The rationing of raw materials in the United States during the Second World War meant that many every-day items would be in short supply, including pencils:
The production of pens and pencils in 1943 was cut to specified quantities by an order which also banned the use of critical materials in many cases.
—Rochester Daily Record, December 15, 1942.
The order being referred to was the Controlled Materials Plan. Among the many rationed items were three important industrial materials: steel, copper, and aluminum (or, aluminium for our British friends). Pencil manufacturers were affected because copper is a component of brass, which is used to make ferrules. I’m mentioning this because of a few lines of text that I came across in the 1944 Eberhard Faber catalog listing for the Blackwing 602:
The text at the bottom says:
*Illustration shows pre-war pencil. While critical metals are prohibited for pencil ferrules, substitute materials will be used.
I wonder whether this means “non-critical” metals were used or if other materials were employed. I have seen some wartime pencils with ferrules made of cardboard, but not ones with extended ferrules like the Blackwing’s. (Bob Truby has a collection of World War II-era pencils here.) Notice, too, that it says “substitute materials will be used” not “are being used”, which sounds a little more like a “just in case” clause. Maybe there was a sufficient stockpile of ferrules and it didn’t become an issue, or maybe the Blackwing even took a little break in production. Come to think of it, the Blackwing didn’t seem to have it very easy in the beginning—it was a premium pencil that was first offered during the Great Depression, then it was affected by wartime rationing about 10 years later. It obviously sold well enough though, since it remained in the Eberhard Faber catalog.
However, by 1951 pencils were recognized as being vital to the nation’s defense:
The National Production Authority last week put pencils on its defense priority list. Under the new Controlled Materials Plan pencil manufacturers will now get enough copper to make the brass they need to fasten erasers to pencil tops. Exulted Eagle Pencil Co.’s Sales Manager David E. Price: “It’s taken years since the war to convince the Government that nothing starts without pencils.”
—TIME Magazine, April 30, 1951.
Of course, everybody understands that those were incredibly trying times, and I don’t mean to trivialize them. But even though most of the people who may read this were likely born after the war, little things like this can nonetheless be poignant reminders, no matter your age—or nationality.
Special thanks to the Brooklyn Historical Society,
for their help with the 1944 catalog scan.