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I found here one review of an Onoto K series pen. It is excellent, worth reading as a companion because I do not plan to repeat most of that information. This is more of a comparison and notes on the pens. However, I will recap the series briefly.


In 1955, just three years before they gave the pen game away entirely, Onoto released a series in a new style for them, being fairly plain plastics, piston fillers, mainly with hooded nibs, and barrels in the vogue cigar style. They proved to be good pens but, too little, too late as the British were wont to say. The pens were:

  • K1 - Gold clutch cap, ink window, hooded nib
  • K2 - Same as the K1 except with body coloured cap
  • K4 - Same as the K2 except the cap was screw rather than clutch
  • K3 - The odd one. It is slimmer (by about 1 mm), slightly shorter in barrel and cap with flattened ends to both, an open No 3 nib, no ink window, and the piston mechanism is able to be serviced, unlike the other three. In remaining respects it was somewhat like the K2 with body coloured clutch cap.

Onoto's marketing of the time profiled the pens like this: The K3 and K4 were the same price despite their obvious differences, with the K4 described as a basic pen and the K3 as a conventional pen. The K1 stepped up the price 7% for its gold cap.The most expensive was the K2, up another 12% in price, distinguished as having "extra iridium". So, the numbering follows no price or feature pattern, and the K3 remains quite an oddball among them when you get to the detail.


In the following photo I have placed an Aurora 88 and Lamy 2000 for comparison, being similar hooded piston fillers of the era and shortly after.




From left to right, Aurora 88, K1, K3, K4, K4, Lamy 2000. Note also clip differences in the K1, K3 and K4.


I have not purchased a K2 because its features all exist elsewhere in the K models. Buying a second K4 was somewhat accidental. The Lamy looks huge next to the others, the Aurora (an original 88 with Nikargenta cap) quite comparable if slightly bigger over all. I speculate that the Aurora 88 may have been Onoto's principal model for their pen.


Here are the pens with nibs exposed.




From left to right, K1, Lamy 2000, K3, Aurora 88, K4 underside of nib, K4 with shroud removed. Note slimness of the K3's section compared with the others.


The K3 has a conventional section which unscrews to reveal the barrel internals and piston. The other three pens have a friction fit section which is concealed under a screw-on plastic shroud. Note that after removing the shroud on the K1 on the left, I have not quite re-aligned it correctly. In this case I can screw the shroud a shade tighter. If you have removed the section (you can grease the piston, needed maybe once if ever, but you can not remove or replace it) then unless you have marked carefully you will be up for some repeated un- and re- screwing of the shroud while you rotate the section fractionally until the tightened shroud lines up with the nib. A touch of silicone grease on the friction fit is useful simply to make that a little easier.


The K1 nib and feed I own do not appear to be set correctly, or else the K1 is different in one respect. On removing the shroud I can read the nib down to where it says K1 on it, below "De La Rue // 14 ct // Onoto". This part of the nib is inset further on the K4 pens so I can not read below 14 ct. I have not thought finding out a sufficient reason to pull the nib.


The K3 sports a standard Onoto No 3 nib, saying "Onoto // 14ct // 3" as usual.


I have inked two of these pens and dipped the other two.




Pelikan 4001 Königsblau was used in both of the filled pens, for comparison. I dipped the other two in my Random Mix Bottle as an afterthought. Both of the K4 models display a heavier line but the inked grey K4 needs a little tine adjustment (closure), I think. Note the railroading in the closing bracket of "grey". At first that happened to the "i" in Pelikan as well, but enough ink was laid that it soon filled the gap with bleed in the paper. Used after dipping, the maroon K4 seems better behaved.


The K1, dipped only and unadjusted at all so far, also looks a bit dodgy with bleeding. Hands-down winner here for me is the K3, the No 3 nib gliding softly to produce a beautiful line, as these nibs usually do.


I do not normally post pens, including these Onotos, although to be fair they look elegantly longer if you do.


You might gather the K3 is my favourite although I think I will get good service from the others with a little nib work, which is not unexpected in a 60 year old pen. Comparing the Aurora 88, and Lamy 2000, the lack of an ink window is a deficiency of the K3, and I am not keen on the heavy hooding of the other K models. I prefer to see the nib at least a bit, if only not to have to think about rotation alignment of the pen at the first stroke of writing.


Writing, none of these nibs (all 14 ct) could be called soft so far as the metal goes. The Lamy is well known to people, a smooth nail. Closest comparison would be with the K1 and K4 Onotos. The Aurora 88 has its characteristic slight toothiness and little in the way of softness either, really, so my narrow writing winner is the K3 even though that too is not a soft nib. This is purely a personal preference. Subject to a little work on two of them, I think all of these will be found to be excellent.


The Onoto K-series pens are good buys in that they are simple, robust, light, discreetly elegant and capable of writing very well. The fact you can not service the piston seal other than on the K3 does not seem to have been a problem anywhere to date. Like the two comparison pens, A88 and L2K, they will serve as workhorse pens that no-one should be afraid to take anywhere. They are also inexpensive.


Oh, and my favourite colour is the maroon. They also come in black.


eta: a couple of extra notes

Edited by praxim


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Some afterthoughts:


After writing the above, I filled the K1 with RMB and adjusted the misaligned tines. It now writes nicely, although it looks to me that the nib is slightly oblique. This may be a nibmeister change because I did not see it advertised for these Onotos. I found also a crack in the shroud, and that a packing ring which was supposed to be at the end of the section was missing. The latter is not a big problem. I gather that its purpose is to stop ink creeping back from the nib, between the section and shroud. I remove the shroud to fill the pens (not relevant to the K3).


The crack is almost certainly from a previous owner over-tightening to make the shroud peak match the nib, rather than readjusting the section rotation to match where the peak finishes when neatly tightened. Currently I have glue curing for 24 hours under light clamping. That should suffice because it is not (or should not be) stressed with proper adjustment. Meanwhile, the shroud from the uninked K4 fits so for now I have an aqua-maroon pen. B)


I similarly adjusted the tines of the K4 to reduce ink flow, producing a neater line without railroading, after which the Pelikan blue is looking a normal blue rather than near black. It is a normal medium nib.


While mentioning fixes, there is the K3, which I bought unusually cheaply thanks to it having a barrel crack near the piston knob. Careful treatment over three days with layered doses of CTCC has sealed the crack against possible ink leakage, without gluing up the piston threads in the process! The pen has been working perfectly for about a week now. That part is not much stressed either.


The slight adjustments to the nibs have justified my earlier confidence that the pens would be fine for general use.



Edited by praxim


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Thanks Praxim. These pens are not too hard to find, and generally affordable unless there is an e-bay frenzy! I have five of them.


They seem to vary a lot by age, including nib imprint, clip, etc. The back washer you mention is also an age variation. They should all have a rubber washer that slides on over the nib up to the feed body, but only some have the back one where the feed fits into the barrel.


The plastic, as has been noted here before, is quite fragile. I was using a black K4 as a daily writer until it's cap suddenly sprouted three long "vertical" cracks. The same K4 has a bulging shroud where the washers are, due to the pressure over the years. Too bad, because it is a LOVELY writer.


All in all, I'm not so sure they are good "shove in your pocket and carry around" pens. I do love the pistons, which seem to work really well, but the overall plastic quality is simply nothing like a P51 or A88.


As a Scot, I'd love to describe them as an under-recognised gem, but the truth is a little sadder.



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That is a pity. Through rotations, my pens do not get a lot of use each so I am trusting that the apparent fragility will not be a problem which becomes evident. I have the K3 and a K4 inked at present. They are lovely writers, well worth it at current prices in my view, despite the caveat about robustness (which readers should take over those words in my review given Ralf's longer experience and the fact I had to repair one of mine on arrival).


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I think I'd stick with the wing sung 601, a vacumatic parker 51 clone that's thusfar been superbly reliable and well made.

Selling a boatload of restored, fairly rare, vintage Japanese gold nib pens, click here to see (more added as I finish restoring them)

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I am not sure what that has to do with collection of vintage fountain pens, from Europe.


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  • 1 year later...

Reviving this thread briefly, because I just acquired one of these, and thanks to this thread (thank you Praxim) I now know what it is, a K2. A nice fine-to-medium nib with a slight flex to it. I do love the piston which takes a full fill on one go, leaving just a small air bubble so you can see movement in the ink window.


I don't really take pens out much so there isn't much fear of this one getting knocked around and damaged.

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  • 1 year later...

Just a note that an eBay listing I looked at included a photograph of an Onoto advertisement that gave the K series prices as K1 57/6, K2 42/-, K3 35/-, K4 25/-. Translated to post-1971 British decimal currency those are K1 £2.88, K2 £2.10, K3 £1.75, K4 £1.25.

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