Koh-I-Noor


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 []

A weekend in Shropshire 7

To celebrate my 40th birthday we spend the weekend in Shropshire …and of course I couldn’t resist buying more stationery.

 

A dower house form the 1820s, between Weston-under-Redcastle and Hodnet

A dower house from the 1820s, between Weston-under-Redcastle and Hodnet

Independent stationery shops

What a nice weekend it was – and I found an independent stationery shop in Shrewsbury – what a nice surprise. I hardly ever come across independent pen shops these days. The one where I live closed down and one in the town where I’m from closed down, too1. I’d like to visit the Pen Company one day, but it’s several hours away. What’s left nearby is either focusing on art supplies or is part of a chain, which usually means that staff are not really excited about pens.

After buying some souvenir stationery in Shrewsbury Abbey I discovered Write Here. First: stocking up on Koh-I-Noor 1500 pencils – and then a fitting eraser from Koh-I-Noor as well.

Sheep in the country side

Sheep in the countryside

Koh-I-Noor

In the 18th century Jospeh Hardtmuth started the pencil factory in Austria that would become Koh-I-Noor. Koh-I Noor is the name of a famous diamond. I seem to remember reading somewhere, probably in Petroski’s book, there were several pencils named after diamonds because diamonds and graphite both consist of carbon. In the 19th century manufacturing then moved to Bohemia, to Budweis in what is now the Czech Republic.

The Koh-I-Noor 1500, the pencil I bought,  started being produced in 18892. After WWII the factory, in what was then Czechoslovakia, was nationalised and Joseph Hardtmuth’s descendants started manufacturing in Austria again. A few years ago the Austrian ‘branch’ of the company went bankrupt and was taken over by Cretacolor, but the Czech ‘branch’ of the company does still exist under the Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth name.

I have previously bought new old stock Koh-I-Noor 1500s in Shanghai and in my home town, but these are one of my few new ones. Too bad Write Here didn’t have HB and F (yes, you can get the 1500 in F), so I went for the B and H, which I’ve been using all of this week so far.

The shop window of Write Here

The shop window of Write Here

Write Here

Later that day I went back to Write Here, asking whether they have any fountain pens with flexible nibs. I’ve been looking for a nice fountain pen with a flexible nib for a long time now. My Lamy 2000 with an M nib and some of my Pelikan M200 nibs in F are quite flexible, but the line at its thinnest is too wide for me. Noodler’s nibs are nice and flexible, but when using any of my different Noodler fountain pens I usually end up having dirty hands because they spill ink after a while.

Pens in the shop

Pens in the shop

After asking for a pen with a flexible nib it took the owner of the shop a second to think about my request before taking a fountain pen out of his jacket and telling me to try it. What a nice, flexible nib that was. It was a fountain pen from Omas. I knew about Omas, but I never tried one before. When I started writing there was some feathering, but when I tried it on another paper the pen wrote smooth while still producing crisp lines. Unfortunately the pen was far too expensive for me. It turned out that this shop is also the distributor for Omas in the UK and I was told that very soon a cheaper pen with this nib will be released. I say cheaper, but it is still a £300 pen, which would make it more expensive than the most expensive pen I own.

Stationery bought in Shrewsbury

Stationery bought in Shrewsbury

Pen and ink

Shrewsbury

Shrewsbury

I then bought the Monteverde Tool fountain pen – more in my price range, and the owner of the shop told me about Sailor’s pigment ink which contains nano pigments, so it doesn’t clog up the fountain pen.

I’m still not sure what to think about the fountain pen. It seems to skip quite a bit (using the cartridge that came with it), I hope that will get better over time. I also wonder why the scales on the pen incluse 1/200 metre and 1/300 metre. I have seen 1/x inch scales, but 1/x metre scales are certainly not very common and don’t seem to make much sense to me. Is this how imperial users imagine the metric system to work?

The ink can behave very well when used on good paper, but when I use it to fill in forms at work it feathers quite a bit. I think time will tell whether I like this ink, but so far I don’t think I’ll buy another bottle.

  1. There still one left in my home town, but it’s more of a post office / news agent / bit of everything shop. []
  2. see Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth’s history. []