Made in Austria


Look who’s 125 12

It’s the Koh-I-Noor’s 125th birthday this year! Congratulations!

This pencil just featured in Contrapuntalism’s latest blog post (last picture) and I also mentioned it in my previous blog post.

 

The colour

Austro-Hungarian flag

flag of the Habsburg Monarchy

If you are not familiar with the Koh-I-Noor: this is the pencil that might be the reason there are so many yellow pencils around, especially in North America. Petroski mentions a story in his book that describes how the L. & C. Hardtmuth Company picked yellow as the colour for this pencil because the flag of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (the same as the flag of the Habsburg Monarchy) was black and yellow1 – “and since the graphite was black, the pencil had to be painted golden yellow”2.

Different Koh-I-Noor pencils from Austria and the Czech Republic

Different Koh-I-Noor pencils,  made in Austria and the Czech Republic – bought in the UK, Germany and China.


The glory of the past

Now before I go any further I have to to say that the two descendants of the original Koh-I-Noor share the heritage but not the pompousness of the original Koh-I-Noor. I fear they also don’t share the high quality of the old Koh-I-Noor pencils which were given “fourteen coats of golden-yellow lacquer, the ends of the pencils were sprayed with gold paint, lettering was applied in 16-carat gold leaf”3 or the effort made to protect it – a Manx cat and her offspring were protecting the store rooms of this pencil from mice4.

 

The Koh-I-Noor's look  before 1852.

The Koh-I-Noor’s look before 1852.

The name

Such a luxurious pencil needs a fitting name. The Koh-I-Noor pencil was named after the Koh-I-Noor diamond, a diamond from India that was once the largest known diamond. This diamond is set in the crown of Queen Elizabeth5 (That’s Queen Elizabeth, the wife of King George VI –  not Queen Elizabeth II, the current queen). You can admire the Koh-I-Noor diamond in the Tower of London.

 

 The Koh-I-Noor on both sides of the Iron Curtain

It all started to go a bit pear shaped for the Koh-I-Noor pencil when, after WWII, companies in Czechoslovakia were nationalised. At that time there was no pencil production in Austria as earlier production was moved to Budweis – when the Austro-Hungarian Empire was still around.  On the other side of the Iron Curtain the descendants of Joseph Hardtmuth, the founder of the company, managed to re-establish pencil production of the Koh-I-Noor in Upper Austria in 19506 and were also able to use the Hardtmuth and Koh-I-Noor trademarks. Much later, in 1996 production of the Austrian Koh-I-Noor pencils would move East to Austria’s state of Burgenland, an area which, in 1950, was in Austria’s Soviet-occupied zone7.

 

The real successor

Which of these companies is the ‘real’ Koh-I-Noor L. & C. Hardtmuth? It’s difficult to say even or especially in my very simplified version of the story. You could argue that the company in Budweis is the real successor. Pencils were made in the same factory as before the nationalisation. On the other hand you could also argue that the Western branch is the real successor. All seven shareholders as well as most senior staff flew Czechoslovakia when the company was nationalised8 and moved the company with them.

The Austrian and Czech successors.

The Austrian and Czech successors.

For me both companies are successors of the original manufacturer. The company in Budweis does still exist. As mentioned earlier the Austrian branch moved to Burgenland.  Their pencils are still being produced there. You can get Austrian made Koh-I-Noors, but there has been a change in ownership so the Koh-I-Noor pencils are now being sold under the name Cretacolor. You won’t find the successor, the Cretacolor 150, on Cretacolor’s web site, because of the web site’s focus on artists, but the 150 is selling well, not only in Austria, but also in countries like China9.

 


 

The image of the Koh-I-Noor originates from the Nordisk familjebok. The copyright for this image has expired.

 

 

 

  1. in the comments of this blog post Rick has corrected this: the flag of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was not black and yellow. However, both the flag of the Austrian Empire and the flag of the Kingdom of Hungary were black and yellow []
  2. see Henry Petroski: The pencil (1989), p. 161 in my UK edition of this book []
  3. see Henry Petroski: The pencil 1989, p. 191 in my UK edition of this book []
  4. again p. 191 []
  5. see Wikipedia []
  6. see the Ruling of the Federal Court (of Switzerland) 83 II 312, p. 317 []
  7. I’d like to thank Cretacolor’s Mr. Ellmauthaler for this information []
  8. see the Ruling of the Federal Court (of Switzerland) 83 II 312, p. 316 []
  9. I’d like to thank Cretacolor’s Mr. Ellmauthaler for this information []

The Pen Shop ink blotter & Format Werk blotting paper 4

When my wife and I recently walked by The Pen Shop in Manchester’s Trafford Centre we saw an ink blotter in the window. Since it was nice looking and the price was reduced we bought it. My wife will be using it in her office, but the ink blotter brought an old topic up again: Where to get suitable blotting paper from?

I noticed in the past that many shops sell ink blotters, but they do not sell blotting paper. The good thing is that you can buy generic blotting paper and cut it to the correct size.

If you buy exercise books in the German speaking countries they tend to come with a sheet of blotting paper, because in many areas pupils have to write with fountain pens. Finding blotting paper is however more difficult, as there does not seem to be much choice.

Blotting paper is said to have been invented by accident at Lyng Mill in Norfolk, England. There are however different theories about when blotting paper was first used and about its origins (it probably was not invented at Lyng Mill). Blotting paper was very common in the past, when dip pens and fountain pens were more popular and before the invention of blotting paper people used blotting sand.

For my wife’s ink blotter I cut A5 blotting paper to size. The paper I used was made in Austria, produced by Format Werk, Austria’s largest producer of stationery for schools and offices. Their history seems to start in 1968 when their trademark was registered. The Format Werk factory was established in 1976 and in 1997 Herlitz, I mentioned them in an earlier post, bought Format Werk. In 2001 Format Werk became Austrian again, after a management buyout.

The Format Werk blotting paper is carbon neutral and has a pleasant beige colour. It is suitable for blotting, but I have to say that I have seen better blotting paper. The blotting paper (unknown brand) that came with my beechwood ink blotter does not cause feathering. The Format Werk blotting paper sometimes does cause some feathering, presumably because it does not absorb the ink fast enough and is therefore squeezing the ink onto the writing paper.  Unless you use a very wet ink and writing paper that does not absorb the ink well this should however not be a problem.

Conclusion:

A good blotting paper, but it could be better. It is not expensive and, commendable, it is carbon neutral.