Have You Some Phlogiston?

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Name that tune (the title of this post is a hint).

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“Grade? F.”

Even casual pencil users wonder from time to time about the numbers and letters stamped on the barrel that indicate the grade of its graphite. There is more than one explanation for those familiar Hs and Bs, not to mention No. 1s, 2s, and 3s, almost to the point of being folklore. I’ve read that “H” means “hard” and “B” means “black”, but have also read that an “HB” lead can mean “half black.” At some point grade “F” was introduced, and I’ve been told that it can mean either “fine” or “firm”, and that it is roughly equivalent to a 2.5 in the number system. The way the following advertisement from 1913 reads, one might infer that it is the year that grade “F” was introduced, at least by the Eberhard Faber Co.

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It gives no indication, however, as to why the letter “F” was selected. Further, the copy goes on to describe grade “F” as being a “happy medium.”

Without going into the history of the use of letter grades in education, one still has to wonder why no one thought that advertising a new product with a “grade” of “F” might be a bad idea. If this research is correct though, using “F” as a letter grade to represent failure had only been around for about 20 years up until that point, so perhaps its modern meaning hadn’t yet taken root.

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For Ludwig’s Van

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Interesting signage in South Florida. (No, I did not check the remaining streets for symphonies 1-8.)

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Eberhard Faber No. 32

DSCF0004Eberhard Faber combination pencil and dip pen, ca. 1912.

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An Infermaty

in•fer•ma•ty
noun
1. The perceived, seemingly endless passage of time when, during a vamp, a guitarist is permitted to continue soloing with impunity.
2. A passage on a score indicated with an infermata:

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ORIGIN: Related to fermata, eternity, infinity, and infirmity; from last night’s rehearsal. (Guitar’s still going I think.)

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Happy Birthday, Mini-Memm!

Switzerland. Toggenburg. Stork. Baby© 1999 Didier Ruef

A tired stork just left word that yesterday, Matthias (Memm of Bleistift fame) and his wife welcomed their son into the world! No news as of yet regarding his name, but I am still rooting for “Mini-Memm.”

Herzlichen Glückwunsch an unseren Freund Matthias!

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Some advice from Rilke

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     “Works of art are of an infinite loneliness and nothing can reach them so little as criticism. Only love can grasp them and keep hold of them and be just to them. Always trust yourself and your own feelings as opposed to any such analysis, review or introduction; if you should be wrong, then the natural growth of your inner life will lead you slowly and in time to new realizations. Allow your judgments their own quiet, undisturbed development, which like all progress must come from deep within you and cannot be forced or hastened by anything. The whole thing is to carry the full time and then give birth; to let every impression and every germ of a feeling consummate itself entirely within itself, in that which is dark, inexpressible, unconscious and unattainable by your own intelligence, and to await the hour of the delivery of a new clearness of vision. That alone is to live an artistic life, in understanding, as in creating.”

— From Letters to a Young Poet
by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

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A Dixon Ticonderoga

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Dixon’s Ticonderoga is another one of those pencils that seems to have been around forever, along with the Eberhard Faber Mongol and the Faber-Castell Castell 9000. Because of its long history there have been many versions and varieties, but this pre-war example is characterized by its unique eraser.

Its design was patented in 1933 by H.B. Van Dorn:

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I can’t say if this was the first of its kind (despite the fact it’s patented) as there were a wide variety of eraser shapes and types available between the turn of the previous century and the Second World War. The shape appears to leverage the advantages inherent to circular erasers, mainly a thin edge that can fit into tight spaces. Once the “halo” wears down you’re still left with a usable, standard-type eraser tip. What interests me most though is that the ferrule has a slot cut into both sides to accommodate the circle, which must have introduce at least one, of not several, additional steps in manufacturing (and by extension, required new machinery).

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The ferrules have Dixon’s unique double band, though these are painted yellow; later examples would have two bands of green.

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For more about this pencil, here is an excellent post from Pencil Talk: The Dixon 1395 Pencil.

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The Good Old Days

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