“Europe invented the pencil, but America perfected it.”


The following are excerpts from a monthly series of advertisements from 1920, found in the same periodical, for Eberhard Faber’s Van Dyke line of drawing pencils. What I find interesting is how aggressive some of the statements are, and how they build in tension from month to month:


It’s interesting how the phrase “Europe invented the pencil, but America perfected it” is used here. Although the company refers to itself and its seventy years of innovation, it says that “America” perfected the pencil. In one sense this could be taken as a kind of compliment to their competitors (i.e. the American pencil industry), but instead it just seems like they weren’t quite willing to go as far as saying that Eberhard Faber had perfected the pencil. It seems like a strange mix of patriotism and hubris.


Nothing too outrageous here, though “perfection” can be a contentious claim. Also introduced is the company’s apparent worldwide acclaim.


“…supposed headquarters of pencil-making.” Do you think they’re addressing all of Europe, or really just Germany? No matter the language, them’s just fightin’ words.


Time period notwithstanding, use of the word “master” here is a little unusual. Instead of simply meaning “best” or “finest”, it hints at the Old World and the nature of pencil-making as a discipline—one that is learned through apprenticeship until it is mastered. Also, it’s interesting how “Europe” apparently can’t seem to make pencils very well, yet they can still recognize the good ones.


These advertisements come two years after the end of the First World War, and one wonders if the expression “America has taught Europe a lesson” has to do with something more than just pencils. Again, I think that “America” here means “Eberhard Faber Co.” and that “Europe” likely means “Germany”.

By this time though, a new generation is running both the Eberhard Faber Co. in America and A.W. Faber in Germany (and let’s not forget Johann Faber as well). So whatever feelings of enmity that existed during the initial break from A.W. Faber, it seems they persisted for some time (I wonder if Lothar and Eberhard ever personally reconciled). What remains to be discovered is if this pencil-and-sabre rattling had more to do with a family war rather than The Great War.

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2 Responses to “Europe invented the pencil, but America perfected it.”

  1. “These advertisements come two years after the end of the First World War . . . .”: I think I was reading your mind here. I think you’re right that there’s a subtext.


    • Sean says:

      Try as I might, it’s very difficult to truly know what it must have been like during those early years following WWI. But still this kind of ad copy surprises me a bit, especially the “taught Europe a lesson” line. It’s one thing for a company to be chuffed about their products and to claim their’s are the best, but this just seems like some strange version of smack talk.


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