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Some larger mid-twentieth-century German piston and button fillers


alexander_k

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Fountain pens from around the middle of the twentieth century, on either side of World War II, especially German ones, hold considerable appeal to me. They were meant for intensive writing and so quite a few still work admirably well. Their nibs are often magnificent and the overall construction quality good to excellent. My only gripe is their size: most adhere to a 'standard' size that is a bit too small for my hands. Thankfully, there are a few that are bigger, without necessarily falling under the 'oversize' category. These tend to be high-end models, meant for important people who needed to impress with the size of their possessions. Accordingly, they generally also have higher production standards and therefore are in an even better state than other models.

Today, when we think of large, high-end German pens, it’s mostly Montblanc and Pelikan that come to mind. Back then, however, there were more brands vying for a share of that prestigious part of the market. Over the years I’ve managed to collect a few and recently I inked and compared some of them over a period of a few weeks of rather intensive use. For comparison purposes, I used the same ink for all: Pelikan 4001 Brilliant Black (a bottle from the 1980s), with a one exception that will be explained later. The pens come from lesser or extinct brands, so don’t expect to see any Soenneckens (these will be compared in the future), Osmias or Gehas (of these two brands I have currently nothing that qualifies as large) or Pelikans (I’m all out of them). 

 

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Left to right: Elite-Meisterklasse, Mercedes 100, Artus 57, Böhler-Normal

 

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Left to right: UHU-Nobel, Lamy 27m, Matador Standard 92, Rally (not compared, just another large pen from the same period) 

 

Elite-Meisteklasse

The first is a pen reportedly purposely made by (or for) the Berlin Weltpen company (Schmieglitz & Co) as a competitor to the big Montbalncs. It’s a piston filler of good size and capacity, with a smooth black body and cap, orange ink window and ebonite blind cap and cap finial. The most impressive feature is the huge 14K medium nib, of the semiflex category. Flow is good, allowing the nib to flex without any railroading. The Elite-Meisterklasse one of the pens I used most in the comparison period because it was quite comfortable to hold for hours, either posted or not. It’s a pen that compares favourably with any of the larger daily writers in my collection.

Mercedes 100

The next piston filler comes from another obscure company, Mercedes, which was apparently founded by a former Matador employee. Some consider Mercedes pens to be second-tier but the ones I’ve had always gave me a much better impression in all respects. Judging from its construction, the 100 model was clearly meant as a higher-end pen, although it sports a steel medium nib (possibly an indication of the period it was made: gold had been rather scarce in Germany for some years during and after the war). The body and cap are chased and it has a green ink window. In terms of size, it’s slightly longer and thinner than the Elite. Its flow is more generous and the responsive nib comes close to the semiflex of the Elite - yet another proof that back then they could work with steel as well as with gold. I’ve had this pen for many years now and I regret not having used it more often. It sits very comfortably in my hand (quite comparably to my benchmark, the Parker 51) and works very reliably.

Artus 57

In contrast to the previous two brand, we know enough about Artus and its relation to Lamy but I’ve been unable to find anything about this particular model, the 57. It’s a piston filler made of chased plastic and has a green ink window. In terms of size, it’s between the girthier Elite and the longer Mercedes. Ink flow is generous and serves well the soft, semiflex 14K medium nib. The pen is as comfortable as the Mercedes, suitable for long writing sessions, and its flex nib adds a playful element I appreciate, even when writing in haste.

Böhler-Normal

Böhler’s origins and relation to Osmia are also well known. This button filler is made of chased plastic to a size very similar to the Artus 57, expect for the length, which is roughly one centimetre shorter. This calls for posting the rather long cap at most times. The main difference, however, is also the main attraction of the Böhler: the marvellously flexible 14K medium nib. The pen works very reliably and posted has the right size for my hand but I prefer to use it for less hurried and shorter writing jobs, so that its flexing remains a joy. Flow is excellent but, as I’ve noticed also with other flexible nibs, when the ink level in the pen falls below a threshold that I’ve been unable to fathom (no ink window), the nib becomes drier and starts to exhibit a bit of resistance than can be tiring.

UHU-Nobel

The UHU-Nobel is on of my latest acquisitions and the most expensive of this lot. It is a piston filler made of smooth black plastic to a size almost identical to the Elite, so presumably also intended as a competitor to the big Montblancs. The orange snakeskin ink window seems to confirm that. The nib, however, is a steel medium - nevertheless a responsive one, just like the one in the Mercedes. The pen is rather dry, so initially it didn’t take well to Pelikan 4001. It took some work before flow became acceptable and may require some more. In terms of size, the UHU is near perfect: the most comfortable of the bunch, either posted or not. The only problem is the flow, which could be more generous. This is a fine-tuning and ink-matching challenge I actually appreciate. What’s the use of having so many inks, otherwise?

Lamy 27m

Probably the youngest of the lot is the Lamy 27m (the fat model in the 27 line). It’s a piston filler of smooth plastic, with an orange ink window and a gold-filled cap. The nib is a semi hooded 14K oblique bold. Its size is similar to the UHU but the hood adds holdable length, so posting is never necessary. Unfortunately, the pen is rather dry (unlike other 27s I’ve had), so it’s inked with Rohrer & Klingner Blau Permanent. Otherwise I’m quite fond of the stiff OB nib and the overall appearance and size of the pen (but I’ve already declared the Parker 51 to be my benchmark, so that’s no surprise).

Matador Standard 92

Finally, my favourite of this bunch -partly because of the time and effort I put into it, partly because of the way it writes: the Madator Standard 92 arrived several months ago with half a tine missing, so I had to replace the original nib with a broad 14K Montbalnc I had from some other abused pen. Thankfully, the marriage worked. The pen is a smooth black button filler with an ebonite cap finial, very similar in size to the UHU, only slightly longer. Flow is generous and the nib has a lot of flex - my favourite kind: broad, smooth and flexible. I can use this pen, posted or not, for hours without tiring. On the contrary, I feel inspired and invigorated by the effortless and effective way it lays ink on paper. I’ve had various Matadors before and all were great pens, only too small for me. So, this larger Matador is one I intend to keep. Still, I’d like it to have a Matador nib, so if anyone has a spare medium or broad one, or knows how to grow tines, please contact me.

Conclusions

As you can read, I do have preferences but at the same time I appreciate all these pens. I used them all regularly with pleasure but not with the same intensity (which also relates to the kind of stuff I had to write). Most of these vintage pens haven’t cost me much, so I don’t mind letting them rest some of the time. I didn’t have to do much to get them going, either: some cleaning, o-rings for the pistons and sacs for the button fillers and a bit of silicone grease was all they required. Most importantly, all nibs but the one on the Matador were in perfect condition.

As for the comparison to Montblanc, at least half of them feel as substantial and well-made as my 149s (although closer to the 146 in size) or the Pelikan M800 that used to be my main pen for two decades. So, the advice remains: go vintage; it’s an adventure you won’t regret in the long run.

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Thanks for the review. I wonder did you find your FP at the local market or online? 

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow

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Excellent post - and some really good reference there, especially as I have (and greatly appreciate) many of the same pens. The writing samples were especially useful - one of these days I really should put the same ink in at least a few of my pens and try to do a similar exercise.

 

I was also delighted to see that somebody else remembers the Fast Show!

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On 5/23/2021 at 9:34 PM, Ambien said:

Thanks for the review. I wonder did you find your FP at the local market or online? 

All these pens have been purchased (and more often rescued) via various online channels, especially the Dutch Marktplaats. 

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That was a good read, thank you!

 

I share your enthusiasm for such pens. There were dozens of smaller companies around Europe in those days and apparently a lof of them (including the Dutch ones) sourced their parts in Germany. I have a number of Dutch pens from that era that seem to share certain parts with your pens. As you say, the nibs tend to be stellar and the pens are a joy to use.

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4 hours ago, TheDutchGuy said:

That was a good read, thank you!

 

I share your enthusiasm for such pens. There were dozens of smaller companies around Europe in those days and apparently a lof of them (including the Dutch ones) sourced their parts in Germany. I have a number of Dutch pens from that era that seem to share certain parts with your pens. As you say, the nibs tend to be stellar and the pens are a joy to use.

True on both counts: the Dutch pens (like the Rally in the pictures above) are also quite interesting and the nibs are worth historical research: how did they make them so much better than today? Why have we lost the secret?  

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I don't think that the secret for making good nibs has been lost, it is a fact that almost nobody wants to make good nibs anymore as pens are made to be luxury items and not for every day writing. Why do we have many nib 'meisters' then? They would be out of job with perfect nibs. People write with pencils or ball points, what do they know about writing with fountain pens? It is a marketing game!!!

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Very interesting thread with pens I have never hear before, thanks for sharing.

Pens are like watches , once you start a collection, you can hardly go back. And pens like all fine luxury items do improve with time

 

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