Thoughts on the Onoto K3

I’m drafting this with the last of the Onotos, the ‘K’ series piston filler. I think mine is a K3 but I’m happy to be corrected if I’ve got it wrong. I believe it has a crack somewhere, probably the section, but there are no leaks. Bad plastic but a great pen in its way. The major difficulty for me is that it’s very slender which wouldn’t have been a problem ten years ago but it is now. My hands are so arthritic that a fatter pen is more comfortable. My Swan Leverless 1060 is good and my Ford Patent Pen is perfect. It’s always inked.

Digging deep in what memory I have, I seem to remember that these Onotos were made in Germany. If I have that wrong too I’m sure someone will tell me. The fragile plastic aside these were good pens. It has a proper Onoto No 3 nib and it’s a great writer, somewhere between fine and medium. I’ve had the pen for many years, a decade at least. I didn’t restore the piston filling system as I didn’t need to. The seller didn’t work on it either. His input was just taking it out of a drawer.

The gold-filled barrel ring gives the clutch cap something to grip and it closes with a positive click. I think it’s a rather handsome little pen with its gentle taper in barrel and cap. To that degree it followed the trend of its time but the gold-plated clip falls into the Onoto tradition. The piston filler was an entirely new method of filling for Onoto which had previously made plunger and lever fillers. Was this a confident innovation that it was hoped would bring Onoto sales back to where they used to be, or a desperate ploy to keep the company afloat? There were other versions of the piston filler but fountain pen sales were moving in another direction by then. Kids were still using fountain pens in school but in the UK and USA cartridges were seen as the fashionable innovation. The piston filler was they way to go in Germany but Pelikan and Geha dominated that market. I don’t think that Onoto sold well there.

Judging by the numbers of these pens that turn up it was the last hoorah for Onoto. De La Rue continued to make money from their traditional paper products but the original Onoto died. Like several other companies Onoto has been resuscitated. Though the new company has made the occasional plunger filler most of their output is very expensive cartridge/converter fillers. They seem to have sufficient appeal to keep the company afloat. You are unlikely to see one reviewed here.

What more can I say about this pen? The top of the cap is a very handsome dished-top finial which echoes the turn-button at the end of the barrel, so well crafted that the join is invisible. The gold plating on the clip, cap band and and barrel band is as good as on the day the pen was put together. Perhaps the pen was not used much but I prefer to think that the plating was much thicker than on other British pens of the time.


6 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Onoto K3

  1. Dear Deborah,

    I enjoy your articles and suggest you might try writing with our entry level Onoto Scholar which retails under £200 incl VAT.
    The pen enjoys the same nib and feeder system as our more expensive fountain pens.
    Yes, our pens are more expensive than most. We are a U.K. business sourcing components from the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter and assembling our pens in Norwich.
    We focus on giving our pen Custodians the best possible writing experience and customer service.
    We enjoy designing and creating our pens some from Heritage materials, others truly magnificent works that keep alive old traditions that need regular custom to stay in business.

    Warmest regards,


    1. Hello James,
      I hope I didn’t offend you with what I had to say about the modern Onoto. I don’t buy many modern pens and I’m afraid “entry level” for me is around £20 rather than £200. I wish you and your company every success.

  2. Hello Deborah, I trust your husband is well. On to the pen, it is a K3. The K1, K2 & K4 were hooded. It appears to be a very lovely 1950s pen. I thought they were manufactured in Scotland (don’t hold me to that). As for the 1950s, you either love the colors or you don’t. The plating looks outstanding. All the best.

  3. These from the K1 through to the K4 can be piscked up fir very litle money. You have then a modern looking vintge pen that gives excellent as expected Onoto performance.

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