This article has been edited and included in The Leadhead's Pencil Blog Volume 5; copies are available print on demand through Amazon here, and I offer an ebook version in pdf format at the Legendary Lead Company here.
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Seven years ago today, the first article at The Leadhead’s Pencil Blog was published. Seven years and 1,228 articles later, I’ve reached one of those rare points at which everything in the room has been photographed and everything is put away in its place.
It’s time to quit. I have everything I need from this blog. You do, too.
But I need to share one last pencil with you before I sign off for the last time:
It’s a Samson Mordan Everpoint, marked at the top with its English patent number of 307,227:
It also appears to be the most random choice one can imagine with which to close this blog. It’s not American, and I don’t really know much about them. Contrary to what you might be thinking, I’m not about to go into a long exposition about how Samson Mordan had manufacturing operations in Scotland. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t, and for the purposes of this article I don’t care.
Now there’s a first. I don’t think I’ve ever written that I didn’t care about some minute detail pertaining to a pencil – any pencil, great or small. In this case, though, it’s because I care so much more deeply about something else – something that both involves pencils and doesn’t involve pencils at all:
It explains why I’ve done this.
I took a trip to Scotland with a group of people in August, less than half of whom were pen folk, half of whom I didn’t know before the trip, and all of whom had a fondness for Scotch Whiskey. During our first four days we toured a dozen distilleries – a mighty accomplishment for even the stoutest of livers – and the last five days we spent in Edinburgh, right in the heart of Old Town. It was during the Fringe Festival, an overwhelming cacophony of more than 3,000 arts and music performances that take place in small venues all over the city during each August.
To those who have asked me if it was the trip of a lifetime, I have consistently said two things: I’m still alive, and I’m going back.
Our group wasn’t joined at the hip after we arrived in Edinburgh, and there were plenty of opportunities to wander off in smaller groups or, as fate had it one afternoon, for me to take a walk along the Royal Mile by myself. I wandered through one gate and found a variety of street vendors:
Under one tent on the right in that picture, a guy set up a couple of tables and scattered on them a few bits of miscellany, in the midst of which was this tiny Mordan pencil. Ten pounds, I think he wanted, and I had to buy it. It wasn’t because I particularly like these Everpoints (I don’t), it’s not because I’m about to embark on an English pencil buying spree (I’m not), and it’s not because I planned to write with it (I haven’t).
It’s because I knew I would never be able to pick that pencil up without smelling the foods that were being cooked behind me when I took that picture. I knew I would be able to hear John Corwin in our tour bus later that day saying, in that gentle voice anyone who knows John will hear as I’m writing this, “Wow. You found a pencil. Isn’t that wonderful!” I knew I would be flooded with memories about the time, the place and the people that surrounded me, and that handling this simple object would be all that it would take to immerse myself in that all over again, any time I want.
I have dozens if not hundreds of other pencils like that, and over the course of twenty years of doing this I know this connection of object, time and place never fades. I still have the Eversharp Doric Terry Mawhorter sold me when I first met him at an antique show, only hours after I had resigned myself to the fact that I was “collecting” these things (I had plenty of coincidences laying around, but no real collection, to borrow a phrase from Janet). It was the first “real” pencil I invested (gulp) fifty whole dollars on, moments after I had proudly shown Terry a real piece of junk I had picked up from another dealer moments earlier. I can still here him calmly telling me, in that measured voice of his, “let me show you something a little more special.” It was and still is a moment neither Terry nor I appreciated at the time.
I can’t pick up my triple band Sheaffer in grey pearl without thinking about Jon Rosenbaum’s smiling face, even though I purchased it from his representative after he passed. My green Riedell ringtop brings back memories of Frank Tedesco, when we shared a smoke outside the Tremont Grand in Baltimore and marveled at all the hookers coming and going through the hotel’s front doors.
I have folder upon folder of pictures Joe Nemecek and I took in marathon late-night sessions, sometimes here at the museum, but usually in dim hotel rooms, making the best of whatever light we could find.
There’s a reason I make a point to include where, when and from whom I found something in these articles – I’m preserving a moment when I shared my passion with a friend, old or new. Those who use the tired cliche “it’s the people” when describing this hobby . . . well, that’s what they mean.
Then there’s the friends who share my passion who I’ll never get to meet, because they lived, worked and died long before I was born. I may know Charles Keeran well enough by this point to write his biography, if his family is cooperative and can fill in a few details. Picking up an Artpoint gives me a joy well in excess of the object itself, as I think of Jesse Roach and Amadee Taussig’s exploits in the wilds of Los Angeles during the 1920s. And I can’t help but chuckle and wonder whether Hugo Hasselquist didn’t finish the drawings for the Riedell and laugh his ass off that someone actually wanted to make the thing.
So there’s part one of my apologia: I write about these things because I enjoy preserving moments of connections with like-minded people, living and dead, personal friends and historical figures. I couldn’t remember it all if I tried, so I write it down.
But that personal joy doesn’t entirely explain why I have felt the need to share these things with you. Is it worth all the effort to write a complicated article that explains something obscure beyond measure, only to have a tiny group of people actually read and appreciate it?
I think it is.
When I edited The Pennant, I took the opportunity in one issue, during my address from the editor, to talk about how frustrating it was to hear people wring their hands and moan that Michael Fultz wasn’t around to give them answers to who made what, when and why. The point of that piece was twofold: first, that anyone can do the kind of research Fultz was doing – with better resources today, I might add.
The second was to stress the way we all stand on the shoulders of those who precede us. I’ve built upon and amplified the substantial research that’s been done by others who like and write about this stuff, and in the years to come others will build upon and amplify what I’ve done, too. It’s how knowledge is advanced.
It only works when we tell others what we know. Fultz died without writing down much of the information that was in his head; when he passed, so did everything he knew and didn’t tell anyone. The loss of his knowledge wasn’t the inspiration for this blog, but I was mindful when I wrote The Catalogue and started this blog that knowledge is useless unless it is shared. The loss of so many images here in that Google gaffe last year (and the fear that it might happen again) was the impetus for printing this blog in book form – it would have been a tremendous waste of my time if I didn’t find a way to better preserve countless hours of work.
Will other blogworthy finds surface that will cause me to regret that I can’t snap a few pictures, write up a great story and post an article here? Of course they will. However, as I sit here and electronically “thumb” through countless images I’ve taken but never written about, I see two types of images: first are variations on themes I’ve already written about. Second are fascinating and off-the-beaten-path pencils with stories waiting to be told. The information is out there, just laying around on the Internet and begging for someone to pick it up, dust it off, pull it together and stun the world . . . or at least, our little corner of it.
If you’ve read the last five volumes, you can do that as well as I can.