say it with pencils

Bob Truby's Brand Name Pencils is a bit of an enigma. Although it's obviously a serious collectors blog it's refreshingly clean, spiffy and well-designed. We don't get to know much about Bob or about the endeavor of pencil collecting in general, but I sure like what I see: colors! whimsical finishes! odd names! Deco-ish scripts! The giddy delight I have in seeing all these pencils (142 different brands) goes beyond my affinity for anything in gridded multiples, there's something slyly charming going on here. We tend to forget that although the storied "No.2" pencil looms large in the common psyche there are in fact No.1s, 3s and 4s, Hs, HBs, and Bs—a factor of the softness grade of the graphite. There's more to this story. Surely there should be more links to pencil history?!

Update: A friend alerted me to this paean to pencils on Kottke, which in turn pointed me to Pencil Revolution, a website for hardcore pencil aficionados. While I'm not as zealous as they are, I certainly enjoy the feel of graphite on paper and definitely appreciate the details in my own way... Amongst the comments on the kottke piece are references to two pencil aspects I do feel strongly about, the scourge of dried out erasers that skitter across the page leaving smeary trail, and the delights of sharpening. When I was little we had a heavy steel school sharpener (what is the statute of limitations for pilfering from the Board of Education?). I liked everything about it-- the articulated hand crank, the sphincter-like opening that held the pencil in place, and inside, the rotary sharpening blades were a marvel. I liked the delicate tendrils of of the wood shavings and their distinctive smell. It was built like a tank and I got a sense of satisfaction every time I emptied the chamber. Anyone else have pencil memories to share?
[All images from Bob Truby's Brand Name Pencils]


Off to Atlantic City

Somehow, I think the sights have changed... but I will report back.


recent acquisitions and Rewards of Merit

An early big letter "Greetings From" postcard.
It's postmarked 1935 but the bathing beauties featured within the letters, below, show
that the design is at least 12-15 years older.

The Woolworth Building, featured on this very early "Greetings From" postcard, dates it to 1913 or after.

"Reward of Merit for Ready Obedience to Orrilla (?) Reed".
Note touches of hand coloring.
Chromolithographed reward with metallic silver ink
Rewards of Merit were tokens of recognition for good behavior given to students by teachers.
Popular throughout the 18th and 19th century, by the 20th century I think "official" rewards had been downgraded to "gold star". They are a good source of contemporary imagery and printing techniques. The earliest rewards were virtually always religious. Many 18th and early 19th century rewards were printed or engraved in black and then hand colored, while later they became showy fillips of chromolithography, like the specimen above..


Recognized in Passing, Part II

Mott Street at Canal, c 1905
Mott Street at Canal, 2013
Not my most elegant post, perhaps, but it makes up with raw enthusiasm what it lacks in style. I happened to be down in Chinatown, crossing Mott street where it meets the Bowery, and stopped in my tracks. I recognized the view. I knew I had stashed away a vintage image (by way of Shorpy, "the 100 year old photo blog.") of a funeral processing down that very stretch of street, c. 1905. Once you study it, you realize quite a few of the buildings remain, they're just encrusted with a visual blight of signs, altered by bad storefronts and obscured by a welter of street furniture. And of course the cars.

In the first 2 photos, the building at far left with arched windows even retains the shutters and the very same fire escape. Further on (second from bottom photo comparison) you'll see the 2 tenements with ornate cornices as well as their plainer neighbors and the church remain. The Church steeple has lost its ring of tiny dormer clerestory windows on the slanted roof but its otherwise unchanged.

Most puzzling is the fate of the building mid-block on the left, identified in the vintage shot as #5, the Imperial Restaurant. It has beautiful ornate iron grillework on the second story balcony and is hung with paper lanterns. On street level is a pagoda-style entry. It's a 6 story building. Today the stunted yellow structure at number 5 stands only 4 stories tall. Oddly, it too is a restaurant ("Buddha Bodai Nature Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant") and has a second floor balcony, but for no apparent reason. Could it be a remnant of the former building left during remodelling—rather than a new building? Nothing about 5 Mott Street seems particularly logical or planned (a blocked up 4th floor for instance) which led me to think it might be the original building, with an expedient, rather than sensitive, overhaul. A quick look on Emporis lists the construction date as 1910. Although thats notoriously unreliable it does indicate the building is "old." Further research finds the building was described as "new" in 1903. The image, bottom, from the Museum of the City of NY shows the building, full height, in 1940.

Check out my previous Recognized in Passing with Elizabeth Street.


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