Luigi Colani (1928-2019) was a German born industrial designer and, while he may not be a household name, he is responsible for a multitude of consumer products and served as an influence for generations of architects and designers. On September 16, 2019, he passed away at the age of 91 after succumbing to an unspecified severe illness in the town of Karlsruhe, on the Rhine river west of Stuttgart. He is survived by his partner Yazhen Zha and son Solon Luigi Colani. A shameless self-promoter and an eternal provocateur, I thought that it would be a fitting tribute to explore this most fascinating man and one of his many corporate collaborations. You may or may not be aware but Luigi Colani worked with Pelikan in the 1980s on the design of several pens. While vehicle design seemed to be his métier, Colani was a prolific designer who had his hand in a bit of everything. His designs can be seen in furniture, cameras, cars, musical instruments, shoes, pens, and so much more. Mr. Colani once estimated that he had committed more than 4000 designs to paper over his long career, most of them relegated to desk drawers, with only a small percentage actually being brought to life. His vision for the Cannon T90 film camera was perhaps one of his largest commercial successes and would go on to influence Japanese camera design to this day. Admittedly, his contribution to the world of writing instruments may have been less lasting than some of his other endeavors but it is no less interesting. Read on to learn how Colani’s distrust of angularity informed the creation of the Pelikan № 1, № 2, and P80 pens.
“The earth is round, all the heavenly bodies are round; they all move on round or elliptical orbits. This same image of circular globe-shaped mini worlds orbiting around each other follows us right down to the microcosmos. We are even aroused by round forms in species propagation related eroticism. Why should I join the straying mass who want to make everything angular? I am going to pursue Galileo Galilei’s philosophy: my world is also round.” – Luigi Colani
Born in Berlin in 1928 and originally named Lutz Colani, he was the son of a Swiss film set designer. He studied sculpture at the Academy of Arts in Berlin until the age of 19 after which time he moved to Paris and worked as an illustrator in advertising. He would go on to study aerodynamics at the Sorbonne in Paris. Colani first rose to prominence in the 1950s as a product designer and car stylist working with the likes of Fiat, Alfa Romeo, and BMW. It is this period in his life that he dropped Lutz in favor of the moniker Luigi. He relished working with new materials such as fiberglass and is perhaps best known for the use of curved, organic forms which he oft described as “biodynamic.” Frequently incorporating smooth edges and reflective surfaces, his designs were a significant departure from the norm, often outlandish and extravagant. Heavily influenced by nature, he once said, “We should look to the superiority of nature for the solutions… If we want to tackle a new task in the studio, then it’s best to go outside first and look at what millennia-old answers there may already be to the problem.” Controversial amongst his critics, he was unapologetic and uncompromising in his beliefs, often times stubborn to a fault. Never could he be accused of conforming to social or industry norms. Always a bit eccentric, bedecked in white year round with clothing of his own design, Colani was readily identifiable by his bushy walrus moustache and ever present cigar. For all that he was, his combination of madness, talent, and determination drove him to relentlessly pursue his vision for design perfection. He thought of himself and his designs as decades ahead of the curve and perhaps time will prove him right. While his creations were often impractical and always unconventional, the brave daring to be a non-conformist in a world of corporate conservatism may be his greatest legacy. Rest in peace Mr. Colani.
Beginning sometime in the early 1980s, Mr. Colani collaborated with Pelikan on the design of the Pelikan № 1 ballpoint, model number K80. It was released in 1982, the same year as the M400, and would become quite ubiquitous over its lengthy production run. The № 1 was most frequently sold in opaque, round plastic clamshell tubes of black or white designated C1 or on full display in a clear rectangular case bearing Colani’s famed signature. The advertisement to the right shows some of the more unusual packaging used in certain regions. The pens were available in three general color categories. The first of these were the standard colors which were made of matte black or white plastic, with or without a uniquely colored button. Next came the Combi models which included gilded clips and trim of silver, gold, or black. These were the most expensive models sold due to the extra embellishment. Finally, there were the fashionable models that came in colors such as light blue, pink, or turquoise. All told, I have seen over two dozen color combinations between barrels and buttons and this large selection of colors has been credited as one of the main factors that contributed to this model’s success. Production of the № 1 would persists throughout most of the 1980s. The pens were billed as a large capacity ballpoint with the “design of tomorrow.”
Each model included a laterally integrated sliding mechanism, extra wide clip, and a rounded triangular grip for better ergonomics. The curvature of the clip is highly stylistic, recalling the form of a pelican’s beak in profile complete with eyes. A tiny circular two chick company logo is found at the bottom of the clip. Earlier pens were initially made to accommodate Pelikan’s Perfect 237 giant ballpoint refill which was used in the 1970s and 80s. These came in red, blue, and black with widths of F, M, or B. Those refills are now discontinued and later № 1s accept the current Pelikan 337 refill. The pen provides a very crisp feedback when the mechanism is engaged and nubs on the slide ensure a reassuring grip. On the side of the pen, you can find one of three distinct imprints which are depicted below. In terms of size, the № 1 is 5.58 inches long with a diameter of 0.44 inches at its widest and has a weight of 0.42 ounces. Countless companies would go on to purchase № 1s and have their company logo emblazoned on the clip for the purpose of self-promotion. You can find examples silk printed with Telekom, Kantelberg, O&K, Ctyotec, Post, Rolf Benz, TicTac, Yamaha, Toshiba, and Horiba to name just a few. The № 1 was honored by the iF International Forum Design GmbH, one of the oldest independent design institutions in the world, in 1981 with an award for design excellence. A Japanese advertisement suggest that the standard models sold for around $5 while the Combi models went for $10.
In addition to the ballpoint, a D80 № 1 mechanical pencil in the same form factor was created. These are only infrequently encountered and there is some indication that they may only exists as prototypes which were never marketed. Only white and black variants are known. Just like the ballpoint, there is a sliding mechanism on the side used to advance the lead. Unscrewing the two halves of the pencil reveals a generic appearing Schmidt style mechanism. Each № 1 pencil takes a standard 0.5mm lead. The side of these pens usually bare the middle imprint shown above indicating that they probably came about later in the production run. These are 5.69 inches long with a diameter of 0.44 inches and weigh 0.32 ounces.
In addition to the flagship model outlined thus far, Colani also helped shape the Pelikan № 2 ballpoint. There is not much information out there about this model. We know that they came predominantly in black and that the № 2 was a slimmer alternative to its compatriot. There exists examples of a white version that is said to have been a prototype which was never marketed though the Japanese advertisement above would speak against that notion. The № 2’s slim body balloons out to a more substantial grip section which also incorporates a rounded, triangular ergonomic design. This model is slightly shorter than the № 1 but the beak clip is significantly longer and more tapered. There is a small sticker at the end of the clip with the Pelikan logo which can be prone to falling off with use. The same sliding mechanism used on the original model is also found here. Due to the slim body construction, a smaller refill had to be utilized, in this case the Pelikan 37 which is also now discontinued though acceptable alternatives are available. The only imprint on the body is similar to what we saw with the № 1. The № 2 is 5.49 inches long with a weight of 0.35 ounces. The diameter varies from 0.33 inches at its thinnest to 0.46 inches at its widest. Finally, the packaging varied here a bit as well. Rather than a clamshell tube, the № 2 came in an enclosed cylinder with an adjustable top, much like the many shipping tubes available for pens today. Based on the same Japanese advertisement mentioned above, these sold for around $5.
Not content with just ballpoints and pencils, Pelikan’s work with Colani included the creation of a fountain pen. Sometime around 1988/89 a cartridge filled prototype in a wide array of colors was designed and referred to as the P80C. The cap lip had a peculiar asymmetry which facilitated its correct alignment on the barrel when capped. The grip section was able to be rotated 360 degrees in order to accommodate the unique grip style of any user. Each pen came equipped with a stainless steel nib. At the end of the barrel, the word “Germany” could be found while the bottom of each clip displayed Pelikan’s logo with the word “Pelikan” engraved below. The stylized pelican clip seen on the other Colani models remains largely intact here. Unlike the ballpoints and pencils, Colani’s name is not found imprinted on this one. While many examples are known in the wild, it does not appear that these colored prototype variants were ever commercially released.
In 1989, Pelikan did release a Colani fountain pen to market that showed some overall modifications from the prototype discussed above. There was only one version done in an off white color with an anodized black clip, nib, and trim ring. This model was designated the P80 and retained the same overall tubular form as seen on the prototype but the cap lip became rounded. A black trim ring was added to the section, just in front of the threads where the barrel screws in. The beak clip is again present, displaying Pelikan’s logo. This logo was affixed as a sticker of sorts which could come loose and fall off with use. The cap lip is engraved “Pelikan W.-Germany.” Again, Colani’s imprint is nowhere to be found on this model. The nib is stainless steel and painted black giving the whole pen a “Stormtrooper” appearance. The P80 measures 5.74 inches capped, has a diameter of 0.47 inches and weighs 0.35 ounces. These were only mentioned once in a price list, #370, and therefore only enjoyed a brief production run before being withdrawn from the market for technical reasons.
I hope that you have found this retrospective on the fruits of Mr. Colani’s collaboration with Pelikan interesting. Love him or hate him, Colani was an intriguing character and I would strongly encourage you to check out his other creations if you’re at all interested. You can find a collection of many of his works at the Colani Design Museum. If nothing else, they certainly stir the imagination and conjure visions of a world different from our own. The № 1 and its many variations undoubtedly provide fertile ground for an interested collector. It’s amazing just how many of these pieces are out there which are regarded only as prototypes and never officially brought to market. Please feel free to share any thoughts or experiences that you may have had with these models below.
A Look At The Pens Produced From Pelikan’s Collaboration With Luigi Colani
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