Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Post a Stub: Faber Castell 9000, The Last of the Gang: A Graphe-biography

The mysterious author of the fascinating blog Ink Quest is devoted to pens and ink. But of course there are instances that only a pencil will do. For example, I understand completely the mysterious author's inability to mark books with ink. Oh the defacement. I too feel that pencilling is less of an attack upon the majesty of the text. Ink Quest has this graphe-biography to offer to the Palimpsest's quest for pencil stub stories:

The last of the gang. Several years ago, I spent an afternoon ringing every stationer in the South Wales area to ask about the availability of Faber Castell 9000 pencils. When Ink Spot in Cardiff reported that my preferred HBs were in abundance upon the shelf, I drove for several hours to get there, only to discover that the shop had an entire box of pre-1989 incarnations. (They were stamped ‘West Germany’ and looked much prettier than the current 9000.) I bought the lot, and I’ve been working my way through them ever since. I’m now down to the last one, so I use it sparingly. With every new annotation, it edges closer to nothingness. The modern 9000s write just as well, and I have pencilled in switching to them when this lonely stub is finally stubbed out, but I know that things will never be quite the same.

 Story and Photos by Ink Quest. There was no inkident I'm sure during the writing of this story.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Erasmus and Holbein: Hands and Metalpoint

Imagine photographing the photographer. Or using a writing instrument to draw a writer. The drawer was Hans Holbein and the writer was Erasmus. The drawing was the Study of the Head and Right Hand of Erasmus, or Two Studies of the Left Hand of Erasmus; Study of the Right Hand Writing. The instrument was a metalpoint.

"Writing" the hands of the writer with metalpoint involves a gesture which "excludes erasure or repetition" - in the way that Roland Barthes' Japanese brush excludes erasure or repetition. Of the artist the metalpoint, the medieval scribe's favourite stylus, requires "consummate control of both mind and hand". Its marks are indelible, erasure imposssible. No loose sketching, no free-flowing stroke. Metalpoint has to tread lightly - an "irreversible and fragile writing".

 A writing instrument becomes a drawing instrument. The hands of an artist are used to draw the hands of a writer. Images that reflect each other in different media. Writing and drawing, pen and metalpoint, hands in life and hands on paper. The insciption on Albert Dürer's engraving of Erasmus evokes for me this play of reflections. The Dutch theologian and humanist Desiderius Erasmus is shown in his study writing a letter with a reed pen and holding an ink pot. The insciption on his left goes:

Image of Erasmus of Rotterdam by Albert Dürer taken from life.
His writings give a better picture

Images are from Hans Holbein the Younger, Two Studies of the Left Hand of Erasmus, Silverpoint, black crayon and red chalk on grey-primed paper, Louvre Paris, in: Christian Müller, Stephan Kemperdick, Maryan Ainsworth, Hans Holbein the Younger: The Basel Years, 1511-1532, Prestel, 2006.
Victoria & Albert Museum, Medieval and Rennaissance Galleries: Print and Medal with Erasmus, Museum no. 4613-1858: detail.
Read all about metal point Beth Antoine, "Metalpoint Drawing: The History and Care of a Forgotten Art";

Sunday, 28 March 2010

King's Own

I just love the red and black graphics on this King's Own clutch action mechanical pencil. Have a good Sunday.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Pencil Leads in Paris Barricades. Victor Hugo's Pencil Stub.

Baudin, représentant le peuple. By Ernest Louis Pichio (1840-1893). Photogravure

Paris 1851. Alphonse Baudin lends his pencil stub to Victor Hugo. Baudin has been a parliamentary deputy since 1849 and now on the day of Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte's coup, he and other parliamentarians gather to form committees and draw action plans. Victor Hugo borrows the lead-pencil to write a proclamation. Who thinks about returning pencil stubs when barricades are being erected? Hugo sticks Baudin's pencil in his own pocket.

The pencil remains in Hugo's pocket while a barricade is erected at Sainte-Marguerite street. It is still there when the workers are confronted by the 19th infantry regiment and when Baudin joins them on December 3. And when a shout comes "Do you think we are going to kill ourselves so that you can keep your 25 francs a day?" the pencil still wringles in Victor Hugo's pocket. Baudin steps on the barricade and retorts "Now you'll see how one dies for 25 francs!" At which point and while the pencil is probably still at Victor Hugo's pocket a bullet strikes Baudin dead.

Painting of Battle at Soufflot barricades at Rue Soufflot Street on 24 June 1848 
by Émile Jean Horace Vernet (1789–1863)

And now the pencil rests in peace under a glass cover at Victor Hugo's place of exile in Guernsey. Its presence is a medal, an identity badge, a token of resistance. "I was there", Hugo says. "This is the relic of a hero" and I was near that hero. Abandoning his conservative past and his visions of becoming a writer-politician eradicating social injustice on Louis-Napoléon's side, Hugo turns to anti-clericalism and the Republican Left. He stays in exile for some 20 years. As does I presume the pencil stub.

"Recollections of Victor Hugo", The New York Times, 15 June 1879; "Baudin Monument in Paris to be Unveiled on Sunday", The New York Times, 20 December 1901; Edward Behr, The Complete Book of Les Miserables, Little, Brown & Co. 1989.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, or What Came Out of a Bottle of Ink

A race against time. Victor Hugo buys a bottle of ink and a knitted robe. He locks up his other clothes, gives the key to his wife, envelops himself in the robe and sits in front of this ink. No more writing a chapter of a novel here, a scene of a drama there. Time is of an essence. He missed deadline after deadline. Only three months separate him from delivering the manuscript of Hunchback of Notre Dame to his publisher, Gosselin. For every week's delay he will forfeit 1,000 francs.

Victor Hugo enters Notre Dame as into "prison", relates his wife. He stops only to eat and sleep. He buys a new bottle of ink, says Maurice Mauris, and does not stop until it runs out. "Notre Dame de Paris" and "Napoleon le Petit" are the only books which I have actually written without interruption", says Hugo. The bottle of ink was emptied just when the word "end" was appended to each of them. So the story goes.

Hugo completed the manuscript of the Hunchback of Notre Dame on January 14, 1831. According to Maurice, Victor thought of naming the novel "What Came Out of a Bottle of Ink". When in June 12, 1852 he completed the pamphlet "Napoleon le Petit" he wrote on the bottle with his last drops of ink :
De cette bouteille sortit
Napoleon le Petit. -V.H.
Or so the story goes.
Victor Hugo, Oeuvres illustrées de Victor Hugo, Paris: J. Hetzel 1853

Maurice Mauris, "Recollections of Victor Hugo. Guernsey", The New York Times, June 15, 1879; Isabel Roche's introduction to Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mass Market Paperback, 2004.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Two Zebras To Go, Please! From The Pen Addict.

The Pen Addict is giving away two Zebra pen products. One stainless steel mechanical pencil and one H-301 Stainless Steel Highlighter. Leave a comment until Thursday night 11:59 pm Eastern Time for a chance to enter the draw. 119 comments already! Click on Pen Addict to take part.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Post A Stub

Call for Stubs.

What's in a pencil? Thomas Edison had his custom made. John Steinbeck looked for the perfect pencil all his life. Rudyard Kipling avoided pencils. Hemingway carried his pencil stubs everywhere. Heck, even Goethe preferred the old pencil to a pen.
Palimpsest wants to see your pencil stubs. Look in the kitchen drawer, at the bottom of the pencil pot, in the shed, even in your pocket - and snap a picture.

Tell Palimpsest about your pencil stubs - why you love them or why you hate them. Is there a story or a memory that this pencil stub wants to tell? Tell it to Palimpsest and Palimpsest will publish it here for all the world to see.

Your submission should include
  • Your name that you want published
  • Your blog or website, if you have any
  • Two JPG photos featuring your pencil stub
  • 100-150 words describing your stub's story
Please send it to blogpalimpsest@googlemail.com

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Ink and Blood, Fishbones and Toothpicks

Inside the Japanese stationery store, Mr Roland Barthes ponders on the writing instrument that produces the sign: the instance when the hand encounters the instrument and the substance of the stroke, the trace, the line, the graphism. The American hand must have all the commodities necessary to record the products of the mind. Supplied by an abundance of implements, the American hand writes in comfort. No endeavour, no "pulsion", no stroke. The French is the master calligrapher and eternal copyist. The Japanese is gesturing - the brush, as if it were the finger, slides, twists, lifts off - it has the carnal, lubrified flexibility of the hand.

The fictional hand writes in its own blood. No brushes are used, no twists employed. But what more carnal, more lubricated than ink blood. In his dismal prison of Château d' Il, Abbé Faria in Dumas' Monte Cristo "pricks" his finger and dips his fish bone pen in his blood "for particular notes that must stand out from the text". Augustus in Edgar Allan Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of the Nantucket is more dramatic. An old toothpick is made into a pen and a "slight incision just above the nail"  produces a copious flow of blood. There is a mutiny in progress, Captain Barnard was set adrift, this is no joke and this no ordinary ink coming from the comfort of my home: "I have scrawled this with blood - your life depends upon lying close".

Ink and Blood, or The adventures of the fictional hand

There is an urgency in the fictional hand. No comfort, no calligraphic labours, no strokes, no glissade. It cuts its own pens, makes its own ink, feeds on its own blood.

Roland Barthes, Empire of Signs, trans. Richard Howard, New York: Hill and Wang, 1982; Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo, first published 1844-5; Edgar Allan Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, first published 1838. On my finger, there's actually Winsor and Newton Deep Red Ink.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Cumberland Pencils: Blencanthra, Stella, Grapho

I am intrigued (well, mildly intrigued) by these Cumberland pencils' names. They are displayed in the wonderful Keswick Pencil Museum in the English Lake District, in neat colour-coordinated rows. The Blencanthra. Why the name? That's easy because the Blencanthra (otherwise known as Saddleback) is a mountain in the  Lake District, which was also home to the famous Cumberland pencils. Several lead mines worked under Blencanthra's slopes but by the 1920s they were all exhausted. Perhaps the name is in the mountain's or the mines' honour.

Cumberland Pencil "Blencanthra", Keswick Pencil Museum

"Grapho" on the other hand is probably the bright idea of some Cumberland employee. Grapho (or Γράφω) is Greek for "I write". A pencil. Writes. Get it? But what about "Stella"? Was Cumberland trying to market the pencil to women? There was already a tradition of giving nibs women's names indicating that the pens were "lighter" and thus more "suitable" for the female species. A similar trend in pencils perhaps?

Cumberland Pencil "Stella" in Keswick Pencil Museum

Cumberland Pencil "Grapho" as displayed in the Keswick Pencil Museum

Thursday, 18 March 2010

BIC. 4 Colours. Convenience, Therapy, Fashion.

And there it was the marvel of technology of my school years. Not just a stylo but a Four Colour Stylo. Blue, Red, Black AND Green. How advanced was that? What a satisfaction (we're talking 1970s) to change the colours at will just by pulling down the thin, rectangular contraptions at the top - each bearing the corresponding colour of choice. Choice! Convenience! What was later to be transformed to an art - an art of design and marketing in a myriad combinations and packaging - was there in a nutshell, being born in the shape of that primitive BIC.
Not only were we, lucky owners of the 4 Colours BIC, able to select our colour of choice but also recipients of sensory satisfaction as well. The rectangular contraption at the top clicked down in the most wholesome way - a click that said "I'm red and I'm ready", "I'm blue and I'm ready" and so on - if you've ever clicked it, you know the feeling. Tap the next coloured contraption lightly and the stylo's tip retracts, click the next colour down and you have a new coloured tip reappearing. A marvel, I'm telling you.

Bored? BIC 4 Colours has the answer! Hold BIC 4 Colours in your hand, feel its smooth roundness, run your finger over the embossed BIC and Made In France incriscription and most importantly Start Repeatedly Clicking the Colours Up and Down: Relish the curious therapeutic effect.

Now try to write. Hmmm, same old. Never have been a smooth operator.  But who knew better in the 1970s? Can't have everything. And who cared about smooth writing when you had
  1. Cool Design
  2. Convenience (four stylos in one!)
  3. Relief of Boredom
  4. Aid to Inspiration And
  5. Fashion Statement (Just thread a string through the hole at the top of your BIC 4 Colours, pass it round your neck et voila! you are the envy of the playground). Thank you Bic Man.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Roland Barthes and the mid air Brush

As for the brush it has its gestures, as if it were the finger.

But whereas our old pens knew only clogging or loosening and could only scratch the paper always in the same direction, the brush can slide, twist, lift off the stroke being made, so to speak, in the volume of the air; it has the carnal, lubricated flexibility of the hand.

Roland Barthes, The Empire of the Signs, trans. Richard Howard, New York: Hill & Wang, 1983.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Would it be Inches or Centimetres today, Sir?

The English live in a perpetual dilemma. Will it be patriotic inches or European centimetres? Will it be a united Europe (God-forbid) where everyone reads Proust, eats olives and frankfurters and sunbathes at the Med on 180cm IKEA towels, or will it be tea drank while wondering lonely-as-a-cloud in pleasant rain-drenched fields dotted with Wordsworth's daffodils. No centimetres, please, we are British.

But why choose? This Carpenter pencil I found in Paperchase solves the dilemma once and for all. It is made by Kirin Japan and doubles as a ruler with inches on one side and centimetres on the other. Would it be inches or centimetres today, Sir? I'll have both, thank you Jeeves.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

On Writing Materials and Palimpsests

I dug this from the New York Times of 16 February 1879:

We have in our day such ample stores of good paper, pens, and ink, that the imagination does not easily picture forth the harder conditions of early authorship. A dollar will buy all the materials necessary for writing a large book. 
 They were few [writers a thousand years ago] and wrote little, but they were often compelled to use parchment that had already been written over, and perhaps more than once, scraping off the old letters and repolishing the parchment. Thus the golden thoughts of many an old poet and philosopher were wiped out of existence that medieval dullards might find a place of record for their leaden words.
Palimpsest from the 5th/6th century.

I find palimpsests monuments to the words' multiple meanings, to the multiplicity and flux of reality. I find them defiant of canons, of objectivity, of final truths. Palimpsests are a metaphor for the consecutive erasures and inscriptions of meanings. They encapsulate the gaze and the gesture of the erasor and the inscriptor. They encapsulate our gaze as we strive to unravel those past gazes and gestures. Not an easy process. In this unraveling something remains irrevocably lost.

When a cloistered monk or pious father of the Church wished to make blank parchment of manuscript, he either scraped the ink off with a knife, or soaked it with a wet sponge and then rubbed the sheet with pumice stone. The latter process usually left no hope of restoring the original writing.

Lifting the layers of consecutive inscriptions may well leave us with a void. Maybe there is nothing there, once all is deconstructed. "Powerful magnifying glasses are often required". But we are lucky. There are always fragments that survive and calling us to put them together. It is the time of our glory: time to impose our own gaze, our very own meaning.

The perpetrators of palimpsests were accused of purposefully scraping off ancient Greek literature and replacing it with religious writings. This is applying one-size-fits-all to the past, establishing our truths and our canons as universal and timeless truths and canons. Palimpsests are eloquent as they are silent. They contain the history of meaning as they contain the history of vanishing.

Palimpsest from Codex Ephraemi from the National Library in Paris
"The ancients used sometimes a thick, black pigment made chiefly of lamp-black, for ink, and sometimes made it from the settlings of a wine-cask, or from animal blacks, like the sepia of the cuttle-fish."

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Very Black Ink, Very Big Pen, Very Blunt Nib

I shall detail the ingredients of a good article, Mrs Zenobia, says Mr B. And I was so ever so keen to learn how to write this species of writing called the intensities. Mr B. obliged.
  1. The writer of intensities must have very black ink, and a very big pen, with a very blunt nib. No individual of however great genius ever wrote with a good pen a good article.
  2. Sensations are the great things. Should you ever be drowned or hung, be sure and make note of your sensations. If you wish to write forcibly, pay minute attention to the sensations. Nothing so well assists the fancy, as an experimental knowledge of the matter in hand.
  3. Having determined upon your subject, you must next consider the tone, or manner of your narration.
  4. It is necessary that your article have an air of erudition, or at least afford evidence of extensive general reading. Use Latin, Greek, German and Spanish quotes to show off not only your knowledge of the language but your general reading and wit.

And thus, I left Mr Blackwood and went straight on to the stationery store to get my very black ink, a very big pen and a very blunt nib. As he said, when a manuscript can be read it is never worth reading.

Verbatim from Edgar Allan Poe, "How to Write a Blackwood Article", 1850.

Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe 1848

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Mark Twain and his Conklin Fountain Pen

 Mark Twain's library. Photo by Jack E, Boucher

"I have been a prisoner to the pen for most of my life. I wouldn't pick one up again to sign the death certificate of my greatest enemy." However, Twain did infact use his Conklin pen nearly every day.

An original letter about Mark Twain and the Conklin Pen unearthed, published and commented on by Kamakura Pens. Read more...

 Mark Twain (1830-1910) in 1867. Library of Congress

For a list of articles on Conklin fountain pens, see the Peaceable Writer blog.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Medieval and Renaissance Material Culture: Writing Instuments Resources

I came upon this excellent resource for writing instrument enthusiasts: Medieval & Renaissance Material Culture compiled by Karen Larsdatter. There is a vast array of topics covered ranging from animals, education & literacy, games, tools, textiles to gastronomy, medicine, clothing, jewelry, children and armory. A sitemap leads the visitor to the relevant illustrations. Under Education & Literacy is Scribes at Work & Illustrations with Writing Tools.

There are links to online resources such as the National Gallery in London, the British Library, German National Museum, Web Gallery of Art, and other online collections. Larsdatter's collection includes link to writing instruments and implements, in particular ink containers (inkwells, inkstands, ink pots), pens (quills), pen boxes and writing desks. An excellent resource.

  A nice touch: What is it that you seek? At the front page of Karen's website a valet awaits to escort you!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Green Mare

One day, in the village of Claquebue, there came into the world a mare who was green. Not the washed-out green of decrepit, white-haired old hags, but a pretty jade green. Upon seeing the creature appear, Jules Hadouin could scarcely believe his eyes, nor the eyes of his wife.
 Marcel Aymé, The Green Mare

Aymé was not born with pencil and pad in hand, writes J. Robert Loy. But "from his subtly destructive pen escape only those two unspoiled realities - childhood and frank physical desire. Their interreaction would seem to be his ultimate truth". La Jument Verte, or the Green Mare, is considered to be Aymé's  masterpiece, a Rabelaisian fantasy with a green mare Robert Loy calls "a priapic goddess". 

Wallace Fowlie comments that Aymé's art has a Rabelaisian tendency toward the obscene and the lusty. Sex is fun for Aymé; it is frank and Rabelaisian, says Loy. "His pen was a magic wand able to summon up magical kingdoms, realms where animals and young girls flourish, love one another, and sing in dream landscapes", writes Prouvost d' Agostino. The Green Mare made Marcel Aymé famous in 1933:

A green mare was a great novely, there being no known precedent. The thing seemed remarkable, for in Claquebue almost nothing ever happened. There was still talk of how Maloret deflowered his daughters, but after a hundred years the story had lost interest; the Malorets had always used their daughters thus; people were used to it.

Aymé kept a green glass mare on his desk until his death. Another writing implement of note.

Aymé's Glass Mare as pictured in Belles Lettres, part of the collection of Madame Françoise Arnaud

J. Robert Loy, "The realityt of Marcel Aymé's world", The French Review, vol. xxviii, December 1954; Wallace Fowlie, French Stories/Contes Francais: A Dual Language Books, Dover Publications, 1991; "Marcel Aymé" by Pierre-Emmanuel Prouvost d' Agostino in Belles Lettres, Manuscripts by the Masters of French Literature, New York 2001.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Vintage Advertisements in Lexikaliker

Can you read German? I barely do. But even if you don't the Lexikaliker blog offers visual delights to the wiriting instruments enthusiast. A series of delightful stamp advertisements that include Staedtler and Winckler's"Ideal" Pencil; Faber offerings course; a Koh-I-Noor pencil holder (I just love that); and many many high quality photos of which one of my favourites must be a collection of miniscule pencil stubs.
See for yourself.