Monday, December 21, 2015

Astra Piston

(Note added on January 8th: This text has been amended on this date to correct some inaccuracies and eliminate some uncertain data.)

… or how to make a piston with little hassle.

… or the evolutionary ancestors of Conid’s Bulkfiller.

For many, the piston filler, so dear to German makers, is the filling system of choice, however, it does not come without disadvantages, the most clear being the large space needed to harbor the piston mechanism inside the barrel. All that space, needless to say, is dead space in terms of ink capacity. To minimize this problem several technical solutions have been suggested. The better known of which is the telescopic piston. A more modern strategy is that of Conid for its Bulkfiller model: a piston whose plunger rod is decoupled from the seal and is stored inside the ink deposit once the filling process had been completed.


Maker Astra tried a similar –but not equal— approach in the early 1940s: the plunger that moves the piston seal up and down in the barrel can be unscrewed from it and removed altogether from the pen. And, in fact, it MUST be removed once the pen was filled up and, therefore, the cork seal was at the top of the ink deposit.



The disadvantage of this system is clear: there is the need to keep the plunger rod stored while the pen is in use. Without it, filling the pen is not possible. But there are advantages too:

If compared to a standard piston, this system clearly takes a lot less space in the barrel and the ink deposit is a lot bigger.


The closing piece of the barrel has this particular shape to keep the piston seal from rotating and allowing the rod to be unscrewed.

If compared to the Bulkfiller by Conid, the metal rod is not in contact at all with the ink, and there is not need to create any seal between the rod and the seal itself. In the Bulkfiller, the rod literally moves across the piston seal, and there can be leaks through seal along the rod.


The engraving on the nib reads "DURFLEX / FPT / 4 / EXTRA".

As for the rest of the pen, the Astra is made of ebonite (section) and celluloid (barrel), and implements a steel nib. The dimensions of the pen are as follows:

Length closed: 124 mm
Length open: 116 mm
Length posted: 151 mm
Diameter: 12 mm (barrel)
Weight (dry): 15.5 g
Ink deposit: 2.5 ml.

No filling system is perfect, and this “detachable plunger” is no exception, but there are great advantages to it. The large ink capacity is indeed a powerful argument on its side.

It is not clear where this Astra pen was made. The inscription on the nib suggest an Italian origin. As an anonymous commentator pointed out, Durflex was the brand of the Pecco brothers, and FPT meant "Fratelli Pecco Torino". The owner of the pen bought it at a flea market in Warsaw, and a selling argument was that Polish soldiers used this pen during the Second World War and kept the detachable rod in their breast pocket. Probably an exaggerated claim... Any information on the origin of the brand Astra would be gladly appreciated.

Very special thanks to KDENA.


Inoxcrom Corinthian – Sailor Yama-dori

Bruno Taut
Madrid, December 19th, 2015. Nakano, January 8th, 2016.
etiquetas: Astra, Conid, soluciones técnicas

Monday, December 14, 2015

Kato 2000

Kato Kiyoshi, the thinking head behind Kato Seisakushô pens, died in January of 2010. This company was Kato’s last endeavor after a life of turning pens here and there, in Europe and in the Middle East. His legacy passed onto Mr. Onishi, a former worker in Kato Seisakushô company.


Kato Seisakushô's model 2000.

Onishi and Kato share a taste for anonymity and for celluloid. The lack of external markings and the irregular distributions of these pens –both Onishi’s and Kato’s— poses a number of problems on the side of the buyer. And that is what happened to me when I saw the pen I am presenting today: How many Kato’s pens remain unsold? How do we distinguish them from those made by Onishi? Is there, in fact, any real difference between them?

Today’s pen –I was assured by knowledgeable sources— belongs to the last series produced by Kato Kiyoshi and, therefore, dates back from 2009. In fact, the size and the shape match the records of the model 2000 of Kato’s pens.


This model 2000 is a cartridge-converter pen, and it implements a 14 k gold nib. As in the case of the model 800F, already described on these Chronicles, the nib inscription is very non-descriptive: “SUPERIOR / 14 K / LIFETIME / GRATIFY / JAPAN”. However, the size and dimensions of this nib are the same as those of the big size nibs made by Sailor, which is not surprising by now. But contrary to the usual Sailor policy, these nibs implemented by Mr. Kato are not engraved with any dating code.


Nibs and feeds of the Kato's model 2000 (left) and of a big size Sailor nib (right).


Two Kato Seisakushô's models: 800F and 2000. Note the differences in the nib size.

The celluloid of this pen deserves some additional note. Traditional celluloid was a family of compounds of cellulose nitrate and camphor (plus dyes and some other agents). Modern celluloids were developed later and substituted the former in some applications, film stock to name just one, due to the instability and flammability of the old compound. However, some high end pens, particularly by Italian makers, still use some variations of the classical formulation. And this seems to be the case of this Kato Seisakushô’s pen: it has a very distinctive camphor smell, very noticeable inside the cap and inside the barrel.

These are the dimensions of this pen:

Length closed: 144 mm
Length open: 125 mm
Length posted: 163 mm
Diameter: 15 mm
Weight: 23.0 g (with converter, dry)

Both Mr. Kato and Mr Onishi can be seen on the following video in the series “Masters of the Fountain Pen” published by VirtuThe3rdTV on YouTube:



My thanks to Mr. Sunami.


Parker 51 demi, vacumatic – Private Reserve DC Supershow Blue

Bruno Taut
Madrid, December 13rd, 2015
etiquetas: Kato Seisakushô, Onishi Seisakushô, Sailor

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Sri Lanka

Just a short travel note today. Some months ago I traveled to Sri Lanka, where I did some stylographic scouting.

I went there thinking I was going to find Indian pens, mostly ebonite eyedroppers. After all, Sri Lanka and India are close neighbors with a history of commercial ties. And on top of that, Sri Lanka has never had any production of fountain pens.

What I found was very different: no Indian pens in sight, but Chinese ones made by Hero. Model 336 was often the only fountain pen available at specialized shops. Its price was LKR 150 in Colombo and between LKR 200 and LKR 250 in Jaffna. Hero ink was also available for a mere LKR 50 per 62 ml ink bottle.


Hero ink at a shop in Colombo. Their price was LKR 50 per bottle (62 ml).


My stylographic shopping.

The exception to this Hero rule was the occasional Pakistan-made Dollar pen model 707. This is a very light piston filler with a steel nib. This nib is not even tipped, and the writing point is made out of bending the nib itself. All in all, the Dollar 717 is a very basic pen and its price does indeed reflect this: LKR 70 (in Colombo).


The Dollar 717. Its price in Sri Lanka, LKR 70. Less than EUR 0.50.

These findings show something we all know—the rapid expansion of China all around the World. Chinese capital for Colombo Port City and Chinese pens for the Sri Lankan market obey to the same principle.

(At the time of publishing this text the equivalence between Sri Lanka Rupee and Euro is LKR 100 = EUR 0.60).


Pilot Vpen – Pilot Blue

Bruno Taut
Nakano, October 10th, 2015
etiquetas: Sri Lanka, China, India, Pakistan, Dollar, tinta, Hero

Friday, December 4, 2015

Capless Posh

By now, the Pilot family of Capless pens is well known. The three variations –Capless, Décimo, Fermo— have already been described on these Chronicles and we all are aware of the array of limited editions Pilot periodically releases trying to cash the success of the model. These limited editions are based on the regular Capless model and, a lot less often, on the slimmer Décimo, leaving the Fermo behind in this more restricted market. Or maybe not…

In 2014, luxury brand Hermès joined efforts with designer Marc Newson and Pilot to create a unique and exclusive pen: the Hermes Nautilus.


This Hermes/Pilot pen does indeed look brilliant and original, but deep inside it is just a Pilot Fermo. As such, the pen is operated by twisting the tail over the section. And further rotation unscrews both halves opening the pen. Inside, the very familiar rhodiated, 18 K gold nib common to all modern Pilot Capless models. Identical nib save for a small detail—it is engraved with an H, together with the usual dating codes of Pilot. In particular, this nib was manufactured at the Hiratsuka plant on May of 2014.



The Nautilus, made of aluminum and steel, is available in four colors: grey, blue, black and red. These are the dimensions:

Length closed: 145 mm
Length open: 154 mm
Diameter (or maximum width): 14 mm
Weight: 43.9 g (dry, empty cartridge)



All in all, an overweight and overpriced Fermo. Retail price of USD 1670 (according to the Hermès USA website) makes it a factor 10 more expensive than the regular Fermo (JPY 20000)—with the same nib!

Exclusivity has a price.

My thanks to Mr. Sunami.


More information:
Hermes USA website (active on December 2015).
Ken KESSLER. Hermès Nautilus: so much more than a pen. The Telegraph. July 8, 2014.


Parker 51 demi, vacumatic – Private Reserve DC Supershow Blue

Bruno Taut
Madrid, December 3rd, 2015
etiquetas: Pilot, Capless, mercado
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