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”)

Parker51.com

Parker51.com

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]

Penhero.com

Penhero.com

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    

Pelikan 101n Celluloid & Rhr Fountain Pen 1930s. 14c F Flex Nib. RarePelikan Vintage 400 Nn Tortoiseshell - Brown Striped Fountain Pen Piston Filler Pelikan Green Stripe Souveran M400 Fountain Pen 14kPelikan Vintage 140 Green Striped/black Fountain Pen Piston Filler About 1955Pelikan M800 Fountain Pen Blue Striated With Gold Trim Fine 18k Nib 986737Pelikan Vintage 400 Tortoiseshell - Brown Striped Fountain Pen Piston Filler 1930s Pelikan 100 Tortoise - Excellent Celluloid Fountain Pen No Reserve!!Vintage Gracia 22 Piston Fill Fountain Pen - Rare & Fully Working - C1930'sVintage Pelikan 400nn Green Striped Black Fountain Pen M Gold Nib 1960'Vintage Pelikan 100 N In Near Mint Condition With Extrem Rare 14ct Rbb NibPelikan 120 “type Ii” Black And Green From 1970’sGreat Vintage Green-marbled Pelikan 100 Pen With New Cork - 1930'sVintage Grey-marbled Pelikan 100n Pen From The 1940's Very Nice Vintage Pelikan 140 Green Striated - 14c Ef NibPelikan 101n Dark Tortise Mother Of Pearl Drp Nib.585 0 Germany C.1930sClearance Sale! Pelikan M600 Vibrant Green Pen, Special Edition*clearance Sale* Pelikan M605 Fountain Pen, Marine DemoPelikan Souveran M215 Blue Silver Fountain Pen Fine NibPelikan Fountain Pen 120 Rare Pelikan 140 “green” Fountain Pen – From 1952-1965Pelikan Fountain Pen 120 F Nibs Set*clearance Sale* Pelikan M625 Japan EditionExcellent And Rare Vintage Pelikan 400 Nn Green Striated 1956 14c F NibPelikan 100n Black Km-kbb Ger 1938Mint! Pelikan M200 M 200 Fountain Pen - Italic NibVintage Pelikan 120 Merz And Krell Fountain Pen,m-gold Plated Nib,germany 70sNear Mint Vintage Pelikan M 200 Fountain Pen Gray Marbled M NibPelikan Souveran M600 Black/red Fountain Pen Medium 928697 No ReservePelikan 400nn Fountain Pen Very Rare Nib FPelikan 120 Mark I Fountain PenRarepelikan 520 In Gold Plated. Sublim!Classical Green-black-striped Pelikan Pen 400 From The 1950's Vintage 1950´s Tortoiseshell Design Pelikan 400nn Fountain Pen.Pelikan Fountain Pen Display Stand/rest/holder Cobalt Blue Porcelain Germany VPelikan Souverän Black-green Fountain PenNear Mint Thick Vintage Pelikan 450 Pencil Tortoise - First Year ProductionVintage Pelikan 100c /rare-wartime-pen / Nib "cn" / Green Marbled Pelikan Gunther Wagner 400 Fountain Pen Gift Dr Volker Hauff Mayor Of FrankfurtRarepelikan 600 Edition. Sterling Cap. 1990Beautiful Near Mint Vintage Pelikan 450 Pencil Tortoise SlimlineRare Near Mint Vintage Pelikan Mk30 Fountain Pen 14k Ef NibPelikan M101n Red Tortoise Pen, Choose Your Nib SizePelikan Mc 120 Deluxe Fountain PenMint Rare Vintage Pelikan Mk 20 Silvexa Fountain Pen With StickerRare Mint Vintage Pelikan M 30 Fountain Pen 18 K Obb Nib With Original StickerVintage Pelikan 140 Fountain Pen Green Striped Ef 14 C Gold Nib Germany 50'Pelikan Soveran Fountain PenVintage Pelikan Tortoise Shell Fountain Pen 14k Nib For Repair NrPelikan Pelikano Fountain Pen Black P450 1979 VersionAntique Ink Bottle - Pelikan - W GermanyExcellent Vintage Pelikan 140 Green Striated 14 C -ef NibMini Pen Safety Pen No Name Very Rare Vintage Pelikan 120 Green Black Fine Soft Gold Plated Steel Pelikan NibPelikan 120 (later Version) Fountain Pen Black W/ Med Nib1990ca Pelikan M250 Blue Old Style –excellentKaweco V 36 Piston Filler In Mint Condition Old Style Pelikan M200 Demonstrator Clear/gold Fountain Pen Nib:fPelikan M 200 F Fountain Pen Old Style New, Alternative To Souveran M400 Mint Unused Vintage Pelikan M 30 Mechanical PencilVintage Pelikan M200 Old Style Derby Black/green Marbled Gold Trim Fountain Pen