24 May 2019

The Invisible Hand... (II)

… Or I told you so...

Years ago I published several texts on the actual costs of inks. At the time, 2010, inks were becoming significantly more expensive while producers were increasing the gamut of colors.


Smaller inkwells, higher prices. But what matters is variety and price per inkwell. Ink Studio inks by Sailor (2018).

“A market driven by collectors –I said in 2011-- is bound to becoming irrational”. And ten years later the scene is a lot more complicated—more ink brands and makers, more colors, higher prices, smaller inkwells...

So, ink prices have become more expensive, and a side effect is a growing market of open inkwells. What not so long ago was almost worthless is now an object of trade.


As seen at the recent Pen Trading in Tokyo (2019). A second life for the inks after trying them...

Again, the invisible hand of capitalism plays its game.


Iwase Seisakusho – Caran D'Ache Sunset

Bruno Taut
Nakano, May 24th 2019
etiquetas: mercado, tinta

15 May 2019

The Invisible Hand...

...of capitalism.


Pilot's converters and cartridges currently available in the market... more or less.

By the end of 2016, Pilot phased out the converters CON-20 and CON-50. And the substitute was the new CON-40.


Prices of Pilot's cartridges and converters in JPY without taxes. It is possible to find some of them at discount.

Nobody really misses the CON-50, a small piston whose problems with the surface tension were never completely solved. But many do miss the bladder-type CON-20—it was capable (0.8 ml), inexpensive (JPY 200) and efficient. The CON-40 is the opposite—small (0.5 ml), unreliable and twice more expensive at JPY 400.

Then, many an aficionado started looking for remaining stocks of CON-20 in small and out-of-the-beaten-path stationers in Japan.


CON-20 on the left; CON-40 on the right. The second is twice the price of the discontinued CON-20.

The result? In the black market –sorry, in the second hand market— the price of the CON-20 is now JPY 500.

Did Pilot make a good move discontinuing the CON-20? The invisible hand of capitalism says they did not.


Iwase Seisakusho prototype – Caran d'Ache Sunset

Bruno Taut
Shinjuku, May 14th 2019
etiquetas: conversor, Pilot, mercado

13 May 2019

Tokyo Pen Scene in 2019

The 19th edition of the Pen Trading event in Tokyo was celebrated on the weekend of May 4th at the KFC building in the district of Sumida. And for the first time, this event lasted three days.

But all in all the figures of the show have not changed much along recent years—about 20 to 25 traders, and 200 visitors. And these numbers hardly justify such a long duration.


The first day, Friday 3rd, had Platinum as protagonist—Mr. Masa Sunami gave a lecture on the history of the brand, and the president –Mr. Nakata— answered some questions previously submitted by the attendees. However, the answers were to be kept strictly intramural, and any leak through social media was prohibited. Trading started at 12:30, albeit restricted to non-gold nib pens and assorted goods.

Saturday and Sunday were more of a traditional pen show –no restrictions of the type of pens to be on offer--, and were combined with a number of workshops.




Pen Trading in Tokyo, 19th edition.

Along this past year there has been a wealth of activities in the fountain pen world in Tokyo. The Wagner group has extended its events in order to attract younger aficionados, for instance. In October, the Tokyo International Pen Show (TIPS) worked well as a meeting point for aficionados previously disconnected, thus enlarging the pen community.

All this should imply that the trading events like that of Spring should become more important in the basic figures, but that was not the case ten days ago. The second edition of TIPS, to be celebrated in October 5th and 6th, looks like the best chance for the local activity to become something more according to the relevance of Japan in the international market.

And the only way to do so is to become more international.


So, next stop, the second edition of the Tokyo International Pen Show in October 5th and 6th. Hope to see you there.


Iwase Seisakusho prototype – Wagner 2008 ink

Bruno Taut
Shinjuku, May 9th 2019
etiquetas: Tokyo, Japón, evento, mercado

28 April 2019

Pilot's Small Inset Nibs

The Pilot Elite 95s was marketed on the year 95 of the Pilot era—that is, in 2013.

This pen, apparently quite successful, recuperated the design of the pocket pens on the 1960s and 1970s in Japan. But it went further on reviving the very interesting inset nibs of the 1970s, which at the time of release in 2013 was limited to a steel variation on a desk pen. So, with the Elite 95s, the inset nib recovered some of its past glory through the 14K gold of its composition.


Pilot's desk pen DPN-200.

However, in the 1970s, these inset nibs were made of 18 K gold in two different compositions—yellow gold and white gold, and the yellow variation was also rhodiated.


From left to right, three Elite 95s in all three colors, the cross-hatch Elite (1978), black Elite (1977), non-Elite Sterling silver pocket pen (1975).



Six nibs and four possibilities. The three nibs on the right belong to the Elite 95s--14 k gold. The nibs of the left, from top to bottom: 18 K gold, 18 K gold rhodiated, 18 K white gold.

These older pens were always on demand among pen aficionados, and the existence of the modern Elite 95s made that appeal even bigger.

(As a final note, I should add that the larger inset nib of the Silvern series has been continuously on production since the late 1960s. Just to prevent misreadings of my words.)


Platinum 3776 Century Chartres Blue – Rohrer & Klingner Blu Mare

Bruno Taut
Nakano, April 28th 2019
etiquetas: plumín, Pilot, mercado

23 April 2019

Japanese Parochialism

A number of stylophiles outside of Japan complain about how Japanese pen companies keep some of their products limited to the domestic market. Some even go to the extent to say that Japanese companies keep their best products for themselves—for the domestic market.

I am the first to admit that Japanese companies seem, in general, quite reluctant to accept the reality of the globalized market.


However, those limitations do not always favor the Japanese customer. An obvious example is the stub nib Pilot manufactures... for other markets. Those stub nibs are not available in Japan, and should the Japanese stylophile wanted them, online shopping seems the only option.


This stub nib for the Pilot Capless is not available in Japan.

Just like Western buyers do when craving for any Japan-only pen.

Japanese parochialism works both ways...


My thanks to Mr. Fukucho.


Sailor Profit Naginata Togi – Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-jaku

Bruno Taut
Bunkyo, March 26th 2019
etiquetas: plumín, Pilot, Capless, mercado

08 April 2019

The Case of Naginata. V. Results

On the previous Chronicle, I wondered whether the alleged virtues of the Naginata Togi nebs were real and detectable. To do so, I published a picture with seven sets of ideograms --焼肉定食, yakiniku teishoku--, all of them written by the same Japanese hand using seven different pens. Then I asked if we could find out which one had been written with a Naginata.

From top to bottom, the pens were as follows:

- Kubo Kohei nib. Unlabeled point, but it is about an MF.
- Montblanc 149 (F?)
- Henckel nib, architect grind.
- Sailor Naginata Togi, NMF.
- Pilot #5, music nib.
- Pelikan M200, F.
- Pilot Vpen, F.


The solutions to the question of last Chronicle.

The most popular answer –both on comments to my text and on Instagram-- was number 5; that is, the music nib by Pilot.

This result is surprising—either people love the results of writing with a stub nib or most of us do not really know how a Naginata nib is actually cut.

On second position came number 3 –a Henckel nib with an architect grind--, and on third, the actual Naginata Togi. This is more reasonable, as the Naginata nib can be seen as a smooth architect's nib.


The architect's grind on a Henckel nib.


A Naginata Togi nib.

The conclusion is that the alleged beautifying effects on the writing come only through practice with the Naginata Togi nib itself. But if so, many people, in Japan and overseas-- buy Naginata pens without really knowing how to use them and take no benefit of their supposed advantages.

But Naginata Togi nibs are excellent writers for whatever script, Eastern or Western. And christening a nib with an exotic name is an excellent marketing strategy.


Sailor Profit Naginata Togi – Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-jaku

Bruno Taut
Bunkyo, April 2nd 2019
etiquetas: plumín, Sailor, japonés (idioma), mercado

27 March 2019

The Case of Naginata. IV. Writing

On the previous text I tried to deconstruct what a Naginata Togi nib was. I concluded that in essence, a Naginata Togi nib is a variable nib. My friend and fellow blogger Fudefan reminded me how Sailor marketed these nibs as optimized to write beautifully in Japanese.


A Naginata Togi nib.

Now, how true is that?

The following picture shows the same text (焼肉定食, yakiniku teishoku) with seven different pens. Only one of them is a Naginata Togi.


焼肉定食 with seven different pens. Some were Japanese, some Western.

Can anyone figure out which one was written with a Naginata Togi?

Which one do you think is more beautiful?

Finally, does this matter?


My thanks to Fudefan and to Poplicola-san.


Iwase Seisakusho, model N – Hôgadô Doroai (Sailor)

Bruno Taut
Bunkyo, March 26th, 2019
etiquetas: Sailor, plumín, japonés, mercado

23 March 2019

The Case of Naginata. III. The Brand

After the two year hiatus in the production of Naginata Togi nibs we have them back in the market at a significant overprice. With this price hike, Sailor tries to cash the very good name of this nib.

But what is, in actual terms, a Naginata Togi nib? Is it worth the price Sailor is asking for them?

First and foremost, a Naginata Togi nib is a variable nib―a nib whose line width changes with the angle between pen and paper. Then, a Naginata Togi is a longer than usual nib, and this allows for some experiments to create new points―bending the nib, duplicating and triplicating the nibs, etc.


Three Naginata Togi nibs in three different sizes.

The question now is whether these features were so unique in the market as to justify Sailor in its bold move.

Variable nibs are not new at all―they have existed for more than a century. Nowadays, though, they are not that common, but they are not exclusive to Sailor. The paradox is that Sailor offers a much cheaper alternative―the zoom point available on various models including the very affordable Young Profit (JPY 5000, plus tax), also known as Somiko.


Sailor's Zoom nib in medium size. Photo courtesy of Zeynep Firtina (Write to me Often).

Then, what about the experiments nibmeister Nobuyoshi Nagahara performed on these nibs? Brilliant as they are, facts show that they do not need a Naginata Togi as a base. And nowadays there are a number of nibmeisters out there, in Japan and overseas, recreating those two- and three-fold nibs.


Nibmeister Nagahara Nobuyoshi in October of 2011.


Three Sailor Cross nibs (2-fold nibs). Note how the nib on the lower right side is made over an old nail type nib.


Two cross nibs: the one on top was made by nibmeister Yamada over a Pelikan M800; the other is a Sailor nib made for the 90th anniversary of the company in 2001.

What is left, then?

What might be left are some of the cuts Sailor offers or used to offer on these specialty nibs―the King Cobra, the King Eagle... But mostly, what is left seem the name Naginata Togi as a brand in itself. And time will tell is Sailor's strategy to cash it is correct or not.


The new and expensive Naginata Togi nib.


My thanks to Zeynep Firtina.


Iwase Seisakusho, model N – Hôgadô Doroai (Sailor)

Bruno Taut
Chiyoda, March 20th, 2019
etiquetas: Sailor, plumín, mercado, nibmeister Nagahara Nobuyoshi

19 March 2019

Katana or Fude

I am responsible for what I write, not for what others understand (::1::).

Some months ago I wrote about how at certain stationery shop in Tokyo the clerks in the fountain pen section did not call the Nakaya pen pouch "kimono" but "katana bukuro".

However, some people took my words as incorrect or as a complete speculation.

Well, none of the above.

The shop was Itoya's headquarters in Ginza (Tokyo) and the clerk's words implied that in that shop they spoke of the pen pouches as "katana bukuro". That conversation took place in October of 2018.


Katana bukuro, tô tai, fude ire?

More recently I posed the question to some other people in Tokyo. Among them, a journalist specialized in the stationery market with several publications under her obi. The result was similar: "kimono" is totally unheard in Japan to name a pen pouch.

'How do people call them then?'
'There is not a clear name', they replied.

And after thinking for a while the journalist continued.

'Some people call those pouches "tô tai".

"Tô tai" is just the onyomi (Sino-Japanese) pronunciation of 刀袋, whose kunyomi (native Japanese) pronunciation is "katana bukuro".

So be it.

And most people understand when you simply say 筆入れ, "fude ire", which translates as pen container.

But not "kimono". At least not in Japan.


Montblanc 149 – Aurora Black

Bruno Taut
Nakano, March 18th 2019
Etiquetas: Platinum, Japón, japonés, Itoya

12 March 2019

150 Years of Maruzen

Maruzen, the historical stationer of Tokyo, opens the Spring pen season in this city with the Maruzen World Fountain Pen in early March. This year this event celebrates its 10th edition, at the time of the 150th anniversary of Maruzen company. For the occasion, a limited edition pen hit the market together with some other commemorative stationeries.

Maruzen is largely responsible for the introduction of the fountain pen in Japan. Maruzen did so by importing this novelty writing tool from Britain and the US in the beginning of the twentieth century. Maruzen soon started selling some of those same pens –mostly Onoto and Waterman-- under its own brands like Zenith, Albion and Orion.

It took a bit longer for Maruzen to manufacture its own pens. The domestic production relied on the works of Sakasai Eisaburô, who by 1925 was working exclusively for Maruzen.

The Athena Renaissance 85 corresponds to this period. It was initially marketed in 1934. This is a lever filler made of ebonite with a 14 K gold nib.


Athena Renaissance 85, from 1934. A Sakasai Eisaburô manufacture.

Sakasai passed away in 1937 and Maruzen took over his factory to continue with the production of its own pens.

The factory, located in Shinagawa (Tokyo) was destroyed during the war, and a new plant in Katsushika (Tokyo) was built. Here, new pens showed up in the market in the early 1950s. Such is the case of the second pen—an urushi coated ebonite pen with a lever filler and a 14 K gold nib. It carries the JIS engraving issued by the Ministry of Industry in 1952-53 on fountain pens.


Another lever filler--a post war pen from around 1955.

A third example is the pen in the “Ultra” fashion initiated by the Pilot Super Ultra of 1959 (::1::, ::2::, ::3::). On this case, the pen was released in 1964. It is an aerometric filler, with a 14 K gold nib and a generous decoration on the section, where the brand “ATHENA” is imprinted.


An Athena pen from 1964. Its original price was JPY 2500.

The in-house production of pens ended in the 1970s, and for some time the brand Athena was limited to the Maruzen inks.


Athena ink by mid 1965. Athena Ace.

Maruzen's fountain pens resurfaced in 1994 through a collaboration with Pilot. Since then, Athena pens are Pilot pens in disguise, often implementing size #10 nibs. The Athena Basic Line (ca 2003) follows that idea.


The Athena Basic Line, from around 2004. It has an obvious similarity with the Pilot Custom Heritage 912, from 2009, with which the Basic Line shares the nib.

The 150th anniversary Athena pen has a shape that is very dear to Maruzen. This is the “Onoto type” (albeit in the quite personal Maruzen style)—a very cylindrical pen with a thinner barrel end where to post the cap. This pen also implements a size #10 Pilot nib, and the well-known converter CON-70. This edition is limited to 500 units, and its price is JPY 45000, plus taxes.


The "Athena the Pen" made for the 150th anniversary of Maruzen. Its retro packaging is particularly attractive. Photo courtesy of FudeFan. On his blog you can find a more detailed description of this pen.

So, after 150 years, Maruzen seems alive and well, and its main shop in Nihonbashi is one of the basic references for stylophiles in Tokyo. Should Maruzen make its own pens, the situation would be even better, but that might be asking too much.


My thanks to FudeFan.


Iwase Seisakusho, prototype with Henckel nib – Takeda Jimuki Hisoku

Bruno Taut
Chiyoda, March 11th, 2019
etiquetas: Maruzen, Pilot, Japón, Tokyo, papelería

28 February 2019

The Kubo Singularity

The big three Japanese pen companies make their own nibs, and it seems very hard to get those nibs as spare parts or as third party nibs for other makers. However, there are cases of that:

Hakase uses Pilot and Sailor nibs with their own original imprint. Ohashido and Taccia do the same with Sailor nibs.


A Pilot nib labeled as Hakase.

The rest either use Pilot nibs without any modification –StyloArt Karuizawa— or use some of the traditional supplies of third party nibs: Bock for Eboya and Masahiro (although previously Masahiro implemented Pilot nibs); JoWo for Taccia (lower end pens) and Wajimaya Zen-ni.


A JoWo nib labeled as Taccia.

The newcomer Iwase Seisakusho aims at sourcing its nibs from old nibmeister Kubo Kohei for its original pens. However, this is still an uncertain operation whose continuity we can only speculate about. Not to mention that the old age of Kubo Kohei –pushing 90 years old-- might affect any plan for a long term supply of parts.



Nibmeister Kubo at work.

But the bottom line is that Kubo Kohei is the sole independent maker of nibs in Japan, and his production is small, slow and artisanal.

Is there room –and market— for another independent operation in Japan to supply nibs and feeds to small pen companies?


Iwase Seisakusho prototype with Henckel nib – Takeda Jimiku Hisoku

Bruno Taut
Chuo, February 12th 2019
Etiquetas: Pilot, plumín, mercado, Sailor, Eboya, Hakase, Ohashido, Iwase Seisakusho, Taccia, Bock, JoWo, Wajimaya, nibmeister Kubo Kohei

19 February 2019

The Namiki Effect

Stylophiles are a special bunch. Driven by our anachronistic passion we often crave for certain features: gold nibs, self-filling mechanisms (as opposed to cartridges and converters), ebonite feeds, some specific materials like celluloid or ebonite,… And we demand those features for pens over certain price. Or, in other words, we might despise pens over certain price if they didn't offer some of them.

But the market might be telling us that we are mistaken. Just a quick look at today's catalogs shows how many luxury brands offer nothing but cartridge-converter pens with plastic feeds. Materials and gold nibs are less of a problem, though.


An expensive Pilot. Cartridge-converter and plastic feed.

Luxury pens of Platinum-Nakaya and Sailor are cartridge-converters. Pilot-Namiki does offer Japanese eyedroppers, but only for the biggest nib size. All the others, with nibs sizes 5, 10, and 20, are cartridge-converters despite how expensive they are.


An expensive Hakase.

Then, small makers like Eboya, Hakase, Ohashido, Stylo-Art Karuizawa, all focussed on higher-end pens only offer cartridge-converter pens. The only exception to this trend might be Masahiro and the newly-arrived Iwase Seisakusho.

Now, are these two brands –Masahiro and Iwase Seisakusho— on the right path or the success of all the other brands shows the opposite? How important are those details like ebonite feed and self-filling mechanisms in the final price –and in the final value-- of the pen?


A Masahiro pen. Expensive, but it implements an ebonite feed, a self-filling mechanism, an ebonite body, and a gold nib.

The market might be telling us that we stylophiles are still a minority in the business. Or it might only be that I am very mistaken about what we demand, and cartridge and converters and plastic feeds are perfectly all right even on very expensive pens.

Or it might be that we are very easy targets. After all, every pen has its charm, and all those cravings are not so important.

And that is the Namiki effect--expensive pens can be, in essence, very simple. Namiki has proven it through years in the market.


Iwase Seisakusho prototype – Takeda Jimuki Hisoku

Bruno Taut
Bunkyo, February 9th 2019
etiquetas: estilofilia, mercado, makie, Eboya, Hakase, StyloArt Karuizawa, Masahiro, Sailor, Ohashido, Iwase Seisakusho, Pilot, Platinum