The Unsung History Of Pelikan, Inc. USA

Old Style Pelikan LogoIn 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.

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