Writers and artists alike hail the lowly pencil for drafting, sketching, and the like. Writers like Emily Dickinson drafted their work in pencil; others like Henry David Thoreau even made their own and sold them. Faber-Castell, the long-standing German pencil manufacturer, will celebrate the Day of the Pencil on March 30 by offering a 111th anniversary set of its famous 9000 series of pencils. The company, founded in 1761, is the world’s largest pencil manufacturer, making over 2 billion wooden-cased pencils per year, according the firm.
Faber-Castell reached out to Creative Writing with a sample of the 111th anniversary set of its graphite, Castell 9000 pencils. The set includes 16 Castell 9000s, one each in all grades of hardness in the line. The set also offers five degrees of hardness of Castell 9000 Jumbo Pencils (HB, 2B, 4B, 6B, 8B), plus accessories.
The set makes an impressive presentation as a gift to a writer, artist, architect, or other pencil enthusiast. As with any sets of this size of pencils, colored pencils, pastels, or the like, the number and variety, making many choices available, are what make having one of these worthwhile.
For the writer, it is possible that having a multi-hardness set of pencils will allow him/her to try different grades and find a new favorite. It is also possible that a writer may prefer working on one project in a softer, darker line and revising with another grade.
One project might suit one grade in the hand for thinking, sketching, or trying out ideas; another project or paper type might benefit from thoughts generated more quickly with a different grade and feel of pencil. Whatever the reason for trying different styles out, the set will allow the writer to experiment with a new writing instrument — never a bad thing for those who still prefer to compose or revise by hand.
Art sketching, of course, is most likely where a variety of pencils like this would fully come into their own. Lightness and shade, contrast and darkness can all be accomplished through the use of varying grades of drawing pencil.
According to the company, their products have been the choice of many literary and other artists including Nobel Prize-winning writer, Günter Grass; performance artist Joseph Beuys who posed in his work with pencils as exclamation marks; and special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi who used them to draw E.T. of Steven Spielberg fame.
The storied history of Faber-Castell includes several interesting facts as befits the world’s largest manufacturer of the basic tool of the writer and artist. Until his passing earlier this year, the company was led by the eighth generation in the family, Count Anton Wolfgang von Faber-Castell.
Its famous logo of jousting knights on a dark green background comes from the Castell branch of the family. When there were no more male Faber heirs in line at the time, the next heir, Ottilie von Faber, married Count Alexander zu Castell-Rüdenhausen. Since the Faber name was stipulated to stay in the business, in 1905, when the Count introduced a new line of pencils, he named them Castell, and the company became Faber-Castell. The Count used his regimental color, dark green, on the Castell pencils.
Count Alexander also commissioned a painting of two knights jousting with pencils, and that became the company’s logo. That logo was dropped sometime later, deemed to be somewhat old-fashioned. In the early 1990s, however, it was brought back and appears on the dark green background of the company’s products today. The pencils’ hexagonal shape, by the way, was designed to keep them from rolling off a desk.
Another interesting fact in the company’s history involves the United States. According to Faber, during the Civil War, the company found it difficult to get its products into the country, so it opened a branch in New York. Registering “A. W. Faber” in the U.S., (the initials stand for the second generation company leader, Anton Wilhelm, and still exist on several of the company’s products today), Faber was only the fifth company to register in the country’s history. Since the other four companies are no longer in business, this makes Faber the “oldest brand name in the U.S.,” according to their website.
In the mid-nineteenth century, the company obtained sole rights to a graphite mine in Siberia. Shipping the material back then was not easy. Reindeer helped bring the chunks of graphite 200 miles across the difficult terrain; then it was shipped by boat down river and out and around by sea. Today, Faber-Castill engages in sustainable production, farming its wood in places like Brazil.
While this year the company celebrates the 111th anniversary of the Castell 9000s, the company itself is older than the United States. The special anniversary set, in a signature dark green display case with jousting knights logo, includes a Castell 9000 sharpener and dust-free eraser and retails for $55. This set would make a good gift for many people who enjoy working or playing in pencil. For more information about the company, its history, or its other offerings, see the Faber-Castell website.