Baroness Ottilie von Faber: Between Sun and Moon

I have mentioned before that to research the Fabers means to encounter a great repetition of names. One small example: The three most-frequently mentioned brothers—Lothar, Eberhard, and Johann—all share the same first name (Johann). Eberhard’s wife? Johanna.  Therefore, it would be prudent to reassert the disclaimer that my research aspires to be accurate to within one Lothar ± an Eberhard.

There are even two Fabers called Ottilie. First is Baroness Ottilie von Faber (née Richter, 1831-1903) who was married to Baron Lothar von Faber. Second, Countess Ottilie “Tillie” von Faber (1877-1944) who was Baron Lothar’s and Baroness Ottilie’s granddaughter. Tillie is the main subject of the film mentioned in the previous post.

Baroness Ottilie von Faber. Image ©Faber-Castell.

Baroness Ottilie is perhaps an under-appreciated and overlooked figure in the Faber dynasty; eclipsed by the extraordinary circumstances of her later years. Her only child (and heir to A.W. Faber) Wilhelm, died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of 41 in 1893. Three years later her husband, Baron Lothar, died at the age of 79. With no other heir, Baroness Ottilie became the company’s sole owner.

Just one of the matters she was overseeing at the time was the dissolution of the partnership between A.W. Faber and the E. Faber Pencil Company in America, which was owned and operated by her two nephews: Lothar Washington and John Eberhard. Negotiations began in 1894 though the enmity goes back at least to the mid-1880s (and likely all the way back to 1879, when Johann Eberhard died.) While on a trip to Europe in 1884, Lothar Washington wrote the following to his wife about his Uncle Lothar:

“He is growing old and spleeny and has caused us a little trouble at the firm in New York. We are earning a little too much in his eyes, and that is something that he cannot stand.”

Not all was lost, however. The two nephews had a fine relationship with their cousin Wilhelm, whom everyone presumed would eventually take over the firm of A.W. Faber. But Wilhelm’s death in 1893 put an end to what hope was left for the two companies to move forward together.

By 1896, terms for the dissolution had been drawn up. Lothar Washington travelled to Stein not only to meet with Aunt Ottilie about the contract, but also to attend the wedding of his cousin, Tillie, to Count Alexander zu Castell-Rüdenhausen. Lothar Washington recounted to his wife that at the last minute, a stipulation was included in the contract regarding how the E. Faber Company labelled its products. A.W. Faber was concerned that there might be confusion between the identity of the two companies, especially now that they were transitioning from being partners to competitors.

An original copy of the March, 1896 proposal between A.W. Faber and E. Faber.

Lothar Washington felt that they were “playing [him] for a sucker” and left without signing the agreement. Though disappointed with the outcome he insists that his Aunt Ottilie nonetheless offered him “the gland hand of farewell” at their final meeting, after which he set sail for Brooklyn. The two companies would sue and countersue one another for the next twelve years.

The baroness encountered what must have been a surprise in 1897. While endeavoring to secure the United States trademark for “A.W. Faber”, Ottilie was informed that it wasn’t hers to register: it was already owned by Eberhard Faber.

There is no evidence to suggest there was any chicanery involved. The E. Faber Company had been the sole agent of A.W. Faber in America, and as such secured patents and trademarks in their name going all the way back to 1851. But given the emerging gulf between the two companies, a great deal of effort was required to correct the record so-to-speak. It must have been galling to Baroness Ottilie.

Two trademarks secured by A.W. Faber for the mark “A.W. Faber.”

Through the U.S. Consulate in Nürnberg, Germany, a declaration was filed on behalf of Baroness Ottilie von Faber whereby she stated, in part, that “…the trade-mark “A.W. Faber is, and always has been, the property of A. W. Faber of Stein, near Nürnberg, Germany.”

The appeal was successful, and the trademark was granted in April of 1897.

Baroness Ottilie lived until 1903. By that time she had successfully managed the company’s passage to the next generation of Fabers, and by extension, the transition to Faber-Castell.


In memoriam Edith Luther, archivist at Faber-Castell, Stein.

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Ottilie von Faber-Castell – Eine mutige Frau

There appears to be a historical drama about Ottilie von Faber-Castell in the works, which will be broadcast and released on DVD in September. Here is a trailer for the film:

You can see a making-of video here.

1© Pandastorm Pictures,

One wonders if Faber-Castell manufactured the pencils and packaging for the sets.


September 14th is the broadcast date, and the film is about 3 hours long.


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Eberhard Faber Tee-Vee Pencil

These Eberhard Faber Tee-Vee 1142 pencils remind me that there must have been thousands upon thousands of pencil brands in their company catalog. Over the course of 138 years, how many different brands of wood-cased lead pencils could there have been? Even with all the information I’ve gathered over the years, creating a comprehensive list seems like an endless endeavor (but one I consider pursuing from time to time).

I’m assuming the Tee-Vee pencil dates back to the 1950s or 1960s, but even so, how long could they have lasted in the catalog? A decade? One year? As No. 2 pencils go they don’t seem to offer anything notable in terms of performance. Instead they seem more like a novelty pencil: The name Tee-Vee is flanked on both sides with what appear to be cathode-ray tubes shining their light. (This reminds me of the Icelandic word for television, Sjónvarp, which I’ve read can loosely be translated as “picture-thrower” [from James Essinger’s Spellbound, 2006.])

I’m sure some brand names were more ephemeral than others, especially those commemorating a particular event or anniversary. But when Mr. So-and-so at the Eberhard Faber Company conceived of the Tee-Vee pencil, was it with the hope that it would remain in the catalog for more than one year? Was it more Darwinian, i.e. survival of the who-sold-mostest?

Left wanting for answers, we can at least enjoy the creative legacy of Mr. So-and-so.

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“We choose to go to the moon…”

A photo by Laurie Spiegel of her Eberhard Faber Blackwing, which to me evokes the image of a rocket flying past the sun or perhaps the moon. Laurie’s music was included on the Golden Records affixed to Voyager 1 and 2, all à propos of today’s anniversary.

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Eberhard Faber’s “Graphite Pencil Company”

In 1894, the Eberhard Faber Company dissolved its agency with A.W. Faber in Germany. A point of contention between the two companies—one that would see twelve years’ worth of lawsuits fought in New York and Bavarian courts—was the use of “E. Faber” as the label on their products. A.W. Faber felt that it promoted confusion between what were now two competing companies.

Around 1893, Eberhard Faber II (son of Johann Eberhard Faber, who died in 1879) began manufacturing pencils under the name “Graphite Pencil Company.”

The E. Faber Company began manufacturing pencils as early as 1861 while they were still an agency for A.W. Faber. However the pencils they produced were “of the inexpensive sort”; they continued to import high-quality goods from A.W. Faber in Germany.

It seems like the Graphite Pencil Company was created in part as an attempt to sidestep the lawsuit, but without the equity of the Faber name, it was just another in a sea of burgeoning American pencil companies.

A.W. Faber would go on to win the lawsuit, only for it to be reversed on appeal. It was all moot, however, as the E. Faber Company began labeling their products with the full name “Eberhard Faber” before the first decision was handed down by the court.

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Pencils from the 19th Century

(Click photos for a larger version.)

Pencil-making in 19th-century America is part history and part folklore. William Munroe is often cited as one of the earliest American pencil manufacturers, along with the Thoreau family, Ebenezer Wood, Horace Hosmer, and Benjamin Ball. But there was also the lesser-known David Hubbard, and an unnamed woman (sometimes referred to as a “schoolgirl”) from New England who purportedly removed the center from some twigs then filled them with a mixture of graphite and glue.

By the 1800s, the Conté/Hardmuth method of mixing graphite and clay was being exploited by pencil-makers in America, though the results were hit and miss. Added to this, leads were often off-center, length and width varied from pencil to pencil, and some might be better described as being “round-ish” than “round.” This was due in part to their design—rather than gluing together two symmetrical halves a channel was cut for the lead, which was later capped or plugged, then the pencils were rounded. Here is an illustration from The Pencil by Henry Petroski:

The pencils here have round leads rather than square leads, but you can see the channel with the plug removed:

I’m not certain of the manufacturer just yet, and I may never know. But the way they were made points to a certain time period, and comparing them against known exemplars could help narrow things down. I have a chief suspect, but there’s more work to do.

An early example of an attached eraser: the ferrule is a thin piece of paper, colored blue on one side, which wraps around three times. The end of the pencil was narrowed slightly so the ferrule is more or less flush with the barrel:

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Copying Pencils, Indelible Pencils, and the Excluded Middle

Sometime around 1923, the Eberhard Faber Company wanted everyone to know the difference between indelible pencils and copying pencils. To that end, they offered this explanation to the stationery trade:

Perhaps I’ve misinterpreted the description, but I’m left with the impression that a pencil is either a copying pencil or an indelible pencil. However, from the Eberhard Faber catalog printed that same year:

(I’ve heard that, on principle, Heisenberg was certain this was Schrödinger’s favorite pencil.)

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“Behold the Woof Woof”

The Eberhard Faber “Woof Woof” was issued in 1923, something that The American Stationer and Office Manager saw fit to note:

There was even some poetry written by an ‘admirer’ of the Woof Woof:

It’s hard to say how many Woof Woofs (Woofen?) were made, but here at least is one that remains:

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Eberhard Faber 1911: The Cost of Display Boxes

While we might come across contemporaneous price points for pencils and pens in vintage advertisements, information about dealer cost is less forthcoming. In December of 1911, the Eberhard Faber Co. brought out three new display boxes: “Luna Park”, “Fortress” (Ein feste Burg ist unser ‘Stift), and “Arch Assortment.” They are mentioned in the minutes of the board of directors meeting:

Here is the “Luna Park” assortment:

And the “Fortress” assortment, complete with a diamond star flag:

The minutes also mention that the cost of each box, to the dealer, is $1.35. Using an online inflation calculator, $1.35 is approximately $36.12 in today’s money. Dividing by one-half gross (72), that would be about 50¢ per pencil for today’s dealer. Providing in 1911 that those pencils sold for 5¢ each, today that would come to about $1.34—a would-be profit of 84¢ to be had. Of course, knowing nothing of the nuances and subtleties of economics, this is just a crude approximation.

I often think of Petroski’s statement that “pencils have always been a business of pennies.” But it seems there were some pennies to be made indeed. To draw a more complete picture though, an accurate account of the manufacturing cost would need to be determined.

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Mongol Musings

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