16 October 2012

South African

This text is the final result of a collaboration of stylophiles in several countries: Eduardo Alcalde, Elena Kouvaris, Kostas Kouvaris, and myself, Bruno Taut.

To any reader of these Chronicles the story is already well known, almost trite. Sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s some Platinum pens, barely disguising their Japanese origin, were sold in Europe under the name of some local company—Presidente in Spain and Joker in Italy (most likely) were reported on these texts. Were those the only cases? Not at all.

The Hifra 4421, open. The text on the barrel reads "'HIFRA' / TRADE (FH logo) MARK / REG 85809 / 4421".

Hifra is a rather obscure pen brand. Not much is known and the few questions on its origin published in Internet fora produced assorted answers including Spain and Israel. However, South Africa seems to be the source of most Hifra pens for sale online. Some quotes in South African texts (Teachers and memories; The training of a good stenographer, on p. 18 of the document) also point out at pens of this brand as common domestic objects for some time. Therefore, in absence of definitive proofs of its origin, I will settle on the idea that Hifra was a South African pen brand.

Hifra 4421 (top) and Platinum Honest (bottom), disassembled. The engraving on the Hifra's nib reads "HIGHGRADE / SUPERIOR / IDEAL / PEN".

Detail of section and nib of the Hifra 4421. The Platinum logo can be seen on the cap jewel.

But, were Hifra pens made in South Africa? Some of the models, as seen online, have a very different origin—they are Platinum pens and were made in Japan.

Such is the case of Hifra’s model 4421. It is in fact a Platinum Honest with aerometric filling system and steel nib, albeit with some minor variations with the original Japanese pen. The cap on the South African pen keeps the Platinum globle logo (SN stands for Shun-ichi Nakata, founder of Platinum in 1919). The barrel is engraved with the name Hifra and with a variation of the globe logo: instead of S and N, the letters encircled are now F and H. The nib and the feed are identical to those of some Platinum and Presidente models.

From top left to bottom right, Presidente, Hifra 4421 and Platinum Honest. All are aerometric fillers. The size and position of the Platinum logos are different in all these three pens, but their internal structures are the same.

These are the Hifra 4421 dimensions:
Diameter: 10.5 mm.
Length closed: 135 mm.
Length open: 122 mm.
Length posted: 150 mm.
Weight (dry): 15.1 g.

Nothing is really known about these Platinum in disguise. Platinum exported pens to some South American markets in the late 1940s, but those were, in essence, copies of the Wahl-Eversharp model Skyline. President, was, on the other hand, the name Platinum used for its export models thus avoiding confusion with English brand Platignum. But that is basically all we know.

The search for more missing Platinum continues.

Pilot E, manifold nib, quarter-switch filler – Pilot Blue-black

October 2012
labels: Sudáfrica, Hifra, Presidente, Joker, Platinum


Anonymous said...

Probably half of all South African schoolchildren in the 1960s owned a Hifra fountain pen. Back then, you started writing in pencil and, in Year 2 or 3, you progressed to a long ink-dip pen. Porcelain flanged inkwells were provided and refilled by the classroom teacher and they fitted into a drilled and countersunk hole on the top RH corner of every school-desk. Using a ballpoint/biro was strictly forbidden and proper penmanship (soft upstroke, hard downstroke,letters uniformly leaning slightly forward) -- on lined paper -- was taught and practiced in class using these dip-pens. Once you had proven that you could use a nib properly, you'd get a teacher's note allowing you to use a fountain pen rather than the slender,tapered foot-long dip pen (which was rather similar to a goose-feather quill in concept). Many parents bought a cheap ink fountain-pen for their children, rather than buy an expensive and high-quality pen like Father's treasured Sheaffer or Parker. Hifra was the pen of choice for those on a tight budget, but for a slightly more expensive option (and of far better quality) you could get a German-made Tropen Scholar. They were even supplied with two end-caps (hiding the screw for the filling-plunger). One was stubby and about 1.5cm long, making the pen as short as a normal Parker or Sheaffer or Hifra. The second Tropen end-cap was long and pointed, and made the pen look and feel like those dip-pens on which you learnt your penmanship. It, however, made the Tropen too long to keep in your blazer pocket. Most people simply discarded it.

Ray Theron said...

I still own and regularly write with a Hifra pen I acquired some time in my high school years in South Africa (1965 - 1969). The finish on the cap and barrel is satin gold-toned with a darker gold tone clip. The section is unusually long - more than double the length of the barrel. On the lip of the cap it says HIFRA and the nib is inscribed Hifra Iridium Medium. It's an aerometric filler. Apart from an S on the section, there are no other markings on the pen. The nib is semi-shrouded, but unusual in that the shroud covers more of the feed than of the top of the nib. I would love to get to learn more about this pen.

Unknown said...

I was at school in Rhodesia in the late fifties, early sixties. I remember Hifra fountain pens very well. The other brand I remember was Conway-Stewart; still being made in Britain I believe.

Bruno Taut said...

Thanks, Unknown, for that confirmation about how common Hifra pens were down there.

Conway-Stewart as a company disappeared in 2014, and the rand name was acquired by Bespoke British Pens soon afterwards.



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