Pencil People

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The book Pencil People by Thomas Fletcher Smith

Pencil People: The Story of a Lakeland Industry by Thomas Fletcher Smith (2017. Bookcase, Carlisle, UK.) takes a look at the pencil industry that grew around the first significant commercial graphite mine. More focused on local history than the pencil industry, the book reveals the story of the families and small cottage industries that were based around the Borrowdale mine.

Smith calls much of the generally understood history of pencils “folklore”, a statement that definitely got my attention. The Borrowdale valley was once part of the Furness Abbey, and Smith mentions monastic records of a special substance the monks had for marking sheep. Alas, while this sounds quite plausible, there is no citation.

Pencil People has many sources that would be known to a regional historian, including birth, marriage, and death records, and local newspapers. And while works that would be of interest to researchers are cited, this is unfortunately inconsistent. The claim that graphite was known and used by the monks of Furness Abbey centuries ago is potentially important, but needs justification.

Most of the book focuses on many small Keswick pencil makers of the 19th century, and the families behind them. Smith argues that this is the foundation of the modern pencil industry. Keswick no doubt formed a cluster, and Smith does link these manufacturers forward to today’s Derwent, but Keswick is not compared with Bavaria or other pencil centres of the time.

It is fascinating to see how early the natural resources – graphite, lumber – were used up and had to be replaced with imports. The book has many interesting stories on the early practices of the pencil industry.

Pencil People is a welcome contribution, but would be much improved by consistent citations and the addition of an index.

Sean Malone


Sean Malone and Eberhard Faber IV
Sean Malone interviewing Eberhard Faber IV
Absinthetongue, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sean Malone, known in pencil circles as the creator of both Blackwing Pages and Contrapuntalism, has passed away.

There are tributes to Sean at Guitar World and many music websites.

Sean had so many accomplishments. He was a consistently witty, kind, creative, generous and intelligent person. He was also highly successful as a musician. As a member of the band Cynic, he was a performing musician and recording artist with fans around the world.

His passion and accomplishments in music were deeply rooted, with Sean studying and teaching music at several universities. He wrote music books including “Music Theory for Bassists”.

He was also a Glenn Gould scholar and the author of Glenn Gould and the Art of the Fugue and a speaker at Gould conferences.

That Sean took an interest in pencils is our fortune. He took the exploration of pencils to previously unimagined heights, travelling around the US and Germany to get interviews with both Count Anton von Faber-Castell and Eberhard Faber IV, the scions of two branches of the Faber pencil family. If NPR had a funded Pencil Reporter, they could not have done better. But Sean did this out of his own pocket, out of love and intellectual curiosity.

Sean is also the leading historian of the Eberhard Faber Blackwing pencil. His many articles, typically featuring painstaking original research and fueled by his incredible curiosity, are the foundation of the modern interest in this iconic pencil.

Sean had an incredible energy, wit, kindness, character, and good spirit. I enjoyed talking with him about family, travel, culture, and life. He will be deeply missed.


Other mentions of Sean from the pencil community:

Orange Crate Art




Non-music film and print publications by Sean or that interview/cite Sean:

Abramovitch, S. (2013) Why Is Hollywood Obsessed With This Pencil? The Hollywood Reporter. [online] Available at [Accessed 28 Dec. 2020]

Eby, M. (2013) An ode to the Blackwing 602, Vladimir Nabokov’s favorite pencil. New York Daily News. [online] Available at [Accessed 28 Dec. 2020]

Faber-Castell. (2013) The Fan: The pencil blogger. Faber-Castell Topics [online] Available at 2013:1, p.8. [Accessed 27 Dec. 2020]

Faber-Castell. (2015) Sean Malone visits Eberhard Faber. Faber-Castell: Our Company [online] Available at 2015:2, p.8. [Accessed 27 Dec. 2020]

Komurki, M. (2016) Stationery Fever: From Paper Clips to Pencils and Everything in Between. [Berlin] Prestel.

Malone, S. (2010-2020) Blackwing Pages. [online] Available at [Accessed 27 Dec. 2020]

Malone, S. (2010-2020) Contrapuntalism. [online] Available at [Accessed 27 Dec. 2020]

Malone, S. (2010) Sean Malone: Clairfontaine Music Pad. The Goulet Pen Company. [online] Available at [Accessed 28 Dec. 2020]

Moist, K., Banash, D. (2013) Contemporary Collecting. [Lanham, Maryland] Scarecrow Press.

No. 2: Story of the Pencil (2016). [online]. Directed by William Allen. USA: Abverbia Films [Viewed 10 November 2016]. Available from Amazon Prime, Apple iTunes, Google Play, Vimeo On Demand, YouTube Movies.

Stein, S. (2013) Secret Erotica, Jane Austen, and Other News. The Paris Review. [online] Available at [Accessed 28 Dec. 2020]

Ward, J. (2014). Adventures in Stationery: A Journey Through Your Pencil Case. [London] Profile Books.

Weaver, C. (2017) The Pencil Perfect: The Untold Story of a Cultural Icon. [Berlin] Gestalten.



This blog reached the age of 15 at the start of this month.

The post was slightly preempted by a congratulatory message from Twitter user App4Soft who may have bookmarked a previous anniversary post and waited for the anniversary to roll around. I was surprised. Thank you App4Soft!

It is hard to write any sort of celebratory message these days. While my inbox is flooded with invitations to resiliency seminars, my personal thinking is more in line with the message I get from Michelle Obama‘s story. And that was three months ago. Rather than “toughen up”, I believe we need larger doses of compassion and humility.

These days, I don’t order anything online unless the vendor can tell me how it will arrive. Universally they don’t know (whether a small business or large enterprise) – they deal with multiple shippers and hand off the package, or trust a third party (which may be software) with the shipping. So I don’t buy online. What I’m particularly trying to avoid is having a package delivered to a nearby postal outlet co-located with a medical walk-in clinic.

All the local specialty stationers are now closed for retail. A month ago, one of them kept a locked door, allowing two shoppers at a time – but with no browsing allowed. A table blocked display access, and they asked one to not touch anything that might remain in reach. Not much fun. Another required appointments. And another shop proactively closed.

I am wondering if they should all just close their retail presences, try and hunker down for the next year, then try and reopen? They all seem to be slowly embracing online selling in different ways, but I’m concerned that will just lead them to competing with the entire world. There is no easy answer. Of course, I have no idea if any of these businesses are in a ten year lease.

There are also neighbourhood stationers who sell mainly school supplies and greeting cards – I know of one that is approaching a century in business, and I wish them the best in these tough times.

Stay safe.

Stationery Street: Rue du Pont Louis-Philippe


2019 seems like it was eons ago, not just last year. Stationery and material things don’t seem so important right now as we continue to face this pandemic. I hope you’re well, and that it might be cheerful to hear about a bona fide stationery destination.

I’d like to write about a remarkable street that I visited twice last year. I had heard about it from multiple sources, though I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Rue du Pont Louis-Philippe is a small street in the historic Le Marais neighborhood of the Paris’s 4th district. It runs north from Pont Louis Phillipe, a bridge from the charming Ile Saint-Louis. (Very close to Shakespeare and Co. and the Notre Dame cathedral.) A brief walk along the street will take one directly to the Picasso Museum. Ile Saint-Loius, the smaller of the two islands in the Seine, has beautiful views and is very nicely preserved.

Westward view

I don’t know the whole history, but the street is often noted as a stationery location, with Calligrane (no. 6), Papier Plus (No. 9), and Melodies Graphiques (No. 10) having storefronts. Melodies Graphiques in fact has two storefonts, so depending on how you count – there are three or four stationers on this single block. These stores all date from the 1970s or 1980s, so their presence is established.

Calligrane – No. 6

In the order one will see them walking northward – the first stop is Calligrane. It is well beyond offering office supplies. Calligrane is an incredible temple to the art of paper. There is nothing mass manufactured or branded in their store. Everything is a visual delight, all hand made by artisans (mainly French or Japanese) with high quality materials. They have loose paper, from business card size to A2 or larger formats for artists. They have some notebooks, though I would not say that is their specialty. They sell paper for writing and art, and paper objects which are themselves art forms.

Calligrane Interior

Founded in 1979, I would say that this a global stationery destination worth a special visit. I found it to be a very satisfying experience.

Next is Melodies Graphique. They are a traditional stationer with an emphasis on calligraphy and handwriting. They have vintage school essay books, and a comprehensive nib and ink section. I saw a delightful Herbin notebook which starts the pupil with a sample letter to be copied. They have an adjacent second storefront devoted to wrapping paper and decorative items.

If you like vintage ink bottles, nibs, and highly traditional stationery emphasis, this store is a bit of heaven. They have an adjacent second storefront with an emphasis on wrapping paper and cards. They were founded in 1986.

Melodies Graphiques – No. 10

If you know the elite brand Soumkine – this is (or was at the time of my visit) Soumkine’s sole retailer in the entire world!

Melodies Graphiques – additional storefront

On the other side of the street is Papier Plus. It is the only store that I noticed having significantly changed between May and November, diminishing the presence of global brands. They do still stock some mass appeal brands (e.g. Lamy) but their emphasis is on their own paper/notebook and photo album brand, and products from boutique Paris artisans. If you like swatches of colour, they have many of their notebooks in over two dozen colour choices. They date from 1976.

Papier Plus – No. 9

Overall, it was a special pleasure to visit these three exceptional stationery boutiques on the same street, and recommend a visit. There are multiple places in Paris where one can find typical arrays of commercial stationery, but the emphasis of these shops on local and artisan created products was particularly distinctive.

I was enroute to another destination, so I didn’t want to overfill my suitcase. But, I did pick up a few very special items.

From Calligrane, a hand bound accordion album. Unfortunately it is currently residing in my too nice to use archive.

From Papier Plus, an Armorial gold edged pad. Incredibly nice!

From Melodies Graphiques, a Soumkine notebook:

I hope you enjoyed this mini tour.

Organizational note

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For the last decade, many of the images at this blog have been hosted by the Rackspace Content Distribution Network (CDN) and by Rackspace Object Storage. (Don’t worry if these are unfamiliar names – they’re just technical hosting services.) While reliable, I’ve decided that these systems are too expensive relative to the needs of a non-commercial website. Many image links will be broken until the images are re-hosted.

Mirado pencil discontinued after one century


pencil talk has learned that the famed Mirado pencil has been discontinued.

From correspondence with Newell Brands Office Products:

[T]he manufacturing of our Mirado Classic Pencils are already discontinued and we do not have a direct replacement at this time.

The Mirado is a global classic. It and the predecessor Mikado have over a dozen mentions in the definitive pencil book, The Pencil by Henry Petroski.

The Mirado line has been the subject of several pencil talk posts:

Goodbye, Papermate Mirado Classic pencil (2009)

Mirado Black Warrior pencil (2008)

Last large American pencil factory to close in 2009 (2008)

Eagle Mirado pencil (2009)

Papermate Mirado Classic pencil (2010)

A blog reader, “B. Johnson”, sent some information about this several days ago, but I wanted to confirm the information with Newell / PaperMate before sharing.

The business logic is elusive. These pencils probably aren’t a revenue leader for Newell, but with such brand recognition, they must still sell. They have been regularly seen at big box stores for years.


Please see these excellent posts at Orange Crate Art:

Farewell, Mirado

“Catch” of a Lifetime