Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener

Troy from Classroom Friendly Supplies kindly sent a “Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener” this way. I’ve previously read reports on the sharpener at Pencil Revolution and Lung Sketching Scrolls. (Alberto really put it through the paces!) Some searching reveals further coverage at Unposted and Little Flower Petals.

In terms of modern day desktop sharpeners, there is one thing that seems to be true – they all appear to be essentially the same. With the exception of a very pricey model from El Casco (and possibly one from Caran d’Ache), these products are nearly identical (whether labelled Carl or Staedtler or Faber-Castell or no-name) and seem to be made at the People’s No. 2 Sharpener Factory in Yangzhou, or some similar facility.

This comment hits the nail on the head about today’s specimen – this sharpener is either an unbranded Carl A-5, or from the same supplier that Carl uses. As Carl sharpeners have been mentioned here many times over the years, they will be used for comparison.

The product is packaged in a way that makes shipping feasible:

Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener

The sharpener has a different aesthetic, and is cased in metal, making it heavier and more substantial than the plastic housed Carls. Between the Carl Decade 100 and Carl Bungu Ryodo:

Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener

Unlike those Carl sharpeners, the jaws mark the pencils. Whether or not this is a deal breaker would be a personal choice. I did not attempt to transplant the guide mechanism and padded non-marking jaws of a Carl sharpener to the Classroom Friendly model. It should be feasible as far as I can tell, but the look of the sharpener would be off.

Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener

Those fierce jaws:

Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener

Finally, on the question of sharpening – there is no point adjustment capability.

The official Carl product page reveals the A-5 to be the least expensive of the Carl range. It and most other models do not have adjustable point settings. The top of the line CC-5000 has five point settings!

The surprise is that the Classroom Friendly point (top) is even sharper than the acute setting of the Decade:

Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener

That point is so sharp that most leads sharpened in that way will break fairly quickly under any pressure – but it is dramatic!

I did try and move the blade mechanism between sharpeners. That works, though you understandably get another odd looking sharpener.

While I didn’t test it in a classroom, the product is excellent for personal use, and I have no trouble recommending it. Troy has been selling these since 2004, so you can be confident in the vendor.

Eagle Polytechnic Pencils

Following the previous post on vintage pencils, Bob from Brand Name Pencils sent some correspondence. Bob owns a complete set of Eagle Polytechnic pencils from the mid 19th century, and was kind enough to share some images.

I’ll wager that not too many products have been marketed with the likenesses of both King Maximilian II and George Washington.

The box notes that the pencils were patented April 3rd, 1860.

Eagle Polytechnic Pencils

“Adapted to the use of schools and colleges,” the seven pencils range in grade from HHH to BB:

Eagle Polytechnic Pencils

Amazing condition:

Eagle Polytechnic Pencils

Berolzheimer, Illfelder & Co.:

Eagle Polytechnic Pencils

Note that unlike the A. W. Faber pencils, the narrow side of the rectangular lead is adjacent to the glued internal side of the pencils:

Eagle Polytechnic Pencils

The Polytechnic seems to be a direct competitor and response to the Polygrade. This particular set has survived in amazing shape.

My thanks to Bob for sharing these images.

A. W. Faber’s Polygrade Lead Pencils

A. W. Faber's Polygrade Lead Pencils

Lothar von Faber’s Polygrade is a historically important pencil. Launched in 1837, and sold until the early 20th century, the product offered pencils in a system of standard grades, and established the Faber name globally. The pencils were also the first by Faber to use the Conté/Hardmuth process of blending graphite with clay, an improvement over the use of raw graphite.

The particular box we see here is rather ornate, and reflects the price and status of the Polygrade pencils in the 19th century. 1851, 1853, and 1855 prizes are mentioned on the box. The pencils within are additionally stamped “E. Faber 133 William St. NY”. Eberhard Faber is known to have departed that address in 1877, so the pencils can probably be dated from 1855 to 1877, placing them closer to Faber’s 1761 establishment than the present. (2011 is Faber-Castell’s 250th anniversary.)

A metal push button mechanism to open the box is still functioning:

A. W. Faber's Polygrade Lead Pencils

Eight of the original set of ten remain. All are a bit worse for wear. The imprints of the softer grades are the best preserved.

The inside cover mentions, in French and English, the pencil grades:

BBBB and BBB: very soft and very black
BB: soft and very black
B: soft and black
F: less soft and black
HB: middling
H: hard
HH: harder
HHH and HHHH: very hard

A. W. Faber's Polygrade Lead Pencils

A. W. Faber's Polygrade Lead Pencils

We would call these 3B and 4B today:

A. W. Faber's Polygrade Lead Pencils

Though quite faded, the imprints are beautiful:

A. W. Faber's Polygrade Lead Pencils

The patina of the wood is certainly no less attractive due to the age.

A. W. Faber's Polygrade Lead Pencils

The previous owner performed some nice hand sharpening:

A. W. Faber's Polygrade Lead Pencils

What is perhaps most interesting is the other end of the pencil: these pencils have rectangular leads, and use the historic construction method of placing the square lead in a square cavity, then gluing on the remaining third of the pencil. This was the technique used prior to the use of sandwich slats.

Note as well that the leads vary in size – just like modern quality pencil sets, the cores of the softer grades are larger.

A. W. Faber's Polygrade Lead Pencils

Do they still write? Of course they still write! On a toothy paper meant for charcoal or pastel:

A. W. Faber's Polygrade Lead Pencils

And the HB on a good quality writing tablet:

A. W. Faber's Polygrade Lead Pencils

Well over a century after their manufacture, these pencils continue to impress.

Further reading and references:

The Pencil, A History of Design and Circumstance by Henry Petroski, has many references to this pencil. Two chapters in particular are relevant. Chapter 6, “Does One Find or Make a Better Pencil?”, discusses the history of pencil construction, and Chapter 11, “From Cottage Industry to Bleistiftindustrie”, focuses on the establishment of the pencil industry, driven by the Faber family and products such as the Polygrade.

Eberhard Faber’s Pencil Factory by Mary Habstritt at Archive of Industy. (PDF format.) A nice three page summary of the history of Eberhard Faber business.

Eberhard Faber Pencil Company Historic District Designation Report at City of New York. (PDF format.) Though officially about a municipal zoning matter, the report has an excellent history of the Eberhard Faber company, and is illustrated with maps and many photos of the historic Eberhard Faber buildings.