Putting Karats To Paper: The Various Gold Purities Of Pelikan’s Nibs And The Impact On Performance

Pelikan's 12C-500, 14C-585, 18C-750, and 20C-833 nibs

When the Earth began to form sometime around 4.5 billion years ago, molten iron sank to the planet’s center, forming the core. Gold and platinum also migrated to the core leaving the outer layer of the Earth essentially devoid of any precious metals. It is now widely believed that nearly all of the gold content within the Earth’s exterior came from meteorites that bombarded the planet more than 200 million years after its formation. In other words, all of the gold within our beloved nibs is likely extraterrestrial in origin. Of course, not all gold is created equal. We use a karat scale to measure the ratio of gold to other metals or alloys within an item, also known as its fineness. The term karat has the same derivation as carat which is more commonly used for gemstones. Both words originate with the carob bean born from the carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua) which grows in the Mediterranean and has fruit pods that contain multiple seeds. A balance scale used to be the only way to effectively weigh something which meant that a counterbalance of known quantity was necessary, and it was once believed that carob seeds were uniform in size, making them the perfect unit weights. The karat scale that has since emerged ranges from 0 to 24 with 24 karats representing gold in its purest form. In 92 years of fountain pen production, Pelikan has utilized gold with four different degrees of fineness in their nibs; 12C-500, 14C-585, 18C-750, and 20C-833. The number in front of the hyphen refers to the ratio of gold to other metals whereas the second number is the millesimal fineness which denotes the percent of gold in an item. For example, a 12C-500 nib has 50% pure gold whereas the 20C-833 nib has 83.3% pure gold. Does that mean a 20C-833 nib writes differently or is in some way superior to its more impure brethren? Read on to find out.

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The Many Anniversaries Of Maruzen

Maruzen Booksellers Storefront

The Maruzen Co., Ltd. has long been one of Japan’s leading booksellers. With a core focus on books and other periodicals, the company has cultivated a diverse portfolio that includes stationery, fashion, and information technologies. Founded in 1869 as Maruya Shosha, its success and longevity over the past 152 years is likely due to the forward thinking of founder Yuteki Hayashi. Hayashi’s ambitions were reportedly spurred on by the encouragement of Yukichi Fukuzawa, an educator and founder of Japan’s first private system of elementary and secondary schools, who was a proponent of Westernization. Great change was underway in Japan during the mid-19th century, heralded by the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853, an American naval officer in command of the East India Squadron. He played a leading role opening Japan to the West after more than 200 years of isolationist policy under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate which comprised the military government of Japan during the Edo period from 1603 to 1868. Hayashi saw opportunity brought about by this cultural shift and sought out translated versions of many of the seminal works of the Western world. His relationship with Fukuzawa positioned Maruzen to have a strong presence with educational institutions, a major areas of sales for the company. Maruzen further diversified its product lines throughout the twentieth century and was able to survive the damage inflicted by World War II. Many sources indicate that Maruzen played a major role introducing the fountain pen to Japan, predominantly by importing brands such as Onoto and Waterman from England and the United States. As such, it is hard to overstate the importance of Maruzen’s involvement in bringing this writing technology to the citizens of Japan. Today, the company has a number of stores and international offices to its credit. Of course, I’m not here to regale you about the company’s rich and storied history. As a stationary retailer, Maruzen has had the opportunity to partner with several manufacturers of fine writing instruments over the years in order to celebrate its various milestone anniversaries, beginning sometime around 1989. I’m sure that you have surmised by now that a Pelikan or two may have been a part of some of those past offerings. Read on to learn all about these unique and rarely seen models.

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Unity Day And Pelikan’s “Rebirth Of A New Germany” Commemorative M800

Pelikan New German Birth Commemorative M800

October is a busy month, playing host to a number of international holidays such as Oktoberfest and Halloween to name just a few. It is punctuated by the crisp fall air, a tapestry of fall foliage, and the scent of pumpkin spice. Perhaps less well known globally is that October is also home to German Unity Day, celebrated on the third day of the month. It was 1990 when East and West Germany were reunited after 40 years of division set against the backdrop of the Cold War. The most recognizable symbol of that division was the Berlin Wall, a concrete barrier under armed guard that served as both a physical and ideological barrier from 1961 to 1989. Built by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and portrayed as protecting the eastern population from fascism in the west, the wall cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany. It became a tale of two Germanys with the West, guided by the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), flourishing under capitalist rule whereas the East languished under Communism, facing regular shortages and a lack of opportunity. Such was the case until political unrest and revolution within several Eastern Bloc countries helped fuel dissent in the East. Faced with increasing pressure due to mounting protest, the communist leadership opened the border between the two states on November 9, 1989. A celebration ensued as crowds of East and West Germans intermingled freely for the first time in decades. This paved the way for German reunification, which went into effect on October 3, 1990, via treaty. To commemorate the occasion, Pelikan released a special edition “Rebirth of a New Germany” Green-Black M800, exclusive to the Japanese market. It’s a model not commonly encountered outside of Japan therefore you may have never seen one before. Read on to find out what, if anything sets this fountain pen apart.

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The M800 Stilo “Laser”: A Rare & Intriguing Italian Bird

Pelikan M800 Stilo Laser

When the fictional character Ransom “Ranse” Stoddard (James Stewart), a revered US Senator, reveals the truth about his origins to newspaper editor Maxwell Scott (Carleton Young), Mr. Scott utters one of the most resonant lines in all of cinema, proclaiming; “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” This line comes at the end of acclaimed director John Ford’s western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Pelikan’s catalog is full of models that have a somewhat unusual provenance, their origins obscured just like those of Jimmy Stewart’s character. Perhaps few models have been surrounded by as much palace intrigue as the M800 Stilo “Laser.” Heard of it? I’m not surprised if you haven’t. The “Laser” has largely fallen into obscurity in the intervening decades since its launch, the details behind its genesis largely forgotten to time. As such, it’s hard to tease out where the facts end, and the fiction begins. In the spirit of the romanticized American West, I will endeavor to present you the legend of the Stilo “Laser” sprinkled with as much fact as we know. Read on to learn about this model’s unique design and history.

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Treasures In The Attic: A Time Capsule Rediscovered

Pelikan 100 caps

I imagine that most of us have experienced a fortunate stroke of serendipity at one time or another in our lives. Perhaps it was one major occurrence or a series of small serendipities along the meandering course of life. Sometimes, we may inadvertently stumble upon a long lost treasure, or we might discover something wholly unexpected and new to us. Maybe you can envision finding something unique and wonderful in the course of a home renovation? Such was the case in March of this year for one unsuspecting couple in North Macedonia. It’s not hard to picture what must have been a look of utter surprise on their faces when they chanced upon a cache of over 300 pens hidden in the attic of an old house that they were in the process of renovating. Not being diehard pen enthusiasts themselves, perhaps they were not struck quite as speechless as many of us would have been. How such a vintage horde of writing instruments came to be forgotten for so many decades is unclear. What is known is that within the couple’s lineage is a former retailer of both pens and watches who was in business around the time of World War II. Now deceased, it is his home that the couple came to inherit and have subsequently taken to the task of remodeling, leading to this most wonderful discovery. We can only presume that at some point, perhaps as a consequence of the post-war fall out, that the shopkeeper stashed the pens away in his attic where they would subsequently lay forgotten for nearly 80 years. What does one do when confronted with a unique and historic trove of writing instruments such as this? The couple in this scenario turned to Dragan Chichikj of ProtoPens, formerly known as UberPens, a retailer with several decades of expertise under his belt. Read on to learn what became of such a rare discovery.

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Günther Wagner’s Black Horse: A History Of The Rap-Pen

Günther Wagner's Rappen Fountain Pen

Günther Wagner launched the Transparent Fountain Pen under the Pelikan marque in 1929, a brand that he had trademarked some 51 years earlier. That piston filling fountain pen subsequently underwent several small revisions in a relatively short period of time, revisions that ultimately culminated into what we know today as the model 100, so named in 1931. Following its introduction, the model 100 represented Pelikan’s flagship fountain pen product. In the business world, it is common practice for manufacturers to target different market segments with alternate versions of a product. This strategy allows companies to reach a larger number of potential customers. Market segments might be targeted based on demographics such as age, sex, and income. Alternatively, they can be based on geography or focus on consumer versus commercial variations of a product or service. Perhaps you have seen examples of businesses selling a lower-priced product targeting the less affluent with marketing that stresses cost, value, and affordability. That same company may also offer a higher-end version of the product which might have more embellishments or some particularly attractive packaging thereby raising the price. Consumers who are more well off are frequently willing to pay an extra sum for those additional features and benefits. The products don’t even have to vary that much as marketing can frequently convince those with the cash that the higher priced brand/product is of a better quality, regardless of whether or not that is truly the case. Günther Wagner was no stranger to this practice as his company owned several brands, each geared towards appealing to a different group of consumers, predominantly based on income. While the 100 was the work horse of the Pelikan line targeting a largely middle-class population, the 110, 111, T111, and 112 were manufactured as higher end variations of the same product in an effort to appeal to the more upscale market. An effort to target the opposite end of that spectrum is how we came to meet the Rappen brand of fountain pen in 1932, Günther Wagner’s lower tier offering, priced as a more affordable alternative to the Pelikan model 100. The Rappen was able to be produced with lower production cost while maintaining quality workmanship and distinguished itself significantly from the company’s flagship models. Read on to learn how the Rappen came to serve lower end markets for well over a decade.

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What The Doublé L? An Exploration Of Rolled Gold

Pelikan 520NNIf you have ever had the fortune to come across any of Pelikan’s more upscale vintage models, you’ve probably seen a golden cap with an inscription on the band that read something like; “Rolled Gold Doublé L.”  Variations of this type of engraving can be found on models such as the P1, M30, M60, 500, and 520 to name just a few.  Many of these models have held up well over their decades of service, their durability stemming from the decision to incorporate rolled gold into their construction rather than gold plating.  That resistance to wear directly follows from the fact that the layer of gold utilized with rolled gold is much thicker than what can be achieved with standard electroplating.  In addition to the added longevity, the look of rolled gold frequently has a richer, deeper appearance than what is typical of electroplated items.  The cap band inscriptions will vary, owing to changes made over time as well as model specific factors.  For instance, a 500NN may read “Pelikan Günther Wagner Germany Doublé L,” “Pelikan Germany Rolled Gold Double L+,” or some other variation of the same.  Similar scenarios play out with the other models mentioned.  Regardless of the format or the model, this stamping raises a few questions which I thought might be worth exploring.  For instance; what is rolled gold, why is there an acute é in “Doublé,” and just what does that lonesome “L” stand for?  Read on as I will explore these issues and more while trying to definitively answer some of the esoteric questions surrounding the inscriptions found on these models.

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How A Pelikan Found Her Song: Center Stage With The Rare And Exotic Music Nib

I must implore you at the outset to forgive my jubilation over this post and ask that you indulge my exuberance.  Today we take a look at something special, something not often seen, a rarity even amongst a brand that has created its fair share of unique and uncommon goods over nearly a century of pen making.  What I’m alluding to is the Pelikan music nib or musikfeder in its native tongue.  For some reason, I cannot think of telling the story of how I came across this nib without the soundtrack to Frank Oz’s 1986 big screen adaptation of “Little Shop Of Horrors” running through my mind, specifically set to the tune “Da-Doo.”  With your leave; So there I was, browsing around Yahoo! Auctions in Japan one day and I passed by a bunch of listings where I sometimes find weird and exotic pens ’cause you know that Pelikans are my hobby.  They didn’t have anything unusual there that day so I was just about to, ya know, browse on by, when suddenly, and without warning, there was this strange Tortoiseshell Brown 400NN.  It had a nib like something from another world just, you know, stuck in, among the 140s and M800s.  Thank you for letting me get that out of my system.  The nib was unique indeed.  It had two slits and three tines with the pre-1954 Pelikan lettering below.  I could hardly believe my eyes but was almost certain that I was looking at one of Pelikan’s fabled music nibs.  I had to wait six days for that auction to conclude and fight hard during the last thirty minutes of bidding but, in the end, I prevailed which is great for me and good for you because it allows me to give you an up close and personal look at this seldom seen specialty nib.  Of course, just for a bit of added drama, the pen got lost in the mail for a short time while on its way to me but all’s well that ends well.

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