Nib Customization: A Guide to Common Nib Grinds

Array of Pelikan nibs with custom grindsIt has been five years now since Pelikan discontinued the production of their most interesting nibs.  The sizes lost to us include the BB, 3B, OM, OB, OBB, and O3B nibs not to mention the more exotic IB and I variants.  If all of those letters amount to alphabet soup for you, you can check out my post explaining Pelikan’s nib designations here.  What we have been left with is the staid though faithful line-up of EF, F, M, and B sizes.  In many of my posts, I have lamented the lack of character found in today’s nibs.  The current philosophy behind Pelikan’s modern stock offerings seems to focus on providing a reliable though unvarying line, good for novices and advanced users alike.   This “one-size-fits-all” mentality may suit the market but can leave the advanced user somewhat uninspired.  What you get out of the box today is referred to as a round nib which produces the same line width on the cross stroke as it does on the down stroke.  Modern nibs are wide and wet thanks to Pelikan’s generous feed but there is little to no character imparted to the writing.  Contrast that with the nibs of yesterday, those from Pelikan’s early days through the mid-1960s, which provide a writing experience which I would argue is second to none.  While I appreciate the focus on dependability, I do sometimes miss the excitement that a good nib can lend to the writing experience and thereby elevate the text beyond mere words on the page.  Another theme that you may have seen me return to time and again is the generous and sometimes blobby amount of tipping material on Pelikan’s modern nibs.  What this allows for is a robust canvas for a custom grind.  There are many accomplished nib meisters out there, specialists with an expertise in nib adjustments.  They can help your nib achieve a sorely missing degree of character and I wanted to highlight for you just what can be done.  Now I tend to be a traditionalist and a purist and don’t often favor customizing my nibs but I have opened up to the notion and have been handsomely rewarded.  If a reliable, unvarying line suits you just fine, then read no further.  If you’re at all curious to learn how you might breathe new life into a boring nib then read on.

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News: Pelikan Nib Developments

Pelikan Nib Size ChartIt has been said that the heart of a good fountain pen is the nib.  Indeed, it is the nib which gives our writing character and flourish.  During the height of Pelikan’s vintage pen manufacturing there was a plethora of nib varieties available for purchase.  A vintage advertisement lists 23 different nib sizes available at one point.  Over time, these options have slowly been reduced based on various manufacturing and market influences.  In modern times, we still had double and triple broads available to us as well as obliques.  Sadly, these too were discontinued in late 2012 leaving us with just EF, F, M, and B as the standard nibs available across most of Pelikan’s lines.  This unadventurous selection is at least dependable if not inspired.  There have been flashes of inspiration seen with the introduction of the italic broad nib for the M8xx line in 2010 as well as  the italic nib option which was more of an italic medium that has graced several of the M2xx releases.  Many, myself included, lament the lack of variety in Pelikan’s nibs today.  If you’re looking for a little diversity, a few limited options have recently come to light.

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Touring Pelikan’s Factory & The Wish Nib

Pelikan Make a Wish Nib LogoHave you ever wondered how your Pelikan fine writing instrument came to life?  What technologies are involved and how does Pelikan retain the craftsmanship that only skilled human workers can provide in an otherwise automated process?  For a collector or enthusiast, the chance to discover the answers to these questions can greatly enhance one’s connection with the brand.  For some, such a trip would rival that of Willy Wonka’s own chocolate factory.  Thankfully, you don’t have to buy any Wonka Bars or find a “Golden Ticket” to get in.  As of February 2014, Pelikan has begun to offer tours of its manufacturing plant in Vöhrum, Germany which is approximately 25 miles east of Hannover (manufacturing moved in the 1970’s due to a need for more space).  The tour purportedly last 90 minutes and encompasses all of the major steps in the manufacturing process of Pelikan’s high-end writing instruments.  These tours are not a daily occurrence though and they do have to be booked in advance.  This can be accomplished through Pelikan’s website via a simple online booking process.  One Friday a month is set aside by the company and all of the tours start at 9:30am.  The price for the tour is just 15 € (including the 19% Mehrwertsteuer, a German tax similar to the VAT) at the time of this post (approximately $17).

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A Tale of Two M600’s

Old & New Style Pelikan M600's

 

This is the first installment of a multi-part series looking at what I consider to be the middle child of the Souverän family, the M600.  This first post will explore the history, features, and variations of the M600.  In a follow-up post, I will be reviewing both the old and new style M600 pens in a head to head match-up.  The M600 has one of the more interesting histories amongst Pelikan’s Souverän line-up and therefore is also prone to generate confusion amongst collectors.  As I’ve described previously, the year 1997 saw many changes to the trim styles of both the Souverän and Tradition series of pens.  Perhaps no pen was more affected than the M600 because not only did the trim change, the actual physical dimensions of the pen did as well.  The M600 was originally introduced in 1985, a few years after the M400 was debuted.  At that time, it had the same exact dimensions as the M400 but included an upgraded trim package.  The initially available barrel colors included black (1985), burgundy (1989), and the familiar green striated (1990) variations.  A tortoise version also exist but these are much less frequently encountered due to its limited production run.  

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How-To: Safely Remove & Replace a Pelikan Nib

M400There are many reasons, some subjective and others objective, as to why Pelikan pens are as popular and lasting as they are.  Undoubtedly, one feature that clearly endears them to novices and enthusiasts alike is the fact that the nibs are interchangeable and, by and large, have been so since the inception of the model 100.  The nib is the business end of the pen and if it is not performing as expected or becomes damaged, even the most beautiful fountain pen in the world is rendered useless.  I previously discussed  these nibs and their ability to be easily exchanged (amongst other attributes) in my post, The Evolution of the Collar, Feed, & Nib.  What’s more, not only are the nibs interchangeable but that this can be accomplished by the end-user and does not require a sometimes lengthy trip back to the manufacturer or a certified dealer, certainly a boon to the user.  These facts combine to allow one pen to take on a significant amount of character as Pelikan’s catalogue of nibs over the years has contained a wide variety of expressive options, not to mention the variety of custom grinds available from third parties today.  Even if you only own one nib, the ability to change nibs can come in quite handy in the event of accidental damage (why is it that all uncapped pens insist on landing nib side down?).  I could continue to expound on the virtues of the interchangeable nib but that is not our purpose today.  Today, I want to review for you exactly how to safely remove and replace a nib because this can be an area of confusion for many and some forethought should be employed prior to attempting.  Rest assured, however, that this is a safe procedure which can be carried out without much difficulty or skill.

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Polystyrene – What is it Good For?

Clear polystyrene collar.  Picture courtesy of jgrasty of FPN; http://goo.gl/xHAqXf

Clear, cracked polystyrene collar. Picture courtesy of jgrasty of FPN; http://goo.gl/xHAqXf

 

ABSOLUTELY NOTHING (at least as far as collars go)!  Welcome to the third and final installment of a series of posts dealing with Pelikan’s nibs.  The first post endeavored to clarify the presumed meaning of the PF and E|N hallmarks while the second detailed some of the steps in the evolution of the collar, feed, and nib over time.  Now you may think that I was overly harsh with my opening statement but allow me to convince you of the truth of that declaration.  Polystyrene’s roots are deeply German in origin.  It’s initial discovery was in 1839 by Eduard Simon but almost one hundred years had to elapse before the substance was formulated as we know it today.  The properties of this material are that it is clear, hard, and (most distressingly) brittle.  It began being mass-produced for various applications in the 1930’s and was prized for being relatively inexpensive to manufacture.

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The Evolution of the Collar, Feed, & Nib

M481 Black NibThis is the second post of what is intended to be a three-part series looking at various aspects of Pelikan’s nibs.  The first post was a discussion of the PF and E|N hallmarked nibs.  This post will explore how Pelikan’s collars, feeds, and nibs have changed over time and will also discuss compatibility across the various models.   I think that these nibs are deserving of this attention because their interchangeability by the user/owner is one of the defining traits across much of Pelikan’s Souverän and Tradition lines which has always been a boon to hobbyists and collectors.  Before proceeding I would like to reaffirm that I am simply an enthusiast and the information presented below is what I have gathered from my years of collecting and should in no way be taken as authoritative or exhaustive.

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The ‘PF’ & ‘E|N’ Nibs Explained

M800 Nibs with PF Hallmark

M800 nibs. From left to right; Unmarked, PF, PF, E|N hallmarks. Picture courtesy of Pjay of FPN; http://goo.gl/6wQm2q

 

Do you have a Pelikan nib that has a small, strange inscription that your other nibs are lacking?  Have you ever wondered what this mark could indicate?  Throughout the years, there has been a lot of discussion over a few of the hallmarks that have graced some of Pelikan’s nibs.  These hallmarks can be found in a few different places on a nib, the most common being on the right, just above the collar (M800’s) but there have also been examples reported with the hallmark being covered by the collar (some M600’s).  These markings are usually encircled by an oval and the two most common are “PF” and “E|N.”  The latter has also been identified as P|N or B|N, likely owing to varying degrees of quality of the impression as well as the microscopic size of the imprint, requiring high magnification to see clearly.  While absolute and definitive evidence may be lacking, I do feel that there is a reasonable and well sourced explanation that adequately explains the genesis of these nib markings.

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