16 December 2014

On Maki-e Pens

I think we should face it—maki-e decorated pens are a class on their own, apart from any other. The reason lays on the fact that these pens attract the attention of people more interested on the decoration itself than on the pen. Consequently, details as the nib or the filling system or the quality as writing tool become almost --if not completely-- irrelevant. The pen, then, becomes a jewel with a nib, a cylindrical canvas for the maki-e artisan.

A small cup with maki-e decoration.

So, when the decoration is more important, the whole set of rules under which a stylophile analyzed a pen is turned upside down. Stylophiles greatly value the originality of all the components of the pen—nib and feed must correspond to that particular model, the clip could also have been replaced… And somehow the pen should be known to have existed (this might be tricky at times, but can be applied to the vast majority of pens).

But for the maki-e buff, all that is secondary. The quality of the decoration is paramount. Therefore, is there such a thing as a fake maki-e decorated pen? No, dare I say, as long as the maki-e is there (of course, there exist some maki-e-like decoration using some other less elaborated techniques that hold a lot less value, but they are not maki-e). In fact, this scenario favors the creation of one-of-a-kind pens based on almost any pre-existing model. There are, nowadays as in the past, maki-e artisans who decorated pens on demand, with no knowledge, of course, of the manufacturer.

Two unique maki-e decorated pens. In actual terms, they are Pilot Custom 67.

An obvious side effect of this phenomenon is the proliferation of organized customizations—Pelikan, Parker, Danitrio, Loiminchay… and, of course, the big three, Pilot-Namiki, Platinum-Nakaya, and Sailor. Indeed, this is an easy and safe way to add value to any given pen. As well as a convenient costume to pass as Japanese, which seems another way to add value.

A maki-e decorated Pelikan M1000.

Maybe we all –stylophiles and those fond of maki-e pens-- should remember that maki-e is an old decorative technique that long predates fountain pens. And narrow cylindrical shapes are rarely the most convenient canvas for any purpose.

A bowl for miso soup.

On my side, and this is just a personal option, I insist in thinking that a pen is a pen—and is a pen! And no decoration makes it any better, or any worse, as a pen. Some people, though, do not think like me.

Romillo Essential Black – Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-peki

Bruno Taut
Madrid, December 14th 2014
labels: mercado, Japón, estilofilia, maki-e


Andrea Kirkby said...

Your thoughts about maki-e are interesting. I find that though some of the maki-e pens are very beautiful, they don't have the appeal for me of a good aka-tamenuri urushi, for example, because maki-e has to remain pristine to make its impact, while a good urushi finish will mature and take on greater depth as you use it, with the second colour showing through a little more.

Pedro Haddock said...

Once we share a question about what type of pens would be everyone's field for collecting. If I would, it will be maki-e. there is a drawback though and on this I agree with you: they are hardly usable and I am a positive writer. But their beauty is to me unmatched even that small piece of art.

Paul Bloch said...

Form vs. function: are we more concerned about the appearance of things than the purpose for which the item was created? I agree that, if an item was created to be a show piece. then it should be just that. It is nice when something attractive may be truly useful; often its price determines its utility. Everything with which I write is hand-made and attractive (and, not by the way, inexpensive). I like Andrea's thought about choosing a style which can be both attractive and useful, and, as a bonus, improve with age.

Unknown said...

That philosophy limits one's enjoyment of the hobby too much. Cost aside, I wouldn't mind of having a maki-e pen or two.

Bruno Taut said...

Thank you all for your comments and reflections. Indeed a complex debate--form vs function, the collector vs the user.

I do not mind having a maki-e pen in my collection--in fact, I have a couple of them. But I look for the pen's integrity, and that is more important to me than the possible value of the decoration.

That is just my choice, anyway.

Thanks a lot for passing by and commenting.


Anonymous said...

though I agree some pens are more of being decoration pieces I mean why would these companies make pens that would more or less cost you a million USD or half a million USD, probably a quarter of a million of USD at the least for what purpose is beyond me, do maki-e look nice heck they do look nice as I own a pair of chopsticks with maki-e and laquer finish I bought from Osaka International Airport, but I'm a user so I may not really probably get these pens but I remind myself I'm more inclined to the natural and organic materials in pens than the posh and exclusivity of some brands... I'm still looking at that Graf von Faber-Castell Classic Anello in Ebony Wood

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