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.
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.
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.