Blaisdell Calculator

I wish I knew more about the Blaisdell Pencil Company. They are perhaps best known for their paper-wrapped pencils, which are commonly referred to as China Markers. But Blaisdell made many other kinds of pencils too, including the Calculator.

Along with Eberhard Faber’s Mongol and Blackwing, the Calculator was part of John Steinbeck’s toolbox. Apart from that mention I haven’t heard much about this pencil, including what its target audience might have been.

Because it is so dark and smooth, I assume it was favored by writers and editors. But how does the name Calculator factor-in? Is it an allusion to the sciences? This leads me to wonder what kinds of pencils mathematicians and scientists may have preferred, if any. I would think something that resists smudging (i.e. harder grades, F and higher) would have been preferred, but that’s just a guess.

The Calculator is another one of those singular pencils that has disappeared altogether, and I only came across one by chance. Given 150 years of American pencil-making and the countless types of pencils made during that time, just imagine what other gems (that we’ll never know about) have silently come and gone.

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4 Responses to Blaisdell Calculator

  1. adair says:

    I wonder how widely it was distributed and how long it was even manufactured. It must be one of the most elusive of American pencils. Have you ever seen packaging or advertisements for it? Blaisdell’s most successful product, besides the paper-wrapped drawing pencil, was the standard no. 2 Ben Franklin, a very good pencil indeed, and very easy to find.


    • Sean says:

      I had a box for one dozen, but it was nondescript. “Calculator” was written on the top flap but that was it. I don’t know for how long they’ve been around (at least long enough for Steinbeck), but my impression was that the pencils I had were relatively recent (’80s or early ’90s).

      I haven’t tried any of the Ben Franklin line but I have heard a lot about them. I wonder how well they competed against the Mongol and Ticonderoga.


  2. adair says:

    That recent? I’m amazed. I really thought they were only around in the 40’s…I have no basis for this beyond the look of the type on the barrel. If they were around that long, why are they so scarce? It is very interesting.

    The Ben Franklins are really good—like Wallace Invaders, in the 60’s they were excellent “second tier” HB’s after Mongol and Ticonderoga.


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