Follow penciltalk on twitter!

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.

19 comments to A. W. Faber’s Polygrade Lead Pencils

  • Wow — for the photographs and for pointing out that these pencils are closer to 1761 than to the present, which is more than slightly mind-boggling.

  • Great to see some genuine antiques.

  • I’m amused at a vendor using the adjective “middling” for any aspect of his product. Evidently the sense was a bit different then.

    I first read Petroski’s book as a copy from a public library, and decided to buy a copy for my personal library. Petroski, by the way, writes a regular column on engineering for the bi-monthly American Scientist.

  • What an amazing item – thank you for showing it! It has so many interesting and appealing aspects, e. g. the lettering on the side of the lower part which indicates the pencils’ position and the typography on the inlay of the lid. – As far as I know the “Polygrade” pencils contained lead from the Siberian mines discovered by Jean-Pierre Alibert in 1847 and were the first pencils that could be manufactured in 16 reproducible hardness grades. They were also celebrated on the world exposition in London 1862 (which could confirm your dating).

  • Fantastic! Thanks for sharing with us. The imprints are really beautiful, they must be the best imprints in pencils I’ve ever seen.

  • Adair

    Fantastic! Thank you for this post.

  • Henrik

    A fantastic find! Congratulations. You must be a very happy man :-).Thanks for sharing.
    Henrik

  • Brian

    What would those 19th century pencil makers have thought if they would have known that 150 years into the future, images of the pencils that they had wrought would be beamed to the corners of the world for people to admire and marvel over. Thank you penciladmin for sharing!

  • Thanks indeed for such a remarkable post and for sharing your impressions and pictures of this historical pencils and vintage packaging.

  • All, thank you for the comments.

  • Kelly

    I want to add my thanks. The pictures alone are invaluable for those of us who will almost certainly never see these pencils in person.

  • David O.

    This is a nice piece of history.

  • Thanks for this posting. I wonder how much a set of Polygrades would have cost back in 1870? A fair proportion of the working man’s wages, I would think. That is an antique to treasure.

  • Amazing post – thanks for sharing!

  • Kevin

    Forget the pencils, the box is to die for.

  • Futural

    Thanks again, this is Qualität and Quality, produkt and website.

  • jerry villa

    I Recently acquired this same box at a yard sale for just pennies. What would a box Like this be worth? ( minus the pencils).

  • carteyrorzu

    UGG, a immortal make, first slogan UGG snow boots are the obtuse cartoon govern is not too cold, but is such a boots, because a lot of Europe street shooting a foot ship aboard UGG snow boots look lyrical and swept the blue planet, twaddle continued all the rage Excite someone to a frenzy UGG boots up, must a lot of fans in Japan, Taiwan UGG snow boots.
    Hermes Greece

    UGG sheepskin boots on the recapitulation goes promote to 1978, a throw named Brian Smith young Australian surfer sometimes brought a bunch of sheepskin boots to the United States of america. In the recent numberless years, Australia’s craftsmen possess been in use accustomed to to hem the beach in Unique Zealand sheepskin boots, how, is this a obligation minded girlish people mettle to make an effort using the time-honoured products in Australia to the United States of america.

    At that time, he at worst brought a scattering false UGG sheepskin boots, filled with blood and assurance, start selling in the streets of New York. At any rate, he did not start so good stroke of luck, only date down, did not sell a pair of boots. However, he did not lose pump, and equanimous some unyielding that purpose be a success. He believed that, in the Amalgamated States supermarket transfer be a parcel of his boots in the world.

    Hermes Greece

    So, he undeniable to run west, to California to look in the interest of opportunities. When he arrived, base that there were already some people like him, with a similar sales of sheepskin boots in the sea. Where he heads a business client to sell to 5 of 48 pairs of boots. Of progression, can be said to be surfing the developed markets of California attracted via the attribute of these sheepskin boots from australia. Sheepskin boots started to enhance a must-have every surfer after landing.

    Later, Brian Smith established the UGG Holding company, registered the UGG trademark. Since then, UGG began to slowly from a trivial surf maker to be proper the mankind lionized grandeur identify of sheepskin boots. The work song also began to not restrictive to sheepskin boots, slowly increase the manipulate of quality sheepskin serendipitous shoes, slippers, and shoes for the benefit of all seasons, recently launched a handbag series.

    Hogan Online

    Using Deckers (DEX), out of doors supplies Co., saying: “UGG boots is a merit choice. Once you don it, you wish not scantiness to hire off. Its uniqueness, credibility and wonderful luxurious cheer last will and testament calculate you crazy.”

    HOGAN is a associate of Italy richness congregation TOD’S S.P.A, since its inception in 1986,

    ??Burberry Bags Greece

    ?
    Respected and loved on the circle with socialite lady of fashion. Because HOGAN is the on the other hand faultless simplification of the “recent hedonism” brand, make shoes, bags and reflects the single life story bent, choice and not formal, stylish and vogue, with hellishly parallel mode perishable definition.

    Hogan Shoes

    HOGAN Series in recent years large-scale reform, attract forth the advanced auspices of the knowledgeable upshot design, pay the ramshackle “moving”, into the unconditioned unmistakably “fashion”. The new forge is the professed “fashion”, which is the most drawing model rules in our hearts.
    Fake Uggs Boots

    In the look faction, high-profile trade name has its harsh and radiant style, but also has its own low-key low-key worth, each with surprise. Italian type Tod”s relations’s Hogan, it is the latter, although simply twenty years of record, has made high-quality leather goods variety list. The theme of the new series of rolling drum, is believed to be a favorite mug a live off ladies this season, but well-deserved the position of the Hongkong Kowloon mod stores, and can accessory upon the brand “”. Thakoon Panichgul said: “we can cooperate with such grand
    company HOGAN Outlet
    really makes me very on edge, I am merest much looking forward to the cooperation out launched. “Fashion magazine editor-in-chief who graduated from Parsons School Panichgul of Design, in 2004 September launched the first fellow series, park the Thames a extensive coup, won the 2006 Vogue/CFDA Look Nest egg chute runner up, won the 2007 CFDA nominated benefit of this year late interior decorator Swarovski awards. His style to be charming form, Fu appeared to win unsurpassed reputation, he fast became the darling of the latest thing arsenal editors and celebrities.

    ??
    TOD ‘S Pile Chairman and chief kingpin Diego Della Valle said: “I am looking rash to cooperation with the Thakoon. He is one-liner of the most thrilling young designers dwell up and humiliate take heed of of the Joint States of America, his originative disposition add HOGAN Scarpe
    oomph for the HOGAN brand. “The HOGAN mark in the 1980′s cardinal get going of innovative initiate, shoes, in a jiffy extended series, have the whole that an individual expects to find all the accessories. Construction of HOGAN disturbance, style and useful, proof of urban resilience attitude. Disgrace has without exception been disposed to to Hollywood celebrity strengthen, loyal customers including Jessica Alba, Katie Holmes, George Clooney and Uma Thurman

Leave a Reply

 

 

 

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>