The Pelikan M800 series of fountain pens is one of my favourite, if not the favourite, type of fountain pen. In this I am not alone, as many consider the beautiful writing instruments produced by this German manufacturer to be some of the finest ever produced.
But why? What makes these pens so special?
Sharing my own experience in using fountain pens may explain my passion for Pelikan pens. I write a lot- both professionally and privately. This includes professional reports, fiction and non-fiction writing. I earn my living as a lawyer, but am semi-retired now, which has given me more time to devote to a series of historical projects (on early Byzantine history, which is one of my long standing interests) as well as fiction (I recently published a book of short stories “Entertaining Mona Lisa” through Scriptus Books, available on Amazon or via scriptusbooks.com).
I personally prefer to produce a first draft by hand. It is not that I am old-fashioned or that I avoid modern technology. On the contrary I am fascinated by the changes the internet and portable devices like the IPad and IPhone have brought to our society. The range of information one can access and the vast number of things one can do online is truly marvellous. And I am sure I appreciate this development even more because I am lucky to have lived in the age of the typewriter, to have seen photocopiers, faxes and emails come into our lives: it has been as profound a revolution as the invention of printing. But when it comes to writing something “serious”- fiction or non-fiction- I find that the connection between hand, pen and paper produces text of incomparably better quality than if one writes directly on screen. Somehow, that subtle relationship between idea and expression is achieved much better through the handling of a writing instrument applied to place ink onto paper. So I write the first draft in long-hand, then go through it manually (adding or correcting) and only then do I type up the manuscript. Of course, while I am typing it up, I make lots of changes, but this second draft on screen is usually better by a distance than if I had composed direct on a two dimensional surface using a keyboard.
I suspect this may be because a pen is handled to create just one line of writing, where the movements of the hand are intimately connected to the brain- whereas typing involves some concentration on judging where to place the fingers on the keys. By this I don’t mean that I am a two fingered typist, “pecking” at the keys: instead, I type as fast as most secretaries but still find there is always a small degree of concentrating on the physical process of typing that is absent when using a pen. This is the fundamental reason why I write with a fountain pen.
But that immediately leads to the next question: which fountain pen? Why not a ballpoint or pencil? For me the answer is simpler: a pen has a weight and presence in the hand that a biro, ballpoint, roller or pencil simply don’t have. I would be prepared to concede that a good quality roller might be acceptable, but I would miss the wonderful and subtle feeling of ink flowing down on paper…
But why the Pelikan M800?
Several years ago, I still wrote with a very good Waterman “Laureat” fountain pen, whose medium steel nib I had cut into a fine italic. It was my constant companion and it would definitely have been a good thing for the family bank account if I had stayed there.
Unfortunately (and you who are reading this will remember the same process) I started investigating other fountain pens. This is when I fatally came across Peter Twydle’s wonderful book “Fountain Pens“, (Crowood Press, 2009, see crowood.com). Peter Twydle is probably one of the leading pen experts in the world and famous for his skills as a repairer. In his book, he discusses the question “Which is the best fountain pen?” (page 145) concluding that the Pelikan M800 is “the pen against which all others should be judged”. As he eloquently and persuasively writes:
“The one question people ask me more often than any other is, “What is the best fountain pen in the world?” My answer is always the same – Pelikan, and specifically, the Pelikan Souverän M800 . Since Pelikan made their first fountain pen in 1929, the overall concept of their quality pen range has changed very little. The traditional design and the filling mechanism with its enormous ink capacity has stood the test of time and, instead of being subjected to the whims of fashion, has been content with just a steady refining and improvement. Also, the nib is just outstanding. Whereas other comparable manufacturers have rolled their gold thinner to extract more nibs per sheet, Pelikan has continued to manufacture a nib of the highest quality and durability in a wide range of nib points.”
Looking it up online, I saw that a Pelikan M800 would cost about £300. (I am giving the prices in UK £ as I currently live and work in the UK). That seemed a huge and unreasonable sum to pay for a pen, a small object that I could easily lose or break by accident. At that time, however, I was earning more than I do now: although £300 is a lot of money, I could afford and justify it as a luxury instrument that would see constant use. The pen I selected was the Pelikan M800 Blue and Black striped pen, one of the types of fountain pens that is always available. Why that colour? I was influenced by the photo in Peter Twydle’s book which showed a Blue Black Pelikan M800 with a gold clip and bands, and I followed his advice.
So I bought it (as I recall from the excellent online seller of pens “Mr Pens” see http://www.mrpen.co.uk/).
When the pen came, I was amazed. This was a pen of a totally different level of excellence in writing that I had ever experienced before. It effortlessly outclassed the Waterman Laureat. The medium 18 carat gold nib on the Pelikan wrote perfectly out of the box, its size and weight fitted my hand perfectly. Truly this was a Mercedes-Benz of the writing world.
Of course, this was the start of a long and expensive journey “down the rabbit hole” of pen collecting. It did not take me long to start thinking that perhaps I should have another pen to use a different colour than the blue ink I had loaded into the Pelikan Blue Black M800. I then came across Ray Walters who had a stall on Thursdays in Spitalfields Market which was near where I worked. Ray is an excellent and charming salesman and I quickly found myself buying several Pelikans and a couple of Visconti Van Gogh Maxi size pens (now sadly discontinued but I will post a review about them soon). He has a website at https://www.vintagea...dernpens.co.uk/
Before I truly realised what was happening I was the owner of a growing pen collection, mainly of Pelikans…