The House That Faber Built

DSCF0050c. 1902

It’s FAY-ber, not FAH-ber. FAY-ber. FAAAY-ber.

That’s what I kept saying to myself on a recent rainy afternoon in Wilkes-Barre (BEAR or BERRY, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus), waiting outside of my hotel. I was trying to take my mind off what was about to happen, that I was meeting Eberhard Faber for dinner. In a lot of ways it was like my visit to Stein and meeting Count von Faber-Castell; a combination of excitement and disbelief. For a brief moment I wondered how many people have had the opportunity to speak with both of them, about the history of their families and companies. I came a little better prepared this time: some binders of research material, a bound hardcopy of “No Ordinary Pencil“, and four handwritten pages of carefully considered questions.

I never asked a single one of them.

Don’t get me wrong I asked about plenty of things, it’s just I realized right away that unloading seven to eight years’ worth of questions would have exceeded the bounds of courtesy, or at least comfort. Instead, for this visit I should for the most part just look and listen.

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I like that our meeting was setup the old-fashioned way, and by that I mean through weekly (landline) phone calls, no e-mails or text messages. I can only imagine what Mr. and Mrs. Faber could have been thinking — who is this person who is interested enough in the company’s history that he’d come all this way? But then they did another old-fashioned thing: they welcomed me into their home and offered me their time, something mostly unheard of today.

After lunch we made our way back to the attic, where I spent most of the day. In no particular order I would slowly make my way through documents and photographs dating back to the early 1800s, and any number of company items you’d associate with the second half of the twentieth century. There were very few pencils, but what was there was telling:

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Searching online through patent databases has yielded a great deal of historical information. I’ve read through many, many pages of PDFs, and each new discovery has filled in another small part of the story. I was unprepared, though, when I opened a box labeled “trademarks and patents”, and saw the originals of many of those documents. For example, the patent for attaching an eraser to a pencil:

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The original trademark for the Eberhard Faber Diamond Star Logo:

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The original Mongol trademark:

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Going back even further there were ledgers from the earliest days of the Eberhard Faber Company, including this one dating back to the 1850s. Notice the transaction with A.W. Faber, and the symbol drawn at the left:

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A closer view of a similar entry, all written in immaculate copperplate:

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Before I knew it, nearly six hours had gone by and it was time to stop. We went to dinner at a great French restaurant in downtown Wilkes-Barre, where the only thing better than the meal was the conversation. A few hours later, I was dropped off at my hotel and flew home the next morning.

In one sense it feels like things have come full-circle, having met both scions of the Faber and Faber-Castell families. In another sense I feel like the work is only about to begin. I don’t know what will come of it yet, but I am as determined as ever to document what I can—there’s a story that’s worth telling. Sure there’s pencils, but it’s really about three brothers from Stein, Germany, and nearly 200 years of American history.

Special thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Faber for their hospitality and generosity.

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10 Responses to The House That Faber Built

  1. memm says:

    Wow, this must have been so great! I hope there will be many follow up blog posts!!
    By the way, I’m quite surprised that it’s FAY-ber.

    Like

    • Sean says:

      I bet the pronunciation slowly changed over time to a more ‘American-sounding’ version. I’m just so used to the German pronunciation that I kept switching back and forth.

      On a side note: Every once in a whole I even hear some say “Faber-Castell” as “Faber-Castle.”

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  2. Pingback: Famous Blackwing Users: Eberhard Faber | Blackwing Pages

  3. Gunther says:

    Wonderful! Thank you for sharing these unique and impressive insights.

    Like

  4. Stephen says:

    Wow Sean, this is just amazing. Thank you (and thank you to the Fabers) for kindly sharing some of the Faber history.

    Like

  5. Re: crossword-puzzle fans and Blackwings: was EF already aware of the Sondheim connection? Or of other famous (genuine) Blackwing users? If not, your work must have been even more delightful to him.

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    • Sean says:

      Ah, yes — he was aware of Sondheim, Steinbeck, and Nabokov favoring the Blackwing, along with Truman Capote and Chuck Jones too. But he was delighted to read the quotations and see the photos of Stravinsky, Barber, Ellington, Riddle, Copland, and Mercer, not to mention the screen shots from film and television. The Blackwing cameo in Jaws was particularly surprising.

      All in all there were about 260 pages of industry notices and advertisements from 1895 to the 1940s that I gave him, bound in a 3-ring binder. Most of it was new to him, which made me feel that I may have given back in some small way. I also printed out 3 census records, beginning in 1860, for the first Eberhard Faber. Since he arrived in 1849 it may be the first census document of the Faber family from Stein.

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  6. Wowter says:

    Love these details as well as your own thoughts. Thanks for writing such an interesting report. Reviving the past from a fascinating firm with many beautiful products. Please continue …

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  7. Sean says:

    Thanks Memm, Gunther, Stephen, Michael, and Wowter.

    I’m wondering if I shouldn’t start a separate blog, just for the Eberhard Faber history. For now my gut feeling is to leave things as they are.

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  8. Sola says:

    Sean, just in case you were wondering – I’ve quoted this article in a discussion regarding the correct pronunciation (for Koreans) of “Eberhard Faber”. But I rather think they will be bowled over by the rest of the article, that is, if they haven’t read it already 😉

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