Where It All Started: The Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen

1929 Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen AdvertisementThe “Pelikan Blätter” served as a newsletter of sorts that provided dealers with information and advice about new products and advertising.  It was first published in 1929 and the October edition of that year detailed the introduction of Pelikan’s first ever fountain pen.  By that time, the company had already been in business for nearly a century but had never produced a pen.  The Romanian inventor Petrache Poenaru had been granted a patent in France for a fountain pen design in 1827 and Evelyn Andros de la Rue had developed a cumbersome piston filler as early as 1905 so the concepts had been firmly established by the time Pelikan produced their first model.  Self-filling pens that relied on a pressure and lever system and eyedropper filled safety pens dominated the market in the period following World War I.  Perhaps it was the addition of the Beindorff children to the family business in the early 1920s that injected fresh viewpoints and an eagerness to seek out new and modern product lines which prompted the venture.  Maybe it was just happenstance that at this time in its history the company was propositioned by an engineer looking to bring his design to market.  Whatever the reason, Pelikan finally entered the fray with the Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen (also more simply known as the Pelikan Fountain Pen).  Notice the lack of a model number?  While similar in appearance to the 100, that designation didn’t come about until around 1931 when an expansion of the company’s product lines created the necessity for a more precise naming scheme.  The pen initially derived its name from the transparent ink view window located behind the section.  The fledgling design of the 1929 model was short lived and saw several small changes that quickly brought it more in line with how we envision the 100 today.  Read on to learn how Pelikan got into the pen business and to explore the model that set the tone for the last 90 years of production.

 

1929 Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen

 

In the early 1920s, the Hungarian engineer Theodor Kovacs developed a fountain pen with a differential piston filling system along with a second sketch for a drawing pen.  His goal was to overcome many of the shortcomings that plagued pens of that era and he was granted a patent in Germany circa 1923 for his designs.  Mr. Kovacs’ blueprint called for a cork seal mounted to a shaft which could be driven up and down the barrel via a telescoping mechanism by way of a turning knob.  Shortly after securing a patent for his invention, he licensed it to two brothers, Edmund and Mavro Moster, of the Moster Penkala Werke AG company based in Zagreb, Croatia.  Financial issues with the company resulted in the pen never entering The Transparent Pelican Fountain Pen Advertisementinto full scale production thereby preventing the realization of royalties for Mr. Kovacs.  With an inability to derive any meaningful revenue for his hard work, he sought to annul the contract in the courts.  That litigation resulted in the Moster company agreeing to limit Mr. Kovac’s contractual obligations to the regions of Yugoslavia, Greece, Romania, Asia Minor, Turkey, and Egypt.  Free to search for another suitable business partner, he did so in Germany soliciting not just Günther Wagner but Montblanc and Soennecken as well.  On August 19, 1927, Theodor Kovacs sold his patent for the differential piston mechanism to Günther Wagner, largely because they were the only company that showed a willingness to take on both of his patents (the second relating to an early version of the Graphos).  Pelikan financed the design, bringing the technical drawings to life and Mr. Kovacs was tasked with readying the assembly line for production.  Patents were registered in Europe, the U.S.A., Canada, and Argentina.  Because of prior contractual agreements with the Moster Penkala company, Pelikan would have to pay royalties for the use of the patent in the areas outlined above (an arrangement that ended in May of 1939).  By 1929, Pelikan had re-patented the product under its own name and launched Mr. Kovac’s design to the market.

 

1929 Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen

 

I think that it is important to look at this post-war period of time to help better understand the culture that informed the design of this model.  Esteemed collector and Pelikan enthusiast Rick Propas has touted the Bauhaus style of these early pens, both on this blog and elsewhere, that I think is an important point worth exploring.  The Bauhaus was a school of art and design that was started in the city of Weimar, Germany by architect Walter Gropius (1883-1969) around 1919 and grew into a movement that became a profound influence on many aspects of modern design, including industrial design, that persisted long after its closure under Nazi pressure in 1933.  Its origins derived from a fear that art was losing its social relevance coupled with the perception that modern manufacturing was becoming soulless.  The style of Bauhaus is characterized by its emphasis on function, aiming to bring art back into contact with everyday life and thereby creating practical objects while retaining the spirit of a work of art.  Consequently, Bauhaus designs feature little ornamentation and a focus on balanced forms and abstract shapes.  That is how we find ourselves with a fountain pen that lacks any type of significant embellishment.  The only piece of gilding is a clip which marries the essence of form and function.  Ornamentation by way of the addition of gold plated cap rings wouldn’t come until roughly a year later, presumably after the look of the pen was deemed to be a bit too austere.  

1929 Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen Advertisement

An Italian advertisement circa 1929 touting the transparency of the ink tank of the Pelikan Fountain Pen. The text emphasizes always knowing how much ink remains in the pen and also when it’s time to refill, a major selling point for Pelikan

 

Due to this being a new venture for the company, no expense was spared and an extensive advertising campaign was launched alongside the pen. 1929 Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen AdvertisingLucian Zabel (1893-1936), a well-regarded poster artist of the time, was employed as a creative consultant and was instrumental in designing the first poster and brochure for the new fountain pen.  One of his works is depicted to the right and touts the 1929 Pelikan’s airtight cap.  The pen itself was nothing earth shattering as far as its exterior design went.  Visually, the green binde  (of which there were several styles) was one of the most unique features, employed at a time when almost all other pens were black.  The green binde was the only color available at launch with a black option following several months later.  Rather than a radical departure from the norm, Pelikan focused on the pen’s distinctive technical qualities in an effort to stand out from the crowd.  The attributes most touted in Pelikan’s supporting literature/advertising included;

  1. A large transparent ink view chamber
  2. A piston filling mechanism that was an improvement over other contemporary solutions
  3. The speed with which the cap could be removed following just 3/4 of a turn
  4. An airtight cap closure that helped to prevent ink leakage
  5. A large variety of nibs suitable for all situations and preferences
  6. Precision manufacturing that facilitated quick and cheap repairs

 

1929 Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen

A first year Pelikan Fountain Pen with an original green binde. Photo courtesy of Rachel de la Fuente of Rachel’s Reflections Blog (linked below in the references)

 

Binde aside, the pen’s other characteristics include a black hard rubber cap with a cylindrical cap top, two opposing air vents, and no cap rings.  The cap top features the company’s original four chick logo and the words “Pelikan PATENT Pelikan PATENT” are inscribed along the circumference, just above the clip.  All of the cap top etchings were originally filled with green paint.  A gold plated drop clip is the only furniture that adorns the pen, a testament to its Bauhaus design.  The barrel and grip section are comprised of a single piece of Bakelite.  The section has a straighter appearance than later models which began to incorporate more of a taper circa 1933.  The 1929’s section had two flat sealing edges which fit tightly against the cap resulting in an airtight space which prevented ink from leaking inside the cap, an improvement over other pens on the market at the time.  The filling mechanism, like the cap, is made from black hard rubber and the grip is knurled with an arrow that indicates the direction in which it should be turned.  The hard rubber used in this pen’s construction can experience a greenish or brown discoloration when exposed to water or sunlight which is something that you may come across.  Pelikan Schreibgeräte tells us that the inside of the barrel is slightly conical in shape, to alleviate the pressure on the piston’s seal when not in use.  The piston seal is invariably made of cork which was the convention until 1942.   Just behind the section is an ink view window, one of the pen’s distinguishing features, which was heavily advertised to consumers.  The look of this model is rounded out by a 14 karat monotone yellow gold nib with a heart shaped breather hole.  The pen was a typical size for the time but small by today’s standards.  It has a total length of 4.72 inches when capped and 6.25 inches when posted with an ink capacity that is somewhere around 1.5 mLs.  The diameter is approximately 0.47 inches and it weighs in at around 0.49 ounces.  Breaking it down further, the barrel length is 3.70 inches and the cap length is 2.45 inches.

1929 Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen

An original 1929 Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen with a version of the green binde

 

1929 Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen

A 1929 Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen restored with the black binde of an early 100N after its original binde was lost

 

The nibs from this period were not made in house but were instead bought from the Montblanc Company.  They were initially available in 1929 Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen Advertisementmany different configurations (most of which are outlined in the advertisements shown here and below).  These nibs bare the inscription “Pelikan 14 Karat” and can be found with or without the width stamped at the base.  While we don’t know just how many of these nibs were produced, we do know that production ended shortly after 1930 meaning that they are generally only found on true first year pens.  The fact that the company produced only a single writing instrument gave it an edge where other manufacturers might have a dozen or more pens on offer.  Pelikan’s slogan, “the right nib for every hand,” meant that a retailer could stock a small number of pens but serve a large range of customer preferences and needs by keeping a variety of nibs on hand that could be exchanged as the situation dictated.  With a price of around 15 Reichsmark, the Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen was targeted towards the upper middle class of the time.  The pen proved to be a commercial success for the company and Pelikan’s share of the market grew quickly which is probably why we are still talking about this pen today, ninety years following its initial launch.

1929 Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen Advertisement

This advertisement emphasizes the wide variety of nibs that were available at the time of purchase and tried to highlight to the consumer the fact that precision manufacturing would result in quick, cheap repairs should that become necessary

 

These first year models have gotten hard to find in modern times and are quite desirable.  Many have fallen into disrepair over the past century and have suffered damage to the original binde.  Restoration is possible as previously outlined by Rick Propas.  If you do happen to find one in restored condition, you can expect to pay north of $1800.  That is a small price to pay for many collectors who see this model as one of the holy grails of Pelikan collecting.  Pelikan has been manufacturing pens for the past 90 years and the Herzstück 1929 released earlier this year commemorates the legacy that this first year pen originated.

 

1929 Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen

The cap top of the 1929 Pelikan depicts the four chick logo in use until 1938

 

1929 Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen

Each cap is made of hard rubber and initially had two opposing air vents to allow for the equalization of pressure when the cap is screwed on

 

1929 Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen

Pelikan’s drop clip makes its first appearance, the only furniture to adorn the pen in true Bauhaus style

 

1929 Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen

At the base of the cylindrical cap top just above the clip, the words “Pelikan PATENT Pelikan PATENT” are inscribed

 

1929 Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen

Pelikan’s earliest nibs were purchased from the Montblanc Company and can be distinguished by a heart shaped breather hole. This would quickly give way to a round breather hole the following year.  The nibs generally came in 14 Karat gold, with or without the width stamped at the base.  This example is stamped ‘M’ for a medium width.  Also note the straight appearance of the section

 

1929 Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen

The hard rubber filling knob is knurled to allow for a better grip and has an arrow engraved in order to indicate in which direction it is supposed to be turned

 

1929 Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen

 

 

1929 Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen

A generation apart. A Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen (1929) on the left and the Herzstück 1929 (2019) on the right. The Herzstück stands as an homage to Pelikan’s earliest fountain pens produced 90 years prior

 


References:

 

 

9 responses

  1. Fascinating, Joshua, thank you. It strikes me that they launched their fountain pen business just as the U.S. stock market crashed. It’s a tribute to the quality of these pens that they survived the worldwide depression that followed.

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  2. Joshua, this truly is the value that your website and the information provides. I have just completed re-reading the history of Pelikan and the information and additional insights from the other sourced information you provide in this article was not provided in my hardcover publication I just read. You have deepened my knowledge and understanding of this great pen company and for that, FANTASTIC JOB!

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    • I appreciate the kind words Robert. I work hard on pieces such as this one and like to draw from as many sources as possible in order to portray the most accurate picture possible. That breadth also allows me to provide some additional insights and its heartening to hear that you found it a useful and enjoyable read.

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  3. Joshua – Another fascinating piece of research! Thanks. It’s remarkable that the overall design has endured largely intact through today. I was given pause seeing that the German nib width designations from the 1930s and before were EF F M B and BB — all seemingly (but apparently not!) from English words. I was also struck by the knurled filling knob resembling what Retro51 currently uses on their Tornado rollerballs today.

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    • Thanks John. I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed it. Pelikan has remained very true to that original design, perhaps to a fault. I have a page about nib widths that you may not have seen previously that list all the German names as well. You can see that here.

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  4. Pingback: Fountain Pen Quest Trail Log – November 10, 2019 | Fountain Pen Quest

  5. Just to add, it is interesting how German makers blended English and German in nib designations and all of them blended the languages differently. Soennecken, for example, used more German. Mont Blanc just didn’t mark them.

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