I became interested in this pencil after reading that it compared favorably to the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602. The text on one eBay auction even went so far as to say that the lead formulations are the same, except that the Contak has less wax. Of course, sellers’ descriptions aren’t necessarily bastions of accuracy, but after using the two pencils side-by-side that claim seems reasonable.
Finding some Contak pencils, however, proved to be quite challenging. In fact, they come up for auction much less frequently than genuine Blackwing pencils (I’ve only seen them 2 or 3 times). I don’t know when they first appeared in the Eberhard Faber catalog, but like many other E.F. pencils, the Contak survived Faber-Castell’s corporate acquisition of Eberhard Faber in 1988. Here is an excerpt from the 1989-90 Faber-Castell catalog:
Here are the descriptions for the Blackwing 602 and the Contak 440 in the Faber-Castell catalog:
Based on this description it seems that the Contak 440 was meant to occupy the same retail space as the IBM Electrographic. What surprises me, however, is how different those two pencils are. The Contak has a softer lead, but the softness is expressed in a brittle and powdery way as opposed to being soft in the “traditional” sense (i.e. a thicker, waxier lead like a 3B or 4B). The IBM pencil is very much like a standard No. 2.
The Contak’s lead is a bit darker than that of the Blackwing, but it should be said that the Blackwing doesn’t have a particularly dark lead to begin with. On anything but the smoothest paper (e.g. Clairefontaine), the Contak’s point gets eaten-up quickly. I can see how it might work well with test-scoring sheets, though I don’t know if its conductive properties make it any more useful or reliable than a standard No. 2 (but who knows, maybe you should refrain from using them during a lightning storm…).
All in all it’s a very interesting pencil: its scarcity and uniqueness drive my interest, but also because I like writing with them. If you adopt a lighter touch, the Contak 440 doesn’t require any more frequent sharpening than, say, a No. 1 or B pencil.
Thanks for showing us this uncommon pencil. Shame, that the point gets eaten-up quickly.
This pencil looks great – I especially like the typography. Your arrangement of the four pencils is nifty!
Thanks, Memm and Gunther.
The item beneath the pencils is the top step of a step stool that was used for some house painting. I like how it looks against the dark color of the pencils; I think I’ll use it for some other pictures.
I was thinking today how there was a time when perhaps some kids in grade school might refer to what they’re writing with by brand, e.g. “I’ve got a Contak”, or “Lemme borrow your Mongol.” Anymore, it’s just “I have a pencil.”
Nice photos, Sean. Your comment on the IBM electrographic, I find interesting. My lot write a 4/5B line and very smoothly at that. They have stamped on the reverse side “MADE BY EAGLE PENCIL CO. NEW YORK”. Were these actually made for the company “IBM” or are EAGLE using the IBM name because of the primary purpose of the pencil…test scoring cards/sheets (…or did IBM have nothing to do with test scoring cards/sheets?). I’m what you might call “a silly question asker”.
Thanks, Kevin. Now you’ve got me wondering about the breadth of available grades in electrographic leads. I wonder if “elecotrographic” automatically meant No. 2 (or something). In other words, did the purpose for using them (test taking, etc.) dictate the grade of their lead, or did multi-grade electrographic leads find a market outside of the test-marking crowd because of other qualities?
This looks like a job for the professionals.
Unrelated: between the white sharks, cane toads, dingoes, blue ringed octopus, box jellyfish, crocs, and funnel webs, just how do you manage down there?
On the subject of the electrographics, there is certainly more than one version, because mine have a gold colored ferrule whereas the ones I’ve seen online have a silver ferrule. On grading, I have some earlier Draughting 314’s that are much softer and darker (and thicker barreled) than later versions. On the electrographic, I was being a bit conservative – I would go closer to a 6 or 7B and the beauty of them is that they have an extremely wide range of darkness under more or less pressure. I still don’t understand the corporate aspects of the “IBM” name.
Sean, it’s like all these nasty things…the world knows more about them than the inhabitants. Would you believe, a lot of people in Australia think there is no countryside in England, because, how do you fit 60 million people on such a small island and have room for natural landscape…and how can people live in Miami with the gators lurking?
Pingback: G. Henle Verlag Merkheft | Contrapuntalism
I’ve got a few contak 440s but they’re marked Sanford, they look identical except the brand name, I’ve checked everywhere for some sort of information on them but there’s nothing. I’d like to find a few EF branded one to go with em, but they don’t come up for sale often..
If you are interested David, I’d be happy to swap an EF Contak for a Sanford Contak.
You know I never saw the reply, I’d wouldn’t mind trading a couple, let me know if your still interested.
I’ve got a few Sanford branded Contak 440s, there’s literally no info out here on them, but plenty on the EF’s.
Pingback: Contak 440 (2) | Contrapuntalism
I actually have a Contak 440 and have been looking for a replacement for the better part of 4 years now. I used the pencil out of my mom’s old art supplies from the 80s and was devastated when I realized I couldn’t replace it. The closest I’ve ever come was an ebony pencil, but even that lead isn’t soft enough to compare. It’s a gem that I only use on very specific projects now, at least until I can get just one more of them.
Also found your post on a whim. Keep up the good work regarding vintage pencils!