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.