In the closing days of 2022, Pelikan brought two final models to market, capping off a year of scant releases. The first of these was the M205 Apatite special edition which was reviewed on the blog earlier this month. The second release was the Pelikan 40 Years Of Souverän fountain pen which is the model under scrutiny today. “What is a Souverän?” you might ask. For the uninitiated, it is simply the term that Pelikan gives to those models hailing from their high end fine writing instrument product lines. The concept has a strong precedent. Montblanc, perhaps one of the best known manufacturers of luxury items, has been using the “Meisterstuck” branding for their high end writing instruments since the 1920s. The word ‘meisterstuck’ translates to English as ‘masterpiece.’ Pelikan’s marketing simply followed suit, coming up with the term Souverän, which translates into sovereign or commanding. The Souverän moniker was first born in March of 1982, and it came at a time of great peril for the company. It was that same year that Pelikan was forced to declare bankruptcy after facing heavy losses across multiple business sectors, in part a consequence of the business’ rapid expansion during the 1970s. The early 1980s saw a fountain pen renaissance of sorts and Pelikan attempted to capture a share of that market by going back to a design which had been so successful for them thirty years earlier. That first Souverän was the Black/Green M400 and, at least initially, it was little changed from its predecessor. The company would ultimately be taken over, various divisions parted out, but Pelikan’s fine writing instruments division would survive the bankruptcy proceedings. The Souverän line would continue to grow and flourish over the ensuing forty years. Other models would follow including the M600 in 1985, the M800 in 1987, the M1000 in 1997, and the now discontinued M300 in 1998. This past year marked the 40th anniversary of that first Souverän and Pelikan chose to commemorate the occasion with a special limited edition M800. Only 888 pieces, laden with plenty of gold embellishments, were produced for worldwide distribution so I thought that it was worth taking a closer look at this one. One of the things that I and many others love about the Pelikan brand is their heritage, so I take any homage to such very seriously. Unfortunately, the design of this new model leaves me wanting and I cannot help but feel that opportunities were squandered. Read on for an honest review of this commemorative fountain pen as seen through the eyes of a true Pelikan fan.
Appearance & Design (6/10) – An unbalanced look, particularly when capped, throws off the aesthetic
The new 40 Year fountain pen comes in a unique gift box designed specifically for this model. The packaging consists of a cube made from cardboard, painted black, and adorned with stripes. There is a ribbon along the top that you pull to remove the lid. Once clear, three of the four sides of the cube fall away, leaving the pen front and center. In addition to the pen, there is a small plaque engraved with the edition number and a bottle of 4001 Dark Green ink featuring a custom label as well as some warranty documents inside the box. The overall effect is nice, and I appreciate the effort to elevate the packaging for a special model like this but there isn’t much replay value to the gimmick. The 40 Year pen is built off of the M800 chassis, but three things instantly grab your attention, letting you know that this isn’t an ordinary M800. The first thing that you may notice is an extra wide, specially engraved cap band that reads “40 Years Of Souverän Pelikan.” Next, you encounter a golden ring in the middle of the barrel sporting diamond-ground lines which are meant to be symbolic of the Souverän’s iconic striped design. The last thing to stand out is the piston knob which is fully plated in gold. At the very end of that knob, the edition number is laser engraved. The barrel otherwise features Pelikan’s iconic green striped barrel though no ink view is to be found. Uncap the pen, and you will find that the section is entirely plated in gold, just like the piston knob. The nib is made from 18 carat yellow gold featuring a special scroll and the engraving “40 YEARS.” Finally, the cap top features an etching of the company logo filled in with green paint, a hybrid of both old and new styles. I have a lot of feelings about how these elements come together, few of them positive. I do like the cap as a whole, from the wide band with the unique engraving as well as the subtle beauty of the cap top. For me, it’s all downhill from there. First of all, the gold plating is a bit gaudy and feels overblown. Then there is the gold band in the middle of the barrel which really does nothing to help the overall aesthetic and arguably distracts from the design. This is never more apparent than when the pen is capped. The whole look just comes off as unbalanced. It certainly is a much more handsome pen when uncapped and unposted, but the elements lack cohesion. In the end, the 40 Year pen just feels like it’s trying too hard to be special.
Pelikan’s unique packaging for the 40 Years Of Souverän is in the shape of a cube with sides that drop away once the lid of the box is removed. Click on a photo to view the gallery
Click on a photo to view the gallery
Construction & Quality (8/10) – Concerns over the gold plating at the section cannot be ignored
The 40 Year pen is meant to be a culmination of those things that have defined the Souverän line. As such, you have to take the good with the bad. Highlights include solid construction that really can’t be faulted. The pen has no obvious defects or imperfections, and the plating appears to be done well. The pieces fit together without any seams and the piston knob lacks any play. What can be faulted here is the lack of an ink view, literally a hallmark of the Souverän line for 39+ years. Given the weight of the pen, I would also be concerned about dropping this model onto a hard surface from any kind of altitude. The area where the section attaches to the barrel has historically been a weak point on the M800 and the added heft of this model means that there is that much more force behind it should the pen impact the ground at just the right angle. The gold plating also raises concerns for wear over time. What I would be most anxious about is corrosion and a loss of plating at the section which can occur when the gold is subjected to caustic ink formulations. We have already seen examples of this with the golden trim rings that have adorned the sections of Souveräns since 1997. While not a deal breaker, it does raise concerns about the durability of this model with regular and extended use. Maybe that is not the intention at all. Perhaps this is simply meant to be a show piece, kept on display in its fancy stage-like packaging but that, of course, would go against the spirit of the Souverän.
The gold plated section risks corrosion and a loss of plating over time with prolonged exposure to caustic inks
Weight & Dimensions (9/10) – A bigger pen that tips the scales even more so than a standard M800
Pelikan’s 40 Year pen is an M800 that went off its diet. The dimensions of the pen are no different than those of any other M800. It measures approximately 5.55 inches when capped and 6.45 inches when posted with a diameter of 0.52 inches. M800s are always heftier than most of their fellow Souveräns thanks to the inclusion of a brass connector as part of the piston assembly. The 40 Year pen comes in at 1.27 ounces on the scale thanks to all of the extra gold plating. Contrast that with a typical M800 which weighs in at 0.99 ounces. That extra weight won’t bother those who already prefer the M800 but for those that are turned off by the heft of the standard model, this special edition has only gotten heavier and more daunting. With regards to balance, the pen does feel a touch back heavy though not enough to be a significant turn off and I do not find it at all uncomfortable to use.
The diamond engraved band in the middle of the pen seems superfluous and results in an unbalanced appearance when the pen is capped
Nib & Performance (9/10) – A beautifully designed nib that fits the pen well but lacks character
The nib of the 40 Year pen is definitely a highlight if speaking strictly about its design. It is simple but appropriate and starts with a unique scroll at the tip. There appears to be the image of a pelican mirrored across the slit. Below the breather hole, “40 YEARS” is prominently engraved. The rest of the design is that of a standard Souverän nib and includes the company logo, the gold content of the nib, and the width. There is no rhodium plating on this one, so the entire nib has the standard appearance of yellow gold. Once you get beyond its looks, the characteristics of the nib are no different than Pelikan’s standard fare which is a bit of a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong. The feed is exceptional at resisting drying out and the line it puts down is wet and generous. The writing experience is smooth, and the line is pretty true to what I’d expect from a western medium. While it is a dependable writer that gets the job done, it does not inspire. The nib is fairly firm and lacks any hint of character. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect here is the fact that this model is only available in a medium width, a disappointingly bland option. Of course, this model will accept any standard M800 nib as well. I’ll share my thoughts in more detail below but, needless to say, it feels like an opportunity lost.
Filling System & Maintenance (10/10) – A time tested piston filler guaranteed to not disappoint
The 40 Year pen is like any Souverän in the fact that it has an industry leading piston filling mechanism that is second to none. The piston extends with a simple twist of the piston knob. It will fill nearly full with a single cycle of the piston assembly, not that you would know that thanks to the lack of an ink view. When full, the pen holds approximately 1.35mL of ink. The piston travels smoothly along the length of the barrel and the piston knob snugs securely when the piston is retracted. Should the piston stiffen over time, the nib can be easily unscrewed, and a tiny drop of pure silicone grease applied to the inner barrel which is the only form of extraordinary maintenance that these should require. While there is little to no indication for ever having to remove the piston assembly on these models, there is some comfort in knowing that the piston assembly of the M800 is screwed into the barrel and not snap fit like the smaller models. With proper pen maintenance habits, the filling system of the 40 Year pen will provide reliable service for decades.
Cost & Value (6/10) – Limited numbers of a large model with ample gold plating means big bucks at the register
The 40 Year pen is a special edition limited to just 888 pieces worldwide. It was inevitable that such an exclusive release would also carry an inflated price tag to match. In the USA, this special edition has an MSRP of $2,400 which means that it retails for around $1,920. A standard M800 has an MSRP of $820 and retails for $656 by way of comparison. A modest savings of $200 to $300 can be had when shopping abroad but this is an expensive pen no matter which way you slice it. Is all that gold worth such a premium over the standard model? Probably not at the end of the day but that is the price of admission none the less. The pricing of this one is almost certain to relegate it solely to the purview of those with a hardcore Pelikan addiction and a lot of disposable income.
Conclusion – The only kingdom that this sovereign reigns over is disappointment for what could have been
M800 40 Years Of Souverän: 48/60 or 80%
I’ve bit my tongue for the majority of this review and have tried hard to not let my own vision of what could have been cloud my view about what was actually delivered. That said, I would like to close this piece by providing an alternate vision for what could have been. First off, the original Souverän was an M400, a position it held uncontested for three years and therefore is the only model in the line to have already turned forty. It is a historic model that has been wildly successful for the company. If you truly wanted to pay homage to the Souverän line, then I think the M400 would have made a much more fitting base model. Next, the gilding. Rather than dipping the pen in as much gold as you could, I would argue that the bolder and more intriguing move would have been to remove the gold. Take away the standard trim ring at the section and eliminate the dual trim rings at the piston knob. Take the design back to its roots and emulate the understated grace of the original M400 before the 1997 revision. I love what they did with the cap top, cap band, and nib on the 40 Year pen so, absolutely, bring those elements forward but apply them to a more retro-inspired model. What else? An ink view window! This has been the defining feature of a Pelikan fountain pen since 1929 and was a hallmark of the Souverän for 39+ years. I understand that they are moving away from the ink view concept in their design, but it feels like an unconscionable omission on an anniversary model like this. Finally, those new to the brand may not be aware but Pelikan’s Souveräns once sported nibs in a much wider variety of widths including EF, F, M, B, BB, OM, OB, and OBB (larger models even had BBB and OBBB options). Rather than the boring M option offered, Pelikan could have gone all out with the addition of something more exotic like a triple broad. Better yet, include it as an extra so that the model could have come with both M and BBB nibs (à la the Chronoswiss Styloscope) that could be swapped at will. An M400 model without all that gold would have been much cheaper to produce. You could have made more models at a cheaper price point and allowed a much larger swath of fans to partake in the celebration of this iconic product line. I don’t have reams of market research at my disposal, nor do I know anything about design or even the business of fountain pen manufacturing. What I do have is a thorough appreciation for the brand and its history, a brand that has a lot of heart. That heart should be highlighted, elevated, and honored. Instead, an ultra-exclusive limited edition was released which feels like a cash grab more than a true homage. The 40 Year pen feels like it is trying too hard to be special when all it would have taken to be special was to remember what it originally was and, deep down, still is. The whole brand feels a bit like that these days, forgetting what made them so great to begin with. I fully admit that this is all just my opinion and readily accept that it won’t be shared by all. I can only speak from my own heart and my heart can’t help but look at the 40 Years Of Souverän M800 and see what could have been. In the end, it feels like a lot of promise was squandered.
The Pelikan M800 40 Years Of Souverän is seen beside an M400 from the early 1980s, the true originator of the Souverän line. Note how the cap top of the M800 harkens back to the design of old. Click on a photo to view the gallery
- The cap top looks great, doing an effective job of melding both old and new styles
- The nib has a unique appearance that is simple but sophisticated and suits the model well
- The feed and nib work together to put down a wet and generous line
- The pen can be easily serviced and is overall low maintenance
- The piston filling mechanism is a time tested, industry leading design
- The pen lacks an ink view window, something that was a Souverän feature for 39 years
- The gold plating on the section is vulnerable to corrosion which could damage the plating with prolonged exposure to caustic inks
- The model only comes equipped with a medium nib, lacking any other options
- The design aesthetic feels unbalanced, particularly when capped, thanks to the inclusion of a gold band in the middle of the barrel
- This is a large, heavy pen that won’t appeal to those who like smaller, lighter models
- An ultra-limited release of 888 pens at a price pushing $2K means that most will only be able to appreciate this one from afar
A Look At The Pelikan M800 40 Years Of Souverän
Pelikan M800 40 Years Of Souverän Writing Sample
*The pen utilized for this review is my own from my personal collection and therefore the opinions expressed are also mine and free of any undue influence.