Pencils – not historically important?

Two weekends ago, I had the privilege of viewing the British Library exhibit Writing: Making Your Mark. I was fortunate to learn about this event via a post at Bleistift just a few days before my trip.

British Library Making Your Mark
Yes, it was raining.

The exhibit had a wealth of historical artifacts, and traced the written word from Hieroglyphics through to Emoji. Clay tablets, typewriters, ballpoint pens, and word processors were all explored. Accounting was cited as being a key motivator behind the development of written characters.

One thing surprised me – the graphite pencil was missing! The original Biro and modern Bic were both deemed worthy. So was the lithograph. And two or three typewriters. But not the pencil. There was a small display of lead (actual lead, not “lead” as a euphemism for graphite) pencils dating from around the the year 1400, and these no doubt served as a modern pencil forerunner and inspiration.

I though Henry Petroski’s The Pencil had established the pencil’s role in history. But, I’m not a professional curator or historian. I’d love to know why pencils didn’t make the cut.

Andrée Jardin Brosse de Bureau

Andrée Jardin Brosse de Bureau

If you like pencils, you may have found that their capacity to be sharpened and have their marks erased can result in some unwanted detritus in the form of wood shavings and eraser crumbles. That’s where a desk brush comes in handy. It is a nice accessory for keeping a work area tidy.

Andrée Jardin Brosse de Bureau

This particular desk brush is from Andrée Jardin, and designed by Amaury Poudray.

The brush has the unexpected quality of being balanced so that it can stand on end. The handle is oak and the bristles are Argentinian horsehair.

Andrée Jardin Brosse de Bureau

The packaging is simple but appealing:

Andrée Jardin Brosse de Bureau

This particular version with a graphite colour dipped handle is a limited edition, but a number of varieties are available from Andrée Jardin.

Andrée Jardin Brosse de Bureau

London Calling: a trip report

A small trip report. It was a privilege to visit Glasgow and London in September. I loved the trip, and felt very much at home. I was fortunate to meet a Scottish writer and actress who is creating a film project with a strong postal element, an English author and Savile Row tailor, and tour Gordon Ramsey’s kitchen post-dinner, but this report is about stationery.

My first pencil: After taking Virgin Trains from Glasgow to London, my wife and I decided to not plan, fearing we would be quite knackered. We were right. We randomly found Smith & Whistle, where we enjoyed a surprisingly pleasant dinner. To my amazement, there was a small post-cheque treat: a lollipop, a themed calling card, and a pencil! I’ve never heard of a restaurant pencil treat, but it set me up nicely!

Art galleries and museums were delightful. Gift shops typically had branded pencils and notebooks – but usually without attribution to the manufacturer, or recycled pencils, etc. Readers of this blog may imagine that over time – I have enough of this stuff, and declined to purchase these.

These shops excelled in their book selections – super interesting, curated, engaging. I am or have been a member of several museums and art galleries around Southern Ontario and Northern California – and the bookstores at the Tate Modern and Design Museum seem to be a level above.

The Design Museum had an exhibit focusing on the industrial designs of four companies – Apple, Braun, Olivetti, and Sony.

Here is some of the Braun collection:

Braun exhibit at the London Design Museum

They had the famous Sotsass Olivetti Valentine in red, but also blue and white:

Olivetti Valentine typewriter
Olivetti Valentine typewriter
Olivetti Valentine typewriter

As to specific stationers, we found time to visit three. I’ll mention the two worth special trips:

Present and Correct is an internet powerhouse. Their Instagram account may be the most popular stationery account in the world! I was really surprised that the store is the size of a postage stamp! It is chock full of stationery goodness (and also has a great book section). I met another stationery pilgrim who asked me if I knew of her favourite, The Regional Assembly of Text. (I do!)

Present and Correct, London, UK

Choosing Keeping has an exemplary pencil selection – the Bosco Woods side by side with the Lothar Faber anniversary pencils. And they know the field. I enjoyed hearing their perspective on the industry.

Choosing Keeping, London, UK

They are also an exceedingly tiny store.

Did I buy anything? Yes. I hope to feature some purchased items in the future.

Savile Row

grids & guides stationery

Grids & Guides stationery

From Princeton Architectural Press, we have A notebook for visual thinkers and 12 pencils for visual thinkers in their “grids & guides” series.

Grids & Guides stationery

The paper wrappers credit the editor, Jay Sacher, and designer, Benjamin English. The notebook is 144 pages, 146mm x 210mm, and features a black linen cover and an interior with a variety of “grids” and “guides”. It is made in China and retails for $USD16.95.

The pencil box features twelve unmarked hexagonal pencils, six in graphite, six in light blue. The box also contains a very thin plastic ruler with circular cutouts. The pencils are made in Taiwan and retail for $USD14.95.

Perhaps because they come from a book publisher, both products have ISBN numbers.

Grids & Guides stationery

It took me a while to recall that I have other products in this series – both notepads and a red linen cover notebook. They were purchased separately and I no longer have the packaging material.

Grids & Guides stationery

Grids & Guides stationery

Overall, the products strike me as thoughtful and that they might be good gifts for the right person. If you actually are a designer or engineer who uses logarithmic or polar graph paper, etc. – I doubt you’d want it presented in the notebook’s semi-random layout. That’s where the novelty side becomes prominent.

Grids & Guides stationery

The pencils are good basics. I didn’t test if the blue is a real non-photo blue. The ruler is a nice extra, but very flimsy.

Grids & Guides stationery

The notebook and pencil set pair very nicely, and I’m glad to see that these products were produced.