The Story Behind Pelikan 4001 Blue-Black

Pelikan 4001 Blue-Black Ink

Few of Pelikan’s inks have sparked as much confusion and controversy as 4001 Blue-Black, particularly amongst those of us in the United States where this formulation is currently no longer available.  You may be unaware that Pelikan actually has a line of “document proof” inks which covers a spectrum ranging from strong permanence to a more moderate light resistance.  Scribtol is their most permanent offering but it is not suitable for fountain pens owing to the composition of the ink (i.e. soot) which can and will harm fountain pen feeds.  This formulation should be reserved for dip pens only.  Once you’ve moved past Scribtol, you arrive at Fount India.  Offered as somewhat of a compromise, Fount India also contains soot though in a lower concentration than Scribtol.  You get the same properties of permanence but in a formulation that is able to be used, all-be-it with caution, in a fountain pen.  If you employ Fount India in your piston filling fountain pen, you need to take care that the ink never dries out which requires diligent pen maintenance.  If the higher maintenance that is required with Fount India has you a little put off, then 4001 Blue-Black may be right up your alley.

Pelikan Scribtol and Fount India Inks

Pelikan’s Scribtol and Fount India inks

 

4001 Blue-Black is touted as being light resistant while still being completely fountain pen safe.  It is well-regarded by many, not because of any unique color properties but because it is a non-staining, well-behaved, low maintenance, dry ink that can be used in older pens with little worry.  There has often been controversy over whether or not this formulation actually contains any iron gall.  Online ink forums are rife with threads about this topic.  If you look at bottles from the past you will see declarations that include “permanent” and/or “ferro-gallic.”  While today’s packaging omits such phrases, Pelikan’s own published literature does indeed confirm the presence of at least a small amount of iron gall in their Blue-Black ink.  The iron gall allows it to be more light resistant than any of the other inks in the 4001 line (though less than Scribtol or Fount India).  Despite the presence of iron gall in the mixture,  the special formulation allows it to be much more fountain pen friendly than would usually be the case with iron gall inks.  When in use, you will notice the ink is initially laid down as a blue-black color with strong tones of blue that fade to grey over time.  If ever exposed to water, the blue shading will wash away, leaving behind text that is still legible.

Pelikan 4001 Blue-Black Ink

Photo credit: © The Good Captain of FPN; http://goo.gl/yN1Mkm

So what is iron gall and how did 4001 Blue-Black become an outlaw in the United States?  Historically, iron gall inks were intended for dip pens.  Because of the principle of capillary action upon which fountain pens operate, ferro-gallic deposits can accumulate in the feed system and result in clogging. Traditional iron gall inks were also very acidic, a property which could corrode metal pen parts.  Modern iron gall formulas contain only a very small amount of ferro-gallic compounds and are specially formulated to be more chemically balanced.  While those iron gall inks are labeled as fountain pen safe and can be used with relative ease, there needs to be a commitment to pen maintenance as problems can arise if the ink is left to dry in the feed.  The dye in today’s formula acts as a temporary colorant to make the ink clearly visible while writing. The ferro-gallic compounds gradually oxidize resulting in a color change to gray/black with the properties of light and water resistance.

Pelikan 4001 Blue-Black Ink

Photo credit: © Woodworker of the Inkyjournal; http://goo.gl/GHhJKw

 

Unfortunately, 4001 Blue-Black is not available in the United States and has not been since around 2011.  The reason for this now 5 year absence is in part due to the fact that the ink includes an ingredient(s) that is not listed in the United States Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  That act stipulates that any chemical substance, mixture, or article containing a chemical substance or mixture (including microorganisms and mixtures) may be refused entry [into the United States] if it fails to comply with the TSCA, or is offered for entry in violation of section 5, 6, or 7 of the TSCA.  EPA and Customs Regulations (40 CFR 707.20 and 19 CFR 12.120, respectively) require that importers “certify” that imported chemical substances or mixtures are either in compliance with TSCA sections 5, 6 and 7 at the time of import or are not subject to the TSCA.  Penalties for failing to comply can be steep.  It has been presumed that 4001 Blue-Black contains a substance not amongst the approved chemicals as outlined by the TSCA.  While exclusion from that list doesn’t necessarily imply toxicity, I suppose that it made more economic sense for Pelikan to discontinue its United States sales rather than reformulate their ink.  There is no such prohibition of this formulation overseas where it is still readily available.

Pelikan 4001 Blue-Black Ink

 

Pelikan 4001 Blue-Black has an almost legendary mystique about it.  If you search the online pen & ink forums, you will find many who extol its virtues.  Personally, I enjoy this shade and appreciate its light and water resistance.  It is a very well-behaved ink, even on low quality paper and I have not noted any damage amongst the pens that I have used it in.  If you are looking for a replacement from Pelikan here in the United States, Edelstein Tanzanite is your best bet but that ink is certainly nowhere near a direct substitute.  Pelikan 4001 Blue-Black has been successfully ordered from overseas vendors for importation into the USA but you do run the risk of any customs issues which may arise should your ink shipment be flagged.

Pelikan 4001 Blue-Black and Edelstein Tanzanite swabs

Pelikan 4001 Blue-Black and Edelstein Tanzanite swabs

 

Pelikan 4001 Blue-Black writing sample

Pelikan 4001 Blue-Black writing sample (click for larger pic)

 

32 responses

    • Thank you for your comment Robert. Pelikan inks are great and are especially useful for taming the wetness of Pelikan’s feeds. I’m well stocked on most shades but thank you for the offer. Thanks for the link. Will definitely check it out.

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    • And the rainbow changes with the paper. I tested ten blacks on thirty papers. On the bright white papers Aurora Black was the blackest 90% and Pelikan 4001 Brilliant Black #1 10%. On off-white or cream paper (like R2), Pelikan was the blackest 80% and Aurora 20%. Among the other eight inks, only Noodler’s Black was even mentioned. This was solely judging “blackness”, nothing else. Edelstein Black was dead last (some said it was their favorite gray).

      Liked by 1 person

  1. As usual, timeliness and insight for us Pelikan geeks. I did not know the inside story, but I have only been collecting Pelikans for 40 years and been a dealer for a few months. Thanks again, Joshua,

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  4. Hey Joshua!

    I was wondering if you have the story behind the 4001 ink series. I’m particularly interested in how it became one of the few numbers to receive a registered trademark.

    Thanks for the stories!

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  5. Hi Joshua

    The swab of 4001 Blue-black you show looks distinctly grey. A few months ago, I bought a bottle via ebay (I’m in the US). When I did a swab of it, it looked grey to me as well. I’ve read a few comments on FPN of others who have run into this problem also. I wrote to the vendor (in Calif) and she sent me a replacement at no charge after testing that a swab test looked blue to her. It was indeed. Here is an image of the swabs from the two bottles (same vendor, same batch she received from Europe).

    The grey swab looks somewhat similar to yours and the blue one is from the second bottle I received. Here is a picture of the two bottles with backlighting so you can see the difference in the ink color.

    In the bottle on the left, the ink looks purplish and is the one that produced the grey swab. When rotating the bottle, the ink would quickly drift down from the walls of the bottle, as if it were more watery. I had to take the picture quickly to get the purplish color to stay visible. The bottle on the right is the second one I received, that made the blue swab. The ink would cling to the sides of the glass much longer (greater surface tension?).

    Both bottles and boxes have exactly the same markings, numbers, etc. Both came from the same person who says that she got both in the same batch and they were stored under the same conditions. She had at least one other purplish bottle in her stock. The first swab looked grey as soon as I swiped it on the paper, the second one was blue. Also, both swabs were done minutes apart, so I don’t think it’s an issue of some IG component oxidizing.

    As I said, I’ve seen some other folks mention getting a greyish color from this ink. Your swab sample caught my eye as similar to what I saw in my own samples. Is the ink in your bottle bluish?

    migla9

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    • Thank you for such a thorough comment. You are correct in that there have been issues in the past with the appearance of this ink in certain batches. I have seen issues, particularly related to the cartridges coming out quite grayish reported on the forums. I do think my bottle has a bit of a watered down appearance. This is my second bottle, having gone through the first, and it seems more dull than the other bottle. It seems variable though depending on the nib and pen so I hadn’t fully made up my mind as this is from the first few inkings from the bottle.

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    • Hi migla9,

      (Sorry Joshua about this necro-comment; I don’t know how I missed this one when it first appeared but I have something to add that I hope might be of interest.)

      For last year’s Pelikan Hub I sourced two bottles of 4001 Blue-Black, one from a vendor in Berlin, and another from a vendor in Singapore.

      The Singapore bottle and its resultant swab look exactly like the purplish ink and gray swab in your post; the Berlin bottle matches the blue ink and blue swab. At that time I had thought that the Singapore ink may have been manufactured specifically for that market (and possibly even manufactured there rather than in Germany, who knew). I have no idea whether any of my speculations are true or not; I’d be interested in learning more from your supplier.

      I don’t know who your California supplier was, and who their supplier(s) might have been, but FWIW my Singapore-sourced ink also had a (northern) California connection.

      One of my Hubsters, a Singapore ex-pat, thought its gray hue was ironic comment on the (apparently) ubiquitous gray sky of Singapore.

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  6. Sorry for the huge images. I thought they would be rescaled down to an appropriate size.

    When you look at your bottle against the light, does the ink look purplish or bluish?

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    • No worries about the huge images. I hope you don’t mind but I resized them so they would be a bit more manageable. When held against the light, my bottle looks bluish, like the bottle that you depict on the right.

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  7. I find this ink horribly dry and usable with only the wettest pens I own. In anything drier writing with it feels like writing with semi-liquid sand. It’s similar with 4001 Brilliand Brown, but still, this is the number one dry ink I have ever tried.

    I appreciate the color, though!

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    • Pelikan pens are wet writers and need a dry ink to tame them from time to time. The 4001 line has long been known as a line of dryer inks. While I agree that it is dry, I have not had quite the same experience as you. It’s wonderful though that there are so many different ink options out there. Thanks for sharing!

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    • I keep a Platinum Preppy 03 filled with Berlin-sourced 4001 Blue-Black. It’s an excellent combo for a wide range of papers, and I find the writing experience to be surprisingly pleasing. A great choice for the office, and not a terrible loss should it somehow “walk away on its own”. 😉

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  8. To me, this is a timeless classic of an ink. It’s like a good charcoal suit, cut by an old, experienced tailor: it may not be the latest fashion, but never out of style. In my original 400, it shows as nearly navy blue and creates perfect flow.

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  9. I was given a bottle of 4001 that’s pretty darn old. Like “Made in W-Germany” old, and I’m wondering if the ink degraded… Using a brush or dip pen it looks like I’m using a grey-green wash, not an ink, and it seems really thin and watery. Am I just doing it wrong?

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    • What color of 4001 do you have? Perhaps Royal Blue? That ink is likely 25+ years old. You do not know how it was stored. Regardless of the original color, it would sound as if the ink may have degraded over time. Not something that I would be overly excited to use in any of my pens from what you describe.

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      • Oops, I forgot to say that it was the blue-black. It’s funny you mentioned the royal blue, though, because it came with a bottle of the royal blue from the same era that’s super vibrant and fully usable.

        I might just use it as a wash, if anything.

        Thanks for the reply!

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        • That makes sense. I’ve seen old examples of blue-black degrade over time. Must be due to is formulation. Old formulations had iron in them which might explain the discoloration.

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