Collecting Rotring’s technical pens can be very tricky. The first Rapidograph entered the market in 1953 and up to circa 1980 – when it was deleted – Rotring produced 7 major different lines of pens with interchangeable parts. Almost every parts from every pen during 27 years where compatible, permutable and interchangeable. During this period, millions of pens where produced, so it’s easy to figure why it’s a challenge to identify inevitably a specific model.
So far, I have identified 7 major lines of pens, 6 minor lines, for a total of almost 380 specific pens.
The 1953 Rapidograph was offered in 5 different design, the Variant in 4, the Varioscript in 4, the Micronorm in 3, the Foliograph in 3, the Isograph in 8, The modern Rapidograh in 3. Plus you have minor lines like the Primus, the Rapidoliner, the Blankograph, the Rotring 1300 & 1400…
You can easily mix a 1958 Variant body with a 1977 Micronorm nib and a 1968 Varioscript cap, the pen will be fully working ! This situation (theoretically) ended in 1976 when the Isograph was introduced. Except for the barrel and cartridge, no part was compatible with previous lines. It was supposed to supersede every other technical pen Rotring ever produced, but due to their popularity, efficiency and widespread use, old lines where still produced up to the early 1980’s and spare nibs where still available much later in this decade.
The Isograph is still produced to this day, 40 years after his introduction, which made him the champion of longevity in the Rotring lines. From 1976 to 2016, it went through at last 8 different designs. The difference are quite subtle and – of course – every parts are fully compatible.
Compatibilty and flexibility which was one of the main force and great innovation of the Rotring pens has become a nightmare for collectors. Rotring’s pens are also fragile, particularly the smaller nib size, so when a draftsman broke a nib and doesn’t have the exact replacement one at hand, he frequently swap with any at his disposal regardless of the integrity of the pen. That leads to incoherent pens and sets sold today on the second hand market as « Original » or « New in Box ». Only close examination can determine the real pedigree of a pen. I’ve pictured below some « Dr. Frankenstein » Rotring, mixing up parts from difference era. These pens are, however, fully working. Of course, I’ve been a bit far in mixing the parts, but this is to give you an idea of what you can found on Internet.
Confusing things further up, Rotring never indicate any production date on their products (until very recently) and sometimes use identical reference number for different design. For Rotting, a Variant is a Variant whether it’s a 1958 or a 1980 model. Even the officials catalogs rarely have a release date, and you have to find the legal very small printer’s indication to identify it (when there is one).
All this facts gave the collector a very complex task to build a coherent collection of Rotring’s technical pens. I’m collecting and researching this area for years now, and found it is time to try to organize this mess. I’m by no way an expert – just an enthusiast – but I think I have gathered enough materials, documentations and informations to give it a try. This is (and will remain I guess) a « work in progress » things as I can’t be definitive on many things. My primary source of informations are Rotring books, catalogs, leaflets, brochures, instructions leaflets and the numerous ads published in the press. These ads are invaluable because with the publication date of the magazine, you can be precisely date when a new product appears on the market. Secondary source is of course found on Internet, but informations must always been considered with caution. I have already bought « complete vintage sets » that looks pretty cohesive, but on closer examination… ops! that 0.2 looks like it’s different from the others…
The purpose of this series of post is to provide a comprehensive, detailed, documented view of Rotring’s technical pens from 1953 to 2016.
I’m responsible for any errors, omissions or mistakes that may appear in these posts. I’m not working for Rotring or any of his affiliates, so as the name of this blog implies, everything here is « unofficial ». However, I’m trying to be as rigorous as I can, and every information given here has been checked and verified as much as I can. Rotring history is not very documented on the Internet, and I think this is a story to be told. I will gladly accept any remarks or comments that can improve this essay. If you have any informations that you don’t find here, if you used to worked for Rotring, if you were a retailer, if you have documents to share I’ll be very happy to include your informations in this serie of posts. Please do not hesitate to contact me, it’s easy to leave a comment and it can helps a lot!