While Mont Blanc may be the best known German luxury pen company, it is another German company that holds the highest esteem in the pen community. Pelikan pens, through the entire range from low end school pens to the top of the line Souverain and limited editions, are known for their exacting quality and engineering. In modern pens, Pelikan nibs are second to none for smoothness, responsiveness, flow, and quality. Pelikan pens are the standard by which other modern pens are judged by the online pen collecting community. Although the foregoing sounds excessively praiseful, you'll see these same sentiments and opinions in all the online pen collecting boards.
Pelikan's range goes from low end school pens to high end luxury pens. In terms of design, the company is very conservative; the entire high-end Souverain line is essentially different sizes of exactly the same design, which in turn stems from a design that has changed very little since the 1950s. While this does make their designs seem comparatively boring, you'll know that fifty years from now you can get the exact same thing that you could have gotten fifty years ago.
Pelikan was originally founded by Carl Hornemann in 1838, but the Pelikan we know it starts in 1871 when Hornemann retired and sold the company to the chemist Gunther Wagner, one of his employees. A couple years later, Wagner made the corporate logo his family coat of arms, the pelican, and changed the name of the company.
Although Pelikan had been in the ink business for a long time, it was a latecomer to fountain pens. Pelikan did not produce a fountain pen until 1929, well after most of the major companies were established. However, the Pelikan 100 was a simple and highly innovative pen. At this time, eyedropper and lever pens were dominant in Europe. The Pelikan 100 used a new piston system that offers large ink capacity without the messiness of eyedroppers. The pen was an instant hit and soon the piston mechanism became standard in Europe.
By the mid 1930s Pelikan was doing quite well in the pen business, producing numerous minor variations on essentially the same design. The 100 was offered in a variety of colors and metal overlays. The 100N was introduced in 1937 and is quite similar to the 100, although offered in fewer colors.
During World War II, Pelikan pen production was cut drastically in favor of war materials until they were completely shut down by war in 1944. Gold nibs were not offered during this time; wartime Pelikans used steel alloy ("CN") nibs.
Production resumed after the war. In 1950, a new design was introduced, the Pelikan 400, a classic and very stereotypically German design. The 400 design would remain in production for a long time and influence all future Pelikan design; the entire current Souverain line is essentially just size variations of the 400. Production continued with the rare 400N model and much more common 400NN.
Pelikan also produced low end school pens. The Pelikano was introduced in 1960 and would remain the standard German school pen since. The Pelikano has been produced in one version or another continuously since then.
By the 1970s, Pelikan, like many pen manufacturers, was in trouble due to the onslaught of inexpensive ballpoints. Pelikan attempted to diversify holdings, entering the copier business and even expanding to sporting goods and cosmetics. None of these ventures were successful. Pelikan was taken over by Swiss investors in 1984 and Malaysian investors in 1996 and has since gotten back on track as a penmaker and office supply company.
In 1982, as the company was disintegrating, Pelikan went back to high-end penmaking and reintroduced the 400, followed by a wide variety of variants marketed as the "Souverain" line. The flagship Pelikan M800 was introduced in 1987 and while virtually identical in style to the 400, was Pelikan's first large luxury pen. A whole range of limited edition pens were built on the basic M800 form; most of them are quite collectible today.
Early Pelikans are highly collectible, especially the 100 and rare 400N. Many other Pelikans, such as the 400 and 140, are rather common and fetch merely fair prices as user pens. Some of the less common pens, such as the low-end Ibis, fetch far higher prices than you would think.
The modern Pelikan limited editions, especially the Asian-themed and transparent ones, also fetch good prices. The Special Edition pens are also quite popular while remaining relatively affordable for collectible pens.
While the regular production Souverain pens are not scarce and thus not very collectible, they are extremely nice pens, arguably among the best on the market today. You may want to purchase one for regular use (a 200/400, 600, or 800, depending on your size preferences), not just as a part of your collection.
Pelikan Pen Gallery
Pelikan GO! M75 circa 1980s, gold-plated steel nib, plastic, piston fill
One of the less expensive piston-fill pens and no longer in production. It has a "sporty" look to it and was marketed accordingly.
Pelikan Pelikano P465? circa 1985-1995?, steel nib, plastic, cartridge fill
A very inexpensive pen intended for the German school market. They have been in continuous production since 1960 but have changed designs several times. Comparatively difficult to find in the United States as they are not often imported, but never expensive when you do find them. There have been numerous variations over the years but I am not aware of significant efforts in the collecting community to document them.
Pelikan M200 (old style) 1991-1996, gold-plated steel nib, plastic, piston fill
The M200 brings up the lower end of Pelikan's high end pens. It uses a gold-plated steel nib instead of a gold nib. Old style pens have a more rounded top for the cap with the logo incised in; new style pens have a flared cap top with a silkscreened logo. Current production M200s also include transparent pens of various colors; relatively inexpensive for a "demonstrator" style pen and quite eye catching.
Pelikan Level 1 1996, steel nib, plastic, special fill mechanism
The Pelikan Level series uses the most exotic fill mechanism available today. The rear of the pen docks with a special ink bottle where dots have to be lined up in various places to enable ink flow. It defies easy explanation in words.
In 1997, the Level L5 was added to the line as a more distinguished and grown-up looking pen than the original school pen.
Pelikan M800 (old style) 1991-1996, 18k gold nib, celluloid, piston fill
The Pelikan M800 is the (modern) pen by which all other pens are judged in the online pen collecting community. Large, solid, and very German, with some of the more flexible nibs available today.
There are a couple minor differences between the old style and new style pens. In an old style M800, the Pelikan logo is in a gold disc on top of the cap; a new style cap has a silkscreened logo in a plastic jewel. The old style pen also has a plain gold disc at the bottom of the piston knob; this disc is absent in a new style pen.
Pelikan M250 (new style) circa 2000, 14k gold nib, plastic, piston fill
The M250 is basically an M200 with a single tone 14k gold nib instead of a plated steel nib. It also has an extra trim band around the piston knob but is otherwise identical.
Pelikan M620 Madrid 2002, two tone 18k gold nib, plastic, piston fill
The Pelikan M620 is their Special Edition series in the M600 size. Every six months, they change the pattern. The Madrid was released in the second year of the series and is made in a red flaked pattern in much the same style as the green and the blue of the earlier Berlin and Stockholm pens.
Pelikan M620 Chicago 2003, two tone 18k gold nib, plastic, piston fill
The Chicago is one of the two 2003 releases for the Cities series and has all-silver trim to go with the smoke grey flakes but retains the two-tone 18k gold nib that the other M620 pens have.
Pelikan M605 2004, two tone 14k gold nib, plastic, piston fill
The M605 is made in the new style M600 size (between the 200/400 and the 800) and is basically a deep blue M600 with chrome trim. This color was made only for about a year or two before it was discontinued; many sets were packaged with a cute little matching blue ceramic pelican pen rest.
Pelikan M620 Shanghai 2004, two tone 18k gold nib, plastic, piston fill
The Shanghai, in translucent red and orange stripes, is the last in their "Cities Series" for the M620. Mechanically these pens are identical to the standard M600, except that they come with an 18k gold nib unit instead of the normal 14k gold.
Pelikan M620 Piazza Navona 2005, two tone 18k gold nib, plastic, piston fill
In 2005, the "Cities Series" became the "Places Series" instead. Rather than naming each new pattern after some city, Pelikan went for famous plazas. The first pen, in translucent cream and marble, is named for the Piazza Navona in Rome.