It’s That Time Of Year

Nothing quite says Christmastime like an Eberhard Faber XMAS Mongol 482.

Its green and red lead allow you to spread holiday cheer without having to use two separate pencils.

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Beware the Dry House: Fire and the Faber Factories

The first Eberhard Faber factory (erected in 1861, on First Avenue along the East River) famously burned to the ground in 1872. That same year, the company opened their new factory in Greenpoint. Recently, I was surprised to learn of another fire. Then another. And yet another.

Five years prior, in November, 1867, a fire started in the “drying and japanning room.” As reported by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Luckily the fire did not engulf the entire building, though the firemen were “embarrassed in obtaining water.”

After the 1872 fire, having established a new factory in Greenpoint, the dry house was destroyed by fire in January, 1901. Sadly, a horse stable nearby was destroyed:

The following is an entry from the minutes of the Eberhard Faber Company Board of Directors meeting, which describes the extent of the damage:

Yet another fire occurred in January, 1903. You may see a pattern beginning with regard to the source of the blaze, per the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

I looked for an entry in the company’s minutes, and found this:

This all reminds me of the risk that flour mills face due to dust explosions (a possible source for the expression “keep your nose to the grindstone”). The Eberhard Faber Company would experience more fires in the years to come, which makes me wonder how common an event like this might have been for other manufacturers.

Has A.W. Faber, Staedtler, Lyra, Dixon, Hardmuth, or Schwann, etc. had any fires that you know of?

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Graf von Faber-Castell: Eine Garnitur hochfeiner dokumentenechter Schreibstifte Nr. III

About four years ago I wrote about a rarely-seen set of highlighter pencils from Graf von Faber-Castell. They were among the earliest items from their luxury line, which began in 1993, along with these document pencils:

This set came with red, blue, green, and black indelible pencils. The fifth pencil is a regular graphite pencil. (The black pencil’s point is chipped. But rather than sharpen the rest to an even length, I’ll just ascribe it to the vagaries of wabi-sabi.)

Along with fluted barrels, these premium cedar pencils have the signature silver-plated caps of the Graf von Faber-Castell line, as well as a colored plastic ring to identify the lead’s color. The tolerances and fit are remarkable:

The set is wrapped with a thin, lightly textured sheet of paper whose lines catch the fluting of the pencils. It also bears the company’s logo:

There is something about the products and packaging from the early years of this line that have always appealed to me.

The highlighter and document pencils would eventually be discontinued, but they lasted until at least 2001—the date when this photo of Count von Faber-Castell was taken:


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Eberhard Faber Columbia

The image above is from the 1907 Eberhard Faber Company catalog: pencil no. 485, called Columbia, finished in patriotic red, white, and blue. It was a hex pencil, complete with a nickel-plated ferrule and white eraser.

I’m not certain in which year the pencil was introduced but its name might refer to the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and there could likely have been an earlier version of this pencil. Or perhaps owing to the theme, it was brought out for an anniversary related to 1776 — 1901 would have been the nation’s 125th anniversary.

Here it is in the 1912 catalog:

Nothing quite beats seeing it in person, though:

This photo of the 1915 company catalog shows that there was also a round version, no. 440, though it didn’t have the star field found on the hex version:

This image is from the 1923 company catalog. It only has the round version, and the catalog number has changed from 440 to 465:

The Columbia can still be found in the 1929 catalog, but not in the 1931 catalog:

So for now, we’ll just have to wonder whether 1930 was the final year for the Columbia.

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Berolzheimer, Illfelder, Reckendorfer, Faber, and the Rubber-Tip Pencil Company


This small note is an interesting artifact: the sender, recipient, and the year in which it was written all bear significance in the history of pencil-making in America, and by extension, Bavaria.

The senders, Berolzheimer and Illfelder, were the founders of the Vera Pencil Factory in Bavaria, though the Berolzheimer in that case was Henry’s (Heinrich’s) father, Daniel. A house was established in New York around 1857, which was later incorporated as Eagle Pencil Company in 1868. In 1872, the company opened a plant in Yonkers, New York.


Joseph Reckendorfer was a businessman who famously bought Lipman’s 1858 eraser patent for $100,000. The patent would eventually be overturned and Reckendorfer would find himself filing lawsuits against several manufacturers, including Eberhard Faber in 1875.

The addressee is the Rubber-Tip Pencil Company, whose address was 133 William St.


You may recall that this was the address for the business offices of the Eberhard Faber Company—that’s because Johann Eberhard Faber was behind the Rubber-Tip Pencil Company. It’s a topic for a separate post, but I’ll mention briefly that the Lipman case wasn’t the only famous lawsuit regarding the attaching of erasers to pencils. J.B. Blair was issued a patent in 1867 for attaching an India-rubber head to a pencil, which was purchased by the Rubber Tip Pencil Company. This company would go on to sue one Samuel Howard for infringement in 1872, only to see Blair’s original patent overturned: like the interpretation of Lipman’s eraser—that it did not substantially constitute an invention per se—the same would be said of Blair’s attachable eraser.

1872 is also the year in which the Eberhard Faber Company’s factory burned to the ground.

Back to the note: it accompanied a payment to the Rubber-Tip Pencil Company, balancing the Eagle Pencil Company’s account. What did they buy? With Blair’s patent being overturned, perhaps it was time to stop paying for something they could make for themselves.


As innocuous and uneventful as this note is it nonetheless bears witness to what were auspicious times for the American pencil industry, such that it was. Everyone associated with this note would be affected by tremendous change in 1872; a time in which Bavarian masters and American innovators were both establishing their houses, competing in their attempt to influence, advance, and refine writing culture in the United States.

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Eberhard Faber Polita


Another surprising use for this long-discontinued eraser-like product: quickly and gently smoothing burrs that may occur on tuning posts.


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Preserving the Past: Creekside Digital

Creekside2© Creekside Digital, 2017

I’ve always had a fascination with old documents, especially music manuscripts. Most of the time the few I could get my hands on were facsimile editions, and many of those only through interlibrary loans. Over the years I’ve spent many an hour punishing consumer-grade scanners in an effort to extract the highest manageable resolution. Even though I knew it was overkill my thinking was, why not scan them at the highest possible resolution while I still have access to them?

My workflow involved dividing the documents into sections, then I stitched them together in Photoshop since many were just a bit larger than the scanner’s platen. The file sizes were gigantic (well, for what I was used to at least) and the process took forever but I enjoyed doing it. Once all the pages were assembled I would then edit everything and print my very own, personal, facsimile editions for study. Here’s a small example: the cover wrapping from the autograph of Die Kunst der Fuge by Johann Sebastian Bach:


High-resolution scans of this work as well as many others by Bach are now available online through the Bach Digital project, but I’m still happy to have my over-scanned personal archive.

Fast-forward to today: coming in contact with original documents relating to A.W. Faber and Eberhard Faber has me scanning more than ever, and in the same manner. For example, this letter written by Johann Eberhard Faber in 1859:

Eberhard Faber Letter 1859 p. 432

However, the sheer amount of items as well as their physical dimensions mean that unless I make a serious, multi-thousand-dollar investment in some professional archiving equipment, I won’t be able to properly image everything. More importantly, I wanted to work toward creating a consistent, preservation-quality archive designed by professionals, which would protect the documents into the foreseeable future.

I contacted Jim Studnicki, the founder and President of Creekside Digital in Glen Arm, Maryland. I first met Jim some twenty years ago through mutual friends and from having done some recording together, but it was only recently that I learned of the company he founded. His clients form an impressive list of libraries, archives, museums, and historical societies, so I asked him what could be done.

The first “phase” of scans was completed several months ago. Items included a fourteen-page document titled “The History of the Lead Pencil” handwritten by Eberhard Faber II in the early 1900s, as well as handwritten university documents belonging to Johann Eberhard Faber dating back to the mid-1800s. The bulk of the project consisted of the minutes of the Eberhard Faber Company’s board meetings, beginning in 1898.


Just this week though the team began scanning a fragile, oversized company ledger.


Its entries begin in 1857 and is one of the only things that survived the devastating fire of 1872, which razed the company’s first factory to the ground. More about that ledger can be found in an earlier post. Here is a photo of the book being scanned:

Creekside1© Creekside Digital, 2017

Along with the two photos above, Jim sent along some videos of the scanning process. I’ve edited them together and the video can be seen here, or embedded below:


I can’t predict how much will eventually be archived. But I can say with confidence that the most vulnerable and fragile items have been scanned, which means that they will now last indefinitely into the future.

Thanks to Jim for the photos and video, as well as to the rest of the team at Creekside Digital for their fastidious work.

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Glenn Gould’s 85th Year

GG and the Art of Fugue

Images from an article I wrote for Glenn Gould magazine (Volume 8, No. 1).

Glenn Gould would have been 85 years old today. The part of me that recognizes this is the same part that wonders what wonders he had left to leave. It’s a selfish thought though.

When the world encounters such a peerless musician we tend to welcome anything he or she continues to offer, though we are wary of the atrophy that often marks the passage of time. But given Gould’s proprietary blend of perfectionism and contradiction, it’s difficult to imagine him managing the paralysis inflicted upon him, had he survived the stroke he suffered at the age of 50. That was nearly 35 years ago.

b-a-c-h© Sony Classics

Still, though, I can’t help wondering…

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Eberhard Faber: Black Chalk Artist’s Sketching Crayons

Faber Sketching Crayons 1

Not quite pencils, but close enough. Eberhard Faber’s Artist’s Sketching Crayons came in a smart-looking folding case that closed with a snap.

Faber Sketching Crayons 2

They were available in two grades: soft and medium soft. I don’t know when they were first offered, but here they are in a 1931 catalog entry. (NB: Artists’ in the catalog, Artist’s on the product.)


Having tried them, I wouldn’t say that the grades “soft” and “medium soft” are meant to correspond to their graphite counterparts. They are not waxy like our modern notion of ‘crayons’, rather they are like the chalk you might use on a chalkboard. The OED tells me that crayon comes from the French craie, which comes from the Latin creta; both of which mean ‘chalk.’

Faber Sketching Crayons 3

They are coated to protect against excessive transfer to your fingers, and they come factory sharpened. This case is only half-full:

Faber Sketching Crayons 4

Knowing that it was some 50 years before the Eberhard Faber Company began manufacturing their own graphite leads in America (they were supplied chiefly by Lyra), I wonder who their source for chalk products may have been.

Faber Sketching Crayons 5

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