When I started collecting Pelikan fountain pens, I was overwhelmed by the variety available. So many options exists that it is difficult to know how to proceed, especially for a newcomer to the brand. Where is the best place to start? Unfortunately, no road map exists and many of us have learned a little from our peers and a lot from diving in head first. I decided to write this post for anyone considering purchasing a Pelikan fountain pen. Perhaps you are contemplating your first purchase or maybe even a second, third, or more. The decision to invest in the brand is the easy part as these are great pens from a storied brand that carry on a long tradition of quality. Many people seem to own more than one Pelikan and collectors and users alike know all too well that Pelikan fountain pens seem to multiply right under their noses. The difficult part of the decision-making process lies in deciding which Pelikan to get as there are so many choices available. Should one go for a modern pen or a vintage model? What are the pros and cons of each route? What other considerations are there? I recently read the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears to my soon to be two year old son and thought how applicable Goldilocks’ experience was to buying a Pelikan fountain pen. One model can be too big, another too small, and yet another too light or too heavy. With the scarcity of brick and mortar pen shops today, it can be very difficult to try before you buy resulting in so many of our purchasing decisions relying solely on descriptions, photos, and reviews. It can be very difficult to find that “just right” match on the first purchase. With what follows, I hope to give you a little perspective on the Pelikan landscape so that you may better navigate between the various models and make a more informed decision with your purchase.
In the discussion that ensues, I will try to highlight some of the larger topics and bring to the forefront some of the issues to consider when deciding on a purchase. I will also give a few suggestions regarding appropriate models to consider, particularly pertinent for someone new to the brand. What I won’t do is tell you which pen is best since that is such a subjective valuation and will vary from person to person. With each model discussed, I will try to provide an average price ($$$) that these pens are bringing in today’s market. Please understand that this is just an average and a guide. Because so many factors affect a pen’s retail value, your mileage will vary. This is a broad topic and what follows is only meant to be a primer. I’m sure that I have missed a few worthy details and, if that is the case, please do bring them to my attention in the comments section below. Where applicable, I will link the text to articles previously published on this site which will provide more in-depth information should you wish to read further.
Modern (1970-Present) versus Vintage (Pre-1970)
The first major factor to consider needs to be whether or not you should go for a modern pen or something from the vintage catalogue. Vintage is a term that is very loosely thrown around the pen community so, to be clear, I define a vintage Pelikan as any pen made prior to 1970. After that date, you really are in the modern era of production in terms of techniques and materials. Working backwards then, we will start our discussion with a look at modern fountain pens.
By virtue of being manufactured in the past 45 years, these pens generally utilize modern manufacturing techniques and materials. They are of sturdy construction and have largely held up well to date. When buying a used pen from the modern era, you generally don’t have to question whether or not the pen will function, it usually just does. Buying a pen brand new obviously would ensure that you are getting a model not previously used which provides much reassurance but can also be very expensive. Also, don’t expect all new purchases to be the latest incarnation of a pen. Pelikan’s lines undergo small changes from time to time (e.g. all rhodium nibs on the x05 models or plated cap tops circa 2010) and many dealers can have old stock linger around those transition points. Model numbers in the modern lines will largely indicate size and trim (many exceptions exist). As a rule, model numbers ending in Mxx0 have gold trim and those ending in Mx05 have palladium. Because of their durability, pens of this era can be found at a discount on the used market and can frequently be purchased with confidence provided that they were even marginally maintained by the previous owner. Since these are piston or cartridge fillers, there are no worries of corroded sacs or refurbishing that are common to offerings from other brands. The modern synthetic piston seals are quite durable and have shown longevity thus far. Used pens often simply require a thorough cleaning as well as lubrication of the piston assembly. Key things to look for when purchasing a pen would be the condition of the nib, barrel, cap, and furniture.
1) If it is a Souverän made after 1997, look to the trim ring at the section as these can corrode with time and ongoing exposure to ink. The M400 only had the trim ring added after the line was updated in 1997 but the M600s included the section trim ring even prior to their redesign.
2) As mentioned above, Pelikan redesigned their lines in 1997. For the Classic series, that meant transitioning from derby cap tops to crown cap tops. Early in the run of derby cap tops, a solid plastic thread was used which had a tendency to crack. It was ultimately replaced by a threaded brass insert. If dropped, the derby cap tops could crack.
3) One final consideration for both modern and vintage pens would be micro scratches. With regular use of any pen, these are to be expected. They are not deep scratches and you should not be able to get your finger nail into them. Often times they can be polished out if one desires. These can accumulate to excess in a pen that has seen regular and faithful service and you will have to decide what your level of comfort is. Micro scratches don’t often impact a sale in my experience unless excessive.
If the piston moves and it passes the visual inspection, you are likely looking at a viable pen. Pelikan divides their modern upscale fountain pen offerings into the Classic series which are more affordable, less polished entry-level lines and the Souverän series which are their higher end luxury offerings.
- Classic: ($95-165) The Classic series fills the role of an upscale though still entry-level Pelikan. These lines include the M100, M150, M200, M205, M215, and M250. Each of these pens are similar with subtle distinctions largely based around nib materials, size, finishes, and furniture. The M1xx line is generally preferred by those who like smaller pens. That said, they balance well when posted and I find them easy to use even with somewhat larger hands. The pens in the M2xx line are more of a standard size but still small by today’s standards. They are in fact the same size as the Souverän M400 and come in a variety of finishes. These pens are solid performers with nice, springy stainless steel nibs, all except for the M250 which was equipped with a 14C nib. Make no mistake about it though, these pens are light in weight and may not appeal to those who prefer a heftier pen. The M215 remedies this to some extent by including a metal barrel with added heft. Most of these lines are now discontinued but you can still purchase the M150, M200, and M205 new while finding left over stock of M215’s. Many of the more interesting finishes are no longer in production and will have to be sought on the used market while M100’s and M250’s are only available used. They can still be found with some frequency, many even as new old stock, and are well worth seeking out. You can explore all of the available models and variations in the Classic series in this site’s database.
- Souverän: ($250-700) This is Pelikan’s luxury line and the pens in this category are priced accordingly. When you upgrade from the Classic series, you get a higher level of trim, gold nibs, and a more polished finish. Also with this series comes a stepwise increase in size and weight. This line is composed of the M3xx, M4xx, M6xx, M8xx, and M10xx. As you step up in model, you also increase in size and price until you get to the M1000, Pelikan’s flagship. These models have a more upscale look, come in Pelikan’s traditional striped finishes, and are no less durable despite their luxury status. Because these pens come in such a variety of sizes and weights, there likely is a Souverän to fit anyones taste and comfort level. As a general rule, the M3xx line is tiny, dwarfed by the M4xx which is a standard sized pen. The M6xx has a little more length and width but remains light and nimble. The M8xx and M10xx are larger still and incorporate brass piston assemblies giving them a significant heft without being heavy. Fitting a Souverän in the budget will likely be the biggest barrier to acquisition but deals can be had if you are willing to search for a gently used model.
Purchasing a vintage pen is not nearly as clear-cut as purchasing a modern one. These pens have seen more use (86 years for the oldest of the lot) and were made during a time when materials and manufacturing techniques weren’t as mature as they are today. That said, a vintage Pelikan fountain pen is still well worth the pursuit provided that you keep a few salient points in mind.
1) The earliest pens in this category like the 100 and 100N were made with hard rubber components which can experience color shifts (brown discoloration) as well as become brittle over time. Caps, sections, and piston knobs should be inspected closely on these older models. While perhaps less aesthetically pleasing, the color change in no way affects function and largely cannot be undone.
2) Pelikan’s vintage offerings came with ebonite (hard rubber) feeds characterized by longitudinal fins. This is a porous plastic that is perfectly suited to the function of a feed and is regarded as superior to modern plastic feeds. Unfortunately ebonite feeds required machining and are less robust in terms of strength when compared with modern plastics. These can be easily broken when dropped or damaged in the act of removing a nib if one is not careful. They remain just as faithful today as when produced though and even a feed with slightly damaged fins can continue to function unimpaired.
3) Earlier models will have a cork seal which Pelikan employed until around 1940 when cork became difficult to source during war-time. Unless a pen has been recently and properly re-corked, it will almost certainly need to be replaced and care taken to maintain. A pen utilizing a cork seal may not be the right choice for a first time buyer but it should certainly not be something to be afraid of either. Later synthetic seals were a big improvement but these too have been observed to fail with time. Following cork, Pelikan moved to a neoprene compound that has been associated with shrinkage, a problem not often discovered until after purchase. If you find ink leaking out of the back of the barrel or a pen that won’t fill, an incompetent piston seal is the first thing to consider. Thankfully, these early synthetic seals can be replaced by several pen repair specialists.
4) The 400/N/NN as well as other models of that time had a metal liner inside of the cap. This performed its function of preventing the nib from drying out beautifully but, unfortunately, as the plastic of the cap has shrunk over time, the metal liner has not. This has resulted in hairline cracks (referred to as hairlines) in many caps which is a common and well documented problem. It should be looked for prior to purchase but small hairlines won’t affect functionality or harm anything.
5) Several models such as the 400NN, 120, and 140 were equipped with polystyrene collars which was a short-lived trend in the 50’s and 60’s. This is now known to have been a poor design choice as the plastic has become incredibly brittle over time and all will invariably fail in my experience at some point. Replacement collars are available and other work arounds exist but a failed collar can cause headache and should be something that you are aware of if you are pursuing any of the afflicted pens.
6) Brassing, the wearing of plating from the furniture to reveal the metal underneath, is also something to keep in mind. Depending on how well the pen was cared for, how much it was used, or how it may have laid in storage, this will be seen to varying degrees on vintage models. It is more of a cosmetic issue but certainly degrades the appearance and value of a pen. While it has no functional impact, not much can be done to remedy it if present.
While the above all sounds like doom and gloom in the vintage arena, this really is not the case. These are simply some of the things to look for when contemplating a vintage purchase. Most Pelikans from this era have been well cared for and have held up beautifully and will continue to hold up with the proper care. Many spectacular examples are out there. With the knowledge of what to look for and what to expect, your vintage pen purchasing should be much easier.
- 100/100N: ($165) These are great pens that have a rich history and are small by today’s standards but available with some phenomenal nibs. They are the ones that you may find with cork pistons and hard rubber components so care needs to be taken when selecting one. I think every Pelikan enthusiast should own one at some point but this is not the pen that I would start with if you are new to the brand.
- 120: ($40) This is a school pen with a gold-plated stainless steel nib. It was only available in a few finishes and saw two distinct production runs over its life (1955-65 and 1973-77). It is not the flashiest pen ever but it certainly is a dependable one. They can be solid writers without all of the adornment of the higher end production models which frequently makes them available at affordable prices.
- 140: ($80) This would be high on my list of recommendations to first time Pelikan purchasers looking to go the vintage route. The pen is smaller but it posts well and has a great feel in the hand. The nibs are phenomenal and the writing experience is generally a total joy. These are usually low maintenance and get the job done. The 140s have an understated appearance that belie their big capability.
- Ibis: ($75) Perhaps not the first vintage pen to seek out but one well worth trying. The post-war versions were no longer made of hard rubber and can frequently be found for sale in excellent condition and quite reasonably priced. I’m always amazed that these don’t command more at sale. This was a lower end line put out by Gunther Wagner but you wouldn’t know it based on the writing experience.
- 400/N/NN: ($150) This is the number one pen that I would recommend to anyone looking to get into vintage Pelikans. They are styled beautifully, are dependable, and remain relatively low maintenance and functional many decades later. The nibs are a treat to use and can really add joy and flourish to your writing. The 400NN is found in particular abundance on the used market and while prices vary, can be picked up very reasonably with some patience. If you can only have one vintage Pelikan pen, this is probably the one to get.
With the issue of modern versus vintage addressed, we are left with just a few smaller details that I would like to make mention of.
I personally prefer a piston filling pen for its ease of use, ease of cleaning, and large volume ink capacity. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect the cartridge/converter pens or acknowledge their place in the pen community. Pelikan has put out many great models of cartridge pens which are often much more affordable than their piston filling cousins and I’ll detail just a few here.
- P200/205: ($130) These two models are the newer kids on the block, modeled after the M200 and M205 fountain pens. They are cartridge pens that look very similar to their piston filling brethren except they have a slight variation in trim and the nib is not interchangeable. They remain reliable, modern cartridge pens that do their job well provided you favor a light pen.
- Twist: ($10) The Twist is also one of Pelikan’s more recent offerings, available in a variety of interesting and fun colors. This pen has an ergonomic grip section which some find comfortable and others don’t. If a triangular grip does not appeal to you, this is not the pen for you. This model also lacks a clip and is a little bulky but the stainless steel nib is smooth and gives solid performance making it worthy of mention. It is also a relatively inexpensive pen making it easy to experiment with.
- Pelikano: ($20) Following the 120 described above, the Pelikano is a school pen that has had many incarnations over the years. These have great nibs, are durable, and don’t fail to perform when called upon. Deals can be had on the used market and they are well worth the investment if you find a version that suits you.
- Silvexa: ($30) This model came in both piston and cartridge variants. Like the Pelikano, these perform well but have a little more of a sophisticated, grown up look to them. Not overly popular which also makes them not overly expensive, they were a solid line of pens that are an excellent avenue to pursue.
Pelikan’s nibs deserve their own small discussion. Today’s modern offerings are limited and you will only find current production models coming with EF, F, M, and B nibs from the factory. In addition to that, these nibs are generally firm with a significant amount of tipping material that makes them write somewhat wider than their designation and without any significant line variation. A good rule of thumb, more so for the gold nibs than stainless steel, is to order one size smaller than is your actual interest so as to not be disappointed by the broadness of the line. Despite this unflattering description today’s nibs are reliable for the most part and put down a wonderfully smooth and wet line. They do the job as designed and that significant amount of tipping does allow for easy grinding/customization. Today’s nibs can’t help but pale in comparison to Pelikan’s vintage nibs which are, in my opinion, second to none. These older nibs have significantly less tipping material but are wonderfully springy to semi-flexible for the most part. They are responsive and provide a nice character to your writing. In terms of enjoyment, these vintage nibs make writing a real treat.
- 1995-Present: These are generally the firm nibs with generous tipping described above. They will certainly get the job done as advertised but are all business and won’t add any significant flourish to your writing out of the box. The lines are wide and wet which makes for a very smooth writing experience but sometimes drier inks are needed to tame the flow. You can still find obliques and triple broads earlier along this date range but they have been phased out over the last several years.
- 1980-1995: These nibs aren’t hindered by a large blob of tipping material, have spring, and are fun to write with. Pelikan still offered obliques at this time as well as very broad nibs so there is a lot of variety out there not present in the company’s more recent offerings. These are the nibs I enjoy most from the modern era of production.
- Pre-1980: Specifically, I would focus on the logo nibs from 1954-1965 here. The flat, stubbish tipping gives a nice line variation out of the box and you can often find semi-flexible or greater nibs if that is your taste. Not all are created equal though and you may have to try a few to find one that works for you. Once you do, it likely won’t be your last foray into Pelikan’s vintage nib offerings. The ‘script’ nibs from 1929-1954 are also a treat and should not be discounted as they largely have the same characteristics, I just personally have less experience with them.
New versus As-Is versus Restored
One thing that everyone should keep in mind is that any pen purchase needs to take into account additional work that may be needed. Nibs, even on modern, brand new pens may need some work or even tuning by a nib meister before they write to their full potential. No quality control is infallible and pens with misaligned tines or other issues have been well documented on the fountain pen forums. I expect this is the minority experience but one you should be prepared to encounter. Pelikan does allow 30 day nib exchanges on new purchases via their distributor, Chartpak.
Vintage pens may have unseen damage or need a new seal that would incur additional cost. I factor in and plan for an additional $50 to every second-hand pen purchase that I make just in the event issues do arise. Often times they don’t but anyone who is serious about buying and enjoying a pen to its fullest should be prepared for additional expenses. This is particularly applicable to used pens purchased from venues like eBay and the like. Even if a pen is advertised as “restored” assume that it isn’t unless you are provided definitive proof that the pen was handled by a qualified restorer. This is not the case when purchasing from a well-known retailer who stands behind a restoration and offers some form of warranty. Rick Propas for instance of The PENguin stands behind his pens and while they are often more expensive than what you might find elsewhere, they come with the backing of a Pelikan guru and should be expected to work on delivery as advertised. The extra investment certainly can be worth the peace of mind that it buys. It is up to you to decide what your budget will allow and what you are comfortable with. As you gain experience with the brand, it becomes much easier to purchase pens that may require some additional work to restore functionality. If you are just starting out with the brand, stick to safer waters to ensure the best pen purchasing experience possible.