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.
The M800 Demonstrator has had an interesting life. It was first released in 2008 as a special edition to celebrate the company’s 170th anniversary and it came in two forms. The first of these was a standard demonstrator in clear, transparent resin that lacked any embellishment on the barrel or cap. The clear resin allowed for unobstructed viewing of the brass piston assembly which was complimented by Pelikan’s standard gold plated trim. At the same time, another model was released, identical to the first save that this one featured etched descriptors of the various parts filled in with white paint. These pointed out key features such as the spindle nut, twist stopper, and piston to name just a few. Eight attributes in all were labeled along the barrel and piston knob. Interestingly, this particular model featured a cut out in the brass connector of the piston assembly to allow for better visualization of the spindle within the connector, making it a true demonstrator pen. When the same features were incorporated on an M805 variant in palladium trim in 2015, this little detail would be left out. Most of the etched variants were annotated in the English language while a small minority would be done in Spanish. Niche Pens once declared that, “Altogether, 3,500 Clear Demonstrators were produced, the majority with English engravings, a small number with Spanish engravings and an even smaller number with no engravings at all.” While the veracity of that statement cannot be verified, it further imbues the M800 Demonstrator with a bit of mystique. Both pens were readily available in their time but have been out of production for about twelve years now and are infrequently encountered. This model is not without its fair share of intrigue and new developments for 2020 make it worth revisiting.
Pelikan launched the M800, their first oversized pen, at the Frankfurt Fair in 1987. The new pen was initially available in the company’s classic green striped Stresemann pattern with an all-black model to follow shortly thereafter. We know that around this time a third model was released, the fabled Tortoiseshell Brown. For over twenty years, this was the only tortoise variant available from Pelikan in a larger sized model. Why this was the case, we can only speculate. While the brown tortoise M800 has achieved a cult status amongst collectors, some have posited that sales at the time of the initial release may have been somewhat lackluster. Nonetheless, in 2013 Pelikan re-introduced the M800 Tortoiseshell Brown to great fanfare. The company must have realized the pent up demand as their sales literature kicked off with the line; “Finally, it is back! The much coveted model Souverän 800 tortoiseshell brown….” Both models are now scarce in the secondary market and command a hefty sum when found. The provenance of that original tortoise has always been shrouded in a touch of uncertainty. The issue is compounded by the fact that German law only requires companies to preserve records for a period of 15 years so the historic archive is often times fragmented and lacking in primary supporting documents. That said, Pelikan has done a better job than many at preserving the company’s rich history. I thought that it might be interesting to explore the available evidence as well as the past statements of some subject matter experts in an attempt to find the truth. It also provides a good opportunity to take a closer look at each of the two M800 tortoises side by side. While we may never know the definitive answer as to original pen’s origins, the mystery only enhances its intrigue as a collector’s model.
It’s time for another review on The Perch and while I normally like to scrutinize models that are unique in some way, I’m taking a look at the M800 Brown-Black largely because of its seemingly similar appearance to a past release. If you have had any experience with the Pelikan catalog over the past decade, you might find yourself drawing parallels between this new model and an old favorite. The M800 Tortoiseshell-Brown (2013) quickly comes to mind as a special edition that also utilized stripes and brown resin components. Pelikan’s product literature describes the Brown-Black like so;
“A graceful and subtle appearance. That’s the look of the new Special Edition Souverän 800 Brown-Black. The warm brown hue resin material of this writing instrument series is perfectly complimented by dark brown stripes. The barrel with brown and black stripes is crafted out of high grade cellulose acetate which is then turned into a sleeve. The rings and the clip are elegantly decorated with 24-carat gold.”
Is the Brown-Black something we’ve seen before or a new design unto itself? I think that the best analogy I can put forth is that while it all may be chocolate it comes down to the difference between milk chocolate and dark chocolate. Does the Brown-Black have enough going for it to stand on its own merits? Read on to find out.
Pelikan has introduced over 40 different nib widths and styles during their 90 years of fountain pen production. Time and market forces have slowly taken their toll, whittling away at the available variety and eroding character. Around the year 2012, Pelikan discontinued production of oblique nibs in the widths of OM, OB, OBB, and O3B. The following year, the larger BB and 3B nibs were also removed from the standard line-up. Correspondence from representatives of the company around that time cited low global sales as justification for the discontinuation. For the past six years, Pelikan’s fine writing instruments could only be purchased with nibs in the standard widths of EF, F, M, and B. There have been exceptions to this rule as seen with the intermittent availability of an IB (italic broad) nib option or Niche Pens batch of M8xx BB nibs first offered in 2015. Neither option has been widely available or part of the standard line-up. Many have lamented Pelikan’s lack of variety, particularly as other manufacturers have continued to offer a significantly wider array of nibs. One such example of innovation in the nib space that comes to mind is Montblanc’s Meisterstück Solitaire or 149 fountain pens equipped with a flexible 18C-750 gold calligraphy “expression” nib which can reportedly vary line widths from about 0.3 mm to 1.6 mm. These calligraphy pens buck the familiar trend of hard as nails nibs, capitalizing on a maturing market of enthusiast looking for modern day flex writing pens. While Pelikan has yet to venture into that space, we’ve recently learned, courtesy of Appelboom, that they are re-introducing IB and BB nibs, adding them to the standard line-up on a restricted basis. Read on to learn more about the reincarnation of these older nibs as well as a few other tidbits.
September is usually good for news of a new release (or two) from Pelikan and 2019 proves to be no exception. History has taught us that this is the month some of the bigger birds get unveiled. Last year, it was the M800 Stone Garden. This year, we have the M800 Brown-Black Souverän fountain pen. The newest special edition out of Hannover sports a brown and black striped barrel with a very warm tone, an appearance that could easily be mistaken for a Tortoiseshell design upon first glance. Those who were excited by Pelikan’s use of sparkles in the forthcoming M200 Star Ruby may be disappointed by the more conservative Brown-Black. As best I can recollect, this is the first traditionally striped pattern to grace the M8xx line since 2014’s Stresemann. Availability is anticipated starting sometime in mid-October.
It isn’t easy deciding which pens to review here on The Perch. I like to focus on those pieces that bring something new to the table or tell a story. I mean, there is only so much you can say about another M800 with a different color scheme. That line of thinking is what lead me to today’s review. The recently released King Michael fountain pen stands out as unique in Pelikan’s catalog for a couple of reasons. The official name of this model is the King Michael I of Romania – Royal Edition and was only sold through Herlitz in Romania making this an ultra-exclusive regional edition that was not available through the usual retail channels. In fact, acquiring one required registration on the web, being selected, and then facilitating payment via a direct bank transfer. Honoring King Michael I (10/25/1921 – 12/5/2017), the last king of Romania, this edition is limited to just 300 pieces. While the underlying bones are clearly recognizable as those of a standard M800, this model incorporates a few design elements not previously seen. That allows this edition to stand out as an example of what good can come from local distributors partnering with the company to put out a unique product. While the opportunity to own one has largely passed at this juncture, I think that this pen is worthy of a closer look.
When you dig back through Pelikan’s long and storied history of pen making, you can find all sorts of odd editions made for local markets or done by regional distributors. Some of those models came from company sanctioned production runs while others had a more dubious genesis. The M800 Laser (2000) comes to mind as a good example of a strictly regional release. The Laser was an exclusive limited edition of only 100 pens which were specially engraved by Visconti and authorized by Pelikan Milan. This pen was made only for the Italian market, but it was not warmly welcomed in Hannover resulting in several being destroyed but that is a story for another day. My point is that it has been some time since we’ve seen a truly regional release from Pelikan which is why May 30th will be a stand out day in the company’s history. On that day, Pelikan Romania unveiled a new fountain pen titled “King Michael I of Romania – Royal Edition.” This model is not like many of the other Souveräns that we’ve seen and its unveiling was met with much more ceremony than we’ve been accustomed to. Read on to learn more about this neat and ultra-limited edition.