The company that we know today as Pelikan is now 181 years old. In all of that time, it has cultivated a rich history full of unusual anecdotes and outstanding achievements. Just take a close look at any of their fine writing instruments and you will see a glimpse of bygone days. Perhaps not as well known are the guardians of that history. Those of us who have studied the company and their products are well aware of the select few who have been chosen to stand watch over precious artifacts from the days of yore. The modern world is so focused on consumption that it seems precious little is built to last, and the history of things can quickly be forgotten. In that setting, it is reassuring to know that there are still companies looking to preserve even a small piece of history, not because they have to but because they want to. It is with that backdrop in mind that I would like to introduce you to Pelikan’s archivists, past and present. Currently housed in the original location of Pelikan’s Hannover factory in what is known as the TintenTurm, the company’s archives contain a wide variety of artifacts. These include vintage inks, prototype pens, old displays, historic advertising, and more. We have recently passed a transition point where Pelikan’s long time archivist, Jürgen Dittmer, has officially retired and whose role is now being filled by Wilfried Leuthold. Who are these men and what is their charge? Read on to find out.
Let us begin by looking at someone so inextricably linked with the brand that he has become a part of the history that he has worked so hard to preserve. Jürgen Dittmer is a Pelikan icon, perhaps best known to the community for his contributions to such indispensable references as “Pelikan Schreibgeräte Writing Instruments 1929-1997” and its follow-up as well as several other publications. His roots with the company run deeper than that though. Following his high school graduation, Jürgen joined what was then a family owned company on June 14, 1948. In the immediate post war days of Allied-occupied Germany, citizens needed to have a job in order to secure a food card which was necessary due to the rationing of available supplies. Herr Dittmer started out as an apprentice in fountain pen production but had many jobs with the company over his long tenure. These included working in the advertising department, being in the field, as well as working with one of the company’s subsidiaries. He came to meet his wife in Pelikan’s distribution center back in 1953 when he lost a button that required sewing. He officially retired from Pelikan in 1993 at which point he was asked to become the archivist for the company, a position that he has held for the past 25 years. His contract stipulated an obligation of 50 days per year, working just one day per week. Each Tuesday, his work would include organizing old documents, digitizing historic records for the modern age, curating displays, and lending items for exhibition. He was also involved with the occasional tour. Now, after more than 70 years of service (a company record) and following his 90th birthday this February, he has retired for good in order to spend more time with his wife and family and to dedicate himself to other pursuits. While Jürgen may no longer be a regular fixture at Pelikan, his ties will never be truly severed.
One of the things that has allowed Herr Dittmer to step back has been the emergence of a worthy successor. The company’s new archivist is Wilfried “Willi” Leuthold who has already begun the task of curating the company’s collection. Just like his predecessor, he reports to the job once weekly and carries on the curation of the archives. At the young age of 63, Wilfried also takes up the mantle in retirement after working as the Head of Product Development at the company’s plant in Vöhrum. His time with the company has also been characterized by longevity, having started working for Pelikan in 1972 and accumulating several decades of service. During his time in product development, he oversaw many projects and helped to shape the direction of Pelikan’s writing instruments. With that perspective, I’m sure that he will continue to serve as a worthy steward of Pelikan’s history.