Pelikan is a well-known brand around most of the world, but what you know them for may vary. To many in the UK, they're best known for their luxury Souverän fountain pens - luxurious, yes, but also reliable workhorse fountain pens for daily use. Across much of the rest of Europe, they make the products children grow up using at school, from their first paints to their sturdy fountain pens in bright colourful plastics.
Way back in 1832, a chemist named Carl Hornemann started making his own inks, though Pelikan itself doesn't start counting the years until 1838 when Carl produced his first price lists - the beginnings of the company that became Pelikan. After a few years, he was doing well enough to move production to a his own premises in Hanover, to build up the business. The future of Pelikan was ensured when Carl employed Günther Wagner as a chemist and plant manager.
Günther had bigger ambitions for the company, and in 1871 he took over, followed a few years later with registering his family emblem as the company logo - the emblem showed a pelican. When he produced watercolour paints in 1873, he marked them with a drawing of a pelican in a nest, with chicks - the first appearance of the Pelikan logo.
The company began international expansion through the rest of the century. 1901 saw the release of their 4001 ink, still one of the most popular fountain pen inks available. They celebrated their 75th anniversary in 1913, with over 1,000 employees.
It wasn't until 1929 that Pelikan produced their first fountain pen - they weren't *quick* to get into the fountain pen business, but when they did, they did it *well*. It used a differential piston mechanism, making it reliable and easy to fill, with a good ink capacity. A viewing window made it easy to check how much ink was left so you wouldn't run out unexpectedly. While most other companies at the time experimented with all sorts of different designs and mechanisms, Pelikan took the time to get it right from the start.
By their 100th anniversary, they had 3,700 employees, and a very successful range of products from school paint sets to some of the most reliable fountain pens available. In 1950, the Model 400 fountain pen introduced the now famous striped barrels, with translucent gaps between the stripes offering a view of the ink and the piston. Practical and beautiful.
Their ink eradicator pens were very convenient ways to erase washable fountain pen inks, and were very popular with schools. Perhaps the best thing about them was their names. They began as the Tintentiger, then were renamed Tintenblitz, before finally becoming the Super-Pirat. It seems almost wasteful that one simple product should have used three of the best product names ever thought up!
Pelikan today still produce many of the same product lines they have for many years. Their Souverän and Tradition fountain pens are still going strong, with a series of limited edition versions joining the line-up since 1993. The Pelican school fountain pen launched in 1960, and has been kept fresh with the occasional redesign keeping it stylish enough that young people will *want* to use it. Their inks and paints are as popular as ever, with the Edelstein range adding some more luxurious inks to the basic 4001 range.
While manufacturing happens all over the world now, Pelikan are still very much centred around Hanover, with their main factory just outside. From the most basic to the highest luxury, Pelikan products are still the finest in German manufacturing, but they couple this with a little more style than many others. The Souverän may be a luxury fountain pen that looks perfectly at home in the boardroom, but the colourful stripes and beak-shaped clip give it a touch of whimsy. Meanwhile, their stylish school pens are just as solid and reliable.
1 June 2021