When I opened this shop two years ago, I was afraid to even think two years ahead. Every day was a new adventure and a new challenge and as a newly minted, kind of naïve shop owner in New York City I knew better than to make any big plans right away. The entire idea of this shop was only a farfetched dream for a long time. I'd romanticized the idea so much in my head and described what I'd imagined this shop to be so many times that having it actually become a real thing hardly felt any different--almost as if I was just living in my own head. It wasn't until recently, when I first received a copy of a book with my name on it that it really dawned on me that this is something greater than a crazy idea in my head.
These days I arrive every morning to our office to meet any of the three amazing women with whom I spend my days here. We take turns spending time in the shop where we are thrilled to meet so many different people everyday--people who come to experience the shop but also to hear our stories and suggestions. In our office down the street we pore over ideas for Instagrams, new products and projects for the future. Knowing that there actually, really, really is a future is a big deal for me. This thing is a real, working business, even if it is an unconventional one. With the kindness of the media, the customers who continue to so loyally support us and the stationery community who have welcomed us with open arms we've been able to succeed without most of the things the internet says are necessary for running a successful retail business. For this, I am more grateful than I can express with words.
As for the future, I've learned that maybe I was right not to plan too far in advance because if anything that's happened in this two years has taught me anything, it's that things happen in their own time. I'm a person who makes lots of lists and seeks the security of plans but just about everything I'd dreamed about years before this shop existed have already happened. For now I think I'll just hang out here for a little bit, do my job and just let things happen.
Photo: Recent antics in in the shop--a leopard printed Caitlin photographing a flat lay with my awkward arm.
In the nearly two years (Two years! Can you believe it!) that I've owned this shop I've had my photo taken a LOT. Whether it be by someone visiting from out of town or by a full team of professionals, I've been forced to learn a few things about how to cope with bright flashes and the discomfort of posing for a camera. Even so, I still find it really really difficult. I have a newfound appreciation for models and for people who know how to make themselves look great in photos because IT'S HARD. It also doesn't help that I'm allergic to most makeup and don't own any hair styling tools. Each time, though, I swallow my fear and try my hardest to not look too angry or too crazy. No matter how good the photographer is, or how much I prepare I almost always hate the photos in the end, but that's a natural human insecurity, right?
The one thing that most photographers always want is a shot of a pencil in action. That is, my hand pretending to write with a pencil. I always ask if what I'm writing will be visible and the answer is usually no, alleviating the pressure to write something clever. Usually I just write my name over and over again, except for that one time I wrote 'pizza' when Racked was here and this was the outcome:
Sometimes I'm asked to hold a pencil while also posing in a way that's completely unnatural for a normal body ( see the above photo from Bloomberg ). The number of times I've been asked to pose 'naturally' while holding a pencil while also exposing my pencil tattoo is hilarious. For the record: it's not possible for anyone who isn't a contortionist.
The point of all of this is that I have something really embarrassing to admit: I hold my pencil incorrectly and I fake it when my hand is being photographed or I'm being watched. I know, a huge percentage of the population has the same problem but I own a pencil shop--I should be setting a good example! No matter how many Stetro grips my mom bought me from the local teacher supply shop in first grade I just couldn't figure it out! I have a permanent callus on the right ring finger and my hand often starts to hurt when I'm writing for a really long time. The only solution I've found is to shake out my hand or to pull out my worst nightmare: the yellow Stetro grip I keep in a box inside my desk. Oh how uncomfortable it is! But my hand hurts less and looks a lot more elegant. I've learned that 90% of the time my bad grip is harmless but also that I must cope with the consequences of my condition.
The moral of my story is that if you hold your pencil 'incorrectly' don't worry--it's no big deal! Who decided what was right anyway? (Seriously though, if you know the answer to that let me know). Maybe one day I'll stop faking it.
In a month dedicated to love, it's nice to remember that pencils can help you get over the wrong person as much as they can record love letters to the right one. In Emma, Jane Austen's beloved tale of matchmaking and social maneuvering gone wrong, a pencil serves first as a treasured souvenir, and then as means of exorcising a former romantic interest.
To summarize the plot of Emma is a bit of a challenge (there's a reason its convolutions adapted so well to a high school melodrama in the timeless 1995 film Clueless), but all you need to know for this scene is that Harriet, Emma's social fixer-upper project, has been spurned by Mr. Elton, a young vicar who initially seems like a perfect match for Harriet. After a series of misunderstandings, it becomes clear that Mr. Elton is not, in fact, interested in Harriet, but is after Emma and her dowry. Having decided that she is moving on, Harriet brings a box of Mr. Elton-related "relics" to Emma's house to destroy.
It was the end of an old pencil,--the part without any lead.
"This was really [Mr. Elton's]," said Harriet.--"Do not you remember one morning?--no, I dare say you do not. But one morning--I forget exactly the day--but perhaps it was the Tuesday or Wednesday before that evening, he wanted to make a memorandum in his pocket-book; it was about spruce-beer. Mr. Knightley had been telling him something about brewing spruce-beer, and he wanted to put it down; but when he took out his pencil, there was so little lead that he soon cut it all away, and it would not do, so you lent him another, and this was left upon the table as good for nothing. But I kept my eye on it; and, as soon as I dared, caught it up, and never parted with it again from that moment."*
Shortly after Harriet makes this speech, the pencil stub goes into the fire and is destroyed, along with her feelings for the mercenary Mr. Elton.
Unfortunately, the pencil stub got passed over for the movie Clueless in favor of a cassette tape of Coolio's "Rolling with the Homies" (how could they?! But also: another timeless cultural artifact). That being said, I still picture Brittany Murphy throwing a pencil stub into Cher's fireplace. Because, like, that pencil stub was so five minutes ago.
*Book III, Chapter IV, or Chapter 40
Have you spotted a Pencil in Literature? Let me know! firstname.lastname@example.org
It's Valentine's Day, and gushy hearts and flowers are all up in our biz today. While I generally am a proponent of this holiday (because I looove me some Conversation Hearts!), I know I am not alone in rolling my eyes at the lack of sentiment behind this sort of forced holiday. Don't get me wrong - I think it's nice to set aside a day for boxes of chocolates and roses, I just think the prepackaged sentiment... lacks something.
So let's talk about love letters...
As I mentioned in my first Prompt, handwriting is such a beautifully unique aspect of a person - it shows off a part of you that may not be seen too often in a technology age. It takes more effort to write a letter than to send "Hey bb ILY." Effort is romantic, and a love letter is the perfect combination of deep, personal thought and true, honest effort.
This time-honored tradition has been around for centuries, from Ancient Egypt to Imperial China to that little love letter emoji on your phone. People have feelings, and they've expressed their heart eyes to their beloved pretty much since writing utensils were invented.
While well-known love letters between Scott and Zelda, Beethoven and his Immortal Beloved, Johhny and June, and the like may make it seem as such, you certainly don't need a significant other to send a love letter. Your siblings, your parents, your bestie... Anyone deserving of love deserves to know your feelings, don't you think? Heck, there's even a group organizing love letters to America (although I didn't seem to find a place to hand write one as part of this organization, I'm sure you could mail one to your senator!).
One of my very favorite examples of a non-romantic love letter is John Steinbeck's beautiful letter to his teenage son, who has fallen in love for the first time.
Supportive, full of celebration of love, and useful advice. Simple as that.
Of course, you don't even have to address your letter to another person. A dear friend of the shop is a huge proponent of writing - and mailing! - letters to yourself.
So how exactly does one write a love letter? I'll not claim to be an expert, but I find the best way is to just keep it simple. Getting a letter in the mail is exciting in and of itself, so half the effort is appreciated just in sending it. After that, simple and honest expression of "I love you" or "I'm thinking about you" is all you need. Did you know they even make cards for that? ;)
Bonus: USPS releases Love stamps each year, so you can beef up the sentiment with your postage too!
If you need inspiration for creating lovely mail, check out a few of our favorite Instagram accounts, each experts in the art of letters.
#PencilPrompt of the month: Write a love letter. To yourself, to your beloved, to your mom, heck, even to your favorite inanimate object. In short, connect yourself more deeply to your love of someone or something by writing it down and sharing it.
These are the tools I'm currently using for my love letters:
One of the many wonderful things about pencils is that they make great gifts. They're inexpensive, they tell a story, they serve many functions and they're just really nostalgic, universally appreciated objects. For this reason, we sell a lot of pencils for Valentine's Day. They last longer than flowers, don't have the fat content of chocolates and when hand-selected around the receivers preferences are a really thoughtful gift.
A few months ago an out of town customer emailed us ahead of visiting our shop because he had just started dating a woman who is an artist and wanted to woo her with some pencils specific to what she prefers. He seemed nervous--like these pencils could make or break the relationship. After poring over the all the pencils in the shop we arrived at a modest but impressively unique selection that he would bring back to her. We laughed about the idea of using pencils as a tool for seduction but in all honesty, this wasn't the first time we've heard this story. It warms my heart to see customers put so much thought into such a simple and often daring gift. This particular customer e-mailed us an update on his situation a few weeks later confirming that everything in his blossoming relationship was great, thanks in part to the pencils.
We very often reference the line from You've Got Mail about the freshly sharpened bouquet of pencils and have hand-assembled hundreds of that very thing because a curated selection of pencils can mean a whole lot more than bodega roses or generic jewelry. There's reason why that line is a famous one--because so many people appreciate the simple pleasure of a freshly sharpened bouquet of pencils.
Next time you're pursuing a new partner who has interests in the realm of analog or creative tools we encourage you to consider this type of gift. The subtleties of the design and function of a pencil can work as a tactful nod to a person's personality. You can wow him or her by applying what you know about all of those little quirks to a playful and personal gift. It's a sincere and unassuming gesture and not something that puts too much pressure on the recipient. Even presenting a person with a single pencil is a generous, friendly and thoughtful gesture.
Next time you're going on a date or just meeting up with someone you care about consider bringing them a hand-selected pencil from your stash, our store or wherever else one buys pencils. It's a fine way to show your affection with out looking like you've tried too hard. Here are some questions you should ask yourself:
1. Does he or she appreciate pencils already? If so, what is his or her favorite?
2. Does he or she prefer design or function?
3. Does he or she have a particular connection to city or a country?
4. What is his or her favorite color?
5. Does he or she have a hobby that involves pencils? (i.e quilting, crossword puzzle-ing, drawing, bullet journaling).
Even an answer to just one of those questions can lead you an interesting, wow-worthy, surprise pencil gift.
The most important thing to remember when trying to impress someone you are pursing as a romantic partner is that it's not about the size of the gesture but the thought that goes into it. One pencil can go a long way in the game of love!
Looking for a pencil match-making service? You're in the right place. Get in touch with us and we'll help you find the right pencil for your special someone.
There aren't too many professions in the world these days that absolutely require pencils, but we regularly work with a type of customer whose everyday carry must include a really specific pencil: musicians.
Having sang in choirs for much of my life, I'm familiar with the constant need to mark one's sheet music with notes and edits and emphatic instructions from pre-concert crazed directors. It really is a pretty specific use scenario, and one that we've thankfully had a lot of experience answering in the shop, outside of my own personal experience.
Pencil qualities needed:
-Must be erasable! In my experience, sheet music is expensive and photocopying is a major no-no. Thus, your sheet music is often reused or returned if it's not worn. That means you need to hand it back in clean of your own messy notes so the next person can make their own.
-Must be dark! When notating on sheet music, you're usually not writing on a solid surface. Your music will often be in a folder or on a stand or even in your lap, so your pencil needs to be soft and dark enough to make a clear mark without too much pressure. It also needs to be bold enough to be seen clearly at a reasonable distance, because one does not typically perform with their nose in their sheets.
-Must have good point retention! Notes are usually made in small spaces, within the staff or on the margins, so the ability to write small and precise is necessary. Additionally, point retention is a must because god forbid you interrupt rehearsal with the distracting sounds of sharpening.
- BONUS. It is really a huge benefit if your pencil has the ability to stay put somewhere (i.e. a clip!).
Here's what we have discovered to be favorites amongst the music community (and my personal bias included):
Craft Design Technology HB - If you can't get your hands on an Ito-ya (which are terribly tricky to find outside of Japan and often sought after by musicians), these pencils are made by the same manufacturer Camel Pencil Company. They have a dark, smooth quality, but are also firm enough to have excellent point retention. Also, the erasers are simply FANTASTIC. I went an entire choir season with one, and only wanted (not even needed) to sharpen it once for the amount of note taking I had.
Blackwing 602 - Stephen Sondheim famously proclaimed the Eberhard Faber original to be his ultimate favorite pencil, and was lucky enough to stock pile them early on. He's not wrong - it's slick, dark graphite and replaceable eraser make it a perfect choice for musicians. If you don't want to pay upwards of $60.00 for the vintage original, the current iterations of Blackwing, now made by Palomino, are excellent too. I prefer the Volume 530 or Volume 24 editions with extra firm graphite (keep in mind those are limited edition though!), but will use the 602 in a pinch. Really, even the Pearls are a good choice if you want to go extra soft - you'll just want to keep a sharpener handy!
Musgrave or General's Test Scoring - Originally invented for early IBM computers, these pencils are made with artificial graphite that is designed to be extra dark (and electronically sensitive if that's a thing you need). Both hold their points quite well and aren't too smudgy, but I prefer the eraser on the General's one to the Musgrave one (but the Musgrave one is only $0.40!).
Mitsubishi Penmanship 4B or Mono KM-KKS 4B - These pencils are designed for practicing calligraphy through repetitive writing. That means these pencils are extra dark - 4B, to be exact - with extra thick cores. Because they're designed for repetitive writing, they hold their points better than many other soft pencils. These are both also inky smooth and downright impressive looking. The only downside is you may need an eraser cap. May I suggest the Pentel polymer ones?
Edelweiss 3B - This very unassuming-looking gray pencil packs a great punch. The 3B core is excellently smooth and just glides across paper with minimal pressure. The graphite quality in this 3B is also so lovely that it's point retention is really fantastic. Again, this one doesn't come with an eraser, but looks quite chic with a white eraser cap. Also try: Natura 3B, Grafwood 2B or 4B
Once you've picked out your perfect composition companion, you'll also need to add a few things to your arsenal to make sure you're extra-prepared for hasty note-taking. Here are a few recommendations:
Sharpener - I suggest a sharpener that has a reservoir for shavings if you plan on sharpening as you go, just to not worry about disposing of shavings. Dux makes a good option, but you can also find sharpeners like these at most office supply stores. If you only can spare the fuss of sharpening at the beginning of a rehearsal, I'd instead recommend a sharpener that does a crisp long point so you do not need to refresh halfway through. The Masterpiece is a clear winner here - nothing really beats that point (and I like to stash the shavings in the clear plastic case it comes in) - but you could also try the Automatic Long Point or the simple Magnesium Long Point.
Perfect Pencil - I love this as an accessory for any pencil really, not just the pencil it comes with. It allows you to clip a pencil to your folder or stand or shirt and contains a simple but handy sharpener right in the cap. Downside: shavings everywhere (maybe you'll have a spare coffee cup nearby).
Vintage Pencil Clip - I have an ever-growing collection of these because they are SO USEFUL. This is the easiest (and prettiest!) way to make your pencil way more accessible. I slipped one on to my Craft Design Technology HB and managed to keep it clipped to my folder all season long.
Hi-Polymer Eraser Cap - I really like these caps because they don't make a ton of eraser dust and they don't require a lot of pressure. It doesn't hurt that the look nice too.
If you haven't ever tried a triangular pencils you're really missing out. The shape not only keeps the pencil from rolling but is also a more natural shape for a hand to grip. Most know the Faber-Castell Grip 2001 or many of the Japanese triangular pencils on the market but the triangular pencil has been around for much much longer.
The first triangular pencils existed in the form of American pencil maker Richard Best's patented Try-Rex. The Try-Rex isn't quite what you'd expect it to be--it's a triangular shape with slightly beveled edges. In its hey day almost all of the Richard Best pencils were made in his Try-Rex shape, including the iconic, very pink Futura.
Richard Best Pencil Company eventually merged with J.R Moon in Tennessee, where three version of the Try-Rex are still manufactured. There's a normal diameter version, a mini-jumbo and a jumbo. We recommend it for long-haul writing or if you're trying to re-invent your pencil grip.
Check out all of the original Richard Best pencils here.
Anyone who has visited our shop knows that it's in a really special, kind of strange place. Our street faces Lionsgate Field, a well-known soccer field and is one or two blocks away from a number of neighborhoods, each with different reputations. Head south and you're in the heart of Chinatown. Head east and you'll find yourself in the center of the Lower East Side. West, and you're in Little Italy/Nolita. We find ourselves in the center of all of these neighborhoods in one that has been recently dubbed 'Nolo' by Travel & Leisure (more on that here).
When I came across this storefront in January of 2014 I fell in love with the diversity of the immediate blocks, the slightly different landscape and the authenticity of the other businesses. To me, Forsyth St. and the streets around it had all the qualities of a true New York neighborhood to me. I've always called it "the last frontier of the Lower East Side" and I've come to think I was right about that. It's one of the last little pockets of this notoriously 'cool' neighborhood that isn't totally gentrified. Of course, it's only a matter of time before that happens, as any New Yorker knows, but for now we ought to celebrate all of the wonderful things about it.
Should you find yourself visiting the city and plan on coming to see us, here are a few of our favorite places to visit, all with in 5 minutes of our shop:
Cafe Henrie - Opened in late 2015, Cafe Henrie looks like it came straight out a French New Wave film, with a little bit of a 21st century update. Tastefully and carefully outfitted in hues of pink, light blue and pale lilac and with a little bit of a diner aesthetic, Cafe Henrie has a very relaxed vibe--one in which you'll feel welcome to catch up over coffee for as long as you wish. As for the food--it's healthy, playful and perfect for a leisurely lunch. 70 Forsyth St., cafehenrie.com
Birds & Bubbles - Situated directly below our shop, Birds & Bubbles is one of our favorite places to wind down. The menu features two of our very favorite things--champagne and fried chicken. The refined Southern fare draws crowds, especially in the summer when the surprisingly large patio is open. We suggest going for dinner and ordering everything. 100b Forsyth St., birdsandbubbles.com
Vanessa's Dumplings - An NYC standby and one of the best inexpensive lunch spots in Chinatown. The dumplings are always hot and fresh and the scallion pancake sandwiches perfectly greasy and crisp. It can get really busy during lunchtime so be on the lookout for a table the minute you walk in the door. 118 Eldridge Street., vanessas.com
Simple - Family owned and operated, Simple serves up beautiful and consistently delicious poke bowls and bento boxes. In fact, it's the place where we first learned about poke bowls (now one of the trendiest dishes around). 109 Eldridge Street., simple-nyc.com
Erin McKenna's Bakery - A certain Pencil Lady here has a lot of dietary restrictions and allergies, so this is our go-to for baked goods. You'd never know from tasting the cupcakes that they're egg-free, soy-free, gluten-free and dairy-free. Sounds crazy, but they're seriously delicious. 248 Broome Street, erinmckennasbakery.com
Doughnut Plant - The non-gluten intolerant among us frequent Doughnut Plant, where some of the best donuts in NYC can be found. Expect find better versions of classics as well as season flavors. Good luck not buying a whole dozen. 379 Grand Street, doughnutplant.com
Roni-Sue's Chocolates - A neighborhood classic! Roni-Sue's has the best hot chocolate in the city and so many gorgeous treats. In the summer the large patio in the back is open and classes are offered regularly. Check the hours before going--weekdays are only open 7am-12pm usually. 148 Forsyth Street, roni-sue.com
Top Hat - This is where we often go on our lunch breaks when we need some a pleasant distraction. Inside you'll find a curious selection of home goods, stationery and ephemera carefully curated from small brands most in Europe and Japan (and LOTS of MT washi tape). It's one of our favorite places to shop for unique gifts. The aesthetic is exactly how we like it--modern, playful and well-crafted. 245 Broome Street.
oo35mm - If you're a fan of sheet masks, you MUST check out this place. They specialize in mostly Korean sheet masks and other imported beauty products. Expect to find well known brands like Tony Moly and Innisfree as well as ones you've never heard of. 81 Mott St., 2nd Fl, oo35mm.com
Coming Soon - A self-described "design gift shop", Coming Soon sells a curious array of useful things, decorative things, trinket-y things but always unique things. It the perfect shop for those who have curatorial eye. 37 Orchard Street, comingsoonnewyork.com
The Randolph - When Fontana's, our favorite after work spot closed last year we were worried we'd never find a bar that felt quite right. That is, until we started frequenting the Randolph. It's situated west of us and is the right amount of dingy, the right amount of friendly and serves up excellent cocktails. 349 Broome St., randolphnyc.com
Attaboy - If you're looking for an extra special cocktail experience, Attaboy is the right place. It's unmarked, aside from the AB sticker on the door. Knock on the door, and someone will answer and seat you. It's mysteriously dark and there are no menus--that's because every cocktail is made to your specific preferences. Don't be afraid--this isn't a stuck up speakeasy, the service is in fact very friendly. 134 Eldridge Street.
The Tenement Museum - The Lower East Side has a vast and rich immigrant history, and the Tenement Museum is here to share and celebrate that. The museum itself is worth a visit but neighborhood tours are also offered. 103 Orchard Street. tenement.org
The New Museum - My personal favorite NYC art museum, the New Museum hosts a daring exhibition program of international contemporary artists. If you're looking for a more interesting alternative to the Whitney or the MoMA definitely check this one out. 235 Bowery, newmuseum.org
Chinatown shopping - Chinatown is a really overwhelming neighborhood. It's crowded and there are tons of shops. The dollar stores are full of surprises, the plant shops are always a joy to visit and the markets are packed full of unfamiliar foods. If you have the time, get yourself lost and see what you find.
The lighting district - The blocks on Bowery between Grand and Delancey are known as the Lighting District. You'll find a lot of shops with ridiculous light fixtures in the windows but what it's especially good for are specialty/hard-to-find lightbulbs. Our giant Edision bulbs come from the once on the corner of Bowery and Grand.
Restaurant supply district - Just a little bit north and a little bit west of our shop you'll find many restaurant supply shops. They're great for kitchen supplies and tricky to find gadgets. The one on the corner of Delancey and Forsyth is especially good.
The list is really never ending! We're so lucky to be in such a unique location, surrounded by such a colorful, diverse landscape. That's what New York City is about and we are proud to call this our New York.
When we closed Pencil of the Month in 2015, we had no idea how much you all loved it! It was a project that was very near and dear to our hearts, but ultimately became a bit more than our small team could handle.
Since the outpouring of love (and disappointment over its end!) over POTM was so great, of course we had to scratch our brains and come up with a way to offer the same pencil passion to fans. We rolled around some ideas and finally, we can announce that we are beginning a new subscription!
Since this is a totally new program for us, for the time being we are limiting the amount of open spaces in this subscription, as well as offering this as a U.S. only subscription. Don't worry - we are researching expansion options for the future!
As of right now, this subscription is set up on a recurring payment process. This means that once a quarter, your credit card will be charged $30.00 for your subscription, until you decide to cancel it. You may update your payment, shipping or cancel your subscription at any time via the unique URL that's emailed to you at the start of your subscription.
Just a small note: please bear with us while we work on this program! We've done our best to make it seamless and easy on your end, but being that we are analog-oriented people, new systems can be a bit of a challenge for us. We promise, as always, to be transparent and honest with you - so if you have any questions don't hesitate to email us!
We're really hoping you love this new subscription! We're really excited to pick out special goodies for you each quarter.
What's better than a bouquet of flowers? A bouquet of pencils, especially if they smell like flowers. We like the Backyards and Gardens of Portugal Scented Pencils for bouquets. They come in five fragrances and the essential oil-soaked wood releases a fresh and delicate waft every time you sharpen the pencil.
But there's no need to stick to florals for Valentine's Day. For obvious reasons, Eye Ball's Heart-shaped Pencils are another popular choice for Valentine's bouquets. They come in red and white, for a pretty mixed-arrangement. Traditionalists might like a bunch of General's Semi-Hexes, which look extra cheerful tied off in red ribbon.
The iconic Blackwing 602 always makes for a refined bouquet, or swap out the erasers in a dozen Blackwing Pearls for a rosebud look. And for a truly luxurious and fragrant pencil arrangement, a dozen Caran d'Ache Swiss Woods are sure to impress. We also like tying Key Ring Bullet Sharpeners onto pencil gifts--the gift that keeps on giving!