The Bartleby


The Bartleby Website

With thanks to Matthias of Bleistift fame, I have learned of an exceptional website devoted to writing culture, The Bartleby. Upon first view, I was surprised by the mixture of interviews, travel, and literary content. The website is German/English bilingual, with a very attractive design.

After some browsing, I was wondering whether it was a publishing house or an international airline that had put together this amazing site. It was neither – I thought the quality and design of the site meant there must be a commercial basis, but I was wrong. There is no advertising or industrial affiliation – it is an amazing high level personal contribution.

As a Canadian, the latest article Artists on the go | See how Sophie Mutlu, illustrator, and Peter Zenkl, photographer, live and work in Yukon, Canada was of particular interest.

This young couple, after a VW motorbus ride from Mexico found themselves in a very remote part of northern Canada and chose to stay. An interesting thing is that very few remote communities of 25,000 are served by international flights – yet the Yukon capital of Whitehorse is served by a seasonal flight to Frankfurt! (You can read the comments for speculation about how this flight might be viable.)

There is even a YouTube video with 700K views on this unusual flight:

So I suspect there is a Germany to Yukon connection worthy of further exploration.

I like The Bartleby’s explorations of literary hotels and writing culture. It is most recommended!

Paint it Blue: The Caran d’Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection


In late 2020, Caran d’Ache announced a limited product line featuring the very special colour International Klein Blue.

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

According to The Secret Life of Color by Kasia St. Clair, the artist Yves Klein loved the intensity of ultramarine pigment, but was disappointed with the paint it created. He worked alongside a chemist to create a resin that exposed more of the pigment’s lustre. (Klein sadly passed away at 34. He patented Klein Blue at age 32.)

Patenting a colour is an interesting notion. Rights to a colour are typically only applicable in a context. Klein’s patent is apparently for his process, not literally for the colour.

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

The original International Klein Blue is still only made by Klein’s original collaborator and available at the very same art store that served Klein in Paris: Adam Montmartre.

Caran d’Ache announced the adaptation of seven of their products as Klein tributes: At the very high end, Leman fountain and ballpoint pens. And at more accessible price points, a Sharpening Machine, Fixpencil, 849 ballpoint, and two woodcase pencils.

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

The Fixpencil and Leman Fountain Pen are differentiated in the offering by possessing the ability to write in ultramarine – the Fixpencil has water soluble ultramarine leads, and the Leman a limited edition ultramarine ink. Given the use of Klein’s name and the “®” symbol throughout the advertising and packaging, it is presumed that the Klein pigment isn’t in the ink or lead as this claim isn’t made. All the products share the use of ultramarine surfaces or highlights, and Klein’s signature.

The Fixpencil is an iconic writing instrument, honoured by a Swiss stamp and familiar withing writing culture. It has been mentioned at pencil talk in 2008 and 2017.

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

This particular model is distinguished by the surface colouring, and comes in a metal case. It ships with a 2mm B grapite lead, and a tube with three ultramarine water soluble leads. One of the leads in my tube arrived broken in half. The blue leads are just a few mm shorter than the graphite lead.

On some very special mulberry bark paper from Hanaduri, I tried the pencils and the blue lead, wet and dry:

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

I also tried them on writing paper that I regularly use, Rhodia R:

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

It isn’t really the colour depth or reaction I expected.

I am not happy that there appears to be no refill available. The blue lead seems like a very special accessory, and though the leadholder will continue to function with graphite, this ultramarine lead enhances the association with Klein.

The 849 is another classic. I don’t have a lot to say about it. I think ballpoint cartridges may be receiving small incremental improvements over the years – they may have been pretty awful some years ago, but this one does not skip or dispense lumps of ink. The Caran d’Ache Goliath refill generally has a excellent reputation.

A smear of the blue on HP photocopy paper:

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

Two pencils have been released. First, the MAXI is a jumbo sized hexagonal pencil with a very thich 4.5mm graphite lead. The pencil is matte and a deep ultramarire – truly striking. The cap is a very slight dome, unfinished.

Second, a set of four pencils simply called “Set of 4 Graphite Pencils”. These are a notch larger than most standard pencils, and possess a 2.5mm HB core. They are about one third coated in ultramarine, and the remainder in clear lacquer. The four pencil box packaging appears to reprise the Exotic Woods packaging.

Both pencils are made of “FSC Mix” cedar. The regular pencil is said to be of 8 plys, and the maxi of 6 plys. Official pencil standards tell us that this refers to the number of pencils produced by the pencil sandwich. Probably not interesting to most consumers, but it piqued my interest.

The MAXI lead seems a little smoother and richer than the regular lead. I wish the MAXI’s lead was also in the regular pencil.

Some Final Impressions

This is a thoughtful and properly licensed commercial product created in association with the estate of a major twentieth century artist. The work involved in acquiring the rights to use Klein’s signature likely rivalled the amount of work involved in production. I salute Caran d’Ache for doing this, and hope there will be more. May I humbly suggest Le Corbusier as someone who might be worthy of similar treatment?

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

My critiques are minor. The pencils, at their price and given Caran d’Ache’s environmental and social commitments, should be 100% certified, not just “FSC Mix”. FSC certification includes human rights criteria, not just tree ecology, and I think that’s important. The MAXI pencil is probably the standout product to me. If the end was dipped in the same colour, it would be slightly nicer. The regular pencil could have a smoother and darker lead. And the Fixpencil should ship with more than three blue leads, or have refills for sale.

Overall, I feel a delight at seeing this rich deep blue in a time of grey.

Howard Koch’s favorite pencil

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Howard Koch, a Hollywood blacklisted screenwriter who may be best known as a co-writer of Casablanca, paid tribute to the role of pencils in his work:

“On my desk, sharpened by my patient secretary, were a dozen brown pencils. Eagle Number One. I’d learned to have great respect for these pencils and use them to this day. Sometimes they seem to take off on their own with me merely holding them, like the marker on a ouija board. The pencil obediently wrote down the two words that open every screen play — Fade In.”

Howard Koch, Casablanca: Script and Legend, Overlook Press, Woodstock, N.Y., 1973.

Eagle was a pencil company and “Number One” is a grade, so the exact pencil being referred to isn’t clear. What is extremely clear is Koch’s appreciation for these tools. A pencil having it’s own life, to “take off on their own”, is an engaging line of thought.

My thanks to Gerald for providing the citation.

Happy 25th Anniversary to The Pencil Pages!

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Not many websites make it the age of twenty-five. Today, let’s recognize The Pencil Pages, one of the first websites devoted to the woodcase pencil. Author Doug Martin created a website with articles, an often cited (and still not surpassed) directory of pencil manufacturers, photos of pencils, and a classified section.

The classified section at Pencil Pages (still going) was the first online place I’m aware that fostered a basic conversation about pencils, with posters speaking to one another.

Congratulations on this significant anniversary.

Biella Index Cards


Biella Index Card

Biella is a Swiss stationery company. Though 120 years old, they don’t seem to be engaged in much export activity as far as I can tell. Their one product that I’ve previously purchased is the Canteo Notebook, which we took a look at in 2009. It was a nice product – conceptually similar to Leuchtturm and Moleskine notebooks, but a step up in paper quality and design. And being sold with a pencil and metal page darts in a glassine envelope didn’t hurt.

Biella Index Card

Last year I was fortunate to be able to visit Zürich’s four story stationer Papeterie Zumstein, and came across another Biella product – their version of the index card.

I love index cards, and my favourite is the Exacompta Record Card. I have used them almost every day for over a decade!

A small detour – there was a blog titled “Pile of Index Cards” that served as an inspiration (I think it is now offline) and which recommended some very particular tools. In particular, the “Correct” brand index card from Japan. Their benefit was said to be rule placement – with a 5mm x 5mm square grid, the first vertical rule was 5mm to the right of the card’s left side, and the first horizontal rule 5mm below the card’s top side. i.e. – the grid ruling was printed to respect and match the card’s dimensions. Further, each card could be expected to match this pattern. This allowed marking the edges of cards to give them particular meaning and to visually convey basic information even before one reads the card. Years later, I can buy Japanese index cards locally. Unfortunately, even if possessing super deliberate ruling, they’re made from thin paper. In fact they seem to me to simply be small dimension pieces of paper. I do find that I like the thicker card stock of North American or European index cards.

Biella Index Card

This particular card is a small A7 size with a 4mm grey square rule. It looks great, but I noticed right away that the paper seems thinner and less smooth than the coated Exacompta. I’ll be sticking with Exacompta, but I’m glad to know that there are competitors around.

Fabula Organic Pencil


Fabula Organic Pencil

Constructed from coffee, tea, and flowers, the Fabula Organic Pencil is definitely a challenger in the sustainable pencil category. It is also tactile, aromatic, and visually interesting.

The Fabula appears to be the sole product of a Croatian company of the same name. It has won a red dot and other design awards. I’m not sure of the company’s health after the pandemic – they have mainly marketed the pencil as an environmentally friendly corporate gift. At retail, it has sold for $US5-6 per pencil, so it is not cheap.

As far as I can tell, the pencil is not extruded, but rather baked around the lead. The “cap” of the pencil contains seeds – my particular pencil has Golden Forest Berry.

Fabula Organic Pencil

I was fearing that the lead would be “novelty pencil” grade, but it isn’t – it has a nice smooth slightly dark lead.

Fabula Organic Pencil

The pencil has some instructions, plus a warning. Sharpening can be done over a potted plant, as the shavings will be nutritious for the plant. When the pencil becomes a stub, that stub can be soaked in water for two days, forming a seed solution that can be planted.

Maybe you can guess the warning? Being water soluble, you’ll want to keep the pencil dry.

The pencil has a heft, and is imperfectly round – my pencil seemed a bit squished near the point.

The pencil is wrapped in a piece of paper containing environmental tips and further information about the pencil.

Fabula Organic Pencil

I like the Fabula, and am very curious about how it will wear over time.