On resizing my collection into something personally meaningful, Japanese pens have taken over half the available nine slots in my pen box. There are two reasons for this: craft and the characteristics of the nibs. The three major Japanese pen makers (Pilot, Sailor and Platinum) still make their own nibs. As a lover of nibs with fine points, Japanese nibs are far finer than their modern Western cousins (i.e., Bock, JoWo, Pelikan, Montblanc).
A pen pal has waxed often about her Nakaya pens, “Ah the nibs, the nibs…” Yes. The Nakaya nibs are superb. That’s an opinion, of course. Some people love Sailor nibs. Not moi. Give me more Nakaya nibs! As I’ve written many times before, fountain pen choices—the heft, shape, material, nibs—are immensely personal.
My second urushi fountain pen was a Nakaya Piccolo. The broad nib on that pen was customized into a medium/fine-ish stub by John Mottishaw. The nib is a unique writing experience in that while the nib is quite smooth there is a tactile feeling. It is a pleasant, joyful “hello,” not a scratchy quality at all. You can feel the paper as you write. What I would describe as a “butter nib” is one that feels silky as you write and you do not have an impression of the paper you are writing upon. Properly tuned Omas and Pilot Vanishing Point nibs fit in the butter category.
Often I wondered how much the quality of the Nakaya nib was due to Mr. Mottishaw and how much was due to the manufacturer of the nib. Nakaya pen prices continue to zoom upward and thus comparisons by the average vandal are not likely unless visiting a pen show. And so one wonders, given the familial nature of Nakaya to Platinum, how the more affordable Platinum nibs compare.
The company known Platinum Pen LTD began in 1919. The Japanese company did not use the word Platinum until 1924. Interestingly one of the original company names prior to 1924 was “Nakaya Seisakusho.” (Seisakusho translates to “works; factory or plant.”)
Today there are two Japanese pen companies many people believe to be the same: Platinum and Nakaya.Toshiya Nakata, the grandson of Platinum’s founder, created the Nakaya pen company in 1999 while he was working for Platinum. Later on, Mr. Nakata became President of Platinum as well.
The companies share family history. They also share similar pen components and manufacturing machinery. Nakaya, however, turns and finishes fountain pens one at a time by hand. Platinum does not.
Are Nakayas really “bespoke” Platinum pens?
Perhaps. They are separate companies with a close family ties. You have to dig below surface similarities to get at the differences. For example, certain nibs, such as the elastic nib, are only found on Nakaya pens.
A used Platinum #3776 from another collector came my way. It met my curiosity penchant as well as fulfilling the brown pens jones. The nib was described to me as Extra Fine but in translating the kanji on the nib it turns out to be Soft Fine, also known as Fine Flexible. The nib is 14K and the barrel material is made from celluloid (the cellulose nitrate kind). Writing with the 3776 nib also gave that same tactile feeling that came with the Nakaya nib. Nice. The nib point size being fine, I use it mostly for note-taking and not for long term writing sessions. I can imagine it is quite suited for writing kanji.
I liked the Platinum #3776 so much that when a fellow collector put a 1980′s flat-top resin version up for sale, I bought it thinking it would make a great gift for a friend. It will, if I can figure out how to part with it.
The medium nib is as superb as the Nakaya and the celluloid #3776 nibs. The resin material however felt plastic-y in that cheap kind of way that plastic can feel…like an Autopoint Big Cat. Yet the construction of the resin pen is solid and that first shock of touching the pen quickly dissolved.
The #3776 and the Piccolo
The Nakaya and the #3776 pens are c/c style and all use the same Platinum converter. All three pens have metal components in their sections making them unsuitable for eyedropper conversion. All can use Platinum cartridges and the Platinum cartridge adapter for use with international carts.
The #3776 is meant to be a writer’s pen and the details about its development are widely known. I do not know how my two #3776s compare to present day production of these pens but suspect the differences to be minor. As of this posting, a current production flat-top model is only available in the ribbed model. The original #3776 was ribbed (a nod to the 100 year Waterman fountain pen) and had a flat-top cap.
The resin #3776 is quite comfortable in my small hand. The section is long and has a lovely curve to its tapering. The cap is not a screw-type. It is a snap-on cap.
The celluloid #3776′s cap is a screw-type. In comparison with its older brother, the celluloid section while friendly, is not as sweet to hold. Celluloid, a much coveted pen material, has remained unappreciated by moi (though not for lack of trying). Many pen pals have described the depth and warmth of their celluloid pens yet much of said pens have, uh, left me cold. It wasn’t until the celluloid #3776 that I understood: The pen feels pleasantly warm in my hand. That gave me a light bulb, “ohhhh that’s what they mean by celluloid being warm,” moment.
The Nakaya Piccolo is the shortest of these three pens with the Piccolo barrel being the widest. The heki-tamenuri has been a popular choice among many of my pen pals, me included. Nakaya’s true calling, however, is that you do not have to settle for “off the shelf” and can choose unique urushi and maki-e for your pen.
If pressed to choose between the celluloid or the black resin #3776, it’s difficult to choose. I like them both for different reasons. The celluloid has the remarkable warm brown marbled celluloid material. It is a small size and makes a good pocket note-taking pen. The black resin version is a classic looking pen that is very comfortable to use and the nib is suitable for both notes and long writing sessions.
Choosing among the three pens, the Nakaya Piccolo is the pen I will keep. No question. Not only does it have the impeccable nib, it presents a handsome color palette in heki-tamenuri urushi. The Piccolo is the pen that’s most often in my pocket, at the ready for a quick note or two. The ink supply doesn’t last very long, especially using the medium/fine-ish stub, but the pen is comfortable enough for long writing sessions. There is nothing fragile about the Piccolo, yet when uncapping there is a quiet porcelain-like sound the pen makes. The urushi craft makes me feel connected to centuries of artists. When you are always working a muse any little bit of connection helps.
Sizing and Weight
Weights below are for pens inked with a converter. A Platinum converter weighs 4g by itself without any ink. A Platinum cartridge weighs 2g.
- Resin #3776
- Capped is 5 1/2″ long and weighs 24g. Uncapped length is 4 7/8″ nib to barrel and weighs 14g.
- Celluloid #3776
- Capped is 5 3/8″ long and weighs 24g. Uncapped length is 4 5/8″ nib to barrel and weighs 14g.
- Nakaya Piccolo
- Capped is 5 1/8″ long and weighs 21g. Uncapped length is 4 5/8″ nib to barrel end and weighs 16g.
The Platinum #3776 still offers an affordable entryway to a fountain pen with a gold nib. In the USA these pens are carried by many online vendors and brick and mortar stores. And remember I bought both my #3776s in great condition through other collectors!
In the USA Nakaya pens on the other hand can only be bought new through Classic Pens aka Nibs.com or from Nakaya directly. Outside the US, pens can be bought (for example) through Aesthetic Bay, Nakaya, or in a brick and mortar shop in Japan. Occasionally these pens are offered up for sale used via eBay. From time to time collectors put them up for sale on FP Classified and other pen forums. Take care purchasing a used Nakaya. One pen pal was sorely disappointed in the very worn condition of a pen she bought which had been presented as in good condition. While urushi is hardy, it can be scratched. Repairing urushi can be costly, if at all possible. When ordering a new fountain pen from Nibs or Nakaya expect to wait anywhere from three to six months for delivery. Remember: Nakaya hand-makes pens one at a time!
Note added 2013 Aug 24: While Nakaya nibs are pressure or friction fit against the feed into the section, the nibs are set using a particular method requiring steam. If you are repeatedly removing your Nakaya nibs, you will lose the special fit to the feed.
Just A Starting Point
- Looking forward to the publication of this book: Fountain Pens of Japan by Andreas Lambrou and Masamichi Sunami
- The True Mettle of Japanese Pens (English translation stored at nibs.com)
- The Feel of Materials (Brian Gray)
- Japanese video: the making Pilot Nibs
- Links to Urushi Techniques Videos (FPN)
- Ryojusen Pens, Collecting Japanese Pens
- There are a plethora of review and thoughts about Platinum and Nakaya fountain pens on the Fountain Pen Network.
- Platinum Pen Catalog
- Platinum Pen USA
- The Platinum Logo (Crónicas Estilográficas)
- Dave’s Platinum Pen Interview (Dave’s Mechanical Pencils)
- #377 Ribbed Version Review (FPN)
- Platinum higo zogan reissue (Leigh R)
- Platinum Celluloid with Music Nib Review (Leigh R’s/FPN)
- Platinum 3776 with Music Nib (FPOkami review)
- Musical Interlude (BleuBug)
- Video: How to Apply Silicone Grease to a Platinum Converter
- Things to Consider Before Purchasing a Nakaya (FPN)
- When Customization Goes Awry (FPN—do read the entire thread!)
- Nakaya Fountain Pen Company
- Profile of Toshiya Nakata, President of Nakaya (FPN)
- A Visit to the Nakaya Fountain Pen Company (Russ Stutler)
- My Big Adventure with a Nakaya Fountain Pen (Pentrace, Russ Stutler)
- Nakaya Visit the 2004 Chicago Pen Show (Pentrace, Len Provisor)
- Nakaya Briarwood FP (it’s not all urushi!) (FPN)
- Laurel Tree Nakaya Piccolo posts
- Many Possibilities in Nakaya Colors (FPN)
- Stone Finished Nakaya Review (Danny Tam)
- A Special Product from a Urushi Tree (Pentrace)
- Nakaya Urushi Wajima-nuri-Tamenuri (Pentrace)
- Nakaya Piccolo, “String Rolled” (Leigh R)
- Nakaya Ink Flow Problems (FPN)
A Bit About Differences
- Is there a difference between Nakaya and Platinum? (FPN)
- Nakaya Vs Platinum (FPN)
- FPN Platinum and Nakaya Gallery (FPN)
- Platinum and Nakaya (FPN)
Updated 2013 Aug to include:
- Platinum Pen Factory, (Fountain Pen Samurai blog)
- Care and Feeding of Nakaya and Danitrio pens (FPN), post about urushi care
- Inks to Avoid in using a Nakaya (FPN)
Updated 2013 Oct:
- Cult Pens – read the description of the #3776 for details about how “Uniquely Platinum publish write-out lengths for the nibs, based on a single Platinum cartridge, with a pen load of 50g, at an angle of 60 degrees…”
- Fascinating FPN discussion about urushi oil and Nakaya cure time