Why Incense Cedar?


Note: This color pencil drawing of a California Incense-cedar tree comes from the cover of one of our California Cedar Products Company brochures dating to the early 1960’s. The artist is unknown.

This post is the first of a new series dealing with Incense-cedar, its historical and current use in the pencil industry; it’s conversion to pencil slats, finished pencils as well as other products; and important aspects of it’s growth and management as a timber resource in U.S. western forests.

Our company California Cedar Products Company founded in 1919 has had the unique position of playing a leading role of the development of California Incense-cedar (Libocedrus decurrens or also known as Calocedrus decurrens) as the premier wood species for high quality pencils worldwide. As alluded to in a recent post at the Pencil Revolution, Incense-cedar originally began to be used as a substitute wood for Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) which was the premier wood for US produced pencils and some European pencils dating from the mid 1800s through the early 20th century. It is commonly thought that the main purpose for the shift to Incense-cedar was due to dwindling supply of Eastern Red Cedar and there is some relevance here, but primarily from a comparative economic standpoint only. ERC is still widely used for commercial purposes today for products which most benefit from the technical characteristics contained in the natural cedar oil extractives of this species. Products such as closet lining, shoe trees, coat hangers, storage chests and natural oil extractives used in the essential oils industry for perfume and other cosmetic and scent purposes.

So what is the full story for the transition to Incense-cedar? First, western forests represented the largest unexploited wood basket in the United States and the superior growing conditions for softwoods and larger diameter of trees and increasing investment in western forest utilization during this period lead to the lowest cost of timber coming from the west. So from the first respect California Incense-cedar was less expensive than Eastern Red Cedar which was experiencing increasing prices as tree diameter sizes declined as increasing proportions of harvest came from second cut vs. “old growth” timber. However, economics of timber cost alone do not fully explain this transition. There were plenty of other species in the western US more plentiful and of lower cost to process, but none of these succeeded as a major pencil wood. In fact, even Incense-cedar pencil slats met initial resistance in the pencil industry and needed to be stained from it’s natural light blonde color to a deeper reddish-brown to match the accepted color of Eastern Red Cedar.

The real story lies in the technical properties of Incense-cedar which make it uniquely exceptional for use in pencils and various other applications. First, Incense-cedar exhibits optimal physical characteristics for close-tolerance, precision machining that make for very smooth machined surface and exceptional sharpenability in finished pencils as well as allowing optimal wood utilization from saw log, to pencil stock lumber, pencil slats and then into pencils. Additionally, it’s thermal conductivity rating or (K factor) is among the best for all softwoods. This provides dependable, predictable insulating properties and resistance to heat migration which positively impact performance of the species under machining conditions as well as gluing and drying.
As one of the most stable wood species Incense-cedar also stands up to wider variations in temperature and humidity without warping, checking or shrinking. This allows for tighter size tolerances and easy shipment to and use of cedar by pencil factories in many regions of the world where there are varying climates. Finally, the smoothly machined surface and relative lack of resin canals and pitch pockets assure that cedar pencils can be easily painted or stained with lacquer or water based stains to a fine, smooth finish without bleeding or other problems.

Beyond the timber economics and natural technical characteristics the final key factor in the success of Incense-cedar was the dedication and commitment of a small group of pencil slat manufacturers lead by CalCedar. This group focused their businesses uniquely on the production of high quality product, consistent and reliable supply and service, and technical development and leadership which increased yields and lowered total costs of production. By specialization just in production and sale of slats with a higher quality raw material coupled with continuous improvements in technology and finished product eventually most pencil companies eventually discontinued slat operations and began purchasing their slats from dedicated slat manufacturers. Pencil companies that had typically been vertically integrated with their own slat operations learned that they were able to improve their own business focus, finished pencil quality, operating economics and use of working capital by focusing solely on pencil production. In some cases the working capital and other economic savings were reallocated towards implementing production and supply of other writing instruments or complementary products to their distribution channels for pencils.

These were the major factors that lead to the leadership position of Incense-cedar as the premier pencil wood species in the world today. Of course times and market conditions change over time and there are several other wood species that have also become important in the pencil industry these days. This topic will be addressed later in this series. However, my next post in this series will address information regarding growing conditions and forest management policies that assure that Incense-cedar remains a plentiful and well managed species assuring a sustainable long term supply for a wide range of uses.

Remember to look for the Cedarmark which indicates use of Genuine Incense-cedar wood from California Cedar Products Company.

The Chinese Pencil Industry & World Reaction: Part 2


My last post covered some of the competitive developments in our industry as a result of the large growth in the Chinese pencil industry.

While I mentioned that about 52% of the world’s pencils are now produced in China, the reality is that the Chinese share has grown to this level from about 22% in 1990 and 37% in 1995.
When you consider that China also exports pencil slats (including our own company’s product) the Chinese production share of wood or alternate material for pencil casings is much higher than pencils alone. Similar conclusions also apply for other pencil input materials such as graphite cores, ferrules and erasers. To a large degree the US pencil industry (and other countries) itself has become more one of “Assembled in USA” vs. “Made in the USA” although the legal definition of “Made in the USA” as applied to pencils is a technical matter in itself best reserved for a future Timberlines Post.

There are two key trade policies in China that seem to support Chinese producers to achieve their increasing advantage in world pencil industry. The first is the treatment of Value Added Tax (VAT) in terms of a VAT rebate that exported products receive. All goods sold within China are subject to a 17% VAT tax which is not dissimilar to many countries that impose VAT taxes. This applies to raw materials, labor and other services and inputs into the manufactured good. However when these goods are exported into foreign markets, the exporting manufacturer often receives a rebate of up to 13% of the export value. This in essence becomes an export subsidy to the Chinese producer.

In the past two years these VAT rebates have been eliminated on certain intermediate products such as our pencil slats while they have been retained or only slightly reduced for finished goods. In our case it made our pencil slats sales to our customers around the world more expensive due to the elimination of a rebate originally calculated into our cost structure. This simply adds further incentive and competitive pressure for foreign pencil companies to displace manufacturing to China. Unfortunately, such changes have the counter point of demonstrating inconsistent or changing rules that can serve to deter the foreign investment it is designed to attract. Such changes get lumped together with other concerns about unequal application of safety, tax and environmental regulations to foreign owned companies in China vs. local Chinese companies.

Finally, the pegging of the yuan to the dollar previously mentioned in a prior post has made Chinese pencils and other goods increasingly competitive with pencils produced in other parts of the world. This has also contributed to the growing imbalance of trade with China in many products including strengthening the Chinese pencil industry world market position. Recent efforts to begin slowly relaxing these constraints towards a floating currency will increase the relative costs of Chinese exported pencils, but you can be assured this is an issue the Chinese government will manage in a careful controlled fashion for the ultimate benefit of their own country.

Given these many issues, practices and policies I don’t expect an end any time soon to efforts by pencil companies throughout the world to take actions they view as helpful to their ultimate goals. The challenge for the world’s pencil producers, whether Chinese or otherwise country remains how do we continue to evolve our business strategies, products and practices in a profitable manner that works to our own competitive advantage. There certainly may be common issues and industry standards where collaboration is a benefit to the industry as well as to the ultimate consumer as a whole. However competitive differences will likely always exist.

The Chinese Pencil Industry & World Reaction: Part 1



The third in a continuing series of posts on international trade issues affecting the pencil industry.

My earlier posts focusing on pencil Anti-dumping duties provided first, a primer on the purpose and structure of such duties, and next an update on current developments on US anti-dumping duties against Chinese pencils. Anti-dumping duties in the world wide pencil industry are singularly focused on Chinese pencils.

As we’ve seen in order to protect their domestic manufacturing industries from what is perceived as unreasonably low priced and perhaps as unfair competition from China many countries have implemented dumping duties. My own experience is that many producers in the Chinese pencil industry don’t always seem to understand or agree with the justification for such anti-China trade polices. I have spoken with key Chinese managers who reflect a shared point of view that the Chinese pencil industry is not very important in the world picture. They complain that the growing number of small pencil producers who compete only on price, make the Chinese industry as a whole unprofitable in their domestic market.

As a result many Chinese producers look to the export market for higher value added opportunities. However they themselves don’t always feel they get a fair chance to compete with the world’s major brands. They complain they are expected to offer a significant price advantage to branded producers elsewhere in the world. They are left only with lower value OEM sales to existing brands or private label opportunities to foreign retailers for market entry. Some hold the view that to overcome the high import duties on their pencils they must hold their prices down to negligible levels. Thus further perpetuating demands for anti-dumping duties on Chinese pencils by producers in foreign markets.

In response to these pressures a small minority even resort to illegal practices such as counterfeiting western brands in the Chinese home or other third world markets. Some even purposely mislabel country of origin and transship via third countries to avoid these duties. None of these activities reflect positively on the Chinese industry as a whole since it’s often difficult to establish who the manufacturer is when they are producing private label products.

So when both Chinese and foreign pencil manufacturers often cry foul, where does the truth lie. As usual it’s somewhere in the middle.

The Chinese pencil industry currently produces 9.8 trillion pencils per year based upon the 2004 statistical data. Of these pencils about 80% are exported throughout the world with the US being the single largest market and the EU second. By our industry estimates Chinese pencils now represent over 50% of the world’s pencils on a volume basis. So it’s clear that the Chinese Industry is no small, unimportant player when it comes to pencils.

What of Chinese complaints about low price expectations of foreign buyers? It’s true Chinese pencils are on average the lowest priced pencils in the world as is their cost structure. This is why large distributors and retailers like Walmart, Target and others have set up their own purchasing offices in China to play one producer off against the other during their annual purchasing programs. Often Chinese export prices realize just one-fifth of the retail prices ultimately paid by consumers. What Chinese producers fail to realize however is that such practices still provide them access to major world markets as these large retailers’ work to replace or devalue traditional brands in their home markets.

The intensity of such competition for their traditional markets naturally drives a range of reactions from branded producers worldwide who have invested decades and in some cases centuries into building their brands, markets and distribution networks. One reaction is certainly to lobby for protective measures from their local governments, but the majority of reactions are market focused. Pencil manufacturers worldwide have focused on driving their own cost structures down, placing further pressure on their suppliers as well as looking for more value added products to produce and market. Some in the industry (such as our own company) have even taken to eliminating their home market production and have invested in their own Chinese facilities or relocated to other low cost countries. Some simply now buy their pencils produced to their specifications from Asia.

Finally, another problem is that given the common perception that pencils are simple easy products to produce and Chinese pencil manufacturing equipment can be acquired for a relatively low investment there has been significant new entry of capacity in the past ten years. Today there are over 200 pencil manufacturers in China alone, while the rest of the world has perhaps 100. Often local rural government entities in China will support or even participate in such investments hoping to build up their local economy. Local officials in some cases even look the other way when it comes to safety and environmental compliance regulations.

Given inexperienced management or technicians in some such companies producing a good quality product is difficult and differentiating on anything other than price nearly impossible. Some of these companies cannot and may never be profitable, yet somehow they survive from year to year adding capacity onto the market and holding prices down. So though some old large scale state owned pencil factories in China have closed in recent years due to their higher social cost structures, such behaviors do not indicate to many countries that there is a true market economy developing in China or that dumping of pencils is not occurring.

Clearly there are challenges for both Chinese and traditional brand manufacturers around the world. As price competition has intensified due to pressure from increasingly powerful retail distribution channels, pencils have been increasingly commoditized. While consumers may have benefited some from lower prices, the typical Chinese pencil though improving in quality over prior years still represents a step down in quality from the average quality of product previously available in western markets. Those who achieve the best combination of cost control while maintaining and improving quality and finding new value added products and services to differentiate their business from the pack will come out on top.

My next post tomorrow evening will cover the two key trade policies in China that work to support Chinese producers to gain advantage in the world market.

Mongolized

Photo: courtesy of our friends at Sanford Faber Venezuela.

With the buzz of pencil talk going about the blogosphere recently I have seen several comments on the Mongol brand. These reflect preferences for it’s functionality and the inability to find this brand here in the US. The Mongol is of course a very famous brand established by Eberhard Faber Company. The Mongol brand is no longer produced for the US market as a result of a series of acquisitions and product rationalizations of the Eberhard Faber USA assets. These assets eventually ended up as part of a 1994 acquisition by Sanford, maker of the Sharpie marker and a division of Newell Rubbermaid.

However, the Mongol continues to be produced today for the Latin America market by Sanford Faber Venezuela, LLC. which is the successor company to Eberhard Faber de Venezuela that Sanford also acquired in 1997. The history of the Eberhard Faber brands and Mongol brands in Venezuela is quite extensive. In this market and elsewhere in South America Eberhard Faber was represented by the Pardo family of Caracas from 1896 until 1960. At that time Eberhard Faber and the Pardos formed a joint venture to begin pencil manufacturing in the local market to replace importing the pencils. This joint venture produced the Mongol brand as well as other products, but was terminated in 1987 when the Pardos acquired the all of the shares and the brand ownership rights for a large portion of South America. The Pardo family continued to operate the business and produce until the 1997 integration into Sanford.

The history of Sanford’s entry into the pencil business itself is an interesting study of how the process of acquisition and integration of companies leads to winners and losers in terms of what brands survive. Over an 8 year period starting with Newell’s 1992 entry into writing instruments with the Sanford acquisition through their 2000 acquisition of Gillette’s Writing Instrument Division (Papermate, Parker & Waterman brands) Newell purchased seven different pencil factories in 4 different countries formerly owned by the following companies:
– 1994 Faber-Castell USA (which had previously purchased Eberhard Faber USA – The EF name replaced Faber-Castell on the American brand and other products as A.W. Faber-Castell the German partner in the US operation retained the world wide writes to the Faber-Castell name following Newell’s acquisition)- 1995 Empire-Berol Corporation – these two companies had previously merged as a result of a buy out by Empire- 1997 Eberhard Faber de Venezuela-c. 1998 – Via it’s purchase of Rotring, Newell also acquired the Cosmolab cosmetic pencil operation. This was operated independently of the Sanford business and sold after about 5 years.

This all excludes Newell’s acquisitions of other writing instruments companies that did not produce and market pencils. As a result Sanford had numerous pencil & writing instrument manufacturing operations in four countries, a multitude of brands, product space overlaps by different brands and operational redundancies. Their self-penned “Newellization” process of assimilating and integrating companies, products and brands was put to work from the very start. The three US pencil plants excluding Cosmolab were consolidated and numerous brands just outright disappeared from the market.As a result of “Newellization” here in the US the Eberhard Faber, Berol and Empire names have disappeared from US produced pencils; first replaced by Sanford and more recently by Papermate. The Mongol itself was phased out in favor of the Mirado brand which better fit the Newell/Sanford key distribution channels in the mass market while Mongol had been stronger in the commercial market. The Berol and Mongol names have survived in various Latin America markets due to the strength of those brands there, though Eberhard Faber name is now gone also from the Venezuelan produced Mongols. Here the Faber name still survives as a part of the Venezuelan subsidiary’s corporate identity, but rumor has it that all Sanford’s foreign sales and manufacturing operations will soon take on the “Sanford Brands” moniker followed by the country name.The photo here demonstrates what I call the “Mongolization” of the corporate master brand in the Latin America market. Here the strong Mongol product brand has outlasted the transition from Eberhard Faber to Sanford and now to Papermate. Long live the Mongol. Think globally, act locally.Note: Doug Martin’s Pencil pages have a page dedicated to the provenance of Berol, Eagle and Empire pencil brands up until the point of Empire-Berol’s acquisition by the Sanford division of Newell in 1995. A look through this shows many of the brands which have not survived the years long process of acquisition, brand and product line rationalization, including my sentimental favorite Eagle.

The Pencil as Art

Photo Credit: C book

Back to the creative side for a day.

We generally think of the use of pencils to generate art. However, it seems the pencil itself is continually viewed as a source of inspiration for artistic expression in several media. Here are links to a few interesting examples:

Photography

Sculpting

“Pencil Pricks” Daily Cartoon Series

Pencil Anti Dumping Duties: Are Changes in the Air?

This post continues a series of Timberlines articles discussing the impact various world trade issues and practices have upon the Pencil Industry. In my previous Primer on Pencil Anti-Dumping duties I covered the basic aspects and issues involved with Anti-dumping duties here in the U.S. against Chinese pencils. As previously noted pencil imports to the US have steadily increased over the past 15 years despite the anti-dumping duties in place for the past 10 years.

So what’s new afoot in the world of US Pencil anti-dumping Vis a Vis China? In fact there are three main areas of current activity.

First, the U.S. Department of Commerce has just published the amended final results of its 8th review which covers pencil imports from China during the period from December 1, 2002 through November 30, 2003. Most notable in this review was the virtual elimination of anti-dumping duty on imports from China First Pencil Co., Ltd. & Shanghai Three Star Stationary Industry Corp. Previously these companies which share a common dumping margin rate had a 15.2 % dumping margin rate established during the 7th Review. The amended final result now drops this to 0.15%. Meanwhile, Shandong Rongxin Import & Export Co, Ltd. achieved a reduction from 27.87% to 22.63% and Orient International Holding Shanghai Foreign Trade Co., Ltd. has had their dumping margin. The China wide rate for other manufactures/exporters remained at 114.9%.

But is final, final? This result was quickly challenged by a group of US producers who have filed an appeal with the Court of International Trade. As China First and Shanghai Three Star together account for the largest Chinese production and importation of pencils to the US the virtual elimination of anti-dumping duties going forward on their pencils could have a significant impact on US imports. Of course, China First has been increasing export prices over the past few years and as such it’s calculated dumping margins might be expected to come down. Also recent decisions by the Chinese government to move towards floating the Yuan have resulted in a 2% revaluation along with other inflationary factors in the raw materials arena might indicate that at least some of the reduced dumping margins are likely to be offset by further export price increases on Chinese pencils as we look towards 2006 and beyond.

The second important development is that the Anti-Dumping Order against cased pencils from Peoples Republic of China is currently undergoing its 2nd 5 year Sunset review. This review is conducted by the US International Trade Commission (ITC) which originally put the duties in place ever five years to determine the continuing need or not for anti dumping duties. In the recent “Domestic Producers Response to Notification of Institution” of the review the US producers argue the following key effect of imports if the duty were to be revoked.
– material injury would recur if the dumping Order were revoked
– Price effect would be significant
– Post revocation import volumes would be significant
– Claims the domestic industry has contracted since the original order put in place and has become more vulnerable to material injury
– Claims the order has supported the decorator pencil segment as the decorator segment is higher cost pencils
– Revocation would lead to continuance or recurrence of material injury to the US industry within a foreseeable time

The Domestic Industry has asked for an expedited review. The deadline for comments by Chinese or other interests that would wish to see the pencil dumping duty revoked is September 13, 2005. Determination of full or expedited rule is expected by October 3, 2005.

The Final issue currently under consideration by the Department of Commerce for all anti-dumping orders regarding China is whether to change from current Non-Market Economy (NME) treatment on certain value of production factors to Market Economy status. This is essentially a determination of methodology used to value production inputs purchased from a market economy country. Currently, the DOC uses NME methodologies for all inputs on pencils produced in China whether the materials all come from China which is considered a NME or not. The Department now proposes to use market economy prices for all of the input if the existing tests for such use is met and if the majority of the input is purchased from a market economy country. Any comments are due by September 6th.

The next post in this series will cover key trade practices and policies in China that impact the pencil industry globally.

Pencil Anti-Dumping Duties: Primer

The following is the first of a series of Timberlines articles to be posted in the coming weeks discussing the impact various world trade issues and practices have upon the Pencil Industry.

Import and export duties, value added taxes, export credits or export VAT rebates, fixed currency exchange rates are all examples of factors that impact trade flows around the world. Such meddling with what “free market thinkers” would call free and unrestricted trade is a common practice from nation to nation. Certainly the World Trade Organization and other regional trading block agreements such as NAFTA, various EU agreements, APEC, ASEAN and MERCOSUR work to liberalize such trade barriers worldwide. However, there is clearly a level of relative national and regional competitive advantage to be gained when countries set their policies regarding these market influencing instruments. Often the duty policies of one or more countries for given products are set as retaliation for or to correct perceived unfair trade practices of another particular country.

The pencil industry is no exception to this situation and a number of these market “interventions” or “correction factors” (depending upon where you come out on the free trade scale) exist within our industry. Today’s topic of anti-dumping duties is just one such example. Currently, several countries worldwide have implemented incremental Anti-Dumping duties specifically placed upon imported Chinese pencils as a result of lobbying from local pencil manufacturer groups. These anti-dumping duties are imposed over and above any normal import duty pencils may be subject to. Among such countries with Anti-Dumping duties are the United States, Mexico and Turkey. I expect there may be some others of which I am not currently aware. For these three countries, anti-dumping duties range from just over 100% to over 400% of the invoice value of the pencils.

Here in the US the current country wide anti-dumping deposit rate for pencils exported from China to the USA is 114.9%. The importer of record is required to “deposit” funds into an escrow type account upon importation of the pencils. This rate is applicable to all imported Chinese pencils, unless a specific Chinese exporter/producer has gone through an administrative review process with the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) to have their company audited for a reduced rate. However, this is an expensive and very complicated audit process and as such not many Chinese companies pursue reduced dumping margin rates. Currently, four Chinese entities or combined manufacturer/export company groups (including our own subsidiary facility) have received reduced dumping deposit rates ranging from 0% (ours) to around 23%. In effect these companies have demonstrated that they are not dumping pencils or should not be at the China-wide rate for the most recently reviewed period. Under DOC rules the country wide rate is set by the highest rate determined for any given Chinese company that ever requested a review by DOC. As such the original rate of around 53% was increased to the current 114.9% level a few years back.

These reviews are conducted annually for a full year of shipments upon the request of the original plaintiffs, a group of US manufacturers. Should the DOC find during a review that the dumping deposit rate should be lower or higher for that period for a given Chinese exporter/producer then deposited funds are either refunded to the importer or additional funds are paid by the importer. As such the importer takes a certain risk when deciding to import from a Chinese supplier as the rate could increase and be left with the requirement to pay additional duties at a later date. Once the rate changes the new rate becomes effective for all future shipments. As it generally takes about 18-22 months to complete the review process and determine and clear the final figures remaining in deposited “escrow” fund, these risks are certainly increased for importers should the rate eventually increase.

Under a U.S. law named the Byrd Amendment, the final amounts in the cleared escrow fund are distributed to the original petitioner companies in the applicable industry. The relative refunds are again determined according to another complicated formula and calculation. In effect, the US pencil industry (and many other industries) is reimbursed for damages resulting from low priced imports that are deemed to have been sold at dumping prices. As such implementing anti-dumping duties has become a bit of a “growth industry” here in the US as more industry groups react to the incursion into the US market by Chinese and other foreign competitors. This is a controversial rule which has been deemed illegal by the WTO, but is fraught with obvious landmines for any politician in the US who would propose repeal of the Byrd Amendment.

Even with these high dumping deposit rates, most low end commodity pencils imported from China are cheaper than US produced products. This is demonstrated by the fact that Chinese pencils imports have continued to grow over the past 9 years that anti-dumping duties have been placed on pencils. Of course in our view you get what you pay for and there is no doubt that the average quality of pencils consumed in the US has declined over the past decade.

Clearly there are a number of market inefficiencies or inappropriate incentives created by implementation of high anti-dumping duties. The Byrd amendment policy previously mentioned. Also some Chinese companies attempt to avoid the dumping duties through the practices of transshipment via a third country not subject to the duties and/or by purposely mis-labeling the country of origin for the pencils. Both are illegal practices under international trade rules, but can be difficult to detect and requires domestic producers to be vigilant as to what’s going on in the market place given all the challenges our Customs and Homeland Security department face from other fronts these days.

So what are the current developments relative to US Anti-dumping duties for pencils that will or may impact our industry in the next several months or years? It turns out there are several important issues today and these will be covered in my next post on this subject entitled:

Pencil Anti-Dumping Duties: Are Changes in the Air?

Explore the World of Pencil Collecting


Given my family history in the in the pencil industry it’s not too surprising I tend to have a wide selection of pencils stashed in desks, drawers, closets and cabinets around my house, my office and even the car. A few years back when redecorating my home office I spent some time actually going through pencils that had accumulated over the years. Some even dated to my childhood that found their from that of my parents when an old desk and group of boxes were delivered as part of their own cleanout process.

Among the clutter there were indeed a few gems from a collecting standpoint. Since that time I have become increasingly interested though not always too active in broadening and expanding my collection. This collection includes not just pencils themselves but old advertising materials I feel have some of historical or design interest. A few my own personal pencil favorites relate to our family heritage within the industry dating back to the 19th century with the Berolzheimer und Ilfelder and the early 20th century from the Eagle Pencil Company. The Eagle Diagraph pencils shown here have a very interesting knurled effect in that they were rolled in a steel die which imprinted the surface to provide this interesting texture in order to improve grip. The compass is one of my favorites due to the detailed design in the metal work. For more views of various Eagle brand pencils visit the Pencil Images Gallery at Doug Martin’s Pencil Pages. His site is the most extensive online respurce dedicated to collectors.

Pencils are of course considered collectables by children and adults alike. People specialize within their collections in all sorts of forms such as advertising pencils, old brands and their transitions and developments throughout the years, coloring pencils, carpenter pencils, cosmetic pencils, etc. In Japan, a few years back a few producers even developed a series of “game” pencils decorated with popular cartoon characters with each side of the hexagonal pencil representing a different outcome when the pencil was rolled. Children battle it out on pencil rolls for the fate of their game character pencils.

So what gems might you have stashed away in a drawer somewhere?

We’re a Proud Bunch: Who’s Got the Biggest Pencil?


Those of us in the pencil industry are all quite proud of the origins and traditions of our companies. Many of us like to tell our historical tale of product innovation and organizational development. A number of us even claim to have produced the world’s “___est” pencil. Pick your adjective.

But where does one go for a good insight into the overall industry history?Henry Petroski’s “The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance” is considered to be the most definitive history of the development of our industry. Many insiders however view a few facts pertaining to their own company history as not fully accurate. Some may even contest some of Petroski’s statements regarding which company first achieved various technical developments.To be sure there is plenty of interesting history in our industry.

Given the age of many of the companies even some of the factories may be considered museums or museum like. So here are a few historical references for your perusal.

Perhaps the most elaborate company historical presentation in our industry, the Cumberland Pencil Museum established by The Cumberland Pencil Company sits next door to their manufacturing facility located in Keswick, Cumbria, England. Here the Cumberland Graphite story is told beginning with the discovery and development of the famous Borrowdale graphite mines. Of course one of the museums key features is their “Worlds Longest Pencil” unveiled in 2001 at 25 feet 11-1/2 inches.

Many companies in the industry have a tale of growth characterized by merger and acquisition of other pencil manufacturers as well as of other writing instruments and art supply businesses in order to expand the product range. One of the leading examples of such development is Dixon Ticonderoga Company which a few years back published its history entitled “The Best of It’s Kind”. During a visit to their Versailles, MO facility some years back I saw their project to produce another world’s “___est” pencil, a giant Ticonderoga. We even supplied Dixon with super-sized Incense-cedar timbers for this effort, though I don’t have the final pencil dimensions available.

Among US pencil manufacturers just two company’s with production history pre-dating 1920 still trace current ownership to descendants of company founders. The Musgrave Pencil Company history typifies the early development and concentration of pencil manufacturers in middle Tennessee. Here much of the US industry located in order to attain supplies of Eastern Red Cedar which was the preferred pencil wood early in the 20th century. A number of US factories were originally established by immigrants from the German pencil industry culuster around Nuremburg. General Pencil Company reflects the last remaining US pencil producer with current ownership still related to the original German founder. To my knowledge neither of these companies has ever attempted to produce a Worlds “___est” pencil, though they both know how to make very good pencils.

Faber-Castell has a significant history in the pencil industry and has several entries in the competition for the Worlds “___est” pencil. A Grip 2001 measuring 12 meters is displayed at the company’s headquarters in Stein, Germany. Not to be outdone Faber-Castell’s Malaysian subsidiary has the Guinness Book of World Records certification achieved in Novemer 2002 for the World’s “Longest” Pencil at 19.75 meters.

Schwan Stabilo Group’s 150 Years of History represents perhaps one of the more interesting web based company history presentations for its multidimensional timeline covering History, People, Writing Products and Cosmetic Products. And of course, you guessed it, Schwan claims to have produced the Worlds “Tallest” Pencil coming in at 30 meters for the 1906 Bavarian State Exhibition (shown above). How this one got overlooked by all the recent pretenders is a mystery, though it’s uncertain if this monster was truly capable of writing with a graphite core as the others all have. So perhaps this record needs to have an asterisk attached.

Finally, we have our own historical archives and historical display at California Cedar Products Company which provides much detail on our pencil slat history. While we do claim to be the worlds leading pencil slat manufacturer and we do make a few pencils, we have never attempted to produce our own World’s “___est” pencil. I’m guessing a little more research may be in order before ever attempting such a feat.

We make them, but how do we use them?

As a participant in the writing instrument industry I suppose I like many of us get caught up in the day to day business of making and selling pencils, pens, markers, various components, etc. We focus daily on the details of communicating with and understanding the needs of our customers; analyzing and improving costs and quality, planning and keeping up with growth trends by market segment and assessing our competitors. Many even have made detailed efforts to better understand the actual use of our products from the perspective of the artist, the student, the office worker, the carpenter, perhaps even the Astronaut. Collectively as an industry we know everything there is to know about making and selling pencils and pens.

But how do we use pencils and pens ourselves? Do we see these simply as the products through which we make our living? Or is there a creative group among us actively using our own products for writing, journaling, drawing or some other means of self expression? As a multi generational family participant in the pencil industry I feel a strong personal affinity and tradition related to our company’s products and the role these products eventually play in allowing people to express themselves or contribute to the learning process.

For my own part I have never considered myself to be a very artistic person. I have experimented with both journaling and drawing, though I cannot claim to be particularly talented or committed to regular practice of either. It’s usually something I’ll do during a vacation; writing in my fishing journal about that day’s adventure and including a simple sketch. I find that it’s a relaxing and refreshing activity when I’m in a reflective mood in the evening.

A couple years back given the encouragement and gift of drawing and sketching pencils from our good friends at General Pencil Company I once spent several days during our annual Christmas holiday on Little St. Simons Island trying my hand at sketching. I worked from a book on how to draw animals and these are the photos of some of what came of that experiment. I tried a bit of color pencil drawing, but found that’s not yet within my capability.

So what are your own creative efforts with pencil, pen or paint? Share a comment or e-mail me a digital photo of your own efforts and I’ll include it in a follow up post. If you don’t think your the artistic type you’ll never know unless you give it the effort. For a little inspiration visit General’s Art Gallery.