Review: Pelikan Level (L65)

2 05 2008

First Impressions
It’s translucent black with yellow trim, and it’s pretty good-sized. Mine came without the factory packaging, so I can’t comment on that.

As I understand it, the Pelikan Level L65 was initially designed as a school pen, and as such, it’s not real flashy. No bling here; all business. The cap is a big one, designed with a top-bottom taper. The top of the cap is quite wide, relative to the pen, so that when posted, it can sit vertically on a desk. The clip is black plastic with a thin yellow trimline in the center of it, and it’s pretty secure. Not that it grabs the shirt quite the same way that the Conklin Duragraph’s clip (or the Kershaw Scallion pocketknife’s clip) does, but it’ll hold pretty securely in the placket of a polo shirt. It snaps onto the barrel with a pretty resounding “Snap!”

The body of the pen has a chrome-plated steel nib, and a yellow section with a mild taper from the nib downward, and tactile rings set in the plastic for a positive grip (another school pen feature, as it promotes proper grip). The barrel is smokey-grey, and stamped LEVEL – the only exterior markings on the pen, save for the nib’s width (which is stamped into the steel). The blind cap is also yellow, and rotates to allow for filling (more on this later).

Folks, this one is a pretty big pen. I’ve heard that it’s about the same size as an M8xx-series pen, but I haven’t confirmed this. Since it’s plastic, it doesn’t have the M8xx’s weight, but it’s big. Capped or uncapped, it’s very well-balanced, and fits very nicely in my hand. It posts securely, too (which is vastly different from the upmarket L5 that doesn’t post at all).

Pictured here with a Lamy Safari and a Bexley Simplicity for size.

It’s essentially the same nib as on the Pelikano/Pelikano Jr., and perhaps the Pura as well (I’ve compared, and I’m not sure). A steel nib, it’s very smooth and quite frankly, it seems to write well on nearly anything. When I write on a Moleskine, I don’t get much of any feathering at all, which is a dramatic change from the norm for me (I don’t have many good “Moleskine Pens” at all). The nib is neither wet nor dry, just a nice medium.

While it’s not a macro shot (none of ’em turned out), here’s a decent picture of the nib.

Filling System
This is where it gets tricky. The pens fills from only one bottle design, and it’s proprietary to Pelikan. Filling happens (I believe) through a type of capillary action. Twist the blind cap, and set it on the ink bottle (mine doesn’t balance well at all); supposedly, the pen is a self-filler at this point.

Normal position.

Filling position.

Here’s the pen attached to the bottle for filling. I think (not sure) that I had my hand on the pen to keep it stable and locked on.

Practically speaking though, you really need to flip the pen upside-down and carefully insert the bottle into the “nozzle” to get a good seal, and then gently squeeze the ink bottle so that you essentially force the ink into the reservoir. In my opinion, this is a case of over-engineering on Pelikan’s part. If the system works, and there’s a practical use for it, great; but in my opinion, there’s too much to the design and way too dependent on too many variables.

However…there is an upside to this system. The ink reservoir is utterly gargantuan. It’s a two-stage design that has a small reservoir attached to the feed, that’s attached on the other end to a huge reservoir. For the Aurora Optima owners in the house, it’s like yours, but backwards (and on a much bigger scale). The first stage that feeds the nib holds about 1mL of ink, like a normal Pelikan piston-filler. The secondary, though, holds darn near 4mL on its own! Essentially, the entire barrel is the gas tank for this thing.

This whole thing is a giant gas tank! For reference, the pen is about half-full right now.

When the primary starts to dry out, you’ll once again twist the knob into “filling position”, and the secondary opens up and refills the primary. The process takes a second or two (and sometimes longer – I think it’s dependent on the humidity and temperature, honestly) to get the process started. Once it’s done, you twist the knob back the other direction to break the connection and seal off the two stages again. To a point, it’s another example of over-engineering, but mine seems to manage the process okay.

Cost and Value
I like this pen. It’s properly sized for my hand, it writes REALLY nicely, and it’ll write for eons before you have to refill it (and potentially bump around town with blue hands thanks to spilled ink). I traded a few bottles of ink for mine, but typically, there are plenty of NOS pens selling on eBay from a handful of vendors for somewhere in the $30-40 range (although I know of one guy from Texas who sniped an auction and got it for about $12 part and parcel!), and they typically come with original packaging and ink bottle.

This brings up one other point I wanted to make. To the best of my knowledge, the Levels only shipped with a bottle of Pelikan blue. This is fine for me, as Pel’s Royal Blue is my go-to ink for nearly everything. However, for those of you who are into other inks and think that Royal Blue looks sickly and pale, you’re in luck. You’ll have to empty the bottle first (and if you bought it second-hand, clean the nozzle out really well, too) before you can fill it up with the ink of your choice. It opens up easily enough, but be sure to get a good seal…there’s a good chance that you’ll be flipping this bottle upside down at one point or another. Spare bottles are available (I think that there are still a handful of stationers with bottles they never got rid of), but they’re getting a little hard to come by.

Also…while I’m thinking of it…flushing this pen takes some work, too (and depending on how much hassle you’re up for, a spare bottle to fill with water). Caveat emptor. This is probably not the pen you want to use if you’re going through a “color discovery” phase.

Despite its engineering issues, this pen is an excellent knockaround pen, and a terrific high-capacity competitor to the Lamy Safari. Rugged in design, not typically prone to leakage unless you’ve torn it apart and un-seated the o-rings (there are instructions and plenty of caveats out there…Google is your friend), and it writes really well. However, as I think I’ve laid out…it’s definitely not without its faults. It’s a prime example of ridiculous over-engineering. There’s nothing inherently WRONG with the pen…it just is overly complicated, and thus, finicky.

Overall, though…an excellent writer for a great price!




3 responses

2 05 2008

That’s a mighty nice pen there! I have one just like it .

2 05 2008

Ha ha…I’ll bet you do. 🙂

For the record, this review is one that I’ve posted before on the Fountain Pen Network. I had coffee with Thomas on Tuesday morning and he happened to have his Level with him, and it prompted me to re-post the review here. It’s a great pen, and perhaps a few of you hadn’t seen one before.

5 05 2008

I will second what he says, however, it is a great pen. It is part of my daily rotation here at the office. I know you can go to the bay and pick one up for probably under $20 and I was seriously considering picking up another one.

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