Monday, October 30, 2006

Berolzheimerianum: 100 Year Anniversary Celebration

Back in March I wrote a post titled “Lieber Philip: A Letter Lasts 100 Years” that discussed the final letter my Great-Great Grandfather Heinrich wrote from his home in Nürnburg, Germany to his son Philip, my Great-Grandfather in New York before he passed away about one month later. I introduced a bit of family history in the pencil industry to my own son Philip through this letter.

As it turns out there is another recent 100 Year Anniversary related to Heinrich Berolzheimer’s accomplishments. My wife, son and I have just returned from a week in Germany where we participated in activities celebrating the 100 year anniversary of the construction of the Berolzheimerianum in Fürth, the city of Heinrich’s birth and original founding of the pencil company, Berolzheimer und Illfelder. Donated by Heinrich with assistance of his son’s Emil and Philip (then running the Eagle Pencil Company in New York) the Berolzheimerianum was established according to the foundation document as a “home for popular education in the town of Fürth”. Tis document stated that it should “serve the whole population of town of Fürth, regardless of social class, religion or political opinions”. The building included an extensive library with over 10,000 volumes (later growing to over 20,000 volumes) as well as an auditorium with 800 seats for performances and various cultural events and included a number of works of art both interior and exterior art.

Unfortunately Heinrich passed away a month prior to the completion and inauguration of the building. The photos in this post show the Berolzheimerianum both at it’s completion in 1906 and as it looks today. The painting of Heinrich was commissioned when he was named as an Honorary Citizen of Fürth for his patronage towards the city. Other famous Honorary Citizens include Ludwig Erhard who served as the second Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1963 to 1966 and Henry Kissinger, who I was told recalls studying as a child in the Berolzheimerianum.

The Berolzheimerianum has an interesting history. A few of the highlights include:

- Attendance at the building inauguration by Prince Ludwig III of Bavaria (later the last king of Bavaria)
- Functioned as a military hospital during the 1st World War through 1919
- The building was renamed by the National Socialists during the period of the Third Reich erasing for a time the recognition of the Jewish Philanthropist Heinrich Berolzheimer
- Following post war repairs in 1945, the Berolzheimerianum name was restored and the building continued to function for it’s original purpose of supporting education and the arts
- In 1998 following extensive renovations the Berolzheimerianum was reopened as ComÖedie Fürth, one of the leading comedy clubs in Germany including a restaurant and bar.

As a part of the 100 Year Celebration my wife, son and I were honored to be the guests of the City of Fürth along with other of Heinrich’s descendants (3rd and 4th cousins) whom we met for the first time. In conjunction with the anniversary celebration a four month exhibit at the Jewish Museum of Franconia, entitled “Benefactor Berolzheimer: A Family Tradition of Philanthropy and Patronage”. While our families converted to Christianity several generations back, we very much enjoyed learning more about our Jewish heritage in Germany during this visit. The entire staff of the museum did a very nice job with the exhibit and with additional activities scheduled over a three day period.

In addition to the Berolzheimerianum, Heinrich also made important financial and artwork contribution to a library in Nürnburg, known as the Luitpoldhaus, as well as to the Nürnberger Künstlerhaus art institute and supported the Natural History Museum in that city as well. For his contributions to Nürnburg where he lived the final years of his life he was also named and honorary citizen there as well. This I understand makes him one of only two people who have been named honorary citizen to both of these cities. This tradition of supporting education and the arts in our home communities has been continued by Heinrich’s descendants to this day, first by Emil and Philip and down to current times.

I am slowly adding to my Flickr site here a a new set of historical, current day and other photos associated with the Berolzheimerianum and the 100 year Anniversary Ceremonies. Some of these are captioned to tell more of the story of the building.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Japanese Design Pencils

I am certain you have all seen, admired and perhaps even purchased"fancy" theme or holiday pencils before. Such decorative features are produced through a variety of techniques which include 4 color offset printing, transfer, foil or paper wrap, roll-on imprint, silk screen, etc. The proper combination of lacquer base color with a design overlaid and other finishing touches such as unique eraser color and style or end dipping can create quite interesting pencils for general use or collectable.

I can say with no hesitation that no one part of the pencil industry produces the quality and variety of "designer" pencils comparable to those produce Japanese pencil industry as a group. Starting with extremley uniform dimensional characteristics and a high quality base pencil is the first step to assuring an exceptional product. The quality, creativity, detail and variety of designs produced by Japanese manufacturers is truely amazing and surprisingly not often duplicated to such extent by other producers. One theme pencil trend recently in Japan was the advent of "game" pencils in which the 6 sides of a hexagonal pencil each represent a different result for the game when the pencil is rolled like dice.

Often such design pencils are viewed as purely of interest to children, although many knowledgable collectors appreciate these pencils as well. One of my own favorites from my collection is a 15 pencil color set in a tin. The set commemorates the Japan Railway System and each pencil is rectangular in shape with each of the four sides printed as if it was one side of the train. Each of the 15 pencils represents a different type of train in the system. As a part of a limited edition the set sells of about $200 at retail.

While relocating our corporate offices recently we have come up with a group of pencils that we plan to auction as part of our "Vintage & Collectables Series" at our eBay Pencil World Creativity Store. The first of these is a beautiful and unique collection of 1400 such Japanese Designer Pencils. Click here to visit this auction. These are pencils produced to the same quality of our Palomino graphite pencils with respect to the fine finish and smooth writing characteristics.

Theme pencils can represent a difficult and risky part of the pencil industry due to the "trendiness" of different designs. In Japan as well as here in the US many are tied to licenses of particular cartoon characters from television or the movies. Such pencils can involve license fees that along with art design costs and film set up costs increase the need for a larger minimum run sizes to amortize these costs. Themes that come and go over seasonal or holiday periods require careful inventory planning to assure no excess or obsolete inventory for the manufacturer that increase the working capital tied up. Even thematic designs that are acceptable one year may not be as saleable the next season.

As a collector, the challenge is to focus on those items that are more unique, are part of complete matched sets and are of good quality design and cosntruction. Also as with any collection selecting what you find personally interesting or attractive is also advisable even if it might not be so rare.