Luigi Colani (1928-2019) was a German born industrial designer and, while he may not be a household name, he is responsible for a multitude of consumer products and served as an influence for generations of architects and designers. On September 16, 2019, he passed away at the age of 91 after succumbing to an unspecified severe illness in the town of Karlsruhe, on the Rhine river west of Stuttgart. He is survived by his partner Yazhen Zha and son Solon Luigi Colani. A shameless self-promoter and an eternal provocateur, I thought that it would be a fitting tribute to explore this most fascinating man and one of his many corporate collaborations. You may or may not be aware but Luigi Colani worked with Pelikan in the 1980s on the design of several pens. While vehicle design seemed to be his métier, Colani was a prolific designer who had his hand in a bit of everything. His designs can be seen in furniture, cameras, cars, musical instruments, shoes, pens, and so much more. Mr. Colani once estimated that he had committed more than 4000 designs to paper over his long career, most of them relegated to desk drawers, with only a small percentage actually being brought to life. His vision for the Cannon T90 film camera was perhaps one of his largest commercial successes and would go on to influence Japanese camera design to this day. Admittedly, his contribution to the world of writing instruments may have been less lasting than some of his other endeavors but it is no less interesting. Read on to learn how Colani’s distrust of angularity informed the creation of the Pelikan № 1, № 2, and P80 pens.
The “Pelikan Blätter” served as a newsletter of sorts that provided dealers with information and advice about new products and advertising. It was first published in 1929 and the October edition of that year detailed the introduction of Pelikan’s first ever fountain pen. By that time, the company had already been in business for nearly a century but had never produced a pen. The Romanian inventor Petrache Poenaru had been granted a patent in France for a fountain pen design in 1827 and Evelyn Andros de la Rue had developed a cumbersome piston filler as early as 1905 so the concepts had been firmly established by the time Pelikan produced their first model. Self-filling pens that relied on a pressure and lever system and eyedropper filled safety pens dominated the market in the period following World War I. Perhaps it was the addition of the Beindorff children to the family business in the early 1920s that injected fresh viewpoints and an eagerness to seek out new and modern product lines which prompted the venture. Maybe it was just happenstance that at this time in its history the company was propositioned by an engineer looking to bring his design to market. Whatever the reason, Pelikan finally entered the fray with the Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen (also more simply known as the Pelikan Fountain Pen). Notice the lack of a model number? While similar in appearance to the 100, that designation didn’t come about until around 1931 when an expansion of the company’s product lines created the necessity for a more precise naming scheme. The pen initially derived its name from the transparent ink view window located behind the section. The fledgling design of the 1929 model was short lived and saw several small changes that quickly brought it more in line with how we envision the 100 today. Read on to learn how Pelikan got into the pen business and to explore the model that set the tone for the last 90 years of production.
I thought that it might be fun to explore a trio of pens that we don’t get to see nearly often enough. Many of us are intimately familiar with the M400 that revitalized Pelikan’s fine writing fortunes back in 1982. That model continues to be a cornerstone of their line-up today. Over the years, there have been many special editions based off of the M4xx chassis. Three in particular come to the forefront of my mind due to their silver embellishments. The trio of loosely related models to which I allude are the M420, M425, and M430. While the same length and diameter as your standard M400, they carry some extra weight due to the inclusion of sterling silver elements in their construction. These pens were manufactured between the late 1990s and early 2000s. Each Souverän mentioned here stands out amongst their lesser decorated siblings and I assure you that they look much better in real life than these photos depict. One pitfall to be aware of is mistaking one of these with the M730, an earlier model that sports a very similar shape and construction but is easily distinguished when you know what to look for. Now long out of production, all of the pens mentioned here are rather hard to find in today’s secondary markets which means that when you do find them for sale, they are usually much more expensive than your standard M4xx model. Read on to learn more about these silvered Souveräns.
Historic examples of lower tier pen manufacturers emulating successful models from larger companies abound. While these pens may share a lot of similarities, they can usually be distinguished by a few telltale signs. Sometimes the distinctions are so few that you might suspect a collaboration between two companies. Such was the case with Gimborn and Pelikan, two businesses that share a history together. The term doppelgänger is used to describe a person that bears an uncanny resemblance to someone else without being a twin. It’s a word that is aptly applied to the Gimborn 150 Master which is eerily similar to its cousin, the Pelikan 300. The similarities are less surprising once you understand the history of Gimborn. Read on to learn about the company’s origins and how their first fountain pen came to look an awful lot like a Pelikan.
A removable nib has long been one of Pelikan’s hallmark features since the earliest days of the transparent Pelikan fountain pen first introduced 90 years ago. Pelikan Schreibgeräte tells us that one of the company’s early slogans was “The right nib for every hand.” The screw-in nib unit allowed retailers to keep a small cache of nibs on hand which allowed Pelikan’s products to meet a wide range of customer preferences. The convenience of this thoughtful design and the marketing put behind it allowed Pelikan to quickly earn the esteem of vendors and customers alike. Each unit consisted of a nib and an ebonite feed held together by a threaded collar which would screw into the pen’s section. Pelikan has long had mechanisms in place for the safe removal of those units. For the 1oo, 100N, and Rappen models, a special pair of pliers was developed to suit the purpose. The pliers had a series of three or four notches into which the fins of the ebonite feeds could be slotted. This would allow for a more secure method of nib removal with less risk of damaging the feed’s fragile fins (try saying that three time fast). The engineers at the company went back to the drawing board with the introduction of the 400 in 1950. Rather than a pair of pliers which still ran a risk of damaging the nib, they designed a socket wrench, also known as a box or tubular spanner, to accomplish the task.
Pelikan has been responsible for the innovation and production of some of the most iconic fountain pens of the 20th century. With 90 years of experience in pen making, a great number of models have been released into the wild. Some releases were only meant for certain markets and therefore are fairly scarce in most other parts of the world. As such, a model may be sighted so infrequently that it generates years of debate amongst enthusiasts about its authenticity. One such example is the elusive M600 Tortoiseshell Brown (circa 1985-96) but it is not the only example. While the M600 mentioned here turned out to be a factory produced model made for the Japanese market, there is another, older tortoise that has also been subject to a fair amount of speculation. That model is a Pelikan 101N Dark Tortoiseshell Brown. While that may not sound controversial, it’s the accents found on this particular pen that make it so. Rather than the well documented red or tortoise colored components, both the cap top and piston knob of this Dark Tortoise are black. Much of the information offered to justify this pen’s existence to date has been circumstantial and based on regional anecdotes. Enough of these have been spotted in the wild to at least suggest that they may have been more than someone’s backroom special. Today, I try to examine the available evidence and demonstrate once and for all the true origins of this controversial and largely undocumented 101N.
The firm now known as Pelikan and it’s founder, the chemist Carl Hornemann, were chiefly involved in the manufacture and sale of various oil paints, watercolors, and colored inks with official operations beginning in the Spring of 1838. Long before Günther Wagner ever conceived of producing a fountain pen, the business had a prolific catalog of ink tailored to suit just about any purpose you could imagine. The broadest categories of usage included inks for copying, inks for writing, and colored inks. Günther Wagner purchased the business in 1871 and by 1886 the company was producing 49 different varieties of ink with a spectrum of properties ranging from indelible, to washable, and even to scented inks marketed towards women to name just a few. These inks were advertised under the Pelikan name which Günther Wagner had registered as a trademark in 1879. A comprehensive review of all the once available formulations would be quite the endeavor and is beyond the scope of this article. There are a few related product lines, however, that are worth taking a closer look at. Starting in the late 1890s in an effort to provide more clarity in their marketing, some of the most important “Pelikan Inks” would come to be trademarked with specific numbers, a convention which was meant to allow for easy recall. This was necessary since the company’s price lists from that decade took up 17 pages detailing the available ink varieties alone. These numbered lines included Pelikan Ink 2001, 3001, 4001, 5001, and, later on, 6001. The aforementioned formulations came about during the early days of fountain pens, before widespread adoption, and were produced concurrently with many other product lines. Only the 4001 name, historically one of Pelikan’s most popular products, continues on today albeit with a different chemical composition from the original. What properties did these inks of old display and how were they used? Read on to find out.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Pelikan introduced a series of special editions across their Souverän lines that employed sterling silver components decorated with a gold overlay. The gilding of silver is often referred to as vermeil, a French term that is actually pronounced “ver-may.” By plating sterling silver in such a way, an item can be imbued with a gold appearance at a fraction of the cost of pure gold. This should not be mistaken for simple gold plating. There are regulations that oversee what may be called vermeil in many jurisdictions. For the U.S. market, the base metal must be sterling silver with a gold coating of at least 10 carats or finer and with a thickness of 2.5 microns (1/10,000th of an inch). Mere gold plating has no such industry regulations. These upgraded Souveräns have a guilloche metal cap but otherwise maintain the same visual appearance and trim as their less gilded siblings. Each fountain pen in the series is referred to as an Mx50 and there have been nine such models over the years in addition to several companion pieces. Care should be taken not to confuse these with the M150 and M250 of the Classic series or the M750 anniversary edition which do not have any vermeil components.