It even sounds noble.
And like many a noble family, Eberhard Faber Van Dyke pencils seem to have a long—if clouded—history. The filing date for the trademark is dated 1914, though the oldest examples I have so far are from the early 1920s. Van Dyke (also Dyck and Dijk) comes from the artist Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), whose Dutch-Flemish name can also be found in the modern color name “Van Dyke Brown.” It was one of Eberhard Faber’s first quality drawing pencils and they were offered in a variety of degrees. Here are two examples—one of which is a chisel point, both of which are without eraser tips:
An early version of their packaging was rather striking:
At some point the Van Dyke was given an extended ferrule (patented in 1921) and was marketed in parallel as a writing/business pencil, offered in 5 degrees of hardness:
The clamp eraser assembly was even mirrored in the packaging—as you pushed one end of the box, a cardboard tongue in the shape and color of an eraser pokes through a hole in the top. It’s hard to think of many modern cardboard pencil boxes that I’d want to keep:
Eberhard Faber invented what they called the “microtomic” process, which was a method for refining their leads. Soon, Van Dyke pencils were marketed as microtomic Van Dyke pencils:
The brand emphasis gradually began to shift from “Van Dyke” to “Microtomic”, evident in the packaging and on the pencil’s imprint:
Sometime around the mid-1950s, the “Van Dyke” moniker was quietly dropped altogether and they simply became the Microtomic line—a name that matched the post-war, atomic-age ethos of the benefits scientific advancement could bring to daily living.
It seems the Van Dyke was heavily advertised across its lifetime by Eberhard Faber and it became one of their flagship products, whose name also spread to other office supplies such as erasers and rubber bands. But at some point the name lost favor: the Microtomic clan usurped the “Van Dyke” family line, which gently slipped below history’s horizon.
The Van Dyke 601, with the clamp eraser, is one of my favorites. It’s not that it writes so differently—it’s a solid, No. 2 pencil—but the whole design and the overall feel of the pencil is so much more substantial than most pencils. The ones I have from the 1930s I believe are red cedar and not incense cedar (I don’t know this for sure, though), but they certainly weigh more. That’s no doubt in part to the ferrule but I think the wood seems more dense to me as well. The lacquer is thick and the chamfers pronounced.
I think the more pencils like this had existed, the less anyone could have ever thought pencils “ordinary.”