Maybe I should review another pen that people can actually get their mitts on? Does that sound reasonable?
Pelikan. Of the three big German fountain pen manufacturers still doing good business, I'd say Montblanc aims for luxury, Lamy aims for utility, and Pelikan falls somewhere in between.
Alright, I've gotten that generalizing, arguable, inflammatory statement out of the way. Cool, let's proceed.
In case you're not familiar, Pelikan's iconic and primary line offers essentially the same pen in 5 size/price brackets. Without getting into the picky details, the M200 is their current entry-level offering; it's the smallest and comes with a steel rather than gold nib.
The M--5 iterations have silver rather than gold trim. The M215 has an additional brass tube inside as compared to the M200/205, giving it a little more substance. And so this narrowed my search significantly.
The "rings" model struck me immediately and I put it on my "Eventual Acquisitions" list.
Now let me be clear - I was in no rush to pick up a Pelikan. As nice as they are, my top two interests are A) incredibly fine nibs and B) ruggedly durable construction; Pelikan is not specifically known for either of those things. (Now, I'm not saying that Pelikan pens are flimsy and vulnerable creatures. I'm merely comparing to some of the brass or industrial laminate pens I've reviewed previously.) Pelikan's excellent history and reputation were what drew me in initially. but the more I saw pictures of this model, the higher it rose within my EA list.
A few months ago I was casually perusing the FPN Classifieds and noticed the exact variant I wanted. It was listed at a very fair deal, so I wasted no time. The seller also included an extra nib unit, which I look forward to grinding down in the near future.
I was blown away as soon as I opened the package.
Let's get the sizing out of the way; the M200 series is a relatively small pen. Closed: 12.5cm - Good size for a shirt pocket. Open: 12.1cm - Juuuuuust long enough for me to use comfortably for short notes. Posted: 15cm - Perfect, in my opinion. I don't care for pens that post much longer than that (which is why I don't typically post). Also of note, the grip diameter is 8mm at the narrowest.
For a relatively small pen, the M215 has a very reasonable weight to it. With Pelikan stating that it has a lacquered metal body and cap, it comes in at 19.84 grams empty, according to my work's mail scale. The significantly larger TWSBI 540/580 is only 28 grams, for reference.
Moving on to the aesthetics, because I love being subjective. The M215 looks damn good to me. The lacquered body is a rich black with a nice luster, and it is complimented so well by the "chromium" trim. Running my hand over the barrel, I can just feel the rings. I'm guessing there's a layer of gloss/coat/finish/magic over them, which is a good way to keep me from accidentally picking at them unconsciously. The classic Pelikan clip is the nicest and most subtle pelican I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. It doesn't distract from the looks but it's not generic or boring. I had worried that it would look disjointed when posting the cap; it doesn't, the cap still blends smoothly with the rest of the pen.
Oddly enough, the nib on the M215 is the only thing I find visually lacking punch. The nib is short, narrow, and relatively unadorned. Things could be much worse, so it's not as if I dislike the nib's style. I should note that the M400 & above nibs are gorgeous. Honestly, I probably wouldn't be critiquing the nib at all if the rest of the pen didn't look so awesome.
There's one other nitpick I have to make. There are two molding seams visible on the grip section & threads. It's subtle, but they're there. I never notice them by feel, and they rarely even pop into my visual recognition, but I'm putting this warning out there for the very (very) ...detail oriented folks.
The M215's ink window is possibly the most well-done aspect of this pen. Between the section threads and the first metal ring on the body, the barrel is actually translucent. With the pen sitting on a desk or even while in use, I'd swear it was completely opaque and no different from the rest of the barrel. Holding it up to the light, I can easily see through the barrel and determine how much ink is left. While I love demonstrators and expansive ink windows, the way Pelikan has applied utility without disrupting the design really impresses me.
In regards to the M215's functionality, I get along very well with this pen. Between the cap posting deeply and the section being as wide as that of many larger pens, I'm consistently surprised at how well this small pen fits in my hand. The balance is spot on, to the point of it melting into my fingers. The cap threads smoothly, and in just under one full rotation. The piston action is clean with light resistance, though there is a small amount more play than the piston in my Lamy 2000. And swapping nibs? You just twist the nib unit out from the section. Super fast and easy!
Alright, finally on to actually using the nib!
The Pelikan M215 has the best steel nib I've ever used. Period. There's a responsiveness to the nib which is normally only found on gold nibs. This nib - and mind you I'm talking about an extra fine nib - is smooth. I'd classify the Fine nib as glassy, while the EF does have a hint of feedback. It's got a softness and elasticity that lets plenty of "character" into writing or illustration. I'm not going to call it flexy, as this nib can't jump across multiple sizes, but slight changes in pressure do afford a visual difference. While my personal preference leans towards Japanese steel, I really think that Pelikan offers a more impressive nib here.
On its own merits, the Pelikan M215 is a great pen with a lot of features. Add to that its rich lineage, and this seems like a no-brainer.
The important question: Why would I pick a Pelikan M200 (215) over a TWSBI 580? I mean, come on - the TWSBI is so much cheaper!
The Pelikan M215 and the TWSBI 580 are identical in features but absolutely disparate in use.
Aesthetics are personal, so if you like the look of one much more, then just go for it. But if they both appeal to you, then this is the key distinction I have drawn:
The TWSBI 580 is a great, straightforward pen, chock-full of value. The Pelikan M215 is a pen of nuance, one that only shows it's true value in your hand and on the page. I could talk more about balance and engineering and soft nibs, but it doesn't matter - the true value of a Pelikan will not hit you until you use it.
If I hadn't stumbled on that deal, the Pelikan M215 would still be buried in the middle of my wishlist. Alternate-me simply wouldn't understand why this pen hasn't been out of rotation since I acquired it months ago. It's a great pen that offers a lot more than face value.
Did you miss my terrible writing samples? Me neither!
Overall, the Pelikan M215 is a good pen. I'll call it a staple. It's a well-designed pen that looks classic and classy, while being entirely usable. You don't need to rush out and buy it, but I absolutely recommend you try one. Pelikan deserves a place in any reasonable collection.