The 100th post at Bleistift. I thought I should make an extra effort for this blog post, so there will be the first ever giveaway at Bleistift (oh, go on then, scroll down to find out more about the giveaway before you read the article). Today’s post will look at the history of Staedtler UK. It is a follow-up post to the Staedtler Tradition Last time I spelled Tradition lower case, as printed on the pencils, but for this post I decided to consistently start with a Capital. 110 post from March 2010 A post that mentioned that Stephen Wiltshire is using the Staedtler Tradition. Twelve months later Staedtler managed to get his support for their pigment liners..
1790 – 1920 Wolff and Cohen
The history of Staedtler in the UK seems to date back as far as 1796. As far as I can tell this was the year when Elias Wolff, aged 15, started his career as a pencil maker. In 1822 he officially started his own company and by 1840 his son was on board and the name of the company changes to Elias Wolff and Son.
The company was based in London, which is not surprising. The UK was and is very centralised and in the past graphite mining and production was controlled by the crown. Graphite had to be transported all the way from Cumbria to London, to be sold or auctioned. Soon Flemish traders were supplying graphite to all of Europe and the Society of Mines Royal asked the family of Höchstetter to apply their Bavarian mining techniques to make mining more efficient.
Solomon Cohen, another pencil maker, was born around the same time as Elias Wolff. When his son Barnet Solomon Cohen took the business over he started trading as B.S. Cohen. In 1919, at a time when England had some of the best pencil factories in the world, B.S. Cohen and E. Wolff and Sons merged. The name for the new company: Royal Sovereign Pencil Co.
… and Napoleon?
These were turbulent times. Elias Wolff and Solomon Cohen were born around the time of the French Revolution and worked as pencil makers while the war between Britain and France and the Napoleonic Wars were going on.
Paulus Staedtler, another pencil maker, was born in 1779, in Nuremberg. Turbulent times there as well: Prussia took Nuremberg over before, in 1806, Napoleon’s army gave the city to their ally Bavaria – not long before all of Franconia was annexed to Bavaria in 1815. In 1835 Paulus’ son Johann Sebastian Staedtler started his own factory, the company we know today as Staedtler.
1919 – 1992 Royal Sovereign Pencil Co
The Royal Sovereign Pencil Co started life in 1919 and was renamed to Royal Sovereign Group Ltd in 1974, just before the factories where taken over by Staedtler. Strangely enough the names Wolff and Royal Sovereign never belonged to Staedtler. I have to assume that the new Royal Sovereign company only held on to the names and maybe some other intellectual property rights, not to any hardware. As far as I can tell, based on information provided by Companies House, the United Kingdom Registrar of Companies, the company was taken over in 1987. It took me a while to figure out that the company that took over the rights to the trademarks etc must be the Dickinson Robinson Group, a company that pioneered a number of innovations in paper-making in the 19th century. In 1989 this group was then taken over by Pembridge Investments, around the same time the rest of Royal Sovereign became part on Nontradorm, before the rest of the Royal Sovereign Group was officially dissolved in 1992. The names “Wolff” and “Royal Sovereign” do however live on. A family owned business, West Design Products, somehow got hold of the rights to the names Wolff and Royal Sovereign and sell Indonesian-made pencils under this name. A first attempt at contacting West Design Products nearly twelve months ago was unfortunately left unanswered, as was a subsequent attempt, so I was not able to find out how these traditional names came into their possession and whether their pencils are made in Staedtler’s Indonesian factory.
1975 – 2009 from Royal Sovereign to Staedtler UK – how the pencils changed
In April 1966 Royal Sovereign started to produce two different types of Staedtler pencils in Pontyclun, Wales. The early Staedtler Tradition 110 pencils made there had “RS – Bonded” printed on them. The factory still made Royal Sovereign pencils and they, too, had “RS – Bonded” printed on them. These early Staedtler Tradition pencils were pre-sharpened on the right side, i.e. looking at the pencil with the print facing up, the right side of the pencil has been sharpened. The RS Bonded version hexagonal, like all other Tradition 110s, and mainly red. The cap has the typical Staedtler look, but only the side of the pencil with the gold letter print is painted black. All other sides of the pencil are red with a thin black strip in the middle.
The next generation of Welsh-made Tradition 110 pencils is pre-sharpened on the left, the same way as nearly all modern pencils. This means that the text on the pencil is not upside down if the pencil is held in the right hand, as was the case with the RS Bonded version. The black and red pattern changed, too, and is identical to modern Staedtler Tradition 110s. The side with the print and the opposite side are black. The other fours sides are red with a black strip between two adjacent red sides. For this generation the stamped text “RS Bonded” has been replaced with “Bonded”.
The next generation of Tradition 110 pencils was probably released around 1972, a few years before Staedtler bought the factory in Pontyclun in 1975. This is the first generation of UK Tradition 110s, where the glue has been applied by a machine. Previous version had the glue applied manually. The print changed from “Bonded” to “Jet Bonded”.
I am not sure whether there has been a generation or several generations of Tradition 110s between the previous Jet Bonded version and the next version that features a bar code. It is more than likely that this version of the Tradition 110 was released in 1990 or shortly after.
You can still find the last generation of the Tradition 110 made in Pontyclun in some shops that have old stock. This generation was in production until the factory was closed in 2007/2008. Around the same time, in 2008/09, the rest of Staedtler UK moved to nearby Bocam Park, about five miles West of Pontyclun.
Royal Sovereign had two factories, one in Pontyclun, South Wales (UK) and one in Sydney, New South Wales (Australia) and when Staedtler took over they bought both factories. Unfortunately, the one in Dee Why (Sydney) closed down nearly 40 years after it opened, around the same time as the one in Pontyclun. Another Staedtler plant that was closed shortly after was the one in Pahang, Malaysia. Products previously manufactured in Australia and Malaysia are now made in Thailand (pens) and Indonesia (pencils). It is a real shame that these factories had to close down.
Pencils can last a long time. On several occasions I took a whole day worth of notes using a Staedtler Mars Lumograph F without having the sharpen the pencil the whole day. In comparison some other pencils wear down really fast, a Dixon Ticonderoga for example, or most of the Korean pencils I know This is not meant as complaint. These pencils have other advantages, e.g. a very dark line. Even the ones that wear down fast are usually good value for money, the ones that last longer often cost a bit more, but are even better value for money. In a time when many consumers will buy the cheapest pencil they see in the supermarket it must be difficult for the established, high quality pencil manufacturers to keep smaller factories and factories in high wage countries alive. I hope that in the future consumers will not just buy any old, scratchy pencil, but a good one, so that these factories can stay open as long as possible.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post. There was more I wanted to include, but this post starts to get a bit too long, so I will write more about Staedtler’s popularity in the UK another time. If you have further information about Staedtler UK’s history or pencils, not mentioned here, or if you find any mistakes please let me know.
After I heard that Staedtler’s Welsh factory closed down I started buying pencils from this factory in different shops. To celebrate the 100th blog post I am giving away three prizes, they are not worth a lot (check penciltalk’s anniversary post: How much is my pencil worth? Probably nothing! …but they were made in Staedtler’s UK factory in Pontyclun).
You can win…
- A dozen Welsh-made Staedtler Noris. You can choose between the rubber-tipped version (Noris 122 HB) or the version with the traditional Staedtler cap (Noris 120 HB)
- A pack of six Welsh-made sketching pencils
- A blister pack with three Welsh-made Staedtler Tradition 110s
I am happy to send the prizes to any country as long as Royal Mail doesn’t refuse to send them there. I will use random.org to get a random number and the author of the corresponding article will get the price (unless I am the author or the comment is definitely spam, e.g. advertising for medicine, …). To take part please leave your comments before Friday, 8th July, 23:59 UTC.
I bought West Design’s Wolff’s Graphite Sketch Set in September 2010 from Granthams in Preston for £4.25 (~ $6.80; €4.70). The Sketching pencils set with six pencils (B – 6B) used to sell for £1.70 (~ $2.70; €1.90) in Granthams and for £3.70 (~ $5.90; €4.10) in Paperchase. All the old Staedtler Tradition 110 pencils are from shops in and around Lancashire. The oldest ones are from a corner shop about 200 yards from my home.
Exchange rates: July 2011
If you want to read more about Staedtler UK’s pencils…
- Lexikaliker has a blog post about another Staedtler UK pencil.
- Stationery Traffic has a blog post about the Tradition 110 and about another Staedtler UK pencil.
You can find more information about…
- …the Royal Sovereign Pencil Co at Gracesguide.co.uk
- …Elias Wolff at Randomwalk.me.uk and Palimpsest
- …Solomon Cohen and his son at the National Portrait Gallery
- …Paulus and Johann Sebastian Staedtler at nuernberginfos.de (in German)
I would like to thank my colleague and business historian, Dr. Mitch Larson, who gave me very useful information and suggested contacting Companies House, a registrar I hadn’t been in contact with for ten years.
|↑1||Last time I spelled Tradition lower case, as printed on the pencils, but for this post I decided to consistently start with a Capital.|
|↑2||A post that mentioned that Stephen Wiltshire is using the Staedtler Tradition. Twelve months later Staedtler managed to get his support for their pigment liners.|
|↑3||or several generations|
|↑4||This is not meant as complaint. These pencils have other advantages, e.g. a very dark line|
58 thoughts on “Staedtler UK”
Thanks for the opportunity and the history! Count me in!
Thanks for the chance to win some of these fine pencils. I’ve missed being able to buy them since I moved.
Congratulations on the 100th post!
Thank you for such a comprehensive article. I wasn’t aware of the common background of the Australian and Welsh pencil factories, or of Staedtler’s association with these historical manufacturers.
As demonstrated by the “sketching pencil”, Staedtler Australia and UK seem to have offered (and continue to offer in Australia) a few pencils not available in other markets such as the 12-sided Noris Club maxi.
What a nice giveaway and informative post! Congratulations on making 100 posts
Thank you for that excellent article and congratulation on your 100th post! I wasn’t aware of these historical details.
Stephen, thank you for mentioning the 12-sided Noris! Must…get…one… 😉
Thanks for that well-researched artlcle. You have triggered a memory as I am certain I saw and used the “Bonded” version of this classic pencil way back in junior school. I always wondered what it meant. I had not realised that Royal Sovereign had begun manufacturing traditions for Staedtler; I assumed that Staedtler had set up the factories in Wales and Australia from scratch.
I am still able to find Pontyclun-made Staedtlers locally, though supplies are gradually drying up. I found a pair of 4Hs in WHSmith in 2010, but better yet, my local newsagent had stocks of 4B which I bought up. I suspect they have other grades in stock but I have not had the chance to check. In addition, the Stationers That Shall Not Be Named also has a whole box of F on the shelf and no doubt a few other pencils at either end of the hardness spectrum. The Holy Grail is to find a Made-in-GB HB. I would also like to get one made in Australia, just to complete the set.
Oh, and congratulations on the 100th post!
Excellent informative article. An interesting read.
You can count me in as well. I did read along for the article, which I found interesting and informative. The story of how the company changed and evolved over time was neat to read. Best, and keep on blogging.
Congrats on your 100th post!
I think certainly think this post was worthy of your 100th, and a great post it was, too. I have been trying to get more into pencils lately, and it is easy to do with Staedtler products. Of the pencils I have tried, they perform the best and are likely the smoothest. I still have a long way to go, but I now feel more informed of both the history and technology behind the brand.
Congratulations on the 100th post! I also read the whole post… Those Noris pencils look yummy, so count me in too…
what does it means “pre-sharpened on the left”??
Interesting article. My first ever drafting pencil was a Staedtler.
I would appreciate being included in the draw for one of the three prizes.
Thanks for the blog.
Very interesting article – well done! I too would like a chance to win some of those pencils; I enjoy sketching with a variety of Staedtlers (and Faber-Castells).
Good article and nice pencils.
Count me in for the draw please.
Thank you for the kind comments and for your congratulations to the 100th blog post.
Tim, I hope you’ll be able to find some other nice pencils where you live now.
Stephen, the 12-sided pencil looks very interesting. I haven’t seen it yet in shops, but will keep my eyes open.
Stationery Traffic, strangely enough Welsh Tradition 110s were not too rare here around Preston, but I bought all the ones I found 🙂 The only Welsh ones left, I know of, are some Noris, which I might buy soon.
Economy Pens, pencils are really one of the most economic pens. I think I saw a video from Faber-Castell recently where Anton Wolfgang Graf von Faber-Castell said something along those lines.
ccorrada, I changed the explanation and hope th meaning of “pre-sharpened on the left” is more clear now.
What a wonderful history-packed post. I was only able to get hold of a “last generation” Tradition 110 so I could do with a Noris, please. 100 posts! Keep up the good work.
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Interesting! I’m trying to get into wood-cased pencils, so maybe winning the giveaway will start the addiction.
Lovely history for a wonderful product – congrats and good luck to all 🙂
Well congrats on the 100th post! It’s been fun to observed pencils more comprehensive, since pencils are rarely used for ‘crucial’ moments.
There’s a humongous hope that Royal Mail will send me a dozen of Noris 122 HB with the blessing of Johann Sebastian Staedtler.
By the way,
Ich mag es nicht SCRATCHY PENCILS!
Lovely bit of history. On your generation3 question – I have a few 2B STAEDTLER TRADITION, AUSTRALIA with no bar code and no “Jet Bonded” stamped on the pencil. Maybe the Australian pencils were stamped differently.
Thank you for your comments.
Kartika, hehe I actually thought about changing the tagline of the blog, from “don’t like scratchy pencils” to something like “any old pencil won’t do”.
Kevin, thanks for this information. I wonder whether it was the same in the UK.
That sounds pretty cool, über cool actually.
We use pencils everyday, especially when you were a toddler, but I started feel kind of satisfaction with NO SCRATCHY PENCILS.
Actually, in my country, your taglines do the same.
No offense, but nowadays pencils manufactured in many brands, and most of them are scratchy.
Who likes scratchy pencils anyway?
Once again congrats Herr Matthias!
Kartika E, I emailed you twice regarding the contest. Maybe the emails ended up in your spam folder. Could you please contact me (the email address is on the “About Page” of this blog, top right, under “Pages”).
I am really sorry, my routinity made me can not be online every time. I am really sorry for that inconvenience and I’ll try to do as you advised.
I can’t believe I missed your competition by a couple of weeks! Hello to all from sunny Pontyclun!
Ceri, you are in Pontyclun? That’s great. Did you know the pencil factory? And do you know how it is used know? I think the other big factory in Pontyclun (L’Oreal) is being used again.
Royal Sovereign had 3 factories Pontyclun nr Llantrisant.
Dee Why Sydney Australia.
Johannesburg South Africa
The original Royal Sovereign factory at Pontyclun has now been coverted to a Leekes
DIY and furniture store.
The replacement factory which opened in 1975 behind the original has been totaly
flatened for development, this happened in March 2010.
Alan, thanks for this information. Do you know what happened to the factory in Johannesburg?
I have seen aerial photos of the factories in Pontyclun. What a shame…
Did you work there?
The factory in Johannesburg was owened by Staedtler Germany but received pencils from Staedtler U.K.which supplied Royal Sovereign lines.
I don,t know if they made complete pencils,or finished off partly made pencils from Germany.
Staedtler Stick 430 pens and erasers were made there until the late 80’s or early 90’s.
Interesting article. I worked for both Royal Sovereign (1962 to 1965) and for Staedtler UK 1967 to 2008. I was the Managing Director from 1976 until closure in 2008. I am presently working for Staedtler in South Africa on an assignment which will be completed by the end of March next year. I will shortly commence writing the history of the UK operations of both Royal Sovereign and Staedtler and I will be happy to share that with interested parties in due course. Your contributor Alan Price was a colleague of mine for many years at Staedtler.I can update you on the history of Staedtler SA…..once known as Autolec and owned by the Kazam family with connections to Royal Sovereign before being bought by Staedtler.
John Evans, this is very exciting! I am very interested in Staedtler’s history so I would be very happy if I could get a copy of the document when it is finished.
Thank you for your comments.
Alan, I still have some UK made Staedtler Sticks, I didn’t realise they were made all over the world.
John, finding out more about the history of Royal Sovereign and Staedtler UK and about Staedtler SA would be fantastic. I am always surprised that despite their products being used every day hardly anything is known about stationery manufacturers. Staedtler’s products are so common in so many countries, but there is no interest by the media – which is quite different to the situation in some other industries.
I am very much looking forward to hearing more about the companies and locations you and Alan worked for.
John Evans and Alan Price, it’s so nice to see comments from insiders of the industry. I’m sure history and information about the production and facilities will be met with enthusiasm among the bloggers and commenters. Plus, it saves detective work!
Interestingly (I think), I have some Australian Traditions (and I think memm you may have one in the ones I sent you) with the stamping on the red stripe on both the obverse and reverse. On all my german traditions the stamping is always on the black stripe. This was probably more a quality control issue than anything else. I wonder if any “Great Britain” traditions were stamped on the red stripe.
Lost your contacts after my leave from Malaysia. I heard your engagement in ST-SA. You still try to get distance from retirement! Please send me your new contact. my email is firstname.lastname@example.org
By the way: HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!
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Great to hear from some insiders in the pencil industry. I would love to read John Evans’ history of Staedtler UK operations.
Hello everyone, I am interested in Steyr-Puch Haflinger vehicles. These small off-roaders were produced in Graz, Austria from 1959 to 1974. Now where is the connection to pencils? The Haflinger was also exported to South Africa as CKD kits and assembled locally by a company called Autolec, which belonged to the Khazam family. A few years later (early 60s), a pencil production was also set up as a new business field of Autolec. Lateron, it was also taken over by Staedtler. John Evans, if you could make contact, I would be very glad as I am doing research on this topic. My email address is c dot kiesling at haflinger-4wd dot com. Kind regards, Constantin
An interesting read Indeed. I learnt more in this post about Pencil history than most other pencil reviews. But where is Wolff’s Carbon Pencil’s made today?
On another note. I would like to make my own “pencil paste” any home made recipes, for a Carbon mix?
Like Claire and Stationery Traffic I am glad to hear form pencil industry insiders!
Kevin, I don’t think I have seen any “Great Britain” traditions stamped on the red stripe, I’ll keep my eyes open though, thanks for this information.
Constantin, thanks for letting us know about this link. Compared to other industries it feels more difficult to find any information about the pencil industry. I don’t believe that it is more secretive, but there are probably, unfortunately not enough people interested, compare to, let’s say the music or mobile phone industry…
Dimitris, I’m glad you liked this blog post. The Wolff pencils are now made in Indonesia. I don’t believe their roots are linked to the old Wolff pencils, but think of it as a marketing exercise. There are many old famous brand names being used again with varying degrees of connection to the original company behind it. In the case of Wolff, there’s not much of an exciting connection.
About your pencil paste, do you then want to heat it in a kiln? Or do you have a more artistic use in mind, e.g. for colouring large areas of a paper as part of a picture?
Very interesting. I live three miles from Pontyclun and recall my father, who as a teenager took part in the 1945 occupation of Europe, telling me he remembered the German Army using the same Staedtler pencils as were to be made at Pontyclun.
I wonder which ones they were. Probably the Noris or (maybe less likely) the Tradition?
I worked for part of the J.S. Staedtler organisation who once had office in Beckenham, Kent. It consisted of two spells of employment 1955-6 and 1967-8.
Durung my second spell J.S. Staedtler had become part of the Royal Sovereign Group which was a multi company organisation.
I would like to hear from anyone who worked for RSP in 1967-8.
That must have been interesting! If you have any more information to share about Royal Sovereign or Staedtler in the 1950s or 1960s we’d like to hear it!!!
My father, Sidney Jackson, was chairman of the Royal Sovereign Pencil Company for many years, up to the point of its acquisition by Staedtler. The acquisition took the form of a reverse takeover. If memory (it’s a long time ago!) serves me correctly, that was because RS had a London Stock Exchange listing, which Staedtler wanted. My father was born in 1900, and my recollection is that the deal was done a little after his 65th birthday; but not more than a couple of years after, I think. It was certainly after I worked in Staedtler’s laboratories in Nuremburg, which was I think in the winter of 1964/65.
Thank you very much for these details.
Staedtler is not a PLC, so it might have been something else they were after, but I am not an expert when it comes to financial markets, so am not sure what it means to have a listing or what you can do with it.
Do you have more information about RS or Staedtler? Did you keep working in the stationery industry?
No, I didn’t continue in the stationery industry, and I am afraid I don’t remember anything more about those long ago days concerning RS/Staedtler. ‘Having a listing’ means that there were shares traded on the London stock exchange. I wonder if Staedtler did at some point in the past have shares listed on the stock exchange, and has since been taken private again. I am pretty certain that the reason for the reverse take-over was to get hold of the RS listing, but I suppose alternatively there may have been a tax consideration.
royal sovereign was sold by Pembridge Investments to mitsubishi pencil company of japan
mitsubishi pencil company then sold royal sovereign to west design around 2002
taken from http://www.stephenshouseandgardens.com/assets/ugc/docs/InkCompanyTimeline_revised.pdf
Asset-stripper Roland Franklin (Pembridge Investments) acquires DRG (including
Royal Sovereign) with a leveraged buyout worth £900 million
1990 The Royal Sovereign Group including remaining Stephens’ products is sold to the
Mitsubishi Pencil Company of Japan (founded 1887) to form the basis of their new UK
distribution network. Other parts of the DRG group are also sold off, some to Bowater’s
(now Rexam), some to Spicer’s; DRG ceases to exist
2002 West Design Products Limited of Folkestone, Kent acquires the Royal Sovereign Group including remaining Stephens’ trademarks from the Mitsubishi Pencil Company
this how West Design Products got hold of the wolff brand
feel free to contact me regarding stationery history. i might know a thing or two
in regards to this question:
A first attempt at contacting West Design Products nearly twelve months ago was unfortunately left unanswered, as was a subsequent attempt, so I was not able to find out how these traditional names came into their possession and whether their pencils are made in Staedtler’s Indonesian factory.
West Design Products is the UK distributor for faber castell.
therefore all pencil/pen related products sold under West Design or brands that it owns could be made by faber castell in one of their many factories around the world depending on quality and price point. i say could be, as i do not work for West Design Products, but this is what I have heard from their sales team.
This is great information. Thank you very much! Interesting, that Mitsubishi was also involved.
It’s a shame that West Design didn’t reply, I also tried in the pats and didn’t get a reply from them.
I just came across your very interesting blog by chance. During my last working life I called in regularly to the Pontyclun factory. The staff were very proud of the pencils that they manufactured and were always insisting that I looked at the pencils being made. I had never given any thought as to how pencils were made previously.
Fascinating. I didn’t know all that detail about the Gt. Britain Traditions……would really love to get some of the variations. I’ve only got to with the RS Bonded on the reverse ….do you have any to trade or may I purchase? I may be nearly a decade late on this party… Kind regards, Bobby
In 1966 I joined a company called Henry C Stephens Ltd as chief accountant . The company was established in about 1837 and made ink. In 1967 we were taken over by The Royal Sovereign Pencil Company Ltd. this company sold all sorts of stationery products and had part ownership with Staedtler of Germany making pencils in Pontyclun. Soon after we changed our name to Royal Sovereign Group Ltd.
In about 1976 , when I was Financial director, we were taken over by The Dickinson Robinson Group (DRG). In 1978 I took over a division of the Company and left to run it.
I heard that DRG sold off Royal Sovereign bit by bit. Some of the Ames remained, I believe that Stephens was bought by a Japanese company.
In 1990 I sold my company and retired.
I hope I have filled in some gaps in the history for you
Fascinating history! Thank you for this report. Now I know the origin of the Wolff name.
I have a pencil HB 110 Staedler Tradition from great britian thats says its bonded the writing goes from left to right HB at start its red and black and has white bit at top.
What an interesting and informative post! I have a Wolff’s Royal Sovereign tin, minus the wrapping and pencils inside. I was born near Pontyclun, so this is additionally interesting. Thank you.