Friday, 28 September 2012

Pencil Archaeology

There is an archaeological pleasure in tracing the origins of old markings on obsolete objects; a pleasure akin perhaps to playing detective to one’s own past, though without the risk of nasty surprises. The pencils on which said markings were observed came in an old cardboard box wherein they have previously existed in the higgledy piggeldy company of steel pens, broken nib holders and pieces of chalk. They bore the marks of use, were tortured by knife and tooth and endowed with the grime of hands which time has purified. Relics.

F. Chambers pencil

Round-barreled pencil number one looked like an unmarked wartime pencil save for the markings which have barely escaped the sharpener’s blades of deletion: F. Chambers. The name is imprinted in script, next to a “Made in England” in tiny capitals. Google results yielded that the firm was established in 1913 by Stanton Iron Works foundry manager, Fred Chambers and Nottingham timber merchant Brown. The two men were joined by pencil wise man Professor Hinchley, a chemist by trade. The outbreak of the First World War increased pencil demand, and  in 1915 Chambers bought Brown out and formed F. Chambers & Co Ltd. The company established itself in an old lace factory at Stapleford Nottingham where it remained until 1973. In 1991 it was bought out by Lyra and exists today as Chambers Pencils (who knew?).

Royal Sovereign Co. Ltd pencil

Royal Sovereign Co. Ltd pencil

Pencils numbers two and three were made by Royal Sovereign to which Palimpsest has dedicated more than one post (here’s an example). These unpainted pencils - one round, one hexagonal - look like war pencils, too. “The Royal So…” says the hexagonal one faintly; “ Sovereign Pencil Co. Ltd” affirms the round one more strongly and it leaves a confident black graphite mark too.

George Rowney No. 820 pencil

As for the George Rowney pencil one will be excused to believe there are no markings at all on the barrel. George Rowney & Co., known to have supplied artists such as J.M.W. Turner, was established in 1832 and incorporated in 1924. Painted red this pencil has suffered from chips and dents but still manages to write through its knife-sharpened lead. And there, there (the eyes are straining to see) in the faintest of letters is the mark No.820 George Rowney Co. Ltd Made in England.

 Date of manufacture unknown. Exercise in pencil archaeology over and out.

Monday, 24 September 2012


penmanship by polydaktyl

penmanship, a photo by polydaktyl on Flickr.

"In his epistolary communication, as in his dialogues and discourses on the great question to which it related, Mr Dorritt surrounded the subject with flourishes, as writing-masters embellish copy-books and ciphering books: where the titles of the elementary rules of arithmetic diverge into swans, eagles, griffins, and other calligraphic recreations, and where the capital letters go out of their minds and bodies into ecstasies of pen and ink."


text by Charles Dickens, Little Dorritt (1855-57)
calligraphy by Vere Foster's Copy Book Lettering Plain and Ornamental (1910)

Friday, 21 September 2012

KUM Blue Ocean Pencil Review

KUM Blue Ocean pencil has been compared to an unbalanced barbell. Indeed with a bulky eraser on one side and a hefty shining cap that doubles as a sharpener on the other, KUM Blue Ocean resembles just that: a barbell albeit an unwieldy one as its two attachments weigh 10.7gr and 6.7gr respectively. However, this barbell of a pencil is a self-contained writing system that carries both the means of the writing instrument’s regeneration and the instrument of its deletion.

From tip of cap to tip of eraser the pencil measures a whopping 19.3cm but take these two attachments away and Blue Ocean is shorter than a standard pencil at 12.5cm.
The pencil is hexagonal, made of pale wood and is painted black with a round unfinished cap. It is ungraded but the lead feels soft. It writes decently and it is quite light (in fact at 3gr it is 1gr lighter than the standard pencil). 

Without its markings KUM Blue Ocean could have been mistaken for any another no-name pencil but KUM took care not only to print the company’s logo twice and in silver letters on the barrel but also to imprint the pencil’s name “Blue Ocean” in small cursive script and finish the whole thing off with the image of a galleon.  

An impressive silver ribbed cap it makes double sure that the pencil’s lead is safely tucked away but also it doubles as a sharpener and features a pocket clip too. It is bit clunky admittedly, ever so slightly cheap-looking but nevertheless imposing with its shining silver contrasting with the black plastic clip and cap top, the red sharpener and red lettering (“KUM since 1919”) on the ribbed surface. Flip the black cap top open (a studded affair with “KUM since 1919” imprinted on it) and a tiny red sharpener reveals itself. It works very well and sharpens smoothly (non-KUM pencils too).

The bullet-shaped rubber on the other end of the pencil has KUM imprinted on it too and does its job quite satisfactorily. Post either the rubber or the sharpener cap and the pencil feels a bit more substantial with the extra weight added, though not quite balanced. Release your grip and it collapses on your hand. Cap and rubber look and are too heavy a load for the Blue Ocean’s slender body. A bit more work on the design would not go amiss.  However, with all its unwieldiness KUM Blue Ocean wins on portability as a self-contained writing system. No pencil case is needed as sharpener and eraser are secured in either end of the pencil, and once the Blue Ocean is reduced to a stub, the attachments can be used on another pencil of choice. 

Happy writing!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Stationery Store Series: Pen to Paper - An Update

At a time when small independent shops are crushed by market competition from large chains which are able to offer cheaper goods, Palimpsest was very pleased to see that two years on Pen to Paper (reviewed in 2010) is still at the same place and doing very well, thank you. An intimate little shop in one of Brighton’s famous Lanes it does not dazzle with its expansive shelves or extravagant variety of stationery. Pen to Paper wins on coziness, loving display of paper, pens and inks, and staff friendliness; it is a small gem.

Journals and Notebooks of Pen to Paper

Pen and paper display

 Journals and notebooks (a decent variety of Clairefontaine, Rhodia, Paperblancs, Moleskines, and more) are stacked neatly on wooden shelving units in the centre of the shop and side walls, pens (including Lamy) and pencils look seductively out of rows of pots, and the J. Herbin bottled ink range has also a pride of place. The Clairefontaine stand is in the same place, and there is also a selection of speciality paper and envelopes, J. Lalo and Fabriano. Dip pen nibs are displayed in clear acrylic boxes, and two shelves are dedicated to ceramic and glass inkwells, quills (proper quills, not the decorative kind), reed pens and blotting paper. 

Pen to Paper is a  little den of wonders for paper addicts and inkthusiasts.

Dip pen nibs selection

J.Lalo paper and envelopes
Glass and ceramic inkwells and goose quills

Blotting paper and reed pens

If you’re in Brighton and you’re out of paper and ink, that’s the place to go.
4 Sydney Street
BN 1 4EN
Or you can buy online 

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Stephens Ink for S.O.

Stephens Ink for S.O. by polydaktyl
Stephens Ink for S.O., a photo by polydaktyl on Flickr.
Among the suppliers of Her Majesty's Stationery Office was Henry Stephens, producer of the famous Stephens' Ink writing fluid whose formula was invented in the 19th century. A rare find this glazed stoneware half pint ink bottle has a paper label in excellent condition and the distinctive S O and crown at the top.

Text on label:

Writing Ink
O. No. 6835
Caution. Wash out any inkwells which have contained other ink before filling them with thin ink. Use clean pens. Henry Stephens Ltd London N5
Code no. 43-86
Date of Manufacture 1-3-58"

See the HMSO office supplies on Flickr

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Montblanc Turbo Ballpoint Review

Its brushed chrome sleek body accentuated by the black sphere adorning the cap clip, and its  embossed resin grip allow the Montblanc that was produced in the 1970s to face the 21st century with pride. 16cm posted and 14cm unposted, the Turbo rests comfortably in the hand and writes effortlessly despite the fact that the ink refill is some 30 years old.

Lots of designer attention has been lavished on the cap whose slender clip with its spherical end resembles a subtle exclamation mark, while the top is crowned with the Montblanc logo white against the black semi-spherical resin. Three grips at the top of the Turbo's barrel keep the the cap securely in place while the tiniest of holes on the cap allow for air circulation.

The black resin grip contrasts pleasantly with the brushed silver body and the shining silver tip of the ballpoint. Its tactile design makes for a comfortable grip. Though lightweight the Montblanc Turbo doesn't feel flimsy and produces a good writing experience (for a ballpoint) especially when posted.

With thanks to Inge and Heinz Althöfer for presenting Palimpsest with this birthday gift.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Stationery Store Series: Hennig of Düsseldorf, Germany

If pen and stationery enthusiasts are expecting to encounter their objects of desire surrounded by interior design awesomeness, they may be disappointed. Hennig, Dusseldorf's prime stationery store, is not given to fancy goods placed on custom-designed installations. Function and practicality rule here: standard lighting, grey linoleum-like flooring, practical steel shelving.

Hennig has been providing pen, paper and art materials to the public since the 19th century and continues to do so today. At the ground floor of a glass and steel construction on Jan-Wellem-Platz where the business moved in 1992 after approximately 100 years in its previous Schadowstrasse address around the corner, the store may be depended to provide just what it says on the tin.

Hennig of Düsseldorf: the pen section

On entering, the luxury pen section is tucked on the right hand side, while on the left starts the array of all that one would expect to find in shop like Hennig: the loose paper, card and envelope display shelves, the greeting cards, the wrapping paper, the schools bags, the notebooks, exercise books and folders, the office supplies and photo albums. German brands, Soennecken and Brunner are stocked here as are Exacompta, Moleksine, Leuchtturn, Filofax and Quo Vadis. At the back of the shop, there are artist materials - such as Lukas and Schmincke acrylics, canvases, paintbrushes and pencils. 

Loose paper and card, wrapping paper and calendars, at the entrance across the pen section.
Exercise books

Hennig folders

Brunnen card range

Above and below: Soennecken and Brunner exercise book range at Hennig's

The pen section, with its glass display cabinets, mainly stocks Mont Blanc and Graf von Faber Castell, as well as Lamy. There are quite a few fountain pens but not an extensive variety, with pride of place reserved for the Faber Castell pen of the year 2007, and the Mont Blanc Ingrid Bergman and Marlene Dietrich limited editions. Bottled ink seems to be an afterthought. On the ink-dedicated shelving wall unit, there are Waterman and Pelikan ink cartridges and ink bottles as well as the Mont Blanc bottled ink range.

Mont Blanc fountain pen display at Hennig's

Waterman, Pelikan, Mont Blanc Bottled ink and ink cartridges

Staff is helpful and friendly and the shop is situated near Schadowstrasse, Düsseldorf's main shopping high street. Hennig is a good place to browse and buy your school and office supplies. No frivolity here, no indy notebooks, designer folders or quirky specialist paper. Nothing to write home about but Hennig has got a job to do and by all appearance it does it well.

Address: Jan-Wellem-Platz 3, 40212 Dusseldorf, Germany

Hennig of Düsseldorf Art Materials section

Pen display stand at Hennig

Hennig's website: