The Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen came into the world in 1929. One of its most prominent and touted features was a large, transparent ink view chamber. It certainly was a trait that added a lot of convenience and value for the consumer who was able to quickly and easily gauge the amount of ink remaining in their pen. It became a hallmark of sorts for the brand and their writing instruments. As pen designs changed over the ensuing decades, the ink view, in one form or another, seemed to remain steadfast. In modern times, many special and limited editions have eschewed the ink view in favor of form over function, but those pens were special, and their transgressions easily forgiven. The heart of the brand, the lauded core Souverän line never gave in to such temptation. Now, forty years after the M400 was introduced to the world, the Souverän gets what is arguably its most impactful design change to date. Sure, there was a major revision of the trim in 1997 and they kicked a bird out of the nest in 2003, even going so far as to guild the cap top in 2010. To me, all of those changes pale in comparison to this newest alteration, the elimination of the barrel’s translucency. Have I gotten your attention yet? Read on to find out what this means for the future of the Souverän line.
A quick review of physics. Opaque, translucent, and transparent refer to how certain objects let visible light pass through them
Since the introduction of the M400 in 1982, the striped barrels that comprise Pelikan’s core lines have always demonstrated a translucency in the cellulose acetate between the colored stripes. This has been true for the Black-Green, Black-Blue, and Black-Red. I describe the material as translucent because it allows some, but not all, light to pass through it. Others might say that the material is semi-transparent. Semantics aside, it was an incredibly clever and eloquent solution to the ink view dilemma, the perfect union between form and function. For the past forty years, holding a standard Souverän up to the light allowed one to peer between the colored stripes and easily gauge if the pen needed to be filled or was good to go for the day. It was a well-received feature that honored the heritage of the brand and their pens. I would venture that the construction has since become a de facto expectation of the Souverän design. Pen Chalet, a fountain pen retailer out of the USA, appears to be the first to have informed us via a thread on Reddit that this barrel translucency will cease to exist. Pelikan is changing the material that comprises the striped cellulose acetate resulting in the now transparent portions becoming opaque. You may have already glimpsed this if you have had any experience handling some of the company’s recent special editions or their Souverän rollerballs, ballpoints, and pencils which already employ this look.
A Pelikan Black-Green M600 Souverän circa 2003-2010. Note the translucency between the green stripes which has provided a means for viewing ink levels over the past 40 years
According to Pen Chalet and others, the change has already come to all new production of the Black-Green and Stresemann models. The changes will soon roll out to the Black-Blue and Black-Red, expected within the coming weeks to months. This means that the forthcoming M800 Black-Red will be without an ink view, a major distinction between current and past models. What all of this means is that none of the striped Souveräns will feature an ink view of any sort. The barrels will be opaque a la the M800 Brown-Black from 2019 or the M605 Green-White from 2021. Going forwards, there will be no easy way to gauge the remaining ink in the pen though those in the know tell me that, when held against a strong light, one can kind of, sort of still see the level of ink remaining in the pen. That’s not a raging endorsement but if there is any consolation here, it’s that there won’t be any changes to the baseline pricing of these models despite the change in manufacturing methods and materials. Why this is coming about likely says more about the current climate we find ourselves in than any inherent philosophical changes at the company. Pelikan themselves cite “technical reasons” but for quite some time now, we know that Pelikan has faced significant back orders and have struggled to get their products onto store shelves. This is a multifactorial problem but much of it owes to an inability to get the materials necessary for the manufacturing process since the arrival of COVID. The new design may draw from materials that are more readily available thereby allowing the company to increase production, raise inventory, and reduce backorders. I suspect that it is less motivated by cost savings on the manufacturing side but that might play into it as well. That is all supposition on my part, but it seems reasonable none-the-less. I guess a blind Pelikan is better than no Pelikan at all? For their part, Pelikan is trying to spin the change as a positive stating, “The fact that we will use from now on the same material for fountain pen barrels and upper parts of ballpoint pens/pencils and barrels of rollerballs, will assure the sets of fountain pen with ballpoint pen, pencil and rollerball will now match.”
A Pelikan Brown-Black M800 Souverän (2019). The space between the brown stripes is opaque and does not allow for easy viewing of the ink level
Pretty thin stuff if you ask me. Personally, I am saddened to see this change come about. The semi-transparency has been a defining and oft relied on feature for me. I see this as closing the door on a heritage and while I’m open to innovation, this seems reactive to market pressures rather than anything desired by or beneficial for consumers. It strikes me as the type of decision that comes from an executive rather than a dedicated fountain pen user. Still, a business must run and if they cannot get units onto the shelves, then barrel transparency might be the least of the brand’s worries. I do think that this move will create two levels of Souverän desirability. Just as there are those that seek out the old PF and EN nibs, I’m sure there will be those that seek out the pre-2022 Souveräns with equal gusto. What are your thoughts on this change? Will it affect your purchasing habits in the future? Feel free to leave a comment below.
A Pelikan Green-White M605 Souverän (2021). Like the Brown-Black M800, there is no translucency between the green stripes. This is the future of the Souverän line