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Pelikan 400 and M400

Pelikan M400 in white with golden stripes, 2004

The little model 100 made a big hit for Pelikan, and along with the Rappen and Ibis pens, it saw the company through the second world war (or at least as far through it as the failing German consumer market would permit). With relatively little wartime damage to its facilities, Pelikan resumed business in about 1947, offering an updated model 100N pen as well as the old entry level Ibis pen.

As the 1950s opened, however, it was time for some new products. Pelikan answered this need with the model 400, introduced in 1950 to sit at the top of the roost. The 400 was of a more conventional profile than the 100, and was slightly longer than the 100 (but only when capped). It bore all the trademarks that we now associate with the Pelikan Souverän range: the hat-like derby, the distinctive pelican-beak clip (complete with eyes — or are those nostrils?), and the striped plastic barrel. It used a similar piston-filling mechanism to the model 100 (with a more durable elastomer piston replacing the old cork one); because the striped barrels were translucent, there was no longer any need for a separate ink-view window. The point and feed were now encapsulated in a screw-in unit that would make point swaps and repairs much easier.

Pelikan was already known for colorful pens, but the new striped barrels were a big fashion success, helping to end the dominance of all-black pens in the German market. The most common 400s have tortoise-stripe barrels with dark brown caps and piston knobs; green stripe with black is nearly equally common (and was the original color for the pen), as is the gray-stripe finish (some of the later 400N and 400NN had more exotic plastics, but these are very rare indeed). The 400 was offered in upmarket versions: the 500 (gold-filled cap), the 600 (solid 14k cap), and the 700 (solid gold cap and barrel).

The striped "Stresemann" look (named by German wags for the Weimar-era politician and Nobel Peace Prize laureate famed for his conservative dress) was also transferred to lesser pens in the lineup, including the bullet-ended 140 model (based on the earlier Ibis pen). The 140 is mechanically very similar to the 400, but is less expensively trimmed and pointed. The model 120 was a student version of the 140, with a steel point.

In the mid-50s, Pelikan restyled the 400, calling it the 400N (N for neu or 'new'). The cap was lengthened and slightly tapered and fitted with a longer pelican-beak clip, and the piston knob got a rounded bottom. A couple of years on came the 400NN, with greater streamlining at either end (including a pointed jewel atop the derby), although the barrels remained the same. The apparent intent of all this lengthening and tapering was to make the 400s look a bit more like contemporary Parker pens (Montblanc was also aiming at this target).

The 400 seems to have dropped from the lineup sometime after 1960, although the 120 and 140 remained in production for a time. Pelikan went on to try its hand at pens of more contemporary styling (such as the P1 cartridge filler), with varying success. These "me-too" pens, plus unfruitful attempts to diversify the company, led to financial trouble for Pelikan within the following couple of decades.

Pelikan M400 from the 1980s, new-old stock showing original stickers.

When Pelikan changed ownership in the 1980s (having been purchased by a Swiss firm), this provided the occasion for a reintroduction of the 400, in a form nearly unchanged from the 1952 original. This gold-pointed pen, now known as the M400, was joined by a model M600 (a trimmed-up verson of the 400), and the familiar large M800. Later, the "plain" 400 was dropped, and the M600 was renamed the M400, while the M600 name was applied to a larger pen between the M800 and the M400 in size (got that?). In Pelikan's current line, the modern M200 series (and its gold-poined twin, the M250) are the closest to the original 400 — very close, in fact, save for the modern cast plastics and the lack of a gold-plated derby.

Pelikan 400 in tortoise, c 1950 (top), with current production M400 in red stripe (bottom).

The picture above will amply illustrate the visible differences between the current Souverän 400 and its ancestor. The newer pen has gold bands at the filler knob and around the section just behind the point; there's also an extra smaller gold band around the cap lip. The pens seem identical in weight, and the caps will interchange.

Further differences can be seen on examination of the points. The newer point (shown here on the right, in double-broad form) has the usual modern two-tone treatment, with more elaborate scrollwork. The 400s get 14k points (the more expensive Souverän series pens have 18k points). The modern points write very smoothly with a bit of resilience, but do not come up the standards of flexibility set by those on many of the older 400s. The modern points are still in removable units, but these do not interchange with the older pens.

The Souverän 400 is currently available in five colors: all black (with a green ink window); red, blue, or green stripes with black caps, and the recently-introduced white with golden stripes. The 405 variant offers silver-plated trim for a more modern look, while those with more money to spend can opt for the sterling-sliver-with-black 420, or the vermeil-with tortoise 450. Both of the latter feature fine guilloche engraving on the metal caps and piston knobs.

The Verdict

The older 400s are eagerly collected, and prices are accordingly on the rise, although these pens are still generally less expensive than the old 100s. They also make more practical everyday pens than the old 100s; they are reliable and easy to take care of, and they write exceptionally well. Some might find them too small, but they are of a handy size for most writers. These pens were often sold in sets wit pencils or (after 1955) ballpoints. The older 140 is a less flashy and expensive alternative to the 400 for those who seek vintage Pelikans.

As you can see in the picture above, the translucent barrels of these pens are subject to staining (from red ink, in this case). If you get a Pelikan with good color, you'd be well advised to stick with basic blue or black inks to keep this in check. Always empty and clean these pens before putting them away; since you can remove the screw-in points if you are careful, this gives you a chance to rinse them out thoroughly with a syringe or under the water tap.

A good source of 1930-1960 Pelikans for those of us here in the U.S. is Rick Propas, the PENguin; he keeps many fine examples of 100s, 400s, 140s, and other vintage Pelikans in stock. These pens are also regularly traded on online auctions and can be found at any pen show.

The new Souverän 400 pens carry on the tradition of the 1950s models. They have all the virtues of the older pens, plus a comprehensive factory warranty and the widest range of available nib grades in the business (although none of these are as flexible as the Pelikans of old). Again, these are smallish pens, but the prices are very appealing. They're made of old-fashioned hand-worked plastic, so you should treat them with appropriate respect.

Maker Pelikan
Origin Germany
Production Current
Type Piston fill
Point 18k gold, two-tone finish with scrolled design
Construction Celluloid cap and barrel.