1917: England, France, and Germany

The images posted here are scans of a monograph handwritten by John Eberhard Faber II, titled: The History of the Lead Pencil. Over the course of twelve pages Faber’s version of history begins in ancient Egypt and Assyria, wends through Barrowdale and greater Europe, then concludes in the borough of Brooklyn. I have come across excerpts from this essay in stationery trade publications of the day, which leads me to believe he may have been commissioned to write it. But whether there was a specific purpose in mind, it comes across as a document that was intended to be published either in whole or in part.

About midway through Faber stated the following with regard to, what he considered were, three pivotal contributions to the pencil:

So it came to pass that three countries contributed their share in the cause of the evolution of the present day lead pencil.

ENGLAND, who discovered the graphite deposits in Cumberland and exploited the first mine. GERMANY, who through Kaspar Faber’s efforts made practical the moulding of leads with a binder such as sulphur. FRANCE, who contributed the scientific process of the present day based on the principle of fusing with clay—the revolutionary invention of Jacques Conté.

There’s nothing new there (it’s the stuff that nearly every essay on the topic is made of) but what I find interesting is that it was written in 1917—that is to say, in the midst of the First World War.

The Eberhard Faber Company went to great lengths during the war to publicly attest to how “thoroughly American” the company was (his father Johann Eberhard became a naturalized citizen, John Eberhard II and his brother Lothar Washington—named after George Washington—were born, raised, and educated in America).

Journal of Education, 1918.

I wouldn’t expect Faber to turn his back on his German heritage by marginalizing or perhaps even excising Germany from his History. But given the sensitive political and cultural climate of the day, combined with years of effort made by the company to massage public opinion, it’s a curiously apolitical essay.

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2 Responses to 1917: England, France, and Germany

  1. memm says:

    Thank you for sharing this with us. The handwriting is very nice and easy to read. I like the line variation very much.


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