31 December 2019

Tokyo Pen Trends 2019

(This review is part of a collective initiative to summarize and analyze the relevant events of 2019 in the pen scene. The other members are Fudefan and Inky.Rocks:
Fudefan's take on 2019: https://www.fudefan.com/2019/12/2019-in-review/
Inky.Rocks' video: https://youtu.be/L2M372smNEg ).

A lot might have happened, pen wise- in this year of 2019, but not everything is equally interesting, and each of us has a different view on those. These are my selection and of the relevant events, and my reflections on them.

1. Pen Scene.
2019 was the year of the 100th anniversary of Platinum. This company managed the celebration a lot better than Pilot, whose centenary was celebrated in 2018, but Platinum quickly lost momentum after a promising start.

In Japan, the only new pen released in 2019 was the Pilot Custom NS (the Procyon, let us remember, was released in 2018). The NS is the first steel nib in the Custom family, and its price is about 20% lower than that the Custom 74 with a gold nib. Is this a correct strategy in the Japanese market?

Other than this Custom NS, there have not been any new pen—all there is are rehashed pens, minor cosmetic changes on well known models. The Prime, the Platinum pen to commemorate its 100th anniversary, is little else than a 3776 in silver costume. Sailor, on its side, is mastering the art of generating original models –this is the name they use— to be sold exclusively at a certain shop. It seems a very successful system to raise the attention of customers by creating a false sense of scarcity.

A sample of Platinum 3776 Centuries. All of them are essentially the same pen.

As this, The Prime, is also a 3776 in disguise. The Prime was the pen Platinum released to celebrate its 100th anniversary.
Anyway, not much new.

(The Capless LS has just been released in Japan and barely speaks about what went on along 2019. However, this is something new in the pen scene in Japan.)

In contrast, Taiwanese and Chinese pens are becoming a lot more active and innovative. They are offering new recreations of old filling systems with new models almost every month in the case of pens from the PR of China. Their distribution is also becoming more open and all those pens are easier to purchase.

This Wing Sung, obviously inspired on the Twsbi Vac700, in an example of the activity of many Chinese brands.

2. Ink Scene.
More colors more expensive. And the inflation continues.

The only positive side effect is the surge of small ink companies—Krishna in India, Trouble Maker in Philippines, Three Oysters in South Korea, Kala in Taiwan... But only time will say whether there is enough room for so many people. Or enough customers for so many colors...

But the radical approach to this would be to return to those old colors in unassuming inkwells for about JPY 400 per 30 ml: good and inexpensive ink.

When initially marketed, Irishizuku's inks were very expensive. Now they are among the most inexpensive in the Japanese market. And even cheaper are the regular Pilot inks (the inkwell on the right): JPY 400 (plus tax) for 30 ml. This is the radical approach to the present inflation in inks and their prices.

3. Paper.
Paper, or good quality paper, is also becoming a luxury good. But the production costs might be at the heart of this phenomenon. The paper industry relies heavily on the economy of scale and a small community like that of fountain pen aficionados is unable to generate a big demand. The result--producing small batches to fulfill the demand of such small group is inherently expensive.

"Fountain Pen Friendly Paper Collection", by Yamamoto Paper. Some of those included on this pad are no longer available because some mills are no longer in business.

The alternative, for the time being, could be to go back to old Japanese scholar notebooks, some of which are made of good quality paper, albeit not labeled or advertised as “fountain pen friendly”. Kokuyo Campus, and regular Tsubame notebooks are two obvious options easily available.

This Tsubame paper is excellent and inexpensive. There are other rulings...

4. Events.
The Tokyo International Pen Show (TIPS) is here to stay after a very successful second edition. Its main feature –from my perspective— was the ability of gather people from far away locations. TIPS acted as the meeting point for aficionados from places as far away as Spain and Australia, and that despite being more of a stationery salon than of a pen show.

Tokyo International Pen Show. Not a pen show, but a meeting point.

In contrast, the active Tokyo pen community seems isolated and detached from the rest of the World.

5. Social Media.
I am new to this environment, and I am therefore very naïve –or simply skeptical- about it. However, it is hard to miss the huge activity on social media, and the personal connections created through them. The result is a much better connected pen community where parochial attitudes –like those of Japanese brands- are bound to fail.

Japanese companies have not understood anything related to social media, and behave following patterns anchored in the twentieth century, with segregated and separated markets. They do not seem to understand online shopping across borders.

On the contrary, Chinese and Taiwanese pen companies have embraced this new world and are taking benefit from their constant presence on them.

I am sure there is a lot more that could be said about this year 2019, but this is what called my attention.

WiPens Toledo – Montblanc Irish Green

Bruno Taut
Nakano, December 8th 2019
etiquetas: Japón, China, Taiwan, mercado, evento, redes sociales, Pilot, Platinum, Sailor, tinta

25 December 2019

RomilloPens. 2007-2018

In 2015 I wrote a report on Romillo pens. Now, four years later, and with the operation stopped it might be worth to revisit some of the pens of this short-lived pen brand based in Madrid, Spain.

It started in 2007, created about 10 models –mostly made of SEM ebonite, made in Germany--, implemented Bock and in-house nibs, and disappeared around 2018 (see note at the end) leaving behind a big mess in terms of unpaid commitments.

The body of work left behind, though, deserves some attention.

The following pictures show some of the models by this company.

From left to right: Nervión, Essential Writer, Sil, Eo, and WiPens Toledo.

From left to right on the previous picture:
– Model Nervión in terracota ebonite. A size 8 Bock nib (18 K) with ebonite feed. Eyedropper. Made in 2011.
– Model Essential Writer in black ebonite. Size 6 Bock nib (18 K), plastic feed. Eyedropper. Made in 2010.

Sil model.

– Model Sil in red ripple ebonite. Size 6 Bock nib (18 K), plastic feed. Eyedropper. Friction-fit cap. Made in 2012.

Model Eo with a size 9 nib.

– Model Eo in blue ripple ebonite with celluloid band. In-house size 9 nib (18 K), ebonite feed. Eyedropper. Made in 2013.

WiPens Toledo. An unsuccessful attempt to create a secondary brand.

– WiPens Toledo. Black ebonite. Size 6 Bock nib (14 K), plastic feed. Cartridge-converter. Made in 2013. This pen was not marketed under the Romillo brand, but as WiPens, an attempt to create a second brand for more inexpensive models.

Starting from the bottom, two Essential, a special version of the Essential with a two tone nib, and an Essential with the in-house flexible nib named K.

This second collective picture shows a collection of pens of the model Essential. From bottom to top:
– The first two are from 2009. They implement size 6 Bock nibs of 18 K gold with plastic feeds. Eyedropper fillers.

A very customized version of the model Essential made in 2015.

– The third is a special model made in 2015. The nib is an in-house size 7 made of 18 K gold. Ebonite feed. Eyedropper.

The in-house K nib. Flexible, but it never worked satisfactorily due, possibly, to an inadequate feed. Essential made in 2012.

– The fourth (on top) is from 2012. It sports an in-house flexible nib named K, made of 18 K gold. Plastic feed. Eyedropper.

Romillo pens were expensive pens, with an average price of EUR 1000. Was that justified by the quality of the product? The pens here shown are very simple in their structure. Being eyedropper pens they had no movable parts or sacs to be adjusted. Internally, though, we see that all the threads (save in the case of the much more inexpensive WiPens Toledo) are made of brass, and there are elastic seals in the ink deposit to prevent leaks. Were those elements needed or effective?

Were these pens better that, say, most Indian eyedroppers also made of ebonite?

As eyedroppers, both Indian pens and Romillos have the same problem—the tendency to blob ink and ruining the document in progress.

Another problem of several of the Romillo models (Essential, Nervión, Eo) was the basic structure of the pen, with the cap attaching to the section instead of to the barrel. On these pens, uncapping them could result in unscrewing the barrel from the section and opening the ink deposit. This, in an eyedropper pen, is a very serious design flaw.

The cap attaches to the section instead of to the barrel.

Paradoxically, the cheapest of the models produced by the Romillo family –the WiPens Toledo- had solved these problems at the price of making a much more conventional pen.

RomilloPens was, all in all, a short-lived operation that left behind a small bunch –about 450-- units of expensive and attractive pens. Despite their flaws.

My thanks to Croma, Eliperin and ValenSpain; all of them members of Spanish pen community.

NOTE (26/Dec/2019): I have corrected the date of cease of activities of RomilloPens to 2018 after some sources mentioned that they could buy some pens as late as that year. Since late 2015 or early 2016, the Romillo family avoided Spanish customers and focused on foreign markets while continuing fixing and tuning nibs. However, this situation did not last for too long and is currently shut down.

WiPens Toledo – Montblanc Irish Green

Bruno Taut
Nakano, December 24th 2019
etiquetas: Romillo, Spain, WiPens

20 December 2019

Japanese Skylines

After reviewing a couple of Japanese copies of the Wahl-Eversharp Doric it is only natural continue with another copy of an iconic American pen—the Wahl-Eversharp Skyline (1941-1948).

Platinum did make such a copy, as we can see on the pics.

Wahl-Eversharp or not?

According to Masa Sunami, Platinum marketed this pen in 1948 in the Uruguayan market. And the pens here shown were indeed sent to Uruguay, as the import sticker clearly shows. On it we can read that it had been imported and taxed in conformity with the law passed on September 15th of 1952.

Quite a faithful copy...

The sticker from the tax office of the República Oriental del Uruguay.

In contrast, it seems that Platinum does not have records of these international operations –Platinum in Uruguay, Presidente in Spain, Joker in Greece, Hifra in South Africa--, and these labels and pens are the few actual documents anyone can have. However, they pose many more questions—why Uruguay? Were they sold in any other country? How big the production was? Between which years were these models manufactured?…

These Japanese Skylines are very close to the original model, as can be seen on the pictures. The differences are on the filling system —aerometric on the Platinum, lateral lever filler on the Wahl-Eversharp—, and on the nibs —more cylindrical and made of steel on the Platinum.

Skyline Standard on the front, and four Platinum copies on the back. Platinum bodies are engraved: " PLATINUM / TRADE (logo) MARK / R. NO. 374902 ".

Steel vs. gold. Steel for the Platinum copy, gold for the original Wahl-Eversharp. Note the number on the Platinum nib: P.96216. I do not know what it means.

These are the dimensions

.Platinum "Skyline".

Skyline Standard.
.Length closed (mm) __ 132 132
.Length open (mm) __ 117 125
.Length posted (mm) __ 135 146
.Max Diameter (mm) __ 14.6 14.6
.Weight, dry (g) __ 16.0 16.0

My thanks to Mr. Sunami

Yamada raden and ivory – Noodler's Beaver

Bruno Taut
Nakano, December 17th 2019
etiquetas: Wahl Eversharp, Platinum, Uruguay

15 December 2019

Japanese Dorics

To my friend Croma, after a nice conversation in Madrid.

Copies are part of any industry, and therefore part of the pen industry. What is not tradition is plagiarism, some say...

On these pages we have already seen some examples of Japanese pens that were inspired –what an euphemism!- on models of success (see, for instance, ::1::, ::2::, and ::3::). So, this is nothing new, but there are always more models to describe, and some of them are very interesting.

Today I will call the attention to two different makers caught in the act of copying the same model—the Wahl Eversharp Doric (1931-1940).

The first example is a Sailor.

This is a plunger filler made of semitransparent celluloid. Its general shape is indeed close to that of the Doric. The clip, to name a detail, is remarkably similar.

Gold nib: "14 CRT GOLD / Sailor / REGISTERED / PATENT OFFICE / -1-".
On the clip, "SAILOR".

And engraved on the body, "SAILOR FOUNTAIN PEN".

Sailor manufactured this pen in 1937.

These are the dimensions:
Length closed: 123 mm
Length open: 110 mm
Length posted: 150 mm
Diameter: 11 mm
Weight: around 13.5 g (broken filling mechanism)

The second pen belongs to a very secondary maker called Order, about which nothing can I say.

An Order pen, signed on the cap and on the nib. On the cap, the inscription reads '"ORDER" / FOUNTAIN PEN'.

On this case, the pen is a lever filler, and also implements a golden nib. These are the dimensions:
Length closed: 120 mm
Length open: 112 mm
Length posted: 155 mm
Diameter: 13 mm
Weight: 16.3 g (dry)

On the nib: "ORDER / 14 KT / 5 / GOLD PEN".

These two pens show how copying was, and still is, a universal shortcut. And that Japan was paying close attention to what was happening beyond her borders.

My thanks to Mr. Sugimoto and Mr. Shobutsuen.

Yamada buffalo horn and silver – Pelikan 4001 Brilliant Brown

Bruno Taut
Nakano, December 13th 2019
etiquetas: Wahl Eversharp, Sailor, Order

12 December 2019

On Manu Propria

Manu Propria is the brainchild of Martin Pauli, the Swiss craftsman behind the watch brand Angular Momentum founded in 1998. In 2013, searching for larger canvas to display his ability with urushi, and frustrated with the current state of affairs in the watch industry, Martin Pauli created the Manu Propria, a pen brand.

These pens are, in general, made of ebonite –mostly Japanese, occasionally German. But Martin Pauli also uses wood and bamboo on his pens, and is not shy about combining materials —metal and ebonite, wood and ebonite— to ensure the durability of the pen.

Manu Propria at the Madrid Pen Show in 2015.

But the fundamental characteristic of Manu Propria pens is the urushi-e decoration. Urushi-e, as opposed to the sprinkled motifs of maki-e, are colorful patterns formed by layers of urushi of different thickness, with the occasional use of seeds or other materials. There are hundreds of these patterns, and Martin Pauli has used well over 100 of them.

Pen-wise, Manu Propria pens are usually cartridge-converters, but they can also be inked as eyedroppers as the metallic parts in direct contact with the ink are gold plated. A couple of models, though, are exclusively eyedroppers.

Nibs and feeds are JoWo, which guarantees a reliable, even if boring, performance.

Manu Propria pens are not signed and look anonymous to the less trained eye.

Manu Propria pens at Itoya Ginza in March of 2018.

Negoro nuri is one of the traditional decorative techniques employed by Pauli. On it, the upper red urushi layer looks worn out by use, revealings the underlying black layer.

That is the decoration of the following pen—a pocket model. As a pen, it is a cartridge-converter with a size 6 JoWo nib of 18 K gold. And it can also be inked as an eyedropper.

Pocket pen of the Negoro Nuri Series by Manu Propria.

The pen performs correctly, albeit with no particular character. It is solidly made--the metallic parts on cap and section really contribute to that feeling. The ebonite threads, however, are too sharp and could take some polishing. There are also numerous cut shavings inside the pen that could be understood as a sign of a craftsman's product. In some markets, though, those shavings mean an unclean and unfinished good. That is the case of Japan.

A cartridge-converter pen that can be eyedropped.

These are the dimensions of the pen:

Length closed: 111 mm
Length open: 97 mm
Length posted: 133 mm
Diameter: 17.3 mm
Weight: 23.3 g (dry)
Ink deposit: 0.6 ml (cartridge); 2.3 ml (as eyedropper)

Of course, this pen posts well. In fact, it must be posted.

All in all, it is an interesting pen, but expensive and not particularly refined on its machining. The Japonesque look might help to succeed in the current market, albeit no sane mind would claim these were Japanese.

Manu Propria pocket Negoro Nuri – Pelikan Black

Bruno Taut
Nakano, October 2nd 2018
etiquetas: Manu Propria, Suiza, urushi-e, JoWo