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The primitive fountain pens of the early years of the 19th century were unreliable: likely to refuse to write or to throw messy and destructive blots. They were the province of bleeding-edge early adopters. In the world of business and in the homes of most people who were fortunate enough to be literate, the standard writing implement was a dip pen. Beginning in 1822, the quill pen began to fade into oblivion in the face of more durable steel pens (untipped mild steel nibs) as John Mitchell began mass-producing the new pens in Birmingham, England. Mitchell was quickly followed by others, as pen makers flooded the market with steel pens of all sorts, along with penholders to hold them for writing. Penholders came in many shapes and at many price levels, from the simple sticklike model shown here (upper, made by the Eagle Pencil Company) to slightly fancier styles like the lower penholder here (made by the American Lead Pencil Company), with its gold-plated thimble.
These penholders used replaceable steel pens, which wore rapidly on the paper of the time. For those able to afford the very best, there were gold pens tipped with polished bits of ruby or of osmiridium or iridosmine soldered or, later, welded into place. The Aikin Lambert & Company No 7 pen and penholder shown here (upper) are typical of these higher-tier pens, although many were embellished to enhance their appearance, as shown by the enlarged view of an engraved Mabie, Todd & Company gold pen and thimble (lower):
All of these pens, no matter their price or their qualities as writing instruments, shared a common deficiency: their length made them somewhat less than convenient for carrying about, especially in one’s pocket or reticule. Various jewelers and pen makers came up with clever solutions to this problem, such as retractable pens (below, upper, a pen/pencil combo by an unidentified maker) and penholders that could be disassembled and put together with the pen or pencil exposed, or collapsed with the writing tips concealed (below, lower, a pen/pencil combo by Alexander Morton of New York City).
With more than 80% of the U.S. adult population able to read and write in 1870, it was not only the well-to-do who needed pens. For the common people, these pens, essentially jewelry that wrote, were astronomically out of reach. Pen makers addressed this need with less costly collapsible pens, such as the cable-twist black hard rubber Aikin Lambert & Company pen shown below. Pens like this one and the Morton combo above, which are long enough for comfortable use when posted yet short enough to fit easily into a pocket or purse when capped, have become known as long/short pens. The design of this clipless pen set the pattern for several generations of future American long/short pens:
The basic architecture of the Aikin Lambert pen shown above laid the groundwork for future generations of long/short pens, and by the 1920s, with dip pens largely obsolete, it had been applied to fountain pens. Shown here is a Pick long/short fountain pen in celluloid. The back end of the barrel is slightly bulged to provide a friction fit for the cap when posted:
With its barrel threads immediately adjacent to the section as with an ordinary fountain pen, this design ran the risk of being unstable in use: held only by friction when posted, with no barrel inside to keep it aligned, the overlong cap could easily be knocked loose and fall off. This problem was solved, rather cleverly, by Morris Kolber, whose U.S. Patent No 1,780,527, issued on November 4, 1930, moved the threads to the back of the barrel. With threads on either side of a flange at that location, the cap screwed onto the barrel when posting as well as when capping the pen, and it was no longer subject to being knocked loose. Here are a drawing from the patent and a New Diamond Point pen embodying Kolber’s design:
In 1934, KaWeCo of Germany introduced a clipless long/short fountain pen called the Sport (Model 9). It was a follow-on to earlier models going back to 1911’s Model 616 retractable safety pen, and it is still in production today, virtually unchanged from that 1935 model. The Sport broke away from the idea of an extreme difference between capped and posted lengths as illustrated by the Pick and New Diamond Point pens above, setting the pattern for future generations of long/short pens. A family of accessories, including cases, accommodation clips, and models in different writing modes, has grown up around the fountain pen. Shown here is a burgundy Sport fountain pen made in 2018:
In 1940, the first tier of American manufacturers entered the long/short fray, as Sheaffer introduced its own long/short pen, which it dubbed the Tuckaway. Elegantly set out in a solid gold or gold-filled body, the Tuckaway was marketed to men and women as the ideal pen to toss into one’s pocket or purse, where — unlike clip-type pens, which were visible and potentially in the way in a shirt pocket — it would be hidden and safe until it was taken out to be used. Like the New Diamond Point of a decade earlier, the Tuckaway was threaded for the cap at both ends.
Initially, the Tuckaway was a lever-filler only. In 1941 a plunger-filling version (shown here), otherwise identical to the lever-filler, was released. A more dramatic change occurred in 1942, when Sheaffer introduced its radical new “TRIUMPH” point in a completely restyled line of pens. The pen shown here was made in 1942 or 1943. No longer threaded at the back end, it relied on friction between the celluloid barrel and the metal threads in the inner cap.
Another redesign at the end of World War II produced a somew hat less unusual-looking profile, now including a tiny clip called a clasp. This look lasted until the Tuckaway was discontinued in 1950, and it included both “TRIUMPH”-point and open-nib models.
The postwar Tuckaway overlapped the first half-decade of the ballpoint era. Initially a company on its own, the Kimberly Corporation had developed its very successful Pockette ballpoint by infringing on patents held by Eversharp, and in the end the latter took full control of Kimberly. The Kimberly Pockette, later abbreviated to Kim, remained in production until some time after Parker acquired Eversharp in 1957. Shown here is a Pockette in Purple Chiffon, a “Feminine High-Style” color used only in 1947:
In the United States, the ballpoint pen’s meteoric rise, especially given the proliferation of cheap “ink stick” throwaway pens, came close to eclipsing the fountain pen. The type was kept from extinction largely by a market for cheap school pens, by inexpensive pens such those from Esterbrook and Wearever, and by a few innovative models such as the Parker 45 and 75 and the Sheaffer Targa — but except for the KaWeCo Sport, the long/short style was almost a thing of the past. Almost, because in 2004, the Bexley Pen Company of Columbus, Ohio, produced a pen model that it called the Tuck-Away. In a classic example of convergent evolution, this pen was designed by Howard Levy, who — until I asked him in 2018 — was totally unaware of Morris Kolber’s patent or the New Diamond Point pen that was built to that patent.
The focus shifts now across the Pacific to Japan. In the early 1960s, the space race and Hideo Shima’s radical new bullet train, perhaps leavened by the futuristic American automotive stylings of Harley Earl, spawned great changes in the Japanese aesthetic, and a new type of fountain pen burst onto the market. Called “pocket pens,” these long/short pens appeared in myriad trim variations under dozens of manufacturers’ names. Their unifying characteristic was an extraordinarily long gripping section mated with a very stubby barrel. They were between 4" and 5" (10.8 cm to 12.7 cm) long when capped, but the extended cap required by the long section produced a comfortable posted length reaching toward 6" (15.2 cm). These pens were all designed with a friction-fitting cap using a clutch bearing on the gripping section like that in the Parker 61. The clutch also bears on the short barrel, making a firm and reliable assembly for use.
Little hard information about the history of Japanese pocket pens is available. The identity of the earliest company to produce pocket pens is unknown. Some sources confer the laurels on Sailor, but the evidence I have seen suggests that Platinum was probably the first to market in 1963, with Sailor nipping at its heels. Supporting this hypothesis is the pen shown here, a transparent demonstrator fitted with a steel nib imprinted with Platinum 10 years, the S★N globe, and the JIS symbol. Platinum used these 10 years nibs from 1953 into the early 1960s.
Although Pilot did produce a series of transparent pocket pens in various colors for sale to the public, as of this writing I know of no true full-demonstrator pocket pens other than the model illustrated here.
In the discussion that follows, I shall look first at the “Big Three,” Platinum, Sailor, and Pilot, in that order, and follow them with the “rest of the pack,” ordered alphabetically.
The Platinum Pen Company’s corporate history names the Platinum “Poket” series, launched in late 1963, as the company’s entry into the pocket pen market. Shown below are pens resembling pictures on Platinum’s website of the Poket PK-2000 (upper, 18K gold nib) and PK-1000 (lower, 14K gold nib), which were priced at ¥2000 and ¥1000, respectively.
A distinguishing feature of Platinum’s design was the squared-off back end of the barrel, resembling the end of the contemporaneous Sheaffer PFM and Imperial models. On pens with metal barrels, as illustrated below, the end is indented in the form of a shallow pyramid. On plastic barrels, the end is flat.
The squared-off end, as typical as it was on Platinum pocket pens, is unfortunately not diagnostic. A few models, possibly made to compete with the Pilot MYU 500-BS (discussed later in this article), were made with rounded barrels as shown by the ¥4000 pen here, which is fitted with a 14K white gold nib:
Another round-ended Platinum design was this rhodium-plated pen with grouped parallel engraved lines, fitted with an 18K nib. Instead of the traditional flat barrel end and Platinum’s usual sloped cap crown, however, this pen had a gold-plated domed tassie on the barrel and a matching tassie at the cap crown. The barrel tassie on this example has lost its plating:
A knowledgeable collector of Japanese pens has speculated that Platinum’s success with pocket pens and with the decorative treatments it applied to writing instruments during the 1960s and 1970s (of which I shall have more to say later), along with its early adoption of cartridges, fueled the company’s ascent from a relatively insignificant position in the second tier to its “Big Three” status today.
Manufacturers can also broaden their offerings by producing a range of nib grades, from fine to broad or with shapes such as a stub or a music nib. Japanese pocket pens with broad or shaped nibs are uncommon. One such example is this Platinum pen with a three-tined 18K music nib that is properly flexible with good flow. Note also the zogan inlaid trim just above the nib.
As did many other manufacturers, Platinum made pens under house brands. Perhaps the best known of Platinum’s house-branded pocket pens were those branded “Athena,” of which more later.
The pocket pens of the Sailor Pen Company are generally typical of the style. Either everyone’s designer was thinking along the same lines or all the other companies simply copied the first pocket pens to go on sale. An interesting departure from the usual style, however, can be seen in the clip of the lower-line Sailor pen shown below (lower); the capped photo shows the clip from the side, and it can be seen to be a strip of spring metal folded back upon itself rather than the usual solid clip (most of which were spring mounted). This design is a variation on a 1920s invention (U.S. Patent No 1,629,835) used by the Chas. H. Ingersoll Dollar Pen Company in the United States, and it appeared at all levels of Sailor’s line for a time.
Visible in the two pens shown here is a feature that was common to many makers: a larger nib, with more of it exposed, was fitted to the higher-priced models.
The next pen, dressed all in black, was made by Sailor — but its siblings could be found in the lineups of Platinum, Sailor, and an unknown number of other manufacturers. This example is fitted with an 18K nib.
Pilot, the third member of the “Big Three,” joined the pocket-pen revolution in 1964 with the Elite S. There was also a full-sized Elite; the S identified the “short” version. Pilot offered pocket pens in a wide variety of different finishes, of which the first was probably a model with a black plastic barrel and a black enameled aluminum cap. The pen shown here is the second-generation model, introduced in 1975:
Among the Pilot pocket pen models that are less common today was the Laureate, identified by the single script letter L on the cap. Pilot has since offered other pens named Laureate (meaning “Worthy of the greatest honor”), notably a slender brushed stainless steel full-length model that was offered in multiple writing modes, but the fountain pen, in both full-length and pocket-pen versions appears to have been the first use of the name. Shown here are white, burgundy, green, and blue Laureates.
To attract women, Pilot created a range of pens called Lady, in feminine colors and fitted with a trimly streamlined clip. This Lady Pocket Pen has a rose-red plastic barrel and a satin-anodized aluminum cap that is tinted ever so slightly pink, with a subtle botanical decoration in the form of a bright polished design against the satin surface of the cap. As illustrated later in this article, other Lady models had metal barrels and wore painted decoration to compete with similarly treated models from Platinum and Sailor.
Pilot offered a range of long/short pen models in a more traditional configuration named Short, with a somewhat shorter cap and a barrel made partially of metal that matched the cap to give the illusion of a very long cap without the latter’s actually subsuming the entire length of the barrel. Shown here is one of these pens. It sold for ¥1000, and it is today somewhat uncommon.
The pen shown above was at the bottom of the Short range. Other Short models turned out not to have been so strictly traditional after all. The pen shown below, a higher-priced Short model, is an innovative pen recalling telescoping pens of the early 20th century. Uncapping the pen also pulls the shell out from the barrel, extending the pen 19⁄32" (15 mm) to make it longer than it would otherwise be (middle view, shown not extended), for better balance when writing.
Like Platinum, Pilot made house-brand pens. Shown here is a pen branded gakken/pilot. Gakken is a well-known Tokyo-based publishing house. Like many other house-brand pens, this pen is fitted with a steel nib.
The art of merchandising popular products and creations took hold in Japan just as it had done elsewhere in the world. Pilot teamed up with other companies to produce pocket-pen sets with such subjects as Tom Wilson’s absurdly philosophical cartoon character Ziggy and the late 1970s smash-hit pop singing duo Pink Lady. Shown here are a 19?? Pilot Pink Lady pen set (with the Pink Lady logo and “Mie and Kei,” the nicknames of the two singers, imprinted on the cap) and a 1976 Pilot/Gakken Ziggy pen set containing a vinyl “passbook” case and bookmark; a pad with Ziggy art, a calendar, and pages for memos; and a steel-nibbed pocket pen:
The merchandising game extended to pens specifically targeted at the school-age crowd. Here is a pen based on the theme of Mach 5, the unique and unbeatable race car used by the anime character Speed Racer (Mach GoGoGo in Japan). The steel-reinforced plastic clip marks the pen as a lower-priced model, but the clip is plenty sturdy and would stand up well to school use. Pilot produced the Mach 5 pen with red, aqua, and black barrels, clips, and cap decoration.
Perhaps the most desirable of Pilot’s long/short pens is the elegant MYU (shown below), introduced in 1972 as the MYU 701. Pilot might have taken the design cue for the MYU’s integral nib from the Parker T-1 of 1970, but with adaptations that made it — unlike the unreliable and incredibly costly, and consequently short-lived, T-1 — realistic to manufacture and sell in quantity. Like Parker’s Flighter models and various of Pilot’s own Elite models, the MYU was stainless steel rather than titanium, and it lacked the gimmicky flow adjustment of the T-1. MYU pens were initially equipped with urushi-covered feeds, but these were soon replaced with plastic feeds that have proven to be more reliable. The MYU was introduced in the plain stainless steel finish shown below (first and eecond images) and later appeared as the 500-BS with black stripes (third image).
The MYU sold relatively poorly in Japan, and today it is not impossible to find stickered examples still in the original cellophane. The model lasted only until 1977, when it was replaced by the full-length Murex. It was rebooted in 2008, however, as a limited edition named the M90. The M90 was made slightly fatter than the MYU so that it could accept a CON-50 piston converter, and its stylistic changes included a more streamlined clip and replacement of the flat black cap-crown decoration with a blue cabochon.
The MYU’s lack of success did not dissuade Pilot from offering stainless steel pens. There followed a series of stainless models, all with the same crosshatched body but fitted with different nibs:
With the usual semi-hooded nib
With a larger open nib set off by a metal trim ring
With an elegant inset nib (below, the least common of the three)
Neither Platinum nor Sailor followed Pilot’s lead with the MYU and its integral nib, for which — given its less-than-spectacular success — they were probably grateful. Both did, however, produce brushed all-stainless pens. As shown here, Sailor’s (upper) was the more unusual of the two, with a stainless steel section whose profile matches that of the pen’s barrel. Both Sailor’s and Platinum’s pens had white metal nibs (18K white gold for Sailor, platinum alloy for Platinum), which were stylistically more in keeping with the gray/white color of the stainless:
Sailor also came out with a range of more conventional pens (below), still with stainless steel caps but bearing ordinary plastic sections like that on the Platinum pen (above). The upper pen here was clearly designed to go head to head against that Platinum model, even to the zogan inlays on both pens’ sections. The lower pens, with plastic barrels, 14K yellow gold nibs, and no zogan, were priced lower, at ¥2000. These two pens form an interesting contrast: the blue one’s furniture, except for the clip, is chrome plated (“reverse trim”) instead of the traditional gold.
While many lower-line pocket pens were fitted with steel nibs, the preference among the more well-heeled buying public was for gold, and the more of it the better. During the early 1970s, the “Big Three” engaged in a “karat war” to offer nibs with more gold than the competition. 21K nibs, now a common feature of Sailor’s upper ranges, were the first salvo in the war. Raising the ante, Pilot and Platinum soon offered 22K nibs. Shown here are (upper) a Pilot Elite S model marked Elite 22 on the cap and 22K on the nib and the barrel, and (lower) a ¥3000 Platinum model with a 22K nib and an unusual — and quite stylish — bifurcated clip:
Pilot dropped out of the war at 22K, leaving Platinum and Sailor to produce 23K nibs. Shown here is a Sailor 23K model. This pen has an unusually wide girth, and at 0.63 oz (17.8 g) it is significantly heavier than most other pocket pens, which weigh from 0.35 to 0.53 oz (10 to 15 g):
Sailor eventually won the karat war by offering, not a pocket pen, but a full-length pen with a “24K” nib. This nib was not actually pure gold; it was probably about 23.5K (979). Regardless of the exact gold percentage, there was not enough alloying material in the mix to produce a durable nib, and the pen did not last long in the market. Today, Sailor pens with “24K” nibs are quite rare, and they command very high prices. Among pocket pens, Platinum’s 23K models are more difficult to find than Sailor’s.
Before World War II, there were hundreds of small pen manufacturers in Japan, many housed in frame-built factories not much larger than a modern three-car garage. Many of them went out of business when their facilities were destroyed during the war, and more failed in the postwar economic collapse. Those that remained produced pens at all quality levels, from the infamous cheap throwaway level to fine writing instruments of very high quality. It would be impossible for me to list and illustrate them all, but I believe that the variety of pens and makers that follows will well serve to introduce you to the fascination of these largely ignored pens.
Athena was a house brand of the famous Maruzen bookstore in Tokyo, known for its wide-ranging collection of English books, newspapers, magazines, calendars, textbooks, and much more. Pocket pens made by Platinum for Maruzen had steel nibs. As shown here, they featured Platinum’s characteristic square-ended barrel mated with champagne-anodized caps having a plastic cap crown that matched the pen’s body color.
Center pocket pens came from the Center Fountain Pen Co., Ltd, located in Osaka. Apparently founded in 1946, the company is still in business today, selling pens and other pocket accessories. Known mostly for the lower tier pens it produced in the 1950s, Center nevertheless put out some very respectable pocket pens. Shown here is a typical Center pocket pen; the cap design trumpets the fact that this pen has an 18K nib. Like many other brands, Center pens were built to use Platinum cartridges and converters, but there was a major difference between Center and everyone else: a Center pocket pen, as stubby as it is, can accept a full-length Platinum converter. This pen also features a zogan inlay above the nib.
Because no pen manufacturer named Gem is known, I think that Gem might have been a house brand. I can find no information on Gem fountain pens in Japan. This pen does have a clip like no other I have seen, and the small zogan above the gem-imprinted 14K nib is an indication that it was not a cheap throwaway.
IMS is another brand whose manufacturer is unknown. The IMS name on this pen could imply a house brand; in Fukuoka, Japan, there is a large cultural, social, and shopping complex called Tenjin IMS (天神 IMS, Heavenly Gods Inter Media Station). It is in a single high-rise building housing dozens upon dozens of shops along with cafés and galleries, and it is often thought of as a single huge department store. it is possible that the pen shown here was made for the complex to sell as a promotion piece, although I consider that circumstance unlikely given that the gold-plated steel nib, unique among pocket pens in my experience, is designed to write on either side, in the same manner as that of the Parker 180. (The nib appears dark in the photo here because there is a molded plastic feed-like protective “cover” lying along its top surface.)
Beginning in the 1930s, Kumiai pens were produced by Yamagata K.H.R., which started with larger urushi-clad ebonite eyedropper-fillers. (The word kumiai means “union” in Japanese.) Later offering primarily steel-nibbed celluloid models, Kumiai also produced some pens in cast acrylic and sold a range fitted with excellent gold nibs. The company’s pocket pens are among the most beautifully styled of all, and they featured very good nibs.
The Kumiai pen shown above has an unusually styled 21K nib. Instead of being rounded laterally to match the shape of the barrel, or flattened with its two side edges bent downward as many pocket-pen nibs are, this nib is faceted, or “sided,” with five facets:
Makoto pens were apparently made by a stationery company that is still in business offering pads with an accompanying pen, journals, and similar paper goods. The pens today are all ballpoints. During the 1970s, Makoto was also offering anime-themed pencils in packages with decoration designed by popular anime artists of the time. The pen shown here is not stained; the darker appearance of parts of the section is due to the material’s translucency, through which can be seen a shadow of the internal parts.
Beyond the fact that the company was a major second-tier manufacturer during the 1950s, Tokyo’s Master Man’nenhitsu Kin Kaisha (Master Pen Company Ltd) is largely a mystery to me. The Master pen shown below has a semi-hooded 14K nib, but otherwise it is of mediocre quality. It is especially interesting, however, because it is the only Japanese pocket pen I have encountered that bears a patent number: Japanese Patent No 472,850, issued in 1965. (I also own nearly a dozen other Master pens, all full size, none of which bears a patent number.)
I have found no information on the maker of Mitukan writing instruments other than that it was apparently a stationery company and was in business during the Showa period (1926-1989), and that it made fountain pens and repeater pencils. Like Pilot (and probably others), Mitukan sold memo pad sets with inexpensive pens, featuring popular figures such as the Japanese pop duo Pink Lady (ピンクレディー). This set, including the vinyl case pictured here, sold for ¥100.
Photo edited from a blog post by divajoanne,
dated February 24, 2016
The Mitukan pens shown below, priced at ¥300 (upper three) and ¥200 (bottom), have steel nibs and were made from cast acrylic — note the color streaks in the gray and green pens’ resin parts — rather than molded plastic. This fact suggests that they were made at a time when the company did not have, and perhaps could not afford, injection molding equipment. Note that the lower-priced pen does not post all the way down to the joint between section and barrel; while this is a less aesthetically pleasing design, it does provide a longer posted length for this very short pen.
Many Mitukan pens with gold-colored caps, like the upper three shown above, have the legend lain super fine gold imprinted at the cap lip. In this context, the word “lain” is a solecism intended to mean plated.
Often considered a second-tier manufacturer, the Morison Factory Co., Ltd was founded in 1918 as the Kikaku Fountain Pen Manufacturing Co., Ltd, and changed its name to Morison in 1933 to capitalize on the Japanese people’s preference for pens with Western names. The company had been during World War II an industry leader, producing pens at several quality levels and outselling Pilot, Platinum, Push, and Sailor. By the 1960s, it was somewhat reduced, and it ceased manufacture in the late 1970s or early 1980s; but when pocket pens became popular in the 1960s Morison was there in spades. Producing long/shorts called Future early in the 1960s and later merely called Pocket, the company marketed a range of excellent pens, from unusual and beautiful pens like those shown below, able to compete head-to-head with the “big boys,” to simpler, more economical models like the two (with aqua barrels) further down.
Fitted with a very small 14K nib that is mostly hooded, the next pen strikes the eye as a lesser model, yet its sculptured barrel trim ring suggests otherwise. This charming pen, such a slight departure from the usual Morison pattern, speaks to surprising little touches of artistry at Morison and, indeed, at other pocket pen manufacturers as well.
Like the Big Three, Morison made house-brand pens — or did they? Shown below are two Morison pens with 14K nibs, identical in every respect (including the Morison nib imprint) except that the lower one is imprinted ThreeStar on the cap where the upper one’s imprint, in the same typeface, reads Morison.
There are three possibilities here:
Which of these possibilities is correct is one of the many pieces of unknown information about Japanese pocket pens. With luck, this information will come to light in the future.
Morison, like Pilot (and possibly others), produced a more traditionally configured pen of pocket-pen dimensions. Morison‘s version, with an overall look somewhat reminiscent of Sheaffer’s broad-banded World War II-era “TRIUMPH” models, was decidedly its own pen. It did not post all the way down to the section/barrel joint, its barrel featured a step that allowed for more perfect streamlining when capped, and its cap featured a body-colored area above the usual satin aluminum area. This pen was also unusual for a pocket pen in having bright gold-plated tassies at both ends:
President was a sub-brand produced by Platinum; the shape of the barrel end and the presence of the S★N globe provide self-documenting origin information for these pens:
Teikin pens were produced by Teikoku Kin Pen Kaisha (Empire Gold Pen, Ltd), a small stationery company located in Tokyo. Founded in 1916, the company is still in business but no longer offers pens. Its fountain pens were designed initially for the promotional market as a result of orders from Tokyo’s Obunsha Publishing House for pens to offer as premiums to magazine subscribers. During the heyday of the pocket pen, Teikoku appears to have jobbed pens from Pilot, Platinum, and Sailor, each supplier providing pens that used its own proprietary cartridges and converters. Shown here are two Teikin pens, a typical model made by Platinum (upper; note the squared-off barrel end), with a 14K nib; and a model marked with the Obunsha name, made by Sailor (lower). The Obunsha pen, although it is “fancier” than the other, has a steel nib:
Given that there are only so many colors, the number of variations that can be applied to any design without resorting to patterned materials — not easy to do with injection molding — is necessarily limited. Japanese pen manufacturers broadened their ranges of offerings by applying artful painted surface decoration, often a botanical design, to otherwise ordinary pens. Shown below are several of the many attractive designs to be found on pocket pens, with their manufacturers’ names. (You will note that Platinum seems to have predominated in this style of decoration.) Pens bearing designs like these sold for prices higher than usual; the Platinum pens here with silver-anodized caps and barrels were priced at ¥5000, and the all-white pens (pansies and ginkgo leaves) sold for ¥2500. Today, these pens are more difficult to find than plain ones, especially in good condition, and they frequently command significantly higher prices. The Pilot and Sailor anodized metal pens shown here are tinted pink, with the Sailor’s color being the more pronounced.
|Passion Flowers, Platinum|
|Ginkgo Leaves, Platinum|
At least one manufacturer, Sailor, managed to take advantage of a “patterned” molding; the shell of the pen shown below is a difficult-to-photograph pearlescent white, very slightly marbled. This color is unusual and quite beautiful. This pen also illustrates the downside of using aluminum for the barrel and cap; the darker spots at the distal end of the barrel and near the clip on the cap (more easily seen in the zoomed images) are pitted.
The pocket pen form factor was not the exclusive province of the fountain pen. Several companies made pocket pens in ballpoint and sign (nylon tip) versions; and for calligraphers and others who preferred the traditional writing brush, there were pocket pens with fude (筆, brush) tips. Ballpoint pocket pens are known to have been made by Auto, Center, Lion, Newton, Pilot, Platinum, Sailor, Tombow, and Zebra; and there were almost certainly other makers. Shown here are a 1973 Newton promotional ballpoint bearing a five-line painted imprint reading WESTBROOK’S/Our “25th” Year/“Pretty Clothes for Ladies”/In the Heart of Uptown/Tupelo, Mississippi; a Tombow ballpoint; and a Takara fude pen.
|Above pen lent by David Rzeszotarski|
Tombow Pencil Company, Ltd, is still in business, offering ballpoints, rollerballs, fude pens, and more. Whether there are fountain pens in the lineup is not clear; as of this writing, Tombow’s home website lists none, but some are still available from retailers. The manufacturer of Takara pens is also in business today, still selling several types of high-end fude pens. All of the current models from both of these companies, however, are full-length pens.
Unsurprisingly, the appearance of pocket pens in Japan spawned a certain amount of imitation in other countries. In China, the Tianjin Pen Factory produced pens like the Rainbow 239 (shown here), with a fully hooded gold-plated steel nib and a bulb filler. Capped, the 239 looks like a typical Japanese pocket pen; but when uncapped, it reveals a short gripping section/shell like those of similar full-length pens. (This was a cost-saving measure, designed to take advantage of the economies of scale.) To compensate for the short shell, the cap does not post all the way down to the section ring; but the pen nevertheless posts about 1/2" (12.7 mm) shorter than the typical Japanese pocket pen.
Mangyongdae (만경대) is a ward in the city of Pyongyang, North Korea. The Mangyongdae Disabled Soldiers’ Fountain Pen Factory, established in 1952, produced true Japanese-style pocket pens, of which the one shown here is an example:
The Mangyongdae pen shown above, although plain, has a better finish than contemporaneous Chinese pens like the Rainbow 239 above, and its build quality appears good. It is fitted with a 12K gold nib that resembles nibs used in China and might have been imported by the Korean factory. The pen’s styling takes from the best of Japanese design, imitating Pilot’s nib design, Platinum’s squared-off barrel end, and a zogan on the shell. Like many inexpensive Chinese pens, it is a self-filler — in this case, a well-made bulb-filler.
Although not nearly so popular as they once were, pocket pens are still being manufactured as of this writing. The longevity star is the Pilot Elite S family, currently featured in Pilot’s range in the form of the Elite 95S, a reboot version based on the design of the 1975 model shown above, but with an inset nib like that on the crosshatched stainless steel Elite pen above. The new version, commonly known as the E95S but catalogued officially by Pilot as the Elite 95S, was released in 2013 as part of Pilot’s celebration of the company’s 95th year. Here are the two Elite 95S pen models in Pilot’s catalog as of this writing:
|Photos of burgundy/champagne pen © Mike Kennedy|
Catalogs, however, do not always tell the whole story. The blue Elite 95S shown below is an uncatalogued model, made exclusively for the Pilot board of directors and a small number of top shareholders, and packaged in a special box with a 15-ml bottle of Iroshizuku Tsuki-yo ink.
Most of the companies listed in this article are now gone. I have seen pocket pens for sale in the U.S.A. from such makers as Muji and Ohto (fountain pens), and Zebra (ballpoint pens). These pens, unlike the fine writing instruments from Pilot, are sold at low prices, and the fountain pens are fitted with commodity steel nib units and designed to use short International cartridges. They are, nevertheless, quite serviceable, and when the fountain pens’ nibs are tuned they will write as well as the more expensive Pilot pens. Almost more to the point, they are very compact and will fit into the smallest of pockets. The blue Ohto Tasche fountain pen shown here is only 329⁄32" (9.9 cm) in length when capped, and the tiny red Zebra Minna ballpoint is only 39⁄32" (8.3 cm) capped.
As noted earlier, Takara and Tombow are still in business, although neither now offers pocket pens and whether Tombow offers fountain pens is unclear. Makoto is also in business, offering pads and other stationery items as well as ballpoint pens, but not fountain pens.
Stepping outside Japan again, we find the Moonman 80 Mini. This very short Chinese pen, jobbed by Shanghai Jingdian from an unidentified manufacturer, looks like a “squished” version of the Parker 45. Uncapping it reinforces that impression, as its nib assembly (nib, feed, and threaded collar) is a virtual duplicate of the 45’s, and the nib itself is in fact interchangeable with its Parker equivalent. Like the Rainbow 239, it has a short gripping section; overall, the 80 Mini is almost too short to be handled comfortably even when posted.
Clearly, there is much to be learned of the history of vintage Japanese pocket pens, and of copies made elsewhere. The late Frank Dubiel was fond of remarking, “It’s just a pen.” The question, then, arises: are pocket pens “just” pens? In the sense that every pen is just a pen, yes, but there is little doubt that they offer variety and history enough to make an interesting — and visually appealing — focused collection. The botanicals alone would make a fascinating collection. For those who write with their pens, most of these pens can be used with cartridges, and some can be used with converters. Pilot pocket pens can accept either a CON-20 or a CON-40 converter, and to broaden the selection of other pocket pens usable with converters, I have written an article showing how to modify a standard Platinum converter to fit pens of several brands. (It is possible that Platinum made a short converter, but I have never seen or heard of one.) At this time, I do not know of any way to adapt a modern converter to pocket pens that use Sailor cartridges; the only known converter that will fit those pens is the virtually unobtainable short converter that Sailor made for its pocket pens.
The purpose of flexibility in a music nib is to allow the tines to spread for drawing note bodies when writing music manuscripts. Modern Japanese “music” nibs are not true music nibs because they are not flexible.
The Japanese word zogan means “inlay” and was originally applied to metal-on-metal inlay. Use of the word has expanded to include wood or shell on wood, clay on clay (pottery), and many other forms of inlay.
It is widely believed that the Elite 95S was released in 2014 to celebrate Pilot’s 95th anniversary, but a Pilot press release titled 万年筆 『エリート９５Ｓ』 新発売 (Fountain pen "Elite 95S" new release) and issued on June 19, 2013, states that the release date was Tuesday, June 25, 2013.
The information in this article is as accurate as possible, but you should not take it as absolutely authoritative or complete. If you have additions or corrections to this page, please consider sharing them with us to improve the accuracy of our information. My thanks to David Rzeszotarski for providing some of the information, for his assistance in gathering many of the pens shown here, and for the time he spent in performing technical and copy edits on this article.