Pilot Custom 823

I was first attracted to this pen after reading the review of it in Stylophiles magzine (available here). The reviewer said the pen was a superb writer with rather conservative looks and a unique, high-capacity filling system...so needless to say, I was interested. I posted a couple of questions about the pen here and on Pentrace and received some very positive comments about the pen and an offer from a Pentracer to sell me his broad nibbed 823 since he had a fine nibbed version as well and preferred that one. I went ahead and purchased his pen, and it arrived this afternoon. I've since given it a full workout, and here are the results.

Appearance/Finnish 5/5

The pen arrived in a large, heavy cardboard box. Inside was the pen and a 70ml bottle of Pilot black ink, both sitting in a nice fabric bed. My initial impression was one of delight. The 823 is certainly a quality pen, and this is evident upon first picking it up and feeling how well the cap screws onto the barrel - smooth without the least bit resistance. The engraved cap band reads CUSTOM 823***PIILOT MADE IN JAPAN***, which wraps around the entire circumference. The clip is plain with a ball end and PILOT subtly engraved at the top. The color is a dark translucent grey, which displays the vacuum filling system and once filled, the ink level inside the barrel.

Size/Weight/Comfort 5/5

I was surprised by both the 823's size and weight. It's roughly 1/4 inch longer than my Pelikan m800 and seems as heavy, if not a touch heavier, than the m800. However, the pen does not feel overweight whatsoever. I prefer the feel and size of this pen unposted, and unlike many pens, it's plenty long to be entirely comfortable without the extra length from a posted cap. Posted, the 823 feels a touch heavy and long for my liking, which if fine because I prefer to leave the cap on the desk anyway - no scuff marks that way.

Pilot 823, Pelikan m800, Bexley America the Beautiful

This pen handles superbly, and it deserves an absolute best rating in this department. It's surely my new favorite in terms of feel in the hand and beats even my Bexley America the Beautiful here, which I earlier gave a perfect 5/5 rating.

Nib and Writing Performance 5/5

This nib is a broad #15, which is Pilot's largest nib, according to what I've read at least. As many know, a Japanese medium writes a finer line than it's grading indicates by American standards. Notably, this broad writes even significantly finer than my Pilot Vanishing Point Broad, with the 823's nib writing most similarly to my Pelikan m800 fine nib. That said, this nib is smooth! It is unquestionably the best out of the box nib I've ever used. It's so far perfectly reliable, with excellent, somewhat wet flow and no tooth at all. The nib is firm but not without expressiveness - perfect for day-to-day writing and note taking.

If you're looking for one of the best writers out there in pendom and don't want a customized (Binderized) stub/italic, look no further and order the Custom 823. You can't possibly be disappointed with this as a writing machine.

Filling System 5/5

This is where the 823 reveals itself as wholly unique among modern pendom. It fills via a vacuum plunger system. That is, to fill the pen, you unscrew the blind cap and pull it out, extending a metal rod out the back of the pen and retracting a piston inside the pen barrel. Then, immerse the nib in ink and swiftly push the blind cap/rod/plunger back down into the pen. Because the back of the pen is fitted with an airtight seal, pushing the plunger down creates a vacuum as it seals against the walls and descends down the pen barrel. When the plunger reaches the bottom of its descent, it arrives at a larger section inside the barrel, which releases the vacuous seal and thereby sucks ink into the pen from the immersed nib.

It's really an efficient system, and it holds a considerable abundance of ink. Without any piston mechanism inside the pen, the entire barrel is left for ink capacity, and I imagine it will take some serious work to write this first fill out of the pen. Also, the plunger acts as a stopper valve for the pen much like a Danitrio eyedropper. When the blind cap is screwed down, the plunger cuts ink flow off from the nib, which allows for easy plane travel and is a nice all-around feature. Just a slight turn of the blind cap brings flow back to the nib, which immediately starts writing with a smooth, wet line of ink.

If you've ever come into contact with a vintage Sheaffer Vacuum-filling pen, you already know the downside to such a filling system; eventually the seals wear out and the airtight vacuum fails. However, as mentioned in Stylophiles, the modern materials used in the 823 will likely resist such failure much better than did the packing units of old. However, this remains my one reservation regarding the 823 as I'd like this one to last a good, long time. When the seal does fail, ink will likely leak out the back of the pen, which could make a mess of a nice shirt. I'm thinking of adding just a bit of silicone grease to the blind cap threads as a precautionary measure in case the seal ever does begin to leak. That way, I would at least not get ink all over myself.

Even with this reservation regarding the longevity of the vacuum filler, I give the 823 5/5 because it works flawlessly now, holding a whole lot of ink, and I can't be sure I'll ever have a single problem with it.


This is an awesome pen, and I'm so glad I sprung for the somewhat high cost. The pen is large, subtly attractive and a fabulous writer. On top of that, it has huge ink capacity and is unique for its filling system and the fact that it's not yet available directly in the States. It's also air-travel friendly with the valve shutoff. All in all, this is one of my top three pens and certainly my favorite with an uncustomized nib. I highly recommend you consider it if you're in the market for a quality, smooth daily tool.

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