Günther Wagner’s Black Horse: A History Of The Rap-Pen

Günther Wagner's Rappen Fountain Pen

Günther Wagner launched the Transparent Fountain Pen under the Pelikan marque in 1929, a brand that he had trademarked some 51 years earlier. That piston filling fountain pen subsequently underwent several small revisions in a relatively short period of time, revisions that ultimately culminated into what we know today as the model 100, so named in 1931. Following its introduction, the model 100 represented Pelikan’s flagship fountain pen product. In the business world, it is common practice for manufacturers to target different market segments with alternate versions of a product. This strategy allows companies to reach a larger number of potential customers. Market segments might be targeted based on demographics such as age, sex, and income. Alternatively, they can be based on geography or focus on consumer versus commercial variations of a product or service. Perhaps you have seen examples of businesses selling a lower-priced product targeting the less affluent with marketing that stresses cost, value, and affordability. That same company may also offer a higher-end version of the product which might have more embellishments or some particularly attractive packaging thereby raising the price. Consumers who are more well off are frequently willing to pay an extra sum for those additional features and benefits. The products don’t even have to vary that much as marketing can frequently convince those with the cash that the higher priced brand/product is of a better quality, regardless of whether or not that is truly the case. Günther Wagner was no stranger to this practice as his company owned several brands, each geared towards appealing to a different group of consumers, predominantly based on income. While the 100 was the work horse of the Pelikan line targeting a largely middle-class population, the 110, 111, T111, and 112 were manufactured as higher end variations of the same product in an effort to appeal to the more upscale market. An effort to target the opposite end of that spectrum is how we came to meet the Rappen brand of fountain pen in 1932, Günther Wagner’s lower tier offering, priced as a more affordable alternative to the Pelikan model 100. The Rappen was able to be produced with lower production cost while maintaining quality workmanship and distinguished itself significantly from the company’s flagship models. Read on to learn how the Rappen came to serve lower end markets for well over a decade.

Various examples of packaging used for typewriter ribbon as sold by Günther Wagner under the Rappen brand in the early twentieth century (click an image to view the gallery)

Rappen was Günther Wagner’s second brand, presumably trademarked sometime after 1878, and intended to play second fiddle to the more prestigious Pelikan moniker. Utilizing cheaper materials, quality products were able to be offered at a lower price point when compared with similar Pelikan branded items. Long before the manufacture of a fountain pen bearing the Rappen name, the label was already well established in the office product space. Items such as typewriter ribbon, ink, and carbon copy paper have been found prominently displaying the black horse marque. The origin of the brand’s name is hundreds of years old, a German expression that translates into “black horse.” In keeping with the theme, Günther Wagner utilized the image of a black horse rearing up on its hind legs as the brand logo. The epithet was a fortuitous fit for a pen because it could be sold amongst the various English-speaking markets as the “Rap-Pen”. In the early 1930s, the low-priced Rappen fountain pen cost just 6.75 Reichsmark, approximately half of what a model 100 fetched which sold for around 13.50 Reichsmark. Compare that with the top of the line 112 which carried a price tag of 45.00 Reichsmark.

On the left is an excerpt from Günther Wagner’s 1913 catalog showing items for sale under the Rappen brand, long before the introduction of the fountain pen of the same name in 1932. The excerpt on the right is a product page for the Rappen fountain pen as it appeared in the 1934 catalog (click an image to view the gallery)

Günther Wagner's Rappen Fountain Pen

A transparent Rappen fountain pen circa 1937/39-45

The Rappen fountain pen was launched in 1932 and had the distinction of being the only fountain pen across Günther Wagner’s brands to not incorporate a piston filling mechanism. Instead, the pen was a pump or bulb filler. Self-filling pens that relied on a pressure and lever system and eyedropper filled safety pens dominated the market in the period following World War I therefore the Rappen easily found a place in the market despite the advances made by Theodor Kovàcs with Pelikan’s differential piston mechanism. An extra-long blind cap hid a rubber sac which, when depressed, would expel air. As the sac re-inflated, ink would be drawn into the reservoir via a small tube attached to the feed. The rubber sac is about 1.10 inches in length and appears to approximate a size #17 (~6.9mm nipple). Like Günther Wagner’s other models, the nib and feed were seated within a collar which was screwed into the section and could be removed for service or nib exchange by the retailer if need be. Examination of various examples show that small modifications were made to the feed sometime in the mid-1930s (longer vs shorter). Early models were made of Bakelite, developed in 1907 as the first plastic to be made from synthetic components. Bakelite was a poor material for fountain pens due to its brittleness over time and subsequent models would incorporate hard rubber and celluloid components. It’s not uncommon to see significant brownish discoloration on the hard rubber elements such as caps that have not withstood the test of time very well. The barrels were transparent and available in different colors. The first model to market had a blue barrel with yellow and green options becoming available sometime after 1932. Some of the transparent barrels that you find today have suffered from cracks and the celluloid is frequently found to have turned a dark shade of amber. The Rappen name was emblazoned length wise along the side of the cap, most likely for the earliest of models. Most of the caps seen these days display the brand name as well as the logo of a horse rearing back on its hind legs. These engravings have been observed to be filled in with either white, blue, or red paint though much of that has worn away over time.

A detailed look at the Rappen fountain pen as produced from 1937/39-45. Observe the extra long blind cap concealing a rubber sac and the ambered transparent barrel which reveals a long tube attached to the feed. The cap was simply adorned with a drop clip and a single band. Note the Rappen logo along the side filled in with blue paint and the circumferential engraving along the cap top with the words “GÜNTHER WAGNER GÜNTHER WAGNER” (click an image to view the gallery)

Günther Wagner's Rappen Fountain Pen

Examples of the Rappen’s cap logos filled in with blue or red paint

The Rappen fountain pen is considered small by today’s standards, even smaller than its contemporary, the model 100. The pen measures approximately 4.40 inches when capped, 5.67 inches when posted, has a diameter of just 0.43 inches, and weighs a diminutive 0.35 ounces. It has a minimal amount of furniture, nothing more than a single gold-plated ring and drop clip on the cap. In addition to featuring the Rappen logo as outlined above, the cap tops can be found circumferentially engraved with the words “GÜNTHER WAGNER GÜNTHER WAGNER.” The packaging for this model was also without significant embellishment. The box consisted of an outer rectangular sleeve printed with the brand name and logo along the top with the words “FABRIKAT GÜNTHER WAGNER” along the side. The box within the sleeve simply had two cardboard grooves to hold the pen in place along with a brief instruction sheet informing the owner of things such as how to fill the pen along with tips like not leaving it uncapped lest the ink dry out. I suspect that there may have been some cross-branding in the export markets such as the Netherlands during the late 1930s and early 40s as examples of packaging exist where the “FABRIKAT GÜNTHER WAGNER” has been replaced by “GÜNTHER WAGNER PELIKAN WERKE HANNOVER.” This likely occurred during the model’s transitional period as outlined below.

Günther Wagner's Rappen fountain pen

The Rappen’s packaging was simplistic, involving nothing more than a small cardboard sleeve housing the pen and an instruction manual

The Rappen’s nib deserves its own discussion as quite the variety of imprints have been observed over time, four all told. The nibs bear little resemblance to those of a Pelikan. The earliest nibs in the Rappen’s evolution simply bore the markings “Garantiert 14 KARAT” arranged in three lines. This engraving takes two forms, one of which sees the “14” encircled by a lanceolate shape. I have heard it said that there was a time when collectors shunned models with these markings as being unoriginal. While it may not have the typical Günther Wagner/Pelikan flavor, make no mistake, these nibs are indeed genuine and correct. By 1934, the design would come to incorporate the inscription most identified with the model, “Rappen 14 KARAT,” again done in three lines of text. Sometime between 1937 and 1939, we see yet another adjustment, bringing the engraving more in line with that of the 100N which launched in 1937. The stamping now depicted the text “Rap-Pen 585 14 KARAT” which would remain in use until the end of the pen’s run circa the mid 1940s (keep in mind that all of these dates are approximations and discrepancy exist in the literature). Nibs that also bear a stamp indicating their width are only infrequently encountered. Models produced during wartime such as the green transparent version have also frequently been found sporting Chromium Nickel (CN) IBIS nibs, likely a necessity due to material shortages, and are considered period appropriate.

Günther Wagner's Rappen fountain pen nibs

The Rappen had various nib imprints over the years. Left to right: one of the two 1932-34 imprints, the 1934-37/39 imprint, and the 1937/39-45 imprint. The latter would be re-used for the 1949-54 Rappen-IBIS model (dates are approximate)

Günther Wagner's Rappen fountain pen

A green transparent Rappen equipped with a chromium nickel (CN) IBIS nib, likely made during wartime. Photo courtesy of Fred Gorstein of Afreva Vintage Pens

No discussion of the Rappen would be complete without addressing the IBIS as the two would collide in 1936, an impact that would significantly alter the marketing trajectory of the Rappen. With the introduction of the IBIS, the bulb filled Rappen would no longer be sold in Germany as of October 15, 1936, though its popularity would continue to see it sold in several export markets. Part of the reasoning behind the shift in target markets is likely due to price. The IBIS entered the market around 7.50 Reichsmark, not too dissimilar from the Rappen, and appears to have been intended to fill the niche formerly occupied by its predecessor. The 1938 price list describes the IBIS as a lower priced fountain pen that was still good, reliable, and safe to operate. It likely made little financial sense to have two products competing at the same price point. By July of 1937, the Rappen was undergoing a transformation that would bring it more in line with the IBIS in certain markets. The major step on this path was replacing the bulb filling mechanism with a piston filling one. By this time, I suspect that the cost for producing the piston filling mechanism had lessened somewhat. It was also likely a move made in response to the changing taste and technology of the time, done in an effort to remain competitive in the market but that is just speculation on my part.

Pelikan IBIS 130

An IBIS 130 circa 1949-54

The barrel of the now modified Rappen would be made black, lacking the transparency of the earlier models, though an ink view window would persists. Some examples have been seen displaying the engraving; “RAPPEN GERMANY DRP. RAPPEN GERMANY DRP” around the cap top. The DRP in this instance stands for Deutsches Reich Patent, a Nazi era stamping placed on products manufactured under German patents from the mid-1930s through the early post-war period. The first edition of Pelikan Schreibgeräte tells us that these piston filled variants were first available in regions like Holland and Argentina. Two years later, they would come to England, in 1939, by way of L & C Hardtmuth, aka the Koh-i-Noor brand, who were known to have marketed pens by other brands. Despite this transition, we also know that the bulb filled version continued to be sold in regions like South Africa. Regardless of form, the Rappen would thrive until its discontinuation in 1945. At that point, it is no longer mentioned in any price lists suggesting that the line did not survive beyond the war. I have previously discussed how the German war effort in World War II impacted the availability of precious metals for applications such as nibs. The Rappen would also be affected by this and the piston-filled models from the 1940s can be found sporting both Chromium Nickel (CN) and Palladium (PD) nibs. Some examples found have the “IBIS” engraving rather than “RAPPEN” just as we’ve seen with the green transparent bulb filling version.

Günther Wagner's Rappen Fountain Pen

A Spanish language advertisement depicting a late model Rappen in its piston-filling form, perhaps from Argentina where we know such a model was sold. The text reads; “For $12 (moneda nacional or national currency) a transparent fountain pen by Günther Wagner.”

The Rappen’s story should have ended in 1945 but the model’s name would again be revived with a fountain pen produced under this branding from 1949-1954. Rather than a true resurrection, however, this new Rappen model was simply a standard post-war Pelikan IBIS 130 made for export. The reasons behind the subterfuge are purely legal since the IBIS name could not be used in certain export markets due to trademark issues. Not to be deterred, Pelikan simply revived the old branding in order to reach more consumers while steering clear of trademark infringements. The black horse logo is nowhere to be found on these models and the circumferential inscription along the cap top reads “RAPPEN GERMANY RAPPEN GERMANY.” In small print at the rear of the barrel, the word “EXPORT” can be found, and some models have also been seen with the nib size stamped near the piston knob. The Netherlands has been put forth as an example of one such market where Pelikan would sell these pens since they were barred from using the IBIS branding. These models maintain the same dimensions as an IBIS 130 which includes a capped length of 4.71 inches, a posted length of 5.99 inches, a diameter of 0.44 inches, and a weight of 0.42 ounces. I have seen examples sporting both Pelikan’s standard script nib (Pelikan 585 14 KARAT) as well as the 1940’s version of the Rappen nib (Rap-Pen 585 14 KARAT). The “new” Rappen-IBIS and the IBIS 130 would be phased out of the market a few years after the introduction of the Pelikan model 400.

Günther Wagner's Rappen fountain pen

The pen at the top of the photo is a standard transparent Rappen fountain which was produced circa 1937/39-45. The pen on the bottom is the Rappen-IBIS made circa 1949-54 for export to countries in which the IBIS branding could not be used. It is nearly identical to an IBIS 130

Günther Wagner's Rappen fountain pen

The pen on the left is the Rappen-IBIS made from 1949-54. The model on the right is the IBIS 130, also produced from 1949-54. The two pens are virtually identical aside from some imprints

Günther Wagner's Rappen fountain pen

The Rappen-IBIS had a small engraving near the piston knob that indicated it was a model meant for export

Günther Wagner's Rappen fountain pen

Left to right: A transparent Rappen fountain pen (1937/39-45), a Rappen-IBIS fountain pen (1949-54), and an IBIS 130 fountain pen (1949-54)


Timeline

  • 1878 – The Pelikan trademark is registered.
  • 1929 – Günther Wagner introduces the Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen.
  • 1931 – Due to the introduction of additional models, the Transparent Pelikan Fountain Pen is assigned the designation “model 100.” Upscale versions of the product designated as models 110, 111, T111, and 112 are introduced to the market.
  • 1932 – The Rappen brand of fountain pen with a bulb-filling mechanism is introduced to the German and export markets at half the price of a model 100.
  • 1932-1934 – Rappen fountain pen nibs are engraved “Garantiert 14 KARAT.”
  • 1934-1937/39 – Rappen fountain pen nibs are now engraved “Rappen 14 KARAT.”
  • 1936 – With the introduction of the IBIS, the Rappen would no longer be sold within the German market. It remained available but for export markets only.
  • 1937 – The Rappen begins production with a piston filling mechanism, bringing it more in line with the IBIS. It is sold in markets such as Holland and Argentina.
  • 1937/39-1945 – Rappen fountain pen nibs are now engraved “Rap-Pen 585 14 KARAT.”
  • 1939 – The piston-filled version of the Rappen makes its way to England.
  • 1945 – The Rappen brand of fountain pens is seemingly discontinued.
  • 1949-1954 – The IBIS 130 comes to be sold in certain export markets under the Rappen branding in an effort to avoid trademark infringement.

References

4 responses

  1. I can think of a good reason why “Rappen” became the name for Pelikan’s second tier pen. In German a “Rappen” is a slang term for one one hundredth of a German mark, just as we use “penny” for a one cent coin. I suspect the term carried over to the one eurocent coin when Germany adopted the Euro.

    It makes a bit of sense that they would choose Rappen as a kind of pun for their second tier pen.

    Great post, Joshua!

    Like

  2. Hello Johsua,

    hope you’re well.

    Could you link the catalogues to my page – I decided to redirect those links to my website, but these catalogues are no common property and it would be good to be mentioned as source.

    Thanks

    Dominic

    Like

    • Hi Dominic. Are the images not linking back? I have finally made the plunge into the WordPress Gutenberg editor and I’m less than thrilled. My whole work flow has been disrupted and I’m having a hard time doing what I used to. Some things are better and other things are just painful. Those catalogue excerpts were supposed to link back to your site. Let me fiddle with it some more. No offense intended friend. You know I always give your site credit where credit is due. Hopefully I’ll have the links working soon. Thanks for pointing it out.

      P.S.: After tinkering with the images, I still cannot get them to link back so I just placed links back to your site in the text. I hope that his acceptable to you.

      Like

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