The Montblanc Pen Source : History







The History of Montblanc


After his business training and longer stays in England, Central America and Spain, my father, Claus Johannes Voss, returned to Germany in 1894 and began there as a partner in a wholesaling firm for handmade goods in the city of Neumünster. He eventually realized, however, that prospects for this line of business were very poor due to the rise of department stores and purchasing cooperatives. He therefore withdrew from this firm and moved with his family to Hamburg in 1899 in order to seek a new field of activity.

With a special interest in exploiting promising new products and inventions, he first encountered a number of hard and costly setbacks before meeting two men recently returned from the USA who had the know-how and basic facilities required for the manufacture of filler pens. These two, the businessman Alfred Nehemias and engineer August Eberstein, were already operating a firm with a small workshop and the financial backing of interested stationery dealers for the purpose of introducing these filler pens in Berlin.

The stationery dealers, however, were not willing to bear increased risks and provide sufficient funds and consequently withdrew from the project. Mr. Nehemias, who did not wish to give up but had no capital of his own, was then introduced by a friend to my father and sought to win him over as an investor and partner in a new firm.

I still clearly remember the evening (I was twelve years old) when my father came home and gave my mother and me our first look at a filler pen and enthusiastically remarked, "I think this product has a great future."

He did not have sufficient financial resources himself, however, to make a go of it with Messrs. Nehemias and Eberstein alone and thus found in his circle of acquaintances a further investor in Max Koch. A banker by profession, Mr. Koch was seeking an opportunity for self-employment with the aid of a sizeable inheritance.

A contract was made. My father and Mr. Koch agreed to invest 50,000 reichsmarks each in the new firm. Messrs. Nehemias and Eberstein were to provide the technical facilities and existing patens and design copyrights. Moreover, Mr. Koch guaranteed a further contribution of 50,000 reichsmarks at the end of the first half a year.

Founding and early years

In March 1908, the time had come. the firm Simplo Filler Pen Co. was officially founded (the name Simplo probably derived from the word simple). According to the contract, the managing partners were Mr. Nehemias, Mr. Koch and Mr. Eberstein, while my father remained a silent partner at first.

The firm rented a floor in a building known as the Industriepalast located in Caffamacherreihe, where Mr. Eberstein set Up a workshop with one master craftsman, a dozen lathe operators and ten women. In addition to an office, here my father and Mr. Koch sat, there was another small room for a clerk and a secretary.

Duties in the firm were divided so that Mr. Nehemias was to handle sales, including exports. He was very well-versed in the stationery business and had good contacts abroad, especially in Paris. My father was responsible for the firm's finances and also assisted in domestic sales. Mr. Koch was to handle office matters, and Mr. Eberstein to oversee the workshop.

After first producing only as a subcontractor, the firm then put a pen of its own on the market in early 1909. It was called Rouge et Noir. The name accorded well with the fashion of the time, since French was in vogue. The pen was made of black hard rubber, had a red cap top and featured a sliding mechanism. Gold nibs were obtained from Collins in Arnerica and Perry in England.This new product aroused great customer interest. With this technology still in its infancy, however, it showed the imperfections typical of fountain pens in those days.

Mr. Nehemias was extremely active and efficient. The first representative office was founded in Paris with Mr. Paillard. My father, who had taken responsibility for the Spanish market upon himself because he knew the language, the country and its people, subsequently established a representative office in Barcelona with Mr. Bernadias. Things were moving ahead quite well.

Unfortunately, the first difficultics arose when Mr. Koch, who had adopted a very expensive lifestyle, was unable to make the agreed further contribution of 50,000 reichsmarks. The firm lacked sufficient working capital. Having observed that Mr. Koch was also not up to his responsibilities in the operation of the firm, my father decided to seek another partner.

Christian Lausen, the brother-in-law of my father's former schoolmate Prof. Haak, thus entered the firm. Mr. Lausen was a businessman, had lived for an extended period in England and, having recently married, was seeking to settle down. He became the third investor in the firm, which had been converted into a private limited company (GmbH) in 1908.

The management now sought a complete break with Mr. Koch. Since attempts at an amiable separation had been fruitless, the matter was pursued in the courts. A question of survival for everyone involved, the fate of the company hung in the balance. I still remember well the depressed mood in our household at the time. I no longer recall how the litigation turned out, but when it was over Max Koch had to leave the company, and Mr. Lausen assumed responsibility for the office work.

The company then met with another stroke of misfortune. Mr. Nehemias suffered a sudden heart attack and died in Paris. My father was at his side in time to benefit from his last recommendation: "Mr. Voss," he said, "Never sell cheap pens, stick with high quality. "It is a principle to which Simplo has adhered ever since. With the passing of Mr. Nehemias, the company lost an extremely capable partner and also had to pay out his share of the business to his widow, who had remained here in Hamburg (she was French and intended to return to Paris).

My father had to travel a great deal at this time. After some improvements, the pens were selling well . A new sales manager was needed, however, and Wilhelm Dziambor joined the company in 1910. Mr. Dziambor was a businessman, had worked as a brand specialist for the firm Odol and more recently at the firm Rothschild, Behrens & Co., where he became well acquainted with the stationery business. He was still young and approached his tasks with great enthusiasm and new sales promotion ideas.

Unfortunately, the relationship with the production manager Mr. Eberstein deteriorated. He became unreliable as a result of the need to finance his expensive lifestyle. His debts grew, and he began to sell equipment and materials secretly for his own gain. Legal proceedings were again initiated. Before a verdict was reached, however, he disappeared with his wife and child to America, leaving behind his debts and court costs.

This put the company in a precarious situation. None of the partners was an engineer. At first, management of production was turned over to the senior employee Jonny Meyer. He did not feel up to the task, however, and soon recommended Mr. Ilgner the most capable among the staff, who was appointed production manager in 1910. This proved a very fortunate decision for the company, since Mr. Ilgner was to manage production successfully for many years.

The company had grown rapidly and new premises were urgently needed. It moved to Bartelsstrasse at the end of 1910, where first two and later three floors were rented in a building known as the Delphinhaus. Although business was going well, there was always a lack of working capital, and my father often had to seek interim financing, which caused him a good deal of worry.

The first pen to bear the Montblanc name was put on the market about this time and featured a screw mechanism. It was quite slim at first, had a solid white cap top and was produced in addition to the Rouge et Noir. The name Montblanc was hit upon at a card game involving my uncle, the industrialist Carl Schalk. When the question of an appropriate name for the new pen was raised, Mr. Schalk said, 'Why not just call it Montblanc? After all, it's also black at the bottom, white at the top and the greatest among its peers. "As I remember, my uncle received half a dozen pens every Christmas for years thereafter in gratitude.

Mr. Dziambor worked with extraordinary success and was promoted to authorized signatory in 1911. This was also the beginning of the Montblanc brand's rise, since Mr. Dziambor recognized the importance of this brand name (international and pronounceable in every language) and accordingly organized the necessary publicity for this product. The cap with the star on top was also developed at his initiative in 1914. Until that time, the star symbol had only been a registered trademark.

Recognizing the possibility of war, my father sought to make the company independent of American nib suppliers. He founded the German-American Gold Pen Co., which not only dealt in American gold nibs, but also began producing its own. At this time, Simplo already had a loyal clientele. Mr. Ilgnel continued to do well as production manager, innovations were introduced and high sales were achieved. The company had consolidated its position. We also had capable representatives abroad, with whom very personal contact was maintained. In 1913, Mr. Dziambor became a partner in the company, which was reorganized into a general partnership bearing the names of the proprietors Voss, Lausen and Dziambor.

The post World War I era

After the move from Caffamacherreihe to the Delphinhaus in Bartelsstrasse, the company rented additional space in the Tritonhaus in Schanzenstrasse and set up offices there. Mr. Dziambor went to work with great enthusiasm. An advertising department was established. Grete Gross (nicknamed Gre-Gro), a graphic designer formally educated at the Lerchenfeld College of Fine Arts, was hired to head the department. She gave our advertising an artistic touch that was strongly influenced by the Bauhaus style and accorded well with the spirit of the times.

It as time to start reestablishing our sales offices abroad. Simplo had been strongly represented and hence dependent on these markets before the war.

My husband Ernst Rösler entered the company in 1919. He had been a chief naval engineer but had to enter a civilian occupation after the German navy was dismantled. He carefully considered several offers before accepting my father's suggestion that he take over development of the company's gold nib production. After obtaining approval from the two partners and serving for a brief transitional period in our Berlin office, my husband entered the company. He was given a floor in the factory building and started to work on gold nib production (Simplo and Montblanc nibs with the star symbol). A year later, after many difficulties had been overcome, serial production of the first really usable gold nibs began.

In 1919, the Stöffhaas brothers opened the first Montblanc shop at Steindamm and later moved it to a better location at Groler Burstah. The purpose of these specialty shops was to carry only Montblanc articles, but in return they had exclusive rights and received from Simplo shop decorations, sales promotions and the necessary personnel training. They were a great advertisement for Simplo.

Our factory manager Mr. Ilgner began to feel the strain of the company's growth and also saw a rival coming up in Mr. Rösler. So, assisted by two other men, he decided to establish his own fountain pen factory, the Astoria firm, and left Simplo in 1921. (Astoria fillers are therefore very similar to those of Montblanc.) Simplo purchased Astoria in 1932 and continued to market articles under this name for a time.

My husband then took over production management. By this time, Simplo occupied the entire Bartelsstrasse building and could thus continue expanding production. The first step was to establish a tool making shop and an automation department.

The war had been lost and Germany plundered. Everything was in short supply. It was necessary to improvise, and this sometimes led to very curious incidents. For example, the electrical power supply was frequently cut off as an economizing measure. In order to ensure continued operation, my husband obtained some gasoline engines salvaged from old merry-go-rounds. These were quite serviceable but also unbearably loud. He first attempted to remedy this by building a makeshift muffler and attaching it to the engine in the building's central block. The result was an explosion that sent the muffler flying through the window into the courtyard with an earsplitting bang. Everyone in the office building and surrounding neighborhood was startled and ran out to see what had happened. Everything turned out all right, though, and they all had a good laugh. On another occasion, my husband came home deathly ill because he had been inhaling gasoline fumes all day while trying to get the carburetors on these engines to work.

The main office and the advertising department had also been enlarged. Gre-Gro designed special decorations for display windows and trade fair stands. Our airplanes soared over the LeipzigTrade Fair and caused a great sensation. Our painted and illuminated signs appeared on the buildings of Paris. The Stöffhaas brothers opened Berlin's first Montblanc shop in Leipzigerstrasse.

We hired a chemist, Mr. Zarnke, to start our own ink production and set him up with a laboratory in the first floor of the factory. For many years to come, however, the company continued to obtain ink from the firm Günther Wagner (became Pelikan in 1929) in exchange for gold nibs. During one of the first laboratory experiments, an ammonia explosion occurred that almost blinded my husband because he was not wearing protective goggles. He continued to suffer the consequences of this for years.

We then established a mechanical engineering department, which allowed us to build our own special machinery and become independent of equipment suppliers. An electroplating department was later added together with a gold smelting shop. Thanks to these measures, a small business mainly based on manual labor gradually developed into an industrial enterprise.

The Meisterstück (Masterpiece, red), the pen with a lifetime guarantee, was born in 1924. Though quite expensive, the first pen to cost over 20 reichmarks was well received and soon became a bestseller. The twist-mechanism pencil a OB pencil were introduced as innovations. We applied for patents on new developments such as the pneumatic pump filler. Simplo's engineers and sales staff were simply bubbling over with ideas and energy.