April 12, 2012 1 Comment
For Fans of the Genuine Blackwing 602
April 9, 2012 3 Comments
…at least get it right.
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.
March 31, 2012 5 Comments
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?
March 31, 2012 3 Comments
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.
March 30, 2012 5 Comments
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.
March 25, 2012 4 Comments
4/3/12: (A brief update can be found here.)
There is only one part of the Blackwing 602 that hasn’t yet been the subject of a separate post, and that’s due in part to the fact I’m not certain what to call it. Some call it the “small metal piece”, others the “aluminum clip.” I’ve called it the “metal crimp”, but they all refer to the same thing: the small part that saddles the eraser and holds it inside the ferrule.
But even the ferrule wasn’t called such by Eberhard Faber. In catalogs it was referred to as the “tip”, and was distinguished by being gilt or not. Putting it all together, the Blackwing was described as having a “flat clamp eraser with gilt tip.”
Just like other aspects of the Blackwing 602′s design, such as its color, length, imprint, and ferrule, the clamp underwent subtle changes as well. Since the same ferrule assembly was used for the Van Dyke and Microtomic, my guess is that they all received the same updates.
Though I haven’t seen any documented reasons for the changes, I think it’s reasonable to presume that cost and efficiency were likely the most influential factors. As a rule, the ferrules and clamps became less substantial over time.
Following the Eras of My Way, from left to right are clamps from early, classic, and late Blackwing pencils. This is by no means a collection of all “versions” of the clamp—it’s just a sampling. I don’t know how many versions there were, and I’m not sure I want to know either. I’m assuming they are made of aluminum, but I’m not certain—perhaps they are some sort of alloy—but they are all very light and malleable. Unfolded, their shape is reminiscent of a butterfly bandage.
The first clamp is the most substantial, and its embossed grooves hold on very tightly to the eraser even when it is over-extended past the ferrule. The curls at the top are well-formed and more or less symmetrical on both sides, and the fold of the clamp is crisp, too, with clear right-angles. The second clamp is much more flimsy and has no embossing at all. The curls at the top aren’t as straight on both sides, but the fold is still well-defined. The third clamp has two embossed points on each side for gripping on to the eraser. The curls have flattened a bit, and the fold is more rounded than angular. I wonder what the machine that makes them looks like.
They all do essentially the same job of course, though the early clamp stands out in its ability to grip the eraser. I’d be very interested to find out what the exact engineering terms are for the things I’ve christened the “curl”, “fold”, and “embossed grooves.” I wonder if at any time during the Blackwing’s lifetime someone noticed these changes and said “boy, they sure don’t make these clamps like they used to.”
I suppose the only thing left to take a look at would be the erasers, but I’m not likely to. Erasers certainly don’t age well but we can’t hold that against the Blackwing. However, it’s interesting to see in some of the historic photos that the erasers are missing; whether they were removed or lost can’t be determined though. But that’s the subject of another post—until then they will just have to be my “gilty pleasure.”