Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pencil Sharpeners: The Boston Champion Saves the Day

Pencil Sharpener: The Classic Boston Champion

As a substitute teacher and homework-supervising mom, I have witnessed much pencil sharpening -- both successful and frustrating, both annoying to the ear and disruptive to the class, and always messy. In between the cheap dollar sharpener that lurks in each student's desk or crayon box and the loud electric sharpener that breaks much too often, lies this classic vintage hand-operated Boston Champion.
Boston Sharpener Strong!

According to the curators at The Early Office Museum, Boston brand mechanical sharpeners emerged on the scene 100 years ago. There were many models; the Champion was just one. Plenty of vintage ones abound on eBay. Pricing starts below $10.

Ever wonder about the history of the pencil? Here's an even better article from Pencils.com.  To quote and paraphrase a little: 
... pencils descend from an ancient Roman writing instrument called a stylus. Scribes used this thin metal rod to leave a light, but readable mark on papyrus (an early form of paper). Other early styluses were made of lead, which is what we still call pencil cores, even though they actually are made of non-toxic graphite. 
Graphite came into widespread use following the discovery of a large graphite deposit in Borrowdale, England in 1564. Appreciated for leaving a darker mark than lead, the mineral proved so soft and brittle that it required a holder. Originally, graphite sticks were wrapped in string. Later, the graphite was inserted into hollowed-out wooden sticks and, thus, the wood-cased pencil was born!
Nuremberg, Germany was the birthplace of the first mass-produced pencils in 1662. Spurred by Faber-Castell (established in 1761), Lyra, Steadtler and other companies, an active pencil industry developed throughout the 19th century industrial revolution.

Could some linguist help me with why the word pencil has a c instead of an s in it?

To tout the simple, no-nonsense merit of the Boston Champion and other similar manual metal sharpeners, here's a little story a la Goldilocks and the Three Bears made up by one of the creatives in our office (ie Jane Dagmi...)

Goldilocks often went to the Three Bears' house to do her homework. She and Baby Bear would do their math independently, and then later compare answers. One day, Goldilocks arrived early at their cottage in the woods. The bears were still out foraging, but the headstrong girl with shiny blond hair, made herself at home anyway.

Goldilocks sat down in the kitchen and took out her work. She reached inside her knapsack for a pencil. The first one she found had a broken tip. She reached back in and pulled out a second. Its point was dull. She stuck her head in the bag and found no others. "Oh, I do hope the Bears have a pencil sharpener!" Goldilocks exclaimed.

She walked over to the kitchen counter with pencils in hand. She first found a big black electric sharpener. "This must be Mr. Bear's," Goldilocks thought. She stuck the first pencil in and the hungry machine chewed the pencil to bits, nearly taking her finger with it.

She opened a drawer, and found a small sharpener inside that was shaped like a nose. "This must be Baby Bear's," she laughed and stuck the second pencil up one nostril for that is where the blade was cleverly concealed. She spun the pencil round and round and heard the familiar abrading sound. When she took the Ticonderoga out of the nostril, the pencil was annoyingly pointy only along one side. She put it back in and after several more revolutions heard the crunch of broken graphite. "This just won't do," she said, with a droplet of discouragement in her voice.

She walked toward the window, hoping the Bears might be in sight. She did not see them, but she did spy a Boston Champion sharpener on Mama Bear's desk. She approached the device, and inserted the remainder of the second pencil into the hole. Goldilocks turned the hand crank 7 times for good luck. The Boston Champion honed the tip perfectly. It was just right and Goldilocks blurted out, "Woo hoo!!!"


BBat50 said...

I read an article recently on the history of pencil and the pivotal role it made in democratizing education.

Heh, I googled it and look what I found. Not the original article but worth reading!


BBat50 said...

Now that is cool, a 1925 pencil vending machine!!!