Crónicas Estilográficas

23 March 2019

The Case of Naginata. III. The Brand

After the two year hiatus in the production of Naginata Togi nibs we have them back in the market at a significant overprice. With this price hike, Sailor tries to cash the very good name of this nib.

But what is, in actual terms, a Naginata Togi nib? Is it worth the price Sailor is asking for them?

First and foremost, a Naginata Togi nib is a variable nib―a nib whose line width changes with the angle between pen and paper. Then, a Naginata Togi is a longer than usual nib, and this allows for some experiments to create new points―bending the nib, duplicating and triplicating the nibs, etc.


Three Naginata Togi nibs in three different sizes.

The question now is whether these features were so unique in the market as to justify Sailor in its bold move.

Variable nibs are not new at all―they have existed for more than a century. Nowadays, though, they are not that common, but they are not exclusive to Sailor. The paradox is that Sailor offers a much cheaper alternative―the zoom point available on various models including the very affordable Young Profit (JPY 5000, plus tax), also known as Somiko.


Sailor's Zoom nib in medium size. Photo courtesy of Zeynep Firtina (Write to me Often).

Then, what about the experiments nibmeister Nobuyoshi Nagahara performed on these nibs? Brilliant as they are, facts show that they do not need a Naginata Togi as a base. And nowadays there are a number of nibmeisters out there, in Japan and overseas, recreating those two- and three-fold nibs.


Nibmeister Nagahara Nobuyoshi in October of 2011.


Three Sailor Cross nibs (2-fold nibs). Note how the nib on the lower right side is made over an old nail type nib.


Two cross nibs: the one on top was made by nibmeister Yamada over a Pelikan M800; the other is a Sailor nib made for the 90th anniversary of the company in 2001.

What is left, then?

What might be left are some of the cuts Sailor offers or used to offer on these specialty nibs―the King Cobra, the King Eagle... But mostly, what is left seem the name Naginata Togi as a brand in itself. And time will tell is Sailor's strategy to cash it is correct or not.


The new and expensive Naginata Togi nib.


My thanks to Zeynep Firtina.


Iwase Seisakusho, model N – Hôgadô Doroai (Sailor)

Bruno Taut
Chiyoda, March 20th, 2019
etiquetas: Sailor, plumín, mercado, nibmeister Nagahara Nobuyoshi

19 March 2019

Katana or Fude

I am responsible for what I write, not for what others understand (::1::).

Some months ago I wrote about how at certain stationery shop in Tokyo the clerks in the fountain pen section did not call the Nakaya pen pouch "kimono" but "katana bukuro".

However, some people took my words as incorrect or as a complete speculation.

Well, none of the above.

The shop was Itoya's headquarters in Ginza (Tokyo) and the clerk's words implied that in that shop they spoke of the pen pouches as "katana bukuro". That conversation took place in October of 2018.


Katana bukuro, tô tai, fude ire?

More recently I posed the question to some other people in Tokyo. Among them, a journalist specialized in the stationery market with several publications under her obi. The result was similar: "kimono" is totally unheard in Japan to name a pen pouch.

'How do people call them then?'
'There is not a clear name', they replied.

And after thinking for a while the journalist continued.

'Some people call those pouches "tô tai".

"Tô tai" is just the onyomi (Sino-Japanese) pronunciation of 刀袋, whose kunyomi (native Japanese) pronunciation is "katana bukuro".

So be it.

And most people understand when you simply say 筆入れ, "fude ire", which translates as pen container.

But not "kimono". At least not in Japan.


Montblanc 149 – Aurora Black

Bruno Taut
Nakano, March 18th 2019
Etiquetas: Platinum, Japón, japonés, Itoya

12 March 2019

150 Years of Maruzen

Maruzen, the historical stationer of Tokyo, opens the Spring pen season in this city with the Maruzen World Fountain Pen in early March. This year this event celebrates its 10th edition, at the time of the 150th anniversary of Maruzen company. For the occasion, a limited edition pen hit the market together with some other commemorative stationeries.

Maruzen is largely responsible for the introduction of the fountain pen in Japan. Maruzen did so by importing this novelty writing tool from Britain and the US in the beginning of the twentieth century. Maruzen soon started selling some of those same pens –mostly Onoto and Waterman-- under its own brands like Zenith, Albion and Orion.

It took a bit longer for Maruzen to manufacture its own pens. The domestic production relied on the works of Sakasai Eisaburô, who by 1925 was working exclusively for Maruzen.

The Athena Renaissance 85 corresponds to this period. It was initially marketed in 1934. This is a lever filler made of ebonite with a 14 K gold nib.


Athena Renaissance 85, from 1934. A Sakasai Eisaburô manufacture.

Sakasai passed away in 1937 and Maruzen took over his factory to continue with the production of its own pens.

The factory, located in Shinagawa (Tokyo) was destroyed during the war, and a new plant in Katsushika (Tokyo) was built. Here, new pens showed up in the market in the early 1950s. Such is the case of the second pen—an urushi coated ebonite pen with a lever filler and a 14 K gold nib. It carries the JIS engraving issued by the Ministry of Industry in 1952-53 on fountain pens.


Another lever filler--a post war pen from around 1955.

A third example is the pen in the “Ultra” fashion initiated by the Pilot Super Ultra of 1959 (::1::, ::2::, ::3::). On this case, the pen was released in 1964. It is an aerometric filler, with a 14 K gold nib and a generous decoration on the section, where the brand “ATHENA” is imprinted.


An Athena pen from 1964. Its original price was JPY 2500.

The in-house production of pens ended in the 1970s, and for some time the brand Athena was limited to the Maruzen inks.


Athena ink by mid 1965. Athena Ace.

Maruzen's fountain pens resurfaced in 1994 through a collaboration with Pilot. Since then, Athena pens are Pilot pens in disguise, often implementing size #10 nibs. The Athena Basic Line (ca 2003) follows that idea.


The Athena Basic Line, from around 2004. It has an obvious similarity with the Pilot Custom Heritage 912, from 2009, with which the Basic Line shares the nib.

The 150th anniversary Athena pen has a shape that is very dear to Maruzen. This is the “Onoto type” (albeit in the quite personal Maruzen style)—a very cylindrical pen with a thinner barrel end where to post the cap. This pen also implements a size #10 Pilot nib, and the well-known converter CON-70. This edition is limited to 500 units, and its price is JPY 45000, plus taxes.


The "Athena the Pen" made for the 150th anniversary of Maruzen. Its retro packaging is particularly attractive. Photo courtesy of FudeFan. On his blog you can find a more detailed description of this pen.

So, after 150 years, Maruzen seems alive and well, and its main shop in Nihonbashi is one of the basic references for stylophiles in Tokyo. Should Maruzen make its own pens, the situation would be even better, but that might be asking too much.


My thanks to FudeFan.


Iwase Seisakusho, prototype with Henckel nib – Takeda Jimuki Hisoku

Bruno Taut
Chiyoda, March 11th, 2019
etiquetas: Maruzen, Pilot, Japón, Tokyo, papelería

28 February 2019

The Kubo Singularity

The big three Japanese pen companies make their own nibs, and it seems very hard to get those nibs as spare parts or as third party nibs for other makers. However, there are cases of that:

Hakase uses Pilot and Sailor nibs with their own original imprint. Ohashido and Taccia do the same with Sailor nibs.


A Pilot nib labeled as Hakase.

The rest either use Pilot nibs without any modification –StyloArt Karuizawa— or use some of the traditional supplies of third party nibs: Bock for Eboya and Masahiro (although previously Masahiro implemented Pilot nibs); JoWo for Taccia (lower end pens) and Wajimaya Zen-ni.


A JoWo nib labeled as Taccia.

The newcomer Iwase Seisakusho aims at sourcing its nibs from old nibmeister Kubo Kohei for its original pens. However, this is still an uncertain operation whose continuity we can only speculate about. Not to mention that the old age of Kubo Kohei –pushing 90 years old-- might affect any plan for a long term supply of parts.



Nibmeister Kubo at work.

But the bottom line is that Kubo Kohei is the sole independent maker of nibs in Japan, and his production is small, slow and artisanal.

Is there room –and market— for another independent operation in Japan to supply nibs and feeds to small pen companies?


Iwase Seisakusho prototype with Henckel nib – Takeda Jimiku Hisoku

Bruno Taut
Chuo, February 12th 2019
Etiquetas: Pilot, plumín, mercado, Sailor, Eboya, Hakase, Ohashido, Iwase Seisakusho, Taccia, Bock, JoWo, Wajimaya, nibmeister Kubo Kohei

19 February 2019

The Namiki Effect

Stylophiles are a special bunch. Driven by our anachronistic passion we often crave for certain features: gold nibs, self-filling mechanisms (as opposed to cartridges and converters), ebonite feeds, some specific materials like celluloid or ebonite,… And we demand those features for pens over certain price. Or, in other words, we might despise pens over certain price if they didn't offer some of them.

But the market might be telling us that we are mistaken. Just a quick look at today's catalogs shows how many luxury brands offer nothing but cartridge-converter pens with plastic feeds. Materials and gold nibs are less of a problem, though.


An expensive Pilot. Cartridge-converter and plastic feed.

Luxury pens of Platinum-Nakaya and Sailor are cartridge-converters. Pilot-Namiki does offer Japanese eyedroppers, but only for the biggest nib size. All the others, with nibs sizes 5, 10, and 20, are cartridge-converters despite how expensive they are.


An expensive Hakase.

Then, small makers like Eboya, Hakase, Ohashido, Stylo-Art Karuizawa, all focussed on higher-end pens only offer cartridge-converter pens. The only exception to this trend might be Masahiro and the newly-arrived Iwase Seisakusho.

Now, are these two brands –Masahiro and Iwase Seisakusho— on the right path or the success of all the other brands shows the opposite? How important are those details like ebonite feed and self-filling mechanisms in the final price –and in the final value-- of the pen?


A Masahiro pen. Expensive, but it implements an ebonite feed, a self-filling mechanism, an ebonite body, and a gold nib.

The market might be telling us that we stylophiles are still a minority in the business. Or it might only be that I am very mistaken about what we demand, and cartridge and converters and plastic feeds are perfectly all right even on very expensive pens.

Or it might be that we are very easy targets. After all, every pen has its charm, and all those cravings are not so important.

And that is the Namiki effect--expensive pens can be, in essence, very simple. Namiki has proven it through years in the market.


Iwase Seisakusho prototype – Takeda Jimuki Hisoku

Bruno Taut
Bunkyo, February 9th 2019
etiquetas: estilofilia, mercado, makie, Eboya, Hakase, StyloArt Karuizawa, Masahiro, Sailor, Ohashido, Iwase Seisakusho, Pilot, Platinum

13 February 2019

Pilot in 1993

The following two pens were available in the market in the year 1993, the year of the 75th anniversary of the company.


Pilot Custom 748 on top; Pilot 75th Anniversary pen. Both from 1993.

For the occasion, Pilot created a flat top pen with a size 15 nib made of 18 K gold. It was a limited edition of 7500 units and cost JPY 50,000. This pen, as is also the case of its natural successor the Custom 845, has most of the cap and most of the body coated with urushi.


These are the nibs of the previous pens. Both are made of 18 K gold. The anniversary pen, a limited edition, has a special engraving for the occasion.

On that same year, Pilot had marketed the more luxurious versions of its workhorse fountain pen—the Pilot Custom 745 (FKK-5000G and FKK-5000MS) and 748 (FKK-8000G and FKK-8000MS), based on the Custom 742 and 743. These luxury pens had their bodies in vermeil (G models) or Sterling silver (MS models), and each of them had two possible decorative pattern: barleycorn and pinstripe. The 745s implemented size 10 nibs and cost JPY 50,000; and the 748s, size 15 nibs for JPY 80,000; on both cases with a gold purity of 18 K.


The insides of the Pilot Custom 748, implementing a black-coated CON-70 converter.

And this is the paradox—a limited edition with urushi cost less, a lot less, that the regular edition made of Sterling silver. All the rest is the same—nib, feed, filling system... JPY 50,000 vs. JPY 80,000.

It seems that in 1993, silver was a lot more valued than urushi. That does not seem to be the case nowadays on the Pilot catalog. Although there are some difference on the nibs, the Silvern series and the Custom 845 cost the same, JPY 50,000. And the second hand market also reflects this trend—limited editions preserve their value better than regular models.

Custom 745 and 748 were discontinued in Spring of 2007.



Iwase Seisakusho prototype with Henckel nib – Takeda Jimiku Hisoku

Bruno Taut
Chuo, February 12th 2019
Etiquetas: Pilot, mercado, maki-e

07 February 2019

Ohashido (II)

As I had said before, Ôhashidô pens, as of now, implement Sailor nibs of sizes medium and big (in Sailor terms). These nibs are engraved in origin, at the Sailor's plant in Kure (Hiroshima), with the Ôhashidô imprint. In fact, Ôhashidô occasionally implements nibs that are not available on regular Sailor pens—big size nibs made of 14 K gold, and nibs labeled as S –soft– as opposed to the omnipresent H –hard– nibs.


An Ôhashidô nib labeled as S, soft, that in actual terms is very rigid.

There are, usually, two other elements carrying some form of identification on Ôhashidô pens—the clip and the cap band. If present, as there are Ôhashidô pens without those features, they carry the inscription “JSU”, for “Japan Sendai Uehara” on the clip, or "OHASHIDO SINCE 1912 JSU" on the cap band.

However, all those signs might not be there, or there might be some others—such is the lack of system in the production of Ôhashidô pens.

Two examples of these pens I am showing today—one with very typical features; the other, right the opposite.


Exhibit one. Note the engraved clip: "JSU".

The first one is a pen finished in unpolished urushi. The clip is also engraved with the usual imprint: "JSU". The nib is large and carries the usual inscription “SPECIALITY / ÔHASIDÔ / SINCE 1912 / J.S.U / 21 K”, although without any statement about the nib point. The differences between "Ôhashidô" and "Ôhasidô" are the result of the lack of consistency among Japanese on how to transliterate Japanese names.



“SPECIALITY / ÔHASIDÔ / SINCE 1912 / J.S.U / 21 K”

The second pen has none of those usual identifications—the nib has no engraving save a hidden JIS mark and and manufacturing date, and there is no clip. But the barrel is engraved: “OHASHIDO / SINCE1912 J.S.U”. These two details are very unusual. As the nib itself is—it is certainly a Sailor, but a very soft one. It is a medium size made of 14 K gold (according to Mr. Uehara), and the nib point is M.


Exhibit two.


Unusual engraved body: "OHASHIDO / SINCE1912 J.S.U”.


Unusual plain nib, save for the JIS mark and the manufacturing date.

Interesting pens, but the lack of systems in the production process is a problem if the potential customer were looking for a defined –and unnamed- model. But this might be part of the success recipe of Ôhashidô's.


Iwase Seisakusho prototype – Takeda Jimuki Hisoku

Bruno Taut
Bunkyo, February 5th 2019
etiquetas: Sailor, Ohashido