SUO PEN CO.: Rare Emperor Shōwa Hirohito Aluminum Coronation Fountain Pen, 1928. Estimate: $2000-3000
A rare and historically significant aluminum plunger-filler fountain pen, made by the Suo Pen Company of Kyoto, decorated with a low-relief Phoenix rising above leafy chrysanthemums and bearing the Japanese inscription "Go Taiten Kinen" (御大典記念). The literal translation is "Memento of the Great Ceremony", although in Japanese this phrase refers specifically to the enthronement ceremony of the Japanese emperor. The pen was created in observation of the 1928 coronation of Emperor Shōwa, known outside of Japan as Emperor Hirohito. 133mm. 14K gold "Warranted Suo" heart-vent nib, slight flex, fine or extra-fine. Excellent condition; a few specks of discoloration, no dings, hard rubber endpiece and section glossy and black, plunger mechanism functions smoothly.
The choice of aluminum for a fine commemorative fountain pen, rather than gold or silver, may seem perplexing to modern observers, but the significance would not have been lost upon Japanese citizens of the time. While we think of aluminum as a cheap, disposable metal, in 1928 aluminum was considered a precious commodity, emblematic of modernity and progress: it was lightweight, easy to melt and mold, and it didn't corrode. Although aluminum was first discovered in 1808, it wasn't until 1889 that the Bayre Chemical Company developed an economical process for extracting aluminum from bauxite. Even so, production was meager until the mid-1920s, when abundant bauxite deposits were discovered in South America. In 1928, aluminum was literally more valuable than gold, and it was considered superior to silver since it would not tarnish. It was thus considered an ideal metal to observe Hirohito's coronation, an event of great importance to the Japanese nation.
The Suo Pen Company was located in Kyoto, where the coronation ceremonies took place, and so it was natural for them produce a pen for the occasion. One may assume that aluminum was chosen for the overlay to signify a new and modern Japan. The overlay depicts a Japanese Phoenix, which represents a new beginning, as well as several chrysanthemums, a flower symbolic of the Japanese royal family.
Like many of the best pens, this one has a charismatic quality that doesn't convey fully in words and photos. The aluminum body has a soft, powdery, tactile voluptuousness quite unlike any other pen. It balances perfectly in the hand, particularly with cap posted on barrel. The wand-like profile and decorative motifs contribute to a rather mystical sensibility worthy of the pen's regal origins, and its rarity is extreme (it may indeed be the sole surviving example).
Special thanks to Kamakura Pens, who provided much of the background information about this pen and its milieu.
Director, Fine Pens, Watches and Comics,
PBA Galleries Auctioneers, San Francisco