Einige Steinways

GGPhotograph © Don Hunstein 1957

Just riffing on Gunther and Michael

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Echoing both Lexikaliker and Bleistift there is a new pencil-related blog called “pencilsandotherthings“, and the most recent post—featuring a photograph of conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin with a pencil in his mouth—has me feeling right at home.

paotBest wishes for your new blog, Sola.

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Pianos and Polygrades (and Softs Loud)


An advertisement from 1852: Pianos and pencils getting nearly identical billing (let’s hope they weren’t nearly the same price). It’s interesting though that a reseller would count pencils among its high-quality items; in this instance the pencils in question are A.W. Faber’s Polygrades (more on those later).

After seeing “piano fortes” I couldn’t help thinking that pianos forte would read better, but that would be due to the influence of “piano” in modern usage. In other words, they sell “soft louds” not softs loud.

+1 for “&C.”

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Lothar, Johann, and Eberhard. (1)

In a previous post I was curious about the details concerning Eberhard Faber’s early years as the head of the A.W. Faber agency in New York, and what ultimately led to the split with the family in Stein. As part of the research I’ve been doing on the three Faber brothers I came across testimony that Eberhard Faber gave in a New York court case regarding the will of a man called Henry Parish. The brothers of Mr. Parish contested the validity of three codicils attached to the will, and spent some six years in the New York court system trying to have them disqualified.

The sheer volume of witnesses and testimony is staggering, but Eberhard Faber’s brief cameo is of interest because it is a primary source: he himself describes his early years in America. While it would have been easy just to provide a bullet-point summary I’ve included most of the original text below, which (for me at least) is more compelling—a voice speaking directly to us from the past. (NB: He would have been 34 years old at the time of his testimony.)

“I first came to this country in 1849, the latter part of August; one of my brothers, Lothar Faber commenced the business of manufacturing pencils in 1839, and the other, John, commenced two years after; A.W. was the name of my grandfather, and he established the factory in 1761; as far as I recollect, pencils of that manufacture first sold in this country in 1840; I know that by the correspondence between my brother and the party here in New York; the mark A. W. Faber has always been on the pencils I believe, and was on the pencils sent to this country in 1840, and subsequently Nov. 1, 1851. I took the whole stock of pencils which were here from another party who had the agency before C. D. W. Lilliendahl, and then the next pencils which were sent from the factory to this city were sent to me, and invoices made out in my name; on 1 Nov., 1851, I opened a place of business at 133 William street [...] the business of the sale of our pencils in this country is extensive; there is no other set of pencils sold in this county so extensively; the sale or repute first became considerable here about 1846; the first year I came to this country I did no business, the second year I was traveling partly for pleasure and partly for Mr. Lilliendahl in the pencil business; I was engaged in this pencil business in Europe, as clerk, for the half year preceding my departure; before that I was not engaged in any capacity.”



So, by 1861 he was running the factory which was ostensibly built for A.W. Faber but would eventually become the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company. And for many decades to come, slogans would cite 1849 as the company’s founding year. If that’s true, then one must presume that it was Eberhard’s intention to form his own company from the moment he stepped off the boat.

Next I’d like to know when it was he first started thinking about branching off on his own (and who if anyone might have been influencing him), and when he finally made up his mind to do so.


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Clasp ➙ . . . ➙ Clamp

In case you haven’t seen any of the previous posts on this topic, Eberhard Faber’s “clamp” eraser was patented in 1921 and was first used on the Van Dyke line of pencils:


Soon to follow were a variety of accessories, such as this clamp eraser with an attached brush:


There were a few predecessors of this design, which “clamp” in their own way:

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But it seems that they may have all followed from an original design patented in 1891:


This design was first marketed as the clasp eraser, as found in this advertisement from an 1891 trade magazine:


But there is another interesting connection to the clamp eraser: The catalog entry for the clasp eraser is No. 1085, which also ended up being the catalog entry for Eberhard Faber’s double clamp eraser from 1921:



I have no earthly idea when the clasp eraser was discontinued much less if it was offered for 30 years, but by taking up its position in the catalog in 1921 it suggests that the clamp eraser was more than just a new product—it was the culmination of this eraser’s design; I have yet to see clasp-like eraser designs after the clamp eraser was introduced.

After 1921 I don’t think there were any significant changes or updates to the clamp eraser (as it appeared on their pencils), though the word “clamp” was dropped from product catalogs and advertisements as early as the 1940s, instead being referred to as a “removable” and/or “self-cleaning” eraser even up until the early 1990s.

As the Van Dyke 601 eventually became the Microtomic 603, it was one of only two pencils left that featured the clamp eraser:


Eberhard Faber’s Blackwing 602 was the last pencil to feature the clamp eraser.


Contrapuntalism is a clamp-friendly blog.

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Eberhard Faber Permapoint 182 Mechanical Pencils


Though I agree with each and every word written in Chapter 11 of David Rees’s book, these Permapoint mechanical pencils from Eberhard Faber are an exception, owing to their clamp erasers.

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The double-ring motif usually found on the ferrules made its way to the cone of the pencil:


Each pencil comes pre-loaded with 12 short leads, and the barrels feel as if they are just slightly narrower than a wood-cased pencil:


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“How To Take A Test”

Do you start to panic when you sit down to take a test? Would you like to improve your test scores? Well, in no time this 1956 short from Young America Films should get you turning tests like Tinker to Evers to Chance:

After a long day of successful test-taking at school, wouldn’t it be nice to write cousins Jimmy and Alice a social letter letting them know how well your test-taking is going? This 1950 short from Coronet Instructional Films will show you how easy and rewarding letter-writing can be:

Perhaps a friendly telephone call would be better? You’re in luck because this 1950 short from AT&T will explain the miracle of direct dialing to you, Central Office Names included! (But what pencil is she using?)

NB: There is a very similar but longer version of the same film (the director’s cut?) at the AT&T Archive YouTube channel.

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“Agent For A.W. Faber’s Lead Pencils”

This notice from 1870 is another piece of (what seems to me) a complicated puzzle. Lothar Faber sent his brother Eberhard to America to run the New York office and represent the interests of A.W. Faber in the U.S. From what I understand, Eberhard arrived as early as 1843 though the year 1849 is more often marked as the beginning of his tenure (and also the date the Eberhard Faber Co. would later give as its founding year). By 1861 a new factory was opened in New York, part of A.W. Faber’s centenary celebrations. While Eberhard represented his brother’s interests he also began manufacturing his own wares. He would eventually break with Lothar—a dissolution that would marinate in legal proceedings for years to come—yet they seemed to find a way to still do business from time to time.


If you look closely, you’ll see that John Hodge and Co. of San Francisco, California, were agents for A.W. Faber’s lead pencils, at least in 1870:


Eberhard Faber published this notice to the stationery trade concerning their business arrangement:


So at least in 1870, Fabers Lothar and Eberhard still had a deal. I wonder then what precipitated the original break; whose last straw was first?

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A.W. Faber Election Pencil 8450


These Election Pencils were made by the American branch of A.W. Faber, and are examples from the larger category of “voting” or “ballot” pencils. What makes it a voting pencil? Probably by virtue of being labeled as such, and being placed near a ballot box. (Borrowing from Wittgenstein then, a pencil’s type is defined by the application of the rules for its use?) One identifying feature found on some voting pencils is a ferrule with a hole in it, allowing for a string or chain to be attached:

DSCF0010Something makes me wonder though: Of all the kinds of pencils that were indelible, wouldn’t voting pencils have benefited from being able to make a more permanent mark?

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Eberhard Faber Transfer Ink Pencil No. 751


Copying pencils have a long and storied history. Along with the Noblot and the Blu-Blak, the Eberhard Faber Co. also made the Transfer ink pencil, which may have been one of their original ink pencils. Though I don’t know their exact age, the advertisement above comes from 1914:


Each pencil comes with a protective cap, which are all embossed with “E. Faber”:


Most striking are the ferrules, if they can be called that. The gold-colored metal has two stripes of what looks to be black enamel paint:


I couldn’t resist doing some more cross-ferrulizing, and it looks quite at home on the Blackwing 602:


Another beautifully crafted pencil from times gone by:


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