Notarial String

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German Notarial String

This post follows in the tradition of The Treasury Tag at Bleistift, a post which discussed a specialty stationery item.

The Princes of Paperwork (sorry, there may be a paywall) at The Economist discussed the Notary profession – in some European countries, notaries are embedded in the real estate process and earn a small percentage of the sale price for notarizing the sale documents. Being a notary in such an environment thus pays quite well. There is also – the stationery! In Germany, notarizing a document involves binding the document with string and sealing it with red wax. It even gets better – each German state has their own colour pattern for their string.

German Notarial String
A Public Domain image showing the Bavarian version of the string with a notarial seal (but no red wax).

To my surprise, Montréal stationer Papeterie Nota Bene sells this string! (This blog visited Nota Bene in 2013.)

The colour coding (Blue and White for Bavaria, Green and White for Saxony, etc.) scheme can be found in the PDF catalogue of the 102 year old manufacturer Willy Heckmann GmbH & Co. (My thanks to Gunther from Lexikaliker for locating that catalogue.)

It can of course be used as office/household string. I think the colour combinations are nice. A long running German-English legal translation blog suggested in 2003 that translators may also be users of notarial string. An image search also shows quite a bit of historical use, particularly the red and white string.

Pencil Manufacturers: Many are over one century old

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A remarkable aspect of the pencil industry is the longevity of the manufacturers. In a selective sample of 23 of the largest and best known manufacturers, nine are less than a century old, ten are between one and two centuries old, and four claim over two centuries of existence!

To be clear, here we are accepting general statements from company websites. We know that Dixon didn’t make pencils on day one, that Dixon and Lyra are no longer independent, and that Koh-I-Noor has a discontinuous history that doesn’t cleanly trace back to Hardmuth in 1790. And there are other companies who may also claim a descent from forerunners that could be challenged. Further, some are more brands than manufacturers today.

Yet, it is extremely impressive. Particular congratulations go to Faber-Castell, celebrating their 260th anniversary in 2021!

Company Created Age
Staedtler 1835 186
Faber-Castell 1761 260
Lyra 1806 205
Stabilo 1855 166
Dixon 1795 226
Newell 1856 165
Moon 1961 60
General 1889 132
Musgrave 1916 105
Tombow 1913 108
Mitsubishi 1887 134
Kitaboshi 1951 70
Camel 1939 82
Eyeball 1972 49
Derwent 1832 189
FILA 1920 101
Viarco 1907 104
Koh-I-Noor 1790 221
China First 1935 86
DOMS 1974 47
Camlin 1931 90
Hindustan 1958 83
Maharashtra 1972 48

Caran d’Ache Block Erasers

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Caran d'Ache Block Erasers

Wow, it has been a decade since the last comparative eraser review at pencil talk. I think the reason is that erasers have generally reached an excellent quality level. There are of course differences, but synthetic erasers from the top manufacturers in Japan or Europe are usually excellent, and the motivation to review them is diminished.


The Technik is the lightest.

The Caran d’Ache block erasers are interesting because of the shared dimensions, but differing appearances and stated functions. Caran d’Ache is also regarded as a leader in art supplies, and these products come with a reputation to uphold.

The three erasers are:

Artist 0173.420. Description: “Graphite and charcoal extra soft plastic eraser.” Green.

Design 0172.420. Description: “Graphite and colour pencil eraser.” White.

Technik 0171.420. Description: “Non-abrasive pencil eraser, does not remove ink.” Slightly translucent.

Years ago I sometimes set up very complex erasure tests, and there is indeed a complex pencil/paper/eraser/environmental factors relationship, but I wanted to keep this simpler – these erasers tested with one pencil and one test paper. I though a Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood pencil (freshly sharpened in an El Casco) would be appropriate, and decided that the Biella Index Card would be a nice companion.


All three are much harder than erasers from Tombow, Seed, etc. They also produce fine granular residue, particularly the green Artist. The Technik probably did the best job at complete erasure, and the Design is the one that most veered towards aggregation of the residue in clumps.

Caran d'Ache Block Erasers

The erasers are good, but I don’t find them compelling when there are so many outstanding offerings available today. Of course, these are from Caran d’Ache.

The Jonas Jones Stop Sliding Pencil

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We’ve seen that there are preserved seventeenth century pencils in museums and collections in Germany and Japan. There is also a very interesting historical pencil in the United States.


© Mariners’ Museum and Park

In the 1740s, a ship (the Princess Carolina (1717)) was sunk in New York City’s East River as infill.

This ship was excavated in 1982, and many of the discovered artifacts found a home at the Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Virginia. A curatorial query from the Jamestown Yorktown Foundation in (or around) 2015 led to the discovery of a highly interesting pencil.

Estimates of the pencil’s date have evolved with additional research, though it can’t be precisely dated. The excavation site wasn’t thought to have items newer than 1770, while this pencil earned a London patent in 1783.

As well as being very well preserved, the pencil is remarkable in multiple aspects:

1. It has a ruler imprinted on one side.

2. It has a maker’s name.

3. All wood, it has a sliding section and a stop mechanism for housing and extending a piece of pure graphite. In my view, this makes it jointly a mechanical and woodcase pencil! It is a remarkable (and to my knowledge, not duplicated) early pencil.

Further reading and photos at the Mariners’ Blog:

Do you have an 18th century pencil we can borrow? (March, 2016)
You never know what you’ll find in our collection… (October, 2017)

Hardly Broken: the Kutsuwa Hokusign Pencil

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Kutsuwa Hokusign Pencil

Please allow me to mention a pencil that I’ve been enjoying. The Kutsuwa Hokusign has a strikingly rich and glossy finish (which I don’t like) and a phenomenal next level graphite core (which I do like).

Introduced to the market in 2019 by Japanese stationery producer Kutsuwa, the pencil is aimed at the art market. It is being marketed as being “twice as strong.” I think this claim could be true.

The pencil is made in Japan, and the wood appears to be cedar. A close look at the construction reveals some small flaws. It sharpens very nicely in the Möbius + Ruppert Pollux.

The imprint says, “Made in Japan Hokusign Hardly Broken Pencil.” Does HB mean “Hardly Broken”? It may be the case, though the grade is stamped on the cap. The pencil also comes in B, 2B, 3B, and 4B.

My dislike of the pencil’s finish is not a unanimous opinion – it won a 2019 Good Design Award.

Buntobi, via translation, says the colour is “Hokusai Blue”, used by Ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai. If I understand correctly, this makes the pencil name a pun.

What makes this pencil very special is that the lead is smooth and dark, glides well, and doesn’t break. There is even more – the lead lasts quite long without dulling, making the pencil a very good value. How is this possible? This pencil presumably uses a polymer core, rather than a standard ceramic core.

The Hokusign is highly recommended.

Links:

The official product page (in Japanese)

A source, after Japan Post resumes full international service.

Was graphite first discovered at the Borrowdale mine?

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“Graphite was first discovered in the 1560s in the Lake District of England” – Pencils You Should Know by Caroline Weaver.

This statement about the discovery of graphite is often repeated, to the point that it seems to be a known historical fact. Let’s take a look.

In Pencil People, Thomas Smith notes that Borrowdale was previously the home of Furness Abbey, and that there are records of the monks using graphite to mark sheep.

In The Pencil, Henry Petroski mentions graphite pieces from circa 1400BC having been found in an Egyptian excavation. This is likely based on work published by Ainsworth Mitchell in a 1917 issue of the journal The Analyst.

Petroski also refers to graphite being known in Europe around 1400. This appears to be based on the 1968 edition of Compton’s Encyclopedia.

The Tokyo Pencil Association notes scientific research that Ieyasu’s pencil came from a 16th century Mexican mine.

The University of Waterloo Geology department mentions that Celts were known to have mined graphite in Cesky Krumlov in 500BC. They used graphite as a ceramic additive.

The British Library noted, “Graphite was first discovered in Europe, in Bavaria at the start of the 15th century; although the Aztecs had used it as a marker several hundred years earlier.”

The Historic England website states: “The working of graphite deposits is thought to have been well established by the mid-13th century in central Europe.”

So was graphite first discovered at the Borrowdale mine? I trust the mentioned academic sources, and have no reason to doubt Smith. The Tokyo Pencil Association refers to academic research (but I’m not aware of a citation). Overall, there are many claims that graphite has been known to various societies through history. Cesky Krumlov is a very well known mine, and Petroski’s citations appear to be traceable to source.

The Borrowdale mine is historically important, and the quality and quantity of pure graphite found were exceptional. It also became an important commercial property and centre of an industry. Yet it is not the first place that people discovered graphite.