Monday, October 26, 2015


In a land not too far away in time or space there is a bucolic parish where peaceful folk, salt of the earth, live a simple life much as their forefathers before them. Whether vocation or avocation, the inhabitants of the parish are renowned for the growing of a special wood. The wood used in pencils. Every citizen contributes and like wine grapes in Lausanne every patch of even barely arable land sports pencilwood.

Traditionally the good folk supplied their pencilwood to village craftsmen who often specialized in specific types of pencils establishing relationships with growers providing the pencilwood most suited to their speciality.

Some old-school penciliers kept tradition alive and many a traditional pencil is to this day created by those growing the wood itself.

Others specialized in Beginners Pencils, those well suited to novice users and children, and these pencils were noted primarily for using pencilwood not well suited for other uses.

Another speciality with a small but ardent following were Artists Pencils.

These pencils, while not in general demand often required some of the highest quality pencilwood available in Pencilvania.

A pencil requiring moderately good pencilwood were those targeting the trades, particularly construction and wood working.

Their rectangular cross-section and consistent, relatively hard pencilwood ensured easy sharpening with tools commonly at hand for those versed in the arts of woodworking and related craftsmanship.

By far the most popular pencil, especially amongst the pencilwood growing community, was the Scholar's Pencil.

Scholar Pencils required nothing less than the finest pencilwood and immense pride was associated with having your wood selected for these prized pencils. A derivative of the Scholar was the Athlete Pencil.

In some quarters these were more prized than Scholars and some growers providing pencilwood for Athletes were known to take what some considered excessive pride.

For many a generation the craft system of pencil production served the community well but over time some began to see established grower-craftsmen relationships as closed and somehow unfair. Further there was a clear disparity in quality, cost and availability fueling a growing belief that the guild system had outgrown its usefulness and in its place they suggested a centralized system. Feeling this would be more egalitarian they also touted perceived efficiencies due to shared tooling and other resources and consistent quality by cross-training amongst the craftsmen.

Ultimately this argument won the day and a single pencil production system covering all of Pencilvania was established. While a few craftsmen and growers clung to the old ways they were marginalized by the newer monopoly.

And this system worked very well. At first.

Over time factory administrators began to question the relative cost of the various types of pencils. As so many pencils of reasonably high quality were required to complete an Artists' set these were first limited in their production and ultimately eliminated.

Next to fall were the pencils designed for the trades as these required proportionally more pencilwood and lead than other pencils. While the wood required was not of the highest quality the overall quality of pencilwood produced in Pencilvania had been in decline for years.

Some attributed this decline to overproduction and certainly those areas with the greatest production often produced the lowest quality pencilwood. Others argued that the new system eliminated any pride in the production of pencilwood. Everyone's pencilwood was tossed into the same bin at the factory giving the (often real) perception that "all the wood is the same." And one could no longer hold up a finely crafted pencil and declare "this is made from my wood." Without recognition there is no pride and without pride there is no striving for the best.

Regardless of the cause the pencilwood quality went into serious decline resulting in draconian changes. Hand selected pencilwood was chosen for the Athletes Pencil and these were crafted by the most experienced and best trained craftsmen in the factory. Many times this resulted in difficulty maintaining the Scholars Pencil line so it was decided to apply the techniques and process of the Beginners Pencil to the Scholars Pencil changing only the size and cross section. This involved pulping the pencilwood in order to extrude pencils in their final shape and finishing much as before--to the extent the new process tolerated the same finish.

There were some small pockets of pencilwood growers who carried on with the pride of their forefathers and who were dismayed, even angry, at how their wood was being disrespected in the factory process. As it became obvious their pencilwood deserved a better fate they decided to take action.

They knew they could not restore the guild system of independent craftsmen so they fought to break away from the single one-Penciilvania factory to create their own, smaller factory. This factory would be located amongst the community of pencilwood growers and would re-create the original factory model using each pencilwood for its best, most appropriate pencil and restoring the full lineup of pencils including those no longer produced in Pencilvania's factory.

The administrators of the Pencilvania factory fought hard against groups wanting to split away but ultimately these groups won, establishing their own factory. They worked hard and they met their goals. Their pencilwood was put to the use best suited to each stick. They built a full range of pencils, though Tradesmen Pencils, for some reason, saw very limited production.

The community was proud and pleased until one day they realized this was the pencil the world wanted and they had neither the raw materials nor the craftsmanship to make them.