If you have ever had the fortune to come across any of Pelikan’s more upscale vintage models, you’ve probably seen a golden cap with an inscription on the band that read something like; “Rolled Gold Doublé L.” Variations of this type of engraving can be found on models such as the P1, M30, M60, 500, and 520 to name just a few. Many of these models have held up well over their decades of service, their durability stemming from the decision to incorporate rolled gold into their construction rather than gold plating. That resistance to wear directly follows from the fact that the layer of gold utilized with rolled gold is much thicker than what can be achieved with standard electroplating. In addition to the added longevity, the look of rolled gold frequently has a richer, deeper appearance than what is typical of electroplated items. The cap band inscriptions will vary, owing to changes made over time as well as model specific factors. For instance, a 500NN may read “Pelikan Günther Wagner Germany Doublé L,” “Pelikan Germany Rolled Gold Double L+,” or some other variation of the same. Similar scenarios play out with the other models mentioned. Regardless of the format or the model, this stamping raises a few questions which I thought might be worth exploring. For instance; what is rolled gold, why is there an acute é in “Doublé,” and just what does that lonesome “L” stand for? Read on as I will explore these issues and more while trying to definitively answer some of the esoteric questions surrounding the inscriptions found on these models.
Rolled gold, known in the German tongue as Walzgold, is the English term given to an item composed of a solid layer of at least 10-karat gold bonded by heat and pressure to a base metal, most commonly brass, in order to form a laminate. Karat weights between 10 and 18 have historically been used for this type of material. Because the metals are layered atop one another, the final product is not an alloy itself though the base metals are alloys. Alternative names for this process include gold filled and gold overlay but this should not be considered gold plate which is a separate method of gilding. Rolled gold items are molded or formed from sheets since they cannot be cast due to the heat required which would melt the metals together, resulting in an amalgam of brass and gold. While the thickness of the gold layer can vary, the general rule based on several industry standards is that the overall amount of gold contained within the final product is at least five percent of the total weight or, putting it another way, the actual gold content comprises 1/20th the total weight of the piece. While the technique likely dates back to the 18th century, it appears to have first been patented in England circa 1817. This method of jewelry production became the go-to process for producing higher-quality costume jewelry in the Victorian era. Rolled gold also saw a resurgence in popularity during the 1920s and 1930s in response to the economic pressures of World War I and the Great Depression where it was commonly used for watches and fountain pens, making such items more affordable and therefore accessible to the general population. Pelikan included this method of gilding for many of its models spanning the years 1950 through 1965 which seems to have been the hey day for the company’s use of rolled gold. Thanks to advances in other technologies, this technique of manufacturing has largely fallen out of favor amongst makers of fine writing instruments.
Rolled gold items have the same appearance as those made from the more traditional 10 or 14-karat gold but lack the expense of those materials thanks to the reduced amount of precious metal used in their production. That said, rolled gold still contains around 100 times more gold than the average gold plate, making for higher quality items. Consequently, rolled gold will wear better over time with less brassing, doesn’t tarnish or discolor, and does not easily flake or wear off like gold plate can. If the plating is thick enough, it can even be engraved without fear of revealing the base metal. Despite the inherent durability, the gold layer can still be worn away with extended use over many decades or aggressive cleaning that can expose the base metal by wearing away the overlying gold. Still, rolled gold items are very hearty in nature, particularly when well cared for. Care should be taken to avoid contact with chemicals such as detergents and household cleaners. When cleaning rolled gold items, use of a soft cloth and warm soapy water is preferred followed by a through rinse and dry. Most of Pelikan’s rolled gold fountain pens that I have seen to date have weathered the decades well, a testament to the quality of their manufacture.
With a better understanding of just what rolled gold is and why it’s used, we can turn our attention to the next portion of the engraving; “Doublé.” It is sometimes difficult to notice but with close inspection, you will often find that the last letter is an é with an acute accent giving it a pronunciation akin to “ay.” This is not always the case however and “Double” without the accent has been utilized as well. Doublé d’or is a French term for rolled gold and doublé ultimately became a synonym for “plated” items in the industry (not to be confused with electroplating). Rolled gold doublé is then best defined as a form of “mechanical gold plating” which was later further clarified by the International Organization For Standardization (ISO) and the Deutsches Institut für Normung (DIN) to mean the application of a gold plating on a metal substrate by welding, hot rolling, or a similar mechanical process which distinguishes the gold plating of the rolled gold doublé from other industry processes that might result in a similar appearance such as galvanic gold plating. Sources suggest that the term “Doublé” and its application to such items became legally enshrined following a judgement by the Imperial Court of Germany in 1923 though I could not find documentation of the specific ruling. While not germane to this discussion, there is also Triplé which consists of a base metal that is coated on both sides with gold using a similar technique, though this does not appear to have ever been utilized by Pelikan.
The final piece of the engraving, the stand alone “L,” may be the most mysterious. I personally have harbored suspicion that it stood for laminé, a French term that means laminated as well as being a reference to rolled gold. Contextually this would make sense, but I have never found supporting documentation to back that assumption. After extensive research, Part II of The United States Official Postal Guide published in July of 1939 and detailing the international postal service regulations in effect at the time may shed some light on the answer to this mystery. Nestled within page 285 of that text, there is a paragraph that reads;
“For gold-plated articles, etc., the designations “Plaqué-or”, (“goldplatettiert”), “Doublé-or”, (“Gold-Doublé”), “Goldaufgetwatz”, “Gold Charnier”, “Gold Filled”, “Rolled Gold”, “Gold Plated”, etc., or simply “Plaqué”, “Double”, or their translation in another language, are admitted only if the plating has a thickness of at least 8 microns. The factory mark and the indication of the manufacturing process, “laminé” or “glavanique” (“L” or “G”) are obligatory.”
This suggest that stamping rolled gold and similar items with an “L” to indicate the method of manufacture was a mandatory regulatory standard. To give you a frame of reference, 1000 microns is equal to 1 millimeter. Your typical electroplating yields a gold layer that is approximately 0.5 to 8 microns thick whereas rolled gold is generally anywhere from 5 to 120 microns thick. To clarify further, the term “laminé” refers to the process of making rolled gold as outlined above, which in essence creates a laminate by layering and bonding two metals together. Galvanique refers to the galvanic method of gold plating, an electrochemical process where a thin layer of gold is made to adhere to a metal using an electric current. This is accomplished by the use of a galvanic bath containing ions of debauched gold that are driven to adhere to a base metal by way of a current that creates a potential difference. This results in a uniform but very thin layer of gold deposition. Seeking definitive confirmation, I reached out to Pelikan’s current archivist, Wilfried Leuthold, who confirmed to the best of his knowledge that the “L” indeed stood for Laminé, a regulatory requirement for the French market amongst others.
I hope that this has given you a better understanding of just what rolled gold is and what the various terms utilized in the cap band inscriptions may indicate. Perhaps I have answered some of the burning questions that you never knew you had. At the end of the day, it would seem that these engravings were largely meant to satisfy the regulatory standards of the time as it pertained to gold items. You may be wondering why, unlike other pieces of gold jewelry, you don’t see a stamping regarding the fineness of the gold used (e.g. 10K vs 14K). Admittedly, there appears to be some conflicting standards in place during the relevant historical time frame but, regardless, there is no noticeable indication of the gold content on any of Pelikan’s pieces. One explanation for this comes by way of a German law dating back to the 1880s which persisted well into modern times and detailed the stamping of precious metals. It specifically did not obligate a manufacturer to include a fineness stamp on items made from alloys of precious metals but did set forth regulations for those that voluntarily applied such stamping. In compliance with the law, DIN 8237, an industry standard, specifically outlined that the fineness of an overlay may not be indicated which is likely why we do not find any such markings on Pelikan’s pens.
While not marked, it is my suspicion that Pelikan utilized 10K gold, both for the lower cost as well as the slight increase in durability over 14K gold. The even higher end models such as the 700 were made of and advertised as 14K gold therefore the gold content of the rolled gold doublé was likely of a lesser fineness though that is only supposition on my part. It may just be the ravages of time, but the rolled gold components of these pens tend to have a duller appearance, at least to my eye, than what you would expect from 14K gold. 10K gold does not have as warm or rich of a color as 14K and can appear washed out, lacking in vibrancy due to the lower purity level. Admittedly, these are purely subjective observations on my part. It is a shame that rolled gold is not more widely utilized in today’s fountain pen industry. While advances have certainly been made in the hardness achievable via electroplating which has resulted in increased durability, it is still a far cry from what can be accomplished with rolled gold. Like many other things in this world, I’m sure that the decision is based on the prevailing economic realities of our time. Since much more gold is utilized in the manufacture of doublé and, at $1,737.07 an ounce (as of the time of this post), the cost would likely add up quickly. If nothing else, perhaps I have inspired you to seek out one of Pelikan’s vintage, gilded beauties that have weathered the last five to seven decades with grace and will likely continue to do so.
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