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.