Showing posts with label nibmeister Kabutogi Ginjirô. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nibmeister Kabutogi Ginjirô. Show all posts

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

17 January 2019

Ohashido (I)

Besides the big three Japanese pen companies –Pilot-Namiki, Platinum-Nakaya, and Sailor– there are a bunch of small operations, some of which I have described on these Chronicles: Masahiro, Eboya,... I haven't spoken much about Ôhashidô, and that despite being very active in the local (Japanese) market.

Ôhashidô –Ôhashidô Ltd.– was formally founded in 1965, but it has its origins in Tokyo in 1912, when Yoshiharu Uemura open his workshop in Asakusa while working for SSS, the big company of the time. He moved to Sendai, about 300 km north of Tokyo, after the Big Kanto Earthquake in 1923 to work with inventor Kazuyoshi Hiratsuka. The new shop was located close to the Big Bridge (Ô-hashi) over the river Hirose. Ôhashidô means “the hall of the big bridge”.

The business was completely destroyed during the War. The operation revived around 1950 in the hands of Yoshiharu's son Eiichi Uehara, but not through manufacturing pens but by fixing them. The production of pens was resumed some years later, and by 1965 Ôhashidô Ltd. started formally.

In 2010, Eiichi's son Yuuichi Uehara took control of the company. He has become very active in the Japanese scene by attending a big number of sale events hosted by stationers and department stores where he sells his pens directly.

Yuuichi Uehara at work in Maruzen stationery in Nihonbashi (Tokyo).

The traveling rokuro (traditional lathe).

Ôhashidô's operation is quite unique. It seems anchored in the pre-industrial era. There is barely any system in the production: there are no model names, the warranty card is just Uehara's business card, there are no instruction sheets, etc... Contacting him is not easy either—he has no public email address, and only very recently he open a website (

As for the pens, they are made mostly in ebonite –sometimes from Nikko Ebonite, some other from old stocks of unclear origin--, and implement Sailor nibs of sizes medium and big (following Sailor names) in both 14 K and 21 K grades. In fact, for some time, Ohashido offered big nibs made of 14 K gold, which was not an option on Sailor pens. In a more distant past, Ohashido used nibs by Ishiwaka Kinpen Seisakusho, Kabutogi Ginjiro, and even Ishi Shoten (Yotsubishi). Some sources also speak of nibs made by Eiichi Uehara himself.

A big Ôhashidô nib made of 14 K gold. Of course, made by Sailor.

Pens for sale...

All current Ôhashidô pens use Sailor cartridges and converters. The later, at least, if the barrel was big enough, of course.

And on another Chronicle I will describe some Ôhashidô pen in detail.

Elysee pen, unknown model – Aurora Black

Bruno Taut
Nakano, January 2019
etiquetas: Sailor, Ohashido, Ishikawa Kinpen Seisakusho, Yotsubishi, nibmeister Kabutogi Ginjiro

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

16 June 2017

On Ban-ei Nibs

On this text, some more notes on Ban-ei (挽栄) pens, including some corrections to my own words.

These pens made by Sakai Eisuke (酒井栄助) and coworkers (Kabutogi, Takahashi, Tsuchida, Kitamura, Nakamura) are difficult to follow. They are, for the most part, unmarked with any brand name, and as a result they are invisible to many aficionados.

Ebonite bodies, often lacquered, occasional maki-e and urushi-e motifs, mostly gold nibs, Japanese eyedropper filling system (albeit with exceptions), teardrop clips… All these are some usual features of Ban-ei pens, but in no case are they exclusive to them.

The only element in Ban-ei pens that carried some sort of marking were the nibs, although not always. Many of these pens implemented nibs made by Kabutogi Ginjiro (兜木銀次郎), and these were more often than not labeled in one way or another—either through some JIS number (3233, 4622, 4922), some of the brands owned by this nibmeister or, more often, through the initials GK.

On this case, the nib is labeled with the brand name "Steady", one of the brands registered by the nibmeister Kabutogi Ginjiro. Its JIS number was 3233, but it is not engraved on this particular nib.

A balance model with the wrongly named "Kamakura bori" decoration.

The nib is marked with the JIS no. 4622, associated to the factory Kabutogi Seisakusho Tabata and to the brand name Seilon.

However, Ban-ei pens also implemented a number of other nibs, and many were simply not signed at all. In particular, Ban-ei used Platinum and Sailor nibs. On both cases, the engraving was the same: “WARRANTED / 585 / 14 KARAT / PEN / IRIDIOSUMIN”, but their geometries are different, as can be seen on the picture.

Two Ban-ei pens with very different nibs--Sailor on the left, Platinum on the right. The later belongs to the Danitrio-commissioned series.

Close up of the nibs. Sailor on the left, Platinum on the right. The engraved text is the same --“WARRANTED / 585 / 14 KARAT / PEN / IRIDIOSUMIN”--, but not so is the size of the fonts. The Platinum nib is flatter than the Sailor.

In the mid 1990s, as we have already seen on these Chronicles, the company Danitrio commissioned some pens to the old troupe of artisans. On this occasion, the pens were properly labeled as “Ban-ei - 挽栄” on the cap lip, thus eliminating the anonymity of the previous works. Regarding the nibs of these pens, there is some conflicting information. For the most part, the nibs of the Danitrio Ban-ei pens are Platinum, but there is also a small batch of nibs carrying a special engraving: 復刻手造万年筆 (fukkoku tezukuri mannenhitsu), reissue hand-made fountain pen. The geometry of these nibs differs greatly from those made by Platinum. It is, in fact, very close to the geometry of the nibs signed with the initials GK.

Danitrio founder Bernard Lyn suggests on this book Maki-e, an Art for the Soul (Dani International Corporation, 2003) that it was Kabutogi’s son, by the name of Toshiya, the new nibmeister of the Ban-ei team after his father (Gingiro) had passed away. And I reproduced this idea on these same pages. However, further investigations in Tokyo pointed out that Kabutogi Toshiya was not a nibmeister and could not be the artisan behind those nibs. Sure enough, he had good contacts in Tokyo and probably access to old spare parts. The consequence of all this, then, is that we might need to add a pinch of salt to the claim that those nibs had been made by Kabutogi’s son.

Four Ban-ei pens. Clockwise from the red urushi pen: Danitrio Ban-ei with the special engraving (復刻手造万年筆) nib, balance model with "nashiji" decoration and GK nib, Danitrio Ban-ei with "nashiji" decoration and Platinum nib, and balance model with maki-e decoration (rabbit and moon motif) and Sailor nib.

Close up of the previous pens. Note the similar geometry of the two nibs on the back--the one with the special engraving and the GK nib. Both are very cylindrical and have heart-shaped breathing holes.

In fact, Mr. Eizo Fujii never mentions the figure of Kabutogi Toshiya on his article “The fountain pens of Sakai Eisuke” (Shumi-no Bungubaku, 34, p. 120-124). On it, Mr Fujii mentions Kabutogi Ginjiro and Platinum as the sources for the nibs of the Danitrio Ban-ei pens.

Lambrou and Sunami, on their side, speak of early Ban-ei pens equipped with nibs manufactured by Ishikawa Kinpen Seisakusho (JIS no. 3231), from Tokyo. This company provided nibs to a number of makers, including Ferme.

A Ban-ei with a Henckel nib made of steel.

A Henckel nib (JIS no. 3417). There are no records of any collaboration between Henckel and Sakai Eisuke, but there are a number of Ban-ei pens out there with this same nib.

Finally, there are some Ban-ei pens sporting exotic nibs. Certainly, many of them are the result of absurd combinations often driven by necessity. But some others are not so easy to diagnose. A case in point is a group of Ban-ei pens implementing steel nibs manufactured by Henckel (JIS no. 3417). There are no records, apparently, of such collaboration, but it is also unusual to see a number of pens with the very same nib. Some aficionados have suggested that these Henckel nibs were attached to remaining Ban-en bodies that were never put to sale.

The obvious conclusion is the variety of sources to the nibs implemented by Sakai Eisuke and collaborators. Those made by nibmeister Kabutogi Ginjiro are indeed relevant and even common, but by no means are those GK nibs the only ones; not to mention that this nibmeister was very prolific and worked for a number of brands.

In any event, what matters here is that Ban-ei pens are still a mystery. But that might be the fate a small and artisanal operation with few written records. And some people indeed feel the strong appeal of these almost anonymous pens.

Bernard LYN. Maki-e, an Art for the Soul. Dani International Corporation, 2003.
Eizo FUJII. “酒井栄助の万年筆” (Sakai Eisuke no mannenhitsu; The fountain pens of Sakai Eisuke). Shumi-no Bungubaku, 34, p. 120-124 (2015).
A. LAMBROU & M. SUNAMI. Fountain Pens of Japan. Andreas Lambrou Publishers Ltd., 2012.

Sheaffer 1250 – Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-jaku

Bruno Taut
Nakano, June 14th, 2017
etiquetas: Ban-ei, Platinum, Sailor, plumín, Sakai Eisuke, nibmeister Kabutogi Ginjiro, Danitrio, Ishikawa Kinpen Seisakusho, Ferme, Henckel

22 March 2017

Onoto Type by Sakai Eisuke

Ban-ei pens have shown up several times on these Chronicles and the basic data are is well known. But the devil is in the details: Sakai Eisuke and his team did not leave much information behind and any pen can be a source for more knowledge.

The following pen seems to have been made in the 1960s. It is an “Onoto-type” pen, so popular in Japan even nowadays. On the information sheet accompanying we can read that this is a pen inspired on the Onoto model of 1918, with a plunger filling system. Needless to say, the Japanese pen does not use any self-filling operation but the very dear Japanese eyedropper system (::1::, ::2::) derived from the old Onoto plunger.

On this picture, both threads of the ink deposit and of thr shut-off valve are half unscrewed.

This pen is designed to be posted, although the final length is quite long--180 mm.

Classical design of the section of an "Onoto-type" Japanese pen.

The information sheet also states that the pen is the work of just two people—Kabutogi Ginjiro, nib, and Sakai Eisuke, body. And the two other regular actors of the Ban-ei group, Tsuchida and Takahashi, are absent, which points out at the idea of this being a precursor of what later would become the Ban-ei/Tsuchida brand of pens. But, to what are we calling Ban-ei or Tsuchida pens?

The information sheet signed by Kabutogi Ginjiro (兜木銀次郎) and Sakai Eisuke (酒井栄助).

The nib, made of 14 K gold, is engraved with the name of one of the Kabutogi’s registered brands—Steady: “K14 / Steady / Special / Perfect / -<3>- / Pen”.

The Steady nib made by Kabutogi Ginjiro (JIS no. 3233, although there is no JIS mark on this nib).

These are the dimensions of this Onoto-style pen:

Length closed: 147 mm
Length open: 142 mm
Length posted: 180 mm
Diameter: 11.0 mm
Weight: 11.8 g (dry)
Ink deposit: 2.8 ml

This particular pen was commissioned by Seibu Department Stores in Tokyo.

The weak point in the Japanese eyedropper pens--the point where the rod operating the shut-off valve enters the ink deposit.

The weak point of this pen is the back seal between the valve rod and the ink deposit. This is the main source of problems in Japanese eyedropper pens.

Sailor Profit, Naginata Togi – Tomikei Blue.

Bruno Taut
Nakano, March 21st, 2017
etiquetas: Ban-ei, Kabutogi Ginjiro, Steady, Onoto

06 November 2016

Las Danitrio Japonesas

Some weeks ago, my fellow blogger and friend Pedro Haddock published a very interesting article on a Danitrio pen on his blog “El pajarete orquidiado”. I then thought that I could offer some additional information on the story of the Ban-ei pens commissioned by Danitrio in the mid 1990s. This is the resulting text, this time written in Spanish as the information in this language on Danitrio is scarce.

I also wanted to recommend a visit to Pedro Haddock’s blog, one of the most interesting pen blogs written in Spanish. Remember that online translators are there to help you.

Danitrio, como ya está bien explicado, es esa empresa californiana fundada por el taiwanés Bernard Lyn que ahora se centra en plumas de lujo con decoración maki-e. El embrujo de esta decoración de Asia Oriental atrapó a su fundador alrededor del año 2000, pero previamente había hecho alguna aproximación muy interesante. Para explicarla hay que retroceder bastantes años.

La figura de Sakai Eisuke tiene algo de mito en Japón. Nació en 1916 y desde su adolescencia estuvo dedicado a aprender los secretos del rokuro”, el torno tradicional japonés. Alrededor de los años 70 dirigió un pequeño grupo de artesanos –Tsuchida, Ginjiro, Nakamura, Takahashi— en la producción de unas plumas de gran calidad, pero sin nombre. Son las denominadas “Ban-ei” (挽栄), que era el nombre de trabajo de Sakai Eisuke, o “Tsuchida” (Tsuchida Shuichi), que era el encargado del montaje final de las piezas. En muchas de ellas, la única marca que permite su identificación es el grabado de las letras GK en el plumín. GK era Kabutogi Ginjiro, pero no era el único proveedor de plumines para estas plumas, por lo que hay otras plumas con el mismo origen, pero sin grabado identificador alguno.

Varios ejemplos de plumas Ban-ei.

Casi todas estas viejas Ban-ei eran plumas de cuentagotas con válvula de cierre (sistema de cuentagotas japonés), aunque hay ejemplos de llenado por “plunger filler”. Casi todas ellas están decoradas con laca urushi, o con motivos maki-e muy discretos. Pero hay un reducido número de plumas con decoraciones muy lujosas, habitualmente producto de encargos especiales.

Las fechas de esta operación son inciertas y nunca está claro cuáles son los artesanos que intervienen en cada una de esas plumas. Las plumas más recientes de este grupo son de 2004. Y Sakai Eisuke falleció en 2011.

Tres Ban-ei. La primera desde arriba lleva el grabado el nombre Ban-ei en la banda del capuchón. Las otras dos, no.

Dos de los plumines (en el centro y a la derecha) llevan grabadas las iniciales GK, de Kabutogi Ginjiro. El tercero (a la izquierda), perteneciente a la encargada por Danitrio, no. Este plumín fue fabricado por Sailor Platinum.

El anonimato de este grupo se rompió brevemente a mediados de los años 90. Bernard Lyn les propuso hacer una serie de plumas para Danitrio. Llevarían grabado el nombre Ban-ei, en japonés y en caracteres latinos (挽栄 - Ban-ei), y serían unas ediciones limitadas de pocos cientos de unidades. Y Danitrio no las firmaba.

Tres Danitrio japonesas.

En los capuchones, a la izquierda, se pueden ver los grabados "Ban-ei". El más cercano de los plumines fue hecho por Kabuitogi Ginjiro. Los otros dos son Sailor Platinum.

Estas son las Danitrio Ban-ei, las Danitrio japonesas: plumas hechas en Japón, por un grupo de venerables artesanos japoneses para una empresa estadounidense dirigida por un taiwanés. Todas ellas son plumas de cuentagotas japonés y con decoración de laca urushi o maki-e muy discreto. Los plumines son, en su gran mayoría, Sailor Platinum, aunque hay un reducido número de ellos hechos por el mencionado Kabutogi Ginjiro. Estos llevan una inscripción en japonés: 復刻手造万年筆, réplica hecha a mano. ¡Réplica hecha por el propio Kabutogi!

Una Danitrio Ban-ei con decoración "shu-urushi".

Al contrario que las Ban-ei quasi-anónimas, estas Danitrio japonesas se encuentran más fácilmente fuera de Japón. Al fin y al cabo, Danitrio tiene su mercado, sobre todo, en Estados Unidos.

NOTA añadida en junio de 2017: He hecho unas correcciones sobre la procedencia de los plumines de las Danitrio Ban-ei, que son Platinum en lugar de Sailor, como erróneamente decía. Más información, en la crónica On Ban-ei Nibs.

Ban-ei con plumín Henckel – Pilot azul

Bruno Taut
Nakano, octubre de 2016
etiquetas: Ban-ei, Danitrio, Kabutogi Ginjiro, Japón, Estados Unidos, maki-e, Platinum

02 August 2014


The information I offer today is already known—Kabutogi Ginjirô was a remarkable Japanese nibmeister who worked for a number of pen brands, including some of his own. And he was also responsible for the creation of some fake Pelikan nibs.

Today’s example is very significant. It is a wonderful paradox, a blatant contradiction. How could a Pelikan nib be engraved with the Japan Industrial Standards (JIS) mark and the registration number of a Japanese company? 4622 was registered to Kabutogi Ginjirô in connection to its brand Seilon, as we already saw.

A Japan-made Pelikan?

How far are countries willing to go in order to protect the local economy? Nowadays, Japan complains about China’s industry of counterfeit products but, didn’t Japan engage in these same activities back in the 1950s and 1960s?

This JIS-marked Pelikan nib is a stubborn proof.

My thanks to Mr. Sunami.

Inoxcrom 77, steel nib – Platinum Black

Bruno Taut
Nakano, August 1st 2014
etiquetas: Pelikan, Japón, nibmeister Kabutogi Ginjirô, Seilon

14 May 2013

More GK

GK stands for Ginjirô Kabutogi. Or, Kabutogi Ginjirô (兜木銀次郎) in Japanese—family name first. We saw those letters imprinted on a couple of Ban-ei pen nibs, and those letters were, in fact, the only real identification of those pens.

On this things were different. For one, the pen is labeled with the name DIA on the clip and on the nib. In this case, two other signs showed that nibmeister Kabutogi was involved—the brand Steady and the number 3233, which was the Japan Industrial Standard associated to pen operations Steady and Ideal, owned by Kabutogi.

The pen clip. Rolled 14 K gold, and labeled as DIA.

The inscription on the nib reads "Steady / DIA / LIFETIME / 14K / JIS logo / 3233".

Lambrou and Sunami describe Diamond as a family business founded in 1948 in Ôsaka by Shibata Tetsuo. The production of fountain pens, under brand names Diamond and DIA, was greatly improved in 1957, when Nishikawa Noburu, skilled craftsman and pen maker, joined the company. However, the pen production ceased by mid 1960s.

Most Diamond pens were made of celluloid or of lacquered ebonite. Today’s pen belongs to the second group, and it is decorated with a maki-e technique called togidashimon. On it, different colored layers are applied to the surface, and are later cut or polished to reveal a colorful pattern in oval shape.

The barrel shows the colors of the different layers of lacquer applied on the pen. This maki-e technique technique is called togidashimon.

These are the pen dimensions:
Length capped: 144 mm
Length open: 128 mm
Length posted: 172 mm
Diameter: 14 mm
Weight (dry): 21.6 g

The pen, in this case, is an eyedropper filler with shut-off valve. Lambrou and Sunami, in their book Fountain Pens of Japan (2012, ISBN: 978-0-9571230-0), show a very similar pen, albeit with a different filling system—a lever filler. They date it in 1957.

My thanks to Mr. Chen and to Mr. Furuya.

Pilot Custom Grandee, music nib – Gary’s yellow-black iron-gall ink

Bruno Taut
Yokohama, May 14th 2013
etiquetas: Diamond, nibmeister Kabutogi, Steady