The early days of 2018 have provided me some time for introspection (there is not much else you can do when in the midst of a bomb cyclone). There has been a lot to reflect upon personally, professionally, and globally. This past year’s world events alone have been quite tumultuous, leaving the future seemingly more uncertain than ever. Trying to turn to lighter fare, one thing that has been on the forefront of my mind recently is a question that I’ve been asked several times over the past few months. That question can be summed up in two words; “Why Pelikan?” In over three years of blogging here at the Perch, I can’t believe that I haven’t addressed this sooner. It’s true that there are many great manufacturers out there who have produced a countless number of awesome and desirable fountain pens. What then does Pelikan have that puts it above all of the other brands in my mind and how informed am I to even make that type of declaration? I hope to share with you my experiences before Pelikan and why I chose to dedicate myself to just that brand of fountain pen. I thought this would make for excellent fodder for the first post of the year. All I can say up front is that Pelikan pens have some indescribable quality, a character and a discipline, that makes owning and using them a joy that transcends the sum of their parts. By the end of this article, I hope to be able to impart upon you just a little sense of that magic.
Before exploring why I chose Pelikan, a brief history of my journey with fountain pens is in order. I had always wanted to try a fountain pen as my tastes run toward the traditional. There was something about a nib and ink that had always fascinated me. Of course, nobody that I knew used fountain pens and there were no mainstream brick and mortar stores readily available to me. Simply put, I had no idea how to get started and so my interest in the topic remained largely dormant. Fast forward to 2009 when I received my first fountain pen, a Waterman Expert, gifted to me when I graduated from medical school. I was overjoyed to finally own an “ink pen” but a complete lack of knowledge and a lot of frustration with the nib and cartridge led me to only briefly use the pen before discarding it and moving on. That sour experience might have been a small footnote in my life and the end of my desire to write with a fountain pen for all eternity had it not been for a fortunate stroke of serendipity. On a cold November day in 2012, a random catalog arrived in the mail from Colorado Pen Direct. It might have been discarded like so much junk mail but, on a lark, I flipped though the pages and that old desire to try a fountain pen resurfaced. I decided to give it another shot so I ordered a yellow Pilot Vanishing Point, a more unusual gateway pen to be sure. Perhaps the biggest and most influential difference this second time around was that I also discovered The Fountain Pen Network which provided me a great wealth of knowledge (conspicuously lacking during my first go round) and allowed me to better understand what I was doing. Armed with my VP and some know-how, I was off and running, never to look back. I loved my Vanishing Point and subsequently ordered a yellow Lamy Safari (I like yellow) from The Goulet Pen Company. I also enjoyed that experience and started venturing down the path of a collector as is my natural inclination. When I started collecting fountain pens, I collected everything from a large swath of manufacturers; Waterman, Sheaffer, Visconti, Pilot, TWSBI, Parker, Montblanc, Esterbrook, etc. That education included exposure to modern and vintage models encompassing all types of filling systems along with a great variety of nibs. It was a wonderful schooling in the history and evolution of the industry and it gave me a level of confidence that I had not previously known.
In 2013, I acquired my first Pelikan, a lightly used white M205 from Malaysia. I was captivated by the piston filling system, the clean design, and the perfect balance in the hand when posted. I started to specifically seek out other Pelikans. It wasn’t a spot decision or something that happened overnight. I simply began to gravitate towards other Pelikan models in varying shapes and sizes such that a flock started to grow. It was a slow transition at first but these birds started commanding my attention more and more and were easily able to outcompete all of the other brands in my collection. That initial M205 was soon followed by an old-style green striped M600 and then an M400 Tortoiseshell White. The more Pelikan pens that I purchased, the less I liked non-Pelikan models. Of course, I was still on a poor medical resident’s salary at this time so I started selling all of my prior non-Pelikan acquisitions to fund my purchases, a decision that I have never regretted. I was fortunate to try both the Classic/Traditional series and the Souverän line early into my Pelikan collecting experience. As such, I really came to appreciate the quality of the lower end Classic series as well as the lower price tag. I also loved the variety that had been released since the line’s introduction in 1985. To give my collecting a focus, I chose to concentrate on the Classic series (M1xx/M2xx) which really made hunting for the 90 or so models released to date great fun. That collection is now 98% complete, missing only two very rare examples. Of course, I have also picked up a lot of other models as well over the years. The heritage and available variety of the pens released by the company really allows you to focus your collecting if that’s your thing (ie; certain sized models, colors, vintage vs modern, etc). I’m not completely without sentimentality though and to this day, I still own the Vanishing Point and Safari that sparked the fire of my fountain pen passion.
For the past four years, I have collected Pelikan pens exclusively. So what are some of the intrinsic qualities that helped to win me over? To start, the piston assembly is outstanding, so good that it hasn’t been improved upon in decades. Pelikan’s piston fillers fill almost completely in one cycle and filling the pen saturates the feed thereby enabling it to instantly start laying down ink. The interchangeable nib is also a unique and welcomed boon to users. This allows for easy customization or a simple replacement if a nib isn’t to your liking or worse, inadvertently damaged. Better yet, some of the older Pelikan nibs that have a lot more character can be swapped into modern bodies which adds a completely new dimension (and joy) to the writing experience. If you’re anything like me, you hate running out of ink. It’s particularly bothersome to me as I only carry one pen at a time. As such, I value the large number of Pelikan’s piston fillers that have an easily viewed ink window which is often nicely integrated into the design. Speaking of design, small nuances such as the pelican beak clip and the conservative German aesthetics make for a style that I can get behind and appreciate. These pens are not at all “blingy” or intrusive and can be at home in the board room as much as the park for some journaling. All of the above would be for nought if it took a too long to get down to the business of dashing off a quick thought. Pelikan excels here as well. The cap is easily removed with a simple turn which allows you to quickly get writing. When capped, the threads hold securely and I have never had a pen come unscrewed unintentionally in my pocket. Thankfully, the pen can remain uncapped for a bit because the feed is well saturated and resists drying out better than many others that I’ve tried. I have, inadvertently, left pens inked and unused for over a month only to pick them up and find that they write just as well from the first stroke as if it were freshly inked. All of this is well and fine but might be negated by a pen that is a nuisance to clean and maintain. Here again, Pelikan outdoes themselves. Their pens are easily flushed and the nibs can be removed, if need be, for a more intense soaking/cleaning. Should the piston begin to stiffen, a tiny drop of pure silicone grease can restore it to like new functionality in an instant, no special tools required. This also speaks to the durability of Pelikan’s models which has generally been excellent from their earliest offerings through modern times. With a collection of features like that, you could ask; “Why not Pelikan?”
Some other smaller features worth noting are the sheer number of pen sizes available. There is a size for every hand out there. No matter whether you like a smaller pen or a larger one, Pelikan has something to accommodate. I really appreciate this variety as it allows me to draw on different models for different situations (ie; M800 or smaller sized pens for daily travel to and from work and M1000 sized pens for home use). The size of their pens is also particularly well thought out for those of us who prefer to post their caps. The M2xx/M4xx/M6xx models in particular take on a near perfect balance in the hand when posted. In addition to all of the modern offerings, there is a tremendous back catalog of vintage models that continues to hold up as great and durable writers. Also, don’t take my neglect of cartridge pens as a sign of poor craftsmanship. There are many great offerings there too, they just aren’t my thing. Finally, the company has 180 years of very interesting history. I appreciate that kind of heritage which, for me, adds an intangible quality to the brand.
Don’t get me wrong, Pelikan pens aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. There are warts too and I fully acknowledge that. Inconsistent pricing across continents is a major problem and many of the pens are somewhat overpriced for what they actually are, particularly when compared to comparable models from other manufacturers. I used to recommend Pelikan’s Classic line as a great entry point to the brand. In the last several years, I feel that their piston fillers have been priced out of the reach of most beginners. In addition to that, not all of the lines are treated equally in terms of finishes with the M6xx and M1xxx models notably getting fewer refreshes than other pens in the Souverän line, a sore point for those who favor those sizes. The US distributor is also somewhat lackluster in their performance either due to their own policies or those handed down from Hannover. The fact that US customers who purchase pens overseas are denied domestic warranty service is somewhat ridiculous. These are not grey market purchases but rather sales made through authorized retailers. Such a policy completely ignores the global ecosystem. In addition to the aforementioned, Pelikan’s cartridge system has an odd implementation which requires torque from the back of the pen’s barrel to seat the cartridge, a less than reassuring mechanism. Finally, today’s nibs have blobby tipping and are very firm, lacking any real character and only available in the
boring standard sizes of EF, F, M, and B. Pelikan did away with all of their more interesting nib options years ago. There is a big difference when compared with nibs from the mid 1990s and earlier and it’s a shame that Pelikan has not done more on that front though its hard to fault them given the overall dependability of the writing experience. One thing that you may see pointed out disproportionately in online forums is the quality control of nibs that leave the factory. I agree that it is hugely disappointing to invest the amount of money that Pelikan pens command only to get a pen that writes poorly or not at all but this is hardly a problem endemic to the company and certainly a situation that is no worse than what other manufacturers subject their customers to.
To sum it all up, I love the brand, warts and all for the above stated reasons and for some that I’m sure I’ve forgotten to mention. The traits that I describe above come together and transcend the sum of their parts. There is some elusive quality when writing with a Pelikan that is hard to describe but, whatever it is, it has me lock, stock, and barrel. I don’t mean to imply that other brands aren’t awesome or special, they certainly are in their own ways and I’m sure there are those who feel just as passionately about Sailor or Montblanc for instance. I know that I’m missing out on great models produced by other companies but there is only so much time and money to invest in this hobby of ours and I do better when I have a focus. That’s one of the beauties of our fountain pen ecosystem, there is something for everybody. For me, Pelikan is the ticket and will remain the unabashed focus of my passion.
Please take a minute to leave a comment below and share your thoughts. What characteristics, good or bad, have made you decide to embrace or avoid the brand? I’d love to hear your thoughts.