Replacement Parts

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There’s a pronounced inequity when it comes to the two components of a tipped wood-cased pencil: The pencil itself could survive for centuries and still work as well, while the eraser would have long-since become part of the fossil record. The replaceable clamp erasers of vintage Blackwing and Van Dyke pencils often suffer from this petrification, and in a chemical process unknown to me, actually bond to the metal clip. Removing them safely sometimes requires an extended soak in water, but they still tend stick to the sides.

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At this point though they’re just for show anyway, but I wonder just how well they worked in the first place. The erasers from even the last Eberhard Faber Blackwing pencils are rather poor; instead of lifting marks off from the paper the eraser tends just to distribute them in an ever-widening smudge. In fact, in many of the photos I have come across of people using Blackwing pencils it’s not uncommon for the erasers to have been removed, or for a replacement to have been fitted on top of the ferrule.

In its early advertising, the Eberhard Faber Co. stated that their clamp erasers would “outlast the pencil” (which is true I guess if you never use them to begin with). Even so, the company produced replacements for their clamp-tipped pencils:

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Each box came with four erasers and an extra metal clip—pretty handy since that clip is easy to lose. I’m not certain about the date for these boxes, but since they are still using the word “clamp” (at some point the name was dropped) and still listed the patent date, I’m guessing somewhere in the 1940s, possibly the late ’30s (but it’s just a guess).

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This later version has a change in packaging and a change in contents. The erasers themselves are a much deeper red, and I think that has to do with Eberhard Faber’s Red Ruby line of erasers, i.e. they were made from the same formula. Based on the typography, I think this box might be from the late ’40s or the ’50s. And it looks like they were stretching their production dollars, too: Above the word “Erasers” on the box is the word “mechanical” but it’s been blacked-out, so has the original catalog number which was replaced by “No. 1281”.

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As the erasers dry out over time, they become smaller. And even though you can pinch the enclosure to make sure they stay snug, it’s not unusual for the very old erasers to fall out of their ferrules. So it is interesting to see what the proper and original dimensions of the eraser were supposed to be:

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Inserting a replacement takes a little effort, but these erasers are remarkably pliable for their age. Once fitted together, you get to see how the design was originally and authentically meant to look, feel, and function:

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