Fountain pens rule, ballpoints are cool, and mechanical pencils are an essential tool. In Part 1 of this series, I explored the beginnings of Pelikan’s ballpoint production which proved to be an educational and fun diversion. While Pelikan’s fountain pens remain my preferred writing implement, years of research and experience have opened my eyes to other worlds and the rabbit hole goes deep. Even more diverse than their ballpoints, Pelikan’s vintage mechanical pencils are a force all their own with a nuanced variety that begs exploring. The heresy aside, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, not everything that scribbles has a nib and now it’s time to focus on the mechanical pencil. Today, it is writers, architects, mathematicians, students, and artists who predominantly use these tools but that was not always the case, especially prior to the advent of cheap ballpoints. Of particular interest to me are Pelikan’s vintage offerings that spanned the 1930s through the 1960s though we can certainly look at a few modern styles as well. While Pelikan’s high end mechanical pencils are not nearly as prolific as they once were, likely a sign of the changing times, they still serve a role. This article will act as an introduction to mechanical pencils, but it is only meant to scratch the surface. To follow is what I envision to be a multi-part series of its own, with each article drilling down in as much detail as possible on a few select models of Pelikan’s pencils. This is a journey that I’m ecstatic to be undertaking with you. Once again, it’s time to stow your pens and get the lead out as we explore Pelikan’s catalogue of vintage mechanical pencils.
French army officer, scientist, painter, and inventor Nicolas-Jaques Conté (1755 – 1805)
Any proper introduction should start at the beginning and long before there were ballpoints, there were pencils. Graphite had been in use as a marking tool since the early Aztecs who thrived in central Mexico during the post-classic period from 1300 to 1521. Mass production of rudimentary pencils is first thought to have begun in Nuremberg, Germany circa 1662, an industry that would continue to grow and thrive through the 19th century. The father of the modern pencil is regarded as French army officer, Nicolas-Jacques Conté (8/4/1755 – 12/6/1805). France was unable to import German pencils or graphite from England during the Napoleonic wars (1803 – 1815) resulting in a problem in need of a solution. Conté was also a scientist, painter, and an inventor who, in 1795, found that burning a mixture of clay, water, and graphite created a rather satisfactory “lead” which he then placed inside a wooden writing frame. Lead is a misnomer, or course, that has persisted across cultures and through the centuries. Initially believed by metallurgist to be a form of lead called ‘plumbago’ or black lead, the substance wasn’t actually called graphite until 1789, a derivative of the Greek word “graphein” which translates as ‘to write’ in English. Graphite as we now know is a soft, black, lustrous form of carbon with applications well beyond pencils including lubricants and electrodes. The word pencil comes from the Latin word “pencillus,” meaning “a painter’s brush.” Conté’s design would serve as the basis for most of the wooden pencils made today though the creation of the first wooden pencil as we now think of them is oft attributed to American William Munroe (12/15/1778 – 3/6/1861) who made high quality wooden casings to surround the lead.
Pencils as manufactured and sold by American William Munroe (1778 – 1861) in the early 19th century
Taking the concept of the wooden pencil further, the mechanical pencil, propelling pencil, or clutch pencil depending on your location, uses a lead that is not bonded to an outer case but is instead incorporated into a mechanism that extends a solid core of pigmented graphite. While primitive examples attributed to Swiss physician and naturalist Conrad Gesner (3/26/1516 – 12/13/1565) can be found dating as far back as 1565, these early devices were more lead holders than true mechanical pencils. The first mechanical pencil that had a mechanism to propel a lead which could be replaced was patented in Britain in 1822 by silversmith Sampson Mordan (1790 – 4/9/1843) and John Isaac Hawkins (1772 – 1855). Mordan bought out his partner and would later enter into a business relationship with Gabrielle Riddle making high quality mechanical pencils. A flurry of patents, more than 160 all told, would follow as designs were improved upon and new products were brought to market. The consumer appeal of the mechanical pencil over the standard wooden variety was an always sharp point that laid down a consistent line. Notable advancements in the technology occurred in 1861 when A.W. Faber would patent the twist locking-clutch mechanism. Other developments in the late 19th century included the invention of the spring loaded mechanism in 1877 and the twist-feed mechanism in 1895.
Swiss physician and naturalist Conrad Gesner (1516 – 1565)
A mechanical pencil as produced by Sampson Mordan (1790 – 1843)
If what had come before were merely considered lead holders, the first true mechanical pencil design likely came into existence in New York City circa 1879. It is there that Joseph Hoffmann would invent the push-button clutch which was utilized inside the Eagle Pencil Company’s Eagle Automatic. The design was imperfect however, preventing broader commercial success. Mechanisms would be further refined until circa 1915 when the mechanical pencil as we know it today came into its own. It is Tokuji Hayakawa (11/3/1893 – 6/24/1980) and Charles Keeran (4/16/1883 – 6/9/1948) who are most often credited though so many had a hand in shaping the product. Hayakawa was a metal worker in Japan who utilized a metal shaft with a screw-based mechanism. He called his product the “Ever-Ready Sharp Pencil.” Keeran was an American businessman and inventor based out of Illinois who invented a ratchet-based mechanism consisting of two or three jaws at the tip which would push the lead forward when a push button mechanism was operated at the opposite end of the pencil. Keeran’s ‘Eversharp’ pencil would be picked up by the Wahl Adding Machine Company who would sell more than 12,000,000 Eversharps by the early 1920s. These models were created independently though roughly at the same time in history, oddly enough, resulting in both men getting the credit.
Japanese metal worker Tokuji Hayakawa (1893 – 1980) and American inventor Charles Keeran (1883 – 1948) co-credited with the creation of the mechanical pencil as we know it today
Just as we saw with their ballpoints, Pelikan was somewhat later to market with a pencil of their own, but they ultimately got into the mechanical pencil game on June 26, 1934, five years after the introduction of their Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen. The first model launched was the “AUCH-Pelikan” which roughly translates to mean “Pelikan-TOO” or “Pelikan-ALSO.” While the company’s fountain pens were referred to as “Füllhalters” packaging shows that their mechanical pencils were referenced as “Füllbleistifts” in their native tongue. Issue number 17 of the company’s newsletter, the Pelikan-Blätter, exclaims the following;
“For the large community of owners of a transparent Pelikan, there is only one: Fountain pen? Pelikan, of course! And these friends of modern writing implements will soon say: Mechanical pencil? Pelikan too, of course!”Pelikan Blätter, issue #17, circa 1934
A model 200 AUCH-Pelikan in black from 1937. The clip is un-plated and likely replaced at some point as this model pre-dates the wartime use of un-plated furniture
An Italian advertisement circa 1937 declares; “The Pelikan Automatic Pencil. A light pressure and here comes the lead and more to follow automatically. A few simple parts, so simply dependable.” Pelikan’s first automatic mechanical pencil was made from black ebonite with the lead being advanced by a simple press of a push button mechanism. The AUCH-Pelikan was originally meant to accompany the model 100 fountain pen and used a pair of pincers and a clamp to extend and prevent any unintentional rotation of the lead. The pencil was touted as being able to be operated with just one hand and each push of the button would advance the lead approximately 1-1/4mm. In practice, the mechanism is somewhat stiff and clicky, whether by design or age is unclear. The accompanying instruction manual indicated that the pencil should be held vertically when advancing the lead and if none came, the reservoir was likely empty. The reservoir inside holds 15 replacement leads, each measuring 5cm in length, giving a full pencil approximately 75cm of graphite to work with. The 3/4m of lead that the pencil could hold was frequently promoted in advertisements. The pencil weighs 0.46 ounces and has a total length of 4.84 inches with a diameter of 0.39 inches. Its furniture includes a drop clip and the metal cone at the tip has 3 slits evenly spaced along its circumference. The model 200 sold for around 3.50 Reichsmark (RM) in 1935. Compare that with the model 100 fountain pen which commanded 13.50 RM around the same time. Gift sets were available which paired the 200 with its corresponding model 100 fountain pen at the point of sale.
An Italian advertisement for the AUCH-Pelikan circa 1937
An advertisement circa 1935-37 that shows the Nr. 100/200L which was a Pelikan model 100 fountain pen and model 200 mechanical pencil sold as a set in a zippered case
The original AUCH-Pelikan would officially be designated the model 200 and undergo several revisions over its 17 years of production. The earliest versions have “AUCH-Pelikan” engraved lengthwise along the shaft. Consumers could request different colored push buttons (e.g. green, red, blue, etc.) if they were routinely using colored lead. In 1935, the barrel inscription was shortened to just “Pelikan” until circa 1937/38 when it was omitted all together. Inscribed around the circumference of the push button mechanism above the clip, several etchings have been noted. These include; “Pelikan D.R.P. Pelikan D.R.P.”, “AUCH-Pelikan D.R.P.”, and “Pelikan Günther Wagner Germany.” Some exceedingly rare examples have even been found engraved “Industria Argentina,” “Pelikan Patent 70497,” and “Pelikan D.R.P. Germania.” Versions for the English speaking markets have also been encountered with Pelikan spelled Pelican.
The push-button pencil tops feature a number of engravings with “AUCH-Pelikan D.R.P.” being one of the more common
Push buttons of the AUCH-Pelikan featuring the older 4 chick logo on the left and the newer 2 chick logo on the right
The furniture of the model 200 is generally found with gold plating however wartime models exist with steel trim elements sans plating due to the short supply of gold during the war. Models with fluted clips can also be found to match some of the 100Ns that first became available in 1937. The push button is etched with the company logo, showing four chicks in the nest from 1934-1937/38 after which the new two chick logo was featured. Most of the engravings found are filled with green paint but red and white versions are known to exist as well. Six years after its introduction, circa 1940, Pelikan would revise the mechanism thereby giving it a smoother action. Initially, pencils were only available in Black, but a number of additional finishes were introduced in early 1937. Starting in August of 1942, a temporary moratorium on colored models was announced. Up until that point, the 200 could be found in Black, Brown, Black/Green, Black/Grey, Lizard, and Brown/Tortoiseshell. Only the Black/Green model would continue production during the self-imposed war-time prohibition and once lifted, the Lizard finish never resumed production, making it one of the rarest of Pelikan’s earliest mechanical pencils. This is also perhaps why the Black/Green is perhaps the most frequently encountered on the secondary market. Just as the Tortoiseshell and Lizard model fountain pens were referred to as 101s, so too was the corresponding mechanical pencil referenced as 201s. With the war over and gold once again available, all 200s again came with gold plated furniture staring in October 1948.
A Black/Green 200 circa 1938-51 and Black 200 circa 1937
The conical tip of the AUCH-Pelikan features 3 slits evenly arranged adjacent to the lead channel
Across the board, all model 200 mechanical pencils use lead that is 1.18mm in diameter. That is large by today’s standards where we typically use 0.5mm for fine writing and 0.7mm for general-purpose writing. Most vintage mechanical pencils, however, used this larger size thanks largely to decisions made by Yard-O-Led. They were one of the early manufacturers of mechanical pencils and their models utilized a lead diameter of 3/64 inches. Eventually, manufacturers converted to decimals and 1.18mm was largely adopted by the industry if for nothing else than to follow Yard-O-Led’s lead (1.18mm = 0.046 inches). Pelikan sold their refills in small containers that held 15 pieces each. A variety of lead was available in addition to the standard black. These included colored lead such as red, blue, green, purple, and violet as well as copy lead. Copy lead is a special breed that contains a dye, usually a shade of purple, in an effort to give them more permanence. The containers were color coordinated to correspond to the lead contained within. Lead was available from Pelikan in four grades; H, HB, B, and 2B. These grades are in reference to the lead’s hardness, and you can often find the designation stamped onto the bottom of the ebonite container. For mechanical pencils in general, the scale includes 10 grades ranging from 4H to 4B (wooden pencils have a broader range). The numbers preceding the H or B indicates how hard or black the lead is respectively. As a rule of thumb, the blacker the lead, the softer it is and the harder the lead, the lighter it is. The typical #2 pencil (an American scale) utilizes the equivalent of an HB lead, one of the most common that the majority of us are familiar with. It strikes a nice balance between hardness and blackness making it useful for everyday applications. The model 200 is refilled by unscrewing the push button mechanism from the back of the pencil thereby allowing the lead to be inserted.
Varying lead sizes as found on Pelikan’s pencils over the years. Vintage models were almost exclusively of the 1.18mm variety though a finer option was available in the 1950s and 60s. Today’s pencils are much less coarse. Left to right, lines as put down by the: D250 Dark Blue (1985-97), D400 Black/Green (1982-90), 450F Black/Green (1959-63), and 200 (1937)
Lead holders containing refills of varying colors and for different purposes as they would have been found in the 1930s though the 1960s. Left to right: Blue, Purple, Red, Violet, Green, Copying lead, and Black
Early lead refills had the company name and lead size/grade etched into the cap (center). Later examples showed the company logo on top of the lid (left) and the lead grade on the bottom (right)
Now none of these AUCH-Pelikans came equipped with a built in eraser despite the fact that Pelikan was a major manufacturer of erasers at this time in their history. The technology to create rubber erasers existed as early as 1839 when Charles Goodyear (12/29/1800 – 7/1/1860) discovered the process of vulcanization to cure rubber thereby increasing its durability. It wasn’t until 1955 that Pelikan introduced a self-contained eraser on their mechanical pencils but by then the 200 was long gone, having ceased production in October of 1951. Prior to the concept of a built in eraser, seperate tablets of rubber or wax would be used to lift markings off of the paper and to correct writing. Some regions even used pieces of moistened bread for the purpose. Historical accounts indicate that the built in eraser was much more of a hit in the U.S.A. and was slow to be adopted in Europe which is why we likely don’t see many of the vintage European models sporting one. Most of us have heard the 19th century adage; “The pen is mightier than the sword,” an astute observation by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton which conveys the sentiment that thoughts and ideas influenced through writing are more effective than threats of violence or military force. Perhaps lesser known is the 20th century adage; “The pencil is mightier than the pen” crafted by Robert Pirsig. I suspect that he was likely musing about the impermanence of the pencil which allows us to revise, edit, and re-write old notions when new information is available and to correct that which is blatantly wrong, something infinitely harder to do with a pen (and the human psyche, but I digress).
Some of the AUCH-Pelikans. Left to right: Black/Green 210 without eyelet (1938-49), Black/Green 200 (1937-51), Black 200 (1937), and Black 210 without eyelet (1938-49)
Pocket pencils like the 205 and 209 would be introduced in October of 1935, a year after the model 200. They too were included under the “AUCH” heading and would keep much of the same styling as their big brother, all-be-it, in a smaller size. The Pelikan Blätter issue #23 from February 1936 included a piece on the 209 extolling its virtues. The small size was acclaimed for its comfortable fit in the waistcoat pocket, a more common practice in those days, and the lack of a clip removed any hinderance to its use. The 209 went for 3.25 RM and the 205 sold for 3.50 RM during the mid-1930s. Contrast that with the full sized black 200 which retailed for 3.50 RM as well. In what appears to be an effort at justifying the near equivalent price tag for the smaller pencil, the article states; “…the work steps for manufacturing the proven construction are exactly the same [as the 200], and the material savings are relatively small.”
Pelikan’s Black/Green 100 fountain pen with matching 200 and 210 pencils and Black 100 fountain pen with matching 200 and 210 pencils
The 205 came with an eyelet attached to the push button in order to allow for suspension from a chain whereas the 209 lacked the eyelet. In 1937, these would be renamed as the 210 and the 210 with an eyelet. They were meant to be pocket pencils for a vest or lady’s pencils (back when gendered products were more pervasive), available either in an all-Black or Black/Green version, clearly devoid of the variety found in the larger model. Unlike the 200, they lacked a clip, the only adornment being a plated ring where a clip would otherwise have been found, an omission in keeping with the intended use. Production of the 210 was halted all together between 8/29/1942 and 9/1948 with production being discontinued once and for all in June of 1949. The 205/209/210 weighs just 0.39 ounces with a length of 3.66 inches and a diameter of 0.39 inches. That’s a full 1.18 inches shorter than the 200. Lead for the 210 also came in containers of 15 but those leads only measured 3.5cm instead of 5cm, giving each of these smaller pencils 52.5cm of lead when full.
A black and white photocopy depicting a Black 205/210 with eyelet (top) and the Black/Green 209/210 without eyelet (bottom). The eyelet allowed the 205/210 with eyelet to be secured to a chain
To provide a more modern frame of reference, here is the 210 Black/Green alongside the M605 Tortoiseshell-Black
Now the AUCH-Pelikan might give you trouble from time to time. Mechanical pencils in general are not always readily amenable to any type of repair work as the internal mechanics are not easily accessible or replaceable. That said, the 200 is a hearty bird which was built quite simply with few moving parts and therefore usually only needs a little coaxing to get back into service. What I find works the best is the following;
- Unscrew the push button mechanism above the clip and remove any lead from the pencil.
- Unscrew the metal cone at the tip of the pencil and gently pull out the conical sleeve contained within.
- Next, take a straightened paper clip and feed that into the lead channel from the tip towards the back to remove any broken lead and/or dust.
- Finally, reassemble the pencil in the reverse order that you disassembled it and re-insert the lead back into barrel.
If all went according to plan, the pencil should again function as expected. If not, there is likely little else that you can do to salvage the situation. Some people like to keep one lead aside when refilling and feed that one from the front with the push button held down. The choice is solely yours as to how you would like to proceed.
An advertisement for Pelikan’s model 100 and 200. The advertisement touts the automatic feeding of 3/4 meters of lead
For those really curious about the inner workings of the AUCH-Pelikan pencil, all models can be easily disassembled in just a few straight forward steps though I don’t recommend doing so unless absolutely necessary. Conceptually speaking, one would unscrew the push-button cap as if they were going to refill the lead reservoir and then remove any lead remaining in the pencil. Next, the ring or clip would be removed and set aside. With that accomplished, the cone shaped tip can be unscrewed and the conical sleeve surrounding the lead channel removed. The threaded cylinder found below the push-button cap can then be unscrewed and removed from the back of the pencil. With the cylinder out and all of the other pieces out of the way, the lead reservoir and feed can be safely dislodged from the ebonite casing. Finally, there will be a spring surrounding the feed which helps to operate the push button mechanism, much like that of a ballpoint. The simplicity of the design is why so many of these octogenarian pencils remain in service.
The complete disassembly of the model 200 showing the simplicity of the inner workings. The 205/209/210 is the exact same, just with a smaller reservoir, feed, and spring. I would not encourage disassembly unless you’re prepared to take on the complications that may ensue. This is provided as a reference only
No further models would be advertised under the “AUCH-Pelikan” moniker. The introduction of the 140 and the 400 lines in the 1950s would bring about the 350 and 450 mechanical pencils respectively which would come to dominate the company’s mechanical pencil line-up during the 1950s and 1960s. Pelikan has continued to make mechanical pencils throughout the years. There was a time when new releases could be purchased as a set consisting of a fountain pen, ballpoint, pencil, and even rollerball. Many people today have little need for such sets therefore we see fewer mechanical pencils accompanying Pelikan’s fine writing instruments. For instance, the most recent catalog from Pelikan only details a matching pencil available in the standard finishes of the Souverän M600 and M400 lines along with those matching specific models in the Classic series M200 line (chiefly the Green-Marbled and Black). Mechanical pencils to match the mighty M800 are simply no longer produced. These modern products have a “D” prefix indicating a “Druckbleistift” or mechanical pencil (e.g. D600, D400, and D200). Pelikan’s current production mechanical pencils generally accept refills of 0.7mm.
A few of Pelikan’s more modern offerings. Left to right: Sapphire Blue/Rolled Gold D25 (1961-63), Dark Blue D250 (1985-97), Black/Green D300 (1998-03), Black/Green D400 (1982-90), and Black/Blue D400 (1997-03). Of this assortment, only the D300 works via a twist mechanism whereas all of the others propel the lead via the push of a button
That, my friends, is your introduction to Pelikan’s initial foray into mechanical pencils, a heritage that now spans 88 years. I hope that you learned a little about yet another type of writing implement, designed as a complement to our beloved fountain pens and serving its own purpose in the world. Mechanical pencils have a plethora of benefits including a consistent line, a resistance to smudging, and a point that is always sharp and ready to write. Since this type of pencil doesn’t shorten with sharpening, the balance doesn’t change. Perhaps the most important benefit is that its refillable. Pelikan made many other interesting pencils over the course of their history and did so with enough variety that I will detail them separately in future postings. If you enjoyed this introduction into mechanical pencils, I can assure you that there is more to come in the near future. Before I leave you, allow me one final word. This piece is in no way meant to be an exhaustive look at the history of pencils or their development. I am but a mere interloper in a space where many amazing people whom I admire are already working. What I hope to have provided here is simply a broad historical background to better understand Pelikan’s own product development.
A German advertisement circa 1937 that shows the AUCH-Pelikan product line including lead refills, box, and the various models that were available. Notice the increased cost of the Black/Green 200 (4.00 RM) over the standard Black model (3.50 RM)
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