Pelikan’s fountain pen production spans nearly nine decades and more than a few mysteries have arisen over that time. Many of those puzzles relate to the provenance of certain models and are born largely from the lack of available documentation today. One lasting consequence of World War II (1939-45) has been the destruction of countless historic records. An area of fountain pen production that has been subjected to a fair bit of speculation has been the models attributed to Günther Wagner’s Danzig-Langfuhr plant. This facility is chiefly known for a unique version of the Pelikan 100N that has long been attributed to it. Danzig is the German word for Gdańsk, a Polish city on the Baltic coast. Following World War I (1914-18), the Treaty of Versailles established the Free City of Gdańsk, a territory that was under the oversight of the League of Nations. While largely influenced by Polish rule, the region remained fairly independent, acting as a conduit between Poland and Germany. The Polish or Danzig Corridor as this region was known was created so that Poland would not be landlocked or completely dependent on German ports. German citizens could cross the corridor by railroad, but were not permitted access to it without special authorization. Danzig’s unique status between the two nations prompted many German manufacturers to establish a presence there in order to sell goods in Poland without incurring the high customs fees that were usually levied on products from foreign companies. In the borough of Wrzeszcz (the Polish word for Langfuhr) during the late 1800s, brick carriage houses served as the base of operations for the troops of the 17th West Pomeranian Railway Battalion. Following World War I, those troops moved out of the region and the demilitarized area was turned into an industrial park of sorts. It was well suited to this purpose being on the outskirts of the city with a well-developed rail line running through the area. It is in this borough of Gdańsk where Günther Wagner would come to establish a factory. Due to a large population of Germans in the region, the Nazi party eventually came to demand that the city be turned over to Germany while the minority Poles hoped for a return to Poland. Hitler used the status of the city as a pretext for attacking Poland in September of 1939.
Both editions of Pelikan Schreibgeräte by Jürgen Dittmer and Martin Lehmann, long regarded as the bible of Pelikan lore, offer little in the way of insight. What the text does concede is that the production of writing instruments outside of Germany prior to World War II is poorly documented. That in and of itself may be very telling since the Pelikan archives did survive the war. What is acknowledged is a single anecdote by Karl Höfer, the former head of fountain pen production for Pelikan, who recognized a manufacturing plant in Danzig-Langfuhr. That plant was housed in a brick building located off of Adolf Hitler Strasse 205 (renamed as such in 1933), now called Grunwaldzka Avenue. That brick building still exists today, having been inhabited by the Gdańskie Zakłady Papiernicze company following World War II.
The timing of when Pelikan established a factory here has long been in dispute. Much of what I’ve seen put forth to date suggest that it occurred sometime in the 1930s. An article penned by Marcin Eckstein may allow us to be more definitive. In his work titled “Les Pelikans de Dantzig,” he includes a document that recounts the various factories and office branches of Pelikan, including the dates of their founding. The main factory in Hanover is listed at 1838, the branch factory in Vienna is noted to have opened in 1878, and a branch factory in Danzig is reported to have been founded in 1922. That date is further corroborated by a timeline found within the publication “Günther Wagner 1838-1938,” a book that contains the history of Günther Wagner from the company’s founding until it’s 100 year anniversary. These text serve to firmly establish Pelikan’s presence in the region well before WW II. In the beginning, it appears that the factory produced inks, office supplies, paints, pencils, typewriter ribbon, and other related materials.
At some point after 1929, the year that Pelikan introduced its first fountain pen, the Gdańsk factory likely turned its attention to pens in addition to its usual catalog of office supplies. We know from the ads of regional retailers that Pelikan fountain pens were available for purchase in Poland no later than 1930/1. What’s more, those pre-war pens offered for sale are reported to have been indistinguishable from what was being produced in Hanover. Whether or not the Danzig-Langfuhr plant was involved with importing them from the very beginning is up in the air as there may have been other points of entry into the region. At what point the factory might have begun producing pens of its own is debatable but the scant evidence available suggest only sometime in the late 1930s at the earliest. Whether fountain pens were actually produced on site or merely assembled there is not clear but most sources suggest that the building was not large enough to facilitate any amount of pen production in earnest. In a bid to save on customs fees, Pelikan likely shipped pre-fabricated fountain pen parts to Gdańsk where they were later assembled and then sold in Poland and possibly elsewhere. When asked directly about this very topic, Pelikan’s head archivist Jürgen Dittmer is quoted as replying; “Die Füllhalter sind sicher nur montiert worden. Fertigungsmaschinen werden dort nicht gewesen sein. Ich habe in den Produktionsunterlagen nichts darüber vorliegen.” The translation is that the fountain pens were only assembled since the machines necessary for production would not have been located at this site. His quote also notes that he was unable to find anything regarding this matter in the production documents. We do know that each branch factory had a shop for pen repairs to save on returns to the main factory in Hanover and perhaps it is here that assembly occurred.
While conventional wisdom has always been that no manufacturing actually took place on site, there is a 100N that has long been attributed to the Danzig-Langfuhr factory which differs from the standard production models in a few key ways. The major differences that distinguish what has been called the “Danzig model” are a cap clip ending in a diamond shaped point rather than a drop point and the presence of only a single cap band. These features have long been the pillars used to declare a model 100N to be of Gdańsk origin. The reasoning behind this peculiar deviation is unclear. Perhaps this was done in an effort to fool customs officials though this would only have been necessary pre-war. Maybe the variation reflects wartime shortages in materials. Interestingly, those unusual clips are actually ferromagnetic, unlike Pelikan’s other clips from this era, indicating a plated steel rather than brass. It is this theory of a wartime concession that is put forth by Maciej Kolerski in his work titled “Günther Wagner Fabryka Gdańsk” and I think that it is a credible one. He argues that the 100Ns sporting diamond clips were actually made in Hanover and not Gdańsk, sometime circa 1942. Their purpose was to suit the economics of war where a lack of materials forced sourcing of components like the clip from elsewhere. Manufacturers of other brands also used a diamond clip during this period suggesting perhaps a common supplier. These likely would have been designated for export only. Whether this is the truth behind the model or not, his argument and its supporting evidence are compelling.
To muddy the water further, examples of the 100N exists with this unique clip married to two cap bands, a single fluted cap band, and no cap bands at all (wartime production). It may be that these variants represent pens cobbled together from existing spare parts or it may be the work of unscrupulous re-sellers. Also, it is unclear whether or not nibs may have been produced locally as there has been some suggestion of this based on the existence of certain characteristics which deviated from the standard. While it is not out of the realm of possibility, this has never been confirmed to my knowledge and would overall seem less likely. The distinguishing features listed here suggest that at least some parts could have been produced on site but it is my suspicion the more likely scenario is that these unusual parts originated from Hanover for export elsewhere.
There exists a letter from March 16, 1939 (just 169 days before Germany invades Poland) that details the prices of several Pelikan models available from the plant in Gdańsk. Amongst the list are the models 100, 100N, and 101N. While the letter might have you believe that these were being manufactured in Gdańsk, it would seem more plausible that they were either only assembled on site or even just imported from the main factory in Hanover. Note that the prices are in Zloty, the currency of Poland. I will include a table below that details all of the models which this letter attributes to Gdańsk.
|Model||Color||Price (in Zloty)|
|100||Green, Black, and Gray||22.00|
|101N||Tortoise or Lizard||27.50|
|100N||Green or Black||27.50|
It has been a long held belief that any pens out of Danzig were limited to just the 100N (and perhaps 101N) based on the suspected timeline. The 100N had a production run of 1937-54 therefore this is reasonable if we accept that the factory was assembling these circa 1938-1941/2. Where does that leave us then with the model 100 which had an overlapping run spanning 1929-44 and was also cited in the above letter? Since we have firmly established the founding of the branch factory as 1922, it is certainly conceivable that it could have been responsible for assembly of the model 100 as well as the 100N. Those who support this argument note the existence of model 100s with the diamond shaped clip though some have one cap band and others have two, inconsistencies that further add to the confusion.
Unfortunately, no documentation exists in any form discovered to date which clearly denotes production of the model 100 therefore, it is an argument that likely cannot be concluded with any authority based on the body of available evidence. If we are to speculate though, it certainly is possible that model 100s could have been assembled on site, but again, not likely before the late 1930s. This is fitting since most of the known examples have hallmarks suggesting late production. In order to shed some light on Pelikan’s operations in Gdańsk, I turned to the Gazeta Handlowa, a Polish newspaper with a focus on economics.
March 21, 1930 (no. 67, page 6):
“Thanks to the excellent quality of the products coming from the firm Günther Wagner in Gdańsk, the development of the company is progressing in quick steps forward. Modern technical equipment allows the fabrication of products in Gdańsk that are not inferior in any way to the qualities of those from foreign markets, on the contrary it must be noted, the firm Günther Wagner produces all its products, from ink to sophisticated instruments to reproduce, in Gdańsk. All materials with the exception of a few chemicals, which in this country you cannot get, the firm Günther Wagner gets from Poland. Lately the firm Günther Wagner started with the excellent fabrication of “Pelikan” fountain pens, which are the last expression of excellence in this field. The “Pelikan” fountain pen is provided with a constant suction pump, eliminating the need for auxiliary droppers that are commonly used in other fountain pens. Self filling “Pelikan” has a transparent ink reservoir, which allows constant monitoring of ink supply. A further advantage of this pen is that it is enough for one turn (of the cap to remove it) and you can write without having to tediously unscrew the pen. The cap is so made that when you close it the gold nib slips in smoothly. You can carry the fountain pen “Pelikan” in your pocket at any position, without keeping careful because the hermetically sealed pen does not let out a single drop of ink. The Günther Wagner company has developed the production of this on a large scale as all of 1500 pens per day are produced, it is worth noting that the fabrication of the “Pelikan” fountain pen uses 80 auxiliary machines.”
January 18, 1932 (no. 13, page 4):
“Is a division of Gdańsk Günther Wagner a polish firm?” For a long time we get numerous inquiries, whether products branded “Pelikan” are domestic articles? After a thorough examination of the thing by Polish Chamber of Stationery Industry and Trade we got the information that the brand products “Pelikan” must be considered as of foreign origin. The Central Board League of Economic Self-Sufficiency categorically declares as follows: League has always recognized and recognizes Gdańsk factory “Pelikan” for the company completely foreign. For 1) the company Günther Wagner although partially producing in Gdańsk is the branch of factory in Hanover. 2) is owned by a German citizen of Reich, and the profits are transferred abroad, what is harmful for the Polish economy. Restraining from giving too hasty opinion of this we asked in this regard Union of Producers of Stationery Branch represented by Mr. Bartkiewicz that stated as follows: Writing instruments with the “Pelikan” have to be considered as obviously foreign despite the fact that the branch factory is located in Gdańsk. Günther Wagner in Hanover supplies products to our market with labels in Polish. Branch in Gdańsk is advertised on Polish territory directly by headquarters factory in Hanover, which is proven by the fact that all advertising materials sent in envelopes from Gdańsk are marked with Hanover stamp, where they are printed. And besides it was also found that executives of Gdańsk is wholly dependant subsidiary, from its headquarters in Hanover. Distributing goods branded “Pelikan” on Polish market is greatly facilitated by, the fact that Free City of Gdańsk is located in one duty zone with the rest of Poland. It is also no doubt that the entire profit of the branch captured in Poland is exported abroad Gdańsk therefore fulfills the role of the pump, which draws all the profits to Germany and Poland is paying tribute of German economic benefits.”
April 21, 1932 (no. 91, page 2):
“Polish factory Günther Wagner Hanover branch in Gdańsk, lately discredited with revisions and seizures of their products in stationery stores in Poland (which results that today no institution, no consumer wants to buy their products) begun to apply the new methods of trading in our market, aiming to mistake Polish consumer pressing into its hands their products, in spite of his , agents of Pelikan brand, today fool merchants with the supply of various stationery materials from factory Günther Wagner ( lacquer, printing plates and inks to duplicators, ribbons, tapes etc) but without any Günther Wagner and Pelikan identity, instead with either the merchant logo, or without any company, or with anonymous name unfamiliar to anyone such as “Samin”. It is sad to say, however, that there are commercial companies in Poland which order such unbranded goods and then try to deliver it to different state institutions and recommend to consumers, as “Polish articles”, thereby helping “Pelikan” to penetrate the Polish market even against the will of the consumer and in this way fight against Polish native industry and spreading in Poland unemployment and poverty among the masses of working people.”
June 25, 1932 (no. 143, page 4):
“The Ministry of Treasury sends us the following piece of information: Polish border guard revealed lately scandal of the German Günther Wagner Gdańsk, which has been massively sending to Poland stationery and writing instruments, imported from Germany on the so-called “Gdańsk quotas” (favorable duty conditions) then exported to Poland as goods of allegedly Gdańsk origin. Because in this case manipulation of Gdańsk was clear the masked smuggling, border guards made numerous revisions of stationery warehouses in Warsaw and other cities and took the goods, coming from this company.”
**Note: All of the above translations are adapted to English from the original Polish text by Google Translate. This obviously can affect the grammar, syntax, and context of the articles. Some of the original meaning may be distorted or lost. Every effort was made to portray the original text as accurately as possible. All of the original text is available through the Warsaw University Digital Library linked to in the references below.
The March 1930 article cited above would have come shortly after Pelikan introduced their first fountain pen in 1929 and reads more like a paid advertisement or press release. Other articles with a similar tone have been found to support that assertion. Despite that, it clearly denotes that the Gdańsk factory was up and running at this time. Reading between the lines, however, the article never explicitly states that the 1500 pens per day or the 80 auxiliary machines were actually located at the Danzig location. If such machinery had been on site, you would expect some record to be found in Pelikan’s archives. Moving that type of machinery over the border along with the accumulated expertise to install and run them would have left some sort of paper trail. Also alluded to in the articles above are other troubles for Pelikan’s operations in Danzig. By 1932, it is clear that there was significant scrutiny of Günther Wagner’s products in Poland, so much so that the company was forced to release off brand or unbranded items in an effort to continue doing business while avoiding drawing attention to itself. During this time, there was a strong movement to promote Polish made products while calling out the German companies that attempted to dishonestly advertise their wares as being made in Poland. Also, not explicitly stated in the above articles but also occurring in the background to all of this, there was a very organized Jewish community in Poland heavily involved with trade that sought to boycott German products in response to Hitler’s actions in Germany. What we can take away from these articles is that Pelikan’s scheme to use Gdańsk to sell products in Poland at a much reduced cost was not a practice that was supported by the government, the region’s Poles, or the local laws of the early 1930s. It simply may be that we do not see many Gdańsk produced 100s because they were confiscated by authorities for violations of trade law though this likely would have only been a single instance with stock again being released at a later date. In 1934, Germany and Poland signed a 10 year non-aggression pact which paved the way for a trade agreement with Germany later that same year which temporarily ameliorated the tensions outlined in the articles above. By the time of the introduction of the 100N in 1937, the trade issues were likely not as problematic for Pelikan.
It is also important to reiterate that at no time is there any known surviving price list or piece of advertising from this period or region that indicates a pen with a diamond clip or single cap band. In fact, all of the advertising in Poland demonstrates the standard cuts and plates that Pelikan used for their illustrations and advertisements of the 100N. What’s more, the Polish text accompanying those advertisements reads as though it was translated from another language by a non-native speaker, the equivalent of a Google translation today. In addition to this, the boxes in which the pens came were also the same as what was available in Germany, the only difference being the inclusion of a manual in Polish. These facts, while circumstantial, suggest that the advertisements destined for Poland were being drawn up by Günther Wagner in Germany.
After the war, sometime in August 1945, Zaklady Chemiczne Pelikan resumed operations at the Danzig-Langfuhr location under Polish management. If you’ll recall from the timeline presented earlier, that company was originally founded by Pelikan in May of 1932 in Warsaw, Poland. An advertisement from this post-war period indicates that the site was responsible for the fabrication of inks, adhesives, pencils, duplication matrices, etc., but there is no mention of any fountain pen production. This might suggest that the machinery for ink making was already on site given the rapidity with which production resumed post-war. Operations continued until the end of 1946 when the state seized the property and everything contained therein which is where the story of Pelikan’s Danzig-Langfuhr plant terminates. In the end, we will likely never be able to uncover all of the truths surrounding production at the Gdańsk plant. In fact, after a year of research, the only conclusion that I can definitively draw is that we cannot definitively draw any conclusions. Until more corroborating data can be found, we are left to speculate and theorize. For the sake of simplicity, I will summarize my conclusions below.
Conclusions Regarding Pelikan’s Danzig-Langfuhr Operation
Pelikan’s Danzig-Langfuhr factory was established in 1922 and was primarily involved in the production of office supplies including inks for which it likely had machinery on hand.
At least early on, the factory’s purpose was to serve as a means to exploit favorable tax conditions in the region.
Pelikan’s activities did not go unnoticed and were subject to backlash from both the citizenry of the region and the local government.
There is no evidence that any pen production occurred on site. At most, we might suspect that pens were assembled from parts shipped from the Hanover plant.
It remains unclear if the Gdańsk location ever produced the 100 but, if it did so, it would likely have been a late model. The 100N may have been the only pen to actually have been assembled on site.
The advertisements presented to the Polish market appear to be translations and reproductions of materials used in Germany rather than anything produced locally or unique to the region.
Pelikan’s Danzig-Langfuhr plant ceases to exist in October 1946 after it is seized by the state. The site will become the location of the Gdańskie Zakłady Papiernicze company.
Just as Neo from the movie “The Matrix” realizes that “there is no spoon” we may come to realize that there is no Danzig 100N. It may be that the Danzig 100N in actuality had nothing to do with that factory but was instead a product of the war, designed for export. This is likely something we will never be able to know for sure and I suspect that this unusual model will continue to be called the Danzig 100N for the foreseeable future.
A special thanks to fellow enthusiasts Marcin Eckstein, Maciej Kolerski, and Maciej Kosianowski for their friendly correspondence and local insight about Pelikan’s presence in Poland.
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