In 2001, Chartpak, Inc. became the exclusive distributor for the Pelikan brand in the United States as well as Mexico and Canada. The company manufactures and imports fine artist materials, fine writing instruments, and office products for distribution in the Americas. Their website states; “Chartpak has an established portfolio of 14 brands with 60 product lines that span 17 distinct categories of art materials, fine writing, craft & hobby and office products, many of which are made in the USA or Europe.” Chartpak is located in Leeds, Massachusetts and is nestled in the five-college area of the state which boasts a vibrant and active student artist population. While Chartpak’s story accounts for nearly the past 20 years of Pelikan in the United States, have you ever wondered about Pelikan’s past US operations or who distributed their products in North America before Chartpak? A recent inquiry from a reader led me to ponder that very question in greater detail. When you search Google for the answer, you come up with surprisingly little, most likely because the bulk of the history occurred prior to the rise of the internet. Not to be discouraged, I turned to a resource that was satisfyingly nostalgic, the newspaper. After searching through dozens of papers and hundreds of articles, I learned that Jack Kelly was probably correct when he said, “…headlines don’t sell papes. Newsies sell papes.” I also learned a great deal about Pelikan’s more public affairs throughout the 1980s and 90s. While the record in incomplete, we can get at least a basic sense of Pelikan’s operations in the USA over that two decade span. It is important to keep in mind that Pelikan’s business structure is incredibly complex with many divisions. Pelikan AG and later Pelikan International acted largely as holding companies, a type of financial organization that owns a controlling interest in other companies called subsidiaries. While the parent corporation controls the subsidiary’s policies and oversees management decisions, the days to day operations are left to the subsidiary. In this way, the holding company protects itself from losses accrued by the subsidiary (creditors can’t go after the holding company). What we had in the US focused on hardcopy or printer consumables which started out as a product group in the Pelikan product range. The distribution of fine writing instruments in North America has been managed by various agents over the years which I will endeavor to explore. I should make it clear that at no point were fountain pens or fountain pen inks manufactured in the USA. Read on to learn how the company’s fortunes rose and fell over the span of approximately 15 years and why operations eventually ceased.
Imaging Systems Corporation was founded in 1967 by Eugene L. Doemling and Harold B. Mays. Headquartered in Derry, PA, the company worked in the reprographics space, an industry focused on reproducing content such as scanning , photography, xerography, and digital printing. In 1976, the company became a subsidiary of Pelikan AG who was based out of West Germany at the time. On December 3, 1981 in a press conference attended by then governor of Tennessee Lamar Alexander (now Senator Alexander), Jurg Barras announced that Imaging Systems Corporation of Derry, PA and Graphic Ribbon, Inc. of Franklin, TN would be merged into a single new entity renamed Pelikan, Inc. Mr. Barras, serving as chairman of both boards, indicated that the merger would take effect as of January 1, 1982. Named after its parent company, the new business would be headquartered out of Franklin, TN and would represent the US hardcopy assets of Pelikan AG. While Franklin may seem an unusual choice for a corporate headquarters, its strategic value was felt to be its location which was quoted as being within 800 miles of 75% of America. At the time, it was reported that Pelikan AG was a $500 million dollar office equipment and supply manufacturer boasting 40 operating companies worldwide. The new US subsidiary would focus on the manufacture of impact and non-impact imaging supplies for original equipment manufacturers and dealers. At the time, the 105,000 square foot Derry plant made toner and developer for copiers while the 90,000 square foot Franklin plant made ribbon cartridges, ink rolls, and other imaging supplies. The Franklin plant was a bulk distribution center meaning they assembled the parts into the final product, readying them for distribution, 97% of which were used in the United States.
The merger brought not only a new name to the company but significant expansion as well. The Franklin plant which employed over 300 people pre-merger was to be expanded and the work force doubled while the Derry plant which employed around 100 people was to be outfitted with new production equipment. The newly formed company was to be the first phase of Pelikan’s long term business plans, intended to better reflect the scope of their business activities in the United States, to allow for better service to the company’s customers, and to facilitate future growth. Following the merger, Imaging Systems Corporation would cease to exist with Pelikan having assumed all contractual and vendor obligations. Jurg Barras would become the chairman and CEO of the new company. The remainder of the executive structure included Walter Derungs (president and COO), A.M. Kairys Jr (vice president & general manager of Derry operations), Bill Sisson (vice president of sales), Chander Kanal (marketing manager), and Joe Gabbard (vice president of finance & administration). The Derry plant also included Robert Hand (operations director), Dr. John Wyhof (research and development director), Harry Berenbrok (administration manager), and Harry Connelly (personnel manager).
Unfortunately, 1982 was a troubled year for Pelikan AG’s domestic and international operations. After excessive expansion of their product lines capped by a takeover of Lumoprint, a photocopier company, Pelikan became insolvent. They would come to be taken over by Condorpart (Switzerland) in 1984 at which time Pelikan was separated into various sub companies, parts of which were sold off. Operations were from then on run by Pelikan International in Switzerland. The best documented history of Pelikan’s enterprise on US soil comes from the Derry division. After the merger, the Derry plant employment peaked at 200 but by the first quarter of 1983, the work force and been reduced to just 60 employees. The vice president of operations cited a hostile business environment and a lack of state support for industry in Pennsylvania as the cause of the reduction. On April 24, 1983, around the same time as the reduction in labor force, the Derry plant struck an agreement on a 3 year labor contract with United Steelworkers Local 7814 who represented 41 production & maintenance employees at the site. On March 13, 1984 a ground breaking ceremony was held at the Franklin plant which would see the building’s footprint expand an additional 50,000 square feet brining the plant’s total square footage up to 140,000. Both operations ran 24 hours a day, 5 days per week. In September of that same year, the Derry plant completed the installation of a noise suppression system after complaints from multiple neighbors. At the same time, the vice president of operations at the Derry plant threatened to take the factory out of Pennsylvania in search of a more favorable business climate though these threats never materialized into action. Despite ownership by a Swiss firm, the workforce of all the US based plants remained almost completely American. In the first quarter of 1986, Pelikan purchased the facilities of Dennison Computer Supplies in Edenton, NC expanding the company foot print to a total of three plants within the United States.
Despite expanding to a third facility, all was not well with the company. As the employment contract negotiated with United Steelworkers Local 7814 three years prior was about to expire, the Derry plant management sought major concessions from the union (representing 30 of the factory’s 67 workers) in order to keep the firm operating. On May 18, 1986, after widely rejecting the company’s proposal, the salaried workers at the factory went on strike. The 23 day strike would center around some contentious arguments on both sides and was not without a fair amount of friction. Early on in the strike, the picketers would turn back the cars of management barring them from entry onto the company grounds. They accused the company of having enough money to hire Pinkerton guards to protect the entrances but not enough to pay the worker’s salaries. As an interesting work around, a helicopter based out of the Westmoreland County Airport was chartered by the executives to shuttle 15 workers across the picket line. This resulted in terroristic threats being made to the airport and the involvement of the PA State Police after just a few flights. Things would settle but both sides struggled to come to terms. Management was able to keep the facility operating during this time and no major disruptions were reported. In early June 1986, Pelikan announced that they would be accepting applications to replace the jobs of the striking workers. The notice was placed in the paper and advertised hourly wages of $5 to $9.97. Prior to any interviews being conducted, however, a new 3 year labor agreement was struck and the striking workers returned to the job on June 9, 1986.
While all of this was occurring in Derry, Reed Graham would join Pelikan as the personnel manager in Franklin. The following year (1987), workers at the Franklin plant would file a decertification petition for their union coverage. It was only the year prior that the Aluminum, Brick and Glass Workers International won the right to represent 500 of the plant’s employees in contract talks with management. On February 13, 1987 with a 91% turnout, the vote was 334 to 129 in favor of decertifying the union. That same month, Pelikan would welcome Donald J. Polak as the new company President. In June of that year, the Derry plant would experience extensive damage when a 3,000 amp box in the service entrance malfunctioned resulting in a fire that briefly shut down the plant and caused several thousand dollars’ worth of damage. In November 1987, the Tennessee plant would embark on a $750,000, 32,000 square foot expansion that would include a new distribution center and parking garage. In 1988, the company counted 700 employees amongst their three plants with the Franklin site home to 539 of them. In addition to Don Polak as President, Hans Paffhausen would serve as vice president/director of operations and Tom Edwards worked as the Franklin plant manager. Hans Paffhausen is particularly noteworthy in the Pelikan story. He would come to join Pelikan in 1977 and held various positions over his many decades of employment. In addition to his stint with Pelikan, Inc. in the United States, he would take over responsibility for all of Pelikan’s factories in the Hardcopy and PBS (stationary) divisions in Europe in 1988.
By the first quarter of 1989, the Derry division would employ 97 people. It was at this time that they acquired a $400,000 Pennsylvania Economic Development Finance Authority loan (6% interest over 15 years) which it would use to purchase the 108,000 square foot facility that the company occupied as well as retain employees. The company became embroiled in a legal battle in the early 1990s. In March 1991, a jury in Nashville, TN awarded the Smith Corona Corporation $1,670,000 in damages due to Pelikan’s infringement of three of the company’s patents. Seemingly undaunted, in April of that year, Pelikan, Inc. would again expand, purchasing the Canadian office supplier Anthes International which was headquartered out of Toronto with the goal of boosting the company’s annual sales by $25 to $100 million. Despite the purchase, operations continued to run out of the Franklin location.
Pelikan apparently partnered with various distributors in North America over the years in order to facilitate sales of their fine writing instruments. A distributor purchases and stores a company’s products and then sells them through a distribution channel, essentially acting as a middle man between the manufacturer and retailers. It appears that Pelikan, Inc. out of Franklin handled this role for a period of time spanning the 80s and early 90s. This is supported by brochures for the M200 Green Transparent Demonstrator in 1988 and the M900 Toledo circa 1991, both of which indicate that there was a stationary division out of Franklin, TN. It makes sense that one of Pelikan’s subsidiaries would serve as the distributor for the pens and inks made in Germany by their parent company. At some point after the release of the M900 the distributorship would transition, at least in part, to a Canadian operation, the details of which have been lost to time. It is not inconceivable that it came under the aegis of the newly acquired Anthes Universal. Anthes Universal was a subsidiary of Anthes International which Pelikan, Inc. had purchased in April 1991. Supportive evidence for this comes by way of the M800 Transparent Green Collector’s Edition released in 1992. A pamphlet accompanying that model was put out by Pelikan, Inc’s stationary division in Franklin as well as Anthes Universal Limited in Brampton, Ontario, Canada.
In the 1990s, the office supply super stores Office Depot, Office Max, and Staples would become battle grounds for companies competing in the small business/home office space. Nu-Kote was Pelikan’s biggest rival in the industry. Based out of Dallas, TX, Nu-Kote would become the largest independent imaging-supply company in the world at its peak, manufacturing toners and developers for copiers and computer printers. Throughout the early 1990s, they were able to slowly gain ground and make inroads into Pelikan’s customer base. One major victory was winning over Office Depot in 1994. Despite the small victories, the constant battles were costly for both Nu-Kote and Pelikan. David Brigante, then CEO of Nu-Kote, formulated an arrangement that would be advantageous to both companies while ending the costly competition. In July 1994, Pelikan signed a letter of intent agreeing to sell its imaging products (Hardcopy) division to Nu-Kote for $100 million. This would mark a series of divestments where several products under the Pelikan brand left the Pelikan family (known as the split of the Pelikan Group) to be managed independently by various corporations. In 1993, Pelikan began to divisionalize the Pelikan Group worldwide into a PBS (stationery) division and a Hardcopy (printer consumables) division. This sale would complete the spin-off of the Hardcopy division. The agreement would allow Nu-Kote to absorb R&D and manufacturing divisions, gain countless patents, along with several plants across the globe. In exchange, Nu-Kote would transfer 20 to 30% of its stock and a percentage of its corporate debt to Pelikan AG. On February 24, 1995, Nu-Kote International finalized its purchase of Pelikan, Inc. The Franklin property was sold to Nu-Kote for $4.3 million and the Derry plant went for $1.3 million. Following the deal, Nu-Kote would sell its products directly to wholesale, retail, and manufacturing markets under the Nu-Kote, Pelikan, and ICM brand names, as well as original equipment manufacturers and distributors for resale under their brand names or private labels.
By the mid-90s, after the selloff of their US operations, Pelikan International partnered with SRW Marketing who served as the lone North American agent and distributor of Pelikan’s fine writing instruments. SRW were the initials of Steven R. White whose firm worked out of Boston. He sold directly to vendors and provided warranty service for Pelikan’s customers in North America. A closeout sale open to the public occurred late in the year 2000, just before Chartpak would assume the role of distributor, a position that they’ve held for the past 19 years.
The deal between Nu-Kote and Pelikan reached far beyond the United States and allowed Nu-Kote to gain ground in Europe where it could leverage its own products with an expanded customer base under the Pelikan brand. Meanwhile, Pelikan would gain profit from owning a percentage of its former competitor. The acquisition tripled Nu-Kote’s size and allowed sales to climb from $151 million to $193 million in 1995. In 1996 the company posted net earnings of $13.1 million on sales of over $424 million making it a banner year for the company. The windfall would be short lived as Nu-Kote had trouble assimilating Pelikan into their operations. They would lose $40 million in 1997 and have to contend with a lawsuit by shareholders over an alleged mishandling of the acquisition. Loses were $50 million in 1998 and $55 million on sales of $240.5 million in 1999. As an aside, it’s worth noting that in 1996 GOODACE SDN BHD, a company owned by Hooi Keat Loo from Malaysia, took over the majority of Pelikan Holding’s shares which allowed Mr. Loo to become President and Chief executive officer of Pelikan International, effectively putting the company under new management. Part of the acquisition of Pelikan Hardcopy meant that Nu-Kote would begin reducing manufacturing and administrative overheads. They began to pull out of the Derry plant in 1996, consolidating its operations to their plant in Dunbar Township near Connellsville, PA and relocating jobs to Nogales, Mexico thanks to NAFTA. Nick Alessi, president of the United Steelworkers local 1324 was quoted as saying, “Three years ago we were owned by Pelikan and made the best product in the world, now we’re going out of business. There’s nothing but bad management to blame.”
As an interesting side note, in 1998 Pelikan, Inc. was sued by a collector of the brand in a case known as Zazove v. Pelikan, Inc. which alleged that Pelikan violated the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act and sought declaratory and monetary relief for the class of persons who purchased the first 500 M900 Toledo pens. On January 5, 1998, Pelikan, Inc. filed a special and limited appearance and on July 30, 1999, Pelikan, Inc. moved to dismiss the complaint against it for lack of personal jurisdiction. On February 18, 2000, the plaintiff’s class action complaint against Pelikan, Inc. was dismissed by the circuit court of Cook County for a lack of personal jurisdiction. Pelikan, Inc. had ceased operations in March 1996 and had no offices or employees at the time of the litigation. They argued that they never sold pens directly in Illinois and that litigating in that state would be burdensome. The case would drag on until sometime in 2001 without securing the relief that the disgruntled collector sought. You can read about that litigation in more detail here.
On November 6, 1998, just 3 years and 8 months after acquiring Pelikan, Nu-Kote Holding, Inc. and six of its subsidiaries filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company cited a historic proliferation of accounts which generated relatively little unit volume, marginal profits, and unwarranted infrastructure cost along with a series of disappointing acquisitions. There was also a significant and costly litigation underway between Nu-Kote, Canon, Epson, and HP. The company would require serious financing in order to remain in business. Closing September 30, 1999, the company sold several subsidiaries to Pelikan Hardcopy Europe Limited, a Scottish corporation, for $16.5 million. It was Hans Paffhausen who led the managed buyout along with a private equity company in Switzerland, effectively carving out the European Hardcopy business. This resulted in the acquisition of subsidiaries including Pelikan Produktions A.G., Pelikan Scotland Limited, Greif Werke GmbH, Pelikan Hardcopy Asia Pacific Limited, and Dongguan Pelikan Hardcopy Limited. In recounting the situation, Mr. Paffhausen noted that the Pelikan Hardcopy business in the United States could not be secured. Nu-Kote would continue to hold an exclusive, fifty-year, royalty free, fully paid up, US license, directly and through its subsidiaries, to use the “PELIKAN” name and/or trademark even after the sale. By disposing of non-essential assets the company hoped to focus on the restructuring of its core North American business. Consequently, Nu-Kote’s North American operations retained the rights to market its products under the Pelikan brand name in the United States, Canada, and Mexico whereas Pelikan Hardcopy Europe Limited would have the right to market its products under the Pelikan brand name throughout the rest of the world. In 2000, Nu-Kote was able to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy by cancelling their existing shares (meaning shareholders would receive nothing) and transferring ownership of the company to Dallas, TX based Richmont Capital Partners I LP who agreed to buy out the lenders’ interests.
Since the establishment of Pelikan International Corporation Berhad, a concerted effort was made to reunite the Pelikan family. That mission was accomplished in 2007 with the reacquisition of Pelikan Hardcopy Holding AG. The Pelikan brand would finally be reunited and under singular control bringing a full assortment of products for education, office, and home back to the company.
There you have it, the broad strokes of Pelikan’s US operations. While the story is largely devoid of fountain pens or inks, it is an interesting one none the less. Pelikan clearly maintained extensive operations in the US via their hardcopy division from 1982 until 1996. From 1982 to present, the distribution of Pelikan’s fine writing instruments has been carried out by approximately four different entities. Feel free to leave a comment below should you have had any personal experience with Pelikan’s operations in the USA during that time. Also, see below for a summation of the events recounted above in timeline form.
Former US Locations Of Pelikan, Inc.:
- Franklin, Tennessee Plant & Company Headquarters
200 Beasley Drive, Franklin, TN 37064
- Derry, Pennsylvania Plant
1 Imaging Lane, Derry, PA 15627
- Edenton, North Carolina Plant
162 Old Hertford Road, Edenton, NC 27932
Pelikan’s North American Distributors – Fine Writing Instruments:
- 1982 – 1991: Pelikan, Inc. Stationary Division – Franklin, TN, USA
- 1992 – 1995: Anthes Universal – Brampton, Ontario, Canada
- 1996 – 2000: SRW Marketing – Boston, MA, USA
- 2001 – Present: Chartpak, Inc. – Leeds, MA, USA
(Dates are approximate estimations based on the scarce data available and logical inference)
1967 – Imaging Systems Corporation is founded by Eugene L. Doemling and Harold B. Mays. Headquartered in Derry, PA, the company works in the reprographics industry.
1976 – Imaging Systems Corporation becomes a subsidiary of Pelikan AG based out of West Germany.
December 3, 1981 – A press conference is held, attended by Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander, where the merger of Imaging Systems Corporation of Derry, PA and Graphic Ribbon, Inc. of Franklin, TN is announced. The new company will be renamed Pelikan, Inc. after its parent company.
January 1, 1982 – The newly created Pelikan, Inc. officially begins operations.
1982 – Pelikan AG becomes insolvent after excessive expansion and the takeover of Lumoprint.
March 1983 – Employment at the Derry plant drops from 200 at its peak to just 60 employees.
April 24, 1983 – The Derry plant strikes an agreement on a 3 year labor contract with United Steelworkers Local 7814 who represent 41 production & maintenance employees at the site. That agreement would be formally signed on May 11, 1983.
1984 – Pelikan AG is taken over by Condorpart (Switzerland). Pelikan is separated into various sub companies, parts of which are sold off. Operations are run by Pelikan International in Switzerland.
March 13, 1984 – A ground breaking ceremony is held at the Franklin plant which will see the building’s footprint expand an additional 50,000 square feet bringing the plant’s total size up to 140,000 square feet.
September 1984 – The Derry, PA plant completes installation of a noise suppression system after complaints from multiple neighbors.
1986 – The Aluminum, Brick and Glass Workers International union wins the right to represent 500 of the Franklin, TN plant’s employees in contract talks with management.
March 1986 – Pelikan purchases the facilities of Dennison Computer Supplies in Edenton, NC enlarging the company footprint to three plants operating in the USA.
May 18, 1986 – The salaried workers at the Derry, PA factory go on strike.
June 9, 1986 – The strike at the Derry, PA factory ends and workers resume their duties.
January 1987 – Workers at the Franklin, TN plant file a decertification petition for their union coverage.
February 1987 – Pelikan welcomes Donald J. Polak as the new company President.
February 13, 1987 – With a 91% turnout, the vote is 334 to 129 in favor of decertifying the union at the Franklin, TN plant. Employees will now represent themselves in discussions with management.
June 1987 – The Derry, PA plant experiences extensive damage when a 3,000 amp box in the service entrance of the plant malfunctions, briefly shutting the plant down and resulting in several thousand dollars’ worth of damage.
November 1987 – The Tennessee plant embarks on a $750,000, 32,000 square foot expansion that includes a new distribution center and parking garage.
1988 – Pelikan, Inc. USA counts 700 employees amongst their three plants with the Franklin site being home to 539 of them.
1989 – The Derry division employs 97 people. That facility acquires a $400,000 Pennsylvania Economic Development Finance Authority loan (6% interest over 15 years) which it uses to purchase the 108,000 square foot facility that the company has been occupying as well as retain employees.
March 1991 – A jury in Nashville, TN awards the Smith Corona Corporation $1,670,000 in damages due to Pelikan’s infringement of three of the company’s patents.
April 1991 – Pelikan, Inc. purchases the Canadian office supplier Anthes International. Distribution of their parent company’s fine writing instruments transitions, at least in part, to Canada under Anthes Universal.
1993 – Pelikan begins to divisionalize the Pelikan Group worldwide into a PBS (stationery) division and a Hardcopy (printer consumables) division.
1994 – Nu-Kote Holding, Inc. wins the contract for Office Depot, replacing Pelikan, Inc.
July 1994 – Pelikan signs a letter of intent agreeing to sell its imaging products (Hardcopy) division to Nu-Kote for $100 million, marking a series of divestments where several products under the Pelikan brand leave the Pelikan family to be managed independently by various corporations.
February 24, 1995 – Nu-Kote International finalizes its purchase of Pelikan, Inc. As of March 1996, Pelikan, Inc. completely ceases operations.
1996 – Nu-Kote Holding, Inc. posts net earnings of $13.1 million on sales of over $424 million making it a banner year. GOODACE SDN BHD, a company owned by Hooi Keat Loo from Malaysia, takes over the majority of Pelikan Holdings’ shares which allows Mr. Loo to become President and Chief executive officer of Pelikan International. SRW Marketing begins acting as the distributor for Pelikan’s fine writing instruments in North America.
1997 – Shareholders of Nu-Kote file a lawsuit accusing the company of mishandling the Pelikan acquisition.
1998 – Pelikan, Inc. is taken to court by a disgruntled collector seeking to bring a class action law suit over the controversy surrounding the marketing of the M900 Toledo.
November 6, 1998 – Nu-Kote Holding, Inc. and six of its subsidiaries file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
September 30, 1999 – Nu-Kote sells several subsidiaries to Pelikan Hardcopy Europe Limited, a Scottish corporation, for $16.5 million. The US Hardcopy division is not included in the sale.
2000 – Nu-Kote emerges from Chapter 11 bankruptcy by cancelling their existing shares and transferring ownership of the company to Dallas, TX based Richmont Capital Partners I LP who agrees to buy out the lenders’ interests.
October 2000 – SRW Marketing has a closeout sale on its website, offering its remaining stock of Pelikan pens at discounted prices.
2001 – Chartpak, Inc. becomes the exclusive distributor for the Pelikan brand in North America. Owned by Steven W. Roth and located in Leeds, MA, Chartpak occupies two facilities of approximately 170,000 square feet of manufacturing and warehouse. Its core competencies include the manufacturing of writing instruments, pen repair, markers, ink development, professional grade artist paint, and is a converter of art and writing papers into sheets, rolls, and pads.
2007 – Pelikan international acquires Pelikan Hardcopy Holding AG, bringing all of the brand’s components back under singular control.
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