21 December 2015

Astra Piston

(Note added on January 8th: This text has been amended on this date to correct some inaccuracies and eliminate some uncertain data.)

… or how to make a piston with little hassle.

… or the evolutionary ancestors of Conid’s Bulkfiller.

For many, the piston filler, so dear to German makers, is the filling system of choice, however, it does not come without disadvantages, the most clear being the large space needed to harbor the piston mechanism inside the barrel. All that space, needless to say, is dead space in terms of ink capacity. To minimize this problem several technical solutions have been suggested. The better known of which is the telescopic piston. A more modern strategy is that of Conid for its Bulkfiller model: a piston whose plunger rod is decoupled from the seal and is stored inside the ink deposit once the filling process had been completed.

Maker Astra tried a similar –but not equal— approach in the early 1940s: the plunger that moves the piston seal up and down in the barrel can be unscrewed from it and removed altogether from the pen. And, in fact, it MUST be removed once the pen was filled up and, therefore, the cork seal was at the top of the ink deposit.

The disadvantage of this system is clear: there is the need to keep the plunger rod stored while the pen is in use. Without it, filling the pen is not possible. But there are advantages too:

If compared to a standard piston, this system clearly takes a lot less space in the barrel and the ink deposit is a lot bigger.

The closing piece of the barrel has this particular shape to keep the piston seal from rotating and allowing the rod to be unscrewed.

If compared to the Bulkfiller by Conid, the metal rod is not in contact at all with the ink, and there is not need to create any seal between the rod and the seal itself. In the Bulkfiller, the rod literally moves across the piston seal, and there can be leaks through seal along the rod.

The engraving on the nib reads "DURFLEX / FPT / 4 / EXTRA".

As for the rest of the pen, the Astra is made of ebonite (section) and celluloid (barrel), and implements a steel nib. The dimensions of the pen are as follows:

Length closed: 124 mm
Length open: 116 mm
Length posted: 151 mm
Diameter: 12 mm (barrel)
Weight (dry): 15.5 g
Ink deposit: 2.5 ml.

No filling system is perfect, and this “detachable plunger” is no exception, but there are great advantages to it. The large ink capacity is indeed a powerful argument on its side.

It is not clear where this Astra pen was made. The inscription on the nib suggest an Italian origin. As an anonymous commentator pointed out, Durflex was the brand of the Pecco brothers, and FPT meant "Fratelli Pecco Torino". The owner of the pen bought it at a flea market in Warsaw, and a selling argument was that Polish soldiers used this pen during the Second World War and kept the detachable rod in their breast pocket. Probably an exaggerated claim... Any information on the origin of the brand Astra would be gladly appreciated.

Very special thanks to KDENA.

Inoxcrom Corinthian – Sailor Yama-dori

Bruno Taut
Madrid, December 19th, 2015. Nakano, January 8th, 2016.
etiquetas: Astra, Conid, soluciones técnicas

14 December 2015

Kato 2000

Kato Kiyoshi, the thinking head behind Kato Seisakushô pens, died in January of 2010. This company was Kato’s last endeavor after a life of turning pens here and there, in Europe and in the Middle East. His legacy passed onto Mr. Onishi, a former worker in Kato Seisakushô company.

Kato Seisakushô's model 2000.

Onishi and Kato share a taste for anonymity and for celluloid. The lack of external markings and the irregular distributions of these pens –both Onishi’s and Kato’s— pose a number of problems on the side of the buyer. And that is what happened to me when I saw the pen I am presenting today: How many Kato’s pens remain unsold? How do we distinguish them from those made by Onishi? Is there, in fact, any real difference between them?

Today’s pen –I was assured by knowledgeable sources— belongs to the last series produced by Kato Kiyoshi and, therefore, dates back from 2009. In fact, the size and the shape match the records of the model 2000 of Kato’s pens.

This model 2000 is a cartridge-converter pen, and it implements a 14 k gold nib. As in the case of the model 800F, already described on these Chronicles, the nib inscription is very non-descriptive: “SUPERIOR / 14 K / LIFETIME / GRATIFY / JAPAN”. However, the size and dimensions of this nib are the same as those of the big size nibs made by Sailor, which is not surprising by now. But contrary to the usual Sailor policy, these nibs implemented by Mr. Kato are not engraved with any dating code.

Nibs and feeds of the Kato's model 2000 (left) and of a big size Sailor nib (right).

Two Kato Seisakushô's models: 800F and 2000. Note the differences in the nib size.

The celluloid of this pen deserves some additional note. Traditional celluloid was a family of compounds of cellulose nitrate and camphor (plus dyes and some other agents). Modern celluloids were developed later and substituted the former in some applications, film stock to name just one, due to the instability and flammability of the old compound. However, some high end pens, particularly by Italian makers, still use some variations of the classical formulation. And this seems to be the case of this Kato Seisakushô’s pen: it has a very distinctive camphor smell, very noticeable inside the cap and inside the barrel.

These are the dimensions of this pen:

Length closed: 144 mm
Length open: 125 mm
Length posted: 163 mm
Diameter: 15 mm
Weight: 23.0 g (with converter, dry)

(Note on Oct 2017: I had included a reference to a video published on YouTube by user VirtuThe3rdTV where both Mr. Kato and Mr. Onishi could be seen making pens on the lathe. The whole channel by VirtuThe3rdTV has been eliminated and the videos are not available).

My thanks to Mr. Sunami.

Parker 51 demi, vacumatic – Private Reserve DC Supershow Blue

Bruno Taut
Madrid, December 13rd, 2015
etiquetas: Kato Seisakushô, Onishi Seisakushô, Sailor

09 December 2015

Sri Lanka

Just a short travel note today. Some months ago I traveled to Sri Lanka, where I did some stylographic scouting.

I went there thinking I was going to find Indian pens, mostly ebonite eyedroppers. After all, Sri Lanka and India are close neighbors with a history of commercial ties. And on top of that, Sri Lanka has never had any production of fountain pens.

What I found was very different: no Indian pens in sight, but Chinese ones made by Hero. Model 336 was often the only fountain pen available at specialized shops. Its price was LKR 150 in Colombo and between LKR 200 and LKR 250 in Jaffna. Hero ink was also available for a mere LKR 50 per 62 ml ink bottle.

Hero ink at a shop in Colombo. Their price was LKR 50 per bottle (62 ml).

My stylographic shopping.

The exception to this Hero rule was the occasional Pakistan-made Dollar pen model 707. This is a very light piston filler with a steel nib. This nib is not even tipped, and the writing point is made out of bending the nib itself. All in all, the Dollar 717 is a very basic pen and its price does indeed reflect this: LKR 70 (in Colombo).

The Dollar 717. Its price in Sri Lanka, LKR 70. Less than EUR 0.50.

These findings show something we all know—the rapid expansion of China all around the World. Chinese capital for Colombo Port City and Chinese pens for the Sri Lankan market obey to the same principle.

(At the time of publishing this text the equivalence between Sri Lanka Rupee and Euro is LKR 100 = EUR 0.60).

Pilot Vpen – Pilot Blue

Bruno Taut
Nakano, October 10th, 2015
etiquetas: Sri Lanka, China, India, Pakistan, Dollar, tinta, Hero

04 December 2015

Capless Posh

By now, the Pilot family of Capless pens is well known. The three variations –Capless, Décimo, Fermo— have already been described on these Chronicles and we all are aware of the array of limited editions Pilot periodically releases trying to cash the success of the model. These limited editions are based on the regular Capless model and, a lot less often, on the slimmer Décimo, leaving the Fermo behind in this more restricted market. Or maybe not…

In 2014, luxury brand Hermès joined efforts with designer Marc Newson and Pilot to create a unique and exclusive pen: the Hermes Nautilus.

This Hermes/Pilot pen does indeed look brilliant and original, but deep inside it is just a Pilot Fermo. As such, the pen is operated by twisting the tail over the section. And further rotation unscrews both halves opening the pen. Inside, the very familiar rhodiated, 18 K gold nib common to all modern Pilot Capless models. Identical nib save for a small detail—it is engraved with an H, together with the usual dating codes of Pilot. In particular, this nib was manufactured at the Hiratsuka plant on May of 2014.

The Nautilus, made of aluminum and steel, is available in four colors: grey, blue, black and red. These are the dimensions:

Length closed: 145 mm
Length open: 154 mm
Diameter (or maximum width): 14 mm
Weight: 43.9 g (dry, empty cartridge)

All in all, an overweight and overpriced Fermo. Retail price of USD 1670 (according to the Hermès USA website) makes it a factor 10 more expensive than the regular Fermo (JPY 20000)—with the same nib!

Exclusivity has a price.

NOTE added on March 2018: The Hermes Nautilus comes with 6 different nib points: EF, F, FM, M, B, and Stub. The FM nib is the only example of this point in a rhodiated nib. The price of this pen in Japan is JPY 150000, plus tax.

My thanks to Mr. Sunami.

More information:
Hermes USA website (active on December 2015).
Ken KESSLER. Hermès Nautilus: so much more than a pen. The Telegraph. July 8, 2014.

Parker 51 demi, vacumatic – Private Reserve DC Supershow Blue

Bruno Taut
Madrid, December 3rd, 2015
etiquetas: Pilot, Capless, mercado

30 November 2015

Singing Bird

The Birdie was an inexpensive fountain pen made by Pilot in the 1980s.

In a nutshell, it is an all metal pen, stainless steel, with a plastic gripping section and a steel nib. Its filling system is by Pilot cartridges and it also admits the use of the CON-20 bladder-type converter.

The stainless steel nib in point F. It was manufactured on May of 1981.

The main characteristic of this pen is its very small size—thin and short. And simple too: the cap friction fits both the section (closing the pen), and the barrel (posting it). The later configuration is very nicely designed—the barrel becomes thinner to allow for a smooth fit a clean look.

These are the dimensions of the Pilot Birdie (1981):

Length closed: 110 mm
Length open: 105 mm
Length posted: 129 mm
Diameter: 9 mm
Weight: 12.9 g (dry, with converter)

The stainless steel nib is not particularly interesting. It is just functional and efficient, boring until we discovered there was a three-tined music nib, untipped, implemented on the Pilot Birdie.

On top, the cap posted on the barrel. Note the alignment between both pieces. On bottom, the music nib, the section, and the single spare Pilot cartridge. On this pen, made in April 1982, the clip is marked with the model name: Birdie.

And then, the boring and efficient Pilot Birdie became a very exciting pen.

The untipped three-tined music nib.

As can be seen on the pictures of this text, there were several variations along the history of this model. The dimensions stated on this text correspond to the model issued in 1981. The model with the music nib was made in 1982 and its ends are not flat.

My thanks to Mr. Niikura.

Sailor pocket pen, 21 K – Daiso Black cartridge

Bruno Taut
Madrid, November 28th, 2015
etiquetas: Pilot, plumín, plumín musical

24 November 2015

Madrid Pen Show 2015

I wonder whether it is worth to write about yet another pen show. In a sense, all of them are one and the same: people gathering around fountain pens. But I attended the 2015 Madrid Pen Show (November 13th to 15th, 2015) and I feel compelled to speak about it.

Photo courtesy of Foro de Estilográficas member Antolín.

The Madrid Pen Show is currently the biggest event of this kind in Europe—70 tables, 62 traders from 13 different countries, and over 1200 visitors in the two and a half days of the event.

The following video by Mr. José Riofrío truly captures the pleasant atmosphere of the event. The commercial side is a given to any such show; the social part is also there, but is often limited to the local community of stylophiles. The Madrid Pen Show is, in this regard, the meeting event of most of the Spanish pen community, regularly connected through the Spanish pen fora, mostly the Foro de Estilográficas and Relojes Especiales – Grafos. Some of the members of this community can be seen at the dinner party, which by now is an integral part of the celebration.

The pixelated figure (min 3:05 and 3:12) corresponds to Mr. Tom Westerich, who after greeting the camera decided he was too important to appear on the video and filed a complaint before YouTube. This is, therefore, the "Westerich-correct" version.

A lot has been said and written on how to proceed in events like this, but I am afraid that even the most seasoned collector becomes overwhelmed by the sheer amount and variety of pens. It always becomes difficult to decide how to spend the always limited resources.

But if asked, I would advice in the following terms:

I. Keep focus on what you want. This might be either a model, a brand, a category of some sort, etc. Your eyes and your brain will quickly filter the signal from the noise.

II. But do not close your eyes totally to those pens not fitting your primary interest. A pen show is a magnificent opportunity to see and to touch extraordinary pens, which takes me to point III.

III. Ask, touch, try,… and ask again. Take the chance to learn about your beloved objects.

IV. Explore the show before buying, but also consider that some pens might be rare finds. Sometimes, what is left behind might be gone forever.

V. Assume you will not see every single pen in the show. There are just too many, and that is why rule I becomes even more important.

Enjoy the pen show near you, even if overwhelmed.

Special thanks to Mr. José Riofrío and to Antolín.

Parker 51 demi, vacumatic – Private Reserve DC Supershow Blue

Bruno Taut
Madrid, November 17th, 2015
Edited on December 16th, 2015 due to privacy complaints of Mr. Tom Westerich.
etiquetas: Madrid, mercado, estilofilia, evento

21 November 2015

More by Mr. Iwase

Mr. Iwase is this raden master who customized his pens in unique ways. I already reported on his workd over relatively rare pens crafted by Mr. Momose and by nibmeister Kubo Kohei. But Mr. Iwase also decorates more common pens—Pelikan M1000 and M800, and Montblanc 149.

A collection of Pelikan M1000.

Pelikan M800 and M1000, and Montblanc 149. The reddish pen is just coated with urushi.

As before, Iwase uses sea shells, usually abalone, and tries to preserve on the pen the colorful patterns of the uncut shells.

The collection of these pens is simply spectacular, but they are for the personal use and enjoyment of the author. Mr. Iwase does not sell them.

(Click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

Once again, these are unique pens even if, in essence, they are well known products.

My thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Iwase.

Sailor ProGear Senior – Nagasawa Bokkô

Bruno Taut
Over Siberia, November 9th, 2015
etiquetas: Iwase, Pelikan, Montblanc, raden, urushi

12 November 2015

Hiroshi's Pilot

At some point in these texts I expressed my views on maki-e pens. There are some models that are well known because they are part of large editions that can be seen on catalogs; but at the same time it is possible to find one-of-a-kind type of maki-e pens.

The later are, more often than not, regular and well known pens covered with an additional later of decoration commissioned to some maki-e artisan. In this regard, as I also pointed out on some other text, there is no such thing as a fake maki-e pen provided the maki-e decoration was actually there.

The following pens are, in essence, two Pilot Custom 67. It was a very interesting model: simple decoration, derived from the anniversary model Custom 65, and a nice selection of nib points, including a music nib. And it also provided a nice canvas for additional decorations.

On this case, the decoration is simply urushi lacquer in black –ro-iro— and in pale red –shu. Both pens carry the artisan’s handle name, Hiroshi (洋), followed by a kaô” (花押), a stylized signature. The person behind them is Mr. Asakura (朝倉).

The name and the kaô. They provide an additional decorative feature.

The feeds are also coated with urushi lacquer.

How many of these pens were made? I do not know. Did they become part of the Pilot catalog? I do not think so. Are they falsifications? Of course not.

Nothing these pens offer to the history of writing tools in Japan, but the collector values their rarity. Some even love their simple beauty.

Sailor ProGear Senior – Nagasawa Bokkô

Bruno Taut
Over Siberia, November 9th, 2015
etiquetas: Pilot, maki-e, urushi-e, urushi

Post sriptum; June 15th, 2016. These pens were never part of the Pilot catalog. These are customizations made by Mr. Asakura after he retired from Pilot's "kokkôkai". More information on the text "Hiroshi (II)".

31 October 2015

The New Itoya

Over two years ago, Itoya closed the flagship builing in Ginza for renovation. The main operation was transferred to a nearby building in the meantime. Things were back to normal this past Summer –the renewed headquarters on Chuo Dori, the main street in Ginza, open with the corresponding fanfare.

The new façade of the Itoya flagship store in Ginza.

Back to normal, I said. Really?

Maybe Itoya is back to normal, but not to the way Itoya operated before the renovation. At that time, this shop was a reference in Tokyo for all things stationery. Its stock, and the number of displayed items were impressive. Itoya was the place to go in search for very specific stationery.

Some inexpensive fountain pens are also displayed in the main building. Lamy, Kaweco, the Itoya's series Color Chart... are some of them.

But that does not seem to be the case now.

Now, Itoya is something else. Now, in Itoya you can find many things unrelated to stationery. Now you can find coffee machines, for instance. Now, Itoya is more of a “lifestyle” shop where to look for fashionable and trendy goods. In fact, Itoya now resembles to a Japanese chain of “lifestyle” shops: Loft.

One section Itoya has apparently invested on is the area of customized products –personalized notebooks and printed matters. A lot more space is dedicated to them after the renovation at the expense of many other goods previously present—from notebooks to pens to any accessory--, whose space has been drastically reduced.

Samples of papers for custom prints. At least, beautiful.

Paper samples for custom notebooks.

The fountain pen section, itself a reference in Tokyo and in Japan, has been preserved in the K.Itoya building in the back alley from the headquarters. Stylophiles still have this particular mecca in Tokyo where to go to see what is going in the fountain pen market nowadays.

The café on the top floor. The name says it all. But at least it has some stylographic flavor.

Recently published book. The title, Ginza Itoya. Stationery. And then, "better life". Clear enough?

I wonder what the rationale lies behind this change in the orientation of Itoya, and I cannot see whether this makes economic sense. I do know, however, that right now there are better shops in Tokyo where to find very specific products, no matter Itoya –and many others, for that matter—could take your order.

Itoya’s headquarters now might be a lot more beautiful, but that is about it. Itoya has lost a lot of the previous appeal as stationery shop.

Pilot Penmanship – Montblanc White Forest

Bruno Taut
Shinjuku, October 29th, 2015
etiquetas: mercado, Tokyo, papelería, Itoya