Team OQA

20th Century Icon

Team OQA
20th Century Icon

This article is written by guest author Lucas Yan.

The Pelikan 400 is an icon in the world of writing. Its green striped barrel is easily recognized and carries along with it a rich history. Sporting a fairly flexible 14K fine gold nib, an ebonite feed, and a piston filler, the pen lays down a wet line with good variation. When writing, the Pelikan is smooth but substantial and excels both in print and cursive. For its 60 year age, this particular Pelikan 400 is a great testament to the solid construction of vintage pens.

The Classic

Founded by Gunther Wagner, Pelikan initially manufactured and sold art supplies. With the early 20th century, the fountain pen rapidly gained popularity, and in 1929, Pelikan introduced its first fountain pen. While Pelikan was a late entry into the market, it offered one innovation that set it apart from its competitors. The Pelikan featured a piston filling system, a compact, simple, and efficient alternative to the prevailing eyedropper system. Using only a simple rod and barrel, pistons promised clean and easy refills of ink.

The pen was known as the Pelikan 100 and underwent many design improvements over the following decades. By 1950, the company capitalized on its consumers' postwar wealth, and released the Pelikan 400. The 400 served as its flagship model and while following the same design patterns as the 100, offered a larger size and an upgrade in materials. This would be followed by the 400N which replaced the flat barrel with a rounder one, and the 400NN with a further rounded barrel and larger size.

The production of the Pelikan 400 came to an end in the 1960s as the company encountered financial troubles and management changes. The 400's design was licensed to an outside firm while Pelikan struggled as a company. By the 1980s, the company went bankrupt and was acquired by Condorport. With new leadership and direction, Pelikan began to release pens that improved on its classic designs.

The Modern

The M400 is a reintroduction of the classic 400 with recent advances in production and manufacturing. Since it's release, it has surged in popularity and is a staple in Pelikan's current offerings. The M400 can be found in any fountain pen shop and provides an affordable option into Pelikan's premium Souveran line. While keeping the 400's design language, the M400 incorporates modern cues found in present-day pens. The nib is stiffer, and a plastic feed replaces the ebonite one found on the 400. In addition, the lines on the barrel are now straight and uniform, and the piston's threads are hidden from view.


A Modern Classic

Through my journey of collecting fountain pens, I knew I had to have a Pelikan. The brand is synonymous with a high quality writing experience, and the company is a leader in the fountain pen industry. Choosing between two great pens, I was faced with the dilemma of buying a new M400 that was well manufactured or a 1950s 400 that was well-used. I spent days in indecision until I came across Rick Propas. He restored and sold old Pelikans online and happened to be local in the SF Bay Area. In addition, he warrantied the pens and ensured the nib and feed was in good working order.

This Pelikan 400, which I bought from him, tells a rich 60-year old history in addition to serving as a writing instrument that delivers every time. From the effortless gliding to the beautiful flow of ink, I am constantly reminded that I made the right choice.