Thursday, October 31, 2013

Vanco

The Fuente meeting in October is a regular event in Tokyo during the last 20 years. It is more of a social than of a trading encounter, and the highlight of it is the final auction on Sunday afternoon.

The social part is easy to understand: we stylophiles love to be around pens and we enjoy showing our treasures to other like ourselves. At this past Fuente meeting I have seen several wonders. This is one of them:

Already in the 1920s, there existed about 500 pen operations in the city of Osaka. Most of them were small family business. Among them was the Etô family, responsible for the brand Vanco, active until the 1950s. Around 1935, Vanco marketed the following pen:


A brown celluloid...

It is a piston filler made of celluloid. The filling mechanism is a telescopic system, made of brass, to increase the capacity of the ink deposit—a well known technical solution in the hands of Montblanc. But this pen is a mostly unknown Vanco.


The Vanco uncapped. Note the piston half way through the ink window.

The nib is made of gold, although it is not imprinted as such. This claim is supported by electric resistivity measurements—gold is about 10 times better conductor than steel.


The gold nib. The inscription reads "WARRANTED / FINE / VANCO / REG. PAT. OFF. / <6> / POINTED / HARDEST Ir."


These are the dimensions of the pen:
  • Length closed: 128 mm
  • Length open: 120 mm
  • Length posted: 157 mm
  • Diameter: 12 mm
  • Weight (dry): 24.4 g


The whole piston can be released from the pen by unscrewing it out of the piston knob.

This pen stands firm on any comparison with many Western pens. The beautiful celluloid, together with this filling system make a wonderful combination. A rare treat in a Japanese pen from the 1930s.

My thanks to Mr. Sugimoto. Please, have a look at his blog with several entries on Vanco pens, and very interesting photographs of the piston mechanism (::1::, ::2::, ::3::, ::4::, ::5::, ::6::, ::7::).


Sailor pocket pen, 18 K nib - Daiso red cartridge

Bruno Taut
Chuo (Tokyo), October 27th, 2013
etiquetas: evento, Vanco, soluciones técnicas, Montblanc

Monday, October 28, 2013

New Batch

(Some modifications to the original post were added on Nov 4th, 2013)

I think I could see this coming. The ink business is too profitable for companies to give up on milking that cow. And the trick of limited releases –that cheap marketing strategy—worked well among pen, and ink, aficionados.

So, here we go again. After the success of the four series of seasonal inks Sailor marketed between December 2009 and July 2010, this company had settled down with a gamut of nine basic (Jentle), released in April 2011, and two nanopigmented inks. Plus, should we add, the number of custom-made inks for several shops in Japan.


Sailor-made inks for the stationery shop Bung Box in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka.

And that has just changed. Sailor has released a new batch of inks in a limited release. It is the so-called Sherbet Colors. This new line is composed of four different inks in pink, purple, blue and green (mint). The price, as was the usual policy of Sailor, is the same as that of regular, unlimited, Jentle inks: JPY 1000, plus tax, for 50 ml.




These inks have some transparent quality, although some might just say they showed very little saturation. The colors shown on the picture are very broad approximations to the real tones.

These Sherbet inks, as can be seen on the picture, come in transparent boxes made of plastic. The packaging is very similar to that of Platinum’s Mix Free inks.


Lamy Safari 150 Jahre Freundschaft – Pelikan Brilliant Brown

Bruno Taut
Yokohama, October 28th, 2013
etiquetas: Sailor, tinta, mercado, Platinum

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Context and Research

On these Chronicles I have extensively spoken about the Capless family of pens by Pilot. So much, in fact, that I ended up creating its own label to access all those texts easily. Some might say that this follows from a deep appreciation of these pens, but the actual reason is a lot more mundane—it is easy to speak about them because it is easy to provide a context for them as a whole, and for each of the models. And that makes a huge difference with respect to many other pens.


This picture alone provides most of the context we need to analyze any Capless model.

That is, in fact, a major advantage of the big three pen companies on this blog. Their history is relatively well known and available. What can we say, in contrast, about pen brands as Opal, North Star, Ramie, Tokyo, Asahi Tsubasa…? And this problem feeds back—known brands become better known while minor companies fall into oblivion.

Is there a way to revert the situation? The point is not about forgetting all we know about Pilot, Platinum and Sailor, but about how to increase our knowledge on all those minor brands that played some role, even if small, in the history of these tools. And there is only one way—research.

Then we encounter a discouraging situation. First is how reduced this world of fountain pens is. And most of the money in it is associated to new pens, on which some obvious companies have a clear interest. Their investment, needless to say, favors their own products.

Then we have the community of stylophiles—that is, collectors who are seldom satisfied with one single pen and who buy a number of pens just for the sake of owning them (even if under the excuse of thinking of themselves as users). But this community, even if very active and noisy, is small and divided. And little research they do other than satisfying their own curiosity. Some even publish their findings.

A third actor in this scenario are vintage pen traders. They might be very interested in adding value, that of the actual knowledge, on those unknown pens they need to sell. And in fact some traders do that and even publish their knowledge. But not much investment is done on this activity.


Two books with the same title: Fountain Pens of the World. By Nakazono and by Lambrou.

And now and then, some visionary entrepreneur thinks that publishing a book on pens might be a good idea. And they even publish it… Whether they make any money is yet to be seen.

And that is all we have. Those initiatives, mostly personal, might be fragmentary, and might be of good or of bad quality; but that is all we have. And the conclusion is that it is up to us, stylophiles, to improve this situation.



Sailor pocket pen, 18 K gold nib – Daiso red cartridge

Bruno Taut
Yokohama, October 2013
etiquetas: metabitácora, mercado, estilofilia, Capless

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Many Names of Platinum. Piiton

Platinum dates its origin in 1919 when Shunichi Nakata open a shop in Okayama to sell imported pens. In 1924 he moved to Tokyo and founded the company Nakaya Seisakusho (Nakaya Works), and in 1928 the company was renamed as Platinum Pen Company. However, the name Nakaya Seisakusho remained imprinted on its pens for a number of years. Platinum as a brand name was not the only one used by the company of Mr. Nakata. Some pens destinated to foreign markets were named as 555 and PPP to avoid confusion with the English company Platignum.



Another minor brand name during those early years was Piiton. The following is an example, now hard to find, of those Nakata’s pens from the 1920s.

This Piiton pen is made of ebonite, and has a 14 K gold nib. The filling system is by eyedropper with a shut-off valve, although externally it is an obvious copy of the at the time successful Parker Duofold.

The pen name is clearly imprinted on the pen—on the barrel together with the traditional Platinum globe logo with the initials of the founder; on the nib; and on the clip.


"TRADE MARK / THE PIITON (globe logo) FOUNTAIN PEN / TOKYO JAPAN S. N. & CO."


The engraving on the clip reads "PIITON / 14 KT / GOLD / PEN".


These are the dimensions of the pen:
  • Length closed: 126 mm
  • Length open: 116 mm
  • Length posted: 165 mm
  • Diameter: 13 mm
  • Weight (dry): 16.2 g

My thanks to Mr. Sunami.


Pilot Capless CS-200RW – Platinum Black

Bruno Taut
Shinjuku, October 17th, 2013
etiquetas: Platinum, Piiton, Parker

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Rarities

Some weeks ago I included the picture of an ad by Pilot on pens marketed in 1978. It was perfect to illustrate the pen under analysis –a Custom Grandee with a music nib. But the ad also displayed another pen—the all-steel Pilot Murex. But although marketed on the same year, their fates have been very different.


The Pilot ad from 1978.

The Custom Grandee was intended as a more luxurious product. It implemented a 14 K gold nib and there were seven different nib points available, including a three-tined music nib. The price was JPY 7000.

On the other hand, the Pilot Murex was more of a rarity—an all-steel pen with nib and section integrated in the same piece of steel. It followed the path lead by the Parker T1 and, more successfully, the Pilot Myu 701. The Murex had only two very rigid nib points—F and M. Its price was JPY 5000.

Now, thirty five years later, we pay a lot more attention to the rarity than to the luxurious functionality. And I am no innocent at this game as I wrote about the Murex a lot earlier than about the Custom Grandee, and when I finally described the later I did so by focusing my attention on another rarity, the unusual music nib.


The Parker 51 must be included in any book on the history of pens, and many a collector will have it,. However, the collector will pay attention to that very scarce color or variation that in actual terms is mostly irrelevant.

Collecting, this shows, deals more with the unusual than with history; more with the rarity than with the well-proven technical characteristics. And only a handful of true icons appeared on both lists: those made by collectors and by historians.

And this also shows that a history of pens written by a die-hard collector might be very biased towards those rarities that very few could have.


Pilot Capless CS-200RW – Platinum Black

Bruno Taut
Shinjuku, October 13th, 2013
etiquetas: Pilot, mercado, libro, estilofilia, Parker

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Zoom 980

Tombow is a very minor Japanese manufacturer regarding fountain pens. So small, some might say, that there is not a single line about it on the book Fountain Pens of Japan, by A. Lambrou and M. Sunami.

The origins of the company date back from 1913, when founder Ogawa Harunosuke (小川春之助) open a stationery shop in nowadays Taito district in Tokyo. Therefore, the company is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. However, the brand name Tombow (トンボ, in Japanese)—after the word tombo, 蜻蛉, dragonfly— was adopted in 1927. At first, the production was limited to pencils and only in 1939 the company produced the first erasers. In 1963, the brand Mono for fine pencils started, and was soon expanded with some other high quality, or so the company claimed, products.


A Mono eraser (made in Vietnam) on a field of dragonflies.

The first fountain pens by Tombow were produced by the end of the 1980s with models Zoom 505, Zoom 909 and Zoom 828 (the Egg, already reviewed on these Chronicles). All in all, Tombow has produced only eight models of fountain pens: 505, 828, 909, 980, Object 202, Modena, Lucca, and the currently available Zoom 101.


The Zoom 828, the Egg. The fountain pen version was first marketed in 1989. The matching ball pen had been released in 1987.


The Zoom 101, made of aluminum and carbon fiber. This is the only fountain pen made by Tombow right now. It was initially launched in 2006.

The more characterizing element in modern Tombow writing tools, and not only on fountain pens, is the original design. Whether they follow a careful study of ergonomics and functionality or to a mere sense of eccentricity is open for discussion. The same, however, could be said about Lamy, with which some like to compare Tombow.

Model Zoom 980 was released in 1997 in a number of functions –mechanical pencil, roller ball, ball point pen and fountain pen— and in a number of colors. The unit reviewed in here is a fountain pen made in dark brown.


The external appearance of the pen is that of an almost perfect cylinder, an idea that had already shown up in several pens described on these Chronicles: the Muji fountain pen, and the Platinum Belage. And there is another characteristic in common to these pens: their caps are meant to be posted, and for such purpose, the barrel has a very distinctive shape. In the case of the Zoom 980, the cap is securely attached to the barrel with a very reassuring clack!


The tail of the Zoom 980 together with the cap. It attaches to the barrel very securely.


The pen is designed to be posted. But the center of gravity of the pen becomes over 2 cm higher.

The gripping section is metallic and shows a subtle concave curve. As was pointed out above, whether this detail is ergonomic or just cosmetic is up to each of us.

The cap screws onto the section without covering it. The threads are located just above the nib. This creates a configuration that could be described as sequential, cap-section-barrel, that allows for an unusually short cap. It is also possible to open the barrel without uncapping the pen. In this regard this pen is similar to the Muji fountain pen.


The steel nib, labeled with the company name, and the threads for the cap right above the nib.

The nib is made of steel and is very rigid. It is labeled as M and probably, given the policy of Tombow, at least F point also existed. This nib is correct but uncharacteristic, boring.

These are the pen dimensions:
  • Length closed: 142 mm
  • Length open: 123
  • Length posted: 151
  • Diameter: 10.5 mm
  • Weight: 21 g (with converter, uninked)

The balance is correct, especially if unposted. The company claimed that the short cap did not disturb the already low center of gravity of the pen thus providing a comfortable grip in any case. Maybe so, but better if unposted, and the numbers are stubborn: the center of gravity is at 60 mm from the tip if unposted, and at 82 mm if posted.

The filling system is by cartridge and converter, and uses the international standard. Cleaning the pen is easy, albeit removing the nib and the feed is not possible without special tools.


The Zoom 980 showing the international converter used to ink it.

All in all, this pen is correct and perfectly suited for its task. It is even appealing in looks. However, compared to other similar pens, I would rather use those by Platinum (Belage, made in the 1980s, or Cool/Balance currently on production) or by Muji. The price of the Zoom 980 was around GBP 50 in 2002, and that sounds expensive for what it actually offers.


Tombow Zoom 980 – Pilot Blue

Bruno Taut
Inagi, October 7th, 2013
etiquetas: Tombow

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Jentle on the Side

Sailor inks are well known by now even overseas from Japan. And, as of today, after the transitional period of the seasonal inks (between December 2009 and July 2010), Sailor settled down its offer in April 2011 with nine ink colors. All these are the so-called Jentle inks, as opposed to the permanent, nanopigmented ones, of which only two colors are available: the black Kiwaguro and the blue-black Seiboku.

But Sailor is also known in Japan for producing inks for some shops. The better known example, at least outside Japan, is the case of Kobe inks made for the Kobe-based stationery shop Nagasawa. These inks, in fact, predate the day –December 2009— when Sailor sharply increased the price of their inks. Regular, Jentle, inks went from JPY 600 to JPY 1000 (plus taxes), which represented a 66% increase. This information is relevant because the custom made inks for shops always cost twice the price of the regular line. So, initially, Nagasawa inks cost JPY 1200, and the price increase was reflected in the current price of JPY 1500 (plus taxes).


Sailor ink made for the Nagasawa stationery shop in Kobe.


Sailor ink made for the Maruzen shop. It carries the traditional name of the fountain pen-related products made by this traditional shop--Athena.

Custom made inks created in later years cost, therefore, JPY 2000. There are numerous examples of them: Maruzen shops, Ishidabungu in Hokuto (Hokkaido), Bung Box in Hamamatsu (Shizuoka), Nakajima/B-Stock in the West side of Tokyo and Kanagawa, Kingdom Note in Tokyo… Many of them are Sailor Friendly Shops where some specific pens, not present in the general catalog of the company, are available. Some of those shops can be found on my map of fountain pen shops in Tokyo.


Sailor inks made of the small chain Nakajima/B-Stock located in several location on the West side of Tokyo and in Kanagawa prefecture. The price is clearly printed on the box--JPY 1260, taxes included.

In some cases it is still possible to find old custom made inks. And the price remains unchanged: JPY 1200 per inkwell (plus taxes).


Pilot Capless CS-100RW – Platinum Black

Bruno Taut
Machida, October 3rd, 2013
etiquetas: Sailor, tinta, mercado, Nagasawa

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

RW Capless (1965)

Year 1965 saw several new models of the Pilot Capless. After the expensive model of 1963 (C-600MW, JPY 6000, and variations), Pilot made cheaper versions in 1964 for JPY 3000 (C-300GW) and JPY 2000 (C-200SW), and the price went even lower in 1965 with models C-100RW and CS-100RW. These were sold for JPY 1000 and have been the cheapest Pilot Capless pens ever marketed.

Under the apparent simplicity of these pens, this model showed a number of variations, not always visible, that affect the fine identification of the unit. There were, in fact, three nominal models. Pilot released two of them –C-100RW and CS-100RW, both sold for JPY 1000— in March, and the third one –CS-200RW, JPY 2000— in October of that same year of 1965. The basic difference between them was the material of the nib—the early models implemented steel nibs whereas the CS-200RW used 14 K gold nibs. On top of that, the more luxurious model had a gold plated clip and a decorated body, in contrast with the plain aluminum cylinder of the cheaper models. Steel and gold nibs coexisted at least during 1966, and all these pens were made in a number of colors.


A number of RW Capless together with some later models (on the lower row).

And there are more variations. Early units of these pens had the nib-releasing mechanism made of plastic. Later in the 1965, it was changed to metal. This detail is difficult to check as it is deep inside the pen body. The obvious exception to this is the very rare transparent version.


The very rare demonstrator version is, most likely, the more luxurious CS-200RW. Its nib is made of 14 K gold.


Three examples of the luxury version CS-200RW. Note the golden clip on all of them.

Model C-100RW was the longer version of the CS-100RW, which is a lot more common. The difference between them is limited to the length of the push button. The aluminum body is exactly the same.


Long (C-100RW) and short (CS-100RW) of the Capless model released on March 1965.

The W of the catalog code means that these pens used the double standard cartridge. On the short model only such cartridges can be used and only one of them. The replacement converter CON-W should not be used—the pressure of the button on the plastic opening of the converter ends up cracking this plastic piece. Therefore, the actual alternative to the use of the long gone double-spare cartridge is the use of Sailor cartridges (thanks, commentator Kostas K).


The replacement converter CON-W for the double-spare cartridge. The blue plastic piece on the right ends up cracking when used in the short Capless CS-100RW and CS-200RW pens.

The nib units in all these pens are basically the same, but we can find some minor variations. Older nib units have an extra metallic sheath in the area of the guiding notch. The rear button then pushes against this ring. On more modern units, the button pushes just against the notch. This difference does not create any problem of incompatibility between them.


On this picture, inside the blue box, we can see the basic difference between the two types of nib units present on these RW Capless. On top, the older type, with an extra sheath of metal on the area of the guiding notch. On the nib at the bottom that additional metallic part has disappeared. It corresponds to the later version of the nib unit.

Another issue of these pens is the length and structure of the feed. It is indeed long and, more critical, it cannot be removed from the frame holding the nib-feed-cart unit together. Consequently, cleaning the feed can be difficult and, in case of clogging problems, the replacement of the whole structure might be the only solution. The nib alone can easily be detached from the feed by sliding it out. This potential problem, therefore, poses some risk when purchasing this pen model without a proper test to check the actual flow of ink from the cartridge to the nib.


The nib can easily be removed from the feed by sliding it out. The feed, however, cannot be detached from the steel cylinder that holds the nib unit together.

These models were exported to the US around 1966. There exist instruction sheets for it written in Spanish. The most likely hypothesis to it is that these pens were re-exported from the US to neighboring Spanish-speaking countries. Exports to Spain started much later, in the 1970s.


Instruction sheet in Spanish for the RW Capless. Courtesy of Nikos Syrigonakis.

Later in 1965, in November, Pilot released another Capless model—the twist-operated C-500MW.

My thanks to my many pen friends: Mr. Kostas K, Mr. Syrigonakis, Mr. Niikura, Mr. Shiomi, Mr. Sunami. And probably some more whose name I just cannot remember now.


Pilot Capless C-100RW, green – Platinum Black

Bruno Taut
Yokohama, October 2nd, 2013
etiquetas: Pilot, Capless
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