Koi fish are a domesticated variant of the common carp and have been around for thousands of years. Carp are a cold water fish that can survive and adapt to many climates and water conditions which facilitates their propagation to new locations. With proper habitat, they can grow up to three feet in length and easily live 25-30 years or more. They were originally found in Central Europe and Asia but are most frequently associated with Japan. This may be because they were largely unknown to the outside world until a Tokyo exposition in 1914. Carp were first bred for food but color morphs were later selectively bred resulting in the beautiful diversity that we see today. There are currently over 20 different varieties of Koi fish. The carp has been revered for thousands of years, often represented in stories as a symbol of perseverance. In Japanese culture, they symbolize wealth, prosperity, love, a successful career, and good fortune. One ancient legend of the Koi stands out and Pelikan highlights it in the promotional materials for their 2015 Maki-e release, simply titled Koi.
An ancient legend tells of a large school of golden Koi that swam upstream in the Yellow River of China. They gained strength battling the current and shimmered in the light like beautiful golden jewels as they swam together up river. The group of Koi arrived at a waterfall and many turned back, letting the flow of the river carry them away. The remaining Koi would not be deterred and attempted to reach the top of the waterfall but struggled in doing so. They strained and leapt, splashing back into the water. This splashing drew the attention of local demons who saw their effort and mocked them by maliciously increasing the height of the waterfall. Undeterred, the Koi continued on until, after 100 years of jumping, a single Koi finally reached the top of the waterfall. The gods recognized the exhausted Koi for its perseverance and determination by turning it into a shining golden dragon, the embodiment of strength and power. That waterfall became known as “Dragon’s Gate” and the story teaches us that with perseverance and determination can come great reward.
The Pelikan Maki-e Koi was released in the Spring of 2015 as a limited edition of just 88 pieces. The pen provides a large canvas for an artist since it is based on the M1000 chassis. It has all the trappings of an M1000 including the standard gold-plated furniture of the Souverän line and an 18C-750 nib that is very wet and generous. Rather than incorporate the gold-plated cap top of the standard releases, the cap top of the Koi utilizes Maki-e elements. Pelikan’s promotional literature states;
“With immense love for detail, the artist drew the Koi and their habitat on this stupendous fountain pen in the size 1000, which is the largest fountain pen Pelikan offers. The result is a masterpiece that combines German craftsmanship, based on over 175 years of tradition & technology, with superior Japanese Maki-e painting techniques. For the Pelikan Maki-e fountain pen Koi, the elaborate Kaga Togidashi-Taka-Maki-e technique was used. Each fountain pen is individually numbered and signed by the artist. This series is limited to only 88 pieces worldwide. Every model is equipped with an 18 carat, bi-color gold nib and is encased in a traditional Japanese pen box made of Paulownia wood.”
The Koi is a breathtaking pen and, while not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, it is somewhat more affordable than other Maki-e releases. The craftsmanship that went into the pen is awe inspiring. Two prominent Koi are depicted, one on the cap and one on the barrel with a third Koi shown diving underwater though is overall less pronounced. I believe that these depictions are more of an artistic representation of Koi rather than based on any actual variant. There are stylistic elements of red and white lotus flowers, lotus leaves, and pond ripples. In addition to these details, gold dust is applied throughout the pen. The Koi have a tactile feel and the scale work is masterfully executed. Having seen a few examples, no two are exactly identical.
The word Maki-e literally means “sprinkled picture.” According to Pelikan, the technique for the Koi fountain pen employs Kaga Togidashi-Taka Maki-e. Kaga Maki-e is a process of painting with gold, silver, and mother-of-pearl on the surface of lacquerware. These are art pieces, painstakingly hand crafted, and highly esteemed. Togidashi Maki-e refers to a burnished or buffed design. In the 8th century, the available gold was coarse and did not have much of a luster. An extra step was added where a thin layer of lacquer was applied after scattering powders and then shaving the surface with charcoal until the gold or silver appeared. This technique brings out the luster of the gold. Taka Maki-e utilizes a raised design. Various methods are used to raise the area where the powdered gold is scattered. Compared with other Maki-e techniques, three-dimensional works of art are possible though labor intensive. These techniques embody some of the highest forms of Maki-e work.
Click on any of the photos below to enlarge.
A short film depicting the making of a Pelikan Maki-e fountain pen.