Share your #pencilprompt with us on social media: What's your most precious pencil? Why is it special? How did you find it?
In past Pencil Prompts, I've talked a lot about acquiring and using pencils, from pencil SABLE (stash acquired beyond life expectancy) to the pencils you carry with you everyday. Having just spent weeks preparing to move into a new space and discussing the fragility of graphite, I thought I'd switch gears and talk about the pencils we don't use - those that are extra special and acquired with great care (and possibly cash).
Living so deep in the pencil world, it's easy to get the FOMOs (Fear Of Missing Out) when a new limited edition comes out, or when we come across a particularly good antique pencil. That also means it's very easy to get carried away and spend all my hard-earned cash trying to acquire each and every wood-cased lovely that comes my way. How to choose?
Many of the collectors I've met through the Erasable group tend to collect in 3's - one to use, one to keep, and one to trade. I think this is a great model, especially for vintage pencils because if you use them all up, who knows when you'll come across one again?
Personally, it's about setting limitations on what I collect. It really helps me narrow down my eBay searches and limits the amount of space I need to store my collection. For vintage pencils, I stick with Mongols (some of my collection pictured above) - specifically the 482 (hexagonal) ones, but will take the odd 480 (round) if I can find it. Alyx focuses her deep dives on green writing pencils, like the Mongo Fine Writing, or the Justrite.
The original Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 is, of course, a favorite to collect and admire because of the mythos surrounding the instrument and it's legendary qualities. The rarest - those with a black ferrule with a gold band and a red eraser - are nigh impossible to find and when found, usually up several hundred dollars.
And that's not even the rarest wood-cased pencil to collect! The Blaisdell Calculator, that made its name in the 1930s for similarly extra smooth, dark graphite like the Blackwing 602, are even harder to locate than a vintage 602 - and just as expensive!
If you want to get really, really fancy, you could try your luck at locating an original Thoreau pencil. These gems are extremely rare, given they were produced in the late 1800s and well, people have always generally used and disposed of pencils. They're round and unfinished and cost thousands of dollars if you can find them.
Here's some other easy collection starters:
- WWII Ferrules - pencils made during WWII had plastic or paper ferrules, making them distinct and easy to spot on a search
The "Steinbeck Trio" - John Steinbeck was a huge pencil user. His favorite was the Eberhard Faber 602, but he was also known to use a Blaisdell Calculator and a Mongol 480.
- Stenographer pencils and erasers - In the 1950s, there were a lot of pencil products that were designed for secretaries and stenographers. I, t was trendy to make double-ended pencils for extra fast writing (so you didn't have to sharpen as often). And as typewriters came into fashion, really abrasive eraser pencils were developed for making corrections.
Blackwing Volumes - in 2015, Palomino started making limited editions of the iconic Blackwing, each with a different theme and story. Some editions are highly sought after (and ridiculously expensive in the after-market), like the natural wood 211s. You can sign up for a subscription with Palomino, buy the pencils by the dozen online, or make trades for singles with other pencil enthusiasts.
- Red school pencils - There were lots of pencil trends back in the 1950s and 60s that companies copied from each other - like the aforementioned green writing pencils that Alyx collects. Jumbo red school pencils were popular as well. Patriotic Semester by Venus was one, J.R. Moon Products Big Dipper was another. I'm terribly fond of Eberhard Faber Third School, too.
Where do you find rare pencils? Well, there's not a terribly scientific technique to it. We spend a lot of time working with personal collectors, but there's also a ton to be found on eBay. Often, we'll see eBay lots with random pencils group together and one gem tucked in the bunch, so it's good to dig through all the product photos on a listing. Etsy is a good place for this too.
Another great resource is Bobby Truby's website brandnamepencils.com. His collection is incredible, and he lists product photos of every model of pencil can find. He also has a nice selection of pencils available for sale.
I've gotten some of my best vintage finds from flea markets and antique stores. I typically go for ones off the beaten path, and dig through the forgotten corners. Oddly enough, I've found quite a few excellent vintage pencils hidden among the antique tools section, buried in with boxes of spark plugs and tape measures.
And of course, one of the best places to collect pencils is through a community! The Erasable Podcast Pencil Community on Facebook is a good place to start.
Which pencils are our most precious?
Mine is a 1940s Ronson Penciliter (pictured above). I found it at the Brooklyn Flea, and find it a really quirky example of an long-gone office culture where you'd need both a pencil and a lighter on hand.
Caroline's is an advertising pencil from her great-grandfather's shop, given to Caroline by her grandmother.
Alyx wonders if it is cheating to pick a bundle of pencils? She keeps all the pencils her parents and my boyfriend have brought her from their travels in a special pouch. All the other pencils in her collection, even the vintage and limited edition ones, feel replaceable in some way. But she'd definitely want to save these souvenirs from her loved ones.