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Thread: Vintage Japanese eyedropper pens

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    Member awa54's Avatar
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    Default Vintage Japanese eyedropper pens (now with 100% more pictures!)

    I just got two really nice Japanese BHR eyedropper pens today, both with clear laquer coating (likely urushi) and steel nibs. Both are also ink shutoff type mechanisms and hold ink after the application of some silicone grease on the valve shafts (*after* removal of the gunky old grease).

    One is a Meizen "cigar" style with a fine semi-flex to moderate flex nib, this one is the smoothest shiro nib I've encountered, likely at least partly because it's such a broad tip compared to the average EF to needlepoint that you find on these pens... it has a 14k GF cap band with a chromed nickel clip and there is a lengthy dedication or personalization on the barrel.


    P9130019 by David Wimmer, on Flickr

    P9130021 by David Wimmer, on Flickr

    P9130022 by David Wimmer, on Flickr

    P9130023 by David Wimmer, on Flickr

    P9130024 by David Wimmer, on Flickr


    The second is a smaller "jewelled" end pen (they're actually just lathe turned in the BHR, with no metal accents) that has no identifying marks in English, but the nib may have the maker's name in Japanese characters. It has a much more typical EF to EEF nib, with significant flex, as it came to me the nib would catch on any paper rougher than Rhodia, but with a light hand it was useable. After a very gentle smoothing on .5 micron film and some tine alignment work, it now writes on even rather coarse paper with light pressure and will allow full flex use on smoother paper, even at speed! I had been planning a nib swap before the tune-up worked out so well. This one shows very little use and has a dark rectangle in the aged barrel that was probably where a tag had protected the surface for many years. Maybe the nib was rough right from the factory and it never got more than a few uses in its life (it also had only the faintest traces of blue ink in it as received)?


    P9130011 by David Wimmer, on Flickr

    P9130012 by David Wimmer, on Flickr

    P9130016 by David Wimmer, on Flickr

    P9130017 by David Wimmer, on Flickr

    P9130018 by David Wimmer, on Flickr



    Both also have toning in the BHR and laquer, which gives them a cool shaded/toned appearance, kind of like an attractively aged watch dial, it just adds character, rather than detracting from the overall impression.

    I'll post some images and a few writing samples when I have the time.

    These pens are so different from American and European pens of the same time period (early 1950s?), almost more like early reservoir pens in a way, but with more modern feeds and ergonomics. Both of these are likely to make it into my regular rotation, so long as they stay ink-tight in daily use. I may even start remembering to open the shutoff valve before I begin writing if I use them enough
    Last edited by awa54; September 23rd, 2019 at 05:20 PM. Reason: photos! + I'm a smartass
    David-

    So many restoration projects...

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    Default Re: Vintage Japanese eyedropper pens

    Here is a quick sample from each of the pens, as well as a rendering of the characters on the nib of the smaller pen.


    Japan ED writing samples by David Wimmer, on Flickr
    David-

    So many restoration projects...

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    Default Re: Vintage Japanese eyedropper pens

    ...any help with translation for the characters on that nib or the dedication on the Meizen would be greatly apreciated!
    David-

    So many restoration projects...

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    Default Re: Vintage Japanese eyedropper pens

    I can't help in any way, but I can't resist replying either. I have been looking at both new vintage urushi pens the last 6 months. They all look very nice to me, but the info and feed back on them vary from top notch to not worth paying too much for. I guess quality varied back then. I while ago I came across a site on the web where someone in the US talked favorably of his collection of hand made pens like these. He dated them from 1950 to early 1980s. Some all urushi pens are pre WWII though. I have yet to get my hands on one of these, and the closest I have had in my hands is an Onoto pen with a similar plunger filling system.

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    Member awa54's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vintage Japanese eyedropper pens

    Quote Originally Posted by arrow View Post
    I can't help in any way, but I can't resist replying either. I have been looking at both new vintage urushi pens the last 6 months. They all look very nice to me, but the info and feed back on them vary from top notch to not worth paying too much for. I guess quality varied back then. I while ago I came across a site on the web where someone in the US talked favorably of his collection of hand made pens like these. He dated them from 1950 to early 1980s. Some all urushi pens are pre WWII though. I have yet to get my hands on one of these, and the closest I have had in my hands is an Onoto pen with a similar plunger filling system.

    Hi Arrow, I think the urushi on these pens (if it is actually that kind of laquer), is strictly to seal the hard rubber against oxidation and discoloration from contact with humidity and water. My pens both have a clear varnish or laquer over the hard rubber, but I'm unable to say with authority whether or not this protective coating is indeed a traditional urushiol sap based laquer, or some other clear coating... though since both pens are Japanese and possibly over 70 years old, it's likely that it is.

    Decorative urushi is a whole different discipline and commands a high price due to the skill of the artisan and the extended time it takes to produce a piece. The "worth" of those pens is both as a work or art/craft and as a fine writing instrument.

    Both of the pens I have are mid-tier pens made for functionality and economy, rather than high-end decorative pieces. In terms of performance, neither is exceptional... the stainless steel "shiro" nibs were created as a substitute for gold, which as I understand it was unavailable during WWII. Shiro nibs can approach the feel of gold nibs, but I have yet to meet one that I would consider better than a similar gold nib, specifically, the flex characteristics of gold are to me, more controllable and forgiving. Most of these budget oriented shiro nibbed pens also have very fine points optimized for writing kanji, while these can produce beautiful writing in western hands, they aren't as well suited to swift cursive writing as a broader point is (even a regular European fine is much broader than most of the 50s domestic market Japanese nibs I've seen).

    On the subject of the "filler" Onoto piston fill pens used a system much like a Sheaffer piston/vac or a Gold seal/Doric era Eversharp (actually the Onoto was first IIRC), or a Pilot 823, which creates a vacuum behind the piston/plunger, which is then released and pulls ink into the barrel. On the other hand these old Japanese pens are not self-filling at all: the knob and shaft system is just an actuator for a shut-off valve to prevent ink from flooding the nib while it's in your pocket.

    Both of mine were under $40 delivered from Japan (Ebay auctions) and while the smaller pen is fully functional and holds ink reliably, the larger one will need to have the shaft seals replaced to be safe to carry in a pocket. I wouldn't recommend this sort of pen as a "daily driver" for most users, but they have serious vintage charisma (for me at least) and are something different from what most of us already own or have used. If you want one that's ready to go expect to pay a premium, at which point, at least for my budget they become a pretty poor value as a writing instrument (as opposed to a collectible).
    Last edited by awa54; September 18th, 2019 at 09:27 PM.
    David-

    So many restoration projects...

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    Default Re: Vintage Japanese eyedropper pens

    Unfortunately, both pens are now leaking past the shaft seal and into the blind cap... And sadly even a generous application of grease on the blind cap threads doesn't keep the overflow in, at least not reliably enough to trust either pen in a pocket

    I'm torn now, since the "easy fix" for this issue is destructive and the *real* fix may be impossible to obtain, or prohibitively expensive if I can actually find someone to do it.

    Either way, both of these pens are nice enough writers that I'd like to be able to use them regularly.

    It's a real bummer to have to choose between preservation and utility!
    David-

    So many restoration projects...

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    Default Re: Vintage Japanese eyedropper pens

    Have you tried to unscrew the thread in the back of the barrel?

    Some of these can be unscrewed (the thread has another thread going into the barrel) and some others can't.
    The ones that can't, cannot be restored without destructive methods like you mentioned (clipping off the rod and sealing the back permanently).
    - Will
    A place to look for restored vintage pens: Redeem Pens

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    Default Re: Vintage Japanese eyedropper pens

    I see why you want to keep them in original working condition. Mine is exactly like the last one you posted but in much worse shape. I don't mind clipping the shutoff rod because of the shape it is in. If anything, your writing sample has encouraged me to get it in writing order.
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    Default Re: Vintage Japanese eyedropper pens

    Howdy, I too have the same pen as in the first photo, with the same problem. The only difference is that on the barrel, opposite the lovely Japanese characters, is the word "TOY" and just under that I can barely make out "fountain". The nib on mine says "Henckel" it writes very nicely, dipped.

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