Italy is rife with manufacturers whose products focus on the culture of writing. Aurora, Montegrappa, Pineider, Stipula, and Visconti are just a few that quickly come to mind. Despite the already crowded market space, German interlopers have also done well in the region. One such instance that comes to mind is the curious case of the M151. In 2015, I wrote a brief piece titled “The (Short) Story of the M151” which explored from where the pen’s moniker was derived. As it turned out, the M151 was simply a repackaged M150 Green/Black meant to be sold within the Italian market. The name of the model arose from the company’s own internal description for the M150. Despite the seemingly simple explanation, the pen’s marketing has suggested that there is a lot more to this model than meets the eye. At the end of 2019, the M251 was released, destined for the same region and meant to serve as a larger companion piece to the M151. Rather than a repackaged model, this was a unique addition to the Classic line, employing the same Green/Black color scheme as its little brother. Regional sales literature for the M151 can be found with tag lines such as; “Everything passes…myths remain” and “A legend from the past is back.” This piqued my curiosity. What was so special about this little fountain pen that would elevate it to mythical status and why was it worthy of a new regional companion piece? Was it simply a matter of overzealous marketing or was there something more to it? To answer those questions, I enlisted the help of Mario Pagnozzi of Stilo&Stile. Based out of Rome since 2004, his company’s mission has focused on welcoming enthusiastic, curious people to the world of handwriting. With his help and an inquiry to Pelikan’s Italian division, the cultural connection to the M151 has been made just a little bit clearer. Read on to learn why these two pens might hold a bit more significance for the country than they at first let on.
In Italy, the Pelikan name has long been synonymous with the culture of writing thanks to the brand’s deep roots in the region. During the 1960s stationary stores across the country would carry the entire catalog of Pelikan’s pens and inks, proudly displaying the company’s signage out front of their establishments. The Green/Black 120 was considered by many to be THE student pen of the 1950s and 60s. Introduced on May 23rd, 1955, this model served as Pelikan’s initial entry into the school fountain pen market. The type I 120 was made from 1955-1965 and, like other brands of the time, the design generally followed certain guidelines which included basic colors, a lack of ornate furniture, and the use of stainless steel nibs. Pelikan’s 120s were only offered in a single color scheme; a green barrel contrasted with a black cap and piston knob. A green ink window and a gold-plated stainless steel nib rounded out the pen’s looks and all 120s were piston fillers. The 120’s reliable performance coupled with its ergonomics and reasonable price tag would allow it to flourish in the service of generations of students and teachers. It would also lay a solid foundation for its successor, the Pelikano line which thrives to this day. The 120 featured Pelikan’s famous differential piston filling mechanism which allowed it to stand out at a time when many of their competitor’s school pens relied on cartridges. By the end of its run, the 120’s ubiquitous nature had propelled it to become an icon and symbol of fountain pen writing in Italy. The hallmark Green/Black coloring became instantly recognizable, conjuring a sense of nostalgia in those who had used the pens during their formidable years.
Fast forward twenty years and you find the M150 which was introduced in the mid 1980s as a smaller fountain pen with a diminutive size and weight. It was actually sold in Italy as part of the lesser known Revival line. Like most of their models from the 1980s and early 90s, the line received a major revision in 1997 giving rise to the M151. These are found only in the post-’97 trim which is characterized by a crown cap top, straight cap band, and trim ring at the piston knob. The barrel is made of green resin whereas the cap and section are done in black. Because of its dependability as a daily carry and its small size, the pen was a comfortable fit for young people facilitating use at home, school, or work. The iconic Green/Black color combination has likely added to the pen’s sales, capitalizing on the familiarity of an entire generation of parents and grandparents and boosted by a nostalgia for days gone by. The pen channels a reminiscence of sorts as viewed through a cultural lens. The more recently released M251 will likely do the same, only in a larger sized model that is otherwise identical.
In Italy, pens are common gifts for special events such as baptisms, communions, and birthdays amongst others. The Pelikan M151, and now M251, are easy choices for shoppers who wish to give the gift of a fountain pen that is representative of their past. The M151 remains a special pen in Italy because of the generational ties that it represents. These ties bind people through a common connection to fine writing and language. That is why the M151/251 is much more than a pen, but a memento that keeps the past alive.
While I have endeavored to obtain an authentic regional perspective that would allow me to better frame and reconcile the advertising, I fully acknowledge, that much of my information comes by way of those with skin in the game (retailer/distributor/manufacturer). Mario has proven to be an invaluable local resource in helping to put this piece together and I am grateful for his help. I find it telling that he struggled to reply to my query, a difficulty arising from the challenge of putting that multi-generational connection into words. It was that connection to the past and the shared experiences between generations that I wanted to highlight with this piece. I would love to gain additional insight particularly from those with close personal ties to the region. Please feel free to leave a comment below and contribute to the conversation.