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.
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.
In my review of this year’s Stone Garden M800, I included a picture of the Nord/LB limited edition which generated a few inquiries. Given the history behind the Nord/LB and its somewhat obscure nature, I thought that the topic would be ripe for a post of its own. First off, this limited edition was designed at the request of the Norddeutsche Landesbank Girozentrale. Somewhat unique to Germany, the Landesbanken are a group of state-owned banks that are regionally organized and predominantly focused on wholesale banking. Abbreviated Nord/LB, this North German bank was at one time counted amongst the top 10 banks in Germany and the top 100 banks in the world. As of 2016, the company’s total income was $2.3 billion with total assets of approximately $205 billion. It is a public corporation owned by the federal states of Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt with headquarters in Hannover. Originally established in 1765 as the Braunschweigische Staatsbank, it began operating under its current name on July 1, 1970 following the merger of four predecessors. Nord/LB specializes in investment banking, agricultural and real estate banking, corporate finance, ship and aircraft financing, and private banking. In 1995, the company celebrated the 25th anniversary of its founding. To mark the occasion, the firm’s board contracted with Pelikan in order to provide each of its employees at the time with a Limited Edition Souverän M800 fountain pen. The pen in question was never made available for purchase to the general public but several examples have entered into the collector’s space over the past 23 years.
The quintessential collector understands passion. It permeates every act of assembling, using, preserving, and displaying whatever may be the focus of one’s interest. The aforementioned undertaking can convey a tremendous sense of satisfaction. The activities of the collector should not, however, be confused with those of a hoarder. The collector is deliberate, focused, even if only loosely, and with a self-awareness that the hoarder lacks. Why do we collect? It seems to be a part of human nature, the motivations behind it as varied as the individuals who partake. Some of us do it as a celebration of the objects as works of art. Others use collecting in order to make sense of the world or as a means of accumulating a source of knowledge and ideas. Collecting can showcase a prowess or even be used to teach a lesson. Over the years, Pelikan has produced individual pens meant as part of a larger grouping. One such assortment began in 2001 when Pelikan released the first model in a group of pens known as the City Series. These special editions have become incredibly coveted by collectors. The pens are part of the M6xx line and officially dubbed M620. A total of twelve models in all were made and collectors have spent a considerable amount of time and energy trying to amass the entire series. Many have been successful while others continue the hunt. What follows is meant to highlight the City Series and to pay homage to the efforts of my fellow collectors. I can assure you that photos do not do these pens any justice. Their beauty needs to be seen in person in order to be truly appreciated. This particular post is dedicated to the efforts of Mike W., a fastidious collector whose years of effort and perseverance brought the pens that you see below together.
As you likely know by now, this is the fifth anniversary of the Pelikan Hubs event. The excitement is certainly building as we are now just under a month away from the big day. Some of you have been around since its inception while a large swath of those reading have come to the event more recently. Have you ever wondered how it all came about? Questioned whose behind it all? Maybe you’re wondering if this is going to be something to look forward to for years to come? I too had a lot of questions and a few concerns about the event. I e-mailed Juana, a member of the Hubs team in Hannover, who works in the social media department. Quite unexpectedly, that message actually ended up leading to a very pleasant telephone conversation with Pelikan’s Global Marketing Manager of Fine Writing Instruments, Jens, and the rest of his team. They were gracious enough to grant me and The Pelikan’s Perch an exclusive interview. After much thought, I posed a series of twenty questions to the group which you will find below along with their answers. I hope that you find the information interesting and perhaps walk away with a clearer understanding of the event’s purpose and its origins. The text that follows has only been very lightly edited for easier readability due to differences in language but the responses have not been altered in any meaningful way.
Over the past four years, I have endeavored to bring you news and unique insights about the Pelikan brand of fountain pens not readily available elsewhere. Personally, it has been a lot of fun researching some of the more esoteric aspects of the company’s products and history. Because there is so much nuance out there, I sometimes lose sight of the fact that many people still don’t fully grasp the fundamentals or overall landscape of Pelikan’s current line-up. I could drone on about the topic but I thought this may be one area where a picture might just be worth a thousand words. To that end, I have devised an infographic, my first, to serve as a reference for the community. It is my hope that this graphic visual representation of information will allow for a quick and clear understanding of some of the differences amongst both Pelikan’s Classic and Souverän lines. The nature of an infographic prevents it from being all-inclusive but I hope that you will find it a good jumping-off point into the brand’s offerings over the last few decades. Click the link below to jump to the visual. You can stop there but feel free to read on as I will endeavor to walk you through some of the panels of information and expound upon their contents as well as provide relevant links to past posts where appropriate.
I don’t think that it’s too much of a stretch to say that, at least in the United States, most people have heard the old saying about wearing white after labor day. It has been a big no-no in fashion circles since sometime around the early to mid-twentieth century. Nobody knows for sure how this piece of fashion etiquette came about let alone became ingrained into the mainstream collective. One practical theory contends that, since people used to dress more formally, white was simply cooler in the summer months. When the fall rains came, the color became impractical as it soiled easily with mud and debris. While this theory sounds logical, that in and of itself may be why many scholars discount it. The rules of fashion seldom seem to follow any logic. A more salacious and compelling explanation may lie in the habits of America’s well to do who frequently escaped the doldrums of the city in the summer months. That escape included leaving behind the more drab palette of the city which included opting for lighter clothing instead. White linen suits became the unofficial uniform of the upper crust of society. Labor Day, celebrated on the first Monday in September, has long marked the unofficial end of summer and was when the elite class would stow their whites and return to city life. By mid-century, a clash between old money and new money was brewing as the middle class expanded and people became more upwardly mobile. Old money elites looking to keep their social fabric from fraying would shun those not in the know. Arbitrary rules, including not wearing white after Labor Day, allowed high society to protect their standing and identify the less savvy newer members of the upper class. Whichever reasoning you may ascribe to, this old “rule” has largely fallen out of favor and many fashion icons have shown that white can indeed be worn year round. That is a darn good thing too because Pelikan has graced the M6xx line with more white pens in recent history than ever before and I for one would hate to have to lock them away for half of the year due to some fashion snobbery. Read on for a look at how Pelikan has made white pens chic again.
It is not uncommon for a company to enter into an agreement for the manufacture of goods meant to be sold and distributed by another business. These products are frequently meant to target a different market segment than the manufacturer’s usual wares. As far as fountain pen production is concerned, often times these pens are not tied to the original manufacturer by way of their usual branding. Despite the absence of those tell tale markings, the pen’s designs are not radically altered from that of a company’s standard production models and can be readily identified. The Taylorix company is an example of one such business that purchased a large number of pens from multiple manufacturers upon which they placed their own branding starting sometime in the 1930s. Today, I would like to focus on those Taylorix branded pens produced by Pelikan in the post-war period. Aside from the surviving pens themselves, very little information is know about these models. Pelikan’s archives contain little in the way of details and Taylorix is no longer in business. What we do know is that, for the most part, the Taylorix pens made by Pelikan included the 100N, 130 Ibis, and 140 produced sometime in the 1950s. In a more unusual twist, there has even been an MK10 or two seen with the Taylorix branding, indicating a relationship between the two companies persisted into the 1960s. Read on to learn what we know about these unique Pelikan manufactured pens.