Showing posts with label maki-e. Show all posts
Showing posts with label maki-e. Show all posts

31 December 2020

Spurious Arguments

The last significant iteration of the Platinum 3776 came out in 2011 with the model 3776 Century. This version came with a shorter nib (save in the case of music nibs) and with the slip-and-seal mechanism to prevent the nib from drying up when not in use.

This model has since then been a useful canvas for the all-too-common creation of limited and special editions—the Fuji Lakes, the Nice pens, the Star Wars, the Fuji Seasonal Views...

Variations on a theme.

In 2012, Platinum marketed the pen called Jin-Shin, a limited edition of 300 units,150 for Japan, 150 for the rest of the World; both numbered over 150. As a pen, it is a variation of the 3776 Century, albeit without the slip-and-seal mechanism.

The Jin-Shin of 2012.

The main point of this pen is its maki-e decoration. Its technique is called “sumikoage taka maki-e” and it uses charcoal powder ("sumi") to form a raised surface. This technique has later been used by Platinum in a couple of pens of the Izumo series. The motif depicted on the Jin-Shin is a dragon—“Black Dragon in the Dark”.

Sexy underwear.

To justify this special edition, Platinum tries to make an argument invoking the Chinese astrology and the symbolism associated to the number 29... All in all, poorly explained mumbo jumbo, but repeated almost verbatim by retailers all around the World. However, it does not matter much—any argument is good to create yet another limited edition.


And this pen is beautiful.


Ohashido plain ebonite - Kobe Ginza, Sepia Gold (Sailor)

Bruno Taut
December 31st 2020
etiquetas: Platinum, maki-e

13 November 2020

Pocket Yotsubishi

Yet another pocket pen?

Pocket pens were not necessarily inexpensive pens despite its reduce size. In fact, as we have seen, these pens sported some unusual and exotic nibs, like those made of high purity gold in the early 1970s.

Ishi Shoten (or Ishi & Company, or Ishii Seisakusho, or Ishi Shoten Yotsubishi) was founded in 1925 by Yoshinosuke Ishii. From very early on, this company aimed at the market of maki-e and urushi-e decorated pens. After the War, this company made some of the most delicate decorated pens made in Japan. Ishi Shoten pens are usually labeled with the brand Yotsubishi (Yotubishi in an alternative transliteration).

The Ishi Shoten pen I am showing today is a pocket pen decorated with the urushi-e technique of “kanshitsu-ishime”. This is no ordinary pocket pen. As is often the case on maki-e and urushi-e pens, the decoration becomes its primary argument.

As a pen, this is a typical pocket pen. However, the decoration –the think layer of urushi— keeps it from posting fully; that is, with the cap reaching the central ring (this problem is not shown on the pictures).

A Yotsubishi pocket pen.

The dimensions are as follows:
Length closed: 119 mm
Length open: 101 mm
Length posted: 148 mm
Diameter: 13 mm
Weight: 12.3 g

The pen, in the basic disassembled state. An unusual feature of this pen is that the bottom end of the section, together with the nib and the feed, can be unscrewed from the rest. This can be useful for a thorough cleaning of the pen.

This pen uses Platinum cartridges.

The nib is made of 18 K gold and it is engraved with the four-diamond logo of Yotsubishi. This style of nib was present in other pens of the brand in the early 1960s. However, the first pocket pens, made by Sailor, were marketed in 1963.

The engraving on the nib simply says "18 K" together with the company logo on both sides.

Yotsubishi pens are hard to find and and very valued by the connoisseur. And expensive.


My thanks to Mr. Furuya.


Pilot Grandee, Sterling silver – Pilot Light Green cartridge

Bruno Taut
Nakano, November 12th 2020
etiquetas: Maki-e, Yotsubishi

28 October 2020

Le charme discret

What's the difference between the following pens?

A Platinum Izumo (top) and a President.

In essence, they are the same pen—a Platinum President with the very characteristic 18 K gold nib. The difference, beyond the factor 3 in price, is the outer layer, the decoration—plastic versus ebonite and urushi.

It is the same case of these other pens—a Platinum 3776 and a Nakaya.

A Nakaya Portable (top) and a Platinum (pre-Century) 3776.

Again, these pens share the essential parts of a pen—nib, feed, filling system. Their prices, however, are a factor 5 apart due solely to the decoration. And to marketing, of course.

Is urushi and its labor that expensive? In any event, we live in a free market and the price is marked by the seller and decided by the buyer. At least on commodities like pens.

Still life with natsume (棗).

And urushi has a subtle but undeniable charm. Paraphrasing maestro Buñuel, le charme discret de l'urushi.


Parker 61 Flighter – Unknown blue-black.

Bruno Taut
Nakano, October 28th, 2020
etiquetas: Platinum, mercado, maki-e

30 September 2020

From Kamakura to Choshitsu

The fountain pen jargon is not always accurate. At times, words acquire a new meaning to fit an old concept—that was the case of kimono as a pen wrap that I explained on these pages months ago. On other occasions, a new concept requires a new description, but the chosen words are not always adequate.

The case of Kamakura bori is, however, different.

As a maki-e/urushi-e technique, the Kamakura bori is performed by carving the substrate –usually wood— which is then lacquered and polished. Kamakura bori, in actual terms, means “Kamakura carving”, and this technique dates back to the 13th century.


Two pens with carved urushi on a tray carved in the Kamakura style.


The pens are a Ban-ei (top), and possibly an Ishi Shoten (Yotsubishi), although not signed.
Both nibs are by Kabutogi Ginjiro.

On the contrary, on the so-called Kamakura bori pens, the procedure consists first in applying several layers of urushi in different colors that are afterwads carved to expose that stack of colors.

In actual terms, this technique is a form of choshitsu or “engraving of urushi”. However, what we tend to call choshitsu usually display figurative motifs instead of the regular patterns we see on those non-Kamakura-bori pens. These complex choshitsu pens are rare and expensive.


A very traditional choshitsu pen with floral motifs.
Photo by Mr. N. Syrigonakis.

I, for one, think we should rename those non-Kamakura-bori pens as choshitsu pens.


My thanks to Mr. N. Syrigonakis.


Omas 556 – Kobe Ginza Gold Sepia

Bruno Taut
Nakano, September 30th, 2020
etiquetas: Ban-ei, maki-e, nibmeister Kabutogi Ginjiro, Yotsubishi

07 August 2020

Pilot Signing

In a recent Chronicle I published the following picture:


Three Pilot pens, three ways of signing them.

On it we can see three different Pilot pens with some forms of maki-e and raden decoration. And those pens also show the three different ways of stating the authorship of the decoration used by Pilot.

1. The Raden Toki pen (90th anniversary pen), decorated mostly with raden (mother of pearl), is not signed at all save for the obvious Pilot marking on clip and nib.


The Raden Toki of the 90th anniversary of Pilot (2008).

2. The Niô pen (Pilot's 88th anniversary pen) is signed by the “Kokkokai”, the guild of maki-e artisans working for Pilot.



The Niô pen from 2006 is signed collectively by the 国光會, Kokkokai.

The Kokkokai (国光會, the “Group Light of the Nation” in Japanese) was founded in 1931 by Gonroku Matsuda –the father of Pilot's maki-e-- with the support of Pilot's founder Ryosuke Namiki. Since then, about 140 craftsmen have formed part of the group, including about 20 currently active members.

3. Finally, any of those craftsmen could sign a pen individually together with the ideograms of Kokkokai.

That is the case of the Heisei pen of 1989. The author of the maki-e decoration was Yoshida Kyûsai, (久齋, 吉田久夫) as we can see on the pen barrel.



The Heisei pen (1989) is signed by Kyûsai (久齋) and the Kokkokai.

As I already said, the Kokkokai was founded in 1931, but it is not until after the Second World War that the name appeared on pens and other maki-e-decorated objects made by Pilot. Before the War, those same objects were labeled as “Namiki Kan” (並木监, Produced by Namiki) together with the name of the craftsman. As is the case today, there were also cases of collective authorship signed by the whole group (Namiki Kan) without the name of any particular artisan.


This pre-War pen (ca. 1938) is signed by Shisen (紫川; real name, 佐藤 紫川, Ei Sato) and produced by Namiki (Namiki Kan, 並木监). Picture by TM.

This difference is an excellent sign to determine a basic dating element of a Pilot pen: if 並木监 (Namiki Kan), pre-War. If 国光會 (Kokkokai), post-War.


My thanks to TM, whose picture is greatly appreciated.


Platinum Curidas – Private Reserve Dakota Red

Bruno Taut
Nakano, August 5th 2020
etiquetas: Pilot, maki-e

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, maki-e, JoWo

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

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

13 February 2019

Pilot in 1993

The following two pens were available in the market in the year 1993, the year of the 75th anniversary of the company.


Pilot Custom 748 on top; Pilot 75th Anniversary pen. Both from 1993.

For the occasion, Pilot created a flat top pen with a size 15 nib made of 18 K gold. It was a limited edition of 7500 units and cost JPY 50,000. This pen, as is also the case of its natural successor the Custom 845, has most of the cap and most of the body coated with urushi.


These are the nibs of the previous pens. Both are made of 18 K gold. The anniversary pen, a limited edition, has a special engraving for the occasion.

On that same year, Pilot had marketed the more luxurious versions of its workhorse fountain pen—the Pilot Custom 745 (FKK-5000G and FKK-5000MS) and 748 (FKK-8000G and FKK-8000MS), based on the Custom 742 and 743. These luxury pens had their bodies in vermeil (G models) or Sterling silver (MS models), and each of them had two possible decorative pattern: barleycorn and pinstripe. The 745s implemented size 10 nibs and cost JPY 50,000; and the 748s, size 15 nibs for JPY 80,000; on both cases with a gold purity of 18 K.


The insides of the Pilot Custom 748, implementing a black-coated CON-70 converter.

And this is the paradox—a limited edition with urushi cost less, a lot less, that the regular edition made of Sterling silver. All the rest is the same—nib, feed, filling system... JPY 50,000 vs. JPY 80,000.

It seems that in 1993, silver was a lot more valued than urushi. That does not seem to be the case nowadays on the Pilot catalog. Although there are some difference on the nibs, the Silvern series and the Custom 845 cost the same, JPY 50,000. And the second hand market also reflects this trend—limited editions preserve their value better than regular models.

Custom 745 and 748 were discontinued in Spring of 2007.



Iwase Seisakusho prototype with Henckel nib – Takeda Jimiku Hisoku

Bruno Taut
Chuo, February 12th 2019
Etiquetas: Pilot, mercado, maki-e

16 October 2018

Anonymous Music

My latest acquisition is an anonymous pen with a very non-anonymous nib. And this combination make the whole pen all the more intriguing, and, for some, appealing.

The pen, in essence, is a Japanese eyedropper, made of ebonite with a very discreet maki-e decoration –a "tanzaku" (poem cards) pattern. The clip is of the teardrop shape, just like many Ban-ei pens.


An anonymous pen. Other than the inscriptions on the nib, the only text on it says R14K, and is on the cap ring. The very discreet maki-e --a "tanzaku" pattern-- is not signed.

And this clip, together with the overall shape of the pen and the shape of the section, and even the geometry of the ebonite feed point out at Ban-ei (Sakai Eisuke) as the master mind behind it. However, this idea is nothing but a guess, although this pen is very likely to have been made in the 1960s at Asakusa area in Tokyo.


A Ban-ei pen (top) and the anonymous pen with an interesting nib. Note the similarities in the shape. The Ban-ei pen is larger in all dimensions.


Feeds and sections of the pens on the previous picture: Ban-ei on top, anonymous on bottom. This geometry of the feed was very common in Japan from the 1960s till well into the 1990s on smaller pen makers.

The comes the nib—a beautiful music nib perfectly identifiable as made by nibmeister Kubo Kohei. In fact, the nib inscription NK stands for Nobel Kubo, where Nobel is one of the brands Mr. Kubo created during his career as nib maker. The nib is likely to be a replaced unit, but it could also show the origin of the pen itself. Then, is this a Nobel pen? Many a Nobel pen were anonymous –no brand name was imprinted on the pen--, but ebonite was not a typical material on that brand as Mr. Kubo doesn’t work with the lathe.


The music nib by Kubo Kohei. It is made of steel and is gold plated. The inscriptions read " STANDARD / NK / (JIS mark) / IRIDIUM / < 3 > / NPK ".

All in all, not much we know for certain about this pen, but the nib, and the unpretentious decoration make it most interesting.

These are the dimensions of the pen:

Length closed: 138 mm
Length open: 119 mm
Length posted: 166 mm
Diameter: 13.7 mm
Weight: 16.7 g (dry)
Ink deposit: 2.3 ml

And the search for information continues…


Twsbi Eco with Kubo music nib – Aurora Black

Bruno Taut
Nakano, October 16th 2018
etiquetas: nibmeister Kubo Kohei, maki-e, Ban-ei, Nobel, marca desconocida, plumín, plumín musical