Crónicas Estilográficas

Wednesday, June 21, 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
91
Athena
- Basic Line -
Custom Heritage
912
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 10 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 / ".

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

Friday, June 16, 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.


References:
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

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Pilot 40th Anniversary

This text is the result of several emails exchanged between fellow blogger KMPN and myself. KMPN was very generous providing the pictures and allowing me to use them for this Chronicle. In actual terms, this text is a collaborative work.


Nowadays, anniversary pens are ubiquitous—they make a perfect excuse to create some limited editions and to trigger some artificial demand for some brand. But when did these anniversary pens make to the market? In Japan, the case of the Sailor Jubilee pen at the time of the 50th anniversary of the brand (1962) is well known, and this pen truly deserves its own text. Today, though, we will speak of a previous example, albeit somehow mysterious.



A not-so-normal Pilot Super 200.

In 1958, the brand Pilot became 40 years old. At the time, the workhorse of the brand was the Super model, which came in a number of versions and sizes, from the Super 50 to the Super 500. And a Super 200 was released for the occasion. But there was nothing special on this particular model save an engraving on the barrel: “40th anniversary of Pilot Corporation”.


The one and only reference to the special occasion. The engraving reads something along the lines of "40th anniversary of Pilot Corporation". Only for shareholders.

However, what makes this pen most interesting is the fact that it was never intended for sale. This anniversary pen was made for the shareholders of the company and for some selected salesmen. And the paradox is that this feature might make this pen all the more valuable, albeit Pilot might not directly benefit from it.


Nothing special on the nib. It simply reads "PILOT / MADE IN / JAPAN / 14K".


The filling system is the traditional on most Super pens--the hose system, also known and the quarter-switch system.

In fact, a number of commemorative goods were made by Pilot in those years. They were not for sale and, needless to say, there are some memorabilia collectors looking and fighting for them.


My thanks to Mr. NK and to Mr. Shimizu.


Clavijo Velasco Ro-iro – Pilot Iroshizuku Yama-budo

Bruno Taut
Nakano, May 31st 2017
Etiquetas: Pilot

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Itoya Pen

Itoya is one of the reference stationers in Tokyo, and it has already shown up on these Chronicles. Most of the times, these appearances were due to changes on its shops, particularly at the headquarters in Ginza, the quintessential shopping district in the big city. But on occasion, Itoya also showed up because of its pens. For Itoya has marketed a number of pens under a number of brand names along it more than 100 years of history.

Romeo and Mighty were two popular brands for those pens, and Romeo, in fact, is still used nowadays. Some other pens were simply labeled as Itoya, or “The Itoya Pen”, as we are about to see. Finally, Itoya currently markets high end pens under the brand Taccia, and some inexpensive, Taiwan made, pens as Natsuki.


A selection of Taccia pens, by Itoya. These pens implement Sailor nibs.

The pen on display today is an Itoya pen made of celluloid. Instead of being cylindrical, its body and cap are octagonal. The filling mechanism is a sac operated by a lever. A similar pen, albeit made of black hard rubber (ebonite) and signed as Romeo, can be seen on the book Fountain Pens of Japan, by Lambrou and Sunami (ISBN: 978-0-9571230-0-2) on page 120.


The barrel is obviously engraved: "THE ITOYA PEN". No other brand name appears on the pen. Cap ring and clip are labeled with the gold content: "R14K", rolled gold, 14 K.


There is a patent number engraved on the lever: "PAT. 93914".

These are the dimensions of the celluloid version:

Length closed: 118 mm
Length open: 107 mm
Length posted: 154
Diameter (cap crown): 16 mm
Weight: 15.7 g (dry)


On the nib we can read "ITOYA / (logo) / -<3>- / 14 KT / GOLD".


The lever is also engraved with the Itoya logo.


Finally, the barrel end carries an mysterious number: "8550".

This pen sports a beautiful nib of size 3 made of 14 K gold. The pen was manufactured, probably, during the first half of the 1930s.

My thanks to Mr. Sugimoto.


Sailor Pro Gear – Sailor Black

Bruno Taut
Nakano, May 19th 2017
etiquetas: Itoya

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

On the Capless Clip

Pilot’s Capless, in all three or even more variations, are indeed successful models, well known by aficionados. Its design is often praised and deemed as functional, but its clip also remains as a point of contention for many. Is the clip really intrusive or the problem is in the user? Interestingly enough, though, there are very few examples of clipless versions along the more than 50 years of history of this model: the “seirei-nuri” version of the 1963 model (C-600MW), the never-marketed transparent version of the RW model (1965), and the Hermes Nautilus based on the current Fermo.




Three clipless Capless pens by Pilot, although the last one is marketed as a Hermes.

The first model of Capless, the C-600MW from 1963, sports a very short clip located on the lower side of the nose. It is just 16 mm long to allow for the middle finger to grab the pen on the classic tripod fashion. On the top side, two arrows show the position of the nib point.


The very short clip of the first model. Note how it is located on the lower side of the nib. The pen on the picture is the gold plated version of it, with catalog reference C-1000GW.


The arrows on the top side of the section-barrel pointing at the nib.

Today I am showing two prototypes of this first model. On one of them, beautifully made in stainless steel, there is a clip on the upper part of the barrel-section.


A prototype of the C-600MW made in stainless steel. Note the clip on the top side.

On the second prototype, made of aluminum, there is no clip. The overall look points out at the “seirei-nuri” limited version of the first Capless.


This prototype is made of aluminum. It has no clip.

There are some other small variations among all these pens, particularly on their noses and how they are cut with respect to the axis of the pen. The basic dimensions are approximately the same for all of them, save for the weight, where the manufacturing material really shows its presence.



The marketed model C-600MW, on top, and the two prototypes. Note the subtle differences on the curve on the nose.

The conclusion might be that it is not an easy task to design a clip for an “upside-down” pen like a capless, any capless. But few of us stylophiles and users would object to any of those prototypes.


My thanks to Mr. Shiomi and to Mr. NK.


Nakaya Cigar – Platinum Black

Bruno Taut
Nakano, May 10th 2017
etiquetas: Pilot, Capless

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Crisis of Growth?

Sailor has made a couple of shocking announcements in the last months. First was the suspension of the production of specialty nibs, including the basis for them all, the Naginata Togi nib. Then came the news of the discontinuation of the possibility of re-ordering original inks created with the invaluable help of Mr. Ishimaru, Sailor’s ink mixer. However, the creation of these personalized inks is still possible at the ink workshops regularly organized by Sailor throughout Japan.


My original ink, named Hiroko's Green.

Why would any company eliminate two of the elements that truly separated it from the rest? Why is Sailor giving up on his features of distinction in the market of fountain pens?

The issue with ink seems to be that many a user have been selling those original inks online at a premium cost, but I wonder if that should pose any problem for Sailor. More relevant could be that the ink production might have reached its limits with the popularization of some shop-original inks, particularly those by Nagasawa and by Bung-Box.


A Naginata Togi nib.


The Cross-Music nib.

That seems, in fact, to be the problem of the specialty nibs—the troubles of Mr. Nagahara to cope with the demand. Increasing the price of those nibs could ease the problem, but that is also an almost irreversible step.

Then, in summary, is Sailor suffering a growth crisis?


My thanks to Tinjapan.


Sailor Profit, Naginata Togi – Tomikei Blue

Bruno Taut
Nakano, April 18 2017
etiquetas: Sailor, tinta, plumín, mercado

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Friend and Foe

Now and then I need to rant. Or reflect aloud.

Members of the stylophile community like to brag about how wonderful we are, about how we are willing to share information and resources. And there is some truth to it. However, it does not take much thinking to realize that your friend in the community is also a potential competitor in the market. And then the attitude changes—information then becomes precious and treasured, and even rationed. Few people reveal where they found their exotic pens, almost nobody speak of prices paid… All these gestures are rarely disruptive—a smile can do wonders when refusing to reveal those secrets. But the competition is real and can reach the point of plain rudeness when spotting an interesting pen—the basic politeness of “you saw it first” is not always honored.


Then, are we friends or are we foes? And what is the value of all the information the community as a whole continuously publish online? Sheldon Cooper quoted (The Big Bang Theory 3.15 The Large Hadron Collision) economist Fred Hirsch to explain the concept of “neener-neener”—a pen is valued by some because it is not possessed by others, and therefore the need to display it. That exposure does not come without consequences, both positive and negative: that display can trigger some additional interest in the market and generate some inflation. It can also appreciate the displayed pen when reselling was the goal.

And at the end, the guy with the thicker wallet wins.


Sailor Profit, Naginata Togi – Tomikei Blue

Bruno Taut
Nakano, April 18 2017
etiquetas: metabitácora, mercado, estilofilia
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