stationery


Scraping pencils 1

Pencils not only seem to be reliable writers, they also seem to be reliable in terms of keeping their prices affordable.

In June this year I used R to do some web scraping. The data collected was supposed to be for a follow up of my Why did stationery become so expensive? blog post. Well, this is the follow up blog post and there isn’t much to show, maybe because we are talking about wood cased pencils. Fountain pens and mechanical pencils had a more extreme price development.

I did the R code not only for the follow up, but also to teach myself a bit more R, I would have normally done this in PHP, which I am more failure with, having used it since the 90s and having used it for similar tasks in the past (even though people didn’t call these tasks web scraping at that time, or if they did I did’t know).

chart showing how the Koh-I-Noor PolyColor Art Pencil prices have changed.So what exactly did I do? I was looking at how the prices for pencils have changed on the Cultpens web site over time. My code that will get historic prices from archived versions of the Cult Pens pencil web page from archive.org is available at GitHub if you want to try it or change it for your own purposes. If you do please bear in mind that my code is not very good, I realise this, but as I am new to R I don’t know how to improve it (at the moment – I hope to find more time to learn R in the future). Also, if you try this please try to minimise any strain on the server you get your data from.

The findings were less exciting than expected. VAT has changed a few times over the last few years and there are obviously currency exchange rate fluctuations to be taken into account, as well as inflation and other factors.

The most interesting changes I could see was a > 10% price increase for some Graf von Faber-Castell products between 2010 and 2011.

The  Tomboy Mono 100 got cheaper over the years. Between 2010 and 2013 it got > 20% cheaper.

The most extreme price rise was for Koh-I-Noor products. At the beginning of 2014 the big Polycolor Art Pencil tin got nearly 40% more expensive, smaller tins got more expensive, too.

Overall prices seem remarkably stable.

As mentioned before I assume the price stability is also linked to this being pencils. As shown in my previous blog post fountain pens seem to attract more extreme price hikes.


Picture: Mongol plus Pilot Color Eno pencils on Brunnen Der Grüne Block.


Shanghai stationery 9

 

On a bridge near the stationery shop

On a bridge near the stationery shop

 

The time it takes to read most blog posts at Bleistift is probably a bit longer than the time most readers are willing to spend on reading them – so in an attempt to keep blog posts shorter I’ll talk about my trip to Shanghai, where I bought some nice stationery, before writing more about what I bought in two further blog posts.

Notebooks in Réel Mall.

Notebooks in Réel Mall.

 

Shanghai

In December I’ve been in Shanghai again. Unfortunately there wasn’t much time while I was there, so I only managed to see some more stationery in shopping malls I happened to pass and to visit one proper stationery shop.

lamy

kawecoIt’s not an uncommon sight to see little, open Lamy shops in Shanghai’s shopping malls. I have mentioned this in the past. As in previous years prices are more expensive than in Europe, roughly 50% more, but that depends on the specific pen you’re looking at. On a positive note: it is not uncommon to see limited edition pens from previous years that are hard to get in Europe. Funnily enough I’ve seen Lamy being sold in several places, but I haven’t seen Chinese Lamy copies, like the Hero 359 or the Jinhao 599 anywhere.

This time I’ve also seen Kaweco pens for the first time in Shanghai, it was in one of the more expensive shopping malls, called Réel, near Jing’An Temple.

Masking tape ...every day a bit better.

Masking tape …every day a bit better.

 

The proper stationery shop I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post is a shop on Xiangde Road in Shanghai’s Hongkou district. I have visited this shop in the past. It’s not too big and there’s not too much choice when it comes to wood cased pencils, but the shop has a lot of other stationery, from the kind of stationery for children and students,  like different kinds of papers, brushes, scissors to all sorts of stationery small companies would buy.

The shop on Xiangde Road

The shop on Xiangde Road

In the past I have bought lots of erasers and sharpeners in this shop – so, of course, I couldn’t resist buying more some erasers and sharpeners this year.

Eraser paradise?

Eraser paradise?

The two most exiting items I bought were, without any doubt, Faber-Castell’s blue dust free eraser and Deli’s 0620 sharpener.

...still in the shop on Xiangde Road

…still in the shop on Xiangde Road


Why did stationery become so expensive? 3

Recently, I started to wonder why some of the items bought in the past years and month got so expensive.

Here are some examples. All prices are from Cultpens, just because that’s where these items were bought. I didn’t pick Cultpens because their prices increased more or less compared to other shops – other shops had similar prices at the same time and have similar prices now. Example: The price Niche Pens charged for the M400 was nearly the same at the time and is nearly the same now. Let’s have a look how the prices developed.

ProductOld DateOld PriceOld VATPrice
Feb. ’13
Total Price IncreasePrice Incr./year
Pelikan M400 white tortoiseFebruary 2009£107.6515%£169.9958%15%
Graf von Faber-Castell Perfect PencilFebruary 2010£14317.5%£188.9532%11%
Graf von Faber-Castell Six Guilloche PencilsFebruary 2010£25.2917.5%£3123%8%

Neither RPI nor CPI were as high as the stationery price increase, even when you take the VAT increase into account. One point to mention is however that these pens are what I would call luxury pens1. So luxury stationery went up2. How did the price of branded, good quality stationery increase?

ProductOld DateOld PriceOld VATPrice
Feb. ’13
Total Price IncreasePrice Incr./year
Staedtler Mars Micro Coloured Leads 0.5mmFebruary 2010£2.2417.5%£2.5715%5%
Stabilo All Marking PencilFebruary 2010£1.0517.5%£0.96-9%-3%
Faber-Castell 9000 PencilJanuary 2009£0.7915%£0.9520%5%
KUM Streamline Chrome Canister Sharpener 460SJanuary 2009£3.9015%£43%1%3

Interesting. That’s much closer to inflation. The Stabilo pencil even got cheaper. Unlike all other products mention so far the Stabilo is, as far as I know, not made in the eurozone. Maybe the Euro is one of the reasons behind the price increase, the Pound lost a lot of value against the Euro and QE certainly doesn’t help to keep it’s value up4. OK, that’ Europe, but with Japan being a big manufacturer of stationery, how did the price of Japanese made pens develop?

ProductOld DateOld PriceOld VATPrice
Feb. ’13
Total Price IncreasePrice Incr./year
OHTO Tasche Fountain PenJanuary 2009£14.6715%£13.99-5%-1%
Faber-Castell TK Fine Vario L5November 2009£12.9515%£12.42-4%-1%
Zebra TS3 Pocket PencilDecember 2009£2.8815%£2.81-2%-1%

The price were quite stable, they actually even went down, especially in real terms!

So. Luxury stationery prices went up a lot. Eurozone stationery got more expensive, but in real terms it probably kept its price, especially when taking the VAT increase into account. Non-Eurozone stationery went down in price. I wonder what happened to luxury stationery from Japan. Did it go up or down in price? Did anyone buy, let’s say a Pilot Falcon or something similarly priced in the last years in the UK? How much did you pay?

 


Percentages are rounded.

The old price was reconstructed from the order confirmations which listed prices for all articles without VAT and the VAT sum for the whole order. This means that the old price listed for stationery might be off by a penny or so. I’d also like to add that this is not at all supposed to be representative.

Price Increase / Year is what it say on the tin. Price Increase divided by the years since the item was bought. Compounding has not been taken into account, hey: I’m not an accountant or economist.

The pictures are from old blog posts (here and here), just to put some colour into this blog post.

  1. Customers of Montblanc pens might disagree with me on that and might call these mid- level pens. []
  2. I’ll just generalise instead of going down the “the price of three pens at one retailer went up” route. []
  3. More precise: 6‰, but I tried to stick to rounded %. []
  4. Every time the latest QE figures are in the news I get a shock when I think about how much money that is equivalent to when you divide it by the (working) population. []
  5. Yes, it’s made in Japan. []

Overpriced stationery in Shanghai 11

There seem to be many different kinds of shops selling stationery in Shanghai.

 

There are the functional ones, selling stationery and other office supplies. Customers seem to be companies, but you’ll also find pupils there.

 

There are the fashionable ones. You’ll find them near universities. They do have some normal stationery, but seem to focus on cute stationery. They also sell make-up and girly things, too. The fashionable stationery is not always of high quality.

 

Queen's Market - selected by Tokyo

 

…and then there are the overpriced stationery shops. They are often located in shopping centres. They sell all sorts of expensive stuff. To be fair, the price is not only the shops fault. Many items, even though they have been made in China, have been reimported from Japan or Korea. I assume that even in Japan or Korea they are not cheap in the first place and someone has to pay for (re-)importing small numbers of them, which are probably not very economical. You can often find other items in these shops, like Monchhichis or iPhone docking stations.

 

Queen's Market - selected by Tokyo

You can see the Delfonics range behind the theft detector pedestal

 

One example of this kind of shop is “Queen’s Market – selected by Tokyo” in the new Shanghai Hongkou Dragon Dream Shopping Centre. Amongst other items they are selling Delfonics‘ Rollbahn range, Japanese stationery with German text printed on that sounds very much like it’s coming straight out of a Kraftwerk song.

These kind of shops often don’t survive very long. One reason might be that there are similar shops near the shopping centres which pay less rent and sell similar items cheaper – often copies or similar no-name products.

In the last five years or so the number of these overpriced stationery shops has gone up steadily.

 


 

I would like to thank Hui Liu for telling me about this new shopping centre in Hongkou. I would have not gone there otherwise.