Friday, 27 September 2013

Pencil on the Western Front

"The silence spreads. I talk and must talk. So I speak to him and say to him: 'Comrade, I did not want to kill you. ... But you were only an idea to me before, an abstraction that lived in my mind and called forth its appropriate response. It was that abstraction I stabbed. But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony - ...

It is quiet, the front is still except for the crackle of rifle fire. ...

'I will write to your wife,' I say hastily to the dead man, 'I will write to her, she must hear it from me, I will tell her everything I have told you, she shall not suffer, I will help her, and your parents too, and your child - '

His tunic is half open. The pocket-book is easy to find. But I hesitate to open it. In it is the book with his name. So long as I do not know his name perhaps I may still forget him, time will obliterate it, this picture. But his name, it is a nail that will be hammered into me and never come out again. ...

So I open the book and read slowly: - Gérard Duval, compositor.

With the dead man's pencil I write the address on an envelope, then swiftly thrust everything back into his tunic.

I have killed the printer, Gérard Duval.


Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front, Kindle ed. Vintage Digital 2010

Photo: German soldier on the Western Front, 1916, Bundesarchiv.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

The pencils of Oshima

The writing instrument that represents Oshima, the cross-gender librarian of Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, is the pencil: yellow with a rubber at the end, long, slender, always impeccably sharpened, always there by his side or twirling between his middle and index fingers. There is always a stack of long neatly sharpened pencils on his desk. He uses the pencil to encourage, to make a point, to think (by gently pushing the rubber end against his temple), to bid farewell. 
"Where his pencils finish up when they get too short I have no idea." says Kafka whose pencils are usually blunt.

"Oshima picks up a long, sharpened pencil from the counter and gazes at it as if it's an extension of himself. ...

Instead of raising his hand, he lifts his pencil in farewell."


Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore, Kindle Ed. 2011.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Back to School: The Magic Multiplying Pencil

Back to school for all here in the United Kingdom and those hoping to cheat their way through their timetables will be sad to know that a Magic Multiplying Pencil is certainly not the way forward. 

Palimpsest came across one such in a stationery lot bought at an auction and must declare that though effective, said pencil is too conspicuous not to draw attention to itself. It is quite thick with a green grip (that feels like it's got a plastic coating) and a red bullet-like top just below which two sheets of celluloid overlap each other.  They have numbers, lines and circles printed on them with a simple instruction in black letters and two pointing hands: Turn Here. Indeed, turn the yellow celluloid to line it with the number you want multiplied and the answer shows up inside the circles below. 

The name of the manufacturer is printed in tiny letters on the celluloid: "Apex Products Corporation N.Y.C." This Magic Multiplying Pencil is wooden but apparently there are mechanical examples, as show in the Leadhead's Pencil blog and in Pendemonium. This here is 12.5 cm long and has a hefty circumference of 5cm. 
No chance of cheating then.

Friday, 6 September 2013

The Pocket Pencil of Johann Faber

"Well, he wrote so furiously that he broke his pencil and had, as you observe, to sharpen it again. This is of interest, Watson.  The pencil was not an ordinary one. It was above the usual size, with a soft lead, the outer colour was dark blue, the maker's name was printed in silver lettering, and the piece remaining is only about an inch and a half long. Look for such a pencil, Mr Soames, and you have got your man. When I add that he possesses a large and very blunt knife, you have an additional aid. ...What could this NN be? It is the end of a word. You are aware that Johann Faber is the most common maker's name. Is it not clear that there is just as much of the pencil left as usual follows the Johann?"

The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Chapter IX: The Adventure of the Three Students. (1905)

Only the tiniest of stubs remain of this old Johann Faber flat cedar pencil. The blunt knife that has sharpened the lead has taken the JOHANN FA out of JOHANN FABER. Only BER is visible on the honey brown polished stub which is lodged inside a metal holder imprinted with "Johann Faber Bavaria" and the manufacturer's logo of crossed hammers.

Johann Faber invented the drafting leadholder which he patented in 1861 and opened his own pencil factory in 1878 sparking a Faber family feuding.  Johann's brother, Lothar, the pencil patriarch, hastened to declare that any Faber pencils not bearing the initials A.W. were imitations. However, he lost the court case against Johann who went on to to thrive and even to secure supplies other than Siberian graphite. The firm managed to become quite reputable despite the competition, accounting for about 30% of Bavaria's 26 pencil factories (Petroski). Indeed, it became "the most common maker's name," as Holmes pointed out.

It must have been sometime between 1878 and the factory's take-over by A.W. Faber in 1931, that Johann's pocket pencil made its appearance and it may have been designed to fit snugly in a waistcoat pocket, as Petroski says. Do you own one and looking for refills? The competition between the Faber brothers was so intense that they made sure the dimensions of their pencil holders differed by a few millimetres: Johann Faber flat cedar pencil refills do not fit in A.W. Faber pencil holder and vice versa. 
Check out the selection of Johann Faber pencils over at Brand Name Pencils

*Johann's pencils is available on Inklinks

Monday, 2 September 2013

S.O. pen holder

S.O. pen holder with nib by polydaktyl
S.O. pen holder with nib, a photo by polydaktyl on Flickr.

A thorough de-rusting of the metal bit of the pen holder revealed that said writing instrument was indeed one for the HMSO collection.
S [crown] O
Code No 49-14
fitted with a steel pen by Arnold, marked
"Student Pen
AJ Arnold & Son Ltd