The Castell is 111


The A.W. Faber Castell turned 111 this year. If the brand’s longevity is surprising, its origins are even more so. The brand was cultivated by Count Alexander zu Castell-Rüdenhausen, the new head of A.W. Faber (having married Baron Lothar’s granddaughter Ottilie in 1898). He had no experience in the pencil industry, but was determined to create a flagship brand for the company (which, as Petroski has noted, was in response to the success of Hardmuth’s Koh-I-Noor pencils). The first Castell pencils were made available in 1905 but it seems that they took a little while to make it to North America. This article from 1907 sets the scene:

The American Stationer

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Pencils Talking?


Pencil Talk is back online again; fingers crossed that we might see more…

(If it comes down to a vote, consider this my early ballot.)

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Befiehl du deine Wege

dsc_0010-2The Alte Kirche in Stein, built in 1660.

My first visit to Stein bei Nürnberg and Faber-Castell was in December of 2012. While visiting the Martin Luther Church (donated by patron Lothar von Faber and erected in 1861), I was told that the Lutheran hymn Befiehl du deine Wege was performed each year in honor of Baron Lothar. The hymn text was written by Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) and there have been several chorale settings based on a melody by Hassler (1564-1612). The church in Stein has used a setting and melody written by Michael Haydn (1736-1806).

After returning home I decided to compose my own setting of Befiehl using Haydn’s melody, and sent the manuscript to Count von Faber-Castell as an expression of gratitude. With his passing in January, 2016, I revisited the score and recorded this performance on a baritone guitar. I added some original video, and the result is this tribute to the Count.

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A View Of Some Rooms


When you visit the Faber-Castell factory in Stein, Germany, you’ll see it has four floors and is in the shape of a giant “U”, complete with smokestack. This photo was taken from within the building, where I was standing approximately at the bottom of the “U.”

Michael's Moving Day

I can’t say that I walked into every single room but I noticed that along the production line, there were very few walls separating each of the areas. If there was a wall, there was an open double-door to go through, which gives you the feeling of one long floor rather than many separate compartments:

Michael's Moving Day

I don’t know how many different ‘departments’ there are at the Faber-Castell factory, by that I mean, the number of steps that are assigned to either a machine, a person, or both. No matter what the number, I’m sure it is designed with efficiency in mind.

In the minutes of a board meeting of the Eberhard Faber Company dated December 5, 1905, there is a passage with a list of the many rooms involved in their pencil-making process. I can’t be certain if it is a list of all of the rooms, but it was very interesting to read how many separate compartments (and therefore, stages) there were at the time. In no particular order:

  • Dry House
  • Grooving Room
  • Gluing Room (2 strip-gluing machines)
  • Rounding Room (2 rounders, 1 jointer)
  • Varnish Room (4 varnish machines)
  • Hand-Polishing Room (10 double tables)
  • Steel Polishing Room
  • Heading Rooms (shoulder machine, plugging machine, tipping machine, sizer)
  • Stamping Room (bronze stamping machines)
  • Metal Room (two turning lathes, one automatic threader, one knurler)
  • Nickel Shop

I’m making an assumption that by calling something a “room”, it means you likely enter and leave through a door. But even so, it’s easy to imagine that a lot of carrying was involved. And as bespoke machinery was invented and implemented, many of these steps would be combined.


Some rooms from 1903.

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Eberhard Faber Van Dyke Display Stand



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“I, Lothar von Faber of Stein…”


So begins a little-known handwritten document from 1882. It is an assignment of rights for the trademark “A.W.F.” to Eberhard Faber (the son of Eberhard Faber I, who died in 1879). It is signed by Lothar von Faber, head of A.W. Faber in Stein, Germany.


The rights to “A.W.F.” were sold and assigned “in consideration of the sum of one dollar”, and applied only to its use in the United States. At the time, Eberhard Faber was the main distributor of A.W. Faber’s goods in the U.S.

At first glance it seems like this document was written and signed by Lothar von Faber, but a closer look at the handwriting suggests it was Eberhard Faber who wrote the document, and was only signed by Baron Lothar. For example, the name “Eberhard Faber” in the document looks very similar to Eberhard Faber II’s signature:


Second, the ink used for Lothar von Faber’s signature and “October 7th” appears darker than that used for the main text of the letter:


Here is where it gets interesting.

Following Lothar’s death in 1896, his widow, Ottilie, sought to secure a trademark in the U.S. for “A.W. Faber.” Her application was rejected based on a mark already on the books by Eberhard Faber:


Apparently, Eberhard Faber had also applied for the mark “A.W. Faber” since at the time he was manufacturing low-grade lead pencils on behalf of the parent company. Through her attorneys, Ottilie von Faber submitted an affidavit attesting to her ownership and use of the mark “A.W. Faber”, and was granted letters patent for the same in 1897.

Ottilie von Faber also stated in her affidavit that Eberhard Faber, upon discovering (or perhaps being told) that he is not the rightful owner of the trademark “A.W. Faber”, assigned such to Lothar von Faber on May 10th, 1882. So why was the above assignment issued to Eberhard Faber in October of 1882? Perhaps it was a bit of a compromise: Lothar would permit “A.W.F.” on pencils manufactured and sold by Eberhard Faber, but would not go as far as allowing him the rights to “A.W. Faber.” Even in these early years of international patents and trademarks you can see how undocumented nuances, such as the difference between “A.W.F.” and “A.W. Faber”, could become the stuff of lawsuits.

But all of this was just a prelude. A few years later the Fabers would be engaged in a legal battle over trademarks that would last more than a decade. Eberhard Faber II ultimately put his experience to good use however, as he would eventually become the president of the U.S. Trademark Association—a position he would hold for more than forty years.

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Graf von Faber-Castell: Magna Cum Bleistift

Though this blog is devoted primarily to historical topics concerning the Faber houses, every once in a while a new or current product becomes the subject of a post. As a long-time user of the Graf von-Faber Castell Perfect Pencil (and the Bleistiftverlängerer), it’s interesting to see that the refills have been given the magnum treatment:

118655_3 magnum-sized pocket pencils

They seem to be similar to the “Jumbo” version of the Castell 9000. What’s interesting though is that the diameter of the pencil has remained the same, whereas the Jumbo Castell 9000 has a larger diameter.

118555_Perfect Pencil magnum-sized

Refills for the Perfect Pencil come only in one grade (B is my guess), but having a choice now between two lead diameters I wonder whether the larger leads might be softer/darker. (I wonder, too, whether the word “Jumbo” will be used or if that too will get an upgrade.)

Along with a leather wrap for their Polychromos pencils, this leather-covered set of pencil holders is also new:118857_Elephant made from natural leather, big


To me at least, these pencil holders have something of the spirit found in accessories that were available during the first half of the twentieth century.

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Eberhard Faber’s Artist’s Pencil


Offered individually as well as in sets, this early leadholder from the Eberhard Faber Co. is likely from the late 19th or early 20th century.


This pencil is nearly identical in size and design to A.W. Faber’s Artist’s Pencil, from the polished rosewood body right down to the ivory tip:


It’s likely that E. Faber’s Artist’s Pencils were manufactured by A.W. Faber in Germany, as the former was still importing high-grade wood-case pencils and leads from the latter up until the early 20th century. Though the Eberhard Faber Co. was manufacturing its own pencils as early as 1861, by agreement with A.W. Faber they were only of the “inexpensive” variety. (In fact, the Eberhard Faber Co. would continue to import leads for more than 50 years from companies such as Lyra and Staedtler.)

In 1898 Lothar Washington Faber (son of the first Eberhard Faber and the brother of Eberhard Faber II), visited pencil companies in the vicinity of Nürnberg—including that of his uncle Johann Faber—while concealing his efforts from his relatives at A.W. Faber in Stein. The American firm was about to dissolve its dependency on, and partnership with, A.W. Faber, about which Lothar Washington wrote to his wife: “The pencils we cannot make ourselves we can have made here as good as A.W. Faber for one half the price. We can work much more profitably without A.W.F.”


As part of a company-wide makeover (and no doubt influenced by a lawsuit brought by A.W. Faber), the label of “E. Faber” would be dropped in favor of “Eberhard Faber” on all of the company’s pencils and packaging:


The Artist’s Pencil would continue on in the Eberhard Faber catalog at least until 1915 (I’m not certain yet as to the year it was discontinued), as the American firm gradually removed and replaced products that bore any similarity to or connection with those made by  A.W. Faber.


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Eberhard Faber: Erasers Display




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Some Box*

Photo: Faber-Castell

For the completist is the newly-announced Karlbox. Only 2,500 were made so hurry! For me at least, I’m still holding out hope for a Bachbox (but would also settle for a Rachbox).

DSCF2100(These aren’t real products.)

The signature on the first drawer is a poignant reminder that this was likely a project the late Count von Faber-Castell was involved with—perhaps Faber-Castell might share some more of the project’s backstory in the future.

I wonder what other ideas and projects were begun by the Count that we might yet still see. Here’s to hoping a whole bunch.

*”Some Box” is a variation on a riff started here and continued here. In this case though, it’s meant in the sense of “Wow, that’s some box.”

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