Vintage Canadian Wooden Pencils
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.
Rotary phones were a typical home appliance up until the 1970's when push button tone dialing was introduced. Rotary phones were gradually phased out through the 1980's. For people who made lots of phone calls using a rotary phone, the "handy telephone dial top" on the end of a pen or pencil was a welcome tool.
It can sometimes be difficult to accurately date a pencil. The pencil below is an exception as it has the date "June 18" printed right on it. It is an promotional pencil for the 1962 campaign of George Nowlan who won the Digby-Annapolis-King riding of Nova Scotia for the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in the federal election held on June 18, 1962.
Here are the top five pencils in my collection of vintage Canadian made pencils. Why are they my favourites? They are beautiful to look at, are noteworthy or have some historical significance, and write wonderfully.
1. The Maritimer
The Maritimer 1758 was manufactured by Eberhard Faber. Living in the Maritimes, Canada's eastern provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island (PEI), gives this pencil special meaning. This pencil's number, 1758 signifies the year that representative government was established in Canada. It came in several colours but this glossy red is my favourite.
2. The Chancellor
The Dixon Chancellor was one of the few pencils made with graphite sourced from Canada.
3. The Venus Velvet
The Venus Velvet is not especially rare but it an exceptional pencil to write with. The Canadian version of the pencil has the number 6557 while the US version bears the number 3557.
4. The Ensign
This is a beautifully designed pencil with red on one side and blue on the other. Great for editing work.
5. The Sovereign
Advertisements for the Sovereign in the 1940's had the tagline "A fine British name for a fine Canadian pencil."
A public service announcement for vintage pencil collectors... don't chew your old pencils. Prior to about 1970, that beautiful smooth glossy finish on your pencil was probably achieved by adding lead to the paint. Sometimes frighteningly high levels of lead. It seems Canada was a bit slower than the US in "getting the lead out". So there is a bit of lead in those old "lead pencils", its just in the paint instead of the core.
Edmonton Journal Thursday, December 30th, 1971 page 31
A New Menace - Pencil Chewing
Yellow pencils may pose a health hazard to persons who chew them because of high lead levels in the paint finish, a study by STOP has revealed.
Bruce Martin of STOP, who conducted the Edmonton study, estimated a child would have to eat the paint on four of the highest rated pencils over six weeks for fatal lead poisoning to occur.
The principal hazard lies in the fact lead is a cumulative poison, he said.
Chemical analysis of five brands of Canadian-made pencils readily available in Edmonton show the yellow paint on E Eagle Mirado 174 Hard 2H “Chemi-Sealed” pencils contain 23.2 per cent lead. Canada Venus Imperial 1500 HB pencils record 18.8 per cent lead. The remaining three brands contained lesser amounts of lead.
The tests were conducted by the chemical department of Warnock Hersey International Ltd. of Vancouver.
STOP (Save Tomorrow Oppose Pollution) has notified the federal department of consumer and corporate affairs of their findings.
In a reply to STOP, J.W. Black of the hazardous products division, said pencil manufacturers were advised it would be recommended to Ron Basford, minister of consumer and corporate affairs, that a ban on the use of leaded paint on pencils should be introduced under the Hazardous Products Act.
The STOP study was initiated after a similar study was conducted in New York by the health department’s bureau of lead poisoning. The New York study found 51 of 138 pencils tested to have levels exceeding the one percent allowed by law in the U.S.
The high-lead content paint gives the pencils a smooth glossy finish.
La Manufacture Canadienne de Crayons was a pencil company established in Marieville, Quebec in 1959. In English, this company was known as the Canadian Pencil Co. Ltd. (C.P.C.). The factory was inaugurated in April 1960. It was the only purely Canadian pencil company at the time, the others in Canada were all subsidiaries of U.S. companies. I'm not sure how long the company lasted, or how long they produced pencils, but is seems to have been in place at least until the early 1970s.
The factory was located at 101 St. Charles Street in Marieville, Quebec. I believe the civic address (but not the location) later changed to 675 St. Charles Street. Schola Inc. is now at that location and makes art supplies.
The pencil below, with the name Distinction 350, is probably from this company. The logo appears to be an outline of the country of Canada in an oval. It also has C.P.C (Canadian Pencil Company) and C.C.C. (Crayon Compagnie Canadienne?) initials on it.
From Le Courrier de St-Hyacinthe, jeudi 7 avril 1960
Hon. Laurent Barré inaugurates a new plant in Marieville
The Hon. Laurent Barré, Minister of Agriculture in the cabinet of the Hon. Antonio Barrette, Premier of the Province, Member of Parliament for Rouville County at the Legislative Assembly, presided last Saturday at the opening of the Canadian Pencils Manufacture in Marieville.
After seeing the traditional ribbon cutting, the minister is happy to see a new industry in Marieville. "We need," he says, "small industries like yours, but it's important that they be built on a solid foundation for the prosperity of the city." Bishop Euclide Théberge, parish priest of the parish, proceeded to the blessing of the factory and wished the industry to take a considerable step forward for the benefit of the landowners and fellow citizens of Marievillie. Other guests said a few words, including Mayor Jean Beauregard. Then there was a visit to the factory.
The Canadian Manufacture of Crayons currently has some fifteen employees. It is the only French-Canadian pencil company established in Canada. A reception followed, at which besides the appointed persons, MM. Roger Parent and Guy Renaud owners of the plant; Ovila Goyette, secretary of the municipality, MM. Arthur Ostiguy, Ephrem Robidoux and Lueien Guité, alderman.
Government of Canada 4409
I really like the look of this pencil with the words, "You too can help to reduce costs." I'm not sure which Canadian pencil manufacturer produced this pencil for the government of Canada or why it has the number 4409 on it.
Census of Canada
Census of Canada pencils are fairly common. Eight and a half million census pencils were purchased for the 1971 census and distributed with census forms. These pencils were made by Eagle Northrite and Empire Pencil and had printing in both English and French.
The great thing about commemorative pencils is that they are often treated as collectible items from the moment they are purchased. I came across this pencil made by the Eagle Pencil Company in Drummondville, QC commemorating the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953. The pencil is in amazing condition, you could mistake it for new if not for the dried out eraser. I've seen this same pencil in white and silver as well as the gold one that I have.
The top of the pencil says, "EAGLE, CANADA, No. 1953".
The bottom of the pencil says, "God Save the Queen" on one side and "H.M. Queen Elizabeth II" on the other side.
The William Cane & Sons Company Limited made "Cane's" pencils in Canada from about 1916 until 1931. Howard Cane sold the factory to Dixon in 1931 and the factory continued making pencils until about 1990 when the factory was demolished. I've never seen a photo of a Cane's pencil but I recently came across several advertisements showing an images in a 1922 Bookseller & Stationer and Office Equipment Journal.
The Dixon Chancellor is a relatively rare pencil to find. I recently found one in fair condition. The Chancellor was made by the Joseph Dixon Crucible Company of New Jersey before established a factory in Canada. I saw an advertisement from 1920 listing the Chancellor as well as other Dixon pencils for sale in Canada. The Dixon Company purchased the William Cane & Sons Pencil factory in Newmarket, Ontario in 1931 and established the Dixon Pencil Company of Canada. It is quite possible that the made in Canada Chancellor is just a re-branded Cane's pencil and likely made on the same equipment in the same factory. The Chancellor was made through at least the 1940s using Canadian graphite from the Black Donald Graphite Mine in Ontario. I'm not sure if Dixon ceased production of this pencil in 1954 when this source of graphite closed or if they found an alternate source of Canadian graphite and continued production.
Dixon had a nation wide advertising campaign in 1935 highlighting their new Chancellor pencil. You can see a few ads from newspapers across Canada below.