Knights to Remember: Revisiting Faber-Castell


More next week…

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Deutsche Bahn

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Some reading and editing on my way from Berlin to Köln, riding the Deutsche Bahn for the first time. Having recently ridden the bullet train in Japan it’s a tough act to follow, but so far it’s been a pleasant ride.

The pencil in the photo is an A.W. Faber Polygrade pencil (grade B), from the late 1800s or early 1900s. Yes, I sharpened it, and it writes very nicely. Not as smooth as you might expect from today’s pencils, but not scratchy in a way that you’d think it was a low-quality lead. A poor analogy in today’s parlance might sound like this: It’s lead is made from free-range, corn-fed, organic graphite all the way from Siberia.


Greetings from, the moment I push “publish”, Wuppertal Hbf.

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Eberhard Faber Display at the Panama-Pacific Exposition, 1915

Eberhard Faber Panama Rxhibition Display

A closer look at the Eberhard Faber display from the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition.

Unlike the previous post on the A.W. Faber display, for this one I have some construction details. The cabinet was designed by John M. Carrére though he did not live to see it completed; he died 4 years before the exhibition. The display is ten feet square and about fourteen feet tall, and all of the white trim you see is ivory. The finishing accents, which can’t be seen very well in this photo, were done in gold leaf.

Both the booth and the cabinet were designed and constructed in New York, then shipped in sections to San Francisco. The total weight? 12 tons. No word on where it ended up, or its cost.

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A Slight Return

FaberRednitzA.W. Faber-Castell on the Rednitz, c. 1915

I’ve barely re-adjusted to the time change returning from Japan — at least I think I’ve adjusted — but in a week my next stop is Germany by way of Amsterdam. Though this trip will mainly take place in Köln, which is part of North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria is where I want to go. I managed to change my return flight, adding a few days, which will allow me to take a train south to Stein bei Nürnberg.

Rumor has it there might be a pencil-making company or something in that area: I’ll look around, and if I find anything I’ll let you know when I get back. That is, if I decide not to stay there forever.

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Tokyu Hands, Osaka


Due to an unforeseen change in schedule, I ended up having half a day to explore the environs near our hotel. I was told that Tokyu Hands, an eight-floor department store, had an excellent selection of stationery.

I should have mentioned in my previous post that, especially in such a manners-conscious country as Japan, I felt self-conscious about taking photos inside stores. In fact at Ito-ya it is discouraged, but my friend was able to explain to the employees what my intentions were and they kindly consented. With or without permission though I felt compelled to do it very quickly, resulting in some questionable quality.


It’s a good thing I don’t care much for pens:

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An excellent selection of erasers, including my current favorite, the Pilot Foam. The gigantic erasers in the middle are by SEED:


Here, all in one place, were many varieties of Tombow and Mitsubishi pencils. Given how many pens there were, I thought there would be more:

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A sample of Campus notebook offerings:


There was a separate display full of Midori Traveler notebooks and accessories:

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Some spiral notebooks:


Frixion erasable pens are very popular, and I bought one out of curiosity. They really do work:


To give you a little better idea of the floor size—I’m standing approximately in the center, so this is about 1/4 of the floor:

DSCF0024Acting on a hunch I stopped by the arts and crafts section, which was one floor below the stationery section.

A handsome Staedtler display:

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Even more erasers:


I wonder how you say “mmmmmmm” in Japanese:

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Photos of bounty to follow.

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Ito-ya and Gojuon, Ginza, Tokyo


Despite having lived in Florida for many years I only visited Walt Disney World a few times. I have a picture in my mind of the tourists who were there; many wielding multiple cameras, many of whom called some part of Asia their home. I couldn’t help thinking it was all a bit silly (it’s just Mickey Mouse…). So the irony was palpable when I pulled out my camera in Tokyo last week standing in front of Ito-ya; a kind of Disney World for the stationery fan.

As always time was very limited, so there is much more to see than what meager photos I have posted here. First are some pen displays, and in the background is their pen-repair workshop:
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Also on this floor was a Reuge music box:


Many displays had glasses of water in them to maintain humidity:

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There was a nice selection of Graf von Faber-Castell Pens of the Year:

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Oceans of every kind of pen you could imagine, from the humble ballpoint to the Frixion:

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Some Faber-Castell anniversary cups and Grip products:


Pencil upon pencil:


Platinum-plated and sterling silver versions of the Graf von Faber-Castell Perfect Pencil:

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Some Staedtler anniversary items:


A handsome pencil sampler featuring Ito-ya branded pencils:


And as previously mentioned, globes, globes, globes…

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Even some of the pencil aficionados I know haven’t heard of Gojuon, so a visit here is something like a wade into the termination shock of pencildom.

The Ginza Pencil Museum is less than five minutes’ walk from Ito-ya but unless you are looking for it, chances are slim you’d come across it as it is situated in a back alley off the Ginza strip. From what very little I know about Gojuon it is a small store and museum (with capacity for about three people), and that they carry many vintage and hard-to-find items. However, they don’t seem to have regular hours so it’s best to make an appointment if you’d like to get in.

Because I couldn’t guarantee my schedule I was reluctant to make an appointment. Owing to this I didn’t have any expectations as I approached the door: turns out, they were closed. But as much as I would liked to have seen what they have and to have met the people behind it, being there at all was to fulfill a bit of a pilgrimage and I was happy just to have seen it with my own eyes. If Ito-ya is a kind of Disney World then Gojuon, to the pencil fan, is a kind of El Dorado—nearly as mythical, and just as difficult to find:


These pencil posts look like a fun project (maybe we can convince Lexikaliker to basteln a bit and give it a try):


Though I didn’t get a chance to meet the people of Gojuonderado, I left them a small gift through their mail slot along with a note.

Ever on the move, it was time to re-tangle (re-tango?) with the Tokyo train system and get back to Shibuya. Good thing my Pepsi was “strong.”

Special thanks to my friend Yumiko and her daughter Haruka, who made my visit to Ito-ya and Gojuon possible.

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Oh, Tokyo!

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Still not enough time for a proper post, but hopefully in a few days that will be remedied. It’s too difficult to choose a top highlight so far, but the floor devoted almost entirely to globes at Ito-ya is in the running:


(Those are just the ones on the ceiling.)

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Plane Talk

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Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean en route to Tokyo via Seoul; approximately the seventh hour of a twelve-hour flight.

Passenger seated next to me: “You’re taking pictures of your pencils?”
Me: “No.”

Conversation averted.

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War and Peace

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There have been several previous posts (including this one, War Between the Fabers) about the lawsuit A.W. Faber filed against the Eberhard Faber Company at the turn of the 20th century. The main issue at hand was whether the labeling of pencils with “E. Faber” caused brand confusion with “A.W. Faber.”

The result was that Eberhard Faber was required to stop labeling pencils with only an initial or initials followed by “Faber.” There are additional subtleties to the suit and its resolution but the document pictured above and below is a witness to that time: it’s one of the original letters sent out by the company in 1903 notifying business partners of the change.

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Since I’ve been posting about this pencil lengthener recently, here are some scans of the very first Graf von Faber-Castell catalog and their bleistiftverlängerer:


(I’m not sure if refills for the lobster were available. Perhaps a special edition?)


Pencils from the initial Graf von Faber-Castell line (1993):


Close-up of the lengthener I had previously owned. The cap used to have an eraser and the pencils had silver-plated tips:

Later versions (I’m not sure when the switch was made) would do away with the eraser under the cap and move it to the end of the pencil. First there was a brass-threaded end, then a switch to what is the current design:


The lead in those earlier pencils, especially the ones with the silver caps, was softer than what is available now. For me at least, they were perfect—I wish I knew what grade that was and if it was a unique formula. It wasn’t very waxy at all, rather more like powder, but very smooth and dark.

I don’t usually post about new or even current products, but given the topic it’s worth mentioning that refills now include these grey pencils with the guilloche pattern featured on their desk pencils. Not available in the U.S. just yet, but with a trip to Germany coming up in October I will try to remedy that:


This pencil lengthener was my “gateway drug” to the Graf von Faber-Castell line. It was my first “high end” pencil-related item, and at less than half the cost of the Perfect Pencil, it didn’t feel like I was jumping into the deep end all at once. But it also set me in a pattern that would last for years: Discovering products just as they were discontinued, and having to go to the ends of the earth online to try and find them.

I don’t know what it is about this bleistiftverlängerer, but the design, shape, feel, and function of it are just perfect in my opinion. Since it pre-dates the first Perfect Pencil I wonder if this was a stepping stone to the PP’s design or whether the lengthener was always meant to be a separate product. In other words when it was first designed and produced, did someone think: “You know, I bet I could fit a sharpener in there…”

The Perfect Pencil eventually eclipsed this lengthener but I don’t know if the PP was meant to obsolete it, or if the lengthener just didn’t sell well. Like I mentioned before though I still think this would be a popular item, even if there was just a plastic edition.

Thanks to Faber-Castell for the copy of the Graf von Faber-Castell catalog.

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