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School’s Back!

Posted by Dirck on 4 September, 2013

Did anyone here ever have a teacher who expected some kind of intricate homework only moments after the start of the school year?  I should mention that the provincial government here pushed that start back to the day after Labour Day, apparently believing this would get them more votes (from whom does not appear), without amending the requirement for in-class hours, with the result that my son’s Kindergarten begins at 8:57 each day rather than the traditional 9:00.  We are only just back to school, here.

ANYWAY, I find that I was never lumbered with that particular form of devilishness in a teacher, and perhaps as a propitiation of the Fates to keep such a thing from my son’s neck, I bring forth a book report.  It is, I think, not a book likely to appear on a summer reading list for any normal person:

I'm apparently not alone in thinking that striated green is inherently Pelikan-esque.

I’m apparently not alone in thinking that particular striated green is inherently Pelikan-esque.

Pelikan, The Brand by Dr. Detmar Schäfer (2013, Leuehagen & Paris, english translation by Anthony Mellor-Stapelberg)

I am not a big fan of the current notion of branding; hanging logos off of absolutely everything in hopes of inducing more people to pay for the privilege of acting as slightly more comfortable sandwich-board men.  It is thus odd that I should willingly pay money for a book which traces the development of a brand’s iconography.  There’s a few elements that make this comprehensible.  First and most obviously, there’s pens involved; I’ll put up with a lot of discomfort for pen minutiae.  There is also the fact that the brand in question is extremely long-lived, and I can thus sublimate my distaste for advertising in my interest in history, which does extend to art even as it appears in ads.  Finally, while I strive mightily to not have to sit through any adverts, I find it useful to be media-literate enough to understand what’s being done to me when I can’t avoid them.

This book is one of Pelikan’s own making, released to celebrate the company’s 175th anniversary.  As the heraldry-connected iconography didn’t appear until after Carl Hornemann sold the enterprise to Günther Wagner, this connection is slightly tenuous, although Hornemann does appear in the early pages.  Once Wagner takes over, the pelican appears pretty shortly, and the main story of this book, in as much as it has one, is the slow evolution of the original 1873-registered nest of waterfowl, which was depicted in an interesting combination of period-contextual realism and traditional heraldic depiction, into the modern outline we now know.  Actually, there are two stories here, as there is also the distinctive broad-lettered company name which had its own life for much of the company’s history– letters and picture were not officially bound together into a single logo until surprisingly recently.

“Surprisingly” is a word that I would use pretty frequently in connection with a book of this sort.  There is some surprisingly saucy stuff appearing around 1910; apparently using the unclad human form was not a problem for advertising at that time, at least as regarded arts supplies.  One finds a surprisingly diverse range of styles of art in the advertising; the brand recognition strategies of today were apparently not something that troubled Pelikan for about the first third of the 20th Century.  The current, or at least nearly-current form of the pictoral logo was settled upon surprisingly early, and has been tinkered with surprisingly little.  One of the few points at which one is not surprised is that things were rather less festive once the Nazis took over.

From the standpoint of a pen scholar, this is not a great resource– there’s a little bit about Pelikanos that holds some interest, some pen ads from 1970 that have a little juice in them if one squeezes hard enough, and a very few images of the earliest Pelikan pens that are fun to look at, but the vexing consistency of the logos means that they are of very limited use in settling the age of any given pen.  It is rather more of value for a fan of the company specifically, and I imagine someone whose interests truly lie in the direction of comparative advertising art would be delighted with it– I’m a mere dillettanto in that direction, and I though it was fascinating.  The only weakness I can point to in the content is a very occasional stumble in the translation, a point at which some idiom not available to English forced a bit of inelegant scraping around for a phrase that doesn’t quite sit, or renders the syntax a little shaky.  For the lumbering monoglot anglophone (a club I’m in), these tiny rough patches are more than made up for by the generally elegant whole in a comprehensible language.

Taking a technical view of the book’s construction, it is about as good as a modern mass-production book can be.  Sewn construction, in the modern sense, which means it’s a good idea to exercise the spine before reading but also means it’s not likely to shed pages without being offered abuse, with heavy laid endpapers (which would probably take a birthday inscription from a big wet Pelikan quite nicely).  It’s what we might call a petite coffee table book; big enough for the pictures to have good detail without being a serious work-out for the reader.  The four colour printing has brought with it an awful lot of the smell of the presses, and I suspect it will be some time before it airs out fully– asthmatic fans of promotional imagery take note.

One thing about the purchase of this book really gets up my nose and lays eggs.  It is only available via Amazon; no amount of ISBN numbers would allow my local real-world bookstore (a national concern, no mere mom and pop) to order it in.  I feel a little morally greasy after the transaction.  This is, of course, a subjective appreciation of the event.

Today’s pen: Sheaffer Imperial IV
Today’s ink: Herbin Poussière de Lune

On a topic related only tangentially, a UK-based pen seller is hosting a colouring competition for the back-to-school crowd.  The prize is a cluster of Lamy pens, the idea being to share them with the winner’s classmates (they’re limiting themselves to promising 35 pens, which is pretty liberal and well above the ideal teacher/student ratio).  I believe my nipper will be participating.

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2 Responses to “School’s Back!”

  1. I haven’t seen this book yet marking the 175th anniversary year of Pelikan although I have heard talk that there is on floating around with one of our suppliers. I’ll be making a note now to ask about it. Thank you so much for giving our back to school competition a mention 🙂

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