Thursday, February 25, 2016

Pencil History

We often don't think  too deeply about about the tools and materials we use as artists but reading  about the recent death of Anton Wolfgang von Faber-Castell made me realize there was a person behind the name seen printed on pencils and I decided to look a bit into the "pencil story". In the picture above, the Faber-Castell pencil is the carmine red one second down. It says "best for print marking" on it and also notes it is "Thin Color" - number 7490 Germany- then- 626 Dark Carmine, so well labelled. Faber-Castell is the oldest pencil-making firm, established as a company in 1761. However, some pencil-making had occurred even earlier. Nuremberg had strict rules governing the trades so when Kaspar Faber (1730-1784), a cabinet-maker,  began making pencils in his spare time, he was stretching the rules as he shouldn't have been working with  metal as well as the wood. Rules were not as strict in surrounding villages and by the time his son took over the firm, they had a workshop in Stein - which is still the headquarters today. Competition from fine Cumberland graphite used by Derwent resulted in Faber buying the mineral rights to a graphite mine in Siberia. The graphite lumps were transported out on the backs of reindeer. I can visualize a whole line of reindeer packing out the graphite-so now I feel a debt  to reindeer. The factory itself was a model of responsible management with male and female workers segregated. The women did lighter chores such as packaging. Management was forward-thinking in other ways as they set up quality housing for workers, created company health insurance and a pension scheme and established a kindergarten in Stein - and all of  this around 1844. Napoleon was so impressed he made Faber a member of the Legion of Honour.  Castell was added to the name through marriage into nobility. There is more to the story of pencils that I may blog about later - but I have found out that there are even collectors of vintage pencils. I found, however, that  a search of  my "junk" drawer failed to turn up  even one posted on a collector's illustrated "wish list". Maybe I will include a pencil in a painting one of these days, but a whole collection of them, as in the photograph, is not a painting subject that appeals to me. However, I am happy to have pencils available for writing and for art - and all at a reasonable price. I hope the reindeer are well-fed!

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