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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Pelikan’s ST Nib: The Reason Behind The Flex

Pelikan 14C-585 Stenographic ST NibA lot of emphasis gets placed upon just how much flex can be derived from a fountain pen these days.  Go to any pen show and you will invariably hear attendees asking after pens equipped with flexible nibs.  If you frequent any of the popular pen auction/sales sites, a lot of Pelikan’s vintage offerings get put forward as fitting the bill.  The principle of caveat emptor should be utilized in those scenarios since applying excessive pressure to a semi-flexible nib can result in great line variation but at the cost of significant stress that could ultimately lead to nib failure.  While the company’s nibs from the 1930s through the 60s are excellent and considerably better than today’s offerings, they are not what I would call true flex nibs.  It has been my experience that the more accurate descriptor applied to these nibs would be semi-flex with a springiness that imparts a tremendous amount of character to some to these vintage pieces.  Of course, there is an exception to that rule.  Pelikan produced a nib stamped ‘ST’ which could be found equipped as a specialty nib on various models.  First introduced with the 100N in 1938, these nib were particularly elastic and came in EF or EEF.  The 140s and 400s had gold versions produced from 1954 – 1965 and the 120s came with stainless steel variants made from 1957 – 1965.  These stenographic nibs are truly flexible, putting down a line ranging from EEF/EF to B/BB.  It should be pointed out that not all ST nibs are created equal and your mileage may vary.  Pelikan also made specific pens dedicated to stenography in the 1970s and 80s which should be held apart from the nibs discussed here.   Those models comprise the P11, P16, and P470 lines which are all nice writers but the nibs are certainly not what I would call flexible.  I can only surmise that the differences might owe to the various stenographic systems that have been used over the years.  Pitman relies on line variation where Gregg and Teeline do not.  Read on to learn about how these flexible nibs were meant to be employed.

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The Origin Story Behind Pelikan’s Original M800 Tortoiseshell Brown

Pelikan M800 Tortoiseshell BrownPelikan launched the M800, their first oversized pen, at the Frankfurt Fair in 1987.  The new pen was initially available in the company’s classic green striped Stresemann pattern with an all-black model to follow shortly thereafter.  We know that around this time a third model was released, the fabled Tortoiseshell Brown.  For over twenty years, this was the only tortoise variant available from Pelikan in a larger sized model.  Why this was the case, we can only speculate.  While the brown tortoise M800 has achieved a cult status amongst collectors, some have posited that sales at the time of the initial release may have been somewhat lackluster.  Nonetheless, in 2013 Pelikan re-introduced the M800 Tortoiseshell Brown to great fanfare.  The company must have realized the pent up demand as their sales literature kicked off with the line; “Finally, it is back!  The much coveted model Souverän 800 tortoiseshell brown….”  Both models are now scarce in the secondary market and command a hefty sum when found.  The provenance of that original tortoise has always been shrouded in a touch of uncertainty.  The issue is compounded by the fact that German law only requires companies to preserve records for a period of 15 years so the historic archive is often times fragmented and lacking in primary supporting documents.  That said, Pelikan has done a better job than many at preserving the company’s rich history.  I thought that it might be interesting to explore the available evidence as well as the past statements of some subject matter experts in an attempt to find the truth.  It also provides a good opportunity to take a closer look at each of the two M800 tortoises side by side.  While we may never know the definitive answer as to original pen’s origins, the mystery only enhances its intrigue as a collector’s model.

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Originals Of Their Time: Darlings Of The 1930s

Pelikan Originals of their Time SeriesPelikan’s first venture into the writing instrument market was heralded by the release of the Pelikan Fountain Pen in 1929.  That pen would see a number of revisions over its lifespan, ultimately becoming what we know today as the model 100.  A specific designation only became necessary because the company very quickly expanded their catalog to include additional models targeting a more affluent market.  Built off of the 100 chassis, these pens would incorporate new colors and gilded embellishments which elevated the base model to a whole new level.  The first of these came about in 1930/31 when Pelikan released the models 110 (White Rolled Gold), 111 (Gold/Black), and 112 (Gold).  The T111 Toledo would also go on sale in 1931 with an initial price tag of 27 marks.  While not the most expensive pen in the company’s line-up at the time, it was perhaps one of the most inspired.   In 1935, the 101 model line was introduced which was characterized by caps that matched the colored bindes surrounding the barrels.  Several variations were produced, often in vibrant colors, such as Jade (Green) and Lapis (Blue).  Production of all of the aforementioned models was relatively short lived, ending no later than 1938 if not sooner.  Perhaps it was the seemingly timeless design or a sense of nostalgia that prompted the resurrection of these classics nearly sixty years later in 1997.  They would be produced as a run of limited edition pieces that would carry the moniker “Originals Of Their Time.”  Not just inspired by the source material, these new pens were faithfully recreated from the original technical drawings.  Taking it one step further, Pelikan eschewed modern plastics in parts of the construction in favor of the same materials employed decades earlier, chiefly celluloid and black hard rubber, adding an additional layer of authenticity.  Of course, this has it’s downsides too as hard rubber can easily oxidize and turn brown.  While the replicas may look spot on at first glance, some liberties were taken for the modern era.  Gone are the cork seals of old; a slightly updated piston assembly incorporating a modern, synthetic seal in their place.  The nib assemblies too bear only a slight cosmetic resemblance to their predecessors.  Made in limited numbers and nearing two decades since production ceased, these modern pens are a treat to behold.  Read on to learn more.

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