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.
Fountain pens were once the writing instruments that ruled all others. In a relatively short period of time, the ballpoint pen was able to overthrow the kings of old. Sometime around the mid-twentieth century, ballpoints had clearly become the de facto standard. While fountain pen usage was on the wane, it never went away completely. By the early 1980s, Pelikan saw an opportunity for a revival of sorts. No longer the essential tool for daily life that it once was, the fountain pen was again being taken up, this time as more of a status symbol or collectors item. The early 1980s would come to herald what could be considered a fountain pen renaissance. It was 1982 when Pelikan chose to try to capture this market with the re-introduction of the 400, a pen that the company had a lot of success with decades earlier. With little in the way of cosmetic differences, the new model would be called the M400 and it would become the cornerstone of a high end line of pens known as the Souverän series, a moniker likely prompted by Montblanc’s long standing Meisterstück. Quite perilously, this came at a troubled time for Pelikan as a rapid expansion of the business in the late 1970s resulted in the company having to declare bankruptcy right around the time of the M400’s release. The company was ultimately taken over and various divisions were parted out, either into subsidiary companies or sold off completely. It is lucky for us that the production of fine writing instruments would survive this tumultuous time. What separates the 400 from the M400? How do you identify the subtle and not so subtle differences between the two? Read on to find out.
The Pelikan 400 of the 1950s and 60s is perhaps one of the most iconic and successful pens ever put out by the company over its 90 year history of fountain pen production. Perhaps it is telling that Pelikan chose this model to rekindle its fountain pen production and turn the company’s fortune around in 1982 with a reincarnation of the 400 dubbed the M400 Souverän. We will focus squarely on the original 400 for the purposes of this article which introduces the final pen in this three-part series. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out my in-depth look at both the 300 and the 140 which were in production alongside the 400. Glass negatives in the Pelikan archives indicate that this model was first conceived in 1939 and likely had World War II to thank for its eleven years on the drawing board. Launched on May 25, 1950, the Pelikan 400 was produced for a period of fifteen years (not including a brief resurrection in the 1970s) but underwent several modifications in that time. With each major revision, the suffix “N” was added to the model number. This stood for “neu,” the German word for new, and was a designation only meant to be used internally. This nomenclature was utilized for the 400 as well as several other similarly styled product lines and is the reason we have the 400, 400N, and 400NN. Of course, when these pens were being marketed, they were all simply called the 400 which is why you won’t find the “N” designation in any price list. Read on to learn more about just what changes came with each revision and how to identify them. As you read through, be sure to click on the photos found within to enlarge them for further study.
My recent exploration of the less commonly encountered Pelikan 300 gave me occasion to pull my 140 and 400 out of the pen cabinet. Looking over those two models made me realize that both were equally deserving of their own post so consider this the second installment of a three-part series looking at some of Pelikan’s finest work from the 1950s and 60s. Today we will focus on the 140, the direct successor to the Ibis 130 (1949-54). First introduced in 1952, the 140 came in a plethora of colors, many of which are not often seen today. The 140 was also a platform adapted to unique purposes and sold by other manufacturers without Pelikan’s branding so there is a lot of variety to be found out there. Production officially ran from April of 1952 through July of 1965 and many small changes occurred to the line over that time, particularly early on in the run. These changes can help to date earlier pens and I will endeavor to highlight most of them below. Read on to learn all about this iconic model.