The Count Makes the Case for His Family’s Pencils

Count Anton Wolfgang von Faber-Castell is the eighth member of his family to run the empire that makes pencils.  That name–it’s gotta be familiar to anyone who has ever filled out an SAT test with a Number 2, or chewed  on a yellow Mongol, invented by his brother, Eberhard.  In a story in the WSJ over the weekend, I learned a lot about pencils, and the man who is proud to say his family has been making them since 1761.

Apparently today they sell about 2 billion pencils a year, but 80 percent are colored, and the rest standard black. And there is no lead in a pencil–when graphite was discovered in England in the 1780s they only thought it was lead, but the name stuck.

I remember my grandmother Essie would only do her crossword puzzles with a black number 1 with a thin eraser up top. Today, as students could tell you, it’s all about the Number 2B, best to fill in those little ovals on standardized tests.

When asked if his company’s product for so many generations is at risk of going the way of the cassette tape, the Count answered confidently. “If when you were very young, you put a pencil in a drawer, and then when you were very, very old, 100 years old, you wanted to give something to your great, great grandchild, you pull that pencil out and it still writes. Can a pen do that?”

Count, you do have a point there.