Showing posts with label Kato Seisakusho. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kato Seisakusho. Show all posts

22 January 2018

La Visconti Giapponese

Sometimes reading the pen is truly helpful. Well, mostly always.

At the past Madrid Pen Show I saw the pen on the photograph.

A Visconti. A Visconti?

On it, the signs on the box and on the clip did not really match with the pen itself. The logo of Visconti and the plain inscription on the clip contrasted with the basic structure of the pen—a Japanese eyedropper coated with red urushi. The nib, or rather its engraving, provided the final clue—it was signed by GK, Kabutogi Ginjiro, and the pen is, most likely, a Ban-ei made by Sakai Eisuke (lathe work), Kabutogi Ginjiro (nib), Tsuchida Shuichi (assembly), and Takahashi Kichitaro (urushi coating).

A Ban-ei pen with "nashiji" decoration. Nib signed by Kabutogi Ginjiro.

The additional literature included in the box describes, in Italian, the virtues of the “lacca giapponese” (urushi, of course) and speaks of its long history. It also includes instructions on how to fill and use the pen. Finally, it declares that the pen was part of a limited edition of 100 pens per year, but it does not disclose for how long. This particular unit was made in 1990 as it is numbered as 007/90... out of 100 pens made. (NOTE added on Sept. 2020: Some reports --see comments-- speak of serial numbers over 100 despite what the pen docs claim. So we should add some pinches of salt to those words despite coming from Visconti).

So, what was Visconti doing at that time? How come this very Japanese pen showed up under an Italian brand?

Visconti started its operation in 1988 and immediately contacted the Japanese lathe master Kato Kiyoshi, with whom Visconti would later collaborate in the fabrication of some models, including some versions of the Ragtime. And it is also at this time that Visconti contacted Sakai Eisuke and his team.

Apparently, there was at least two series of pens made by the Ban-ei group for the Italian brand. The first one, to which the pen shown today belongs, had a golden ring on the cap. As was mentioned before, Visconti released 100 units per year and there are records of at least two batches: 1990 and 1991. About the colors, some sources say that there were pens in ro-iro (black) urushi, but I am only aware of pens made in shu-urushi (red) as the one here shown. The clip inscriptions are either "VISCONTI" or "URUSHI".

The GK-signed nib of the Visconti Ban-ei. Note also the inscription on the clip: "VISCONTI".

A second series of Ban-ei pens were produced at a later date—1993 or 1995. On this occasion, the pens carried no rings and came in three colors: black (100 units), red (100 units), and green (50 units). The units I have seen have their clips engraved with the word "URUSHI", but there might be other other texts on them.

Some people speak of a third batch of pens previous to the first series here described. They could have been prototypes and test products later marketed by Visconti.

These are the dimensions of the pen I found at the Madrid Pen Show (2017) that belongs to the first series, and was made in 1990:

Length closed: 145 mm
Length open: 126.5 mm
Length posted: 176 mm
Diameter: 16.5 mm
Weight (dry): 25.3 g
Ink deposit: 3.3 ml

The cap ring carries the unit number of the series over the production year. This particular unit is the 007.90: number 7 (out of 100) made in 1990.

It is interesting to note that these Japanese Viscontis seem to predate those Danitrio-commissioned (::1::, ::2::) that are much better known. However, these Visconti pens remained essentially anonymous, as was customary on Ban-ei pens, and the Italian brand did not even declare where they had been made.

Of course!—we all know by now that GK was a magnificent Italian nibmeister… But reading the pen helps to know what you had on your hands beyond what labels and inscriptions might say.

Platinum 70th anniversary, green celluloid – Sailor Yama-dori

Bruno Taut
Nakano, January 17th 2018
labels: Ban-ei, Visconti, Danitrio, Italia, Japón, nibmeister Kabutogi Ginjiro, maki-e

01 March 2016

Kato in Italy

The figure of Kiyoshi Kato is well known to the readers this blog. He holds a quasi-mythical image as itinerant pen maker in Egypt, Italy, Hong Kong and Japan.

In the 1990s he worked for the Italian company Visconti, founded in 1988 in Florence, making some of the early celluloid pens of the brand. Such is the case of the following example.

Visconti Ragtime II.

The monotone 18 K gold nib. It reads "VISCONTI / 18 K - 750 / FIRENZE / M". The inscription on the clip: "FIRENZE VISCONTI / ITALY RAGTIME".

It is a Visconti Ragtime (thanks, Peaceable Writer) from the second series (aka Ragtime II, with a monotone 18 K nib) in production between 1994 and 1999. It is made of cellulose nitrate sheet, rolled and welded.

Some argue that this approach –rolling and welding—is superior to turning a solid rod because the final cylinder is less likely to shrink and contract over the years. The obvious side effect is the existence of a welding like on body and cap. The flat ends of the Ragtime are, in actual terms, lids to the rolled cylinder and are welded to it, as can be seen on the following picture.

The welding line on the barrel made of cellulose nitrate.

The piston knob shows the black lid of the celluloid cylinder, welded to it.

These are the dimensions of this piston filler:
Length closed: 139 mm
Length open: 124 mm
Length posted: 165 mm
Diameter: 12 mm
Weight: ca 19.7 g (inked)

Kato’s engagement with Visconti ended around 2000. Since the mid 1990s, he and his wife had started making pens in Japan for the Japanese market. This was his last endeavour—he passed away in 2010.

My thanks to Mr. Shimizu.

Gama Forever – Montblanc Racing Green

Bruno Taut
Nakano March 1st, 2016
etiquetas: Visconti, Kato Seisakusho

14 December 2015

Kato 2000

Kato Kiyoshi, the thinking head behind Kato Seisakushô pens, died in January of 2010. This company was Kato’s last endeavor after a life of turning pens here and there, in Europe and in the Middle East. His legacy passed onto Mr. Onishi, a former worker in Kato Seisakushô company.

Kato Seisakushô's model 2000.

Onishi and Kato share a taste for anonymity and for celluloid. The lack of external markings and the irregular distributions of these pens –both Onishi’s and Kato’s— pose a number of problems on the side of the buyer. And that is what happened to me when I saw the pen I am presenting today: How many Kato’s pens remain unsold? How do we distinguish them from those made by Onishi? Is there, in fact, any real difference between them?

Today’s pen –I was assured by knowledgeable sources— belongs to the last series produced by Kato Kiyoshi and, therefore, dates back from 2009. In fact, the size and the shape match the records of the model 2000 of Kato’s pens.

This model 2000 is a cartridge-converter pen, and it implements a 14 k gold nib. As in the case of the model 800F, already described on these Chronicles, the nib inscription is very non-descriptive: “SUPERIOR / 14 K / LIFETIME / GRATIFY / JAPAN”. However, the size and dimensions of this nib are the same as those of the big size nibs made by Sailor, which is not surprising by now. But contrary to the usual Sailor policy, these nibs implemented by Mr. Kato are not engraved with any dating code.

Nibs and feeds of the Kato's model 2000 (left) and of a big size Sailor nib (right).

Two Kato Seisakushô's models: 800F and 2000. Note the differences in the nib size.

The celluloid of this pen deserves some additional note. Traditional celluloid was a family of compounds of cellulose nitrate and camphor (plus dyes and some other agents). Modern celluloids were developed later and substituted the former in some applications, film stock to name just one, due to the instability and flammability of the old compound. However, some high end pens, particularly by Italian makers, still use some variations of the classical formulation. And this seems to be the case of this Kato Seisakushô’s pen: it has a very distinctive camphor smell, very noticeable inside the cap and inside the barrel.

These are the dimensions of this pen:

Length closed: 144 mm
Length open: 125 mm
Length posted: 163 mm
Diameter: 15 mm
Weight: 23.0 g (with converter, dry)

(Note on Oct 2017: I had included a reference to a video published on YouTube by user VirtuThe3rdTV where both Mr. Kato and Mr. Onishi could be seen making pens on the lathe. The whole channel by VirtuThe3rdTV has been eliminated and the videos are not available).

My thanks to Mr. Sunami.

Parker 51 demi, vacumatic – Private Reserve DC Supershow Blue

Bruno Taut
Madrid, December 13rd, 2015
etiquetas: Kato Seisakushô, Onishi Seisakushô, Sailor

28 February 2014


Nibmeister Kato Kiyoshi died in January of 2010. His former apprentice Onishi took over his legacy, or his remaining stock, to continue producing fountain pen made of celluloid. As was the case of Kato Seisakusho’s, Onishi Seisakusho’s pens are not labeled with any brand name, which easily triggers the confusion—is this a Kato’s or a Onishi’s pen? Or none of the above? Only recently, by 2012, Onishi started to make pens with new colors instead of using the old inherited stock.

An Onishi Seisakusho pen in tortoise celluloid.

The Onishi pen on display today is a cartridge-converter one made of tortoise celluloid. The nib, as was the case on cheaper Kato Seisakusho’s, is a Schmidt unit made of steel.

The Schmidt nib, made of stainless steel.

Inside, a boring and efficient converter (international).

These are its dimensions:
  • Length closed: 140 mm
  • Length open: 122 mm
  • Length posted: 160 mm
  • Diameter: 13 mm
  • Weight (inked): 24.2 g

The clip remind that often used by Pilot, but it was also implemented on some Kato Seisakusho's pens.

My thanks to Mr. Kikukawa.

Pilot V (Super 200), falcon nib – Pilot Blue-black

Bruno Taut
Yokohama, February 27st, 2014
etiquetas: Kato Seisakushô, Onishi Seisakushô, Schmidt

26 February 2014

Undercover Sailor

Last week I described the case of the nibs made by the company Ishikawa-Kinpen Seisakushô for Ferme and how those nibs were labeled with the JIS registration number (3231) of the nib maker and the name of the pen company, Ferme. Not much information on the nib maker, but enough to track down the actual origin despite being sold by a different company. And in the way of writing that text, I found another interesting example of anonymous –or not so anonymous— nib.

Nibmeister Kato Kiyoshi is a sort of a mythical figure in the Japanese pen scene. His story of travels and business in the Middle East and in Europe made him a man of action whose novel has not yet been written. He finally settled in Osaka and in the 1990s he started marketing his pens also in Japan. These Kato pens –Kato Seisakushô pens— were made of celluloid and were not labeled with any brand name. The pen box had a very generic and uninformative “Celluloid Pen / Hand Crafted / Made in Japan” sign, and nothing else.

Kato Seisakushô's model 800F. A piston filler with a gold nib.

Neither very helpful were the nibs. Those made of steel, usually associated to cartridge-converter pens, were Schmidt. Those in 14 K gold, often in piston fillers, were more obscure. Their engraving was, again, very uninformative: “SUPERIOR / 14K / LIFETIME / GRATIFY / JAPAN”. However, it seems that those gold nibs are likely to be Sailor’s. Masamichi Sunami says so on his Fountain Pens of Japan, and it seems to be generally accepted among the Japanese stylophiles.

A Sailor's medium nib in 21 K gold, and the unbranded 14 K gold nib of the Kato Seisakushô's pen.

On my side, I can only add that the size and shape of this “Superior” nib is the same as that of Sailor’s nibs in medium size, made of both 14 K and 21 K gold. In fact, they are interchangeable, as can be seen on the pictures of this Chronicle. Of course, this proves nothing, and the title of this Chronicles should have an additional question mark: Undercover Sailor?

A Kato Seisakushô Profit (top) and a Sailor Realo in celluloid (bottom)? Their nibs are perfectly interchangeable.

In any event, in the case of these gold nibs –Sailor’s or not—, Kato Seisakusho’s pens belong to the group of companies that hide the origin of their nibs, like Hakase and Ohashido. Maybe we could find out where they came from, but it is not obvious.

My thanks to Mr. Murase.

Platinum pocket pen (1967), manifold nib – Platinum Violet

Bruno Taut
Yokohama, February 25th, 2014
etiquetas: Ferme, Ishikawa-Kinpen Seisakushô, Kato Seisakushô, Sailor, plumín, Hakase, Ohashido, Schmidt

29 March 2011

Kato's Pens

Not much information is available about Kato Seisakushô pen company, but it attracts a lot of expectation among pen enthusiasts. Possibly, its rarity makes it all the more appealing.

These pens have a very irregular distribution. The main sources are two websites –Pen House and Pen Meister. Lately, Kato Seisakushô pens could be seen at a only couple of shops in Tokyo, which is the only Japanese city I truly know, and in the catalog of an eBay vendor. Most of the information come from those websites and is written in Japanese. However, some translations can be found in some fora. And that is basically it.

The scarce literature on the Net is a mixture of facts and myths. Mr. Kiyoshi Kato founded his workshop in Osaka after –they claim— fathering fountain pens in Arabia and creating some pen factories in Egypt. All in the years of the Second World War… Mr. Kato was also responsible for some pens of the Italian brand Visconti.

This company’s selling point is that the pens are hand crafted in celluloid: “Celluloid Pen / Hand Crafted / Made in Japan”, that is all we can read on the cardboard boxes. On the pen, the only written sign is on the nib: they are either Schmidt –those in steel— or just “made in Japan” for those in 14 K gold. Again, that is all the information we can get from the pen itself.

Now, how interesting are these pens? Yes, they are made in celluloid. Other than that, most of them employ the international cartridge/converter system and implement steel nibs. Higher grade pens use 14 K gold nibs, ebonite feeds and integrated piston self-filling systems. Such is mine—a 800F model about which I should write a full review.

(Katoseisakusho 800F – Sailor Hiroko’s Green)

Bruno Taut
March 28, 2011
[labels: Japón, Katoseisakusho]

16 July 2010


There is something reactionary in this hobby called stylophilia. Those infected by this strange virus pay attention to an object whose prime time is long gone. We insist in using some utensils that are not convenient given the technological advances in the last fifty years. So, once the convenience of use is no longer an argument, almost anything goes.

Fountain pens have evolved a lot along their 150 years of history. One of the systems that has seen more changes is that related to the way the pen is filled with ink. From the dip pens with no ink deposit to the present disposable pens, a number of technical solutions have been proposed and developed. All of them, in practical terms, fit into these three categories: eyedroppers, self-fillers, cartridges.

Eyedropper pens need an external device –an eyedropper or a syringe— to fill the pen barrel with ink. This is an old system, but these pens have the great advantages of a big ink reservoir and of no technical complication.

A Sheaffer pen with the complex snorkel self-filling system.

Self-fillers, on the contrary, need of some internal deposit and of some device to pump the ink from the inkwell through the nib and feed. These systems are really varied—from piston fillers to aerometric bladders to levers acting on rubber sacs… These pens are the most technically complex in the market. Their ink deposits can be both big and small—each pen is different on this.

Cartridges and converters of the three major Japanese pen companies.

Nowadays, however, most newly made pens use sealed cartridges together –if the pen allowed so— with ad-hoc converters to make the pen to work as a self-filler. These pens, usually, have small ink capacity, given by the cartridge or converter, but their cartridges are small and easy to carry.

Two German piston fillers: a Pelikan 400NN (Merz & Krell, 1970s), and a Soennecken 110 (1950s).

Some brands remain loyal to self-filling systems. That is the case of Pelikan, for instance. Others opt for the simplicity of cartridges and converters. That is the case of most Japanese manufacturers, although recently they have marketed a couple of self-filling models. Some of their top models, however, are eyedroppers.

One of the few Japanese modern examples of self-filling pen. A piston-filler Katoseisakusho made in celluloid.

So, the final decision pertains to the collector or to the user. The convenience of the cartridge or the romantic tradition of the self-filling or eyedropper systems?

This discussion is never ending and often leads nowhere. Weight and technical complexity or ease of use and reliability? A second pen as a back up or a spare cartridge in the pocket? Romantic authenticity —whatever that might mean— or ease of use?

At the end, companies are catering the cravings of the buyer, not to mention that there exist a vast number of old pens with any technical solution. There are pens in all price ranges with either of the systems: self-fillers, cartridge only pens, cartridge and converter pens, eyedroppers… The exception, however, might be that of currently-produced eyedroppers—new eyedroppers tend to be very expensive.

It is my impression, however, that most stylophiles prefer self-filling fountain pens. Some, very ardently, following the backwardness of the fountain pen use.

As for myself, I am very eclectic on this matter. I do dislike disposable pens, although I manage to refill them. And I rather stay away from cartridge-only pens, despite I am fond of refilling cartridges with the ink of my choice.

Now, you, fellow stylophile reader, what do you prefer?

(Sailor 21 Black pocket pen – Sailor Brown)

Bruno Taut
(Inagi, July 11-12 2010)
[labels: estilofilia, Pelikan, Soennecken, soluciones técnicas, Katoseisakusho, Sheaffer, conversor, Japón, Merz and Krell]