Tale of a Vandal Pen User: What Remains

Current storage box with 9 pen slots.

There is no magic number of writing instruments, no magic bullet to relieve the desire to have things you don’t have, no magic pen to make you a better writer. No magic except in the creation of new worlds—lost in writing, pen to paper, or even fingers to keyboard.

For many of us, the search for the perfect nib and pen combination is a rabbit hole easily fallen into, and difficult to climb out of. Some of us enjoy the hunt more than the pens themselves. A few years ago, my thought was simple enough—to have a writing instrument that endured; something un-disposable. The answer seemed simple enough too—an inexpensive Esterbrook SJ. Naturally, complications ensued with additional preferences evolving: something not a lever-filler, something that could last more than four or five pages, and something more comfortable in my hand. Changing pens and focus over time from Esterbrooks to Pelikans to Conklins to Visconti Ragtimes to Wahl-Eversharps, including various squatters among them. Forgive me if I repeat myself from post to post, eh? *sigh*

Pens now gone top to bottom: Pelikan 150, Original Visconti Ragtime, Aurora Mini Optima, large Danitrio Cumlaude, Pelikan 200, vintage Pelikan 400s

Since the pen culling began, 2 pens have survived the last 3 years: a Levenger True Writer and an Edison Huron. The former a gift from my love, and the latter a gift to myself. In 2 years time, 3 additional pens arrived and have survived the downsizings: all Danitrio fountain pens. Two are urushi pens from maki-e artists and one is a out of production Italian celluloid model. Should it be any surprise the last 2 pens making the collection are an Edison of the Hakumin variety, and yet another urushi Danitrio?

To obtain the 4th Danitrio some modest sacrifice has been required. Gifts cannot be sacrificed. Gifts are connections to lovable people. Gifts will always, I hope, survive any crazy plans regarding re-homing pens. When I considered my cigar box goal of 9 pens, I did wonder about declaring my gift pens (the Levenger and a Sheaffer Tuckaway) un-countable. Or possibly counting 2 as 1 pen. The Tucky is so very tiny, you know.

Although an Edison Mina was once sacrified for the Hakumin Mina, no Edison was considered give-upable. Nor any Danitrio, despite my concern about the similarity of the base urushi between the Fellowship pen and the Short Octagon. Apparently it was not this similarity that was the true “problem” (because don’t ever forget these are pens we are talking about, not real problems). The problem was the heki-tamenuri Piccolo with its tiny c/c nature.

Did I love the Nakaya Piccolo more than I wanted this Danitrio pen? No. Nor did I love the PiloTWSBI, and the Pilot Decimo enough to spare them. The Nakaya’s absence is shocking some of you, n’est ces pas? But remember it has a tiny c/c nature that some of you adore, and some of us, well, don’t. Truthfully, I prefer Danitrio’s urushi. Plus the Danitrio allows me to “ED” it and fulfills the desire for “core writing pen” status. Okay, I could have reached 9 pens without adding a 4th Danitrio, but then the Nakaya’s sacrifice would have been in vain, no? Uh, right?

A simple way to find out how easy or painful it is to let a pen go is to write a classified ad with it. Two pens chastised me terribly when I did this:  the Sailor Realo and (shudder) the Sheaffer Balance. The Balance ad never saw the light of day, as I quickly remembered the folly of losing it. The Realo took a good 48 hours before that mistake was rectified. I do not love the Realo so much as I love writing with its delicious, smooth EF nib. While the Decimo has a comely, slim profile as a notetaking pen, the Realo seems a perfect notetaking pen despite its fatter, business-like profile. The cap can be quietly unscrewed in a dark performance hall, and it’s light enough to clip to my shirt when running errands. The PiloTWSBI was fun while it was here. Yet it was never seriously here for the long haul. The Nakaya, well, as I stated, there are other pens I love more.

One of the things I enjoy about the Danitrio and the Edison section of the tiny pen hoard, is knowing that my purchase (however small) impacts individuals involved in the pen making. There’s an artist behind my modest urushi Danitrios: Tatsuya Todo (his signature is Kosetsu). Behind Edison is Brian Gray and his family. Ernest Shin behind Hakumin.

And so the tiny pen hoard shifts again to include (soon) 4 Danitrios, 2 Edisons, 1 Levenger, 1 Sailor, and 2 vintage Sheaffers. That adds up to 10 pens. As close to 9 as I believe I’m going to get. A pen is always inked, so only 9 others need to lay in the cigar box at any one time, right? In fact 2 pens are usually inked (as I write this post, the Cumlaude and the Realo). The new line re-drawn to 10 pens. Yes, 10 feels good. The perfect nib to pen combination? Well, that’s a future post.

Beauty, which is what is meant by art, using the word in its widest sense, is, I contend, no mere accident to human life, which people can take or leave as they choose, but a positive necessity of life. The Beauty of Life (1880)—William Morris

PW Retrospective:  Past Header Photos

From 2009 top to bottom: Bexley Sherazade, Pelikan M200, Visconti Ragtime LE, Aurora Mini Optima
From early 2010 top to bottom: Eversharp Skyline, Visconti Ragtime ver 2
From mid 2010 left to right:  Edison Huron, J. Herbin ink bottle, Wahl, Wahl ringtop, Visconti Ragtime LE, Visconti Caravel, Sailor ink bottle. All sitting on G. Lalo Verge de France stationery.
From 2011 top to bottom: Sailor ink bottle, Nakaya Piccolo, Edison Mina, Platinum Preppy all sitting on Rhodia No. 18 notepad.
From mid 2012 top to bottom: Hakumin Edison Mina, Sheaffer Streamlined Balance, Edison Huron

A Bit About Platinum and Nakaya

Nakaya between Platinum 3776 nibs

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.

Platinum #3776

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.

  1. Resin #3776
    •  Capped is 5 1/2″ long and weighs 24g. Uncapped length is 4 7/8″ nib to barrel and weighs 14g.
  2. Celluloid #3776
    • Capped is  5 3/8″  long and weighs 24g. Uncapped length is 4 5/8″ nib to barrel and weighs 14g.
  3. 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.

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Just A Starting Point

Platinum

Nakaya

A Bit About Differences

Updated 2013 Aug to include:

Updated 2013 Oct:

Updated 2014 Jan:

Updated 2014 July:

Tale of a Vandal Pen User: On Ink Capacity

Danitrio Eyedropper

Meditating upon the remaining pens in my little hoard, to my surprise there were only two piston filling pens remaining. Today the pen collection contains seven c/c fountain pens. Four of those c/c pens are eyedropper converted pens. “Converted” sounds so complicated, doesn’t it? All conversion takes is a little silicon grease applied to the section threads. Despite this “conversion” the pen can still be used with a cartridge or a converter when desired.

At one time the collection contained only piston-filling pens. I thought piston-filling pens provided the best ink capacity. Yet because I require lightweight pens and pens of a certain diameter, larger piston and eyedropper pens with great ink capacity are outside my writing comfort range.

The Edison Huron, as has been previously noted, opened my collection up to the idea of filling the barrel directly with ink, aka western-style eyedropper filling. Filling the barrel with ink is a very simple procedure—not as messy as some would have you believe especially if you are paying attention to what you are doing—and this style of pen does not have any parts that twist, turn, squeeze or rot. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone kindly reading Peaceable Writer that I find elegance in such simplicity.

There has been no science in my exploration of ink capacity. I have merely discovered, “Oh, that converter needs refilling two or three times or so in a day.” Or, “For God’s sake, that converter lasted hardly an hour of writing.” “Gee, that Pelikan lasted two days before refilling.” Or, “Wow, the Huron lasted four days before needing to be fed again.” Or, “the Short Octagon with its EEF nib seems to go on forever.”

Generally I keep two pens inked at a time. One for out and about note-taking and one for writing sessions. During the latter, I’m not paying too much attention to the pen and the ink. Some day I want to count how many pages or words a pen-fill writes. I am too busy (or perhaps too forgetful when in the writing zone) to track. Yet my curiosity would like me to count.  I have only a general sense of how long pens write before they need refilling.

What little I know about ink capacity is that a pen’s feed, nib-point size and how wet or dry the nib writes effects how much ink is used during a writing session. (With one exception, all my nibs are in fine-point arena.) The physical size of the nib and feed also effect how much ink is taken up. The large Bexley nib’s feed will likely hold more ink than the Levenger True Writer’s feed. The medium wet stub of the Nakaya Piccolo with its tiny Platinum converter will write out faster than I’d like for a writing session.

4ml capacity syringe; earthquake putty at bottom

Over the holiday, having a bit of time, I performed the following experiment on the pen collection. Loading up each pen with ink and making sure the feed was saturated (see Brian Goulet’s video for a good tip, btw), I then expelled the ink into a measuring tube. The tube was a syringe with some earthquake putty stuck at the bottom to prevent leaking. [I tried measuring how much ink a pen took in, which would be more accurate (it would include the saturated feed), but I could not find a satisfying measuring container in the house. Impatience lead me to the expelling-ink route with the tiny syringe.]

For the eyedropper pens, I filled each one with the measuring syringe. I was surprised to discover that the four converted pens virtually held the same amount of ink! I expected that some pens might hold more ink than others.

Below are the results of my non-empirical holiday ink capacity experiment. Remember the amounts do not take in to account the feed or ink that remains in the section, or may cling elsewhere in a converter or pen. The converter and piston numbers reflect expelled amount of ink. The western-style eyedroppers reflect barrel-filled amount of ink.

Converter pens (used for editing and note-taking)

  • Bexley Submariner – .6ml
  • Levenger True Writer – .6ml
  • Nakaya Piccolo – .6ml
  • Danitrio Cumlaude (small) – .3ml

As the Danitrio Short Octagon, Fellowship and Edison Huron use the same basic converter as the Submariner and True Writer, I would draw similar conclusions to the amount of expelled ink for those pens.

Piston Pens (used for writing sessions)

  • 1950’s Pelikan 400 – 2ml
  • Visconti Caravel – 1ml
  • Wahl-Oxford – unknown (under ink-scrutiny)

Western-style Eyedropper Pens (used for writing sessions) – all of these filled at slightly more than 3ml. No one of these converted fountain pens proved itself mightier than the others as far as ink capacity.

  • Danitrio Cumlaude (small)
  • Danitrio Fellowship Pen
  • Danitrio Short Octagon
  • Edison Huron
  • Edison Mina (both extended & standard)
  • Platinum Preppy (used only for highlighting)
Top to bottom: Syringe, Edison Huron, Platinum Preppy, Pelikan 400, Visconti Caravel

Once I saw that the Danitrio, the Edison and the Preppy all held the same basic amount of ink, my curiosity got the best of me. I used water to measure the Nakaya and Bexley barrels. I have different reasons for not converting these two pens to eyedropper filling. The Nakaya has brass parts inside the section that I do not wish to corrode over time. The Bexley’s acrylic has some translucency that I do not want to stain. The Nakaya Piccolo held more than 3ml of ink. The Bexley Submariner held 2 1/2ml.

What I now understand is that, internal barrel size being much the same, the Danitrio Short Octagon’s longer inking power over the Edison Huron is attributable to the Danitrio’s EEF nib. The Huron’s nib is F.** Both pens, by the way, are wet writers.

It would seem with larger pens out of comfortable writing reach, such as a Danitrio Densho with a capacity of 5ml or more of ink++, my pen collection may not ever exceed 3 1/2mls of ink+* capacity for any one pen. While that capacity seems to be working for me, my little holiday experiment may change the way I look at pens in ways I don’t yet know.

Updated 2013 Jun 26:

  • ** The Huron’s nib has been re-ground by Michael Masuyama. It’s now a sweet .2mm EF nib.
  • ++ Privileged to use a Densho on loan recently, the ink capacity measured 3ml not 5ml.
  • +* My 2013 Custom Edison pen holds nearly 5ml of ink.

Updated 11/02/2011: A post on FPN about fountain pen ink capacities contains some fascinating information about vintage pens such as Sheaffer.

Updated 03/17/2011: On his Crónicas Estilográficas blog, Bruno has done a great evaluation of capacity for Sailor, Pilot and Platinum converters. Also reference his FPN post here.