Günther Wagner co-founded the Pelikan artist supply company in Hanover, Germany in 1878, but it wasn’t until 1929 that the firm produced its first fountain pen. Other companies, such as Waterman, Parker, Sheaffer, Wahl, and Montblanc, had all beaten Pelikan to market, but Pelikan entered the fray with an innovation—a pen with an efficient telescoping piston-filler. With a piston-filler, a turn of a knob was all it took to suck ink into a pen, which is why piston-filler pens are sometimes referred to as twist-fillers. The invention belonged to an engineer named Theodor Kovacs, who sold his patent to Wagner.

Pelikan’s first pens were cigar-shaped examples of the German modernist movement promoted by the Bauhaus school. Pens from the year 1929 were made of Bakelite—Pelikan switched to hard rubber and a plastic called celluloid in 1930, which is one of the many reasons why the 1929 pens are so coveted by collectors of vintage Pelikans.

That first year, Pelikan pens were offered only in all black (the conservative palette was a hit with German businessmen) or black with a jade-green barrel. Marbled-green barrels came a bit later and are more common than pens with jade barrels, but the colors of these pens have faded and changed over the years, so sometimes it can be difficult to tell which is which.

By 1931, these early pens would be labeled as Pelikan 100s. The hard-rubber caps now came in plain or banded styles and the colors of the barrels expanded to include blue and silver. 1931 was also the year Pelikan began making luxury models, the first of which was the 111. These pens had patterned, guilloché barrels of 14-karat gold. One of the most collectible Pelikan 111s is the Toledo, which featured Moorish metalwork with a pelican incorporated into the design, rather than just machine-made patterns. After 1937, Pelikan released a Toledo version of the 100N.

The 110 that followed the 100 had a white-gold-filled cap, while the 112 was gold from top to bottom, except for the piston mechanism, which remained black. Another variant was the 101, which came in celluloid barrels resembling lizard skin, tortoise shell, or coral. Some barrels were transparent so the ink reservoir could be easily viewed. By 1939, Pelikan was using celluloid in practically all of its pens’ pieces, from the caps to the barrels to the filler knobs themselves.

Pelikan fountain pens are handsome enough and they feel good in the hand, but one of the things Pelikan collectors like most about these pens are the nibs. In particular, vintage Pelikan nibs that are flexible and oblique are highly prized. Interestingly, the slant of most oblique nibs was designed for right-handed writers, so lefties would have to purchase a "left-oblique" in order to use the pen properly.

The Pelikan 100 and all its incarnations were the company’s mainstay until the late 1940s. After World War II, the clip on the cap of Pelikan pens became noticeably more pelican-beak-like. In 1950, Pelikan introduced the 400—its signature feature was a pinstriped barrel (giving users a peek at the ink supply) in colors ranging from green to tortoise. For accountants, a model was produced with a red tip on the cap, to signal to users the red ink inside the barrel...

In 1955, as a hedge against the coming onslaught of ballpoint pens, Pelikan produced a Roller version of the 400, but the company was pretty late to the party. After starting out as an innovator, Pelikan was now taking a go-slow approach with models like the 500, 520, 600, and 700, which, despite being handsome, were all basically the same 400 pen with varying amounts of gold in their caps and bodies.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)



Ernesto Soler's extensive homage to one of the most popular pens ever produced, the Parker "51," introduced in 1941… [read review or visit site]



Jim Mamoulides' vintage and modern pen-cyclopedia. Start at the main gallery, featuring detailed articles (with pho… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Black Pelikan, Piston Fill Fountain Pen As Found,Montblanc Fountain Pen Patron Of Art Limited Edition Andrew Carnegie From 2002 Pelikan M 400 Fountain Pen "old Style" Green Striped/gold Plated Trim 14 C "m"C 1954 Pelikan 140 Fountain Pen - Green - Working Piston Fill 14k Gold Semi FlexPelikan Vintage 400 Fountain Pen Green Striped/gold Plated Trim Nib 14 Karat New Pelikan Souveran M760 18ct. Gold Fountain Pen - 'm' Nib - 150th AnniversarySet Montblanc Imperial Dragon Fountain Pen & Mechanical Pencil - Lucky # 0880Pelikan First Year Black-black F-bb Grade Ger 1929Vintage Montblanc 254 /14ct Nib - Size Om / Excellent ConditionVintage Pelikan 100 / Nib 14ct / With New Kork Seal / Made 1940Pelikan 400 Nn Brown-tortoise Nib Gold 585 Size M Germany 50'sPelikan Vintage 400 Fountain Pen Green Striped/gold Plated Trims Nib 14 Karat Pelikan 100 Green - Black Of-om Grade Ger 1933Pelikan M800 Fountain Pen 18kt Broad Nib Pelikan Vintage 400 Fountain Pen Tortoiseshell/gold Plated Trim Nib 14 Karat Pelikan 400 Brown-tortoise Nib Gold 585 Size M Germany 50'sGraf Von Faber Castell Guilloche Blue Precious Resin Beautiful Set Pencil And BaVintage Pelikan 500, 14ct Nib - Size Ob, Brown Striped, Excellent ConditionBeautiful Vintage Pelikan 400 Nn Tortoise Fountain Pen 1956 14c Ef NibGraf Von Faber-castell Ebony Wood Ballpoint Mint!Pelikan M620 Cities Chicago Special Edition Souveran Fountain Pen 18kt Gold NibPelikan 140, Fountain Pen, Green/blackPelikan 100n Black-green Nib Gold 585 Size Ob Germany 40's1956 Pelikan 400n Fountain Pen Green Striped Export Rare 14k 585 Gold Nib KefFountain Pen Pelikan Souveran M 800 Black - Nib Gold 18k (free Choice)Fountain Pen Pelikan Souveran M 1000 Black/gold - Nib Gold 18k (free Choice)Pelikan Vintage 400 Fountain Pen Green Striped/gold Plated Trim Nib 14 Karat "f"Vintage Old Style Pelikan Souveran M600 Fountain Pen Green Striped Gold TrimmedMontblanc Meisterstuck 144 Fountain Pen 14k Two Tone Gold Fine(f) Nib!!Mint Pelikan Souveran M 400 Green Striated Fountain Pen 14 C F NibPelikan 400 Black-green Stripes Nib Gold 585 Size Ef Germany 50'sVintage "pelikan Ibis" Fountain Pen-14k Obb Nib-made In Germany 1930sPelikan M805 Blue With Medium NibFountain Pen Pelikan Souveran M 800 Black/green Gold Nib Gold 18k (free Choice)Fountain Pen Pelikan Souveran M 800 Blue/black - Nib Gold 18k (free Choice)Pelikan 400 Black-black Stripes Nib Gold 585 Size M Germany 50'sGraf Von Faber Castell Guilloche Pencil Black Precious Resin Mint Never Used!!Pelikan 140 Black- Green Ob Grade Ger 1955Pelikan 100, 14 C 585 Gold Nib In Ob For Oblique BroadCaran D'ache Ecridor - Chevron Rhodium Plated Mechanical PencilVintage Pelikan 140 Fountain Pen,barrel Only!for Parts Or ReplacementVintage Pelikan 400 / Nib (ob) 14ct / Green Striped / Excellent ConditionCaran Dache Léman 0.7mm Mechanical Pencil - Black/gold Near Mint!!Omas Exstra Rare Gentlman Black And Gold Mechanical Pencil From 1990s Only OneCaran D'ache Ecridor - Chevron Rhodium Plated Ballpoint Pen!!Fountain Pen Pelikan Souveran M 800 Burnt Orange - Nib Gold 18k (free Choice)Pelikan M400 Souveran Black-red Stripe 14k Gold-rhodium F Nib Fountain PenPelikan 400 Piston Fountain Pen In Black Striped 14k Gold Nib 585 Hallmark Black Jewel Kohinoor Rapidograph Piston Fountain Pen Renew 2550 Xf Nib GtVintage Pelikan 30 Rolled Gold Fountain Pen Gold Nib & Matching Pencil Set +boxPelikan Souveran Fountain Pen M800 Black/gold Trim 18c/f Nib With Ink Gift BoxPelikan Fountain Pen Shanghai Pelikan 400 Nn "green Striated With 14 Carat 585 Gold Nib, M - Nib, Swansea 10/6, Fountain Pen, RareEdition Pelikan Souverän M605 Blue Gold Nib 585 Size M With GiftboxMontblanc Meisterstück 145 / 14ct Nib - Size M / Black / Near Mint ConditionPelikan Ball Point And Fountain Pen In Original BoxPelikan "chicago" Fountain Pen NewPelikan 400 Nn Black-green Stripes Nib Gold 585 Size Om Germany 50'sMontblanc Noblesse Pencil With 0,5 Mm Leads, Rare Pencil !!!!