If you’re a follower of the big pen blogs or a regular at US pen shows then it is hard to miss Yoshi Nakama’s pens sold under the 18111 brand. Each unique, made by laser engraving acrylic then filling in the pattern with gold, silver, and coloured dusts, before lacquering over and polishing. Almost a modern version of the Japanese Maki-e art. In addition the pens come with roll stops, each of which is made by making a 3-D printed template, creating a mould, then casting in brass.
Think I first saw one of his pens on either David Parker’s Figboot on Pens or Mike Matteson’s Inkdependance YouTube channels. Right from the start the pens intrigued me and despite their cost (after all there is a lot of work involved) I could feel the draw. What did not help was former London Pen Club member Alejandra (now moved back tot he US) bringing one to a meet. My mind was made up. I could not justify the cost of ordering across the ‘pond’ and so it would make the perfect excuse to head over to the US and visit friends, oh and to attend a US pen show. This would allow me look at the pens in the flesh before deciding on which one to go for. Philadelphia 2020 was a real option as I have good friends near by and in theory it was not far for Yoshi so I was hoping he would be there. Alas by the time cheap flights were available tickets for the show and nearby hotels were not and so my wallet sighed in relief.
Of course I never planned on the power of photos and Yoshi does post pictures of some of his creations on one or more Facebook groups. Not as sales pitches, but more as ‘look at what I just made’ type posts. So the last thing I needed in March this year was to log on and feel the heart reaching for the wallet. Going through to his store (on Etsy) I could see more pictures and really liked the look of this pen. I decided to leave it a few days. My mind was set, the pen was still available, and the purchase was made. Then Covid-19 became more serious and much of the world locked down.
It took 6 weeks for the pen to move from New Jersey to Chicago and get on a plane. 6 weeks! Two days later I had a customs charge and the pen arrived on the next. It came in a simple branded cardboard box and safely tucked in to a velvet like kimono.
To look at, the pen is stunning. The brown acrylic is a hand cast alumilite resin, again made by Yoshi, which shines and sheens with oodles of golden sparkles and chatoyance. This mates perfectly with the golden feathers which appear to almost be flowing in an autumnal breeze brought to life by the swirls in the material. The roll stop, in the form of a feather, sits nicely on the pen and works well both in form as well as function.
In the hand the pen is very comfortable, very nicely balanced. There is a step up from the threads to the barrel, allowing the flush fitting cap, however the section is quite long so you don’t notice it and if you do hold the pen slightly further back then both the threads and the step are soft.
The initial writing experience was … well it would be kind to say disappointing. On his website Yoshi says he checks and adjusts all nibs, yet this one, a fine steel JoWo, barely wrote. Under a loupe the tines looked fine, but in use it was scratchy, really scratchy, and also suffered from very poor ink flow. It took quite a while with micro mesh and flossing the tines to get it working properly but once I had managed that it did write nicely. Moot however as I swapped the nib out with a fine SIG from Franklin-Christoph a couple of months later – this was the plan from before I had managed to get the nib working. I think the problem is that Yoshi, like so many other single/small pen producers, is a pen maker not a nib tuner and so quite possibly he checked the tines, saw they were fine, and left it at that.
So did the poor writing experience cause buyers remorse? Not a chance. I love the pen. It’s stunning to look at, comfortable in the hand, and if I were to be honest, when the nib first proved to be resistant to being fixed, I just considered buying a replacement from a UK pen store or a speciality one from FPNibs.com. The third option was Franklin Christoph, and that was the route I took, adding an additional nib to an order in June.
Cost wise this is not a cheap pen. Including postage (set by Etsy) it cost me £330.70 and another £82 in customs and handling charges plus VAT. Obviously buying directly from a pen show would have been a lot cheaper, think it was originally ~$370. Note this is still cheaper than the likes of Kanilea Pens and compared to them this pen suddenly looks to be good value.
Would I recommend a 18111 fountain pen to someone else. Well if you see a finish you really like and you can afford it, why not. I suspect I was just unlucky with my nib. I still stick to my view that you should try a pen first, but as every 18111 fountain pen is unique all you can tell by trying some one else’s is whether it feels comfortable in the hand. Now that is important but it just provides part of the story.
- Each pen is unique.
- Stunningly beautiful.
- Nicely balanced.
- Need to look at each pen to find one that really appeals.
- Some may consider the pen to be expensive.
- Really poor US postal system (even given global events) if buying internationally.
- Postage and postal costs controlled by Etsy.
- Poor nib (I may have been unlucky).