29 September 2013

The Good Frankenpen

More often than not, frankenpens are plainly rejected by the pen collector. Once writing is no longer the primary purpose of the pen –and I do wonder what the main purpose of collecting was— the originality of each and every single element of the pen is a very important factor in the actual value of any tool. Some replacements, however, are tolerated when the pen value lies on its rarity, and that non-original, say, nib simply illustrated how the original condition was in the absence of better examples. Some such cases were described on these chronicles: the Double Flow pen and the Capless Kogyosho.

In some distant past, the need to write was more important and fountain pens were not cheap at all. So, a nib replacement was an obvious option to keep the tool working.

Is this argument valid nowadays? Can we exchange the nib –that is often the part we replace— while keeping the value of the pen?

The answer is yes, and in fact the new nib could increase the value of the pen. We know by now that some nibmeisters create wonderful nibs whose value is often higher than that of many a pen.

This is NOT the pen whose nib was replaced. This is only an example of a jumbo pen similar to the Crystal pen actually modified. The pen on the picture is labeled as "New Clip" and had been reviewed previously on these Chronicles.

Here we have an example. The original pen is a jumbo pen whose only identification is the brand “Crystal” engraved on the clip. It is a jumbo pen similar to many others produced in Japan in the 1930s and 1940s, and even later. A similar pen –although labeled as New Clip— has been presented here: 8-bun (about 24 mm in diameter) eyedropper with a shut-off valve. On that case, the nib was made of gold-plated steel.

On today’s pen, the nib is totally new—a replacement. It was made and adjusted by nibmeister Kubo Kohei (久保幸平), an old and well respected master still active in Tokyo. His long life –he was born in 1929 and started as apprentice in 1948— has been devoted to pens and nibs in pen companies and brands such as Elliott and, especially, Nobel.

Nibmeister Kubo's nib.

The ebonite feed.

Nibmeister Kubo’s nib is made of 18 K gold and shows a remarkable flexibility. The feed is made of ebonite. The final result is that the nib alone is worth the whole pen, and a lot more expensive. The original jumbo pen had been purchased on an online auction.

These are its dimensions:
  • Length closed: 166 mm
  • Length open: 144 mm
  • Length posted: 206 mm
  • Diameter: 24 mm
  • Weight: about 75 g
  • Ink deposit: about 9 ml

When writing this sample I did not open the shut-off valve enough to provide all the ink needed by the nib when flexing. However, the picture shows the actual line variation this nib could provide.

The happy owner uses this pen as a daily writer. Jumbo pens are indeed comfortable in the hand.

My thanks to Mr. Tsukahara and to Mr. Shimizu.

Frankenpen Twsbi Diamond 530 with Kubo’s NK music nibGary’s red black iron-gall ink

Bruno Taut
Yokohama, September 28th, 2013
etiquetas: plumín, nibmeister Kubo Kohei, Crystal

24 September 2013

Datation of Japanese Pens. IV. Platinum Nibs

Platinum’s policy on dating its pens is a lot less obvious than that of Pilot’s (see Pilot's nibs datation and Pilot's pen bodies datation). Very often we had to follow the usual strategy as we do with moist pens: try to identify the model, guess the production date based on external details, compare the pen with other well documented models…

However, Platinum nibs are stamped with a date code, thus providing a very solid starting point to that typical approach. The dating code is, more often than not, printed on the reverse of the nib, and there is a catch—for most of its history, Platinum nib dates were referred to the Japanese calendar, based on the years of reign of the emperor. Fortunately –for our dating purposes, that is—emperor Hirohito had a long life that eliminated most ambiguities this dating system could have created. But at some point between 1989 and 2000 –either at the change of emperor between the Showa and the Heisei periods, or at the change of millennium—Platinum adopted the Western calendar.

How could we date this pen?

Its nib was made on August of Showa year 47. That is, 1972.

On the left, a music nib dated on December of 2009. On the right, a one-slit nib made on September of 2009. These modern nibs are dated following the Western calendar.

The converse sides of the previous nibs. They belong to a modern 3776 model with a music nib, and to a Nakaya with a soft fine nib.

The dating code follows a simple pattern. It has the form


where aa is the month of the year BB. The figure aa is often one single digit. Needless to say, year 10 in the Japanese calendar could either mean 1922 (Taisho year 10), 1936 (Showa year 10) or, eventually, 1999 (Heisei year 10). This ambiguity is easy to resolve.

This datation system works as long as the nib had not been replaced.

Pilot VpenSailor Yama-dori

Bruno Taut
Yokohama, September 14th, 2013
etiquetas: Platinum

20 September 2013

Pilot Filling Systems in the 1960s

Armed with the information on the way of dating not just the nibs but the whole pen –even if only during only twenty years—there are a number of observations to be done. One is about the filling systems implemented by Pilot during those critical years.

Let us remember that Platinum had released the first Japanese ink cartridge in 1956, thus opening the path for most Japanese pen companies. At the time (mid to late 1950s), Pilot was using sac-based systems—either the original hose system (also known as quarter switch) or a more traditional aerometric for thinner and smaller pens of the Super series. Later on, already in the 1960s, Pilot created its own ink cartridges while preserving the sac-based systems and even implemented another system—the bellow filler with an accordion sac.

The following chart shows how all these systems coexisted during the 1960s in the Pilot catalog. The data on it are based on my own accounting, and are based on documental evidence. Therefore, they can hardly be final, as there could be earlier and later examples of these systems.

Some notes on the graph:

1. The latest unit I have found of the Hose System was manufactured on September of 1964. Later units of this system could exist.

A Hose System in a Super Ultra 500 from 1959.

2. Few units implemented the Bellows Filler (accordion sac) and therefore it is difficult to establish definitive starting and ending data, which on the graph are set as July 1965 and December 1969. This system seems to have been the last sac-based system implemented by Pilot.

A Pilot Super 500G with a Bellows Filler system.

The Double Spare cartridge.

3. The first Double Spare (DS) cartridge I have seen is associated to a 1963 model of the Capless (C-600MW) dated on April 1964. However, it is safe to assure this ink cartridge existed since, at least, November of 1963, as this was the release date of this model. Earlier pens could also have used this cartridge.

The Single Spare ink cartridge, the current Pilot's standard ink cartridge.

4. The earlier pen implementing the Single Spare or single cartridge (SC) –that is, the ink cartridge currently on production— I have found was manufactured on May 1964.

An interesting conclusion of this chart is the fact that DS and SC were initially marketed almost simultaneously. Consequently, the SC was not the successor of the DS. These two systems coexisted despite their incompatibility for a about six years.

And my text on the Double Spare cartridge was wrong.

Sailor Ballerie pocket pen - Sailor Blue

Bruno Taut
September 13th, 2013
etiquetas: Pilot, soluciones técnicas, cartuchos

13 September 2013

Datation of Japanese Pens. III. Pilot’s Pen Bodies

On part II of this series of Chronicles, I explained the well known date code present on most nibs made by Pilot. That is, more often than not, the most solid piece of information available on any Pilot pen. But at times there is something else. Between 1960 and some time after 1980 Pilot also dated most of its pen bodies, and did this in a very detailed form.

On most –but not on all— Pilot pens from those twenty-something years there exist a subtle engraving on their barrel in the form


The exceptions to this general rule are all-metal bodies and richly decorated barrels.

The push buttons of two Capless pens from 1965 (C-100RW). On them we can read the dating codes: GJ13 for the one on the left, and GF15 for that on the right. (Click on the picture for an enlarged view)

On that code, A is a letter ranging from A to Z. This encodes the production year starting in 1960 (letter A), and increasing on alphabetical order: B for 1961, C for 1962… And Z should be 1985. However, this code disappeared in actual terms around 1980 (and I would love to be proven wrong on this).

B is another letter and encodes two data: Letters from A to L represent the months from January to December when the pen had been made at the Hiratsuka plant. And M to X do the same –M for January, N for February… X for December— on pens made at the Tokyo plant in Shimura.

Finally, the digits cc simply indicated the day of the month in which that pen had been made.

The tail of the Capless model from 1963 (C-600MW). It was manufactured at the Hiratsuka plant on May 28th, 1964.

In summary, the ABcc engraving should be read as follows:
A is the year of production: A=1960, B=1961, and so on.
B is the month and place of production:
A to L are January to December at Hiratsuka plant.
M to X are January to December at Tokyo plant.
cc is the day of the month in which the pen was made.

Indeed an exhaustive way to date each pen—down to the very day it was produced. Although limited to about twenty years of the history of Pilot.

This picture corresponds to a pocket pen whose body was manufactured at Hiratsuka on July 25th, 1976.

My thanks to Mr. Sunami.

Pilot Grandee, Sterling Silver – Platinum Black

Bruno Taut
Yokohama, September 11th, 2013
etiquetas: Pilot

11 September 2013

Tokyo Olympics

The XVIII Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1964 are usually associated, pen wise, to the release of the first Capless model (C-600MW) by Pilot. In fact, there are some ads associating the pen to the sport event. However, I know of no Capless pen with any obvious reference to the Games, but there are some other pens that did celebrate the event.

The Tokyo Olympics poster made by Pilot to announce the first Capless.

The first Pilot Capless, C-600MW, from 1963.

On the picture we can see an E model, predecessor of the first Elite pens and evolution of the earler Super line of pens from the 1950s. In fact, many E Pilot still carried the inscription “PILOT / SUPER 200” on their barrels. But the looks of these pens departed clearly from the old Super models by using of straighter lines –both on the pen ends and on the clip— on the overall design. Two different filling systems were implemented on these pens—the hose system (often known as quarter switch) and ink cartridges, albeit with the caveat of two different types of these. Both the double spare type, long gone, and the single spare cartridge still on production were available on the E model.

This Pilot E does not show the E indication, though. Instead, it sports a sign saying “TOKYO 1964” together with the Japanese flag in between. The filling mechanism is the hose system, and the nail-shaped nib is made of 14 K gold with a manifold point.

These are the dimensions of the pen:
Length closed: 141 mm
Length open: 121 mm
Length posted: 144 mm
Diameter: 12 mm
Weight: 14.5 g (dry)
Ink deposit: 1.0 ml

This particular unit was made at the Hiratsuka plant on September of 1964. The Tokyo Olympics were celebrated between the 10th and the 24th of October.

Pilot Prera – Platinum Black

Bruno Taut
Yokohama, September 10th, 2013
etiquetas: Pilot, Tokyo

07 September 2013

Datation of Japanese Pens. II. Pilot Nibs

This is the easy and well known part—the date code present on most Pilot nibs along its whole history.

The basic structure of this code is as follows:


On it, x is a letter; often omitted, especially on old pens. But when present, the options and meanings are as follows:
T: manufactured at the Tokyo plant (in Shimura, Itabashi).
H: manufactured at the Hiratsuka plant in Kanagawa prefecture.
A, a: production line A at the Hiratsuka plant.
B, b: production line B at the Hiratsuka plant.
F: manufactured at overseas plants (India, Burma...).

The nib of a Pilot Justus, original model, dated in Hiratsuka (production line A) on December of 1993.

Those in Shimura (JIS code 3249) and in Hiratsuka (JIS code 3248) have been the two traditional Pilot plants in Japan. However, Pilot had some other plants overseas: Brazil, India, Burma, Thailand. Nibs made on those might carry the label F --foreign-- stamped.

MM are one or two digits to show the month of the year YY, vid infra, in which the nib was produced.

Finally, YY are the last two digits of the production year. Pilot has consistently used the Western calendar for these codes. That was not the case of other Japanese companies.

A Myu 701's and a M90's nib dates. On these cases, nib's and the pen's dates are one and the same.

Few Pilot nibs are not engraved with this code, and those are mostly inexpensive units made of steel, like the nibs of the Petit-1 and V-pen.

This code allows for a good and accurate dating of the pen—provided the nib had not been replaced. On another Chronicle I will speak about other dating codes present on some Pilot pens.

Pilot Vpen – Platinum Black

Bruno Taut
Yokohama, September 6th, 2013
etiquetas: Pilot

04 September 2013

Datation of Japanese Pens. I. Introduction

Japanese fountain pens are, in general, easy to date precisely. Many of the pen companies have systematically engraved their nibs if some code reflecting the time in which they were struck. In some cases there is even more information.

The well-known dating code on a Pilot nib.

Here I am starting a series of texts on the dating codes of some pens. I am well aware that some of the information might be well known and available in from a number of sources. I will, nonetheless, repeat it with the aim in mind of providing a website with as much information as possible. But I also hope to offer some information that is not known.

These are the Chronicles of this series:
I. Introduction
II. Pilot Nibs
III. Pilot's Pen Bodies
IV. Platinum Nibs
V. Sailor Nibs
VI. Sailor's Pen Bodies

Twsbi Diamond 530, Kubo Kohei's music nibGary’s Red-black

Bruno Taut
Machida, September 3rd, 2013
etiquetas: Japón