26 February 2018

An Unusual Flat-top

The Custom 74 is the workhorse of Pilot in the very competitive range of pens around JPY 10000. This is the entry level to more luxurious tools and the big three Japanese pen companies play hard on this turf.

This particular model, the Custom 74 is, in a nutshell, a torpedo-shaped pen, with golden accents, a 14 K gold nib in size #5 and 11 points available. The filling system, needless to say, are cartridges and converters. This model came into existence in the year 74 of the Pilot era, i. e. 1992, and it is still manufactured nowadays (2018).

Then, what is the pen shown on the following picture?

A Pilot flat-top with golden accents...

It is a flat-top Custom 74. But this variation was never in the market. This pen is a private edition prepared for the share holders of the company, Pilot Corporation, in 1993.

This version is, in essence, identical to the regular Custom 74 save for the detail of the ending domes on cap and barrel. And all the parts are interchangeable.

The regular Custom 74 (top) and the private version made for the share holders of the company.

Years later, in 2009, Pilot launched the model Custom Heritage 91—a flat-top pen with rhodiated decoration, 14 K size #5 nibs (only 9 points available)… Almost a flat-top Custom 74, save for the very different clip.

From top to bottom, regular Custom 74, flat-top version of the Custom 74, and Custom Heritage 91. All of them carry the size #5 nib in 14 K gold.

These are the dimensions of these three pens:

.Custom 74.

.Custom 74 flat-top. .Custom Heritage 91.
Length closed (mm) 143 137 137.5
Length open (mm) 125 123 122.5
Length posted (mm) 160 156 156
Diameter (mm) 14.6 14.6 14.6
Weight, dry (g), with CON-70 21.4 21.8 21.4

The flat-top Custom 74 implements a “coarse” nib –a 3B point--, and I suspect that this was the only option for all those share-holders of Pilot’s. At least, the few units of this pen I have seen all carry this very broad point.

The "coarse" nib in size #5 implemented on the flat-top Custom 74.

Platinum pocket pen, Yamada Seisakusho – KWZ Brown #2

Bruno Taut
Nakano, February 26th 2018
etiquetas: Pilot

19 February 2018

Ink Price Evolution (Japan 2005-2018)

Official numbers say that the Japanese economy has been stagnated for a very long time. Prices in Japan, for instance, are remarkably stable. My favorite example is that along my more than 10 years in this country, public transportation in Tokyo has not changed their prices save for the sales tax increase in April of 2014.

But, is that the whole story? What about the fountain pen world?

Japanese pen companies have kept prices of hardware (i. e. pens) very stable in the last, say, 20 years. If fact, the traditional way of increasing the prices is to phase out some model only to be replaced by a new one at a higher price. A variation of this is what Platinum is doing with the 3776 series, whose recent variations are significantly more expensive than the basic version for nothing else than a color change or a semi transparent body.

In the field of inks, though, things are different. Just recently, Sailor rebranded its traditional line of “Jentle” inks as “Shikiori”, and reduced the inkwell capacity while keeping the original price of JPY 1000. This change represented a price hike of a 2.5 factor (150% increase). And this is not the first drastic rise in Sailor ink prices: in 2009, the same 50 ml inkwell went from JPY 600 to JPY 1000 (67% increase). We can see these price variations on the following graph:

Evolution of the prices of Sailor inks in JPY/ml according to MSRP in Japan. "Pigmented" inks refers to Kiwaguro and Seiboku inks, and does not include the (also pigmented) Storia inks. The line labeled as "Original Inks" corresponds to the typical price of Sailor-made inks for some stationers in Japan, but not for all of them.

And what about the other two main manufacturers?

Platinum inks showed only one inflationary moment in January of 2014 when the basic line of inks (black, blue-black and red) went from JPY 13.3/ml to JPY 20/ml. However, in the last 12 years, Platinum has created three new lines of inks –pigmented inks, Mix Free and Classic Inks— whose prices are much higher than the inks present at the time of their launching.

Evolution of the prices of Platinum inks in JPY/ml according to MSRP in Japan. Those inks labeled as "Iron Gall (Classic)" do not include the usual blue-black ink, which follows an iron-gall formulation.

Something similar could be said about Pilot inks. In 2007, Pilot launched the Iroshizuku line with a price that was (and still is) more than twice that of the regular line (black, blue-black, blue and red). But at the same time, along these past 12 years, Pilot has not increased the price of any of their inks.

Evolution of the prices of Pilot inks in JPY/ml according to MSRP in Japan. The lines of 30, 70 and 350 ml correspond to the regular line of Pilot inks: black, blue-black, blue and red. Re Iroshizuku inks, there is another presentation of them (Iroshizuku Mini) for JPY 47/ml.

It is difficult to judge which of these companies has higher prices in their inks. The answer depends on the use each of us might make of the different lines of inks or, alternatively, on the balanced average of the ink sales of each company.

Nevertheless, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Sailor inks are, as of now, the most expensive of the main Japanese companies. The latest move, rebranding Jentle inks as Shikiori increasing their princes 150%, is too blunt and very difficult to justify.

But only the market will decide…

NOTE: The prices mentioned on this text are those reflected on the catalogs of the companies (MSRP) in Japanese Yen (JPY), in Japan, before taxes. Sales tax in Japan are currently 8%, and were 5% before April of 2014.

Ban-ei, wide ring with Henckel nib – Noodler’s Zhivago

Bruno Taut
Nakano, February 18th 2018
etiquetas: tinta, mercado, Sailor, Platinum, Pilot

08 February 2018

Inner Tube System

To the traditional eyedropper way of inking pens, Japanese companies added a mechanism to seal the ink deposit when not in use. A mechanism… or several of them.

The better known of them is the Japanese eyedropper, inki-dome system, although the original invention belonged to Onoto (De la Rue). Another such system is the hoshiawase (star system) invented by Pilot in the early 1920s. But there is more.

A Pilot from around 1920, if not before.

Prior to the system of the stars, Pilot entered the market –as a late comer in the Japanese context— with another system: the naikan shiki (内管式), or inner tube system. This consists of a modified screw –made of ebonite— attached to the section of the pen. By tightening or losing up that screw, the ink flow could be interrupted or open through the internal channels in that screw. The obvious inconvenient was the need to open the pen –the ink deposit— to operate this ink-stained screw. However, this system was effective in sealing the ink deposit.

Pilot developed and marketed this system probably trying to offer a novelty in a market already mature, with two very active pen companies –SSS and Nobuo Ito’s Swan–, and a number of imports from Europe and the US. The naikan shiki was short lived: only a couple of years around 1920.

As for the rest, this eyedropper pen is made of chased ebonite and implements a size 2 nib made of 14 K gold, although it might not be the original nib of this pen. The clip this particular unit sports is a later addition.

On the nib, the inscription says "14 KT GOLD / "PILOT" / < 2 > / MADE IN / JAPAN". However, the style of the inscription is probably too new, thus showing it is a replacement nib. On the text entitled N. M & Co. we can see a similar pen whose nib carries a much simpler engraving.

These are the dimensions of the pen:

Length closed: 139 mm
Length open: 131 mm
Length posted: 179 mm
Diameter: 12 mm
Weight (dry): 17.4 g

On the chased barrel, '"PILOT" / FOUNTAIN PEN / N. M. & Co.'. The company logo is on the left hand side. It shows the well-known lifebuoy encircling an N.

On the barrel end, a mysterious inscription: "P3CH". We had already seen it on another Pilot pen of the time.

Not all innovations work… However, the Japanese industry has never been shy to try different technical solutions on nibs and filling systems.

But short lived systems like this make the day of many a collector.

And on my side, I must add a correction to an old Chronicle.

My thanks to Mr. Sugimoto and Mr. Furuya.

Romillo Nervión – Sailor Blue Iron

Bruno Taut
Nakano, February 7th 2018
etiquetas: Pilot, soluciones técnicas