A virtual mini-museum of the golden age of the Canadian pencil industry.
Copying pencils, like ink blotters, are a relic from a bygone era. A bit of technology, like the 8-Track tape, that has been superseded several times over. If you'd like to know more about copying pencils check out this post from penciltalk.org or this post from contrapuntalism. Below are a few examples of Canadian made copying pencils.
2021 marks what would have been the ninety year anniversary of the Eagle Pencil Company in Canada. The Canadian subsidiary of the American pencil company opened in early 1931. In 1991 the company, by that time named Berol, celebrated its 60 year anniversary with specially marked Mirado pencils. The back side of these pencils were printed with the words, "60 Years of Quality 1931-1991 60 Ans de Qualité." The factory unfortunately ceased production not long after its reached this sixty year milestone.
I only have two of these anniversary pencils. I would love to know if these pencils come in specially marked packages as well or if the packages were the same as usual. I've seen an anniversary package from the US celebrating 100 years of the Mirado pencil in 1995. That set came in a special wooden box.
Verithin vs. Thinex
Colored pencils are made for a variety of purposes. School pencils, art pencils and pencils for the office. In the 1950s, colored pencils would have been found on the desks of engineers, architects, advertisers and accountants. Colored pencils marketed for the office were often hexagonal instead of round. They had hard thin cores designed for long wear and durability. In Canada, popular pencils in this category were the Eagle Verithin and Dixon Thinex. These two pencils were very similar and direct competitors.
A sad and sorry life...
The vintage ink blotters shown below feature advertisements for Verithin and Thinex pencils. They paint a sad picture of the life of the average 1950s businessman. Working in Dickensian conditions... sitting at a desk all day tediously drawing thin red checkmarks in a drafty warehouse with broken windows and a leaky roof. Writing with a stub of a pencil and hoping that the rain doesn't ruin your days work.
Writing with ink can get messy. Writers who use fountain pens or dip pens will sometimes use ink blotters to prevent smearing. These ink blotters are an absorbent paper that can be used to blot the excess ink off your paper. Manufacturers quickly realized that these blotting papers were an ideal host for advertisements. You can find ink blotters with advertisements for just about everything. My favorites however are ink blotters which advertise pencils. They seem to straddle the worlds of ink and graphite. A bridge to connect different writing instruments.
Many of the businesses that stamped their names on these ink blotters were small independent retailers. It is often hard to find information about these small businesses.
Eagle and later Berol Canadiana colored pencils were made in Canada from the early 1950s (this site states 1952) until the factory in Drummondville, Quebec ceased production in 1992. During this time, there were a number of different packaging styles. Below is a rough timeline of the different styles of packaging that I'm aware of. It is based mainly on old newspaper advertisements.
A vintage pocket sized set of 8 colored pencils. Given that is is from Venus Esterbrook Canada, I would say it dates from the early 1970s. At just 3.5 inches long and 3 inches wide, this is the perfect size to fit in a pocket, purse or backpack. This little set would make a nice addition to Tina's minimalism challenge!
Each of the major pencil Canadian pencil manufacturers produced a line of drawing pencils. These were marketed to engineers and architects as well as artists. The pencils below are from the Canadian factories of Dixon, Eagle, Eberhard Faber and Venus.
Dixon's Eldorado "The Master Drawing Pencil"
Dixon's Eldorado has a long history, first being produced in the US in 1917. They were advertised and sold in Canada even before the factory in Newmarket was established in 1931. The image below comes from and advertisement in the June 1918 Bookseller and Stationer and Office Equipment Journal. This ad is from A. R. MacDougal & Co., Ltd located in Toronto. They were the Canadian representatives of Dixon Pencils prior to the Canadian subsidiary.
Dixon's Eldorado was made in 17 leads ranging from 6B to 9H. The pencil's name comes from Edgar Allen Poe's poem "El Dorado." The first lines of the poem are quoted in an early Eldorado pencil box insert, "Gaily bedight, A gallant knight, In sunshine and in shadow, Had journeyed long, Singing a song, In search of Eldorado." The insert carries on to say, "the beauty of this American legend suggested to us the name for the golden perfection of the master drawing pencil, which we have called Dixon's Eldorado."
Later versions of this pencil would carry the term Typhonite referring to the "typhonite" process of battering graphite upon graphite in a typhoon of super-heated steam to ensure small and even sized graphite particles in the lead.
The Eagle Turquoise drawing pencils was made in 17 grades of lead from 6B to 9H. "Electronic" is the trade name for Eagle's graphite refining process. They are painted a distinctive shade of turquoise from which they get their name. Of all the drawing pencils described here, this is the only one that is still in production. You can buy "Prismacolor Premier Turquoise Graphite Pencils" now made by Sanford in Mexico.
The image below shows a similar pencil from a 1957 catalogue.
Eberhard Faber Van Dyke
The Van Dyke is unique in this list as it had 18 degrees from 7B to 9H, instead of only 17 degrees. It also had 6 degrees of a chisel point version. Gradually, the name of this pencil changed from "Van Dyke" to "Microtomic Van Dyke" to just "Microtomic". The pencils also change from the classic yellow paint color to dark grey. “Microtomic” is the trademarked word that referred to Eberhard Faber’s method for refining and preparing graphite.
Venus drawing pencils didn't have a fancy name like the other pencils in this list. This pencil is probably best know for its distinctive green crackled finish. They were made in 17 different degrees like the majority of other drawing pencils, from 6B to 9H. As with all of the other drawing pencils listed here, Venus had its own proprietary process for creating high quality lead. The lead in this pencil is made by the "Colloidal Process."
These boxes are all early Eagle Pencil Company of Canada products. I found several references online that the graphic design of these boxes was created by American designer Robert Foster in 1938.
Each of these pencils filled a special role. The drawing pencils were made in 17 different grades from 6B to 9H. The copying pencils were made in 4 grades: soft, medium, hard and extra hard. The writing pencils had ferules with erasers.
Eagle Turquoise Drawing 375 F
Eagle Turquoise Copying 4375 Hard
The Canadian version of this pencil, with its long ultramarine blue end dip, looks quite different than the American version.
Eagle Turquoise Writing 1375 B
While the pencil says 'drawing' on it, the box indicates it is a writing pencil.
I recently saw a beautiful vintage pencil sharpener on Ebay that was made in Canada by the Automatic Pencil Sharpener Co. of Canada Limited. I really didn't know much about APSCO so I did a bit of digging to find out more. There is a great post from the Made in Chicago Museum with lots of information about the origin of this company in the US.
It appears that the Automatic Pencil Sharpener Co. of Canada Limited was incorporated in Canada on January 17th, 1933. This is around the time that several US pencil manufacturers opened up subsidiaries in Canada. The company would be renamed APSCO Products (Canada) Ltd in August of 1953. This helps to date some of these pencil sharpeners.
The sales leaflet below was printed in the USA and shows "Made in USA" sharpeners but appears to be printed for the Canadian market. The back lists the company as, "Automatic Pencil Sharpener Co., of Canada, Limited Toronto, Ontario". It also describes the Giant as, "Canada's favorite pencil sharpener." The business stamped on the back, "Callow Brothers Limited" in Toronto was in operation from at least 1922 to sometime after 1933.
I love the fonts both on the pencil and on the box for these China-Markers. Blaisdell gets is name from the company founder, Frederick E. Blaisdell of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who patented the paper-pencil, (the type better known as “china markers” today) on November 19, 1895.