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The Rotring Core Balium is the most Rotring Core
A profoundly overwrought review
Friends, subscribers, lurkers, BEHOLD: I found a pen store that still sells the Rotring Core fountain pen, new in box, and I have acquired the Most Core.
If this means nothing to you, imagine I said I found the exact location of the fountain of youth except pretend the fountain of youth was something cool you could get excited about, like the year 1999 in pen form.
(Subscribers: you may need to click through to the website to see the entire post due to the number of pictures. Worth it.)
The shop is Stuart R. Stevenson in London, an indie stationery shop that was pretty close to where I was staying on a recent trip.
This little store has an overwhelming variety of pens crammed into just the space around the counter including, to my manic delight, a brand-new Rotring Core—the legendarily ridiculous pen released in 2000 that was described as “not the easiest pen to find” in this review from TWELVE YEARS AGO. Finding a new one in the wild in 2023 was like finding a copy of the Declaration of Independence at a garage sale but not boring.
I have previously described the Core as the “Pontiac Aztek of pens,” and this review by Tim Hoffman describes it as “a pen you’d find under the front seat of a Dodge Neon,” which is a pretty solid burn.
I really felt like I had a pretty good grasp on what this pen is like just from online reviews and images. I was familiar with the black and seafoam colorways and understood what to expect.
But then I went to buy the dark blue one that the shop had on display and the utter legend who was helping me went in the back and returned to tell me “we also have one left in this orange color” and produced this:
This is the Core Balium.
The Balium is the final form of the Core. To create it, the chaos wizards at Rotring take one of the regular Core models, age it in a barrel of Code Red Mountain Dew for eighteen months, and then leave it to cure on a beach in Ibiza that they sublease from the Vengaboys.
The Balium employs an orange-on-orange color scheme best described as “Y2K mescaline bender” and it comes packaged in the same clear jail that they used to imprison Zod in Superman.
I obviously purchased it immediately—not least because it cost half of what they go for on eBay1—and ran home in a fugue state.
When I got back to the hotel and opened it up to show my wife, her first question was “does that pen have a tribal tattoo?”
You see, the Core was made in at least six varieties by my count, each with its own name, color scheme, and motif printed on the barrel. The seafoam-colored “Lysium” uses circles as the motif, evoking a sense of calm; the black “Technor” featured in Tim Hoffman’s review and this Goulet Pencast video uses lines that look like circuitry as the motif, evoking a sense of techno-optimism.
And the Balium uses tribal tattoos as the motif, evoking a sense of SPRING BREAK WOOOO.
Indeed, the energy that this pen gives off is incredible. Just being in the same room with it is enough to feel an urgent need to use the pen for the most important moments in life. Moments like:
Signing the lease for your fourth rock ‘n rollerblade rink in the tri-state area
Pitching Bang Energy on a new flavor concept called Dubstep Blorp Blorp
Writing Godsmack fanfic on the back of the letter that you got from Godsmack asking you to please stop writing fanfic
Birth certificate for your gila monster
Giving a pen to your best friend when your best friend is Guy Fieri and then taking it back when he’s like “no thanks that’s a bit much”
You cannot capture that energy without seeing it in person. It is glorious.
But let’s look at it in excruciating detail anyway.
The pen is made of plastic, “resistant rubber,” metal, and a substance I cannot really identify but am pretty sure is Balium or Uranium or something. It’s definitely one of the Ums. The point is that most manufacturers go cheap and only give you one or two materials; the Core, on the other hand, gives you every material. There might even be wood and feathers somewhere in there; who can say?
The nib is large and armor-plated; mine came in size XL. I asked the guy helping me what that meant and he said something like “it’s generally a big pen” to which I had no follow-up questions.
Practically, the XL nib puts down a line that looks like it’s about a Western Huge or a Japanese No Thanks.
The feed has the largest and most widely spaced ribs/fins/whatever I have ever seen. I believe this allows you to use liquids that are more viscous than traditional fountain pen ink—like Nickelodeon Gak, for example.
You can check on the amount of Gak you have left using the four Gak portholes, which are lined with a clear plastic tube inside of the barrel. I’m guessing this is so you could eyedropper it, but since I’m pretty sure I don’t own enough ink to fill the barrel of this thing I’ll never know. It does look pretty hilarious when you use a short cartridge though.
The barrel has instructions on it that are reminiscent of the fake safety signage that you’d find in the themed waiting area for a ride at EPCOT about how the Future Is Now With Verizon Wireless.
Based on a forum post I found, the instructions reference a feature that let you turn the pen and then these retractable fins in the section would somehow get a tiny more amount of ink out of the cartridge.2 At some point, however, Rotring must have gotten tired of people clowning on this as mine did not have the fins, so now these are just instructions for nothing.
This is better, I think. It now gives off the same energy as this bootleg Game Boy I found in a supermarket when I lived overseas.
The cap snaps on, is huge, and looks like it could double as a socket wrench for assembling a Razor Scooter, Xtreme Edixion. It is sort of rubberized and has a remarkably heavy duty clip, which is probably so you don’t lose the pen when you are blacklight bowling or blacklight rock climbing or blacklight listening to Alice Deejay.
The grip is an “ergonomic saddle-back grip,” which means it is recessed I guess because I have heard of this zero other times.
I don’t really know how this is ergonomic as the flattened oval shape is harder for me to hold than a regular pen, but it’s at least easier to hold than a Lamy Safari.3
It does mean the nib ends up being higher than your hand, so it’s like using an experimental nib holder. This is weird at first but it does make it easier to focus on the nib without your fingers getting in the way.
You get it: this is a masterpiece.
Of course, you have to ask: how does something like this get designed? There is no lone genius credited for it the way Gerd Muller gets credit for the Lamy 2000 or Sylvester Stallone gets credit for the Montegrappa Chaos.
My best guess is that the design committee started with the principle that there are no bad ideas in brainstorming and then stayed there. And also the design committee was four feral cats.
Assuming this is true, I hope those cats are still in the pen design game. There are a lot of nice pen-shaped pens out there, but after a point it’s hard to get excited about them. Oh wow it’s a cigar shaped pen but with gold trim instead of silver wowwww.
The Core, however: there is nothing like it. Your eye will go directly to it when it’s in your pen case, and only partially because it never stops screaming about what an amazing movie The Matrix is and telling you that story about how its rap metal band was this close to getting on the bill at Woodstock ‘99 even though you’ve heard it ten times already and uhhhh I don’t know write the last Y2K joke yourself I’m tired.
That is, and I mean this very sincerely: I like this pen and wish more manufacturers took risks like this. I am especially pleased that this is from Rotring, as it gives me hope that the Germans are capable of doing things more interesting than just selling the same pen they have sold for 100 years except now it’s in a new color. I wish I had been into pens twenty years ago so I could have supported this when it came out.
You can buy a Core at Stuart R. Stevenson;4 they had at least two of the dark blue color (the “Rexor”) as of mid-August 2023. The store is located a short walk west of the Old Street subway station in whatever neighborhood is located west of Shoreditch.5
I think I paid £20 (I bought other stuff so I’m not exactly sure); the seafoam-green Lysium model that you can get on eBay runs about $40.
The Goulet Pencast video has a pretty good segment where they try to figure this out—someone gave Brian Goulet a Technor that had the fins, and you can watch them try to use it (and immediately break it) on the air.
One innovation I do not need in a pen is “ergonomic grip.” A pen is already ergonomic. Every attempt I have seen at an “ergonomic” grip just makes it worse. Stop.
But not the Balium because I got the last one sorry
They do have an online store but it’s a tiny fraction of their stock and does not include the Core. I originally went to the shop to get a pen from Tom’s Studio (which *is* listed online and we’ll talk about it later, it’s good) and was blown away by how much stuff they carry. All that said, they were really helpful so I bet if you email them you can buy the Core.