I’ve always had a deep appreciation for pens that dared to look different. There are so many pens, at every price tier, that all look the same, so when something as spectacularly mold shattering as the Visconti Iopenna comes out, I take notice. There’s a market for plain black and silver or black and gold cigars and flat tops, and I even own a few myself, but what really gets me excited are colorful pens in shapes that no one else has ever thought of before. The Visconti Iopenna is a wonderful example of this type of pen, with its soft silicone resin, it’s bright colors, and its ultramodern design.
This floppy-bodied fish pen was designed for Visconti by the Italian architect Gaetano Pesce. Its ichthyological form is a playful reference to its designer’s own name, “Pesce”, which is Italian for fish. While the fish theme is most apparent in the “tail” of the pen, there are is also some nice detail work done in the cap, including eyes, a rostrum (similar to a marlin or sailfish) and a clip that serves as a dorsal fin. From the side, this clip is also the silhouette of a human face, reminiscent of Pesce’s “Portrait Lamp” pieces. Due to the length of the pen, the clip isn’t so much functional for a shirt pocket, but it is interesting to see the dual artistic uses here.
The cap also features Gaetanto Pesce’s signature along its side, a feature that reminds me of the Pelikan № 1, an artistic pen from the 1980s designed by Luigi Colani. I’ll touch back on that model later. Under the cap is a #5 sized steel Visconti nib that writes smoothly, and is secured into a metal section with a bit of heft. The pen is solidly put together, and that fact combined with the weight and balance of the pen, make for a very solid feel in the hand, and a very pleasant writing experience.
The open bodied portion of the pen’s barrel (as opposed to the tail) is relatively short, fitting only an international short cartridge, not a standard converter. While this may seem odd at first for a pen so long, after using it I believe this was the right call, both because it keeps the pen’s weight balanced to the front, providing a smoother writing experience, and because it allows for the design of pen’s tail to flow smoothly, rather than having an awkward long portion that will not bend. I have a variety of cartridge-only pens that I enjoy, granted most are pocket pens, but the fact is that there are a wide variety of inks that come in cartridges these days, and you can always refill cartridges with a syringe if you really want a particular ink.
You could also use the Iopenna as a dip pen, if you prefer. It is a rather long pen, at 8.875” long capped and 7.875” long uncapped. The pen does not post (which should be clear from the design) but the cap itself is 2.75” long. With the long, light tail sticking up in the air, the pen is reminiscent in some ways of a feather quill, making dipping feel natural. I’ve taken a photo of the Iopenna next to one of my longer pens, the Lamy Joy, just to give a sense of scale (as well as a standard Lamy Safari, for those who aren’t familiar with the length of the Joy.)
The case that the pen comes in was also specially designed to show off the flexible properties of the silicone resin body. It bends the tail of the pen into a “J” shape, with a cut out for the silhouette clip. It is very different and very fun. I only wish that it made for a display stand for the pen in some way as well. The one functional drawback of this pen is that it is not at all easy to carry or to display, being longer than most pen cases, and shaped wrong for most pen stands. The Iopenna makes the most sense being left as a desk pen, but it would have been great if the packaging doubled as some sort of display stand, as the other pen displays out there won’t quite cut it, and it’s a shame to leave such a striking design simply laying on its side on a desk-top or in a drawer.
Circling back, I mentioned the Luigi Colani designed Pelikan № 1 previously. Joshua at The Pelkan’s Perch had a great write-up of that model last year, so I will just summarize and say that it was another “design pen”, created to look like pelican’s head in silhouette (although I always see an ibis when I look at it, personally.) I’ve presented a photo of the two models below (keeping appropriate social distancing.) They are very different pens designed for different purposes in different segments of the market, but they are both pen designs I respect very much, because they both represent the willingness to experiment with new concepts from established brands with more standard designs in their portfolios that are already proven in the market place. What Visconti has done with the Iopenna isn’t going to replace the Homo Sapiens or Rembrandts or any other more standard offering in their lineup, but more like a “concept car” at a car show it has allowed them to play with new shapes and new materials, and who knows when we might see other pens with more incremental adjustments from innovations learned while producing the Iopenna.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that the Iopenna is not widely available in the US. With an MSRP of $350, and a design that, while I really appreciate it, definitely isn’t for everyone, it’s understandable that many retailers have been hesitant in ordering the pen from Visconti. The price of this pen presents a bit of a conundrum in presenting it, to be honest. After spending a week holding it and having a chance to write with it, the price doesn’t seem unfair to me. You’re paying for a piece of art, not just a pen, and what you’re getting is solidly crafted. Relative to the market it’s a lot of money to spend for a #5 steel nib, but you aren’t paying for the nib; you’re paying for the artistic design.
For fans of this particular school of design, this pen is going to delight you every time you pick it up and watch the tail wiggle a bit. It’s organic and whimsical and the exact type of thing many of us need right now to brighten otherwise mundane and drudging sessions of working from home in isolation. While it may be difficult to find a retailer who is stocking this pen, they are out there, and you can always reach out to your favorite local pen store and see if they are able to order this pen for you, as well.
Thank you to Coles of London, Visconti’s US distributor, for loaning me this pen for review.