Friday, August 5, 2011

About Pencils

Note: You can click on pictures to have an enlarged view.  
Changed text colour indicates a hyperlink . 
 Do not miss them.

As young kids we yearned to get promoted from the slate and chalk (baLapa) level to the pencil and paper level.  The newer generation urban kids begin with the latter and they may not even be aware of the slate and baLapa though they know the blackboard in schools.  There used to be a 'slate baLapa' in the form of a pencil!  I used to write with this one in the early 60s (pictured below).  See the mark 'Slate' on it.  The slate chalks were in different qualities. The best was called 'BeNNe BaLapa' (butter) because it wrote smoothly without that irritating scratch on the slate!  Slate was also of stone and later, tin sheet painted black.

The pencil was one of the most fought for item among school-going brothers or sisters at home.  Everybody wanted the longer or new pencil.  When I used to visit my maternal grandparents' house, I used to get attracted to the shortened pencils of my uncle lying in the shelf with his books.  My grandfather's study table also had a pencil with which I used to scribble. Those were earliest memories of handling a pencil.

In those days, we were bought a new pencil only when the one we were using was too short to grip.
The speed with which the pencil reached that stage was amazing!  Half of it would have spent up while shaving itself, because either the lead would break when almost done, or the poor lead quality made it to snap easily.  We demanded a new one when down to 25%.  Pictured below may be 10%!

Had we known this some decades ago, it would have saved many parents some money!  Two short pencils attached!

We found great pleasure in using the eraser more than the pencil! Pushing the eraser dust with the little finger while writing was an involuntary habit!  I think it holds good for all generations!  I'm trying to put together some old memories of the pencil and its great and inseparable friends - the eraser and the sharpener.

"Perumall Chetty Pencils" were popular in our days.  It was a popular company in Madras (Chennai).  I have managed to save one or two without the intention of saving them.   The bottom most is the 'Shorthand' pencil, made for stenographers because they have strong leads.   'Nataraj' and 'Apsara' also were popular brands.

Click on the picture so that you can read the embossed prints.

In about 1967-68, some of our classmates were bringing their pencils in beautiful oblong tin pencil boxes.  I wanted to have one too, but never knew where they had procured them.  They were so nice!  So I pestered my elders to get one such. Every visit to the stationer would attract my attention if a box was lying empty in his shop!  I was disappointed when he used to say 'it is not available'. In fact, the pencils were supplied in those boxes.  Finally one evening, I was lucky. He charged fifty paise each and gave me two, much to my delight. They are still in use! I was in 7th then. One pencil cost ten paise.

The inside of the lid.

I bought this Perumall Chetty box in the early 80s when that company was still in existence. I wanted to keep my painting brushes in it. 

The inside of the lid had this information. 

Pencil sharpeners were a little costly.  As such many of us used old shaving blades of the father, grandfather or uncles at home.  Doing that, we often got a cut on the index finger and bled, making most things difficult for the next 3-4 days.  That wasn't fun.  It was as if  to pressurize the parents to buy us the pencil sharpener - we called it as 'mender'.  By the time a safe, handy, durable, foldable pencil knife came about, we had finished our education.  

The mender was a great attraction to kids worldwide - they were manufactured in myriad designs. Shown below are menders at home, that are of my children who used them a few years ago.  Nowadays, a box of pencils carries a mender free!  

I found out that there is a museum for Pencil Sharpeners also!
Another link here, says 'The World's only Pencil Sharpener Museum'.  

Who thought pencil shavings that we dispose in the bin could be used for artwork?  Look here what Kyle Bean did - he created portraits out of them!  

And look here the unbelievable art from two Japanese pencil carvers, whose patience can be classed as bordering on almost insane!

Education up to the fourth class was with the pencil.  From the fifth, fountain pens were slowly introduced into the little growing hands after many kids chewed up the top of their pencils which was considered a bad habit.  I never resorted to it despite not knowing it was a bad habit.  

Above image is from the Net.  I never chewed my pencil, so ........ !

We also used to fancy pencil caps just for fun.  This one is of wood and the head shakes while writing. In our Mysore Dasara Exhibition, in the 70s, long pencils with a plastic cap shaped like small fingers were popular.  They were actually meant for scratching one's own back also!

The best feel of writing can be had only with a pencil.  Second comes the fountain pen.  I'm sure thousands, if not millions of pencil-users will agree.  The pencil has been around for a long long time.  Click here for some interesting history.

Writing with a pencil requires a certain amount of pressure that results in a good handwritten script. That does not come about with the ball-point, fountain, felt or roller pens. What makes it pleasurable is that melodious sound produced when the lead runs on paper!  Listen to it in that link - 27-second audio!

The pencil is even compared to life!  This information was in e-mail circulation sometime ago.  It is really interesting.  See here.  Someone went still further on that. Click here.  Truly inspirational!  

If you think the pencil is merely an instrument for writing, you are wrong. It amazed me when someone sent an e-mail with images of the art by Dalton Getty.   Click here to see amazing miniature carvings of pencil lead.

My great grandfather's eye prescription was in pencil - 1906.  See picture below.  I still have that pair of spectacles!

English language also has its use  - 'pencil thin mustache', 'pencil thin poop', etc.

The pencil is a useful size-comparing tool for many things.  Just show a pencil in a picture and it will avoid further complicated description.  I do this now (keeping the standard yellow pencil) to show the smallness of the tiny pencils that some pocket diaries included.  

Since a pencil 'wont leak', it can be carried in pockets in aircrafts and spacecrafts and can be used underwater!  If you want to see some more basic advantages of the pencil, click here and know!  But you cannot sign a cheque (check) with a pencil!

Carpenters and other job workers' must-have is the pencil.  When not in use, the pencil is just of the right thickness to safe-shelve it horizontally on the ear lobe!

Colur pencil set was another item we enjoyed.  This was the next step above 'wax crayons'.  This was the tin box that contained the set, bought in the late 60s. 

Its interiors!  The set of pencils methinks is the third and surviving - rather less used as I had outgrown it by that time.  The leads are so soft that we break them while sharpening and half of it is wasted and only half is spent for colouring. 

Here are some remnants of colour leads used by my father in his schooldays around 1930. See the wooden container.  Wonder if he used them on slate.  The baLapa was like that!

Nowadays, technology has grown and even 'water colour pencils' are available.  Just colour the work and paint with water with a brush to get that water colour art!

Coloured pencils were also used by students in college and by professionals for marking important paragraphs, lines or words.  They normally came in blue and red, red on one side and blue on the other. The tiny one shown here was my grandfather's.  He used it in his office for many years.  Now glowing fluorescent highlighter pens have replaced these.

These markers (below) are 'Made in Bavaria', which is in Germany.  They were gifted to me by my old friend Mr.Brown. They should be from the 1930s or 40s.

This pencil is an all-lead one. Bought at our Mysore Dasara Exhibition in the late 1990s. Wonder if this is a charcoal pencil used by artists. 

This flexible pencil is the silliest pencil I have come across.  It is long, thin and most unsuitable for writing, because it falls like a dead snake!  It was a fanciful purchase in recent times!  

A fancy pencil.  This is FAT.

Another fancy pencil.   This one is FLAT.  Or is this a carpenter's pencil?

There was also the copying pencil.  I did not exactly know how it was actually used, until I came across this link.  Click on this.  Observe the violet colour when a drop of water is put.  It is indelible.

After reading information in that link, I thought of this testimonial of my great grandfather from 1888.  It is signed by M.Venkatakrishnaya, the Head Master of Marri Mallappa's School.  I think the violet copying pencil is used for this.  See this link for the interesting process!  The methods employed in those days were incredibly cumbersome, but only when we compare it today!

The brass pencil seen below is my grandfather's.  It has provision for putting tiny leads in 3 colours - red, black and blue.  This could be from 1940s.  A Japanese product!  The second diamond shaped one has a scale and screw to push the lead out to use. The bottom one is from the recent decade - they called it 'pen-pencil'! 

Some erasers.  I always remember the incident related to the eraser.  See here in my blogpost.  The soft rubber was a real boon when it arrived in the mid 60s.  Engineering students were already using imported ones for their drawing work.  Ink erasers were hard and often damaged the paper.  I used it for my rubber-stamp carving!  It costed about 3 paise or so.  The small pencil eraser was 2 paise. The round one shown below is the 'typewriter eraser' (German) which an uncle gave me.  I was delighted when a friend gave me that 'pencil-rubber' in 1978. It is a typewriter eraser. It came in handy when I was using the typewriter for sometime.  That was the only substitute then, but now we have the 'backspace' in our computer keyboard!!  

Rubber-stamp carving - I learnt this skill from my classmate (bench mate) Shankar Nadig in the 9th class. His work was neat!  I was so impressed that I wanted to do it myself after watching him do when lessons were on in class.  I preferred to watch his work when he did, to listening to the lessons! His tool was the shaving blade.  He had broken it in such a way that it was like a pointed knife.  It was used for the curves and for scooping.

Below are two impressions of different stamps I made.  In the second stamp, I tried small letters.  I have lost both the rubbers, but these remain on books.

This is another I manufactured in the late 70s.

We never thought of how pencils got manufactured, though we used them everyday. 
  Watch the video, it is really wonderful. Click on link showing most of the steps that are undertaken. See how pencils are made at Staedtler, a renown German manufacturer.

If you want to see how many types of pencils are there, visit this Wikipedia link and get amazed!


R.Rajagopal (Gopi) said...

Thank you Dinakar, I really went back to my school days reading your Article.


Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Wonderful to read this blog Dinu, brought back a ton of memories. I too remember the BaLapa and slate and the rare occasion we got to use the BeNNe BaLapa. I also remember that we all made stamps out of ordinary rubber erasers, apply ink from the back of the pen nib (I used to do that when stamp pad wasn't made available to me)to the carved surface and then print it on text books, note books and so on. What a thrill that was! My handwriting went from bad to worse since I started using the keyboard since the late 80's and never had to "write" anything much by hand. I have started the use of pencils to jot down things to remember or put down ideas (always on one-side used paper of course) in the last 2 years or so and my handwriting has improved. Thanks for posting this!

Pradeep Nair said...

What a lovely, simple, thought-provoking article on something that we take so much granted, and few care to give a good look at.

We find many people -- not just students or carpenters or artists -- use pencil nowadays. One problem I have faced is, the carbon mistakenly called 'lead' break when sharpening the pencil in the 'cutter'.

Deb said...

Fascinating! Who knew that pencils had such a history? (Well, obviously you knew! ;> ) I love the pencil that says "chewing is thinking". Fun!

ER Ramachandran said...

An amazing collection of all kinds of pencils over the years. Thank you.

I like pencil with an atachment of erasure to it. This is the best invention having 'PRINT-DELETE' in one button!

I started using screw pencils again late in 90s again, which are good to put it in shirt pocket and not bother about smudging . You can wash till Shirts get torn, but smudges will never leave your shirt pocket and they spread like volcano!

Thanks again for bringing back lovely memories!

sss said...

Wonderful write up! It took me down the memory lane. My mom says I used to eat Balapa when I was 4 yrs old! I also remember soaking chalks and carving out chairs out of them, hmm...I will post it in my diy section :)
Thank you for triggering ideas.

sss said...

Wonderful write up! It took down the memory lane. Mom says I used to eat balapa when I was in nursery. I also remember soaking chalks and carving out furniture out of them, hmmm... I will post it on my diy section. Thank you for triggering ideas.

Haddock said...

Hats off to you.
You have done a complete research and has almost covered everything in pencils.
Oh yes I do remember using that Copying pencil :-)


Amazing article.Thanks for giving excellent collections. This has taken me to the memory of 20 years back.


Amazing article. Thanks a lot for post this. I had to back to my daughter's school days and also mine


Thank you Dinakar, this article took me to the memory of 20 years back.


Very nice article. This brought me the memories of my daughter's school days. Thanx a lot !!

Unknown said...

its reallt very nice collection of pencils..i became little emotional after seeing this..this pics brought back to our lovely school days..pls include hero pen..nataraja geometry box..bril ink..benne balapa images too