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.
How well do you know Pelikan’s Classic/Traditional line? Not as well as you might think I’m willing to wager. Let us review; M100, check. M150, check. M200, M205, M215, and M250; check, check, check, and check! Many of those model lines have since been discontinued but a few still persists and are being expanded to this day, some 35 years after the series’ introduction. There is another entry into that line-up that is not nearly as well known and easily overlooked, even by the most hardcore of collectors. Enter the #350. There is a lot to unpack here so please bear with me. First, let’s tackle that hashtag or number sign. Most of Pelikan’s fountain pens have an ‘M’ or a ‘P’ preceding the model number. These designate either a Mechanik-Füller (piston filling) or Patronen-Füller (cartridge) fountain pen respectively (though exceptions exists). The ‘#’ was widely used in Japan during the 1980s and 90s for many of Pelikan’s piston filling models sold in that market and is therefore an appropriate regional prefix. You might recall that I first introduced the concept when detailing the Mitsukoshi #660. In addition to the unusual prefix, model numbers also sometimes differed. For instance, the M400 used to retail in Japan as the #500. Today, the regional sales literature generally adheres to the M/R/K/D prefix scheme and model numbers used elsewhere. The #350 will be easier to understand when its predecessor, the #250, is considered so I will detail both of those models in this post. Japan has long been a fertile ground for some of Pelikan’s most interesting releases, models not widely available anywhere else. The Maruzen Tortoiseshell Brown M600, the Mitsukoshi #660, the East/West reunification commemorative M800, and the Merz & Krell 400NN re-issue were all either exclusive to the Japanese market or came about as a result of that market’s influence. Read on to learn how the #250 and #350 models fit into Pelikan’s Classic series.
The Souverän M300 did not burst onto the scene with any fanfare. There was no large, elaborately orchestrated debut such as what we saw with the M800 some eleven years earlier. Perhaps the lack of flourish was fitting given the pen’s diminutive and unassuming size. It was 1998 when the M300 emerged as the smallest Souverän in the line-up. News of Monica Lewinsky’s affair with Bill Clinton was just breaking, the XVIII Olympic Winter Games were being held in Japan, and Titanic became the first motion picture to gross US$1 billion. The late nineties were also a time of great change for Pelikan’s high end models. The M400 received an upgraded trim package, the M600 was given an entirely new form, and the massive M1000 would take up the mantle as Pelikan’s flagship. All of the furniture on the company’s Souveräns was standardized, essentially creating five models, each representing a different sized pen catering to a variety of tastes and purposes. The marketing which would follow highlighted this; “You can buy suits in different sizes. So why not fountain pens?” Amongst Pelikan’s refreshed line-up, the M300 fit the smallest niche, both literally and figuratively. Not much larger than your standard golf pencil, the M300 has ruled over its tiny kingdom for 22 years. That reign comes to an end in 2020 as the model line has now been officially discontinued. I was first alerted to this fact by vendors who could no longer order new stock and it has subsequently been confirmed to me by Juana Schahn, the Social Media Manager for Pelikan. Read on to learn the how’s and why’s behind the pen’s demise and get a glimpse at some of the M300’s history over the past two decades.
The 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.
Born 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.
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.
Many 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.
Italy 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.