Fountain Pen Brands
Brothers Walter and Eric Kornfeld, who escaped from the Nazis in Austria, established a factory for the manufacture of fountain- and mechanical pencils in Ramat-Gan, a suburb of Tel-Aviv, in 1938. The factory was located on 30 Bialik Street on the second floor of a two-story building. They were not connected in any way to the writing equipment industry but nevertheless established a successful business, trading under the name of KATAB. The name, as written in English is not a Hebrew word but rather Arabic and the meaning is either "wrote" or "a written document", while in Hebrew the word as spelled may mean, as a verb, "has written" or again "a written document". If the Kornfeld family had only aimed at Jewish customers, they would have written KATAV.
By using KATAB they had in mind the Arab population, which at that time was at least twice in size as compared to the Jewish population. Many of the Arabs were illiterates, but those who could afford quality pens would have liked, and still like, nice objects - preferably incorporating gold metal. Therefore, the very first KATAB models were of very good quality, with gold plated accessories, in particular a small embossed golden seal on the screw cap, about where the clip ends. Examples of these pens are very rare.
During WWII, raw materials were scarce so the family re-cycled used plastics and managed to continue production. Obviously the recycled plastic pens are not of the best quality.
Once the war ended in May 1945, they continued production. After the State of Israel was established (15th of May 1948) there was a big shortage of foreign funds (ships loaded with grain for flour waited outside the harbors until their cargoes were paid for). The Katab factory had to adapt once again to a further shortage of raw materials but managed to continue production. The obvious difference in the products was the inscription:
Until 15 May 1948 pens carried an imprinted panel:
symbol of locally made product Made in Palestine כתב תוצרת ארץ ישראל
From 15 May 1948 the imprint changed to:
symbol of locally made product Made in Israel כתב תוצרת ישראל
The factory owners were quite innovative and made pens that used bottled ink or cartridges (their own standard). The filling systems were chiefly button fillers but they also made lever fillers and twist (piston) fillers. Katab was basically a good manufacturer due, most probably, to the skill of its workers and the serious attitude of its owners. The nibs were always made of 14 Karat gold with iridium tips and carried the letter K. As far as I know, they were all imported, though I have heard that some nib manufacturing (or repair) was taking place locally.
Some pens can still be found in their original cases with a label of "Mass Knia" (Purchase Tax) or "Mass Motarot" (Luxury Tax!). If the small label is intact, or if a pen bears the original price tag, I consider it never to have been used.
As the ball pen became so popular, during the early fifties, the Katab Company wanted to go into ball pen manufacturing. Actually I found one ball pen marked “KATAB” and also a brass ballpoint refill marked “KATAB”. However, the young State had its own ideas on private industries, which were not to the likings of the Katab owners. Thus, I assume, the ballpoint pen was manufactured for Katab by another firm. The family left for the U.K. and the factory closed its doors in 1954. Its last location was on Bialik Street in Ramat-Gan on the second floor of a two-story building, with shops on the street level. The form and shape of both the pen and the refill are very similar to the Globus ball pen refills, thus, I presume, it was manufactured for Katab by the other Israel ball pen manufacturers and indicated Katab's intention to go into ball pen manufacturing.
Two knowledgeable gentlemen in this subject still live in Israel. One is named Moshe Hacohen of Tel-Aviv who followed the Israeli (Palestinian) pen manufacturing industry more closely than I have, being engaged all his life with pens. However, since he expressed his desire to write himself on Katab, I got only some pieces of information although I offered to compensate him for his time. The other is Mr. Yair Nachmani of Haifa who maintains a pen shop in partnership with his son Avraham, from whom I bought several unused Katabs in January 2003. Those pens were made in Israel for a period of time just before the closing of the factory. Incidentally, Mr. Yair Nachmani was good enough to give me, free of charge, all his junk of pen parts he collected during the years. It was in that junk that I discovered the Katab ball pen refill. These pen parts still hide a lot of information, which I intend to write about in the future in updated issues of my article. In addition, the son of Yair Nachmani who is an expert in repairing pens, seems to find new lots of pens every so often. Unfortunately, Yair Nachmani's memory is not too good, so I get from him only little information. Nevertheless, his contribution to my knowledge is substantial.
I could not find as yet any printed information concerning the Katab factory, except two advertisements attached at the end of this article. The verbal information from the two sources sometimes varies. Thus, for instance, Mr. Hacohen claims that all Katab pens had nibs embossed with the letter K (there is one little exception to this) while Mr. Nachmani senior claims that not all pens had gold nibs and not all the nibs carried the letter K. I saw one example of a genuine Katab nib, which was not made of gold.
Other pen manufacturers in Palestine - Israel:
There were several more pen manufactories in Palestine-Israel. One had the intriguing name 'Pele Kan' which in Hebrew means "a miracle". It was actually coined to imitate the well-known German 'Pelikan' brand during the WWII years when nothing from Germany was available.
Another fountain pen carried the inscription Culmus that in Aramaic (a language similar to Hebrew) means “a Pen”.
Concentra or Gafir
These brand names are associated with an entrepreneur by the name of Grievsky from Jerusalem. This gentleman was later associated with the ball pen brand name of Rolex. This brand name will be described later in the ball pen section.
The pens were made to externally imitate the Parker 51 with the hooded nib. The nib was a regular size nib and a piece of tubular metal was superimposed on it to make it look similar to the Parker 51.
The name Gafir was the name of a special police force to which all Jewish high school graduates had to give a year of service as a preparative armed force in expectation of the establishment of the Jewish state. This police force was trained and commanded by British officers and usually served to protect Jewish settlements against attack by Arab gangs. Details of their heroism do not belong in this treatise. When the State of Israel was established, this police force was abolished and the pens were then called Concentra.
They carried an embossed trade name in the form of concentric circles.
This brand name is associated with an entrepreneur by the name of Weil.
The fountain pens carried the inscription “Washington U.S.A. Pen”.
They came in bright colors and were quite well made.
These pens were produced by a partnership of Mr. Schulman and Mr. Uspiz.
Mr. Uspiz called himself “Pens’ King”. He had a shop in a yard off Allenby Street in Tel-Aviv. I happened to know this gentleman and met him on three different pen associated issues.
The first time I met him was when I went there to repair and buy fountain pens for my school studies. Mr. Uspiz was an acquaintance of my late father, Yeshayahu Ben-Sinai (formally Seidenzeig) who knew almost every second man in Tel-Aviv of those days. Just before my high school final examinations in 1950, my father bought me a Parker 51 Vacuumatic and that was my second encounter with Mr. Uspiz. This particular pen served me during my high school examinations, all through 4 and half years of studies at the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) and also during my studies for an M.Sc. degree at the University of Maryland in the U.S Although the chrome nickel plate on the cover of the integral ink pump is partially peeling off, the pen is still going strong, which in itself is a miracle since I now have had it for 52 years.
The third time I met Mr. Uspiz was in the year 1955. At that time ball pens became very popular and Mr. Uspiz’s fountain pen business declined sharply. He decided to go into ball pen manufacturing. He approached a metal stamping plant (in which I happened to be training in “Time and Motion” studies) for them to produce for him brass deep-drown caps for roller balls. I showed him a hand-made retracting ball pen that I had made from a Katab mechanical pencil. He liked it very much. However, the metal plant did not succeed in producing the caps and, as far as I know, Mr. Uspiz did not pursue ball pen manufacturing any further.
Washington look alike Fountain Pens
Mr. Mittelman called himself “Pens’ Physician”. He had a shop on Brenner Street off Allenby Street in Tel-Aviv where he produced these fountain pens. These carried no brand name.
Tarbut and Laam brands Fountain Pens
“Tarbut” means culture. These pens were produced in pre-state Israel (before 1948) while “Laam”, which means “for the people”, were produced in Israel (after 1948).
“Tarbut” was inscribed in Latin (and not Hebrew) letters. The nibs were made of gold and imported while the plastic and other parts were locally made. I have no more information as I write this note. Any bits and pieces of information will be welcomed.
Hirsch and Landes Fountain Pens
This partnership produced no-name pens, however, they carried the inscription “Made In Palestine”.
Atam made in Israel
These were produced for “Shekem” the Israeli equivalent of Naffi, a service of canteens and buffets for army personnel and families. The pen I have has the number 51 embossed on it although the quality is very different from the original Parker 51. The form is a conventional one with screw cap.
Waterman Fountain Pens
During 1948 and 1949 Waterman pens were produced in Israel from raw materials and/or parts imported from the U.K.
During 1934, the year in which Waterman celebrated its 50th anniversary, a letter was sent to the Jerusalem representative of Waterman. The ridiculously small sum mentioned (12/6d or 700 mills – there were 1000 mills in the Lira, the Eretz Israel currency equivalent to the British pound) could remind us of the good times when pens were affordable to all.
Kaes (Case?) Pens
I have one black pen without any markings, which is supposed to be made by the “Kaese” factory. This is based on verbal communication with Mr. Yair Nachmani. It was further found that the Kaese brand was available in different colors. The factory, or rather a workshop, was located in Tel-Aviv and the name is actually the name of the owner and director, Mr. Kaese (the name in German means cheese) who was a refugee from Nazi Germany. Rumor has it that his connection to fountain pens was that he was the local agent for Conway-Stuart.
“Aviva” and “Nordia”
These brand name pens carried an inscription written in Hebrew, however, some suspect the pens were produced in Poland.
I am sure there existed more brand names. I would like it very much to receive any information regarding this subject.