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; “..al 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.


14 comments:

  1. Fascinating — I'll have to have a look in my pencil box. Don't you wonder who has used these pencils, who sharpened them in such individual manners, what they wrote or drew?

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  2. Great stuff, Lito; it's made me consider what an "old" pencil is versus a "historical" one.

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  3. When I find old pencils in old boxes I always wonder what histories they were part of. It is then at the moment that I embellish them with narratives that they become historical.

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  4. The Rowney Company started in 1783 making wig powder. When wigs went out of fashion they began making artists' colours and actually introduced acrylics to the art world.
    They were bought by Daler in 1983 and are now Daler Rowney.

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  5. I enjoy "micro-archaeology" (my term) and commercial history, too, Palimpsest. If my memory's okay, American writer Jack Finney sometimes draped his stories around a micro-archaeological find that was provocative or seemed out of place.

    BTW-is that spelling supposed to be George Rowney throughout? I'm seeing George Romney in the caption and first sentence below the photo. Jack/USA

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  6. Jack thank you for pointing out my spelling errors again. I guess I've been reading too much about Romney lately...

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  7. Ouch, Lito! LOL, too! There are some things I really wouldn't want people to know about the States. Our execrable politics is one of them. Sorry you have to hear the dopey campaign trash from this side of the Atlantic. (I was a junior political operative for both major parties back in the 1980s. Revolted by what I learned, I've been a minor-party voter ever since.)

    BTW--it'll be Obama in November, about 52% to Romney's 48%.

    Back to your post, Lito. Is there an explanation for increased demand for pencils in WWI?

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  8. I thought Lito meant she'd been reading about George Romney the painter…

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  9. Alan B, you're right about possibilities besides my ethnocentric guess. Jack/USA

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  10. I'm always fascinated by your entries, but this one struck near home. I happen to live in Wirksworth (Derbyshire) where Fred Chambers spent his retirement, and was instrumental in founding the Roman Catholic parish. He was quite a character, apparently, and well-loved in the town. Thank you for your fascinating blog!

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  11. Jack: Britain became the sole supplier of pencils to the Allied Powers during the First World War, according to my sources. This was good for pencil manufacturers in the short run but after the war they had to work double hard to get international contracts which were lost in the meantime.
    Alan: It was Romney, the Republican who caused the spelling error.
    Andrew: How fascinating and what a coincidence! The connections between stories, people, objects, words never cease to amaze me.

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  12. Palimpsest, thanks, doubly, I guess. I almost gulped after I read my own question: " . . . explanation for increased demand for pencils in WWI?" Staedtler, Koh-i-noor, etc., were the other guys' pencils---everyone knows the rest of the picture from countless documentaries. Jack/USA

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  13. In a blatant bit of me-too-ism, I have searched the pencil box for a few curious ones and posted a selection on my Flickr pages
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/alan98/8033847985

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  14. i have been trying to find a picture of the round pencil without paint because i found one like 2 years ago

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