The Red-Winged Flightless Mongol

I try for the most part to use only photographs of my own taking for this blog. This is done as part of an attempt to offer as much original content as possible rather than being just another echo in a sea of aggregators. There are some exceptions e.g. company photographs or like the following— items I wouldn’t otherwise be able to photograph myself:

Photograph © Mel Birnkrant

The photographs and the items are part of the Mel Birkrant Collection (something you just need to see rather than have me describe). Based on the logo and the design of the ferrule I’d say these cardboard cutouts are from the early 20th century, though I’m not sure about the ornithological connection. This didn’t stop the Eberhard Faber Co. though from also rendering a free-standing version in wood, except instead of a Mongol it’s a Van Dyke:

Photograph © Mel Birnkrant

The Mongol is older than the Van Dyke, but I don’t have an exact date for either one. I have a catalog entry for Van Dyke pencils that dates back to the late 1800s, but it wasn’t until 1918 when they were “relaunched” so-to-speak as Eberhard Faber’s high-end, full-range line of drawing pencils. The Mongol would continue to be offered but in 5 degrees and positioned as a “business pencil”, as well as several varieties of other Mongol colored- and indelible-pencil lines.

Why the bird motif? I’m not sure—perhaps it was something akin to an early mascot. Clearly the “character” wasn’t brand-dependent; it seems just as happy being either a (presumably) flightless Mongol or Van Dyke. As late as 1921, when the Van Dyke would be further differentiated by being fitted with a Clamp eraser, advertising materials existed for both lines with little if any overlap:

It seems like they weren’t meant to function in any way other than to be eye-catching, where the “nose” of the bird could be positioned to direct the customer’s eye to the product.

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2 Responses to The Red-Winged Flightless Mongol

  1. Matthias says:

    How … unusual‽
    Not sure whether the bird is nice or scary, but in any case it’s great to learn more about the Mongol and the Van Dyke.


  2. What strange finds! I vote for “scary”:

    At the sight of blackbirds Mongols
    Flying in a green light,
    Even the bawds of euphony
    Would cry out sharply.

    But I like the idea of pencils as objects of desire, in other words, things that companies cared enough about to promote.


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