Copying Pencils, Indelible Pencils, and the Excluded Middle

Sometime around 1923, the Eberhard Faber Company wanted everyone to know the difference between indelible pencils and copying pencils. To that end, they offered this explanation to the stationery trade:

Perhaps I’ve misinterpreted the description, but I’m left with the impression that a pencil is either a copying pencil or an indelible pencil. However, from the Eberhard Faber catalog printed that same year:

(I’ve heard that, on principle, Heisenberg was certain this was Schrödinger’s favorite pencil.)

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“Behold the Woof Woof”

The Eberhard Faber “Woof Woof” was issued in 1923, something that The American Stationer and Office Manager saw fit to note:

There was even some poetry written by an ‘admirer’ of the Woof Woof:

It’s hard to say how many Woof Woofs (Woofen?) were made, but here at least is one that remains:

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Eberhard Faber 1911: The Cost of Display Boxes

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.

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Mongol Musings

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Jeff Andrews

Bassist Jeff Andrews has died, aged 58.

I remember, decades ago, hearing the word “swunk” (a combination of “swing” and “funk”) for the first time. It was from Jeff Andrews who was describing the feel of Jaco’s playing on The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines from Joni Mitchell’s album Mingus.

I was lucky to have met Jeff a couple of times, at guitar shows where we were giving clinics (not much more than a handshake and “good to meet you”). Luckier still was when he and Mike Stern stole off to a quiet side room and played for over an hour to the handful of us who were fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time. Included were a sprawling, unapologetic version of Giant Steps, and a delicate version of Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise that I’m still unable to forget.

Many already know about Jeff’s incredible playing and musicianship, but I wish it were more.

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A New Draft

A new cover idea:

Several Eberhards Faber:

A general timeline:

The early years:

The mills of Cedar Keys, Florida:

Origins of the “Diamond Star” logo:

The occasional nib and leadholder:

An extraordinary pencil:

The History of the Lead Pencil by Eberhard Faber II:

All a work in progress.

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About that Eberhard Faber factory fire in 1872…

In a previous post titled Beware The Dry House, I noted several fires that occurred at two Eberhard Faber Company factories. But the most well-known fire occurred at the first factory, which opened in 1861 and burned to the ground in 1872. It happened in the early hours of May 29th:

I haven’t found anything to indicate that the factory would have been open during the overnight hours. Pencil-making by lamplight? It would be the 1880s before factories of any kind were lit by electric light. Chemical-soaked rags? If so, how long would it take for a fire to start? I have no idea.

Good thing they had plenty of…insurance.

I have always found it amazing that the company was up and running at its new location in Greenpoint less than 3 months after the fire. Then again, how much did the operation depend on machinery, bespoke or otherwise, at that time? Also, it wasn’t said whether they were running at capacity from the start.

But then I came across something interesting in a letter written by Johann Eberhard Faber just two days after his factory was destroyed:

His new factory was “already secured”, two days after the fire? To be clear, I have never owned, operated, designed, or otherwise managed a pencil factory, but that still seems like an extraordinarily quick turnaround. Maybe it’s just a little bit of hyperbole—something to express a sense of business-as-usual to reassure employees (and stave off competitors)? Perhaps a move had already been in the planning before this terrible ‘accident’ occurred?

Two days? Really?

Update 3/11: A contemporaneous newspaper report stated: “The fire is supposed to have been caused by spontaneous combustion among some sawdust which had become saturated with oil from the machinery.”

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Theory and Practice (4)

Click to enlarge


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Eberhard Faber: Rough Draft

“Rough draft” might be too generous. It’s more like a “rough compilation”—396 pages so far, with at least as many to go. This copy is a one-off.

Toward the beginning is the Faber family tree I’ve cobbled together, though it’s still a work-in-progress. (My claim is that the tree is accurate to within one Lothar, ± an Eberhard.)

An engraving of the first Eberhard Faber Company storefront, and a scan of an agreement from 1882 between Lothar von Faber and Eberhard Faber for the use of “A.W.F.”

The original patent for attaching an eraser by means of a ferrule.

A couple of Fabers: Lothar Washington and Eberhard III.

Some advertising: I wish I could find an original print of this particular ad.

Scans of a monograph written by Eberhard Faber II in 1917, “The History of the Lead Pencil.”

Some reproductions from the 1923 company catalog.

Some patent drawings are included, along with photos I’ve taken of the actual objects.

Some examples of company graphic design, after many hours of restoration and touch-up.

Some of my Blackwing-related photos.

The cover art is going to change at some point, but I’m warming up to this design.


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The Paper Seahorse

Tucked away in Tampa’s SoHo district is the city’s only independent stationery store, The Paper Seahorse. I went for my first visit today.

The store bills itself as a ‘Paperie and Makerie.’

There was a large selection of items, arranged in several rooms.

One display was devoted to the Traveler’s line, including just about every kind of refill.

(I’ll never be able to see a globe again without thinking of the globe room at Ito-ya in Japan.)

Pens from all of the usual suspects were available, including Kaweco, Lamy, and Faber-Castell.

Plenty of pads and notebooks, including Tomoe River paper, as well as handwriting and calligraphy primers. There were also some hand-turned calligraphy penholders and a large selection of ink.

There is quite a bit for typewriter fans, including a typing/writing bar and supplies. The company has a large stock of typewriters for sale.

The company also hosts workshops on topics such as calligraphy and hand-lettering.

There’s less by way of pencils, vintage or otherwise, but I’ve got plenty already. It’s nice just to see so many items in person that I otherwise have to order by mail—and in Tampa to boot.

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