31 March 2016

One Logo, Three Companies (II)

Now that we know about what Mitsubishi and its three-diamond logo meant in terms of companies and activities, we can take a look at a couple of products with some relevance in the world of writing.

The first of them is the paper manufactured by Mitsubishi Paper Mills, of the Mitsubishi keiretsu. This company mostly manufactures hi-tech papers for a variety of applications, which do not seem to include hand-writing. However, Mitsubishi Paper Mills is the maker of the Bank Paper marketed by Life Stationery Co., which is also behind the school notebook Tsubame.

The Life Bank Paper writing pad.

The quality of the Life Bank Paper has already been tested by fellow blogger The Unroyal Warrant, and I have nothing to add to his text. Suffice to say that this paper is fountain-pen friendly, and that it seem to be the only example of such included in the Mitsubishi Paper Mills catalog.

The revealing watermark.

The second product belongs to the company Mitsubishi Pencil Co. The UNI series of lead pencils was launched in 1958. Then, in 1966, the higher quality HI-UNI were marketed. And in 2008, 50 years after the initial UNI series, the gamut of pencil grades reached the amazing number of 22—from 10H to 10B, plus F and HB. In that same year of 2008, a box with all those 22 grades was available. It is called the HI-UNI Art Set.

The HI-UNI Art Set box.

The 22 grades.

On the occasion of the 130th anniversary of Mitsubishi Pencil Co to be celebrated in 2017, a limited number of sets of pencils and notebook have come for sale in this year of 2016. Three are the options: boxes of 12 UNI pencils of grades HB, B ord 2B, plus a notebook (JPY 1080, plus tax); boxes of 12 HI-UNI pencils of grades HB, B or 2B, plus notebook (JPY 1680, plus tax); and a metal box with all 22 grades of HI-UNI pencils plus, of course, the notebook (JPY 3300, plus tax).

One of the anniversary boxes. It is a limited release, but the number of units has not been declared.

The maker of the notebook is not revealed.

Platinum Platinum pocket pen – Aurora Black

Bruno Taut
Nakano March 30th, 2016
etiquetas: Mitsubishi Pencil, Mitsubishi Paper, papelería, Life Stationery

30 March 2016

One Logo, Three Companies (I)

I am not going to speak about fountain pens today but about pencils and paper… and whisky and cars…

The brand Mitsubishi is well known for a number of products and services available in the market. So, we can buy a Mitsubishi Pajero, open an account in the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi-UFJ, drink a Mitsubishi cider, write with a Mitsubishi UNI pencil on a paper with a THREE DIAMOND watermark… and even more without realizing we still were in the Mitsubishi realm: a picture with a Nikon camera, a Kirin whisky,…

Is this a car, a pencil, a bank, a cider...?

Mitsubishi is all that and more. But Mitsubishi is, first, three very different things.

Mitsubishi is the Mitsubishi Group of Companies, a keiretsu of companies operating in a very wide variety of fields. It all started in 1870 by the hand of Yatarô Iwasaki as a freight transporter. Around 1913, the company registered the well known logo with the three diamonds. Among the fields included in the activities of the Group we can find finances, nuclear technology, cars and industrial vehicles, paper milling… Some of the companies in the Group use the three diamond logo, but not all of them.

Kirin and Nikon are also part of the Mitsubishi Group of Companies.

A second company by the same name is Mitsubishi Pencil Co. This has no ties with the big Mitsubishi Group. The pencil company was founded in 1887 by Jinroku Masaki as Masaki Pencil Co. (Masaki Enpitsu), and in 1903 he registered the three diamond logo based on the family crest. The activities of this company, soon to celebrate its 130 years of history, are limited to the production of writing tools, but not of paper.

HI-uni is one of the lines of graphie pencils of Mitsubishi Pencil Co.

Finally, Mitsubishi is also the name of a cider –in the Japanese meaning of it, a non-alcoholic, carbonated soda—produced by the company Konyusha, from Kumamoto, unrelated to the Mitsubishi keiretsu. It was founded in 1883 and registered the three diamond logo in 1919.

Yeah, Mitsubishi cider... together with the three diamond logo as well.

So, there we have three different companies using the same name and the same logo. No wonder, then, the existence of the Mitsubishi Corporate Name and Trademark Committee to control and prevent any fraud in the use of both name and logo. But the problem and the confusion are deeply rooted.

Romillo Essential Black – Montblanc Racing Green

Bruno Taut
Nakano March, 2016
etiquetas: Mitsubishi Pencil, Mitsubishi Paper Mills, papelería

24 March 2016

Swan 3253

Swan was also a Japanese brand of fountain pens. Its history has already been told on these Chronicles, but it might be worth to remember that it had been founded in 1900 by U. of Waseda alumni Nobuo Ito. Swan Mannenhitsu Seisakushô (Swan Fountain Pens Industries) got the favor of the Japanese courts to win the lawsuits of Mabie Todd & Co., owner of the brand Swan in the West, and became the biggest pen maker in Japan around 1918. The company began its decline after the Second World War when it started making ball pens and pen parts. This lasted until the 1970s, albeit some Pilot OEM pens branded as Swan were made in 1991.

The following pocket pen is one of the last models made by Swan on those 1970s:

A pocket pen by Swan. It was made in the 1970s.

It is mostly made of plastic, including the central ring coupling section and barrel together. This is a clear sign of the cheap construction of this pen. Another is the fact that the gold plated steel nib was outsourced from the company Teikoku Kinpen, as is clearly stated by the engraved JIS number 3253. The pen must be inked using Platinum cartridges, as was often the case of lesser brands after the introduction of cartridges in Japan. No modern ink converter fits in the pen.

The pen, disassembled. Note the plastic central ring. The nib slides off the feed. Contrary to the case of most pocket pens, nib and feed are friction fit in the section.

The steel nib was made by Teikoku Kinpen, whose JIS registry number was 3253.

This model is green with golden cap. It was also made in black, with black cap and golden accents.

These are its dimensions:
Length closed: 116 mm
Length open: 97 mm
Length posted: 145 mm
Diameter: 12.0 mm
Weight: 9.0 g (dry, no cartridge)
Ink deposit: 1.1 ml (Platinum cartridge)

The feed is interesting--two ink channels. It is made of plastic.

All in all, this is a mostly boring and irrelevant pen, save for the detail of being one of the latest models made by Swan Mannenhitsu Seisakushô, indeed a very important actor in the history of Japanese fountain pens.

Sailor Magna – Tomiya Original Ink (Sailor)

Bruno Taut
Nakano, March 24th, 2016
etiquetas: Swan, Platinum, Pilot

15 March 2016

The Pen Station

Urban development, real needs for more space, Olympic Games in 2020, real estate speculation… Whatever the reason, Pilot Corporation will close down its pen museum --Pen Station-- in Chuo Ward in Tokyo by the end of this month of March.

That is only part of a major operation. The current building of the Pilot Corporation headquarters will be demolished to erect a new one. These works will take over three years.

Pilot currently has no plan to reopen the pen museum. The pens and other materials on display at it will be taken to a warehouse at the Hiratsuka site where Pilot has its production plant. Thus, Tokyo is about to lose the only pen museum in town. This primary source of information for anyone interested on pens in Japan and on Pilot in particular will be lost. Of course, the information will still exist, but hidden somewhere in Kanagawa province, less accessible, harder to find…

Not many museums like this one exist anywhere in the world, and Japan seems very apt to host one—a active and thriving pen industry, a taste for craftsmanship, a very Japanese way to decorate pens… All that could be seen and enjoyed at the Pen Station.

Over a year ago, January 2015, Pilot opened a small museum on maki-e pens (plus some additional good produced by Pilot maki-e craftsmen) on the grounds of the Hiratsuka plant. It is an interesting initiative, but very small and limited in scope. And far away from Tokyo. However, it is bound to being the only pen museum in Tokyo area.

The old gunpowder manufacturing building is the center of maki-e creation at the Hiratsuka plant. It is also the site of the Pilot Maki-e Museum.

Sure enough, Pen Station, museum & café, will be sadly missed.

The Pen Station is located on Kyobashi 2-6-21, Chuo, Tokyo 104-8304. Phone: 03-3538 3700. Opens Monday to Friday, from 9:30 to 17:00; and Saturdays from 11:00 to 17:00. Sundays closed.

Note added on March 29th 2016:
George Kovalenko is the author of the blog Fountain Pen History, which is an invaluable resource for anyone interested on the history of North American pens. He pointed out that you can virtually visit Pen Station through Google Maps. This is the link: https://www.google.ca/maps/@35.6768921,139.7703936,3a,75y,125.83h,89.73t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sOAKJ4EblmqkAAAQzVOQZ5A!2e0!3e2!7i13312!8i6656?hl=en . Thanks, George!

Pilot Murex – Pilot Blue-black

Bruno Taut
Nakano, March 14th, 2016
etiquetas: Japón, Tokyo, Pilot

11 March 2016

Side Effects

What is the value of writing a blog about fountain pens?

This blog is about to enter into its seventh year of existence. Along this time, it has slowly specialized on vintage Japanese pens. During the first years, I also spoke about contemporary models, but that aspect of the blog faded away as Japanese pens became better known and distributed overseas, and fora and other blogs were prompt to speak about them. Needless to say, I also digress now and then and I have also written about somehow exotic pens (North and South Koreans, Spanish, Czechoslovakian,…) or about stationery

At first I thought that writing on fountain pens had a positive effect—information added value to the good, and our pens became more appreciated. But that appreciation also plays against us as those old pens are now harder to find and buy.

Two overpriced Pilot pens: M90 on top, Myu-701 on bottom.

Case in point—the Pilot Myu-701 has steadily increased its price along the past 10 years. The American demand –wealthy and numerous—creates an inflationary process on any pen becoming fashionable. And the first step for anything to become so is to be known.

This inflationary effect also affects new pens. we all know how Nakaya –to name a Japanese brand— increased its prices around 2010 after months of hype on international fora. But very often, companies react slowly to these fashions. Pilot, for instance, has not changed the price of the highly praised Custom 823 in the last twenty-something years. So, this inflationary effect is less dramatic on contemporary pens.

A Custom 823 by Pilot. Its Japanese price, JPY 30000 plus tax, has not changed in over 20 years.

The conclusion of all this is that writing about pens and, particularly, about vintage pens is a bit like shooting ourselves on the foot. But somehow I enjoy it—the writing, not the bullet.

Pilot Murex – Pilot Black

Bruno Taut
Chuo (Tokyo), March 4th, 2016
etiquetas: mercado, metabitácora, fora, Pilot, Platinum

01 March 2016

Kato in Italy

The figure of Kiyoshi Kato is well known to the readers this blog. He holds a quasi-mythical image as itinerant pen maker in Egypt, Italy, Hong Kong and Japan.

In the 1990s he worked for the Italian company Visconti, founded in 1988 in Florence, making some of the early celluloid pens of the brand. Such is the case of the following example.

Visconti Ragtime II.

The monotone 18 K gold nib. It reads "VISCONTI / 18 K - 750 / FIRENZE / M". The inscription on the clip: "FIRENZE VISCONTI / ITALY RAGTIME".

It is a Visconti Ragtime (thanks, Peaceable Writer) from the second series (aka Ragtime II, with a monotone 18 K nib) in production between 1994 and 1999. It is made of cellulose nitrate sheet, rolled and welded.

Some argue that this approach –rolling and welding—is superior to turning a solid rod because the final cylinder is less likely to shrink and contract over the years. The obvious side effect is the existence of a welding like on body and cap. The flat ends of the Ragtime are, in actual terms, lids to the rolled cylinder and are welded to it, as can be seen on the following picture.

The welding line on the barrel made of cellulose nitrate.

The piston knob shows the black lid of the celluloid cylinder, welded to it.

These are the dimensions of this piston filler:
Length closed: 139 mm
Length open: 124 mm
Length posted: 165 mm
Diameter: 12 mm
Weight: ca 19.7 g (inked)

Kato’s engagement with Visconti ended around 2000. Since the mid 1990s, he and his wife had started making pens in Japan for the Japanese market. This was his last endeavour—he passed away in 2010.

My thanks to Mr. Shimizu.

Gama Forever – Montblanc Racing Green

Bruno Taut
Nakano March 1st, 2016
etiquetas: Visconti, Kato Seisakusho