A 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.
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.
- Dittmer, Jürgen & Lehmann, Martin. “Pelikan Schreibgeräte 1929 – 1997.” Art Forum beim Baumhaus Verlag. Pages 126-133. 1998.
- Rothemel, Dominic. Pelikan Collectibles. “Pelikan shorthand fountain pens.” Last accessed 3/14/20.