The Pelikan 400 And Its Many Forms

Pelikan 400, 400N, and 400NNThe Pelikan 400 of the 1950s and 60s is perhaps one of the most iconic and successful pens ever put out by the company over its 90 year history of fountain pen production.  Perhaps it is telling that Pelikan chose this model to rekindle its fountain pen production and turn the company’s fortune around in 1982 with a reincarnation of the 400 dubbed the M400 Souverän.  We will focus squarely on the original 400 for the purposes of this article which introduces the final pen in this three-part series.  If you haven’t already, be sure to check out my in-depth look at both the 300 and the 140 which were in production alongside the 400.  Glass negatives in the Pelikan archives indicate that this model was first conceived in 1939 and likely had World War II to thank for its eleven years on the drawing board.  Launched on May 25, 1950, the Pelikan 400 was produced for a period of fifteen years (not including a brief resurrection in the 1970s) but underwent several modifications in that time.  With each major revision, the suffix “N” was added to the model number.  This stood for “neu,” the German word for new, and was a designation only meant to be used internally.  This nomenclature was utilized for the 400 as well as several other similarly styled product lines and is the reason we have the 400, 400N, and 400NN.  Of course, when these pens were being marketed, they were all simply called the 400 which is why you won’t find the “N” designation in any price list.  Read on to learn more about just what changes came with each revision and how to identify them.  As you read through, be sure to click on the photos found within to enlarge them for further study.

 

Pelikan’s price list 70B dated June 15, 1951

Excerpt from Pelikan’s price list 70B dated June 15, 1951. The photo shows Pelikan’s line-up from the early 1950s, including the 400

 

The Pelikan 400 is considered a smaller pen by today’s standards but would have been more of a standard size in its day.  The dimensions vary slightly with each revision which you can see outlined in the table below.  Unlike the 140 and 300 previously discussed, each of the 400s sport a crown cap top and gold-plated furniture consisting of a beak clip and a single cap band.  The stripes on the majority of these models alternate between opaque and translucent in order to allow for viewing the remaining amount of ink in the pen.  On the few models that are not striped, a discrete ink window can be found just above the section.  The cap was constructed with a metal inner liner, presumably engineered to help prevent cracking.  While beyond the scope of this article, for the sake of completeness I should also mention that the form factor of each model 400 was embellished in various ways in order to add appeal and target more upscale markets.  The 500/N/NN incorporated a rolled gold cap and piston knob.  The 520/N/NN was made entirely of rolled gold.  The 600/N/NN sported a cap and piston knob done in 14C gold.  Finally, the 700/N/NN had a 14C gold overlay.  Like the 140, there were a few key events in the timeline of the 400 that help to date a pen more precisely which we will explore below.

Model Length (in) Posted Length (in) Diameter (in) Weight (oz) Ink Capacity (ml)
400 4.96 5.75 0.46 0.53 1.97
400N 5.03 5.76 0.46 0.53 1.97
400NN 5.14 5.78 0.46 0.53 1.97
Pelikan 400, 400N, and 400NN in Green/Black striped

A trio of Pelikan 400s in Green/Black striped. Top to bottom; 400 (1950-56), 400N (1956), and 400NN (1956-65)

 

Vintage advertising posters featuring Pelikan's model 400

Several colorful vintage advertising posters featuring Pelikan’s model 400

 

Timeline

5/25/1950:  The Pelikan model 400 is officially introduced to the market.

5/25/1950 – 8/1950:  For a period of just a few months, Pelikan experimented with friction fit nibs.  The concept was quickly abandoned and the company reverted back to a screw type collar.

6/15/1951:  Pelikan introduced colored cap tops that could be fitted to a pen in order to indicate the color of ink being utilized.  Red, purple, and white examples are known to exist.

11/27/1953:  Pelikan revised their filling mechanism to include a new type of piston seal which was colorless.

Mid 1954:  For the first four years of production, the 400 had a cap band that lacked any engraving.  By the middle of 1954, Pelikan began engraving the cap bands with “Pelikan 400 Pelikan 400 Pelikan 400” or “Pelikan 400 Germany.”

12/1954:  By the end of 1954, Pelikan retired the script nib and replaced it with the logo nib, a variant of which is still in use today.

 

Pelikan 400 component parts

A schematic showing the various parts included in each iteration of the 400. Note the subtle differences between the models. This graphic originally appeared in and was excerpted from “Pelikan Schreibgeräte 1929 – 2004”


 

400

Pelikan Green/Black striped 400

The original 400 ran from May 25, 1950 until sometime early in 1956.  Its design was the embodiment of classic styling and it introduced the striped barrel pattern that has since become as much of an icon for Pelikan as their logo.  The cap top is home to Pelikan’s former two chick logo and is surrounded by a gold-plated crown nut holding an inner cap and beak clip in place.  The single cap band, designed to protect the cap lip, can be found with or without an engraving depending on the year of production.  The barrel also may or may not be engraved near the piston knob.  Speaking of the piston knob, it is the most squared off of the trio.  The nib is generally found in 14C-585 gold though 18C variants exists and some may even be friction fitted in the earliest of models.  Depending on the year of production, these will be found with either script or logo nibs.  The feeds are made of ebonite comprising four vertical slits and the nib size might be imprinted on the piston knob of some of the earlier models.

Barrel Color Cap Color Production Dates
Green (striped) Black 5/25/1950 – 1956
Tortoiseshell Brown Brown 5/25/1950 – 1956
Black (striped) Black 7/28/1950 – 1956
Gray (striped) Black 5/1950 – 1956
Green (striped) Green 1954 – 1956
Light Tortoise Light Tortoise 1954 – 1956
Green Transparent Green Transparent ???

*The dates listed above indicate the periods of production which were verifiable in past documentation and are derived from Pelikan Schreibgeräte.  As such, it is possible that production continued beyond what is outlined here.

 

400N

Pelikan Green/Black striped 400N

The 400N was a transitional model only made for approximately one year starting in December of 1955 and lasting until sometime in 1956.  These were at one point shown in Pelikan’s literature alongside the 400 and 400NN suggesting at least a brief period of overlap.  This iteration is not that dissimilar from the original 400 and therefore can be hard to identify upon first glance unless you know what to look for.  The same features as described above can be found here so I will highlight only the differences.  The 400N is slightly longer than the 400 due to a more rounded and elongated piston knob in addition to a slightly longer cap.  The cap top logo is the same but it protrudes from the top of the pen a bit more than the prior model.  The beak clip is noticeably thinner and longer than the original 400 as well.  These will all have engraved cap bands and logo nibs since their production came after 1954.

Barrel Color Cap Color Production Dates
Green (striped) Black 12/1955 – 1956
Tortoiseshell Brown Brown 12/1955 – 1956
Black (striped) Black 12/1955 – 1956
Gray (striped) Black 12/1955 – 1956
Green (striped) Green 12/1955 – 1956
Light Tortoise Light Tortoise 12/1955 – 1956

*The dates listed above indicate the periods of production which were verifiable in past documentation and are derived from Pelikan Schreibgeräte.  As such, it is possible that production continued beyond what is outlined here.

 

400NN

Pelikan Green/Black striped 400NN

The 400NN entered production on April 23, 1956 and ran until July 28, 1965.  It completed the transformation that the 400N had begun.  Instead of a flattened dome, the cap top became more pointed and integrated into the cap itself.  The crown nut holding the clip in place is also thinner than what was employed on the 400 and 400N.  The cap is somewhat longer than that of the 400N though it retains a similarly shaped beak clip.  The piston knob on this version is longer and more pointed than the preceding models.  At least some of these are known to have been equipped with polystyrene collars, likely beginning in the early 1960s, which are prone to cracking as they become brittle with age.  In 1958, Pelikan briefly employed a safety mechanism that prevented the cap from coming unscrewed in the pocket which you might encounter on a 400NN of that time.

Barrel Color Cap Color Production Dates
Green (striped) Black 4/23/1956 – 7/28/1965
Tortoiseshell Brown Brown 4/23/1956 – 7/28/1965
Black (striped) Black 4/23/1956 – 7/28/1965
Gray (striped) Black 1957 – 12/27/1961
Green (striped) Green ???
Light Tortoise Light Tortoise 1957 – 7/1960
Black Black ???
Clear Transparent Clear Transparent 1957 – 12/27/1961

*The dates listed above indicate the periods of production which were verifiable in past documentation and are derived from Pelikan Schreibgeräte.  As such, it is possible that production continued beyond what is outlined here.

 

400NN Merz & Krell

Pelikan black 400NN Merz & Krell

This particular variant of the 400NN was reissued based on a request from Japanese retailers.  Pelikan contracted with Merz & Krell to handle manufacturing which occurred from 1973-1978.  Rather than being a direct clone of the product from a decade earlier, the Merz & Krell version incorporated many subtle but notable differences.  This pen had a slightly broader clip and the barrel was a touch shorter overall.  There was also no lip between the piston knob and barrel, a telling give away.  The caps were threaded a bit differently and there is a completely different collar and feed employed here making the Merz & Krell product incompatible with nibs from other Pelikan models (and vice versa).  Finally, the piston mechanism is actually threaded rather than friction fitted to the barrel.  If you want to learn more about Merz & Krell and their work with Pelikan, check out my past work entitled “Merz & Krell – Who Were They?” which explores the relationship in-depth and has many photos that highlight the differences outlined above.

 

Barrel Color Cap Color Production Dates
Green (striped) Black 1973 – 1978
Tortoiseshell Brown Brown 1973 – 1978
Black Black 1973 – 1978
Black (Striped) Black 1973 – 1978

*The dates listed above indicate the periods of production which were verifiable in past documentation and are derived from Pelikan Schreibgeräte.  As such, it is possible that production continued beyond what is outlined here.

 

Pelikan 400, 400N, and 400NN caps

Pelikan 400 caps. Left to right; 400 (1950-56), 400N (1956), and 400NN (1956-65). Note how the cap gets slightly longer with each revision as well as how the beak clip gets longer and thinner. Over time, the celluloid can shrink ever so slightly around the metal inner liner which can result in hairline cracks.

 

Pelikan 400, 400N, and 400NN cap tops

Pelikan 400 cap tops in profile. Left to right; 400 (1950-56), 400N (1956), and 400NN (1956-65). Note how the 400N cap top protrudes further and how the 400NN cap top is more pointed. Also shown is the thinner crown nut of the 400NN when compared with its predecessors

 

Pelikan 400, 400N, and 400NN cap tops

Pelikan 400 cap tops. Left to right; 400 (1950-56), 400N (1956), and 400NN (1956-65).  All of the cap tops sport Pelikan’s two chick logo

 

Pelikan 400, 400N, and 400NN cap bands

Pelikan 400 cap bands. Left to right; 400 (1950-56), 400N (1956), and 400NN (1956-65). The 400 cap on the left dates 1950-54 as it lacks any engraving. The other caps bands are engraved “Pelikan 400 Pelikan 400 Pelikan 400” or “Pelikan 400 Germany”

 

Pelikan 400, 400N, and 400NN piston knobs

Pelikan 400 piston knobs. Left to right; 400 (1950-56), 400N (1956), and 400NN (1956-65). With each successive iteration, the piston knob became more elongated and pointed. Note the barrel engravings on the two left most pens

 

Pelikan 400, 400N, and 400NN nibs

The 400 nib on the left is a script nib from 1950-54. Take note of the “R” designating an uncommonly found rechtsschräge mittel or right oblique medium nib. The 400N logo nib in the middle displays the lines of the chevron approximating one another at the slit which was utilized from 1954-64. The lines of the chevron on the 400NN logo nib on the right do not meet indicating a later production nib used from 1964 onwards

 

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28 responses

  1. Thank you Joshua for a very interesting and informative article. I bought a 400NN many years ago and, although I found it a good pen, I was not completely convinced, Fast forward to 2015 and I bought a mint 400 Tortoise from Ray Walters in Spitalfields Market, London. (highly recommended, Thursdays only). I was really converted and now have 3 400s, a 500NN and 2 400NNs. I have always preferred this size of pen (my go to pen is an original small M600). I think that Pelikan, in trying to improve and update the 400 with the M400, have lost sight of what made the 400 so successful in the first place, mind you they are not alone in this. My ambition is to now get hold of a 400N.

    Like

    • Sounds like a great flock. I’m not a huge fan of all the trim on the post-97 M400s. Love the older M400 a lot more. I’ll be doing a comparison post of the 400 and M400 soon.

      Like

  2. I have a green-striped one and a tortoise from the 1980s. They write wonderfully – but they are so tiny. I really prefer the M1000. If only that nib would have as much flex as my 400s.

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    • There is a big difference between the 400 and the M1000. I have been able to comfortably enjoy all the sizes save for the M300 which I consider a curse and a blessing.

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  3. Wonderful series of articles, Joshua. Thank you for making them available to us!

    I only recently started to venture into vintage Pelikan. But I have been quite lucky, amongst the first few I added were a 300 Green/black, a 400N Tortie and 400 Green/Green (which I bought dirty cheap thinking it was a regular green/black). Currently, I’m waiting on two 400NN Green/Black and a Pencil 450. These are all wonderful pens and, IMO, among the very best ever made.

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  4. Hi Joshua,
    You found the brown tortoise I now own on eBay (Misfit on FPN). Now I see how you were able to date the pen. Fascinating to see the iterations side by side by side.

    I appreciate the pen even more after reading this topic. Mine is a 400, 1954 with script nib and Pelikan 400 on the gold band.

    I recently ordered the white tortoise from amazon.com because of a very good price. It was in the running when I chose the brown tortoise. I’m even more pleased with that choice now that I’ve read your article. Thank you so very much for finding it for me.

    Regards, Lori

    Like

    • Glad that you’re happy with the pen and gained some insight from my post. These are great pens but I find that I enjoyed them more once I understood the nuances and history behind them.

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  5. Joshua:
    Thanks so much for all your diligent writing! I liked your article on the “400” series — iconic pens for sure! I have written you before – I started with a “200” (all black – bought new in early ’83) — then after a long gap bought a Lt blue demo type (200 W/silver) in 2015. Then a friend got me a 1960 400nn (iconic green striped) – and last year at the big Wash DC show I bought a M-600 (again in trad. green striped; circa about 1995? Mint Cond.) I use them all pretty regularly — (the 400nn has green ink – fun for casual notes)

    Pelikan pens just check all the boxes (fill method – screw out nib – “beak” clip)

    But – question for you – if I go to the Wash DC show this year and want to “stray” from the flock — what should I get? (Almost afraid – would they fill the same? Write as well? etc.) But for my fifth fountain pen I might want to expand a bit–(blasphemy!) Parker Duo-fold? Some kinda sleek Waterman?
    Suggestions?
    Anyway want mostly to say . . THANKS.
    Bob (near Annapolis MD)

    Like

    • I’m glad to hear you found the material of interest. I agree that Pelikan pens do check all of the boxes which is why I really embraced the brand. I had lots of pens of all ages and brands before I adopted Pelikan. For my money, if I was to stray as it were, I would look at a Lamy Dialog 3 or a Pilot Vanishing Point if you want to keep it modern and sleek. If you are looking for a vintage flavor, check out Schaefer. The snorkel fillers from yesteryear are awesome and they came in a lot of shapes and styles.

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  6. Great piece of information, quite useful and interesting! I may guess production of these pens was really huge. The 400 for example lasted only 6 years and 60 years later there are lots of them! One question: The tortoise one was probably the best colour of them all, at least in my opinion. In this case, production was very small. They are rare and so expensive to get. Then, why Pelikan is not producing them again? Don’t you think it would be a great idea?

    Like

    • Thanks! People tend to inflate the prices of tortoises which is why they are expensive relative to the green striped models. Hard to say how many of each rolled off of the assembly line and if there are truly a far fewer number of tortoises out there. Pelikan does produce modern tortoise editions from time to time and to great fanfare. The last was the M400. I have heard that one of the problems has been that the enthusiasts really take to them but they don’t sell well to the masses. Hard to say how true that is. I love the tortoise look, particular the vintage ones that have a lot of character.

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      • Thanks a lot. But I made a mistake. I meant the light tortoise. Those are so difficult to find. Those should be produced again, in my opinion.

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        • I couldn’t agree more. The Light Tortoise is not often seen and just a beauty to behold. I think bringing something like that back would sell very well indeed.

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  7. I mentioned two posts ago that I bought a “M-600” Pelikan at last year’s DC Show. Actually it is the bigger “M-800” size. A big expensive pen for me — but got a pretty mint example, circa about 1995 for pretty fair price. (guy said it was “better than the new ones”)

    Like

    • That’s a subjective valuation but I do believe the early to mid 90s models offer a better writing experience than what is currently coming off the line so I see where the seller was coming from. The M800 is one of my favorites which is why I have so many of them. Some beautiful examples out there.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: How To Differentiate The Pelikan 400 From The M400:  A Guide « The Pelikan's Perch

  9. Pingback: It’s A Spanner! It’s A Wrench! It’s Pelikan’s Vintage Nib Removal Tool! « The Pelikan's Perch

  10. Exceptional article on the 400 designs and website here Joshua. Just beginning to dip a toe into vintage Pelikan, I just received a 400NN tortoise with a KEF nib that is fantastic. I discovered by accident that a “safety mechanism” was designed for the 1958 models, which by chance is what I have now.

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