Friday, June 30, 2017

Internal Competition

The big news in the world of fountain pens in 2016 –at least in Japan—was the release of the Pilot Custom Urushi.

The three points of the Custom Urushi (FM, M, B) ready to be tested. And a Custom 845 on the right hand side.

Custom Urushi (top) and Custom 845 (bottom).

The size 30 nib has created a new category in Pilot’s catalog of pens, a category in between sizes 15 and 20, on one side, and size 50 on the other. Sizes 20 and 50 are exclusive to Namiki pens, and are implemented on models Yukari Royale, size 20, and Emperor, size 50, including the Urushi Series in black (ro-iro) and red (shu). Pilot’s size 15 nib is implemented in a number of Custom models: 743, 823, 845, Ichii (一位), Enju (槐). Let us remember, finally, that sizes 15 and 20 are very similar, like KMPN showed on his reference post on the matter.

The insides of the Custom Urushi (top) and of the Custom 845 (bottom). Their ink converters are the same--CON-70.

Nibs 30 (top) and 15 (bottom), side by side.

Externally, the new Pilot Custom Urushi (JPY 88000), as shown on these pages some months ago, is little else than an oversized Custom 845 (JPY 50000). Both pens are coated with urushi, and on both of them the section and the finials on cap and body are made of black plastic. Interestingly enough, both pens use the same ink converter –the CON-70— and, therefore, the bigger size of the Custom Urushi does not enjoy any difference on the filling system.

Cheaper (JPY 30000) Custom models with size 15 nibs –Custom 743 and 823— are all made of plastic and their gold purity is lower: 14 K Au vs the 18 K of the Custom 845, Ichii, Enju, and Custom Urushi. On the higher end, the Yukari Royale-size pens of the Urushi Series (nib size 20) are made of brass and are totally coated with urushi. Their price is JPY 128000.


nib size


nib points

filling system

ink capacity (ml) (1)


(JPY) (2)



14K Au





CON-70 - 1.0 ml



14K Au


F-M-B (3)

plunger - 2.2 ml 30.000


Ichii (一位) (4),

Enju (槐) (5)


18K Au


F-M-B-BB (3)


CON-70 - 1.0 ml





18K Au




CON-70 - 1.0 ml


Urushi #20


18K Au




CON-70 - 1.0 ml


NOTES: Data according to Pilot's and Namiki's catalogs.
(1) C/C: cartridge and converter. Other converters (CON-20, CON-40, CON-50) can also be used. Their ink capacities are smaller than that of the CON-70.
(2) Catalog prices without taxes (8% in Japan).
(3) At some shops, Custom 823 and Custom 845 can be found with some other nib points.
(4) Custom Ichii pen only has two nib points available: F and M.
(5) Custom Enju comes in three nib points: F, M, and B.
Comparative chart of the Pilot and Namiki models with nibs of sizes 15, 20, and 30.

Three urushi pens.

The obvious question now is whether the Pilot Custom Urushi might be stealing some of the market of the Namiki pens with nib size 20. Those JPY 40000 of difference in their prices, together with the much bigger nib of the cheaper of Custom Urushi might be hard to overlook when comparing both pens: Custom Urushi and Namiki Urushi Series 20.

The Pilot Custom 823.

And looking at the comparative chart, some might go back to considering the well known Custom 823 as an excellent value. And this might be the right time to speak about that pen in depth.

Sheaffer’s TM Admiral – Pilot Iroshizuku Ku-jaku

Bruno Taut
Shinjuku, June 15 2017
etiquetas: Pilot, plumín, mercado, maki-e

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
- 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 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 / < 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

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.

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
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