her during the Christmas season, when I was first learning the ropes in the store. Fana is super friendly and loves to share her enthusiasm for her favorite pens, including S.T. Dupont brand, the Cross Beverly, and her latest love, the Retro 51 Tornado Buzz Ballpoint.
I only occasionally work on Saturdays, but, when I do, I always enjoy hearing Fana's warm recommendations. Just by talking to her, you can tell how much she loves pens and loves working at Pen Boutique. I had to fill in last Saturday, so I asked Fana to tell me about her current favorite pen. She immediately picked up the Buzz ballpoint and said, "This beautiful, beautiful, beautiful pen right here."
Fana got her Buzz five months ago, and it was her first Retro 51 pen. "I bought it because of how cute it is," she confessed. For her, the selling point was the hungry bear on the end finial. This whimsical touch will definitely make you smile when you look down at your pen while writing! The bear is positioned so that he faces up when the ballpoint tip is extended and the pen is held in your hand with the clip facing up, the most natural way to hold it.
"I like heavy pens, and it has a decent weight to it," she further explained. She says the brass pen's 29.0g (1.02oz) weight is evenly distributed and comfortable enough to be used every day, and she regularly uses the Buzz at her other job working at a bank, where she gets compliments on it from her co-workers. "My manager has told me on multiple occasions that she wants one!" Fana divulged with a laugh. Although the pen operates with a twist mechanism instead of click style, she doesn't have to use two hands activate it. She just holds the pen in one hand, twists the end finial with thumb and forefinger, and then rotates the pen with her ring finger in one easy motion to start writing. Fana says the pen activating with a twist rather than a click makes it feel more expensive.
She's also especially fond of the texture of this particular pen, with its acid-etched honeycomb surface. "It just feels nice," she says, and I agree. It's hard to fully convey just how pleasurable it is to run your fingers over this nature-derived texture, which is smooth and bumpy at the same time, and very easy to grip onto. I could definitely imagine someone getting obsessed with idly running their fingers lightly over the surface of this pen. It's soothing and delightful. Fana says the texture "doesn't feel weird or give you that icky feeling of touching something you're not supposed to be touching," unlike some pens. Odd description, but I think I know what she means!
Fana further explained that she loves the shape of the Tornado because there's no bulky "cap" section like some ballpoints have. Instead, the pen is all one smooth piece, so the graphic design and the feel aren't interrupted. After buying the Buzz pen, she now likes all Retro 51 Tornados, and is thinking of purchasing the new Smithsonian National Zoo Panda rollerball and the Metropolitan Museum of Art Geometric rollerball pen and pencil set (which, I agree, is beautiful!).
The Buzz is only a little over $40, which is another thing Fana loves about it. Her beloved S.T. Duponts are out of her price range, but this Retro 51 is affordable and feels like a small luxury because it's so well-built and made from such nice materials. I particularly like the classy-looking antique copper trim, with its subtle variation in color that really elevates the look of this pen. The knurled diamond texture on the Retro 51 twist finial makes it easy grip and turn, as does the slight flare at the top, and the brushed metal on this pen is a shiny copper in the raised areas like the top of the clip and a darker aged-looking color in the recessed parts. It's quite lovely.
Fana also praises what she describes as the "thickish writing" of this pen, which she compares to the width of a fine nib fountain pen. Fana is the one who introduced me to buttery smooth S.T. Dupont pens (covered in one of my earlier blog articles), so, when it comes to pens, she's all about smooth. She says her Retro 51 Buzz is "very smooth" and the width of the writing is good for school, work, and taking notes. She uses her pen often and hasn't had to replace the refill yet. She also says the pen still looks as good as new even though she admits, "I am very careless with my pens."
The Retro 51 ballpoint comes filled with a 0.7mm black Retro 1951 EasyFlow 9000 refill, which is easily replaced with the Schmidt EasyFlow 9000 Ballpoint Refill or any other Parker Style ballpoint refill. The ink in the EasyFlow 9000 refill is very nice and is actually a hybrid ink that combines the good qualities of a ballpoint refill with those of a rollerball refill. The writing is extremely smooth and doesn't feel sticky or oily like a ballpoint, but is unlikely to smear. The refill that comes with the pen is a dark black, and the EasyFlow 9000 is also available for purchase in blue.
I really like the way this refill feels, and it's well-behaved on all sorts of different paper, from fountain pen friendly brands like Mnemosyne, Rhodia, Write, and Clairefontaine to regular old printer paper and junk mail.
(Here's how the Retro 51 Buzz wrote in a Maruman Mnemosyne lined A5 notebook, alongside a Faber-Castell pencil and a fine nib Waterman Carene fountain pen.)
I compared the Retro 51 Tornado Buzz with one of the Retro 51 Tornado rollerball pens and a Retro 51 Tornado pencil, and I actually preferred the feel of the "ballpoint" Buzz to that of the rollerball, which surprised me because I usually like rollerballs better than ballpoints. Both pens felt great, and their line widths were almost identical in the Maruman Mnemosyne notebook, but I just found the refill in the Buzz more enjoyable to write with. All three writing instruments had a good balance, a nice feel in my hand, and felt perfect for everyday or as something special.
(Pictured: Buzz, Douglass, and Chromatic.)
The cool thing about Retro 51 Tornados is that the current ballpoint and rollerball models can be interchanged freely, so you can customize your pen with your favorite Parker style refill. If you buy one of the rollerballs but prefer the feeling of Retro's smooth ballpoint, just switch it up... or swap the Retro 51 ballpoint refill with a Short Capless Rollerball Refill to turn a ballpoint like the Buzz into a rollerball. The bodies of the pens are actually identical; some models are just sold as ballpoints, while others are sold as rollerballs. You can also use a Parker or Monteverde gel refill! The Parker brand gel refill comes in medium (blue or black), while the Monteverde is available in extra fine, fine, and broad and we carry them in black, blue, and blue-black. I love gel refills, so this is another great option!
Fana was very excited when I told her that we just received the new Rickshaw Bagworks single sleeve pen case designed for the Buzz pen, too. These were delivered to our warehouse the day before I brought the pen home to work on this blog article, so I was able to snag one for my photoshoot. The case fits the Buzz perfectly, to hold it snugly yet allow it to slide out easily, and it fully covers the length of the pen to protect it. As soon as I showed her the case this Saturday, Fana bought one to match her pen.
The color and design are a perfect match for the Buzz, and the inside of the durable Cordura nylon fabric case features a pet-able plush yellow fleece that glides over the pen and is softer than the softest teddy bear fur. The Buzz pen isn't fingerprint-prone at all, but, if it were, this case would give it a nice polish every time you take it in and out! Rickshaw products are made-to-order in their small factory in San Francisco and are very popular at Pen Boutique for their sturdy construction and vibrant graphics.
The Buzz Tornado is one of three "Rescue" ballpoints that Retro 51 has created to help animals. The other two are the adorable Rescue Cat and Rescue Dog pens, both of which also have new matching Rickshaw cases--blue for the cat, and orange for the dog. Proceeds from the sales of the Cat and Dog pens are donated to Operation Kindness, which helps care for homeless dogs and cats in a no-kill environment until they find their "furr-ever home."
Proceeds from each Buzz Ballpoint sale go to the NW Honeybee Habitat Restoration nonprofit group. Each pen comes packaged in a matching tube with more information about the group and education about why these important pollinators need our help. We depend on pollinators for the reproduction of trees, flowers, and food plants--without them, the human race would not survive. Bees, in particular, have been suffering from the devastating impact of Colony Collapse Disorder, so, when you use a Buzz pen, not only will you enjoy the pretty pen, you can feel good about raising awareness and helping sustain our environment. Thanks, Retro 51!
If you like the look of the Tornado but aren't into bees and prefer a different design or texture, Retro 51 makes an incredible array of Tornado writing instruments, including a number of fountain pens, mechanical pencils, and lots of rollerballs. Some are glossy, some are matte, some are bumpy, and some are smooth.
Retro 51 Tornados are very popular among our staff. Shriya, store owners Leena's and Raj's 18-year-old daughter, has recently fallen in love with the A.A. Milne Winnie-the-Pooh limited edition Collector's Set and can't stop playing with it when she's working in the store. (She especially loves the blue one.) Aurora, longtime sales associate and all-around pen geek (in the very coolest way), has an incredibly impressive collection of limited edition Retro 51 Tornados that must be seen to be believed. Pen Boutique even has a store exclusive Apollo-Soyuz Project Tornado available as a fountain pen or as a collector set with fountain, rollerball, and pencil, and we've created several store exclusive Edgar Allan Poe Raven pens. (Sadly, the Raven limited editions sold out super fast and are no longer available! They are amazing, so this isn't surprising.)
Tornados range from the subtle and elegant--like the matte black Stealth pen, the Frederick Douglass, Lincoln Copper, and the Roosevelt--to the extremely colorful and whimsical. Inspired by science, popular culture, aircraft, cars, historical figures, and art, the Tornado's mind-boggling lineup of writing instruments make a great everyday carry or special gift (either to yourself or someone else).
My favorite designs include Dmitri (a periodic table print), Chromatic (highlighting the spectrum), the Kandinsky pen and pencil set, Louis Comfort Tiffany's Favrile, and Corona, whose design is reminiscent of the ornamental bronze-colored metal lattice that covers the outside of the National Museum of African American History and Culture building in Washington D.C. The Classic Lacquer pens with brass or chrome trim, available in a gigantic range of hues, are also perfect if you just want to choose a favorite solid color, and these make fantastic gifts if you aren't sure what your recipient is into. I think I love the peacock color most, but it's hard to decide. What do you think? Which Retro makes you happy?
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