Short Pencils

This pencil box, filled with well worn pencils, strikes me as extremely poignant.  Someone treasured, or at least saved these used up pencils and eventually they were resold to in a junk shop.  It is increasingly rare to even see well worn objects– things just break or get discarded because they are obsolete or out of fashion.  No one today (except Jim Croft!) would ever consider using a pencil that is so short, awkwardly grasping it at the end of two fingers and a thumb, then slowly writing.  I imagine when the ferrule prevented the pencils from entering any further into the pencil sharpener, someone removed it and tried to sharpen them from the other end.  Using the ferrule to make the double ended pencil seems an absurd amount of work for very little benefit.  But since many of the pencils appear not to have been used after being sharpened, were these made as an exercise to pass the time? Could the person who made this not be able to afford a new pencil, or just being creative?  Even the pencil box, well constructed with finger joints and a sliding lid, is a rarity these days.  The remains of these pencils are possibly more interesting than the words or numbers that they once wrote– pointing to the value and importance of tools.

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For those old enough remember card catalogs and the little pencils (aka. golf pencils) scattered around them, this informative documentary explores where they come from, how they were made and how they were used.  Documentaries like this one give us a fascinating glimpse into how earlier cultures lived, worked,  and constructed the objects of daily life.

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The new Zebra mechanical pencils, available from Staples and Amazon, costing 39 cents each are close to ideal. They are light, cheap and cleverly designed. The lead that comes with the pencil is fairly poor quality, but is easily replaced. Pressing the eraser advances the lead. But  their best feature is their perfect overall length– most pencils are too long, at least for my hand, and have been that way for the past 100 years or more.


9 thoughts on “Short Pencils

  1. Britta

    When I was in fourth grade, I was fascinated by miniature things and loved making tiny pencils, as short as I could manage. I secretly sometimes even broke whole pencils in order to sharpen down the end more quickly. A while ago I ran into a little cache of them in a closet and took a picture.

    It’s fun to see the tiny pencils of somebody else in a distant time and place. I like the wornness too.

    Also: a nice collection of pictures of old (new) pencils.

  2. Catherine

    Lovely tiny pencils! A treasure for the right person to find – a world opens up in speculation. Thanks for the post. I love the one where the erasure ferrule is used as a holder for the second tiny pencil.

  3. Jeff Peachey Post author

    Thanks for the comments. I can relate to the urge to run a pencil through a well made sharpener until it stops. In fact, this might be one of the primary questions for anyone involved in a craft activity- when do I stop, or how do I know when to stop when you can’t see what is happening. And there is an odd little world in these pencils- I will have to reread Henry Petroski’s “Pencil” book and see if he has anything to say about them. I have a gorgeous sharpener I bought in Japan a couple of years ago and will post an image… if I can find it.

  4. Pingback: Pencil/2 « aversive misanthrope

  5. J. Sulzbach

    This is a great post with some insightful commentary. As a kid, I was pretty fond of short pencils that sat just perfectly in the crook of my hand. Do you mind if I repost that top photo?

  6. Jeff Peachey Post author

    Feel free to repost, as long is it is non-commerical and I am attributed and linked. You can also click on the box on the right to get copyright information.

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