A virtual mini-museum of the golden age of the Canadian pencil industry.
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.
My son and I are fans of the CBC show Back in Time for Winter. The show follows a modern day family as they recreate life in Canada through several different decades (1940s to 1990s).
In that spirit, I thought it would be fun to look back at the school supplies a typical Canadian student might have seen when back to school shopping in the 1970s.
Colored pencils would have been a staple of back to school shopping lists. You would likely see colored pencils sets from Venus, Eagle and Dixon. The advertisement below from 1974 shows sets from each of these three companies all of which had manufacturing facilities in Canada.
In the early 1970s, older students would have been shopping for a slide ruler. Later in the decade, electronic calculators such as the TI-30 would become affordable. Do you have memories of shopping for school supplies in the 1970s? What was a cherished or wished for item that you had?
During the 1970s and 1980s there seemed to be agreement between the big three Canadian pencil manufacturers about the proper color for a student pencil. These companies all had a jumbo (10mm or 13/32" diameter) pencil for the youngest students that were painted red: The Berol Alphabet No. 1, the Venus Primer Print 1 and the Dixon Primary Printer #1. The next sized jumbo pencil (8mm or 11/32" diameter) for slightly older students were all painted blue. These were the Berol Alphabet No. 2, the Venus Primer Print 2 and the Dixon Primary Printer #2. (I don't have the Berol yet to display here).
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. Looking into their past is an interesting window into the past.
"Oh là là" is a French phrase used to express admiration. I can think of no better phrase to describe the two Eagle Pencil Company colored pencils sets shown below.
The Prismacolor set (no. 952) has a gold colored box with a red velvet overlay and appears to be factory sharpened. The Verithin set (no. 796) has a silver colored box with a blue velvet overlay. They have a snap closure at the bottom to hold the box closed or to hold the box in an easel stand for easy access. These sets are from the early 1970s (I've seen a magazine advertisement for the Prismacolor set from 1973). I've only ever seen this style of box made in Canada. I found my Verithin set at a second hand store with only half the pencils in it. I've restocked the box but it still doesn't quite have the original 12 colors.
The clean look of the box is made possible because the sets were sold with a boxboard sleeve. All of the necessary sales information was on the boxboard that was often discarded after the set was purchased. I don't have the sleeve for either of these sets but I have seen one from an old ebay listing.
Sometimes it is hard to date vintage pencils and sometimes you get lucky and you can pinpoint a fairly exact date. The Canadiana Combo Set below is an example of the latter.
The great thing about this set is that it includes an entry for a back to school coloring contest that closes on October 30, 1976. The coloring sheet is the same as the design on the front of the package. It also states, "to enter color the black and white illustration of Berol's new package". From this we can assume that this packaging was new in 1976. I had previously seen advertisements showing this packaging in 1978 and 1981 but I didn't know when it was first introduced. So, do you want to try out a vintage coloring contest? I scanned the entry just for you!
I typically write about graphite or colored pencils on this blog but today I bring you grease pencils. The are sometimes refereed to by different names for example China marking pencil or chinagraph. They refer to the same tool – a soft, greasy wax, commonly wrapped in paper rather than encased in wood. They are commonly used to mark smooth, shiny and non-porous surfaces like China (hence the name "China Marking"), porcelain or glass.
Blaisdell and Dixon appear to have been the two main Canadian manufacturers of grease pencils. I really know very little about the history of Blaisdell in Canada. Blaisdell made wooden graphite pencils in the US but I've never seen any Blaisdell products made in Canada other than grease pencils. If you know more, please let me know.