In the pen community we seem to be socialised into a pattern where our initial cheap pen purchases become mere milestones of angst and utility on the gathering gaderene gallop to grail pens and probable penury. Along the way we seem to also accumulate various prejudices and elitist preferences for precious resins and esoteric mixes of minerals and epoxies and golden nibs that often require attention and have to be hand-tuned to wetness by magi pensmiths.
So, it is a really refreshing reboot to get back to some basics and there is probably nothing much more basic than the Manuscript Dodec. The Dodec comes in minimalist packing simply attached to a 54mm by 154mm 120 gsm card from Shropshire-based Manuscript Pen Company, a business that specialises in calligraphic pens and supplies. The pens are very pleasingly labelled with the nib width size. There are ten nib sizes going from D&M (no size given) to EF at 0.6mm, F at 0.85 to the eight one a 4B at 2.8mm. The final two nibs are types at 2.5mm for Scr4 and 3.2mm for Scr6. The three Manuscript Dodecs that I have tested range from a pink model of ultra-extra fine size (measuring 0.25mm with a Vernier gauge), a Fine nib (0.85 mm) and a Medium (1.1 mm) nib. In addition, I added a 2B Dodec nib unit (1.6mm in width) that I happened to have. All the nibs are steel, sitting on a minimalist simple plastic feed (no fins or vanes) and of a stub type geometry without any nib tipping at the nib’s tip point. This makes them ideal for calligraphic adventures and exploring with trails of ink across white space, or other types of paper.
I have measured my pen life out in Lamy yardsticks…
Following the practice with pen reviews here follows some basic data on the Dodec’s dimensions: weight, size before focusing on the more essential factors of how it writes and feels in the hand. The Dodec is the lightest and slightest of pens coming in at less than 10 grams with a long cartridge installed and at 133mm in length and 10mm body width. It is very definitely in the lowest weight decile of the fountain pen world. You are not going to get tired and weary wielding the Dodec.
In terms of relative measures and the Lamy-yardstick (or Pilot Metropolitan) this is smaller in size and slighter in weight than most as the table below and photographs show.
|Pen||Length (mm)||Width (mm)||Weight (g)|
The plastic of the twelve-sided pen body is a matt black plastic and differing from the older model Manuscript that I have (in the picture it is above the pink Dodec next to the steel ruler) with its chrome ring around the pen body. The Dodec pens come with an introductory small international type cartridge. The longer Waterman cartridges will work in them and luckily, I was sent one by the legendary Scribble Monboddo, as well as having a few in reserve myself. The narrow bodies of the Dodecs do not lend themselves to a normal standard international converter. However, the Dodecs also happened to have a plunger type converter and Manuscript and others do supply these at additional but very low cost (£0.50 to £0.75 each). Notwithstanding the availability of a converter for the Dodecs the larger Waterman cartridges offer more ink capacity. A bit of quick improvisation with a long Waterman cartridge and you will have more ink than a regular converter on a wider pen.
Indeed, I quickly added a shot of some Montblanc Corn Poppy Red to my empty red cartridge and the fun continued to flow.
The Dodec feels very comfortable in the hand and the section has a knurled portion of about 17mm, which makes it very easy to grip and hold firmly when you are concentrating on getting your ovals out on paper. The Dodec pen has quite a narrow body width and the knurled grip section reads 8.50mm at the top and at its widest part and 7.50mm at the lowest part. For small hands like mine that is no great problem but bigger-handed folk might find it disconcerting, or harder to get the best out it.
For sure and for me the various pens were a pleasure to work with. No precious resin to distract you, and no stop start-ness, as these pens readily delivered a good wet flow across the page. With no tipping you expect a degree of scratchiness and a problematic journey over the paper but none of this happened. Even the ultra-fine dimensions of the little pink beauty did not snag or scrape and it put a consistently nice wet line down. This narrow-nibbed model also did not skimp or lag with ink flow when the writing pace went up. (I did not have any ink flow problems reported by some other colleagues.)
With the broader nibs you want to go slow to get a bit of refinement into your writing and this calligraphic adventuring is where the Dodecs really deliver. You are naturally drawn to concentrating and your handwriting seems to organically improve as you carefully drive the pen across the page. The fine nib at 0.85mm delivers a consistent and beautiful flow equivalent to some boards and you want to cover the page in poetry. And I did.
The medium’s 1.1mm is similarly wet and full and again the refinement of poesy comes to mind and hand and soon the beautiful words of T E Hulme spill across the paper.
Finally, you fill the newly acquired converter on the 2Bb (1.6mm) with Private Reserve’s Invincible Black and it carves addresses out on envelops and the wisdom of Yeats on 90 gsm vellum and Heaney on 100g vellum.
Writing with the 2B demands slower, more deliberate scribing and considerable concentration to make the most of the nib. I had a few missteps and slips so I will return to them and carve out some of my own lines.
The only downside of the Dodec is its plastic, which does not feel like it would take a lot of abuse. Mine will rest safe on my desk, near to hand, to be used often for writing cards, envelops and I hope some poetry.
To Dodec or not to Dodec?
The Dodec is the ultimate cheap and cheerful pen. You can get one for less than a £5, or a clutch of them in a range of nib widths for less than £20. They will make you immeasurably happy. Indeed, forget and temporarily put to one-side your cravings for grander pens with exotic resins and nibs; start with these models instead for you will learn to write better with them and think more about what you are doing.
So, the paradox and parable of the Dodec is that this tortoise-type, inexpensive pen can bring immense value to a fountain pen person whether new or mature users: by writing slower and carefully with a Dodec you will learn more, appreciate writing more, which is the essence of using a fountain pen. It will help you think more about what nib widths suit you and how other pens measure up.
In conclusion, the Dodec really is a must-have for pen peeps. If a new fountain pen person were to now ask me about what pen to buy, I would say: ‘get yourself a Dodec in a few nib widths and play around with them. It will advance your handwriting and decisions about the nib styles that interest you. And you will enjoy using them.’
They are the ultimate antidote to the pen buyers’ opportunity costs of over-investing emotion, time, money and expectation in the often, miserable returns secured from grail pen speculations.
Disclaimer: The Dodecs used in this review came from the distributor and maker via Scribble Monboddo. There was no favour, pressure or remuneration given or sought to review it negatively or positively.
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