Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pencast: Pelikan 120

A few smudges seem to have crept in on my Rhodia legal pad...

Well, here is the pen. There is a small scratch on the barrel, but otherwise the pen is fairly well preserved for its age.

The name of the original owner, L. Borner, is engraved on one side.

The gold plating on the steel nib has started to wear off, but I think it adds character! The dark spots are just splotches of Diamine ink. Another indication that the pen is from circa '55 is the cap band, which is perfectly straight - later versions were tapered.

The other indication is the vertical feed channels, which were used in all Pelikan pens of that era. Later versions have the horizontal ones present on modern day pens as well. I have read that the vertical channels can be fragile; these look to have held up pretty well.

The ink window is a nice clear green, although of course that is not evident here because it is full of ink! It took some effort to clear out all the old ink from behind the piston head gasket; I dared not attempt to take it apart, but some vigorous shaking seems to have gotten the job done.

The Pelikan 120 was never meant to be a high-end pen: it was sold as a student model, hence the gold-plated steel nib. I believe the "O" stands for oblique and the general appearance of the writing would indicate that this is somewhat equivalent to current OM (oblique medium) nibs. I don't care much for oblique nibs - on this one I find I have to constantly turn the pen to find an angle at which the nib does not catch on the paper and provides a relatively constant flow. There is a hint of flex, but as the nib is originally medium anyway, there isn't enough line variation for it to be useful. The disadvantage of vintage pens is that one has little choice in these matters, so I can live with it.

Not a bad day, considering I found nothing particularly exciting on the typewriter front. It is nice to have something else to keep an eye out for when I visit the market.


  1. Hi Adwoa, thanks for your impressions on the Pelikan 120. Pelikans, however, are among the few vintage foutain pens that can actually be improved nib-wise. Nibs can be replaced by the owner easily, and modern nibs can be fitted to vintage 120s, 140s and 400s and vice-versa too. As for your 120, it depends on how comfortable you feel writing with it. Oblique nibs aren't my cup of tea either, and I am always happy to swap them for mediums or fine/mediums with some flex any day.

  2. A fortuitous find! Don't worry -- most people would pass that one by as "too difficult" to use. If only!

    I'm still kicking myself for having an empty wallet at the cash-only thrift store on the one day when they were selling bundles of pens rubber-banded together for $2 each. There were surely some wide-barreled numbers in there, but alas, they were gone when I came back. I'll console myself by pretending that none were as nice as your find!

  3. Ruy: Thanks for the kind feedback! I have read about the ability to swap nibs on Pelikans, but wouldn't that mean losing the feed as well (with its special vertical channels)? Besides, I have yet to identify a good inexpensive source for extra - hopefully new old stock - nibs, "Pelikan Feder" on leading me nowhere...

    I have too many pens for any one to become my sworn daily writer per se, but the oblique nib on this one doesn't prevent me from using it. In fact, I already have a fine and a medium Pelikan, so this adds variety.

    Mike - I never go to the thrift store without cash if I can help it; in fact, if I feel like passing by and my wallet is empty, I don't go at all! I would rather not know what I missed. Which is why I am not thinking of all the pens I must have overlooked in the market when I had eyes for typewriters only! I console myself too by pretending that whatever there was, they were not as nice - or as much of a bargain - as this one.

  4. Adwoa: no, I think you can swap the entire nib/feeder assembly as one piece. I am glad to hear that you are happy to keep that oblique nib! If it is not too canted, I am sure you can use it fine; I just don't like the exagerated nibs, useful for caligraphic work, but of little use for other purposes.
    I must also correct my previous statement about Pelikans and their nibs: as a matter of fact, almost every nib can be perfected, if the pen owner so wishes.
    As for, Pelikan nibs do actually appear from time to time. I will send you two links via e-mail that might prove useful.
    Last but not least, your 120 was a steal! :)

  5. Adwoa, I don't know much about Pelikans (I am enchanted with my Parker "51".) but I do have something to offer re your opening philosophical question. I have mentioned my Two Rules of Yard Sales here locally and gotten agreement and disagreement, so it is time to get feedback from this larger and thoughtful community.
    1. * The Buyer Sets the Price. * --You might think the seller sets the price but actually nothing is set until the buyer pays. You set the price at 1 franc and you might have set it at 8 francs if you had had to. But if the seller had set it at 60 francs, then it would not have been "the price".
    2. * You Cannot Cheat the Seller. * --The seller has control of the item right up until he accepts your price. Before that, he has all the time in the world to research the item, consign it to a specialty auction house, or to pay attention to his tables. If he chooses to spend his time at something else, then that is his reward. I apply this rule even to an elderly person selling a Rembrandt that was found in a barn. (It might be nice to return and give him $2,000 from the $500,000 you realized in selling it, but that is optional.) And yes, I have been the seller in tiny versions of this scenario.
    So, what are the flaws in this belief?
    And keep on writing! Thanks.

  6. Hello Michael - Thanks for your great input on my philosophical question. I have not previously seen your Two Rules of Yard Sales, so thanks for posting them here.

    1. I am not sure whether I quite understand. I have always thought sellers set the price - although I am very well known to haggle over everything and I don't take prices (particularly at yard sales) as a given! So in that sense once the seller accepts my counter-offer, I suppose I have set the price. Another way in which I could have set the price higher in this instance, and compelled the seller to quote 8 or even 60 francs (as per your example) would have been by my behavior: if I had picked up the pen, exclaimed excitedly, washed the ink off the nib to take a closer look, asked him questions about how and if the piston worked, gone on about the rarity of vintage Pelikans with complete feeds... yes, after that exhausting conversation the seller would have been mad not to ask 60! So I suppose in that sense I set the price by being discreet and unassuming, but if I have misinterpreted your point, please do clarify.

    2. I love this one, and not just because it makes me feel better :-) Indeed, I have come across sellers who watched their tables like a hawk, came around unasked to give you information on whatever it is you were looking at, picked up the item and scrutinized it before mentioning a (usually higher than I would want to pay) price. I avoid those sellers. They know what their item is worth, they have looked on eBay, it's a total buzzkill. But the fellow who piles up his stuff on a table, asks 1 franc for everything you pick up, and dispenses more change than a slot machine when you give him a note? Sign me up. Sellers get out of their sale exactly what they put in, so in that sense it is in the buyer's interest to seek out the unmotivated ones...

    In this specific instance, my conscience is assuaged by the fact that the item in question is not of astronomically high value, in any case. In fact, I feel that such a deal would be possible in an obscure German thrift store or flea market, as vintage Pelikans must be plentiful in that country. However, here in der Schweiz where price gouging is rampant, it was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. In your Rembrandt scenario, I think I would definitely want to return and give the seller $2,000!

  7. Adwoa, thanks for considering my post so thoroughly.

    1. You expanded on my point with your colorful example, which is a great description of the process. My bare point is that "the Price" is only set at the point at which money (or barter) changes hands. All offers and counteroffers before that are gambits, not set prices.
    It is similar to the answer given to newbies who ask, "What is my pen worth?"--"It's worth whatever the guy in front of you is willing to pay for it." Or the idea that well-publicized auctions are the only reliable way of determining value. Thus, the price is determined by the person willing to hand over money, not by the sticker on the item.

    2. You totally get it with this one. I, too, hate dealing with your first seller--no fun at all, even if the ask is not much above market....

    3. ... but with "gouging" I have very mixed feelings. To an American with experience with and understanding of capitalism, this is the way it is supposed to work. Use your capital to maximize your capital. Get the highest price you can, what the market will bear. With that as your society's principle, it's hard to complain when somebody actually does it.
    Funny how we forget that when buying gasoline.
    Still, it makes for a wary, weary, disappointing lifestyle for the buyers, doesn't it? I don't have an answer for gouging yet besides just shunning those sellers.

    Thanks for your sympathy.
    == Michael Höhne

  8. Very nice score. You did nothing wrong in my book. He told you the price, you paid it, done.

    Man, I can't wait for the nicer weather to come around our way so the flea markets start opening up again.


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