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15 July 2020

Chinese Fillings

A common complaint among stylophiles in the last years was the lack of interesting filling systems among Western (and Japanese) companies. The situation changed a bit in the last years mostly through a handful of new and small producers (Conid, Masahiro, Edison, to name just a few).

Now, paradoxically, it is the Chinese --the People's Republic of China's-- industry the one rocking the boat offering more pens with self-filling systems. It looks like the Chinese industry –or at least part of it-- had really paid attention to the requests and complaints of the Western pen community.

The results vary. Some of those filling systems are copies of other previously developed and some are entirely original. Some work, some don't.

Here I am showing a very limited selection of these (relatively) new pens, but they show five different filling systems.

Five Chinese pens with five different filling systems.

Wing Sung 3013.

The Wing Sung 3013 is clearly inspired in the Twsbi Vac 700. The filling system is a plunger—that system invented by Onoto in the beginning of the 20th century, although nowadays might be better known in the hands of Twsbi (the above-mentioned Vac 700), and Pilot (Custom 823). Its capacity is 2.0 ml when optimized.

The Wing Sung nib can be replaced with a Pilot nib. The writing experience improves.

The nib of the Wing Sung copies the geometry of some inexpensive Pilot pens (Prera, Kakuno, Cocoon, ...), and in fact it can be replaced by a Japanese unit. The detail makes the Wing Sung more attractive.

PenBBS 492. Too often you need some additional tools to make the piston move along the barrel. Not a reliable system.

The PenBBS 492 (2020 edition) uses a magnet (a Neodymium magnet) to move the piston up and down along the barrel. This system is clearly not mature for its commercial use. The magnet will lose strength with time (and heat) to the point of not being able to to drag the piston to fill the pen. Sure enough, the pen can always be filled as eyedropper, but then the whole magnet system becomes irrelevant. The ink capacity of this pen is 2.6 ml.

PenBBS 355. This second version does work, not like the first release, whose rod would have problems disengaging the piston.

The PenBBS 355 is the Chinese version of the Conid Bulkfiller system at a fraction of the price. In essence, this is a piston filler in which the manning bar goes through the seal when not in use. The result is a very large ink capacity –2.7 ml on this case-- due to the very limited volume used by the filling system.

PenBBS 500.

PenBBS 500 or Twsbi meets Conid (thanks, Fudefan!). This pen's filling system seems to be original, although it truly resembles the system used by the maker Astra in the 1940s. It is a piston filler operated by a collapsible bar with the help of an integrated spring. The result, 2.0 ml of ink capacity.

The filling system works, but there are some rough edges. The rod end could offer more grip to be able to release it with just a finger. Now it is too smooth and you might need some rubber band or similar to ink the pen.

PenBBS offers very few variations on its nib points.

The nibs on all these three PenBBS pens are the same save cosmetic changes—made of steel, very rigid, limited inkflow...

Moonman T2. This pen is remarkably similar to the Stipula Tocco Ferro, but with a different filling system. The Moonman uses the so-called “Elastic piston”--a syringe operated with the help of a spring. This system is bulkier of than those previously described, although it reaches the very respectable volume of 1.5 ml.

Moonman T2. More than 50g...

The main inconvenient of this pen is, however, its weight of over 50 g. Its nib and feed, though, are compatible with those by Bock, and that makes this pen more interesting.

From my point of view, the first weak point of these pens is the nibs. On most cases, they are just correct and boring, and the brands do not offer any variation save that of a bent/fude nib (“calligraphic nib” is the name used by Chinese brands). The result is that most pens –particularly if of a single brand-- write almost the same, without any special flavor.

Japanese companies were blamed for making very good nibs in many different points that were implemented in boring pens with very unimaginative filling systems, mostly cartridge/converters. Now, the Chinese industry is doing the opposite—exciting filling systems and terribly boring nibs.

However, some of these filling systems are clearly immature for the market. Either they are insufficiently tested or in need of further developments; and some of the pens are almost prototypes with problems to be solved. But they show an interesting path to explore in the difficult task to keep fountain pens alive in this world of computers, tactile screens and SARS-CoV-2.

My thanks to Inky.Rocks and to Fudefan.

Sailor Mini, 18 K (M) – Noodler's Beaver

Bruno Taut
Nakano, July 13th, 2020
etiquetas: China, mercado, PenBBS, Moonman, Wing Sung

13 September 2019

Japanese Eyedropper Today (I)

The so-called Japanese eyedropper system –inki-dome shiki (インキ止め式) in Japanese— was in fact invented by Onoto in the beginning of the 20th century. Those Onoto reached Japan imported by Maruzen and the system –an eyedropper with a shut-off valve— clicked among the locals. The final result was that this system was copied and reproduced by most Japanese pen makers along its history up to today.

An Onoto with the shut-off valve system. Not yet a Japanese eyedropper, I guess.

A Japanese Swan (Nobuo Ito's Swan) with the Japanese eyedropper system.

The inki-dome, however, fell out of favor by the late 1950s when Platinum introduced the ink cartridge and most other makers followed the example. Only minor makers –I am thinking of Sakai Eisuke's operations— kept the system alive till the 1980s.

A Sakai Eisuke's pen made in collaboration with Kabutogi Ginjiro (::1::). Possibly from the 1960s.

In 1985, Pilot commissioned lathe master Sakai the creation of a prototype based on the style of the Pilot pens from the early 1930s, The result was what later became the Pilot (and Namiki) size 50 Urushi, and it implements the Japanese eyedropper system.

The Pilot Urushi in size 50--a modern Japanese eyedropper. This pen is incorrectly named by many as Namiki Emperor, but the Emperor model is decorated with maki-e techniques according to the Namiki catalog.

But who else followed? Not much.

Eboya used the system for some years (::2::, ::3::), but its production relied in the know-how of lathe master Kanesaki Noritoshi. Eboya's boss, Mr. Endo, has announced the new production of Eboya pens with this system, but there are no final dates for their release.

An old Eboya (2013) from the Kanesaki time. It implements the Japanese eyedropper system. At that time, the brand name was still Nebotek.

More recently, as of 2018, the sort-lived Iwase Seisakusho also marketed some pens with the Japanese eyedropper system. These were either old incomplete pen bodies by Ishi Shoten (owner of the brand Yotsubishi) or new pen bodies made by lathe master Momose. But Iwase Seisakusho had a very brief life and very few units of it made to the market.

An Iwase Seisakusho based on a body by Momose Yasuaki.

From California, Danitrio makes some models with Japanese eyedropper. These are usually expensive models with urushi or maki-e decoration.

Some Danitrio pens as exposed at Itoya Ginza (Tokyo) in 2010. Photo courtesy of Moskva.

Finally, a surprising actor is the Taiwanese brand Opus 88 (Jin Gi Industrial Co.). But these Japanese eyedroppers deserve a Chronicle on their own.

The Opus 88 Koloro. A surprising new actor in the Japanese eyedropper business.

Opus 88 Koloro – De Atramentis Beethoven

Bruno Taut
Nakano, September 12th 2019
etiquetas: soluciones técnicas, Pilot, Eboya, Danitrio, Iwase Seisakusho, Opus 88, mercado, Onoto, Japón, mercado, Kanesaki, Sakai Eisuke, Momose Yasuaki

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 1960s. 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

20 September 2018

1937 Plunger Fillers

Plunger fillers arrived in Japan by the beginning f the 20th century by the hand of Onoto, one of the first brands imported in this country.

The idea of the plunger filler was quickly copied by a number of local companies, as we have already seen on these pages (::1::). Pilot named this filling mechanism as System P (P-shiki), and implemented it in the 1920s.

Two plunger fillers from 1937.

The two pens on display today are a bit more modern. Both are Pilot, implement plunger fillers, and were made in 1937.

The reddish pen is made of ebonite and semitransparent celluloid. The nib is a size 6 made of 14 K gold with no indication of the point. The manufacturing date on the converse side reads 1.37: January of 1937.

Ebonite and celluloid. Size 6 nib.

The second pen is made of black ebonite. Its nib is a size 3, made of 14 K gold, and labeled as “manifold”. The manufacturing date is 4.37: April of 1937. This manifold point is one of the options described on the booklet included in the box. The others described on it are posting, stenographer, coarse, falcon, and oblique.

Classic black torpedo in ebonite.

Size 3 nib, manifold point.

Both pens are very similar in dimensions despite the differences in the nib size. In fact, the size 6 nib is associated to the smaller pen.

Red pen, #6 nib Black pen, #3 nib
Length_closed 133 136
Length_open 117 119
Length_posted 165 168
Diameter 13.6 13.7
Weight (g, dry) 17.9 17.2
Nib size 6 3

Both nibs, side by side. On the left, the size 6 attached to the red pen. The inscription: "WARRANTED / 'PILOT'/ 14 K / MADE IN JAPAN / -< 6 >- / POINTED / HARDEST / IRIDIUM". On the right, the size 3 nib of the black pen: "MANIFOLD / WARRANTED / 'PILOT'/ 14 K / MADE IN JAPAN / -< 3 >- / POINTED / HARDEST / IRIDIUM".

The manufacturing dates as engraved on the nibs: 1.37 and 4.37 (upside down).

On both pens, the tail knobs show the feature Pilot used to identify their plunger fillers―a row of short parallel lines near the base. This detail is, in actual terms, a very safe way to identify this filling system on (early) Pilot pens given the vulnerability of this mechanism. A non-working plunger could be mistaken as a Japanese eyedropper (inki-dome). Both systems are often in need to service, particularly when those pens had been found in the wild (like in a pen show).

The tail knobs of Pilot's plunger fillers carry that line close to the barrel. The inscriptions are the same on both pens: " 'PILOT / THE NAMIKI (N logo) MFG. CO. LTD. / MADE IN JAPAN ".

Finally, it might be worth to remember that from 1938 on, the restrictions on the use of gold in Japan became strict (albeit with some exceptions) . Therefore, these two pens from 1937 with gold nibs are some of the latest such pens from before the War.

Pelikan M800 Kodaishu – Sailor Red Brown

Bruno Taut
Nakano, September 18th, 2018
etiquetas: Pilot

08 February 2018

Inner Tube System

To the traditional eyedropper way of inking pens, Japanese companies added a mechanism to seal the ink deposit when not in use. A mechanism… or several of them.

The better known of them is the Japanese eyedropper, inki-dome system, although the original invention belonged to Onoto (De la Rue). Another such system is the hoshiawase (star system) invented by Pilot in the early 1920s. But there is more.

A Pilot from around 1920, if not before.

Prior to the system of the stars, Pilot entered the market –as a late comer in the Japanese context— with another system: the naikan shiki (内管式), or inner tube system. This consists of a modified screw –made of ebonite— attached to the section of the pen. By tightening or losing up that screw, the ink flow could be interrupted or open through the internal channels in that screw. The obvious inconvenient was the need to open the pen –the ink deposit— to operate this ink-stained screw. However, this system was effective in sealing the ink deposit.

Pilot developed and marketed this system probably trying to offer a novelty in a market already mature, with two very active pen companies –SSS and Nobuo Ito’s Swan–, and a number of imports from Europe and the US. The naikan shiki was short lived: only a couple of years around 1920.

As for the rest, this eyedropper pen is made of chased ebonite and implements a size 2 nib made of 14 K gold, although it might not be the original nib of this pen. The clip this particular unit sports is a later addition.

On the nib, the inscription says "14 KT GOLD / "PILOT" / < 2 > / MADE IN / JAPAN". However, the style of the inscription is probably too new, thus showing it is a replacement nib. On the text entitled N. M & Co. we can see a similar pen whose nib carries a much simpler engraving.

These are the dimensions of the pen:

Length closed: 139 mm
Length open: 131 mm
Length posted: 179 mm
Diameter: 12 mm
Weight (dry): 17.4 g

On the chased barrel, '"PILOT" / FOUNTAIN PEN / N. M. & Co.'. The company logo is on the left hand side. It shows the well-known lifebuoy encircling an N.

On the barrel end, a mysterious inscription: "P3CH". We had already seen it on another Pilot pen of the time.

Not all innovations work… However, the Japanese industry has never been shy to try different technical solutions on nibs and filling systems.

But short lived systems like this make the day of many a collector.

And on my side, I must add a correction to an old Chronicle.

My thanks to Mr. Sugimoto and Mr. Furuya.

Romillo Nervión – Sailor Blue Iron

Bruno Taut
Nakano, February 7th 2018
etiquetas: Pilot, soluciones técnicas

15 July 2017

On the Pilot Custom 823

I ended up my previous Chronicle with a call to myself—I should say something about the Pilot Custom 823. This is a pen I have avoided on these texts as it is well known and many people have reviewed it in detail. One more review on my side would hardly offer anything new.

However, the release of the Pilot Custom Urushi has reframed the pen scene –if only, for Pilot— and the Custom 823 might have become even more interesting now. That is the contention of this piece.

The Pilot Custom 823 was launched in the year 2000, or year 82 of the Pilot era. A story published on a French forum affirmed that this model was the Pilot reaction to the Pelikan M800, a pen many aficionados consider as a compendium of virtues. I have not been able to confirm that story, but its narration is worth of Ben Trovato.

Pelikan M800 and Pilot Custom 823.

In any event, the M800 and the Custom 823 are very different. The sizes of their nibs are almost the same, but that might be the end of the similarities. The Custom 823, in fact, follows the tradition of the Onoto pens arriving in Japan at the turn of the 20th century. The plunger filler is, in that regard, a lot less alien to Japan than the very German piston of Pelikan. Of course, there are examples of pistons made in Japan, most notably by Vanco in the 1930s. The big three companies have all made some pistons, but all those examples are rather new: Platinum in 1989, Sailor in 2006, Pilot in 2010.

The Custom 823 first appeared in 2000 and included a fully transparent version. Its price was JPY 30000 (plus tax) and has not changed since then. The clear version soon disappeared from the catalog, leaving the amber and smoke models we now know. The clear version reappeared around 2011 at some shops —and can still be found at those—, but it has not yet reached the glory of the catalog.

The Custom 823 in its three versions: smoke, amber, and clear (back to front).

Nib-wise, the Custom 823 implements size 15 nibs (in Pilot's way of sizing), but out of the 14 available points of this size, only three, according to the catalog, are available on the Custom 823: F, M, and B. Some shops, at least in Tokyo, also offer other nib points, particularly the waverly (WA) and the falcon (FA). In fact, the 823 could take any size 15 nib, and that is what some retailers do by exchanging the nib with any of the options available in the Custom 743 model. Whether those swapping void the warranty offered by Pilot is not clear.

A Custom 823 clear with a "falcon" (FA) nib. This combination is not included in the Pilot catalog. It is offered by some shops. This picture was taken at Maruzen-Nihonbashi.

Another combination that does not appear on the books: clear Custom 823 with a "waverly" nib. Available at Asahiya-Kami Bungu.

The model 823 is now 17 years old and it remains as one of the most interesting models currently made by Pilot. Now, the Custom Urushi might, paradoxically, make it even more interesting. The Custom Urushi is certainly an impressive pen, but it is also expensive (JPY 88000), and the search for alternatives within the Pilot (and Namiki) catalog leads to the smaller Custom 845 (JPY 50000), also decorated with urushi, and to the Custom 823 and Custom 743 (JPY 30000). On these three cases, the potential buyer had to settle down with the smaller size 15 nib. My contention, then, is that faced with the obligatory reduction in nib size to lower the actual cost of the pen, the JPY 30000 of the nominal price of the Custom 823 are an even more impressive value given, most interestingly, its self-filling system.

The urushi relatives of the Custom 823: Custom Urushi (top) and Custom 845 (bottom).

The stark contrast between those JPY 88000 of the Custom Urushi and the JPY 30000 of the 823 makes the later a lot more appealing. A lot more, I think, than when the obvious competitor was the Custom 845 at a value of JPY 50000.

Lanbitou “Vista” – Noodler’s Zhivago

Bruno Taut
Nakano & Shinjuku, July 2017
etiquetas: Pilot, mercado, Pelikan, Platinum, Sailor, Vanco

21 June 2017

Athena Basic Line

Maruzen, founded in 1869, is one of the reference stationers in Japan. It was also a key actor in the introduction of fountain pens in this country. Maruzen imported American and British pens in the beginning of the 20th century and became the distributor of Onoto pens in Japan in 1907. By 1915, Maruzen created the brand Athena to market domestic pens made by Eisaburo Sakasai, whose factory Maruzen bought after his demise in 1937. The production of Athena pens lasted until around 1970.

Between 1970 and 1994, the brand Athena was limited to Athena Ace inks. Athena fountain pens resurrected only in 1994 by means of some Pilot OEM fountain pens.

Athena Ace Ink from mid 1960s. JPY 50 for 30 ml.

The Athena Basic Line (ABL) is another example of Pilot OEM fountain pen. It is a flat top model, made of black plastic with rhodiated accents. The nib carries an original engraving: “ATHENA / 1869 / MARUZEN / 14K-585 / < F > ”. And hidden by the section, the manufacturing date, A505; that is, May of 2005 at the Hiratsuka plant of Pilot’s.

The shape of this pen –a flat-top— initially relates to the 70th anniversary (1988) and to its close cousin Custom 72 (1990), both implementing size 10 nibs.

But the Athena Basic Line model is much closer to two contemporary models—the Custom Heritage 91, and the Custom Heritage 912 (CH912), both from 2009. The dimensions of these three models, as can be seen on the table, are slightly different. The ABL and the CH912 use the same size of nibs, size 10. However, the Maruzen model is four millimeters shorter when closed. Their caps, though, are perfectly interchangeable and share size and shape. All three pens can use the converter CON-70 (and any of the currently made Pilot converters, save the obvious exception of the CON-W).

Custom Heritage
- Basic Line -
Custom Heritage
Length_closed 138 137 141
Length_open 122.5 122 125
Length_posted 155 156 157
Diameter 14.6 15.6 15.6
Weight (dry) 21.5 25.2 24.8
Nib size 5 10 10
Nib options 9 3 15
Price (JPY) 10000 25000 20000

Comparative table of the dimensions of these three close relatives: Pilot's Custom Heritage 91 and 912, and Athena Basic Line. Lengths measured in millimeters, weights in grams, prices in JPY without taxes.

On both pictures, from top to bottom, Pilot Custom Heritage 912, Athena Basic Line, and Pilot Custom Heritage 91.

The price of the Basic Line was JPY 25000, plus tax. That is JPY 5000 more expensive than the CH912, and JPY 15000 more than the Custom Heritage 91 with size 5 nib. These differences in price are common between official products and the OEM pens made for other companies.

The Athena Basic Line. The clip is engraved with the brand name: "ATHENA". The cap ring carries another engraving: "MARUZEN JAPAN Basic Line Athena".

On the nib we can read "ATHENA / 1869 / MARUZEN / 14K-585 / < F >".

In actual terms, the Maruzen model, the Athena Basic Line can be seen as a forerunner of the Custom Heritage models that would appear about four years later, in 2009 (year 91 in Pilot’s era).

Sheaffer’s TM Admiral – Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-jaku

Bruno Taut
Chuo and Nakano, June 17-21 2017
etiquetas: Pilot, Maruzen