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Montblanc 149

Montblanc 149 in black, c 1985 (brass thread filler)

This giant black cucumber of a pen has at various times gone under the name "Diplomat" (which can be confusing because there's another German penmaker that uses Diplomat as its company name) , but everyone knows it simply as the 149. It's the largest and most expensive pen in Montblanc's non-limited-edition lineup, and is offered in a variety of materials besides the basic black plastic seen here.

This pen actually dates back to the late 1940s, and was introduced to be the new flagship of the revamped torpedo-shaped Meisterstück line. It has been produced more-or-less continuously since then, and has changed but little in overall appearance. In the modern MB range, both the 149 and 146 are still available as piston fillers (the 146 is now known as the "LeGrande"), but the small 144 model (renamed the "Classique") became a cartridge-filler, and looked far less luxurious than its bigger siblings (it has since apparently disappeared from the line, to make room for other mid-priced products).

If the 149 looks pretty much the same in 2002 as it did back in 1948, there have been fundamental changes in the mechanics and materials of the 149, and not all fans would claim these to be changes for the better. Hence, many collectors seek out 149s (and others from the 140 series) made during the 1940s and 1950s, while second-hand examples of the more recent production often go begging.

Let's go over some of the changes that were introduced between the mid-1960s and the present day:

Exquisitely engraved belly band with the model name, and two
flanking gold-fill bands mark the later-production 149.

One thing that (fortunately) hasn't changed is the ornate two-tone 18k #9 point. As with all Meisterstück pens, the point is engraved with the legend "4810" (the height in meters of Mont Blanc). Unfortunately for flex fans, Montblanc no longer offers the kind of supple points they were famed for back in the 1950s, but you can get a variety of nib sizes (including obliques). Of course, there's nothing stopping you (except perhaps for the company's parsimonious warranty) from turning your 149 over to a nib specialist to have it shaved down a bit to offer more flex.

I'm told that the points on the newer pens are shorter (with less of a "heel"), since they can be held in place with the "capsule" unit. I can't verify this with my own pen, but it may well be true, and would save MB a couple of bucks.

I bought this pen in my last semester of graduate school; it was virtually a new-old-stock item at the campus bookstore, the last in stock, and the store hadn't been keeping up with the price increases, so I got a relatively good deal on it. I'd date it from about 1985. It proved to be a very poor writer (it quit writing after about a page or two of note-taking and refused to give up any more ink, and it also tended to sweat ink into the cathetdral-like vastness of the cap). At one point, I tried to shop it around at a pen show only to be greeted by my potential buyers with the condescending smiles one uses in the presence of parvenus. More recently, however, I decided that this object should do more than take up space in my pen chest, so I undertook a thorough cleaning and repair myself, only to discover a long crack right down the barrel (which meant the pen would no longer take in ink and would quickly leak out what it did take on). After returning it to Montblanc for service (along with a check for $75), I'm happy to report that it is now a splendid and reliable writer, although still a bit heavy for continual use.

The Verdict

As a pen collector, you'll find that most "civilians" neither know nor care about the really cool pens you use. This is one pen, however, that WILL make a statement. Unless some insane guy from marketing brings in a Stipula Laura or an OMAS Triratna, this will be the fanciest pen at the project review. This pen is so large and heavy that I can't imagine people writing with it for long periods, but many do (you might be happier with the smaller 146 "LeGrande").

Brand new 149s are readily available from many dealers, at prices that may lead you to wonder whether factory financing incentives are available (they are not). Montblanc is one of those luxury-goods firms that rides close herd on its retailers, preventing them from advertising discounted prices. Some dealers will reveal a discount if you ask them for a quote, or they may provide bonuses (often other Montblanc tchotchkes like cufflinks or leather goods) to sweeten the deal.

If you buy a new one, be prepared for gentle (and not-so-gentle) ribbing from dedicated pen collectors, and don't expect to get a high resale price at a pen show where these pens are often stacked like cordwood at dealers' tables.

Shrewd collectors, however, look out for the older models (which can be identified by the hints I give above). As with all collectible MBs, the prices for these will go nowhere but up. At the moment, a circa-1950 model 149 in mint condition should easily go for much more than the list price of a brand new example.

Maker Montblanc
Origin Germany
Production 1948 - present
Type Piston filler
Point 18k two-tone
Construction Plastic barrel, gold-fill trim.