June 6, 2008
I was much impressed by the Nakaya Urishi fountain pens when in early 2008 I first saw them on the web site of Classic Fountain Pens in Los Angeles. I have a thing for writing instruments, fountain pens, paper, writing and calligraphy and have, on and off, for a long time. The Nakaya Urishi pens, particularly the Cigar and Writer models, less so the Piccolo and Decapod, continue to stand for me as about the most elegant and desirable pens imaginable.
Nakaya also use these pens as the basis for all kinds of special order pens with decorations specified by the customer. These one-of-a-kind pens are really something. Nakaya, whose slogan is “For Your Hand Only”, has on their web site a gallery of an astonishing variety of the special order pens they have made. Even if you don’t care for pens, it’s worth a look. I spent some time studying them. Admittedly, the majority of the designs are not to my taste but the quality of work is remarkable, as is the breadth and creative imagination of the designs.
On August 31 2007 my mother died. She had been ill for two and a half years. In the end her death was peaceful at the excellent Cowal Hospice in Dunoon, Scotland. She was 69. According to her will she was cremated with a humanist funeral. Her ashes were scattered in her garden on the shore of Loch Fyne near where one of her dogs was buried in a corner of the large garden.
I live in Boston, Massachusetts and Scotland is a long way away. There is no gravestone to visit and for a long time I didn’t know what would become of the property or if I would be able to even access the garden in future. So I decided that I would like to memorialize my mother here in my own personal way.
At some point the idea came that I could memorialize my mother for myself with a special order Nakaya pen. A pen that I could use regularly, decorated in a way that would signify her so that every time I use it I would have a chance think about her.
The design I chose was based on a well know Wild Strawberry motif that is used to decorate (among other things, I assume) certain Wedgewood porcelain pieces. [Macy’s has a good image of the set: here, also here. Thanks, Macy!] My mother liked this design and she liked strawberries. She also grew wild strawberries, as well as more commonly cultivated varieties of strawberry, in her garden. She gave me and my wife a pair of the Wedgewood coffee mugs some years ago, which we still use.
I like the design too. And I thought it could well be adapted to a design for a Nakaya pen. The stems can wind around the body and the leaves, berries and flowers can be located wherever.
But I didn’t want white pen and I did want the deep, deep red Aka Tamenuri base. First I thought of using the Yakoh nuri technique of the Hagi “Bush Clover” pen in the Nakaya special order gallery. It is possibly my favorite of the pens in the gallery. My correspondent at Nakaya, Yoko Kono, correctly pointed out that this would result in a very subtle, dark pen when the original design is so beautifully colorful. After some thought I suggested another idea, inspired by looking at Nakaya special order, “A frog with a cherry”: take the original Yakoh nuri idea but additionally express a one flower, one berry and one leaf in color. Yoko Kono liked that idea and sent the specification to a craftsman to develop a design.
The craftsman produced a design with one flower, two berries and a cluster of three leaves in color, and one more flower in black gently highlighted. I approved the design as-is. The black stems, flower, berries, leaves and veins are black Tsuke-gaki (which I think is sticky Urishi painted on and the sprinkled with pigmentation). The colored flower has pink Raden (mother of pearl from sea shells) for the petals and gold Maki-e for stamen and pistils. The berries are red Raden with gold seeds and green Urishi stem ends. The leaves are green Raden with gold leaf veins. The dark flower has stamen and pistils in gold Bokashi.
I wanted a name on the pen in Kanji maki-e but not my name. The four characters mean “hunting goddess” and in Roman mythology, the goddess of the hunt was Diana, which was my mother’s name. The idea of a goddess protector of woodlands and wild animals suited me. Artemis was the equivalent Greek god.
I chose the Writer model, that is, with clip on the cap, in the portable size because I wanted to use the pen regularly and not only at home. Despite this being the middle sized of the three lengths of Nakaya Urishi pens, it is still very large; longer than a Pelikan M1000. I considered the two-tone nib but decided against and chose the plain yellow gold nib and thus yellow gold plated clip. The two-tone nib would look good on a plain pen or with some decorations but this pen needs a quiet nib to let the body do the singing. Gold is not normally my choice but on this pen a silvery metal color would not have worked.
I’ve had it now for a few days and I really like it a lot. It is a beautiful pen and I am extremely proud of it. There is a difference between having something nice that’s valuable, such as a standard or limited edition fountain pen, and having something that is completely unique and ones own in some sense of its design or creation. Last year I took two photographs in Scotland that I had printed and framed and I hung them on the wall. Three years ago I ordered a custom Mercian Super Vigorelli bicycle frame with a geometry I designed around some specific but odd components that I had chosen. I don’t remember exactly when but some time back I ordered a very large L. J. Peretti freehand tobacco smoking pipe to a shape spec that I wanted – I’m fairly sure it is the last hand-made pipe that Robert Peretti made. In these items I have a pride that goes beyond what I have in stuff that I just bought. It’s a very nice feeling.
I chose a standard firm broad nib. It writes a line width like a Pelikan medium. I may have the nib reground as a stub or oblique but I’m in no hurry. I like writing with line width variations very much but I also like the idea of keeping this pen a pure Nakaya pen with a standard Nakata nib. It writes excellently. It glides as a good FP nib does. This very large pen is not feather-weight but at 22 grams it is at the light end of the pens of its five and three-quarter inch plus size. It does not post very well; it feels obviously wrong when you try because the cap contacts the tip of the strawberry at the rump end which is slightly raised. This is fine with me because posting on this pen is sure to leave a mark on the barrel eventually and the pen is big enough to obviate any need. The balance and feel in the hand seems ideal, it feels delightful, though this, I find, not at all unusual with good fountain pens.
For accessories I got a bottle of Platinum Carbon Black ink (as it’s not available in the US), a pen pillow (a rest for an open pen) that is also dark red Urishi and a Chirimen pouch that I think of as the pen’s pajamas despite that it doesn’t work well with the pillow. For protection in transport I put the pen in its pajamas in a leather cigar case designed for two Churchills.
It took about a month to-and-fro before I approved the design an then three months and 10 days between payment and arrival of the pen. I think that’s a really good turn-around for something like this. Yoko Kono, my sole correspondent throughout, was great to deal with. I have great respect for Nakaya and the artists they use.