The Amazing All-angle Sailor Trident

(The Sailor Trident sales page can be found here.)

Japanese fountain pen companies are famous for their innovation in basic pen designs. Pilot leads the way in pen body designs with such ideas as the Murex and Vanishing Point, while Sailor is known for its radical nib designs such as the Concorde, Naginata and Cross Point.

In the late 70's and early 80's Sailor wanted to create a new fountain pen with a nib design that could compete with the ballpoint pen (a.k.a. Biro). The ballpoint pen uses a ball bearing that picks up thick ink from a tube and transfers it to the paper. With a ballpoint pen you can write at just about any angle or pen rotation, and you can also press down to make carbon copies without damaging the pen nib.

Of course, you have to press down anyway to get the ball bearing to roll, which often results in tired hands, and even physical problems resulting from stress to the hands and wrist. With the advent of the ballpoint, writing became a chore. It also contributed to the widespread terrible handwriting that plagues the world today. The oily ballpoint ink often clogs and smudges, and some blobs never quite dry.

So Sailor set out to design a radical new fountain pen that had all the advantages of the ballpoint pen while retaining the advantages of the fountain pen. Fountain pens can glide effortlessly over the paper without pressure, and you can choose your favorite ink if you use a converter or other filling system. Also, there are no oily blobs.

As Sailor did the research this new pen design concept, it came to their attention that this very nib had already been designed by a company called Spacer.

Spacer had gone back to the basics and threw out the notion that a fountain pen nib had to resemble the old quill and dip pen with single slit between two tines. Just as three legs are sufficient to make a table stand on its own, so Spacer discovered that three sets of tines would allow a pen to write at any rotation and angle. If the three sets of tines were touching, the point of contact between these sets would also serve as slits to retain ink, thus giving the pen six slits in total. The combination of all these tines coming together would make the tip strong enough to bear up under the pressure required to make carbon copies.

So Sailor bought the nib design from Spacer and in 1983 the Sailor Trident was born in Japan, named after the three pronged fork of King Neptune, and thus preserving Sailor's nautical imagery.

Sailor was not the only company to buy this nib design from Spacer. At least one other company, Ohto, also produced pens with this nib.

The three tined Trident nib was far more difficult and costly to produce than a traditional fountain pen nib. Unfortunately, This pen did not spark the writing revolution Sailor had hoped for. Most ballpoint pen users were not so easily persuaded. Let's face it, a disposable ballpoint pen is still more convenient than an expensive fountain pen that needs filling and periodic maintenance.

But for those who already loved fountain pens, but had to grudgingly set them aside when making carbon copies, the Trident offered them liberation from the tyranny of the Biro. Also, left handed writers could finally use a fountain pen without having to learn how to write at odd angles to avoid a mess, and Sailor was quick to point this out in their advertisements. In addition, Trident allowed one to write with the pen at an even lower angle than was possible with the ballpoint since it did not depend on maintaining firm contact between the ball bearing and the paper.

An illustration taken from a 1980's Sailor catalog

The one new hassle that comes with this new pen, however, is that extra attention is required in care and maintenance. Sailor's nib designer Mr. Nagahara cautions that all these extra tines and slits come with the increased probability of clogging, and the Trident must be cleaned or flushed more often than a traditional fountain pen. Sailor's Nib designer Mr. Kawaguchi (a.k.a. "The Pen Doctor") adds that the Trident pen must be used often because if ink is allowed to dry inside the nib, it is very difficult to clean. The nib cannot be taken apart for a thorough cleaning. However, if you use your Trident often it is truly a wonderful pen to own.

Many Trident owners, however, used their Tridents only once or twice, set them aside and then tried to use them a few weeks later. The dried ink inside the nib caused the pen to clog or write very dry, which in turn made the nib feel scratchy. This was such a problem that Sailor was forced to cease production of the Trident. Today these pens are very difficult to find.

If you find a used Trident with dried ink in the nib, it will probably feel scratchy.

Here is the instruction paper that came with some Trident pens. It's all in Japanese, and I may translate it into English one of these days. Still, the pictures are pretty self explanatory.

So what is it like to actually write with a fresh, new Trident? I used one to write the first draft of this article. It was filled with Private Reserve Naples Blue ink in a standard Sailor piston converter. The line is incredible smooth regardless of the angle. I can write with this pen perpendicular to the paper, or at an angle too low for a ballpoint. The line width is fairly consistent even if I rotate the pen as I write. Although the point is supposed to be a fine size, it writes more like a medium. This pen was fun to write with, and I didn't want to put it down. It reminded me of a glass dip pen.

I tested it on four sheets of carbon paper forms I had from the post office, and the bottom sheet was perfectly crisp and legible. Yet when I balanced the pen on the side of my hand between the thumb and index finger and allowed it to run across the paper with no pressure except the weight of the pen itself, it made the exact same dark line as it did when I pressed down.

The ink is contained in six slits and fed by three ink channels which control the flow so it is never excessively wet. That's apparently why left handers can use it without smudging. It's a shame such a miracle pen never caught on!

The fatter Trident models will actually take a Sailor piston type ink converter so you can use any color ink you like. Some tridents models, however, are too slim and only take cartridges.

I have seen Trident pens with the numbers 767 or 727 printed on the cap, yet the pens themselves were identical. I asked a Sailor representative about this and learned that this was an arbitrary naming of the pens to give them a modern image like a 747 plane. Notice the natural gap between 727 and 767 is 747!

I sometimes have Trident pens for sale. Please see the Trident sales page or feel free to inquire about availability.