Tuesday, 18 May 2010

"Just a pencil"

The magnetic pencil is found in an old tin box. It must be some 30 years old. Was it part of something bigger? Was the "something bigger" discarded and the magnetic pencil was left on its own? My mother has a capacity of keeping "everything" in an orderly way: an eraser, a pencil sharpener, a box of pins, a magnetic pencil. She is not the stationery enthusiast. Sure there is always stationery to be found in the desk drawer. It is nameless and practical. Basic A4 sheets of paper, white and brown envelopes, some ballpoint pens, an old eraser, some nondescript pencils, couple of lined pads. I am sure that when in a while my mother departs from this world there will be no vintage Mont Blancs or Parkers to be found.

She sits down to write her will. I lend her my Lamy Safari. She is not satisfied. Nib's too thick. She takes an ordinary Bic. A normal blue lined paper. Preparations for dying are also made in an ordinary, practical way.

If there is "old" stationery to be found in my mother's place it is not because she is particularly attached to any such things as writing instruments. The 100 Celluloid Sun pins and the metal-sharpener-in-a-box (with spare sharp bits attached to the lid!) are kept because of a certain thriftiness which is a habit acquired in harder times. Wars, civil wars, dictatorships make for the disposal of the veneer which makes life more tolerable. Practicalities come first - no time for special inks or luxurious notebooks - survival comes first and then thirftiness.

And thus the magnetic pencil remained in the tin box. It is perhaps something that I have discarded long time ago and mother carefully rescued and kept in the spirit of thriftiness. There is also a LYRA pencil. The latter features a silver ferrule and on the barrel a procession of what appears to be ancient Greek men riding horses against a blue background. Under the ferrule there is the inscription LYRA, a... lyra and a date: 1875; and underneath Made in Germany. Amazing, I said. My mother was not impressed: "It's just an old pencil", she said. And so it was.


  1. This is a particularly lovely and touching entry. And that Lyra pencil with the procession of horsemen is one of the most beautiful pencils that I have ever seen. I have never seen one like it. There is much to be said for your mother's practicality and thrift, hard-won through the challenges of history. After all, a Bic gets the job done efficiently. The obsession with writing tools can lead to procrastination and "collecting," hindering the act of writing itself. But I think that many of us in this day in age are on this search for the "perfect" pencil or pen because daily objects in their aesthetic have become so degraded and soulless. In the past, a daily workhorse pencil was a Blackwing 602 or a Mongol, while today, in the USA at least, it is usually a made in China bulk no. 2 pencil with awful lead, or a boring plastic Papermate stick. Purchasers of the Blackwing in the 1940's were not collecting or looking for anything fancy---the Blackwing was just one of their practical and easily obtainable tools. They could buy them around the corner and they wore them down to the stubs. Even as late as the 60's, one could go into a drugstore casually and find a dazzling assortment of excellent pencils---Wallace Invaders, Venus Velvets, Pedigrees, Ticonderogas, Mongols and Eldorados. You bought them quickly, without fuss, and sat down to work. Great things are made today, of course, but are expensive and require a lengthier process to obtain---Palomino pencils, for example, or Japanese pencils, and their cost makes one hesitant to use them as much. They become objects of adoration rather than work.

  2. And that is why I may never use that particular pen that was a dear friends. It's one some pen company wants her to buy by the 100's or so, with markings on it advertising her business. A small home business. Many have been passed along, but one at least will stay in my possession because this "just a pen" is a sentimental trinket.