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.
In Greek mythology, the Chimera was a fire-breathing female monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail. She was the sibling of Cerberus the three-headed hound of Hades and the Hydra, a serpentine water monster. In ancient times, merely sighting the Chimera was an omen for disaster. Today, we use the term to refer to anything made of disparate parts. Pelikan produced a chimera of sorts back in the 1950s though nothing as monstrous as the beast of ancient mythology. The pen that I’m alluding to is the Pelikan 300 which holds a unique spot in the company’s catalog. It was made for export only and positioned in the market between the 140 and 400. It enjoyed a production run of just five years spanning June of 1953 through November of 1957. As such, these are not commonly encountered on the secondary market today. The 300 came in just two colors, a black/green striped version and an all black striped model though an all burgundy variant, possibly a prototype, is known to exist as well. When discussing the 300, it is important to keep in mind that it has no relation to the M300 Souverän which didn’t debut until 1998. Due to a paucity of information out there, I thought that the 300 might be well suited to a post of its own.