We often associate the character of the sailor to feelings like freedom and lightheartedness. Rarely we think of a sailor as a disciplined and meticulous person. On the other side, we all know the Japanese culture as one of the most precise, abnegated and disciplined one in the world. This makes no exception when they produce writing instruments as they do since a long time. Let’s have a look at the wonderful history of SAILOR, one of the most incredible manufacturer of fountain pens in the world.
Why the name Sailor
Kure is a coastal city, facing the Seto Inland Sea, notorious for his harbour and the naval activities. Back at the beginning of 20th century many sailors were visiting the port city and among other people there was a 14 years old guy called Kyugoro Sakata. Kyugoro was helping his brother in his metalworking factory in Kure. Since the Japanese and the Royal Navy had a strong collaboration and know-how exchange, many Japanese naval officers were regularly sent to the United Kingdom to acquire this know-how. One of them, Chozaburo Shirahige, a friend of Kyugoro Sakata, once brought back a fountain pen to Kyugoro. This must have been an enlightenment to Kyugoro who immediately decided to start a developing a completely Japanese fountain pen that could replace the traditional Japanese brushing pen.
And after a relatively short period of trial and error Kyoguro and his bother suddenly managed to produce their first Japan made fountain pen. So in 1911 they founded the their first factory producing gold nibs for fountain pens called “Sakata-Manufactory” located in Kure. Later on, in 1917, the relocated the company to a town called Hamadacho and the company changed it’s name in “Sailor Pen Sakata-Manufactory Co., Ltd.” in homage to their first friend that introduced the Sakata brothers to fountain pens. The Legend was born.
The prince meets the sailor
On May 27th, 1926 the company really reached a turning point when Prince Hirohito (Prince Regent, later Emperor Showa) visited the factory to promote and encourage the industry in Japan. As we can imagine, a great honour for a relatively small company of 300 employees that was established only 15 years before. But this visit obviously brought Sailor an immense notoriety and credibility across all Japan. And this gave to the Sakata brothers new motivation and boost to continue with their impressive work.
In fact, just after World War II, ballpoint pens started to became very popular, as we shortly mentioned in our post about the revenge of the ball-point pen, and so Sailor decided to produce their own ballpoint line in 1948 and so Sailor became as well the first producer of ballpoint pens in Japan.
Many more innovations followed in the fifties and sixties such as an automatic suction type ink cartridges, developed in 1954 and produced in 1958 or a mini type portable fountain pen that clipped to the chest pocket. But the real novelty, the one that everyone of us fountain pen aficionados love above anything else, has been introduced in 1969; the 21kt Gold nib!
Smoother than anything else
When you think of Sailor, you can’t get over their absolute masterpiece when it comes to nib production. Their 21kt gold nib is an such a joy to write with that every time you get the chance to use it, you may appreciate the delicacy with which this nib fondles the paper surface. As a lucky owner of a King Professional Gear, that has been gifted to me recently, I really enjoy the incredible versatility of this wonderful piece. It doesn’t matter if you use it to sketch something on your jotter of if you use it to sign a contract or take notes during a meeting. It simply does its job and never “complains” that the temperature might be too high or the paper is not as good as it should be. It just works. Very Japanese.
The King of Pens
It’s not a coincidence though, that Sailor has named its flagship collection “King of Pen” since this is really what it is. The ultimate expression of excellence not only from a manufacturing point of view, with it’s ebonite shaft and the 21kt gold nib, but also from a size point of view, the King of Pen is really what its name says. From my point of view, THE fountain pen. A must have in every collection. Available as well in a large variety of Urushi finishes, it doesn’t leaves any wish open.
We will dedicate an entire section to the maki-e art together with one of the most competent journalists of the sector but we couldn’t ignore this part of Sailor’s history. The maki-e art is one of Sailors pillars and the pieces they have produced during the years are astonishing and superb. Sailor collaborates with some very selected maki-e artists. This is to make sure that the quality standard of their editions can be kept through time.
Sailor is discipline
As we mentioned in the beginning, we don’t associate a Sailor to discipline, normally. But in the case of Sailor the fountain pen manufacturer, this is very much the case. A product that unifies simple beauty to Japanese engineering perfection. The result is a pen that you want to use again and again and again. Thank you Sakata brothers, for making such beautiful writing instruments!
Image credits: sailor.com