Tag Archives: Pelikan ink

Pen Ads before Madison Avenue

What on earth is this old Pelikan ink ad trying to convey in its message. Write with bird vomit? We strangle birds so you can write? Ah, the joys of marketing before Madison Avenue.

Germans might have mastered marketing luxury items in this day and age…look no further than Montblanc, Mercedes and BMW…but the early days weren’t quite as refined.

Quite possibly my favorite pen or ink ad of all time is this one from Pelikan.

What on earth is the message they are trying to convey?

Fill you pen with bird vomit…? Or, we strangle birds so you can write…?

The text of the ad translates to read, “Pelikan-Ink” Gunther Wagner is the man who took over the company in 1871. Below his name are the cities Hanover (where Pelikan was founded, which the Germans spell with two n’s) and Vienna, which is spelled Wien in German.

While we’re questioning everything about the ad, why is there a naked boy riding the bird? And of all things, why is he wearing an oversized hat? Why not some lederhosen? Please, put on some lederhosen!

Given the American euphemism of self gratification known as “choking the chicken,” we grow even more disturbed by this ad.

Sanford Ink: A Brief History

If you troll the antique stores of America searching for great deals on vintage pens, you cannot help but come upon those seemingly ubiquitous small pressed glass ink bottles by Sanford. They have myriad colored caps. Maybe you run into the Sanford Pen It inkwells and towers.

The Sanford Ink Company is one of the oldest ink companies in the world that is still in operation. They made many colors of fountain pen inks since 1857, and they invented the Sharpie in 1964! This Sanford Ink display is a metal carousel that is most likely from the late 1940s or early 1950s.

The Sanford Ink Company is one of the oldest ink companies in the world that is still in operation. They made many colors of fountain pen inks since 1857, and they invented the Sharpie in 1964! This Sanford Ink display is a metal carousel that is most likely from the late 1940s or early 1950s.

The more I found, the more I asked: Who and what was the Sanford Ink Company? Why aren’t they still around? Did their ink perform so terribly that they went out of business…just not before making billions of bottles of ink to litter our antique malls?

My ignorance got the better of me a few months ago when I was asked to sell a display carousel of those little cubed 1oz ink bottles. It had close to a dozen different colors on an aluminum spinner that appeared to be straight out of the late 1940s or early 1950s. I finally had to breakdown and research the company if I had any prayer of selling this thing. It was perhaps my happiest discovery about the ink world this year.

Sanford inks didn’t suck. They are so good that they are still the bestselling in America today. They just don’t sell fountain pen ink any more. You will better know their universally famous product: the Sharpie Marker. With its nearly indestructible permanent black ink markers and other colors, Sharpie is in nearly every home and office.

The Sanford story is actually a very interesting one. Sanford dates all the way back to 1857, before the Civil War. They made ink and glue in Massachusetts before moving to Chicago in 1866, just 5 years before the great fire burned the city to the ground. Sanford actually survived the tragic fire only to be burned down by another blaze a very short while later. The company rebuilt and became one of America’s largest ink manufacturers and suppliers by the end of the Great Depression. The only ink company we know that has been in the game longer is Pelikan, which got its start in Hanover, Germany, in 1838.

The Sharpie marker can write on most any surface with a permanent ink. This older Sharpie still shows the Sanford coporate logo.

The Sharpie marker can write on most any surface with a permanent ink. This older Sharpie still shows the Sanford coporate logo.

The invention of the ballpoint pen during the 1940s spelled doom for the fountain pen (and ink) industry. By the 1960s, the Sanford Ink Company was looking to emerging markets to find a new product to keep the company afloat. The Sharpie marker was born in 1964—50 years ago this year! It could write on glass, paper, rocks, just about any surface. It was quickly endorsed by late night talk show comedians Johnny Carson and Jack Paar.

These days it is the “pen” of choice by many star athletes and performers for signing autographs on everything from footballs to glossy photos. Roughly 200 million markers are made every year, according to the Sharpie website.

In a bizarre twist of pen fate, Sanford was bought by Newell Rubbermaid in 1992. Newell Rubbermaid also owns the brands: Parker, Waterman and PaperMate. So, in a sense, Sanford has never fully left the fountain pen ink business. It is now owned by the same people who own what would have been some of Sanford’s greatest competitors 60 years ago.