Pelikan’s Pint-Sized Cap Top: The Long And Short Of It

Pelikan 100 Red Marbled and 101N Lizard short cap head

Pelikan incorporated a variety of rolling changes into their flagship Transparent Fountain Pen early on in its production which ultimately culminated in the model 100 that we know and love today. These iterative changes are why pens from the 1930s, in particular, can be found with some unique and oftentimes poorly documented features. Some of these changes improved functionality whereas others were geared more towards aesthetics. One of the more interesting features once employed was the long cap or short cap head, depending on your perspective. You may see the terms used interchangeably, and both are technically correct when bandied about. These are variants of the model 100/101 and 100N/101N fountain pens that are not documented in any known catalog or brochure but are officially recognized as having been available for purchase through retail channels, predominantly those outside of Europe. For instance, an advertisement from the Portuguese distributor Emegê featuring a 101N Short Cap Head Tortoise is known, an exceedingly rare find. Pelikan’s tall, domed cap head is an easily recognized feature that stands out on the company’s early fountain pens. In addition to giving the 100 and 100N their iconic shapes, it contributes to the superb balance of those models when posted as well as facilitating a solid grip for easy withdrawal from within a pocket. Putting aesthetics and ergonomics aside, the cap is also integral to the proper sealing of the pen, essential in preventing the ink contained within from drying out. While some of Pelikan’s design choices over the years have defied explanation, the short cap head at least has some documented history behind it and from a primary source to boot. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any lingering mystery still surrounding these infrequently encountered variants so read on to learn all about Pelikan’s vintage short cap head models.

Left: Red marbled model 100s in both standard and long cap varieties. Right: Lizard model 101Ns in both standard and long cap varieties

A graphic from Pelikan's instructions for cleaning the cap of a 100N

Before we begin, an anatomy lesson is in order. As I alluded to in the introduction, the cap of a fountain pen is not merely for decoration. It serves the dual purpose of protecting the nib by providing cover when not in use while also preventing the ink contained within from drying out. Pelikan’s model 100 caps underwent several revisions early on in their manufacture in an effort to achieve the optimal balance between form and function. Each of Pelikan’s early caps can be divided into three core elements. The domed portion that makes up the topmost part is the cap top or what Pelikan referred to in their literature as the “kopf” or cap head. I will use the cap head terminology throughout the remainder of this article for the sake of consistency. This segment of the cap generally features the company logo on top and an inscription around its circumference that usually displays the Pelikan name. Earlier pens had a cylindrical design which was changed slightly to a more conical form sometime around mid-1931. The cap head is threaded and screwed into the “hülse” or cap sleeve, the long tubular portion that makes up the bulk of the cap. The distal most portion of the cap head’s threads rest at the end of the section when the pen is capped, thereby creating the seal necessary in order to prevent the ink from drying out. Depending on the era of production, you can find zero, one, or two breather holes (employed for the rapid equalization of pressure when uncapping) in the cap sleeve but the finish is otherwise unbroken. The bottom portion of the sleeve is usually, but not always, adorned with decorative rings. A teardrop clip (sometimes referred to as a clamp in Pelikan’s historic literature) is the third and final component. The clip ring varied in its thickness over the course of production. The clip is rarely found omitted but, when it is, a single golden ring is put in its place in order to maintain the integrity of the design. This ring was a feature predominantly found on pens intended for a woman’s use.

Pelikan 100 red marbled regular cap head variant with components exposed
Pelikan 100 red marbled short cap head variant with components exposed

Standard and short cap head model 100s, capped but with the nib exposed thanks to some creative post processing. The cap head’s threads, regardless of the variant, end at the section, thereby creating a seal

Pelikan 100 Green Marbled with a "Lady's" ring

Models without a clip featured a gold plated ring, substituted on pens meant for a woman’s handbag. The ring maintained the shape of the cap that was so integral to its function

Theoretically, both regular and short cap head variants would have been available to consumers for purchase depending on the buyer’s preference. Pelikan’s caps were precisely engineered to their purpose therefore, in order to account for the lost length caused by shortening the head, the sleeve had to be lengthened such that the net height of the cap remained unchanged. The standard teaching is that the drop clip was not altered and was the same size regardless of which version cap you were looking at though this turns out to not always have been the case, particularly when looking at the 100N and 101N. The short cap head still featured the usual engravings around its circumference as well as the company logo on top. A variety of 100s, 101s, 100Ns, and 101Ns have been found sporting these in finishes which include Black/Green, Black, Lapis, Jade, Coral, Lizard, Tortoiseshell, and Tortoiseshell/Brown. An exact timeline is hard to definitively establish but we can surmise from the models encountered on the secondary market that these modifications were available predominantly throughout the latter half of the 1930s, say 1935-39.

Pelikan 101N  short head variants

An assortment of short cap head models. Left to right: 101N Tortoise Emegê, 101N Tortoiseshell Brown, 100N Black, and 101N Lizard.

This next part gets a little heavy on the dimensions so please bear with me. Also, keep in mind that the dimensions quoted are approximate and that variation of a few millimeters over the course of production is to be expected. Let us focus on just the cap of the 100N for simplicity’s sake. That cap measures approximately 61.4mm long with a diameter of 13.4mm regardless of whether or not it’s a regular cap or one of the short cap head variants. To break that down further, the standard cap sleeve is 44.6mm long topped by a conical cap head that has an exposed length of 16.0mm. Below the head is approximately 7.4mm of threaded material that screws into the cap sleeve. In contrast, the short cap head version has a sleeve that is 52mm long and a cap head that is just 7.7mm tall. The threads below the cap head are twice the length of the standard model, reaching 14.8mm. Despite the difference in their dimensions, the cap heads for both the standard and long caps are the exact same height from top to bottom. This is because the threads on the sleeve are located in the same place regardless of which type of cap head is fitted, a necessity to ensure the adequate sealing of the cap head with the section. To sum it all up, in reserving space for the nib while also preserving the sealing ability of the cap, the short cap head variant has a sleeve with an observed length that is 7.4mm longer to compensate for a cap head that is 8.3mm shorter when compared with the standard version. The internal workings of both caps remained unchanged. For the above math to work, you have to remember to take into account the thickness of the ring that attaches the clip. The same story plays out for the model 100 as well, with similar dimensions as those noted above and below.

100/101
Regular
100N/101N
Regular
100/101
Short
100N/101N
Short
Total Length61.4mm61.4mm61.4mm61.4mm
Diameter13.0mm13.4mm13.0mm13.4mm
Cap Sleeve44.3mm44.6mm51.5mm52mm
Cap Head16.0mm16.0mm8.2mm7.7mm
Cap Head Threads7.4mm7.4mm14.8mm14.8mm
Clip35.7mm35.1 – 36.1mm35.7mm32.7 – 35.8mm
All dimensions are approximate, and variation is to be expected
Pelikan 100 Red Marbled fountain pens with approximate dimensions

Approximate dimensions of Pelikan’s model 100 regular and short cap head variants for illustrative purposes

Pelikan 101N Lizard fountain pens with approximate dimensions

Approximate dimensions of Pelikan’s model 101N regular and short cap head variants for illustrative purposes

Schreibgeräte tells us that the drop clip retained its normal length as part of this design though that account does not seem wholly accurate. While apparently true with regards to the 100, it doesn’t hold true for the 100N, even when you factor in expected variation. Whether we are talking regular or short cap head variants, the 100’s clip measures approximately 35.7mm in length which is consistent with past historical accounts. The length of the standard 100N drop clip is generally within the range of 35.1 to 36.1mm. There are short cap head variants that have similar sized clips however many sport an overall shorter and slightly narrower clip. Those clips, when present, range 32.7 to 33.3mm in length. This smaller clip is actually the same style and size as those found on the IBIS, amongst others, which may have been selected to better facilitate the intended function. The shortened clip likely served the purpose of allowing the pen to be even less conspicuous in the pocket. None of this is well documented unfortunately so inference and supposition are required when trying to connect the dots.

Pelikan 100 Red Marbled short and regular cap variants

Pelikan 100 Red Marbled regular and short cap head variants. Note that the clips of both models are the same size, measuring approximately 35.7mm

Pelikan 100N and 101N short cap head variants compared with their regular cap head counterparts

Pelikan 100N and 101N short cap head variants compared with their regular cap head counterparts. Note that in almost all cases, the 100N/101N clips that adorn the short cap head models are shorter than those found on models with the standard cap head. Left to right; 101N Lizard (1940-42), 101N Lizard (1937-38), 101N Tortoiseshell Brown (1938-40), 101N Tortoiseshell Brown (1949-51), 101N Emegê Tortoise (~1949), 101N Emegê Tortoise (~1937), 100N Black Taylorix (1954), 100N Black (1938)

Pelikan 100N and 101N models along with an IBIS 130 demonstrating different clip lengths

A 101N Tortoiseshell Brown (1938-40) is the left most pen and a Black IBIS 130 (1949-54) is the right most pen. Three of the four 100N/101N variants in between have shorter clips that match the IBIS more closely than the 101N

As I mentioned above, the shortened cap head, and later the clip, gave the pen an overall lower profile in the pocket. Schreibgeräte gives us as close to an accurate explanation for the reduced profile as we are likely to get. The origin story of the short cap head variant was provided by Karl Höfer, a former head of fountain pen production for Pelikan. His account was first relayed in the 1997 version of the text which was further revised and expanded upon in the subsequent 2004 edition. First, to better understand the environment into which these pens were being released, a little historical context is in order. Many consider the 1930s to be the Golden Age of menswear. Suits at that time were still quite commonplace but continued the trend of diversification which began in the Roaring Twenties. Fashion stopped following the elites and focused more on the everyman. What we might still think of today as a more conservative, formal look, would have been much more casual for its time. Vests and waistcoats were falling out of fashion, but jackets remained a regular accessory in many men’s daily wardrobe. Unfortunately, the United States and Europe were both suffering from an unprecedented global economic crisis at this time therefore only those that were rather well off could afford the latest fashions. The common man of that time and even those a little better off would more often than not have had to wear their old clothing until nearly threadbare and beyond repair due to the dire economic straits of the global economy. This meant that a lot of the earlier styles from the 1920s likely carried forwards into the 1930s out of necessity.

Cap heads from both regular and short cap head variants

The cap heads of both the regular and short varieties have the same total length

I focus on men’s fashion here, not to be misogynistic, but simply because the gender roles of the time meant that products such as fountain pens were being designed and marketed towards a predominantly male consumer. The jackets and vests that the prototypical 1930s male were wearing often contained a breast pocket which, not infrequently, had a flap that could be drawn to secure and/or obscure its contents. A model 100 or 100N fountain pen featuring the standard cap with the regular cap head prevented that flap from properly folding down. This made it difficult to secure the pocket, thereby leaving the contents vulnerable to loss and thievery. By shortening the cap head (and clip), the pocket could be properly folded over and secured as intended thanks to the reduced profile of the pen which would in turn protect the pen and any other valuables within. While I focus on jackets and vests, other pocketed clothing such as shirts likewise benefited from the altered design. Getting back to Mr. Höfer, he specifically cited concerns regarding the risk of pickpocketing, the taking of valuables from a person’s pocket without their notice or consent, in certain regions as a factor that influenced the design choice. Pick pockets and purse snatchers tend to frequent crowded, popular tourist sites in large cities such as restaurants, transportation hubs, and on public transportation. A translation of Mr. Höfer’s actual quote reads; “We have assumed that there are some countries where people definitely have a greater risk of being robbed by pickpockets. When they would keep their fountain pen in their breast pocket, it would be difficult to button the pocket’s flap in order to protect the fountain pen. The shortened cap top has solved this problem – the flap can now be buttoned without the breast pocket bulging too much.” Some of the short cap head models encountered have the company named spelled with a “c” à la “Pelican” suggesting that some of these may have been bound for English speaking regions though I suspect the target consumer were those residing in the Latin American countries.

Pelikan cap head with Pelikan spelled "Pelican"

The cap head of this model 100 displays the Pelikan named spelled “Pelican” suggesting production for an English speaking region

The 2004 edition of Schreibgeräte expanded upon this idea further, introducing the notion that some of these short cap head models may have been intended for use by those serving in various branches of the military. While I could not find any specific regulations regarding German uniforms, a survey of the available regulations regarding the military uniforms of various service branches from around the world during the 1930s indicates that pockets were to be “neat and buttoned.” In 1930, the United States Coast Guard, by way of example, stipulated that, “The display of fountain pens, pencils, or other articles in outside pockets of the uniform of officers or enlisted men is prohibited.” The lower profile of the short cap head Pelikans, particularly those with the shorter clip, could have served to facilitate adherence to such regulations. Evidence supporting the use of these short cap head pens in a military environment is quite thin and there is no specific documentation to suggest that these were ever made to order for any branch of any military. It’s very possible that some of these pens ended up in the pockets of military officers, but it was unlikely to have been a routine occurrence on a large scale.

Pelikan’s vintage short cap head models are an infrequent find on the secondary market and one that always commands a premium. While Schreibgeräte gives us the “why” behind their conception, we still lack details as to who may have been the first to advocate for such an alteration of the standard design. Holding the company’s bespoke Music nib up as an example, we’ve seen a past willingness from Pelikan’s manufacturing arm to be flexible in a way that is hard for us to fathom today. It’s conceivable that some distributor or large volume merchant could have requested a small deviation from the norm, in this case, a shorter cap head. Given that a number of these have been found with the “Emegê” stamping, it is conceivable that the general importer for Portugal, Monteiro Guimarães of the company Monteiro Guimarães, Filho, Lda. could have been involved, though no known documentation has been found to corroborate this.  It is also odd and more than a little curious that none of these variants were included in any of the known catalogs. Mystery aside, the design harkens back to a bygone era. It imparts a unique look to some of Pelikan’s earliest pens while also imbuing an added functionality that is not nearly so well appreciated or as useful today given the changes in fashion over time. While puzzling over their origins can be a little crazy-making, it does not take away from the fact that these remain highly desirable collectors’ pieces that often serve as a highlight in any collection of vintage Pelikans.

References

12 responses

  1. Another excellent text, the great merit of which is, as usual, great accuracy and detail, all superbly illustrated with appropriate photos (especially comparative ones). For me it was new to note that in addition to the “short caps” there were also “short clips”, such as I knew of in the case of Ibis pens. Many thanks and congratulations for another excellent article. When will you publish all your articles on vintage Pelikans in book form? I’ll be the first in the collie to buy one. Greetings from a heavily wintry and snowy Poland.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I think the shorter clips go against the standard teaching but was something that I observed over time handling these models. I hope to have a book one day, perhaps once the kids are grown and I have more time to devote to such things. Until then, I’ll keep working at it.

      Like

  2. Great article! Couldn’t help to notice one of the heads has PeliCan rather than Pelikan written on it. When did that change come about?

    Like

    • Yes, I link to another article that I wrote elaborating on this very subject in the text. The short version, however, is that Pelikan endeavored to translate its name into English and French during the early 1900s though the early 1950s. This is why many advertisements, price lists, products, and packaging are labeled with either Pelican for English-speaking and Pélican for French-speaking markets.

      Like

  3. I’ve been collecting Pelikan’s since the early 80’s, and your articles always add a few things to my notebooks. This one filled in a few gaps for sure! Always great reading. Be well and stay safe my pen friend 😎👍

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: