You'd be forgiven for not being overly familiar with the German company Cleo Skribent. Unless we were to mention the Messograf, that is, the original tool pen. Then - at least for some of you - there might be a lightbulb moment. But the thing is, they do so much more than just the Messograf!
In this 'Meet the Brand' blog, we'll fill you in a bit more on a brand that looks a little like it might be hiding its light under a bushel or two. And what better time to do it than the year that marks their 75th anniversary?
Cleo Skribent has its roots very firmly entrenched in Bad Wilsnack in the district of Prignitz. The company is a vital part of the local economy and for many of their employees it's not just a job, it's actually a family tradition, with skills being handed down from one generation to the next. Their pens are entirely 'made in Germany', a phrase that has become synonymous with something that has not only been well made but built to last. The pens are crafted and hand-finished rather than processed through an anonymous production line, and Cleo successfully combines these traditional skills with finely-tuned modern technology to create sustainable pens that will last a lifetime, and be just as beautiful in their dotage as in their youth.
Their roots were first planted in 1945 by Herbert Wurach, a mechanical engineer from Berlin. The original company made metal components for writing instruments, soldiering on despite post-war shortages of raw materials. Fuelled by the emergence onto the general market of the newly-invented ballpoint pen, the company started making its own writing instruments: the first in-house pen was called 'Cleopatra', inspiring the eventual name of the company itself. They focused their efforts on top quality craftsmanship and obsessive attention to detail, traits that would bear Cleo successfully through the challenges of the next 75 years.
In October 1956 socialism came to town and with it, an overnight transferral for Cleo into public ownership. This led to a massive increase in production: during the early 1960s, more than 600,000 writing instruments were manufactured every year, and this culminated in 1964 when the 'Skribent' was developed. This was a technical drawing pen and proved to be an enormous hit: Cleo very quickly became one of the world's biggest manufacturers of technical pens and the only one in the Eastern bloc. Until the advent of the Skribent, all technical pens were imported - and now Cleo was exporting theirs halfway around the world and the workforce was struggling to keep up! Quite a coup.
The collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent reunification of Germany meant further changes for Cleo. In order to keep the company going, the difficult decision was made to reduce the workforce to just 45 people. But the skills of that workforce - in addition to easier access to materials such as precious resin, gold, silver and palladium - ensured the company's future. At the beginning of the 1990s, after a period of 30 years, Wolfgang Weiss and Peter Winter completed a management buyout and once again, Cleo was a family-owned company.
The 21st century began as it turned out to go on: with a great deal of success. Their premises grew with the acquisition of two new buildings, and Johannes Rau, the then German President, visited in 2004 and proceeded to fall in love with the Cleo Skribrent Primus pen. In 2007 Peter Winter retired and now brother and sister team Anja Weber and Mathias Weiss are leading the charge towards continued success.
75 years ago, the company that eventually became known as Cleo Skribent was poking a brave head up out of the deprivations of post-war Germany. It survived shortages, socialism and reconciliation but recognised - and grabbed - opportunities when it saw them. It is now firmly established as one of Germany's most respected pen companies. 'We are today what we already were 75 years ago,' say Anja and Mathias, 'down-to-earth, precise, reliable… We look forward to everything that is coming. What exactly the future brings, only time will tell.'