Courante Events

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Passing The Barre Exam


The trees are turning in Wilkes-Barre and neighboring Bear Creek, Pennsylvania, where I recently visited for a few days. This is my third trip but I’m no closer to knowing the definitive pronunciation of “Barre.” It was a little easier to know when to switch to Missourah when I was living in Missouri. The funny thing is, of the three different ways “Barre” is often pronounced none reflect (what I presume to be) its French origins.

I was surprised when a little searching revealed that the “Barre” in Wilkes-Barre comes from an Irishman, called Isaac Barré (1726-1802). Nothing Irish about “Barré”, but his father Peter was a Huguenot who eventually settled in Dublin—French after all.

Speaking of French things, if you happen to visit Wilkes-Barre do yourself a favor and try Le Manhattan Bistro downtown.

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Graf von Faber-Castell: Magnum


Graf von Faber-Castell’s new magnum-format Perfect Pencil is as great as its name suggests.


The small linen pouch is always a nice touch; I feel more comfortable placing the pencil in my pocket or book bag if it’s not in my writing case.


Like the current Perfect Pencil, the magnum has a platinum-plated extender/sharpener. I admit that I’m still partial to the silver-plated items that were discontinued some time ago, but the platinum version has a brilliant luster that needs little in terms of polishing.


Compared with the Limited Edition Perfect Pencil (made of stainless steel) you can see that the dimensions are very similar. This is interesting to me because instead of just using the previous mold or model an entirely new part was made, but just a bit bigger.


The difference between the pencils’ diameters shows where the magnum gets its name:


The one thing I was curious about was the lead: it’s much thicker and a 4B. Even though German leads tend to be a little lighter as compared with U.S. leads (and even lighter compared with Japanese leads), the Faber-Castell 9000 3B is about as dark and soft as I like to go when it comes to writing. But this lead doesn’t just seem like a sized-up version of their 4B Castell 9000; it wears much more slowly and it seems to me that it’s quite a bit smoother. In fact, I would say it’s very similar to an older pencil of theirs, the Lay Out 2526it too has a very smooth, large diameter lead.


Even the eraser has been given the magnum treatment, being both longer and thicker than that found on the standard Perfect Pencil:


Several of Faber-Castell’s pencil lines are now available in “jumbo” sizes, so it makes sense that the Perfect Pencil would follow suit (perhaps the classic green plastic version will also be available in a jumbo version). I wonder if this version will appeal to current owners of the Perfect Pencil (it did this owner) or whether there is a target audience who has been waiting for just such an upgrade.

Special thanks to Faber-Castell for their peerless customer service.

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Eberhard Faber: Mongols, etc.


Further escapades in pencil B-roll (no audio this time).

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Oh, Canada

So a friend of mine, who lives in Germany, sent me a book recently. Delivery times vary but I noticed that this parcel was taking a little longer than usual. It finally arrived this past Saturday, complete with an explanation:


What amazes me most is, this happens frequently enough that a bespoke stamp had to be made. Who knows, maybe there’s an entire set…

Note to self: Don’t forget to write “Please Don’t Send To Canada” on all mail from now on that’s going to Europe and Japan, etc.

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The Castell is 111


The A.W. Faber Castell turned 111 this year. If the brand’s longevity is surprising, its origins are even more so. The brand was cultivated by Count Alexander zu Castell-Rüdenhausen, the new head of A.W. Faber (having married Baron Lothar’s granddaughter Ottilie in 1898). He had no experience in the pencil industry, but was determined to create a flagship brand for the company (which, as Petroski has noted, was in response to the success of Hardmuth’s Koh-I-Noor pencils). The first Castell pencils were made available in 1905 but it seems that they took a little while to make it to North America. This article from 1907 sets the scene:

The American Stationer

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Pencils Talking?


Pencil Talk is back online again; fingers crossed that we might see more…

(If it comes down to a vote, consider this my early ballot.)

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Befiehl du deine Wege

dsc_0010-2The Alte Kirche in Stein, built in 1660.

My first visit to Stein bei Nürnberg and Faber-Castell was in December of 2012. While visiting the Martin Luther Church (donated by patron Lothar von Faber and erected in 1861), I was told that the Lutheran hymn Befiehl du deine Wege was performed each year in honor of Baron Lothar. The hymn text was written by Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) and there have been several chorale settings based on a melody by Hassler (1564-1612). The church in Stein has used a setting and melody written by Michael Haydn (1736-1806).

After returning home I decided to compose my own setting of Befiehl using Haydn’s melody, and sent the manuscript to Count von Faber-Castell as an expression of gratitude. With his passing in January, 2016, I revisited the score and recorded this performance on a baritone guitar. I added some original video, and the result is this tribute to the Count.

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A View Of Some Rooms


When you visit the Faber-Castell factory in Stein, Germany, you’ll see it has four floors and is in the shape of a giant “U”, complete with smokestack. This photo was taken from within the building, where I was standing approximately at the bottom of the “U.”

Michael's Moving Day

I can’t say that I walked into every single room but I noticed that along the production line, there were very few walls separating each of the areas. If there was a wall, there was an open double-door to go through, which gives you the feeling of one long floor rather than many separate compartments:

Michael's Moving Day

I don’t know how many different ‘departments’ there are at the Faber-Castell factory, by that I mean, the number of steps that are assigned to either a machine, a person, or both. No matter what the number, I’m sure it is designed with efficiency in mind.

In the minutes of a board meeting of the Eberhard Faber Company dated December 5, 1905, there is a passage with a list of the many rooms involved in their pencil-making process. I can’t be certain if it is a list of all of the rooms, but it was very interesting to read how many separate compartments (and therefore, stages) there were at the time. In no particular order:

  • Dry House
  • Grooving Room
  • Gluing Room (2 strip-gluing machines)
  • Rounding Room (2 rounders, 1 jointer)
  • Varnish Room (4 varnish machines)
  • Hand-Polishing Room (10 double tables)
  • Steel Polishing Room
  • Heading Rooms (shoulder machine, plugging machine, tipping machine, sizer)
  • Stamping Room (bronze stamping machines)
  • Metal Room (two turning lathes, one automatic threader, one knurler)
  • Nickel Shop

I’m making an assumption that by calling something a “room”, it means you likely enter and leave through a door. But even so, it’s easy to imagine that a lot of carrying was involved. And as bespoke machinery was invented and implemented, many of these steps would be combined.


Some rooms from 1903.

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Eberhard Faber Van Dyke Display Stand



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