The Many Anniversaries Of Maruzen

Maruzen Booksellers Storefront

The Maruzen Co., Ltd. has long been one of Japan’s leading booksellers. With a core focus on books and other periodicals, the company has cultivated a diverse portfolio that includes stationery, fashion, and information technologies. Founded in 1869 as Maruya Shosha, its success and longevity over the past 152 years is likely due to the forward thinking of founder Yuteki Hayashi. Hayashi’s ambitions were reportedly spurred on by the encouragement of Yukichi Fukuzawa, an educator and founder of Japan’s first private system of elementary and secondary schools, who was a proponent of Westernization. Great change was underway in Japan during the mid-19th century, heralded by the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853, an American naval officer in command of the East India Squadron. He played a leading role opening Japan to the West after more than 200 years of isolationist policy under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate which comprised the military government of Japan during the Edo period from 1603 to 1868. Hayashi saw opportunity brought about by this cultural shift and sought out translated versions of many of the seminal works of the Western world. His relationship with Fukuzawa positioned Maruzen to have a strong presence with educational institutions, a major areas of sales for the company. Maruzen further diversified its product lines throughout the twentieth century and was able to survive the damage inflicted by World War II. Many sources indicate that Maruzen played a major role introducing the fountain pen to Japan, predominantly by importing brands such as Onoto and Waterman from England and the United States. As such, it is hard to overstate the importance of Maruzen’s involvement in bringing this writing technology to the citizens of Japan. Today, the company has a number of stores and international offices to its credit. Of course, I’m not here to regale you about the company’s rich and storied history. As a stationary retailer, Maruzen has had the opportunity to partner with several manufacturers of fine writing instruments over the years in order to celebrate its various milestone anniversaries, beginning sometime around 1989. I’m sure that you have surmised by now that a Pelikan or two may have been a part of some of those past offerings. Read on to learn all about these unique and rarely seen models.

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The Origin Story Behind Pelikan’s Original M800 Tortoiseshell Brown

Pelikan M800 Tortoiseshell BrownPelikan launched the M800, their first oversized pen, at the Frankfurt Fair in 1987.  The new pen was initially available in the company’s classic green striped Stresemann pattern with an all-black model to follow shortly thereafter.  We know that around this time a third model was released, the fabled Tortoiseshell Brown.  For over twenty years, this was the only tortoise variant available from Pelikan in a larger sized model.  Why this was the case, we can only speculate.  While the brown tortoise M800 has achieved a cult status amongst collectors, some have posited that sales at the time of the initial release may have been somewhat lackluster.  Nonetheless, in 2013 Pelikan re-introduced the M800 Tortoiseshell Brown to great fanfare.  The company must have realized the pent up demand as their sales literature kicked off with the line; “Finally, it is back!  The much coveted model Souverän 800 tortoiseshell brown….”  Both models are now scarce in the secondary market and command a hefty sum when found.  The provenance of that original tortoise has always been shrouded in a touch of uncertainty.  The issue is compounded by the fact that German law only requires companies to preserve records for a period of 15 years so the historic archive is often times fragmented and lacking in primary supporting documents.  That said, Pelikan has done a better job than many at preserving the company’s rich history.  I thought that it might be interesting to explore the available evidence as well as the past statements of some subject matter experts in an attempt to find the truth.  It also provides a good opportunity to take a closer look at each of the two M800 tortoises side by side.  While we may never know the definitive answer as to original pen’s origins, the mystery only enhances its intrigue as a collector’s model.

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