Marlborough’s

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A recent trip to Toronto’s Marlborough’s Stationery revealed that they have gone out of business.

This wasn’t a store with any sort of prominent internet profile. It was a neighbourhood store with basic stationery, and over the years began stocking children’s toys and greeting cards (and recently, masks). They had some nods to quality – notebooks from Clairefontaine and pencils from Staedtler.

Marlborough’s was founded in 1922. They were 99, and almost made it to their centenary. This is so sad.

Newell Brands cancel Mongol pencil trademark

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Mongol pencils

On October 15, 2021, the US Patent and Trademark Office published the news that Newell Brands had cancelled their trademark for one of the world’s most famous pencil brands, the Mongol.

Eberhard Faber IV was interviewed by Sean Malone, and Mr. Faber suggested that the name came from Purée Mongole soup. An update notes this story as being apocryphal.

(I’m really happy that Contrapuntalism remains online, though at a different address. It has a remarkable sixty posts that mention the Mongol pencil!)

I reached out to Newell, but did not hear back. They spoke to me last year about the Mirado, but I didn’t hear back about the Mongol.

So why the cancellation? I don’t know, but I’ll speculate that in 2021 Newell don’t want a trademark that can readily be interpreted as an ethnocultural or racial term.

There are still Mongol pencils in other countries – Colombia, the Philippines, and Venezuala.

Truly the end of an era, this pencil brand will not be quickly forgotten.

Mongol trademark

Insights from Helmut Zeilinger

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Faber-Castell interview with technical product manager Helmut Zeilinger

It is rare for anyone other that the CEO of a pencil company to address the public regarding pencils. It is particularly unusual to hear from the knowledgeable craftspeople and engineers who produce pencils at large scale.

Henry Petroski let the world know about the centuries of engineering that form the basis of pencil making, and Faber-Castell has very kindly featured an interview with their technical product manager Helmut Zeilinger in the latest online Faber-Castell magazine.

Mr. Zeilinger offers many insights:

Sharpening problems result from mismatched halves of the pencil.

How would one resolve this issue? “For the wood alone, our specifications at Faber-Castell are almost as detailed as for individual parts in car production,” says Mr. Zeilinger. Unfortunately the subject of which wood species are ideal isn’t explored (but another article on Faber-Castell’s plantation likely provides the clues).

“Hardly anyone thinks about sharpening,” says Mr. Zeilinger. Maybe not. But don’t tell David Rees.

How often should a sharpener’s blade be replaced? Apparently after fully sharpening 12 pencils. Umm, has anyone ever seen a replacement Faber-Castell blade?

There is much more in the information rich article. I’ve like to thank Faber-Castell for this excellent article and Mr. Zeilinger for sharing his considerable knowledge!

The coffee pencil

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Caran d'Ache Nespresso Pencil

I like coffee. Most mornings I use a Bodum siphon maker or an AeroPress to create a little joy. I used to love the KitchenAid siphon maker, but it gave up the ghost and seems to be a retired model. For another type of drama, I used to own a Wilfa Precision. Although you can figure out the water flow, it persists in seeming like magic. I’ve elected to not explore stovetop or open flame approaches. I even enjoy instant coffee, which seems to have undergone slow gradual improvement over the years. I haven’t tried the new “high end” expensive instant coffees.

In 2016, I regularly stayed in hotels, almost all of which were furnished with pod or capsule coffee makers. There are many types of these – they come from Illy, Keurig, Nespresso, and others, and each manufacturer has multiple models. It took me a while to get the hang of them – I’d usually destroy the first capsule. There is a very explicit order of operations with these machines (which may seem obvious once you know it, but I didn’t) – add water to a vessel, turn on the machine, open a slot for the capsule, place the capsule, close the slot, push a button or buttons.

Let’s note something – the K-Cup inventor regrets his invention! I see the use case in a hotel room, but overall, these pods are “awful for the environment” (New York Times, 2021). Here is my hometown’s reasoning about why they don’t recycle the multiple pod formats (City of Toronto, 2018).

If you’re not aware, the venerable Caran d’Ache has been selling a series of limited edition 849 ballpoint pens. Caran d’Ache say they are “made using the aluminium from recycled capsules”. It would be interesting to know if these were post-consumer recycled capsules.

On the pencil front, Caran d’Ache just released a similar leadholder with the lead being 25% coffee grounds! Even further, they have released a version of their famous Grovelier beech Swiss Woods pencil with the 25% coffee lead!

As Caran d’Ache say, “This edition no.4 will enable people who bought the previous editions to expand their Caran d’Ache + Nespresso collection”. Good grief, that’s quite cynical. What I really don’t like is the feeling that I just bought the world’s most expensive advertising pencil. It has a lot of Nespresso branding, but it’s sold at retail as a regular writing implement. You may want to take a look at this post at Bleistift, which notes that there are multiple Nespresso collaboration products.

About the pencil – it is sold in a set of three. The cardboard packaging has three dimensional pencils and coffee beans! The pencils have striking end caps, which are painted but meant to convey the Nespresso capsule colours.

Caran d'Ache Nespresso Pencil

Caran d'Ache Nespresso Pencil

The imprint is a bit different than the standard 348 pencil, reading:

Obverse: Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood FSC TM
Reverse: A recycling story is in your hands

The lead, said to contain 25% recycled coffee grounds, is of course a curiosity. Coffee is known to make a natural stain, but can it survive the modern lead making process?

The lead seems smooth, maybe just a bit fainter than the 348, but does slightly crumble.

L: Swiss Woods 348, R: Nespresso version
Caran d'Ache Nespresso Pencil

As well as being a super exotic pencil – locally made and manufactured in Switzerland from Swiss beech wood and using a lead partly made of coffee – something else stood out for me. The pencil is extremely aromatic, and not in a good way, at least for me. I’ve read that the 348 is aromatic, but I found the samples I’ve used only slightly so. This Nespresso pencil, between the beech wood and the lead (we can observe the lead independently via the Nespresso Fixpencil; it is highly aromatic), is too fragranced for me to use. I actually wondered if Caran d’Ache got an assist from their friends at Misenzir.

It is sold as a collaboration, but is it? Collaborations are a hot topic. I saw a piece on France24 just yesterday about fashion collaborations – Fashion collaborations: Revolution or commercial tool? (YouTube link). For me, this pencil is definitely different and interesting, but not fully usable.

Stationery Critique Blog

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New to me is a 14 year old Japanese language stationery blog, the self-titled The Critique of the Stationeries with an Affiliate blog.

Stationery Critique has hundreds of very in-depth reviews and comparisons of Japanese and international stationery products including pencils and sharpeners. The product discussions often use multiple quantitative measurements. Reading it in translation, I had some challenges with the navigation but it is well worth the effort!