March is designated as Women’s History Month in the USA, the UK, and Australia, a month set aside to commemorate the contributions of women in history and society. In honor of that, I elected to take up the study of gendered fountain pens produced by Pelikan over the last century, specifically their fountain pens and pen modifications made especially for women. Gendered products, just as the name implies, are those items or services marketed specifically towards a particular sex. Goods such as these have been around for a long time, and many have a controversial history owing to the promotion of unhealthy and often false gender stereotypes. There are a multitude of products which fall into this category, many of which are quite laughable. The distinction between male and female targeted products frequently consists of nothing more than a pink color and some slightly altered packaging with the word “Lady” prominently displayed. Marketing departments pursue these gendered products in an effort to enhance their appeal, thereby broadening the pool of potential consumers. This pursuit frequently results in the distorted portrayal of women as weaker, more delicate, and in need of special care while at the same time promoting toxic masculinity. Many cultures still frown upon men enjoying anything of a pink persuasion because of the femininity associated with it. In addition to various shades of pink and pastel, items targeted towards women tend to be smaller in size to better fit the stereotype of the more diminutive female. Many of the historical boundaries surrounding gender roles in society are being tested and debated today, a debate that is well beyond the scope of this blog. What is on brand for this blog is just how Pelikan has fed into and perpetuated some of these societal constructs with their writing implements over their 94 years in the industry. Pelikan’s gendered writing instruments can be found as far back as the original model 100 from the 1930s but there have been more recent examples as well. Indeed, it’s hard to believe that such products have persisted well into the 21st century. Pelikan’s catalogs from the 1930s through the 1950s list products that could be altered for use by a woman, labeled as “Damenhalter” or “Für die Dame” but, make no mistake, this is not a Pelikan specific phenomenon. Other pen companies, both past and present, have done the same including Sheaffer, Soennecken, Parker, and Montblanc. Believe it or not, even the ubiquitous Bic Cristal has not been spared. Read on to learn about just a few select examples of products from Pelikan’s back catalog that have been geared towards women.
Before we dive into the pens themselves, I think that it is important to set the stage. This is not an article about misogyny within the fountain pen community. I have been a part of the broader pen community for the past 11 years and in that time, have found the majority of people with whom I have had occasion to interact to be very welcoming and nonjudgmental. I have been able to share my passion for fine writing instruments with both men and women with equal bravado. I think that most of us in the community look at a pen and judge it as we might a piece of art or a fine wine, critiquing it based on its merits and not any preposterous marketing or packaging that might accompany it. That fact notwithstanding, the gender-bias inherent within the pen industry’s marketing has clearly favored men, seemingly from the get-go. That is not surprising since concepts like gender sensitivity and political correctness have only been in the broader social lexicon for the past 50 or 60 years. Rather than a unisex approach, pens from many manufacturers tend to conform to a masculine aesthetic characterized by large, weighty models in dark colors and manly shapes. When the female consumer is targeted, those models enjoy smaller, lighter, more curvaceous bodies in glittering pinks and pastels which frequently employ a cartridge/converter filling mechanism. Whether intentional or not, the sheer act of advertising a specific model as a “lady’s pen” is inherently patronizing and suggests that all others are, by default, built for men since there is no similar carve out for a “man’s pen” in advertising. This tiered hierarchy suggests a certain authenticity and superiority for those products targeting the male consumer. Assigning either masculine or feminine features to a pen is exclusionary and discounts the fact that both sexes enjoy quality fine writing instruments based on their utility and design, not some sexist marketing campaign. Since I began collecting and admiring the Pelikan brand of writing instruments, I have found them to be one of the more gender neutral brands out there. Taking the Souverän by way of example, a Black/Green striped Pelikan could at one time be had in one of five sizes without suffering any technical inferiority when moving from one model to the next. This wide variety means that a pen exists for any hand regardless of your personal preferences and biases, an inclusiveness that many other manufacturers lack. That is not to say that Pelikan has never run afoul of these gender-bias traps, they surely have, and sometimes quite spectacularly.
Let us travel backwards through time, taking a closer look at some of the writing instruments Pelikan has manufactured with women in mind. Perhaps the most recent and blatant example of a gendered product from Pelikan has been the M600 Pink released in 2015. This now hard to find fountain pen is quite desirable and commands a sizable premium on the secondary market but its initial release was somewhat scandalous. Pelikan’s launch of the M600 Pink could have been ripped straight out of the pages of the mid-20th century. Manufacturers then saw a financial opportunity and heavily leaned into a period of ravenous post-war female consumerism which lasted from the late 1940s through the early 1970s, a time characterized by the rapid proliferation of products marketed towards women. A second wave of feminism took hold in the 1970s and a conscious rejection of such practices began. That is why so many of these gendered items seem absurd today. Not surprisingly then, once the first photos of the M600 Pink hit the internet, people threw out unfavorable references to Barbie, Hello Kitty, and Victoria’s Secret to name a few. When it first debuted, it was sold under the heading “Ladies’ Collection” in some markets, being described as both “feminine and very striking.” Advertising was rife with pink ribbons and the official packaging even recalled images of a laced woman’s corset. This is perhaps the clearest example of unnecessary gendering by Pelikan, taking a standard product, the M600, which is suitable for use by both men and women and targeting its promotion towards women based on no intrinsic virtue other than the fact that it was pink in color. Don’t get me wrong. Pelikan has a back catalog littered with pink pens which is all well and fine but few of those have been so blatantly marketed towards women as this one. Pelikan did seem to tone down their marketing rhetoric a bit following the M600 Pink’s official launch and reference to the “Ladies’ Collection” can nary be found today. Regardless of the original umbrage that the product may have generated, the pen clearly stood upon its own merits, appealing to a broad swath of users, making it the desired item that it is today.
The M600 Pink (2015) was initially advertised as part of the “Ladies’ Collection” and was depicted entwined with pink ribbons. Click on a photo to view the gallery
The packaging for the M600 Pink recalls the lacing on a corset which was once fashionable amongst women. You can see it here, next to a corset belt
While the M600 Pink may be the most recent example, similar instances are easy enough to find scattered throughout Pelikan’s back catalogs. Traveling several decades further into the past brings us to the P452 Lady Pen, an export only model made for just one year in 1973 which makes it somewhat hard to find these days. This model can literally be considered the little sister to the P460, the fourth version of the historic Pelikano school pen. With similar aesthetics, the P452 was smaller than the Pelikano and featured a modified ink feed. The Lady Pen measured 4.80 inches capped with a diameter of 0.39 inches whereas the Pelikano was much larger at 5.20 inches when capped with a diameter of 0.43 inches. The P452 was available in standard Black as well as bright colors such as Turquoise, Yellow, and Purple intended to appeal to a more female user base. The cartridge filling mechanism lacked the technical sophistication of a piston filler which also fit perceptions of the less technically inclined female. The smaller size of the model likewise played into the gender stereotype of women being better suited to smaller products that fit their tinier frame. This is something that has deep historical roots with Pelikan as we’ll see below. Perhaps Pelikan learned a lesson here as the tiny M300 which launched twenty five years later maintained a healthy gender neutrality and was never marketed specifically towards women despite its small stature. We may only guess at how the P452 Lady Pen was received but its brief time in production would suggest that sales were less than robust.
The family of P452 Lady Pens made only in 1973
The pen on top is the Blue P460 Pelikano (1973-78), the fourth version of the famous school pen to be produced. Below it is a black P452 Lady Pen (1973). Notice the similar styling in a much smaller package
The Black P452 Lady Pen (1973). Click on a photo to view the gallery
The tiny Souverän M300 shown next to an automobile key fob for scale. Despite being a smaller model, it was never marketed directly towards women
Not all products were designed specifically with females in mind. Some were modified versions of a standard item, retrofitted in an effort to broaden product appeal. Go back another 40 years and you’ll find that Pelikan’s gendering of writing products began with the model 100 in the early 1930s. Most of us by now are well acquainted with the standard appearance of the 100. In its most recognizable form, a conical cap head sits atop a cap with a drop shaped clip which is married to a barrel housing a best in class piston filling mechanism. What is much less commonly observed is a little known modification that would accompany the “Damenhalter,” those model 100s specifically modified for use by a woman. Starting in 1930, the standard drop clip fitted to the model 100 could be removed and, in its place, a rolled gold ring inserted. This ring preserved the overall dimensions of the cap which allowed an altered appearance without any impact upon functionality. This “Lady’s Ring” was specifically employed on a woman’s pen as it was presumed to be better suited for the intended transport of the pen within a handbag where a clip would be more of a hinderance. A small change to be sure, not unlike what we see with countless other products today. According to Schreibgeräte, the first mention of this ring comes in 1930 when a Polish price list introduced the possibility of replacing the standard drop clip with a rolled gold ring. Up until 1934, a vendor who ordered a consignment of six fountain pens would receive one rolled gold ring which could be swapped at the time of purchase. According to Dominic Rothemel, a position for a lady’s ring could still be found in a spare parts list dated as late as 1949. Based on how infrequently these are found on the secondary market, I can only surmise that the models outfitted with gold rings made up only a small minority of the total number of pens sold. It wouldn’t surprise me if in fact women preferred the model 100 with a clip just as much and didn’t bother with the ring.
The photo on the left shows a standard Green Marbled Pelikan model 100 (1942-44) next to a clip-less Green Marbled model 100 (1938-40). Note the rolled gold ring in place of the drop clip which preserved the cap’s overall dimensions. The photo on the right shows a model 100 (1942-44) with a jeweler’s custom sterling silver overlay next to another model 100 (1933-37) with similar overlay and clip-less cap. The custom pen on the far right may have once been given as a gift. Click on a photo to view the gallery
Page 46 of Pelikan’s price list 50A from 1932 shows a parts list that includes a ring for a woman’s model 100 (underlined in red), referred to as a Damenhalter. Price list available at Pelikan Collectibles hosted by Dominic Rothemel
Pelikan’s gendered writing implements weren’t restricted to just their fountain pen lines. Mechanical pencils also received similar treatment. The miniature AUCH-Pelikan 210 without eyelet and the 475 were both listed in catalogs as being appropriate for a man’s vest pocket but could also be considered a woman’s model. What is notable about these pencils is that they were significantly smaller than the model 200 or 450 mechanical pencils which have a similar appearance but in a more standard, full sized package. These pencils serve as good examples of smaller versions of a product being targeted towards women for no virtue other than appeasing the gender stereotype of the dainty female hand. This would not have stood out as odd in its day as the perception fit in well with the gender roles that prevailed when these pencils were being produced (1930s – 1950s), a concept which has not aged well.
The photo on the left shows Black and Green Marbled 200 AUCH-Pelikans (1937-51) alongside the more diminutive model 210 without eyelet in the same finishes (1938-49). On the right, the tiny model 210s are shown next to the equally small Black/Green 475 (1951-57). Tiny pencils were useful in a man’s vest pocket but were also billed as suitable for a woman’s use. Click on a photo to view the gallery
The pen at the top of the photo is the first version of the Black/Green 450 (1955-59). Below it is the much smaller Black/Green 475 (1951-57), similarly styled
Page 161 of Pelikan’s price list number 70 dated 1938 (scanned from my personal library) indicates that the small model 210 was billed as “vest pocket sized and for the lady” (see red underlining)
The five models discussed here are not meant to be an all-inclusive list but merely an introduction as to how Pelikan has responded to a gendered market at various times over the last several decades. Regardless of one’s views on such products, at least those from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s could be better understood in the context of their time, much more so than those of today thanks to the evolving views of gender and the role of the female in society. A fountain pen should just be a fountain pen without the added baggage tacked on by half-baked marketing. Men, women, and those who identify as something else just want a great pen, something that is outwardly attractive, functionally superior, and able to be easily used by all. This article is not a commentary on those who enjoy these writing instruments on a daily basis whom I feel tend to view these things through an ungendered, neutral lens. What it is is a critique on the absurdity of gender specific designs and marketing. You may argue whether or not gender-biased products still have a role in the 21st century but I for one am grateful that Pelikan has only seldomly turned to such gimmicks.
- Dittmer, Jürgen & Lehmann, Martin. “Pelikan Schreibgeräte 1929 – 1997.” Art Forum beim Baumhaus Verlag. Pages 30 and 87. 1998.
- Dittmer, Jürgen & Lehmann, Martin. “Pelikan Schreibgeräte 1929 – 2004.” A.H.F. Dunkmann GmbH & Co. KG. Pages 39-40 and 87. 2004.
- Doolan, Kate. “A Minefield of Pink and Blue.” The Public Ear. June 11, 2019. Last accessed 2/24/23.
- Hix, Lisa. “Girlie Pens, Again? Why Ordinary Things Go Pink.” Collectors Weekly. September 7, 2012. Last accessed 3/5/23.
- Kaygan, Harun et al. “A pen that ‘looks like a CEO in a business suit’: gendering the fountain pen.” Journal Of Gender Studies. December 4, 2017. Last accessed 2/12/23.
- Pigott, Susan. “The Pelikan M600 Pink Special Edition Fountain Pen: A Review.” The Pen Addict. October 29, 2015. Last accessed 2/28/23.
- Silbermann, Michael. “Pelikan Limited & Special Editions: Fine Writing Instruments 1993-2020.” 2021.
- Wagner, Günther. “Pelikan Price List No 50A.” Page 46. 1932.
- Wagner, Günther. “Pelikan Price List No 70.” Page 161. 1938.
A special thanks to Susan Pigott and Dominic Rothemel for their input and feedback on my early drafts.
The Pink is one of my favorites and best writers. I didn’t use it much because I didn’t think there was an ink gauge in that smaller model. But now that I know better I like it much more.
Pelikan was one of the few companies I trusted for the ink windows, so I think their decision to eliminate them is a huge mistake they will need to reverse.
Thought I would share this piece I published:
View at Medium.com
I enjoy learning from the Pelikan’s Perch. Everyone is entitled to their opinions. Posting them in a neutral tone is best in my opinion. But honestly, “woke”. Please define woke. As far as I know, it means being awake, as opposed to being asleep. I don’t understand this word in the context it was used. Thank you, Alex, if you can help me understand it.
div dir=”ltr”>Joshua, thank you so very much for devoting so much time and effort th
I appreciate you pointing out the absurdity of marketing common tools used by all with gender roles. I am female, and seldom buy anything in pink. I don’t wear pink clothes. I do own a few pink pens, including a Pilot Prera Iro-Ai. I think all people should be able to buy the pens they can afford in whatever colors appeal to them. I’m sure a lot of women bought a Stresemann. It was outside my budget, but I like gray and think that is one attractive pen.
Gendered marketing does work though, the M600 pink was one of Pelikan’s most successful models and Sailor (and to a lesser extent other Japanese manfacturers) still have a lot of success with their “lady pens”.Stephan
Joshua states that “Men, women, and those who identify as something else just want a great pen, something that is outwardly attractive, functionally superior, and able to be easily used by all.” and that’s how it should be,but sales across industries suggest that the reality is still different. Enough customers still want not just a great pen but also an appealing marketing angle and gender offers just that in plenty of cases.
Thanks for your comments Derek. Just to add my 2 cents, in my research for this article, I found a lot of information that would suggest that gendered marketing is becoming less effective, particularly amongst the younger generations who see gender as a more fluid thing. It is seemingly not nearly as effective today as it once might have been. For sure, people want an appealing marketing angle, that I do not contest. Making it an issue of gender though seems to be increasingly alienating prospect and could actually distract from the product being sold. I have no problems with pink pens and love my M600 Pink. I do think that it would have been better if they had advertised it on its own merits and left gender out of the equation but it takes nothing away from the pen itself.
I’ve always thought that Pelikan was ahead of the curve by offering Souverans in multiple sizes to suit a wide variety of users. I have small hands, but I also have arthritis, and the medium-sized but lightweight M600/605 pens fit me best.
I remember when the M600 Pink hit the fan with its absurd marketing. (I was one of those disdainfully calling it the Barbie Pen.) Too bad I didn’t pick one up while it was still affordable!
How about the Sheaffer pen for men? Why is no one arguing about it? Does it mean all Sheaffer pens prior were women’s pens?
In my opinion all you people who get so easily offended by such things forget to look everywhere else, because literally every industry has products advertised towards male or female. How about clothes? Why aren’t you appalled that dresses and skirts are only advertised towards women? (I mean the mainstream, not the fashion industry, where they have clothes made of garbage bags and transparent plastic that no normal people will buy, with the exception of some celebrities on the red carpet, and where obviously you will find so called “designers” that dress their male models in dresses and bras.)
It’s normal to be a difference in what women and men like. Will there be exceptions? Of course. I for one enjoy pink and smaller pens even though I am a man with big hands, and the fact that a pen is advertised as a lady’s pen is is no way a turn off.
When I see a product advertised towards men or women, all I see is something made to fit their needs better, instead of the unisex product, but the rest of the world apparently sees discrimination or something.
Hello friend. Welcome and thank you for your comments. This is a friendly environment and I encourage discourse. That said, I would caution you against statements that begin with “you people.” That tone just doesn’t sit well with me. If you can’t keep a civil tongue, you and your comments will be removed from participation in this forum. Consider this a friendly warning. That said, you are absolutely right about Sheaffer. I would have explored that further if I was exploring multiple brands but my article was narrowly focused on Pelikan only. You are also correct that the gendering of products is a pervasive issue that spans multiple industries. That prevalence alone is a poor argument for it being right to do so. Men and women can and do indeed gravitate towards different things but should all women gravitate towards things that are pink and smaller with no other redeeming virtues? Is it right that women often pay more for these gendered products than men do for similar items? Of course not on both accounts. When something is made to fit someones needs, that’s great, but making something pink doesn’t really serve anyones “needs.” It is not discrimination but gendered products do perpetuate stereotypes that can be and often are unhealthy. All this article was meant to do was to point out Pelikan’s carve outs for women’s writing products over the last century, something that they have done sparingly in the last few decades. It was a piece meant to stir thought and constructive debate. It was not meant to be divisive or attack any one person or their beliefs. I hope you were able to see it for its merits, even if you disagree with its content and conclusions. Thanks for reading none-the-less.
So remove my comment. Big deal. You think it’s a big loss. I see you are one of those people that believe it’s unfair that women’s razors cost more than mans. Yea. It could’t be the fact that womens products are more expensive to make. And it’s not like they are forced to buy womens razors, just buy the man’s variant. It’s not like it is illegal. Get real.
I did politely ask you to keep a civil tongue. I try not to remove comment’s because I want this site to be inclusive of all points of view. Unfortunately, your misogynistic self important attitude and clear sense of entitlement prevent you from effectively expressing a cogent argument. Pity. Please feel free to refrain from posting further comments on this blog unless you have something constructive to contribute and can do so in a friendly manner. Thanks.
I really enjoy your website and I think it’s a tremendous contribution to the internet and a great resource for any collector/lover of Pelikan pens (and pens in general). However, your article would’ve been so much better and timeless had you refrained from the woke commentary and simply stuck to the facts. It’s fine to highlight the difference between the mainstream ideology in the different eras, but there was no need to suggest that the current ideas are superior to the old ones.
The point of this message is not to persuade you in any way on the topic of feminism or wokeism. I’m sure you’ve already been exposed to much better formulated arguments than what I’m able to produce. I did however feel like I should point out that in your dispute with Raducu (whose position I think I can understand quite well also because we share the same culture) you took offense to him using the phrase “you people”, but then proceeded to label him a misogynist and talk down to him. While his rant expressed frustration with a certain cultural trend, your reply was a personal attack.
And while you might think your article is inoffensive and benign, you’re just as guilty as Radu of using the phrase “you people”. Sure, you didn’t actually say it, but whenever you pass moral judgement on a set of ideas, you’re essentially saying “you people” to those who support those ideas.
Hello Alex. I’m sorry that your comments got sent to the spam bin until now and I am glad that I saw them prior to clearing the spam. Thank you for your commentary and for sharing your views. You presented your argument much better than Raducu did his. I respect your views but personally think that we can and should pass judgement on old thinking and ideas, particularly when those ideas served to oppress a sector of society. Old ideas had women being unable to vote or able to have a credit card without a male cosigner. I think that we need to acknowledge the shortcomings of the past so that we might strive to do better. That is how we grow as a more inclusive society. I think that it is possible to condemn the ideas of the past without necessarily impugning the people that held them. Is our current thinking superior? In many ways I think that it is but in some ways, I concede that it likely is not. I certainly can understand how some would have found this article offensive and while I struggled to find a middle ground, I can respect your position on that. Thanks again for sharing.
I have the pink set from when they came out and they are great. I never thought into the gender issue. If you like it who cares. Never thought twice.
Exactly. It’s a great pen and easily stands on its own. It was clearly well received by both men and women. My point here is that the gendered marketing was superfluous, more distracting than helpful in the sales effort.