Thank You.

Dear Readers,

If this is your first visit here, please be sure to visit this page, which is the summary of my research about the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602.

Not long after I started this blog, California Cedar’s first Palomino Blackwing* began making its way into the world, and I was excited like a lot of people and very supportive: I gave them some early photos of mine for free, which were used for some international PR, and loaned them some items to be photographed for their website. However, that initial excitement dwindled into ambivalence after some early misrepresentations were uncovered, but the benefit of the doubt persisted. Though not long after, that ambivalence eventually turned into disappointment—I, as well as others in the pencil community, noticed that the advertising campaign for the Palomino Blackwing was at times wildly inaccurate (if not purposely suggestive), and my site and its contents were in some ways becoming an involuntary partner to that enterprise. I finally began posting about these things along with other blogs in order to bring attention to what was going on. My intention was, and remains, to document as accurately as possible the interesting true story of the Blackwing, and to that end it was hard to understand the choices that CalCedar kept making.

For better or for worse it seems that this blog happens to be the only one of its kind vis-à-vis the history of the Blackwing 602 pencil. The blog itself is about two years old, but it represents about four years of work and countless hours spent researching, photographing, collecting, trading, and writing—all done just for doing’s sake; a labor of love. But because this blog has content unique to the Internet, it means that it gets the attention of those who would like to use that content. Most have done so rather innocently (personal blogs, sharing photos, etc.) which is fine by me, and some have been responsible enough to send queries or notifications, but others—including some for-profit companies—have been less honorable and have infringed upon my copyrighted work. But my complaint isn’t simply about scholarship and attribution, and it’s not at all about money. Rather it’s a combination of the appropriated work, plus how it has at times been folded into California Cedar’s questionable PR campaign, which in turn has distorted the Blackwing’s story, that has spoiled things (see this page for details). Everyone wants to be recognized for their work, but this is less about my wanting credit than it is about me wishing they would just do their own work and leave mine alone—just like how you’d want the person sitting next to you to stop copying from your test paper.

Knowing that a company—one with vast financial resources—was watching my every post (the CEO of the company has subscribed to this blog) slowly began draining my enthusiasm: it’s difficult to explain just what it’s like to work hard for each new and unique Blackwing-related “find” and to put the work into posting about it, only to realize it’s likely just to be taken or copied in some way (and sometimes even inaccurately to boot). And it puts me in a unique position: as a consumer, I share the opinion of those who think CalCedar’s marketing has been inaccurate and questionable at times, but I have no control over that. The best I can do for the Blackwing is to publish my own work and let people decide for themselves. But, when on top of everything else it’s my own work that is being copied—especially when it’s coming from a company that claims to be continuing the “legacy” of the Blackwing—that’s a bridge too far. My interest remains unabated, but I don’t want to continue this blog if it means being a source of reference for CalCedar’s designs—the Blackwing, and the work I’ve put into documenting it, mean too much to me.

 

I want to say how grateful I am to everyone who has visited here, supported this site, and contributed to the conversation. It’s remarkable how this immeasurably obscure thing—a pencil—could bring together so many kind and like-minded people from all over the world. I’ve enjoyed hearing from you and more importantly, learning from you.

I’m going to leave the site up and the comments open, and I will be cleaning-up and updating older posts as well as continue to edit and expand the “No Ordinary Pencil” essay, but I do not plan on posting any new Blackwing content. There’s always a chance there might be a new post, but if there is it will likely be about current events. I would have preferred to keep sharing my ongoing research about the Blackwing 602, to say the very least, but not everyone is playing fair—I hope you understand.

For anyone who thinks this is about pencils, it’s not—they’re just pencils. It’s about caring for something very deeply.

Thanks for all of your support, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading.

All the Best,
Sean

“Distinction, Nostalgia, and the Blackwing 602: From Consumption to Collecting”

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The title of this post comes from a new book titled Contemporary Collecting—Objects, Practices, and the Fate of Things, published by Scarecrow Press, Inc., edited by Kevin M. Moist and David Banash. Its 277 pages contain 13 chapters divided into 4 groups: “Collecting in a Virtual World”; “Changing Relationships with Things”; “Collecting and Identity, Personal and Political”; Collecting Practices and Cultural Hierarchies.”

Chapter 4, titled “Virtual Life and the Value of Objects: Nostalgia, Distinction, and Collecting in the Twenty-First Century”, was written by David Banash, professor of English at Western Illinois University. Professor Banash kindly agreed to answer a few questions exclusively for Blackwing Pages.

While doing research for this chapter of your book, was your attention drawn to wood-cased pencils (and by extension to the Blackwing 602) due to any personal interest in pencils, or was it a topic you began to research from scratch? 

Indeed I did have a longstanding interest in the material culture of everyday life, and pencils in particular. I have woefully poor handwriting, and so pencils have always been a necessity in my work. For years I had used Mirado Black Warriors, which were still of very good quality until a few years ago. After Sanford took them over, the quality really just plummeted in several stages, and it was extraordinarily frustrating. At that point, I began to search for replacements, and I really discovered the world of pencils and began to learn about them, and to search for vintage makes and buy them. I kept reading and researching, and of course Henry Petroski’s book The Pencil had a huge impact on me. So many changes in our culture can be seen through such a humble object, and at the same time that humble object is so important to a huge number of people who really shaped the culture. The pencil can become what Walter Benjamin called a “dialectical image” that reveals the contradictory forces and social antagonisms that create the meaning of our culture. So, I was always using pencils in the most practical sense, but as a cultural critic, I was always fascinated by their many meanings and history.

In this chapter, you examine “the difference between practices of collecting that remove things from use and practices of consumption that destroy through use.” Apart from the discontinuation of a consumable product, have you identified any other conditions that influence, or perhaps herald, the switch from consuming to collecting? 

There are many theorists of collecting, and what is common to all of them is the insight that objects are not just about use. Objects become a way that we produce and quite literally conserve meaning in our lives. There have always been collectors, and even, as you rightly point out, many people do not identify themselves as collectors, nonetheless the keep, maintain, and develop a surprising number of collections in their lives. In my recent work, I’ve been interested by how the virtual world is driving a new relationship to material objects. In essence, as more of life and its meanings is articulated through screens, material objects have taken on new meanings, especially as a kind of feeling of authenticity or durability. This has been particularly true of vinyl records, for instance.

You state in your conclusion: “Given the rise of virtual environments and the cheapening of material everyday life objects, some consumers are turning to reproductions of a lost ordinary that supports a profoundly emotional and embodied experience, though that experience now is really the commodity being sold, and the object is, in some sense, a kind of self-conscious prop that enables it .” [Emphasis mine.] Do you find that the same holds true for both consumable and non-consumable items? In other words would you suggest that for a collector of, say, period musical instruments, a reproduction of an instrument irretrievably lost to history might likewise serve as “a kind of self-conscious prop”, simply because there is no other option available? 

This is a very difficult question, and I do not want to dismiss the role of use and practice. In your example, for instance, the musician who must turn to a reproduction because the the older instrument is on longer available might in fact just be seeking a sound. However, most of the companies that produce vintage instruments, clothes, pencils, cars, etc. are marketing them as something much more. What they say they are selling is not just a technology, an object, but a different, more authentic relationship that is grounded in a nostalgic sense of the past. They aren’t wrong about this, even though it isn’t the whole story. Objects are loaded with meaning by the culture, by individuals, and by the histories in which they are caught up. When we buy a reproduction of a Fender guitar or a Blackwing, there is always more than function and practice at stake because those brands have deep historical roots that are always bringing the weight of that history along. Often, though not always, I do think that what we buy is our relation to that history, and the object then is really just the prop, or even better, the promise, of that history. It is through the object that of all those potential meanings are made available to us. In Contemporary Collecting, my real objection to this is that in the past, these objects, particularly pencils and jeans, were cheap and quotidian, and their meanings were widely available. What is so disturbing in the contemporary moment is the price that companies are demanding for access to these objects, essentially limiting them to people with enough disposable income to afford it.

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Below is an excerpt from Contemporary Collecting, which discusses the Blackwing 602 (including a mention of this site). For readers who are interested in learning more about this engaging and fascinating book about collecting and culture, here is a link to Amazon. (NB: Blackwing Pages does not receive any compensation for referrals or purchases of this book.)

Thanks to David Banash for sharing his thoughts, and to Scarecrow Press, Inc. for sending a copy of Contemporary Collecting.

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“Faber-Castell Since 1761″

The 520-page book “Faber-Castell Since 1761″ has officially been released. So far I’ve seen it only through European booksellers, and its availability in the U.S. might be limited since it is written in German.

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This link is an English translation of the publisher’s page (Collection Rolf Heyne) for the book, and European Amazon sites allow you to see a bit more of the contents. And here is a PDF announcing the book. There are a few booksellers on Amazon.de that will ship to the U.S. for as little as 5 Euros, which is a pretty good deal owing to the weight of the book.

This book has been in the making for some time; I first learned of it around 2009 or so and have been looking forward to it ever since. Initially it was scheduled to be released for Faber-Castell’s 250th anniversary in 2011, but was held back and expanded to include coverage of the worldwide events that marked the anniversary.

It is interesting to see that the Blackwing is mentioned specifically in the table of contents, in the chapters devoted to the brothers Johann and Eberhard Faber. But regardless of the Blackwing 602 this book, with nearly 600 images, will be of interest to anyone who wants to learn more about the history of pencils. It’s worth noting that much smaller books of this sort have been published throughout the decades, going back to the 19th century, but they were often published for friends and trade partners rather than being made available to the general public. As a result, they are exceedingly rare and difficult to find (much less buy). Since a book like this doesn’t come around very often—in fact it may be unprecedented—it may be better to pick one up sooner rather than later.

The Hollywood Reporter Profiles the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602

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While in Los Angeles last month I was fortunate to have been introduced to Seth Abramovitch from The Hollywood Reporter. Starting with a casual conversation about music, the topic of pencils wasn’t far behind, which led invariably to discussing the story of the Blackwing 602.

Seth’s insights and his connections with some of the most well-known professionals working in the entertainment industry today have resulted in a great article at The Hollywood Reporter, not least of which because it furthers our modern insight into the Eberhard Faber Blackwing, but also because it offers a unique perspective on the state of today’s writing culture. It’s the first mainstream article on this pencil in over a decade, and it’s very gratifying to see the Eberhard Faber Blackwing in such great company.

Thanks to Seth for his great work.

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One’s Work On Display

Recently published photographs from California Cedar’s “Blackwing Experience” at the Art Director’s Club in New York contained some images that looked very familiar. The image between the arrows was taken from this site.

Photo Credit: California Cedar Blackwing Experience Facebook page (Click to enlarge).

Part of it is a catalog image from the Eberhard Faber Company that I cropped (and was first posted here), but the photo of the Blackwing pencil to the right is my original photograph, which I combined for this graphic found here:

(Click to enlarge).

This image from the “Blackwing Experience” shows another printed image from my blog, which I cropped from a catalog and was first posted here:

Photo Credit: California Cedar Blackwing Experience Facebook page (Click to enlarge).

It originally came from this post:

(Click to enlarge).

Also, a scan of a ca. 1930 Eberhard Faber score-keeping card I have, which I posted under “Blackwing Ephemera” in June, 2011:

Photo Credit: California Cedar Blackwing Experience Facebook page (Click to enlarge).

(Click to enlarge).

It’s possible that they arrived at this image independently, but given the other items, it seems more likely that it was seen here first.

Postscriptum: Of course, I can’t say that their use of an Eberhard Faber stand is an infringement of my work, but given this post of mine from October, 2010 (and all of the other unique circumstances), I can’t help wondering where they might have gotten the idea:

(Click to enlarge).

Some conclusions:

  1. I posted this just to further document a trend.
  2. I can’t say with certainty, based on the photographs, whether my name or my blog is credited for each item, but it doesn’t appear so. No one mentioned their intention to use the materials. Some items are under my copyright, others aren’t, however they are all from this blog. If I am mistaken about this, I invite Mr. Berolzheimer to please contact me. Pending proof, I will amend my statement about the work having been taken from my blog.
  3. No one gets to say “I didn’t know”. Parties were aware by April 10th that some of my work was already appropriated for a video prepared for this event, and these photographs were taken approximately one week later. I don’t know if the displays were prepared by California Cedar or by someone else, but they had to have been approved by California Cedar since they were present for this week-long exhibit.
  4. I can’t say with certainty that this isn’t just a coincidence. However, I can say with certainty that it would have to be an immeasurable and incomprehensibly big coincidence.
  5. Though copyright is a concern here, it’s more about something else: that same feeling you get when someone next to you is copying off of your test. If that person scores highly on the test, you’re certainly not upset about going uncredited—you’re upset someone has copied off of you, even if the person admits to it.
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