German pen manufactures

German pen manufactures

Economic environment

Middle Europe became one of the most successful economies in the 19th century. The success was driven by enormous growth of population, good level of education and strong industrial growth until the end of the 19th century. An additional factor was the unification of more than 100 German states to the "Deutsches Reich". Borders/border barriers and customs were removed. Prussia and Austria already had a perfectly working administrative structure and a highly developed industrial production especially for military and agricultural machinery. Due to the elimination of borders the commercial transport increased tremendously. The enormous growth of population and the good level of education in all levels of society provided well trained and cheap labour. The growing demand for industrial goods especially with the eastern neighbours could easily be satisfied without competition due to the historical good trade relations and good infrastructure. The banks, most of them of German origin, were already acting globally and provided the necessary funds to finance this exceptional growth. Industrial products of high quality were successfully exported worldwide. To protect their economy many surrounding countries set up restrictions. Great Britain demanded German imports to be marked "Made in Germany", but the result was not like expected. Because of the superior quality of the German products "Made in Germany" became a worldwide bestseller instead. The same applied to the products of the now Czech region. In the thirties Czechoslovakia was among the ten biggest industrial nations (before Italy) worldwide. "Made in Bohemia" was a mark of distinction/quality like "Made in Germany". At the end of the 19th century more than 55 million people were living in Germany (65 million by 1914). Growth of population was 30% higher than in France or England and Germany was turning into the second biggest industrial nation behind the USA.

The strong economic growth needed secure, traceable and documented information everywhere. Governments and banks established accounting and tax rules. The traffic of goods was documented from order to delivery. Administrative structures of thousands of officials regulated and controlled this growth process, so the government could participate in this success.

All documentation was performed using pencil, ink, pen and paper. Pencil or ink was used depending on the requirements. This was the basis for the economic rise of the Nürnberg pencil manufacturers FABER, STAEDLER, LYRA, SCHWAN or MARS to world's leading producers. However, the pencil was not indelible and therefore not allowed for official documents.

The beginning

The development of the industrial production of nibs and pens ran parallel to the global industrial development. The biggest manufacturers of steel nibs emerged in England in the middle of the 19th century. The process was split into single steps which were successively executed by means of machines, thus being one of the first industrial mass productions. This new kind of production was an example for the production of many other goods. For a long time England was the biggest producer and exporter of steel nibs worldwide. Companies like PERRY soon employed more than 1.000 workers. Around 1850 GILOT, the market leader in England, produced 180 million steel nibs per year. For a long time the English produced the best quality. The most important feature along with the writing characteristics was the resistance to acid and corrosion. Many alloys were just developed for that purpose. Soon production was also set up in France, Germany and the USA. Especially the German companies BRAUSE, HEINZE & BLANKERTZ and SOENNECKEN could produce a similar quality. But German steel nibs were scarcely exported as the internal market absorbed almost all of them.



One of the biggest challenge next to the corrosion resistance was the development of a writing instrument with an ink container, that spared the immersion of the nib in ink. The first patents date back to the 17th century and show multiple approaches to solve the problem. The most successful was L.E.WATERMAN, who sold pens after his patent in the USA in 1880. He was followed by PARKER 1886, in England by ONOTO 1888 and SWAN 1897, in Germany by SOENNECKEN 1889, KLIO 1893, J.FABER and SIEBER & LÖWEN (MATATDOR) 1895, KAWECO 1896, in Croatia by PENKALA 1899 and many more. Until 1900 there existed more than 30 fountain pen manufacturers, growing fast due to high demand.

In addition to their own brand the manufacturers also imprinted a large part of their production with the brand of the purchaser. Many well known pencil manufacturers like STAEDLER and A.W.FABER included fountain pens in their range, which they ordered from MONTBLANC or KAWECO. Well organized stationary dealers sold everything you needed for the office. The SOENNECKEN catalogue at the time showed more than 1000 different office supplies. 1912 the stationary magazine "Der Papierhändler" had a circulation of 10 000 copies. 1908 the SIMPLO FILLER PEN CO. was founded in Hamburg and later became the leading manufacturer under the brand name MONTBLANC.

Fountain pen production was a very successful business. In the times of prosperity growth from the late 19th century it was until World War I a status symbol of progress and wealth. The price of a good fountain pen with gold nib was 10 – 25 Reichsmark according to size. That equaled half month's wages of an industrial worker. But nearly no manufacturer had any difficulties. The market absorbed any raise in production. The biggest manufacturers next to the USA were England and Germany. There were also manufacturers in France, Italy, Japan and Croatia. Export was important, German manufacturers sold everywhere in Europe, especially in the South and the East. Probably more than a million fountain pens per year were sold in Germany. In the meantime the pen advertising showed first signs of a general European war sentiment. A significant lot of advertising was explicitly related to soldiers and armed forces. Despite the beginning of World War I fountain pens sold well during the first year. Letters had to be written to the soldiers and some companies like MONTBLANC offered special products for soldiers like the SIMPLO-Patrone. During the war many companies manufactured war-related products along with the pens like detonators or components for weapons. At the end of the war the market for fountain pens had collapsed. The economy was down and securing the daily food was more important.

Between World War I and World War II

Despite the severe economic difficulties in Germany after the end of World War I the sales of writing equipment rose considerably again. The production facilities had not been destroyed by the war and the old trade relations and the administrative structures were still intact. The huge reparation payments, the loss of land and the economic and military limitations imposed by the Versailles treaty as well as the import blockade by the British ensured a massive impoverishment of the population in the early postwar years. It is said that more than 500 000 people died of starvation during that period in Germany. However much had to be written and documented again. The great demand led to a considerable number of start-ups: OSMIA 1919, ASTORIA 1921, LUXOR, UHU, HARO 1926, ROTRING 1928 etc. Compared to England and France the wages were much lower, so German manufacturers exported high quality writing instruments successfully at reasonable prices again. Apart from PENKALA in Croatia and some smaller Italian companies Pan-Eastern Europe and most of southern Europe was supplied almost exclusively with German products. English, French or American manufacturers had no access to these large markets, or were simply too expensive. But American and British manufacturers also had no great interest in these markets. The strong U.S. domestic market as well as the good trade relations to Central and South America ensured successful years for American producers. At times, there were well over 50 fountain pen manufacturers in the U.S. and over 20 million pens should have been sold.

The leading companies were PARKER, WATERMAN, SHEAFFER and WAHL-EVERSHARP. In England SWAN, CONWAY STEWART, WYVERN and ONOTO were very successful because of their global trade network. Outside Europe German companies with a few exceptions like FABER in the U.S. played no role. Rather, the initial successes were greatly hampered by the inflation in Germany in 1923. The cause was the extremely high reparation payments which had been established in 1920 to 269 billion gold marks payable over 42 years. This corresponds to a present value of 1,400 billion Euros. In fact, for decades more than 60 billion gold marks were paid. The government had much less income than expenses because of the enormous reparation payments and began to print money massively.

The value of money fell daily. On January 31, 1922 one Dollar equaled 199 Reichsmarks. On November 15, 1923 one Dollar equaled Reichsmark. During this time, the traditional monetary transactions came to a complete standstill. All receipts were issued immediately, e.g. for advertising. The former superintendent of MONTBLANC had the newly printed banknotes flown from Berlin to Hamburg, so that employees could spend the money as early as possible before the rail transport arrived and the money had been cut in half again in value. This is also the reason why there are nearly no price lists or catalogs of writing instruments from this period as the prices changed daily. Often swap transactions were carried out as a substitute.


Great Depression

Inflation was stopped by a currency reform in consultation with the Allies in November 1923. An economically ruined German Reich would have dragged France and England that were heavily indebted in dollars into the abyss, and thus damaged the United States severely. In addition the Allies regarded Germany as the most important protection against socialist Russia,, which had become the biggest enemy of global capital by its policy of expropriation. Germany had lost World War I but was too important for the even then politically influential financial markets to be left to just fall. The Reichsmark, initially introduced as Rentenmark, again had the exchange rate to the U.S. dollar as of 1914. Germany returned to a predictable normality. The writing instrument industry in Germany developed a variety of new products and marketing concepts. The main impetus for this came from America, where the producers had developed their products free from world war and inflation. Thus, the mechanical pencil, developed in the USA, was introduced with own patents in Germany successfully. In 1924 the marketing concept "MASTERPIECE" by MONTBLANC with a lifetime guarantee was first offered. New materials such as colored DPN and celluloid, that had been developed further by the U.S. company DUPONT, for the first time allowed unlimited colors. The annual production of fountain pens in Germany reached more than 5 million pieces. Osmia was now the leading company in Germany and in 1929 PELIKAN joined the market with its pioneering and sophisticated piston filler Nr. 100. The "Roaring Twenties" made for a short, strong economic recovery.


About 20 billion Reichsmarks in foreign loans were transferred at attractive interest rates to Germany. In particular, U.S. companies tried to get access to the European market by direct investment in Germany. FORD opened a branch office in Berlin and built a factory in Cologne in 1929, GENERAL MOTORS bought OPEL, Germany's largest carmaker, in 1929 and PARKER took over the market leader OSMIA in 1928. How vulnerable and dependent the worldwide economy was of secured capital flows showed the global economic crisis with the "black Friday" in October 1929. The bursting of a speculative bubble in the United States caused by strong global under-funded banks and short-term cancellable credit structures led to an uncontrollable chain reaction. They tried to cover the massive losses on Wall Street with the return of short term loans especially from Germany. It was not enough. The result meant a decline in industrial production in the U.S. and Germany by about 40%. In 1932 there were 6 million people unemployed in Germany. Almost all producers of writing instruments wrote red numbers and some did not survive this new crisis. ASTORIA was sold to MONTBLANC, JOHANN FARBER to A.W.FABER, PARKER sold OSMIA.

As a result of the world economic crisis the gold standard was abolished and there was more room to adjust the currency to the own economic performance. Roosevelt supported the American economy through the "New Deal". The thus regained confidence in the economy made the capital for investment and loans flow again.

Also Germany benefited significantly. The apparent stability, which was built by the new government of the NSDAP in Germany, attracted strong inflow of capital especially from the U.S. strong economic ties like STANDARD OIL (USA), at that time the world's largest company, with the German IG FARBEN (No. 4 on the world market), were politically desired. The German government thus secured very skillfully diverse sources of raw materials in order to best prepare for a future war and the U.S. an armed partner who was in the position to possibly defeat the socialist Russia in a military conflict. 1934 began the German rearmament, funded by an obscure financing system of the Nazis and strongly supported by American financiers. It were successful years for the German writing instruments industry. One could ship with almost no competition to Eastern and Southern Europe and the demand in the domestic market increased by the rising prosperity.


World War II

At first the beginning of the Second World War had no influence on the success of the German writing instrument industry. The traditional export markets were still good customers and because of the supposedly good economic situation in Germany the sales were going well. 1940/41 first defense contracts were settled. In 1942 MONTBLANC still scored two third of the writing instruments' sales through export. Even in 1943 the sales were still on pre-war levels. Only by limiting regulations of the Reichsminister of Economics in 1942, by shortage of raw materials as well as war damage by bombing the sales went down considerably in 1943/1944. According to the regulations only black pens in two versions were still allowed to be produced, trim rings on the cap were only allowed for export, gold nibs could no longer be used since 1939. In order not to lose export markets several manufacturers such as MONTBLANC upgraded some of its local branch offices with tools, parts and materials in order to independently sell products. There then series were manufactured that were partly different in color and form. From 1944, most of the writing instrument manufacturers only produced war-related products and writing instruments in accordance with the regulations.


Post-war period

After the war, the manufacturers tried to start a normal production again. They processed what of material was still available. Lucky ones got material from the old supplier. Thus, a variety of motley color and shape rarities emerged. From 1948 a normal production was possible again. Most manufacturers of writing instruments had survived World War II. The large but slow dying of the manufacturers only began in the late fifties with the appearance of the ballpoint and lasted into the 90s. Most manufacturers first shifted production: SOENNECKEN and KLIO focused on office furniture, HARO on paper goods, GEHA, taken over by PELIKAN, on office supplies, OSMIA in the possession of FABER CASTELL was no longer used as a brand name, MATADOR shut down in 1973, KAWECO closed in 1981, and FEND ceased production in 1993.