4810 meters above sea level

Friday, October 30, 2009

Review of Montblanc Thomas Mann - Broad Nib

The brilliance of Paul Thomas Mann, born 6 June 1875 in Lübeck, was already evident in his early creative phase: he demonstrated flashes of genius in his prose sketches and essays whilst still a schoolboy, before signing a letter with “Thomas Mann. Lyrical dramatic poet” at the age of just 14. He was, however, to be proved right: he had barely begun as a trainee in an insurance company when he made his writing debut with the published novella “Gefallen”, which earned him widespread acclaim. Encouraged by this critical success, Mann decided to commit to a career as a writer.In 1901,
aged just 26, he completed his famous family saga “Buddenbrooks”, a masterpiece of linguistic artistry and cunning irony. This epic novel, translated into over 40 languages, has cast its spell over more than 6 million readers to date. The novel won its author the 1929 Nobel Prize for Literature. Thomas Mann’s masterpiece “Buddenbrooks” has brought him immortality and has turned him into one of the most famous writers of the 20th century. Montblanc is paying tribute to this unique wordsmith with an equally unique Writers Edition.

First Impressions

The box comes in the shape of a book, which is nothing new for a typical Writer’s Edition pen, but a refreshing change for someone like me who has yet to own any W.E. My first impression of the cover design was that it very much resembled a printed circuit board from the way the black lines run on the dark blue background.

Some stats from Montblanc

Launch: 2009
12,000 fountain pens
15,000 ballpoint pens
6,000 rollerballs
3,000 sets comprising fountain pen, ballpoint pen and mechanical pencil

Appearance & Design

I like the lustrous glow of rich black the pen emits. It mesmerizes and draws you into a maze of rich black and platinum. The pen has an avant garde design, with it’s barrel coated with precious black & rich lacquer while at the same time segmented by an array of multi-layered platinum Inlays. The theme of this design is inspired by the
age of artistic creativity in which Thomas Mann lived: the Art Deco era. Lacquer, especially Chinese lacquer & Urushi, had always been the forte of S.T. Dupont and well known Japanese pen manufacturers such as Namiki & Danitrio. Using lacquer as the theme of the 2009 W.E is an excellent idea, since it’s a highly resistant, strong and beautiful material to work with. The lacquer work is flawless, since the lacquer blended perfectly with the platinum inlays. The onyx-coloured zircon set above the teardrop on the platinum clip simply adds more depth to the polished black and platinum facet of the pen.

Comparison with S.T. Dupont XL Olympio Chinese Lacquer with Palladium Trim

There is no discernible difference between the lacquer work of both the Thomas Mann and the S.T. Dupont XL Olympio. Both pens’ lacquer coatings share the same characteristics – deep, rich and black sheen that can only come from the Rhus Vernicifera lacquer, and feels great in hand.

The pen’s cap is dome shaped, which is similar to Montblanc safety fillers dating from post World War 1 era. The cap bears a close resemblance of the Dickens W.E’s cap as well. The Montblanc emblem is Ivory colored, which gives the pen a nice vintage touch.

One thing that I have always admired about German and Japanese manufacturers in general is their absolute, tenacious dedication to Six Sigma i.e quality as well as precision. With this Thomas Mann W.E, there is no exception. When I screw/unscrew the pen, there is no wobbling or tightness at all, the tolerance between the cap’s and barrel’s screw thread is minimal. Just the kind of German precision to expect from Montblanc. The spring loaded pen cap screws on firmly, and an extra twist is required to screw the cap fully. When the cap is fully screwed on, the platinum inlays on the barrel are precisely aligned with the similar inlays on the cap. This sounds simple, but it’s a feat that can only achieved by solid quality control, which is found very lacking in certain well established manufacturers of Italian origin.

Weight & Dimensions

Weighing 57.5 grams and at 140 mm long, this is a full bodied fountain pen with a solid heft. I would suppose the pen has a lacquer over metal construction in order to account for the weight.

Comparison with Montblanc UNICEF Signature for Good Meisterstück 146 Le Grand

The Thomas Mann’s cap clearly has a thicker girth than the UNICEF Le Grand, while the Le Grand is slightly longer at 146 mm due to it’s torpedo design as opposed to the Thomas Mann flat bottom.

Nib & Performance

The nib is a rhodium-plated 18 K gold Broad, which blends very well with the black and platinum facet of the pen. The “Buddenbrooks” house is delicately engraved on the nib’s surface.

The nib starts putting ink right from the get go without skipping and is glass smooth. It writes with stubbish qualities, which are
synonymous with the Broad and Oblique Broad nibs of the Montblanc Meisterstück 149. Only one word can aptly sum up the writing experience – BLISS.

A writing sample of the broad nib as follows:

Coincidentally, my Broad and Ghost Plane’s Broad comes with serial numbers close to the tail end of 12,000, and based on initial sampling i.e PenTieRun’s and goodguy’s Fines are numbered 5xxx & 6xxx, I am speculating that Montblanc is allocating the serial numbers based on the Thomas Mann nib size.

For those who are interested, please read on for an introduction of the history of “Buddenbrooks” house.

“Buddenbrooks” House

The Buddenbrooks House at Mengstrasse 4, opposite St. Mary’s Church, has a chequered history: The house was built by Johann Michael Croll, a merchant from Marburg, in 1758 and was bought by Johann Siegmund Mann, the grandfather of Heinrich and Thomas Mann, in 1841. The Mann family owned the property until 1891. In 1893 the Hanseatic City of Lübeck took over the building and subsequently rented it out. As a result the house that literature had made famous became, amongst other things, the land registry office, a night station for lantern keepers as well as the headquarters of the Lübeck State Lottery. When the “Buddenbrook Bookshop” was opened in 1922, an event attended by Thomas Mann, the intention was to make the house at least accessible to literature.

In the night before Palm Sunday 1942 RAF bombardments destroyed more than a fifth of the historic Old Town of Lübeck. Of the Buddenbrook House only the façade and the vaulted cellar remained. In 1954 a bank purchased the destroyed property and erected a new building behind the old façade, opening a branch there in 1957.

In 1991 the Buddenbrooks House, made famous by Thomas Mann’s novel, was returned to the possession of the Hanseatic City of Lübeck, with the assistance of the Federal Republic of Germany and the state of Schleswig-Holstein. A modern Heinrich and Thomas Mann Centre was erected behind the original façade, to become the perfect place for an animated debate about the life and works of the two brothers. A permanent exhibition on the ground floor gives visitors insights into the relationship between these two men and between them and Lübeck, their home town. Temporary exhibitions, conferences, film and video shows, as well as readings take place on the first floor and in the vault. A research area with a library and computer centre is under construction and is intended to provide practical support for anyone interested in Heinrich and Thomas Mann.

Filling System

This pen uses the piston filler, which is a plus since it can hold a more decent capacity of ink compared to CC fillers.

Cost, Value & Conclusion

This is an excellent pen with an avant garde design, solid build and quality workmanship, but it comes with a hefty price tag too. Iconic? Perhaps. It would be interesting to observe how the lacquer will age with time, since lacquer is a living material. This pen will make a great addition to any collector’s prized collection, especially collectors who are interested in Chinese lacquer or Urushi based fountain pens.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pilot-Namiki 88th Anniversary "Nioh" Limited Edition

2006 marks the 88th anniversary of Pilot Corporation, which is an important milestone in Japanese tradition. 88, when written in kanji characters (eight), (ten), (eight) resemble the character for rice (yone, also read as bei),while 寿 means birthday, hence the coined "Beiju" 米寿. From the very beginning of Japanese history, rice was respected by the people, for it was their food, their very livelihood and their source of happiness. An integral and fundamental part of Japanese society, rice symbolized purity and goodness. Thus the 88th birthday is a happy and joyous occasion which calls for special celebrations.

Pilot pioneered the nib pellet manufacturing technique in Japan in 1918. At the same time in this country, raw iridium was still being used. This innovation led to the acceptance of the quality of Pilot pens world wide. After the collaboration with the Alfred Dunhill Company of London, producing Dunhill-Namiki Maki-e pens, Pilot's reputation grew even further. Today, these Maki-e pens are some of the most highly prized and sought after pens in the world. To commemorate this occasion, Pilot had commissioned a specially-designed, limited edition run of fountain pens that feature the delicate tradition of Maki-e craftsmanship.Thus, the special Limited Edition Fountain pens with the motif of “ Shishi- Komainu” (Guardian dogs– 88 pieces) and “Nioh” (Guardian gods – 880 pieces) were launched. These are both pairs of mythical entities that have become deeply rooted in the Japanese culture and loved by all as trusted guardians, talismans against evil, and means of purification. This concept is intertwined with the Oriental belief that the pair of numbers “88” signifies increasing prosperity and well-being. The Kokkokai artisans created these commemorative fountain pens by drawing on its traditional Maki-e craftsmanship handed down over the 80 years of its existence.

First Impressions :- (6/6)

The presentation box is elegant, yet very traditional. Made of clear straight grain softwood, possibly Douglas Fir, this box is embellished with Japanese master calligraphy and tied in a traditional way. From that alone I can tell that a lot of consideration went into the design of the packaging. No details were spared, everything was so intricate.

It was a sight to behold when I lifted the top cover of the box for the first time. I was lost for words as I tried to relate to the masterpiece which greeted me, tucked snugly in the interior of the box. The box interior carries a bottle of ink, and a wooden certificate showing the edition number. Mine came with a serial # of 047/880.

Appearance & Design :- (6/6)

The form of Buddhism that entered Japan merged with the ancient gods of Japan, and a harmonious synthesis of Buddhism and Shinto evolved. “Komainu” and “Nioh” are cultural concepts that originated overseas, but over many centuries they have become deeply enrooted in the culture of Japan and familiar entities to the Japanese people. A pair of “Nioh” guardian god statues stands at the Great South Gate of the Todaiji Temple in Nara. In the past, pairs of “Komainu” and/or “Nioh” guardian god statues were placed at both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples without distinction. However, in 1869 the Edict for Separation of Shinto and Buddhism required that “Komainu” should only be located at Shrines and “Nioh” gods only at Temples.

Nioh or Benevolent Kings 仁王 , also known as Vajradhara in Sanskrit, are the two forms of Taishaku Ten, and are said to be the two Buddhist guardian deities (Kongohjin; Kongoh = strong, Jin = god), also to be known as "Kongoh Rikishi". Their figures can be seen at Japanese temples, standing guard at the two sides of the temple gates. Both the featured Nioh guardians have strong builds, fearsome facial expressions to instil fear, and each hold a strong wooden pestle in their hands.

The "Nioh" god on the cap (shown with his mouth open) is known as Misshaku Kongoh, opening his mouth widely to exhale, expressing the sound “Ah”. He is also known as the mark of justice.This breath signifies the beginning of all things.

The “Nioh” on the barrel (shown with mouth closed) is known as Nara-en Kongoh, closing his mouth to inhale, expressing the sound "Un". He is also known as the mark of knowledge. This closed mouth sound signifies the end of all things.

These two sounds, when put together, signify the beginning and end of all things (Alpha and Omega). In Japan, this is known as Ah-Un breathing, which means "instant anticipation of another's intentions", an expression of empathy. In a larger sense, they represent everything that happens between the beginning and the end, a full life. This depiction of the Nioh figures, standing upright, strong and vigorous, on a gold dust earth, places them in a land and sky scape with traditional foliage and cloud elements. Flecks of gold, bronze and other pigments are applied in traditional Urushi technique, resulting in an dazzling effect that transcends both space and time. Note the real life-like effects produced by the raised burnished surfaces from the Urushi lacquering on the Nioh Guardians.

The pen style, known as flat-top, dates from before the 1930's. This shape was probably inspired by influential pen makers' Parker’s Duofold Series' and Sheaffer's Lifetime series’ flat-tops of the post World War I era. Coincidentally, this flat-top pen style was also used for both Pilot’s 85th Anniversary Limited Edition "Hiten" as well as the 70th Anniversary pen.

As with all limited edition Maki-e fountain pens, the artist's signature can be found on the pen.

Weight & Dimensions :- (6/6)

Weighing 37.5 grams and at 5 1/2" long, this is a full-sized fountain pen with a good heft. This is a bonus for me since I have large hands and I prefer my pens heavy rather than light.

Nib & Performance :- (4.5/6)

The nib is an 18K gold plated monotone Broad. The 88th anniversary wordings were intricately engraved on the nib’s surface. Design-wise, this nib pales in comparison with the regular Montblanc Meisterstück 146 or Sailor 1911/PG nib. However, this anniversary nib exhibited a good amount of flex and was glass smooth, though it writes more like a medium. Very typical of Japanese nibs.

Filling System :- (4/6)

Any pen that does not come equipped with a piston filler will not get full points from me in this department. This pen uses the CC filling system, and the pen comes equipped with the all black Push Button type CON-70 converter. The black CON-70 converter doesn’t seem like the standard issue, since the versions available for sale on the web have a silver base. This is the 1st time I get to handle a Push Button type converter, which is going to make the ink filling experience all the more interesting.

Cost & Value :- (6/6)

I bought this L.E from a private collector at a steep discount to the MSRP. This pen has an excellent quality build rivaling Montblanc and S.T. Dupont and carries a beautiful Maki-e theme featuring the life-like Nioh guardians. Yes, this Maki-e themed pen offers tremendous value for money for the price I paid.

Conclusion :- (6/6)

This is an excellent, beautiful and well made pen. Maki-e pens have always captivated me, and I hope to add more beautiful creations like this into my personal collection.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

UNICEF Signature for Good 2009 Special Edition Meisterstück 146 Le Grand

I got this mint and un-inked consignment pen for a wonderful deal from feiye in FPN. Asking price was lower than the retail MSRP for a basic Meisterstück Le Grand, so it was a no brainer buy decision. The only catch was that the owner had thrown away the original packaging. A pity really, but the price was just too good to pass up.

I lined up the UNICEF Le Grand side by side with my regular Meisterstück Legrand with Platinum trim and took some photo shots. The adornments on the cap of the UNICEF Le Grand seem to project the pen as somewhat smaller than the regular Meisterstück Le Grand.

The filigree gold-plated wreath adorns the cap of the UNICEF Le Grand, a reference to UN's emblematic olive wreath which is universally recognized as the symbol of peace. The most distinguishing feature of the UNICEF Le Grand has to be the blue sparking sapphire, mounted just above the cap ring. It's deep blue echoes the UNICEF colour as a symbol of trust and commitment.

The UNICEF Le Grand comes with the regular stock nib, which leaves this pen a bit lacking when compared to the 75th Anniversary 146 Le Grand equivalent.