30 May 2011

Capless Nibs (II)

As in the case of medium nibs, three are the possible fine nibs for the current model of Pilot Capless—the inexpensive one in steel, the now discontinued in 14 K gold, and the well known in 18 K gold. And, again, what are the differences among them?

All three of them were filled with Montblanc Irish Green and have been used on the same papers, mostly a smooth 90 g/sq. m by Oxford. My conclusions are as follows:

— The steel nib is a tad thinner that those in gold. The two gold nibs show no difference in their widths.

— The 18 K gold nib is clearly the wettest of the lot. Its line is significantly darker than those laid by the other two nibs.

— All three nibs are smooth regardless of the paper. The differences in this department are very small.

— None of these nibs is flexible. However, the 18 K gold one is slightly more responsive to pressure.

— As was the case with medium nibs, the steel one comes only as gold plated in chromium-finished bodies. Therefore, those pens show a color mismatch. A strange detail given the fact that no nib plating would be needed to match it with the rest of the pen.

Probably, the richer flow makes the 18 K gold nib the best of the tested nibs, although this, I reckon, is a matter of personal preference. On the cheaper side, the inexpensive steel nib gives an excellent value—it is smooth and reliable nib whose performance is on a par with the other two. Its only problem is, other than the very limited distribution outside Japan, the above-mentioned color mismatch.

In any event, none of the three should be discarded due to its performance—the differences among them are small.

(Pilot Capless, steel, 14 K gold, and 18 K gold; F nib – Montblanc Irish Green)

Bruno Taut
May 27th, 2011
[labels: Pilot, mercado]

29 May 2011

Matching (IX)

The controversy is always there: Is that pen original or a copy of another? Which company did father that idea? Sometimes, the answers are clear…

The user in me has some fascination for cheap, or rather inexpensive, fountain pens. After all, if the main purpose of a pen is to use it and most of what we do with them is taking notes, there is no need to spend big bucks on them. And we also know that price and performance are barely correlated—we all know of terrible examples of expensive pens with very poor performance.

Therefore, I always have an eye on low cost pens. In the past I spoke about those found in Tokyo, either by the big three Japanese companies or marketed by some chain store.

Today’s pen, found in Madrid, is branded as Zande-Phondex. I bought it in one of those bazaars, usually run by Chinese people, where you can find almost anything. This pen is an obvious copy of the Sheaffer’s No Nonsense student pen, modeled after the 1920’s flat-top design.

The main differences between the Sheaffer’s original and the Zande-Phondex copy are the rugged gripping section and the slip cap of the later. Both are cartridge-converter pens—standard for the copy and Sheaffer’s proprietary for the original.

Neither of them is a expensive pen, but the Sheaffer’s price is about ten times that of the Zande-Phondex, whose price is only €0.90. Its construction quality, however, is also cheaper—the cap band easily slides off, and the plastic material shows some non-smooth points.

But performance-wise both pens are even. They are indeed functional no-nonsense tools. Rigid and reliable steel nibs. Nothing fancy, but always ready for the action.

So, the question is obvious and pertinent—why should we spend more than a couple of euros in any fountain pen?

(Pilot Vpen, M nib – Pilot Black)

Bruno Taut
May 25th, 2011
[labels: Sheaffer, Zande-Phondex]

23 May 2011

Bruno Taut in Madrid

Aedificare necesse est, uiuere non est necesse.
Bruno Taut.

Of course Bruno Taut is a nom de plume –no pun intended, though. I adopted it years ago when I started another blog on Japan. His name came in handy after visiting the Katsura Villa in Kyoto.

Westerners in Japan tend to feel a mixture of fascination and confusion about the new realm to which they are exposed. And many, from Lafcadio Hearn to Donald Richie to Ian Buruma, chose to write on Japan in an attempt to make sense of it. Bruno Taut’s story, though, was similar and unique at the same time. He fled the very hostile Germany of the early 1930s and chose Japan as his destination instead of traveling west —key word for the US— like most other artists at the time. During his time in Japan he wrote extensively on Japanese architecture and, especially, about the Katsura Imperial Villa. In actual terms, he discovered it for the Western World. Bruno Taut settled down in Takasaki –Gunma prefecture--, where he worked for the Takasaki Kogeisho Industrial Arts Center.

In 1936, he left Japan for his other love, Turkey, where he died in 1938.

These days (between April 24 and July 17, 2011), the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid offers the possibility to revisit this architect. This exhibit on Bruno Taut, though, is not focused on any of his Oriental works but on his more theoretical and utopic work from the late 1910s—his book Alpine Architektur, an interesting exploration of modernity.

(Pilot 1998 Capless model with steel F nib – Montblanc Irish Green)

Bruno Taut
May 15th, 2011
[labels: metabitácora, Japón]

16 May 2011

More Capless

I have already said on these chronicles that Pilot cannot claim the fatherhood of the retractable nib in a fountain pen; but –sure enough— Pilot’s version of that idea has become the most popular and long lived in the market.

The first Capless –the chronicles say—was released by the end of 1963 on the occasion of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. That first model was twist operated –like the current Fermo model—and was very expensive: JPY 6000 at that time. Now, it is very demanded by collectors and is priced accordingly.

This expensive price made Pilot to market a cheaper model –some say aiming at college students— released in 1964. However, JPY 3000 was still a hefty price in the mid 1960s.

Such is the pen I am presenting now—four different variations of this 1964 pen. Three of them are in pristine condition—never inked and with the original sticker still on their bodies.

The nib units –just like in the current models—are easy to remove. They are made in 14 k gold. The filling system is a cartridge/converter. This early Capless use the first cartridge system made by Pilot—the double spare, now very hard to find. However, the CON-W converter is still available in the Pilot catalog and in some shops in Japan.

There are their dimensions:
Diameter: 12 mm.
Length closed: 143 mm.
Length open: 137 mm.
Total weight (empty): 19 g.

These pens are the first variation of the model: only 6 mm of the nib go out of the body when pushed. The next year models had a more visible nib when in the writing position.

(Pilot 1998 Capless model with steel M nib – Diamine Teal)

Bruno Taut
May 8th, 2011
[labels: Pilot]

09 May 2011

Public House

For Suomi-san who introduced me into the Stephens’ world.

Despite my years in Glasgow, I am not a pub-goer. But it seems to me that all English/Scottish/Irish pubs seem to be one and the same, endlessly repeated. And given their otaku mentality, some of the best examples might be in Japan—look for a home-made haggis in a pub in Scotland, as I saw in Yokohama!

The ad...

...and the "Irish" public house.

Anyway, one of the key elements in a pub is the decoration. Vintage ads are always present together with a profusion of wood panels and indirect lights. This Madrid “Irish” pub, though, has very English ads—the long gone Stephens’ ink.

Stephens' inkwell together with the box of the model 56 pen. Photo courtesy of Grafopasión member Mr. JLML.

Another old ad of Stephens' ink. Photo courtesy of Grafopasión member Mr. JLML.

The Stephens’ company was the leading company in ink production in Britain after the 1837 patent for a permanent ink, filed by the founder Dr. Henry Stephens. The company really succeeded when at his death, his son Henry Charles Stephens, also known as “Inky” Stephens, became in charge. The company only started producing pens well into the twentieth century. Not many models they made, and there are arguments about their actual value, but there are some avid collectors of Stephens’ pens.

(Parker 21, black – Senator Regent Royal Blue)

Bruno Taut
April, 2011
[labels: tinta, Stephens']

02 May 2011

Chinese Fude

Pen review. Luoshi “Good Luck” 739 with fude nib.

Luoshi is one of these Chinese pen companies sprouting in the market and whose products, through on-line commerce, are becoming more widely available.

1. Appearance and design. (7.0/10)
The first impression shows a very substantial –more on this later— and appealing pen. It calls you attention through the richly decorated barrel—a brass overlay engraved with some Chinese motifs (Confucius) and an inscription of good luck together with the company name in Chinese ideograms.

Other than this, design-wise there is nothing remarkable. Actually, the ornament makes the pen quite heavy and unbalanced.

2. Construction and quality. (6.0/10)
A closer look shows a number of imperfections on the cap enamel and rings. Nothing impeding its functionality, but they show this is a cheap pen.

At the same time, the pen did not perform correctly right away. The feed –easy to disassemble—was dirty and the nib was not properly aligned to the feed. Cleaning and sliding the nib further down made the trick for a good writing.

3. Weight and dimensions. (5.0/10)
Heavy and unbalanced pen.

Diameter: 13 mm.
Length capped: 142 mm.
Length uncapped: 127 mm.
Length posted: 171 mm.
Total weight: 45 g.
Weight uncapped: 32 g

Even unposted, this pen is unbalanced—the barrel is too heavy and pushes the center of masses high up in the pen. Posted, this becomes a very uncomfortable pen.

Size-wise, though, this is an average pen, a bit on the thick side, favoring a comfortable grip.

The gold plated steel fude nib.

4. Nib and writing performance. (8.0/10)
The nib is the key point of this pen—a fude nib bended about 40 degrees. Therefore, it draws a very thick horizontal line and a thin –about an M point—vertical one. It is tipped, and this smooths the writing at higher angles—up to a point. But it hardly becomes rough.

It is only natural to compare this nib to that of the Sailor Fude Pen 40 already reviewed on these chronicles.

The first difference is that the angle at which the Luoshi pen is bended is a lot more progressive than that in the Sailor pen. As a result, the possibilities of line variation are huge, but it also makes this pen very tricky to master. The usual effect is a very uncontrolled variation in the handwriting width.

Therefore, this is a wet, smooth, difficult to master, and fun pen.

As was mentioned before, this nib had to be re-aligned with the feed. After that, there has been no problem with it.

Different line widths with different nib inclinations.

5. Filling system and maintenance. (8.0/10)
This is a cartridge/converter pen that uses short and long universal cartridges. The nib-feed set is very easy to remove from the section. In summary, an easy to maintain pen, even if boring in the filling department.

6. Cost and value. (8.0/10)
This is an inexpensive pen –less than USD 10— with appealing looks but not well finished and certainly unbalanced. However, it implements an exciting fude nib.

All in all, a good deal.

7. Conclusion. (42/60=70/100)
Inexpensive and unbalance pen with good looks and interesting nib. As customers, we should also look at some other fude pens with less appealing looks but much better balance and overall handling.

My thanks to Tarraco-san.

(Luoshi “Good Luck” Fude Pen – Montegrappa turquoise)

Bruno Taut
May 1st, 2011
[labels: Luoshi, plumín]

01 May 2011


Sesenta –sixty in Spanish— was the name of a limited edition of the slim Pilot Capless. The records say that there were three series of 400, 100 and 100 units in marbled brown, red and green, respectively, released in June 2007. There is also a generalized idea that these Sesenta pens were the beginning of the model Decimo (tenth in Spanish), the non-limited version of the slim Capless. However, those same records show that there was a Decimo pen in pink in November 2005, this predating the first Sesenta.

A Sesenta in brown marble.

A Decimo in blue.

Another general idea is that the nib-feed-ink deposit set of all Capless pens can fin in any of the models made after 1990: regular Capless, slim Decimo/Sesenta, and Fermo. But I have found that golden colored nibs, either made in gold or in steel, do not fit well in the slim versions. These nibs seem to be slightly thicker at some point and the push-pull operation is not smooth. This is the case with two pens—a Sesenta and a Decimo— and with three different nibs—two gold plated in steel, and one 18 K in gold.

A collection of Capless nibs in steel and in 18 K gold.

(Pilot Capless, steel M nib – Diamine Teal)

Bruno Taut
April 29, 2011
[labels: Pilot]