Catalogs

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Product catalogs from pencil-makers-gone-by are difficult to find, especially those dating back to the first half of the 20th century. It was usually only resellers who were privy to these catalogs so compared to the pure tonnage of print advertising that was produced for consumers each year, few full-range catalogs were printed to begin with. Members of the stationery trade were usually able to get free materials simply by sending a request written on company letterhead, such as this 1911 catalog from the Eberhard Faber Company:

I was fortunate to have examined some Eberhard Faber catalogs dating back to the early 1900s while visiting the Faber-Castell archive in Stein. Some are incredibly beautiful; hardcover books printed on coated stock with four-color plates. Others were a little less ambitious, but all had meticulous artwork (the irony of drawing tools needing to be drawn!). There must have been an entire sub-category of artists who earned a living illustrating for the stationery trade:

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Once a year for the past eight years or so, I’ve made it a point to send for a few companies’ current print catalog(s). PDFs are fine for reference but they’ll never replace the “real thing” for me, and though it may all seem so 20th century to pursue print copies anymore it’s been worth it: a little extra effort to keep current (rather than buying your way back through time via eBay) has already produced some real treasures.

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4 Responses to Catalogs

  1. Gunther says:

    The arrangement in the first photo is impressive! – Among the old catalogues are many gems, and it is not surprising that they are much sought-after and expensive now. Compared to many current catalogues even 20 or 30 years old ones are worth looking at (and having) since they still contain photos whereas newer catalogues often use photo-realistic renderings, sometimes with odd details like identical grain on all pencils or even the same number on the colour pencils of a set (which was most likely a copy-and-paste error).

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  2. Stephen says:

    Wow, that is a lot of pencils! I would love to see some sort of modern pencil trade catalog – with no whiteboard erasers or inkjet cartridges – just pencils. I don’t expect to find one. 😉

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    • Sean says:

      Oh, if only those boxes were all filled as they’re labeled…

      re: pencil catalog — you’d think some of the larger stores, like Bundoki, mightn’t have done that. Probably just a waste of money for them.

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  3. Sola says:

    Awesome pictures and a very timely post, Sean, as I am just now waking up to the importance of catalogs… I didn’t know reliable information on pencils were so hard to come by! And the quality of the bound catalogs seems to speak of an age of unimaginable confidence and wealth. You know, a friend told me once he was astounded to find old American disposable ballpoint-pen refills made of brass…

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