Meet the Brand - Kaweco

Nuremberg – a picturesque city in the heart of Bavaria, Germany. Thanks to its position on the important trade routes between Italy and Northern Europe, Nuremberg’s craftsmen had a good view of the developments happening all over Europe for hundreds of years. One of these were the graphite sticks originating from England’s Lake District and rapidly becoming a popular marking tool, consisting of slabs of mined graphite wrapped in cloth, leather, string or wood. Nuremberg businesses couldn’t access raw graphite but eventually developed pencil lead made from powdered graphite and a major industry was established. The Nuremberg pencil-making legacy continues to this day with the stationery giants Faber-Castell, Staedtler and Schwan-Stabilo based in and around the city.

Ink-based writing instruments evolved alongside the pencil, primarily refining the dip pen, but exploded in the 20th century with the development of fountain pens, ballpoints and fibre-tip pens. The Kaweco company was one of those riding the boom in writing instruments in the first half of the century. Born in Heidelberg in 1883, as Heidelberger Federhalterfabrik, it started by producing a modest range of wooden dip pens. The Kaweco brand name, originally developed as a model name and coined after Koch, Weber & Company, the owners, was adopted as the company name in the early 1900’s. By the 1930’s over 600 staff were producing a huge array of fountain pens and pencils, including the popular Sport range of pocket pens. Sadly Kaweco didn’t prosper after a series of business mergers and by 1980 had closed down completely.

In 1950’s Nuremberg, a salesman for the Kurz pencil company, Horst Gutberlet, was fascinated by the wider world of writing instruments and his eye for detail, creative approach and business sense led him to found his own company in 1960. H & M Gutberlet GmbH quickly became an essential part of the global writing instrument sector, designing and producing components for many of the best-known brands in writing. As key players in the writing instrument world, Horst Gutberlet and his son Michael naturally developed a passion for collecting pens, pencils and writing instrument ephemera. They were particularly drawn to the Kaweco brand and were fascinated by the rich variety of designs and innovations they found. Michael Gutberlet had already inherited his father’s passion for the pen business, and was attending trade shows from an early age. As a producer of components, their name wasn’t on any actual finished products, but they had ambitions for their own range of complete pens. In 1994 the planets aligned and the Kaweco brand name became available. Horst and Michael snapped it up and dreamed of reviving this once-great brand with the skills and knowledge they had acquired.

As with most big dreams the realisation took many years of dedicated work. Starting with a revival of the Sport pocket fountain pen, the Kaweco brand was initially distributed by Diplomat. Over the years, the model line-up has steadily expanded and Kaweco have created their own international network of distributors. Thanks to these efforts the Kaweco brand has taken off during the last few years, and is now firmly re-established as a premier writing instrument brand.

Cult Pens were recently invited to Nuremberg to see the Kaweco operation and talk pens with Michael Gutberlet.

First up was a guided tour of the Kaweco offices. All Kaweco manufacturing is outsourced to industry partners with whom H & M Gutberlet have been working for many years. At Kaweco’s office in Max-Brod-Strasse products are assembled, quality-checked and packaged for onward shipment to their network of distributors. It’s a busy but calm place, with thousands of components in stock, and hundreds of shipments incoming and outgoing. Side rooms are filled with development tools, QC testing machines and old displays. Michael recently purchased some of the contents of a defunct steel machining factory, which is being turned into Kaweco’s display for the forthcoming PaperWorld trade exhibition in Frankfurt. Michael works on this in the evenings, with his son Sebastian and daughter Christiane, who have followed him into the family business. One of Michael’s many strengths is his limitless capacity for working on multiple projects at all hours. Cult Pens was exhausted just hearing about it, let alone doing it. As the day progressed we got the feeling that Michael has done 6 impossible things before Cult Pens has even thought about breakfast.

We popped our heads into H & M Gutberlet’s cosmetics business. It’s a curious fact that many pencil brands got into cosmetics when beauty brands needed pencils as a vehicle for eyeliner, and later because some specialist cosmetics products have production techniques and components in common with pens. H & M Gutberlet manufactures on behalf of many major beauty brands. It was fascinating to see an eyeliner pen being manufactured in almost exactly the same way as an artist's brush pen.

Next up was a viewing of Michael’s enormous collection of historic Kaweco items. A mind-boggling collection of early ‘safety’ fountain pens; propelling pencils; 4-way multi-colour mechanical pencils; ornately carved gold bodied pens; pristine 70’s ballpens in their original boxes; and drawers full of pouches, gift boxes advertising cards and posters. Michael points out early ridged grip zones and multi-function mechanical pencils with 4 colours, proving that many ‘recent’ developments are not as recent as you might think.

Each new product is carefully designed, drawing inspiration from Kaweco’s heritage, but incorporating modern manufacturing techniques. Prototypes are produced, discussed, tested and refined over and over. It’s a time-consuming and expensive process but it pays off in the quality and reliability of the end product. Michael takes a Dia 2 ballpen from his jacket pocket and drops it tip-first through a home-made drop tester – a 1 metre plummet onto a metal surface. He clicks the pen open – no problems. A nearby refill tester draws endless circles on a slowly moving paper roll to measure ink life. The ballpoint and roller refills come from the Swiss Starminen brand and will have already been exhaustively tested there, but Michael wants to make doubly sure that they’re meeting his standards.

Discussion turns to forthcoming releases. The classic Sport range is constantly being extended, with new colours on the horizon for the plastic models, and a new heavy brass version due soon. We handle the brass prototype and admire the weight – what’s not to like about a fountain pen made from a hefty chunk of machined brass? The Liliput mini pen is another sales hit, and new versions are constantly under review. A titanium model? Maybe…

Both black and solid gold nibs are now available as upgrades for all pens except the plastic Sport models – they’ll be available shortly, or even by the time you read this, here at Cult Pens. As with the calligraphy nibs recently introduced, customer demand quickly feeds back into product developments. New ink colours are under discussion and the pen refill range has been broadened in both senses – with the addition of big fat 1.4mm options. We also admire the recent Elegance range and make a note to add that to our offering – it’s a pleasing blend of matt black octagonal aluminium barrels and lustrous chromed caps.

Time to go back for a look at Nuremberg with the help of Michael’s local eye. First a visit to city-centre men’s lifestyle store Bube und König where Kaweco pens and pencils fit naturally in amongst an array of desirable and expensive jeans, hats and jackets. The owner is very pleased with sales of Kaweco. A stroll through the atmospheric Christkindlesmarkt; up the hill to the old castle walls; and finally into the cosy warmth of Bratwursthäusle. Here we sample Nuremberg’s most famous product – which despite the ongoing pencil manufacturing all around is actually Nürnberger Bratwurst – Nuremberg sausages!

(Image of Christkindlesmarkt from above by Roland Berger)


(Image of Nuremberg castle by AlterVista)

(Image of Nuremberg Castle via Vitold Muratov)

We have some rather special prizes on offer in our Kaweco competition.

We have a vintage 1970’s Kaweco Sport Set from Michael Gutberlet’s personal collection, complete with Sport Fountain Pen (black with broad nib and piston filling mechanism), matching twist pencil, leather case to accommodate both and a gift box. Alongside this we have a variety of modern Kaweco items including a Black AC Sport Fountain Pen with black nib; a Sport Mini Calligraphie Set; a ‘transition’ blue/clear Sport Fountain Pen (a cap made whilst the injection-moulding machine is switching from blue to clear plastic); Kaweco History CD containing images, catalogues and text describing the history of Kaweco; Kaweco postcard set; Kaweco Limited Edition Christmas bauble; Kaweco notebook and much more. All this will be split between two prizes – winner and runner-up – and the winner can choose whether to receive the vintage set plus a selection of promotional items; or the modern pens plus promotional items.

You can’t go out and buy much of this, so it’s a truly unique prize.

In order to win, just tell what long-gone brand you’d love to see revived and why. It doesn’t have to be a pen brand – anything at all is fine.
Tell us in the comments below – the closing date is midday 13th February 2015. We’ll pick our favourite comments and get in touch with the winners. If you don’t reply within a week of us emailing you we reserve the right to pass the prize on to someone else.

Competition now closed. The winners were Richard B, closely followed by Martin R - thanks to everyone for their suggestions!

Once you've done that, why not browse the Kaweco range - there are some beautiful pens there!

12 January 2015

Comments

  • steve j 12 February 2015
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    Not a separate brand but I would love to see pens in the mold of the Parker Vacumagic, especially the brown pearl or the shadow wave patterns. They come in a variety of sizes, have some fantastic nibs and the brown colourway is the best looking of all, for me anyway. One day I might be able to afford a golden web and my opinion might change, but until then it, s the brown pearl

  • richard b 12 February 2015
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    I would love to see Osmiroid brought back, most importantly their wonderful Copperplate nib which was very flexible and wrote beautifully. I did most of my exams with it as my daily writer, even passed some too!!

  • Barrington W 9 February 2015
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    Apparently Stradivarius used to make a cracking violin. They'd get my vote.

  • Thomas M 8 February 2015
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    I think Ottakar's bookshops need to be brought back. We need more variety in terms of bookshops. In most places these days it's Waterstones or nothing, and even they are struggling

  • Shawn C 7 February 2015
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    I'd like to see you review the PILOT. I used to live in China and used PILOT a lot. However, after I studied in the UK, I cannot find many PILOT pens here. I think compared to western brands, the Japanese pens are more suit to write asian calligraphy because they're more thin and soft. I bought PILOT on Cult Pen as well, but the problem was I could not find the one I used in China because they had different production line in Asian market (I think). Hence, I hope to know which PILOT pen is popular and easy to write from Cult Pen.

  • Ben G 5 February 2015
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    Well, I always loved the Pan Am brand. I still have memories of flying with them when I was young in the 80s and air travel still felt like something special. Sure, there a luxury airlines today but none of them seem to have retained that same spirit of air travel.

  • Ron G 5 February 2015
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    The only brands I can think of that I'd like to see revived would require raising Jim Henson and Steve Jobs from the dead, which seems a little extreme.

  • D S 3 February 2015
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    I would love to have the phenomenally talented, artisan painters of the Palaeolithic Era (French/Spanish caves 40.000 BCE) back again, to give us demonstrations of how they made their wonderful art. Still just as fresh today, as the day they were originally painted... now that's what I call a brand!! Just need to figure out how to finish off the time travel conundrum etc.& book a decent venue :)

  • khaled A 22 January 2015
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    In terms of brands I'd like to see revived, Kodak is definitely up there. Sure the company exists, but it really is only a husk of it's former glorious self. Keeping it closer to home however, I do find it unfortunate (because they look gorgeous) that the Kaweco Sports Art line is discontinued - I know it's not a brand, but still. Will this lineup ever be revived?

  • Sarah B 22 January 2015
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    'The Listener Magazine' please. My first and most enjoyed magazine subscription. Contoversial at the beginning 'an illegitimate stretching of official activity' by the BBC, it was ecclectic and funny. It had some fine writing and cartoons probably originally created with real ink and the fountain pen by great writers and poets especially for the publication.

  • Ian M 21 January 2015
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    The children's magazine "Look and Learn" . My memory of it was of continual fascination , and through the wonders of the web, a "best of" archive site is now available. If you read an original copy, or see the site, you will be amazed by the complexity of the language, and the scope of the articles, especially for a children's magazine !

  • Douglas C 19 January 2015
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    I'd love to see Riefler drawing instruments again. I still cherish my first set, the chromed brass, the perfectly made knuckle joints on the large compasses, the sprung legs of the small compass, the fit of the leg extensions, all just a wonderful example of precision. Spending years drawing with the ruling pen! But practically, perhaps these aren't something that will work for today's market, although they surely grew my love of fine drawing and writing instruments.

  • Johan G 19 January 2015
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    Why, SAAB Automobiles, ofcourse. I feel that they convey the feeling of something very sporty and very utilitarian to me as a driver at the same time. Sure - GM bought them and they weren't really the same independent company for the last years, but as long as you had the ignition key fitting in the middle console and not on the steering column, it was a SAAB.

  • Colin C 18 January 2015
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    When I was a child I was always impressed by the charm and character conveyed by the Conway Stewart Fountain Pens, in an age of bland uninteresting fountain pens, the Conway Stewart was head and shoulders above it's competition. The charm of the lacquered finish, gold nib and side piston fill made owning a Conway Stewart Fountain Pen something very special. I understand that the company are no longer trading however it is my sincere hope that at some time in the future the Conway Stewart name will rise like a phoenix from the ashes and once again bring happiness to those people lucky enough to own one.

  • Lee B 18 January 2015
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    Look In magazine for children, this magazine kept children of all ages in touch with their favorite TV, cartoon and gaming characters including me. This in turn then sparked a flame inside me to copy and draw my favorite cartoon characters and computer game heroes. I still draw and write comic books to this day 30 years later. I'm not sure when the Look In magazine seized to exist, but my trip to the magazine stand in the market every Saturday with my mum and grandma was never the same. Unfortunately these 2 loved ones are no longer with me which makes the memory of purchasing the magazine all that more special. I have carried on this tradition with my little boy who is learning handwriting at school and loves his pens and pencils. We buy magazines with his favorite characters in and he copies the pictures and rewrites the text in his ever advancing handwriting, by the way he is only 5. Winning this competition would be amazing as the pens from Kaweko will be kept for my son as a gift for his future, which in turn will keep the long tradition of this brand going by handing it down through the generations just like the owner of Kaweko with his family.

  • Dries B 17 January 2015
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    Conway Stewart is one of those brands I'd love to see revived. Their repuatation as a pen manufacturer was impeccable! Sadly I didn't get to buy a pen from them before they went into administration recently.

  • Michael B 17 January 2015
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    To add to my previous comment, Penkala's company logo, with the the side profile comic sketch of Slavoljub Penkala himself with fountain pens stuck behind each oversized ear is just too cool to let fade away into history.

  • Michael B 17 January 2015
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    Slavoljub Penkala, the best of the wildly inventive Yugoslavian pen manufacturers of the early 20th century. With today's refined modern chemistry and super inks, it's high time someone revivied Penkala's 'solid-ink' fountain pens.

  • Jakki A 16 January 2015
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    I would love to see the return of Concorde - such an elegant bird like plane that used to fly over where we lived on a regular basis and always looked so beautiful. The Air France Concorde disaster was a tragic event, but with the knowledge we now have Concorde would be able to take to the skies far more safely and soar again.

  • Sue H 16 January 2015
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    I learnt calligraphy at school in the late 1950s. I would bring back calligraphy classes for all school children. Essential now as the computer rules and they all type mostly at school and home. The jou of beautiful writing with fine pens on smooth paper is something the writer and the reader can enjoy. I have even made pens from bamboo with nibs of bits of coke cans. I still continue with only peripheral vision working but would love to share the joy of calligraphy with others. My granddaughter at 9 has her own set.

  • janine a 16 January 2015
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    I miss Woolworths. They sold a bit of allsorts and I loved having a browse

  • Alison P 16 January 2015
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    Honestly, if I could think of a brand, probably Opal Fruits. I know we have starburst now, but Opal Fruits take me back every time. But if it's not brand specific, I'd love to see the revival of handwriting in the school curriculum. I know a lot of kids hate it, but let's face it, we all look back and some point and wish we'd done this or that. It'd also give kids a chance to try out things like fountain pens and give them time to find writing techniques that suit them. Who knows, could lead to some improvements academically, and if not, at least they'll have better handwriting!

  • Tim P 16 January 2015
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    The Vauxhall (Opel) Cavalier...... My first car. I could fit three bikes, three people and three loads of kit in that car, amazing. Somehow it was the nicest car for holding my girlfriends hand whilst stopped at the traffic lights, not sure why. My girlfriend soon became my wife, and it would be lovely to just drive that car with her again. Many happy trips in that car.

  • John B 16 January 2015
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    I would like to see more done toward encouraging long-form fountain pen writing. Scribes did not have fountain pens; they had dedication, determination and time. A reversal to fewer printed books is currently underway. For authors, writers, this need not be a totally negative thing: self-publishing can attest to this—so how about self-writing publishing. Book-blanks would aid this and more especially in paper-stock that eliminates bleedthrough from artwork etc. Just saying.. this is a great idea and I wish participants and organisers all the very best over 2015.

  • Brendan Johan L 15 January 2015
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    I really want to get my hands on a symbolics lisp machine. Lisp machines and specifically from symbolics should rise from the dead. Lisp is the ultimate geeky programming language. Hacking away in lisp on a nice clicky mechanical keyboard (hmm ibm model m should make a return as well) is up there with writing with a smooth fountain pen or doing calligraphy abs illumination.

  • Martin R 15 January 2015
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    I would bring back the White Star Line. Rebuild the Titanic along with her sisters the Brittanic and Olympic. It would be a wondrous thing to see or even experience steaming across the Atlantic and finishing the voyage that was always planned. It could occupy the maritime niche that the Orient Express fills for railway.

  • Emma S 15 January 2015
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    Mine is not so much a brand but more a product. I would desperately love to see the return of Terry's Neopolitans OR McVities Tunis Cake. Both are dear to my heart and remind me of childhood Christmases of long ago with my wonderful Grandparents. My Grandma would always buys a tunis cake and my Grandad always had neapolitans. I remembers starting of hating all of the flavours other than milk chocolate but over the years I grew to love them all....especially the mocha flavour. Just thinking about them makes my mouth water and takes me back to my Grandparents sitting room......I can picture the wallpaper, the sofa, the fire, the bookcase.....and most of all I can picture my amazing Grandparents.

  • Alison W 15 January 2015
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    I would really love to be able to get a Grifter Bike! I know it sounds strange, but I am female, and it was really out of sorts for a girl to have a Grifter bike, it was also the pre-cursor to the BMX. So a real trailblazer. It was a great study bike and so much better than the Chopper and I had the limited edition Blue one!

  • Allan E 14 January 2015
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    Woolworths. Seriously: don't you remember pick'n'mix? "Woolies" was an iconic British high-street retailer that sold almost anything in large shambolic stores. They were a feature of most British cities for 99 years before they went into administration in late 2008.

  • Tony P 14 January 2015
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    I would love to see the return of TROPEN. My favourite and most reliable fountain pen of all time, and the ballpoint I keep going back to after the current favourite dies, gets borrowed and not returned, or otherwise goes AWOL, are both from Tropen. Why is it that the brands I love are always those that get discontinued? Perhaps it's that they're so good, people don't have to keep buying replacements all the time.

  • Nick P 14 January 2015
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    OK, I'm not going for anything pen or stationery related. My choice would be Morris Motors and, in particular the Morris Minor. In this day and age, when the VW Beetle and the Mini have had makeovers, why not the Minor? I have owned three Morris Travellers in the past: nothing drove like them, sounded like them, or even smelt like them! And let's face it, what could be more quintessentially English than a half-timbered car?

  • David K 13 January 2015
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    Bring back Punch! Dentists' waiting rooms have never been the same since it folded.

  • Janice C 13 January 2015
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    I'd love to see Burnham pens again especially the lovely maroon marbled one - I had one when I was twelve but while I was at school someone made off with my pencil case. (I'm sixty-three now and still have a 'thing' about pens and other stationery items!)

  • malcolm c 13 January 2015
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    Its got to be SPANGLES , they remind me of school and the old art room and the smell of art inks in the old butler sink.

  • Michael W 13 January 2015
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    I'd love to see the excellent Conklin 26p flexible nib fountain pen revived because you cannot buy such a pen from any manufacturer whatsoever nowadays. With it truly characterful copperplate script is possible & the most expressive pen drawing imaginable.

  • Nick P 13 January 2015
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    It would be great to have Spangles back. They were the perfect hard boiled sweet; square, bi-concave and fabulously tasty. Although I'd love to see any type of Spangle, my personal favourite was the Old English variety. Ah, the taste of childhood...

  • Isabel W 13 January 2015
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    I miss quarto sized paper but not so much the foolscap. I would love to see quarto reintroduceds that you can can write on with a fountain pen and it not bleed, feather or the writing be seen on the reverse.

  • Michael J 13 January 2015
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    I would love to see STRAND MAGAZINE renewed. It was a source of much excellent writing, and at a time when short stories are growing in popularity, this would be a great revival. Perhaps the next Conan Doyle or Wilde could be discovered between the sheets of a New Strand!

  • Calum T 13 January 2015
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    I'd love to see the Stylomine brand revived with the 303 pen. I really like accordion fillers and Stylomine made high quality and attractive pens.

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