Namiki pens are the perfect blend of art and history and are considered to be some of the finest writing instruments in the world. Each pen is a work of art, with a unique design using traditional Japanese techniques that date back to the Heian period (794-1185). A single pen can take three months to create and can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars / pounds to buy. We take a look at the history of the pen, the techniques involved in their creation, the Dunhill Namiki partnership and we include some examples along with their price guide.
The history of Namiki pens
The Namiki Manufacturing Company was founded in Japan in 1918 by Ryosuke Namiki (1880-1954) a merchant ship’s chief engineer by trade who was interested in the technology of pens and fountain pens and how to improve them. He was responsible for a number of innovations including to develop and patent a non-clogging drafting pen in 1909, and the first Namiki gold nib in 1916. The company also specialised in pen nibs and he was to develop a gold and iridium alloy nib, which could be adapted to the writing of Japanese characters and script.
In 1924 the design team at Namiki began to perfect a new process for the production of superior fountains pens. At the time and for nearly a century before the main material used was ebonite (a vulcanized sulphur and rubber compound) as it was easily moldable and could be painted. However, over time and with exposure to sun it would lose its colour and shine. The Namiki team used lacquer in the compound and in 1925 patented the laccanite process which involved the addition of raw lacquer to the basic ebonite compounds.
It was “lacquer” that caught their eyes. Using lacquer, a superior coating which Japan boasts to the world, they devised a method called “lacquered ebonite” which creates an attractive body which was tolerant to deterioration. With the original goal being achieved with this, there were further calls saying, “If we are going to use lacquer, why don’t we try painting designs using the lacquer work technique Maki-e on the fountain pens?”
Namiki realised that with a durable long lasting shiny surface they could add lacquer decoration using traditional Maki-e techniques. Lacquer artists Shisui Rokkaku and Gonroku Matsuda created a few dozen pens that Namiki founders Namiki and Masoa Wada took to the West to establish a market. They had immediate success in London and in 1926 Namiki opened an office in Bishopsgate. In 1930 a contract and partnership was made with Alfred Dunhill and the Dunhill Namiki Fountain Pens were to be sold in major European cities and the USA.
The Namiki Manufacturing Company became the Pilot Pen Co., Ltd. in 1938 and is now the Pilot Corporation.
Maki-e has been used since the Heian period (794-1185), and it reached its height of popularity during the Edo period (1603-1868). The maki-e technique is a Japanese lacquerware decoration technique that involves sprinkling gold or silver powder onto a wet lacquer base. The powder adheres to the wet lacquer, and the excess is then brushed away, leaving a design that is both beautiful and intricate. The four stage process of lacquering, drawing, sprinkling and polishing is repeated many times with some Maki-e pens going through the process 130 times.
Shishiai Togidashi Maki-e (Combined Raised and Burnished Maki-e)
Togidashi-Taka Maki-e (Burnished-Raised Maki-e)
Togidashi Maki-e (Burnished Maki-e)
Togidashi-Hira Maki-e (Burnished-Flat Maki-e)
Hira Maki-e (Flat Maki-e)
Rankaku (Egg Shell)
Chinkin (Gold Inlay)
What influences the value of Namiki pens?
A number of factors influence whether a pen is a few hundred dollars or many thousands of dollars including:
the amount of detail on the pen – the more design on a pen the longer it takes to create.
the type of design – simple designs with a lot of the black background untouched are known as C Grade pens, those with more complicated and fuller design are know as A Grade pens.
the artist – all pens are signed by the artist – early pens were created by the artisan group Kokkokai which was established in 1931 and pens by artists such as Shogo and Kokoyo sell for many thousands of dollars.
Sheaffer PFM (Pen For Men) Price Guide and Background
Mont Blanc 149 Fountain Pen information and price guide
The Official Pilot-Namiki web site has English and Japanese versions. It has a good section of the techniques used in the creation of their pens and details on their current collections.