Thursday, March 30, 2006

Welcome Pencil of the Month™ Club

Our friend and colleague Don over at is starting a Pencil of the Month™ Club . Just $24/year for a monthly edition of a new pencil each month. Link here to join or you can read more details here at Pencil Revolutions.

We are pleased Don is getting off to a good start with his new PencilThings venture which is becomming the definitive source for KUM sharpeners and a growing list of our own California Republic pencils in our Palomino, Golden Bear, ForestChoice & Prospector ranges in addition to more new "pencil things" everyday. His efforts are quite a compliment to our own Pencil World Creativity Store @ eBay making a wider range of PencilThings available than we at California Republic have the time to focus on for our own more limited eBay offerings.

We are excited to collaborate with Don to help him locate and source interesting pencil items for the club's monthly listings and look forward to the fun ahead for fellow Pencil Revolutionaries.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Thanks from Pencil World Creativity Store

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank the growing numbers of Palomino Riders and fans of our other pencil items that have supported our product and efforts at our Pencil world Creativity Store @ eBay. We are proud that we continue to maintain a 100% Positive feedback rating and have a growing number of first-time and repeat customers who clearly appreciate good quality pencils. Jeanette has done a super job handling the store and I know she appreciates all the kind words of support from you. She continues to work as time allows to expand our offerings or to add special auction items and special promotions like our current Easter Pencil Promotion and we enjoy hearing back from you about your ideas.

Now here’s an update on 6 new listings we’ve added over the weekend. First, we have four new Inventory listings (shown in phot here) to expand our selection of KUM sharpeners, Golden Bear and Palomino pencil items.

The KUM Correc-Tri Sharpener with Eraser is a stylish new item from KUM which includes an integrated magnesium wedge sharpener for standard pencils with container storage for shavings and a high quality eraser integrated into the base. It’s a nice integrated tool for a desktop accessory. We’ve made our final selection of KUM sharpener items and will be adding them as received into our stock.

Our Golden Bear 2B grade graphite pencils are now available in our 40 count tube packaging format. This expands to two lead grades (HB & 2B) in our Golden Bear range for those who prefer a slightly darker mark than a standard HB pencil. The 2B will only be available in our orange lacquer-blue eraser combination. Though not quite the high standard of our Palomino graphite leads the Golden Bear makes a fine writing pencil ideal for home, office and school use The Golden Bear pencil uses a make a nice complement to the orange and blue

Two new package options are available in our Palomino Range. First, is our new Palomino Rainbow Set. This 6 pencil pack selects the vibrant colors of the Rainbow from our artist quality wax color line. Included colors are: Purple, Blue, Yellow-Green, Yellow, Orange & Red. This item provides the quickest, easiest way to sample our artist color pencils in 6 popular colors. If you like these we encourage you to expand your selection through purchase of Wax Color Variety or Aquarelle Variety in 6 packs where you can select your own mix of colors from either our list of Artist Wax Color or Aquarelle ranges. Or go for the whole range with one of our complete wood boxed sets.

The Palomino Graphite HB Wood box set offers a new option to provide a nice wood case to stable those Palominos on your desktop or workspace. This item comes pre-packed with 3 each blue and orange Palomino HBs. However, the box will hold up to 12 Palominos, whether graphite, artist wax color or aquarelle. It takes a bit less space than our color pencil 12 count sets.

Next, we also continue our Vintage & Collectables Series with two new auction listings this week.

The feature item is a pairing of Henry Petroski’s book “The Pencil: A History of Design & Circumstance” with a 40 count tube of our Golden Bear HB pencils. This particular book is a 1st edition hardcover printing and comes from the personal collection of my grandfather Charles, was a gift from a former employee of the company and includes an inscription to Charles. Petroski’s book is the pre-eminent history of the pencil, of a number of the leading companies that make up the industry and of the advances in technology and materials that lead to developing the modern wood cased pencil. A must reed for any new Pencil Revolutionary.

The final Vintage & Collectable series item is a second Auction of our Palomino Natural finish Incense-cedar cased Ball Point Pen. This pen is one of just a few dozen that were produced for premium gift purposes and only a few remain on hand. We have paired this item with one our popular Palomino 6 count mixed grade Graphite packs.

We hope you enjoy these new listings and will check back at PWCS @ eBay upon occasion for new items we continue to add to our growing selection. We do plan an expanded range of stock Inventory listings as well as running more Grab Bag or Vintage & Collectable auctions as time permits. We’d really love to do one or two of these a week, but time is limited to prepare and manage such one of a kind one time auctions. We do auction certain non-stock items on an occasional basis such as our ForestChoice Carpenter pencil 144 count pack or 18 Count Palomino artist color sets where a special buy can generally be made at below our Buy it Now! prices.

Though I will do a Timberlines post now and then about new listings the best way to keep notified on what’s new is to sign up for our e-mail mailing list by adding Pencil World as one of your favorites while visiting our store site. If you have thoughts and ideas on new items or auctions you’d like to see added just let us know by commenting here. Again thanks for you business and we hope to see.

Friday, March 17, 2006

L&C Hardmuth - Koh-I-Noor: A Diamond in the Rough

The pencils shown here are all quite old pencils from L&C Hardmuth. Each represent different brand names and were produced in two different factories of this old group which had it’s beginnings in Vienna, Austria and later relocated to the Bohemia Works factory at Ceske Budejovice in the Czech Republic. Ceske Budejovice’s German name is Budweis, of beer fame, which has an interesting brand ownership rights history. This also is a situation not uncommon in the pencil industry over the years. In fact L&C Hardmuth’s own history resulted in divided ownership rights by region of their most famous brand. The Koh-I-Noor brand was first introduced in 1889, named for the famous diamond as a representation of the superior quality of this new product.

While Hardmuth's primary manufacturing operations remained in Ceske Budejovice, the company expanded in a multinational push between the two world wars opening Koh-I-Noor Pencil Company in New Jersey in 1919, had a joint venture factory with Johann Faber in Romania and in 1931 established a facility in Krakow, Poland as part of new trust combination with Johann Faber and A.W. Faber-Castell. (Petroski) At some point in time a new factory in Hirm, Austria was built as well.

Following World War II the company was broken up and the Czech, Romanian and Polish operations were nationalized while the Austrian company remained under private ownership. The US based Koh-I-Noor operations (of Rapidiograph fame) ended up as part of a separate group that was later owned by Rotring in Germany and was eventually acquired by Newell Rubbermaid in the 1990s. Eventually the Austrian company fell on hard times and went through bankruptcy and found new owners. This company was reorganized and operates today as Bleistfabrik Hirm-Cretacolor.

Meanwhile the nationalized group of companies consolidated over time into the large operations in Ceske Budejovice building a leading brand position in Eastern Europe and former Soviet block countries while having more limited trade with the west. This company was renamed Koh-I-Noor Hardmuth as it was privatized in 1992 and purchased two years later and has since operated as part of the Gamma Group. This company retains the Koh-I-Noor name today and has since further invested in pencil manufacturing operations in both Russia and China. The company has also recently opened separate marketing and distribution companies in both Poland and Slovenia, though there is no pencil manufacturing at these locations. It retains strong brand recognition in Eastern European market, has a reputation for fine quality and has strengthened its international distribution since it’s privatization.

As far as I’ve been able to determine these three pencil sets date from the period of time L&C Hardmuth was internationalizing the business through the 1930s. Of these three items only the Scalia pencils include any reference to the Koh-I-Noor name. None have the Koh-I-Noor name imprinted on the pencils themselves. All three seem to be different brands of copying pencils. Copying pencils have a hard lead that is designed to leave a dark and more permanent mark similar to an ink pen.

The beautiful set of Scala copying pencils are among the favorite in my entire collection. Note the wonderful lacquer job on these pencils that seems to simulate a length of bamboo. This box includes an information sheet on the care and use of these copying pencils in 12 languages demonstrating the multinational sales focus of the company. An excerpt of key technical information reads as follows:

All copying and couloured copying ink pencils should be protected against atmosoheric humidity as well as against excessive dryness and heat. ... for they are liable to absorb moisture from the atmosphere, which softens the lead and, if dried rapidly, it becomes brittle.
On account of their composition, the resistance of copying leads against breaking is entirely different than that of Blacklead Pencils, which are hardened by baking.
The structure necesitates care being taken when sharpening. The blade ... must be sharp and too great pressure should not be exerted.
Coloured Copying Ink Pencils particularly should not be sharpened to a very fine point. ... To prevent piercing oneself ..., it is recommended that the points be fitted with a protector.

The second two sets of pencils indicating they were produced in Poland include the yellow “Eureka” and black “Mephisto” pencils. They both reference a grade described as srednie or 73B srednie, which I've been unable to translate. What’s also interesting is that these two boxes seems to reference different company names. The first is L&C Hardmuth-Lechistan S.A. and the second L.i C. Hardmuth S.A. Krakow. A Wikepedia search for Lechistan indicates that it is the name for Poland used in some Central Asian and Middle Eastern countries that derives from the Polish word Lechia which is an alternate historical name for Poland. Thus it is probable the “Eureka” pencils were produced specifically for these other market regions and again are an interesting historical reference for the multinational period of expansion of the L&C Hardmuth in the 1930s.

A final note of interest is that I have only been able to find reference to one current Koh-I-Noor product retaining the Mephisto name and the Eureka and Scala names seem to have disappeared entirely from any current selections. This is a likely result of the declining demand for copying pencils and another example of how changes in product tastes and market conditions have lead to the decline in various pencil brands. The lone Koh-I-Noor Mephisto item is now a 5.6mm thick lead plastic mechanical clutch pencil.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Lieber Philip: A letter lasts 100 years

Lieber Philip -

Recently Luigi has been sifting through and organizing, archival family and company correspondence. (for the uninformed Luigi is a retired employee and protégé of my grandfather Charles). Just a week ago he came up with this gem of a letter from my great-great grandfather Heinrich Berolzheimer to his son, my great grandfather and your great-great grandfather Philip.

The letter was written March 7, 1906 and is 100 years old today and begins Lieber Philip just as I've started my letter to you. In addition to the handwritten letter in German using a fountain pen there is a receipt from a factory in Nuremburg, Germany for some item Heinrich seems to have purchased on behalf of Eagle Pencil Company in New York. It also included a handwritten note by Philip on an Eagle Pencil Company envelope indicating that this was among the last letters he received from his father before his death. I have added an Eagle Diagraph pencil from my collection as a finishing touch for the photo.

Here is a bit of background history on your great-great-great Grandfather Heinrich, which even you are probably not very familiar with. Heinrich established Eagle Pencil Company in New York after emigrating from Fuerth near Nuremburg, where his father Daniel Berolzheimer had first entered the pencil industry in 1856 in partnership with Leopold Illfelder under the name of Berolzheimer und Illfelder. This 1856 date is commonly considered the founding date of Eagle Pencil Company though the Berolzheimer-Illfelder partnership did not end until approximately 1861 and Eagle was not actually established in New York in 1856. Here's a link for some information I found on the history of Eagle Pencil Company. There are a few notable errors here with respect to generational relationships of different Berolzheimers to Heinrich but perhaps you'll learn something new of interest about the pencils side of the family business background here.

After a number of years in New York Heinrich turned the business over to his sons Philip and Emil and returned to Germany for his retirement where he was involved in a number of philanthropic pursuits. This included the construction of a new library for the city of Fuerth in a building which was and is still named the Berolzheimerianum in his honor. This building has in the recent 10 years found new life as a refurbished dinner theater and comedy club. I have not seen a show there myself, but did visit the building ten year ago in 1996 and met the comedy group leaders as they were completing construction and about to open. I was even interviewed on the local television and newspaper during the visit.

Thanks to your aunt Tanja's help we have been able to decipher the main content of the letter itself. Of particular note are indications that Heinrich had recently received a letter from Philip's wife Clara with a note from your own great-Grandfather Charles (not quite 4 years old at the time) and that despite his health he was able to sit outside thanks to unseasonably warm weather for that time of year. The letter also includes a summation of a few financial figures in German Marks. One figure is the amount of 222.20 Deutch Marks from the included receipt from Nurnberger Mettal und Lackierwaarenfabrik, apparently a supplier of metal and lacquer materials to the pencil industry.

Given the 100 year anniversary of this letter today I thought it might be interesting to share with you what I see as a few of the interesting changes and developments in 100 years time that are reflected in the letter. The first is the change in language and handwriting itself. In interpreting the letter Tanja indicated there has been significant change in the meaning of particular words which she refers to as "old German". Also, the style of handwriting includes a number of letters which appear to be one letter if using current writing style, but were actually read as different letters at that time. This could even change the meaning of some of the words and sentences if interpreted improperly.

The age and somewhat faded nature of the ink complicated Tanja’s task and made at least one sentence totally unclear and she was unable to translate due to a variety of potential meanings of the few legible words. One wonders if this letter had been written with a graphite pencil rather than ink would it be more smudged or would it have stood the test of time. Given the clear legibility of the graphite pencil note by Philip on the back of the letter that indicates the date he answered the letter I could make an argument for pencil over ink. How about this? "Ride the Palomino, the mark that will last over 100 years."

I was curious what the current value of the receipt for 222.2 Marks would be in US dollars today. With the help of this site I was able to estimate it was worth approximately US$53 in 1906 using the pre-WWI rate of exchange. Using this second site it appears this amount in 1906 would be roughly equivalent to US$1085 today. Just think if you would begin setting aside just $53 per year today for the rest of your life what it might mean for your great-great grandchild in 100 years time.

Unfortunately, the description tied to this amount simply has the title "Brother Bing" so it's unclear what this receipt is specifically for. I had hoped to estimate what the cost of some parts or equipment would be today. By the way I have no knowledge of any relative named Bing, just in case you were wondering. Of further interest to me is the timeframe involved in trans-Atlantic mail communications 100 years ago. The letter dated March 7, 1906 was received in New York and Philip's handwritten note indicated he answered back with his own letter on March 20th. So a maximum of 13 days time for delivery. An eternity compared to the near instantaneous responses we expect today using e-mail for business to our factories in China and Thailand and that you and I use for personal communication. I can't remember the last real hand written letter I sent or received via mail. I'm guessing your wondering when you ever received a written letter of any sort from me. I guess this electronic version will have to suffice.

A final note of interest is the signoff which reads "Your Loving Grandfather", using the word “Opa”, though we know the relationship was father writing to son. Perhaps the translation and meaning of the word could have simply changed in 100 years time. Whether this is it or this implies some form of senility in Heinrich's waning years or was simply used as a term of endearment is unclear. I'm sure by now you are wondering about my own state of mind writing an open letter to you my teenage son in a post for the world to see on my blog. In any case the use of this language seems warm and heartfelt though sadly not typical these days of what I would expect to receive in a note or e-mail from my father Philip or I expect what you would anticipate receiving from me. Since I'm feeling nostalgic and perhaps in time you’ll reread this and feel this way too I suppose you'll eventually forgive me if I follow the example of our forefather Heinrich.

Lour loving father,