El Marko Marker Pen Revived; Original Masked Penman Revealed

NAPERVILLE, Ill. – C.H. Hanson, a supplier of tools to the construction industry, has revived the El Marko permanent marker brand. C.H. Hanson, founded in 1866 as a stencil maker, sells tools to the construction and manufacturing industries, from brands like Superior Tool and Palmgren to its own lines of products that range from stencils to lumber crayons to layout tools to hazard barrier tape. The company filed a statement of use with the United States Patent and Trademark Office on August 18, 2021. The original brand was abandoned almost 15 years ago.

The El Marko brand (the screen shot from an old commercial is at top) is positioned as a durable marker for commercial uses that will write on anything, from wood to cinder blocks to greeting cards. The company released a demonstration video on Youtube. The El Marko brand, as revived, is a perfect match for the company; it is in a sector the Hanson knows well, and the company has a history of developing and understanding product brands within its market segment, where the new brand fits without having to be launched with expensive national marketing. There are also economies of scale with distribution, production and catalog promotion with sister products like their carpenter pencils.

The marker pen market began in 1953, with the introduction of the Magic Marker, by Signey M. Rosenthal. That company was sold to Binney & Smith, makers of Crayola, now owned by Hallmark.

El Marko was originally a consumer brand of waterproof marker pen sold by the Paper Mate division of Gillette, and was marketed as El Marko by Flair. The original was introduced in the spring of 1968 at a Gillette Paper Mate national sales meeting in San Diego. At the time, Paper Mate and the Flair pen were at the top of the pen world. The later El Marko, with its masked man profile, was a powerful part of the market, and had a different shape. It was advertised as not smelling, which was an issue with the earlier Sanford’s Marker, the indelible marker that was sold in a metal case, not plastic.

The early marker from Sanford’s, known for its industrial smell that was almost a drug in itself.

Sanford’s Marker had a top that stuck in the back of the marker, turning it backwards. The El Marko, with a square base, also had a female bottom end that fit the top. Its differentiation, other than its durability and seemingly endless lifespan, was that the square bottom did not roll on counters.

Gillette’s Paper Mate, and its follow up company Newell, lost the rights to the brand through disuse and inattention, and a favoring of the Sharpie. Sanford introduced the Sharpie in 1964. The popularity of the Sharpie meant that they company willy nilly put the brand on every type of pen, including the Highlighter, which was not the same product or use. Newell also sells the flat shaped Sharpie Pro, which is geared toward the construction market.

Newell’s Multiple Brands

Original marker by Flair. It still works, four decades on.

Newell continues to make an array of markers and pens, including Expo dry erase, Expo Vis a Vis dry erase, Mr. Sketch scented markers, Paper Mate pens, Waterman Paris fine pens and Parker pens. It also owns Liquid Paper. With its multiple brands through merged companies, it has unwisely ignored the Sanford brand, and risks losing that goodwill.

The C.H. Hanson Co. filed for the El Marko trademark in 2018. Their pen, while permanent, has a different round shape. A promo video shows a mystery lone ranger in leather jacket. Before Hanson filed for the brand, and actually produced a pen, at least two others filed for the trademark but did not follow up with an actual product. BrandlandUSA originally highlighted the dropped El Marko product in 2008. A British graphic designer and named Josh Line actually invented a logo for the brand; it is quite good and features an M with a pen nib on it.

The Hanson company has a longer history with markings than even Paper Mate. Hanson was founded in 1866 by Christian Henry Hanson, who started his company with a stencil business he knew in Denmark.

Caped Penman from Mexico

The idea of the caped savior used in the original advertising has many antecedents. The Lone Ranger is the best known, but in Mexico a more recent famed hero is the Mexican wrestler Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta (1917-84), a Mexican luchador enmascarado, or masked wrestler. He was nicknamed “El Santo” and he wore a mask and cape in matches.

The original El Marko man, a national sales manager for Paper Mate, is alive today, and contacted BrandlandUSA.com last week by email. He recalls that he actually rode into the Coronado Hotel in San Diego at that original spring 1968 sales meeting, wearing a cape and mask to promote the introduction of the pens. He arrived on a white horse, according to the email.

Below, the introduction commercial for the new Hanson version, and at bottom, the vintage commercial for the El Marko, and another of the new pen by Hanson.

About the Author

  • Garland Pollard is publisher/editor of BrandlandUSA. Since 2006, the website BrandlandUSA.com has chronicled the history and business of America’s great brands. He has decades of experience across all media, including newspapers, TV, radio, magazines and the web.

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