Pencil Sample Books


Based on some of the comments from the previous post, I’ve gathered together a few examples of pencil sample books and sample folders. They used to come in a great variety of shapes and sizes during their heyday, including samplers that served as promotional gifts, or as more sturdy books that were used by the salesforce.

The first two examples could carry twelve pencils each (not to mention pens and penholders). Their small size means they are easily carried in the hand, and could possibly fit the inside pocket of a jacket:


If sample books had a weakness it would be the type of material used for the loops, and how the loops were attached to the boards of the book. For the example on the left the elastic is not run underneath, rather each loop is held in place by a thread that emerges through the holes. If one of those threads breaks, that’s it. Further, both ends are anchored underneath the inner cardboard which means you can’t tighten or otherwise adjust the size of the loops:


The one on the right uses the same design, except that the holes are reinforced with plastic rings:


Most of the sample books I’ve seen were used to showcase a variety of lines. However some, like the following, were designed to display the extent of one particular line. In this case, the Van Dyke series:

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The elastic is held in place by the same means as the examples above, including both ends being anchored:


The next folder is the companion to the one in the previous post. It has three panels, two of which are used for pencils. Like the other folder, this one needed to have the elastic bands completely replaced. Once I found some that would fit, I used an X-acto blade to separate part of the cover from the inner board at the top in order to anchor the strap:


Then, I glued about 1/2 inch of one end of the elastic inside and pressed the two parts back together:


Next I fed the elastic straps through each of the staples, being sure to leave a little slack for tightening:


Once all of the pencils are in there will be plenty of elastic left over:


This is a much better design than that of the other books. The elastic allows for the pencils to be held firmly in place, and it also permits items with larger diameters. And since only one end is anchored, the elastic can be adjusted as needed.


The last example has four panels, all of which are used for pencils:


Like the first two examples, the elastic in this book is thin and held in place by an even thinner thread at equal intervals. But in this case the elastic is only anchored at the top, and is therefore adjustable:


Pencil sample books and sample folders are a great way to keep things organized, and are every bit a piece of history as the items they carry.

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Eberhard Faber: Red & Blue. And Red. And Blue.

Faber Sample Book 3

There have been some interesting posts about red & blue pencils lately, such as these posts from Pencils and Other Things, as well as these two posts from Lexikaliker. I don’t have very many examples to share, but here are a few that I find interesting.

Many of them come in the form of “checking” pencils, which can either be half red and half blue, or just red or blue:

Faber Sample Book 2

The brand names can vary, such as the Referee pencils above. The Eberhard Faber Company also had a line of Okay pencils:

img0311923 Eberhard Faber Company Catalog

It was a popular line, which was expanded to include the colors white, yellow, and green:

Faber Sample Book 4

Here are two that you don’t see very often. First, a Van Dyke thin red & blue pencil:

Faber Sample Book 5

Second is this Mongol red and blue, complete with gold cursive stamping:

Faber Sample Book 7

The sample book that holds these pencils was originally in poor condition. The elastic material was so old and desiccated that it crumbled at the lightest touch.

Faber Sample Book 1

So I removed all of it and went looking for a suitable replacement. I glued the tips of the new elastic in between the outer cardboard and the inner lining, then threaded them through each of the staples.

Faber Sample Book 8

Since sample books are hard to come by I wanted to try and restore it (and its identical partner, not pictured). Once the elastic was in I did few more passes with a soft eraser to clean the interior, and now it’s ready to hold pencils for another fifty years.

Here are a few more I’ve placed in this folder, including a Van Dyke Star and a Mongol Stenographic:

Faber Sample Book 6

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Tombow MONO Air

A tiny eraser…


…that comes with an even tinier magnet…


…is less likely to grow legs and walk away:


Thanks to Yumiko for the Tombow MONO Air.

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A.W. Faber Polygrades: Old and New

In honor of Lothar von Faber’s 200th birthday, Faber-Castell has released a limited edition set of Polygrade pencils. Though it’s all too common today, von Faber was the first to offer a set with pencils of varying grades; some included an eraser, a sharpening knife, or both. Along with the pencils themselves the packaging was of the highest quality too, including gilt lettering on the cover and wooden cases with a spring-loaded clasp. Here are some later versions from the 1880s of the Polygrades, which had a light brown appearance instead of black:


The line was available in Siberian graphite, including lead refills:


Though I have a few of the original boxes and some of the pencils from those sets they’re either partially sharpened or incomplete, so I wanted to see what the pencils from the anniversary set would look like inside one of the original 19th-century boxes:

IMG_1304 (1)

With the exception of having round leads instead of square or hexagonal leads, the new pencils are purported to resemble the look, feel, and quality of the originals.

This must have been quite an undertaking for Faber-Castell. Along with the pencils there is a finely printed booklet with photos and historical information. With the exception of Tombow I can’t think of any other recent sets of this type; I wonder if Faber-Castell has ever issued a similar set in the past for the Polygrades line (or any others).

For some excellent photos be sure to check out this post at Lexikaliker.

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Eberhard Faber: Sole Agent for A.W. Faber in New York

Sole Agent 1

Having completed his law studies in Germany, Johann Eberhard Faber moved to America in 1848. He had spent the previous six months working for the family concern, A.W. Faber, and it was decided he would run the office being established in New York. In 1849, Eberhard purchased and re-opened a storefront on 133 William Street where he sold pencils and other stationery items under his own name. By 1861, the E. Faber pencil factory was established at the foot of 42nd Street along the East River.

Eberhard Faber Building Original NYC

After a devastating fire in 1872, a new factory was established just several months later in Greenpoint. By 1877, Eberhard Faber moved his offices from William Street to 718 & 720 Broadway.


Though he had been manufacturing his own brand of inexpensive pencils for some time, his premium products were still being imported from A.W. Faber, such as the pencils pictured here. The main stamp says A.W. FABER No. 2:

Sole Agent 3

And they are counter-stamped with E. FABER 718 & 720 BROADWAY N.Y. SOLE AGENT:

Sole Agent 2

Two years after moving the offices to Broadway, Johann Eberhard Faber died at the age of 57. I don’t know the exact age of these pencils but they belong to the late-1800s; not long before the Eberhard Faber Pencil Co. would dissolve its partnership with A.W. Faber, and strike out on its own.

Sole Agent 4

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Graf von Faber-Castell: A Change Of Era And A Black Perfect Pencil

On the second page of the new Graf von Faber-Castell catalog there is an interesting image: a black version of the Perfect Pencil along with a black pocket pencil.


What’s more, considering the size of the lead this appears to be the magnum version of the Perfect Pencil:


This is the “anthracite” version, and according to the catalog it will be available this autumn. It has a PVD coating (physical vapor deposition) of titanium.

Along with the excitement and interest that accompanies the announcement of a new product, there is a sense of poignancy found in the first few pages of this catalog as well. All of the Graf von Faber-Castell catalogs, issued yearly from 1993, featured a photograph and a personal note from Anton-Wolfgang Graf von Faber-Castell—eighth in an unbroken line of Fabers and Faber-Castells, going back to 1761. With the Count’s passing in 2016, his son Charles assumed the mantle of the Graf von Faber-Castell line. This catalog, then, is the first without the familiar photograph of Count Anton.

The two-page message addresses the notion of change by alluding to the time when Baron Lothar von Faber took over the family firm in 1839. And rather than that time being one of instability, Lothar would go on to transform the company by producing much higher-quality products than his predecessor.

So in our own way and in our own time we are witnessing a change of era within writing culture, one whose kind hasn’t occurred since 1978, and worth pausing to consider.

Count-Faber-Castell-1Anton-Wolfgang Graf von Faber-Castell (1941-2016)

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The Alpheus Music Writer


For Percival it was the Holy Grail; Dr. Kimble, the one-armed man. For Ponce de Leon? To find the Fountain of Youth; for Cantor, to map the Continuum.

Me? The Alpheus Music Writer.


Alpheus Music of Hollywood, California, was in part a supply store for music copyists. Prior to the desktop-publishing revolution, composers and arrangers of every sort could buy manuscript paper, ink, dip pens, straight edges, templates, and everything else a musician might need for their parts, charts, and scores. There was also a store-branded pencil called the Music Writer, reputedly a favorite among many composers and arrangers, including Leonard Bernstein.

Bernstein with Alpheus Pencils©BBC 1984

In the following photo of Bernstein’s pencils (or “little soldiers” as he called them) you can see mixed in with the Eberhard Faber Blackwing stubs several Music Writers as well:

LBPencilsPhoto: Bernstein Estate

Alpheus Music would eventually close its doors, and so too the silver Music Writer slipped slowly beneath the waves. I haven’t any idea how many there might still be tucked away in boxes and desk drawers, so I feel very fortunate to have these three:


As you can see, the finish isn’t very smooth and the ends of the pencils seem roughly cut. In fact the color and feel of the pencils reminds me a little of the Musgrave 100 Test Scoring Pencil, which leads me to admit that I don’t (yet) know who manufactured these pencils for Alpheus Music. But there’s a coda to this story.

A music copyist who worked for Cameo Music, Judy Green, eventually became one of the owners of Alpheus Music. By 1980 she started her own music copying company, called Judy Green Music, and offered a pencil called the Judy Green Music Writer.


Judy Green passed away in 2007, but Judy Green Music still provides music copying supplies under the aegis of All-Print U.S.A. This successor to the Alpheus pencil is a very smooth writer and has a thick lead which, again, is similar to the Musgrave 100 Test Scorer. Are they the same? I don’t know. But until Faber-Castell relents and gives my proposal for a new music pencil a try¹ (or at least lets me order a bunch for myself²) …

SonataMockUp1(This isn’t an actual product)

… pencils like the Alpheus Music Writer and the Aztec Scoremaster 101 will remain reminders of a bygone era.

Thanks to George for the Music Writers!

¹ Kidding.

² Not kidding so much.

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“The dusty smell of graphite…”

1923 Eberhard Faber Brooklyn Photo From Negative

What follows may be the only description of its kind, and is a revelation. You only get to read this for the first time once, but if you are in a still and quiet place and read it just slowly enough, you might even catch the subtle scent of cedar.

The scene takes place in the mid-thirties.

     We stared aimlessly through the windows at the deserted streets near the water front until the car swerved unexpectedly to a stop at one end of a buff-painted brick building. Above a door that looked very small and plain in the long wall hung a black wooden sign. In gold block letters on a black background were the words EBERHARD FABER PENCIL COMPANY, and the trade-mark, a star within a diamond. Inside, a switchboard operator looked up from a panel whose yellow bulb glowed faintly against the hard squares of outdoor light behind her.

     Everything was roomy, old-fashioned, and alive with the past. Under the painted metal ceiling, which was pressed into floral designs, four long windows reflected their light on the drab linoleum floor. Two unused roll-tops, which gave almost the impression of having been left there for storage, faced each other between the windows fronting on the downstairs street entrance. A third, flat-topped desk stood on a plain carpet in the middle of the room. Facing it was a sheet-metal fire door, which hushed to a distant hum the roar of the factory proper beyond it.


     At last, my grandfather rose from his desk, slid back the fire door, and ushered us into the factory. My senses echoed to the memory of the sights, sounds, and smells that had greeted us: the oily glint of moving machines; the glowing red, yellow, and blue coils of the soft colored leads winding from the nozzles of mixing vats like toothpaste from a tube; the pale graphite-stained hands of smocked women who flipped the black leads, six at a time, into the grooves of wooden slats, lying like little shingles on the moving belt before them; the bright gleam of the polished enamel finish on the pencils; the fragrance of the cedar, the sweetish odor of glue and varnish, the clean scent of rubber erasers and the dusty smell of graphite, the indefinable metallic smell —more a taste than a smell—of brass filings; and, above it all, the roar or the clatter or the ticking rhythms of the machinery, alternating with the silence of stock rooms.


Now and then, my grandfather’s faint smile would broaden in recognition as he greeted the workers by name; and putting a hand on each of our shoulders, he would make his introduction. “Hannah, I should like you to meet my grandsons, Peter and Lotar, Hannah’s been with us for twenty-six years,” or, “Joe, I’d like you to meet my daughter’s boys, Peter and Lotar.” Then Hannah or Joe would shake hands and ask us how old we were and offer us samples of the half-finished pencils as they came from their machines or moving belts. Often they remembered us from a previous visit, and perhaps they recognized us as the sole male heirs of seven generations of pencil-manufacturing Fabers.

From Cast off the Darkness by Peter Putnam. (New York: Harcourt, Brace Inc., 1957.)

(The images I’ve included are from a set of original photographs, taken of the Eberhard Faber factory in Greenpoint, New York.)

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The Last Eberhard Faber Factory

Faber Attic Blackwings

In 1956-57, the Eberhard Faber Company moved operations from their Greenpoint, New York location (established in 1872) to a state-of-the-art facility in Crestwood Industrial Park, located in Mountain Top, Pennsylvania.

Some 37 acres of woods were cleared for the facility, which was designed by Eyerman, Hoban, and Sincavage, a firm based in Wilkes-Barre. The 7-acre facility boasted a 250,000-square-foot factory, and by some reports, more than six miles of conveyor belts.

Eberhard Faber Plant Construction 1

The factory would eventually employ approximately 400 workers until 1986, when in a cost-saving move several departments were relocated to Mexico. By 1988 however, the company was sold to Faber-Castell U.S.A. in Lewisburg, Tennessee, despite an offer from Dixon.

Eberhard Faber Plant Construction 2

The building was last occupied in 1998 by a company involved in the pool industry. By 2010 the building had been razed, but Crestwood Industrial Park continues to host more than a dozen companies.

Eberhard Faber Plant 1957

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Eberhard L. Faber III: Witness to History


Eberhard L. Faber III was the son of Lothar Washington Faber (1861-1943), and the grandson of Johann Eberhard Faber (1822-1879). During the 1920s and 1930s he coordinated between the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company based in Greenpoint, New York, and its newly-built factory in Neumarkt, Germany. In a series of letters written to Franz Barensfeld, the financial supervisor of the Bavarian factory, the day-to-day minutiae of running a pencil factory are laid bare. But among the facts, figures, and product sample requests are some fascinating passages, one of which mentions a world-historical event.

The bulk of the letter dated October 31st, 1929, deals with material concerns such as the quality of the company’s graphite:

“…one thing I particularly want to emphasize, which I have emphasized in past letters, is that the new extra graphite that you buy should be used in very sparing quantities and not until you have absolutely established that the formula is right…”

But the very last paragraph of this two-page letter begins with an ominous statement:

“We have just lived through one of the most unusual and unbelievable, fearful panics in Wall Street that has ever occurred in this country. Untold numbers of fortunes dwindled to nothing in a few days.”

Eberhard III devotes several sentences to describing the gravity of the circumstances:

“It was a regular landslide that brought with it ruin and destruction, and in no way can be even slightly exaggerated.”

In the next few sentences he summarizes the financial mechanisms that brought about the crash, but throughout the letter he never mentions whether the Fabers themselves have been directly impacted.


The last sentence is the most prescient, especially given how slowly and inaccurately news travelled nearly ninety years ago:

“This is bound to effect business very badly and most financiers think that we are in for two to three years’ of great depression.”

Before it became known as the Great Depression, perhaps the expression “great depression” was already in common use. Even so, it still seems remarkable to see it in writing just two days after “Black Tuesday”; the stock market crash of October, 1929.


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