Pelikan’s ST Nib: The Reason Behind The Flex

Pelikan 14C-585 Stenographic ST NibA lot of emphasis gets placed upon just how much flex can be derived from a fountain pen these days.  Go to any pen show and you will invariably hear attendees asking after pens equipped with flexible nibs.  If you frequent any of the popular pen auction/sales sites, a lot of Pelikan’s vintage offerings get put forward as fitting the bill.  The principle of caveat emptor should be utilized in those scenarios since applying excessive pressure to a semi-flexible nib can result in great line variation but at the cost of significant stress that could ultimately lead to nib failure.  While the company’s nibs from the 1930s through the 60s are excellent and considerably better than today’s offerings, they are not what I would call true flex nibs.  It has been my experience that the more accurate descriptor applied to these nibs would be semi-flex with a springiness that imparts a tremendous amount of character to some to these vintage pieces.  Of course, there is an exception to that rule.  Pelikan produced a nib stamped ‘ST’ which could be found equipped as a specialty nib on various models.  First introduced with the 100N in 1938, these nib were particularly elastic and came in EF or EEF.  The 140s and 400s had gold versions produced from 1954 – 1965 and the 120s came with stainless steel variants made from 1957 – 1965.  These stenographic nibs are truly flexible, putting down a line ranging from EEF/EF to B/BB.  It should be pointed out that not all ST nibs are created equal and your mileage may vary.  Pelikan also made specific pens dedicated to stenography in the 1970s and 80s which should be held apart from the nibs discussed here.   Those models comprise the P11, P16, and P470 lines which are all nice writers but the nibs are certainly not what I would call flexible.  I can only surmise that the differences might owe to the various stenographic systems that have been used over the years.  Pitman relies on line variation where Gregg and Teeline do not.  Read on to learn about how these flexible nibs were meant to be employed.


Pitman Shorthand

An example of a phrase written in the Pitman shorthand method. Pitman records the sounds of speech rather than the spelling


Sir Isaac Pitman

Sir Isaac Pitman (1813-1897)

Pelikan’s ST nibs were chiefly designed for stenography, the process of writing in shorthand or taking dictation.  Ordinary cursive writing can achieve a speed of approximately 35 words per minute (wpm).  This is insufficient for dictation, however, since we speak at around 150 to 180 wpm. A variety of systems have been invented which utilize various techniques to speed up the transcription process.  Some of these techniques include simplifying letters and/or using special symbols to represent phonemes, words, and phrases.  Some of the more common systems in modern times include Pitman, Gregg, Teeline, and German Unified Shorthand.  Pelikan’s original stenographic nib perfectly suits the Pitman system of shorthand.  Created by Sir Isaac Pitman (1813-1897) and first published in 1837, this style of shorthand records sounds rather than letters or words.  A flexible nib is necessary for this to work because the thickness, length, and position of the strokes are all significant in this system.  For instance; \ represents ‘pee’ whereas \ is ‘bee’ and | is ‘tee’ while | stands for ‘dee.’  Nothing remains static and the rules that govern the Pitman method have changed over time.  Pitman New Era was popular from 1922–1975 but has since been supplanted by Pitman 2000 (1975–present) which has simplified the overall process.  Just how effective can these systems be if practiced and employed to their fullest?  Consider that the world record for fast writing was achieved with the Pitman shorthand system.  Nathan Behrin (1889-1971) was able to write at 350 wpm during a two-minute test in 1922 according to the Guinness Book of Records.  That’s ten times faster than normal cursive handwriting.

Pitman Shorthand System

The Pitman consonants. Note how the same character portrayed in different line widths represents different sounds


Pelikan 400NN Green/Black w/ 14C-585 Stenographic ST Nib

Pelikan’s ST nibs can be found outfitted in 140s, 400s, and 120s. Here is a Green/Black 400NN from the early 1960s fitted with an ST nib


Pelikan 14C-585 Stenographic ST Nib

A close-up of the ST stamp at the base of one of Pelikan’s later stenographic nibs


Pelikan 14C-585 Stenographic ST Nib

A writing sample utilizing the ST nib inked with Diamine Midnight and using Fritz Schimpf’s blank 80 g/m² Feinpost paper


lanko 80 g/m² Feinpost-Papier

A writing sample utilizing the ST nib inked with Diamine Midnight using a Rhodia No 8 pad with graph ruling




24 responses

  1. The Jinhao x750 can be equipped with a Zebra G flex nib:
    Since that can be done for about 10 bucks, one could find out without risk by this experiment, if one really wants to use super flexible nibs.
    I do have to warn before offers from China with pre-installed “G”-nibs.
    I suspect them to use cheap copies and not original Zebra nibs.

    And one has to be selective with the ink.
    In order to create extra wide lines without the ink flow to interrupt, the ink has to be quite adhesive to the nib and behave a bit like soap water. Ink which is perfect for a nib with a fixed fine line may be totally useless for any extra flexible nib. It must be quite adhesive to the very nib material You are using.


    • Thanks for the comment. Yes, there are a few avenues for inexpensive flex these days that definitely make it safer to experiment than diving right in and flexing some of these vintage nibs.


  2. Your post was perfect! This year I’d thought I would like to learn shorthand since I am retired-something new to stimulate my brain. But I wasn’t sure where to start. This was very edifying and gave me a lots of ideas. The thought of using sounds versus the other methods is intriguing. I was unaware of Pitman’s method. Only Gregg and “another one”. Mom used to write her sister in shorthand every so often just to keep her hand in. ( Have to admit, her normal handwriting was somewhat like shorthand at best! 😉


    • That’s an awesome goal. I took SuperWrite in high school but have forgotten all of it twenty years later. I’m glad to have given you some ideas and a direction for your research. Best of luck to you.


  3. What a great read! Precious info on the Pelikan ST pens. My mother was a stenographer. She was proficient in the Gregg style if I remember right. I got three of her fountain pens but not her flex ones if ever she had one. She taught me shorthand once. I want to relearn it. I must find her notes and journals. Thank you and cheers.


    • Thanks! I wish you luck in your efforts to relearn shorthand. Sadly, I don’t write enough any longer to make it practical but I thinks its a great skill. I always preferred to take hand written notes over typed notes.


  4. Joshua; I am absolutely amazed at the amount of detail information that is packed in your latest article Pelikan ST nib. Your excellent research work is much appreciated.


  5. A great piece of writing and your usual high standard. I really enjoyed and learned a lot from this very well-researched and informative account of the stenographic version of the Pelikan 400. I have a a 400NN dating to 1956 or so and love using it. At the risk of being too-forward, indeed rude: if you ever want to give this wonderful pen another good home I would be happy to have it perch alongside my small collection of birds (4 Pelikans: M1000, M800, M600 and already mentioned 400NN). 🙂
    In the meantime good luck with your work and stay as safe as you possibly can.
    Best wishes and bye for now.


      • No credit is due where there is merit and this piece, and yours generally show solid research and learning. And they genuinely interest me; I like posts that give you background and context. I would have never thought about the use of a FP for stenography. Clearly a niche market which Pelikan brought an innovative response to. The detail on Pitman vs Teeline was genuinely interesting. In Ireland and the UK secretaries learned Pitman and journalists Teeline. Does this say something about gender stereotyping: nimble-fingered females vs clumsy-fingered males? Would the girth and size of the 400NN have better suited a female hand? Perhaps? But I suspect that men might have been the principal purchasers of such pens and especially as on the usual gender pay gradients secretaries were relatively poorly paid compared to men (and of course still are across the board).
        I am of course completely “chancing my arm” (to use a phrase from my native land). I would be mortified if you said yes and would have to over recompense you. (Another Irish trait.) I will have ask my German friend to look out for one as I suspect they are more often found there than elsewhere. Yes, I do like the Pelikans and especially the 400NN which when the M1000 ran out I turned to and used a lot last week to write to friends and family far and wide as the lock-down gave both opportunity and incentive.
        Best wishes & bye for now,


        • Before the ballpoint, fountain pens had to do a lot of duties you might not think them capable of. Your speculation on the matter is as good as any. Even in Germany, the ST is not so readily found. Lot of odd jobs out there that come up only once in a blue moon.


  6. Wow, pen companies used to be a lot more interesting. So with the slight differences, the ST nib wouldn’t fit in a modern Pelikan, right?


    • Pelikan had dozens of neat nibs that no longer exist. Much more interesting indeed. The 400NN’s nib should definitely fit other models such as the modern M2xx or M4xx.


  7. Very useful info. I have a question though: would you know whether the 400NN Merz & Krell version was ever produced with ST nib? You said the ST nib was produced between 1957 – 1965, so they should be extinct by the time Merz & Krell was commissioned to produce the 400NN remake, right?


    • Hello. I have never seen any examples of the M&K 400NN with an ST nib. Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen but I have seen a lot of models and none with an ST. I think those were more likely relegated to the 50s and 60s. There may be good reason behind this too. In 1971, Pelikan introduced the P11, P16, and P470. These were models geared specifically to shorthand writing and would have been produced at the same time as the M&K 400NN. That means a specific stenographic nib for that model was likely unnecessary at that time as it would have been in competition with Pelikan’s other products designed for this market. Just speculation on my part but makes sense. I hope that helps to answer your question.


  8. Pingback: Putting Karats To Paper: The Various Gold Purities Of Pelikan’s Nibs And The Impact On Performance « The Pelikan's Perch

  9. I know this is an old post, I found your blog helpful when trying to determine the history of a 140 that was owned by my partner’s grandfather, which I’m now using.

    The etching on the nib is a bit worn down, so I can’t tell the pen style… it looks like a single letter “F”, but it acts just like the one in your samples – noticeable line variation up to around 1mm. Would an 14c F nib work the same way as the ST you’ve tested? It’s difficult to find good writing samples online to compare.


    • Hello. The F nib would not be designed to work the same way as the ST nib was but there was a lot of inherent variability to the nibs produced back then. It is certainly possible that your nib just displays a fair degree of flex. Another F nib from around the same time might not. Kind of luck of the draw. Sounds like you have a winner.


      • Thank you for your answer, Joshua! I guess I really lucked out 🙂
        I’m being careful not to put too much pressure on the nib, but even with my light hand it’s quite responsive, so I recently promoted it into a sketching pen.

        Liked by 1 person

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