Tortoises So Rare, They Were Thought Extinct: The Great White Whales Of The Souverän M600 Line

Pelikan's M600 Tortoiseshell-Brown

The talk of the last few weeks has clearly been focused on the newest tortoise release from Pelikan, the upcoming M605 Tortoiseshell-Black. While this black tortoise is a new species, never before seen, the standard bearer across the lines has always been the brown tortoise. It is somewhat ironic then that the M6xx line has never enjoyed a large scale brown tortoise release. I don’t mean to imply that it’s the only Souverän to not get the brown tortoise treatment. The M3xx and M10xx models have likewise gone without, it’s just that the M6xx line is perhaps the most glaring omission since it’s also the most accessible, the other two being at the extreme ends of the Souverän line. It has been perceived by many aficionados of the M6xx to be a black hole of sorts. Perhaps as a subconscious effort to make up for that deficiency, the M6xx line has actually been graced with more unique tortoise releases than any other Souverän. Let us recap. We have had the M600 Tortoiseshell-White (2012), the M600 Tortoiseshell-Red (2020), and now the M605 Tortoiseshell-Black (2022). Many have lamented the lack of a Tortoiseshell-Brown model, but it is a little known fact that there have actually been two such releases, both targeted to the Japanese market in what were likely ultra-limited runs. Pelikan and Japan have long been odd bedfellows with a relationship spanning the 1970s through the late 1990s from which several unique models have arisen. The old-style Tortoiseshell-Brown M600 has been so seldomly seen, that many debated its very existence for the longest time. It reminds me of the coelacanth, thought extinct for 66 million years before being rediscovered in 1938 by a South African museum curator on a fishing trawler. A few years after Pelikan’s alterations to the model’s design, there was a new-style Tortoiseshell-Brown M600 released in 1999 that has been discussed on this blog previously. Collectors can search for decades and never find one of these. Having finally been able to procure an example of each, it seemed a topic worth rehashing. Read on to learn all about the traits that characterize these two ultra-rare beauties.

Pelikan's M600 Tortoiseshell Brown, White, and Red

The M600 line is no stranger to unique tortoises. Left to right: Tortoiseshell-Brown (1990-1997), Tortoiseshell-Brown (1999), Tortoiseshell-White (2012), and Tortoiseshell-Red (2020)

Pelikan's M600 Tortoiseshell-Brown

Before delving into these two pens, it is worthwhile to review the differences between the two trim styles. The M600 was first released in 1985 in a size equivalent to that of the M400 which had come out three years earlier. I routinely find that the size difference between the models of today and yesteryear still takes many by surprise. Prior to 1997, the M600 was 5.0 inches long with a diameter of 0.46 inches and weighed 0.52 ounces. Contrast that with the current design which is 5.28 inches when capped, has a diameter of 0.49 inches, and weighs 0.57 ounces. The original M600 was positioned in the market as a deluxe version of the M400. The first twelve years of production then can be reasonably referred to as the ‘old-style’ or ‘pre-1997’ trim. The old style trim package included two cap bands, a trim ring at the section, and a thick trim ring at the piston knob, perhaps its most defining and easily recognizable feature.  The logo nibs used varied depending on the year of manufacture. An 18C-750 monotone gold nib was in use from 1985-1988, a 14C-585 two-tone gold was utilized circa 1989, and an 18C-750 two-tone gold nib reigned from 1990 until the design changed in 1997. After that year, we enter the ‘new-style’ or ‘post-1997’ trim era that has persisted little changed until today. The new design realigned the models with the M600 now filling the size gap between the M400 and the M800.  While all Souveräns underwent some degree of modification, the M600 was arguably the most impacted. In addition to its larger size, the new design featured two cap bands, a trim ring at the section, and now two trim rings at the piston knob.  The other major difference is that the nibs were adjusted to 14C-585 gold for standard releases though special editions continued to utilize 18C-750 gold nibs. There have been other nuanced adjustments to the line since but that gives you the broad strokes of the model’s evolution.

Pelikan's M600 Tortoiseshell Brown, White, and Red

The many M600 tortoises uncapped and posted

With a better understanding of the underpinnings of the design, we can examine this mythical ‘old-style’ tortoise with a more critical eye. What we do know is that it was built for and released to the Japanese market, a location where we find many unique and exotic releases. This model is characterized by the classic Tortoiseshell-Brown barrel complimented by a cap, section, and piston knob done in a dark brown resin. The furniture features a single, thick trim ring at the piston knob as well as a trim ring on the section. Dual cap bands, a crown cap top with an etched two chick logo, and a beak clip round out the pen’s external features.  All of the furniture is gold-plated. The cap band is stamped “Pelikan Souverän Germany” and the nib on my example is made of a two-toned 18C-750 gold with a pair of chevrons instead of today’s scroll. Taken together, these features indicate production between 1990-1997. I haven’t encountered any documentation that would allow us to narrow down that range any further. The older tortoises tend to have a slightly more reddish hue to the barrel. It’s worth noting that this pen’s barrel was later used to construct the M250 Tortoiseshell-Brown released by Levenger in 1997. The major difference is that the M250 version did not include a trim ring at the section and came with a different cap/nib.

The old-style M600s made circa 1985-1997. The Tortoiseshell-Brown variant is by far the most exotic and hardest to find (click to view the gallery)

Pelikan Levenger M250 Tortoiseshell-Brown

The Pelikan M250 Tortoiseshell-Brown released by Levenger in 1997 incorporated the same barrel and piston knob as the old-style M600 brown tortoise. Note the lack of trim ring on the section and different cap/nib

We have a much better understanding with regards to the origins of the ‘new-style’ M600 Tortoiseshell-Brown. It was released in 1999 on the occasion of the 130th anniversary of the Maruzen retail chain. Like its older brother, it was released as an exclusive for the Japanese market. The new style trim includes two trim rings at the piston knob, a trim ring at the section, two cap bands, and a beak clip, all plated in gold. The cap top displays Pelikan’s two chick logo, now screened instead of etched, and the nib is a standard 14C-585 two-toned gold featuring the scroll work of the modern Souverän line. The barrel is again done in the classic brown tortoise design with complementing brown resin components. This model came with an accompanying K600 ballpoint. The set included a card with the following information;

“Dear Valued Customer,

It gives me great pleasure to share with you the honor of being appointed by Maruzen to present to you, as a valued customer, the exclusive collection of Pelikan fine writing instruments to commemorate the 130th Anniversary of Maruzen. Pelikan and Maruzen have been very good business partners for a long time in offering to you, exclusive high quality products. Pelikan also has over 160 years of history and tradition. And to commemorate this special event, I am proud to present to you the exclusive collection of only 500 sets of our Souverän collection of M600 fountain pen and K600 ballpoint pen set in tortoise-shell brown stripe finish.

Sincerely yours, H.K. Loo, President, Pelikan Holding AG

The many differences between the old and new style M600 brown tortoises on full display (click to view the gallery)

These two models are as stunning as they are iconic. The tortoise finish really is eye-catching while also avoiding the pitfall of being too ostentatious. Either one of these two models could serve as the crown jewel of any budding collection. The question as to why we have never seen a more mainstream release of a brown tortoise M600 will continue to perplex. I have long harbored suspicion that some contractual agreement has prevented the re-emergence of the brown tortoise but that is just my own speculation. It seems that Japan is the sole recipient of the ultra-limited M600 tortoise action. That market can be difficult to penetrate for those of us not fluent in the language or the marketplace customs. That is why so many of these models have remained locked away and mysterious. Even with the essential tools to navigate the marketplace, these models are not found in any type of abundance, coming up for sale only very infrequently. If ever encountered, either pen is well worth the effort to add to your collection however expect to pay a hefty price for pens so rare and desirable.

Pelikan's M4xx, M6xx, and M8xx brown tortoises

Brown tortoise Souveräns on parade. Left to right: M400 (1990-1996), M400 (2016), M415 (2009), M600 (1990-1997), M600 (1999), M800 (1988/89), and M800 (2013)

Pelikan's M4xx, M6xx, and M8xx brown tortoise cap tops

9 responses

  1. Great roundup, as usual, Joshua. I need to find a couple of those for my collection. Thanks.

    Tom Baley
    The Pen Man


      • Where would I have to even start looking for one of these or other very rare Pelikans that weren’t originally available in Germany (like M600 old style bordeaux, M800 old style bordeaux or tortoiseshell brown or even prototypes like dark blue old styles?

        Liked by 1 person

        • They are not easy to source by any stretch and not for the faint of heart. Sometimes you get lucky. I have had a lot of success with looking at Japanese auction sites. I have to use a proxy since I don’t speak the language or reside in Japan. I either use a go-between person or a proxy for sites like YahooAuctions!. That’s a good source but you have to use a service like Zen Market to really penetrate it.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. The Maruzen tortoiseshell M600 is what I’ve always been looking for . It’s so beautiful , but so rare as well . I have the illusion that I always feel that the stripes of the current tortoiseshell are not as deep and delicate as they once were . Therefore , I couldn’t buy a new produced tortoiseshell M600 to make up for the lack place of the original works .

    Great post as always . Thank you for your efforts . Best wishes . Min

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am coming late to the party, but thanks again for the great post, Joshua! The (post ‘97) M600 is my go-to model for its size, weight, and balance, and I enjoy reading about the history of the M600 model.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the commentary and the photos.

    Liked by 1 person

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