Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Luxe

Pen review. Platinum Silver Cap pocket pen.


1. General impression. Introduction. (8/10)
This is a pocket pen. Its short barrel and long cap says so, but it also seems a long pocket pen as well. It is also a luxury pen—the cap is made of silver, and the nib, of white 18 K gold.

This pen, I guess, dates back to the 1970s, the heyday of pocket pens. A time when the three major pen companies in Japan made luxury products in small containers.


2. Appearance. (7/10)
Silver and black are the colors of this pen. And despite the silver cap, it does not look ostentatious. Might it be because of the natural patina of silver, in my opinion, this pen is more “shibui” than “hade”.

Barrel and section are made of plastic, but the overall impression is of good quality. The clip, in black plastic, seems to be the less attractive detail on this pen. Cheap is the word for the clip.


3. Design, size, weight. (6.5/10)
As it was already mentioned, this is a pocket pen. The main feature of this particular one is the sterling silver cap that makes it heavier than most of its size. For instance, a Platinum pocket pen of similar dimensions weights only 11 grams versus the 18 grams of this one with silver cap.

But this silver cap accounts for more than 60% of the total weight of the pen. This alone would make this pen quite unbalanced when posted for writing. However, this unbalance is far from extreme. The cap reaching relatively low on the pen, close to the nib, distributes the cap weight more evenly than in a regular sized pen.

These are the physical dimensions:
Diameter: 12 mm.
Length capped: 126 mm.
Length uncapped: 106 mm.
Length posted: 149 mm.
Weight: 18 g.

In comparison, a smaller Platinum pocket pen is just 116 mm long when capped and weights only 11 g.

The adjustment between cap and body —capped or posted— is excellent with no sign of becoming loose, or of wear despite its age.


4. Nib and writing performance. (7.5/10)
The nib is an 18 K white gold medium. Barely flexible. Very smooth. Excellent constant ink flow. This is a nib for those who favor smoothness and reliability over line variation and expressivity and character.



5. Filling system. (8/10)
Platinum used to manufacture short converters for their pocket pens, but that is not the case anymore. Therefore, Platinum pocket pen owners are bound to use Platinum proprietary cartridges.

Nonetheless, there exist the possibility of modifying the current converter to use it in these short pens.

There are also adapters to use international cartridges. I have no experience, but I understand they become very firmly attached to the pen, transforming it into an "international cartridge" pen to all effect. And there are aerometric converters that fit inside of these Platinum pocket pens in combination with this adapter.


6. Cost and value. (7.5/10)
Pocket pens are not expensive in the Japanese second hand market, and this pen is a good value given the nice appearance and the nib performance.


7. Conclusion. (44/60 = 74/100)
Nice looking pen although not the best pocket pen in the market. Scores high on looks and performance. Balance and size take points away.

(Platinum Silver Cap pocket pen – Platinum brown, cartridge)

Bruno Taut
(Inagi, June 30 2010)
[labels: Japón, Platinum]

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Oldies

On the previous post, I spoke about how to modify the current Platinum converter to use it in the old Platinum pocket pens from the seventies. That is an unnecessary worry when dealing with Pilot pocket pens and other old pens by this company.

On this picture, the whole gamut of Pilot converters is displayed:

All four Pilot converters.

The long CON-70 converter is, to many pen enthusiasts, the best converter in the market. It has a great capacity and it has a very efficient filling process—it becomes almost completely full. The catalog (MSRP) price is JPY 735 in Japan.

CON-70.

My experience with it is mixed. I do not like the idea of pushing down a button while the precious nib of my pen is so close to the bottom end of the inkwell. Not to mention that I do not fully understand how this converter works.

The major inconvenience of this converter is its size—it only fits in full size pens. This is the reason behind the other models.

The CON-50 is a piston filler of much smaller capacity. This seems to be the standard converter in a number of markets for the range of modern Pilot Capless pens. The price in Japan is JPY 525 (MSRP).

CON-50.

This is the converter I like less. The ink tends to stick to its walls instead of flowing freely to the feed. This is clearly a surface tension problem associated to the material of the ink deposit. On the positive side, being transparent it is possible to check how much ink is left in the pen.

The CON-20 is an aerometric filler. This is most basic, cheap and reliable of the whole lot. This converter works in almost any Pilot pen, including the pocket pens from the seventies. The price, JPY 210 (MSRP).

CON-20.

Its main inconvenient is not being able to check the amount of ink in the pen.

The last converter is an oldie—the CON-W. Oldie, but still on production. This is the converter to be used in Pilot fountain pens manufactured up to some time in the mid sixties. Those pens used the so called “double spare” type of cartridge that went out of production in the mid seventies. It consisted on two smaller cartridges that allowed the pen user to have a full spare one always inside the pen—much in the fashion of the small international cartridge. On some pens using these cartridges, you can either use one full size cartridge or two small size ones inside the barrel.

CON-W, on top, and CON-20.

The CON-W is very similar to the CON-20 save for the nipple—narrower on the former. The price in Japan is JPN 735 (MSRP).

1964 model Pilot Capless (manufactured on December 1965). This model requires a CON-W converter.

The most interesting detail of this story is the fact that Pilot still produces converters for pens long gone from the production line, pens from the sixties. This is certainly a very nice detail for the user of those old pens. No need of reusing old cartridges or modifying other converters to fit in those pens. Quite different from the practice of other companies.

ADDENDUM March 17th, 2011: Information on the actual capacities of these converters can be found on the chronicle "Pilot Converters".

(Pilot Telescopic Pen – Waterman Florida Blue)

Bruno Taut
(Inagi, June 28, 2010)
[labels: Pilot, Platinum, conversor]

Saturday, June 26, 2010

DIY

Para mis amigos estilófilos del Foro de Relojes.

Platinum pocket pens are easy to find in the second hand market in Japan. Originally, these pens could be used with either cartridges –Platinum proprietary cartridges— or converters. But this company stopped producing the short aerometric converters suitable for their pocket pens and now we are bound to refill their cartridges.

However, there is an easy way to adapt a current platinum converter to fit in a pocket size pen.

The first picture shows all the parts of the converter. On the top side, the modified, short converter. The original, regular length, at the bottom. To disassemble the Platinum converter, simply unscrew the golden metal part from the transparent ink deposit.

The only piece that needs to be modified is the hollow cylindrical handle that operates the internal screw and moves the piston up and down. This screw must NOT be cut—those last threads make the piston to reach the bottom end of the converter.

The modified cylinder is 7 mm. shorter than the original.

The final picture shows how the screw can pass through the cylindrical handle. When used in a pocket pen, this screw should not be pulled all the way out—just to the end of the cylinder. Needless to say, the converter will not be filled to its maximum.

In a number of pocket pens, this converter has the whole transparent window hidden by the pen section, thus hiding the amount of remaining ink. But modified, this converter can be used in any Platinum pen.

(Platinum Silver Cap pocket pen – Platinum Brown)

Bruno Taut
(Inagi, June 26 2010)
[labels: Platinum, conversor, soluciones técnicas]

Friday, June 25, 2010

Geometry

Some days ago I spoke on these chronicles of the gold content in nibs. I inserted a link to some texts written by Prof. Antonios Zavaliangos in which he spoke of nib materials and flexible nibs. These can be made, he concluded, out of any of the usual materials—gold, steel, titanium…

This past weekend, I already spoke about it, the monthly Wagner Pen Clinic was celebrated. We pen enthusiasts met and shared our beloved objects. Nib-polishing master Peko-san came with a small selection of vintage Pilot pens--among other wonders.

One of them, the bright green celluloid one, sported this steel nib:

Please, note the shape of the breathing hole.

Line variation achievable with this nib.

Yes, a stainless steel nib.

That pens dates back to late 1950s, I guess. Certainly later than 1954, when the Japanese Ministry of industry introduced the guidelines for metallurgy –affecting pen nibs— and the JIS (Japan Industrial Standards) logo that can be seen on this pen.

Geometry matters more than material.

(Platinum Preppy 0.5 – Platinum Carbon Ink, cartridge)

Bruno Taut
(Inagi, June 24, 2010)
[labels: plumín, Pilot, evento]

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reflexiones

Tengo pendiente una entrada sobre la nueva colección de tintas de la compañía Sailor. Está casi escrita, apenas faltan un par de detalles, pero su publicación me plantea ciertas dudas.

Es ésta una bitácora sobre una afición –el coleccionismo de plumas estilográficas— que está íntimamente relacionada con una serie de empresas que producen esos objetos de deseo. Por consiguiente, el aspecto publicitario de estos textos es inevitable.

Hablo aquí, y en foros de estos asuntos, de objetos cuya venta en nada nos beneficia salvo, tal vez, de forma muy indirecta. Y sin quererlo pasamos a formar parte de los mecanismos comerciales de esas empresas.

Es cierto que nuestra general falta de intereses económicos en esas empresas nos hace a aforados y autores de bitácoras más independientes. Nada, en principio, nos impide hablar mal de tal o cual producto, pero incluso un comentario negativo es también positivo: “¡que hablen de mí, aunque sea mal!”

Algunas de las tintas ya viejas de Sailor.

Publicaré mi texto sobre las tintas Sailor y miraré para otro lado. Hablaré de plumas que se fabrican hoy en día –ya lo hice— y mencionaré explícitamente al fabricante. Añadiré fotos hechas por mí y cerraré los ojos. Después de todo, nadie me obligó a iniciar esta andadura.

Pero no puedo evitar la sensación de que trabajo gratis para alguien que no siempre se lo merece. Por ejemplo, para Sailor en un momento en el que ha decidido subir el precio de sus tintas un 66% en Japón.

(Platinum Preppy 0.5 – Platinum Carbon Ink)

Bruno Taut
(Inagi, 23 de junio de 2010)
[labels: estilofilia, metabitácora, tinta, Sailor, mercado]

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Craftsman

Last Sunday (June 20th), the monthly Wagner association Pen Clinic took place. As in previous occasions, lots of magnificent fountain pens gathered in there, together with their happy owners.

Today’s report will focus only on one pen: Mr. Yamada’s tuned Pelikan M800. On a first look, it appears to be a regular green stripped M800 with a BB nib.

It writes very smoothly, and is very wet. But that is usually the case with these Birds and, more particularly, with thick nibs.

But if looked sideways to the nib, things start to change:

The nib is, say, two-folded.

Mr. Yamada is an expert in tuning nibs in order to make them to perform in new ways. Most of his creations have the purpose of making them a lot more flexible. He drills holes here and there weakening the structure of the nib.

Junior 14 K gold Sailor nib with two drills on the sides to increase the flexibility. Note also the enlargement of the breathing hole to add more ink flow (by letting air in) to cope with the increased demand of ink.

This time, he opted for making a very broad nib with a big flux to cope with that big demand of ink.

Sure enough, this nib reminds of those wonderful creations by Sailor nibmeister Mr. Nagahara.

The next Wagner Pen Clinic will be celebrated on July 25th, Sunday, at the usual venue.

(Soennecken 110 – Waterman Florida Blue)

Bruno Taut
(Inagi, June 21, 2010)
[labels: Pelikan, plumín, evento, Sailor, Tokyo]

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Origins

Some weeks ago there was a somehow bitter discussion on the Fountain Pen Network (FPN) about the American company Danitrio.

It all started with what I thought was an innocent question: why do people think Danitrio is a Japanese company when it is based in California and uses German nibs, save the 24K gold Yokozuna nib made in Japan? The only real Japanese element on those pens seems to be the envelope, the art on the barrel and cap. That is truly made in Japan by Japanese craftsmen.

Many different opinions were expressed: Some followers of the thread were honestly surprised by this revelation. One of them even spoke of a possible “willful sin of omission”. Another group argued that looking Japanese and having Japanese-made ornament was enough to consider this brand Japanese, or that being American or Japanese was irrelevant. A third group noted that outsourcing was a general phenomenon and, therefore, the German origin of the nibs is not powerful enough argument to claim Danitrio was not Japanese.

Some unpleasant comments and ad-hominem (non-)arguments were also shared on the thread, proving how passionate some people might be when touching sensitive spots.

I never thought this was a sensitive topic, though. In fact, my question was based on my surprise. People on the FPN spoke of Danitrio as a Japanese pen company, but I had never seen such a brand in Japan. Not in shops, not owned by anyone. Actually, I saw my first Danitrio at the Madrid Pen Show in 2009. After that, I have only seen those pens at the Itoya Maki-e Fair celebrated in Tokyo last May, as it was already reported on these Chronicles. And on this occasion I learned about their California origin and about the main source of their nibs.

Danitrio urushi pens at the Itoya Maki-e Fair in Tokyo last May. Picture courtesy of Moskva.

All those responses to the thread I initiated pose, however, some interesting questions:

The first is fairly obvious: How do we ascribe one company to one country? Is Parker American, English, French? Is Waterman American or French?

Is the origin of the nibs a faithful indicator of the origin of the pen? Is the location of the headquarters or the origin of the investment the final argument?

The case of pens, for a pen enthusiast, is different from other products. Some claim that there are specific characteristics associated to certain countries of origin. If that were true, the question is relevant.

A second question is about why an American-based pen company disguises itself as Japanese. Some claim Danitrio never hided its Californian origin, but the overall perception among pen enthusiasts is that Danitrio was Japanese.

On my criticism to Danitrio on the FPN, I also added that it was hard to consider seriously a pen company that chooses not to say anything about its nibs when describing the pen. Most companies describe the size and materials of them as well as their type of writing—fine, medium, stub, oblique, etc. Danitrio does not say anything on this matter on its corporate website (as of June 2010).

So, my final reflection on Danitrio is that this company is more interested in creating a symbol of status than a fountain pen; a jewel over a tool. And I like tools.

(Nakaya Aka-tamenuri – Platinum Brown)

Bruno Taut
(Inagi, June 15th, 2010)
[labels: Danitrio, FPN, estilofilia, Japón]

PS: On June 12 (2010), the partisan moderator and active discussant “winedoc” closed the thread. Therefore, no more opinions on the matter could be added. In doing this, the thread will slowly sink into the sea of other active discussions. This was the final point to make me write this text. I do hope not to write about this company in a long while.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Shibui

Para Kendo-san, ignoto japanófilo.

Japan, as many a country, has a profusion of faces despite its often monolithic façade. Some of them are two aesthetic traditions that deserve the attention of any visitor—and of any pen enthusiast.


On one hand, we encounter the beauty of simple things and empty spaces. And concepts as shibui, or wabi-sabi can be found to describe and explain this tradition. Wabi-sabi 侘寂— refers to two different ideas: the beauty of imperfection (wabi), and the beauty that comes with age (sabi). This term is also related to the Buddhist principles of the three marks of existence: imperfection, impermanence, and incompleteness; and for some authors, wabi-sabi is the material representation of Zen Buddhism.

The word shibui (渋い), literally astringent, is the everyday word to reflect the wabi-sabi beauty of simple and elegant attitudes. “Severely simple, tastefully bare”, the dictionary says of shibui. Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows (陰翳礼讃, Inei Raisan, 1933) is a passionate, even if reactionary and nostalgic, chant to shibui life and aesthetics.


There are many cultural traditions in Japan that embraced this aesthetic way of thinking, many of them with a direct influence of Zen Buddhism: tea ceremony (chadô or sadô
; 茶道), theater (能楽), ikebana (生け花), Japanese pottery… And, of course, gardens and palaces: Ryôan-ji stone garden, Katsura Rikyu in Kyoto…

Shokintei tea house at Katsura Villa (Katsura Rikyu) in Kyoto (mid 17th century).

On the other end of the spectrum we find the idea of hade, 派手. Where shibui is subtle and subdued, restrained, hade is flashy and ostentatious. Hade asks for attention. If theater is shibui, kabuki is kabuku and hade—loud, flashy. But hade is not without rules and patterns. Kabuki theater, for instance, or the all-female Takarazuka Company, have very defined codes and symbolisms.


Yômei-mon, Sunlight Gate, in Nikko (early 17th century).

Needless to say, flashiness can be easily pushed beyond the limits of good taste. Then we reach the realm of yabo (野暮) or, in slang,
kebai (ケバイ). These words refer to tacky things, corny at times, loud and unrefined.

So, what about pens? What about Japanese pens?


Simplifying things, I thought that urushi –lacquer--, truly falls in the simple shibui sophistication. At least, when using the traditional colors—subdued, dark, tone down.
Then, maki-e would mostly fall in the area of hade. Certainly a lot flashier than urushi; colorful more often than not, albeit not without exceptions such as some examples of chinkin technique, and some simple patterns on pens.

The problem –you all could see this coming— arises when the hade maki-e becomes yabo and we have to endure polar bears on pen barrels. Of course, it is up to each of us to decide where the threshold between hade, and kebai lies. Personally, I rather to kabuki.

(Platinum Silver Cap Pocket Pen – Platinum Brown)

Bruno Taut
(Shinjuku, June 11, 2010)
[labels: Japón, estética]

Friday, June 11, 2010

Madrid Monogatari

Para los otaku de la Myu en Madrid.

Supe de la Pilot Myu 701 una vez hube llegado a Japón. En aquel momento me interesaban las plumas, pero no constituían la obsesión que es ahora.


Esa pluma estuvo en mi bolsillo durante mucho tiempo, aunque no era mi única pluma. Tanto me gustaba –y tanto me gusta aun hoy— que en uno de mis viajes a Madrid llevé otra Myu para regalar a un viejo amigo, a Merino-san. Y creo que le gustó, porque pasados lo años todavía la usa.

La pluma llamó la atención a compañeros y paseantes. Uno de ellos, de nombre Kinno-san, decidió que necesitaba una Myu y ni corto ni perezoso compró dos en la Red a pesar de los precios fuera de toda medida de los tratantes habituales. La otra era para el cuarto mosquetero: Kendo-san.


Kinno-san y yo nos conocimos, meses más tarde, en Tokyo. Y, claro, nos fuimos a comprar plumas por esta ciudad. Recuerdo que se llevó varias Pilot M-90 en el bolsillo. En el museo de Pilot en Kyobashi, Kinno-san se quejaba de que aun sin conocerlo yo le había tocado las narices con aquella Myu que le regalé a Merino-san.


Mi siguiente paso fue un cambio de residencia a Madrid. Y allí, al abrigo de visitas a tiendas, de reuniones para probar tintas y plumas, de visitas al Pen Show de Madrid… realimentamos nuestra pasión por las plumas, no sólo por la Myu y por las plumas japonesas.

Ahora estoy de vuelta en Japón. Disfruto de la actividad estilográfica de Tokyo al tiempo que me esfuerzo por mantener el contacto con estilófilos de aquí y allá. Y aguardo con impaciencia la visita de algún miembro del grupo de otaku de la Myu de Madrid.


Las distancias, sin embargo, son muy obstinadas.

(Platinum Preppy 0.5 – Platinum Carbon Ink)

Bruno Taut
(Inagi, Junio de 2010)
[labels: Madrid, Tokyo, Pilot, estilofilia]

Monday, June 7, 2010

Fate

To Ningyo-chan, decipherer.

Spanish schools do not deal with fountain pens. And that is it. I mean, they do not require, as is the case in other countries, children to learn to write with them. And calligraphy is often deemed as obsolete.

In that environment it is not strange that my handwriting ended up messy, ugly, illegible. And I did not care. In fact, I never liked the endless repetition of patterns of the meager efforts my teacher paid to improve my hand.

Now, many years have passed and fountain pens have become an obsession to me. And then I learn about pens, modern and old; about materials, from caseine to steel to titanium; and also about nibs, rigid needles or flexible noodles. In learning to love these wonderful flexible pens I had to understand, oh, cruel irony, the beauty of good penmanship for, after all, that is the raison d’être of those nibs.

So, at my age I feel bound to learn to write again, gracefully this time, if I wanted to fully enjoy some of my pens.

Is this fate?

In the meantime, we can enjoy the works of Prof. Antonios Zavaliangos and of Leigh Reyes.


Sailor Ballerie (WG pocket pen) – Pelikan Brilliant Brown

Bruno Taut
(Inagi, April 30, 2010)
[labels: caligrafía, estilofilia, plumín]

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gold Fever

Some days ago I wrote about Danitrio and the utter absurdity of using 24 K gold (pure gold within a 1% error) for their nibs. That made me think about the actual gold content of nibs.

The purpose of using gold lies in its properties as a noble metal, i.e. its great resistance to corrosion. And the rest of properties are second to that. In fact, as Prof. Antonios Zavaliangos (Drexel University, Philadelphia, USA) says, flexible nibs can be made out of almost any material usually employed in the fabrication of nibs.

Japanese pocket pens from the 1970s with differnt nib materials. From top to bottom, left to right, Platinum with fine steel nib, Pilot Myu 701 with fine steel, Morison with fine 14 K, Platinum with medium 14 K, Pilot Telescopic with medium 14 K, Platinum with medium white gold (WG) 18 K, Sailor with fine WG 18 K, Pilot Elite with fine 18 K, Sailor 21 with fine 21 K, and Sailor 23 with 23 K gold nib.

The actual gold content in nibs, we all know, is very variable. Some early nibs, on dip pens many of them, had as little as 9 K (37.5%). Sheaffer itself made a 9 K gold nib in 1955 for the British market. However, some legislation forced this content up in order to being allowed the use of the term "gold" to describe those nibs. Italy and France are very clear: 75% of gold content (18 K) is the minimum in anything called gold. Marketing and the old “more is better” were successful and even nowadays people speak of the “added value” of 18 K over 14 K gold on their nibs.

A relatively inexpensive Fit de Bayard with a 18 K (ct, in french) gold nib. Very nicely springy.

During the early 1970s, the big three Japanese pen companies competed for the market by increasing the gold content in their nibs. Platinum and Pilot reached 22 K (91.7%); Sailor topped them with a 23 K (95.8%) nib, as can be seen on the picture. The trend was a dead end and in three years the companies went back to the usual 14 K and 18 K gold contents. The exception was Sailor, still using 21 K gold in many of its luxury pens together with 14 K gold for cheaper ones. Their argument is still the same—higher corrosion resistance with higher gold content.

California-based Danitrio seems to be the only brand still suffering the gold fever. Only that could explain their interest in producing –or implementing, as they do not manufacture theirs— 100% gold nibs. But that much gold makes the nib quite soft and prone to plastic deformation. The option to avoid that risk is to make them very rigid. However, there is always the concern of whether those Danitrios were pens or mere decorative jewels.

Already mentioned Prof. Antonios Zavaliangos also wrote a very interesting analysis on the materials usually employed to manufacture nibs. The summary of all that is that 14 K gold shows a nice balance between resistance to corrosion, elasticity, ease of manufacturing, etc. It is no coincidence that most of the flexible nibs out there are made of this alloy with 58.5% of gold.

Now the question lies in whether we want or appreciate a flexible nib or not. But that topic is a long one, and almost philosophic.

(Soennecken 110 – Noodler’s Old Dutch)

Bruno Taut
(Tokyo, June 2, 2010)
[labels: Danitrio, plumín, Pilot, Sailor, Platinum, Bayard, Morison]
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