Monday, 18 October 2010


No post will appear for a while in Palimpsest due to a medical emergency.
Shall return as soon as I can.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Vintage Carpenter Pencil Cases

A collector's display of pencil cases ("favours") at the London Writing Equipment Show. These cases are designed to take a small carpenter pencil like the E. Faber No. 2 shown.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Palomino Blackwing, Something for the Weekend

Friday was all doom and gloom. But then this arrived. It helped.

The Palomino Blackwing! Something for the weekend. 

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Vintage A.W. Faber Pencil and Mr Scholar

The palimpsest that is Brick Lane in east London is buzzing with activity on a Sunday. It is known as Banglatown due to the large Bangladeshi-Sylheti community that lives here but the area has seen a succession of immigrants starting with Huguenot weavers in the 17th century followed by Irish and Ashkenazi Jews. Food from all corners of Asia is being frantically prepared, stirred, fried, wrapped and handed over to pundits anxious to consume it while leaning against walls, seating on benches, or crouching on the pavement; all kinds of objects and bric-a-brac are being displayed on rickety tables, on the tarmac, in tiny shops squeezed into alleyways and in stuffy halls (vintage clothes, costume jewellery, broken Victorian porcelain babies, ancient film reels, gramophones, old cameras, peacock feathers and chipped flowery tea cups).

Crouching on the pavement the old man is surveying his goods on offer. He looks a bit fed up or he's just tired - it's nearly the end of the day. Amidst the bric-à-brac there is a cardboard box. The typography with its calligraphic flourishes grabs me. Therein is a blue A.W.Faber pencil - a Mercantile Pencil - I've never seen before. It has been sharpened with a knife most probably. Next to it another: an old-dining-table brown pencil, inscribed "Scholar 'Office' Jupen 2257 Blue". Negotiations are performed almost in sign language.

"How much?" I mouth to the man holding the pencils up in the air and he gestures as if shooing a fly "just take them." "Are you sure?" I ask with a questioning flick of the head and a wave of the palm. "Take them, just take them", he gestures impatiently and with a face that has seen the world. I nod "thank you" and he looks elsewhere as if philosophically tired of it all - pencils and the rest.

And here they are:

Mr Mercantile and Mr Office Scholar.

Mr Mercantile is 17.5 cm long; diameter 10mm; Lead colour: Blue; Barrel colour: Blue
Markings in white: Made in Germany  Mercantile Pencil [Faber logo] A.W.FABER * 2686 
Writing: Light blue 
Sharpening: It has been sharpened with a knife or similar. I didn't sharpen it because I don't want to spoil its ragged appearance.

Mr Office Scholar is approx. 14cm long; diameter 7mm; Lead colour: Blue; Barrel colour: Brown (what I call an old-dining-table brown) with four distinct black or dark brown markings along the barrel, not evenly spaced. 
Markings in faded gold: SCHOLAR "OFFICE" JUPEN * 2257 * BLUE
Writing: Dark blue - soft feel, kind of pastel-like - but it leaves nice, bold markings on wood.
Sharpening: Lead was worn out. It didn't fit in a normal sharpener and I used the wide hole in my new Dux sharpener. It sharpened fine.

Thank you Mr Brick Lane man.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Viarco Desenho Pencil

The reason why this pencil is packaged thus is beyond my comprehension. The East London  shop it graced with its presence was ambient with a boutique/designer feel offering vintage overpriced ware. I say overpriced because this single pencil retailed at a whopping £1.60 or £8 for 12. Makes the eyes water not least because although it is a good pencil it is definitely not out-of-this-world.

Viarco, I found out, is a century-old Portuguese company that produces writing and drawing pencils and in their online shop you can buy those for 2.40 Euros for 12. A far cry from £8. And a far cry from "designer" too, as these pencils are under the School/Office categories. But enough with the ranting.

Viarco 250 Desenho Classic graphite pencil
A hexagonal, writing pencil, 18cm; Ø 6.9mm; glossy red with golden lettering, no eraser:
On the barrel: "Portugal . 250. Viarco Desehnho HB=2

The packaging claims "Viarco" o lápis de qualidade para todos os fins: Viarco, a pencil of quality for all purposes, or an all-purpose quality pencil. Industria Portuguesa. S. Joao da Madeira ~ Portugal.

Grades B=1, HB=2, H=3, 2H=4, 4H=5

Writing: HB produced good solid writing - clean, sharp lines, or letters. It feels a bit stiff, or hard - no buttery feel here. A good school pencil at a good price (2.40 Euro for 12, online).

Sharpening: normal (I used my new Dux sharpener, of which later...); Erasing: fine.

If you'd like to make the Viarco pencil I have reviewed your own, leave a comment and I shall chose one lucky commenter at random. Until Wednesday, 13.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Ink on Toast

Printer’s ink is made solely with the smoke of rosin [lampblack] and is tempered with liquid varnish. It must be seethed a little to make it more liquid and [or] harder. In winter, it needs to be more liquid than in summer. To make it flow more, add more linseed or walnut oil. To thicken, add less oil and more smoke and let it boil for longer. The thicker it is, the more beautiful, clean, black and glossy the letters are. However you make it, it must be mixed thoroughly. To print in red, add perfectly ground vermilion in place of said smoke.
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This secret renaissance recipe published in 16th-century Venice provides some clues as to how printing ink was made. It is quoted in Jo Wheeler’s book Renaissance Secrets which contains more tantalizing details on early ink. Ink on toast for example: for those not acquainted with this delicacy let it be known that the print workers in Salamanca, Spain, “when they make the varnish... eat the linseed oil spread on toast, and their hands black with varnish, eat the bread covered with ink.”

It is not difficult to see how a 21st ink enthusiast would be tempted to do the exact same. Especially after watching the “How Ink is Made” video clip posted by Woodclinched. Edible, delectable, luscious, glossy ink as prepared by the craftsmen of the Printing Ink Company.

The printing house of Christophe Plantin in 1581 was, says Wheeler, unsurpassed in Europe. The ink was bought in large quantities from Antwerp where it was manufactured by specialist ink makers. I am sure their ink was superb too ~ I’d love to find out more about those 16th-century ancriers  or faiseurs d’encre.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Pick-a-Pen: Uni-Ball Vision Green and Evergreen

Palimpsest is delighted to publish the first contribution to the Pick-a-Pen series. It comes from Andy Welfle, fellow blogger, pencil enthusiast and author of wonderful Woodclinched

Although I am now primarily a pencil user, I recognize the time and the place for writing in ink. I love pens, especially a good quality rollerball. And, when possible, I prefer using green ink.

There was a time in my life when I was obsessed with finding the perfect green ink pen. When I was about 14 years old, I read 
Operation Ciceroby L. C. Moyzisch. It’s a memoir that read like a spy novel. In the story, the author was an attaché to the German embassy in Ankara, Turkey, and the ambassador wrote everything in green ink. If an embassy employee received a memo in green, he knew it was from the boss.

I liked this idea. Green ink is unusual, though not unheard of, highly visible yet bright and colorful, and, as with the German ambassador, produces a document recognizable as belonging to its author without ever being signed.

The first thing I did was convert my fine writing pens over. I found green ink cartridges for my newer fountain pens, bought a beautiful bottle of emerald green ink for my reservoir fountain pens (Yes, I had several fountain pens as a high-schooler. Got a problem with that?), and started a search for the perfect disposable rollerball. I had to have something to take with me to school, after all.

After months of looking, I finally chose a Uni-ball Vision pen with evergreen ink. It laid down a thin but confident dark green line that didn’t smudge easily. I found them, piecemeal, at Office Depot, but finally relented and ordered a couple dozen online.

Sure enough, green ink helped me develop a trademark in my writing. I was “the kid with the green pen.”

Over the years, my arsenal of green ink is still going strong, although those evergreen Uni-balls aren’t in production anymore. (I can get Vision GREEN pens, but EVERGREEN, a darker, richer green, was my favorite). My current favorite disposable green pen is a Koh-I-Noor, an unusual little art pen of Czech manufacture available at a Blick Arts store. The color is darker even than evergreen, a deep, rich emerald ink, the color of a healthy, verdant blade of grass.

For everyday note-taking, calculating, proofing, and editing, I use a pencil (and that’s a whole other column!), but for letter writing, envelope addressing, or check signing, I pull out my green pen. The iridescent pigment is still enough to give me a smile, and that reminds me of why I love to write about the process and mechanics of writing in the first place.

Photos and text by Woodclinched.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The London Writing Equipment Show

The London Writing Equipment Show is on its fourth year and has been held again on the first Sunday in October at Kensington Town Hall. It is buzzing with coinoisseurs getting all technical about nibs and makes and ink-filling systems. Present were representatives of the Writing Equipment Society, nib smiths, the author of the Conway Stewart definite book, the author of the classic works on the Parker Duofold, Vacumatic and 51, the International Society of Antique Scale Collectors, the owner of the most comprehensive collection of Yard-O-Leads, calligraphers and many pen traders.

Onoto, Conway Stewart, Montblank

Traders from all over of the UK and some from Europe are here offering their delectable ware from all the major brands, antique, vintage and new - fountain pens mostly but also nibs, spare parts, ephemera and some exquisite dip pens. Very few pencils though - this is not the place for the pencil lover but a mecca for the fountain pen aficionado.

Dip Pens at the Vintage Fountain Pen stall

Oh so many Parkers

Vintage Fountain Pen stall

"One packet of Ford's Gold Medal Absorbent Extra Thick 
Blotting Paper cut in convenient size for hand use."

Large bottle of Swan Ink, Olympic pen and a tin advert
of Park Quink and nibs...

Calligrapher at Work

Business Cards from all over.

So many pens, so little money. Till next year.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Palimpsest. A Deceitful Portrait.

The pages of our lives are blurred palimpsest:
New lines are wreathed on old lives half-erased
And those on older still; and so forever.
The old shines through the new and colors it.
What's new? What's old? All things have double meanings.

All things return.

Conrad Aiken, Palimpsest: A deceitful portrait from The House of Dust

The more I write on myself (words, images, memories), the less readable I become. I am indecipherable. Sometimes I use ink, at other times pencil, often just my finger (writing in blood) and I cover often the old lives making sure they do not shine through. But they do. They are ciphers. I remember nothing. I have learnt nothing. Only the new lines I discern and even those are becoming unreadable as the old lines shine through.