Five years

pencil talk started as a small website in 2005. Five years, 534 posts, and 4,666 comments later, we’re still a small website, but we’re also proud to have gained an international following of pencil users, aficionados, artists, drafters, and doodlers.

The website started as a blog with irregular looks at stationery and pencils. The first post was about Rhodia and their enigmatic orange writing pads. The post was viewed many times, and quoted elsewhere, yet never received a comment.

The second post was about the Blackfeet Indian Pencil. Two hundred words and an amateur photo, it has received dozens of comments to date, some of which are stirring reminiscences. If it wasn’t already clear at that point, any doubt was removed – woodcase pencils strike an emotional chord with many.

Though we’ve read Petroski’s book, Schulz may have been the master of the subject. Charlie Brown had some “pen misfunctions” while trying to communicate with his pen pal, and soon switched to pencil. His “Dear Pencil Pal” letters soon became a great ongoing essay and insight into the child’s awakening consciousness. This is at the heart of what a pencil really is – a writing implement, yet also an object imbued with humility and humanity.

The appeal of pencils takes many forms.

Carpentry pencils may be the oldest type of woodcase pencils – with rectangular or oval wood encasing , they won’t roll off a sloped roof, and epitomize the pencil as a working tool.

Test scoring pencils may have origins in the IBM labs, but are now used by students and test takers around the world. Their objective? Make sure their mark is read!

Steno pencils, used by shorthand practitioners and stenographers, are typically round and thinner than general writing pencils.

Copying pencils leave an indelible mark. A mainstay of commercial life before either fountain or ballpoint pens entered the world, they continue to have many uses.

Red and blue pencils are a fascinating specialty pencil. They are two colours of pencil in one – red and blue – potentially representing contrary conditions – debt vs. surplus, or even good vs. bad, yet also bound together at the centre.

Highlighting pencils serve to focus our attention on printed text, whether an office memo or a school book.

Yet the ordinary lead pencil – graphite and clay, baked in a kiln, remains at the centre of our interest. And we’ve only just scratched the surface!

I’d like to thank some longtime supporters.

First and foremost, two others who also write online about pencils, Gunther from Lexikaliker, and David from Dave’s Mechanical Pencils. They have both been sounding posts and sources of many creative ideas.

As well, other online presences – kero556 from Colleen Pencils and isu from the uncomfortable chair. Both kero556 and isu have graciously shared knowledge and pencils (only a portion of which I’ve shown) that completely changed my awareness of the possibilities of pencil making. Keen online observers will note that products in stores often follow the lead of blogs. If you appreciate the online availability in 2010 of Mitsubishi and Tombow pencils in Europe and North America, I would argue that some credit is due to these Japanese bloggers who reached out to Western counterparts some years ago.

I must also thank Nick of One Stop Japan Shop on eBay, who was an early enabler, even before Bundoki, Rakuten, et al.

Fellow pencil bloggers – Kent, Kim, Boris, Sean, Matthias, John, Akinobu, and others on the broader stationery front – Diane, Michael, and Cheryl – have all been inspirations.

From within the industry, WoodChuck from California Cedar, Harshad from Doms India, José from Viarco, and Katie from General Pencil have all been very kind. I’ve also appreciated the assistance at times from the public relations departments of Staedtler, Faber-Castell, Stabilo, and Lyra. These companies are done proud by their always professional representatives.

Let me specifically thank those who have sent pencils over the years – General, Musgrave, and Marco from within the industry. From individuals, people representing over ten countries: kero556, isu, Kent, Jieun, Robert M, Gunther, Matthis, Frank, David O., Diane, Sean, Barrel of a Pencil, Henrik, David, hemmant, dasmarians. Thank you all. I apologize if I have left a name out.

As well, let me give a special acknowledgment to the guest contributors. I regret that these contributions didn’t receive even more attention – every single one was first rate!

Children’s Books on Pencils by ZS. A bibliography of nine children’s books with pencil themes.

Get The Lead Out! by Barrel of a Pencil. A pencil themed crossword puzzle.

The life of a pencil by kiwi-d. It looks just like a post from his blog!

My father’s pencil by Finn. An appeciation of a special pencil.

These posts are all great, but I’d like to particularly mention Barrel’s contribution – Jim worked for months on the puzzle, responded to all issues with revisions, and even purchased some special software to be able to publish the professional looking PDF version. Thank you again, Barrel, it was a unique contribution.

So about the blog…

If the internet moves in dog years, we are grown up!

The initial motivation was to test this new “weblog” phenomenon I was hearing about. Though they were options, I didn’t want to write in a public forum about family or work. Stationery, and pencils in particular, seemed like a harmless and pleasant subject. Little did I know that years later, the blog would become part of an unorganized yet very real international community.

There has been criticism for focusing on the means rather than the end. But an interest in the means hardly excludes an interest in the end, and even the most casual look at those interested in pencils reveals a very broad range of highly accomplished people in both arts and science realms. These people are creators of that “end”. Further, I think the blog has often shown that pencil making is itself a form of craft, and sometimes art.

There have been some regrets. It isn’t a paying job, so there are inevitable slowdowns and gaps in posting. (The last couple of months are an example.) As well, responding to email queries has been a challenge at times. Finally, there seems to be no way to write about pencils without having and using pencils. Without intending it, I have accumulated way too many pencils to use or enjoy them all.

Thank you to all the readers and commenters for your support over the years.

35 Replies to “Five years”

  1. Congratulations and Happy Fifth Birthday. This is one of the fundamental blogs for pencil lovers, richly informative as well as…dangerous! In addition to my pencil knowledge, my pencil collection has grown considerably thanks to your tantalizing posts. (My bank account, of course, has shrunk in due proportion…) But no regrets: your judgments and recommendations have always been on the mark, and I have delighted in acquiring and putting to work many of the fine pencils that you have reviewed. Thanks for everything!

  2. Many happy returns for reaching the grand old age of 5. I’ve certainly enjoyed reading your blog over the years, and our correspondence. Here’s to another 5!

  3. Happy anniversary and many thanks for sharing your extensive pencil knowledge! Your blog is excellent, and I always enjoy reading it. Just like Adair’s my pencil collection and knowledge has grown too thanks to your enticing blog. Thanks again and keep up the great work!

  4. Congratulations and thanks for one of the most varied, thorough, and informative pencil blogs currently in existence. For my part, it was your blog that lead me to discover the joy of using premium Japanese pencils like the Mitsubishi Hi-Uni and the Tombow Mono 100. Cheers!

  5. Cheers on reaching the 5-year mark. PencilTalk has been pretty instrumental in helping me develop my appreciation for writing tools over the last year or two. Actually, 2010 for me marks the first year in memory that I possess more wooden pencils than pens.

    I hope Pencil Talk continues to grow and flourish, as it’s a very nice resource for the curious and the intrigued, as well as the converted and the lifelong advocates. My secret hope is that you’ll come across something I’ve never seen before that is truly high-end and stands a chance of luring me away from my current established favorites. :D

  6. Happy fifth anniversary.

    You can’t separate the end from the means. I write for a living and if my pencil isn’t good then working becomes that much harder.

  7. This is a big thankyou from an avid reader. To me your blog is a fulfillment of the promise of the Internet, which is to connect people who know things. I am writing this with a Palomino Blackwing, which probably says it all. I’ve had a lifelong interest in stationery products, but, in retrospect, until a few years ago I knew very little. Now, thanks to your hard work, I know a lot more.

  8. Happy Birthday, Pencil Talk. And congratulations, Stephen. Reading your writing and looking at your photographs has helped me to appreciate pencils more than ever.

  9. Please add my congratulations for the five years of your excellent work on this fascinating and very well produced blog. As a pencil artist, my use of and admiration for the pencil had often seemed like very lonely pursuits. That was until I discovered so many kindred spirits, via this marvelous international community that you have helped create. My gratitude is immense.

  10. Happy anniversary. Like many of your readers I am very lucky to have found your web site. It is such a great repository of knowledge.

  11. Happy Birthday Stephen and Pencil Talk! Thank you for keeping this blog – a great inspiration. Without it, I would have had more money and less pencils ;-)
    best regards

  12. Additional thanks, added to those who have already posted. I am not sure how you separate what you write from what you write it with. Try to write a poem with a pencil, with a fountain pen, with a ballpoint, on a computer, and tell me those poems aren’t fundamentally different. (Is it the same book if you turn the pages or push a button to proceed?)

  13. Thanks for the nice comments Stephen, and a happy 5th birthday to the blog! I’m on a few others that deal with other things, but this blog is probably my favorite.

  14. i, for one, would love to see where you keep all these pencils that you have. are they in one place? are they sorted by type/color/make?

    congrats on your time here. it is well spent and i love visiting !

  15. Happy Birthday and thank you. I think I’ll sharpen a new Palomino in celebration.

    Thanks to you and Kiwi-D, I have many more pencils than pens and they are all the better to write with.

  16. Congratulations on reaching the milestone of five years’ blogging. This was one of the first pencil blog sites I found when I was googling about lead pointers, and look where it’s taken me…

    Keep up the good work!

  17. Let me add myself in the list of those who think this is one of the best pencil’s blog in the whole internet world.

    Thanks for existing and share this knowledge.

    My pencil’s collection has increased in quality reading your posts and comments from people here.

    Happy birthday.

  18. Dear Stephen,
    I would like to add my voice to the chorus of congratulations on this momentous occasion. All the prise is fully deserved, as your blog is an inspiration.
    My interest in pencils is quite recent, fueled by a short poem my 6-year-old daughter wrote about her ”Smiggle” pencils. Smiggle is a young Australian company ( that has a very playful approach to stationery and their products are a hit in New Zealand school playgrounds.
    To cut a long story short, I started reading up on pencils, checked out the Wikipedia article which lead me to wander the web, first to Sean’s ”Blackwing Pages” and from his site to yours.
    I delight in reading your material: it’s passionate, well researched, inviting and it makes me travel.
    And, like so many of your readers, I am now spending too much on what i cannot call a collection ;-)
    Many many thanks for your great efforts!

  19. Well im saying thank you too.
    ive always loved school supplies as a kid. then i went to art school and joined the cult of the pencil lol i found this place by looking up the perfect pencil sharpener and i was hooked.

    If you find someone who has the same love of pencils..why not open up the blog to a person helping out posting..maybe providing a new perspective?

  20. I have 3 commercial retail pencil bin racks filled with hundreds of quality pencils. Nice to know there are others like me. Thank you for this blog, your time, hard work and dediication.

  21. Congratulations on 5 years! This is a wonderful site, I hope it’s around for another 5 years at least!

  22. Thanks for your excellent blog. I’m currently working my way backwards to your first post.
    Cape Breton, NS

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