If I write Caran d’Ache, Faber-Castell, Koh-i-Noor, Staedtler or Conté crayons, I’m sure something will surface from the depths of the memory, even though pencils have been forgotten for years. Their neglect seeped in when people decided to write and do arithmetic with other more cumbersome and complex instruments, even giving up written signatures for the electronic variety. Caroline Weaver’s book dedicated to the pencil thus serves our purpose, as it helps to assemble memories, tentative strokes, broken leads and sheets of paper with pencilled drawings, doodled when we were kids and then archived in family albums like small gifts of life, regardless of whether or not we showed any artistic talent. This book might even make us take a fond look at that pencil stub lying at the back of the drawer, which for some reason we’ve never had the courage to discard.
The general enthusiastic recovery of forgotten implements and analogical techniques (freehand drawing, stamps, gravers, printing presses, silk-screen printing or compositions with moveable type) is perhaps a slightly snobbish effect of the rejection of standardised computer-based work. But within this impassioned comeback, the pencil’s revival has a place of its own. Its history, Weaver tells us, is unique and full of surprises. It brings together age-old traditions, the discovery of an exquisite graphite deposit in Great Britain in the 16th century, materials such as clay and wood (red maple and poplar), and production techniques that have transitioned over time from handcrafts to industry and design. But there are other details of no lesser importance: the hardness of the leads (from F to H to B, remember?), pencil-sharpeners of all shapes and sizes, and of course rubbers (which replaced breadcrumbs for erasing mistakes).