[ search ]

Pelikan M800

Pelikan 800, blue stripe, 2003

The mid-1980s weren't the best of times for Haus Pelikan. The firm's product lines had grown large and unwieldy (including, oddly, cosmetics and sporting goods), and the unsuccessful takeover of Lumoprint (a German maker of photocopiers) drained the company's cash still further. While their pens were still of good quality, they were not as compelling or as distinctive as they had been in decades before. In 1982, Pelikan AG declared bankruptcy and its shares were sold to the Swiss firm Condorpart.

A generous infusion of Swiss cash enabled Pelikan in 1987 to launch the Souverän (Sovereign) series of writing instruments, capped by the M800 fountain pen. This oversize, traditionally-styled pen, only slightly smaller than the competing Montblanc 149, helped Pelikan to retain its reputation as a maker of fine pens. The M800 has since gone on to become a sort of benchmark among pen fans. Even most die-hard vintage pen collectors will make allowances for the M800, perhaps because of its traditional styling and construction, and its legendary performance.

Although the M800 was essentially an all-new product, it drew its technical and design cues from the venerable model 400 (which had itself just been reissued and could, in turn, trace its lineage back to the original model 100). The M800 is made from handworked cellulose acetate plastic (most 800s coming in the stripes made famous on the model 400). The M800 uses a smooth, faultless piston filler mechanism (that takes in many pages' worth of ink) and contains a brass sleeve to give it a bit of heft.

The earliest M800s used 14k points, but these are now of 18k with a silvery masking and hand-chasing (the points are made for Pelikan by the Bock firm). Like other contemporary Pelikans, the M800's point and feed are combined into a single unit that can be removed and exchanged by a dealer or even by a reasonably careful owner (this makes the pens much easier to clean than other piston-fillers). Beginning in 1996 with the translucent "Blue Ocean," the M800 became the basis for a number of limited editions and special editions (Pelikan carefully distinguishes between the two), perhaps the most famous being the P900 Toledo (above) with its handcrafted Spanish-style silver overlay (the Toledo motif was first used on selected model 100 pens on the 1930s).

The 800 and 400 series were eventually joined by the middle-size 600, and the smaller 300 series, which together now form the complete Souverän ('sovereign') line (around the year 2000, the M800 was finally tipped off the top of the Pelikan heap by the truly huge M1000). Also available in the 800 range is a mechanical pencil (with 0.7mm lead), a ballpoint, and a capped rollerball.

Before the German reunification in 1992, Pelikan pens were marked "Made in W. Germany," and some collectors seek out these older models (although there's little real difference that I can see between the West and non-West versions of the 800). Earlier production M800s did have monochrome (non-masked) gold points, some in 14k (rather than the now-standard 18k). The most noticeable change in trim came in the late 1990s, when the coin-like end jewel (with a cut-out pelican motif) was changed to what looks like a screened gilded pelican; although many admirers complained bitterly at the time that Pelikan was 'cheapening' the pen, I have a few pens with this new decoration, and none has shown any signs of wear. I think the new bird looks rather smart, myself, and it is more historically accurate.

Pelikan M800 in classic "Stresemann Green" [Pelikan image database]

There have been numerous Pelikan-issued limited editions and special editions based on the M800; also, many independent craftsmen have found the M800 to be a good platform for showing off their advanced metalworking skills. These latter pens are fairly rare and expensive, and must be considered one-offs more than limited editions.

The Verdict

An indispensable pen, although perhaps not yet what one might call a "collectible" (although some variants were produced only briefly and are fairly rare). Aside from the LEs and SEs, there are few variations in style (the basic black pen and the green-stripe "Stresemann" model were only recently joined by blue and green striped finishes in the standard range). Look for the very rare tortoise stripe models (these were not distributed in the US, and I've seen only one of these in the flesh).

The M800 fills, feeds, and writes flawlessly, and is easy to maintain. Replacement points are unusually widely available, and come in many different grades; some entrepreneurs have taken to custom-grinding these points to customers' specs. The Pelikan points are often praised as being "flexible," but although this may be true as far as modern pens go, I'm more inclined to call them "slightly resilient."

This pen is made of a natural resin, and there are sound reasons why people don't use this kind of material much anymore for workhorse pens. It can get nicked up, and can even shatter (although I've neither heard of nor experienced any epidemics of spontaneous cracking with Pelikans as is the case with other big black Germans). Keep it in your shirt pocket or purse when you aren't using it, and resist the temptation to employ it as a stand-in for your Leatherman tool.

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