Tale of a Vandal Pen Collector: A Pack of Pilots

Vanishing Point nib

Curiouser and curiouser I grew: is there another Pilot pen with a silky smooth Vanishing Point nib? Spending some time discussing Pilot nibs brought forth a kind FPN’er and reader of the blog who gives the expression “stranger friend” true meaning. He sent me five of his own Pilot fountain pens for me to examine. An amazing act of trust and generosity that I will cherish for some time.

The five Pilots lent to me:

  1. Custom Heritage 91 EF 14K nib
  2. Custom Heritage 91 SF 14K nib
  3. Vanishing Point Stealth  F 18K nib
  4. Bamboo F 18K nib
  5. Custom 823 F 14K nib

Pilots left to right: Heritage 91, Heritage 91, Bamboo, 823, Vanishing Point

The only one of those listed pens with a VP like nib is, oh yeah, the VP! It was great to be able to compare the VP F nib to the M and B nibs I’ve had the pleasure of writing with. A smaller sweet spot, of course, in the F but the same silkiness one expects from a Vanishing Point. (If you don’t know what a nib’s sweet spot is, please read Richard Binder’s informative article on the subject.)

Mind you, the Vanishing Point is not alone in fountain pendom in having a silky smooth nib. In fact, the VP as a sister called the Pilot Decimo. It is slimmer and supposedly lighter than a VP. The Decimo is not available from USA retailers. It can be found on eBay and commands a heftier price tag than your average VP.

Some Montblanc and Omas pens for example have silky smooth nibs. Some people say Sailor nibs are the best of the Japanese nibs. I’ve only tried 14K Sailor nibs and not the famous 21K nibs. The 14K I’ve sampled (from fine to an alleged Music nib) were smooth although did not impress me more than any other brand, say like an Aurora nib, for example. If you are new to fountain pens, please, any of these nibs could be to your liking! Don’t let this wretched blogger who can feel the pea under mattress dissuade you from whatever your pending purchase may be.

Lots of nibs

Of course, all nibs are in theory smooth. Yet nibs can exhibit different personalities. There’s glass-like stiff as a nail smooth. There’s silky can barely feel the nib on the paper smooth. There’s springy smooth, boring smooth, butter smooth, feedback smooth, and whatever floats your boat smooth. Then, of course, there’s the matter of your east, west, vintage, modern, fine, medium, bold, music, condor, zoom, or super-micro-eeny fine nib styles. Your nib choice effects the nib’s personality as does how you hold the pen, the paper you write upon, and how much pen pressure you write with. Finer nibs have that smaller sweet spot and many people often experience finer nibs as scratchy. Scratchy is annoying. Unless you are a scratchy nib fetishist. Hey! I know you’re out there! The importance of meeting up with a lot of different pens is that you form a reference point to compare what people say you should like and what you really do like in a fountain pen.

We cannot say, “This is the smoothest nib among all others.” Well, okay, we can say that. Very few of us, however, can say such things with any real authority.  I know I can’t. Me, I can only say what floats my own boat.

Vanishing Point F 18K nib

There’s no mistaking a VP nib in a blind writing test (uh, somethin’ like that) against a Platinum or a Nakaya nib. For me the VP nib is not better, it is merely different exhibiting a quality not in my tiny pen collection. My American-made, German-nib wielding Edison Mina writes a smooth, luscious fine line with yet not as fine as the Japanese VP fine. Perhaps part of the VP qualities has much to do with the shape of the nib itself.

My pal sent the pens with the CON-70 converter which holds at least 1.0ml of ink. (Some people say up to 1.7ml.—I’m sticking with 1ml!) The CON-70 is a neat little instrument. You push a button a few times and ink gets sucked up. Cool for someone who is easily entertained like moi. The CON-70 doesn’t fit the Vanishing Point or the resin Falcon. The Custom 823 has it’s own built-in filling device so the CON-70 is pointless there. I had some trouble getting a good fill with the CON-70. Here’s a video I made to help other similarly beleaguered pen peeps:

Perhaps better than a piston-filling pen is the Custom 823. For those of us who care about ink capacity, this is a great albeit heavy option. For a piston filler there is the Pilot Custom Heritage 92 (not to be confused with the Heritage 912 a c/c pen). The only other Japanese piston-filling pen I’m aware of is made by Sailor who makes the Realo in both the 1911 and the Professional Gear series. The 823 holds 2.2ml of ink, the Heritage 92 holds 1.5ml, and the Sailor Realo holds 1ml.

I really—really!—wanted to love the Custom 823. It holds approximately 2mls of ink. To suck up that ink, the pen has a cool vacuum filling mechanism.  Following DizzyPen’s filling instructions I got a perfect file the first time out with the 823. It’s one of the easiest pens to fill EVER. The amber 823 when filled with Sailor Sky High blue ink looked quite dark, almost black in appearance. That was a fun surprise.

writing sample: Falcon SF, Heritage 91 SF & EF, Bamboo, F, Custom 823 F, VP F, Edison Mina F

Alas, the Custom 823’s heavy. I gave it a good writing go and the 823 remained too uncomfortably heavy in my hand. Inked up and unposted the Custom 823 weighs 21 grams. Posted or capped it weighs 31 grams. My heaviest pen is the Danitrio Short Octagon which just remains in my comfort reign, coming in 20 grams fully inked up as an ED (over 3ml of ink) and at 29 grams capped. On average, my pens are 15 grams inked and unposted. Even just a couple of grams in weight can make a difference for someone like moi.

I’ve read many raves about the 823’s nib. Lots of people love it. I found it to be a nice, serviceable smooth nib, with nothing special about it. In fact, excluding the Falcon and the VP nibs, I felt that way about all the Pilot nibs I wrote with. Very fine, very good, standard Japanese nibs. A great standard by all others’ accounts. Just one that doesn’t resonate with my pen-using-heart.

Pilot Bamboo F 18K nib

The Pilot Bamboo’s nib had some nice spring to it and I enjoyed writing with it. The pen body has a neat shape to what is, again, a hefty fountain pen.

Heritage 91 with EF (left) and SF (right) 14K nibs

The nib I liked the best (after the VP and the Bamboo) was a SF nib on the Custom Heritage 91. Inked with Sailor Sky High that tiny nib allowed some shading to come through on the paper.

The Custom Heritage 91 turns out to be a very nice user pen. Inked up and unposted the pen weights 15 grams. Capped and posted it weighs 23 grams. It’s got a classic pen shape, good balance and some nib choices. The black resin 91 has the widest range of #5 nibs. The non-black 91s come in F, FM, M and B nibs. Both the black resin 91s sent me had metal sections. I’ve not seen them myself yet have been assured by more than one source that the “Iroshizuku versions” of the 91 (such as the Tsukiyo) are usually without metal sections. That means there is some ED potential for some of the 91s. If I did not already have a serviceable pen or two I would get one of these 91s! The Custom Heritage 91 is not, I believe, available in the USA except via eBay or sources in Japan.

Pilot makes all kinds of fountain pens from the well-loved 78G (under $20) to the Sterling collection ($400+) to Namiki Emperor Collection ($10,000+). Several Pilot fountain pens can still be had with 14K nibs for around $100. Pretty good deal!

Left to right: Nakaya Piccolo, Danitrio Short Octagon, Platinum 3776, Pilot Heritage 91, Custom 823, Vanishing Point Stealth, Edison Mina, Edison Huron, Levenger True Writer, Pilot Bamboo

Handling these Pilot fountain pens made realize I don’t need another, good basic pen. I already have a couple of basics in other brands. If I were collecting Japanese fountain pens my focus would be on having a representation of certain pens, and of course I’d acquire at least one Pilot. Instead, my focus is on aquiring pens that serve as part muse and part writing tool. I’m at my pen storage/cigar box limit and to acquire any pen means one must be foresaken. And so I’m good for now, aren’t I?

The best advice I got when looking for a nib that’s like the VP nib was from a pen retailer who suggested I’d be happy with the lighter Decimo (even though she didn’t sell that pen!). Remember the VP’s little sister? Sadly also a c/c only pen.

With two pens in the tiny hoard that are c/c filling pens and not ED-able (that is able to convert into an eyedropper filling pen), my preference would be to add another ED-able pen. Or even a piston-filling pen.

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The pens were sent rolled up in a couple of Exbpens pen wraps. These were neat, good quality pen wraps to discover, made by a woman in southern Indiana. Our Pilot pen friend has a passel of business friendly black pens. It was nice to see some color in his pen wraps choices. A lot of pen wraps I’ve tried are very thick, making them awkward when rolled up with pens. Still providing scuff protection, these were a bit thinner, making the closed roll a nice size.

The best part of getting to handle these Pilot pens was meeting another Japanese nib enthusiast, and being reminded of how often fountain pen users enthusiastically share what they have with each other. I’m honored by such company.

It’s about time these Pilots went home to their kind and generous owner. Thank you, Thomas!

Some Nib and Pilot Reading
A Few Links to Pilot Fountain Pen Reviews:
Lone Pen Wrap Review

7 thoughts on “Tale of a Vandal Pen Collector: A Pack of Pilots

  1. Very interesting review. You packed a lot of detail about many pens into a single post!

    In the end, I think your assessment makes sense. You wanted a nib like the VP, but with a greater ink capacity. Sadly, nothing I know that Pilot makes meets your needs. I like that you thoroughly weighed all your options prior to determining that none of these is really a good fit for you.


  2. Thank you both!

    Weighing options is important if one does not want to be a mere accumulator of things or a slave to a credit card, eh? In truth all my pen needs have been met and more. Two pens in constant rotation would certainly suffice. A little variety wins over homogeneity.

    Variety is more than a means of avoiding boredom, since art is more than an entertainment of the senses.
    Rudolf Arnheim

    Read more about Mr. Arnheim here: http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/2/rudolfarnheim.php

    P.S. It’s wonderful to be able to play with pens and then send them back home!


  3. I bought a Pilot Custom 74 at Maruzen in Japan last year. I got a PO nib which is the finest one they make. It turns down at the end like a bird’s beak. It is absolutely SMOOTH. this seems unusual for one so fine. I use it every day for my day planner (close-together lines). One can even write on newsprint without bleeding. It uses very little ink and even with many Noodler’s colors, it is dry almost immediately. I got a Custom 823 and sent it to a friend in Japan and had a PO nib installed–the 72 is a #10 and the 823 is a #15. Enough difference that the lines are quite a bit different. Pilot is certainly a sleeper in the US. Their nibs are excellent. Certainly as good as Platinum or Nakaya. One Platinum 3776 from the ’80s is the smoothest I or anyone in our pen club has ever used. One can hardly tell it is on the paper. I have not used Sailor but have heard great things about them.
    I think the Japanese manufacturers are far more interested in the quality of their nibs than most of their European competitors. My opinion.
    Keep up the good work. I enjoy your posts.


  4. I was lucky enough to get a Custom 74 with the PO (posting) nib. It is much finer than a fine and turns down at the end like a bird’s beak. Very smooth and it will write on anything! It also writes for a long time as it lays down a fine line and even most of the Noodler’s ink dries almost immediately. When I got an 823 I sent it to a friend in Japan and has the same PO nib installed. When I got it back I was surprised that it is a #15 size while the 74 is a #10. There is a visual difference, though one would not think so. The 74, I use every day for writing in my day planner with close lines. I can also make REALLY small notes in tight places. No feathering, ever, even on newsprint.
    Your comment about pen weight is spot on. My 74 weighs about 22 grams, the 823 ten more and I can tell. Talk about the princess and the pea!! My Nakaya is also about 22 grams and it is a joy to use. Must be old age and diminished capacity, or just getting used to writing with one and the balance of another pen is different enough to notice.

    Keep up the good work. It is always good to converse (such as it is) with other pen folks.

    Jim Wolfe

    I think I have the hang of this now. Be kind, I’m old.


    • Hi Jim! Thank you so much for sharing. Your posts got stuck in the spam filter. No worries—that should not happen again.

      It’s wonderful that you have a posting nib that you like so much. I hope my Pilot friend is reading these comments as I’m curious if he has tried the PO nib. He likes super fine nibs too.

      You have a Nakaya in addition to Pilots! Excellent taste in pens, my friend.

      I have to believe that the needs of kanji writing has much to do with the quality of the nibs. Don’t you think?

      P.S. One of your comments was a duplicate and so I didn’t publish it. These two even though similar both have some unique points that I thought were important to share.


      • Thanks for editing my posts–once posted twice shy.

        I agree that kanji is probably the first requirement of Japanese pen nibs. Pilot is certainly aimed at the home market. The variety of models and nibs is quite staggering. At the Maruzen bookstore Pilot, Platinum and Sailor all had distinct sales areas (probably leased from the store) with their own sales forces. The woman I bought from gave me her card and it was Pilot Corporation, not Maruzen.

        I saw the popularity of grid notepaper in Japan and wonder why everyone hasn’t a jewler’s loupe permanently affixed to one eye socket. Small complex writing is tough.


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