16 December 2014

On Maki-e Pens

I think we should face it—maki-e decorated pens are a class on their own, apart from any other. The reason lays on the fact that these pens attract the attention of people more interested on the decoration itself than on the pen. Consequently, details as the nib or the filling system or the quality as writing tool become almost --if not completely-- irrelevant. The pen, then, becomes a jewel with a nib, a cylindrical canvas for the maki-e artisan.

A small cup with maki-e decoration.

So, when the decoration is more important, the whole set of rules under which a stylophile analyzed a pen is turned upside down. Stylophiles greatly value the originality of all the components of the pen—nib and feed must correspond to that particular model, the clip could also have been replaced… And somehow the pen should be known to have existed (this might be tricky at times, but can be applied to the vast majority of pens).

But for the maki-e buff, all that is secondary. The quality of the decoration is paramount. Therefore, is there such a thing as a fake maki-e decorated pen? No, dare I say, as long as the maki-e is there (of course, there exist some maki-e-like decoration using some other less elaborated techniques that hold a lot less value, but they are not maki-e). In fact, this scenario favors the creation of one-of-a-kind pens based on almost any pre-existing model. There are, nowadays as in the past, maki-e artisans who decorated pens on demand, with no knowledge, of course, of the manufacturer.

Two unique maki-e decorated pens. In actual terms, they are Pilot Custom 67.

An obvious side effect of this phenomenon is the proliferation of organized customizations—Pelikan, Parker, Danitrio, Loiminchay… and, of course, the big three, Pilot-Namiki, Platinum-Nakaya, and Sailor. Indeed, this is an easy and safe way to add value to any given pen. As well as a convenient costume to pass as Japanese, which seems another way to add value.

A maki-e decorated Pelikan M1000.

Maybe we all –stylophiles and those fond of maki-e pens-- should remember that maki-e is an old decorative technique that long predates fountain pens. And narrow cylindrical shapes are rarely the most convenient canvas for any purpose.

A bowl for miso soup.

On my side, and this is just a personal option, I insist in thinking that a pen is a pen—and is a pen! And no decoration makes it any better, or any worse, as a pen. Some people, though, do not think like me.

Romillo Essential Black – Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-peki

Bruno Taut
Madrid, December 14th 2014
labels: mercado, Japón, estilofilia, maki-e

03 December 2014

War Time

War-time German pens are well-known. That might be due to the current importance of some German brands and to their ability to create iconic models. On the contrary, Japanese pens from the same period are mostly unknown. Maybe rightly so, but they are not without interest.

The war period in Japan is a lot longer than in Europe and in America, and in fact dating its starting point is difficult and controversial. Regarding pens, on the years 1932 and 1938 –well before the beginning of the war in Europe— some restrictions were imposed on the production of consumer goods.

On 1932, the first restrictions on the use of gold were enacted. Gold nibs became rarer in the domestic market and pen companies manufactured gold nibs with lower-grade gold.

A 12 K gold nib by Pilot.

1938 meant the total embargo in the use of the noble metal and no gold nibs were manufactured until well after the end of the war. This is the golden era of the so-called “shiro nibs” (white nibs) made of stainless steel.

The following unit is an interesting example of a war-time pen in Japan. It is a Pilot with a size 2 nib made, of course, of stainless steel. The filling system is a lever filler. The pen is made of hard rubber.

The brand name is written on three different places—the clip, the nib, and the barrel. The later is partially hidden by the original sticker, where the price –JPY 3.48— is marked. The brand logo, though, is visible and shows the N (after Namiki) encircled by the lifebuoy, but the company name, as engraved, is “Pilot Pen Mfg. Co.”, thus certifying this pen had been manufactured after 1938.

The construction quality is not great, as could be expected in a product made during those hard times.

JPY 3.48 for this pen. Out of context, that does not mean much--was it expensive around 1940?

A steel nib --a "shiro" nib-- in size 2. The breathing hole points out at a certain flexibility.

These are its dimensions:
  • Length closed: 123 mm
  • Length open: 114 mm
  • Length posted: 156 mm
  • Diameter: 12 mm
  • Weight (dry): 12.7 g

That was a war time pen, just like some Pelikan 100—but a lot less known.

A war time Pelikan 100. Note the absence of any ring on the cap, and the steel nib. Photo courtesy of Foro de Estilográficas member Antolín.

My thanks to Mr. Sunami and to Foro de Estilográficas member Antolín.

Romillo Nervión – Pilot Blue

Bruno Taut
Madrid, December 2nd 2014
labels: Pilot, Pelikan, plumín