13 November 2019

Kubota´s Yamada

There is more to Japanese pens nowadays than just the big three companies. I have written about some of the smaller companies on these pages--Masahiro, Eboya, StyloArt Karuizawa, Hakase, Ohashido, Wajimaya Zen-ni... even about the elusive Iwase Seisakusho.

But I had never mentioned Yamada Fountain Pens.

This company was founded by Mr. Yamada in Matsumoto (Nagano Prefecture) in the early 1930s. As of today, Mr. Hiroyoshi Kubota manages the operation.

Yamada pens are made to order. Ebonite is the base material, and Mr. Kubota decorates them inserting a number of materials (mother of pearl, gold, silver) and by adding elements made of buffalo horn and ivory. Some of those can be seen on the pictures of this text.


Three Yamada pens with three different decorative techniques.

Nibs and feeds are either Pilot or Sailor. On the present examples they are Sailor, although attached to Pilot converters.


Yamada pen, Sailor nib, Pilot converter. Buffalo horn and silver rings.

The main problem of Yamada pens is, once again, their anonymity. Nothing in them allows for a clear identification of the maker, and only the nibs carry any inscription, albeit misleading as these are not Pilot or Sailor products. The identification of these pens must be made through its general aspect, which is never an easy way way to identify anything. The section of these pens, though, has a special and characteristic shape.


Yamada pens, Sailor nibs. And characteristic sections

But it is even worse than that--how do we contact Mr. Kubota? Yamada Fountain Pens does not have a website, and the most you can find is a postal address of the shop in Matsumoto, and a phone number.

Is this enough to keep the business running? Probably so--80 years of history speak high of the business model. Now, could Mr. Kubota enlarge the operation by becoming more accessible? Certainly so, but being a small business only that much demand he can meet.

And let´s not forget the appeal we collectors feel for the hard-to-find pen...


These are the contact details of Yamada Fountain Pens:
Mannenhitsu-no Yamada
2-5-11 Chuo
Matsumoto
Nagano 390-0811
Phone: +81 (0)263 32 2931


My thanks to Poplicola-san.


Lucky 9159 – Kingdom Note Futukoshin Blue

Bruno Taut
Madrid, November 12th 2019
etiquetas: Sailor, Pilot, Yamada Fountain Pens

03 November 2019

DNCONSTAN PLATINUM

In 1973, Platinum released a series of pens called Amazonas. Their selling point was that they were coated with leather of the star-fingered toad.

In actual terms, we see forty-something years later, this was just one of the series of leather-coated pens Platinum marketed mostly between 1967 and 1979, and even beyond that as there is still a leather pen in the catalog of the brand. Most of those used sheep leather, some with some additional painted decoration, but there were also models with leather from more exotic animals: crocodile, lizard, snake...


Some of the Amazonas pens on a picture by Platinum. https://www.platinum-pen.co.jp/e_platinum_history_top.html.

The pens of the Amazonas series (PAM-8000 in the internal coding of Platinum) cost JPY 8000. They came in five colors: pink, red, green, light brown and dark brown. Pen-wise, they were cartridge-converters, with 18 K gold nibs with a  fingernail geometry. The dimensions are as follows:

Length closed: 134 mm
Length open: 120 mm
Length posted: 147 mm
Diameter: 13.0 mm
Weight: 20.7 g (dry, with converter)

On the picture we case see two examples of this series: in pink and in light brown. The first is a very regular model with a F nib.


Two of the Amazonas series of pens.


The pink Amazonas with an F nib.

The light brown unit, on the contrary, is special in several ways. First, because of the three-tined music nib, and this is remarkable in itself as most of these special editions limit their range of nibs to the usual triad of F, M, and B.


An unusual light brown Amazonas pen.


The unusual music nib of the light brown Amazonas pen.

And then, we find an unusual imprint on the cap.


The original imprint on the cap: "DNCONSTAN PLATINUM".

This engraving represents a Byzantine coin. It shows a profile bust and part of the usual inscription in those coins: “DNCONSTAN”. It should follow with TINUSPPAV showing that those coins could belong to the mid 7th century, the period when Constans II and Constatin IV reigned in Byzantium; or to the mid 4th century, the times of Constatius II (vid note infra). But on this pen, the second part reads “PLATINUM”. So, “DNCONSTAN PLATINUM”.

This pen was made in 1975, according to the date on the nib.

Was this a special pen? What is the meaning of this engraving? I have no answers to these questions, and the only thing I can do is to document this rarity.


NOTE on 06/Nov/2019: A couple of days after I published this text a very kind and informed reader sent a comment correcting my many mistakes. You can read it fully on the comments, and here I extract the important elements:

(...) The coin on the pen says D N CONSTAN in the first part of the inscription; I can't read the second half of the legend, but I can believe from the picture it's PLATINVUM. That word replaces the second half of the legend, which is missing.

The coin doesn't say ON but DN: D is Dominus, N is for Noster (Our Lord). We can't tell what the rest would have been, but the coin for Constans II in the wikipedia link is a good guess: it splits in the same place. That one reads, D(ominus) N(oster) Constan (break) tinus P(ater) P(atriae) AUG(ustus), with the final G apparently blurred into the edge.

The D N and the P P AUG are very well established elements of late Roman coins--Pater Patriae is Father of the Fatherland, Augustus is the late antique title for what we call the Roman Emperor. It is a common inscription to find. If one wanted to identify potential models, the Roman Imperial Coinage volumes would be of use--they list legends in an index, as I recall.

In my opinion, this iconography isn't that of the 7th c. but (of) the 4th--it looks like someone from Constantine I's family, my best guess being his son Constantius II's, from the 350s. See here (...) a gold solidus with a similar bust and inscription.

Now why that particular coin is there--that I'd like to know! Who embossed the leather? Did they, like Constantius, have Arian leanings?


My thanks to Poplicola-san. And to M Gubbins!


Opus 88 with Kanwrite nib – De Atramentis Beethoven

Bruno Taut
Nakano, November 2nd 2019
etiquetas: Platinum, music nib

31 October 2019

November Pen Shows. II

I said on my previous Chronicle that I was attending the Madrid Pen Show in Spain. However, for those located in East Asia there is a great alternative—the Manila Pen Show.


It is a two-day event to be celebrated at the Holiday Inn in Makati, Metro Manila, on November 16th and 17th.

Personally, I wish I could attend it and enjoy the activities of the large and animated Philippine pen community. And nib wizard Ralph Reyes (Regalia Writing Labs) will be there!


Lucky 9159 – Kingdom Note Futukoshin Blue

Bruno Taut
Nakano, October 29th 2019
etiquetas: Manila, Filipinas, evento

29 October 2019

November Shows. I

November comes and I start my migration.

As was the case in the last 11 years, I will attend the Madrid Pen Show. It will be celebrated –or we will all celebrate it— at the Hotel Miguel Ángel from Friday Nov 15th to Sunday Nov 17th. And on Thursday 14th, as a starter, there will be an auction at Durán Subastas (Calle Goya 19, 28001 Madrid. Auction catalog, here) at 18:00.



The Madrid Pen Show is the biggest in Europe. Last year it attracted nearly 70 traders and about 1600 visitors.

I will be there this year too. Feel free to say hi if you happened to be there.


Lucky 9159 – Kingdom Note Futukoshin Blue

Bruno Taut
Nakano, October 29th 2019
etiquetas: Madrid, evento

27 October 2019

In Praise of Whisky

These two bottles cost the same—about JPY 2500.


The one on the left contains 500 ml of whisky. To produce it the company –Nikka on this particular case-- went through a long process that, besides fermentation and distillation, involves some years of maturation during which a significant portion of the product is lost to evaporation.

On this particular case, being a blended, the maturation can be reduced, but in any case –at least for a Scotch whisky-- it could be shorter than three years.

On the other side, an ink is basically a mixture of water, dyes, some biocides and some surfactant agents. The whole process is easy and low-tech, and does not require any special equipment.

Yet, 500 ml of an average (or even above average) whisky cost as much as 50 ml of an average ink...

A lot could be said about how much whisky we drink and how much ink we use, but the question is still valid—is the cost of ink ten times higher than that of whisky?

The actual fact is that the price of ink skyrocketed in the past four of five years, and whisky –a time-intensive product-- provides a useful benchmark.

Are you acting on our best interest buying so much ink so expensively?


Parker 51 Demi aerometric – Kobe Nagasawa Bokko

Bruno Taut
Nakano, October 27th 2019
etiquetas: mercado, tinta

08 October 2019

TIPS 2019. Again a Stationery Fair

This past weekend, the second edition of the Tokyo International Pen Show (TIPS) took place in the Ward of Taito in Tokyo. I attended it and these are my reflections.

The plain figures are very clear and straight-forward: about 2000 visitors, 1200 on the first day; about 200 foreigners; 86 tables with 71 traders. This means a big success and a significant improvement over the results of 2018: 1600 visitors and 50 traders.


People and inks. Are those the argument of TIPS?

My criticism this year is, in essence, the same as on 2018——this event was not a pen show, this was a stationery salon (like some others in Tokyo: Bungujoshi, Kamihaku, and Inkunuma (::1::, ::2::)) where you could find some fountain pens. Vintage pens, on their side, were limited to four or five tables——Wagner group, Seoul Pen Show, Andre Mora, Stylus Aurea, and Pen Land/Komehyo. And not even the parallel Wagner meeting on Sunday at a different venue, could correct this deficiency.


The table of the Seoul Pen Show with some vintage pens.

However, this didn't mean that there were no fountain pens. Many of the traders were well established stationers from all over Japan who have their own special pen models and inks, mostly made by Sailor. This was the case of BunguBox, Kingdom Note, Nagasawa, Ei-Publishing Co. (Shumi-no Bungubako)… And in fact there is a demand for all those somehow different pens—if only because of their colorful decoration.

This prevalent presence of Sailor –even if indirect-- made Leigh Reyes, always deeply insightful, that this was the pen show of Sailor. The presence of the other two big companies was marginal.


Sailor inks, Sailor pens. Kingdom Note.

The international presence was more important this year: Franklin-Christoph, Schon, Yaching Style, Armando Simoni Club, Andre Mora, Stylus Aurea, Aesthetic Bay... But they accounted to just about 10% of the traders.


Aesthetic Bay, from Singapore.


Franklin-Christoph, from USA.

All in all, the most interesting aspect of the show was, as is often the case, the community of users. On this edition, and much to my surprise, the number of visitors coming from overseas was particularly big. Organizers speak of 10% of the attendees being foreigners. That means about 200 people. I don't know how they came with this number, but I am afraid they considered any long term resident in Japan as foreign visitor. Anyway, this edition attracted visitors from Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, United States, Canada, France, Italy, Spain... This fact is indeed remarkable and contributed to provide a cosmopolitan air to an otherwise very parochial show.


An active and enthusiastic group of foreign visitors.

TIPS is not a pen show, and TIPS is barely international. But 2000 visitors move a lot of money and are a powerful argument not to change the business model.

At the end, the stationery market is a lot more important and lucrative than that of fountain pens.


Paper, paper, paper...


NOTE 1: For a more positive view of the TIPS 2019 I recommend the accounts of Fudefan: https://www.fudefan.com/2019/10/tips-2019/
And for an excellent video overview, check Inky.Rocks' video: https://youtu.be/9iyXeihsiYQ

NOTE 2: TIPS 2020 will take place on November 7th and 8th in Hamamatsucho area in Tokyo.


My thanks a Inktraveler for several of the pictures here included.


Parker 51 Demi 1948 – Kobe Nagasawa Bokko

Bruno Taut
Nakano, October 8th 2019
etiquetas: mercado, evento, Sailor, Tokyo, papelería

30 September 2019

Cheap Tools

When the service is free you are the product. Or a tool in the hands of others.

The Pelikan Hub, 2019 edition, is over and it is time to think what that event is and what it means.

I am not particularly interested on Pelikan and on the endless rehash of models this company practices nowadays. I also tend to look at these promotional events from a healthy distance. But on this occasion the local pen community made it more appealing. And last week I attended my first Pelikan Hub. That was in Tokyo.

So, what are these events?


In May each year since 2014, Pelikan open a call to pen aficionados for them to meet on a day in September. Then, Pelikan chooses a hub master –the organizer of each event in every city--, prints some promotional material like leaflets and banners, provides some inkwells and... Well, that is all.


The rest is up to the local hub master and to the attendees. In Tokyo, we paid to rent the space. And at the event, we received the promotional material, which includes an inkwell (Star Ruby this year), and spoke about pens –not only Pelikan--, and about inks. And at the same time we mention the meeting on social media and other means of online communication.


So, we become the tools of advertisement for Pelikan. And almost for free—what is the actual cost of the whole operation for Pelikan? How much is that cost per person attending the hubs? How mush does an inkwell cost to Pelikan?


Some Pelikan, and some non-Pelikan pens. But the main character is Bokumondoh...

We attendees became tools, very inexpensive tools. And we even pay to meet! In the old Spanish expression, “encima de burros, apaleados”.

The good part? Meeting other pen aficionados. But we do not need Pelikan to do so.


Pilot Vpen – Bril Turquoise Blue

Bruno Taut
Kunitachi, September 27th 2019
etiquetas: redes sociales, Pelikan, Tokyo

20 September 2019

Japanese Eyedropper Today (II). Opus 88 Koloro

In 2016, Eboya stopped the production of Japanese eyedropper pens. These pens were always more expensive that the equivalent versions with cartridge/converter or with button filler systems—the Japanese eyedroppers were between JPY 59000 and JPY 83000, plus taxes. But despite these prices, these pens were the cheapest eyedropper in the market. The next step was –still is— the size 50 Namiki Urushi at JPY 148000.


An old Eboya with Japanese Eyedropper.

On this scenario, the Opus 88 Koloro made its appearance in 2017.


The Opus 88 Koloro in its package.

The company Opus 88 –Jin Gi industrial Company— has been in the market since 1977. But from 1988 on its main business  was the production of OEM pens for other companies, Danitrio and Taccia among them. In the local market of Taiwan, Opus 88 sold some over-run of those OEM pens under its own brand.

Then, the Koloro model showed up in the foreign market in 2017. Its combination of an affordable price –in the range of EUR 100-- and an unusual filling system called the attention of many in the West. As I explained in the previous text, it is not that the Japanese eyedropper system was new at all, but its availability was very limited and expensive.


Nowadays, the Koloro is a family of pens that come in two nib sizes—size 5 and size 6, both by JoWo. The nibs are made of steel –no gold option--, and the feeds are made of plastic. The nib size conditions the overall dimensions of the pen. But in all cases, the filling system is the Japanese eyedropper.


Opus 88 Koloro. Made in the Republic of China. German nib (JoWo). Plastic feed.

Opus 88 could make these pens even more attractive by using in-house nibs or, at lest, nibs locally made. The implementation of ebonite feeds –and there are makers producing them-- would also increase the appeal of the pen. However, these two drawbacks are common to many pen companies.


The Koloro with an ebonite feed by Flexible Nib Factory.

These are the dimensions of the Opus 88 Koloro demonstrator of size 6:

Length closed: 148 mm
Length open: 136 mm
Length posted: this pen does not post.
Diamter: 16.4 nn
Weight: 30 g (inked)
Ink deposit: about 3 ml

In conclusion, this pen is an attractive product –well made, affordable, original— that fills a gap in the pen scene. And that is more than most other companies offer nowadays.


Parker 51 (Inky.Rock's) – De Atramentis Beethoven

Bruno Taut
Nakano, September 2019
etiquetas: soluciones técnicas, Eboya, Opus 88, mercado, JoWo, Taiwan

13 September 2019

Japanese Eyedropper Today (I)

The so-called Japanese eyedropper system –inki-dome shiki (インキ止め式) in Japanese— was in fact invented by Onoto in the beginning of the 20th century. Those Onoto reached Japan imported by Maruzen and the system –an eyedropper with a shut-off valve— clicked among the locals. The final result was that this system was copied and reproduced by most Japanese pen makers along its history up to today.


An Onoto with the shut-off valve system. Not yet a Japanese eyedropper, I guess.


A Japanese Swan (Nobuo Ito's Swan) with the Japanese eyedropper system.

The inki-dome, however, fell out of favor by the late 1950s when Platinum introduced the ink cartridge and most other makers followed the example. Only minor makers –I am thinking of Sakai Eisuke's operations— kept the system alive till the 1980s.


A Sakai Eisuke's pen made in collaboration with Kabutogi Ginjiro (::1::). Possibly from the 1960s.

In 1985, Pilot commissioned lathe master Sakai the creation of a prototype based on the style of the Pilot pens from the early 1930s, The result was what later became the Pilot (and Namiki) size 50 Urushi, and it implements the Japanese eyedropper system.


The Pilot Urushi in size 50--a modern Japanese eyedropper. This pen is incorrectly named by many as Namiki Emperor, but the Emperor model is decorated with maki-e techniques according to the Namiki catalog.

But who else followed? Not much.

Eboya used the system for some years (::2::, ::3::), but its production relied in the know-how of lathe master Kanesaki Noritoshi. Eboya's boss, Mr. Endo, has announced the new production of Eboya pens with this system, but there are no final dates for their release.


An old Eboya (2013) from the Kanesaki time. It implements the Japanese eyedropper system. At that time, the brand name was still Nebotek.

More recently, as of 2018, the sort-lived Iwase Seisakusho also marketed some pens with the Japanese eyedropper system. These were either old incomplete pen bodies by Ishi Shoten (owner of the brand Yotsubishi) or new pen bodies made by lathe master Momose. But Iwase Seisakusho had a very brief life and very few units of it made to the market.


An Iwase Seisakusho based on a body by Momose Yasuaki.

From California, Danitrio makes some models with Japanese eyedropper. These are usually expensive models with urushi or maki-e decoration.


Some Danitrio pens as exposed at Itoya Ginza (Tokyo) in 2010. Photo courtesy of Moskva.

Finally, a surprising actor is the Taiwanese brand Opus 88 (Jin Gi Industrial Co.). But these Japanese eyedroppers deserve a Chronicle on their own.


The Opus 88 Koloro. A surprising new actor in the Japanese eyedropper business.



Opus 88 Koloro – De Atramentis Beethoven

Bruno Taut
Nakano, September 12th 2019
etiquetas: soluciones técnicas, Pilot, Eboya, Danitrio, Iwase Seisakusho, Opus 88, mercado, Onoto, Japón, mercado, Kanesaki, Sakai Eisuke, Momose Yasuaki

09 September 2019

Heisei vs. Reiwa

These two pens are 30 years apart—the 30 years Emperor Akihito occupied the Japanese throne.


Two commemorative pens by Pilot.

In 1989, at the death of Emperor Hirohito, the Showa era reached to an end and started a new one—the Heisei period. And to celebrate this new era Pilot released the “Heisei pen”--a flat-top based in the Pilot 70th anniversary (1988) decorated with maki-e. It was a limited edition of 1000 units.


The Heisei pen, 1989.


Kyusai Yoshida. Kokkokai.


The nibs of these two pens: Heisei nib on top, Reiwa on bottom. But the later is not specific to the Reiwa pen.

This “Heisei pen” was made of plastic, but its decoration –a male and a female phoenices— was signed by its creator Kyusai Yoshida. The nib –an 18 K unit of size 10-- displays a specific decoration for the occasion. On the book Fountain Pens of Japan, the authors mention that the nib was engraved with the words “for strong progress”, but that is not what we see on this particular pen.

Thirty years later, in 2019, Emperor Akihito abdicated and his son Naruhito reached the throne—the new era Reiwa started. And Pilot repeated the operation—a commemorative pen.


The Reiwa pen, 2019.

This limited edition –800 units-- is a torpedo based on the Custom 742, but with an internal core made of brass. The nib is a bicolor made of 18 K gold with the same decoration as any other size 10 by Pilot (Maki-e Zodiac collection, Ishime series, Hannya series, etc.)


The Kokkokai as the collective author of the decoration on the Reiwa pen.


The whole package of the Reiwa pen. JPY 150,000, plus taxes.

The maki-e decoration is now a single phoenix and is signed collectively by the whole group of Pilot maki-e artisans, the Kokkokai. The price, JPY 150000, plus tax.

Two pens, 30 years apart. One with a fully signed decoration, and plastic body; the other, heftier with a brass core, and a simpler decoration. They are not so different to some of the regular models present in Pilot's and Namiki's catalogs, but limited editions sell very well.

My thanks to Mr. Hoshino.


Parker 51 aerometric (Inky.Rocks') – De Atramentis Beethoven

Bruno Taut
Nakano, September 6th 2019
etiquetas: Pilot, Japón, mercado, maki-e