31 August 2013

Twsbi Naginata

Sailor, we all know by now, is focused on creating nibs, new and exciting and even experimental. But at the same time, this experimentation seems to be done at the expense of neglecting the filling system. Only two options are available—the piston of the Realo models, and the clean and aseptic cartridge-converter.

On the other side, Twsbi follows the opposite strategy. The German nibs (either Bock, JoWo or Schmidt) are good and reliable in general, but all too predictable albeit with the exception of the series of italic units. Besides, Twsbi pens are easy to maintain due to the policy of the company, eager to provide tools and information to disassemble its pens completely.

Combining both worlds is not a new idea. I already installed some Pilot and Sailor nibs in a Twsbi Diamond 530 with good results. And many other stylophiles were successful with other combinations. After all, it is only a matter of try and error. And so did I try another possibility—the Twsbi Naginata.

The chimeric pen.

I attached a Naginata Togi nib (size big, 大型) to the Twsbi Vac 700 using the feed of the Taiwanese brand. The ink demands of the rigid Naginata are not high and can easily be met. Of course, this is not the only possibility. Any large size nib by Sailor would do the trick—from the ultra fine Saibi Togi to Nagahara’s specialty nibs. The only limit is the ink flow supplied by the Twsbi feed.

The Naginata Togi nib, more in detail.

A cross-music nib in a Twsbi Vac 700.

Needless to say, I would feel a lot more comfortable if I could use the Sailor feed on this Twsbi. Or it might only be that I respect Sailor work too much… but not enough.

The paradox is that nibs and feed are harder to design that filling systems, although Twsbi has made a very fine job –not to be underappreciated— with this plunger filler. This Twsbi Naginata is a frankenpen, a chimera, but also a doable chimera. And wouldn’t it be great to have a Naginata or a specialty nib in a vacuum filler?

Twsbi Vac 700, Naginata Togi nib – Platinum Black

Bruno Taut
Yokohama, August 30th, 2013
etiquetas: Sailor, Twsbi, soluciones técnicas

28 August 2013


Long time ago I spoke about the gold fever in the pen industry. The basic idea of the text was that the use of gold in nibs was justified by its good resistance to corrosion by the ink, but higher gold purity is not better. Very high gold purity, in fact, results into plastic (as opposed to elastic) deformation of the nib.

However, a number of pen manufacturers over the years have made nibs with high gold content, probably pushing the idea of jewels with a nib over that of a useful pen…

Sailor was one of those companies. In fact, the big three Japanese manufacturers competed in that area of the market in the early 1970s. In that competition Sailor made nibs of 23 K gold that are, nowadays, relatively common in the second hand market. Higher gold purity were also used by Sailor, up to 23.99 K, but they are hard to find.

A green pocket pen by Sailor.

Originally, it cost JPY 6000. This one implements a fine (細) nib.

The more-common 23 K gold nibs are mostly found in pocket pens, like the one on show today, although they were also implemented in other models, including some with maki-e decoration.

These pens were upscale models with a number of luxurious features:
-- The nib is larger than usual. Other Sailor pocket pens implemented basically the same nib, but smaller in size and poorer in gold content.

On top, the pocket pen with the 23 K gold nib. Its diameter is 14 mm, and it weight, dry, 18 g. On bottom, a much more common unit with a 21 k gold nib. Its girth is 11 mm, and its weight, 11 g. Note the absence of decoration on the section in the later.

-- This bigger nib makes the whole pen thicker in diameter and more substantial on the hand.
-- Finally, the decorative damascene on the section was reserved for more luxurious models.

As is often the case with Sailor pocket pens, this model can only be inked with Sailor-proprietary cartridges. In this model, not even modified converters could be used.

This pen can only be inked with Sailor cartridges.

The original price, as can be seen on the sticker, was JPY 6000. That was around 1973. These are its dimensions:
Length closed: 118 mm
Length open: 103 mm
Length posted: 149 mm
Diameter: 14 mm
Weight: 18.0 g (dry)
Ink deposit: 1.2 ml (cartridge)

The battle over gold content of nibs ended up by mid 1970s, but during those years a number of makers marketed pens with 22 and 23 K gold nibs. I will cover some of those on future Chronicles.

Pelikan 400NN (Merz & Krell) – Platinum Black

Bruno Taut
Chuo (Tokyo), August 27th, 2013
etiquetas: Sailor, Japón, mercado

22 August 2013

Custom Grandee, Music Nib (1978)

What are the key characteristics of Japanese fountain pens in the 1980s? On the previous decade, we had seen the glorification of the pocket pen invented in the 1960s and the birth of some model that became iconic after the years: Pilot’s Myu. With regard to filling systems, everything had turned to easy, clean and inexpensive cartridges and converters, save for the very few exceptions still using the old Japanese eyedropper system.

Platinum launched the initial 3776 model, designed by Haruo Umeda, in 1978. Sailor was already using 21 K gold on nail-shaped nibs that would last for many a decade longer. And Pilot was in the transition between the old nail-shaped nibs and new geometries, while keeping the inlaid nibs of some Elite and Custom pens. And then, the new Custom and the Custom Grandee models became the workhorses of the company in 1978. This later model was exported to some markets overseas.

A Pilot ad from 1978 showing the Custom Grandee together with the Murex.

Another advertisement of the Custom Grandee (1978). It shows the seven available nib points. Picture taken from Lambrou and Sunami's Fountain Pens of Japan (2012. ISBN: 978-0-9571230-0).

The Custom Grandee line of pens was composed by seven different nib points, including a three-tine music nib. And this is the example on display today. This pen was a cartridge-converter pen, equipped with a 14 K gold nib, a snap-on cap, and a flat-top shape. The original price was JPY 7000.

This three-tine nib is slightly –but clearly— flexible and has quite sharp edges, thus becoming almost a cursive pen. It provides a remarkable line variation.

Written sample done with the pen on review, and an iron-gall ink made by Gary.

The very flat point of this three-tine nib.

These are its dimensions:
Length closed: 137 mm
Length open: 122 mm
Length posted: 150 mm
Diameter: 13 mm
Weight: 19 g (with inked CON-50 converter)
Ink deposit: 0.9 ml (cartridge), 0.8 ml (CON-20), 0.6-0.7 ml (CON-50)

The nib is simply decorated. Note the chipped ring on the section.

This model has a weak point. The ring on the section is metal plated, but the quality of the plating is very poor and easily chips off. It is in fact very difficult to find a unit with this ring in good condition. The music nib, though, is well-worth this cosmetic inconvenient. Later music nibs, like those in the current models Custom 74 and Custom 742, are a lot rounder on their edges and do not offer the line variation of this Custom Grandee.

The nib of this unit is dated as having been made at Hiratsuka factory (Kanagawa prefecture) on November 1982.

Platinum Century, music nib – Platinum Pigment Blue

Bruno Taut
Shinjuku, August 12th 2013
labels: Pilot, plumín, plumín musical

20 August 2013

More Pocket Pens

The recent release of the Pilot Elite 95 has raised some brows among those less familiar with the idea of pocket fountain pen, Japan style. This is not the first time pocket pens are revived—five years ago, Pilot replicated the all-steel Myu-701 with some minor differences as the limited edition Pilot M90. The original Myu, let us note, was a very original pen: nib and section are just the same thing, and the reissued M90 could not be mixed up with any other pocket pen. Or, in other words, the new version M90 had one and only one original precedent.

Now, with the Elite 95, the situation is different. The original Elite pocket pen was far less original and unique. All three big pen manufacturers in Japan made formal-looking pocket pens and the curiosity raised by the new Elite 95 actually points out at all of those. Sailor even created some models with quasi-inlaid nibs very much alike to those re-made by Pilot.

Two Sailor pocket pens with (quasi-)inlaid nibs.

The white gold nib of the stripped pen, in detail. It is not perfectly aligned with the section.

I know of two such models by Sailor: a black pen with a 14 K gold nib, and a black-stripped unit made of steel with an 18 K white gold nib. On both cases, the pen body is metallic. These pens can be equipped with current Sailor converters if shortened. The drawback is a reduction in the already small ink capacity of those. As usual, refilling ink cartridges is a perfectly sensible option.

The nibs are geometrically identical, but not so their materials--yellow 14 K (M, number 4) and white 18 K gold (F, number 2).

These are the dimensions of these pens:
Length closed: 121 mm
Length open: 104 mm
Length posted: 139 mm
Diameter: 12 mm
Weight: 14.4 g (black, empty converter), 18.3 (stripped, empty converter)
Ink capacity: 1.2 ml (cartridge), 0.5 ml (adapted converter)

Some Platinum pocket pens worth to revisit in one way or another.

In conclusion, this new Pilot Elite 95 created a renewed interest on pocket pens, but it might backfire to Pilot. Would this not be a good chance for Platinum and Sailor to release their own re-issues of pocket pens? Both brands had very interesting models to copy, and Platinum still produces some of the nibs used on them.

And the same goes for this model. The wingflow nib is still on production.

Sailor Profit Senior, Naginata Togi nib – Pilot Blue

Bruno Taut
Kawasaki, August 20th 2013
etiquetas: Platinum, Sailor, Pilot, mercado

16 August 2013

Sakai Eisuke and Pilot

The good name of the brand Namiki in the West is rooted in the maki-e and urushi decorated pens of the 1920s and 1930s marketed in England under the name Dunhill-Namiki. They have become mythical pens and their prices in the market are equally unreachable for most stylophiles.

The war in Asia –as Japanese call the initial stages of the Japanese colonial expansion in the 1930s—put an end to those luxury goods and the presence of Japanese pens in the West was severely limited for a number of years. We know now that Platinum exported fountain pens under brand names as 555 and President and that Pilot exported Capless pens to US as early as in 1966, but their actual importance in those foreign markets were never big.

By 1985, Pilot decided to recreate those old pens from the 1920s in order to activate the more profitable market of the high end pens. To do so, the company commissioned Sakai Eisuke (酒井栄助) to create a prototype of a big (jumbo) pen following the old models. Sakai Eisuke, let us remember, was the leader, and lathe master, of the four artisans behind a large number of apparently anonymous eyedropper pens made in the 1970s and 1980s. These pens are now known as Ban-ei pens.

And out of that prototype, Pilot started the production of maki-e and urushi pens ressembling those Dunhill-Namiki from the 1920s. Following we can see one such example: a vermillion (red urushi) jumbo pen with a size 50 nib. This nib has no special decoration other than the plain engraving of its characteristics: made by Pilot in 14 K gold. The filling system, needless to say, is by eyedropper with shut-off valve operated from the tail.

The Pilot-signed clip.

These are its dimensions:
Length closed: 173 mm
Length open: 158 mm
Length posted: 213 mm
Diameter: 20 mm
Weight (dry): 42.7 g

The nib is engraved with the following text: "14 KARAT GOLD / "PILOT" / REGISTERED / PATENT OFFICE / -<50>-".

The feed is also coated with red urushi.

The shut-off valve seat on the section.

Some years later, the pen was rebranded as Namiki. The nib was now made of 18 K gold, and was struck with an image of Mt. Fuji.

My thanks to Mr. Fukuyo

Pilot Vpen – Platinum Black

Bruno Taut
Shinjuku, August 12th, 2013
etiquetas: Pilot, Ban-ei

13 August 2013

Three More, But Not New

It seems now that Pilot has completed its catalog of Iroshizuku inks, this big success for the Japanese company given the unanimous praising comments on blogs and fora, and despite the ridiculous princes in many a market.

Ink, pen, and paper: 21 of the 24 Iroshizuku inks ready to be tested at a department store in Tokyo.

The latest tally of these inks is 24. The first five of them -–Asa-gao, Aji-sai, Kon-peki, Tsuyu-kusa and Tsuki-yo—- were marketed on December 2007, and the latest release -—Take-sumi, Shin-kai, Ama-iro-- dates from November 2012. But, are all those all the inks marketed under this magic label? No. On January 2009 Pilot launched three new inks named “Tokyo Limited Edition”. The names, always fancy, are related to the big city:

Edo-murasaki (江戸紫), Edo purple. Obviously, a purple color.
Shimbashi-iro (新橋色), Shimbashi color. A turquoise.
Fukagawa-nezu (深川鼠), Fukagawa mouse. A greenish grey.

The brochure of the Tokyo Limited Edition of Iroshizuku inks.

They were available at some shops in Tokyo, and there might still be some available inkwells. The price was the same as the rest of the Iroshizuku inks—JPY 1500, plus tax.

Inkwell of one of the Tokyo Limted Edition inks--the Shimbashi color.

The important question, however, is a different one—now that the Iroshizuku catalog is completed, will Pilot release more limited edition colors? The ink market in Japan looks surprisingly quiet.

Sailor Ballerie pocket pen – Sailor Blue

Bruno Taut
Shinjuku, August 12th 2013
etiquetas: tinta, Pilot, mercado

11 August 2013


Some reflections on the pen industry for today.

I can find three categories among fountain pen manufacturing companies:

1. Companies that produce all the elements by themselves. Limited to Japan, Pilot-Namiki, Platinum-Nakaya, and Sailor belong to this group.

2. The second group is formed by companies that use nib and feed made by other companies and manufacture the rest—body and filling system. Nebotek, in Japan, is a clear example of this way of working—nibs and feeds are purchased from Bock, the pen body is turned out of the in-house ebonite, and the filling systems are devised and build by themselves.

A Bock nib made of titanium in a Nebotek pen. The section is made of the in-house ebonite (Nikko Ebonite).

3. Finally, pen companies in the third group buy nibs, feeds and filling systems —mostly cartridge/converters— made by some other companies. Their creations are then limited to turning and decorating the pen body and cap. Ohashido, Hakase, Stylo-Art Karuizawa certainly belong to this category. In fact, these companies buy complete pens from the big three Japanese companies and discard barrel and cap: Ohashido uses Sailor parts; Hakase uses Sailor and Pilot’s; Stylo-Art Karuizawa, Pilot and Platinum. Nebotek´s cartridge-converter pens could also be ascribed to this third group.

Hakase pen made of ebony wood. The nib is a size 15 made by Pilot. The ink converter is the CON-70 by Pilot.

A Pilot nib signed by Hakase.

Another Hakase pen. On this case, the nib is a medium size made by Sailor. It is signed by Hakase.

It is fair to question the actual authorship of the pens of the last group—is an Ohashido pen so much more than a Sailor equipped with the same medium size nib? Are Hakase so much better than their Pilot or Sailor equivalents?

The paradox is that, more often than not, those making less (Hakase, Stylo-Art, Ohashido) sell their pens for much more than those manufacturing everything. Two reasons are often cited to justify these higher prices: One is the quality of the final nib tuning as done by the in-house nibmeisters. The second reason values the final beauty of these pens over that of the original Pilot, Platinum or Sailor. These pen-body makers often use urushi-coated ebonite, exotic woods, buffalo horns…

An Ohashido nib made by Sailor. Despite being labeled as S (soft), it is a very rigid nib.

This Ohashido pen is decorated with green lacquer. Note the Sailor ink cartridge.

To the first reason it could be argued that the nib tuning can be made by many other people for much less money. In Japan, it would only take a visit to a Wagner meeting or to a pen clinic organized by those major companies in stationery shops and department stores.

To the second point the argument is easier, but also more personal: did you buy a pen or a jewel with a nib (::1::, ::2::)? Some still remember that the wise man follows the nib instead of the pen, but that might work only for those who write with their fountain pens. And this can be said for any pen brand in a moment in which jewels with nibs are a big part of the business.

Now, the possible conclusions derived from derived from this classification are up to the reader. On my side, I just want be aware of what I buy for our money.

Some more reflections were exposed on the Chronicle "Artisanal".

P. S: Around January 2014, Nebotek pens changed its name to Eboya.

Sailor Profit, Naginata Togi nib – Pilot Blue

Bruno Taut
June-August, 2013
labels: mercado, Pilot, Platinum, Sailor, Stylo-Art Karuizawa, Nebotek, Hakase, Ohashido, Bock