Pelikan, Pelican, Pélican: The How And Why Behind The “C”

Pelican inks advertisement (Pelikan)A brand is often a company’s greatest asset.  Frequently more than just a logo, tagline, or ad campaign, a brand is the sum total of the consumer’s experiences and interactions with it.  Brands are fueled by a purpose and nurtured by the emotional attachment that they cultivate with their target audience.  They are the vehicle by which a company defines itself, allowing it to differentiate its products and services from those of its competitors.  Brand names can have a significant impact on the consumer’s perceived quality of a product, an item’s price, or even someone’s intention to purchase.  The rise of global branding has transformed the marketing industry over the past century.  While many brands have been able to successfully conform to a variety of cultures and their values, the discipline is littered with examples where that wasn’t the case.  In a field complicated by cultural factors, the diversity of languages, and nationalism, adapting a brand name to the language of the target market can mean the difference between success and failure but the choice is not always so clear-cut.  Linguistic and cultural assessments are key when entering a new market and this is something that Pelikan wrestled with in the first half of the twentieth century.


Pelican Drawing Ink Advertisement (Pelikan)

An advertisement for the Pelican brand of drawing ink from the early 1900s


It was amidst the industrialization of the late nineteenth century that Günther Wagner began to use a picture of a pelican as a trademark derived from his family’s coat of arms.  It would go on to become what is today one of Germany’s oldest registered trademarks with an official registration date of November 27, 1878.  Fritz Beindorff would join the company soon thereafter in 1881 and would eventually become the firm’s sole proprietor by 1895 following the retirement of his then father-in-law, Günther Wagner.  Under his leadership, a stylistic version of the German word “Pelikan” was introduced along with the pictorial to help prevent ambiguity and the Günther Wagner trade name was slowly phased out.  This started around 1896 with a line of liquid drawing inks but by the early 1900s, the company was trading under the Pelikan brand in earnest.  As the brand expanded to markets outside of Germany, there was a time when it chose to translate its name.  In linguistics and marketing, this is known as phonetic transliteration or transcription.  Phonetically transliterated brand names have a similar pronunciation as the source but are usually devoid of their original meaning in the target country.  Perhaps it was serendipity then that the German word for pelican was a cognate with a similar appearance, pronunciation, and meaning in a variety of different languages.

Pelican branded drawing ink bottles (Pelikan)

Various vintage bottles of Pelican branded drawing inks. The logos would date them circa 1907, 1937, and 1896 (left to right).  The bottle on the far right is the oldest of the trio based on the logo design and the presence of the Günther Wagner branding which was beginning to be phased out


With its denotation intact, Pelikan endeavored to translate its name into English and French during the early 1900s though the early 1950s.  This is why many advertisements, price lists, products, and packaging are labeled with either Pelican for English-speaking and Pélican for French-speaking markets.  This practice was prevalent in regions such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Spain.  Such a convention seems foreign today and is widely regarded as only serving to weaken a brand by diluting its global recognition.  This trend towards translation was not universal or even uniformly applied, seemingly reserved for only the company’s largest trading partners.  We know that the French translation did not survive in usage beyond the 1920s but the English version can be seen in advertising and print media through the 1940s.  This includes bottles of ink which were the first and longest running product lines to be branded with the translated name.  Other products such as fountain pens and pencils continued to be labeled “Pelican” through the early 1950s.  Examples of items with the Pelican branding have included, but are not limited to, the 100N (1937-54), 140 (1954-64), 400 (1950-56), and 500 (1950-56) fountain pens as well as the Auch Pelikan 200 and 210 mechanical pencils.  By the mid-1950s, the brand as we know it today was unified under the name Pelikan across all of its markets.

Pelican Auch Pencil 200 and 210 with eyelet (Pelikan)

Top panel: A boxed set of mechanical pencils including a Lizard Auch Pelikan 200 (1937-42) and a black 210 w/ eyelet (1935-42). Note the Pelican branding on the box. Bottom panel: A close up of the Auch Pelikan 200 branded Pelican. Photos courtesy of Schnitzer323 of eBay


Pelikan 140 branded Pelican

A Green-Black Pelikan 140 with the Pelican branding on the barrel. Photo courtesy of DougS from FPN


Pelican drawing ink advertisements

Advertisements for Pelikan inks from the late 1800s/early 1900s showing the newly labeled Pelican brand in the United Kingdom. The Günther Wagner branding will soon be phased out



13 responses

    • Glad you liked it. The French Pélican is scarce. I have only seen one example and that was in Detmar Schäfer’s book. I have never encountered an example online. Perhaps this is because it was in use for only a relatively short time and was discontinued nearly 100 years ago.


  1. In my fountain pen / ink experience of 53 years, (I’m 65), Pelikans are the very best and are well worth the cost. I began my life-long affair with fountain pens as a 12 year old, 7th grader! [Visconti is the worst!]


    • That is quite a run with fountain pens. I’m a newbie compared to yourself. I agree that Pelikan’s are awesome but we are a biased lot. As for being worth the cost, that is a subjective valuation. I don’t want to cast aspersions on other brands as there are great Visconti pens that I admire from afar too. Every brand has their admirers. Thanks for reading.


  2. The box of that Lizard Pelican even says “Hanover” instead of the native “Hannover”.

    Btw, excellent research you’re doing in this blog. I hope, some day the knowledge will be published in a book to preserve it.


    • Yes, Hannover is done in the English version as well. Thank you for the kind words. I do the research for myself and my love of the topic. It’s really heartening to hear that other people enjoy it too. I would love to compile many of my post into a book one day. That has always been a goal of mine. Sadly, I wouldn’t know the first place to start. Perhaps one day…


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