Treasures In The Attic: A Time Capsule Rediscovered

Pelikan 100 caps

I imagine that most of us have experienced a fortunate stroke of serendipity at one time or another in our lives. Perhaps it was one major occurrence or a series of small serendipities along the meandering course of life. Sometimes, we may inadvertently stumble upon a long lost treasure, or we might discover something wholly unexpected and new to us. Maybe you can envision finding something unique and wonderful in the course of a home renovation? Such was the case in March of this year for one unsuspecting couple in North Macedonia. It’s not hard to picture what must have been a look of utter surprise on their faces when they chanced upon a cache of over 300 pens hidden in the attic of an old house that they were in the process of renovating. Not being diehard pen enthusiasts themselves, perhaps they were not struck quite as speechless as many of us would have been. How such a vintage horde of writing instruments came to be forgotten for so many decades is unclear. What is known is that within the couple’s lineage is a former retailer of both pens and watches who was in business around the time of World War II. Now deceased, it is his home that the couple came to inherit and have subsequently taken to the task of remodeling, leading to this most wonderful discovery. We can only presume that at some point, perhaps as a consequence of the post-war fall out, that the shopkeeper stashed the pens away in his attic where they would subsequently lay forgotten for nearly 80 years. What does one do when confronted with a unique and historic trove of writing instruments such as this? The couple in this scenario turned to Dragan Chichikj of ProtoPens, formerly known as UberPens, a retailer with several decades of expertise under his belt. Read on to learn what became of such a rare discovery.

“This particular selection forms a rare and unique window, peering into the past and giving us a peek at what models and colors may have been popular in Eastern Europe during this time.”

Dragan is no stranger to time capsules, having previously been involved with other amazing pen finds which he relates happens not infrequently within the countries of Eastern Europe. It’s not hard to envision pens being stashed away under duress during times of war or political turmoil only to re-emerge in the hands of some unsuspecting relative decades later. Dragan is well connected in this region of the world which is why a lot of these finds make their way to him. This most recent discovery was perhaps one of the largest that has come to light and Dragan wasted no time in deciding to purchase the lot outright. As much a student of history as he is fountain pens, he purchased the lot in an effort to glean a more robust context about pen manufacturing during the war. As is usually the case, we are left with more questions than answers.

Pelikan model 100 with a drop clip circa 1938-39

One of the attic finds: a black Pelikan model 100 with a drop clip circa 1938-39, post restoration. Photo courtesy of Dragan Chichikj and ProtoPens

The exact details surrounding the circumstances which saw these pens stashed in the attic are unknown, though we can certainly speculate. The now deceased shopkeeper likely belonged to the merchant class and was subsequently a bit more well off, perhaps what we would consider upper middle class today. His shop was in operation until the early to mid-1940s when, one day, the doors were suddenly closed. Accounts from the shopkeeper’s descendants as well as research from contemporary periodicals suggest that the shop in question may have been housed within the Ristiḱ Palace located within the center of Skopje, North Macedonia. Built in 1926, the Palace is one of a few large structures that survived the 6.1 magnitude 1963 Skopje earthquake which destroyed 70% of the town’s buildings and left 1,070 people dead.

Ristiḱ Palace circa its completion in 1926

Ristiḱ Palace circa its completion in 1926

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the Socialist Republic of Macedonia became one of six constituent countries of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This was a one-party communist state, the ruling political party being the League of Communists of Macedonia. Communism is a political and economic doctrine based on the goal of eliminating socioeconomic class struggles by creating a classless society in which everyone shares the benefits of labor and the state controls all property and wealth. Within such a system, those amongst the upper classes of society were targeted, their possessions confiscated for the good of the citizenry. Some people fled; others lost everything. Within this type of political climate, it’s easy to see how this lot of pens may have come to be hidden. Why did they remain hidden for 80 years? It was likely due in some part out of fear of reprisal and a desire to avoid the kind of attention and potential trouble that resurfacing this number of foreign writing implements could pose. After enough decades had passed, it may have been the case that they were either forgotten or felt to be of little enough value to not make them worth fussing over.

Pelikan model 100 with a diamond clip circa 1939-42

One of the attic finds; a black Pelikan model 100 with a diamond clip circa 1939-42, post restoration. Photo courtesy of Dragan Chichikj and ProtoPens

The find contained all German brands from companies such as Kaweco, Reform, Matador, National, Montblanc, Osmia, Pelikan, and Luxor. This degree of variety would suggest a thriving shop doing a brisk business. Of the more than 300 pens recovered, 33 of them were manufactured by Pelikan which is obviously of intense interest to me and I’m sure many of you as well. It is because of that interest that Dragan brought this find to my attention and sought input from myself and other like-minded enthusiasts. Of the 33 Pelikans in the attic find, 18 were model 100s and 15 were model 100Ns. Production of the two models is well documented to have overlapped by several years so it’s not surprising to find them side by side. Most of the models recovered had black or green marbled bindes. The only exceptions were one 100NF model and one 100N that had a gray marbled binde. This particular selection forms a rare and unique window, peering into the past and giving us a peek at what models and colors may have been popular in Eastern Europe during this time. The pens themselves dated from the late 1930s and early 40s, most being equipped with steel nibs suggesting early war time production. It was November of 1939 when Pelikan replaced their palladium nibs with chromium-nickel. Of course, it is certainly conceivable, that these pens may once have been equipped with gold nibs, only to have them later removed during the wartime occupation. Whether they were confiscated, hidden, or melted down, we can only speculate about though other contextual clues within the find suggest that this is less likely to have been the case.

A lot of over 300 pens found in an attic in North Macedonia

A look at most of the pens, prior to restoration, just as they were found in the attic. The Pelikan models are in the upper left hand corner. Photo courtesy of Dragan Chichikj and ProtoPens

A Pelikan chromium nickel CN nib

A typical example of the chromium-nickel (CN) nib that most of these models were found with. The CN nib was in use during World War II when precious metals were needed for the war effort

The Pelikan intrigue only deepens upon close inspection. Six of the model 100s were found to have a diamond shaped tip on their clip, a feature previously attributed to production at Pelikan’s Danzig factory, while none of the 100Ns sported such a clip. This is fascinating as it is the 100N that is most commonly encountered in the wild with the diamond clip. If these models were all contemporaries, it seems unusual that not even one of the 100Ns would be similarly outfitted. Since these pens were purchased “as found,” we can exclude with near one hundred percent certainty any tampering or modification post-production. Also of interest is the fact that these diamond clipped models have different cap engravings. Some are inscribed “Pelikan PATENT Pelikan PATENT” whereas other read “Pelikan D.R.P. Pelikan D.R.P.” Taken together, these features suggest a transitional model that straddled subtle production changes which were not uncommon during that time. Documentation surrounding such changes is somewhat lacking to say the least which compounds confusion and invites speculation. The remaining pens feature the standard drop clip. After studying this attic find, Dragan and his family/staff took to the task of restoring these models. The pens were remarkably well preserved, but you can imagine the ravages of time that left decades of built up crud as well as some damage to the trim’s plating. Most of the restored models were then quickly turned around for resale in an effort to recoup expenses. I was fortunate enough to acquire two of the pens, a black 100 with the diamond clip and a black 100 with a drop clip, both engraved “Pelikan PATENT.”

Pelikan model 100s found in an attic prior to restoration

A closer look at several of the Pelikan fountain pens as found, prior to restoration. Photo courtesy of Dragan Chichikj and ProtoPens

What was discovered in the restoration process and upon my own inspection sadly does no better to clarify the historic record than what has previously been put forth. Based on their features, these models likely date somewhere between 1939 and 1942. Why would the shopkeeper offer the same pens with two different cap clips? Is it perhaps because he received pens from two different suppliers or did Pelikan provide them all directly? The diamond clip appears to be made with a different process than the drop clip which begs the question as to why the same factory would make two different clips via two different methods. It would make more sense that the diamond clip was indeed manufactured elsewhere but with different machinery. That would lend credence to the Danzig plant assembling pens but perhaps making at least the clips on site. The two versions of the model 100 pens are otherwise identical and can essentially be considered “New Old Stock,” impressive given their age.

Pelikan 100 cap clip with a diamond tip

A close look at the underside of the diamond tipped cap clip. Photo courtesy of Dragan Chichikj and ProtoPens

The influence of the Bauhaus movement shines through in the design of these models with a balanced form and a clear emphasis on function, featuring little in the way of ornamentation. Taking these model 100s by way of example, the only embellishments to be found are two thin cap rings and either a drop clip or a diamond tipped clip. The inscription along the cap top and the two chick logo are filled in with green paint. The piston assemblies were originally fitted with cork seals and the green barrels are as clear as the day they were manufactured. Interestingly, there seems to have been very little shrinkage in any of the component pieces over the intervening decades in the attic. The CN nibs put down a wet line thanks to their ebonite feeds and demonstrate a pleasing amount of spring which makes for a pleasant writing experience. While we may not have learned anything new, this find, nonetheless, is a fascinating glimpse into a troubled period of time. Seeing these unadulterated vintage pens in their natural state as if they were in the shop window just yesterday is a rare treat.

Pelikan Green Marbled 100N, Black 100N, and Black 100

Found in an attic, left to right: Green Marbled 100N, Black 100N, and Black 100. Photo courtesy of Dragan Chichikj and ProtoPens


Additional Reading/Viewing:

I would like to thank Dragan Chichikj for his thoughtful correspondence and invaluable help in bringing this find to light.

13 responses

  1. Joshua,
    your website has been a continuing source of amazing information, inspiration and just terrific fun to read over the years. You were the first person we have contacted regarding this find, and you were more than helpful helping us to identify and date the pens. On behalf of our team at ProtoPens, Thank You! We wish you many more prosperous years with The Pelikan’s Perch and we are looking forward to many more amazing articles.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A remarkable find ! Thanks Dragan for sharing and thanks Joshua for describing this amazing story.
    And the “diamond clip” here is another enigmatic piece of the mysterious puzzle titled “Pelican of Gdańsk”, which does not explain anything, on the contrary – it darkens the picture even more …

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  3. Thank you- as always- for a fascinating article!

    It is interesting that the pens appear to date from the period 1939-1942 and that they were stored by a pen merchant in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia.
    Although I have no expertise in Balkan wartime history, considering the historical context you describe in your interesting article, I wonder if I might suggest a possible date for the pens? The German army invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941 and swiftly occupied the whole of the country thereafter. The Axis forces were enthusiastically welcomed by crowds as they marched into Skopje as this ‘liberation’ from Yugoslav rule played to the hopes various anti-Serb factions including Macedonian independentists. This is not to suggest that the pen shop owner would have supported the Axis occupation but it may indicate that his business would not have been disturbed by the military events of the day and that it would have been relatively easy for a Skopje store to order from Pelikan in Germany.
    If the above is correct, then it might indicate that the pens were imported from Germany after the spring of 1941 and before either (a) German production in Hannover remained undisturbed by Allied bombing and/or (b) the heavy fighting in the Macedonian region during the summer of 1944 made ordinary commercial life impossible. That would suggest a date span of between mid-1941 and 1943 for the manufacture and import of the pens.

    Later, during the period of Communist party rule, it would (as I think you hint) have been ‘unwise’ for a merchant to display German pens imported during the Axis occupation- assuming the shop survived the end of the war at all. This may explain why they were hidden by their owner.

    I’d be interested in knowing what the discoverers or Dragan Chichikj think of this suggestion.

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    • Pelikan began using a black plastic piston seal in October of 1942. The bulk of the pens referenced here were equipped with cork suggesting production prior to that transition. That and other features like the two chick cap top is why I dated the pieces to 1939-42, at least the ones in my possession. I don’t think that it’s possible to narrow it down more than that. They could have easily been made in ’41 or ’42 which would fit your narrative. Alternatively, it is certainly possible that these were produced at one point in time only to be stored for a period to time prior to being shipped and imported.

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    • That is a very interesting observation. However we would not correlate the invasion of the German army to Yugoslavia with the arrival of the pens here. We know for certain that many privately owned businesses were thriving here from any period in the past up until the abolishment of the Yugoslav monarchy in November 1945 and the constitution of the Socialist Federation of Yugoslavia, which included Macedonia, which before that was part of Serbia as part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. This means that German (or any other foreign goods) were freely imported and sold here in any period prior 1945. For example we know of Kaweco pens being sold here in the 1920-30’s and many other foreign goods. You can read more about those finds and that story in our Kaweco find here (also linked in the text above): https://www.protopens.com/classic-original-1930s-nos-celluloid-kaweco-dia-85-ef-extra-fine-fully-flexible-to-3b-14k-nib-piston-fountain-pen-with-an-amazing-story.html as well as our blog about this find (also linked at the end of the article) here: https://www.protopens.com/blog
      This also suggest that when the war permitted, i.e. where there was not intense fighting, bombarding or any other major life threating local occurrences, those shops operated as they would in the “normal times” i.e. the previous years, and often even under the occupation German soldiers were their customers too, same as with the occupation in France, many of the businesses didn’t close even after the country was occupied. So the shop was certainly here possibly even many years before the war broke out, but also the pens may have been here years before the war and even ordered during the war. One thing that is certain though is that they were hidden basically overnight when privately owned business was not allowed in the new socialist order. We cannot exactly know what day this was, we assume it was a period of days, weeks or months even, as this was basically a change of political systems, but historians will know. We assume it happened in relatively short time, maybe several days or weeks, so people rushed to hide, sell or even destroy some of those imported goods, especially German made. What is interesting though and what we know from observations and similar finds, is that usually only such small but relatively valuable items were hidden in these houses, since they were relatively easy to hide, such as pens, watches, jewelry ext. They would not be able to hide furniture, clothes, lamps or what have you. Similar to the Kaweco find, we also suspect that these Pelikan pens may also have been originally sold in boxes, but the boxes were probably discarded in order to save space, so only the pens were kept. In the Kaweco find we are almost 100% certain that there were indeed carton boxes that came with the pens but were discarded as almost all Kaweco pens we find here from that period always come with boxes. You can see how those boxes look at this listing (the Kaweco Helios box): https://www.protopens.com/pack-of-5-uberpens-safe-keeping-storage-shipping-and-organizing-fountain-ballpoint-pencil-pen-case-box-tube-with-pen-size-ziplock-sleeve.html#

      What is very interesting about these Pelikan pens and why “they raise more questions than provide answers” is that basically we can see many attributes to the pens that we know were in production from earlier years, but also we can see attributes in the pens that were in production from later years. Even though we as humans want to be very precise and we want to put dates on the pens like “from this date on this pen was made like so and this so” and so on, it basically means that is not how it really worked especially when resources were scarce and materials hard to come by. Our find would suggest that for many months possibly years the factory would combine parts and techniques from different batches, so the transition from one model to the next model and even changes in the same model, is a very thick blurred line instead of a very crisp thin one. For example, if they had barrels already made maybe many thousands of them, but they improved the piston spiral and started making a new one, they may very well use that spiral with the old barrel for months or even possibly years. This is why we have documented each pen, how it came, what parts were in it, what nib and so on, as eventually somewhere in the future I’m sure these pens will help us answer some questions and they will give some context. With Joshua we’ve discussed in length the possibility “was the shopkeeper able to change anything on these pens and did he had any reason and incentive to do so?”, but looking at the wide assortment and the sheer capacity this shop had, we came to a conclusion that that was very unlikely. So we can say with almost 100% certainty that what we got in March 2021, was exactly what was sold in that shop somewhere in the mid 1940s.
      We have tried to explain all of these nuances in each of our pen listings that were offered for sale; all of these are linked at the end of the article.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is one of the most fascinating articles I read on fountain pens, with the description and pictures of those Pelikan pens of the war period. Thank you so much Joshua, you just made my day.

    Like

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