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Some Untold Stories About Calicut Pens.


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I don’t how many could believe that Calicut, a city of Kerala, have such a rich heritage in fountain pens- so that it may be called as the pen city of Kerala. Probably as the only man in FPN from Calicut, I take the responsibility to present our city in this forum.

The pen productions have started in early 1950s. By 1955-1960, there are four major firms of pen making. Don’t think that these are big companies producing pens and marketing in wide areas. Actually these are four pen shops, and each shop produced pens for their own shops only. And because of this poor marketing strategy, they are almost unknown to the outside world. As the healthy competition continued, many beauties have born.

The pen history can be roughly be divided into 6 phases.

  1. 1950 - 1955 PEN PRODUCTION begins .

  2. 1955 - 1960 CONSOLIDATION PHASE – By this period all the 4 pen shops came into existence and production started at full swing.

  3. 1960 - 1970 THE GOLDEN ERA. This period have witnessed these shops running in full glory, churning out the maximum number and variety of pens.

  4. 1970 - 1980 THE DECLINE STARTS

  5. 1980 - 1990 THE BIG DECLINE

  6. 1990 - PRESENT.

All the things happened right here- in the SM Street. The most busy street of Calicut. SM stands for Sweet Meat. Wondering what’s sweet meat ? . It’s nothing like meat. A hard rubbery confectionary -or Calicut Halwa- as known outside Calicut. You can see a lot of shops selling this here. They are available in a variety of colours and flavors—atleast twenty I think- more that what colours you are getting for a Sheaffer Skrip or Waterman range of inks!


For those who don’t know, Calicut ( or KOZHIKODE) is a city situated in the coastal Malabar area of Kerala, India. It’s the only place in Kerala where fountain pens are made.

Calicut is also known as the Biriyani capital of Kerala. Wonder why .. all pen cities are famous for their biriyanis also ..!? the Malabari biriyani is made in process were all the rice, meat and the spices are cooked in a closed container where the soft aromas and infused to rice in a slow process of around 5-6 hrs.

Now, coming to the story part - The whole credit of fountain pens of Calicut goes to one and only person- Mr. M. Haneefa Rawthar- for without him the story would not have happened. People called him Haneefa Saheeb. He came from somewhere in Tamil Nadu in around or before 1950. At that time ( and now also) many people comes from other states to Calicut as merchants. His first visit was somewhere around 1950. He came with a huge collection of fountain pens- used and new, along with a lot of spare parts.

Usually persons coming to Calicut are attracted by the hospitality and friendliness of natives and most of the merchants and traders later decided to settle here. Haneefa Saheeb was no different.

Don’t think that there was no pens at all before Haneefa Saheeb. Imported pens like Waterman, Black bird, Swan were there. These were costly and not afforded by all. Apart from regular pens, dip pens were also popular.

Ink tablets were also popular at that time. For making ink, you have to dissolve tablet in water!

For dip pens, thicker inks were made with tablets dissolved in lesser water. Also they were available at very cheap rate compared to an ink bottle. Any ink manufacturer reading this?

Coming back to Haneefa Sahib, a man with no formal education, but lot of experience from worldwide travelling and visiting so many countries, now at his fifties or sixties, toying with the idea of starting a pen shop at Calicut.


The first pen shop of Calicut opens in SM street in 1950. As expected the shop flourished very quickly. This shop later became Kim and Co pens, as known today. As he sold new and old pens, he provided them with good service, as he had a huge collection of spares.



Kim and Co shop at Calicut.( at present)



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PHASE 1 ( 1950- 1955 ) PEN MAKING STARTS.

Actually his first requirement was not to make pens, but to make spare parts for original pens. He knew that some day he will run out of spares.

It is said that he even visited Montblanc factory to see pen making process. Any way the pen and spare parts making started by using some machinery he bought from Germany. The pen making was set in a small room attached to the back of the shop.

Note that Haneefa Saheeb himself was not making pens. He had some workers for that. And the main brain behind Haneefa Saheeb was a retired Ex-service man called Gopalan. He had excellent ideas of creating fountain pens. In fact without him making of these pens would not have happened.

Soon he realized that the small machinery he bought from Germany was inadequate for his purposes, and plans to buy a bigger machinery from Madras.


Haneefa Saheeb, now having enough friends at Calicut, impressed by a young man, named Krishnan, who also wanted to have a pen shop like him. Next time Haneefa Saheeb go to Madras , he orders two machinery , one for him and one for Krishnan!

Soon Krishnan start his own pen shop with production facility, in the same SM street, a fifty meter away from Kim and Co, called as Amber pens. This shop later became Krishna pens, as known today.



Krishna shop at Calicut.(present)


Can you imagine a major pen company ( for that matter any company ) helping to set out machinery for their rival company? Competition gives way to Compassion.

And this machinery he bought from Madras, is still used by Kim and Co. for making pens.

Amber pens , with their workman Mr. Michael, flourished along with Kim and Co, and in short time two more players enter into the field, with the help of Krishnan.

A young man, Mr.Narayanan established his Kriptok Pens shop, which deserves a special mention, as they were technologically superior to other pens, and their workman Mr. Vasu had some extraordinariy talents. As the others were not making clips rings etc by themselves, Kriptok have the honor of making complete pens at home. Note that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru used a Kriptok pen and have written letter back to them praising their work.



2013-09-22_081901 by mohancv, on Flickr


This is a Kriptok Vacumatic pen made by Vasu during early phases of production. Its celluloid and eyedropper.





2013-09-16_005708 by mohancv, on Flickr


Compared to a Parker Vacumatic. It has a hooded nib.

The latest entry to the field – Elite pens by a person named Mr. Damodharan, their workman is also named Damodharan.

With the players set in the field, a healthy competition starts, with Kim and Co leading the pack.

The four players

  1. Kim and CO
  2. Kriptok
  3. Amber
  4. Elite
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1960 – 1970 - THE GOLDEN ERA

So many varieties of pens have been produced in this period. Given below are few examples.



2013-09-16_003240 by mohancv, on Flickr


Kim Metro- This is a desk pen made by Kim during early 1960s. It has a celluloid body and a slip on cap.

Compared to a Safari. See how long it is!



See the clip. Cant’ put in pocket. Clip’s function is only to prevent rolling down.





As competition increases naturally every shop makes their pen to perfection.

They added new features, new materials , new designs—people rejoice! More choices, at competitive prices!

Now we look special features the pen shops introduced at that time to attract people.

1. All the Calicut pens, except for the cheapest school pens are made with built in inner sleeves inside the cap for nib protection. This also prevents the drying of nib.

2. Also most of these had multiple threads for quick removal of caps – A feature not seen even in a modern GEM pen. ( sorry to say this, but I am a fan of Mr. Pratap of Gem pens). Even the largest of the pens open with in maximum one to three turns.

3. Most of the higher pens have a built in step in the section threads to act as an “O ring “ to prevent ink leaking.




Multichannel ebonite feeds – these are standard in all except cheapest student pens.




See this particular design. The last part of ink in the barrel cannot enter into the section. This is a method to prevent burping. But this design is not seen in modern pens.


As competition progressed, shops throwing many new designs and materials to the market.


2013-09-16_004951 by mohancv, on Flickr


This is Kim Lady. A small clip less celluloid pen meant for ladies.


2013-09-16_004803 by mohancv, on Flickr


It’s size is perfect for a small purse. Opens with just ¾ of a turn.



2013-09-16_005053 by mohancv, on Flickr



This is a Kim Lady. Green.



2013-09-22_095213 by mohancv, on Flickr



2013-09-22_095757 by mohancv, on Flickr

Kim lady Varient. All clipless.



As you can imagine, the main stays are ebonite and celluloid. Initially ebonite rods were coming from England and later local production started at Madras.

Celluloid were coming from Germany, and local production never started. Celluloids were called as “Shells” as were coming as not rods but as tubes. These were costly and afforded by affluent class only. Shell pens were almost not made after around late sixties.

Other materials included Rosewoods, Teak and some precious woods. All these failed- as you can imagine- there was no other filling mechanism apart from eyedropper!



2013-09-22_094542 by mohancv, on Flickr


This Is Kim Big Red. Celluloid. A hot selling model of Kim from 1960s to 1970s.



2013-09-16_093443 by mohancv, on Flickr


Amber Vacumatic- Ebonite- ED- Made around late 60s.



Design closely related to Kriptok Vacumatic.



2013-09-16_093710 by mohancv, on Flickr



Three Vacumatics.

Edited by wimg
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Thought that having this much pens floating around, Calicut is left with no Ink companies around? Never.

There were atleast three ink brands produced at Calicut. These were

  1. Prabhoos ink
  2. Bal inks.
  3. Guptan inks.

All these companies started at around early sixties and survived up to early seventies. Some other outside ink brands ( from Madras, may be Bril or Nurit) were also available. All these were family run businesses, and the marketing was not professional. Apart from this lack of interest from the next generation of family made these brands seize to survive with their older generation.

Its during this period, Gopalan, the man of Kim and Co passes away. His assistant , Ramachandran was too young to make pens by his own. What next? Think that other shops had a big sigh, competition is no more, now they can make a big profit? It never happens in Calicut- Now the man of Kriptok pens, Vasu comes to Ramachandran and teaches him, till he can do work by himself alone!



During end of sixties, when celluloid was almost run out of stock, Metros were remade in ebonite. They still had clips ( not seen in pic).






2013-09-17_035918 by mohancv, on Flickr

Ebonite barrel for 51.




An unknown Swan pen. Ebonite barrel made by Kim.



1970 – 1980 - THE DECLINE STARTS.


Though some decline is happening, still many interesting models came out during this period also. Check out.



This is a Metro remake of seventies. Finally it is clip less! Compared to a present Metro!



Amber Michael by mohancv, on Flickr

This is an Amber pen of unknown model. Now this pen is kept as a valuable item by a person of Calicut in memory of his dad who bought this in 1970s. This pen have a hooded nib.



2013-09-22_095622 by mohancv, on Flickr

An Elite pen.



2013-09-22_094834 by mohancv, on Flickr

An Amber pen which looks like a NoNonsense.


Changes are happening. This is the age of mass manufacturing of injection moulded pens. Well, not really bad for pen shops,as now they have more variety of different brand pens in different colours. But definitely the pen making have reduced. Actually these pens added to the variety of pens in the shops. People were more attracted to these as they are cheaper, more colourful and branded.

I may have already mentioned that the fault in marketing of these pens. They made only for their shops and unknown for outside market.

And for buying these brand pens, people at periphery no more come to SM street as they are widely marketed around.

I don’t know which brand has first come to Calicut. Pilot pens have started their Indian factory some where in 1960s I think, also Waterman and Blackbird have also started around this time. Some Indian companies like Wilson also entered with their own versions of pens at very competitive prices. Now during the end of seventies , pen shops are really struggling for existence.



2013-09-22_092211 by mohancv, on Flickr





2013-09-22_085948 by mohancv, on Flickr


These Watermans and Pilot with gold nibs had made very good impact on people I think.

A new revolution on these pens have started- Customizations. Painting names and pictures using some special brushes and paints imported from Japan.. It is said that these paintings are resistant to extreme wears and tears. The paintings were done by these workmen themselves.


Example of some customizations.




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Sad to say that Kriptok and Elite have already no more, while others struggling. But newer models still coming out.



Kim Select. by mohancv, on Flickr

Kim Select. Picture do not do justice to this beauty! See the peculiar pattern.


The big decline can be attributed to the following factors


1. Better marketing strategy of Indian branded pens ( and cheap too)


The pen brands available in this period include




Asoka ( Platos sub brand)








All these pens are mass manufactured, available at cheaper cost in plentiful colours , had more snob value than ebonite pens, and killed them, well almost.



2013-09-17_043252 by mohancv, on Flickr

This Pilot was really the star. Steel nib. Cheaper. One of the collectors have told that although this is called as Burma Pilot, it is really made in Japan. Still available as NOS.



2. Two Kerala companies entered the market in a big way.


These companies , may be in early seventies also, enter Kerala market in a big way. One is Bismi pens, made by Syed and Co from Cochin , and other is Jubilee made from Kunnamkulam. They are cheap pens, any model you imagine at any colour, it is there. They made a huge impact in the market as they are very cheap and marketed heavily. Probably a person outside Kerala may not have heard of them. But for me its important as Bismi was the pen with which I started my Pen life . Note that these companies believe in quantity and not quality. I have never seen a serious pen from them.





2013-09-17_044118 by mohancv, on Flickr


BISMI pens.



3. Ball pens.


Now comes the real blow- the Ball pens. Rest of the story you can imagine.

Edited by wimg
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As you can imagine, these shops if they continue as pen shops they can’t make a living. The shops now are

  1. Kim and Co Pens and Opticals

  2. Krishna Pens and Opticals.

That is their main business is now Spectacles.

Kim and Co is now run by Mr. Rafi, he belong to the third generation of Haneefa Saheeb. Krishna pens is run by Mr. Ratnasingh, son of Mr.Krishnan.

Ramachandran of Kim and Co is still making pens with the same machinery Haneefa Saheeb bought 60 years back. Krishna pens do not have any production facility now, but they are marketing Kim and Co pens and some pens of Thiruvalloor make.



2013-09-26_034457 by mohancv, on Flickr





As a policy, models which are well accepted by people are continued to produce, others are dropped. So the modern pens can be divided into two types.

  1. Mainstay pens.

  2. Pens not in production now.




2013-09-16_041857 by mohancv, on Flickr



2013-09-16_041626 by mohancv, on Flickr


Kim Master.


2013-09-16_042621 by mohancv, on Flickr


I think Master is comparable to a Chelpark Antic.


2013-09-16_042020 by mohancv, on Flickr




Note that Masters are not in production now, but some modern pens including the current flagship model – Big 2- are based on these pens.



2013-09-16_044032 by mohancv, on Flickr



Somewhere I have already covered the m 2011 pen. This model is a variant of that. ( both have their base as Master).



2013-09-16_045017 by mohancv, on Flickr

This is another variant of m2011.



See the matt marbled finish. Otherwise it is same as m2011.



Close up of the finish.



2013-09-16_045832 by mohancv, on Flickr



This is a Kim pelikan. Its related to Pelikan 100 I think.

Its ED. Small in size.



Kim Pelikan compared to a Vector.






Kim Small- If you ask me which is the most single successful model among Calicut pens, I would point to this pen. I remember buying this particular model in late 1990s. and still it’s in production!





Don’t be fooled by its name. It’s as big as a Wality!



kim big by mohancv, on Flickr

This is a Kim Big pen.



Kim Big open.



kim big german by mohancv, on Flickr

Kim Big 2 with German nib- This giant pen is the flagship of Kim pens. It’s based on Master pen but much bigger.



kim big german.jpg 2 by mohancv, on Flickr

This has a big 12 size German nib and very smooth.



This is Double pen. On closing it look like an ordinary pen.



2013-09-16_094143 by mohancv, on Flickr

This is a Kim Student pen. Cheapest of the range.



Kim Student -Open.


Overall , around fifty pens are produced per month now . It’s interesting to note that most of the pens made are bought by people directly from shops. Also a part is marketed in Gulf countries by some interested persons. A small volume is given to some shops of Kerala by one of Ramachandran’s students. I particularly thank him and some related persons for providing detailed history, providing sample pens or providing the links to the same.

I also thank fellow FPNer Mesu for providing some samples of newer generation pens.


I made my best effort to present information as accurate as possible. Spend so much time, money and effort to procure these example pens- beg, borrow, steal and blackmail and other methods I know!. Noticed that some photos are bad quality “street” photos? These are the pens which the owners are not willing to part with!


Thanks for reading. Mohan.

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That is a really informative and wonderful post, Mohan. Your post brings the relatively less known handmade pen manufacturers of Kerala into the spotlight. Thanks very much.


Reg. your quote 'competition gives way to compassion'...I remember Mr Lakshmana Rao of Guider Pens, Rajahmundry, telling me that his father was a worker with the legendary Mr K V Ratnam of Ratnam Pens and it was Mr Ratnam who gave him some basic equipment and helped him start his own pen manufacturing unit, right there in Rajahmundry, almost in the same locality...similar stories, great distances...


Thanks once again for that great story...





Writing and posting about fountain pens exclusively on www.jaisiri.blogspot.in ... recent posts on Hema Pens (Hyderabad), Haul at Majestic (Bangalore), and Asoka Pens (Tenali)...

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Wow, Mohan, what a fantastically informative post!


The desk pen reminds me rather of the Rotring Artpen - of which, as of this weekend, I have six! not counting the Millennium edition (four so far) - even down to the 'Rot Ring' or red ring, though it's in a different place (between the barrel and section on the Rotring). Mind you, the Artpen only once came with lovely celluloid like the Metro. Looking more closely there are important differences but it has a similar feel that I don't get from, for example, Lamy Joy or most Parker/Sheaffer desk pens I've seen.


On a completely irrelevant note, your mention of Calicut as the biryani capital of Kerala reminds me of the amusing fact that chicken biryani is now pretty much the national dish of Oman! just as they say chicken tikka masala is the British one. :-)

Too many pens, too little time!


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Thankyou for this. It must have taken you ages to put this essay together. It was informative interesting and enjoyable. If they'd like to sell any of their pens they'd certainly have a buyer here.

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Excellent insight into a pen world I have no knowledge about. The 'Fountain Pen & Optician' marriage is interesting, as logical as the historic 'barber and surgeon' of old London town.


Given the historical 'ripping off' of Parker pens, evident in the examples shown, I am surprised they do not attempt to make reproduction Parker spare parts (as say Ariel Kullock does in Argentina) - must be a market.


Also, what were the nib quality like?

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Dear northlodge,

These are ordinery Indian made nibs. But they can check the writing and replace or smoothen the nib, but only if you specifically ask for it. If any complaints are there they just give another pen instead of repairing it! No bill, No any written waranty! But they do make customers happy.

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Kudos Mohan! Excellent job of archiving the pens and also providing a narrative to go with it. This is good historical work. Do bring in photos of the pen makers at some point of time. More to come, I hope.

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You are the reason for this topic! Its you who told me to write about this.

Edited by mohan
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I have purchased several pairs of eye glasses from Kim and Co in the late 70's while I was a student in the medical college in Calicut. Never knew at that time that they were making fountain pens. thanks for the post.

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Thanks Mohan, for a well-written account of the pen industry in Calicut; there must be countless stories all over the world waiting to be told. The pictures are great eye-candies too!


Among the currently made pens by Kim, I would be glad to own any one, but oddly enough I actually like the modest "Kim Student"... perhaps my taste is not quite up to the level of the boys at the Kim works...

No, I am not going to list my pens here.

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Awsome! Amazing in its comprehensiveness and attention to detail. Lovely photos. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful heritage.

I am no longer very active on FPN but feel free to message me. Or send me a postal letter!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Great looking FPs. Sad that these pens do not/did not have wider market. The only brand omnipresent is the plasticky Camlin :-(


If these FPs had wider market, there would be many more buyers even today.

I put my savings to test

Lamy & Pilot FPs the Best

No more I even think of the rest

(Preference Fine and Extra Fine Nibs)

Pen is meant for writing - not for looking :-)

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Mohan, Congratulations for writing this multi-part pen history of Calicut/Kozikode! Excellent effort! Your passion for fountain pen oozes out perfectly.

Thank you sharing!



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