“Something of the Making of the Lead Pencils.”

This article comes from a 1909 stationery trade magazine, and serves as a brief tour of the Eberhard Faber facilities.

The article does little more than report what is found in the pamphlet handed out by the Eberhard Faber Company. But it provides some interesting details about the materials and techniques that were used back then, which for the most part have remained virtually unchanged.

Beginning with the lead, “Much care and skill are necessary to produce a good lead.” Once it is pulverized it is mixed with clay and sent through “sapphire dies…cut…and subjected to a terrific heat.” Next is the choice of wood: “Southern red cedar has been found the finest for pencil-making”, and that after arrival from the South, it is “carefully assorted into different classes.”

“Deft-fingered girls”

Next is sandpapering that “is done in automatic machines…which brings the surface of the wood to a condition ready for the varnish.” I wonder how this operation works with regard to hexagonal pencils—how are all six sides sanded without rounding the edges?

The pencils are finished in one of three ways. Some are fed through a “varnish machine”, which deposits a thin coat of varnish, and then are heat-dried. This step is repeated “six to ten times.” Others are dipped in deep pans of varnish and are set aside to dry slowly. The last method is to apply the color by hand, which “on account of its high cost…is used on the most expensive grades only.”

Some of the pencils are then burnished by machine so that the “…subsequent coats of varnish show to better advantage.” There are no mentions of particular lines here, but it’s presumable that their top-of-the-line Van Dyke pencils received this treatment; you can tell just from holding pencils from this time period how substantial the finishing process was.

The final steps include removing the varnish from the ends of the pencils, which is done by “inserting the pencils into a machine and bringing the end against a rapid revolving circular knife…” Last, the pencils are stamped, and many are “further embellished by a metal tip with erasive rubber.”

The article concludes by saying that the finished pencils are then boxed, put on display cards, or placed in the “…many attractive display forms gotten up by the Eberhard Faber organization.”

+1 for “gotten up.”

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5 Responses to “Something of the Making of the Lead Pencils.”

  1. 8542037bnewk says:

    It’s hard to imagine the immensity of the factory and the complexity of the manufacturing process. An interesting note: A forester in South Carolina said no pencils are made today from “Southern cedar”–that is juniper, but only from Western cedar.

    Like

  2. Sean says:

    I know what you mean–imagine planning out the design of the factory, deciding where all the machinery (much of which they invented or at least designed) would go, while at the same time planning ahead for expansion.

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  3. The picture of the “Immense Factories” looks like it might be the picture on the column in the office-and-salesroom photograph.

    +1 for “erasive rubber” too.

    Like

  4. Kevin says:

    There seems to be an air of stability in the office scene. Contrast to today when everyone seems to be on a constant steep learning curve and the “managers” are 25 years old and younger.

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  5. Gunther says:

    Very amazing – thank you for sharing it!

    “how are all six sides sanded without rounding the edges?” – Maybe they have used very fine grain only, and maybe this is the reason why there are virtually no pencils that don’t have non-rounded edges.

    “erasive rubber” is indeed a gem 🙂

    Like

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