I first met Count von Faber-Castell in December of 2012, as part of a visit to Stein that Faber-Castell had generously arranged. During the second evening about 10 of us or so were gathered in a fine Nürnberg restaurant, not far from the town center, upstairs and in a private room. The long dining table took up most of the space, laid out as you might expect—name cards and all. I found that my card was placed right next to the Count’s, alerting my jet-lagged mind that I at least ought to have a suitable icebreaker in reserve for the moment we’d be introduced.
A few minutes later he entered the room, a head taller than everyone, then began circulating around the table giving friends, co-workers, and us strangers each equal amounts of his time and a warm greeting. We were still standing having just arrived ourselves, and the room hummed with low chatter as he made his way to his seat.
Then, standing next to me and smiling we began to shake hands. But before I could say anything, he drew in closely to speak to me privately. Delivered in his urbane Franconian accent, his first words to me were: “So. You must be the Blackwing freak, yes?”
Turns out, I didn’t need an icebreaker after all.
Count von Faber-Castell examines some
vintage Eberhard Faber Blackwing pencils.
We discussed the history of the Blackwing, the seeming mystique surrounding it, and what the future may hold for pencils in general. In addition to the filming, many photos were taken of Blackwing pencils as well as some other vintage Eberhard Faber items I brought along.
William hopes to have the documentary finished by this winter. For updates, follow the Kickstarter page or try his Facebook page.
Thanks to William for having me along, and be on the lookout for a screening of “No. 2: Story of the Pencil” at a film festival near you this winter.
Of all the people associated with the genuine Blackwing 602, one name rises to the top of the list: Eberhard Faber. I recently had the privilege of paying Mr. Faber a visit at his home in Pennsylvania, and while there were very few pencils on the shelves, there were three 1/2 gross boxes of Blackwings.
We spoke a great deal on the phone and in person about the origin of this pencil, and to what degree it was directly advertised by the company:
“The original Blackwing was introduced in 1934. The lead was a formula that my father developed [Eberhard L. Faber, 1893-1945]. He was a chemist, and in fact he developed most of our lead formulations at the time. The Blackwing, I think, was the first wax-impregnated lead, which is one of the things that gave it its smoothness. It was popular among people who did crossword puzzles because it wrote well on newsprint.”
I was curious to learn how the company viewed this pencil, because compared with the campaigns for the Mongol, Van Dyke, and the Microtomic I have come across comparatively little in terms of advertising:
“There was an advertising campaign in the New Yorker Magazine , and my mother was responsible for that—she was at that time in charge of public relations. That [ad] reawakened a certain amount of interest in the Blackwing, but it always had its fans, who would not use anything else.”
I learned more in an afternoon than the past several years of research. Now, the work begins to write it all down and fill-in the rest of the story.
Special thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Faber for their hospitality and generosity.