Masterclass 8

Classic Fountain Pens - The Pelikan 100 - by Peter Twydle

There aren't many fountain pens that can truly be defined as 'Classics'. The Parker 51 is certainly one, and we have laid out the reasons for this, and extolled its virtues elsewhere on this site. It certainly revolutionised pen design and set the trend for its many imitators in the years that followed.

But we must remember that the 51 was a product of the 1940's and there had been revolutions in pen design prior to that period. One such pen was certainly a revolution, particularly in its filling system, so much so that the system, with few modifications, is still produced today. The pen in question is the Pelikan 100.

It is often thought that the differential piston filling system was first used by the Montblanc company. This isn't so. But… we get ahead of ourselves. Let us go back to the beginning and see how it all started.

The Pelikan story begins in 1832 when a certain Carl Hornemann opened a small workshop for the manufacture of artists' paints and accessories near Steinhude Lake in Germany, and in 1838 brought out his first price list. The 28th of April of that year is considered as being the date of the foundation of the company.

In 1863 a chemist called Gűnther Wagner started as factory manager. He later acquired the firm and gave it his own name. In 1878 he became one of the first manufactures to use a trade-mark as a guarantee of the quality of his products. He chose the pelican, taken from his family coat-of-arms, which became one of the first ever registered trade-marks.

The trademark word 'Pelikan' is the German spelling of 'pelican'. The Pelikan emblem shows a pelican on its nest with its young. It symbolises family bonds and reliability. All Pelikan products that bear this emblem are therefore designed to be of help to people in dealing with their daily tasks. The illustrations below show how the Pelikan emblem has changed over the years, the fourth one being the current version.

By the turn of the century, Pelikan paints and inks were known all over the world and the factory employed more than 3000 people.

The range of Pelikan inks was amazing. Not only did the company produce writing inks for everyday use, but also special inks for bookkeeping (indelible), Hotel ink (washable), duplication ink, note ink (watertight), perfumed ink (for ladies), gold and silver ink, plus many others. At their peak 172 different types, colours and bottles were available.

All these inks and no fountain pen? That had to change, and in 1925 the decision was made to develop a fountain pen.

It was determined from the outset that any fountain pen developed by Pelikan should be different from, and better than existing pens, such as the safety pens that were filled with an eyedropper, or the so-called self-filling pens with rubber sacs that held less ink and tended to perish. Enter Theodor Kovacs, a Hungarian engineer who developed a filling system with a special piston, designed to overcome these disadvantages. He patented his pen in 1923 and offered it to Montblanc, Soennecken and Pelikan, finally signing a contract with Pelikan in 1927.

So it was that in 1929 Pelikan produced their first fountain pen, called simply 'The Pelikan Fountain Pen '. Whereas most other pens of the time were only being made in black, The Pelikan Fountain Pen had a black cap with a jade green barrel. It was only the following year that an all-black version was introduced.

The nib was 14ct gold with a heart-shaped pierce hole and was made for Pelikan by the Montblanc company in a wide range of nib points - from extra fine all the way through to double broad, including obliques and some special, less flexible 'hard' points, hence Pelikan's slogan at the time 'the right nib for every hand'. More importantly from a marketing point of view was the fact that the nib came as a screw-in unit. This made it popular with the retailers, as they could offer a wide range of nibs without the need to stock a large quantity of pens.

The filling system, with its plunger mechanism, was a revolution in design, its main advantage being a much larger ink capacity than the sac favoured by other manufacturers. With minor improvements, mainly in the use of better materials, this filling system is still used in the quality models made today.

Another factor that made the pen so unusual was the cap, which sat low on the pen when capped, giving an overall length of only 4½ inches, ideal for clipping in a shallow pocket. However, when the cap was posted, the pen became quite long at 6 ¼ inches. This has confused many novices today, such as those selling on eBay, into suggesting that the pen they are offering may have the wrong cap.

Model 100

A year after its introduction, 'The Pelikan Pen' was modified slightly and became known as the '100'. The most visible difference was the cap, which grew two cap bands, and the nib, which lost its heart-shaped pierce hole in favour of a circular one. The barrel became celluloid instead of bakerlite and a new shade of green was added to the range.

Further modifications were made in 1931, most notably the top of the cap which became slightly more tapered, and further colours were added. Even more colours followed in 1935 to include marble pens, tortoiseshell and lizardskin. These became known as the Model 101. These coloured pens are hard to find nowadays as many were destroyed during the war.

Of special interest was a de luxe range introduced in 1931. The 110 had a cap and barrel of white gold. The 111 with a black cap and 14ct gold barrel, and 112 with a 14ct gold cap and barrel. And, most significantly, the T111 known as the Toledo, with a 22/24ct tooled barrel.

Production of the 100 series ended in 1944.

Model 100N

In 1937 a new model went into production known as the 100N (N for 'new', German 'neu') Although similar in shape to the  100, this was a bigger pen, both in length and diameter, which consequently had a larger ink capacity. The other main visible difference was the filling knob, which was more conical and now smooth as opposed to the ribbed knob of the 100. Versions of this model can also be found with a shorter cap top. These were intended as export models to countries where, it is reported, fashion dictated that a flap on the top of a jacket pocket would fold better if the pen did not stick up too far. The cap ring came in two versions - a double ring or a broad, fluted decorative ring with matching fluted clip. Because of the war and subsequent gold shortage, gold nibs were not allowed, so pens made during wartime had palladium nibs. Later in 1939 palladium was also forbidden and nibs were made of chrome, nickle and steel.

In 1942 the pen was further improved by replacing the piston cork with one made of a synthetic material normally used as a sealing agent to prevent home water leaks. Towards the end of its life the filling system was further improved with a new piston and piston rod.

Over the span of its production, the 100N came in a wide variety of finishes - black caps with black, green and grey marbled barrels and 14ct gold bands, tortoiseshell and lizard finishes known as the 101N, mother-of-pearl, all white rolled gold or 14ct pens and, of course, the familiar Toledo.

The production of the 100N series ended in 1954.

So, a classic pen. A pity it is still not made today. Actually…. it has been.

A few years ago Pelikan brought out a Limited Edition reproduction of the 112 rolled gold pen as the first of a 'Classics of our Time' range. This was followed by the white gold 110 and later by the green and the lapis blue colours from 1935. And, as I write this, ther original Toledo is about to be released. These Special Editions will set you back a bob or two. The 1931 white gold pen, for example, has a recommended retail price in the U.K. of £1470.

Nevertheless. 70 years later and the Pelikan 100 is still with us. Truly a Classic Fountain Pen.

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© Peter Twydle 2012