Tortoiseshell has a long history of use in small items such as combs, glasses, guitar picks, knitting needles, boxes, and even as furniture inlays. The beauty of the material’s mottled appearance, its durability, and its organic warmth against the skin made tortoiseshell attractive for both manufacturers and consumers. The time invested to hunt and harvest the tortoises and the care needed in working with the shell to preserve its color made such items rather expensive. Unfortunately, the quest for profit has resulted in several of those species being hunted to near extinction with many now findings themselves on the endangered species list. The trade has been banned internationally for some time but that has not deterred harvesting shells for sale within the black market. Thankfully, more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives exist. The tortoise look is well suited for the likes of fountain pens and fans of Pelikan’s fine writing instruments can’t seem to get enough of such releases. The company’s tortoise finishes have been captivating people for decades thanks to their refined, upscale look. I’m happy to report that no actual tortoises have ever been harmed by Pelikan, the characteristic look instead being derived from cellulose acetate crafted to artificially resemble the mottled pattern of true tortoiseshell. There is no shortage of tortoise variants out there with some of the company’s most iconic and sought after models having been tortoises of one type or another. The original M800 Tortoiseshell Brown (1989) or the M600 Maruzen Tortoiseshell Brown (1999) come to mind as more recent examples of nearly mythical birds and that is just counting the company’s relatively recent production history to say nothing of the countless historic models such as the 400NN Light Tortoise (1957-60). To close out 2020, Pelikan has given us the M600 Tortoiseshell Red which looks to be a take on the previously released M101N Tortoiseshell Red (2014), now adapted to the more traditional Souverän line. Rather than a straight up adaptation however, this new model appears to be a reimagining of sorts. With a color scheme apropos for a December launch, this one is sure to please with its bold, vibrant hues and unique tortoiseshell application. Read on to learn if this model stacks up like Theodor Geisel’s Yertle the Turtle, king of the pond in Sala-ma-sond.
As the year meanders towards its close, I thought it a good time to look back on some of Pelikan’s releases this year. First up will be the M205 Moonstone fountain pen that accompanied 2020’s Edelstein Ink of the Year of the same name. It was 2019’s M205 Star Ruby acting as a pathfinder with sparkles adorning its finish that set the stage for the Moonstone. It represented a departure from Pelikan’s typically reserved German sensibilities and the gamble seems to have paid off as the Star Ruby was generally well received. I think a large part of that owes to striking just the right balance as the sparkles never came off as overblown and I think that the Moonstone also hits its mark in a similar fashion. It seems hard to believe but this year’s M205 now counts as the sixth consecutive pen to accompany the annual Edelstein Ink of the Year release. Prior models have included the M205 Amethyst (2015), M205 Aquamarine (2016), M200 Smoky Quartz (2017), M205 Olivine (2018), and M205 Star Ruby (2019). All of those models have been demonstrators, the overwhelming majority of which have had silver colored, chromium plated furniture (all except 2017’s Smoky Quartz). The sparkles are again fitting here because just as they paid homage to the asterism of the star ruby gemstone, they do equal justice with the true moonstone’s adularescence. What is that you may ask? The actual gemstone of its namesake displays a blue to white adularescence, a phenomenon where light appears to billow across the surface giving the stone a moonlight-like sheen. Read on to find out whether or not Pelikan’s reach for the stars hits the mark or falls flat.
The Souverän M300 did not burst onto the scene with any fanfare. There was no large, elaborately orchestrated debut such as what we saw with the M800 some eleven years earlier. Perhaps the lack of flourish was fitting given the pen’s diminutive and unassuming size. It was 1998 when the M300 emerged as the smallest Souverän in the line-up. News of Monica Lewinsky’s affair with Bill Clinton was just breaking, the XVIII Olympic Winter Games were being held in Japan, and Titanic became the first motion picture to gross US$1 billion. The late nineties were also a time of great change for Pelikan’s high end models. The M400 received an upgraded trim package, the M600 was given an entirely new form, and the massive M1000 would take up the mantle as Pelikan’s flagship. All of the furniture on the company’s Souveräns was standardized, essentially creating five models, each representing a different sized pen catering to a variety of tastes and purposes. The marketing which would follow highlighted this; “You can buy suits in different sizes. So why not fountain pens?” Amongst Pelikan’s refreshed line-up, the M300 fit the smallest niche, both literally and figuratively. Not much larger than your standard golf pencil, the M300 has ruled over its tiny kingdom for 22 years. That reign comes to an end in 2020 as the model line has now been officially discontinued. I was first alerted to this fact by vendors who could no longer order new stock and it has subsequently been confirmed to me by Juana Schahn, the Social Media Manager for Pelikan. Read on to learn the how’s and why’s behind the pen’s demise and get a glimpse at some of the M300’s history over the past two decades.
The German city of Frankfurt has a long tradition of hosting trade fairs, a history that spans more than 800 years. The first Frankfurt trade fair to be documented in writing dates back to 1240 under the auspices of Emperor Frederick II. Since 1330, trade fairs have been held in Frankfurt twice a year; once in the spring and once in the fall. It was at the Frankfurt Spring Fair of 1987 that Pelikan launched the M800, their first modern oversized pen. Held from February 21-25, the event was regarded as a success by its organizers with 4,375 exhibitors displaying their wares to an estimated 100,000 visitors. Pelikan maintained a large display at the fair separated into two parts, one of which featured the sizable Pelikan collection of stylophile Mel Strohminger. It was the following year (1988), on the occasion of Pelikan’s 150th anniversary, that their newest Souverän model would be brought to the shores of the United States. Presumably, the M800 emerged as the result of market competition from rival Montblanc’s Meisterstück 146 and 149 amongst others. The Souverän series, by today’s standards, was rather anemic before the M800’s introduction, consisting of only the M400 which got its start in 1982 and a version of the M600 which launched in 1985. Despite differing model numbers, both of the existing Souveräns at the time were actually the same size, the M600 being distinguished only by its more upscale trim package. These were considered standard sized pens though are somewhat small by today’s reckoning. It wasn’t until 1997 that Pelikan adjusted the lines to make the M600 more of an intermediate size to bridge the gap between the M400 and M800. You can well imagine how the M800 dwarfed its siblings in the lineup at the time of its introduction and represented a truly new size option for the first time in the company’s modern history. The M800 was initially available in Green/Black (striped) or Black but the line would quickly expand throughout the 1990s to encompass many limited edition releases. Even today, the M800 chassis is the go to platform for a large number of Pelikan’s special and limited edition models. Read on to learn how the M800 has evolved over the years.
News about one of Pelikan’s most anticipated 2020 models broke today. With its release pushed back slightly due to the coronavirus pandemic, today’s newcomer makes a compelling case for the wait being wholly worthwhile. For the last several years, we have seen quite a few white pens grace the M600 line starting with 2012’s Tortoiseshell-White. Another tortoise joins the family today, bringing with it a bold and bright look. The M600 Tortoiseshell-Red puts a fresh coat of paint on an old theme which does wonders for the aesthetics. Of course, this model will quickly conjure recollections of 2014’s M1o1N Tortoiseshell-Red which employed a similar color scheme though with an overall different style. Pelikan’s supporting literature states; “This colorful series gives the classic Souverän a bright and warm appearance. The extraordinary color variation is reminiscent of a beautiful sunset and encourages us to stroll down memory lane.” The M600 Tortoiseshell-Red will be available in December and vendors are taking pre-orders now.
With the M205 Moonstone about to arrive in stores, news of Pelikan’s next product release has broken. I first saw it announced by the Polish vendor Pióromaniak. Next to market will be the M405 Silver-White. The last time a new M4xx model was introduced to the line-up was in 2016. This one conjures images of the last several M6xx releases which have employed a similar color scheme, the main difference between the two lines being their size of course. The M405 Silver-White may hit that sweet spot for those that like a smaller pen. It joins a rather exclusive group of M405 models, a model line that only came about 18 years ago making it a relative newcomer to the Souverän series. This new release will join the likes of the M405 Black (2002), Blue/Black (2003), Dark Blue (2003), and Stresemann (2016). Many of those were/are regular models in the line-up and not special edition releases. This one also looks to join the ranks as a standard edition. Look for the Silver-White to hit store shelves sometime in November of this year.
Theodor Kovàcs is a mysterious historical figure, particularly for someone who had such a profound impact upon the history of fountain pen development. There is surprisingly little written about him and his work outside of what Pelikan Schreibgeräte and its derivatives tell us. His birth, family, activities outside of Pelikan, and death are all questions that I have been unable to answer despite extensive research. Much of what we do know seems to be based upon a strong oral history as well as a scant trail of patents and corporate agreements. A great deal of this history, I have already put forth in my piece, Where It All Started: The Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen so please forgive any redundancy. While I have previously dedicated time to the fruits of Mr. Kovàcs’ labor and partnership with Günther Wagner, I have never taken a deep dive into the engineering behind the differential piston mechanism that has become a defining characteristic of Pelikan’s 90+ year fountain pen legacy. Not just an incremental improvement, Mr. Kovàcs’ designs were evolutionary, taking the potential of these analogue instruments to the next level. I thought that it might be enlightening, particularly for the more engineering minded amongst us, to peek behind the curtain and see what makes a Pelikan tick, at least as it did back in the early days. The designs that follow are derived from the original patents filed by Mr. Kovàcs and Günther Wagner back in the 1920s which ultimately became the linchpin behind the company’s fountain pen fortunes. All the illustrations below have been annotated according to the patent’s text for ease of viewing. Of course, there have been some small improvements to the piston design over the past nine decades, but the fundamentals remain the same. Read on to learn how Pelikan’s differential piston filling mechanism got its start.
Many of the preeminent innovations and game changing inventions throughout the history of human civilization have had but one thing in common: they were born out of curiosity. The drive to push towards new ideas and experiences thereby unlocking limitless potential is a basic human attribute. From the Acheulean hand axe and the control of fire to space exploration and self-driving cars, curiosity is a powerful motivator for learning and influential in decision-making. It is one of the pillars upon which the advancements of society have been built. It should come as no surprise then that curiosity has also helped drive innovations in fountain pen design. Mention of a primitive reservoir pen can be found dating back to less than 1000 years Anno Domini. The Romanian inventor Petrache Poenaru was one of the first to be granted a patent for such a design in France on May 25th, 1827. Pelikan entered the market with their Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen in 1929 featuring Theodor Kovác’s differential piston filling mechanism. The steady evolution of the fountain pen meant added complexity and many of the competing manufacturers of the early twentieth century were eager to show off their pens and make the case for why their design was superior to others. Pelikan was no different in this regard and therefore outfitted their sales representatives and stationary shops with special pens that revealed the model’s inner workings. Likely starting sometime in the early 1930s, the hard rubber components of the 100 were skeletonized or cut away to create non-functional models, not available or intended for resale. It is unclear in what capacity these models were utilized but make no mistake, this was the birth of the demonstrator, just not the ones we commonly think of today. Those came about later, with the advent and mass production of clear plastics. Examples exist of the 400 and 400NN from the 1950s and 60s done in green or clear shades of transparent plastic. Many of Pelikan’s demonstrators from the 1950s through the 1960s were low production volume items carried by reps and delivered to stationary shops, which makes them scarce and highly collectible today. Eventually, such pens would catch on with consumers and grow in popularity. No longer relegated to life as a sales tool, demonstrators would grow into their own and become special edition releases. Pelikan’s first major modern foray into the demonstrator was the Transparent Green M800 released in 1992 which they quickly followed up with the M810 Blue Ocean in 1993 and a multitude of other demonstrators since. Read on to learn more about the origins from which today’s demonstrators hail.