Eberhard Faber No. 44 “DIADEM”


One of the hundreds of stationery sets offered by the Eberhard Faber Company, the No. 44 “DIADEM” set is from the early 1920s.



There is a divided tray on top, a sliding tray on the bottom, and an ink blotter underneath the folding cover. The contents here aren’t exactly what the set originally came with but they are similar.



An early Van Dyke pencil extender with its original pencil: the handle is made of wood and the connector is made of metal.




Posted in Pencils | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Wood and Metal


Posted in Pencils, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Gojuon: shoushin-mono


With the world increasingly available at our fingertips these days, pleasant little mysteries (the kind that can only be fueled by imagination and wonder) have become harder to come by. For me at least, Gojuon—on the far side of the world—is one of them.

I was able to get as far as their Tokyo doorstep, though no further. But my friend Yumiko recently visited the Ginza Pencil Museum and was kind enough to send along some unique items—the kind of things that are small, custom-made, and precious, making them all the more special. For example, this mini-pencil from Tombow:DSC_0031

I don’t know if this form factor is sold in stores, but these at least are made special for Gojuon:DSC_0028

I’m told that shoushin-mono has a double meaning in Japanese: a “timid man”, or more to the point: “a short lead MONO.”

Also included were two wooden pencil extenders, one with a cover and one without:


I don’t know what type of wood it’s made of, but it is very light. The metal extender is the type that expands as you unscrew it, allowing you to drop the pencil into place, then secure it by re-tightening. This piece was also a custom Gojuon item, indicated by the engraving on the barrel:


The second one might be the most perfect extender (according to my tastes at least) that I’ve seen. Too often, the large bulky extenders are almost an instrument in their own right. And if you need to sharpen frequently it really becomes a production.

This extender is covered with an extremely thin sheath of wood:DSC_0010

It’s so light as to be nearly unnoticeable, and if you’re using a round-barrel pencil the extender almost feels like it could be the pencil itself:


Thanks to Yumiko and to the people at Gojuon; the mystery continues.

Posted in Pencils, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Bleyweißstefftmacher: The Vagaries of Pencil History

DSCF0011The further back you look into the history of wood-cased pencils the more unreliable the information, if you happen to find the information at all. That’s likely true no matter what it is you’re researching, and one simple explanation is that the source for that information has been lost to history. The frustrating thing is, at the time it was probably something any number of people knew but was so mundane it didn’t warrant being written down. Combine that with family- and business-oriented secrecy and many of the interesting details about all kinds of things simply vanish, leading others who came after to speculate, whose speculations sometimes fossilize into accepted facts.


For example: What prompted the change from blue to gold for the inside of these two early Blackwing boxes? And, does the blue lid read “BLACK WING” due to a monumental kerning error, or were the words originally separated?

DSCF0041 - Version 2

Another related example: Why were there more than one dozen ferrule variations found on the Blackwing? We could come up with some common-sense answers in lieu of proof: brand refreshing, scarcity of materials, even caprice or whimsy. And while that may cover every possible explanation, it does not satisfy.


In the case of the Blackwing there are likely many still living who have firsthand knowledge about those decisions, so there is still a chance to find out. But what about events from the 19th and 18th centuries?

This post began after asking a seemingly innocent question with regard to this 1902 notice from the New York Daily Tribune. This piece about Baron Lothar von Faber begins with a dubious statement: “The manufacture of blacklead pencils is first mentioned in 1726, at Stein, a village near Nuremberg, Germany, where Kaspar Faber, in 1760, settled and began, in 1761, to manufacture lead pencils.”

1902 A.W. Faber

Where did the date 1726 come from? Perhaps the reporter consulted a then-current and trusted encyclopedia. Perhaps he solicited pencil-makers in his area for the information, or maybe an intern prepped the background information: there are many possible explanations.

Something else to consider: With Stein (a small village) being so close to Nuremberg (an important industrial center), does the author mean that 1726 is the date for Stein and Stein alone with regard to the manufacture of pencils? (NB: Some tradesmen and craftsmen walked down the road and chose Stein in order to bypass the draconian requirements enforced by the Nuremberg trade guilds.)

Here is the first sentence again:

“The manufacture of blacklead pencils is first mentioned in 1726, at Stein, a village near Nuremberg…”

It seems to me that the author is emphasizing the date rather than the place, if, for no other reason, due, to a surfeit, of commas. But knowing at the very least that Friedrich Staedtler was on the books during the 1600s for a time, not to mention the countless unnamed and forgotten pencil-makers unable to muster a 250-year dynasty, the date of 1726 becomes even more confusing.

So, when were pencils first manufactured in Germany?

Language Barrier

Despite having some facility with German, or at least 19th-century-music-theory-German, searching for primary sources has been difficult. Some of the problems are mine, for example I don’t know a great deal of German idioms and my vocabulary is limited. But other problems aren’t as fixable on my end, such as poor OCR results (it’s difficult enough trying to anticipate OCR errors in English-language documents). Dump the impregnability of Fraktur from an nth-generation copy on top of all that, and I’m left only with a wistful look in my eye and thoughts of what-could-have-been. So I called-in a ringer.

I’m sure most if not all of you are familiar with Gunther’s site Lexikaliker. I thought I’d ask him if he had any dates offhand regarding early pencil-making in Germany. The response I got was so detailed and thorough that I couldn’t possibly have improved upon it, so I’ll just post it here instead:

Source No. 1:
Der Staedtler-Stift – Seine vielseitige Verwendung, Geschichte und Herstellung
[The Staedtler pencil – its various uses, history and production]
J.S. STAEDTLER, Mars-Bleistiftfabrik, Nürnberg, 1928

Die Geschichte des STAEDTLER-Stiftes
[The history of the STAEDTLER pencil]
by W. Hauenstein

Die ersten Anfänge der Bleistiftproduktion in Nürnberg werden in einem im Jahr 1596 erschienenen Buch des Italieners Caesalpinus erwähnt.
[The beginning of the pencil production in Nuremberg is mentioned 1596 in a book by the Italian Caesalpinus.]

Laut Ratsprotokoll vom 28.2.1662 wird Friederich Staedtler das Bleistiftmachen untersagt.
[According to the town-hall minutes from February 28th, 1662, Friedrich Staedtler was ordered to stop pencil production.]

Laut Kirchenbuch vom 6.3.1672 wird Friedrich Staedtler anlässlich seiner Verheiratung als “Bleyweißstefftmacher” bezeichnet.
[According to the parish register from March 6th, 1672, on the occasion of its marriage Friedrich Staedtler is listed as pencil maker.]

Source No. 2:
275 Jahre Staedtler-Stifte 1662-1937
[275 years of Staedtler pencils 1662-1937]
J.S. Staedtler, Nürnberg, 1937

Bleistifte schreiben Weltgeschichte
[Pencils write world history]
by Franz Maria Feldhaus


Copperplate engraving
Kölner Straßenhändler mit Schwefelhölzern, Kreide und Rötelstein. Kupferstich von 1589. Haus der Rheinischen Heimat in Köln.
[Street vendor from Cologne with lucifers, chalk and red chalk. Copperplate engraving from 1589, House of the Rhenish Home, Cologne.]

Johann Mathesius, technischer Schriftsteller aus Sachsen, hat 1562 in Joachimsthal 20 lange Predigten veröffentlicht (“Sarepta” oder “Bergpostille”), die er den Bergleuten und Glasbläsern der Gegend von Joachimsthal in österlicher Zeit gehalten hat. Diese Predigten berichteten vom Bergbau, den Metallen, den Werkzeugen, der Münzerei, dem Glasmachen und vielem mehr. Von den Schreibstiften erzählt Mathesius: “… wie man hernach mit silbern stefften … vnnd jetzt auffs papier mit einem newen vnd selbswachssnen metal zu schreiben pfleget”. Dieses in der Erde wachsende Mineral kann nur unser Graphit, den man lange für ein Bleimetall hielt, gewesen sein.
[Johann Mathesius, technical writer from Saxonia, has published 20 long sermons 1562 in Joachimsthal (called “Sarepta” or “Mountain devotional book”) which he has read to miners and glass blowers of the Joachimsthal region around Easter. These sermons report from mining, metals, tools, minting, glass making and a lot more. Mathesius tells about writing implements: (roughly translated) “… how now a silver pen[cil] is used to write on paper with a regrowing [emphasis mine] metal”. This metal which grows in the earth was mistaken for a lead metal for a long time but could only be our graphite.]

Wie J. Beckmann in “Beyträge zur Geschichte der Erfindungen”, Bd. 5, 1805, vermutet Feldhaus, dass der Cumberland-Graphit seit Jahrhunderten bekannt gewesen ist und erst die merkantile Strömung des 16. Jahrhunderts zur rationellen Erschließung der Gruben führte.
[Just like J. Beckmann in his “Contributions to the history of inventions”, Vol. 5, 1805, Feldhaus assumes that the Cumberland graphite was already known for centuries and that only the mercantile movement of the 16th century lead to the efficient exploitation of the Cumberland mines.]

Feldhaus: Bis jetzt konnte kein älterer Bleistiftmacher als Friedrich Staedtler (1662) ermittelt werden. – Auch Feldhaus konnte nicht herausfinden, wie das Handwerk nach Nürnberg kam.
[Feldhaus writes that so far no pencil maker before Friedrich Staedtler (1662) has been identified. – Feldhaus hasn’t found out how the pencil making business came to Nuremberg.]

Feldhaus: Andrea Caesalpin, De Metallicis, Rom 1596, Buch über Metalle. Wasserblei, längliches Reißblei, Bleiweißstangen; Baumeister, Maler; “feines Reißblei aus England, gemeines verschicken die Holländer in andere Länder”.
[Feldhaus cites the Italian Andrea Caesalpin and his book “De Metallicis”, published 1586 in Rome, in which he tells about graphite (“Reißblei” and “Bleiweißstangen” were the words for it back then) and their use by architects and artists. The better quality came from England, and the medium quality was sent by the Dutch to foreign countries. In both cases Caesalpin refers to European graphite.]

Sometimes Caesalpin is called Caesalpino and (“latinized” as it was popular back then) Caesalpinus (like above).

Italienischer Naturforscher Ferrante Imperato: “grafio piombino”, Zeichen-Blei. Historia Naturale, Neapel 1599.
[The Italian naturalist Ferrante Imperato speaks of “grafio piombino”, “drawing lead”, in his book “Historia Naturale”, published 1599 in Napoli.]

Bleistiftzeichnungen von David Teniers d. J., um 1630.
[The artist David Teniers the older has made pencil drawings around 1630.]

“Bleystefft” (Halter für Bleistift und Rötel) in Joseph Furttenbach d. Ä., Artillerieoffizier, “Reisz Laden”, Augsburg 1644. Wohl die früheste Erwähnung des Wortes “Bleistift”. – Abbildung 19: “in welcher auff der einen Seitten ein Bleystefft / auff der andern Seitten aber / ein gespitzter Rötelstefft”.
[“Bleystefft”, the old German word for Bleistift, can be found in the book “Reisz Laden” (roughly translated as “instrument case”), published in Augsburg 1644, by the ordnance officer Joseph Furttenbach the older. Most likely this is the earliest mention of the word “Bleystefft”/”Bleistift”. – Image 18 shows a double-ended metal holder for graphite and sharpened red chalk.]

I have just looked at the “Lexikon der Erfindungen und Entdeckungen auf den Gebieten der Naturwissenschaften und Technik”* (Encyclopedia of Inventions and Discoveries in Science and Technology) by Franz Maria Feldhaus, published in 1904, and noticed the following entry:

In England kommen Graphitschreibstifte (Bleistifte) in den Handel.
[In England graphite writing utensils (pencils) are sold.]


So it appears that quite a bit happened prior to 1726.

I’m not suggesting the author of the newspaper article was being dishonest, and it may be even more understandable now how an error like that could have been made. But it clearly demonstrates there’s little that’s simple about the pencil.

Special thanks to Gunther for the history lesson!

DSCF0008 (1)

Posted in Pencils | Tagged , | 3 Comments

That Sound.


I’m not certain how to spell it, but it’s certainly unmistakeable.


It can come from underfoot, occasionally from under elbow, but always from out of nowhere.


Don’t.        Move.
For a moment, all oxygen has left the room.

1,000 images pass through the mind’s eye, all at once, displaying every possible scenario. Followed by every possible rationalization.

“Couldn’t have been an old one…wouldn’t have sounded so bright.”


Wishing won’t make it so. You’ve just broken a pencil.

Posted in Pencils | 3 Comments

Two Knights to Remember (III): Preserving the Past


Baron Lothar von Faber looms large over Stein, both literally and figuratively. In 1899, this statue of him was erected in front of the town’s Lutheran church (which he himself had erected). This trade notice from 1899 tells of the statue’s dedication:

Statue of Lothar Unveiled from New_England_Stationer_and_Printer (Vol 13) 1899.tifLothar Faber took over the family business at age 22, at a time when it’s said the company had a total of 22 employees. Hard work and determination not only transformed the A.W. Faber Company, but also Stein itself. Statue notwithstanding, the city would be monument enough to his life, work, and achievements.

With so much of the city owing its very existence to the Fabers and Faber-Castells few local residents would be likely to forget Stein’s rich heritage, even if some of the the details may have faded over time—after all more than 250 years have gone by. At some point however, a breech occurs between living memory and history: 100-year-old buildings, statues, and memories themselves eventually ossify, only to become the half-truths of travel books and guided tours.

DSC_0032 (1)

There are no statues, monuments, or books of Eberhard Faber in America, or anywhere else for that matter. Though sections of the Brooklyn factory have been designated a historic district, they are being converted into housing, artists’ studios, and office spaces. The following color photograph is from the 2007 District Designation Report, the black and white photograph is of the same section of the building ca. 1930:


It would be nice if that corner space (or any place) could be turned into a museum, or at least house an exhibit of some sort.

There is a subtle irony in commemorating a pencil-maker: the very products meant to be honored are designed to be wholly consumed. Instead it’s the by-products of a pencil, e.g. music, drawings, poetry, and prose, etc., that are the more likely candidates for immortality, or at least for being remembered.

Epilogue: A Kind of Round Table


While the names “Eberhard Faber” and “Faber-Castell” are very well-known in America, it isn’t unusual for the average pencil user to be unaware that the two are related. Some even think the name “Eberhard Faber” actually refers to two people. But for more than 130 years, you could find an Eberhard Faber manufacturing writing instruments in America.

As mentioned in a previous post (as well as here, and on page 8 here), I had the pleasure of meeting with Eberhard Faber IV in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Both he and Count von Faber-Castell have known each other for decades of course, not least as family members but also as presidents of competing companies. After dropping a few suggestions here and there, I’m happy to say that an invitation has been sent to Mr. Faber and his family to visit Stein, which will likely take place during summer of next year. It will be Mr. Faber’s first visit to the company’s headquarters but more interestingly, to the city where his and Count von Faber-Castell’s common ancestor, Kaspar Faber, began it all in 1761. For fans of wood-cased pencils, that will be a meeting for the ages.

The imagery found in the Faber-Castell logo reckons the company’s long history. And given the motif, it may even imbue a sense of chivalry—a notion that seems hopelessly old fashioned today, yet something we’re not quite willing to completely forget. The same might be said of wood-cased pencils too, along with their history, and the story of the people who made them: Eberhard Faber and Anton von Faber-Castell—two knights to remember.


Thanks to everyone at Faber-Castell in Stein, Germany, for their time and attention. Thanks especially to Sandra Suppa, Antje Röder, Dr. Renate Hilsenbeck, Edith Luther, Cornelia Börner, Verena Kern, Drs. Bloß and Spreitzer, and Count von Faber-Castell for their hospitality and generosity.

Posted in Pencils | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments


DSC_0005 DSC_0008 DSC_0012 DSC_0014 DSC_0020 DSCF0011 DSCF0014 DSCF0021 DSCF0023

Posted in Pencils | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Eberhard Faber Telephone Pencils

TelephonePencils1923 Eberhard Faber Catalog


Posted in Pencils | Tagged | 8 Comments

Filming “No. 2: Story of the Pencil”


Yesterday I spent the afternoon with William Allen, a professor and filmmaker who is finishing up work on his documentary “No. 2: Story of the Pencil.” My involvement was limited mostly to the Blackwing, but the interview also covered thoughtful questions about pencils in general. Henry Petroski and David Rees are among the subjects of the documentary, which should be finished this winter.


Along with Blackwing pencils and boxes I brought a selection of additional Eberhard Faber items, which got the star treatment as William had some impressive gear with him—including a mechanized camera slide with which you can create some great tracking shots.


After filming the pencils together, we set up a few close-ups of individual items. I don’t know how much or how little will make it into the final cut, but we’ll all be able to find out in a few months when the documentary is finished. You can track its progress through Kickstarter and Facebook.

Posted in Pencils | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Knights to Remember (II): “A Typical Franconian Meal”


The Shop am Schloss is reason enough to visit Faber-Castell; I don’t know if there is a greater selection of products to be found in one place (with the possible exception of one of their flagship stores). But an added bonus includes some overstock of discontinued or updated items and though not pictured, a full selection of the Graf von Faber-Castell line. Catalogs—something I can’t get enough of—are free, and there are quite a few to choose from. I can’t imagine what the company’s annual printing budget must be, because for every catalog you see there are as many internal and dealer publications printed on the same high-quality stock, all beautifully typeset and photographed.

As I left the shop around 2:00 PM there was a slight chill in the air. But the amber-soft, Teutonic glow emanating from my bag of newly-bought German-made stationery kept me plenty warm. I wouldn’t be outside for too long though since my next meeting was located inside the castle (100 meters this way, yes?) with Dr. Hilsenbeck, head of the Faber-Castell archive.


To my pleasure not only was Dr. Hilsenbeck there, but also Mmes Luther and Börner. Over the years they have all been very generous with their time, patiently answering my obscure questions and sending scans of things I never knew or thought existed. One small example: I noticed that the Eberhard Faber Company used a company logo that was similar to the Faber family crest until about 1903, after which they switched to the diamond star logo. The best example I had was a very poor scan of an even poorer copy:


I was hoping to find something just a little bit clearer. Not only was I sent a nice, clean scan, but scans of several variations too, and all older than the “original” I thought I had found:


Their work at the archive is already a full-time job so it is quite remarkable how over the years they have shared their time and enthusiasm with me; being permitted to see and touch these treasures from the past is a privilege I’m still unable to adequately describe.

Already prepared for me were several boxes of catalogs and price lists from the Eberhard Faber Company in America, and a few from Germany. For this visit I was most interested in locating images of the buildings that the company occupied during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Such images are often found in the front matter of company catalogs.

After finding what I was looking for relatively quickly, I spent the rest of the time thumbing through history. Pocket catalogs were quite popular around the turn of the century:


There were two striking catalogs from the 1800s—their condition was so good it seemed like they were printed just yesterday. They were thin and their covers had an almost plastic texture to them. This isn’t the best photo, but you can make out the texture a bit:


The rest of the items I remembered from my first visit, but this time several hours were reserved for me to peruse them more carefully:


Just when you get to the point where you can’t believe you’re seeing all of these items in one place, all you have to do is look up:


And that’s just one collection of shelves. There are many more.

As I was getting ready to leave, photocopies were still being made of the 250+ pages of materials I brought to donate to the archive. Though I didn’t want to interrupt her day any more than I already had, there was something I had been wanting to ask Dr. Hilsenbeck ever since my first visit: Could I take a look at one of the original Castell pencils?

There are several large wooden filing cabinets with thin, wide drawers—the kind you might imagine existing in an architect’s office from the turn of the century to place sketches and blue prints. Here’s the best part: they’re not labeled. But without hesitation Dr. Hilsenbeck opened the precise drawer full of salesman’s sample folders dating back to the early 1900s, and among them were some of the first Castells ever made (sorry, no photos). I was stunned simultaneously by the 100-year-old pencils before me and Dr. Hilsenbeck’s sense of recall. In fact there were several moments like this one, where each of the women pulled details out of the air as if they were all common knowledge. Astounding.

On The Way Back

Having spent several hours with my imagination rooted firmly in the past, snapping myself back into the present felt a bit jarring. But before going back to the hotel there were a few things I wanted to photograph along the way, including this early building near the factory. Note that it says “A.W. Faber” sans Castell above the doorway:


After crossing the Rednitz, the same building is in the background:


The apartments along the Rednitz, which once provided housing for employees (and for all I know some employees may still live there), are among my favorite buildings in Stein. But since we usually only see the front of them (i.e. the side facing the river) I thought I’d walk down in between them for a closer look:


There is a pathway leading to a walkway alongside the river. While the age of some of these buildings is clearly showing, the colors and textures look almost like something from a painting:



A little further down the path and there is a small set of stairs which brings you to the riverside. This photograph then, is taken from the opposite angle found in most of the pictures you see of the apartments:


If you continue north along that walkway you’ll end up on Nürnberger Str.


If you visit Stein and walk around a bit one thing you will notice is how many streets, buildings, and parks bear the names of Faber family members:




My last stop before reaching the hotel was the Old Lead Factory, on the other side of the Rednitz. You can get there by walking down this shady pathway:


The Rednitz once powered the factory exclusively, but even today the river provides approximately 20% of the factory’s energy needs:


I photographed this gate the last time I was here but I wanted to try and get a better photo. It’s not much better, but here you can see the Castell pencils the gate is made from. And so that no detail was left unattended, each pencil has a separate grade marking:


Back at the hotel I rested for a bit, then something dawned on me: I began to wonder how or even if my newly acquired bleistiftbounty would fit into my luggage.

Franconian For An Evening

I have a friend and fellow musician who lives in Nürnberg, whose city center is only minutes from Stein by car. We met in front of the Castell castle at 6:00, err… 18:00, and were off to find some Franconian fare. We sat at a group table in a restaurant located within in the city, and then I asked my friend what a “typical Franconian meal” might be. I decided to go with the Schweinebraten. Yes it was about 50% fat, but that’s OK, it tasted great. So did the dumplings. I assuaged any health concerns by simply telling myself I was preparing for winter by adding another layer of insulation.

We worked off some of our meal by walking to the top of the castle, which offers a beautiful view of old Nürnberg:


The third and final post of this series will be up within a week or so.

Newer visitors to this blog might be wondering why there are no photographs of the factory or of pencils in this post or the previous one. I’ve provided a few below from my previous visit to Faber-Castell, which you can read here.

Posted in Pencils | Tagged , , | 7 Comments