DUNHILL-NAMIKI: Golden Tiger and Black Cat A-Grade Maki-e Fountain Pens, Emperor-Size, Commissioned by Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji, Signed by Haruo and Mansui, early 1930s
A magnificent pair of A-grade Emperor-sized Dunhill-Namiki fountain pens of the highest quality, commissioned by composer Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji and used by him to score a number of his greatest orchestral works. Plunger-fillers, classic balance shape with rounded endpieces and captops, each approx. 165mm, early 1930s. One with 14K gold Namiki nib, No. 50 size (not marked as such); the other with 14K gold Pilot Warranted nib, No. 50 size, some gold dust loss to feed. Elaborately decorated in various techniques including takamakie and okibirame on highly-polished kinji ground, fully embellished with maki-e work extending to the feeds, one pen depicting a tiger and the other depicting a cat, both masterfully designed and executed with great subtlety and skill. Excellent condition overall, wonderfully lustrous and bright, with a few minor spots of wear, plunger-filling mechanisms defunct and in need of conservation. The tiger pen is signed by Haruo Kiyono, and the cat pen is signed by Mansui Yamanaga. According to Jean-François Canton's recent book on Namiki pens, approximately 15 vintage "balance" or "dome-top" Emperors are known to exist.
The tiger is a creature of immense symbolic significance in the East, suggesting speed, power, energy and beauty. Its position atop the food chain makes it an agent of balance, while its terrific strength makes it an irresistible engine of wrath; hence, it may be associated with swift and certain justice. The cat is representative of grace, cunning, charm, independence and good fortune. Together they are two of the most visually compelling and metaphorically rich animal emblems, embodying the tensions between softness and strength, beauty and fierceness, playfulness and power. Capturing their lithe and regal splendor in gold dust and lacquer requires the greatest ability, and thus these creatures rank among the most highly-prized motifs for maki-e pens.
Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji (1892-1988) was an English composer, music critic, pianist and writer, and is considered one of the 20th century's most challenging and prolific piano composers. A very private man, he withdrew from public life in the 1930s and forbid public performances of his works for several decades. Mr. Sorabji's close friendship with the consignor's father, Mr. Mervyn Vicars (himself an orchestral composer), is recorded in the book Sorabji: A Critical Celebration (Cambridge, 1994). Their friendship spanned five decades and is memorialized in compositions by both men: in 1928 Mr. Sorabji dedicated his third symphony, Jāmī, to Mr. Vicars, and in 1973 Mr. Vicars composed Fugue and Variations on a Theme of Sorabji.
Mr. Sorabji was a meticulous man with a strong sense of beauty. Understanding that inspiration often springs from the objects with which we surround ourselves, he commissioned a unique pair of pens from Dunhill-Namiki, the world's preeminent penmaker. Time and expense were irrelevant; the thing was to create a pair of genuine masterworks. The result was this set of A-grade Emperors. With unmatched aesthetics and impeccable provenance, these are the finest Namikis to be publicly offered in a generation.
In the 1980s, shortly before his passing, Mr. Sorabji presented these pens to Mr. Vicars' widow, who gave them to her son Kevin, in whose keeping they have remained ever since. Mr. Kevin Vicars has provided a two-page handwritten provenance statement, as well as a framed portrait photograph of Mr. Sorabji and a CD recording of several of his piano works.
In Namiki: The Art of Lacquer Pens, Julia Hutt and Stephen Overbury state that A-grade Emperors were the best and most expensive pens in Dunhill-Namiki's inventory: "The most expensive pen would be a giant men's model No. 50 pen... Most of the best quality Dunhill-Namiki pens were custom-ordered and as such were about double the cost." Christophe Larquemin remarks in The Four Seasons of Namiki that "the most sought-after [Namiki] is also the largest, the 50. It is the most famous Namiki, dubbed Emperor, Jumbo, or King-Size by some collectors." Tomihiro Murakami states in Dunhill-Namiki and Lacquer Pens that vintage Emperor Dunhill-Namikis are of the greatest scarcity, with production limited to a period of a few years from 1932: "It is almost impossible to find this kind of pen due to the very small quantity that was made."
The demand for these impossibly rare pens created a profitable niche for counterfeiters in the late 20th century. It has been alleged that vintage plain black lacquer Namiki Emperors were skillfully embellished with maki-e designs by talented but unscrupulous artisans and sold as authentic. Mr. Sorabji's pens, with their well-documented history of ownership, are manifestly and incontrovertibly the genuine article, adding yet another level of appeal to their abundance of attractions.
Accompanying the lot is a wooden humidor used by Mr. Sorabji to house the pens and an envelope inscribed by Mr. Sorabji: "For Dear Kevin / From his Wicked Uncle" and signed by him. The envelope's verso is inscribed by Mrs. Vicars: "Namiki Dunhill (Japan). Made to order, in Japan, between the wars, to K's [unclear] design. Used for: Jāmī (dedicated to Dad), Symphonic Variations, High Mass [seemingly a reference to Messa alta Sinfonica], Opus for Piano & Orch. [seemingly a reference to Opus Clavicembalisticum]". It should be noted that Opus Clavicembalisticum debuted in 1930, the year that Alfred Dunhill and Namiki formally entered into partnership, and several years before they began promoting Emperor-sized pens. Thus, these pens may be the earliest-known Namiki Emperors, the primordial root of the most coveted subset of the greatest pens ever made. This is supported by the nibs, marked "Namiki" and "Pilot" but not "Dunhill-Namiki", which suggests that they may have been manufactured before the partnership was finalized.
-Murakami, Tomihiro. Dunhill-Namiki and Lacquer Pens. (Sakura City: 2000), pp. 60 & 67.
-Hutt, Julia & Stephen Overbury, Namiki: The Art of Lacquer Pens. Toronto: 2000, pp. 53 & 151.
-Larquemin, Christophe. The Four Seasons of Namiki. (Paris: 2009), pp. 188 & 197.
-Canton, Jean-François. Namiki: The Poignant Beauty of Fragile Things. (Aurillac, France: 2013), p. 74.
-Rapoport, Paul (ed.). Sorabji: A Critical Celebration. Cambridge: 1994.
-Owen, Sean V. Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji: an Oral Biography. (Ann Arbor: 2006), pp. 239-245 [regarding Mr. Sorabji's relationship with the Vicars family].