Here is something I didn’t expect to see. In 2016, the ITV Network produced a four-part series called The Investigator: A British Crime Story, about the unsolved 1985 disappearance of a woman called Carole Packman. At the end of the first episode a reference was made to some police notes: One year after her disappearance, a woman who went by the name Carole Packman was found working in the Canadian Aerospace Industry. Accompanying the narration was a shot of a woman working at a drafting table; the pencil she was using was unmistakable:
Image: ITV Network (2016)
And, as an added bonus, there is a Faber-Castell clutch holder near the top of the screen. It would seem that someone involved with the series is a Faber-Castell fan.
This is the first time I’ve ever seen one of the silver-capped desk pencils on television or in a film, so hats off to the property master(s) and/or set dresser(s) for the series (who can be forgiven that in 1986, those pencils did not yet exist—the Graf von Faber-Castell line did not launch until 1993).
In 1871 Johann Eberhard Faber (1822-1879) appealed a decision, made by the United States Custom House (of New York), that he undervalued the merchandise he received from A.W. Faber in Stein, Germany. Though Faber had been manufacturing his own pencils since 1861 he still imported premium products from Germany, acting as A.W. Faber’s agent in America.
The photo above is of the cover page to the handwritten minutes of the hearing, totaling some 45 pages. Prior to arriving in America Eberhard Faber studied law, so it is no surprise that his responses are direct and to the point. But it is his command of the English language—something crucial under such circumstances—that is remarkable.
Eberhard Faber (1822-1879). From the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
The history of the Faber family can be found in a multitude of publications, such as Faber-Castell’s extensive website. It’s become a familiar story of one generation begetting the next: 250+ years of Lothars and Eberhards and Johanns making pencils and more in Europe and the Americas. But one of the most interesting passages to be found in the minutes of the hearing, is where Eberhard Faber himself reckons his family history—a voice from the past connecting directly with the present:
“My great-grandfather’s name was Caspar Faber; my grandfather was Anton William Faber. The latter personally conducted the business till a short time before he died, which was about 1810. He was succeeded by his son Leonard Faber. He continued till 1839. When he died, my brother Lothar succeeded him. He continued alone until about 1841 or 1842.
Leonard Faber conducted the business under a name which I don’t recollect. He stamped his pencils “A.W. Faber.” Lothar conducted the business under the name of “A.W. Faber” while he was alone. He first associated a partner with him when he took my brother John about 1841 or 1842. He has not at any time had another partner in that business than my brother John.
I had no connection with the business before I came to the United States.”
Just about everything I came to learn about pencils started with the blog Pencil Talk, which was soon followed by Lexikaliker and Blesitift. I appreciated the incredible richness of Pencil Talk’s content, and am still amazed by the depth and integrity you can still find there. I think most of all, Pencil Talk wasn’t concerned with monetizing itself, unlike many of the stationery-oriented blogs that have been launched in recent years; it seemed like it was simply a blog by someone who just wanted to share what he’s learned about the world of writing culture.
Lucky for us, it looks like Pencil Talk 2.0 is in the works. If you’re reading this blog it’s likely you’ve already heard about Pencil Talk, but if you haven’t, do yourself a favor and drop by.
Posted in Pencils
Tagged Pencil Talk
As the label says, this is a box of Eberhard Faber gold-plated nibs. It’s still sealed too, but not for long.
I don’t know their exact age but working backward from the year the Eberhard Faber Company moved from Brooklyn, they are a minimum of 60 years old (and could be considerably older).
I still have everything to learn about dip pens and nibs, etc., but I’ve always been curious about something…
When pens like these were in their heyday, how long would a nib such as this one be expected to last? And what would be the likely reason it had to be replaced—did the tines eventually become bent and/or separated, or did people misplace or lose them easily?
In other words would the average office desk have a box containing a gross of these, or were they purchased and used more conservatively?
A certain knowledgable, temporary Montevidean has informed me that these are nibs for fountain pens rather than dip pens; they match exactly those found on E. Faber Perma-point pens. While it answers one question it presents another: Is a box like this for the average pen owner, or perhaps something a reseller would be more likely to stock?
WordPress informs me that Contrapuntalism has turned seven. And as it is with most anniversaries, I’m left wondering where the time has gone.
I started blogging slowly with a site called Pencils and Music, which like a lot of blogs ended up being more of a false start. That blog was rolled into BlackwingPages, which would end up having a much narrower focus.
I found that I missed posting about the historical aspects of pencil-making (and in diminishing frequency) the occasional music-related post, so I started Contrapuntalism.
Over the past seven years this blog has become an outlet for my interest in writing culture, but more specifically the histories of A.W. Faber and the Eberhard Faber Company. I could not have imagined some nine years ago that what started in my office as an online search for some “good” pencils, would eventually result in the privilege of meeting and spending time with both Anton Graf von Faber-Castell and Eberhard Faber IV, much less to have been given the opportunity to pore over the original photos and handwritten documents of their ancestors.
The work continues at a disparate pace, but I’ve taken the first steps toward having the Eberhard Faber Co. documents professionally conserved and collected into a preservation-class digital archive: about 600 pages have been scanned, including the handwritten minutes from the Board of Directors meetings from 1898 to 1911, as well as university documents belonging to Johann Eberhard Faber (1822-1879) dating back to the 1840s. Also, there have been some preliminary discussions concerning university hosting for the collection, which will ultimately result in making it available to the public.
I can’t predict if and when it might all be online, but I’m glad to say that all of this work and research is moving in the right direction.
This clip is from UFA (Universum Film) Dabei, 1972. It is a brief look at some products that A.W. Faber-Castell offered at the 1972 Frankfurt Trade Show.
The music is a perfect fit.
Beginning in May, 1945, the American and British occupying powers produced a newsreel called Welt im Film. Its purpose was political: to reeducate the German population, and to supplant the ideology of National Socialism with notions of democracy. To that end the effort was initially unsuccessful, for after more than twelve years of relentless propaganda German citizens were wary of any political messages in their media.
The Allied Powers would gradually reduce the policy content in the newsreels and replace it with more examples of human interest stories, as well as showcasing the rebuilding of German industry.
Here are two examples of Welt im Film, from 1946 and 1948 respectively, both of which feature pencil production at A.W. Faber-Castell. I have reformatted the videos for HD, and did some slight corrective work in an effort to improve the quality of the image.
The Eberhard Faber Company suffered a devastating fire in 1872, destroying their first factory which was situated along the East River. At the time it was reported to have been a total loss, but remarkably this ledger book survived.
Cover of the ledger.
It was begun in 1857 and in it are some of the oldest surviving records of the Eberhard Faber Company, the majority of which detail the goods imported from the parent company A.W. Faber in Stein, Germany.
It also documents an auspicious time in the company’s history: the years leading up to and including the founding of their first factory, in 1861.
This ledger book reminds us of a time when handwriting was of paramount importance, as was the care and concern involved with “keeping the books.”
The trees are turning in Wilkes-Barre and neighboring Bear Creek, Pennsylvania, where I recently visited for a few days. This is my third trip but I’m no closer to knowing the definitive pronunciation of “Barre.” It was a little easier to know when to switch to Missourah when I was living in Missouri. The funny thing is, of the three different ways “Barre” is often pronounced none reflect (what I presume to be) its French origins.
I was surprised when a little searching revealed that the “Barre” in Wilkes-Barre comes from an Irishman, called Isaac Barré (1726-1802). Nothing Irish about “Barré”, but his father Peter was a Huguenot who eventually settled in Dublin—French after all.
Speaking of French things, if you happen to visit Wilkes-Barre do yourself a favor and try Le Manhattan Bistro downtown.