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

1 comment:

  1. I love this blog since finding it. Thank you for it Palimpsest. Do you know about this site which shows ACD's pen (a Parker Duofold)? http://sherlock-holmes.org.uk/world/conan_doyle.php

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