Eberhard L. Faber III: Witness to History

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Eberhard L. Faber III was the son of Lothar Washington Faber (1861-1943), and the grandson of Johann Eberhard Faber (1822-1879). During the 1920s and 1930s he coordinated between the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company based in Greenpoint, New York, and its newly-built factory in Neumarkt, Germany. In a series of letters written to Franz Barensfeld, the financial supervisor of the Bavarian factory, the day-to-day minutiae of running a pencil factory are laid bare. But among the facts, figures, and product sample requests are some fascinating passages, one of which mentions a world-historical event.

The bulk of the letter dated October 31st, 1929, deals with material concerns such as the quality of the company’s graphite:

“…one thing I particularly want to emphasize, which I have emphasized in past letters, is that the new extra graphite that you buy should be used in very sparing quantities and not until you have absolutely established that the formula is right…”

But the very last paragraph of this two-page letter begins with an ominous statement:

“We have just lived through one of the most unusual and unbelievable, fearful panics in Wall Street that has ever occurred in this country. Untold numbers of fortunes dwindled to nothing in a few days.”

Eberhard III devotes several sentences to describing the gravity of the circumstances:

“It was a regular landslide that brought with it ruin and destruction, and in no way can be even slightly exaggerated.”

In the next few sentences he summarizes the financial mechanisms that brought about the crash, but throughout the letter he never mentions whether the Fabers themselves have been directly impacted.

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The last sentence is the most prescient, especially given how slowly and inaccurately news travelled nearly ninety years ago:

“This is bound to effect business very badly and most financiers think that we are in for two to three years’ of great depression.”

Before it became known as the Great Depression, perhaps the expression “great depression” was already in common use. Even so, it still seems remarkable to see it in writing just two days after “Black Tuesday”; the stock market crash of October, 1929.

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@tai_michi

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If you are interested in vintage stationery be sure to stop by Taimichi. The Instagram page has something for just about everyone, I think, and there’s even more to be found on their blog.

Last but not least, this collection has been photographed and published in a brilliant book (above), whose title I’m told translates as The World of Good-old Times’ Stationery.

Thanks to Yumiko for the book and the links!

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Ersatz Ersatz

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E. Faber Mongol No. 38

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Four flavors of the Eberhard Faber Mongol mechanical pencil No. 38, complete with pocket clips and clamp erasers.

Before the company began selling mechanical pencils, extenders with clamp erasers were paired with Van Dyke and Mongol pencils.

img0481923 Eberhard Faber Co. Catalog

The wood-cased versions of the Mongol pencil line far-outlived their mechanical cousins (the brand itself lasted for more than 80 years), but perhaps the No. 38 was in part an extension of the 1582’s design.

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On Television: Graf von Faber-Castell Schreibbleistift Nr. III

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:

gvfc_sightingImage: 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).

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1871: “My Great-Grandfather’s Name Was Caspar Faber…”

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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.

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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.”

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Pencil Talk 2.0

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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.

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There’s Gold In Them Thar Nibs: Eberhard Faber No. 506

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As the label says, this is a box of Eberhard Faber gold-plated nibs. It’s still sealed too, but not for long.

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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).

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I still have everything to learn about dip pens and nibs, etc., but I’ve always been curious about something…

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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?

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UPDATE:

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?

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Seven Years

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WordPress informs me that Contrapuntalism has turned seven. And as it is with most anniversaries, I’m left wondering where the time has gone.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A.W. Faber-Castell: 1972 Frankfurt Trade Show

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.

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