Pelikan Limited & Special Editions: Fine Writing Instruments 1993-2020
by Michael Silbermann
Leuenhagen & Paris, 2021, 280 pages
Once every several years or so, a new book detailing some facet of the Pelikan brand seems to surface. With a company history spanning over 180 years, there is certainly no shortage of material from which to draw upon. Not all of the books published have painted the company in a favorable light. It was 2018’s Tinte Und Blech which detailed the fruits of a systematic investigation looking into the involvement of Pelikan’s patriarch, Fritz Beindorff, with the Reich during World War II. Other recent tomes have taken a distinctly lighter tone when dealing with the company’s history. Some have detailed the ephemera surrounding Pelikan’s products while other have delved into the fascinating history behind the company’s advertising. Each book has been a fun read, discounting the language barrier imposed by some, and I have enjoyed exploring the various aspects of the company through their pages. Make sure to explore my site to see a more complete list of books published to date. Of course, the definitive works about the company’s history of fountain pen production remains the first and second editions of Pelikan Schreibgeräte by Dittmer and Lehmann. Last month brought a new addition to supplement the libraries of Pelikan fans across the globe. Pelikan Limited & Special Editions: Fine Writing Instruments 1993-2020 is a hardcover book detailing 27 years of fountain pen production across 280 full color pages. Its author, Michael Silbermann, has been a Pelikan employee for many years, most recently working in sales. What he has put together is the quintessential coffee table book. Read on to find out whether or not it’s worth picking up for your reading pleasure.
The Oxford Languages English dictionary states that a coffee table book is “a large, expensive, lavishly illustrated book, especially one intended only for casual reading.” That simple definition captures the essence of this book in its entirety. There is a palpable lack of textual content within the pages which treats the subject matter in a wholly superficial manner. During development, the focus of the work must clearly have been style over substance. Now that does not mean this book is one to avoid, please don’t get me wrong, but I think that it is important to temper your expectations going into it. Once finished, you can’t help but feel that you’ve just put down a large and expansive product catalog for the company. Even the cover art is a re-hash of the January 2020 image that accompanied that fateful year’s magalogue. While product catalogs tend to be free, this work is decidedly not. Pre-orders were selling in the US for around $80 but the price has since risen to its listed value of $110 across most vendors. It is unclear just how many copies have been printed or how long these will remain on store shelves. Historically, books about Pelikan have not been printed in very large batches therefore availability may be an issue down the road.
A side by side comparison showing the similarities between 2021’s Limited & Special Editions book cover and 2020’s Pelikan fine writing instruments catalog
The structure of Mr. Silbermann’s work is to be commended. It is well laid out and nicely organized when you compare it with many of the other books dealing with the Pelikan brand. You are first greeted by a small excerpt about the author followed by a foreword from the company’s current archivist, Wilfried Leuthold. Like the entire book, these are laid out in both German and English texts. A brief company history follows as it seems no book about Pelikan would be complete without one. After several pages discussing the manufacturing process, we arrive at the heart of the book. Starting on page 32 is a chronological outline of the company’s special and limited edition releases starting with 2020 and working backwards. Each model gets its own page with beautiful, high resolution photos printed on paper of excellent quality, allowing each pen to really stand out. With each model, there are a few brief details before you’re on to the next. If chronological listings aren’t to your taste, the next section lists the pens by series which can be useful when exploring the Beauties of Nature or Cities Series of pens for example. The final pages talk a bit about the company’s inks and nibs before detailing some rudimentary details about pen sizes and maintenance. These last several pages are quite literally taken directly from the company’s own web site. The book concludes with a well-organized index so you can find any pen of interest quickly. The structure of the book itself is top notch with a beautiful dust jacket, high quality binding, lovely paper, and even a built in ribbon bookmark.
There are many things that I like about the book and most of them deal with how it is laid out. While Schreibgeräte remains the bible for Pelikan’s fine writing instruments, it can sometimes be maddening to find pieces of information laid out within the text. No such problem exists here thanks to both a table of contents and an index. I also like how pens are organized both by year and by series, another feature which makes researching the various models very convenient. The high resolution photos really do show the pens off well and make for great eye candy, particularly since many readers will never come to own many of the beautiful models contained within. Arranged on a coffee table, it would make a great conversation piece as there is little text to bog down the casual reader.
Unfortunately, there are some things which bother me as well. For a book about special and limited editions, it feels incomplete. For instance, the Unique Collections of 2012 and 2014 get short shrift. These Maki-e collections each had 15 and 17 pens respectively, none of which are detailed. Now it may be a minor point as there was only one example made of each pen but the lack of inclusion of such works of art is noticeable. Also missing is any mention of accompanying ballpoints, rollerballs, and pencils which I think would have been a relatively simple but immensely valuable contribution. Next, each model gets only the briefest text by way of introduction and many of the small snippets seem to be cut and pasted directly from the relevant promotional materials. Speaking of “cut and paste,” the photos too have this feel as the layouts for pens in a series are arranged differently, lacking any type of cohesion or uniformity. In addition, each page outlines the model that the edition was based on, the material used for the nib, the number of pieces produced where applicable, and a price. While I wish the text was fuller and more fleshed out for each model, what I find a particularly odd inclusion is the price. These can vary wildly over time and almost as soon as the book was published, the quoted prices were irrelevant. Even if you just included the suggested retail pricing for each model, the significant variability between markets would make that information less useful as well. As I said, it is an odd inclusion that may serve to confuse more than it helps.
At the end of the day, I truly appreciate Mr. Silbermann’s hard work and dedication in putting this book together. You can clearly tell that this comes from a place of love and admiration for Pelikan’s fine writing instruments. I know that it is no easy feat to craft a book and I do not wish my criticism to be disheartening to the author or to dissuade anyone from slaking their curiosity about Pelikan’s special and limited edition models from within the pages of his book. Almost all of that which is contained within the text is easily accessible elsewhere from the various corners of the web with nothing more than a Google search. What Mr. Silbermann has done is condense much of that into book form and there is something comforting about having that information in an analog format. While I would not say that this is a must have for every Pelikan fan out there, I do think that it is a worthwhile buy as an art piece. I find it fun to flip through the pages, seeing the various models in all their glory, and I think that it would be even more so for those that don’t already own a good number of them. With any modicum of success, perhaps we’ll see a second edition down that line that might put a little more flesh on the bones laid bare within this tome.