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The Journal of Writing Culture

clear waters:

Japan’s Pilot at 100 years

David Oscarson commemorates a

Swedish hero the 2018 Fall Preview: enjoy the harvest

OCTOBER 2018 $6.95US $7.95CAN


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An exquisite palette of twenty-four vibrant inks inspired by nature. Color your writing, color your life.

October VOLUME 31, NUMBER 6

ON OUR COVER: Art from the presentation box of the Pilot Pen Seven Lucky Gods anniversary collection.



60 a 100-year voyage

Japan’s Pilot celebrates its centennial with some remarkable maki-e writing instruments.

34 going once…going twice…

Sold! Ivan Briggs brings fine pen auctioneering to San Francisco’s PBA Galleries.

49 crescent filler, big river

Yair Greenberg realizes a dream as he guides U.S. brand Conklin Pens to its 120th anniversary.

52 righteous among nations

David Oscarson’s newest collection remembers Raoul Wallenberg’s sacrifice.

56 the Pipers’ passion

Wood from the White House? Independence Hall? Eagle Pen Co. has it.

65 harvest moon

The 2018 PW Fall Preview of Pens is bountiful.





departments 6




“on this harvest moon”

mark your calendars

12 now

ballpoints, angels, and 3D

14 news 20 shop

kids, lefties, cigars

Pen Chalet

26 deskology 42 strokes


iron gall ink

Denis Brown’s art

92 network 94 source

classified advertising

brand contact information

96 imho

thanks for the thanks


12 20




(with thanks and credit to Neil Young)


Ruth Korch


he Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox, characterized by the fact that moonrise so closely follows sunset. Early evening skies are saturated in an unusually high level of light as a bright orange moon rises through the night. In pre-industrial times, that extra moonlight helped farmers reap their summer yield. Our modern view of the Harvest Moon is poetic. If the autumn landscape were a fountain pen, its body would be mottled patches of rust and yellow, mauve and green, burnt umber and sienna. I imagine a witch in silhouette against a full moon on one side of the barrel, while a Día de los Muertos skull graces the other side, replete with colorful roses. Perhaps the clip is in the shape of a cornucopia. Maybe the nib is engraved with a pumpkin. The Harvest Moon would grace the cap top, an orange-yellow sphere hovering in a window of indigo. This year’s annual Fall Preview of Pens (p. 65) does its best to capture the feeling of the night of the Harvest Moon—reflection on the long days of the prior summer and preparation for the long nights of the coming winter; that strong smell of earth that wafts from below our feet; that crunch of leaves turning brittle and brown; that bracing excitement for the first blanket of snow that’s always closer than we’d like it to be. In 1992, Neil Young released a song called “Harvest Moon,” a reminiscence on a youthful romance that has grown into a steady love. That song has played in my head for months now as we’ve planned and produced this year’s Fall Preview. Each autumn, PW has shown in glorious full pages the best that writing instrument brands have to offer in the annual Fall Preview of Pens. This year’s section is full as ever. It seems fitting that our October issue is also the last issue of the current publication year. Partly coincidentally and partly by design, the October issue inevitably offers reflections on the past as well as tastes of what’s to come. Our cover story, Japan’s Pilot Pen, encapsulates that notion—a wholly modern conglomerate that stays true to its 100-year pedigree with every magnificent maki-e masterpiece. Conklin, too, celebrates a milestone with its 120th anniversary—a brand that is its own Lazarus story. Artisan penmaker David Oscarson celebrates a new marriage, but he also commemorates in pen-form a historical Swedish hero.

We look back at the history of iron gall inks, and we look forward with Denis Brown’s highly conceptual calligraphy. We showcase completely handmade writing instruments as well as 3D-printed nibs. We feature PBA Galleries, which is keeping the classic fine pen auction alive, and Pen Chalet, which is finding success in the virtual realm. We cover the next generation of writing instrument enthusiasts as well as a brand that specializes in historical artifacts. “Because I’m still in love with you / I want to see you dance again / Because I’m still in love with you / On this Harvest Moon.” When I hear Neil Young’s chorus, the first thing that comes to my mind—of course—is my own marriage, the 10 years of struggle and triumph I’ve shared with my wife and son. But I also think of my times with Pen World—that first, youthful experience of discovering this sub-world, and the 17 years I’ve spent learning its secrets since. The Harvest Moon reflects both the excitement of youth and the sagacity of experience. If we did our jobs right, this issue does the same.

After 100 years, Japan’s Pilot still navigates the waters of finely-made writing instruments.


Nearly every Pilot artisan participated in the three years of planning it took to create the company’s anniversary suite of maki-e writing instruments, including the fountain pen at left and presentation box above from the Seven Lucky Gods limited edition fountain pen collection.


e think of Japan’s Pilot as a timeless juggernaut, an inevitability of historical and artistic confluence. When a single company becomes the moniker, the standard-bearer, for an industry, we have a hard time imagining that industry without it. Was General Electric an inevitability? Was the iPhone destined to define the smartphone market? Was Japan’s Pilot chosen by the gods to define the artistry and technical prowess by which Japanese writing instrument companies are defined?


In the early 1900s, Masao Wada served on a Japanese merchant marine ship called the Ariake Maru. The ship engineer was a gentleman named Ryosuke Namiki. The two men struck up a friendship based on the notion of creating a uniquely Japanese brand with a global market— a truly innovative idea at the time. While teaching at the Tokyo University of Marine Science, Namiki began researching ways to strengthen the nib tips on cartographic ruling pens. By 1914, Namiki had added to the tip of a 14 karat gold fountain pen a ball tip of irodismine (iridium). The research was time consuming and expensive, so in 1915, Namiki’s old friend, Wada, provided some additional financial backing, and by 1916, the two men had successfully designed the first gold fountain pen nib made entirely in Japan. The resulting company was called the Namiki Manufacturing Co., Ltd. The pen brand, itself, was called Pilot. Namiki said of the brand name: “When a convoy of ships is proceeding in line astern at sea, the veteran ship’s captain…at the head of the convoy…is called the pilot. The name PILOT therefore carries the meaning of a leader in fountain pens, a pioneer, the person who leads the field.”

Above—in addition to the seven fountain pens and lacquer presentation box, Seven Lucky Gods comes with a hand-painted pen tray and seven 15-ml sample bottles of special Pilot Iroshizuku inks. Below—open presentation box with fountain pens and tray.


Left—the Seven Lucky Gods collection features distinct treatments of each of the seven gods of luck and fortune in Japanese culture and have a tassie on the cap top. Right—Seven Lucky Gods will be available individually later in 2019, sporting clips.

A pilot must be unsinkable, Namiki posited, able to float above any difficulties. To this day, “overcoming difficulties” remains one of Pilot’s five guiding principles, along with the notions of “shared joys and shared sorrows,” “one step, one day,” “a very sincere approach,” and “three forces in balance with each other.” So Wada and Namiki’s vision was almost complete. Through technical innovation, the two created a company that made a truly Japanese fountain pen, from clip to nib tip. Still, a fountain pen wasn’t inherently “Japanese” in its nature. One could argue, then, that it was Pilot’s second technical innovation that set the standard for the company’s cultural role. Ebonite was the substance of choice for fountain pen barrels, but traditional Japanese urushi lacquer did not hold up well on such a volatile substance. In 1925, Pilot 62

successfully filed for patents in both Japan and the United States for a new substance called “Laccanaite.” This substance, when applied to an ebonite fountain pen barrel, prevented the erosion of urushi’s rich colors. The rest, as they say, is history. A savvy partnership created the Dunhill-Namiki brand, a sub-genre of traditional maki-e artisanry on ebonite fountain pen barrels, which Western markets ate up like candy. To this day, vintage Grade-A Dunhill-Namiki maki-e fountain pens are some of the most coveted writing instruments in the auction market. The Pilot line of art pens, accessories, and office products sets the standard for functionality on a budget. And passionate collectors attempt to find any and all Pilot Vanishing Point fountain pens they can find. (To see this year’s Pilot Vanishing Point Limited Edition fountain pen, see page 83 of the Fall Preview of Pens.)

One hundred years on, Pilot is stronger than ever, and its maki-e artistry still sets the standard. In 2017, Namiki— Pilot’s imprint of fine art pens—received a PW Readers’ Choice Award in the “Best Urushi Arts” category for its limited edition Yukari Royale Frog. Pilot follows up on that success with a suite of limited edition maki-e writing instruments. Pilot Corporation President and Representative Director, Shu Itoh, notes: “In celebrating our 100th anniversary, we will launch two types of commemorative fountain pens, applying all the advanced and traditional maki-e craft techniques that we have accumulated over the years.” That sounds simple, but the project has been enormous—three years of planning, and a special anniversary caretaker position dedicated specifically to the 100th anniversary writing instruments. Nearly every Pilot-Namiki maki-e artist has participated in some way in this project. In many instances, these anniversary pens showcase artwork from different artists on the same pen—say, a chinkin specialist adding special chiseling to the background of a maki-e foreground. Take the Seven Lucky Gods. Seven artists each created a motif to represent one of seven traditional gods of luck and fortune on seven separate Emperor-sized fountain pens. In addition, three artists worked together to create the ebonite pen box and tray. On the technical side of things, Pilot created seven matching inks, exclusive to this pen series.

The Seven Lucky Gods are iconic deities in the Japanese pantheon. Like the ancient Greek muses, each god has a direct relation with certain manufacturing or artistic fields, and each god has a series of myths and symbols unique to him or her. A god in traditional pose and garb graces each barrel body, and representative symbols or animals reinforce that god’s specific story on the cap. You’ll find every type of maki-e embellishment somewhere in this seven-pen set. Hira maki-e is the flat application of the basic composition in gold and silver flaking. Raden is the application of abalone and eggshell to lend the composition iridescence. Taka maki-e applies layer upon layer of gold flaking, putty, camphor, and other substances to give the composition a raised appearance; and togidashi maki-e is the process of bringing those layers into high relief through a careful charcoal burnishing process. Chinkin involves actually chiseling the ebonite background to display the layers of color beneath the deep black background.

From left—both the Yukari-sized, blue-background Fuji and the Emperor-sized, black-and-gold Fuji fountain pens are available in limited numbers and feature a 14 karat gold Pilot nib with special 100th anniverary engraving.


From left—15-ml sample bottle of Pilot Iroshizuku 100th Anniversary ink in Benzaitan, a shade of pink; 50-ml bottles of the inks, such as this shade of Bishamonten (reddishpink) will be available for a limited time later in the year.

In a successful maki-e composition, those techniques bleed together into a seamless whole. That wholeness of composition is best seen on the Seven Lucky Gods pen box, which showcases fine chinkin to create Mt. Fuji in the background and the waves of the ocean upon which a traditional Japanese merchant ship navigates, filled to the brim with symbols, items, and Japanese characters— everything laden with meaning and created with the various maki-e techniques in which Pilot’s artisans specialize. The seamless, clipless, cartridge/converter fountain pens feature a 14 karat gold, bicolor Pilot nib in medium. A hint of whimsy graces the cap top: a tassie that allows each pen to hang from a chain like a pendant. Beneath the pens, one will find seven 15-ml bottles of Pilot Iroshizuku 100th Anniversary limited edition fountain pen ink—lush hues of turquoise, orange, red, pink, green, blue, and black. Only 25 sets of the Seven Lucky Gods will be available worldwide, and the price reflects the rarity: $48,000 for the complete anniversary set. In the United States, only four sets including the striking presentation box will be available. The seven anniversary inks will be available for the next year in a special anniversary set of 50 ml bottles, and the Seven Lucky Gods fountain pens will be available for individual sale later in the year—sporting clips instead of tassies. Two other anniversary writing instruments honor Mt. Fuji, a classic landscape for maki-e artists. The Emperorsized, clipless Fuji fountain pen has a black urushi background that beautifully compliments the image of Mt. Fuji on the cap, which is captured in crushed quail egg. A ship on the barrel battles fierce waves also composed in gold 64

flaking. This cartridge/converter writing instrument with 14 karat gold nib in medium is limited to 100 pieces worldwide. The Yukari-sized Fuji fountain pen has a background of mariner’s blue urushi and shows Mt. Fuji in gold flaking on the cap as well as a merchant’s boat on the barrel. The cartridge/converter fountain pen has a traditional Pilot clip and a 14 karat gold nib in medium. Fuji is limited to 800 pieces worldwide and will sell for $1,429. These writing instruments are rarefied, singular pieces of art that just happen to grace the body of a fountain pen— and like Dunhill-Namiki pens of the 1920s and ’30s, they are destined to become collectors’ items due both to their limited numbers and the uniquely complex compositions. But these instruments—and, in fact, all the special anniversary pens Pilot is planning—represent as much the company’s future as its present. And more than anything, Itoh stresses that these anniversary celebrations are a means of saying thanks: “This achievement [of 100 years of production] is only possible due to your patronage over many years, for which we would like to express our heartfelt gratitude. We will strive to remain a company that will support writing for the next 100 years.” A convoy of ships, planes, trains, and semi-trucks leaves Asia each day, bringing to the West a collection of finely made writing instruments. Still at the helm of that convoy, Pilot navigates the waters and the jet streams, the highways and the train tracks that connect East and West. Visit,, and

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To consign for this or other upcoming sales or to order a catalogue, contact Ivan Briggs at or call 415.989.2665

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Thanks for the BY JERRY CEPPOS

Thank-You Note!

When I became dean of LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication seven years ago, I started writing thank-you notes by hand to donors and other friends of the school. I did this for no reason other than the fact that LSU supplied nice note cards and I wanted to use my beautiful pens (predominantly Viscontis and Montegrappas, for pen freaks). Never before have I received such a reaction from a random decision. I remember the first acknowledgement, from an alum I met in Lake Charles, Louisiana, after he wrote to congratulate me on getting the job. He specifically thanked me for my handwritten reply. I took notice. Soon, our development director would pop into my office and ask that I write “one of your handwritten thankyou notes” after a new donation arrived. She continued doing that for the seven years we worked together. The donors themselves often would call to thank me for the “handwritten” note. I had been taught that you shouldn’t thank someone who has thanked you, but that rule seemed to go out the window after I started sending my notes. Of course, I always had written thank-you notes, but they were usually typed (or, I hate to admit, dashed off as email). No one commented about those. At the same time, I found myself on the pleasant receiving end of handwritten thank-you notes from occasional students who stayed awake in my media-ethics classes or those who thought I had run the school reasonably well. I was surprised because most of my career had been spent as a newspaper editor. They don’t receive many thank-you notes. But as soon as I became dean they arrived, often with impeccable penmanship (and in some cases with the help of what appeared to be a nice pen). So I was not surprised when two scholars wrote recently in the journal Psychological Science that saying thank you in writing “improves well-being for both expressers and recipients.” They also found that the people saying thank you “significantly underestimated how surprised recipients would be.” In short, expressions of gratitude are important both to senders and recipients. 96

I asked both authors if they know whether the mode of saying thanks—such as handwritten notes—influences the recipients. They don’t know and even guessed that the mode would matter less than “the intent and warmth conveyed in the message itself,” as one author, Dr. Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, wrote me (by email, incidentally). His co-author, Dr. Amit Kumar of the University of Texas at Austin, agreed that research so far suggests that the method of transmission “shouldn’t matter all that much.” On the other hand, he, too, said “there’s evidence that things like sincerity...tend to matter.” I don’t know about you, but my unscholarly guess is that a handwritten note conveys sincerity and warmth more than an email. That’s why I framed a beautiful, handwritten, threeyear-old thank-you note for my office. A printout just wouldn’t be the same. Jerry Ceppos is the former dean of LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication and now is the William B. Dickinson Distinguished Professor there. Share your pen experience, insight or memory with PW readers in approximately 500 words and mail to Pen World Editor, P.O. Box 2276, Cypress, TX 77410, or email to Authors whose essays are published receive $100.

Pen World V31.6  

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Pen World V31.6  

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