Crónicas Estilográficas

Monday, February 19, 2018

Ink Price Evolution (Japan 2005-2018)

Official numbers say that the Japanese economy has been stagnated for a very long time. Prices in Japan, for instance, are remarkably stable. My favorite example is that along my more than 10 years in this country, public transportation in Tokyo has not changed their prices save for the sales tax increase in April of 2014.

But, is that the whole story? What about the fountain pen world?

Japanese pen companies have kept prices of hardware (i. e. pens) very stable in the last, say, 20 years. If fact, the traditional way of increasing the prices is to phase out some model only to be replaced by a new one at a higher price. A variation of this is what Platinum is doing with the 3776 series, whose recent variations are significantly more expensive than the basic version for nothing else than a color change or a semi transparent body.

In the field of inks, though, things are different. Just recently, Sailor rebranded its traditional line of “Jentle” inks as “Shikiori”, and reduced the inkwell capacity while keeping the original price of JPY 1000. This change represented a price hike of a 2.5 factor (150% increase). And this is not the first drastic rise in Sailor ink prices: in 2009, the same 50 ml inkwell went from JPY 600 to JPY 1000 (67% increase). We can see these price variations on the following graph:

Evolution of the prices of Sailor inks in JPY/ml according to MSRP in Japan. "Pigmented" inks refers to Kiwaguro and Seiboku inks, and does not include the (also pigmented) Storia inks. The line labeled as "Original Inks" corresponds to the typical price of Sailor-made inks for some stationers in Japan, but not for all of them.

And what about the other two main manufacturers?

Platinum inks showed only one inflationary moment in January of 2014 when the basic line of inks (black, blue-black and red) went from JPY 13.3/ml to JPY 20/ml. However, in the last 12 years, Platinum has created three new lines of inks –pigmented inks, Mix Free and Classic Inks— whose prices are much higher than the inks present at the time of their launching.

Evolution of the prices of Platinum inks in JPY/ml according to MSRP in Japan. Those inks labeled as "Iron Gall (Classic)" do not include the usual blue-black ink, which follows an iron-gall formulation.

Something similar could be said about Pilot inks. In 2007, Pilot launched the Iroshizuku line with a price that was (and still is) more than twice that of the regular line (black, blue-black, blue and red). But at the same time, along these past 12 years, Pilot has not increased the price of any of their inks.

Evolution of the prices of Pilot inks in JPY/ml according to MSRP in Japan. The lines of 30, 70 and 350 ml correspond to the regular line of Pilot inks: black, blue-black, blue and red. Re Iroshizuku inks, there is another presentation of them (Iroshizuku Mini) for JPY 47/ml.

It is difficult to judge which of these companies has higher prices in their inks. The answer depends on the use each of us might make of the different lines of inks or, alternatively, on the balanced average of the ink sales of each company.

Nevertheless, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Sailor inks are, as of now, the most expensive of the main Japanese companies. The latest move, rebranding Jentle inks as Shikiori increasing their princes 150%, is too blunt and very difficult to justify.

But only the market will decide…

NOTE: The prices mentioned on this text are those reflected on the catalogs of the companies (MSRP) in Japanese Yen (JPY), in Japan, before taxes. Sales tax in Japan are currently 8%, and were 5% before April of 2014.

Ban-ei, wide ring with Henckel nib – Noodler’s Zhivago

Bruno Taut
Nakano, February 18th 2018
etiquetas: tinta, mercado, Sailor, Platinum, Pilot

Thursday, February 8, 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-know 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

Monday, January 29, 2018

Belage Music

Yet another music nib

A number of three-tined music nibs have appeared on these pages. With the exceptions of a magnificent Waterman’s size 4 and of a bespoke Montblanc modern nib, all were made in Japan after the War. Those music nibs are, in general, quite unassuming and they are associated to usual workhorses and not to luxurious models with lavish decoration or exotic materials. So, regular pens for regular use receive –and received— some of the most exciting nibs (and I am not only meaning mucis nibs).

A collection of music nibs made in Japan.

The Belage was a model Platinum launched in 1979. It was a cartridge converter pen with a wing-flow nib made of steel and of gold. Its design was very clean—basically a continuous steel cylinder from cap to barrel with a narrow plastic tail where the cap could be attached for posting. This design received the “Good Design Award” of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry of Japan.

Three different Platinum Belage. Older on top. Note the plastic tail on the two older units.

However, later versions of the pen had this clean design changed. Now, the barrel is slightly tapered and the cap posts directly on it, with no need of the narrower tail present on the original model.

The newer Belage.

This newer version was also smaller than the original—shorter, thinner, lighter. And its nib is also smaller in dimensions. It is still a wing-flow nib—only smaller. But the point today is that there were three-tined music nibs on these Belage pens. On this case, it is made of 14 K gold.


... back...

... and inside. Note the two ink channels in the feed.

These are the dimensions of this pen:

Length closed: 130.5 mm
Length open: 120.5 mm
Length posted: 143.0 mm
Diameter: 11.0 mm
Weight: 19.0 g (dry, with converter)

It is possible that the original Belage might have had a music nib. After all, we have already seen a wing-flow nib of that same size with three tines on a pocket pen from the mid 1970s.

This particular Belage with music nib was manufactured in 1998.

The Belage from 1998.

Platinum pocket pen, Yamada Seisakusho – KWZ Brown #2

Bruno Taut
Nakano, January 26th 2018
etiquetas: plumín, plumín musical, Platinum

Monday, January 22, 2018

La Visconti Giapponese

Sometimes, reading the pen is truly helpful. Well, mostly always.

At the past Madrid Pen Show I saw the pen shown 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 many. This particular unit was made in 1990 as it is numbered as 007/90... out of 100 pens made.

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 model, 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

Thursday, January 18, 2018


Japanese people end the year with a traditional clean up of the house--and of the office at times. This is called ôsôji: big clean up. On the way, many forgotten or out of use goods end up in the garbage. But your junk might be someone else’s treasure.

The Wagner “end-of-the-year” bazaar is a mixture of an end of the year party and a small market where to sell all those pens –and accessories you might no longer want. Or at least that was at some time. Nowadays, it has become a small pen show for local traders perfectly comparable in size with the “Pen Trading” (such is the name) event celebrated in Tokyo in Spring, usually by the end of April or beginning of May (::1::, ::2::).

So, this past December 30th, pen aficionados in Tokyo gathered at the end-of-the-year bazaar organized by the Wagner group. Between 150 and 200 visitors, and about 15 traders conformed this event where the commercial activity dominated over any other aspect. Fair enough… save for the exhaustion of the formula: too few traders with small variety and selection of pens for a very active pen community. The paradox is that other events in Tokyo organized by Maruzen (World of Fountain Pens) and by Mitsukoshi (Fountain Pens of the World Festival; ::1::, ::2::, ::3::), both focused on new pens—attract a lot more people and generate a higher economic activity.

Japan seems faithful to its tradition of isolation. The Galápagos syndrome is alive and well in a number of areas in this island nation. It is not easy to pinpoint a single reason to explain such attitude, but Economics might provide some arguments—are there real incentives to open the market to Barbaric influences?

Now, how long can this isolation last?

Romillo Nervión – Sailor Blue Iron

Bruno Taut
Nakano, January 8th 2018
labels: evento, Tokyo, mercado, Japón

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Sailor Double Sided Nib

Double side nibs are not new to this blog. Not so long ago we saw a Vanco pen with a beautiful “duet” nib. On more recent years, several of the Sailor’s “specialty nibs” sported that same feature; that is, the nib points are cut and polished to provide a good writing experience both on the regular and on the inverted (upside down) positions.

Older than the Vanco Duet is the Sailor on display today. Everything on it points out at the 1930s as the production date. The pen is a flat top Japanese eyedropper inspired by the fashion set by the Parker Duofold, as was often the case in Japan at the time. It is made of ebonite and is coated with urushi lacquer.

There is an inscription on the pen body: "Sailor / Fountain Pens / PAT. O. 116315", together with the logo of the company.

The nib –the real protagonist of this story— is made of 14 K gold and is labeled as size 30. This number does not say much –or anything at all— about its actual size. If fact, it is very modest in dimensions: its total length is 23 mm, perfectly comparable to sizes 2 or 1 nibs by Pilot at the time.

The size 30 nib by Sailor.

The beak-shaped point of the lower end of the nib.

Its point is carefully cut. On the lower side –regular writing— the point takes the form of a bird beak with a very thin ending, thus drawing a very fine line. The upper side, on the contrary, is cut as a broad nib. The writing sample shows the final effects of these two points.

Writing sample of the double sided nib by Sailor. The square on the paper is 5x5 mm2.

These are the dimensions of the pen:

Length closed: 135 mm
Length open: 120 mm
Length posted: 168 mm
Diameter: 14.0 mm
Weight (dry): 18.5 g
Ink deposit: 2.4 ml

And these are the dimensions of the nib:

Length: 23.2 mm
Shoulder width: 5.8 mm
Weight: about 0.25 g
Material: 14 K gold

The engraving on the nib reads "14 CRT GOLD / Sailor / REGISTERED / PATENT OFFICE / -30-".

The manufacturing date: 11.4. Probably November of 1934.

The nib is dated on the lower side: 11.4. According to the regular way of dating Sailor pens and nibs, this means that the nib was probably manufactured in November of 1934.

The experimentation with fountain pens in Japan has indeed a long history.

Athena (1950s), lever filler – Pelikan 4001 Royal Blue

Bruno Taut
Nakano, January 5th 2018
labels: Sailor, plumín, Vanco, soluciones técnicas

Friday, December 29, 2017

Madrid 2017 (II)

The Madrid Pen Show of 2017 –its 14th edition—took place over a month ago, on November 17th to 19th. As I had announced, I attended it and these are some of my reflections and conclusions.

The event is, according to numerous sources, the leader of its class in Europe. 63 dealers, some of them with more than one table, offered their products to about 1500 visitors along the three days of the show. The typical expense can be traced between EUR 200 and EUR 300 per visitor, which makes a total business in the order of EUR 400,000. The average business per dealer is, therefore, around EUR 6000. Of course, these numbers are just approximate—save that of the number of dealers!

The Madrid Pen Show is also the major celebration of the very active Spanish pen community. The community provides most of the social aspect of the party, as the following video shows.

My thanks to Mr. José Riofrío, author of the video.

Some new people could be seen on the floor during those days. On one hand, some younger dealers offering both new and vintage pens as well as some paper products and other accessories. On the other, I could also see some foreign visitors, adding an additional layer to the international expansion of the event. This should not be a surprise—after all, American shows attract visitors across state lines...

On their side, locals seem to have understood the value of having such an event at their footsteps: knowledge, pens, better prices through competition… The contrast with the very parochial Japanese pen scene –a country where the pen industry is still strong and the community is very active— is startling.

Romillo Nervión – Sailor Blue Iron

Bruno Taut
Nakano, December 29th 2017
labels: evento, Madrid
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