There's really only one word for e+m's products, and that word is 'gorgeous'. Yes, they make pens, and we at Cult Pens like pens, which is why we sell them, and I suppose we're biased, but the pens (and everything else) from e+m are just, well, gorgeous.
They're made of wood, for a start. And that's not just the pencils, which you'd expect to be made of wood. Their pens are, too, and their rulers, and their pencil sharpeners, and the delightfully alliterative Potbelly Pen Pot. All in all, some really lovely things to write with, draw with, and decorate your desk with.
e+m is family-owned and run, and has been ever since Konrad Ehmann opened his wood-turning workshop in Nuremberg in 1899. 'Turnery Ehmann', as it was known then, became Germany's leading manufacturer of nib holders, producing over 10,000 different types for an eager international market. The end of the Second World War, however, also saw the end of production, and for more than thirty years the workshop's output was confined to things like wooden handles, hooks and parts for toys.
Then in 1983 Konrad's great grandson, Wolfram Mümmler, decided to take a punt and re-launch the production of writing implements: wooden ones, of course. First out the door was a ballpoint pen similar to the company's current 'Condor', and proved so popular that Wolfram - if he needed any convincing - was inspired to carry on.
Something made of wood usually triggers responses such as 'Ooh, that's nice', and the burgeoning trend during the early 80s towards a 'green' ecology meant that wooden pens were far more aesthetically pleasing to the market than plastic offerings. Wolfram wanted to reinforce this by ensuring that his products not only looked natural, but came to be that way because of environmentally-friendly resourcing and traditional, energy-efficient methods of manufacture. In a nutshell, he wanted to present the whole package: beautiful, individually-crafted writing implements using natural, responsibly-sourced materials.
And that's exactly what he's done. In 2003, Wolfram became the sole owner of the company, which has been based in Neumarkt since 1912. He renamed it 'e+m Holzprodukte': the 'e' is for Ehmann, the 'm' is for Mümmler (and for those of you who don't speak German, 'holzprodukte' means 'wood products'). The company has been going from strength to strength ever since, and has now earned a place in the German Manufacturers' Guide 2015, which lists the best manufacturing companies in Germany.
Wood, of course, is e+m's mainstay. The company uses more than twenty different types, including copper beech, oak and sycamore, which enables them to offer a constantly-evolving range of grains and natural colour variations within their products. The vast majority of the raw materials comes from Europe, but working with their own domestic species - including precious woods such as pear, wild cherry and walnut - is what e+m prefers to do as much as possible. Rather wonderfully, they even have their own Bavarian beech forest situated north east of Neumarkt in the Pilsach and Labersricht regions. Not something many companies can boast about! Most of the wood they use is FSC-certified, meaning that it has been sourced from sustainable forests: their own included, of course. As well as that, the wood is allowed to dry for a minimum of two years (or, in the case of olive and mahogany, for as many as seven!), and is subjected to stringent inspections to ensure the quality that e+m insist upon.
Transforming that wood into wonderful writing instruments is a labour of love, as production is still very much based on traditional methods. Every stage, from cutting the carefully-selected woods right through to assembling the writing mechanism, is performed by master craftsmen. Traditional turning machines are used, and final surface finishing involves manually applying natural oils and waxes to protect each product and enhance its grain (and make it smell nice!) This whole process ensures that each piece - whether it's a clutch pencil, a letter opener or a pencil extender - is unique, because the wood grain and the colour of that particular piece makes it just very slightly different to every other item of its kind.
Surrounded as they are by a particularly picturesque part of Germany - the Bavarian forests - the ten-strong team at e+m admit to taking their inspiration from what's around them - and who wouldn't? As one staff member puts it: 'It is fascinating to work out shapes where the natural grain and texture of wood is coming out…' Examining the grain and determining how best to show it in a particular piece is all part of the challenge of creating the distinctive e+m products. There's no need for fancy detailing or blousy embellishment; the beauty of the wood says it all.
Though still a producer of nib holders, e+m's range these days is far more comprehensive. We at Cult Pens have stocked a number of core items for a while - the compact Workman Clutch Pencil, the cute Cube lead sharpener and the beautiful Drake ballpoint to name but three - and we are pleased to say that we've taken on board a few more gorgeous things. We have some squat, spherical Satellite Desk Pens and Twist Pencils in walnut and zebrano with ballpoints to match. e+m have branched out (if you'll pardon the pun) into using other materials just as beautiful as wood: metals such as copper and aluminium, and leather. Take a look at the Art Pencil in brass, or - to keep your (normal) pencils safe - subtle, simple pencil caps in brass or nickel. We're shortly expecting chunky, no-nonsense Graphic Clutch Pencils: you can choose from two lovely woods, or three just-as-lovely metals. Or there are luxurious leather pen cases…
Using an everyday item made of something as sensuous as wood is one of life's little luxuries, making writing and drawing even more of a pleasure than usual. Thanks to Wolfram and the team at Neumarkt, e+m are once again a significant manufacturer of excellent writing instruments. The products have just changed a bit.
14 April 2015