Montblanc – an appreciation through comparison
Episode 1 - Introduction
Welcome and thank you for dropping by. I respectfully submit this, the third pictorial post of my collection, in the hope it might serve as a useful reference or in the very least, that you find it worthy of your valuable time. For practical reasons, this post is submitted in five bite-sized episodes.
Whilst vintage Montblanc pens, in particular black piston-fillers for the German market from 1934-1954, constitute the main part of my collection, I also have pens from other important pen manufacturers. I therefore thought it might be interesting to compare Montblanc’s piston-fillers of the time, to those of a comparable pen manufacturer from the same period.
It would probably have been easier to look to Montblanc’s biggest domestic competitor Pelikan for a comparator. Instead, I decided upon a particular pen manufacturer whose pens are considered by some to have been the match of both Montblanc and Pelikan in their time but about whom not a lot is known; I refer of course to Soennecken.
Using pens, catalogues and advertising material from my collection, I would like to share with you my appreciation for Montblanc’s early piston-fillers, by comparing them to the piston-fillers being offered by Soennecken during the period of my interest. In this regard, I hope my pens meet your expectations but apologise in advance should you find my collection to be in any way...... lacking
Before we begin, I respectfully point out that, as a mere fountain pen enthusiast, I have not attempted any serious technical analysis of any particular pen, for such analysis would be far beyond my capability. My best efforts could never amount to more than an informal pictorial comparison of these two pen manufacturers – a beauty parade – of their (mainly black) piston-fillers for the German market between 1934 and 1954. Indeed, my sole ‘qualification’ for expressing any view, other than owning a few pens, is that I have a genuine appreciation for such pens of the period. Despite my self-appointment, I naturally stand to be corrected by your greater knowledge where deemed necessary
Soennecken, settling in the city of Bonn, started out in 1875 selling nibs and inkwells. Founder Friedrick Soennecken was already known for his interest in calligraphy. However, having invented both the hole-punch and ring-binder, Soennecken soon established a serious reputation as a producer and retailer of high quality office stationery and office furniture. Soennecken seem to have started marketing pens around 1890 and were selling their first safety pens by 1905. Despite not starting out as a pen manufacturer, Soennecken was actually the first major pen manufacturer in Germany. By comparison, Hamburg-based ‘Montblanc’ (as the ‘Simplo Filler Pen Company’ were eventually to be known) started out as a pen manufacturer in 1908. They started producing their own gold nibs in 1914 (previously imported from England and America) and introduced their first lever-fillers in 1921 – some 6 years before Soennecken.
Montblanc & Soennecken piston-fillers
Both companies were late in adopting the piston-filler system (Montblanc in 1934 and Soennecken in 1935) the first reliable version of which was introduced in 1929 by Hannover-based Pelikan. However, Montblanc and Soennecken seemingly had such in-house technical capability that they were able to devise their own version of this most important of filling systems. Montblanc were to patent their version – the ‘telescopic’ piston-filler system - in 1936 whilst Soennecken registered their unique ‘click’ version in 1939, though seemingly did not market it until 1949 (probably because of events between 1939-1945!).
I am not a technical person and so leave any ‘technical’ analysis of these pens to those far brighter than I. However, to satisfy my own curiosity as to the technical pecking order between these two pen manufacturers, I made brief enquires of the three FPNers responsible for the proper working order and condition of all my vintage pens. The consensus of opinion is that the Montblanc’s version of the piston-filling system is regarded as being technically in a league of its own, whilst the Soennecken version is seen to be among the best in terms of quality and reliability. Any further debate on this point is beyond the scope of this particular post and best left to the experts.
I tend to state my interest in fountain pens (particularly in Montblanc) as starting from 1934. This was the year when Montblanc incorporated its brand name ‘Montblanc’ into its business name to become: Montblanc-Simplo GmbH, and it is also the year that Montblanc launched its first piston-fillers, the model ‘b’ from the III series, and the old-styled MB 17 ½ first seen as a safety-filler, then later as a push-button filler. On the face of it, this seems to have been a rather cautious, almost reluctant, launch of its first piston-fillers by Montblanc. Neither of these pens were of first-tier quality and both pens were only in production for just one year. 1934 was also the year that Montblanc launched its new ‘Pix’ range of pencils in the form of the MB 92 ‘Volkspix, the patent for which had been acquired by MB earlier but which was so successful these early Pix pencils remained in production right up until 1950!
Despite these important events, my MB collection is representative of Montblanc’s more serious attempt at piston-fillers, which started in 1935 with improved piston-fillers and a redesign of Montblanc’s already successful flagship line, the ‘Meisterstuck’ range, which was to sport a new 3-digit numbering system, new cap top design and Montblanc’s brand new telescopic piston-filler system.
Montblanc & Soennecken 1935
In 1935 Montblanc launched the MB 235 and 334 both of which were to remain in production until 1936.
Here we see the MB 235 with its original ‘tall cap’, used on a few ‘new’ models during the mid-1930s. Some early versions of the tall cap would come with a tear-drop style clip but this pen has correct and latest fluted clip (1934-1941) which was to be typical of MB‘s second-tier piston-fillers.
The blind cap, with both model number and nib type imprinted, hides the piston turning knob.
This MB 235 has the correct and original 14 CT size 5 nib.
The first versions of the MB 334 came with the same tall cap as the MB 235. My pen pictured here is a later version with the ‘modern’ cap and the typical third-tier clip (1935-1948).
This MB 334 has the correct and original 14KAR ‘Warranted’ b nib. (Rosler, pages IV and IX).
Soennecken launched its first piston-filler in 1935, in the form of the model 1306, of which I have two versions; standard black and the longer luxury version in pearl and black. The standard black version is probably not that distinguishable from many German pens of the period. The ribbed piston turning knob has the nib type imprinted and, whilst not perhaps as elegant as a MB blind cap, it is probably more practical and not too distracting from the look of the pen. The brass piston mechanism gives the pen good weight.
By 1935, the Montblanc snow cap insignia (registered in 1913, introduced in 1914) was already a marketing success and, with ‘Mont Blanc’ emblazoned on the side of it pen caps; ‘Montblanc’ engraved on their pen nibs, and with the legend ‘4810’ engraved on their Meisterstuck nibs (since 1930), Montblanc had clearly found a winning formula in brand recognition, which they seemed to have applied consistently during this period.
Soennecken seem not to have been so consistent with their branding. Their earlier logo (as used on their much appreciated ‘Rheingold’ push button-filler range) was a letter ‘S’ within a white sun-like circle complete with sun rays (ref - German composer Wagner). However, at the time of the launch of its 1306 piston-filler in 1935, Soennecken dropped the white circle but kept the ‘S’ and sun rays.
The standard 1306 (middle) has less threads on the grip section, which is straight, tapering to a rather dated looking flange. Incidentally, the luxury version 1306 has the same elegant grip section as the two MBs shown.
Whilst this post is only really interested in piston-fillers, it is interesting to note that my 1935 Soennecken catalogue lists Soennecken’s top-of-the-line Prasident (push button-filler with patent pending), complete with new logo, at RM 24 whilst its most expensive Rheingold (push button-filler) model 1917 is listed at RM 17. The same Soennecken catalogue lists the new1306 at RM 7.50.
Edited by pavoni, 19 May 2013 - 22:32.