The Hollywood Reporter Profiles the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602


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.



Dear California Cedar: If you are going to take from me…

From (click)

…at least get it right.

The character’s name from Jaws is Matt Hooper, (wiki) not Matt Cooper.

I can’t say that I was the first person online to mention the Mad Men sighting but my post preceded yours (though his character’s name is Paul Kinsey, not Harry Crane). [Added: since I posted this, CalCedar has quietly updated their site, which illustrates how they monitor and use information from this blog.]

What a drag this is becoming.

John Lennon too? Michael at Orange Crate Art has discussed this more eloquently than I could (I wish I could audit some of his classes). It seems now that the standard of proof for being a “Blackwing user” has been lowered to nothing more than any single and virtually anonymous comment that has been left on a blog.

This reminds me of an old Saturday Night Live news sketch with Father Guido Sarducci, where he talks about how the Vatican’s requirements for sainthood have now been lowered to only three miracles, and two of them can be card tricks.

But yet it’s the Blackwing that suffers.

P.S. It’s customary, ethical (and I think required), to credit the photographers who took those pictures. I wonder how you’d feel if others were using your original content on their sites, without permission or attribution. For example, your exclusive dealer in the U.K. has been using my original content for months, and has refused to take it down or provide attribution despite my repeated requests.

What a drag this is.

Patent 1373062 or, Lothar Faber Was a Genius

A pencil, barely alive. We can rebuild him…
Blackwing stubs are often cared for with the same reverence as cryogenically-frozen heads, because deep-down they share the same dream: that one day, some future scientist will find a cure for them and they’ll be brought back to life. Pencil extenders such as those by Staedtler, Derwent, Cretacolor, etc. are beautiful and well-made, but the pencil has to be removed in order to be sharpened, or at least pulled forward a bit, and having to do so again and again—especially with a soft pencil—becomes too disruptive. The best solution I have found is an old one:

We have the technology…
This Faber eraser/extender/cap dates back to the 1920s. It’s patent number, 1373062, refers to several iterations of the extended ferrule and clip eraser design. It adds just enough weight and length to the stub, and the pencil is easily positioned inside. It’s kind of like a prosthetic barrel, or dare I say, a bionic pencil:

To make him better than he was before…
The Blackwing 602 fits snugly inside but the sliding clip adds a little extra pressure. What’s nice is that even though you have to remove the Blackwing’s ferrule, the extender has one very similar to it. The cutout arrow is reminiscent of the ferrules found on early Van Dyke pencils, and the color of the petrified Chiclet eraser is a bright red like those found on the older pencils. The gilt finish is all but rubbed off, revealing its natural brass color and “E. Faber U.S.A.” is stamped on the side.

Better. Faster. Stronger. [cue music]
This is by far the most effective lengthener I’ve seen for pencils, and it’s some 90 years old. While I am a fan of those made by Graf von Faber Castell, they for the most part do not accommodate hexagonal pencils.

If not Lothar, shouldn’t some Faber get his own United States postage stamp?

Aha! Clamp? No…Clip!

While preparing a post that is soon to follow, I came across something interesting in a patent application from the early 1920s. Made by Lothar Faber, he is describing the extended ferrule and the parts associated with it. In a previous post I mentioned that I was unsure about what to call the small metal part that holds the eraser inside of the ferrule. I decided to go with “clamp” since Eberhard Faber called the assembly a “clamp eraser” in their catalogs. But it seems that was something akin to a marketing name.

Clamp? I don’t think so. It’s a clip.

Thank you, Lothar.

The Day After Pencils

What is there about that piece of cedar, graphite, and varnish that says “the master fashioned me?”

My pencilled revision of a quote attributed to M. Aldric,
who was originally speaking of Stradivari instruments.

A sense of loss imbues many of the posts on this blog, in varying degrees of intensity and transparency. It can take the form of outright disappointment, or nuanced nostalgia. It can be interpreted as obstinacy about the future or as deference to the recent past. All of it, however, is largely unquantifiable—it’s as intra- and interpersonal as it is intra- and international. But there is something tangible at risk of being lost to history, and the rapidity at which it may happen only amplifies the magnitude of its potential loss: centuries’ worth of pencil-making knowledge and craft.

I am speaking primarily of American pencil-making—the houses of Faber-Castell and Staedtler et al. seem as healthy as ever. But to say “American” pencil-making is in effect to include Europe since several of the most well-known manufacturers have familial roots that reach deep into European soil and history. With the virtual collapse of the American pencil industry, the artistry and science founded in long years of practice could all but disappear. Ironically though, this is in large part the fault of the pencil-makers themselves.

Rightfully so, the specifications, formulae, and techniques developed and employed by manufacturers were and are considered trade secrets, which were literally and figuratively kept “in the family.” Manufacturing plants in 19th-century Germany were run more like feudal cities, where no one worker would be taught more than he needed to know in order to complete his specific task. This way, no one could piece together enough of the “secret”, then share it with other manufacturers, or even start a company of their own. Very few technical papers on the engineering aspects of pencil-making have been presented at conferences or published in peer-reviewed journals. This culture of secrecy makes sense from a business standpoint, especially since it concerns an item as generic as the pencil. But with so few people in-the-know, and with so many great companies having folded, it’s much easier now for that knowledge to die with the remaining few who have it.

For example, the American side of the Eberhard Faber Company. Where is all of their “stuff?” You know, all of the templates, graphics, research, prototypes, catalogues, signs, product samples, photographs, etc. I would imagine the family has a great deal of it, but is the rest all gone? What did Sanford “get” as part of their deal in 1994, or Faber-Castell in 1988? Where does it all go? That’s more than 150 years of history—not only of Eberhard Faber and pencil-making, but of America too. Where is it?

To be honest, I don’t really know what the explicit benefits are in attempting to document this information. Instead it’s just more of a gut feeling: knowledge that has been acquired through long years spent in patient dedication to craft, which was then made manifest in sublime achievements of artistry and engineering, should be preserved. I don’t mean some kind of International Pencil Museum in Den Haag (though that’s something I’d probably like to visit), but rather some centralized and concerted effort dedicated to preserving the history, craft, and science of the pencil.

Maybe there already is such a place; other than in our hearts, that is.


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