Why Pencils?

A while ago WordPress informed me that this blog had survived a year. I’m not big on anniversaries – in this case more so because I really don’t understand how I ended up writing a pencil blog. As I’ve mentioned before, I came to stationery fandom through fountain pens, and this blog could just as easily have been about my search for a grail pen or ink, anything from vintage flex to Montblanc editions to complete Iroshizuku sets. But no, it had to be the humble pencil. And maybe this is a good time to indulge in one of those philosophical posts that inevitably come up in these kind of blogs sooner or later.

For me, the biggest appeal of a pencil is that it somehow feels more natural: a combination of wood, graphite, clay, and wax, instead of, for example, plastic, metal and colored water. It’s all about wood and earth, and it achieves even greater harmony when it comes into contact with paper, another woody element. They are uncomplicated and straightforward, and inexpensive to boot.

I find I like vintage pencils better than vintage pens. Old pencils are simple enough in their construction to yield clues about their identity, function and quality upon careful observation alone. Also, even with age the deterioration is often minimal: pencils decades old write like new straight out of the box. With vintage fountain pens, however, you are dealing with a number of technical issues that need to be addressed before they can be coaxed into service. If you’re not the kind who likes fiddling with stuff, vintage pens can be a headache. Pencils don’t need any maintenance, and they don’t have any parts that need to be replaced.

Also (I know this is crazy but I have to admit it), I prefer pencils because of the amount of lettering on them (in this aspect many modern pencils as well as fountain pens disappoint). In the past the sides of a pencil were wonderfully chock-full of letters that were, depending on the time and age, quaint, stately, elegant, playful, or boxy; I find that typography encapsulates the prevailing aesthetic of an era better than anything else. Pencil boxes tell a similar story, and I love observing the transition from realistic pictures to art-deco design to utilitarian stripes and sans-serif logos.

Lastly, pencils seem to do a better job of bringing together a curious brotherhood of fellow enthusiasts. Old pens survive because they are good at advertising their value, even to people who know nothing of them; people keep pens because they assume they are worth something (witness the dozens of pens in antique shops, their nibs beyond salvaging, sporting absurd price tags). But it’s so much harder for a pencil to survive in this world. It could so easily be used up, broken, chewed, lost, given or thrown away. If you’re holding a particularly old pencil in your hands, it’s probably because more often than not another person just as crazy as you thought that pencil worth preserving. Sometimes the very existence of a pencil can move you beyond words; its survival is a cause for celebration.

In the early days of this blog I tried out a number of styles, and I think I’ve gotten a bit better at putting posts together, and especially getting long, thin objects to fit into an oblong frame. This blog gets many more comments relative to the number of page views, and I am grateful for it, because that’s why I started this blog in the first place – not to show anything but to engage in conversation. Thank you everyone :)

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15 thoughts on “Why Pencils?

      1. And when you do, the posts will be the richer for that! I agree, there are times you don’t feel like writing anything or are just too busy. Come back when you feel like it :)

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  1. Happy anniversary, Sola! Thank you for your blog with so many exciting details and photos and for that wonderful praise of our favourite writing utensil. Keep up the excellent work! :-)

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  2. Thank YOU for your blog and happy anniversary! I think I was searching for either Mitsubishi uni stars or Korean pencils when I came across your site (I have those Farm Story pencils too!). And boy am I glad I decided to read on. I’m learning a ton and having lots of fun trying different pencils.

    I was thinking why I’ve been so into pencils lately than pens.. One of the things I like is that with pencils, all you have to do is pick one up and starting writing. No uncapping, no pushing or unscrewing. Well, as long as it’s sharpened anyways. :)

    Congrats, Sola!

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    1. Thank you, Jinnie! It’s been fun and hugely educating for me too, and the friendships have been an unexpected bonus.

      I love pens too but the trouble one has to take to get a nib 100% right is frustrating at times, and I can never manage it on my own. Pencils are a lot simpler but no less lacking in beauty or history. A well-made pencil is so satisfying :)

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    1. Thank you, John! And yes, the bulk of my readers seem to come from Matthias’s blog. Well, I also use his site to jump to other blogs – it’s very convenient ;) Thanks for always taking the time to comment!

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