Made in Great Britain

Staedtler UK

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 [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. 110 post from March 2010 [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..

By Appointment to the Late King George V

1790 – 1920 Wolff and Cohen

Elias Wolff

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.

Why London?

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

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

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.

West Design’s Wolff’s Graphite Sketch Set

1975 – 2009 from Royal Sovereign to Staedtler UK – how the pencils changed

RS Bonded

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.

Bonded

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”.

Jet 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”.

Barcode S

I am not sure whether there has been a generation [3]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.

Last generation

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.

Australia

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 [4]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.

Pencil and ballpoint pen from Staedtler UK, sharpener from KUM

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.

Giveaway

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…

You can find more information about…

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.

References

References
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

Battle of the eco pencils

Before I start talking about the eco pencils I want to emphasise that I call them eco pencils because they are marketed in this or in a similar way. Why are they marketed like this? Because they do not use wood, but alternative materials. While I do believe that they could be more ecologically friendly than wooden pencils I have no proof and in the same way that for example biofuel or hybrid cars bring new problems, there might be hidden problem I do not know of when it comes to the production of the eco pencils.

The six eco pencils. Paper left, other materials right.

When it comes to wooden pencils there are also big differences, e.g. between pencils using wood from certified [1]e.g. FSC, PEFC, well-managed forests and pencils with wood from unknown and more dubious sources. It certainly would not be a problem to produce pencils without wood that are actually less environmentally friendly than traditional wooden pencils. In absence of any incriminating evidence I will however give the six eco pencils tested in this article the benefits of the doubt and will refer to them as eco pencils, as intended by their manufacturers.

First I will have a closer look at the extruded pencils.

CD case pencil

Let’s start with the red pencil, made from recycled CD cases. I found this pencil a few weeks ago, somebody must have lost it …or forgotten it …or more likely: did not want to use it any more because it is so horrible (more on this later). When I first found it I was quite excited. The pencil point was broken off, so I could not use it and had to sharpened it in my Deli pencil sharpener 0635, which I soon regretted. You had to use considerably more force compared to sharpening a wooden pencil in the Deli and to be honest, the Deli has not been the same since. The red plastic is much harder than wood and must have somehow blunted the burr cylinder. The Deli 0635 still works, but does not operate as smoothly as in the past. Writing with this pencil is not very nice. The line is not particularly black and the pencil manages to give you a waxy and scratchy feeling the same time. The writing on the pencil reads “Pencil made from recycled CD cases”. I wish it stayed a CD case.

Ticonderoga Renew HB Soft

On to the next pencil. The Ticonderoga Renew, made from recycled tyres. I was quite excited when I received my pack of ten.This excitement started to disappear when I tried to sharpen these pencils. They are even harder to sharpen than the red CD case pencil. Rotating the pencil in any sharpener will make you fear for the sharpener. I fear the pencil will manage to blunt every blade it touches. Once I started using the pencil any last bit of enthusiasm I had left for this pencil was gone completely. It was scratchy and the line is certainly not dark at all. Sometimes it seems to perform better, so I suspect that the lead is of different quality in different parts …or maybe the difference in performance has to do with the writing angle or the degree of sharpening. Sometimes writing with this pencil is nearly acceptable, but only nearly. Overall it is even worse than the CD case pencil. BTW, there is a warning, printed on the box “Not for use with electric sharpeners”.

Staedtler Wopex HB

Last in the category of extruded pencils is the Staedtler Wopex. According to Staedtler the fibre material is made from 70% wood. The pencil is much easier to sharpen then the previous two pencils, but it is still not anywhere near a wooden pencil. As the lead is extruded, not made the traditional way, writing with it is more similar to writing with the previous two pencils than it is to writing with a pencil that has a traditional lead. Luckily there is no scratchiness, instead the lead is quite waxy. The line of the Wopex is also much darker, more like a line from a traditional pencil. Having used the Wopex for a few weeks now I have to say that depending on the paper and writing surface used, writing with the Wopex can be a very pleasant experience. Its lines  are a bit more difficult to erase than those of most traditional pencils and it is about twice as heavy as a traditional pencil, which is quite nice.  Another nice feature is its nice, “grippy” surface.

Top – bottom: CD case, Ticonderoga Renew, Staedtler Wopex, Eco Bridge, O’Bon Newsprint, Tesco

Next I will have a look at the pencils that use rolled paper instead of wood.

Eco Bridge

Recently I had a closer look at the Eco Bridge pencils, so I will not go into too much detail again. It is a nice pencil, but one thing I noticed is that, compared to other paper pencils, the rolled paper is more likely to get ripped away during sharpening, presumably because of no, less or different glue applied to the paper before rolling.

O’Bon Newsprint 2B

Next is the O’Bon Newsprint pencil. Mine seems to be made from paper that might have been part of a financial newspaper from mainland China. The pencil is  made in China, but the newspaper you can see on the packaging of the pencils seems to be from Malaysia, which is where O’Bon seems to have its origins (don’t quote me on this, I am only 99% sure). Malaysia seems to be the new El Dorado for stationery lovers. If you like pens from the higher end of the market you might have come across Pen Gallery, an online shop from Malaysia. Pelikan is kind of Malaysian too. Pelikan, and recently Herlitz, were bought by a Malaysian business man and stationery aficionado who, according to some newspaper articles I read, fulfilled his lifelong dream when he bought this stationery giant. A lot of Faber-Castell products are made in Malaysia, too …so now it turns out  O’Bon is from Malaysia as well. I wonder whether this is more than a coincidence. On the other hand Staedtler closed its factory in Malaysia this year. OK, one last Malaysia pencil fact: The most common pencil grade in Malaysia is 2B. Getting other grades is even quite difficult. Back to the O’Bon pencils: they are actually very good. Even though they are 2B they hardly smudge and the line is nice and dark. Unlike the Eco Bridge pencils the O’Bon pencils can be sharpened and still look good, as the paper does not rip away.

Tesco pencil

Now to the last paper pencil. The Tesco paper pencil is quite similar to the O’Bon as it is also made from real newspaper, while the Eco Bridge seems to use paper specially made for the pencils, which reduces the eco-ness considerably. The Tesco pencil is also slightly slimmer than the other two paper pencils and much cheaper. The surface is smooth like the O’Bon’s surface while the Eco Bridge pencil has a rough paper surface. By far the biggest drawback of the Tesco pencil is that it smells horribly for several days after taking it out of the package. Something that makes me think that the glues being used cannot be too healthy. On the plus side the Tesco pencil is one of the cheapest pencils around, but my local Tesco stopped stocking them so I fear they might be difficult to come by in the future.

Conclusion:

Unfortunately most of the pencils are only available in some markets. The Ticonderoga Renew box has a UK address printed on the reverse, but I have never seen this pencil in the UK. Staedtler has a worlwide distribution network, but the Wopex does not seem to be available in all markets.

The Staedtler Wopex is, without a shadow of a doubt, the winner of the extruded pencils tested here. There are of course also other extruded pencils, like the ones from BIC, but they were not included as I have never used them. Last time I used other extruded pencils they were horrible writers, similar to the CD case pencil and the Ticonderoga Renew, so I assume that there are not many nice extruded pencils available. One problem with the Wopex that I should point out is that the last millimetre of the point can break easily if you have over-sharpened it.

The winner of the rolled paper pencils is the O’Bon Newsprint. It can be sharpened without problems, the surface finish is really nice and it does not have the horrible smell the Tesco pencil has in th ebeginning.

One interesting point I should mention is that some of the eco pencils (Wopex & O’Bon) claim that they last longer than normal pencils. I have not looked into this yet and cannot comment on it. If you think you noticed that they last longer please let me know.

Eraser test with Mars plastic pen on Bloc Rhodia No 13

I would like to thank Sean from Pencils and Music for the Ticonderoga Renew pencils. I found a Ticonderoga Renew review at Quality & Style.

I would like to thank Lexikaliker for my first Wopex pencil. You will find reviews of the HB and 2B Wopex on his blog (Google translation). You can find a review of the Wopex (in English) at pencil talk.

I would like to thank Kevin from O’Bon for sending me the Newsprint pencils free of charge. Even though I received them free of charge I tried to be objective and believe that this article was not influence by the fact that I received the O’Bon pencils without having to pay for them. You can find a review of O’Bon pencils at pencil talk.

References

References
1 e.g. FSC, PEFC

Staedtler tradition 110

When it comes to the recognition value of their pencils there is one company that – in my opinion – does by far the best job: Staedtler. Compared to other companies in this industry Staedtler is quite unusual as the company belongs to the Staedtler foundation whose main purpose is the promotion of scientific research… but I digress. Let’s get back to the pencils: As much as I like to use pencils from other companies, the Faber-Castell 9000 for example, for me the archetype of a pencil is the Staedtler Noris, available in two versions: as the 120 (without eraser) and as the 122 (with eraser).

The Noris is a pencil that is very common in Europe, but I would not say that it dominates the market. Noris as a brand name for pencils has been registered in 1901 and the name Noris itself is closely related to Staedtler: the nymph Noris is the personification of Nuremberg, the city where Staedtler has its headquarters. The Noris pencil is definitely quite popular in Germany. In UK it is also quite popular: in supermarkets you can usually find at least two types of pencils, often more, but a no name pencil and the Staedtler Noris seem to be the common denominator.

Somehow the look of the Noris is easy to remember, but this is not a feature unique to the Noris: Staedtler also did a great job in that respect with some of their other pencils: the tradition and the Mars Lumograph. These three models are instantly recognisable and unless you count the yellow Koh-I-Noor [1]which was not the first yellow pencil, but seemed to have sparked the popularity of yellow pencils in America they seem to be the most copied pencils in the world.

Stephen Wiltshire, using a Staedtler tradition, on BBC’s Top Gear (Image © BBC)

The look of some of the most popular pencils in India, the Reynolds 432, the Nataraj 621 and the Doms Ajanta, seem to be based on the Staedtler tradition, as is the look of the Chunghwa 6151, reviewed at pencil talk as well as countless other copies. You can also come across the tradition in the media. In a recent episode of Top Gear for example, Stephen Wiltshire was using a Staedtler tradition for his drawings.

Icon in Okular (Image © Okular)

The Staedtler Noris was the antetype for the Chunghwa 6181, reviewed at oh! super tooth, but even though the Noris has probably been less often copied than the tradition and the Mars Lumograph, it can be seen on TV more often, usually used by somebody who is probably not even aware what make or model it is.

In one episode of Black Books the main character is using a Noris to control who is allowed to talk. I just saw the Noris again last week in a BBC documentary unrelated to pencils, and I see an icon that looks like the Noris on a daily basis in Okular, the document viewer in KDE 4.

Slightly younger than the Noris, with Mars being registered as a pencil brand in 1900, but with the Lumograph being released about 30 years later, the Mars Lumograph would probably have to top the list when it comes to how often the look of a pencil has been copied by no name pencils. I have seen no name pencils with the look of the Mars Lumograph, but without any writing on it countless times. Sometimes you can also see copies of this pencil with the name of the manufacturer on it, e.g. the Chunghwa Drawing pencil, reviewed at Blyantsiden (Google translation) or the Medicise Drawing pencil 9002. Of course the Mars Lumograph also got its fair share of TV presence. Just to name one example, there is a Derrick episode from the Seventies where a secretary is using a pencil, unmistakably a Mars Lumograph.

Top to bottom: Great Britain, Australia, Germany

The distinct look of the Staetdler pencils makes recognising them so easy. This must surely be an important factor that influences the decision of customers when they are in front of a shelf of pencils and need to decide which pencil to buy.

Unfortunately Staedtler stopped producing pencils in Australia and Great Britain, but some shops still have stock left that was produced in these two countries. You might know where this is going… After this really long-winded introduction I will now compare Staedtler pencils from different countries, to be more precise: I will be comparing the Staedtler tradition 110 from Australia, Germany and Great Britain. For this comparison I used recently produced pencils from the three different factories. It would be wrong to assume that there is no variation in the production, so please do not take this comparison too seriously.

Top to bottom: Great Britain, Australia, Germany

When comparing the different HB versions [2]Even though I have most grades of the British (actually Welsh to be precise) and of the Australian tradition I only have the HB version of the German tradition. you can see that the Australian version has the thinnest layer of paint. I have to say that I actually like it, because you can see the texture of the wood through the paint. On a negative note I also have to add that the Australian pencils (all grades) have the paint applied less consistently. All pencils came pre-sharpened, but the pencil from the German factory has been pre-sharpened using a different method than the other pencils. The pencil from Great Britain is definitely softer than the other two. It also smudges a bit more. When I tried to erase all three using the Mars plastic eraser pen (528 50) there was no real difference between the different pencils.

Different tradtitions on Brunnen Kompagnon Anno 1877 paper

Comparing the Australian 4B and the British 4B I also thought that the British pencil was a tick softer, but this was definitely not as noticeable as it was for the HB pencils. Using the Mars plastic eraser pen the Australian 4B was maybe a bit easier to erase than the British 4B, but again there was not a big difference.

Different tradtitions on Brunnen Kompagnon Anno 1877 paper

Conclusion: The tradition is a really good pencil. I am not sure why, but the German Staedtler web site lists the tradition in the artist category, not in the category for pencils used for writing. Nevertheless the tradition is very suitable for writing. Stock of Australian and British tradition pencils will be exhausted soon, so get some while you can …not that the performance of the German tradition is worse, but if you just spent a few minutes reading this post you must be pencil-crazy enough to want the Australian and British version as well.

Click to see full size

Click to see full size

Links:

Acknowledgements:

I would like to thank David from Dave’s Mechanical Pencils for the selection of Australian pencils, including the Staedtler tradition, he sent me.

The photo of Stephen Wiltshire using a Staedtler Tradition has been taken from Top Gear Episode 5 of Series 14. I believe that the use of this image falls under “fair dealing” as described by the UK Copyright service.

The pencil icon has been taken from Okular, the document viewer in KDE 4.

References

References
1 which was not the first yellow pencil, but seemed to have sparked the popularity of yellow pencils in America
2 Even though I have most grades of the British (actually Welsh to be precise) and of the Australian tradition I only have the HB version of the German tradition.