When it comes to fountain pen collecting, my primary interest is where it all started for me, that is German student fountain pens from the 1970s.
I thought it timely to undertake a review of the key pens of the era and to discuss their differences. For this review, I have focussed on seven pens from my collection, which all date from the mid-1970s, the time that I started primary school in Germany.
In the photo above, you can see from left to right:
- Standard blue Pelikano Model 4. This was released in 1973, although it looks largely the same as the Pelikano 3 that it replaced. Whilst the Pelikano pens were available in red, blue, green, yellow and black, most German shops only carried blue and red pens. Blue was by far the most common colour.
- Pelikano Model 4 in black: This was released a little later than the blue version and, as far as I am aware, was not sold in great numbers in Germany. I bought this one as NOS from the USA.
- Pelikano Model 4 Antimacchia: This is an export only model, destined for those nations (e.g. Italy) where kids did not like the metal cap and wanted to see a bit more colour.
- GeHa: This particular pen is a special edition Jeans model. This special edition gets a different clip as well as a barrel in a jeans-patterned barrel, complete with painted on contrast stitching. GeHa, having less market penetration than Pelikan, pushed the innovation angle. The two key innovations are a reserve tank built into the feed and a cleverly different cartridge. Whilst one can use a GeHa cartridge in a Pelikan (and in any other pen designed to take international cartridges), international cartridges will not fit in a mod-1970s GeHa pen (that all changed, once the GeHa was bought by Pelikan).
- An ERO office pen: Whilst Pelikan and GeHa had the bulk of the student market, there were many companies producing pens with similar styling. One of these is this ERO office pen.
- Montblanc Carrera: Up until Montblanc decided sometime in the 1980s that it wanted to be a pure luxury product maker, it produced several lines of pens designed to appeal to older students. The Carrera is the most of common of these.
- Pelikano Happy Pen: These were an attempt by Pelikan to appeal to older students and to offer some differentiation from the standard Pelikano that was seen as beginner’s pen. I suspect that Pelikan styled this pen to look more like the Montblanc Carrera. Colours aside, it is identical to the Pelikano Model 4.
All of the pens above are cartridge fillers. All take two cartridges, albeit the GeHa pen only takes proprietary cartridges and the Montblanc Carrera was also available as a piston filler for the export market. All pens come with steel nibs. In the case of the Carrera, a gold plated nib was available. Student pens are designed to be inexpensive and robust, hence the sturdy steel nib.
In the photo below, I compare the standard Pelikano 4 with the GeHa model to highlight the innovations in the Geha. The little orange tab that can be seen at the end of the GeHA fed is for the reserve tank. If you run out of ink and the spare cartridge in the pen has already been used, you can use the clip of the pen to push the orange tab into the feed, thus releasing enough ink to write a number of pages. The orange tab can be reset after use. Whilst I question the utility of the feature, after all the pen already has a reserve cartridge in the barrel, it does make for a nice marketing gimmick. Where the product development people got really clever is to devise a special cartridge that has a thinner end that will only fit GeHa pens and a standard end to fit all pens that use international cartridges. I take my hat off to the person that came up with that one, long before other firms embraced the idea of creating a monopoly for replacement cartridges. GeHa went one better out the door by creating a proprietary cartridge that would also fit other pens. I learned on this forum that a Lamy cartridge can be used (in reverse) in a GeHa pen and I can confirm that it works (you can see used Lamy cartridge in the photo).
The photo below shows the Montblanc Carrera. I always wanted one of these as a child, but that had more to do with the clever marketing than it did with the pen’s features. Being roughly twice as expensive as the equivalent Pelikano, I did not acquire one as a child. Now I have several of these. What makes the Montblanc Carrera different to all the others is that it can be easily disassembled for repair. That is a huge advantage for older pens, given that ABS plastic made in the 1970s is starting to go brittle. I have posted an article in Repair Q&A section, where I have put this feature to use, to repair a broken feed. All the other pens in this review are nigh on impossible to disassemble and repair. The other feature that makes the Montblanc Carrera different is that it does not rely on friction alone to secure the cap. The section has small raised metal tabs that secure the cap with a distinct click. To me this is the better solution, as the friction system starts to fail after a couple of years’ use. I have also included an example of the tyre stand that was used to effectively to market the pen, creating a racing car linkage. This stand will also fit Pelikano pens of the era.
Most of these pens come with different widths and types of nibs, including the obligatory A (for Anfänger= beginner) for primary school children. The steel nibs are as tough as nails and will keep on working, after a pen has been dropped or employed as a weapon to poke the kid sitting next to the writer (not that I would have done such a thing- at least not that I will admit to it).
I will allow myself the observation that when it comes to collecting fountain pens. In my opinion, too much emphasis is placed on the flexibility of gold bibs. If you write with a soft touch, as one is supposed to do, it makes little difference if the nib is a hard steel or a flexible gold nib. All of the pens in this review have been used as daily writers by me and none of them have let me down.
So which one is my favourite of all of the mid-1970s pens in this review? For me, the Montblanc Carrera wins hands down. It is just a little better made than the others, has a superior mechanism for securing the cap and can be disassembled for repair. As a child I fell in love with the marketing of the Montblanc Carrera- now I am in love with its features. At no point have I coveted it for the brand, but the allure of the luxury brand is probably the reason that second-hand examples are so much more expensive than any of the others.