The idyllic city of Heidelberg, Germany is home to one of the oldest names in fine writing instruments. Kaweco (short for Federhalter-Fabrik Koch, Weber & Co) has been designing and producing exquisite fountain pens since 1883. Their flagship and most recognizable pen is the octagonal Sport. Introduced in 1913 as an exceptionally compact and light fountain pen, the Sport quickly grew in popularity. In 1935, the octagonal body debuted to much fanfare, catapulting the Sport to the iconic status it enjoys today.
Michael Gutberlet of H&M Gutberlet Gmbh
Although Kaweco closed in 1981, it was revived in the mid-90s by a company called H&M Gutberlet Gmbh who wanted to continue Kaweco’s legacy of crafting elegant and functional writing tools. We had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Michael Gutberlet, an avid fountain pen collector and son of the founder of H&M Gutberlet, to get his insights on the past, present, and future of Kaweco.
Why did your company decide to bring back the Kaweco brand of pens in the mid-90s?
An actual Kaweco salesman case from 1935 featuring vintage Kaweco pens
We (my father Horst, my brother, and I) had collected old writing instruments since 1982. Later on, I took over all of the collections. The most striking thing about our collections was the disproportionate amount of Kaweco products, especially Kaweco Sport pens. Since the original Kaweco company disappeared in 1980, we decided to revive the Kaweco Sport brand.
What was it about old writing instruments that inspired you and your family to collect them?
Another Kaweco salesman case from 1935
I was greatly inspired by the technology and the precision it took to make handcrafted pens. Every safety pen*, eyedropper, lever filler, coin filler and piston filler provided a different view–they gave me new ideas and increased my fascination. I was not just interested in fountain pens though. Pencils and a little later ball pens became more and more fascinating to me and completed the big picture.
*A safety fountain pen features a nib that retracts into the pen barrel, allowing the cap’s inner surface to seal the ink chamber. It’s sealed more tightly than other pens and remains unaffected by changes in atmospheric pressure.
How do you design products for the modern consumer while ensuring that over 125 years of Kaweco history is preserved?
It is vital for Kaweco to develop products that are infused with the DNA of its predecessor. This was the repeated wish and request of our retailers. For every new product, I examine our historical collection and derive the idea for the design from it. In regards to technology and choice of material, we are always trying to achieve the highest quality with the help of internationally renowned manufacturers. Through this process, we guarantee the modern consumer a comfortable instrument with flawless function and outstanding, appealing design.
Are there any other classic pen designs you would like to revive in the future?
An old Kaweco Sport that features a piston-filler
That’s my problem; I have too many ideas! Of course many antique models in the Kaweco museum are inspiring to me. My dream is to do a piston Sport or a Kaweco piston fountain pen, but I am also thinking of a luxury line–maybe a new Elite or a Dia series.
Which Kaweco pen do you use for everyday writing?
The Kaweco Liliput, then (bottom) and now (above)
My personal favorite is the Dia2 fountain pen. I use this fountain pen daily, because I hand-write all of my correspondence in sepia-brown ink. For quick notes, I use my Dia2 pencil (0.7 mm) and ballpoint pen. In my pant pockets, I switch between a Kaweco Sport pen set and a Kaweco Liliput pen set.
Among the Kaweco Sport models produced over the last 100 years, which is the all-time bestseller?
An old Kaweco Sport with a half-hooded nib
It is very hard to determine which Kaweco Sport is the all-time bestseller, partly because of the change in manufacturing techniques. In the old days, each pen part was manufactured with solid material. Later, the technology for injection moulding was developed, and manufacturers could make bigger quantities in a shorter time at more favorable prices. This technique is still popular today. Since 1994, the Classic Sport model has been number one in terms of the number of pieces sold, and the AL Sport model has been number one in terms of net profit.
We love the BRASS Sport pens that were released last year. Any thoughts on making Sport pens in other materials like copper or steel?
The Kaweco BRASS Sport is a really nice pen series; we love it too! It was designed to be a tool to help you get your work done without any gimmicks. We can promise our fans that we will introduce a new Sport series in a different material in 2017, but we would like to surprise everyone with the exact details.
The Supra is one of the most interesting new pen designs we’ve seen in a while. What inspired you to create it?
The Supra is extraordinary but simple at the same time. I love large nibs, and for the past two years I had been thinking about creating a Liliput with a large nib. I did not simply want to make a larger version though. Then one day I saw an old Kaweco safety pen that came with an extension piece. That was the key and the Supra idea was born. All that was left for me to do was to sketch it, and then we started planning the production.
Why do you think that fountain pens are so popular today, when so much writing is done electronically?
Ornate pens in a Kaweco salesman case from 1935
Elo-writing (electronically writing) does not convey the same feeling or stimulate your senses the way handwriting does. When I use a fountain pen, it feels like my thoughts flow from my brain to my heart, and then through my hand while writing. For example, I wrote the notes for this interview with a Student fountain pen with a gold nib and used our new sunrise orange ink. Writing helps me create. I can watch the pen form letters and words, and that is much more interesting than typing on a keyboard. I do have some Elo-Pens but none of them give me the same feeling as fountain pens do.