A virtual museum of the golden age of the Canadian pencil industry.
While the focus of this site is vintage Canadian made pencils, it is fun to take the occasional side trip to explore other vintage office and school supplies. Nostalgia is a powerful force which inspires many people to collect a variety of objects. For just about every type of vintage object, you'll find a devoted group of passionate collectors. Vintage wooden rulers are no exception. I've recently found a few vintage wooden rulers made by the Acme Ruler and Advertising Co. of Toronto, Ontario. The Progress is Fine blog has some wonderful information about them.
The Acme Ruler and Advertising Company, Ltd. has a long history in Canada. It was established in Toronto, Ontario prior to 1925 and made a variety of office and school supplies including rulers. It was located in the east end of Toronto. In the 1940s and 1950s it was located at 512 Rhodes Ave. It moved a short distance to 600 Victoria Park Ave in the early 1960s (between 1960 and 1963) where it stayed until 1972 when the factory moved to Mount Forest, Ontario. The company was eventually purchased by Acme United, an American company which started off as the Acme Shear Company (there were lots of companies named Acme back in the day).
School rulers are the traditional 12" rulers that appear on students' back to school supply lists. Some have inches on one side and centimetres on the other. Most of these ruler have a metal strip so that you can draw a crisp, straight line. Below are Acme rulers of the same design in a variety of different lengths.
The ruler below could be some type of engineering or architects ruler. I'm not sure how to use the different scales that appear on the sides of the ruler.
A lot of the school rulers that I come across have students' names or other notes written on them. I think this is part of the charm of these rulers. They have been used and have story to tell.
Acme Ruler made hundreds if not thousands of different advertising rulers for a variety of different Canadian companies. Part of the fun of these rulers is the look into the past of these companies.
The Lunenburg Milling Company was established in 1917 at 388 LaHave Street in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. The company milled flour as well as selling feed and grains. By 1956 the company was operating under the name of Shur-Grain Feeds by Canada Packers Ltd. The building was torn down in March 1983 (now home to the South Shore Centre). This ruler doesn't have the "Acme Made in Canada" text so it is possible that this was made by some other company.
Model Craft Hobbies Ltd was a company from Toronto, Ontario that manufactured mainly model aircraft kits. They also made lots of other kits and toys. They were located at 56 Esplanade St until the mid-1940s when they moved to 66 Wellington St W. I've seen a number of these 6" advertising rulers online so they must have been fairly common.
In the News
Le Canada, Wednesday October 14, 1942
Toronto fire damages $20,000 TORONTO 12. (CP)
For the 2nd time in a year, firefighters have had to fight a two-alarm blaze at Acme Ruler & Advertising Co. establishments on Rhodes Avenue, at the eastern end of town. The damage amounts to $20,000.
The retail landscape is ever evolving. Once mighty chains are now like the "ghosts of Christmas past." There is a long list of once familiar department stores that are now gone (or nearly so). Retailers like Woolco (bought by Walmart and dissolved in Canada in 1994), Zellers (closed in 2013), Kmart, Simpson's, Sears and Stedmans were all once popular and now all but gone. Many of these stores sold their own branded pencils as well as other stationary supplies. Shown below are a few of these.
"The first store, in Brantford Ontario, started as a stationery store in 1907. During the 1950s and 1960s, there were over 1000 Stedmans and affiliated stores in Canada." (from Wikipedia). These stores were popular in Canada in the 1960s to 1980s.
Zellers closed in 2013. The pencil below is a typical example of the "yellow stripe" pencil manufactured by Dixon Canada for many Canadian retailers.
The example below is stamped "Made in Canada" but I've also seen other examples of Kmart pencils produced in other countries.
Wheatly & Wilson
Wheatley & Wilson Ltd. was a stationary supply company in Montreal, Quebec that is now long gone. I'm not sure who made these "custom made" pencils for them but I like the white stripe on the ferrule. There are also rulers with this company's logo on it. There is a bit more about Wheatley & Wilson on the penciltalk blog.
I believe that Pilon is a Pharmacy chain in Quebec.
Shoppers Drug Mart
Shoppers Drug Mart is currently a thriving company in Canada. These store branded pencils where made in Canada and probably date from the late 1990s.
Looking into the history of some of these retailers is really interesting. I'm sure I'll find a few more examples of this type of pencil to add to this collection.
An interesting "Newfoundland" pencil from Berol that I haven't seen before. Only the name Newfoundland and the grade HB are stamped on the pencil. While it does say "Shop Canadian" on the package, it doesn't say anywhere that it is actually made in Canada although that is my suspicion. (There was originally a Shoppers Drug Mart price tag on the package.)
Below is a closer look at the name.
In the 1980s, Laurentien colored pencils started including promotional offers with some of their sets. Pictured above are three such promotions. I've also seen promotions for Kinder Eggs and Blockbuster Video. I'm sure there are others that I've never seen. The contest dates and expiration dates for the offers inside are a nice clue to the dates that these sets were produced.
The VIC-20 and C-64 contests both included a scratch and win patch on the back of the front card. It is pretty rare to find these unscratched. The contest cards could be found on a range of different FaberCastell products including pencil and marker sets of different sizes as well as pens, pencils and glue.
In the Bubbilicious promotion, the purchaser could get a free pack of gum with the purchase of this pencil set from Shoppers Drug Mart. In order to get this pack of gum, the front card from the pencil case had to be turned in as a coupon. This makes these cards a bit more rare as when you see one, you know that the purchaser never got their free gum. I recently saw a very similar offer on a package of Laurentien pencils for $5 savings on Lynx Athletic Footware from Pharmasave.
Eagle Turquoise drawing pencils were manufactured in Canada starting when the Eagle Pencil Co. of Canada was established in 1931. These drawing pencils were made in 17 different degrees from 6B to 9H.
In 1941, Eagle Turquoise drawing pencil advertisements began to feature Eagle's new "miracle mill" which created extremely fine graphite. Each major pencil manufacturer had a similar trademarked process of refining graphite which featured in their advertisements. For Dixon is was the "typhonite" process of battering graphite upon graphite in a typhoon of super-heated steam. For Venus is was the "colloidal process" by which the ingredients of the lead have been refined "smoother than the finest face powder".
Below is the text from the above 1941 advertisement:
From Eagle's New "Miracle Mill" comes *Electronic graphite of amazing fineness to make TURQUOISE drawing pencils better than ever!
Over a long period, we have consistently increased the strength, smoothness, durability and blackness of Eagle TURQUOISE leads with every increase in the fineness of the graphite particles which we could attain. We had alluring hopes of further great improvement if we could, by some miracle of attrition, produce graphite of an entirely new order of fineness, say in particles down to 1 micron. (1 micron = approximately 1/25,000th of an inch). By brilliant research we have made our hopes come true.
Pictured here is a new type attrition mill, wholly conceived and constructed by Eagle technicians and for which U.S. Patents have been allowed. Both the method employed and the results obtained are revolutionary.
In this mill, friction is not applied to the graphite by any grinding device whatever. There is no movement except of the graphite itself and the air which actuates the process. Mutual attrition is et up in the graphite because different strata of the confined mass move at different speeds. This attrition releases into the buoyant air stream a continuous smoky haze of graphite particles whose fineness can be closely controlled for a consistently uniform product. A particle size of 1 micron is obtainable.
*"Electronic" graphite makes a more compact lead that holds it point longer... a finer textured lead that flows more smoothly... a stronger lead that reduces breakage... a denser lead whose opaque and even lines make perfect prints. These improvements in Eagle TURQUOISE give you extra speed and economy - at no extra cost.
The 1948 advertisement from Architectural Record shown above appears to show a mill very similar to the one described in Eagle Pencil's US Patent 2315083 which was filed in 1940.
While the "Electronic" graphite was featured in 1940's advertisements, the words "Electronic" wasn't stamped on the pencils or included on the packaging until the 1950s.
Ditto Inc. was established in Chicago in 1921. Ditto was a company that manufactured duplicating equipment. They made duplicating machines, colored inks, copying pencils, etc.
Ditto of Canada Ltd. was a subsidiary of Ditto Inc. established sometime before 1948. It had a head office in Toronto at 45 Jutland Rd. It is included in the 1960 "List of all Establishments Classed in the Commercial Printing Industries" as "Ditto of Canada, Ltd., 45 Jutland Rd., Toronto 18". Other than an address, it is difficult to find any information about this company.
Each pack of Ditto Pencils came with a "How to Sharpen Ditto Pencils" leaflet. The sharpener shown appears to be an APSCO Dexter pencil sharpener. APSCO was a company that was also located in Chicago.
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.