A virtual mini-museum of the golden age of the Canadian pencil industry.
If you walk through the Halifax Public Gardens, a Victorian era public gardens formally established in 1867, you'll likely pass by a large tree planted by King George VI on his visit to Canada in 1939.
The royal visit to Canada was a big deal in 1939 and domestic pencil manufacturers all made commemorative pencils to mark the occasion. Below is a pencil made by the Venus Pencil Company of Canada.
One of things I like best about collecting vintage pencils is their connection to history. They are tangible artifacts from the past that often have a story to tell. Sometimes digging up these stories is quite a challenge but it is an interesting one if you have the time to take it.
The original packaging of the Grade Prix pencil from the late 1970s to early 1980s featured a Formula One race car on the front. Note that the car on the package from 1979 has the number 12 on the front, the same as Gilles Villeneuve's car number from that season. Villeneuve later drove a Ferrari with the number 27 on it but packages from the early 1980s have the more generic number 10 (perhaps a copyright issue?).
The first Grand Prix pencils were all painted yellow with green printing.
The 1990s saw the disappearance of the Formula One car from the packaging. The car was replaced with more colorful designs typical of the decade. In addition to new packaging, there were also new colors introduced including the "fashion" colors and "neon" colors with a black ferrule and black eraser (these happen to be my son's favorite pencils). I've also seen photos of a "natural" unpainted version of this pencil.
After the Berol factory closed in 1992, Grand Prix pencils continued to be manufactured in the US for sale in Canada. This was short lived however and these pencils are no longer made.
What better way to celebrate Canada Day than with some Canadian flag pencils! The Canadian national flag was adopted in 1965. There were several commemorative pencils made for this occasion including the one below from Venus Canada.
The vintage pencil below features the Canadian flag on one side and text on the other. The manufacturer is not identified but I have several Dixon pencils with a similar ferule.
This isn't a stamp blog but I find there are a lot of common themes between pencil and stamp collecting. The year 1965 saw the issue of a commemorative stamp to mark the adoption of the new national flag. The cachet contains the date of inauguration of February 15th, 1965.
Census Day in Canada was on May 11, 2021. The census of Canada is taken every five years. Prior to 1971, census data was collected by enumerators going door-to-door conducting in-person interviews. 1971 was the first year that households were asked to complete the census forms on their own. Census packets were mailed to 6.2 million households. Each of these packets contained everything needed to complete the census including a pencil!
Eight and a half million census pencils were purchased for the 1971 census. These pencils were made by Eagle Northrite and Empire Pencil. Advertisements and posters called on all Canadians to “count yourself in” for Canada's first "DIY" census. The census pencils also contained this slogan in both English and French.
Pencils were again sent with the 1976 census form. This pencil was round instead of hexagonal and only had the text "Census of Canada". These pencils may have been issued again for the 1981 census.
In the newspaper advertisement below, from June 1st, 1976, you can see the new style of census pencil.
By 1986, pencils were no longer included in census packages. Despite them being nearly 50 years old, it is not uncommon to find these Canadian census pencils in drawers and pencil cups across the country. A lingering reminder of the census and its wide reaching impact.
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!