Burying the lead
I am left-handed. I spent my youth and early adulthood dragging my knuckles through black ink, blue ink, and pencil lead. After writing a school paper or a story in my Big Chief tablet (depending on the year in question), my left pinky and the side of my hand would be smeared with the substance of my writing instrument. If it was a pencil, the smudge was kind of cool because it was the color of gunite but also had a sparkly shine to it, almost as if it was a predecessor to one of my son-in-law’s edible glitter Diamondust™ colors (shameless plug for The Sugar Art).
Then, in my sophomore year of high school, I took Typing 101, which apparently did not take since I have written millions of words and even a few books, primarily using three fingers on each hand. My pinky curls when I type, adding a kind of Englishman-sipping-tea elegance to the whole process. Ironically, even though my hands do not hover in one place over the keyboard the way they teach you in typing class, I can still mostly type without watching my fingers do their keyboard dance. I’m pretty darn fast, too!
Getting the lead out
Upon graduation from high school, I became a seminary student and wrote oodles and gobs of papers. I finished seminary and became a minister, writing three or four sermons and bible lessons each week.
Thus, beginning in high school and carrying over to seminary, I discovered the advantage of typing over handwriting. Not only was it cleaner and more legible; it was required by teachers and professors.
My journey away from handwriting was in full swing. I went from an IBM Selectric typewriter (Go, Big Blue!), to a word processor, to a desktop DOS-based computer, to Microsoft Windows and Word…and needless to say, my lead-based chicken-scratching became all but extinct.
My handwriting sucks, anyways. I migrate between cursive and script and back again, sometimes in the same sentence. My letters lean right and, as I tire and move the paper about, they start to lean left. I turn the paper sideways and write uphill most of the time.
Bottom line, it ain’t easy being a lefty in a right-handed world. You could even get lead poisoning from it, I suppose.
Lead me on…and on…and on…
Lately, I was in one of those Internet wormholes, where one little topical search can lead to a network of connected tunnels one would not think had any intersection at all. This is how I happened into the Fedora Lounge and found myself reading an article by some cat with the Internet handle “Scotrace.” The article is titled “The Legendary…Pencil. The Blackwing 602“. Here’s a taste…
And now I am obsessed and in need of a pencil; one I had never heard of before today.
Even the name of the utensil lends itself to obsession: Blackwing 602!
My generation wrote stuff down with a Dixon Ticonderoga Yellow Number 2 pencil. Now, there is nothing wrong with a company dating all the way back to 1795, the way Dixon does. Moreover, a #2 pencil is a fine instrument.
But a Blackwing 602?! If you grip one of those babies, it has to feel like you might be a member of an elite writing force…and, apparently, you are.
Around the time of the American Civil War and in the years following, John Eberhard Faber, from the village of Stein, near Nuremberg, Germany, emerged as a world-renowned pencil-maker. His first production plant was built in Nuremberg. The Eberhard Pencil Company then opened in Manhattan in 1861. Eberhard immediately began building an impressive collection of iconic devotees that stretched well into the 20th Century.
In the 20th Century, the company changed hands several times and the Blackwing became just another offering in another company’s list of supplies until, in 1998, it was discontinued altogether. Upon its removal from production, prices soared as panicked sycophants rushed to buy what they could of the iconic pencil. Prices climbed as high as $100 per pencil.
Then, came a resurrection, of sorts…
The story of the famed pencil of the princes of American and world literature lives on. I find myself unexpectedly yearning to see the glistening sparkle of gunite gray on my hand just one more time for old times’ sake.
I think I need a box of Blackwings to complement my collection of pipes, books, and fedoras. Pencil me in for a box, because a trifle is only a trifle when one fails to see the value in it.