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.
When I bought my 400NN tortoiseshell brown (perhaps one of my favorite Pelikan’s of all time), I was incredibly excited and couldn’t wait for its arrival. Imagine my utter disappointment then when it finally arrived and I found the cap threads to be stripped, or so I thought. When the cap was screwed or unscrewed, there was a very disconcerting clicking sound and resistance halfway through the turn. This was a completely foreign experience for me as this behavior was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before in my other Pelikan pens, modern or vintage. After extensive searching online, I found very little information about this phenomenon. It wasn’t until I met and spoke with Rick Propas of the PENguin at the D.C. Fountain Pen Supershow in the summer of 2013 that I realized my pen was not broken but was actually demonstrating a factory designed behavior.
What follows is what I learned from Rick as well as a small tidbit of information gleaned from a read through of the book “Pelikan Schreibgeräte.” Since I had so much trouble finding this information out for myself, I wanted to share what I learned in the hopes that it may help others.
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.