Yearly Archives: 2011

Two years 10

Unfortunately I’m still quite busy at work, but I am quite confident that I’ll be able to write new blog posts in the next few weeks.

Until then just two things I want to mention:

  • This blog is now two years old. I’m quite happy about this and hope that next year there’ll be many more blog posts. There are so many ideas I want to convert to blog posts… Some of them haven been in my hear for more than a year…
  • For anyone living in the UK: I noticed that Currys (at least in one of our Currys / PC World stores) started selling stationery. The items they sell are ridiculously cheap, e.g. Helix rulers for 7 pence (~ 11¢; 8c) or Stabilo GREENcolors sets, 12 FSC certified coloured pencils, for 80 pence (~ $1.26; 94c) – plus many more items.


Prices and exchange rates: November 2011

X17 – …in with the new 4

Work is keeping me more than busy, so wasn’t been an update to this blog for a while. I hope I’ll be able to switch back to weekly blog posts, but at the moment I am not too optimistic I will be able to do that. For now here is an update on my notebook:


Out with the old, in with the new.

After I got rid of my old Brunnen Kompagnon A7 notebook last month I was looking for a new alternative. If you read the Kompagnon blog post you might remember that I had three favourites (Samsonite, Staufen and X17).  More alternatives were suggested in the comments to the blog post, but the suggested notebooks were unfortunately bigger than A7 and therefore too big for my shirt pocket, so I ruled them out.

The X17

In the end I decided to get the X17 and am quite happy with it so far. I picked the Mode or ModeSkin version. X17 described the Mode version as being made from bonded/regenerated leather. One of the names this material is known by in Germany is Lefa (Lederfaserstoff – leather fibre). It is a very nice material and this version of the X17 notebook is also available in A7 size for two inlay booklets. Let me explain how it works with the booklets: the paper of the X17 isn’t glued to the cover, but is instead removable. You can buy covers, made from different materials, that can hold between two and four booklets. There is also a version for one booklet to be released soon. Booklets are available plain, ruled, squared, as a calendar plus there are a few rather unusual versions, too, e.g. for pilgrims or for teachers. I ordered 2 ruled and two squared inlay booklets. The squared version did, however, surprise me. While squared paper squares in most parts of Europe1 have sides of 5 mm length the X17 has sides of 2.5 mm length. To my surprise each page has a white border, too. I definitely would have preferred “standard” squared paper, but can live with this paper.

Overall I am quite happy with the X17 notebook.


  • The reason why I got rid of my old notebook was that after a few years the plastic of the cover got old, had some tears and these tears had sharp edges which damaged my shirt pockets. The Lefa material of my new notebook feels very pocket friendly and I cannot imagine it ever developing any sharp edges if old, torn or damaged.
  • All the different parts of this notebook can be bought individually, so if any part ever gets damaged it can be replaced
  • I just mentioned that all parts can be bought individually, this means that the inlay booklets can be replaced. I use one for todo lists etc. and replace it if full, while the other booklet gets used for permanent information I would like to keep in the notebook.
  • The pages in the booklets are perforated which makes it easy to rip them out if needed, e.g. to write information down for someone or if you want to leave a note somewhere. Depending on how a traditional notebook is bound, ripping a page is not a good idea. It can make other pages become loose or fall out, too. This was the case with my previous Kompagnon notebook.


  • Unlike many other notebooks the X17 does not have a pocket in the back. This makes it difficult to store little items like receipts. In my old notebook I used the back pocket to keep bits of paper to use as notes. Since I can remove the perforated pages now I do not really have a need for the pocket any more, but it would be nice, just in case.
  • The way the rubber band (called elastiX) works means that the notebook is not closed as firmly as a moleskin-type notebook. In my shirt pocket the end of the Faber-Castell Perfect Pencil sometimes ends up in the notebook, bending the pages slightly.
  • Because I bought the components for my X17 individually, not as a set, I had to assemble everything myself. This is not a problem in itself, but there were no instructions how to knot the elastiX rubber bands together. I could not find any instructions on the web site, either. I also didn’t realise the X17 comes without a ribbon bookmark – it needs to be ordered separately (I could have probably found out by spending more time on the X17 web site).


Including shipping I paid €24.50 (~ $33.70; £21) for the two booklet version of the X17, this price includes the elastiX rubber bands, and four booklets. Not cheap, but not too expensive either, keeping in mind that the X17 feels very well made. I am sure I will be able to use it for many years to come, hopefully longer than than the Brunnen Kompagnon.

Price: October 2011

Exchange rates: November 2011

  1. in Finland squares with 7mm sides are common []

Traces of graphite – Carl Barks 4

My most valuable graphite-related possession, by many measures, must be a signature of Carl Barks. I don’t think I own any other graphite-related article that has such an extreme graphite-to-impressiveness ratio as his signature. A few micrograms1 of graphite can be so fantastic!

Signed by Carl Barks in spring 1997 in his home in Grants Pass (Oregon)

Carl Barks, born in 1901 in Oregon, invented Duckburg, Scrooge McDuck and many other characters from the Duck-universe. Disney comics don’t seem to be very popular in North America any more, where they have been replaced by superhero comics long ago. Unfortunately, Disney comics are not popular in the UK either, but in Continental Europe it’s an entirely different story. More or less every adult is familiar with the characters invented by Carl Barks. In Finland the Mickey Mouse Magazine is2 the best selling weekly publication – and in the Scandinavian countries and in Germany Donaldists research all things Barks-related. His stories are timeless and fantastic treasures.

  1. This is a pure guess. If you know how many milli-, micro- or nanograms of graphite are in a line of graphite of a certain width and length on paper, please let me know. []
  2. …or at least was, this might have changed since I read this a few years ago… []

Norddeutsche Bleistiftfabrik 8


nbf packaging, design: bartsch design gmbh

These days it is quite common for Western companies to move manufacturing to China. The China First Pencil Company, manufacturers of the Chung Hwa pencil, tried the opposite. In the late 1990s they opened a pencil factory in the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the Norddeutsche Bleistiftfabrik (nbf) – the Northern German Pencil Factory. They planned to produce up to 100 million pencils each year in this factory. At the time it was the first direct Chinese investment in Europe, something not so uncommon any more today.

Why did the China First Pencil Company do this? The idea was to sell pencils “Made in Germany” in Europe, maybe even to export them to the USA. To keep prices down1 the pencils were made in China using lime wood2. The nbf factory only had to paint the pencils (using imported, Shanghainese machines) that were sent unpainted from the factory in China. The design of the pencils was done in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern by bartsch design, a company that won prestigious awards for wind turbine design.

Only six months  and more than 10 million Deutschmarks in subsidies and loans later it was all over. Rules did not allow “Made in Germany” to be printed on the pencils because they were only painted in Germany …and when they did not sell, not even after the price was reduced, China First Pencil Company and their partners, a Shanghai-based and a HongKong-based investor, had enough and their subsidiary, the nbf, filed for bankruptcy.

These pencils might have had a chance, I guess it didn’t work out, either because the quality wasn’t good enough3 or because nbf just wasn’t an established name. The missing “Made in Germany” could not have been the only reason why nbf failed. Look at other companies: Since Lyra has been taken over by Fila, the Italian company that owns Dixon, most of their pencils are made in China. That doesn’t stop them from printing “Germany” (not “Made in Germany” though) on their pencils. Leica can write “Made in Germany” on their M9 cameras, even though they only pair the camera body and electronics they get from Portugal with Kodak’s sensor made in Rochester, New York, and do some testing. Maybe cutting the sandwich in the nbf factory would have been enough to be able to label the pencils “Made in Germany”…


nbf pencils, design: bartsch design gmbh

Hourly wages and exchange rates: 1997

I would like to thank Mr Bartsch and Mr Rug from bartsch design for allowing me to show the computer-generated images of the pencil and packaging designs as part of this blog post.

  1. Hourly wages at the time and in that part of Germany were nearly 12 DM per hour, at 1997’s exchange rate that was about $6.90 / £4.20. The USA’s minimum wage at the time was $5.15 and the UK’s minimum wage at the time was £3.60. []
  2. American English: Linden wood []
  3. I have never seen any of the pencils, so cannot comment whether that was the case. I assume that a few months were enough time for nbf to paint a few pencils – so there should be a few of them around. The question is how they were painted, i.e. which design was used, and where they were sold. I wouldn’t be surprised if they ended up in variety stores. If nbf‘s machines were sent back to China they might have also sent the pencils back to China at the same time – to sell them there… []