Nib Customization: A Guide to Common Nib Grinds

Array of Pelikan nibs with custom grindsIt has been five years now since Pelikan discontinued the production of their most interesting nibs.  The sizes lost to us include the BB, 3B, OM, OB, OBB, and O3B nibs not to mention the more exotic IB and I variants.  If all of those letters amount to alphabet soup for you, you can check out my post explaining Pelikan’s nib designations here.  What we have been left with is the staid though faithful line-up of EF, F, M, and B sizes.  In many of my posts, I have lamented the lack of character found in today’s nibs.  The current philosophy behind Pelikan’s modern stock offerings seems to focus on providing a reliable though unvarying line, good for novices and advanced users alike.   This “one-size-fits-all” mentality may suit the market but can leave the advanced user somewhat uninspired.  What you get out of the box today is referred to as a round nib which produces the same line width on the cross stroke as it does on the down stroke.  Modern nibs are wide and wet thanks to Pelikan’s generous feed but there is little to no character imparted to the writing.  Contrast that with the nibs of yesterday, those from Pelikan’s early days through the mid-1960s, which provide a writing experience which I would argue is second to none.  While I appreciate the focus on dependability, I do sometimes miss the excitement that a good nib can lend to the writing experience and thereby elevate the text beyond mere words on the page.  Another theme that you may have seen me return to time and again is the generous and sometimes blobby amount of tipping material on Pelikan’s modern nibs.  What this allows for is a robust canvas for a custom grind.  There are many accomplished nib meisters out there, specialists with an expertise in nib adjustments.  They can help your nib achieve a sorely missing degree of character and I wanted to highlight for you just what can be done.  Now I tend to be a traditionalist and a purist and don’t often favor customizing my nibs but I have opened up to the notion and have been handsomely rewarded.  If a reliable, unvarying line suits you just fine, then read no further.  If you’re at all curious to learn how you might breathe new life into a boring nib then read on.

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The Jubilee Pens That Weren’t

Pelikan M/K 730 Jubilee Prototype pensAs you likely know by now, 2018 marks Pelikan’s officially recognized 180th anniversary.  It is no surprise that such a significant event in the company’s history brought about a limited edition release to mark the occasion, the Spirit of 1838.  Love it or hate it, the Spirit of 1838 continues a tradition of limited edition anniversary pens.  In the past, we’ve seen commemorative releases for Pelikan’s 150th, 170th, and 175th anniversaries.  The year 1988 marked Pelikan’s sesquicentennial or 150 year anniversary.  That occasion was commemorated with the release of the M750 and M760 Jubilee pens.  These two models, now 30 years old, are done in a silver or gold electroplated barleycorn pattern with 24 carat gold-plated accents.  The production run was not limited to the anniversary year and reportedly ran from 1988-1995.  Earlier pieces were engraved with “Pelikan W.-Germany 1838-1988” on their cap bands whereas models from later on in the production run had the dates omitted. I’ve written about these two pieces previously in my post Pelikan’s M700 Series where you can find more information about the entire M7xx series.  What you may not realize is that these two pens weren’t the only contenders for the job of the Jubilee model.  Today I will introduce you to the two M730 prototypes and their matching ballpoints which were considered but ultimately never put into production.

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The Pelikan Revival

Pelikan M150/481 advertised under the Revival line

Pelikan Revival M150/481 Green Black. The Italian text details instructions for filling the pen. Photo courtesy of Cristina (a.k.a. catanai on eBay Italy)

 

If you frequent the Pelikan forum over at The Fountain Pen Network, you may have noticed a thread from last month asking about the Pelikan Revival series.  The paucity of authoritative answers demonstrated just how little is actually known about the topic making it the perfect fodder for a post.  Pelikan has accumulated many such stories that have fallen into obscurity over the past 180 years.  Before continuing, I have to give special thanks to two long standing Italian retailers and their staff who aided my research on this topic;  Marco of Novelli and Vito of Casa della Stilografica.  If you frequent the secondary market, you may encounter Pelikan pens identified as Pelikan Revival.  This is particularly the case when looking at pens that hail from Italy.  What is so special about the Revival line you ask?  Read on because the truth of the matter may just surprise you.

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Update: Pelikan Collectors’ Box v2.0

Pelikan Collectors' Box Updated for 2018Pelikan first announced their Collectors’ Box, a compact pen chest built to house up to 24 pens, three years ago with expected availability around April of  2015.  Production was repeatedly delayed due to manufacturing issues.  By late 2016, the boxes were finally making their way into retail channels.  You can see my review of that original box here.  Unfortunately, that stock was short lived and these again became scarce.  As of December 2017, Pelikan announced fresh availability which appears to be more widely distributed and reliable.  A close inspection has revealed that this new box is not the same as the original issue.  The differences are significant enough that I wanted to provide an update on just what has changed between the two versions.  

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A Look At The M805 Ocean Swirl

Pelikan M805 Ocean Swirl

The two faces of the M805 Ocean Swirl

When I wrote my review of the M605 White Transparent, I indicated that the pre-release product photography didn’t quite portray the actual pen very accurately.  Rather than a cool white colored resin, the photos depicted a warmer, more ivory leaning cast.  I wanted to expound upon this because it seemed to be a recurring theme at the end of last year that confounded several would-be customers.  It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words and perhaps nowhere is that more true than when selling some form of goods.  Pelikan’s product photography has always been somewhat hit or miss but the actual merchandise has usually turned out to be better than advertised.  It may seem trivial, harping on the less than true pictographic portrayal of a fountain pen but, for many, those pre-release photos are the only visuals available prior to making a decision to purchase.  Far too many consumers lack access to brick and mortar stores or any other opportunity to see a real world example of a pen prior to committing to buy.  For some limited edition models, waiting for real world photos may mean missing the pre-order period which can equate to extra money spent or a missed opportunity all together.  This is why true to life photos are important for any company selling a product.  The M805 Ocean Swirl was subject to one of the most perplexing depictions in some time and therefore I thought that it was worth taking a closer look.

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Pelikan’s Mitsukoshi #660

Pelikan Mitsukoshi #660Pelikan has produced many commissioned pieces over the years.  These are often models made in very limited quantities for specific vendors or other patrons.  Past examples include the M150 Bols demonstrator (3000 pieces), the M200 Deutsche Telekom (5000 pieces), the M200 Citroenpers (1200 pieces), and the M800 Chronoswiss (999 pieces).  There also exists a little known run of green striped M800s with 20C nibs made for the Japanese market to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the Maruzen bookstore in Japan (1989).   Of course, Japan also boast the better known, but still obscure, M600 Tortoiseshell brown commissioned to honor the 130th anniversary of that same company in 1999.  Some of these releases are so limited in terms of quantity and scope that they can often fly under the radar and go largely unnoticed, achieving an almost mythical mystique (as in the case of the tortoise M600).  Japan seems to be a particularly fertile ground for limited releases not available here in the West.  One such model was recently brought to my attention by a reader from China.  The pen that he introduced me to is known as the Mitsukoshi #660.  This limited edition pen was released as a small run of just 400 pieces for the large retail chain Mitsukoshi of Japan circa 1995.  Do I have your attention yet?  Read on to learn more about this golden beauty.

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Pelikan’s 100N Gray Marbled with Nickel Furniture

Pelikan 100N Gray Marbled with Nickel TrimPelikan introduced the model 100N in March of 1937.  The “N” stands for new but rather than replace the model 100 that preceded it, the 100N was produced concurrently, initially just for the export market.  It was designed as Pelikan’s response to a trend towards larger pens being produced by other manufacturers.  The 100 was, by design, a smaller pen when capped  and a very comfortably sized pen with excellent balance when posted.  By 1938, the 100N was offered for sale in Germany as a way to celebrate the company’s 100th anniversary.  Somewhat bigger than the 100 and with a larger ink capacity, the 100N continued to employ Pelikan’s differential piston mechanism.  Production was constrained by war time rationing which limited the available building materials such as gold and cork.  Shortly after its introduction, palladium and later chromium-nickel steel had to be substituted in place of gold for the nib.  Around 1942, black plastic synthetic seals were first employed as a replacement for cork.  Production was completely interrupted in 1944 due to the war and did not resume again until the factory reopened in 1947.  The 100N saw several small iterations of design over its production, some of these better characterized than others.  The earliest models had a strong resemblance to the 100 and some even sport the 4 chick logo on the cap top which was being phased out at the time of launch.  Other variations such as the Danzig (Poland) produced models and the Emegê pens (Portugal) also stand out and are full topics in and of themselves.

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Varying Shades of Brown – The M2xx Demonstrators

Pelikan M200 Amber, Cognac, Smoky Quartz and M250 Amber DemonstratorsA demonstrator is a very polarizing type of fountain pen amongst enthusiasts.  Some love them for the ability to see the inner workings of the piston mechanism.  Nothing is left to the imagination and new shades of ink can effect a chameleonic transformation upon the pen’s appearance.  Others hate them for the very same reason since every errant blob of ink may become glaringly evident and stains aren’t so well hidden.  Pelikan has released many demonstrators over the course of its history including several amongst their Classic series.  This is Pelikan’s lower tier line with a somewhat less ostentatious trim than the Souverän series, stainless steel nibs in place of gold ones, and a slightly less polished finish.  Don’t let those differences fool you though as these are excellent fountain pens for substantially less money than what the Souverän line commands.  One production theme that has often been repeated across the M2xx series is that of the brown transparent demonstrator.  Since 2003, Pelikan has released four models done in a shade of brown, three of which are so similar that only a few tell tale details set them apart.  The newest model to that line is several shades darker and I thought that it would be interesting to see these four distinct but related releases together so that you might see just how they stack up with one another and how much darker the Smoky Quartz actually is.

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