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Soennecken 222 Extra

Soennecken 222 Extra in green lizard plastic, early 1950s

In 1875, the young Friederich Soennecken (pronounced very roughly like "ZURNicken") set up shop in Iserlohn (in Western Germany) to make dip pens, nibs, and other writing articles, building on his interest in calligraphy. He moved the business a few kilometers away to Bonn the next year, and by 1890 had brought the very first German fountain pens (of the eydropper type) to the market. Later came ornate safety pens, and later still button fillers and Pelikan-style piston fillers; Soennecken even went into the furniture business for a time. By the 1920s and 30s, there were plenty of other German makers on the scene, but Soennecken held its own with pens such as the Rheingold series.

Although the Soennecken factory was destroyed in the Second World War, the company quickly scrambled to resume pen manufacture. The Soennecken pens of the 1950s were of the highest quality, but the 1960s were less than kind to the company, which folded in 1967 after a retreat to low-priced models.

Among the most famous of the Soennecken pens of the 1950s is the model 222, which was produced approximately 1952-1954. These piston-filler pens came in several sizes (up to something like a Parker 51 size), and had a number of distinctive plastic finishes; the most celebrated (and most often seen) are the lizard plastics; these were made up from clear celluloid with tiny cubes of color (bright green, bright red, or gray) embedded in a sort of matrix. From a distance, the uneven color and slightly chaotic alignment of the cubes does indeed make the pen look like lizard skin, but you get a much more amazing "3-D" view under a loupe, when you can see each tiny cube through the clear plastic. This has to be one of the most exotic plastics ever used in penmaking (or in making anything else, for that matter). Since you can find a seam if you look carefully, I conclude that this material must have been made up in sheets and formed into tubes by bending under mild heat.

Technically, Soennecken pens were at the top of the heap, superior even to the highly-regarded Montblanc pens of the day. One particularly clever feature was the detented filler knob; to fill then pen, you pull the knob slightly away from the pen and give it a slight twist, which releases it to be turned to push down the piston; when you reverse the knob to draw in ink, the knob snaps smartly back into its lock, preventing accidental overtightening or release of ink. The mechanism has a flawless, just-so feel. The 14k point is smooth and fairly flexible, and rather simply engraved; the hard rubber feed is marked "EF" so this must be an extra-fine point. The cap bands on the examples I've seen are a bit too mobile, but this might be blamed on slight shrinkage of the plastic over the past fifty years or so. The threads on the green model above have taken a bit of a beating (they have lost a lot of the blue color); the loupe shows this to be wear rather than discoloration, but it's fairly superficial wear since the cap continues to fit well.

The 222 also came in a red lizard finish; this one has slightly different trim.

Soennecken pens are pretty rare these days (particularly outside Germany), and are correspondingly expensive, but the fabulous 222s seem to be the ones that turn up most often. We can thank the largesse and apparent forgetfulness of a German publisher of technical and law books for many of the surviving examples; about ten years back, a collector found a horde of these pens that had been imprinted "Verlag Dr. Stoytscheff," apparently intended for use as gifts, but never distributed. No doubt a large proportion of the Soennecken 222 lizards in circulation today (like both of those that have passed through my own hands) are Stoytscheff pens.