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)

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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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Graf von Faber-Castell: 25 Years of the Perfect Pencil

Graf von Faber-Castell is celebrating 25 years of their Perfect Pencil line with a limited edition, restricted to 750 pieces. There have been many iterations of the Perfect Pencil, many of which you can read about at PencilTalk, but here are a few selections from the catalogs over the years. The dates of the catalogs do not necessarily coincide with the first year each item was offered.

The Graf von Faber-Castell range of writing instruments was launched in 1993. Before there was the “Perfect Pencil” with integrated sharpener, there was this pencil cap/extender atop a pocket pencil. This example is from the 1997 catalog:

Before an eraser was offered on the pencil itself, the lengthener had a removable cap with an eraser underneath:

By 1999 there was a silver-plated Perfect Pencil, with a built-in sharpener and a two-part form factor. However, this product was still being referred to as a verlängerer rather than as the Perfect Pencil. The sharpener, originally made of plastic, could be removed and replaced. The eraser cap was originally unthreaded, then the pocket pencils would eventually be offered with a threaded cap:

In 2001, celebrating the company’s 240th anniversary, two special editions of the Perfect Pencil were issued in limited numbers: one in white gold, and another in stainless steel. Both editions have 3 diamonds in the cap:

This is from the 2006 catalog. Though still offered with a plastic sharpener, the extender would eventually be plated in platinum. A version made of sterling silver was also made available.

This is from the 2008 catalog. The desktop pencil case, which originally came with a small hand-held sharpener, would be pared down to a platinum-plated Perfect Pencil along with 4 replacement pencils with erasers:

2016 would see the inclusion of a magnum Perfect Pencil. The line would be further expanded with models in black and rose gold.

The line of replacement pocket pencils was also expanded by including textured surfaces in a variety of colors.

Like I mentioned before, this is not a comprehensive list of every Perfect Pencil in the Graf von Faber-Castell range; what began as a revival of a classic pocket-pencil design has grown to a large and diverse collection. I continue to hold out hope though, that the company might reissue the original verlängerer, in stainless steel or in a nickel-plated version perhaps.

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“Still occasions arise when a woman must sharpen a lead pencil.”

From The American Stationer, 1889. Words would just spoil it, so:

(Thrusting? Moistening? Did I pick up the wrong magazine again?)

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Caution! A.W. Faber’s Lead Pencils.

The counterfeiting of pencils could be a lucrative trade, especially during the 19th century when laws protecting international trademarks and patents had yet to be written. Such was the case for A.W. Faber, whose growing presence and reputation in the market provided ample opportunity for fraud:

The American Stationer (1875)

As the article mentioned, fraud followed the Fabers to America, prompting notices like the following:

The American Stationer (1875)

Here are some examples of the Faber stamp and counter-stamp, from the late 1870s:

But, couldn’t they just imitate the counter-stamp, too?

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G. Henle Notenblock

Henle Verlag, who in my opinion publishes just about the most beautiful scores available, has added a new manuscript notepad to their catalog. This is in addition to their small notebook and full-size sketchbook.

This pad is A4 in size with 12 systems, whose spacing is a little larger than that of the sketchbook’s 14 systems. The paper is the same stock that is used for their commercial scores.

The pad is glued at the top but the cover opens to the left.

Best of all it has a very stiff cardboard back, so you don’t necessarily need a hard surface just to jot something down.

You don’t come across A4-sized binders in the U.S. very often, though there are options for buying them online. No matter—this pad format is, for me at least, more useful for jotting than for saving.

If you haven’t already seen the company’s demonstrations of music engraving, you can watch them here and here.

I have no association with G. Henle Verlag; I’m just a lifelong fan of their editions.

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Eberhard Faber’s 1856 Copybook

This Francis & Loutrel bookplate is from a letterpress copybook once owned by Johann Eberhard Faber (1822-1879). The book’s pages are very delicate and tissue-thin. There isn’t a great deal of content though, only about 10% of the pages have anything on them. What’s worse, some of that is only barely legible at best.

The first few pages however are clear: ledger entries that date back to 1856 (just seven years after Faber’s arrival in America).

previous post has photographs of a company ledger that survived the 1872 fire, and its earliest entry is dated November, 1857. Perhaps then these are pressed copies from an earlier ledger, which now is presumably lost.

There are letters also: personal and professional, both in English and in German, some of which bear a striking and familiar signature:

While some of the pages are clear and legible, the translucency of the paper makes it difficult to read those pages with writing on both the back and front. For example, here is a page from a lengthy personal letter written by Eberhard to his brother, Lothar:

Some of the words are discernible, but even with the aid of digitally processing the image transcribing the writing remains a challenge. Another example:

Much less is known about the earliest decade of the Eberhard Faber Company, owing to a paucity of documents and photographs. But these pages can’t hold onto their secrets forever.

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“The grief, the disappointment, yes, the almost abject despair…”

One cannot help but feel the pain of Walton Day, who in his 1894 monograph The History of a Lead Pencil (published by the Jos. Dixon Crucible Company), recounts the loss of a single unsharpened pencil during his youth.

Not just any pencil mind you, but one of the better grade. Scarlet Fever? Consumption? No. He’s lost his pencil…

The good news is Walton seems to have recovered quite quickly, singing the praises of Joseph Dixon pencils throughout the fifteen pages that follow.

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