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.
Pelikan’s announcement of the M120N in January came as somewhat of a surprise. The retro release marked the revival of a popular 1950’s school pen, the predecessor of the Pelikano. Like the original that debuted in 1955, this version keeps the same green-black color scheme and gold-plated stainless steel nib but comes in a larger size and with the added flourish of a unique nib engraving. What was even more surprising than the pen itself was the price tag attached to it. Still, these seem to have found their target audience and I have heard anecdotes that sales have been good. Pelikan expected to very quickly sell out of this special edition release. I couldn’t resist picking one of these up and after thoroughly putting the pen through its paces, I felt that a review was in order. Read on to see how this model stacks up to the original 120 from over 60 years ago.
Amongst the rumors that have surfaced about Pelikan’s 2016 line-up, the one that I was most dubious of was news of a forthcoming M120. The original 120 was made from 1955-1965 as a school pen, Pelikan’s first entry into that market. The lessons learned from the 120 would ultimately go on to inform the design and marketing of the first Pelikano released some five years later in 1960. Before proceeding, it is important to distinguish between the original 120, often referred to as ‘Type I,’ and a second run of pens under the same name but with somewhat different styling made under contract by Merz & Krell from 1973-1977, the so-called ‘Type II.’ Rumors of a special edition replica paying homage to the original 120 may have just gained a bit more credibility. Penworld, a long respected family run business out of Antwerp, Belgium since 1924, has announced via Twitter and Instagram news of the upcoming M120. Quoted to be available some time around March of this year, this new release looks to be true to the original save for the appearance of the nib.
The Pelikan model 120 was introduced on May 23rd, 1955 and served as Pelikan’s first entry into the schulfüller or school fountain pen market. Prior to that, their focus had been on writing implements designed almost exclusively for adults. I spoke a bit about the 120 in my post discussing Merz & Krell, the company that briefly revived an updated version of the 120 line for Pelikan in the 1970’s. To be clear, in this post I’m only discussing the Type I 120 made from 1955-1965 and not Merz & Krell’s Type II produced from 1973-1977. Pelikan was not the first to attempt to capitalize on this market segment and therefore had to play a bit of catch up in catering to these school aged consumers, their parents, and teachers. School pens generally follow certain guidelines, incorporating characteristics that can be seen across school pen models, even those from different manufacturers. At least initially these were available in only basic colors, lacked ornate furniture, and usually came equipped with a stainless steel nib. In the case of the 120 Type I, they were only offered with a green barrel, black cap & piston knob, a green ink window, and a gold-plated stainless steel nib married to Pelikan’s ebonite feed with the longitudinal fins. All 120s were piston fillers, a contrast to the later school pen models which were almost exclusively cartridge pens.
In my post “The Evolution of the Collar, Feed, & Nib,” I mentioned a company called Merz & Krell who manufactured pens for Pelikan for a period of time in the 1970’s. The company’s full name was Merz & Krell GmbH & Co. KGaA and it was founded in 1920 and headquartered in Gross-Bieberau, Germany. Friedrich Merz was born in 1884 and grew up to become a pharmacist. He had invented several water-soluble topical creams and beauty aids which he put into production in 1908 when he built a factory in Frankfurt. Twelve years later he turned his attention to writing instruments and along with his brother Georg Merz and Justus Krell, a machine lathe operator, founded Merz & Krell, a subsidiary of Merz Pharma. Merz Pharma still exist today and is involved in research in the area of Alzheimer’s disease. The company had modest beginnings, employing only a dozen workers initially. Aside from having to shut down production during World War II, the company has continued to grow and thrive. When approached by Pelikan, the company already had a history in designing and manufacturing writing instruments and are probably best known for their Melbi, Senator, and Diplomat lines of pens. In January of 2006, the company changed its name to SENATOR GmbH & Co. KGaA and continues to make pens today and is a leading manufacturer of promotional pens and related items. In the 1970’s, two models of pen were produced by Merz & Krell for Pelikan under contract and should be considered genuine Pelikan products since they were factory authorized. The two models that I speak of were the 120 and the 400NN.