26 April 2016

Sailor's Plunger

Plungers are old and new, particularly in Japan. Some of the first fountain pens arriving in this country were Onoto plunger fillers, and the well known Japanese eyedropper system (::1::, ::2::) of storing ink in the pen is a simplification of the original Onoto system.

However common the Japanese eyedropper is, Japanese companies continued making plungers for some of their models. Pilot’s examples, the P type, are well documented, but these are by no means the only ones.

This is a Sailor, not an Omas.

The clip is clearly signed as Sailor.

Sailor also made some, and such is the case of the pen on display today. It is a small celluloid pen made around 1935. The nib, not that big, is labeled as being a size 20.

The size-20 nib. The engraving reads "14 CR GOLD / Sailor / REGISTERED / PATENT OFFICE / -20-".

These are the dimensions of this pen:
Length closed: 124 mm
Length open: 112 mm
Length posted: 151 mm
Diameter: 11 mm
Weight: 15.2 g (dry)

The plunger, half retracted.

The basic problem of this filling system is its vulnerability. It is very fragile and prone to break down due to failures in the plunger seal.

The plunger, disassembled.

My thanks to Mr. Sugimoto and to Mr. Mochizuki.

Pelikan M800 – Tomiya Tomikei Blue (by Sailor)

Bruno Taut
Nakano, April 25th, 2016
etiquetas: Japón, soluciones técnicas, Sailor, Pilot, Onoto

21 April 2016

Pens at an Exhibition

The National Museum of Japanese History, in the city of Sakura (Chiba prefecture), hosts these days –March 8th to May 8th 2016—an exhibition on fountain pens: “Fountain Pens: Their History ad Art in Japan”. That is the official English title. However, the original in Japanese is more along the lines of “Lifestyle and Fountain Pens. The Modernization of Writing”.

Finally I had the chance to attend it and these are my recollections:

Sakura is a small town (population around 180000) in the prefecture of Chiba, about 60 minutes away from Tokyo Station by train. The Museum is connected to the train station by a bus route that takes 15 min. The admission fee to the exhibition is JPY 830. No pictures are allowed.

This is the outline:

Lifestyle and Fountain Pens. The Modernization of Writing.
0. Introduction. Literature and writing in Japan.
1. Fountain pens in Japan and their craftsmanship.
1.1 History of fountain pens in Japan.
1.2 Craftsmanship.
-- Lathe masters.
-- Maki-e.
2. Fountain pens and contemporary Japan.
2.1 The time of fountain pens.
2.2 Fountain pens and the modern organization.
2.3 Fountain pens and daily life.
3. Epilogue. Writing revisited.

The starting point of the exhibition is the role fountain pens played around 1900 in Japan. Fountain pens –that is, a reliable writing tool with an integrated ink deposit—were a much better writing device in a highly literate society whose writing system was based on handwriting. This starting point, somehow, defines the whole exhibition whose focus is on the social influence of pens and not on the historical development of them.

In fact, as could be seen on the outline, the part dedicated to the history of pen in Japan is limited to the first section (1.1). It is, however, rather limited and is organized by brands, with the big three companies taking most of the available space. A more chronological display would have been a lot more illustrative. There is also the obvious void of pens made after 1980 (save for some contemporary Pilot Capless and some Kato Seisakusho’s models).

Given the focus of the exhibition, most of the pens on display are common tools that were available to the average citizen. The most obvious exception to this rule is the selection of maki-e decorated pens used to illustrate the section on Japanese craftsmanship.

This section is completed with assorted memorabilia: ads, display cases, sale materials, etc.

More importance is given to the theme of craftsmanship of pens (section 1.2), focused on two aspects: pen turning and maki-e decoration.

Pen turning by rather primitive means has always been an important part of the Japanese pen industry. Let us remember brands as Ban-ei, Kato Seisakusho, Hakase, Eboya, Ohashido, and many others. Several of those lathes --pedal operated, with precarious chucks more often than not, and unstable toolposts— together with sets of tools can be seen at the museum.

Maki-e is also very well presented. The selection of pens, many from private collections, is magnificent and is supported by a computer system where visitors can explore the decorative motifs in detail through high quality pictures.

Page 111 of the catalog. It displays a maki-e decorated pen by Platinum. A pen, actually, already described on these Chronicles.

The exhibition is interesting and worth the trip from Tokyo. After all, pens rarely show up collectively in museums. Unfortunately, pictures are not allowed. However, there is a very serious flaw: pens and other objects are not dated. This is an inexplicable mistake to any curator.

The catalog is nicely printed and is affordable in price (JPY 1800, plus tax). Pictures, and in particular those of maki-e pens, are very good. But the editor made a big mistake. There are a number of pictures of pens that are seamless compositions of pictures of single pens. At the time of putting them together, someone made the stupid decision of representing all the pens in the same length, not respecting the actual differences in size. The result is ridiculous: a pocket pen of the same length of a full size Pilot Custom Sterling, as can be seen on the accompanying pictures.

Page 30 of the catalog shows these six Pilot pens. All of them, apparently, have the same length.

This is how those six pens (save minor decorative details) really look like with respect to each other. This ridiculous mistake is repeated in a number of pages of the catalog.

The lack of dates in the exhibition is not corrected in the catalog. Again, we are deprived of that valuable piece of information.

But I would visit the exhibition “Lifestyle and Fountain Pens” again.

My thanks to Poplicola-san.

Ban-ei in black urushi – Pilot Blue

Bruno Taut
Nakano, April 20th 2016
etiquetas: evento, Japón, estilofilia

18 April 2016

Signs of Change

Along these past months there have been a number of events that might show something is changing in the stylographic scene. Isolated, these might be regarded as anecdotes, even if unpleasant at times. However, coincidence in time can be a sign of something more relevant.

These are the facts:

1. The Montblanc-Fountain Pen Network (FPN) controversy (::1::, ::2::). Back in January, some FPN members published pictures of the not yet released Montblanc William Shakespeare model. Apparently, those pictures had been leaked by some Montblanc shops. Anyway, Montblanc complained before the administrators of FPN, who decided to remove the related threads.

Some controversy (see ::1:: and ::2::, especially the comment sections), mostly outside the FPN, followed, but that is not the issue here. What matters now is that Montblanc felt the need to react instead of ignoring the whole issue or resolving it internally by disciplining those who leaked the information.

2. Brown and the trolls. Well-known blogger and pen connoisseur SBRE Brown complained on his blog about the personal attacks he had been receiving recently through the comment section of his videos in YouTube. Brown expressed his surprise for what he considered a change in the community that he had thought as exemplary.

Again, Brown’s and other’s (Armstrong of The Pen Habit, Deans of Fountain Pen Economics, thread on Reddit, thread on Fountain Pen Geeks forum, etc.) comments are secondary to this argument. The relevant detail is that now we see people who take time and effort to express their dislike about something pen related.

I understand this phenomenon as an indication of an increased popularity of those videos. More viewers mean more exposure also on those lists of suggested videos on YouTube. And more viewers imply more probabilities of undesired personalities, of trolls with nothing of interest to say. In any case, the bottom line is a larger number of people exposed to pens.

3. Delta and Marte Modena (The best summary I have found is this link by Pedro Haddock: http://elpajareteorquidiado.blogspot.jp/2016/04/el-asunto-delta.html). Italian brand Delta has decided to market some of its products exclusively through an online retailer—Marte Modena. This decision has alienated the traditional retailers as Delta is focusing on online customers, usually more acquainted with their products than the occasional customer of a brick and mortar shop.

4. Two more details, even if minor to the whole picture. Ian Hedley, of Pen! Paper! Pencils!, took the effort of writing a letter to Pilot UK to ask about Pilot’s import and pricing policies, and Pilot responded with detailed information (or detailed excuses). And in an operation of public relations, Pilot USA invited the Goulets for a visit to their facilities in Florida in November of 2015.

Both cases illustrate the importance given by Pilot to the online scene. And this is a new development.

So, what do all those facts mean?

All in all, they could be interpreted along the line of the pen community becoming larger and stronger. I have always argued that we, stylophiles, were a small group, economically weak, almost irrelevant in the economic balance of pen makers when compared to the group of occasional pen buyers. In other words, no matter how many pens we stylophiles could buy, we were no match to the volume of new fountain pens acquired by those occasional consumers.

But that imbalance might be changing. We might have become more attractive to brands like Montblanc, Delta and Pilot in the examples here described.

If my interpretation was true, the consequences would be very interesting. The business model of pen makers would evolve to cater some of our obsessions and cravings. Our opinions on fountain pens would, in fact, matter. Maybe then, the general frustration about the limited availability of nib points of most brands could be solved, for instance.

But, of course, this could just be wishful thinking.

Daiso Chinese pen with Mochizuki cross nib – unknown blue ink

Bruno Taut
Nakano, April 15th 2016
etiquetas: Montblanc, Delta, Pilot, mercado, fora, metabitácora

13 April 2016


I have already said that in the area of fountain pens, we can see Japan as a huge laboratory of experiments with filling systems. Sure enough, several systems developed in America and Europe have been implemented by Japanese companies –pistons, lever fillers, plungers --, but there are many others –A-shiki, easy-drinking system, Nakahara-shiki, among others—that have never been attempted beyond these islands.

To the best of my knowledge, the following pen is an example of the latter.

Figure 1. Two of these pens. Brand unknown, but they implement an interesting filling system. The clips carry two different engravings: "NEW FOUNTAIN PEN" on the red unit; "NEW STEAL" (sic) on the greenish grey.

The pen has no clear indication of the manufacturer, but its construction is remarkable in many ways. But first and foremost because of its filling system.

Figure 2. One of the pens almost completely disassembled: the barrel can be detached from the section. But there is a key part not visible on the picture: inside the bulky brass piece, second from the right, there is another smaller piece that moves along this one.

It is a sac-based system, but with a very original way of pressing (without twisting) the sac. The pen tail can rotate a small angle –about 30°-- with respect to the barrel. Then, a number of small pieces transform that into a movement along the pen axis. The final element is a pressing bar pushed in that longitudinal movement.

Figure 3. These pieces transform the rotation of the back knob (the red celluloid piece on the right) into a movement along the axis of the pen. Inside the central piece there is another smaller one whose notch can be seen through the slit. This internal piece is coupled to the external celluloid knob (see Fig. 4). The central piece is screwed to the barrel.

Figure 4. This is the piece from which the whole filling mechanism is operated. It rotates with respect to the barrel while driving the small piece described on the Figure 3.

Figure 5. On this figure, the whole filling mechanism is assembled outside the barrel. Note how the pressing bard if attached to the set of pieces attached to the actual knob.

As is the case with any sac-based system, twisting the rear knob several times is needed to ensure a good filling of the pen. However, the absence of an internal breathing tube, as is the case in many other systems, hinders the full filling of the sac regardless of the number of twisting moves.

The basic benefit of this system is how secure the filling mechanism is inside the pen. Operating it is, thus, easier than a lever filler, for instance. The negative side is the number of parts required to transfer the rotation into a push onto the sac, plus the need of a good coupling among them.

The construction quality of this filling system is very good—all the pieces, save the external layer of the pan tail and the push bar, are made of brass, and the coupling among them, excellent. The drawback is a tail heavy pen, albeit the total weight of the pen is far from exaggerated at about 20 g.

Figure 6. Steel nib, ebonite feed. The inscription on the nib: "SMOOTH / POSTING / 4 / HARDEST / IRIDIUM / PEN.140".

The pen itself is made of celluloid, and several colors were available. The clip carried different inscriptions –NEW FOUNTAIN PEN and NEW STEAL (sic)--, and can hardly be considered as brand names. Nibs are made of steel, gold plated.

These are their dimensions:
Length closed: 121 mm
Length open: 110 mm
Length posted: 143 mm
Diameter: 11.5 mm
Weight: 20.5 g (dry, no sac)

These are, most likely, postwar pens, but the filling system can be found in some Platon (Nakayama Taiyôdô) pens in the 1930s.

My thanks to Mr. Mochizuki.

Pelikan M800 – Tomiya Tomikei Blue (by Sailor)

Bruno Taut
Nakano, April 13th, 2016
etiquetas: Platon, soluciones técnicas, marca desconocida

06 April 2016

Ebony Phoenix

Usually, fountain pens with urushi and maki-e and chinkin decoration are made of vulcanized hard rubber (ebonite). However, in the Japanese tradition of these decorative techniques, the typical substrate is wood. So, there should be some examples of wooden fountain pens with these forms of decoration. And indeed there are, albeit they are rare. More often than not, the decoration is limited to a coating of transparent lacquer that left the wooden textured exposed.

Around 1970, Sailor made some wooden pens in small and limited editions. The first of them was an ebony pen made in 1968 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Meiji period. Then, some other models followed in ebony and ironwood, and some of them were decorated with maki-e designs. Acording to Masa Sunami (A LAMBROU & M SUNAMI. Fountain Pens of Japan. 2012), over 30 different patterns were produced in several of the traditional techniques of maki-e in Japan: Wajima-nuri, Tsugaru-nuri, and Kimma-nuri.

A Sailor with maki-e decoration.

Such is the case of the pen on display today—a Sailor made of ebony wood with a maki-e motif in the Wajima-nuri style. Wajima is a city in Noto Peninsula (Ishikawa Prefecture) with a long tradition in urushi-related techniques. This dates back to, at least, the 15th century, and nowadays Wajima is the origin of the largest production of urushiware in Japan. In fact, Wajima-nuri says more about the origin of the piece than about the actual technique employed on it.

Wajima hosts the only museum on maki-e works in Japan--the Wajima Museum of Urushi Art.

The pen shows a theme of hôô (鳳凰, phoenix) in taka-maki-e technique (raised, with some relief over the surface). The ebony grain is visible under the transparent urushi. The pen is not signed.

The decoration is simple, but well executed. The pen is not signed.

Pen-wise, this is a cartridge-converter unit with a 23 K gold nib, dated November of 1972. That was at the peak of the gold fever among pen makers in Japan.

The nib is made of 23 K gold. Its nib point is M, or 4 in the Sailor system of nib points of the time. Note the three ink channels of the feed.

These are the dimensions of the pen:
Length closed: 140 mm
Length open: 121 mm
Length posted: 160 mm
Diameter: 13.8 mm
Weight: 30.2 g (dry)
Ink deposit: 1.2 ml (cartridge) / 0.7 ml (converter)

Platinum Platinum pocket pen – Aurora Black

Bruno Taut
Nakano, April 6th, 2016
etiquetas: Sailor, maki-e

01 April 2016

Last Day

Thursday 31st (yesterday at the time of publishing this text) was the last day of Pen Station, the pen museum and café of Pilot in Tokyo. I went out of my way to have one last look and a last cub of coffee. A Pilot Myu-701 did the writing.

Yes, this place will be missed.

Pilot Myu-701 – Pilot Black

Bruno Taut
Chuo, March 31st, 2016
etiquetas: Tokyo, Pilot