The Dark Brown Tortoise That Might Have Been…

Pelikan 101N Tortoiseshell Brown with Black AccentsPelikan has been responsible for the innovation and production of some of the most iconic fountain pens of the 20th century.  With 90 years of experience in pen making, a great number of models have been released into the wild.  Some releases were only meant for certain markets and therefore are fairly scarce in most other parts of the world.  As such, a model may be sighted so infrequently that it generates years of debate amongst enthusiasts about its authenticity.  One such example is the elusive M600 Tortoiseshell Brown (circa 1985-96) but it is not the only example.  While the M600 mentioned here turned out to be a factory produced model made for the Japanese market, there is another, older tortoise that has also been subject to a fair amount of speculation.   That model is a Pelikan 101N Dark Tortoiseshell Brown.  While that may not sound controversial, it’s the accents found on this particular pen that make it so.  Rather than the well documented red or tortoise colored components, both the cap top and piston knob of this Dark Tortoise are black.  Much of the information offered to justify this pen’s existence to date has been circumstantial and based on regional anecdotes.  Enough of these have been spotted in the wild to at least suggest that they may have been more than someone’s backroom special.  Today, I try to examine the available evidence and demonstrate once and for all the true origins of this controversial and largely undocumented 101N.


Pelikan 101N Tortoise

More typical 101N tortoise variants with tortoise or red hard rubber cap tops and piston knobs


Before we dive into this particular model’s origins, let’s take a closer look at the pen itself.  Starting from the top down, the pen is crowned with a black conical cap top sporting Pelikan’s two chick logo with the words “Pelikan PATENT” circumscribed twice.  Other cap tops found on this model display the words “Pelikan D.R.P.” which would also be correct to the period.  This sits atop a dark brown tortoise cap adorned with a tear drop clip and two cap bands, all of which are gold-plated.  At least one known example has sported the less common fluted clip and single cap band (Pelikan Schreibgeräte Writing Instruments 1929-1997, page 73).  The binde is also done in dark brown tortoise to match the cap, a hallmark of the 101N line.  The section is black and there is a visible step just beyond the threads.  Between the section and binde sits the exposed barrel which serves as an amber/brown colored ink window.  Other versions of this pen have also been seen with green barrels, a changeover that occurred in 1940.  The piston knob, like the cap top, is black, the piston seal is made of cork, and the gold nib is inscribed with the words “Pelikan 585 14 KARAT.”  Putting all of these features together dates the pen to approximately 1938 – 1940.  I think that it is important to point out that these black accents are generally only seen accompanying 101N models with the dark tortoise celluloid and not on any of the more conventional tortoise variants.  All of the characteristics described above would be correct for a 101N from the late 30s/early 40s except for the black cap top and piston knob which I will try to reconcile below.

Pelikan 101N Tortoiseshell Brown with Black Accents

When looking into the matter, the first thing that you’ll encounter is a fair bit of anecdotal evidence.  One account contends that these were released to the Swedish market.  Another narrative tells that these were made for export to Croatia and Italy.  Cited are the anecdotal statements of several local dealers in those regions who have reported commonly seeing such models.  The bugaboo of all of this is that nowhere known is there a catalogue or brochure that depicts a Pelikan 101N Tortoise with a black cap top and piston mechanism, a seeming blow to those claims of authenticity.  In fact, I could not find any primary source documentation which could be used to support these pens as true factory productions.  Even secondary sources such as Lambrou’s “Fountain Pens of the World” and Dittmer and Lehmann’s “Pelikan Schreibgeräte” are without commentary.  This model’s detractors cite the lack of supporting documentation (primary or secondary) as a major setback in establishing the pen’s authenticity.  The story doesn’t end there however since a small production run meant for a limited market might understandably be lacking a high degree of supporting documentation.

Pelikan 101N Tortoiseshell Brown with Black Accents

Pelikan’s 14C-585 gold script nib & ebonite feed


Another issue casting doubt on this model is the observation that this 101N was rather inconspicuous until the unearthing of a trove of new old stock tortoise bindes which were discovered in Portugal circa 2005/06.  Many people bought that stock for the purpose of pen repair, but it has been postulated that others could have purchased some of the supply to make up pens for resale, an inference as to the origins of this model for sure but far from proof of causality.  Given the available evidence or lack thereof, we must next look into how well this pen fits the context of the time and along with Pelikan’s other models.  There have been many models produced by Pelikan which have not been well catalogued but have been deemed to be genuine.  There have been enough observations from the wild regarding this 101N which, while admittedly circumstantial at best, are compelling.  Since it has been so difficult to establish any meaningful provenance, I turned to Wilfried Leuthold, Pelikan’s newly appointed archivist, for assistance.  After a search through Pelikan’s archives and discussions with other brand enthusiasts, he relates the following;

“Now, I’m very sure that this is a fountain pen from our own production.  But it was no regular product, it was made especially for a south European market, but I’m not sure whether it was Italy or Portugal.”

Unfortunately, while a positive development from a presumably authoritative source, he was unable to cite any specific materials to support his claims which will do little to quiet the skeptics.  I too reached out to some of the brand’s enthusiasts, some of the same with whom Mr. Leuthold himself had consulted.  The general consensus based on years of combined experience and expertise in the field is that this pen was indeed a factory production, one meant for a limited market as Mr. Leuthold suggested.  

Pelikan 101N Tortoiseshell Brown with Black Accents

A closer look at the dark brown tortoiseshell pattern of the cap


While it appears that we may not be able to derive any definitive evidence to support this model’s existence, the circumstantial evidence is strong and favors that this was in fact a factory produced model.  Many, but not all, scholars of the brand seem to believe it as such, including Pelikan’s current archivist.  Based on my research, I cannot deny that there will always be room for doubt, at least until a primary source document comes to light which might quell the skeptics once and for all.  The principal of Caveat emptor should not be overlooked if you happen to come across one of these.  Personally, I love the look of this pen and, factory sanctioned or not, happily count it as a member of my flock.

Pelikan 101N Tortoiseshell Brown with Black Accents

The tortoise celluloid demonstrates a nice translucency when held to the light


Pelikan 101N Tortoiseshell Brown with Black Accents

Pelikan’s conical black cap top featuring the two chick logo employed from 1938 – 2003

12 responses

  1. I am fascinated with retro Montblanc and Pelikan pens. However, I have no desire to dip my toes into the vintage market. I currently own two M101N’s – a Lizard and a Grey-Blue. I have no interest in vibrant orange, white transparent, or ruby red pens, but give me a new Dark Brown Tortoise M101N, and I might buy two. This would be a gorgeous addition.


    • They do come up for sale from time to time but not too often. I just kind of stumbled upon this one. I have seen about 5 other copies in my research for the article so they are out there.


  2. I just acquired a 101N which has the tortoise cap top, but a black piston knob (and CN nib). It has the same lip above the section threads you show here. I’m guessing it was maybe originally the red piston knob and the piston assembly was replaced, or else some other mix-and-matching happened somewhere. It is a gorgeous pen, though! The tortoise material looks very similar to what you have here.


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