The Pelikan M800: A Modern Day Titan

Pelikan M800sThe German city of Frankfurt has a long tradition of hosting trade fairs, a history that spans more than 800 years.  The first Frankfurt trade fair to be documented in writing dates back to 1240 under the auspices of Emperor Frederick II.  Since 1330, trade fairs have been held in Frankfurt twice a year; once in the spring and once in the fall.  It was at the Frankfurt Spring Fair of 1987 that Pelikan launched the M800, their first modern oversized pen.  Held from February 21-25, the event was regarded as a success by its organizers with 4,375 exhibitors displaying their wares to an estimated 100,000 visitors.  Pelikan maintained a large display at the fair separated into two parts, one of which featured the sizable Pelikan collection of stylophile Mel Strohminger.  It was the following year (1988), on the occasion of Pelikan’s 150th anniversary, that their newest Souverän model would be brought to the shores of the United States.  Presumably, the M800 emerged as the result of market competition from rival Montblanc’s Meisterstück 146 and 149 amongst others.  The Souverän series, by today’s standards, was rather anemic before the M800’s introduction, consisting of only the M400 which got its start in 1982 and a version of the M600 which launched in 1985.  Despite differing model numbers, both of the existing Souveräns at the time were actually the same size, the M600 being distinguished only by its more upscale trim package.  These were considered standard sized pens though are somewhat small by today’s reckoning.   It wasn’t until 1997 that Pelikan adjusted the lines to make the M600 more of an intermediate size to bridge the gap between the M400 and M800.  You can well imagine how the M800 dwarfed its siblings in the lineup at the time of its introduction and represented a truly new size option for the first time in the company’s modern history.  The M800 was initially available in Green/Black (striped) or Black but the line would quickly expand throughout the 1990s to encompass many limited edition releases.  Even today, the M800 chassis is the go to platform for a large number of Pelikan’s special and limited edition models.  Read on to learn how the M800 has evolved over the years.

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Classic Pens’ Collision With Pelikan: A Look At The CP6 Goethe Pens

Pelikan/Classic Pens CP6 Marguerite & CharlotteBorn out of a shared passion for fountain pens, Andreas Lambrou and Keith G. Brown launched Classic Pens Limited in England in 1987.  Their goal was to create exclusive fountain pen designs for like-minded pen lovers across the globe.  The pair would end up partnering with a wide variety of international manufacturers, taking models with an already established pedigree and elevating them in new and unique ways.  The endeavor did not take off immediately as they struggled to find manufacturers willing to partner with them, but their efforts came to fruition in 1990 with the launch of the Classic Pens CP collection of limited editions.  The first release was done in partnership with Sheaffer UK and was based on the Targa but the collection would grow to comprise well known flagship models from many other prominent brands.  Classic pens would take those pens and make them new again by covering them in sterling silver and decorating them with customized guilloche engravings.  Named after the craftsman Guillot who is credited with inventing the art, guilloche is an ancient technique that consists of engraving patterns on materials.  It has been used to decorate countless items including watches, lighters, cufflinks, cutlery, and pens.  In 1998, shortly after the release of their fourth CP edition, Classic Pens Incorporated was formed in Los Angeles, California in order to better serve the United States market.  The CP collection of pens are as much works of art as they are functional writing instruments.  To accomplish all of this, Classic Pens partnered with the Murelli family, renowned professional guillocheurs out of France.  The series has spanned 18 years and is made up of 8 limited edition releases representing 14 models with most of the designs guided by a specific theme.  All the pens standout as special but two in particular will be the focus of this article; the CP6 Charlotte and CP6 Marguerite.  These two models represent the sixth edition of the CP series and are only rarely seen for sale these days.  Announced in September 2000 and released in 2002, they represent a collaboration between Classic Pens, Murelli, and Pelikan.  Both are considered official Pelikan releases, backed by a lifetime Pelikan Warranty and after sales service.  Read on to learn about the inspiration that helped breathe life into these unique models.  

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The Patent That Launched A Fountain Pen Empire

German patent DE457462 Theodor Kovàcs is a mysterious historical figure, particularly for someone who had such a profound impact upon the history of fountain pen development.  There is surprisingly little written about him and his work outside of what Pelikan Schreibgeräte and its derivatives tell us.  His birth, family, activities outside of Pelikan, and death are all questions that I have been unable to answer despite extensive research.  Much of what we do know seems to be based upon a strong oral history as well as a scant trail of patents and corporate agreements.  A great deal of this history, I have already put forth in my piece, Where It All Started: The Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen so please forgive any redundancy.  While I have previously dedicated time to the fruits of Mr. Kovàcs’ labor and partnership with Günther Wagner, I have never taken a deep dive into the engineering behind the differential piston mechanism that has become a defining characteristic of Pelikan’s 90+ year fountain pen legacy.  Not just an incremental improvement, Mr. Kovàcs’ designs were evolutionary, taking the potential of these analogue instruments to the next level.  I thought that it might be enlightening, particularly for the more engineering minded amongst us, to peek behind the curtain and see what makes a Pelikan tick, at least as it did back in the early days.  The designs that follow are derived from the original patents filed by Mr. Kovàcs and Günther Wagner back in the 1920s which ultimately became the linchpin behind the company’s fountain pen fortunes.  All the illustrations below have been annotated according to the patent’s text for ease of viewing.  Of course, there have been some small improvements to the piston design over the past nine decades, but the fundamentals remain the same.  Read on to learn how Pelikan’s differential piston filling mechanism got its start.

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Before It Was Cool To Be Clear: The Origin Of Pelikan’s Demonstrators

Pelikan 400NN and 455 DemonstratorsMany of the preeminent innovations and game changing inventions throughout the history of human civilization have had but one thing in common: they were born out of curiosity.  The drive to push towards new ideas and experiences thereby unlocking limitless potential is a basic human attribute.  From the Acheulean hand axe and the control of fire to space exploration and self-driving cars, curiosity is a powerful motivator for learning and influential in decision-making.  It is one of the pillars upon which the advancements of society have been built.  It should come as no surprise then that curiosity has also helped drive innovations in fountain pen design.  Mention of a primitive reservoir pen can be found dating back to less than 1000 years Anno Domini.  The Romanian inventor Petrache Poenaru was one of the first to be granted a patent for such a design in France on May 25th, 1827.  Pelikan entered the market with their Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen in 1929 featuring Theodor Kovác’s differential piston filling mechanism.  The steady evolution of the fountain pen meant added complexity and many of the competing manufacturers of the early twentieth century were eager to show off their pens and make the case for why their design was superior to others.  Pelikan was no different in this regard and therefore outfitted their sales representatives and stationary shops with special pens that revealed the model’s inner workings.  Likely starting sometime in the early 1930s, the hard rubber components of the 100 were skeletonized or cut away to create non-functional models, not available or intended for resale.  It is unclear in what capacity these models were utilized but make no mistake, this was the birth of the demonstrator, just not the ones we commonly think of today.  Those came about later, with the advent and mass production of clear plastics.  Examples exist of the 400 and 400NN from the 1950s and 60s done in green or clear shades of transparent plastic.  Many of Pelikan’s demonstrators from the 1950s through the 1960s were low production volume items carried by reps and delivered to stationary shops, which makes them scarce and highly collectible today.  Eventually, such pens would catch on with consumers and grow in popularity.  No longer relegated to life as a sales tool, demonstrators would grow into their own and become special edition releases.  Pelikan’s first major modern foray into the demonstrator was the Transparent Green M800 released in 1992 which they quickly followed up with the M810 Blue Ocean in 1993 and a multitude of other demonstrators since.  Read on to learn more about the origins from which today’s demonstrators hail.

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Cultural Nostalgia: The Italian Connection To The M151

Pelikan M151Italy is rife with manufacturers whose products focus on the culture of writing.  Aurora, Montegrappa, Pineider, Stipula, and Visconti are just a few that quickly come to mind.  Despite the already crowded market space, German interlopers have also done well in the region.  One such instance that comes to mind is the curious case of the M151.  In 2015, I wrote a brief piece titled “The (Short) Story of the M151” which explored from where the pen’s moniker was derived.  As it turned out, the M151 was simply a repackaged M150 Green/Black meant to be sold within the Italian market.  The name of the model arose from the company’s own internal description for the M150.  Despite the seemingly simple explanation, the pen’s marketing has suggested that there is a lot more to this model than meets the eye.  At the end of 2019, the M251 was released, destined for the same region and meant to serve as a larger companion piece to the M151.  Rather than a repackaged model, this was a unique addition to the Classic line, employing the same Green/Black color scheme as its little brother.  Regional sales literature for the M151 can be found with tag lines such as; “Everything passes…myths remain” and “A legend from the past is back.”  This piqued my curiosity.  What was so special about this little fountain pen that would elevate it to mythical status and why was it worthy of a new regional companion piece?  Was it simply a matter of overzealous marketing or was there something more to it?  To answer those questions, I enlisted the help of Mario Pagnozzi of Stilo&Stile.  Based out of Rome since 2004, his company’s mission has focused on welcoming enthusiastic, curious people to the world of handwriting.  With his help and an inquiry to Pelikan’s Italian division, the cultural connection to the M151 has been made just a little bit clearer.  Read on to learn why these two pens might hold a bit more significance for the country than they at first let on.

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The Unsung History Of Pelikan, Inc. USA

Old Style Pelikan LogoIn 2001, Chartpak, Inc. became the exclusive distributor for the Pelikan brand in the United States as well as Mexico and Canada.   The company manufactures and imports fine artist materials, fine writing instruments, and office products for distribution in the Americas.  Their website states; “Chartpak has an established portfolio of 14 brands with 60 product lines that span 17 distinct categories of art materials, fine writing, craft & hobby and office products, many of which are made in the USA or Europe.”  Chartpak is located in Leeds, Massachusetts and is nestled in the five-college area of the state which boasts a vibrant and active student artist population.  While Chartpak’s story accounts for nearly the past 20 years of Pelikan in the United States, have you ever wondered about Pelikan’s past US operations or who distributed their products in North America before Chartpak?  A recent inquiry from a reader led me to ponder that very question in greater detail.  When you search Google for the answer, you come up with surprisingly little, most likely because the bulk of the history occurred prior to the rise of the internet.  Not to be discouraged, I turned to a resource that was satisfyingly nostalgic, the newspaper.  After searching through dozens of papers and hundreds of articles, I learned that Jack Kelly was probably correct when he said, “…headlines don’t sell papes. Newsies sell papes.”  I also learned a great deal about Pelikan’s more public affairs throughout the 1980s and 90s.  While the record in incomplete, we can get at least a basic sense of Pelikan’s operations in the USA over that two decade span.  It is important to keep in mind that Pelikan’s business structure is incredibly complex with many divisions.  Pelikan AG and later Pelikan International acted largely as holding companies, a type of financial organization that owns a controlling interest in other companies called subsidiaries.  While the parent corporation controls the subsidiary’s policies and oversees management decisions, the days to day operations are left to the subsidiary.  In this way, the holding company protects itself from losses accrued by the subsidiary (creditors can’t go after the holding company).  What we had in the US focused on hardcopy or printer consumables which started out as a product group in the Pelikan product range.  The distribution of fine writing instruments in North America has been managed by various agents over the years which I will endeavor to explore.  I should make it clear that at no point were fountain pens or fountain pen inks manufactured in the USA.  Read on to learn how the company’s fortunes rose and fell over the span of approximately 15 years and why operations eventually ceased.

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The Concessions Of War: Pelikan, WWII, And The Untold Story

Pelikan Factory circa 1938

Paul von Hindenburg (10/2/1847 – 8/2/1934) was a general who commanded the Imperial German Army during World War I.  He would go on to become the President of Germany in 1925 during the time of the Weimar Republic (1919 – 1933), an office that he held until his death.  On November 19, 1932, a letter known as the “Industrielleneingabe” was signed by more than a dozen representatives of industry, finance, and agriculture urging President Hindenburg to appoint Adolf Hitler (4/20/1889 – 4/30/1945) Chancellor of Germany.  One of the notable signatories on that letter was Fritz Beindorff, Sr (4/29/1860 – 6/2/1944), then owner of Pelikan.  Mr. Beindorff was incredibly influential in Hannover at the time, holding many honorary, appointed, and elected positions.  Few companies have shaped the face of Hannover more than Pelikan thanks in no small part to his leadership.  Hindenburg did not immediately comply with the request but, under pressure from several advisers, he would appoint Hitler to the position of Chancellor in January 1933, a pivotal moment in the Nazi rise to power.

Paul von Hindenburg and Adolph Hitler

German leaders.  Left: Paul von Hindenburg. Right: Adolph Hitler

 

Sir Horace Rumbold (2/5/1869 – 5/24/1941), the British Ambassador to Berlin at the time wrote in February of that year; “Hitler may be no statesman but he is an uncommonly clever and audacious demagogue and fully alive to every popular instinct.”  Hitler would use his new position to suppress opposition and to consolidate and strengthen his power.  In 1933, the German cabinet enacted a law which stated that upon Hindenburg’s death, the office of the president would be abolished and its powers merged with those of the Chancellor.  This allowed Hitler’s government to become a legal dictatorship.  In that role, he would spend the next five years forging new alliances and rebuilding the German war machine.  This culminated on September 1, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland effectively kicking off World War II.  The United Kingdom and France would declare war on Germany two days later.  Pelikan had just celebrated its 100th anniversary the year prior and had only entered the fountain pen market ten years earlier.  Much of the company’s manufacturing apparatus at the time was contained within Germany and therefore was subject to many wartime regulations that would come to be handed down over the course of the conflict.  Read on to find out just how the war and its aftermath would affect Pelikan’s domestic and international operations.  As the text is heavily laden with dates, I have included a timeline at the end so that you may better visualize how the events unfolded.

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The M800 Demonstrator: Then And Now

Pelikan M800 Demonstrator 2020 Chinese EditionThe M800 Demonstrator has had an interesting life.  It was first released in 2008 as a special edition to celebrate the company’s 170th anniversary and it came in two forms.  The first of these was a standard demonstrator in clear, transparent resin that lacked any embellishment on the barrel or cap.  The clear resin allowed for unobstructed viewing of the brass piston assembly which was complimented by Pelikan’s standard gold plated trim.  At the same time, another model was released, identical to the first save that this one featured etched descriptors of the various parts filled in with white paint.  These pointed out key features such as the spindle nut, twist stopper, and piston to name just a few.  Eight attributes in all were labeled along the barrel and piston knob.  Interestingly, this particular model featured a cut out in the brass connector of the piston assembly to allow for better visualization of the spindle within the connector, making it a true demonstrator pen.  When the same features were incorporated on an M805 variant in palladium trim in 2015, this little detail would be left out.  Most of the etched variants were annotated in the English language while a small minority would be done in Spanish.  Niche Pens once declared that, “Altogether, 3,500 Clear Demonstrators were produced, the majority with English engravings, a small number with Spanish engravings and an even smaller number with no engravings at all.”  While the veracity of that statement cannot be verified, it further imbues the M800 Demonstrator with a bit of mystique.  Both pens were readily available in their time but have been out of production for about twelve years now and are infrequently encountered.  This model is not without its fair share of intrigue and new developments for 2020 make it worth revisiting.

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