Putting Karats To Paper: The Various Gold Purities Of Pelikan’s Nibs And The Impact On Performance

Pelikan's 12C-500, 14C-585, 18C-750, and 20C-833 nibs

When the Earth began to form sometime around 4.5 billion years ago, molten iron sank to the planet’s center, forming the core. Gold and platinum also migrated to the core leaving the outer layer of the Earth essentially devoid of any precious metals. It is now widely believed that nearly all of the gold content within the Earth’s exterior came from meteorites that bombarded the planet more than 200 million years after its formation. In other words, all of the gold within our beloved nibs is likely extraterrestrial in origin. Of course, not all gold is created equal. We use a karat scale to measure the ratio of gold to other metals or alloys within an item, also known as its fineness. The term karat has the same derivation as carat which is more commonly used for gemstones. Both words originate with the carob bean born from the carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua) which grows in the Mediterranean and has fruit pods that contain multiple seeds. A balance scale used to be the only way to effectively weigh something which meant that a counterbalance of known quantity was necessary, and it was once believed that carob seeds were uniform in size, making them the perfect unit weights. The karat scale that has since emerged ranges from 0 to 24 with 24 karats representing gold in its purest form. In 92 years of fountain pen production, Pelikan has utilized gold with four different degrees of fineness in their nibs; 12C-500, 14C-585, 18C-750, and 20C-833. The number in front of the hyphen refers to the ratio of gold to other metals whereas the second number is the millesimal fineness which denotes the percent of gold in an item. For example, a 12C-500 nib has 50% pure gold whereas the 20C-833 nib has 83.3% pure gold. Does that mean a 20C-833 nib writes differently or is in some way superior to its more impure brethren? Read on to find out.

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Pelikan’s ST Nib: The Reason Behind The Flex

Pelikan 14C-585 Stenographic ST NibA lot of emphasis gets placed upon just how much flex can be derived from a fountain pen these days.  Go to any pen show and you will invariably hear attendees asking after pens equipped with flexible nibs.  If you frequent any of the popular pen auction/sales sites, a lot of Pelikan’s vintage offerings get put forward as fitting the bill.  The principle of caveat emptor should be utilized in those scenarios since applying excessive pressure to a semi-flexible nib can result in great line variation but at the cost of significant stress that could ultimately lead to nib failure.  While the company’s nibs from the 1930s through the 60s are excellent and considerably better than today’s offerings, they are not what I would call true flex nibs.  It has been my experience that the more accurate descriptor applied to these nibs would be semi-flex with a springiness that imparts a tremendous amount of character to some to these vintage pieces.  Of course, there is an exception to that rule.  Pelikan produced a nib stamped ‘ST’ which could be found equipped as a specialty nib on various models.  First introduced with the 100N in 1938, these nib were particularly elastic and came in EF or EEF.  The 140s and 400s had gold versions produced from 1954 – 1965 and the 120s came with stainless steel variants made from 1957 – 1965.  These stenographic nibs are truly flexible, putting down a line ranging from EEF/EF to B/BB.  It should be pointed out that not all ST nibs are created equal and your mileage may vary.  Pelikan also made specific pens dedicated to stenography in the 1970s and 80s which should be held apart from the nibs discussed here.   Those models comprise the P11, P16, and P470 lines which are all nice writers but the nibs are certainly not what I would call flexible.  I can only surmise that the differences might owe to the various stenographic systems that have been used over the years.  Pitman relies on line variation where Gregg and Teeline do not.  Read on to learn about how these flexible nibs were meant to be employed.

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News: Pelikan Re-Introduces Broader Nib Widths & Other Tidbits

Pelikan BB nibsPelikan 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.

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It’s A Spanner! It’s A Wrench! It’s Pelikan’s Vintage Nib Removal Tool!

Pelikan 400 and 400N w/ nib removal tool

Pelikan 400 Green/Green and 400N Black/Green uncapped and shown with Pelikan’s nib removal tool from the 1950s and 60s

A removable nib has long been one of Pelikan’s hallmark features since the earliest days of the transparent Pelikan fountain pen first introduced 90 years ago.  Pelikan Schreibgeräte tells us that one of the company’s early slogans was “The right nib for every hand.”  The screw-in nib unit allowed retailers to keep a small cache of nibs on hand which allowed Pelikan’s products to meet a wide range of customer preferences.  The convenience of this thoughtful design and the marketing put behind it allowed Pelikan to quickly earn the esteem of vendors and customers alike.  Each unit consisted of a nib and an ebonite feed held together by a threaded collar which would screw into the pen’s section.  Pelikan has long had mechanisms in place for the safe removal of those units.  For the 1oo, 100N, and Rappen models, a special pair of pliers was developed to suit the purpose.  The pliers had a series of three or four notches into which the fins of the ebonite feeds could be slotted.  This would allow for a more secure method of nib removal with less risk of damaging the feed’s fragile fins (try saying that three time fast).  The engineers at the company went back to the drawing board with the introduction of the 400 in 1950.  Rather than a pair of pliers which still ran a risk of damaging the nib, they designed a socket wrench, also known as a box or tubular spanner, to accomplish the task.

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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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