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Sunday, August 05, 2007
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 the 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.

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 Karats 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.

I have in my collection examples of several designs - although not of the very rare and expensive ones which can cost as much as 10,000 Israeli Shekels (approximately US$ 2000)! Middle range models are available for about half that price and the third category can be found for about 2,500 Israeli Shekels.

Two knowledgeable gentlemen 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 Katab as recently as 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.

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.

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.

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: