Best Pelikan Piston Filler Fountain Pen - A Buyer’s Guide

Pelikan originally started as an ink manufacturing company in the 1830s. Almost a century would pass until the world wrote with the first best Pelikan piston filler fountain pen. In 1929, Pelikan purchased the patent to the differential piston-filling mechanism from Hungarian inventor Theodor Kovàcs.

From that point onward, Pelikan piston fountain pen became synonymous with their high-capacity, reliable piston-fill mechanisms. After the patent expired, many other pen companies have made their own version of the differential piston-mechanism. This pen-filling method still retains its popularity today as the second-most common filling mechanism behind cartridge/converter pens.

Upon starting the fountain pen hobby, many writers enjoy the convenience of the inexpensive, cartridge/converter pen. The internal, piston-fill mechanism is often seen as the next level in ink capacity and luxury. While there are inexpensive piston-fill pen options in the TWSBI, Noodler's, and Narwhal brands, best piston filler fountain pen is the original with many more decades of manufacturing expertise behind their mechanism.

Shopping for a best piston fountain pen can seem intimidating, especially for someone taking the jump from purchasing $50 and under fountain pens. While they are dearly priced, Pelikan pens are built for lifetime use and are worth their value. In this guide, we will explore Pelikan piston-fill pens available to the modern writer.

pelikan souveran m805 demonstrator fountain pen

Why Buy a Pelikan Pen?

The main "draw" of the Pelikan brand is their internal piston-filling mechanism. Besides having a higher ink capacity than cartridge / converter pens, the mechanism is reliable and requires little maintenance to upkeep other than flushing it between fills of ink. Over time, if the piston starts to feel stiff when it is operated, you may opt to lubricate it with a bit of 100% silicone grease. "It is really quite a simple procedure that anyone can do in just a few minutes time," says Joshua Danley of the Pelikan's Perch.

See how easy it is to clean a Pelikan fountain pen on the Goldspot Pens YouTube channel.

pelikan brand logos

Another huge perk of owning a high-end Pelikan is their reliability and excellent after-sales service, should you ever need it. Through Chartpak (the official US distributor) you can even swap out the nib you originally purchased for a different size within 4 weeks of purchasing your pen. That means, if you happen to get the last of a particular pen, and it only came in medium, you could send it to Chartpak to get the nib exchanged. Alternatively, if you gave the pen a good try and decided you prefer a different size, you can swap it for a size that better suits your writing style.

Pelikan nibs are easily interchangeable. The metal nib, feed, and housing are a complete assembly, making a pelikan nib size comparison straightforward for those looking to understand the differences in writing experiences provided by each size. The nib unit unscrews counter-clockwise from the barrel, allowing you access to thoroughly clean the section and barrel. This is especially useful when you have a demonstrator that may have stubborn ink (or water) droplets that won't completely wash out. Replacement Pelikan nibs allow the writer the ability to swap nibs at will.

Best Pelikan Piston Filler Fountain Pen

The majority of Pelikan's success in the past 90+ years has been due to their perfected piston-filling mechanism. Most of their fountain pens utilize this system. However, not all pens are created equal. A piston-filling Pelikan starts around $200 (retail) and can go as high as in the $1,000s for a limited editions.

So, what's the difference that can potentially cost you hundreds of dollars?

First off, we're going to be talking a lot about the different model numbers like the Classic M200, Souveran M405, Souveran M600, etc. Here is a quick primer on the model numbers:

The letter in front of the number references the mode of the pen. "M" represents a fountain pen. "K" for ballpoint. "R" for rollerball.

The first digit is a rough indicator of the pen's relative size. In the Souveran line, a 400 is smaller than a 600, which is smaller than an 800. The Souveran M1000 is the largest of all Pelikan pens.

The last digit is usually either a 0 (zero) or a 5. The xx0 is indicative of gold trims. xx5 is silver-colored trim made from palladium or rhodium metal.

Below, you'll see a side-by-side comparison of the different Pelikan Souveran models to serve as a basis of our understanding for the different model numbers.

Guide to Pelikans Modern Piston Fill Fountain Pens
Guide to Pelikan’s Modern Piston Fill Fountain Pens

The style of the Classic and Souveran line are quite close. The Classic 200 collection measurements:

Length open with cap posted: 5.9 in (149mm)
Length closed: 5.0 in. (126mm)
Diameter: 0.5 in. (12mm)
Weight: 0.5 oz. (14g)

As you may have noticed by doing a quick comparison, the Classic 200 model is closest in size to the Souveran M400 / M405 model. However, the Souveran model commands a higher price. The main reason is the most important part of the pen - the nib.

Pelikan fits their flagship model Souveran fountain pens with gold nibs. The M300, M400/405 and M600/605 models use 14kt gold nibs. These proprietary nibs are delicately crafted using machinery and techniques perfected from decades of expertise. Each gold Souveran nib has a gorgeous stamped decoration and writes smoothly with ample responsiveness.

Before you're convinced that gold is the way to go, don't forget about the stainless steel nibs on the Classic 200/205 pens. We recommend these for those who have never written with a Pelikan fountain pen before. Pelikan steel nibs write smoothly with a bolder line than other European nibs.

The top of the line Souveran M800/805 and Souveran M1000 are fitted with 18kt gold nibs, which include more gold content (75% pure gold versus the 58.5% pure gold in the 14kt nibs). The higher gold content provides more softness. An experienced hand would be able to feel the difference, so this may be an option explored at a later time.

Guide to Pelikan’s Modern Piston Fill Fountain Pens
Guide to Pelikan’s Modern Piston Fill Fountain Pens

As Pelikan was originally an ink manufacturing company, in the 21st Century, it is their ink that continues to forge the company forward. Since 2012, Pelikan introduces a new "Ink of the Year" color in the premium Edelstein ink collection.

In 2015, Pelikan matched the ink of the year with an accompanying Classic M200/205 pen model. Pictured in this article is the 2021 Golden Beryl fountain pen. This frosted demonstrator fountain pen has gold glitter particles suspended throughout, emulating the ink's shimmer properties.

These special edition fountain pens are not numbered, but are limited in their availability. In our experience, a typical Pelikan special edition design is usually available for up to 1-2 years after the initial launch. The same applies for special edition pens in the premium Souveran lineup.

For discerning collectors, Pelikan produces handmade, exclusive designs in small numbers with precious materials such as urushi lacquer, abalone shell (raden), sterling silver, cellulose acetate, and Italian acrylics.

The Pelikan Souveran M1000 White Ray (2021 edition) is a prime example of the artistry applied to the most exclusive pens. For this 400-piece, numbered limited edition, Pelikan collaborated with Japanese Raden and Urushi artisans to craft a striped barrel and cap. First, Japanese Urushi lacquer gives the surface a deep, black lustrous finish. Then, white mother of pearl stripes are fixed to the cap and barrel by coatings of lacquer. The artist signs and numbers each fountain pen with the Maki-e technique.

Each piece is truly a work of art that is worthy of a display case. Yet, many collectors are compelled to write with their precious Pelikan pens, as the experience of laying the large, sumptuous 18kt gold nib on paper has a luxurious feel that matches the opulent aesthetic of the pen.

Guide to Pelikan’s Modern Piston Fill Fountain Pens
Guide to Pelikan’s Modern Piston Fill Fountain Pens

In the vintage-inspired M101N and M120 collections, Pelikan re-introduces these iconic designs to a modern audience. Talking a walk around the Pelikan "Ink Tower" museum in Hannover, it's clear that the brand is heavily influenced by its heritage. The M120 (Iconic blue shown here) has a stainless steel nib with a special stamp decoration that has art deco elements.

The M101N is a premium, historical design that uses a cellulose acetate barrel and a 14kt gold nib. To fill these pens, Pelikan still relies on the tried and true differential piston mechanism.

Take a tour through 100+ years of Pelikan's history. In the video below, Goldspot pens visits the Pelikan museum on the property where the Hannover factory once stood.

In closing, regardless of which Pelikan you invest in, you can expect a quality writing instrument that is fully backed by over 100 years of manufacturing expertise and warranty service that is one of the best in the business. If you are upgrading to a Pelikan as your first piston-fill fountain pen, we recommend to select one of the Classic M200 / M205 pens. If you've had experience with a gold nib before and have the budget to do so, move up to the gold nibs on the Souveran line, keeping in mind the size chart to find a pen you are most comfortable to write with. Always keep an eye out for special editions. If a Pelikan pen design comes along that speaks to your soul, then be prepared to jump on it before it disappears.

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