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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Pelikan And Luigi Colani: A Collaboration

Pelikan No 1 ballpointsLuigi 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.

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Where It All Started: The Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen

1929 Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen AdvertisementThe “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.

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Silvered Souveräns: A Look At The M420, M425, And M430

Pelikan M420, M425, and M430I 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.

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The Gimborn 150 Master: A Pelikan By Another Name

Gimborn 150 Master Black Fountain PenHistoric 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. 

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It’s A Spanner! It’s A Wrench! It’s Pelikan’s Vintage Nib Removal Tool!

Pelikan 400 and 400N w/ nib removal tool

Pelikan 400 Green/Green and 400N Black/Green uncapped and shown with Pelikan’s nib removal tool from the 1950s and 60s

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.

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